HUSTLING TO THE COTSWOLDS
A FIAT BALILLA SALOON PROVES ITS WORTH ON A QUICK TRIP TO INSPECT THE PRESCOTT HILL-CLIMB SITE
AGLORIOUS March day coinciding with the pressing thought that so far we had not seen the much talkedof Prescott Hill-Climb site of the Bugatti Owners’ Club, led to a Fiat Balilla pillarless saloon being headed westwards on what had, perfqrce, to be a distinctly hurried trip.
Under the circumstances we decided to log the average, and for the purpose used a stop-watch, known to be accurate, wherewith to check the mileage covered each half-hour. Continental ears, even of utility type, invariably handle like sportswagens, and this Fiat was no exception, so that, although the driver was entirely strange to the car, in the first half-hour, starting from Hanger Hill, Western Avenue, we covered 21.8 miles (43.6 m.p.h.), in spite of being delayed on entering Uxbridge by narrow streets and slow-moving traffic and having to wait some 3 mins. at the police traffic signal by the one-way section over Uxbridge bridge, which is under repair. Thereafter the Fiat got into its stride very easily and cruised effortlessly at 70 on the speedometer (about 64 m.p.h.), going up to a maximum of 70 (probably 67 to 68 m.p.h.) on a downhill stretch. The next half-hour saw us into the long built-up area of High Wycombe, which dropped the average to 20.8 miles (41.6 m.p.h.). We crested Denham Hill at 52 m.p.h. on the speedometer after a check for traffic just before the foot. The next half-hour disposed of 24 miles (48 m.p.h.) and thereafter the roads became winding and a local hunt afield called for care. We were now beyond Stow-on-the-Wold, having taken the Oxford Northern By-Pass, and we ran through Burford and. down the winding Stanway Hill to approach Prescott, collecting another 23.5 miles (47.0 m.p.h.) during the final half-hour. The overall two-hour average was thus 45.05 m.p.h. This was by no means an entirely mad flat-out “dice,” and all built-up areas were observed. N.B.—This average was checked not only by stop-watch but the mileage was checked by a milemeasurer and large scale map. Inaccuracies of speedometer mileage alone accounted for an error of 7.8 miles in 90 miles, giving an error of 48.9 m.p.h. against 45 for the speed. It is easy to see how inaccuracies occur, relying on
dashboard clocks and milometers I We could only express profound respect for this i9 tax L198 saloon motor-car, which outwardly looks a big ultramodern vehicle, yet which is pleasantly
compact to handle. Eating a frugal sandwich in a Gloucestershire By-Lane we reflected on the car’s qualities, as emphasised by our fast journey down. Visibility is quite exceptional, owing to the drop-away bonnet, though the forward pillars, taking the full load of the doors, are a trifle wide and the nearside wing is just invisible. The separate front seats are very comfortable, perhaps a shade ” baggy ” for rapid cornering, but giving a most business-like driving position, to which the well-placed steering column contributes. The gear-lever, centrally mounted, is short, very rigid
and easy to reach. The synchromesh for top and third must not be hurried, and the lever has an unexpectedly short travel and is stiff to move, but doubledeclutch changes go through excellently. The indirect gears are not over-noisy. There seemed some play in the transmission and the rear axle juddered on the get-away and when accelerating hard uphill on the low ratios. The clutch is very light, Positive in take-up and fairly decisive, with some lost motion on the pedal. The pedal movement is not excessive. The right hand accelerator is light and well placed, away from the brake pedal. The hydraulic brakes are truly admirable and give complete confidence, needing a light, steady pressure, giving progressive Israking and being quite silent in action. At first the7 seemed to pull a little to the near side, but later gave a very powerful .all-square stop on a very loose downhill surface. The central hand-lever, rather masked for starting by the gear-lever, worked stiffly, but was nicely placed and had a fairly effective push-button
