MOTOR SPORT’s Candid Opinion of the VW 1 500 A Iflitre Car of the Highest Quality
FOREIGN DIV ADER.—The rsoo in front of the lighthouse at the 11111
of Portland, high above the Chesil Reach on the Dorset coast. It attractedpractically no attention, perhaps because it looks like quite a normal small saloon, although anyone examining it closely could not Jail to note the high-quality paintwork.
T • HE beetle-shaped Volkswagen has built up such a stupendous post-war reputation that inevitably MOTOR SPowr feels com
pelled to draw attention to it frequently and advise readers to sample this economical, reliable and delightful-to-drive family saloon.
From 1945 onwards steady improvements of an engineering basis were made to the VW as occasion required, as has happened to many other famous and successful makes, from Mercedes-Benz to Ford. Thus the outwardly little-changed VW became an exceedingly good car, as so many of our readers recognise, judging by last month’s Car-Survey analysis.
It was natural, therefore, that a new VW should arouse enormous interest, although the [so° was merely intended as a luxury version of the existing theme, comparatively costly and to be produced ha limited numbers compared to the emphatically massproduced 1,192-c.c. model, which it in no way supersedes.
The new car, with larger engine and conventional exterior lines, uses the accepted, proven mechanical features of the older VW but it is, nevertheless, an entirely redesigned car—a small car of the highest quality and built to engineering standards of the highest integrity.
My first feeling on driving the smart cream VW 15oo out of N.W. London from the St. John’s Wood premises of VW Motors Ltd. was, quite simply, how nice to be in a Volkswagen again. This not without good reason, for the two is closely akin to the smaller VW in those aspects that place these cars in a class apart— a case, if you like, of chocolate eclair to plum cake! There is the same muffled note of a well-balanced flat-four air-cooled engine working away behind; the impeccable gear-change, finger-light and quick as lightning; the direct steering, comfortable seats and Sure but unexceptional braking. And, overall, the splendid finish, inside and Out.
In this country a VW 1500 saloon costs nearly £1,100 but if you remember that its basic price here is but £752 you get a better appreciation of the value offered by its high-quality finish and complete equiptnent.
The new Volkswagen has much in common with its five million brothers. Forward visibility is still excellent, and there are now front wings in view. The separate front seats are generously proportioned, deeply and firmly upholstered, so that they are fully supporting and very comfortable. The squab angle is adjustable by means of a wheel-control and these seats, mounted well off the floor, slide easily when side catches are released. The facia sill is neatlyfinished in matt-black and instrumentation is confined to-a 90-m.p.h. Vdo speedometer, petrol gauge and clock, all hooded. Details of the controls accompany the layout diagram, so it suffices here to remark that four very small and neat push-buttons, paired to flank dual rheostat wheels, are well placed for
operation by the right hand. The gear lever, with sensibly-formed knob, is centrally located, as is the substantial pull-up handbrake lever. The gear-change calls for the highest praise, being light, rapid and positive, although a change can be missed if the clutch pedal is insufficiently depressed— which will only trouble casual drivers. Reverse is quite easily located beyond znd. If the lever was held over to the right from
the top,-gear position (the-gate is conventional) some irritating noise was transmitted.
The steering wheel is exceptionally small and set low, entirely clear of the driver’s line of vision. It is nicely finished, with under-rim finger holds and the Wolfsburg Castle emblem in its hub. It carries a neat half horn-ring, not entirely convenient to operate and occasionally apt to be indecisive.
Soft swivelling vizors are provided, hut no vanity mirror. There is a fully adequate rear-view mirror. The doors shut ” expensively,” after a window has been opened to release air pressure, so well sealed is a VW. Three turns wind the windows down fully and guttered quarter-lights are provided, although the catches no longer have locking pips. The rear side windows open as vents. Cleverly-shaped arm-rests are fitted, which are both comfortable and constitute ” pulls ” for closing the doors. Each door has an elastic-topped cloth pocket, but the non-lockable cubby-hole is rather shallow. Its lid tended to stick shut .and, in assisting it to open, the chrome trim strip along the top of the facia was found to be loose. The interior door handles are very neat, consisting of a small pull-out plated lever, with a smaller lever that., pushed in, acts as the lock. The external lock receives its key easily.
Access to the broad bad: seat, with central folding arm-rest, is facilitated by moving forward the squabs of the front seats and there is neat Automatic locking of the squabs when the doors are shut.
Evidence that a r.h.d, conversion has been made of a normally I.h.d. car is found in the presence of interior lamp and front bonnet-release button on the near-side of the car, while the thiefdefeating release lever for the rear boot is built into the near-side door pillar (accessible, as on a Skoda, only when the door is open), when all these items would be more convenient if they were on the driver’s side. Somewhat offset pedals may also be a legacy of bringing them over to the right. The interior lamp is operated by moving its glass and it is rather dim; courtesy action is also provided.
The rear boot lid opens and shuts nicely to disclose a shallow but very long stowage area and a filler-cap-cum-very-long-dipstick, labelled ” Oelr for checking sump level without removing the floor panel that covers the almost impossibly-compact power unit. This panel is easy to remove completely, or it can be clipped up; revealing the new 1,493-c.c. engine with its re-positioned cooling fan. The front boot lid lifts from the leading edge,. to expose further, very reasonable luggage space, the petrol filler (no longer of unusually large size) also and the almost vertically-mounted spare wheel, and tools.
Both boot lids remain up automatically. When the car is locked, both become thief-proof without their own locks but normal external locks could be fitted with advantage.
