At Earls Court

Once again little inspiration was to be gained from the Earls Court Motor Show, overshadowed as it was by the immediately preceding Continental events, stealers of new model announcements. Full frontals were banned, clothing, however scanty, making a titillating reappearance. Strikes have become a part and parcel of Earls Court and this time Motor Sport’s own stand was affected seriously by the vagaries of the militant electricians. One consolation was that we were placed directly in front of the 200-m.p.h. Lamborghini Countach, the most expensive car in the show at £16,314, while at the other end of the scale came the Fiat 126 at £699. We were grateful for the opportunity to escape from the dirty West London mausoleum to the rather plusher surroundings of the Royal Garden Hotel, where British Leyland held their annual Press Luncheon, at which Lord Stokes delivered a more humorous than momentous speech, his more topical arguments having been exhausted in the previous month. There was a hint of General Motors “sabotage” when the Bedford coach carrying us to the Royal Garden expired threequarters-of-a-mile front our objective and we were forced to continue a little unwillingly on foot, not a very edifying experience for a gang of lazy motoring journalists.

There was plenty of exotica to brighten up the scene, though curiously, as mid-engines become more commonplace on the continental front, the designs are tending to look much of .a muchness. The 190-m.p.h. Ferrari Berlinetta Boxer was with us for the first time, looking almost grotesque alongside the undying beauty of the Dino 246 -GT, accompanied for the first time by the less aesthetically successful, hut even more covetable Dino 308, discussed by D.S.J. in Continental Notes.

Befitting the British Show -a British Manufacturer displayed the one really new car and equally fittingly in view of the foregoing, it is wedge-shaped and mid-engined. While no claims could he made to place it on the same level as the Dino in terms of mechanical sophistication there is no doubt that the new AC 3000 is the only serious-production British car to offer a similar concept of package—and at half the price. The respected Thames Ditton company, traditional sports car manufacturers (and invalid carriage constnictors) who in recent times have employed big American V8s in conventional front engine/rear drive configuration, have made a radical departure with the 3000, a glass-reinforced plastic-bodied two-seater with a Ford 3-litre V6 push-rod engine mounted transversely amidships.

The new car has been evolved from a one-off Maxi-engined prototype designed and built by Peter Bohanna and Robin Stables. These two self-employed designers/engineers had ideas of putting their Diablo, as it was called, into production until AC saw the possibilities and acquired the design. Bohanna and Stables have worked with AC on developing the car, which now bears little more than an outward resemblance to their original design.

The heart of the construction is a monocoque welded sheet steel perimeter chassis, which has removable bolt-on front and rear sub-frames of welded square steel tube. On this construction a fire-retardent GRP doubleskinned body unit is bolted at six points (it is claimed that the body can be removed to reveal the rolling chassis in as little as one hour). GRP is a material well known to AC who use it for invalid carriage construction and are thus fully equipped for the 3000’s manufacture. Included in the construction is an integral steel roll-bar, the door hinges are mounted to the chassis, Steel screen pillar stiffeners are used and steel safety beams are fitted within the doors. Deep section steel chassis members are included inside the door sills for additional side impact protection, front and rear chassis and body areas are deformable and the car is said to comply with international safety standards.

Final drive from the transverse 140-b.h.p. Ford 3-litre engine, unmodified in terms of performance, is by a chain to an entirely new gearbox, in which the casing is manufactured by AC and the five forward gears and one reverse all with synchromesh, including reverse!) by Hewland.

Suspension is fully independent, with antisquat and anti-dive characteristics. At the front and rear there are double tubular steel wishbones mounted in Metalastic hushes, with co-axial springs and double acting telescopic shock-absorbers. Vertical links are of cast_ aluminium and anti-roll bars are fitted at both ends. Rack-and-pinion steering offers 2.7 turns lock-to-lock. The radiator is front mounted with thermostatically-controlled electric fan, a 12 gallon tank is standard while an additional 8 gallon tank is optional, alloy wheel sizes are 13 in. x 6 in. or 14 in. x 7 in. with 185 x 13 70 series or 205 x 14 65 series tyres. Height is 45 in,, ground clearance a satisfactory 5.25 in. and weight is a mere 17 cwt., thus giving a useful power-to-weight ratio, The weight bias is towards the rear, the ratio being 45%/55%. Four wheel Gilding discs are fitted.