ratchet. As adjusted it was quite ineffective for holding the car on a gradient. We have come to expect admirable road-holding from Continentals, and at first the Balilla Fiat rather disappointed in this respect, •for, while it was far ahead of the majority of utility vehicles, it rolled excessively at low speeds, allied to which the Airflex Perelli covers made themselves extremely audible. However, over a private road we later found that this tail-sliding could be adequately controlled at very high speeds, and if the tail movements occasionally gave overcorrection, we forgave the Fiat this tendency, for it really steered admirably on ordinary road-motoring. Possibly shock-absorber or tyre-pressure adjustment would stiffen things up. The steering asked 31 times, lock to lock, but felt
” (prick,” probably imeause it is light and smooth and had fullS and rapid castor action. It is very passably accurate, although the wheel movement Cannot be ” felt.” There is no column movement, and only slight tremors reach the wheel over bad surfaces, while the lock is very good. Undoubtedly the big tyres make ” feel ” impossible, but we would recommend slightly higher gearing. Generally, the suspension is of a very high standard, particularly at speed. Pitching and roadshock are well damped and over bad surfaces the valve of independent front springing is very evident, but the softness of the springs allowed a fair amount of movement in the back of the car
when travelling quickly on undulating main roads. Off the beaten track the springing gave an excellent combination of control and. shock-absorption. The
front of the car remains rigid and the front wheels stay put admirably during ultra-rapid cornering. The engine runs comfortably up to speedometer speeds of 30 m.p.h. in second and 50 m.p.h. in third, when it appears to peak and emit a power-roar, though we pushed things up to 16 on first, 38 on second and 54 to 55 m.p.h. on third when really trying. The engine is very smooth, unobtrusive at cruising gaits of about 55 to 65 m.p.h. actual, and devoid of fiat-spots, but it is inclined to stall after starting unless the throttle is ” blipped,” and it Wobbles alarmingly on its flexible mounting when crawling in top or idling. The tick-over, as set, corresponded to about 6 to 7 m.p.h. in top, which would appear to be the minimum. Starting in second is normal and third is a most useful ratio for hillStorming (main road) or acceleration, as in top there is little performance from the small push-rod o.h.v. engine below
25 m.p.h. The body possesses some creaks and the passenger, retiring into the rear seat for purposes of photography, reported considerable panel-drumming. Ventilation is good, there being a big scuttle ventilator operated by a sorbohandled grip, but the interior steams up with all windows shut. Leaving ‘a detailed study of minor points until later, we went to see Prescott hill. We must just digress to say how very beautiful Prescott House looked in the afternoon sunshine, the light-grey stone blending with the moss-grown gravel forecourt and deep green of the yewhedges. The interior oak beams and panelling and the views over to the Malvern Hills from the long windows kept our picture-maker busy, nor did the sleek blue Balilla do anything but enhance the exterior views. The hill itself is truly intriguing. From the start one negotiates a slight left-hand sweep, hidden from view by the banks until the car is into it. Then comes a right-hand bend that appears very tricky but can actually be taken fast. A rise follows to a banked left hairpin that will need a lot of learning, and is rendered exciting as there is a sheer drop on the outside (probably safety fencing will be essential here). Then comes a considerable straight followed by a left bend that looks nasty but which could be taken ” flat” in second in the Fiat at about Continued on page r 17
30 to 85 m.p.h., followed by a tricky open left wiggle and then a very long right-hand sweep, with a hedge on your left and masked by the bank on your right. Out of this bend you straighten up to shoot across to the finish, marked permanently by an inset strip in the surface. The hill is more “open ” to onlookers than Shelsley and the orchards by the start are reminiscent of an Inter-‘Varsity speed trial venue. We prophesy that few sports-cars will climb in much under 60 secs. at the first meeting. Certainly the Bugatti Owners’ Club, already high in prestige, will, by the acquisition of Prescott, become one of the most exclusive of motoring bodies.
