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107

The Editor drives the Ford Consul Cortina de luxe estate-car and the Triumph Vitesse, while the Assistant Editor tries the latest Austin Healey 3000

The fact that I have been driving about in a Ford Consul Cortina has occasioned some amusement in the office, because up to now I cannot have been said to be a firm friend of Ford’s latest small car. However, it seemed only fair to gain more experience of the Cortina and as one of the points I criticised after a short drive in the saloon version was undue flexibility of the rear suspension, I thought it prudent to ask the helpful Public Affairs Department at Dagenham for an estate-car version, which has stiffer back springs. In any case, the estate-cars, in de luxe and Super form, are the latest manifestation of the much-discussed and frequently-encountered Cortina.

I am not such a stuffy writer that I refuse to eat my words when I am in error—I have written so many that swallowing a few is hardly likely to give me indigestion! However, in this instance I do not feel the need to do any such thing. There are far more advanced cars, technically, than the Cortina, cars which take corners more securely and satisfactorily. There are, alas for progress, masses of people who set little or no store by such things, so that, as I predicted last October, Fords continue to sell in record numbers.

Moreover, better Cortinas have been announced since the original model, with, amongst other improvements, a bigger engine, disc front brakes and stiffer suspension, which alters the original argument. Finally, Colin Chapman has so thoroughly revised this car that the twin-cam Lotus-Cortina is rumoured to be able to take its place unashamedly amongst the fastest saloon cars in the World. So I am watching Cortina development with keen interest and optimistic anticipation, while seeing no reason to retract my earlier remarks, or to regard the normal versions as, in the words of Ford’s Public Relations Department, “The Small Car with a Big Difference.”

The Ford Consul Cortina estate-car came to me in de luxe form, and therefore mercifully without the ornate American-imported Di-Noc imitation wood trim that distinguishes (in the recognition sense) the Super 1,500-c.c. version.

As an estate-car the Cortina de luxe is an admirable load-carrier. I drove it far and fast, empty and very fully-laden, so fully-laden, indeed, that there was only just room for our faithful and enthusiastic motoring Labrador after five people and their effects had been piled in. If this suggests that there are more spacious shooting-brakes, the Cortina is splendidly accommodating for a lively 1.2-litre-class vehicle. For, with all this human load and clobber aboard it cruises unconcernedly with the steady needle of its 100-m.p.h. speedometer on 70, accelerates well, and climbs hills like Old Birdlip without embarrassment. The handling naturally embraces some oversteer, but I was pleased to discover that, heavily laden, there is not too much roll and that corners can be taken fast with certainty providing the steering is made use of to persuade the car to hold the chosen course. When lightly loaded the ride is lively and there is noticeable back-axle thump.

The lightweight yet rigid body shell of the Cortina is an example of clever engineering, whatever the suspension department lacks; but there is a little shimmy or tremor, which shakes the steering column, gear-lever and seats somewhat on bad roads; I am sure the rigid back axle is responsible. The steering is otherwise shock-free, quite light, geared at four turns, lock-to-lock, of which a full turn is free play, and has mild castor-return action.

The Product Planning Manager at Dagenham, Terry Beckett, has been quoted as saying that the idea behind these Cortina estate-cars was to get away from the utility vehicle and to achieve a style that came from integrated design instead of modification of an existing car. This aim has been admirably achieved. Although it is my personal view that from certain angles the low wide grille and dropped bonnet-line over-emphasises the depth of the body sides (nor do I like the cheap mesh grille and the imitation air inlet labelled “Consul”), from most aspects the appearance of the de luxe Cortina estate-car is very acceptable, and seems to send the lades into flights of wild enthusiasm.

The practical arrangements are equally acceptable. Loading is facilitated by the lockable, counter-balanced tail-gate with its big rear window, that leaves clear entry to the low-floor interior. It also offers protection from the rain while loading, it being possible for the average man to stand upright under it when it has swung automatically to the horizontal position. The spare wheel is accommodated in a carrier that winds down by winch from under the body, leaving an unobstructed floor.

The interior decor is spartan, with rubber floor covering and P.V.C. upholstery, the rear floor being ribbed metal, but of this I approve in an estate-car, which is sooner or later going to become dirty and therefore should be simple to clean.

Instrumentation is modest, without so much as a temperature gauge, and with that uncalibrated fuel gauge which, however, does indicate when the tank is nearly exhausted, which is, I suppose, the main function of such a gauge. Separate or bench front seats are optional; the test-car had the former. I sank too deeply into mine and had a poor view forward impeded by the top of the steering wheel, yet, on two consecutive days, driving without stopping for 180 and 160 miles, respectively, I could not honestly call these seats in the least fatigue promoting.

