Another car I have been trying recently, very different from a Panda, is the 2.2-litre Renault 20TX, top-model of the 20-range. What a comfortable, refined car it is! It has a slightly longer-stroke-than-bore, 88 x 89 mm., 2,165 c.c., overhead-camshaft, light-alloy, four cylinder, five-bearing engine, driving the front wheels, of course, but mounted normally. The drive goes through an excellent 5-speed gearbox and the 20TX has enhanced road-grip from Michelin TRX tyres on light alloy wheels.
With 115 (DIN) b..p, available at 5,500 r.p.m. (and 6,000 r.p.m. safe), this large but not over-big four-door Hatchback Renault has impressive, effortless performance. Although the final-drive ratio has been lowered to 4.11 to 1, it is possible to run up to 98 m.p.h. in 4th gear, with a maximum in fifth of 106 m.p.h. Acceleration, at 10 1/2 seconds to 60 m.p.h. from rest, and a s.s. 1/4-mile in 18 seconds, is very “usable” on the road. Apart from which, it is the excellent ride, seating comfort, and the sensible controls which combine to make this car outstandingly good value. The light power-steering doesn’t have the “feel” of, say, that of a Rover, especially on wet roads, and the stiffened, all-independent, suspension has not entirely ironed-out Renault roll. But to all intents and purposes this is a fine-handling, long-legged car, quiet at speed, if not possessing quite a V8 hush. It has clear instrumentation but difficult-to-understand heater-control markings, although once learned, the cosseting here equals that of the rest of this impressive car.
Those who feel that the days of five-figure-priced, near single-figure m.p.g., cars are numbered should certainly consider this £7,677 Renault 20TX, which has electric front-windows, cruise control, central-locking, power steering and those impressive, low-profile Michelin TRX tyres as standard, and for which an electric sun-roof is available. Instrumentation is clear, the seats generous in size and well-padded, ventilation is available from many controllable vents, and stowage arrangements are about ideal. There is “ratchety” variation of headlamps beam-angle, to suit varying loads, interior adjustment for the external mirrors, rear wipe/wash, plenty of leg and head room, and Neiman central door locking.
Altogether, this is very good family car, from which I got an overall 25.5 m.p.g., the petrol tank holding a useful 14 3/4 gallons, a car which does most things very well and all things to a high standard. It does have a few shortcomings. Such as the heavy doors lacking effective “keeps”, the door cills picking up dirt, to the detriment of trousers-legs and tights (front mud-flaps should cure this, as with a Reliant Kitten), the ignition-key needing a full turn-back before the engine will start, and the auto-choke causing fast idling until full working temperature is attained. But otherwise, it is very likeable. Luggage capacity can be up to 45 1/2 cu. ft. with the back seats folded, although the larger Renaults do not continue the versatility of back-seat foldage that is a feature of their smaller, and older, models. To the Jaeger instruments (speedometer, tachometer with economy markings for those with time to read them, combined heat-and-fuel gauge, oil level gauge and a small clock), are added 13 warning lights, four fascia switches, and five more switches down on the centre-console, two of which operate the front windows, that for the near-side window rather obstructed by the gear lever. The aforesaid oil-level indicator confuses those who mistake it for an oil-pressure gauge. No oil was used in 800 miles.
I would recommend you to advise your Fathers, Mothers, Uncles and Aunts to consider a Renault 20TX but think you, as an enthusiast, may find it lacking in “character” and so prefer a Renault 18 Turbo or Fuego. That did not stop me from finding this 20TX very restful for long-distance driving. I used it to cover the Fiat Panda release, described elsewhere, and on the way south, although Dolgellau is now bypassed by a fine new double-track highway (if you want this kind of thing, instead of driving through the fine old towns!), we diverted from there to look at the Fairbourne Railway. I am glad we did, because I was both surprised and pleased to discover that this 15-gauge, 1 1/2-mile long (3-miles, out and back), line runs unfenced between a public road and the sand-dunes. I was told that when Capt. Howey and Count Zborowski first planned their Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch narrow-gauge railway this was similarly set out unfenced on the seashore. But what was permissible in 1924 might have been different by 1981! Which is why I am encouraged at the freedom you can still enjoy in Wales.
In fact, there are “blind” crossings from the beach at Fairbourne, where the bathers can signal to a train to halt, or just cross the line if they are not using it. The locomotive’s hooting suffices as a safety precaution. So here is this passenger-carrying railway, which dates back to 1916, looking much as it must have been in the beginning. Apart from a notice asking that vehicles do not park within six-feet of it the line is unprotected and, indeed, where a new car-park and a new housing-estate have been built, open level-crossings, are used as access to them, over the sand-savaged rails. Incidentally, one of the steam-locomotives used on the Fairbourne line is the Henry Greenly-designed “Count Louis”, built for Count Louis Zborowski but not completed until after he had been killed while driving a 2-litre Mercedes in the Italian GP at Monza in 1924, so that Howey took it over. As this 4-4-2 Atlantic model was constructed soon after the Count’s Higham Special racing-car had been completed, and as the latter became Parry Thomas’ “Babs”, now in the care of Owen Wyn-Owen, it is hoped that one day Wyn-Owen and “Count Louis” will meet. More, perhaps, of this, anon. Meanwhile, anyone who likes narrow-gauge railways, especially one with a motor-racing link, should try to see the Fairbourne Railway before the summer is over. – W.B.