Renault—that outstanding French make. When the Editor came to write about the cars he drove last year he was somewhat perturbed to find that 1970 went by without a Renault being reported on—perturbed because he has a considerable respect for this great French make, which is making notable, one might say visible, sales inroads on the British market. In previous years we have reported on the excellent Renault 16 and 16TS and this f.w.d. model has been the paving-stone, as it were, for the present demand and high reputation of Renaults in this country.
The Renault small-car range is a comprehensive one indeed, with the 4, 6-850, 6-1100, 8, 8S, 10, 12L, 12TL and 12 Estate to back up the 1 1/2-litre R16. These cars are selling well, and the already large Renault depot at Western Avenue, Acton, is being further extensively expanded to cope with rising sales and service demands. Not only that, but exclusively-Renault service depots and garages are increasing throughout Britain, as you may have noticed. When thumbing through a foreign-car book of service depots we turn invariably to Radnorshire, because this least-populated county in the land (only three sets of traffic lights throughout the pleasant length and breadth of Mid-Wales) can be a place of no-hope if your imported automobile runs into trouble there, but if help is to hand in darkest Rads. this seems a good omen of good service facilities overall—Renault, we note, has a service garage at Dolau….
To keep ourselves up to date on the make we tried recently a Renault 12TL, promptly laid on by the Acton PR office, which Alan Dakers controls with quiet efficiency, and Mr. Ronald cheerfully administers with a willingness to talk about vintage cars as part of the process. Some time ago we cailed the Fiat 128 the best of the present small cars. Fortunately, there is no compunction to compare this product of Turin with the 12TL from Billancourt. The Fiat is light to drive, lively, and possesses plenty of eager performance if forced along. The Renault is altogether more stolid, perhaps less lively (but with only decimals of a second in it, from rest to 56 or 60 m.p.h.) and is obviously built for dependable comfort. It uses a normally mounted engine and gearbox with front-drive, has a quite good floor gear-change (although reverse selects a trifle harshly) and soft comfortable seats which support the occupants admirably in armchair luxury and, in the TL, have precision knob-adjustment of the well-padded squabs. There is easy-riding suspension, but less roll when cornering than with an R16, good disc/drum brakes, and steering which is positive and firm rather than light but unpleasantly sticky around the straight-ahead position.
We are not necessarily in favour of symmetrical instrument and control layouts, providing the dials are easily read and the knobs and switches placed conveniently. The 12TL has scattered controls but all well to hand, even the fly-off I.h. under-facia pull-out hand-brake being accessible unless one is firmly strapped in. The Javelin radio, however, involved quite a stretch to tune it. Twin r.h. stalks look after lighting, turn-indicators, etc. The heater has to be adjusted from time to time, as on so many cars, but this is readily done by turning a big knob with positions numbered from 0 to 10, on the right of the facia. Apart from plenty of heat, the vented four-door body has almost every required ventilatory permutation and a Securit heater effectively demists the big back window. Add to this efficient screen-washing and wiping and the vision-safety factor is high, although the wipers are more effective for passenger than driver, being for l.h.d. cars. The body is, we noted, undersprayed with Valvoline Tectyl, and a typically Renault practical feature is the master switch on the Dinin battery, the terminals of which are drilled to take a plug-in lead lamp. The beam of the Cibie headlamps is externally adjustable, to allow for a full load. Nervous occupants will be reassured by good road-holding, aided by 13-in. Michelin “ZX” tyres, and crash-padding in front of their knees. A capacious lidded facia well is supplemented by generous under-facia shelving and a central bin closed by the arm-rest, the interior decor is “expensive” but in no-wise garish, and the boot very roomy.
The TL version of the 12 has useful extra equipment such as illuminated boot and glove box, centre arm-rests front and back, cigar-lighter, anti-dazzle mirror, rheostat panel lighting, extra warning lamps, front ash-tray, grab handles, and that essential heated rear window, etc. The 73 x 77-mm. (1,289-c.c.) push-rod 5-bearing wet liner alloy-head engine gives 60 (SAE) h.p. at 5,250 r.p.m. It thrums a bit at speed, although its general noise level is in keeping with the commendably quiet running of the 12TL as a whole. The lines are somewhat angular but aerodynamic advantages are claimed for them, even to negative lift at the rear. (Renault have never made a really handsome car since the days of their Dauphine, Floride and Caravelle.
Altogether this is a very notable little car, economical to run; the tank was full of 4-star petrol when we left Acton and it ran dry after 325 pleasurable miles, consumption averaging 34.4 m.p.g., and, of oil, 400 m.p.p. in a completely dependable mileage of 1,300. The 12TL sells for £969.05, and, as someone said, although everyone raves about Fiats, Renaults have been out-selling them here, by 5,612 cars in the first nine months of 1970.
