A 105S Performs Well on a Journey to the Alfa-Romeo Factory in Milan and the Lancia Works in Turin
Last Autumn Motor Sport published an account of a visit to two German factories producing high-performance cars, last spring we visited a number of French companies, and during the summer we looked over several works where British sports cars are manufactured. Consequently, it seemed opportune to pay a visit to the makers of Italian fast cars and when a Rover 105S became due for road-test we realised that such an expedition could be made in comfort and luxury.
We road-tested the Rover 90 last year, a full report appearing in Motor Sport dated September, 1956, and as the 105S, although providing increased performance, is virtually identical in specification and equipment, there seemed no point in publishing a road-test on it, whereas the long journey we had in mind would enable us to qualify the opinions previously formed about this make and discover how the fastest model of the Rover range stands up to a really gruelling journey.
Arrangements were duly completed and Air Charter conveyed the car and its five occupants as efficiently as usual from Rochford, Southend, to Calais Marck.
As we stepped onto French soil on this first Sunday in September a cold wind and dull skies greeted us and before long heavy rain was lashing down. Short work was made of the roads through the battlefield areas, Lillers being reached an hour after leaving Calais and this 45 m.p.h. average being maintained for the whole of the first evening’s journey of 176 miles, which brought us to Reims for the night. The sport of water-jousting was in progress at Arras, that seemingly endless farm railway still flanked the road to Cambrai, where huge barges sailed the broad waterway and a full-size railway occupies the centre of the roads, and N44, a typical Route Nationale where they haven’t pulled out the roadside trees, took us to Laon. A stop was necessary for Esso in the fine town of St. Quentin, because the Rover tank holds only 11½ gallons, a total range of but 230 miles, although the reserve tap is reassuring. The youngest member of the party, on his first visit to the Continent, was on the alert for new and strange sights but I reflected that England has its share, too, for just before leaving had I not seen a 2-litre M.G. being driven along unconcernedly with one front wheel at 45 deg. to its fellow (!) and encountered two vintage Lea-Francis (I hope the blue two-seater broken down near Epping Forest eventually got home!) — whereas now we saw aged Citroens and Renaults.
The Hotel d’Univers being full we stayed at the considerably less palatial but quite satisfactory Hotel Foch next door. After dinner we did a quiet lap of the Grand Prix Circuit and then, being in France, merely turned out the lamps, left the Rover in the main road, and went to bed. The next morning we left early and I drove to Basle at a 50 m.p.h. average. After crossing the frontier we lunched very adequately at the Hotel Schweizerhof, and then went in search of more Esso, a huge and very smart Saurer tanker reminding us that we were in Switzerland. The petrol pumps were automatic, cutting off when the quantity of petrol ordered had been pumped in, thus enabling the attendant to set about the universal screen-cleaning ritual, which they do unasked and with special sprays which result in an oil-film as soon as it rains.
A colleague now took the wheel and I was able to keep an eye open for interesting sights, which included vintage Berna and Saurer lorries on the outskirts of the town. The average speed dropped to English standards on the road to Zurich, due to heavy traffic with a generous scattering of enormous Saurer diesel lorries pulling equally large trailers. The Rhine came into sight before Brugg and Zurich greeted us with o.h. gantry trams. A mere 57 miles had taken 2¼ hours! At Zurich Airport we checked on means of getting some Monza Grand Prix “copy” to England and then set off at tea-time to climb over the St. Gotthard Pass into Italy. I was intrigued to see a Morgan three-wheeler and an old M.G. on local number plates as we set off.
The Pass was occupied by the Swiss Army on manoeuvres, their foot-slogging columns, unlit horses and sad-looking mules, some pulling gun-carriages, arousing our sympathy as they trudged upwards, ever upwards — particularly as the mountains were sheathed in cloud and a steady rain fell, the impression being that of doing an extended Welsh Rally in late November! Our hourly mileage read 31, 29, 19, 27 and 38, but those who know the St. Gotthard will appreciate that this was no fault of driver or car, especially as refuelling stops were necessary and there were various hold-ups. But everything ends eventually and at last we dropped down to the road that bisects Lake Lugano, put in more Esso at a garage in which reposed a pre-war Austin Sixteen saloon for all the world as if we were back in England, and got quickly across the frontier, arriving at the Hotel Miralago, Cernobbio, on the shores of Lake Como, in a tropical thunderstorm with vivid lightning, after miles and miles in a torrential downpour. The time was 10.20 p.m. and the day’s mileage totalled 478.
The Rover had proved very satisfactory in all but one respect. The Girling brakes, very effective when they worked properly, were unhappily erratic. Four times out of five they functioned properly, but at the fifth application the pedal would go down on the floor and all one’s strength was necessary to obtain any retardation, although on lifting one’s foot the brakes would come on suddenly. This trouble persisted throughout our ten days’ tour and, for me, spoilt the drive across France. Clearly the defect was peculiar to this particular car, being accompanied by a puffing sound from the Girling vacuum-servo unit as the brake pedal was pumped, but it was a disconcerting defect in view of the nature of the roads we proposed to traverse and defied cure in countries where Rover agents do not exactly abound round every corner. Apart from this shortcoming, the arrival of torrential rain coincided with cessation of the screen washer. This may have been caused by dirt but to attempt to cure it was futile when the cap of the water container refused to screw home and this glass container was in such close proximity to the exhaust manifold that the water soon evaporated.
