The Editor Samples a Ford Consul Corsair Automatic, an M.G. Magnette Automatic, the R8 Renault in 1,100-c.c. Form and the Hillman Minx 1600 Series Five
Not a wildly exciting selection, perhaps, but I feel no particular pangs of remorse for writing briefly about these four sound vehicles, especially remembering that some years ago a contemporary announced proudly that it had signed-up racing driver Roy Salvadori to write its road-test reports; I awaited eagerly his first appraisal and it was all about— a Hillman Minx.
The Ford Corsair was provided while the Cortina GT which gives me so much satisfaction, and reliable daily motoring, was being serviced. It was at once more sophisticated, with more comfortable seats and a pleasant air of up-to-the-minuteness lacking in the Cortina, yet I preferred several aspects of the latter, disliking the ugly horn-ring which blanks the lights and turn-controls, as does the steering-wheel spoke, the spring-loaded rear number-plate which covers the fuel filler and the tinny lid of the too-small cubby-hole of the Corsair. Howeyer, the automatic transmission works smoothly, although the drive takes up with a bang in “D” or “R.” The engine becomes noisy when accelerating hard under kick-down and whereas the servo brakes of the Corsair GT are superior in action to those of a Cortina GT, the normal Corsair has unconvincing brakes, which would benefit from suction assistance. On the whole, though, the Ford Corsair is obviously a car the bulk of buyers are finding extremely attractive and it is generally a very acceptable family car.
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The M.G. Magnette likewise was not strictly a road-test consignment, being offered as transport by B.M.C. while they were rejuvenating the Editorial Morris 1100 after it had run more than 17,000 miles with no more traces of old age than a noisy tappet, some underbody porosity and well-worn brake pads. A direction indicator spring had failed, a door-lock likewise.
Although the Farina B.M.C. range is now considerably outdated and on paper these are not inspiring cars, they contrive to endear themselves to me as solid, no-nonsense, luxury family saloons. The M.G. Magnette had the thick-rimmed, too-high-set steering wheel of its kind, seats which I thought very decently comfortable, plenty of space in an upright clubroom sort of fashion, a big boot and a tow-bar.
Performance wasn’t exciting and kicking-down to get adequate acceleration from the automatic transmission produced an astonishing increase in engine noise and an ache in my right leg. The ride and road-holding was unremarkable, yet this M.G. somehow endeared itself to most of those who rode in it. In all, it covered more than 1,800 miles in a very short space of time without any temperamental troubles. As, previous to my rather hasty acquisition of it, another journal had rushed to Pau and back in it, this underlines the ruggedness of these useful B.M.C. products. Even the brakes scarcely hinted at the hard use to which they had been put. Long after this family of uninspired but faithful B.M.C. saloons has been superseded by AD017 or whatever, they will continue to sell well on the used-car market, serve a great many people very adequately and will continue to be spoken of with affection if not with enthusiasm.
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I was anxious to try the 1,100-c.c. version of the R8 Renault, having been obliged to forego its Corsican pre-view. It is a very willing little rear-engined car indeed, quiet-running, with a vague yet quick gear-change, and disc brakes all round which were disappointing on the test car, tending to lag and locking the Michelin “X”-shod wheels all too readily on slippery roads. The R8 is noted for comfortable seats, although I did not like the very spongy cushions and squabs with which they are endowed, nor did I find the inclining-squab adjustment easy.
Good screen-wipers, parked by depressing their throw-over switch, but a tinny drop-lid to the cubby-hole, an accessible engine but difficult-to-reach rear-door locks and the need to lock by key both front doors, a vanity mirror in the passenger’s vizor but very limited headroom, a reverse gear so quick to engage that R8 owners might well win driving tests, but a tendency to wander, and rather “tight-rope” road-holding, very prompt cold-starts but not overmuch room inside—these comments suns up my R8 likes and dislikes. Externally this isn’t a beautiful car and the concave table-like bonnet is a bit depressing. But for its feeling of dependability, high-class finish without and within, full equipment included in the standard specification, and useful performance, with an indicated 70 m.p.h. in 3rd gear, at 41 m.p.g. of non-premium petrol, this little Renault has a definite place in the motoring scheme of things. Oil thirst, checked after 470 miles on the flimsy dip-stick, had been one-third of a pint.
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It seems years since I have driven one of the larger Rootes’ products, so a series-five Hillman Minx saloon was interesting. I have in the past criticised Rootes’ 1½-litre cars for harsh engine and gear-change, a “dead” ride and spongy steering. This compact 1.6-litre Hillman had improved steering and the ride seemed more lively than formerly, even to transmitting some shudder over bad roads. The gear-change, by a stolid floor lever, remains notchy but positive; the engine picks-up harshly and would benefit from better low-speed torque; particularly as top and 3rd gears are as high as 3.89 and 5.4 to 1, respectively.
One has to remember, however, that this Minx sells for £634 18s. 9d. in de luxe form, or £648 3s. 9d. with whitewall Dunlops, which compares favourably with the rather expensive Hillman Super Minx. It has comfortable seats, a reasonable size boot obstructed by a vertical spare wheel, is nicely equipped and finished, and will run up to an indicated 65 m.p.h. in 3rd gear or cruise at a similar speed in top, with a maximum of 76-79 m.p.h.
Greasing has been eliminated and the neat facia contains a combined amps., oil-pressure and heat gauge to match the speedometer, a petrol gauge, and a Smiths’ clock that gained outrageously. The calibration is thorough, a Rootes’ speciality. There is a good parcels’ shelf, a lockable cubby-hole, sill-interior locks for the front doors, and a full-horn-ring. This is an old-fashioned but quiet and acceptable family car, comparable to the Farina B.M.C. saloons. Generally, I think B.M.C. do things rather better, but then a Morris Oxford costs £731 against £635 for this Minx.
The engine stalled occasionally and tended to run-on, with a clonk suggesting a broken exhaust-pipe bracket or engine mounting. The only other defect was failure of the o/s. direction indicator, the stalk having to be held down to make a signal. There is a well-placed r.h. brake lever but the crude iron adjuster for the driver’s seat is somewhat lethal to trouser-turn-ups and nylons.
Fuel consumption was a reasonable 30.3 m.p.g. of premium petrol and when I looked at the dip-stick, and the engine, for the first time after the Hillman had been used for just over 900 miles, it indicated the need for a pint of oil. Fuel range was 252 miles.
This series-five Minx has disc front brakes giving powerful if slightly erratic retardation and cornering is acceptable if not outstanding. There are rather flimsy, rubber-protected bumpers. The improvements effected make me keen to try the latest Sunbeam Rapier, to see if this has been similarly improved.
None of these cars, however, gave me the same satisfaction as the Ford Consul Cortina GT, mainly because good acceleration is so necessary in the prevailing traffic congestion.—W. B.
Matters of moment, February 1978
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