The conventional shape of the VW 1 soo means that there is a small parcels’ shelf behind the back seat. It also means that the car is mistaken for a Ford Popular, or similar, so that beetledrivers invariably fail to return your friendly lamps-flash and petrol-station attendants search the back of the car for a fuel filler!
The facia incorporates a neat inbuilt grab-handle and a pull-out ash-tray, repeated on the sides of the rear compartment. The wheel arches intrude to some extent on front floor space and the pedals, on first acquaintance, seem inconveniently high off the floor. This impression is soon forgotten and the treadle accelerator is convenient. For those who anticipate looping-the-loop and wish to emulate aviators VW provide proper safety-belt anchorages.
Driving the VW isoo
The characteristics of the new VW are exactly like those of the 1,192-c.c. model in most respects and therefore need no qualification of praise in these pages. There is, however, much improved performance, this enhanced acceleration and speed enabling the VW to more than hold its own in fast traffic. Third gear is particularly useable, to a speedometer maximum of over 6o m.p.h.,
when the engine, although turning over fast, still seems, as it is, virtually unburstable.
It is difficult to describe the charm of the VW 150o, but this is bound up with very brisk” step off” and easy acceleration higher up the speed-range, so that in effortless fashion this compact but comfortable car gets through traffic and sets up cross-country averages seemingly better than other cars the actual performance figures of which are better. Certainly there is a sense of great security in driving the VW close to its limit, and so easily and quietly does it run that such progression becomes habitual, without bringing in its train any driver or passenger fatigue in a full-day’s motoring.
The makers claim a top and cruising speed of 78 m.p.h., which can be exceeded under favourable conditions. A high top gear and very “over-square ” engine is obviously a contributory factor to the car’s lack of effort, and in towns 3rd gear is required to avoid transmission snatch—the gearbox is such a delight to use that this can be set down as an advantage rather than otherwise, especially as 3rd gear is about as quiet as top. The more effective heater and fresh air supply contribute much to the comfort and serenity of the occupants, and, of course, the heater is completely silent.
Another noticeable aspect of the VW x500, complementary to the increased performance, is the revised road-holding. Pronounced oversteer has changed to noticeable understeer, until extreme cornering speed is reached, and roll is reasonably well restrained. The tubeless Dunlop B7 tyres do not protest under high loadings and grip well.
The steering, geared rather more than 21 turns, lock-to-lock, is no longer the feather-light steering of earlier VWs but it is by no means heavy, even for parking, and is quick and accurate. Transmission of front-wheel movement rather than kick-back is felt, but no vibration.
Suspension, torsion-bar independent all round, is firm, so that rough roads generate some up-and-down movement, but actual shocks are well absorbed, in which the excellent seats assist.
The clutch pedal has rather a long travel and harshness is sometimes unavoidable when starting uphill. The brakes do not feel particularly powerful but as experience of the car grows they are appreciated as good if not outstanding, although needing firm pressure and tending very slightly to pull to the near-side. The screen-wiper blades were not too,, efficient; the washer was, but its fluid froze in the winds of March. It is of an ingenious type, pressurised to 36 lb./sq. in. with the tyre pump. Both it and the brake reservoir are transparent. Early in the test the speedometer failed, the needle sticking between 30 and 40 m.p.h., but the mileometer continued to function. There seemed to be a slight carburation flat-spot, as the engine would pick up with a vicious jerk from low speeds. The automatic choke gave fairly quick starting even in very cold weather and normal idling revs were soon achieved. I was asked to use Super but not too-octane
petrol, the average consumption being somewhat disappointing at 29 m.p.g. This included many cold-starts and London traffic; on a long run it dropped to 30.5 m.p.g. The absolute range, without filling the tank absolutely to the brim, was a sensible 366 miles and although I regret deletion of the reserve-tap, the gauge is marked with an “R,” and after the needle has reached this point enough fuel remains for some 47 miles.
I was delighted to find Bosch electrics on the engine and the Hella lamps give a wide and generous beam and excellent illumination when dimmed. Being accustomed to a VW that never required oil replenishment between sump-drainings, it occasioned no surprise that after more than 770 miles the level of the Castrolite remained at “full.” Incidentally, sump-draining is normally recommended every 3,000 miles. The engine, apart from achieving a miracle of muitum in parvo, makes most intriguing frying noises sometime after the car has been put away, audible reminder of the reassuring fact that it can neither boil nor freeze, the latter a comforting thought in a country where over-night frosts have persisted to the Spring. Sound damping is so thorough that engine noise is subdued unless peak revs (3,800 r.p.m.) are approached, and cruising in top gear the VW 5500 is quieter than a Porsche and most other family saloons. Such noise as there is probably comes from the all-indirect gearbox, in the form of transmission grumble, while wind whispers a little round the screen pillars. Even rear-seat passengers cannot complain of noise but ” outsiders ” will still tell you a VW is noisy.
The finish of a VW is on a par with the best there is. I had evidence of this when a man wheeling a hand-barrow loaded with rubbish that included protruding lengths of old gas-piping let it run with a rasping sound into the tail of the 1500. When I got out, expecting to find scratches and dents, all I could see was a scratch on the British number-plate but nothing whatsoever on the German paintwork and panels. To sum up, this is a very high-class family car, not overcomplex in fittings or controls, but beautifully made and finished, and giving the impression it will go on for ever. There is now really useful performance, but the car is still ” unburstably ” highgeared, it now handles in a much more conventional manner
while contriving to corner in a fashion of its own, it is delightful to drive and quite effortless on long journeys. The dual luggage boots give considerable stowage space but do call for shallow luggage. How nice to be in a VW again!—W. B.