The thunderstorm died away in the night and we awoke to the full beauty of this quiet shore of Lake Como, where a fountain plays continually before the hotel, fishermen prepare their boats on the tiny beach for a day’s fishing and you can take the steamer up the 40 miles of waterway as elsewhere you would catch the local ‘bus. The sun shone from a cloudless sky, as it was to do for the whole of our stay, a seaplane now below the tops of the surrounding hills seeking “joy-riders” and a barge disguised as an early galleon lay in the harbour waiting to defend Cernobbio in the coming Carnival invasion. This refuge, hidden down a narrow side street from the town of Como, has been discovered by English and German holiday-makers, but does not attract trippers and is free from locals and litter. It bade us stay and laze but there was work to be done and we were soon on our way to the Alfa-Romeo works in Milan.
The Alfa-Romeo Factory
The vast Alfa-Romeo factory is situated in an industrial but pleasant area on the North-West outskirts of Milan, close to where the autostrada to Brescia commences. You drive out along wide tree-lined avenues and turn from the Viale Certosa up the Via Traiano, on the right-hand side of which the factory buildings form an impressive reminder of the present importance of this great Italian concern. On one corner the name in faded script is discernible on the roof parapets but otherwise there is no indication that this vast factory, which covers most of two squares, bisected by the Via Renato Serra, is, indeed, the home of Alfa-Romeo. Behind one block of this factory Citroen has a large service plant. Originally the factory was a small garage, in a then-separate town called Portello, which Mon. A. Darracq had erected with the idea of manufacturing taxis for the Italian market from parts imported from his factory at Suresnes. This project met with difficulties and the garage became the factory of A.L.F.A. in 1909, ing Romeo taking over in 1911 and founding the Nicola Romeo Company. After the first World War the name of the company was changed to Alfa-Romeo S.P.A. From the original 300 sq. yds. the factory has expanded to cover an area of 115,200 sq. yds.! It employs 6,000 persons.
This factory at Milan is devoted to the production of Alfa-Romeo cars and the front-drive Romeo light commercial vehicles, and the huge diesel engines for the big commercial vehicles which are assembled at another factory in Naples.
On arrival you encounter gate-keepers in military-style uniforms who, in our case, directed us to Mr. Bernasconi, head of the propaganda department. This gentleman’s office contains photographs of topical happenings in the Alfa-Romeo firmament, a clock with the famous badge incorporated in its face, elaborate charts of competition fixtures, model cars including a 159 G.P. Alfa-Romeo and, as if to make us feel at home, a miniature by Solido of France of a D-type Jaguar, also some amusing half-life-size lady dolls cunningly constructed of paper, no doubt used as decoration at a motor show stand — in fact, all the evidence of an efficient publicity service in operation. The only photograph with a vintage flavour was one in a gilt frame showing six open and one saloon 1,500-c.c. models after achieving something or other in some 1927 trial.
After recovering from the overpowering sight of literally scores of new Giuliettas we embarked on a tour of the factory, or of part of the factory, because to see everything at the Alfa-Romeo plant would occupy several days.
To those accustomed to seeing only an occasional example of the beautiful little Alfa-Romeo Giulietta on English roads it was quite an experience to see them in various stages of completion, to find some hundreds of the little twin overhead camshaft engines in store and to come upon Sprint and Sprint Veloce coupes darting about the factory roads.
The present Alfa-Romeo private-car range consists of the Giulietta four-door saloon, which develops 50 b.h.p. at 5,200 r.p.m. and does 85 m.p.h., the Giulietta Sprint, which has an engine giving 65 b.h.p. at 6,000 r.p.m. and is expected to do 100 m.p.h. and the Giulietta Sprint Veloce, of 90 b.h.p. (at 6,000 r.p.m.) for which a maximum speed of 113 m.p.h. is claimed, both the last-named being two-door coupes, of which the Sprint version has doors, bonnet and luggage-boot lid of aluminium, while the doors are not upholstered, side and back windows are of plexiglass and stronger but lighter seats are fitted.
Besides these Giulietta versions there is the striking Pinin Farina-styled open two-seater Spider, in which the 65 b.h.p. Sprint engine is installed, giving a speed of 97 m.p.h. All these cars have basically the same four-cylinder 74 by 75 mm., 1,290-c.c. twin-cam engine, the Sprint Veloce version using twin Weber 40DC03 horizontal carburetters, the other engine a single d.d. Solex. All have coil and wishbone i.f.s., coil sprung rigid but lightweight back axles located by a triangulated anti-roll member and long radius arms, and hydraulic brakes having finned rear drums and Sinistro turbo-finned front drums, the last-named an impressive feature of even the normal Giulietta model. The same engine, in 35 b.h.p. at 3,500 r.p.m. form, is used for the front-drive Romeo, which is available as a 10-seater ‘bus, van, lorry or ambulance, and for which a 1,158-c.c. 30 b.h.p. diesel engine of the two-cylinder two-stroke pattern is also supplied.