Two more Triumphs.—We have been testing most of the Triumph models in recent months, and two of the last to arrive for appraisal were the 2.5 PI Mk. II saloon and a sports TR6. The former is now an impressive 110-m.p.h. full-size family saloon, with very adequate straight-line performance and good road-clinging, using i.r.s. and, on the yellow test car, Goodyear G800s. The Mk. II version appealed much more than a 2.5 PI we sampled in 1969, the whine from the fuel pump of the Lucas fuel-injection equipment being less pronounced, starting, with some choke, no trouble, and the steering now of power type, giving finger-light parking with high gearing (just over three turns, lock-to-lock) for precision in fast driving. We still find the rather haphazard planting of dials and controls less satisfying than the “ergonomic” layout of a Rover 2000 or 3500, and the Triumph PI gives the impression of lighter construction, having a more lively ride (and handling) than that of its Solihull rivals.
The Triumph PI relies on a comparatively long-stroke six-cylinder engine which, normally outstandingly smooth, becomes a bit rough towards its modest peak speed of 5,500 r.p.m. and at the fast 1,000-r.p.m. idle. But overdrive, in top and 3rd gears, selected by that sensible slide-control on the gear-lever knob, ensures very little stress when cruising at 70 to 80 m.p.h., and the disc/drum brakes are equal to the 2.5’s very real performance. The gear-lever has long movements, less notchy than on some Triumph boxes, but positioned so that 3rd gear is sometimes retained in the mistaken impression that the highest ratio has been engaged—a tribute to the quietness of the gears.
On the whole, we all enthused over the latest 2.5 PI Triumph, which is a very fast car on long and difficult journeys, at the expense of a 20.8 m.p.g. 4-star petrol thirst. Oil also disappeared from the sump in startling quantity. There were minor irritations, such as wipers which left much uncleared mud on the shallow screen in dirty weather, which, in conjunction with thick screen pillars, made for “peep” vision at road junctions, a barrel lamps-switch which had one notch out in relation to its labelling, and a driver’s door which defied self-locking with the sill internal lock down. But with comfortable seats, lots of room within, that very impressive smooth surge of acceleration as the fuel-injection six is unthrottled and handsome revised styling, this is quite a motor car. One of our drivers was inclined to prefer it to his BMW 2002 and when Lord Stokes backs the Triumph in like context he is aware that the Coventry product costs £1,777 whereas the least-expensive BMW is priced at £1,648 and the 2002 costs nearly £100 more than the Triumph in this country—while the Mercedes-Benz range starts at £798 higher.
The next Triumph we took over for test was that big, brutish petrol-injection sports car, the TR6, using the saloon’s PI engine.
The TR6 followed Britain’s first fuel-injection sports car, the TR5-PI, and has improved styling, trailing-arm i.r.s., an anti-roll bar, 5 1/2J wheel rims and disc front brakes. We collected this hairy car from Standard-Triumph’s Acton depot, where the receptionist for Press enquiries, who reads Motor Sport, chided us gently for preferring Rovers to Triumphs, and drove out into London’s traffic. These days there is no drama about crossing the Metropolis in a 150 b.h.p. two-seater. Oiled-up plugs, teeth-jarring suspension, “impossible” crash gearboxes and intractability due to lack of torque are of the past. The TR6 showed no signs of overheating when held up in traffic jams, which are a Western Avenue disgrace, but the clutch was fierce, there was a lusty exhaust burble from its big twin tailpipes when idling lustily at 1,100 r.p.m. and it “pinked” on the half-tank of fuel provided, and the fuel pump made an alarming whine.
Out of the traffic it proved a very quick motor car, previously undiscovered bends appearing on familiar roads and journey times shrinking impressively. The TR6 rides on a separate girder chassis and its 75 x 95 mm. (2,498 c.c.) six-cylinder engine gets to maximum safe speed at 5,500 r.p.m., normally running at under 5,000. There was overdrive on the test-car, selected by a rather loose r.h. stalklever, and this is desirable because the engine is all too willing to exceed peaks revs. A flick into o/d gives a maximum of nearly 70 m.p.h. in second gear (o/d functions on the three upper ratios) and the axle ratio gives a vintage-like 21.2 m.p.h. in top, over 26 m.p.h. in o/d top per 1,000 r.p.m. Acceleration is not, as we expected, of the punch-in-the-shoulders variety but nevertheless is in the 0 to 60 m.p.h. in under nine seconds category and on short straights the 140 m.p.h. speedometer surges to 100 or 120 m.p.h., according to circumstances. Such performance has to be paid for but we averaged 21.2 m.p.g., getting 24 m.p.g. on favourable long runs, and an oil consumption of 1,500 m.p.p. from an engine 17,000 miles old. To check the latter you have to walk round the car twice. On main roads the TR6 can be driven mainly in top and o/d top, a flick down into the former providing a notable increase in throttle response to the accompaniment of a rise in the exhaust bellow.
