The Editor Drives the Comparatively Simple CHevrolet Chevelle Malibu and Reappraises a Ford Corsair GT Convertible and the latest Ford Cortina GT
I like to drive an American automobile occasionally, if only to keep a sense of proportion and understand how the other half of the World motors. Usually these vast sedans possess lots of power, not very good road-holding, insensitive brakes and too-sensitive power steering. The one I tried last was rather different.
It was a Chevrolet Chevelle Malibu, one of the less-costly of the General Motors’ range, selling here as a very spacious, luggage-swallowing 4-door, 6-seater saloon, for rather less than £2,000 all on—actually £1,947 4s. 3d. It was not at all flamboyant, apart from its size, and the finish was that particularly nice shade of G.M. royal blue.
The engine was a 230 cu. in. in-line 6.-cylinder, which I feel sure must be related to the long-lived Chevrolet ” Stove Bolt Six ” or ” Cast-Iron Wonder,” although it obviously has light-alloy pistons and other modernities. It poked out a modest 140 h.p. at an equally-modest 4,400 r.p.m., and the rather unexpected thing about it was that, When ticking over, you could neither feel nor hear it. In action it made very little fuss, probably on account of having a 7-bearing crankshaft and a fairly low c.r. of 8.5 to 1. Known as a Turbo-Thrift 260, it sufficed to propel this big, comfortable Malibu at 70 m.p.h., although acceleration under kick-down on the extremely smooth Powerglide 2-speed, 3-element torque converter was no more than adequate.
However, as almost any American should know, you can get any one of three Turbo-Fire V8 motors for your Chevelle if you wish to go faster, the normal 283 cu.in. job, giving 195 h.p., or the 327 cu. in. optionals in either 250- or 300-h.p. form. On the other hand, if thrift is more important than performance, there is a 120-h.p. Hi-Thrift 260 engine for the asking. . And while on the topic of variations, General Motors make the Chevelle Malibu in smart 2-door convertible and fixed-top Super Sports form, with extras like power-steering, Positraction back axle, power brakes, 4-way power seat adjustment, and so on.
The Malibu I drove had none of these. It was a common-to-goodness plain American-type car of the old school, sans tail-fins, with round-dial instruments, manual steering, non-power brakes, self-wind windows, and no nonsense anywhere. Yet the steering was pleasantly light once on the move and not impossible when parking. It was also fairly accurate but horribly low-geared, needing 6.25 full turns lock-to-lock, of which half-a-turn was slicing into the sponge. Cornering revealed initial understeer and surprisingly little roll on normal bends. Moreover, on a bit of road between Malvern and Ledbury which I assume to have been abnormally slippery, because an old Austin A40 ahead of us suddenly skidded round in a wide arc and left the road, to all but somersault as it dug its nose into a fence (the elderly driver still had his pipe in his mouth after making the landfall), the Chevelle gripped well, thanks probably to its (whitewall) Dominion Royal Safety 800 Low Profile nylon tubeless 8.95 x 14 tyres. Just as well, with that steering ratio! With power assistance, I gather G.M. step up the gearing from 28 to 1 to 20.4 to 1 . . .
The brakes were disconcertingly devoid of feel, so that they tended to be too sudden, but they didn’t arrest this enormous Malibu too badly if you used reasonable force. Naturally, the car is quiet, comfortable and restful. It is endowed with a really big lockable illuminated cubby-hole, coat-hooks, good bench seats, nicely-contrived interior door handles and arm-rests, variable-speed screen-wipers with powerful washer-jets and satisfactory 4-headlamp lighting. The horn is sounded with a too-sharp-edged 0.5rd-ring, there are sensibly-labelled control knobs with G.M-style single lamps-control, a precise turn-indicator stalk, scuttle vents that supply plenty of cool air, rheostat facia lighting, sill door locks, and front-seat safety-belts. The bonnet is easy to open and self-supporting; the boot-lid is counterbalanced. The quarter-lights were unnecessarily stiff to open and close, and I am astonished, knowing the store G.M. set on research, that the shelf behind the back seat is unlipped, so that anything stored thereon soon falls off; encouraged by those ” sudden ” brakes.
On the whole, though, this was a very practical American automobile, its wheelbase a modest 9 ft. 7 in. It ran 228 miles on a tankful (16.67 gallons) of petrol before the gauge alarmed me into refuelling when probably a couple of gallons remained, and overall averaged 18.1 m.p.g., using no engine oil in 800 miles. I don’t want one myself—I’m just telling you. But I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that there are readers of MOTOR SPORT who find such cars quite acceptable in this country.
Next I did some miles and went to the V.S.C.C.’s first Castle Combe Race Meeting in a Ford Corsair (4-cytinder in-line!) with 2-door Crayford convertible and Firestone F7 tyres. The soft-top allowed what remained of the body structure to shake a good deal, and the top drummed a bit if the windows were open. But this was a notably lively car as well as a means of having a Corsair that opens. A rough check showed that its efficient Ford engine was giving around the customary 30 m.p.g. of fuel. A minor point was that the door handles pressed down to open the car, whereas Ford contrive them more safely to open the doors by pulling upwards. These Corsair convertables were made by Crayford Auto Development Ltd of Tatsfield but have now virtually gone out of production, due to non-availability of the new Ford corsair in 2-door form. If any more filer through the cost of conversion would be £235.
The Ford Corsair was followed by a Ford Cortina GT, which covered 1,600 trouble-free miles in 14 days, during which some 1966 cars were also sampled. During this hurried mileage it gave 31.1 m.p.g. of premium petrol. It has all the acceleration of the earlier model, with improved road-holding from the properly-located back axle, although ride and seating comfort are still not its strong points. The four-dial instrumentation to supplement speedometer and electric tachometer are appreciated, the minor controls are well positioned about the facia there is convenient stowage in a central box as well as in the tubby-hole and on the lipped under-facia shelf, and the Aeroflow ventilation system, which changes the air in the car every 40 seconds, works very well. Incidentally, the best cars usually have their names on the instruments; the speedometer and tachometer of this Ford have ” Cortina ” in script on their dials. A full tank of (premium) fuel took me a useful 223 miles and a subsequent check showed that in spite of its very generous performance this 4-door family Ford was returning 30.2 m.p.g. in less favourable conditions. It sits down very well in the wet on its Firestone F100 165 x 13 tubeless braced-tread tyres, on wide-base rims, which are not a normal extra but which can be obtained from the Ford Competition Department.