We are not really concerned with the company’s commercial vehicle and omnibus chassis, although these range up to 9½-litre giants, of which vast two-tier transports and trailers are employed to carry completed Alfa-Romeo cars away from the factory. Alfa-Romeo ‘buses are a strong export line, especially to Brazil.
To revert to the private cars, although the Giulietta is the mainstay of Milan, the 1900 Alfa-Romeo is still manufactured, in three forms, all with 4-cylinder 84.5 by 88 mm., 1,975-c.c. twin o.h.c. engine. The four-door 1,900 Super gives 90 b.h.p. at 4,800 r.p.m. and will reach 100 m.p.h. The 1,900 Primavera merely has a different body style but the 1,900C Super Sprint is a two-door coupe by Carrozzeria Touring, with an engine developing 115 b.h.p. at 5,000 r.p.m., set 2 in. lower in the chassis, this handsome car being capable of a maximum speed in the region of 120 m.p.h. (The foregoing speeds are those claimed by the manufacturers.) The chassis details of the 1,900 and 1,900C models follow those of the Giulietta’s, dimensions being given in the table on the next page.
Having dealt with the types of cars in the Alfa-Romeo range we can go on to describe the factory. The Alfa-Romeo factory is one of the most satisfactory it is possible for the enthusiast to visit, because craftsmanship to racing-car standards is practised in spotlessly clean shops by men obviously proud of their accomplishments as they work in unhurried fashion. Giulietta engines, are hand-assembled on jigs on which the unit can be rotated as required, these jigs travelling down the assembly line on rail-trolleys. Truck engines are assembled on one side of the vast engine assembly hall, car engines on the other side. The key-note is skilled assembly of the components by hand. Bearings are fitted with non-automatic spanners. At one time Alfa-Romeo cast their own pistons but now they use Rosa pistons, the gudgeon-pins being fitted by women operatives. The twin-cam heads with hemispherical combustion chambers have the valves automatically ground-in on a special machine after grinding paste has been hand-brushed on the valve seats and valve springs are then assembled by hand. An early indication of the care employed in the construction of the little Giulietta engine came when we saw valves matched by weight before assembly and saw the care with which the tappets are set. This engine has the classic method of tappet-clearance adjustment by caps on the valve stems and the settings are corrected to ± 0.025 mm. by a Borletti gauge connected to a special tool which is inserted under each cam in turn. The valve stem caps are checked by another gauge and the required clearance made up, the caps being rubbed down if necessary.
The Fispa fuel pump is bolted on, the head fitted and the Marelli distributor added, girls fit the valve covers and the components are mounted, after which the complete engine is lifted by an overhead chain hoist and lowered onto a rubber-tyred trolley from which it hangs in a cradle, to be wheeled away to the engine store. To see many hundreds of these efficient little Giulietta power units stacked up for test is an impressive sight! It is interesting to find Solex carburetters, Vandervell thinwall bearings and certain Lucas electrical components used in the Alfa-Romeo works.
If great care is taken over the assembly of the Giulietta engine, as is essential if a unit capable of running up to 7,000 r.p.m. is to give satisfactory service in the hands of the customer, equal attention is devoted to engine testing. Even before assembly is completed each Giulietta engine is subjected to a test which ensures that there are no oil leaks, oil being forced through the lubrication system at 60 at., two-thirds greater than the pressure at which the engine normally runs. Each engine is tested for eight hours on one of 16 Zollner test-beds in a big engine-test hall, entered through soundproof doors of imposing thickness. After carburation has been checked by running an engine with the exhaust manifold removed this is fitted and a service exhaust pipe clamped on, which exhausts through the floor. Horse-power readings are then taken every 1,000 r.p.m. up to 6,000 r.p.m. during the eight-hour test and a report card is filled in in considerable detail for each engine. Each Sprint engine has to achieve within ± 1½ h.p. of 74 b.h.p. and taking three sample cards for engines in test-bed rig we found recorded, respectively, 74.5, 75.3 and 73.7 b.h.p., at 6,000 r.p.m. These are, of course, bench readings, which are lowered somewhat when the engines are installed in the cars. A 1,900 Super engine had achieved 89 b.h.p. at 5,900 r.p.m. Not only are faulty engines rejected for inspection and correction and then re-tested for three hours, but every engine is stripped for examination of the bearings and oilways after it comes off the test-bed.
The bodies when completed are taken on four-wheel pneumatic-tyred tubular-chassis trailers to the first floor of a vast, splendidly-lit car assembly shop. Here the body shell is hung from an overhead gantry some five feet up in the air while operatives, who can stand up to the task, bolt on the suspension units, hubs, etc.
It is here that you see those efficient turbo-finned front brake drums being fitted to the front of even the “cooking” Giuliettas and realise that Alfa-Romeo not only make cars that go but intend that they shall also stop! When the wheels are in place the cars travel along raised chain conveyors, Sprint and Sprint Veloces on one conveyor, the other devoted to normal Giuliettas. Here the smaller parts, stored until needed under the conveyor lines, are fitted, each car moving one stage every 12 minutes on its long journey towards completion. Finally, it is greased, the engine is started, exhaust fumes being sucked away down service outlets, and the finished product is ready to roll down to ground level and be driven away for road test and final polishing and inspection.