Reverting to the Fiat, we now added unexpected data to our test by reason of the off-side rear Perch i subsiding. The screw-jack functioned well and the change was quickly made, but we were surprised to find brass wheel-nuts, which seem hardly adequate ; indeed, the thread of one already had a tendency to strip. The disc wheels are light to handle. It now seemed time to return home, but on the way we tried Kineton Hill, used in last year’s ” Gloucester,” which the Fiat romped up very rapidly, the deep water-splashes causing no bother. Tea in Chipping Norton, and we decided to take a to 50 m.p.h. acceleration reading, speedometer roughly checked for in accuracy and driving normally. The time was rather spoilt by the clutchpedal sticking right down, which it had done several times previously, discarding its rubber cap the first time. However,
25 secs. dead was excellent and shows the advantage of having an ex-sports type engine in a saloon—the old Balilla model sports two-seater had an excellent reputation in competition. We thereafter started the stop-watch again and ran steadily London-wards, not hustling as much as we could have done if really trying, to average 43 m.p.h. to the middle of Kew Bridge, coming via the Oxford By-Pass, High Wycombe, Uxbridge and Southall. Certainly this Fiat belies its small engine and easy performance in this ability
to cover the ground. The extremely powerful headlamps assisted materially, although we would prefer a wheel or floor-location for the dimmer, which is worked by the lighting switch on the dash. If the switch was operated slowly the car ran temporarily sans lights, like a tram. The dim position gave a too limited spread-out beam. An excellent point was the provision of separate side lamps with visible indicators. The direction indicators appear to be mechanically controlled, from a fairly convenient central control on the facia. They tended to stick out, made a whistling intrude into the noise of air flowing over the body, and the near side one did not light up. The horn note could have been stronger, and the rear-view mirror destroyed its excellent area and position by vibrating excessively. The rear window gave ample view for reversing. We did not use the blind. The rear luggage locker is generous. Leather upholstery is used. The leg room for rear-seat occupants is limited, but passenger and driver find plenty of space in the front, and the left foot can be rested clear of the clutch. The front windows wind down fully, those at the rear half-down. There are “pulls” and neat push-down door locks on the sills, and the doors have pockets. They shut nicely and the pillarless construction is ideal from the viewpoint of entry and exit and of tidying up the interior. The doors tended to stick unless the catches were pressed home hard down. A sliding roof costs Ll0 extra. Some of the interior detail is cheaply finished but quite effective for its purpose. The facia carried, from left to right, a generous cubby hole with excellent spring lid ; ignition control ; panel light switch below ; fuel gauge ; hand throttle ; speedometer ; oil gauge ; lighting and ignition switch below ; starter ; strangler ; with bonnet catches for the bonnet top-panels below on each side. The horn is in the wheel centre. The panel light works by pushing in for lights on and in again to extinguish, and illumination is ample. The fuel gauge seems reasonably accurate but we suspected a ” short ” which made it register empty rather early; the starter control pulls out to operate the starter and was stiff to handle and noisy. The speedometer has no trip reading and no divisions between the speed figures, which mount in “tens.” The gear-lever knob has the gear positions (conventional) inscribed
thereon. There are effective twin screen wipers, with switch on the top screen sill. The interior lamp is centrally located and provides plenty of light. Externally the door handles pull up to open the doors ; a neat and practical layout. Bumper bars are standard. The big oil gauge carries markings at 25 and 50 lb. and showed about 23 lb. at tick-over and about 30 at cruising speed. It was not necessary to use the ignition control and no trace of pinking was evident, even on Cleveland fuel at 1/41 per gallon. No watcr or oil was added.. The bonnet
sides open fairly easily and have props. The tool kit seemed rather abbreviated.
There is an effective brake stop light and well-placed fuel filler. In conclusion, the Balilla Fiat is a car of character, and performance above the average, and by reason of this liveliness and its typically Continental road-holding it can, as we have shown, put up average main-road speeds that could be bettered by only very good sports-cars. It has very smart yet unobtrusive lines, and at the price of .4198 it represents very respectable value indeed. It comes within that enviable class of utility vehicle which can give much joy to an enthusiast normally impatient for a
sports-type car. Full details are available from Messrs. Fiat (England) Ltd., Water Road, Wembley, Middlesex (Perivale 5651) and it may be inspected at the premises of Messrs. Hanover Motors Ltd., 12, Princes Street, Hanover Square, W.1 (Mayfair 5303).