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The Vauxhall Chevette 2300 HS

Vauxhall’s elusive Chevette 2300 HS, already a highly successful rally car which has brought a welcome breath of non-Escort fresh air to pine-forests and tarmac stages, has at last appeared for public consumption.  Many are the aspersions to have been cast as to whether the 2300 HS genuinely qualified for homologation under the 400-off – or about-to-be-off – ruling. Vauxhall claim that all the production requirements have been met and that 15 per week are rolling off the Luton lines. I can confirm that at least five production cars are at large – I have now driven four and ridden in another! Enough of such facetious remarks, for the 2300 HS is appearing in Vauxhall showrooms across the country. It is a specialised car at a specialised price – £5,107.

This little Chevette is a remarkably quick little projectile even in standard road form. And so it should be, with its 19 cwt. powered by a 135 b.h.p., sixteen-valve twin-cam 2,279 c.c. (97.54 mm. x 76.2 mm.), four cylinder engine. Contrary to popular belief, the aluminium 16-vale cylinder head is a Vauxhall design, not the admittedly similar Lotus head and part of the production delay has been because of difficulties in having the head produced by outside suppliers. Unlike the Lotus/Jensen 2-litre engine, this one does not have an aluminium block – it has the strong old Vauxhall iron unit which has proved to be “stretchable” to 2.600 c.c. in racing form.

In production form, the engine is in a mild state of tune, running on a modest 8.2:1 compression ratio and twin Stromberg 175 CD carburettors. Maximum power is produced at 5,500 r.p.m. and torque is 134 lb. ft. at 4,500 r.p.m. This is fed through a five-speed Getrag gearbox. Apart from its bulbous, distinctive, glass-fibre front spoiler and tail spoiler, the shell is standard Chevette, modified in the rear luggage area to accept vertical rear shock-absorbers. It has conventional coil spring, wishbone front suspension, the coil-sprung live rar axle is located by trailing arms and a Panhard rod and anti-roll bars are fitted at both ends. The front discs are non-ventilated, of 9.6 in. diameter and the rear drums are of 9 in. diameter and the rear drums are of 9 in. diameter. The standard specification includes 6J x 13 in. alloy road wheels and 205/60 HR 13 Dunlop SP Sport tyres.

The wheels, the spoilers, a special metallic silver finish, red coach lines and a huge Vauxhall silver finish, red coach lines and a huge Vauxhall transfer across the tail contrive to distinguish the 2300 HS. Included in its standard specification are a push-button radio, 13 ½ in. leather-rimmed wheel, laminated screen, reclining seats with head restraints, and oil-cooler, tinted glass and smart red tartan cloth trim.

I was officially introduced to this sporting Vauxhall at Silverstone, mainly on the circuit, but with a brief venture on to the road. In fact I had already driven Gerry Marshall’s personal 2300 HS briefly on the road when it was running in and have since borrowed it in modified form, when Marshall wanted to try my road test Saab Turbo. Although the 2300 HS is a fast road car it wasn’t entirely it its element on the smooth, open, resurfaced Silverstone Club circuit and I enjoyed it much more on teh road. It showed marked understeer on the circuit, especially at Becketts where even Marshall found it difficult to make it tighten its line, though on the faster Woodcote and Copse it was very stable and could be made to tighten its line by backing off the throttle. It felt a very forgiving car, with excellent adhesion from those fat Dunlops – a very safe car, which its short-wheelbase might not suggest. The 3.5 turns lock-to-lock steering was excellent – smooth and responsive and much lighter than the fat tyres would suggest, although the wheel’s thick rim was an asset. The brakes faded after several laps, but how many road cars on standard pads wouldn’t suffer that way when driven very hard on the circuit?

On the road the handling virtues were much more obvious, understeer less pronounced, to a degree that added stability and a forgiving nature. It is not one of those cars that asks to be hurled sideways at a corner – its grip is too good for that. Its ride is choppy and rough surfaces throw it about a bit, but without upsetting its handling. The engine is refined and flexible and the Getrag gearbox, with first down to the left, is positively beautiful, a far cry from the ZF box fitted to the droop-snoot Firenza. However, on the standard 3.44:1 final drive this fast hatchback will easily reach the 6,000 r.p.m. red line in fifth – 117 m.p.h. which explains why Marshall has fitted a higher final drive to his modified car. Vauxhall claim a conservative 0-60 time of 8 seconds.