Giulietta Sprint models go for an 80-kilometre road test but the other cars run the equivalent of 17-19 kilometres with all four wheels on rollers, air being blown into the radiator to simulate road driving conditions. The tester takes the engine up to the equivalent of 135 k.p.h., the car sliding laterally on its rollers as it tries to slip its tether, and at the same time he checks the brakes and, of course, uses every gear in the gearbox.
After this check it remains only to rectify any faults, give the car its last polish, and carry out any last-minute adjustments, a test road round the factory buildings, the corners guarded by wall-mirrors, being useful for the latter purpose. The cars are fuelled from the factory’s own Shell pumps.
That is a brief account a what it takes to make a modern Alfa-Romeo. To tour the entire plant would occupy a week or so, but during our visit we were able to see the big building where a technical school is run for sons of employees, boys being taken in from the age of 14 and only those of sufficient aptitude being allowed to pass into the factory. There is a very modern canteen, a well-appointed surgery and a very fully-equipped metal-testing laboratory. Here, as elsewhere in the factory, use is made of Siemens electric motors. We saw a welded panel being subjected to a destruction test at 250 vibrations per sec. and Giulietta axle casings being hammered on an hydraulic ram, to discover the weaknesses which have resulted in the flanges breaking away. It has been found that electrically-welded flanges crack after 10,000 cycles of this treatment, whereas shrunk-on flanges do not fail until some 2,000,000 cycles. Two Schenck test plants are engaged in discovering the torsional strength, respectively, of car and enormous diesel-engine crankshafts and a 30-ton ram tests metals for fracture under extension, its readings taken on a big Amsler dial. There are all manner of samples, in glass cases, of parts and materials that have given up the ghost in various ways in the Alfa-Romeo laboratory, which is in the charge, not of a boffin in a long, white coat, but of a cheerful, obviously exceedingly keen and capable practical engineer.
Reverting for a moment to the assembly lines, the tyres used are either Michelin or Pirelli, the former earning warm praise but the latter sometimes preferable for the fast cars.
From this great Milanese plant, where the visitor is all the time impressed by the cleanliness, the extreme care taken over assembly and testing, and the skilled status of the workers, they work a five-day week, some operatives coming in on Saturday mornings if rectification work requires them to do so. Each day some 75 Alfa-Romeos leave the assembly lines, an output of approximately 375 per week. Of these, the emphasis is on the Giulietta models. Because of the extremely thorough engine testing this test shop is kept running on a 24-hour shift basis.
As a special treat we were allowed to inspect a Tipo 159 G.P. Alfa-Romeo, the Disco-Volante sports/racing model and a normal 2-litre sports/racing car and we saw two more Tipo 159 cars in another shop (there is a fourth in the splendid Turin Automobile Museum). We were told that the engines had been removed from two of these cars and used in a motor-boat which achieved notable speeds at Miami. In the Alfa-Romeo staff-car garage, which is a fine single-span concrete building, where we had to go to collect some test cars, we were shown a 1906 two-cylinder Darracq of the type from which the Alfa-Romeo stemmed, in a fine state of preservation, and a P3 monoposto Alfa-Romeo of the kind with beam-axle front suspension and divided propeller-shaft, bearing on its radiator a plate proudly proclaiming that it was driven by Nuvolari and other famous drivers of its era. Both these cars are destined for the new Turin Automobile Museum.
Some Alfa-Romos on the Road
On the day following our tour of the factory we were able to test three Alfa-Romeo models on the autostrada. The first was a beautiful little Giulietta Sprint Veloce two-door Bertone coupe, shod with 155 by 15 Pirelli “Cinturato” tyres. This had a man-sized very rigid central gear-lever, treadle accelerator, two-spoke steering wheel with horn-ring, a foot-lamps dipper button well clear of the clutch pedal, sliding windows and a “Giulietta Sprint Veloce” badge in the steering wheel boss. Before the driver a hooded panel carried, from l. to r. on this l.h.d. model, a combined oil and water temperature and fuel gauge, a tachometer recording to 8,000 r.p.m. and a speedometer, with trip and total distance recorders, going up to 220 k.p.h. After 20 years of road testing I can find no words which will adequately describe the road-holding, steering, braking and resultant high degree of controlability! The only way is to sample these things for yourself. The engine ran straight up to 7,000 r.p.m., equal to a speedometer 100 k.p.h. (62 m.p.h.) in second gear and just over 140 k.p.h. (87 m.p.h.) in third gear. On occasions it went to 7,500 r.p.m. A maximum speedometer reading of just better than 180 k.p.h. (112 m.p.h.) was seen. Oil temperature never exceeded 60 deg. C. and water temperature was steady at 75 deg. C. The following performance figures were recorded:–
Standing start kilo. 34 sec.
Flying start kilo. 21.1 sec. (= 105.8 m.p.h.)
0-60 m.p.h. in 10.2 sec.
0-80 m.p.h. in 19.0 sec.
Figures were taken three-up in every case, it must be remembered, because for insurance purposes the very accomplished works demonstration driver had to be in the cars.
