Rumblings, July 1973

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• I’ll huff and I’ll puff. . . .

In announcing his vast expansion plans for the British Leyland Motor Corporation, following his sales success with the Morris Marina and his Austin Allegro venture, Lord Stokes revealed that, as well as a great new engines factory, a new Rover plant, and many new BL models, including sports cars, British Leyland, if not exactly blowing Castrol House down, is to take over this impressive Marylebone office skyscraper from Burmah-Castrol and re-name it Leyland House.

So His Lordship means business, and to the writer this may well be a blessing in disguise. You see, having a hatred of lifts, he shuddered when his friend, Laurence Sultan of Castrol, was promoted to the 13th floor of Castrol House, but maybe Sultan will now be lowered to the ground again, and cordial meetings resumed. . . . Even if Lord Stokes remains as remote (to anti-lift men) as Laurie once was, in his Berkeley Square penthouse.

As the BLMC expands it is evident that Ford of Britain also mean business. Having happened on a scene in front of the RAC one Sunday recently which suggested that many of their less-affluent members were off for a day’s jaunt, for Pall Mall was lined with Model-T Fords (Tildesley’s warming up the transmission of theirs on the jack and Walker hastily changing a n/s rear rim), we discovered they were, in fact, travelling to Daventry, which was an opportunity to see the fine new Parts Distribution Centre and Service Training College which Ford of Britain have established there, 23 miles from the geographical centre of England.

The parts store and college occupy a 138-acre site, the parts centre having a floor area of 1.6-million sq. ft. It stocks more than 80,000 different parts, valued at more than £20-million, from whence, each working day, over 300 tons of spares are shipped away, covering some 43,000 different items. The Service Training College cost a cool £500,000 and is claimed the most advanced in Britain. It is primarily concerned with training Ford dealers’ mechanics in the specialist maintenance of Ford models.

So the sales leadership of the Cortina, backed up by the growing demand for Consuls, Escorts, Capris and Granadas, is being effectively looked after in respect of service and maintenance. It was a nice gesture, that on the day of the Model-T Ford Register’s visitation, the Manager of the Daventry Parts Distribution Centre presented to the Register’s Chairman the last ten sets of trembler coils remaining amongst the Ford spares stock. As a burned-out coil of this kind is virtually unrepairable, this was indeed a handsome gift. Looking at the forty or more assembled Ts, it was pleasing to find most of them with trembler-coil sets fitted, the early cars keeping them in wooden boxes on the driver’s side of the dash, the later models stowing them in a black metal box above the engine, unless, as in a few instances, a replacement magneto, driven by exposed chain, was in use or, in one sorry example, a modern coil and what looked like a distributor from an Austin 7 had been substituted.

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• A Renault Rumble.—Maybe only fools or the impoverished go for long fast runs in the tiniest of cars. Perhaps both appellations apply to the writer. Anyway, that is what he did, to assess the new Renault 5, the latest baby saloon, by the biggest importer of cars into this country. This little 11-1/2-foot-long Renault is excellent for driving and parking in cities, and is the great French manufacturer’s answer to the recent rash of abortive electric cars and sub-miniature petrol towncars. It is also game to cruise at the top British Motorway pace, running dead straight and being more refined under these conditions than, say, a Datsun Cherry, although naturally there is a good deal of sewing-machine sound, and odd exhaust resonance when passing roadside banks or walls. To get it up to its maximum of 84 m.p.h. needs patience.

If this tiny Renault is less sporting than, for instance, a Fiat 127, it rides extremely well on its torsion-bar suspension and is great fun to fling through open bends with the absolutely taut, light, 3-5/8-th turns lock-to-lock rack-and-pinion steering, the front-drive giving stability without drawing attention to itself, the Michelin “X” tyres on a wheel virtually at each corner helping this admirably, although, of course, small cars do seem to be cornering very fast when in fact they are not doing anything terribly dramatic. Only if you truly play the fool does the roll and understeer of the Renault 5 become tiresome.

The push-pull facia gear-lever works incredibly smoothly in spite of crude linkage, a sawn-off conventional gear-stick being coupled to the push-pull rod by only a hole! Simple controls and instrumentation, including two stalks for lights/horn and flashers played conveniently with the right finger-tips, should endear the baby Renault to girl-drivers. The seats are small, soft, and have excellent reclining squabs; they are comfortable for up to 1-1/2 hours at a sitting. A tank of fuel took us 280 miles, and overall consumption was 35-1/2 m.p.g. of the required four-star petrol; no oil was needed after 600 miles. We tried the TL version, with its 956-c.c. five-bearing push-rod power unit, the modern tendency being to up-rate all baby cars to around a litre. The basic, less-well-equipped, Renault 5 has a three-bearing 845-c.c. engine. The 5TL has a heated rear window, facia fresh-air vents, dual vizors with make-up mirror, two-speed wipers and electric washers and underbody sealing, and a sun-roof is available. The spare wheel is under the bonnet. There is simple provision for warm or cold air to the carburetter but the plugs are inaccessible. These three-door saloons with the folding back seat for making them into mini-estates are so useful and the Renault has unique plastic body-guards designed to withstand rolling-pace shunts. The 5TL costs £956.43, tax paid. Highly recommended.

Incidentally, the black-and-yellow diamond badge which so many famous Renaults have worn proudly since 1924, including Montlhéry record-breakers, rugged multi-wheeled trans-Saharan trucks and even a gas-turbine car, has now been revamped. We hate change merely for the sake of change, being ardent traditionalists, but mercifully the new Renault badge retains the diamond logo, which has merely been made more “with-it”. These new signs have cost Renault £18,000 to erect in Britain. You may have noticed the illuminated 240 sq. ft. one which Willings International Ltd. have installed at Renault’s expanded Western Avenue premises. The badge is the work of the French sculptor, Vasarely.

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