Certainly the interior trim was most attractive on the two Show cars, worthy of this manufacturer of hand-built cars. A removable rigid roof panel is fitted as standard, which is stowed in the compartment in the nose when extra fresh air is required. The same compartment can also he utilised for soft baggage, .but the main luggage hay is a deep 12 cu. ft. compartment under a separate lid behind the mid engine, which makes the AC 3000 a much more practical car titan the Dino, even if its estimated maximum speed is less exalted at 130 m.p.h.

Time will tell whether this interesting new all-British sports car will prove a worthy successor to such impressive AC products as the various-engined Aces (including, of course, the Ford straight-six option) and the peerless Cobra. More directly, it succeeds the 7-litre 428, of which just two more examples are expected to he built before the flow of Frua bodies dries up from Italy. Production will commence next spring and the price is expected to he in the £3,400 to £3,800 region.

Credit for the most interesting stand amongst those of the major British manufacturers must go to Vauxhall, who revealed their new 120 m.p.h. Firenza and showed the Ventora V8 racing saloon, designed by Frank Costin„ built by Bill Blydenstein’s engineers, paid for by Dealer Team Vauxhall and to be driven by Gerry Marshall.

Also on the Vauxhall stand were the Magnum and Magnum Coupe—the Magnum being the new name for the larger-engine Vivas and the Magnum Coupe the name for the old Firenza. The only current Firenza is thus this sporty new model, a prototype of which we drove recently on Vauxhall’s Millbrook test track at 127 m.p.h. and which has exceeded a genuine 130 m.p.h., The block assembly of he Firenza’s 2,279 c.c. o.h.c. four-cylinder engine is identical to that of the Magnum 2.3. However, the cylinder head has been nodified quite considerably, inlet valves inJeased in diameter by 4 mm. and the exhaust valves by 4.5 mm., combustion chambers and porting modified and the compression ratio raised to 9.2:1. A high-lift camshaft gives 0.021 in greater lift than standard, a free-flow exhaust system is fitted, the flywheel lightened and the Stromberg CD carburetters are flexibly mounted. This Bill Blydenstein-influenced engine thus produces a highly respectable 131 b.h.p. DIN and 144 lb. ft. torque DIN, while complying with the EEC noise and emission regulations. It drives through a five-speed ZF gearbox which has direct fourth gear and 0.87:1 ratio fifth, ind a 9 in. diameter clutch.

Chassis modifications include increasing he front disc brakes to half-an-inch thickless, lowering the car, fitting a stiffer anti-roll bar, increasing the spring and damper rates all round and using stiffer hushes for the upper and lower rear suspension links. Avon safety rim alloy wheels are fitted, :pecially designed for this interesting Luton product. Its behaviour round the twisting Millbrook roads was impeccable: the suspension felt stiff and taut, showed very little roll and handling was very responsive. Characteristies very much in keeping with he traditions of the Ford RS and Mexico Escorts, indeed, but much tauter, without the accompanying harshness and vibrations and quieter. A very exciting little car indeed.

Instant recognition of this Firenza is issured by a most unusual streamlined front end, which stirs a distant memory of the photographs of a wean-dined American railway engine, Vauxhall designers have grafted on a wind-tunnel calculated fibreglass nose which incorporates four rectangular Cibie headlamps behind glass covers, and a deep air-dam. The effect of this is to increase maximum speed by at least 10 m.p.h. and to create downthrust. There is no doubt that it works, which should please Specialist Mouldnits who manufacture this frontal bodywork. This 20 cwt. car is available only in silver tarfire finish, comes complete with cloth rim and a considerable range of instruments, small leather covered steering wheel, a brake pedal lowered relative to the throttle to acilitate heel-and-toe operation, laminated windscreen and so on and so on. Vauxhall intend to homologate it for Group 1 eventuaIly, which should make Ford and Chrysler it up and take notice, though if Specialised .ioulding’s recent Press Release claiming a reduction of 30 Firenza front ends per ,:eek is anything to go by. Vauxhall will Ind it rather difficult to achieve a homoloation production run of 5,000 in one year. Unless, of course, it is accepted as eligible or Group I under the guise of normal :reduction development, but we think not.

