Rumblings, November 1971

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Fiat at Brentford.—it used to be Wembley. But these days the headquarters of the great Fiat organisation in this country are sited at Brentford, off the Great West Road. European manufacturers are probably looking ahead to the ECM when expanding thus in the British Isles.

We had occasion to visit the Fiat premises when collecting a test-car recently and could not but be impressed by the new £2-million premises which have been the English home of Fiat since early last year. The layout of the place conforms to Fiat ideas of how a service centre should function. It looks after anything from initial service checks on new cars, through routine servicing, to repairs and complete rebuilds. Using a magnetic-cube roof-attached job-number to keep track of cars entering the premises, Fiats to be serviced go on to a moving conveyor able to cope with 20 to 100 cars per day. A foreman and up to seven skilled operatives carry out this routine but vital servicing. The special equipment here includes a Bear wheel aligner, Rabotti headlamp setter and Rabotti exhaust-gas analyser.

Some 220 work-stations, each served by an under-floor fume extraction system, break up the tasks undertaken, body repairs of quick, small, medium and major magnitude being dealt with in five basic workshop areas. Two bays are used for engine testing, on Heenan and Fronde dynamometers able to handle from 15 to 200 b.h.p. and run up to 10,000 r.p.m.

The equipment cost around £200,000, including as it does Emanuel washing plant, an H. P. Anderson rolling brake tester, a Crypton “rolling road” modified to Fiat’s specification, a Churchill Optiflex wheel alignment instrument on a dead-level location built by Car Metal of Italy, etc. The paint shop was supplied and erected by J. C. Peacock of Weston-super-Mare and can refurbish up to 15 cars a day in three run-back booths and a two-car oven. Air is changed 4.5 times a minute and the shop is fed from a Cillen Ygnis high-pressure steam boiler. Fiat use their own, and ICI and Sherwood Parsons paints.

The floor space at Brentford covers 100,000 sq. ft. The parts stores occupy much of it, spares valued at about £160,000 and covering 35,000 parts being kept in Fiat-designed racks. This impressive Fiat depot makes use of Castrol lubricants, Black and Decker tools, APO spot-welders, Pyrene fire-extinguishers, Telephone Rentals communications systems, Black Hawk hydraulic tools; Hazlett tool trolleys and Fiat’s own hand tools.

Machine shops, an apprentices’ school, training centres, cinema canteens, showers, etc., supplement the normal office facilities, at this complex which was officially opened by Sig. Giovanni Agnelli. Fiat also operate their import/distribution depot at Dover from which cars go out to Fiat’s 500 British distributors and dealers, and a £500,000 new car preparation plant and Service Centre at Warrington.

***
Doomed circuits?—There are rumours that Castle Combe circuit is no more, although the last word on this should presumably come from AFN Ltd. The pleasant Wiltshire 1.84-mile circuit opened in 1950, at another ex-war-time airfield. Drivers of the calibre of Moss, Collins, Hawthorn, Chapman, Wharton and Schell drove there, and currently Castle Combe is the fifth fastest course in the country, after Silverstone, Snetterton, Thruxton and Oulton Park, the lap-record standing at 117.03 m.p.h. to the credit of Gethin and Ganley, who both got round in 56.2 sec., driving 5-litre McLaren-Chevrolets. Gethin did a practice lap at 117.86 m.p.h. but, as with Boreham, rain during the race slowed the speeds. Then we are told that the long-established Crystal Palace circuit may go out of commission after next year, in which case a course dating back to motorcycle “path” racing of the late 1920s and which developed into a proper circuit in 1937, with ERA, Maserati, Alta, Bugatti, Austin and other famous cars competing, and Dick Seaman demonstrating a GP Mercedes-Benz there, will be no more. It was revised in shape in 1953, and has an important history as the Londoner’s 1.39-mile circuit.

With Castle Combe, Crystal Palace and Thruxton threatened with closure, the advent of a possible Birmingham road race and probable eventual re-opening of Donington Park take on a new significance. One old circuit hasn’t closed—Boreham. Fruit orchard turned into a war-time airfield, Boreham in Essex became a race circuit, with Daily Mail sponsorship, twenty years ago. What is more, with a lap distance of three miles, it was a very fast circuit. Alas, it had a very short life-span. Reaching a peak in 1952, with Villoresi’s Ferrari and Hawthorn’s Cooper-Bristol victors at the Festival Meeting for F1 and F2 cars, it ceased to be used for motor racing the following year.

Boreham, however, lives on as a high-speed circuit, because Ford took it over in 1955 and their Research and Engineering staff operate it as a proving ground and their Competitions Department as a test track. Ford’s Advanced Vehicles Operations department makes very good use of Boreham, where a rough-ride course, wading trough, water splash, special surface road sections and, in flattest Essex, a 1-in-4 test hill (“Mount Boreham”) have been added by the Ford Motor Company.

The lap-record for the circuit is held by R. D. Poore, who got his s/c. 3.8-litre Alfa Romeo round at just over 94 m.p.h. Practice laps of 103 m.p.h. were attained by Villoresi and Gonzales but rain slowed them in race. Today, Group 2 Ford Escort saloons lap substantially the same circuit at around 115 m.p.h.