We next sampled a 1,900 Super four-door saloon, shod with 155 by 400 Michelin “X” tyres. This comfortable, nicely-appointed and roomy car had fine cloth upholstery. The front seat was bench-type, a nice touch being a grab handle on the roof for the passenger. Hooks are provided for coats, there are “pulls” on the back of the front-seat squab and swing-up roof “pulls,” the doors trail, there is a big back window, and elastic-topped pockets lie flush with the doors. The instrumentation is much as on the Giulietta but with tachometer (reading to 6,000 r.p.m.) on the right, 180 k.p.h. speedometer (calibrated every 20 k.p.h. and with total and trip distance recorders) on the left, the oil pressure gauge and fuel gauge being between them. On the other side of the facia is a big, lockable lined cubby hole with “1,900 Super” on its lid. The gear lever was on the right of the steering column in this l.h.d. car, the lower gear positions being above top and third.
This delightful touring saloon cruised at 5,000 r.p.m. along the autostrada with the speedometer-needle on 150 k.p.h. (93 m.p.h.) without a trace of wind-noise. With very sure brakes this is a delightful way of covering the ground, especially as each window has a shield which enables adequate ventilation to be obtained without inducing draughts. The engine would reach 5,600 r.p.m. in top gear. In first gear 5,000 r.p.m. 31 m.p.h., in second gear 43½ m.p.h. and in third gear 62 m.p.h., the maximum in third gear being about 69 m.p.h. Equipment includes Tudor screen-washers and a Tudor “Superior” battery on a shelf behind the engine. The following performance figures were obtained, after we had been suitably impressed by the safety and comfort of the suspension: —
Standing start kilo. 37.4 sec., (speedo. 93 m.p.h. at end)
Flying start kilo. 21.6 sec. (= 103.25 m.p.h.)
0-60 m.p.h. in 16.0 sec.
0-80 m.p.h. in 29.0 sec.
After lunch with Mr. Bernasconi in the amusing La Tampa restaurant, Milanese equivalent of artists’ haunts in Soho or Chelsea, we returned refreshed to sample one of the world’s safest and most impressive fast cars, in the form of an Alfa-Romeo 1,900 Super Sprint two-door coupe. This one was shod with 165 by 400 Michelin “X” tyres. It had a steering-column gear-change which, however, enabled quick changes to be made, the lever protruding on the right of the steering column in this I.h.d. car. The instrumentation before the driver was more complete than on the 1,900 Super, comprising a speedometer recording up to 220 k.p.h., a tachometer reading to 7,000 r.p.m., with, between these big dials on the hooded panel, separate gauges for fuel contents, oil-pressure (which was normally 45 lb./sq. in.), water temperature (normally 85 deg. C.) and oil temperature (normally 68 deg. C.). The engine ran, with the accompaniment of a beautifully hard exhaust note, on occasion up to 6,500 r.p.m. and the gearbox provides five speeds, in which, at 6,000 r.p.m., the maxima on the speedometer were 60, 90, 128, 158 and 190 k.p.h., respectively, equal to approximately 37, 56, 79, 98 and 118 m.p.h.
The performance of the 1,900 Super Sprint again defies words, but its handling and the power of its brakes are superb. Yet there is ample leg room and a wide back seat in this elegant coupe, which runs at speed with very little aural irritation from wind pressure. Round corners it seems welded to the road and the front-seat passenger most certainly has recourse to the grab-handle thoughtfully provided for him. We were unlucky in never getting a completely clear run on the Milan-Como autostrada and the f.s. kilo. speed quoted below had to be taken after lifting off for the last few yards: —
Standing start kilo. 33.2 sec.
Flying start kilo. 20.0 sec. (= 111.8 m.p.h.)
0-60 m.p.h. in 11.8 sec.
0-80 m.p.h. in 18.2 sec.
After this memorable drive we said goodbye to Mr. Bernasconi, who emphasised that production in the Milan factory is concentrated on Giulietta, largely for the home market and after that for America, where 2,000 have been sold.
Looking in on Lancia
The next morning we left Como reasonably early in the Rover to motor to Turin, home of Fiat and Lancia. It is some reflection on motoring conditions on the Continent, compared to those prevailing in England, that this 112-mile journey was accomplished in five minutes under two hours, although not all of it was along the autostrada, on which, once attained, there was an appreciable diversion along slow back lanes. All down the autostrada the distance is marked by standardised posts on which the petrol companies are permitted to put their symbol, Supercortemaggiore one side, Argent on the other, for instance, while the blue kilometre boards bore the name of Fiat. After passing the vast Fiat plant we drove through Turin to the imposing Lancia factory on the outskirts of the city. The factory can be identified from afar by the incredible office-block at the entrance. This rises 16 storeys and is built astride the Via Vincenzo Lancia main road! From the entrance hall, where an effigy of A. Vincenzo Lancia (1881-1937) surveys the visitors, three ultra-modern, all-automatic lifts elevate you to the floor required. Alas, we had arrived at 11 a.m. and as Italian factories close for lunch from noon until 3 p.m. we were asked to come again later. This gave us an opportunity to drive the Rover up the Swiss section of the Susa Mont Cenis Pass and then lunch in the village at the foot, where the local vino was really a shade too strong for a journalist about to undertake a high-speed factory tour.