Cornering in a TR6 is less “scientific” than in cars like Lotus, Alfa Romeo, etc., but it clings on excellently, even with the Dunlop SP Sport radial tubeless tyres protesting, at front or back according to the type of corner being driven through. In spite of the big 165 x 15 tyres and 3 1/4 turns, lock-to-lock of the small, leather-covered wheel, the rack-and-pinion steering is light. The TR6 is, then, an impressive sports car in the traditional form, which only British Leyland now make in any quantity. It is primarily a two-seater, with comfortable, adjustable squab p.v.c. bucket seats, but these lift up for access to a back-shelf compartment. Wind-up windows and a good hood give full weather protection but the heater is not impressive, unless the scuttle flap is opened.
The Triumph does have plenty of amenities, however, such as a lockable cubby in the wood facia, anti-dazzle mirror, visors with make-up mirror, illuminated cubby and boot, lidded ash-tray, floor-level interior lamp, rheostat panel lighting, provision for a tonneau cover, door pockets and a quick-action fuel filler, etc. The short central gear-lever and between-seats hand-brake are well placed and a l.h. stalk-control puts on the lamps (foot dipping), a r.h. short one works the turn indicators, and there are fresh-air gimbals in the facia—sensible simple controls. The boot will take quite a lot of luggage. Smaller dials indicating heat, fuel, charge and oil-pressure readings supplement the main dials. At night speed was restricted by lamps trying to burn a hole in the road instead of showing the way, but they were augmented by Lucas fog and spot lamps. As to fuel range, the tank capacity is quoted as 11 1/4 gallons, but it wouldn’t take much over ten. The ignition key inserts normally into the facia instead of being buried, as on other Triumphs, down below.
An excellent successor to the Austin Healey 3000, the Triumph TR6 seems good value at £1,453, especially remembering the sophisticated fuel-injection power unit. Wire wheels, a hard-top, etc., are available as extras.
March movements.—While visiting the factory of March Engineering Ltd. at Bicester to see the first of the 1971 Grand Prix cars being built we took the opportunity of finding out what has happened to all the March 701 Grand Prix cars built last year. In some of the races the March contingent of works cars and privately-owned ones was very similar to the Lago-Talbot scene in the Grand Prix races of the early post-war years and the 250F Maserati scene in the races of 1954-58. A further similarity to the Maserati days was the facility that March offered to customers in that they could send their own mechanics to the factory to complete the original building or later overhauls. A total of ten March 701 cars was built during 1970, given a simple numbering system from 1 to 10. The factory team used 701/1 and 701/5 for Amon and Siffert, respectively, and had 701/6 with a lighter monocoque as a spare and test car. Ken Tyrrell bought 701/2, 701/4 and 701/7 for his drivers Stewart and Cevert, and Andy Granatelli bought 701/3 for Andretti, 701/8 was driven by Peterson under an arrangement between March and Colin Crabbe, and 701/9 was sold to the Rhodesian Team Gunston for John Love to race in S. Africa; 701/10 was built and sold to Hubert Hahne, but never raced, and the lawyer’s pantomime over this car was typical of the 1970 Grand Prix season.
During the season many of the cars were modified or crashed and underwent rebuilds ranging from new wishbones to complete new monocuques, but whatever happened to the car March Engineering insisted that it kept its original works number; 701/1, 701/3 and 701/9 all underwent rebuilds involving new chassis monocoques. During the winter a number of the cars changed hands, one changed its character completely and a brand-new car was built for a private team, this being 701/11.
Tom Wheatcroft, the Leicestershire builder and Grand Prix car collector, has bought 701/1, which he displayed at the Racing Car Show in the centre-piece and let Derek Bell drive in the January race in the Argentine. Tyrrell was trying to sell all or any of his three cars, but having said that he got Gardner to design the Tyrrell Grand Prix car because the March was not competitive; he is not likely to find a surfeit of customers at his price.
The STP-Oil-Treatment-Special, number 701/3, was rebuilt with a new chassis and a 2 1/2-litre Cosworth V8 engine and Amon and Oxton drove it in the Tasman races for STP. Siffert has bought 701/5, the car he raced last year, which he ran himself in the Argentine and will run in Swiss hill-climbs this year. The thin-gauge chassis car 701/6 has been acquired by Frank Williams for use by Pescarolo until a 711 is ready, and 701/8, which was yellow and maroon last year and is now red, has been rebuilt with a V8 Alfa Romeo engine installed as a test vehicle for the March/Alfa Romeo contract; 701/9 is still in S. Africa and the unraced 701/10 is still in Germany with various people sniffing around it and making offers.
The new March 711, described in detail elsewhere, is being built in five examples, 711/1 having an Alfa Romeo V8 engine for de Adamich to drive, 711/2 will be the first Cosworth-powered works car, and 711/3 the second Cosworth-powered works car, 711/4 will be a similar Cosworth-powered car for the Williams team and 711/5 will be a spare works car.