The right-hand steering column extension which carries the flashers and lamps levers at right angles to it and the horn-push on its extremity is certainly to hand. The action of the flashers-control needs some forethought (it is really entirely logical and is backed by separate indicator lights on the facia) and the lamps-control does enable the headlamps to be flashed in daylight, although this is incidental to, not a feature of, the switchgear. The horn is rather subdued, the rear-view mirror somewhat cut off but supplemented by a clear, oblong off-side wing mirror.

The central handbrake lever and gear-lever are conventional, and all the better for that. The gear-change of the modern small Ford I praised last month and do so again. The changes would be fractionally faster with a less springy lever but that is of scarcely any moment on this kind of car. Reverse is very easily located, beyond 2nd-gear position.

This de luxe estate-car is available with steering-column gear-lever for those who prefer it (I don’t) and can he had with the 1 1/2-engine. The 1,198-c.c. 53 (gross) b.h.p. engine, however, gives very reasonable performance for a car of this type, thanks to lightweight construction. First and 2nd gears are too low, speedometer maxima in them being 30 and 44 m.p.h., but 70 comes up in 3rd, and this indicated speed is also a not unhappy cruising speed.

A better indication of the Cortina estate-car’s performance is, perhaps, provided by saying that leaving the E.C.1 office car-park on a Monday lunch-time, and following the A40 ring-road along Euston Road to Shepherd’s Bush, and up Western Avenue, a very crawlsome exit from the Metropolis, and thence along that lorry-infested road through High Wycombe to Oxford, when only thereafter was it possible to get any sort of a move on, I was able to average 37 m.p.h. to my destination in Radnorshire without doing any more pressing-on than is usual on such solo-driving occasions. I stopped only for traffic halts, the fuel range of at least 230 miles obviating a refuelling pause. I enjoyed this lone drive more than I had anticipated, the engine accelerating smoothly but with some “power boom,” the back axle tramping less than on the Anglia Super I reported on last month, but the brakes being very little better, so that it will be a relief to drive a disc-braked Cortina GT.

This, the least-expensive 4-door estate-car on the market (£683 5s. 5d., inclusive of p.t.), provides a 6 ft. 5 1/1 in.-long 21 1/2 sq. ft. floor area, equal to 56 cu. ft. of stowage space below window level with the back seat folded away, which renders it an extremely useful family carrier. Even with the back scat in use there is 12 1/2 sq. ft. of floor space available, accommodating 27 cu. ft. of luggage. Straight-forward, instead of advanced, in design, the Cortina in this form I found very acceptable. In heavily-laden trim, again pressing on, fuel consumption averaged 31.7 m.p.g., or a fraction more, because a little fuel was spilt when the horizontal filler-pipe, closed by an unsecured flush-fitting bayonet cap on the off-side of the body, refused even an Eversure Fillacan. Those accustomed to carrying spare fuel should note that not even a lipped jug will fill the Cortina’s 8-gallon tank. Such fuel economy is excellent and our figure an improvement on those published in some other journals.

Minor controls are confined to three knobs (choke, wipers, washers) and the under-facia switch that controls panel lighting on the Anglia is for the single interior lamp on the Cortina, there being courtesy action as well from the front doors. A single (ignition) key locks all doors, the total mileometer incorporates a decimal reading, and interior stowage is looked after by a very deep lipped full-width under-facia shelf and an unlockable cubby of generous size, the lid of which drops to form a shelf. There is the usual excellent heater/demister; its twin circular hot-air vents on the facia sill are set too far from the screen extremities but do not project cold air onto the front-seat occupants. The doors shut nicely and lock from the inside handles.

I maintain that the Cortina is old-fashioned and very ordinary, even if it did cost £12-million to develop! But amongst “conventional” automobiles it has the best-selling merits of being easy-to-drive, of providing excellent basic transport and, in estate-car form, of being outstandingly well-planned, practical, durable and spacious. The test car was Goodyear-shod and finished in a handsome dark blue with grey “flashes” and silver-blue seats. After the staff had tried it the mileage had increased by 850 but the oil-level had dropped by a pint.