High-speed it turned out to be, for our guide took us, at just less than a fast trot, which went on for over two hours, round a good deal of the great Lancia works. This is to anticipate, because before lunch they gave us a ride in a Lancia Aurelia Gran Turismo. However, this was a new, stiff car, direct from the assembly-line, which possessed the disturbing defect of a horn which blew automatically whenever the steering wheel was turned. We tested a similar car (see Motor Sport dated February, 1956. So, apart from noticing that 4,000 r.p.m. equalled a speedometer 62 m.p.h. in third gear and 87 m.p.h. in top gear (the gear-lever was of the steering-column variety) there was nothing to report. Here I may digress to observe that old cars are almost non-existent in Italy, which is a pity, because to encounter 501 and 509 Fiats as you encounter aged Citroens and Peugeots in France would be fun indeed. They may exist, behind closed doors of ancient sheds, but the only one we saw was a 1925 Fiat lorry in a Turin suburb, with a radiator like that of a swollen 501.
As we all but galloped through the vast halls of the Turin plant I noticed a greater variety of machine tools than I have ever encountered before in one factory. Between them scuttle Yale Fork-Lift trucks. Crankshafts are heat-treated, Magnaflux cracktested, and rejected if faulty. In the machine-shop devoted to back-axle manufacture batteries of Bickford and Laptointe drills were at work and in the main machine shops the machine tools extend in serried ranks as far as the eye can follow — Archdale, Lapointe, Bryant, Wanderer, Fortune, Roscher and Eichler, Loewe, Magdeburg and Lancia giants working in harmony in one vast hall. But the operatives did not seem the same proud men we had met at Alfa-Romeo and it was startling to find presses without safety guards or foolproof switchgear and minor welding being done without a face mask. Italy is a carefree land, in more ways than one!
Considerable care is taken to ensure quiet back axles in the de Dion layout now used for the Aurelia and Flaminia Lancias. The gears are cut on Gleason and Kogmann cutters, after which they are tempered and the teeth profiles carefully cleaned up on a Maag cutter made in Zurich. Parker hardening treatment is applied and it is noticeable that the initial gear-cutting operation is done slowly, with checks to ensure extreme accuracy. The Flaminia back-axle gearbox is assembled entirely by hand, axle construction progressing on trolley-jigs. Each Flaminia de Dion back axle is then run for 50 minutes at 2,000 r.p.m. on an electrically-driven bed, to check it for absolute silence. The special vertical pillar coil-spring suspension for the Appia and Aurelia cars is the subject of individual assembly methods, the Flaminia, of course, employing wishbone i.f.s.
In the engine assembly hall the narrow vee-type cylinder blocks have each bore drilled separately, not by the transfer-drilling method, Reinecker, Lumsden and Lancia being amongst the variety of drilling machines employed. Proprietary pistons are now used. Each crankshaft is balanced on a Westinghouse balancer, the flywheels are separately balanced, and every con.-rod is weighed on a pair of domestic-looking scales in order that they can be assembled in batches of the same weight. Cylinder heads are stacked with carburetter and manifolds in place, until required for assembly. Appia engines go off on rail trolleys when completed for installation in the cars.
The engine test-shop is impressive. It contains a total of 40 testbeds, of which 12 were in use. The engines are tested on Froude water-brakes, of which six are in noise-proof rooms. Appia engines are run up to 4,600 r.p.m., each one for a period of four hours. The V6 Flaminia engines are expected to give 98 b.h.p.
The body-presses are few in number, a deficieney made up by employing a large number of stamping dies, which are changed as required. An overhead gantry crane spans the press shop, where Weingarten, Bliss, Schuler, Clearing, Hamilton and many other presses were at work. As the finished panels are ejected they are conveyed to the assembly halls on overhead chain conveyors, which pass through a roof-high tunnel connecting one shop with another. Spot-welding of body parts is done on the top floor of a concrete building obviously erected since the war, and tubular space-frame trolleys support the body shells as they are jig-welded. This applies to Appia and Flaminia bodies, Aurelia bodies coming from the Pinin Farina factory. Completed body shells travel on wheeled trolleys to the final assembly line, where a hoist raises the de Dion back-axle assembly for fitting to the chassis and the Bosch electrics and wheels, shod either with Michelin (which were highly praised) or Pirelli tyres, are prepared. I was especially impressed with the care taken to prepare the cars for painting. Aurelias were few in number but those we saw were being assembled on the Flaminia line. The cars travel on man-high conveyors in course of assembly, small components stored conveniently in boxes and racks beneath them.
There are two final assembly lines, one devoted to Appia, the other to Flaminia cars. Operatives spend four hours on one line, changing over to four hours on the other, to maintain a regular flow without doubling-up on workers.
The Turin plant works 24-hours a day, six days a week, employing 4,000 workers, 200 technical and drawing-office staff and 800 office staff, a total of 5,000. The production rate is 25 Appias and five Flaminias a day, or a total of 180 cars a week, to which must be added 10 or 12 G.T. Aurelias a week. The G.T. Aurelia is now intended mainly for the American market, but three or four a week are still sold in Italy. We did not see a single Aurelia Spider and the American-styled Flaminia and Appia are the key-models, the ordinary Aurelia having been discontinued. An amusing feature of the Flaminia is screen-wipers for the back window. Very smart coupe bodies by Farina and Ghia are available on the Appia chassis, the chassis being taken away to these specialist coachbuilders for fitting.
