Playing Polo

Last year I played golf at the behest of Philip Stein, Volkswagen (GB) Limited’s Head of Publicity, and this year he invited me to play Polo, at Aston Clinton in Buckinghamshire. After all this equestrianism and balls, I am pretty well-informed about the economy-car game as played by VW in the Audi image. I have, indeed, previously waxed enthusiastic about the VW Golf, which is a very nice, well-mannered little motor-car.

The Polo should appeal even more to those who have to count the (New) pennies but who do not wish to travel in cramped discomfort. One’s first impression, as with many small-engined cars these days, is of the room within the three-door body. And as this is a hatch-back, it is also an excellent luggage carrier. Indeed, the back seat folds easily, to provide a remarkably big, flat stowage area.

During the pleasant buffet lunch in the Bell Inn’s Pavilion there was an opportunity to discuss the Polo with two of the Engineers responsible for this latest VW model. Points which arose were that the Polo is lighter than its competitors, by which VW mean the Fiat 127, Renault 5 and Peugeot 104 etc., but that safety had been carefully considered. Thus although there is less sheet metal around the front of the Polo than is found in, say, the Fiat 127, crunch-zones are fully protected. The Polo is built to the great and widely-copied Issigonis Formula, but the gearbox is separate from the engine. The 69.5 x 59 mm. 895-c.c. transverse engine of the Polo has been ingeniously designed to obviate complication. The horizontal ignition distributor is driven directly as an extension of the rear of the o.h.-camshaft and the cogged-belt drive at the front (o/s) of the engine serves the camshaft water-pump and oil-pump. A plastic bag, intended to last the life of the car, shields the distributor and its leads.

Good petrol economy has been wooed by reducing weight, rolling resistence accounting for 70% of fuel economy, and by keeping wind-drag low. The drag factor, we were told, is bettered only by the Honda Civic, among comparable cars, and a spoiler is used at the back of the roof. The body shape of the Polo was decided upon by Bertoni, who was responsible for the unusual circular air-extractors on the rear side panels. One could not help feeling that this will confuse petrol-station attendants who approach the Polo from the n/s. The actual filler-cap is under a flap on the opposite side, connecting with an 8-gallon tank safely concealed under the body shell. The L-version of the Polo has been up-rated for this country, with disc front brakes, fully-reclining front-seat squabs, radial-ply tyres, heated-rear-window etc. The VW (GP) publicity staff had arranged a 110-mile test route and plenty of Polos for us to play with. I will confess, however, that instead of thrashing a car over this varied route, so that I could tell you all about it, I went off with John Bolster to find some old speed-venues in the vicinity of Aston Clinton. John did not need much persuading, before he went off to do his stint in a Polo. We located Aston-Clinton hill itself, where Dario Resta made ftd. in 1924 in the then-new 2-litre GP Sunbeam, and Kop Hill, where the accident involving Giveen’s Brescia Bugatti and a spectator’s leg brought these public-road speed events to an end, in 1925. We also went to Howard Park and Dancer’s End, where, in later pre-war times, the Berkhamsted & District MC ran less ambitious, but enormously informal and enjoyable, contests. The house at the former venue has gone and the straight, level sprint course, starting by the ornamental bridge, is now a muddy track, no longer gravel-surfaced. But Dancer’s End, that narrow, rough-surfaced hill with a splendid hairpin bend soon after the start, is almost exactly as it was when Bolster crackled up it at record speed in Bloody Mary and I watched from the inside of that corner, taking cover behind one of the trees. Neither John nor I had been there since those far-away times . . . .

I hope, therefore, that you will excuse me if I have little to say at this stage about a very significant newcomer to the economy-car field. Like the Golf, the Polo is a great little car, with plenty of performance (the engine gives 40 b.h.p. at 5,900 r.p.m. and runs, as Minis now do, on 2-star fuel), a light gear change with rather long movements, reverse easy to engage, light steering, and good suspension. You will have to wait until we do a full road-test report for m.p.g. figures, but Volkswagen claim 54.3 at a steady 50 m.p.h. and expect that you will get 40 m.p.g. in ordinary motoring. Top speed is listed as 82 m.p.h.—W.B.