***

The next car to come up for assessment was a Triumph Vitesse. There is an exciting sense of uncertainty about Press cars requested from the Standard-Triumph organisation. As in the case of the Spitfire, reported on favourably in the April issue, so with the Vitesse. It was promised for Easter Saturday, postponed until the following Tuesday, turned out to be a TR4 in which I enjoyed 500 secure and accelerative miles, before we were asked to change this for a Vitesse. When the latter did materialise it was a hack saloon with overdrive u/s. and a tendency to clutch-slip. The proper Vitesse, a handsome white and black convertible without overdrive, was scheduled to arrive at 11 a.m., then by 1 p.m. a few days later, and eventually arrived at my Hampshire residence at tea-time. In mid-test the licence expired! The staff of the Standard-Triumph Press Section are charming people but their department does seem to be a trifle disorganised.

However, absence makes the heart grow fonder, and having waited a long time to try a Vitesse, which a friend who is particularly keen on 6-cylinder engines recommended strongly last winter, I had no reason to feel disappointed. The Triumph Vitesse Six is a distinctive and likeable car. Cecil Clutton has drawn attention to the incidence of the small six of the mid-‘twenties and the intervention of the Official Receiver but later the small-capacity 6-cylinder car was revived, by Armstrong Siddeley in 1929 with their 1,236-c.c. side-valve Twelve and in 1931 by Wolseley with their 1,271-c,c. o.h.c. Hornet, etc. The Triumph Vitesse revives this line of small-car approach to smooth, flexible motoring, remembering that engine size has increased in the last three decades and that this is by far the smallest six on the British market.

It has much in common with the Triumph Herald, that progressively-improved little Britisher now available in 12/50 form, but the Vitesse uses a 66 3/4 x 76 mm. (1,596 c.c.) push-rod o.h.v. small 6-cylinder engine developing 70 (gross) b.h.p. at 5,000 r.p.m., using twin Solex carburetters and a c.r. of 8 3/4 to 1. There are Girling disc brakes on the front wheels, available also on the Herald.

The 6-cylinder engine, borrowing ruggedness from the renowned Vanguard Six, is the most charming feature of this compact and stylish convertible. It is extremely smooth, responds well to the throttles, and provides pick-up in the order of 0-50 m.p.h. in 12 sec., 0-60 m.p.h. in just under 18 sec., and a s.s. 1/4-mile in 20.8 sec. It also runs silkily up to over 30 in bottom, over 50 in 2nd and over 70 in 3rd gear, and does so silently except for a business-like gear whine from the gearbox and a deep exhaust boom when accelerating, a manner of performing that I found very enjoyable. Especially impressive is the top-gear pick-up; 30-50 m.p.h. in 10 sec., for instance.

Moreover, added to this silent, smooth 6-cylinder acceleration was the pleasure of having an openable car for the first decent weather we have had this year. The hood of the Vitesse convertible is well-contrived, keeping out heavy rain in spite of the hoodlining showing some porosity, being free from drumming with the windows closed, and going up and down with alacrity.

All that is necessary is to break the screen-rail toggles and fold the top away into the well behind the back seat. The hood rails break and make automatically and there is no stretching to be done. Wind-up side windows in the 2-door body, with large quarter-lights, provide ventilation or protection, to choice. I rate this an excellent convertible, definitely with a one-man hood.

The body, of course, is small, so that rear-seat accommodation is cramped for two normally-developed adults. But the separate front seats are comfortable if somewhat hard, and a fairly large lockable cubby-hole is supplemented by flush-fitting door pockets and a shallow well above the gearbox. When the top is up there is a big well behind the back seat, and the lockable luggage boot is of reasonable size. Highly polished wood for facia and window-cappings, thick carpets, and upholstery in P.V.C. that is a passable imitation (in appearance) of leather stamp the Vitesse as a car for Britons.

The controls comprise a rather scattered series of knobs bearing International symbols, and instrumentation is almost skimpy, a single dial sufficing as speedometer (calibrated in k.p.h. as well as m.p.h. and with total and trip odometers), fuel gauge and concentration of warning lights. Stalks for lamps (left) and flashers (right), the lighting first being switched on from the facia, are provided. An under-facia interior lamp has a cranked switch-lever, and courtesy action when the wide doors are opened. I would have liked a temperature gauge, if not an oil gauge.

The gearbox is controlled by a splendid little central floor lever, rigid and well-placed, which changes gear nicely if a shade notchily, the non-synchromesh bottom gear being not too difficult to engage from rest and reverse going in easily when the lever is depressed and thrust beyond 1st-gear position. The pull-up handbrake is conventional. The pedals are very much off-set, which I do not like, although actual discomfort did not result.

