OPEL OMNIPOTENCE.—Opels used to be particularly very dull cars, although the post-war Kadett, seemingly made of tin and brown paper, endeared itself to quite a number of drivers because it handled so much better, with its Dubonnet i.f.s., than the then current British economy cars and got along quite well for a roomy £125 saloon. There may be other makes which have swung from the mediocre to the excellent. Opel has certainly done just that. Very good reports are coming in from the Continent about the latest Commodore saloons and coupes, with revised rear suspension and peppy o.h.c. power units.
Consequently, we were in anticipatory mood when we arrived at the office to pick up a road-test Opel, which we thought was to be the 1900 GT coupe with retractable headlamps which we had admired at Earls Court last October. Instead, there confronted us a big fastback coupe, labelled Rekord 1900L on Goodyear G8s, with four Lucas auxiliary lamps to augment the big rectangular headlamps, and a heated rear window. This spacious Opel Rekord wasn’t exactly our idea of a sports-coupe, which anyway it doesn’t pretend to be, because it rides (very comfortably) on rather soggy suspension, although for its size it gets along surprisingly well on 1,897 c.c. Indeed, Opel’s agricultural looking cam-in-head four-cylinder 93 x 69.8-mm. engine gives off 102 (SAE) b.h.p. at 5,400 r.p.m. and drives through the new GM Strasbourg automatic transmission to a coil-sprung back axle located by a lateral link and upper and lower trailing links.
The whole concept is that of a well-contrived touring machine, with light controls and a smooth willing engine. It gave a commendable 29 m.p.g., used no oil in 500 miles, had a heated rear window and single instrumentation, including a clock you couldn’t fail to see— maybe Opel consider the more space there is for the clock mechanism the more reliable it will prove! Anyway, in spite of first impressions, we grew to like the Rekord style of travelling and we are looking forward to trying quicker models by Adam Opel AG of Russelsheim.
Having so far refused to have automatic transmission in personal cars, the driver was nevertheless interested in Opel’s approach to it. They point OM that some 89% of all American automobiles have it, and that although about 90% of European cars do not, abolition of manual gear-changing is bound to come, one forecast suggesting that 75% of new European cars will be so designed by 1975.
So GM set up GM Strasbourg in November 1968, to get on with designing and making a new 3-speed automatic transmission that could handle the torque of small as well as large engines, It had to be lighter, cheaper and an improvement on other GM automatics. It was estimated that 366,000 such units, suitable with four and six-cylinder engines, would be needed by 1971. GM had adopted the Hydra-Matic transmission used in the Oldsmobile F-85 in 1961 for Opel, Vauxhall and Holden cars, and in 1965 had installed some 41,000 Chevrolet Powerglide units in Holdens. The new GM Strasbourg transmission can handle engines from 1.1 to 3.3-litres and it is some 20 lb. lighter than the Powerglide used in former Rekords and Vauxhall Victors. Instead of being cast, its clutch drums are of rolled steel, and the pinion carriers are of steel, instead of cast iron. It is assembled from 142 different parts made by French, American and German sub-contractors, together with 74 more produced on 356 machine tools at GM Strasbourg, The torque converter, the unit’s most important single supplied component, is made by GM (France) at Gennevilliers.
General Motors are obviously serious about putting automatic transmission into their smaller-engined cars. The new plant covers 247 acres and employs about 1,000 people, about 65% from the Strasbourg area. Each transmission unit is checked electronically. The biggest assembly building covers 403,000 sq. ft. and contains a 13,000-ft.-long conveyor-belt.
This has not necessarily converted us to letting our cars change their own gears, but certainly the Opel Rekord L coupe had a very smooth but harsh-sounding transmission, upward changes under kick-down coming at around 38 and 58 m.p.h., and the selector lever for P, R, N, D, S, L worked more smoothly and positively than many of its kind.