The rally cars have proved in advance the fantastic potential of this excellent little car. On the day of the introduction drove Pentti Airikkala’s l.h.d. 2300 HS road car fitted with stiffer Bilstein shock-absorbers and a high-ratio steering rack – its handling was even better. Marshall’s road car showed what more power and a limited-slip differential can add to the recipe. Even in standard form this Vauxhall has no rivals in its specialised sector of the market, for the RS 2000 is slower, the RS 1800 faded away after Ford had covered the homologation requirements and the Dolomite Sprint is in a slightly different market sector. I look forward to longer acquaintance with the standard 2300 HS and with Marshall’s 170 b.h.p. modified car – once he has removed the need for ear-plugs. – C.R.

 

The Volkswagen Golf LD

Volkswagen’s remarkable 50-m.p.g. diesel-powered Gold goes on sale in Britain this month, a UK introduction delayed by inadequat4e production capacity to cope with unexpectedly high Continental demand. The main hold-up lay with obtaining sufficient diesel-injection equipment from Bosch; now the British firm of Lucas-CAV have been brought in on VW’s success story to share the supply.

This thrifty Golf is the first small family car to be offered with a diesel engine by a large manufacturer. Noise, smell, throttle lag and poor performance of diesel engines have always been against such an application. VW claim to have overcome all these drawbacks and to have given the 1,500-c.c. diesel Golf almost identical performance to the 1,100-c.c. petrol Golf. The top speed is 88 m.p.h., just under 18 sec. Even the power output for both engines is the same, at 50 b.h.p.

When VW launched the Diesel Golf to the British Press recently, they brought over the engine’s affable young designer Peter Hofbauer, head of VW’s Advanced Power Plant Systems Research, who gave a most lucid explanation of his “baby’s” conception and the methods used to “de-bug” the diesel design. Interestingly, Hofbauer had the first prototype engine running in just three months and more than nine million test miles were conducted before the car went on sale in Germany a year ago.

Why choose a diesel engine at all? VW ran a forecast up to the year 1990 which suggested that the significance of the diesel engine’s disadvantages is going to decline and that its advantages – economy, emission control and so on – would become more important. Although a diesel engine is always more expensive to make, in the long run it is far less expensive, showing an enormous saving on fuel costs per mile, on maintenance and length of service which can be 50% to 100% up on a petrol unit. The Gold diesel engine, for example, won’t need a major service until it has covered 60,000 miles, and then only an overhaul of the injection equipment, although cars used regularly in heavy traffic might need their injectors cleaned at 40,000 miles. Hofbauer stressed that VW see the diesel only as a supplement to the petrol engine.

One of Hofbauer’s targets was to keep unit cost as low as possible so that the usual diesel premium on top of a petrol engine could be kept down. This meant using as many parts from the petrol engine as possible to be able to use the same transfer lines. The 1,500-c.c. block was chosen instead of the 1,600-c.c. block because of its wider bore centres. To test whether the petrol engine’s cylinder head would stand the diesel pressures (its compression ratio is 23 to 1) VW built a 160-b.h.p. turbocharged petrol engine. The standard crankshaft and con-rods from the 1,600 engine were found to be suitable. All these parts for diesel engine production are hand-picked for close tolerances from the petrol engine line.

The cylinder head is subsequently modified to include swirl chambers – the Ricardo Comet Mk. V swirl chamber, adopted during development work with the Ricardo Research Institute at Shoreham – and the water-jacket in the block is slightly modified to direct water-flow around the swirl chambers. Like the petrol engine, the diesel has a single overhead camshaft driven by a toothed belt. In this application the belt has to drive the camshaft, the oil pump and the injection pump. Modifications to the contact area by modifying tooth geometry etc. and increasing the width have enabled the belt to withstand 100% more torque.

Hofbauer divulged some interesting figures to prove the effectiveness of his development. While the much-praised Mercedes five-cylinder 300D takes 20 sec. to reach 100 k.p.h. from rest and the 220D a lethargical 28 sec., the Gold Diesel reaches it in 18 sec. the 300D just beats it on top speed, 92 m.p.h. against 88.2 m.p.h., while the 220D crawls behind at 82.5 m.p.h. On large scale tests, the average fuel consumption of the diesel Golf was 60.1 m.p.g. in town, 48.7 m.p.g. on country roads and 44.1 m.p.g. on motorways.

Those of us with previous experience of diesel engined cars remained sceptical. The next ting was to prove the claims for ourselves on a long, varied test route. Only one specification off Golf Diesel is offered in the UK, the five-door LD, inclusive of carpets and cloth seats – the same trim as the petrol L and LS. Our blue example started on the turn of the key from cold, after the prescribed pre-start instructions had been carried out: the cold start knob is pulled out, the ignition key turned half a turn until a tell-tale light shows that the combustion chambers have warmed up – a matter of 30 seconds or so – and then the key is turned fully to start the engine. The cold start knob can be pushed right home within a few hundred yards from starting off. This procedure is the only difference in driving technique.

