On the Road with a Hillman Avenger GT
VARIETY should be the spice of motoring life. I had an interesting instance of how this can be experienced, even in the familycar category, when a Renault I 6TX (see page 478) and the new Hillman Avenger 1600 GT came up for road-test in succession. Whereas the Renault is a fully-equipped frontdrive car of notable individuality, the Avenger is just a simple, no-nonsense front-engined/ rear-drive car which is simple to drive and which somehow exudes an impression of in-built dependability.
I had not driven either make for some considerable time. But I have always had a high regard for most Renaults and I remember that the Cortina-like Avenger made a firm impression from its first appearance. The young lady at Chrysler-UK who looks after Press cars agreed willingly that I should make re-acquaintancewith an Avenger. I found it awaiting me in.tbe office car-park, a blue Editorial Easter„egg, as it were, after another young lady, who looks after road-tests at Renault’s Acton offices, had driven me across London in a Renault 12 she was running-in, following demise of the turn-indicators and other electrics on their 16TX.
The Avenger provided was the two-door GT with the twin-carburetter 1,600 c.c., 87.3 x 66.6-mm. engine which pokes out 81 DIN-b.h.p. at a modest 5,500 r.p.m., and Michelin tyres on its Roplas sports-styled wheels. It has a big boot (that let in water after the car had been standing in heavy showers), a part-vinyl-covered roof, quickaction window winders, well-placed instruments which include an m.p.h./k.p.h. speedometer, a tachometer, and an oil-gauge (50 lb./ sq. in.), etc., and lamps and wipers selected with big barrel-switches protruding on each side of the steering-column, which were startlingly loosely mounted but gave no trouble. The bonnet is openable without an internal release—if anyone is in the habit of stealing batteries!
This Avenger has also one of the nicest gear-changes in the game, from a sensible floor lever, it corners fast on a level keel, and the servo disc/drum brakes are light, progressive, and efficient. Couple these to light steering (but with considerable kick-back), geared 31 turns lock-to-lock with a taxi-like turning circle, comfortable brushed-nylonupholstered seats, and a 3.7-to1 final drive, and this, on paper, rather ordinary car is very good value indeed. Vision from the driving seat is excellent, and enhanced by a Triplex heated rear window and two exterior mirrors, and a single stalk-control simplifies operation of the essentials. The engine commenced promptly if the hand choke was used and altogether this Hillman looked like providing useful business and holiday transport—not that I was taking a holiday. The first evening I parked it in SE London, going up the Edgware Road and onto the M1 and M45 to Coventry the next morning. On my way out of the Metropolis I was reminded, by premises beyond the 13rondesbury railway
arches labelled in blue “Lemon Burton Group”, of other Easters long ago, when I would have watched Bugattis racing at Brooklands on Bank Holiday Monday—Mr. Burton is these days a Vice-President of the BOC, and their Technical Consultant. By the time I arrived at “The Jaguar” I was well attuned to the Avenger, which had at first felt rather “tinny” after more expensive cars, and the live back axle of which had seemed a thought lively on its coil-spring suspension. There are times when the more “conventional” kind of car, which does not seem to require a driver to give it his utmost skill all the time, can be very acceptable. In spite of its small sporting steering wheel, with “GT” on the boss, I found it more pleasant to enjoy the Avenger’s excellent torque (86 lb. ft. at 3,800 r.p.m.) than to force it along on the limit, although when I was in a hurry it proved a friendly, untroublesome car.
It was nice to walk into Jaguar’s entrance hall again, where so many historic models, from XJI3 and yellow Le Mans D-type to the Mk. VII saloon used by HM the Queen Mother, are surveyed by HM the Queen, looking down from a life-size portrait on the right-hand wall. But it is sad that one no longer catches glimpses of Sir William Lyons walking with “Loftie” England through his factory, as was inevitably the case in former times. Sad, too, to find the great assembly halls silent, due to part-time working.
I am unable to tell you of my primary reason for going to Coventry. But I can tell you that Andrew Whyte, their able Public Relations Manager, whisked me off to see the Rover gas-turbine cars in the Herbert Art Gallery (see page 458) and after lunch allowed me to drive the very last E-type Jaguar, smart in shining black, with a suitable plaque on its facia. It is to retire into the aforesaid Jaguar collection and it is so nice to find one branch of BL looking after its historic heirlooms.
D.S.J. came with me, having arrived in his six-cylinder soft-top E-type—he and Andrew were using the other E-type as the course-car at the Jaguar OC Silverstone Race Meeting on the morrow—and during the afternoon’s nostalgic drive I took him to see the Motor Museum at Stratford-on-Avon, where we promptly encountered an SS 100.
The Avenger again provided acceptable transport that evening, taking me home via Worcester and Kington, the roads traffic-free and interesting again beyond the latter town.
But few unusual vehicles are encountered these days to enliven such a journey, the only example on this occasion being one of those quaint Arid l tricycles, which loomed out of the Herefordshire dusk. On the outward journey that morning I had passed the old Rootes Sunbeam factory, now occupied by Chrysler-UK, and had noted that the flags were flying above it at full-mast, perhaps joyously, in view of the recent order for 20,000 Avengers for Iran, which had ended short-time working at Ryton.
A few days later this obliging Hillman Avenger again took me as far as Worcester, signposts a few miles from this town reminding me that I must try and attend a Shelsley Walsh hill-climb later this year. Then it was up the M5 and M6, to Crewe, to take another look at Rolls-Royce (see page 489). The next day I learned about paint and aerosol-filling at Lloyds Industries and, after another pleasant lunch, made my way home via the Oulton Park area, Whitchurch, Wem and Shrewsbury, for once having no problems about finding my way over Welsh Bridge in the rather confusing one-way systems in the lastnamed town.
The Avenger GT was covering the ground well, and I had already decided that if I were in the market for an all-purpose car for family use I would order one, perhaps an estate version, for there is much to be said for a straight-forward easily understood car for such a purpose, and Avengers are good value, this 1600 GT coming out at £1,620 and a basic two-door 1600 at £1,410, at a time when you have to pay £1,613 for an equivalent Cortina 1600 and well over £1,100 for a Mini 1000.
Over the actual Easter period the Avenger was used locally (I settled for watching Thruxton, as I had the Boat Race, on TV), thereby patriotically saving fuel. Its petrol thirst was in any case modest. Under prevailing conditions and with some “economy inducement” but with many cold-starts during this snowy Easter, I obtained 30.7 m.p.g. of 4-star. This accords with Chrysler’s claim of an extra 2 m.p.g. achieved by use of a Lucas 45D4 distributor and mods. to the Stromberg carburation. The tank gives an absolute range of some 300 miles. By the time I had returned it, with a deviation to Weybridge to see some Brooklands films, there were 933 Avenger miles behind me. No oil had been required, and the Avenger GT had proved entirely tiouble-free. A palatable Easter-egg, in fact I–W.B.