***
Sporting appeal at the Motor Show.—This year’s Earls Court Motor Show was a fairly dismal affair on the new model front but for the sporting motorist there was quite a lot of interest with several up-dated models. Starting at the bottom of the scale, Ford introduced a new derivative of the Escort called the Sport which drops in the market somewhere between the present Escort 1300 and the GT model.

The two-door body of the Escort Sport has the same flared front and rear wheel arches as the Mexico and RS1600 to accommodate wider wheels and radial ply tyres, and is powered by the uprated GT engine driving through a close-ratio gearbox. Top speed is quoted as 99 m.p.h. and 60 m.p.h. can be reached from rest in a claimed 13 sec. The price is £940, which is less than the GT and this is due to the more spartan interior layout and other details of finish.

Moving up the scale the MG-B in both GT and standard forms took on a Mk. 3 guise at the Show. These evergreen and hard-wearing cars remain unchanged mechanically and in specification but have received a face-lift to the trim, interior layout and some controls. The Lotus Europa has been re-engined and no longer can be called an Anglo-French car. For the British market, at any rate, the Renault engine has been replaced by the Lotus twin-cam engine in standard rather than big valve form, but even so this gives an appreciable increase in power over the Renault. However, the French gearbox is still utilised. In fact there is more to it than just the change of engine for the car has been completely revised in several other respects. Externally the car is easily recognisable by the modified rear bodywork which has been altered to give better three-quarter rear vision but perhaps the lines are spoiled by this.

The interior changes include a lowered floor, wider toe box with improved positioning of the pedals, a lengthened passenger compartment with re-shaped seating, and the previously awkward hand-brake has been re-positioned. Mechanically the car has undergone changes to both the front and rear suspension geometry, which should make it handle even better, there is a new backbone chassis which is said to be more rigid, improved braking and a revised gear linkage—yet again! There is also a revised silencer system, better sound insulation, and the electrics and wiring have all been revised. We look forward to testing the new Europa as it almost certainly has benefited a great deal from the face-lift. No price has yet been announced.

The Ginetta G21 which first appeared at last year’s Show has not been put into production, but the Walklett Brothers of Witham have now put a lot of miles on the prototypes, particularly the smaller-engined 1,600-c.c. model with live rear axle. Some months ago we were able to try the car briefly and were impressed both with the styling and the performance of the car. The G21 appeared at the Show again this year and now the Walkletts feel they can go ahead with production although the little Imp-engined G15 continues to have success in its limited field.

Moving up the scale, the Reliant Scimitar GTE has come in for a face-lift, which is of particular interest to this magazine as the Assistant Editor runs a late 1970 model. This unfortunately has given rather a lot of trouble but with an impending 20,000 long-term road-test coming up seems to have got rid of most of its bugs and is now providing excellent express transport. The face-lift for 1972 is mainly internal with a completely revised dash panel, better heating and ventilation, a larger glove box and even a widened arm-rest. Externally there is a new grille but the waistline chrome strips, which attempt to fall off in any case, have been removed and all the badges redesigned. There are new colour schemes and redesigned wheels, an electrically rather than engine-driven fan, and new engine mounts which should lessen vibration. The price is now upped to £2,379 in manual gearbox form.

A possible challenger to the GTE as a fast and sporting estate comes from Volvo, who have just announced the Volvo 1800ES and it was on show for the first time in Britain at Earls Court. Volvo have taken the well-known P1800 and given it virtually a GTE back. Power comes from the B20E 2-litre engine which gives a healthy 135 b.h.p. Safety features are always high on the Swedish firm’s priority lists and a feature of this car are the disc brakes all round actuated by dual circuit hydraulic system. No price has yet been announced but the new model should find a ready sale.

The Trojan group, who have their fingers in various pies including a British concession for Iso Grifo, introduced a new-look Bertone-styled model at the Show called, simply, the IR8. The revised frontal treatment is definitely an improvement with the drop-eyelid headlamps and improved dash layout. The Iso is available with either 5- or 7-litre Chevrolet V8 engines and now costs a mere £8,750.

An addition to the Jensen range is the new SP which is powered by a 440-cu. in. (7,212-c.c.) Chrysler engine rather than the 6.3-litre engine used on the Interceptor and FF models. The SP also includes in its specification as standard, air-conditioning, Sundym glass, and the new Lear Jet stereo radio and eight-track cartridge tape player. The most significant technical change is the introduction of new wheels and brakes. Smartly styled aluminium alloy wheels of wider dimensions are now fitted to all three Jensen models and the braking has been improved by the use of ventilated disc brakes all round. Front and rear seats have been improved as has the interior and facia. The SP is retailing at just under £7,000.

Finally at the very top of the “drooling list” is the latest from Ferrari, the 365 GTC4, now available in right-hand drive form for the first time. This beautiful car has a 2+2 coupé body designed by Pininfarina and is powered by the V12 4.4-litre four-cam engine, and has a top speed of 165 m.p.h. The 365 GTC4 retails at a cool £9,814.

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