The Golf Diesel engine rattled somewhat at tickover, though not so much as other diesels, but once the throttle was opened it was practically impossible to detect that it was a sparkles engine. In fact it turned out to be a splined little car with a free-revving engine, instantaneous throttle response, excellent hill climbing ability and outstanding low speed, top gear flexibility. An occasional whiff of diesel oil intruded when we stopped at traffic lights, although we couldn’t but sure that our Golf was to blame, and neither smoke nor stench was emitted by Messrs’ Bolster and Barker, whose LD preceded us at one point. At 70 m.p.h. on the motorway the buzziness was busier than an equivalent small petrol Golf, although this diesel drives through the higher final drive of the 70 b.h.p. petrol car, but the noise wasn’t sufficient to cause distress even when we cruised flat out at an indicated 90 m.p.h. The Golf is inherently a car well-insulated from its engine, wind and road noise. The splendid ride, roadholding, handling noise. The splendid ride, roadholding, handling and comfort, as well as the long-travel, spongey brakes, were all there. The torque and flexibility should make it an excellent small tow car.

No potential customer should be put off by the physical considerations of this diesel conversion, then – for once something lives up fully to a manufacturer’s claims. But the UK customer has to make up his mind whether the extra cost is justified. At £3,543, it costs £478 more than the equivalent 1100 c.c. Golf L 5-oor, £328 more than the 3-door 1,500 c.c. petrol Golf LS and £43 more than the 1,500 c.c. 5-door GLS. Thanks to our crazy bureaucrats, diesel fuel actually costs more than petrol in Britain – say 82p against 78p – the only major country in the world to do this. In Italy, for example, diesel costs only 31% of petrol, in Sweden 39%, in the USA 88% and in Mexico only 12%! In the Gold’s homeland the process are identical. A rough estimate by VW shows that a Golf LD operator would take 26,000 miles to recoup his extra investment. After that, the savings on maintenance, longevity and resale value are expected to be enormous. They point out that a fleet operator, who might buy diesel fuel in bulk for as little as 70p, should reap much earlier and greater benefits. Whether the brilliant Golf LD is the right horse for you, depends on your course.  – C.R.

 

The Renault 18

Renault have reverted to conventional three-box style for their latest challenger in the middle range of the family saloon market, the 18, after extensive research had shown the Regie organisation that hatchbacks aren’t the be-all and end-all of demand. During the launch, Renault were at pains to stress that the car hadn’t been specifically designed to replace one of the existing models and so therefore it would be a little pointless to compare it with other Renaults, although naturally it retains many of the characteristics of previous cars. There are four variants to choose from: the GTS, TS, GTL, and TL. The 18 comes with two engine options, either in 1,397-c.c. form–this particular engine being an enlarged version of the 1,200-c.c. found in the 12 and said to develop 64 b.h.p.–or in 1,647-c.c. form, originally stemming from the similar block found in the 16, 17, and 30TL Renaults and developing a healthier 79 b.h.p. Gearboxes available are an all-synchromesh four-speeder or the now familiar three-speed Renault electronic automatic for the three “lesser” TS, GTL and TL models, while a five-speed manual box is standard for the top-of-the-range GTS. The car’s styling was developed with the aid of a wind tunnel, but nevertheless the four-door saloon links most attractive and should prove to be quite a success when it arrives on the British market next January. At the time of going to press, however, it wasn’t certain whether or not all the four variants of this most comfortable five-seater would be available over here. This inevitably front-wheel-drive Renault has suspension by double wishbone independent layout in front and rigid rear axle, with coil springs, telescopic hydraulic shock-absorbers with anti-roll bars front an drear, while the steering, which we found somewhat stiff and agricultural on our particular GTS, on twisting South of France roads, is by rack and pinion. The brakes (discs at the front, drums at the rear) have servo assistance as well as a rear pressure limiting valve. The wheels, fitted with tubeless tyres, are of the “flat-hump” type. . .

We drove both the “up market” GTS and GTL and the difference between our two examples was most extraordinary. But, that’s not to say that the GTS was the better of the two, because the one we had not only had somewhat violent self-centring steering but it also had a most difficult gearchange; but as nobody else suffered from these problems. . . The GTL was a revelation in that it had lovely, smooth steering plus a much easier four-speed gearchange, it too sharing the same quiet engine and low wind noise as the GTS. Performance-wise the GTS felt reasonable if not staggering and the handling, although typically Renault, never proved itself to be troublesome. When all the m.p.g. figures were calculated after the journalists’ mainly heavy-footed tests, it was found that the 18 will manage 35 m.p.g. without the slightest problem. So until we get to drive the car again when it appears in Britain, that’s the Renault 18. An improved 12… ?   M.C.S.