Each completed Lancia goes out on a road-test, which may embrace two or three hours of mountain driving, after which final checks are made in the usual revision bays. The cars are then fuelled from an Erg pump and driven away.
Our guide proved quite invincible and was anxious to conduct us, at the same exhausting rate, round the cammion-shops, but we politely explained that lorries are more or less outside the scope of Motor Sport. Incidentally, we had to give not only our own names but those of our fathers to the Lancia Company and photography was strictly forbidden! We escaped to pay a brief visit to the Museo dell’ Automobile in Turin, about which I wrote a few words last month.
On the way home we timed the Rover along the 100 miles of the autostrada we had to negotiate. Including paying toll, handing in the toil ticket and making a slow diversion of eight miles, this run took 1 hr. 35 min., although there was much traffic and it was soon dark. For 20 favourable minutes we averaged better than 81 m.p.h. and in the first hour, which included the toll-stop and diversion, 64 miles were disposed of, 69 being put into the second hour. This enables the business-man working in the heat of Milan for example, to be out in the hills in about 30 minutes. It was on this run that the Rover was overtaken by the second car since we left home. This was a Mercedes-Benz 300 coupe which we could just about hold but not re-pass — the other had been an ambitiously-driven Peugeot 403 which got away over some rough stuff in France.
Having disposed of’ the main purpose of our journey, which was to discover how Alfa-Romeos and Lancias are made, we were able to return our attention to the Rover. As has been said, there is no point in describing the 105S in detail, because its appointments follow those of the 90 previously tested, being, let it be said, of a pleasingly individual character, from the unusual location of the engine valves down to small items of equipment. After tiring inspection of a factory, with the noise and bustle, in the heat of the Italian sun, it was pleasant to seek refuge in the Rover, with its comfortable leather seats, spacious interior and dignified instrument panels contributing to the general air of luxury. We had found the luggage boot capable of accommodating baggage for five persons, the deep seats were comfortable except that the front ones didn’t give enough support when hurling the car round hairpin corners, and if leg room was somewhat cramped in the back compartment, it was generous for those riding in front. The suspension proved comfortable yet not too supple, but over really bad surfaces some floor tremor was noticeable. At speed, wind noise was not excessive, although an air leak round the near-side front ¼ -window set up an irritating whistle. On the autostrada we recorded the following figures: —
Standing start kilo. 39.8 sec.
Flying start kilo. 22.6 sec. (= 98.9 m.p.h.)
0-60 m.p.h. in 16.8 sec.
Speedometer speeds in gears: first, 25; second, 43; third, 63 m.p.h. (speedometer virtually “spot on”).
On the Friday we drove over the Splugen and St. Bernadino Passes, a quite severe test, as no time was wasted on the ascents and descents, although we took time off to lunch adequately in one of those delightfully-clean Swiss chalet-type hotels, in Splugen itself. Coming down the St. Bernadino a rattle developed (after 1,523 miles) and it was found that the grease cup had come off the front off-side hub. A few minutes sufficed for its replacement. On this run through impressive scenery we had met several of the huge yellow Saurer ‘buses blowing a warning on their post-horns as they roared round blind corners. A Karman Ghia VW was making light work of the descent with a caravan on tow but the Rover left it well behind. During our day’s pass-storming the water temperature had never risen above its customary 75 deg. C.
The two following days were occupied with business associated with the magnificent Vanwall victory in the Italian G.P. A vintage aside here is that a wire-wheeled biplane towing an advertising banner flew over Monza Autodromo before the race and in the car park was a vintage Alfa-Romeo in which two enthusiasts had driven down from England. Then, on the Monday, it was time to return home. The sun still shone from a cloudless sky over Lake Como but as we ascended the St. Gotthard the weather changed. This time we branched off over the Susten Pass and as we approached Berne rain began to fall. Through the gloom another vintage Berna lorry loomed up. It was engaged in road repairs, reminder that the roads over the mountains are in the main well surfaced, although near the summit of the St. Gotthard some very rough stuff was encountered. At Andermatt, well-known winter sports centre, we had paused for fuel (after ignoring in Italy all manner of queer petrols such as Erg, Ozo, Ess, etc.!), for the first topping up of the Castrol oil, and to have grease packed into the front hub — which twice more shed its grease cup (at 1,890 and 1,982 miles) until, in Berne, we packed it with a strip of paper before replacing it. At the Felix Christen Garage they speak no English, yet a car-trolley had “Jeeper’s Creepers” painted on it in large letters! They gave us a useful plastic B.P. map of Switzerland; on the walls of this garage hung hundreds of fan belts of all sizes — reminder that the cooling system is the Achilles heel of the car in this mountainous terrain!
In spite of a terrible hammering over some very rough roads the Rover shed nothing else, although a “pull” in the back compartment came loose (to be promptly tightened with the car in motion, after the back-seat passengers had been handed a screwdriver from the convenient tool-drawer that lives under the facia before the front-seat passenger). The rather unusual gear lever vibrated a good deal, causing it to jump out of top gear five times in all. And a valve worked loose on one of the Dunlop Tubeless tyres.
