Fiat Economy

Graham Hill is many things besides being a racing driver these days and you may have seen him on television running out of petrol in a Fiat 126 in Preston Park, Brighton (not on a double-yellow, I hope Graham?) after he had attempted to drive there from London on a gallon of fuel. The run was supervised and scrutineered by the RAC and filmed by TV, and in the ITV commercial you heard Hill praising the little car’s handling and gearbox, and saw it apparently accelerating past larger vehicles as no 126 has done before or since. The RAC gave the consumption as 58.8 m.p.g.—and I hope they checked the mileometer for accuracy, because some years ago I did a similar test of a reconditioned Fiat Topolino which Mayfair Motors Ltd. claimed would give 50 m.p.g., only to find that on actual distance covered it was doing about 48. Certainly Graham Hill must have driven with a heavier foot than Jack Hill of Reading, who got 63.4 m.p.g. at an average of 27.34 m.p.g. from a Fiat 126, also under RAC observation, as we reported in the May isue.

My own experience has been that a normally-driven Fiat 126 should give at least 46 m.p.g., and I have had better than 55 m.p.g. by coasting downhill. But so far my long-standing target of 60 m.p.h./60 m.p.g. has not been attained, even with a 126 the Weber carburetter of which was tuned by Fiat’s themselves; the best then obtainable was 50 m.p.g. still driving carefully, give or take 0.5 m.p.g.

Consequently, when I was informed that, tied in with the G. Hill demonstration, there was a competition open to the ordinary driver, I decided to try again. All I had to do, I was told, was to call on my local Fiat dealer and try for a good economical figure over a route of from three to five miles, of my own choosing, during which petrol consumption would be checked by a GIL Flowmeter accurate to 1/100 of a gallon. This reminded me of a similar scheme put on by Vauxhall’s before the war, to publicise the petrol-thrift of their then-new Vauxhall Ten, and of what fun the late John Eason-Gibson and I had, by driving the demonstration car flat-out and to hell with economy, to the alarm and despondency of the luckless salesman accompanying us! However, I have grown older and more staid since then, so there would be no repetition of such youthful pranks.

My nearest Fiat dealer was in the rather sinister Welsh town of Llangammarch Wells, a drive of about half an hour from home, through impeccable scenery. I rang them. They were just discussing it, they said. Could I have a go? Not bloody likely, was in effect the Eliza Doolittle answer—the equipment costs £75 to fit, they said, and anyway the hilly country hereabouts would not be conducive to good fuel economy. Next, I rang the Fiat dealer at Llanfarian, who serves Aberystwyth. There was no answer to the ringing tone all day. So I then tried the Stow-on-the-Wold address listed by Fiat, thinking gleefully of all the lovely three miles of downhill away from that picturesque Cotswold town. Alas, all day all I got was the “engaged” tone, and I learned sub sequently that this is no longer a Fiat agency. Feeling now as desperate as a driver tearing up a parking ticket stuck to his car by one of Graham’s girl-friends, as all chance of the Italian marble plaque engraved with my name which I could win by beating the Hill m.p.g. faded from my grasp, for the competition closed in ten days, I telephoned Godsells Ltd. of Hereford, who obligingly agreed to let me pit my skill against that of Hill.

I arrived at the appointed time to find the little chap from Turin smothered in posters urging those who drove it to “Beat Graham Hill” and was told that it had just come back from a Shell-Henly Fuel Economy Run run by the Hereford M.C. I asked whether there was any speed or noncoasting stipulations and was told “no”—no holds barred. This seemed rather hard on Hill, who can surely not have driven all the way to Brighton at 10 m.p.h. or less!

As the Fiat 126 has only one distance recorder, which doesn’t read to “tenths”, the distance assessment was also somewhat casual.

Anyway, off I went and, aided at first by a down gradient but later being obliged to slog up a long hill in top gear, I managed my three miles on what the Toric flowmeter said was 0.0352 of a gallon. I was told this would be converted into m.p.g. back at the garage but when we got there I was told it was no-go, as my figure was off the conversion charts provided by Fiats and the flowmeter was thought to be misreading. “Never mind”, I said, “let’s try again”. But that wasn’t allowed, because the well-labelled 126 was due in the workshop—the dynamo had stopped charging and there was an oilleak, all rather unfortunate as it had done less than 900 miles, according to the odometer.

As a matter of interest I got the office computer to work out what three miles on that 0.0352 of a gallon represented. It made it 85.23 m.p.g. I would like to think that although I cannot beat Graham the Grand Prix driver on the circuits I may have bashed him a bit when driving the smallest car for sheer economy. So I had another go, in the same car over the same route, but with a heavier passenger, which gave 0.0397 of a gallon, which Godsell’s converted to 70+ m.p.g. and we make 75.57 m.p.g. Since then Fiat 126s have recorded 73.9, 79,2 and an astonishing 96.8 m.p.g. when driven by motoring writers at Silverstone. But I still want a car that will do 60 m.p.h./60 m.p.g., driven normally. Any takers?—W.B.

Fuel Economy Runs

We announced recently that just when fuel economy is uppermost in the minds of many drivers Mobil have decided to withdraw support from the Hants & Berks MC over the running of the well-known annual Economy Run. Fortunately, Total have taken over and intend that for this year an Economy Run will be held at Brands Hatch on September 17th. What I find of especial interest is that, apart from classes for standard cars, Total intend to encourage experimenters, as Mobil did in the early days of their Run. I remember how the late Holland Birkett and I averaged 83.7 m.p.g. in the 1954 Run with a Citroen 2 c.v., by mildly tuning the carburetter, increasing the tyre pressures to twice their normal figure to reduce rolling resistance, and coasting whenever possible. The raised tyre pressures would now be illegal and later Mobil eliminated such engine tuning by insisting on recent-model British cars only, in standard trim. Wise as this was from a publicity angle, it curbed economy initiative. So I am glad to note that Total intend to have a class at Brands Hatch for All Corners, which will accommodate series-production 4-seater saloons of from 500 c.c. to 2,000 c.c., with any engine modifications permitted, even to using a different make and size of power unit than the standard one, although the only additive allowed will be water (!) and the only fuel petrol. Ultra-high tyre pressures will he discouraged and average speed has not yet been finalised, but will be probably between 40 and 50 m.p.h.—W.B.