JAGUAR DIFFERENCES.—When the Jaguar Car company introduced the Series 2 E-type at the 1968 Earls Court Motor Show the obvious differences were received with mixed feelings. Headlamps and rear-light clusters had been “Americanised”, as had the bumpers and the instrument panel, and switches had been made safe for nervous American statisticians and law makers. There were other modifications that were mentioned, such as fully adjustable back-rests to the seats, in place of the ludicrous two-position miniscule adjustment of the earlier seats, the horn button was moved from the steering wheel centre to the end of the headlamp flasher/turn-indicator lever, the heater and choke controls were recessed in the facia, to make them safer, but much more “fiddly” to use, and the good old-fashioned starter button was replaced by a key-starter. There were other mechanical improvements, to the gearbox, the steering column and the windscreen wiper, while the two-eared knock-off hub caps were replaced by a cap with three lobes, over which a special eared striker-ring is hooked and then clouted. Some statistic somewhere says eared hub-caps might cause pedestrian injury in an accident.
Since using a 1970 Series 2 E-type a number of other modifications have been noticed, compared to the earlier 4.2-litre E-type, and many of them have put right small faults that became apparent in 120,000 miles of hard use of the earlier car flaying cooked an alternator due to the proximity of the exhaust stub from number one cylinder, it is nice to see there is now a heat shield. Having had the complicated cross-over flow header tank rust through, it is encouraging to find an entirely new radiator and piping with no separate header tank, and after watching the old pressure cooling system blow the first pint of water out of the overflow on warming up, it is good to see that the overflow feeds into a small sealed tank on the bulkhead, which can Siphon back into the system if required. The old single thermostatically operated fan, like an aeroplane propeller, that functioned well but noisily, has been replaced by two small neat units tucked away into the radiator cowling. The rubber boot over the gear-lever, that was guaranteed to split if it was not kept pressed down at the bottom of the lever, has been replaced by a much better leather affair, and the doublevee belt driving the alternator that fell apart has been replaced by a single-vee belt. The drive on the rear of the inlet camshaft that drove the little generator for the rev.-counter broke more than once, but, that trouble has been cured for ever; the rev.-counter is now energised electronically from the ignition. The universal joints on rear drive shafts on the Series 1 car were “sealed for life on assembly”, but “life” proved to be 60,000 miles. They now have good honest grease nipples on them. It is rather touching to find plywood floorboards to the luggage compartment of the open roadster in 1970, but depressing to find no A/F ring spanners in the toolkit. The bonnet now hinges up on neat telescopic enclosed spring units, replacing the old open coil springs that went rusty and “clanged”, but the new grille in the air outlet at the rear of the bonnet is pretty and prevents you from hooking fingers into it to lift the bonnet the first half-inch to get at the safety catch; you now have to scrabble about at the sides as best you can.
Best improvement of all is the cylinder head with redesigned valve guides and valve gear, which have changed the notorious Jaguar oil consumption from disastrous quantities to very reasonable quantities, about 4,500 miles to the gallon, the fully adjustable seats are a huge improvement, and the mechanism has caused them to be raised slightly, improving vision. The horn button on the end of the flasher stalk is tiresome, especially when you are winding the steering wheel on mountain hairpins and are used to pressing the wheel centre button with your forearm as you take another handful of lock. The nasty little clock that used to be mounted in the rev.-counter face, and never lasted more than three months, has gone for good, to be replaced by a proper-sized clock in the centre of the instrument panel, which, by the way, still hinges downwards for access to the wiring.
For anyone who keeps his E-type for only four or five thousand miles, before it is really run in, most of these detail improvements are of little interest, and there are many Jaguar buyers like that. Those who use E-types for serious motoring must be pleased to know that the Jaguar Engineering department take note and act, even when it is not a publishable sales promotion problem.
A. D. Easen, 55, Abbey Road, Watley, Worcs., is anxious to forma register for Austin Sheerline 125 and Princess 135 cars, being the owner of one of the latter.
The new Membership Secretary of the Sunbeam-Talbot-Alpine Register is C. R. Griffiths, ‘”I’he Cottage”, East Chinnock, Yeovil, Somerset.