Interim report on two Twin-Cam Saloons

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The Ford Escort RS1600

The exciting new twin-cam 16-valve Cosworth BDA-engined Ford Escort RS 1600 eventually arrived at the office and initial (favourable) impressions were published in the May issue.

I took the car over and drove it out of London through the rush-hour traffic, embarrassed by an engine which idled at 2,000 r.p.m. and a “soft” front o/s India Autoband. Purchase of a 2s. tension spring cured the over-fast idle, though only temporarily. The wheel proved easy to change. Thereafter I had great fun with this “racing” Escort, its deservedly high prestige enhanced by the Ford Escort victory in the World Cup Rally and the RS 1600’s outright win in the Circuit of Ireland Rally.

This RS1600 is essentially a fun-car, yet remarkably docile if driven that way. It is splendidly “flingable” on the “doctored” suspension, has light, quick steering, very high cornering ability finely balanced between under- and oversteer, rides well, has comfortable seats and an excellent gearbox, though the lever is a bit short. Open up those big Webers and you can leave practically anything on the road – there was one open Jaguar E-type conducted by a gentleman of about my age who looked in his mirror, accelerated, looked again, then slowed and waved the mysteriously-fast Escort by. . . .!

I had been told to watch the oil level, its it was drinking Duekhams Q20/50 as a thirsty miner quaffs his beer. Using really high revs. for performance testing this may be so, but in road driving the consumption is now comfortably on the right side of 540 m.p.p. As for fuel, Cosworth talk of the engine’s digestion system coping with 2-star, but I was told to use the quality stuff, so have been feeding it premium. Driven for sheer enjoyment, I got 20.4 m.p.g., but when in less of a hurry, keeping to the British speed-limit and only blowing off small saloons with GT labels, let us say, this improved to 25.0 m.p.g. The engine was running too cool, in spite of the hot weather.

Towards the end of this, my first 5,900-mile stint in the RS1600, it was again idling far too fast and shaking as if an engine mount had broken. Otherwise, it has been a trouble-free “racer”, the fun being enhanced because only the wide-rim wheels give away the performance potential of this “Potent Mix”, as Ray Horrocks, AVO’s Manager, calls it. I feel that many owners of 1300s, Vivas and Rootesmobiles, etc., will be selling them and investing in an Escort, imagining that they will thus get the acceleration of the one that passed them so impressively and the “twin-cam” badges of which they had no time to notice!

I would be an old square to complain of the noise – a rumble from the four-branch exhaust plumbing, changing to a whine from the timing belt as engine speed rises – in view of the RS1600’s vivid performance, although this does become a bit tiring after 200 non-stop miles. I cannot help thinking that, in comparison with the Alfa Romeo 1750, which gives much the same power output (132 SAE b.h.p. at 5,500 r.p.m. from 1,779 c.c., compared to the Escort’s 120 DIN b.h.p. at 6,500 r.p.m. from 1,601 c.c.) and not such inferior performance, all things considered, in spite of the lower price (Alfa = £1,935; RS1600 = £1,447), the BDA engine is somewhat dramatic – thirsty for oil, ear-offending and requiring frequent carburetter adjustment and servicing. Only time and more mileage will tell which is the more dependable and satisfactory overall.—W. B.

The Alfa Romeo 1750

Continuing the account of my long-duration road-test of this car from the April issue, I can only remark how disappointing it has been – disappointing only because there is so little to report! Long experience with this excellent twin-cam saloon has convinced me of the reliability of a modern Alfa Romeo when serviced by the Alfa Romeo Centre at Edgware Road. Personal mileage since I wrote the previous assessment has increased from 3,149 to just over 7,000, but the car has also been driven – hard, I suspect! – by other members of the staff, so that its odometer now reads 8,390, and its third service is overdue.

In this distance it has been commendably free from trouble and at all times a most pleasing car, for long journeys or town use. The second free service was delayed from 3,750 miles until 4,827 miles had been covered, with no ill-effects. The only defects which had to be remedied were a defunct o/s front flasher bulb, screen-washers which had ceased to function, while the n/s front door tended to stick. This was corrected and the headlamps were adjusted so that when dipped they are now better than as originally criticised. A fuel check, using 4-star petrol, gave a figure of 24.6 m.p.g, with the engine fully run-in. The sump oil level has remained surprisingly high over very long distances, consumption of Shell 100 working out at approx. 1,200 m.p.p. If any Alfa Romeos run bearings it could be because owners are reluctant to check the oil level with a dip-stick buried in wires and pipes and obstructed by the Fispa air-cleaner, and difficult to read in any case. In spite of its fairly close proximity to the engine and some very hot weather, the big Fiamm battery has not needed to be topped-up in eight weeks.

Apart from that, there is nothing to report, except the satisfaction of using this pleasant car, the functioning of its “racing-type” engine being in quiet contrast with the dramatic performance of some other twin-cam power units. I am overlooking such minor items as a speedometer needle which still flutters and mild steering-wheel shake caused by premature tread wear on a front tyre.

Alfa Romeo are determined that I shall drive a personal five-figure mileage in this 1750, to prove its complete dependability. To date, their confidence in it has been fully justified.

Meanwhile, in one of those shuffles of motor cars for which the office is notorious, I found myself in another Alfa Romeo – a 1300 GT Junior. What a pleasantly balanced and quick-about-the-place car this is – a typical, irresistible Alfa Romeo!

Admittedly it is only a two-door 2+2 whereas the 1750 is a full four-door 4/5-seater Berlinetta. But these cars are very similar in general concept – the same smooth-functioning d.o.h.c. power unit with the repressed eager power roar, the same excellent five-speed gearbox, and the typical progressively-powerful disc brakes. There were detail differences, such as the manometer-like fuel and temperature gauges being less easily read, on the 1300, because they are set down centrally below the heater controls, although the tiny oil-pressure needle, in the big Veglia tachometer, is right before the driver. The r.h. under-scuttle choke and hand-throttle controls are better placed than on the 1750 but the reclining seat-backs do not have the same “micrometer” adjustment, being of a different type. (I regard those on the Alfa Romeo 1750 as the best system of all.)

The fuel-gauge needle swings about as on all Alfas (don’t they know about tank baffles?) and read “empty” for absurd distances, one flasher had sometimes to be manually cancelled (another weak aspect of modern Alfa Romeos is the too sensitive flasher stalk), and the lift-up interior door handles were uncomfortably sharp-edged. Nor did I like the green and blue lamps-on dashlights shining in my eyes at night.

Otherwise, all was bliss, and I did my fastest-yet run from my Welsh house to Hampshire home, averaging better than 50 m.p.h. with a stop to refuel, in this fascinating little 1300 GT, on a hot June evening. Its handling may not be the ultimate in the competition sense but it is ideal for fast motoring of this kind; nor is it necessary to thrust the engine “into the red”, 70-m.p.h. cruising in 5th speed representing a very easy 3„500 r.p.m., as on the 1750. Another good Alfa Romeo; this gentlemanly but deceptively quick, Pirelli-shod, 103-b.h.p. 1300 GT Junior. . . .—W. B.