Even more exciting as a Show focal point was the Dealer Team Vauxhall Ventora V8 which Gerry Marshall will drive in Special saloon Car racing next season. Power is from a 5-litre Repco-Holden alloy engine developing 495 b.h.p. and weight is only 20 cwt., the entire bodywork other than the floor pan, pillars and roof being glass fibre. Interestingly Costin chose De Dion rear suspension as the best means of keeping own the unsprung weight. Three radius antis are used, one central and rearward facing with its rear mounted in the boot and two facing forward. Lateral location is by a Panhard rod using original axle location points and Keni damper/coil Spring units are used. Fully Rose-jointed and adjustable top and bottom wishbones are fitted at the front again with Koni units and a special high ratio rack has been developed by Blydenstein and Cam Gears. The engine sits well back in the bulkhead for better weight distribution and the 18 stone Marshall’s weight is also shifted well rearwards.

The finish and styling of this incredible British racing saloon, in which Vauxhall themselves do not deny having involvement, is quite superb, from its front air-darn back to the glassfibre rear bumper. The huge tyres and wheels (15 in. x 12J front and 15 in. x 15J rears) are accommodated mainly inwards, so that only a minimal amount of wheel arch flaring is required,

A most encouraging pair of cars indeed from Vauxhall and -a remarkable attempt to change their staid image. Dealer Team Vauxhall under Bill Blydenstein and Chris Coburn seems to be a most successful venture.

Other things at the Show worth mentioning include uprated Hillman Avengers from the strike-torn Chrysler concern, which if they are ever produced will include /0 saloons and estate variants. The 1250 c.c. models are increased to 1300 c.c. capacity and the 1500 c.c. versions to 1600 c.c. Included in the range is a new 1300 twin-carburetter version developing 69 h.h.p. A new 1600 TC develops 81 b.h.p. DIN, is said to be capable of 100 m.p.h. and to reach 60 m.p.h. in 11.7 sec.

Ford had their Mustang 2 on show, the original V8 muscle car shrivelled into either 2.2-litre four-cylinder or 2.8 six-cylinder guise, but a shadow of its former self.

British Leyland had an interesting new city car called the Minissima, designed by freelance Bill Towns, an ex-British Leyland and ex-Aston Martin man. Based around an 850 Mini engine, it has one rear door so that the car can he parked end on to the kerb, and the rear passenger seats face each other.

An entirely new 998 c.c. Imp-based sports car came from the Innes Lee Motor Company Ltd., of Telford, Shropshire. This Tom Killeen-designed car is called the Scorpion, has a full monocoque chassis, GRP bodywork and removable gull-wing doors.

Moskvich people at the Show must have wished they could have hidden themselves and their cars after the Consumer Association’s revelation that eight out of nine Moskvich they tested were utterly dangerous for road use. Indeed, as this is being written we believe that the Moskvich are being removed from the Show and all examples sold in this country are being recalled for examination and possible modification.

From Triumph comes a new version of the 1500. While foreign manufacturers seem to be placing more and more emphasis on frontwheel-drive, the Coventry firm has dispensed with traction avant in favour of traction derriere. It has been re-christened 1500 TC, with which nomenclature goes an extra carburetter. Some may consider this a retrograde step: this writer prefers the rear-wheeldrive small Triumphs, so will not complain. Triumph save money with this rationalisation, obviously, but it also presents a more direct advantage in that automatic transmission can be offered as an option, impossible with the front-wheel-drive layout. Body and well-trimmed interior remain much. the same.

Volkswagen continue to squeeze every last drop out of the rapidly exhausting Beetle pot by offering gimmick after gimmick. This time we had the Jeans Beetle, so called because lit blue-denim seats, :and the Big Beetle, a 1600 with wide wheels and so on, plus Passat-type selfstabilising steering. The 412 has been given a capacity increase: 1.(71 c.c. to 1.795 c.c. with an extra 5 b.h.p. now 85 b.h.p.). It becomes the 412 LS.

Crayford and Mumfords showed quite attractive convertible conversions on the Marina TC.—C.R.