The Michelin International Car Test Day has rapidly established itself over the past few years as a Good Thing. The organisation, supervised by Michelin’s Alan Powell, is excellent and the weather usually superb, helps of course. The selection of cars is not quite up to the organisation (which is fair enough to allow lesser known writers to try their hand at pretty well anything, if they keep smiling!), consisting primarily of European machinery sprinkled with well organised forays from the Japanese Mazda Datsun and Toyota concerns. American cars are conspicuous by their absence—but purveyors of such powerful cars might take comfort from the fact that none of the cars were damaged at all this year.
The fastest cars at Silverstone on that hot April Wednesday were the Maseratis, headed by the Bora Gran Turisimo. The influence of Group 1 racing and its importance to manufacturers was emphasised by the presence of the Citroën and BMW entries in this category (staying firmly static in company along with the Gp 2 Broadspeed/Cooper CS tested in this issue), while Opel had a 2-door Ascona minus some of the good things that make the John Rhodes’ model such an effective machine. However we accepted the chance of driving it as, at a saving of £300 over the Manta, it offers such desirable enthusiast features as a limited-slip differential, 1.9-litre cam-in-head engine, laminated windscreen, 5 1/2J sports wheels with appropriate wide section radial ply tyres and slightly better weight distribution than the sleek coupé. In fact 18 such Asconas have been ordered for importation into Britain and Opel representatives in North London are quite excited at the prospect of infiltrating Ford’s Mexico market, for the German vehicle is not a lot more expensive at £1,297 retail.
On the track the yellow Opel handled beautifully, but with only 900 miles on the clock one couldn’t really expect it to exceed 95 m.p.h. The 1.9 Ascona was certainly one of the fastest cars round Silverstone GP circuit though, despite the power handicap and lack of the promised limited slip, for one soon learnt the neutral handling and accurate steering which make up any time lost in a straight line.
Because the reporter’s experience of Japanese cars in the UK is somewhat limited, he had a go in a Toyota Corolla 1200 coupé SL and a Datsun Bluebird 180 SSS. The Toyota went like a rocket—with appropriate hard working noises and wails of anguish from the Dunlops —showing 95 m.p.h. on the Hangar straight and understeering vigorously until the accelerator was eased. The Datsun 180 proved very plush in the American manner and very fully equipped, but the brakes faded out within three laps (it felt as though the pads were glazed) and the rocking understeer demonstrated that this is a car that should be road, not track tested.
Keeping clear of the exotica I steered out of the Paddock next in an Opel straight six Commodore GS. Reflecting how impressed the Ford people were with the restyled Rekord/Commodore range (“our” example costing just over £2,000, right in the Granada GXL range) I didn’t spare the car. I came back after a greedy 10 laps thoroughly impressed—the GS is extremely rapid, smoothly engineered and endowed with road holding and braking that must be amongst the best in the class throughout the World: truly Adam Opel lives!
The little DAF Marathon coupé again provided a lot of fun as its elastic bands and humming Renault engine consorted to keep the car at a pretty steady 85 m.p.h., virtually regardless of corners. However, the most enjoyable car of the day was an Alfa Romeo 2000 Spider with the hood firmly down. Alfas show up extremely well on this circuit, that dark blue model whipping firmly up to 110 m.p.h. at 6,000 r.p.m. in fourth before Woodcote, or relaxing its way into the same corner at 105 m.p.h. in fifth. The limited-slip differential and properly located live axle allow the Spider to be set up almost tail first if required, while the driver is comfortably protected from severe buffeting with the windows wound up. — J. W.