Otherwise the car was running splendidly as we drove through Berne, avoiding cyclists who ride one handed on wet days with an open umbrella in the other hand! In Switzerland and Italy umbrellas are as much a part of a person’s attire as shoes — every grown-up, every child, carries one and even the workers, male and female, in the fields seem to prefer a “gamp” to a coat and hat. Having experienced some of their weather, this is understandable!
For much of the journey over the mountains a Karman Ghia VW which had been at the Monza race tailed us — certainly much of the cool, clean Swiss air circulates these days over the finned cylinders of Karman Ghias, Porsches, Panhards and Volkswagens. Coming out our average over the St. Gotthard had been a mere 22 m.p.h. but now we managed about 30 m.p.h. for the four-hour run from Como to Meiringen. We passed comic little Rapid tractors like early cyclecars as we ran into the lowlands and shot apprehensively over the open Swiss level crossings. Before Interlaken there is an aerodrome on the left of the road precariously surrounded by mountains, in the town itself horse-carriages serve in lieu of taxis, and at Brienz we spotted the rack-and-pinion railway vanishing into the clouds and a derailed carriage at the lakeside station. The Rover’s rather blatant but usefully commanding horns, actuated by a small-diameter horn-ring which you cannot depress inadvertently, were useful in Interlaken, where nearly every cyclist again carried an open umbrella. In Thun the Editor spotted an unusual Volkswagen with a lorry platform over its engine compartment and a canvas hood instead of a saloon top.
Feeling hungry, we stopped at a wayside inn where a tall blonde young lady announced simply “We have trouts.” And fresh trout lubricated with brown butter we had, at a mere half-a-crown a time! Basle produced more aged lorries, some fine trams, one used purely for trundling advertising hoardings around, full-size trains crossing the roads and running along the sidewalk, and the frontier. That night we slept again in Reims, the day’s mileage a cool 500.
On the last morning in France we rose early in order to keep an appointment with Air Charter at Calais. The Rover cruised at 90 m.p.h. along the straight roads leading from the champagne city. In the first hour we disposed of 68 miles and to St. Quintin the average rose to over 70, or better than had been achieved along the special Italian motor roads. At these speeds the solenoid-operated over-drive, selected by a flick of that convenient lever on the left of the steering column, came into its own — incidentally, a change into normal top appreciably dropped the maximum speed. We breakfasted as we drove and the very capacious cubbyhole, with its polished wooden lid, proved an admirable store cupboard for raisins and biscuits without need to disturb the map books, notebooks, cameras and impedimenta already carried therein. At Cambrai the H.M.V. radio brought in the B.B.C. News at full strength. The first 100 miles occupied 94 minutes in spite of the level-crossing at Rumilly having been closed, and the 105S proved happy maintaining a 60 m.p.h. average for two hours inclusive of brief stops, a pause for Esso, negotiation of towns, avoiding early morning herds of cows — the lot ! The level crossings at Lillers and Pont d’Ardres were against us, but from a 6.30 a.m. start we rolled to a stop at Calais Airport at 9.46 a.m., 175 miles after leaving Reims.
Bad weather delayed our departure but after landing at Southend customs formalities took but a minute and at midday we drew up in Hornchurch, our mission completed. The total mileage since the test commenced was exactly 2,500. Apart from a few rattles and a tendency for the six-cylinder, twin-S.U. i.o.e. engine to “run-on,” the Rover showed no signs of its exertions, although it had been driven in near-rally fashion most of the way. The engine “pinked” at times on Continental petrol, although we always specified Super, but the rarified air at the top of the passes effected a cure automatically. It had developed no defects other than those already recorded, and apart front the deficient brakes, these were all of a minor nature. The consumption of Esso and B.P., in spite of storming five passes and at the other extreme doing plenty of taxiwork, was 19½ m.p.g.; oil consumption came out at the excellent figure of 5,000 m.p.g. The off-side front Dunlop tyre had very little tread left, while the centre of the off-side back tyre was worn; the Dunlops on the near-side looked as good as when we had set out, ten days before. This uneven wear is probably attributable to the fact that going up the passes it was found that the wheels could be spun when taking left-hand corners but not on right-hand hairpins. One outstanding aspect of the Rover is its lack of grease points; only four nipples, on the propeller-shaft, require the attention of the grease-gun every 3,000 miles. Other points are lubricated by prepacked bearings and oil reservoirs filled and sealed on assembly or requiring replenishment bi-annually. So we didn’t have to grease the Rover, yet our conscience was clear! This is an invaluable time-saver on a Continental tour.
The dignified and beautifully-equipped Rover 105S had proved a staunch companion and although the price has recently been the subject of a slight increase it represents extraordinarily good value at £1,633 7s. inclusive of p.t. On all counts this fine British product is deserving of praise; it is a car for which we need offer — as Norman Garrad would say to that charming rally personality Sheila Van Damm — no excuses. Apart from the tasks we set it, this is an excellent car in which to drive to the Golf Club. — W. B.