Industry insight: SMMT test '87

Good vintage

SMMT Test ’87 is a one-and-a-half day annual event for journalists centred upon Donington Park, which can yield outstanding mileage over the shorter track layout, surrounding roads or specially laid out tests. The 1987 edition was a particularly good vintage, with technical interest in Subaru’s permanent 4WD XT coupe, encouraging speed from the Nissan turbocharged unit in Reliant’s Scimitar 1800 Ti, the RHD debut of Citroen and Peugeot’s 16-valve engine in a pre-production BX and the sheer speed of the UVA (Unique Vehicle and Accessory) company’s mid-engined M6GTR, a 43in high capsule bearing lines redolent of the sixties Bruce McLaren M6 road racer.

At £18,000, the leather-trimmed white UVA demonstrator was pitched at the Lotus Esprit sector, and 25 such cars have already been sold with a further 30 orders in hand. It would be easy to say the UVA was “just another kit car” but the company belongs to the SMMT band of specialist manufacturers, in just the same way as Caterham Cars and other familiar names. UVA’s composite GRP body and monocoque shows good fit and finish along with its uplifting doors.

Stepping over the extensive door sills and canting legs to the left provided all the reminder that is needed of the car’s composite GRP seven-layer monocoque and mid-motor layout. Behind me slept a 235 bhp/3.9-litre version of Rover’s alloy V8 as transformed by John Eales (JE Motors) at Coventry.

Surrounded by 11in diameter disc brakes, wishbone suspension and enormous BF Goodrich 50-series radials on 8in and 10in wide rims, it seemed possible that Donington’s recently resurfaced mileage would provide some entertainment, particularly as this 1725lb projectile is said to reach 60 mph in 5.1 seconds and eacceed 150 mph.

Igniting 3.9 litres overcame conversation for 20 manufacturers’ berths in the vicinity. Puny four-cylinders snuffling through their morning cold start were obliterated in the steady blare of Porsche-tipped exhausts. It was almost worth £18,000 to hear this 7000 rpm V8 work through its morning warm-up.

The acceleration made itself apparent even through the lie-back seating and tired Renault 2-litre transaxle. The surrounding Hot Hatchback set became set-pieces as the M6GTR turned obediently into each new challenge and snorted along Starkey’s straight at a calculated 120 mph.

Back with the comparatively upright set Citroen‘s installation of the 1905cc XU alloy engine in DOHC 16-valve trim is prophetic, not only for its higher rpm over the already sprightly GTi BX, but for its future roles in Peugeot’s 405 newcomer (British sales begin in January 1988) and any possible sports application in the 1.9 205 GTI.

The knowledgeable PRO Paul Bucket imparted key facts as a then unique RHD 16-valve BX explored Donington to its 6500 rpm/160 bhp peaks. We could not check the 135 mph maximum and sub-eight-second 0-60 mph claims, but there was no doubt the 16-valve BX offered a strong high rpm bonus over the 130 bhp eight-valve layout which has been justly acclaimed in Peugeot’s 205 and 309 GTis.

Lower gas pressures within the hydropneumatic suspension stiffen up cornering characteristics and allow the best to be extracted from 195/60 Michelin MXVs, a remark which also applies to the standard ABS and four-wheel disc braking system. Subaru’s 4WD XT Turbo Sport Coupe was sampled with a new four-speed automatic (£15,498) and five speed manual (£14,499), both now hitched to permanent 4WD, rather than the previous knob-selected system for specific tasks. The 1781cc flat-four is still rated at 134 bhp, but the power and fuel consumption curves show modest acceleration and economy benefits.

The microprocessor-controlled automatic with its 10 sensors proved responsive in all but the gap between some of its ratios (6400 redline down to 4600 rpm between first and second for example).

Doubtless the straight 50:50 power split system is a big improvement over earlier Subarus in tarmac use, but if you want the Subaru to chase a 16-valve Golf under circuit conditions the sleek (0.31 Cd) Subaru still exhibits that the Japanese know all about kangaroo hop.

Driving the 135 bhp Reliant Scimitar SSI, I was conscious that it wore a vaguely familiar dashboard, but it was not until I climbed into the revised MG Montego Turbo that I wondered why the MG engine had not found its way into the Reliant, beneath their common instrumentation? Probably because of price and the fact that the Nissan engine is used in a north-south rear-drive installation; certainly not because of any lack of performance from the MG unit’s 152 bhp.

The Montego, featuring revised steering and front-end geometry, was certainly an improvement, but the steering still fights against torque over B-road bumps. The Reliant was a revelation, sizzling through the gears to reach 90 mph whenever you blinked.

There were a great many more performance machines to fascinate, but I must also mention one conversion: Geoff Kershaw at Turbo Technics tackled the 1.6 Peugeot 205 GTI and endowed it with 160 civilly-delivered horsepower. This was remarkable because experts in that industry had told me the Peugeot was totally unsuitable for turbocharging, having its exhaust shrouded on the cabin side of its transverse installation where maximum turbo heat could collect. Dire tales were recounted of melting prototypes from industry leaders. Thus I took this £12,900 “Corsica” conversion out on the Goodyear handling course.

This sprint slalom course demanded ultimate third and second-gear response. Plus left-right flickabiliry. Yokohamas on standard suspension provided that element and the car was by far the fastest saloon on that Melbourne loop trial. Moreover it had an even 1100 rpm tickover and never showed the slightest distress during four to five-minute periods between runs.

The real wallop came at 3500-4000 rprn, but the boost was tailored to persist beyond 6500 rpm in a progressive flow. I could not find anything, outside the subjective opinion of extra body panels, to object to in this Cartel-marketed Pug, and it completed the memories of a worthwhile event. JW