The Latest VW



Some Observations on Driving to Castle Combe in R.A.C. Rally Entry No. 119

In the course of conducting the extended road-test of the Citroën 2 c.v. (see pages 171-175, April issue) I broke off for a weekend to try another car with horizontally-opposed air-cooled cylinders and independent suspension front and back, in the form of a de luxe Volkswagen sunshine saloon.

Motor Sport, as regular readers are aware, holds the VW in very high esteem. Road-test reports appeared in the issues dated November, 1952, October, 1953, and January, 1954, and it only remains to describe the differences found in the latest 1954 model.

Many beneficial changes have been made to the rear-mounted engine. The bore has been increased by 2 mm., to 77 mm., the new dimensions of this “unburstable” over-square flat-four power unit being 77 mm. by 64 mm. (1,192 c.c.) instead of 75 mm. by 64 mm. (1,131 c.c.). The compression ratio has been increased from 5.8 to 6.1 to 1, the inlet passages have been cleaned up, pockets have been provided round the inlet valves and the valve diameter has been increased from 28 mm. to 30 mm. In addition, the cooling fins have been altered to provide stiffer cylinder heads and better cooling round the exhaust valves and sparking plugs.

The result is an increase in power from 25 b.h.p. at 3,300 r.p.m. to 30 b.h.p. at 3,400 r.p.m., although the engine still operates satisfactorily on 74 octane petrol, and 120 m.p.h. would have to be attained before the critical piston speed of 2,500 ft. per min. would be reached. Further improvements have resulted in greater flexibility, quieter running and greater durability. The inlet valves are now made of wear-resistant steel, the flow of oil to the push-rods of the o.h. valve gear is now fed intermittently, which results not only in an increased supply for the crankshaft bearings but causes the push-rods to expand to a greater extent, thus enabling the inlet tappet clearances to be reduced to .004 in. instead of .006 in., thereby reducing noise and load on the valve gear. The pistons and crankshaft assembly are now balanced to closer tolerances, the belt driving the cooling fan, although thinner, has a long life and calls for a minimum of adjustment, and the dynamo has an increased output (160 watts instead of 130 watts) to ensure adequate charge in spite of new electrical accessories.

The Solex 28 PCI carburetter has been adjusted to suit the new cylinder capacity and it now has the high-grade oil-bath air-cleaner to ensure the longest possible life to the engine when running in dust-laden conditions. The inlet manifold is now more effectively pre-heated to ensure quicker warming-up from cold, and the Bosch ignition distributor is now subjected to vacuum automatic advance and retard as well as the former centrifugal control.

These engine changes result in a torque increase of 56 ft. lb. from 51 ft. lb., and acceleration and maximum speed have both appreciably improved with little or no increase in fuel consumption. Moreover, the engine now requires no running-in. The VW engines are run on the bench at the factory for about 20 minutes and flushed during this time with clean oil, and it is permissible to take a brand-new car and drive it to the normal limits of 15, 30, 45 and 68 m.p.h. on the gears from the moment of taking delivery.

It was to satisfy himself on this latter point that Mr. Dear, of VW Motors Ltd. in this country, entered, via Mr. Croxford, a brand-new de luxe sunshine-roof VW in the R.A.C. Rally.

He started out with a mileage of 47 on the odometer, and when the VW reached the starting point at Blackpool the recording was 434 miles, or a total of 481 miles. He and his co-driver then got on with the job in hand, driving in hard rally-fashion throughout, over the route of 2,035 miles. Flat-out low-gear hill-climbing and maximum acceleration were employed frequently but the engine showed not the slightest sign of protest.

Over this Rally route 58 gallons of Shell ICA petrol and three-quarters of a pint of Shell X100 oil were consumed, equal to approximately 35 m.p.g. of petrol, the VW’s normal figure when driven enthusiastically.

No marks were lost in the Prescott or Silverstone tests but Mr. Dear generously confesses that if his standard of navigation had equalled the VW’s mechanical performance the result would have been more successful. But he accomplished what he set out to achieve — to prove that a brand-new VW can be driven through a strenuous rally without in any way damaging its modest-size aircooled engine and with the car’s full performance available. Seven VWs started in the R.A.C. Rally, and all finished without mechanical trouble.

Soon after Mr. Dear’s came back from the Rally I covered 378 miles with it one April weekend, revelling once more in the light steering, light and very quick gear-change and excellence of the finish and controls. The over-steer tendency when the car is cornered with enthusiasm keeps the driver awake but is no distraction for an experienced owner. I was reminded that this VW was still nearly new when I tried it by the difficulty I had in shutting the bonnet and removing the big petrol tank cap. The doors needed persuasion, too, unless the windows were open, proof of the excellence of the body construction. The increased engine power and somewhat lower top-gear ratio (3.61 to 1 against 3.5 to 1) results in excellent acceleration, and the cruising speed is an effortless 68 m.p.h. indicated, with 50 m.p.h. or even 60 m.p.h. readily available in the high (5.41 to 1) third gear.