The Vitesse has the enormous steering-lock, and thus the taxi turning circle and accompanying tyre-scrub of a Herald, the Herald’s tendency for the swing-axle to breakaway rather suddenly on fast corners, firm but quick steering (just under 3 3/4 turns, lock-to-lock, but using normally only about half of it) that transmits severe kick-back over bad surfaces, and suspension that provides a good firm ride at the expense of body tremors over poor roads and understeer until breakaway is reached.

I was not able to do as much testing as I would have wished due to the delayed arrival of the Press car, but what driving I did do I enjoyed, the Triumph Vitesse impressing me as a rather old-fashioned but essentially honest motor-car, with a very nice engine. Because this 1 1/2-litre power unit is installed in a car intended basically for a 1,100-c.c. engine performance is effortless, top speed being above 87 m.p.h. The Vitesse also has the merit of being a car of considerable character, with such modern items as aluminium front bumper, dual headlamps, that Herald-type forward-hinged bonnet that gives almost 100% accessibility of engine and front suspension components, the rather pointless boot-located Herald reserve fuel tap trapping 6 pints in the near-side located 81-gallon fuel tank, and distinctive lines.

There is a good heater/demister, although the demisting is the more efficient. The test car rode on Dunlop C41 tubeless 5.60 x 13 tyres. The brakes are better than they feel, the engine a prompt starter. Fuel consumption, checked under adverse conditions came out at 23.3 m.p.g. of normal Esso premium petrol, and under more favourable circumstances 27.1 m.p.g. was obtained, giving an average of 25.2 m.p.g., which is fair enough, remembering that there are six cylinders. In a total test mileage of 950, just over a quart of oil was consumed.

In conclusion, I like this 6-cylinder 1 1/2-litre Triumph Vitesse. The engine is so dynamo-like and unobtrusive that I look forward one day to driving the overdrive version. Meanwhile, for those seeking a “different,” compact convertible, this car is good value at £784 15s. 5d., inclusive of heater and p.t.

Finally, the Assistant Editor comments below on the latest Austin Healey 3000.—W. B.

***

The latest version of the big Healey has rather more home comforts than its predecessors as it now sports wind-up windows and a more easily managed hood which can be raised and lowered from within the car. Mechanically the car is not greatly altered, but the number of carburetters has been reduced from three to two without loss of power—in fact there is a slight gain—the front suspension has been stiffened slightly and the gear-lever now sprouts from the centre of the gearbox tunnel and not from the side as on previous models.

These changes have not made much difference to the character of the 3000, which retains those features which have made it a best seller all over the world. The 3-litre engine does not object to being lugged down to 1,000 r.p.m. in overdrive top gear and will pull away again quite smoothly to the accompaniment of gobbling noises from the S.U.s. These were obviously not in proper tune during our test as a flat spot was evident which spoiled acceleration somewhat.

The gearbox has the same slow change which cannot be hurried unless the driver can put up with the clashing of gears, while the rather heavy clutch pedal needs full depression before the clutch frees. However, once on the move out of town it is seldom necessary to drop below 3rd gear unless in a real hurry, and the overdrive on 3rd and top proved to be of real value.

The Healey reaches 100 m.p.h. quite easily and rapidly and will cruise all day at this speed with the engine turning over at around 4,000 r.p.m. in overdrive top. The engine is reasonably quiet at these speeds but the sealing between windows and hood is ineffective, giving rise to a great deal of wind roar which precludes conversation or use of the radio.

Several problems with the old Healey have not been eliminated in the latest version. The exhaust pipe still strikes the ground on quite mild bumps when driving fast and on warm days the interior of the car becomes uncomfortably hot despite the use of the cold air ventilation, and in the rush hour in Oxford Street the engine almost reached boiling point although on the open road it runs distinctly cool at under 160° F.

The driving position is not ideal, the back-rest being too upright so that driver and passenger begin to squirm with discomfort after 5o miles or so. The steering wheel is also rather large but the steering is not unduly heavy at speed and reasonably high-geared, so that the car can be cornered very rapidly indeed with little effort and virtually no body roll. Due to some lost motion in the steering linkage the car tended to wander at high speed and called for small corrections.

Despite these various criticisms the 3000 is still great fun to drive, the long striding gait being especially useful on long trips, on which it is possible to average 50 m.p.h. quite easily. We did not take performance figures for the Healey as it is very similar to the last model we tested but it should be capable of 0-60 m.p.h. in 10 sec. and we saw 120 m.p.h. on the speedometer on several occasions. Fuel consumption worked out at 18 m.p.g.—M. L. T.

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