How to run a big car

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MOTORING
JOHN LANGLEY
How to run a big car

MANY people will tell you that the big car is finished in the new era of costly petrol. No one except a few wealthy businessmen will be able to afford to run such cars before long, they argue.

Lots of others will tell you that with high fuel costs and lower speed limits, long distance car journeys are out. Even if you could afford to drive, it takes too long, there’s too much traffic and it’s no longer any fun anyway, they say.

But it’s not true—or at least, it need not be! I was able to disprove both propositions with the aid of a Vauxhall Victor 2300 estate car and a drive to Orkney and back over a long wintry weekend last month. We even managed to fit in a couple of days’ fishing and an extended tour of the remote north of Scotland.

All on 49.62 gallons of petrol, costing £36.72 shared among three of us, travelling in considerable comfort with a full load of luggage. Compare that with the cost of flying – £77.40 return per passenger, or rail — £47.48 each first class, or £31.35 second class ordinary return, London to Thurso, plus the cost of hiring a car there.

So for holiday travel, the car is still the answer. And it doesn’t have to be a mini to show reasonable economy, providing that it is the right sort of big car and is driven with a modicum of restraint.

The Vauxhall Victor, I concede, is not exactly a big car in the same sense as, say, a Rolls Royce or a Jaguar. But with an overall length of almost 15ft, it has the essential roominess in the back as well as the front to qualify and the top gear flexibility that comes from a big, 3.3 litre four-cylinder engine.

It certainly qualified as a big car in the popular price range (the Victor 2300 Estate sells at £2,404 including taxes).

The excuse for our joy-ride was to test a new economy cylinder head for the Victor that has been developed by the tuning expert Bill Blydenstein.

For the last couple of seasons his main-pre-occupation has been in developing go-faster equipment for the Vauxhalls raced by the official Dealer Team Vauxhall. His big-valve cylinder heads have always had the potential of greater economy as well as performance, through their improved efficiency, but with the advent of the oil crisis, he has concentrated on economy.

We set off from Bill Blydenstein’s headquarters at Shepreth, Cambridgeshire in the Victor just after six p.m. and drove throughout the night, each taking it in turn to have a cat-nap in the roomy back seat.

We stopped only for dinner and breakfast, re-fuelling and driver changes and drove at the official speed limits all the way (corrected on the car’s speedometer which, as usual, was fast). We had enough time in hand to make a detour to John O’Groats and still get to Scrabster at 11.05 on Friday morning in time to catch the new drive on St. Ola Ferry to Stromness in Orkney.

Our overall petrol consumption for the total 1,456 miles worked out at 29.25 miles a gallon, not bad for a big heavily laden estate car. And we weren’t hanging about—our average speed was 52.9 mph.

What we were doing was taking full advantage of the massive torque from the big, four cylinder engine to eliminate unnecessary gear changes. It was virtually a top gear run except for starting and traffic driving.

This flexible top gear performance, accentuated by the economy cylinder head with its big exhaust valves, made the Victor a relaxing car to drive and we got back feeling remarkably fresh.

Bill Blydenstein is very keen on this “driveability” aspect, as he calls it, and he believes the car manufacturers will have to pay increasing attention to it in their new engine designs.

“On a long journey, you are better off in a big car” he said. “If you can just keep your foot off the accelerator a little bit, using the car’s top gear driveability instead, you can achieve miles per gallon figures every bit as good as from a small car that you have got to row along on the gear lever to achieve the same sort of average speeds.

“The performance figure I always look for is the 30 mph —50 mph acceleration in top gear (7.6 seconds in the Victor’s case). This gives a very good clue to the car’s driveability factor.” A driver with “gear knob mania” might not be able to achieve such good results but with petrol bills rising, people would not be able to afford this extrovert style of driving.

Reports coming back from a variety of users indicate that the economy cylinder head can save up to 10p on every gallon of petrol. It has been found particularly valuable on Bedford vans and motor caravans, and, incidentally, it produces at least five bhp more than the standard head. It costs £49.40 on an exchange basis, available through Vauxhall dealers, and would cost about £80 fitted.

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