The hydraulic brakes have a new shoe anchorage which is claimed to give 40 per cent. increased lining life, there are now non-slip rubber pads on brake and clutch pedals, the brake fluid reservoir is now more accessibly placed under the front bonnet, and the Silver Exide 85-amp.-hr. battery under the back seat now has a clasp which can be opened without using a tool. The high-set, comfortable, front bucket seats have been made even more comfortable, there is more room in the rear compartment for passengers’ legs (a somewhat cramped matter in this rear-engined car), and the rear-seat squab is strap-secured, so that luggage does not knock it forward as the driver applies the brakes.

All these points show that the VW technicians are intent upon improving their car as experience of it in service all over the world is gained. They have altered the clever system of hot-air ducts to provide greater warmth for the front-seat occupants (defrosting is included), have rendered the car more thief-proof by means of an improved lock safety-plate, and one key now suffices for ignition and door locks, the starter button being operated by turning the ignition key, so that children cannot operate it after the key has been removed. A small but very excellent fitting is the rain-gutter on the leading edge of the ventilatory half-windows, which so often discard raindrops onto one’s knees.

Rheostat control of the instrument panel lighting has been arranged and a nice point of detail is the provision of concave recesses for the keyholes, to obviate fumbling in the dark. The direction indicators have been improved in detail, as have the screen-wipers and ash-tray. The speedometer now reads up to 80 m.p.h. The body frame has strengthened side-members above the front suspension mounting cradles and stronger stops are used for the rear suspension plates.

I took some time to become accustomed to the handling characteristics of the VW after so many miles in the far slower, sure-footed 2 c.v., but, once I had remembered to regard the VW as one might a ballerina, every movement accomplished lightly and with grace, I enjoyed every moment of my re-acquaintance with it. Once mastered, the VW shows less desire than a ballerina to suddenly pirouette!

No car is perfect, but “dislikes” were confined to the rather high-set pendant clutch and brake pedals, rather fierce brakes which were adequate but not powerful (they were untouched since the Rally), rather limited headroom in the back, a rather restricted view in the mirror and mild reflection of the white-rimmed steering wheel in the windscreen. These are very minor “snags” in such a willing, durable and jolly little car, which returns at least 35 m.p.g. of second-grade petrol, will cruise without anxiety to itself or its owner close to its maximum speed of 66-68 m.p.h. and which costs less than £700 in de luxe guise inclusive of purchase tax. The gears made some noise but thus I found rather pleasant.

The car I tried was very nicely finished — the “brightness ” of a VW is one of its more obvious attractions, “a nice toy for daddy ” and a very practical one, too — and had the excellent full-length sunshine roof. Bosch spotlamps, H.M.V. radio, gear-lever-actuated reversing lamp, cheerfully gay Regency seat covers, Tex screen spray, the delightful VW circular tool case in the hub of the spare wheel, British exterior mirrors (which had become too loose to be of any value), self-cancelling direction indicators with reminder light in the end of the switch-lever, and the Bosch electrical equipment and Michelin tyres which are supplied as standard. It gave no indication, apart from a few body rattles, of having been through a 2,000-mile rally.

It is always a pleasure to descend into the spacious offices below the VW showrooms in St. James’s Street, W., for the sales-executives exude enthusiasm for this car which is so delightfully and effectively “different” in this age of all-alike, heavy, liquid-cooled automobiles.

While there I heard that during the period from 1945 until March 1st, 1954, Volkswagen sales reached a total of 633,674, including passenger and commercial cars. Production for February, 1954, was 18,746 vehicles of all classes, 7,040 being exported. This includes 15,245 passenger cars, of which 5,280 were exported. Further new markets are being opened up in Mexico, New Guinea, New Zealand. Solomon Islands, Tahiti and West Samoa. In the U .S.A. Volkswagen sales and service are reported to be making rapid progress. — W. B.

[N.B. — THE USE OF TOUGHENED “SAFETY” GLASS IN WINDSCREENS SHOULD BE ILLEGAL. Our motoring in the VW was cut short and rendered unpleasant because, for no apparent reason, the Sekurit windscreen disintegrated and fell in onto our laps. It was possible to see through the screen before it collapsed, which we couldn’t do on a previous occasion when a stone hit a Triplex toughened-glass screen, but the result is still unpleasant, highly inconvenient and can be exceedingly dangerous. — Ed.]