A Sporting Occasion
THE overwhelming impression received from this year’s NEC Motor Show is that we are firmly back to a time when almost every manufacturer is leading his range with cars designed for sporting motoring. Even when a maker’s range contains no car with obvious sporting attributes, there is no lack of companies on hand to provide uprates and some of these, approved by the original manufacturer, even find themselves on stands in the main hall. The importers of Skoda cars, for example, which is not a marque to stir the blood, offer a neat cabriolet version of the Rapid, providing family open air motoring for under 0,000. If a manufacturer has any sort of involvement in motor sport, then that involvement is trumpeted. So, on the Honda stand, there was a Williams FW09-Honda Fl car together with an engine.
Mercedes-Benz proudly showed a travel-stained 190 E 2.3-16 which recently set world long distance records. Jaguar showed both its ETC XJS and its Le Mans car. Toyota’s promising MR-2 sports coupe, the Reliant Scimitar SS1, a pre-production Panther Solo and several other exhibits provide ample evidence that sports cars are on their way back. It is a sporting show. There are several reasons for this shift of emphasis. The Oil Crisis of a decade ago accelerated the development of more
efficient engines, systems and aerodynamics. The microprocessor assisted immeasurably in this development.
A Golf GTi, for example, not only gives exciting performance but does so at a level of fuel consumption much better than most “economy” cars of 10 years ago. It is difficult, these days, to find a truly bad car marketed by a mass producer. It is true that some of the Eastern European Fiat-based such as the Lada and FS0 (the
importers of which offer a new face-lifted 1,500 cc saloon, the 5SP) are not in the mainstream of development but they are not mu& bad. The worst cars produced can only be damned by faint praise, they are “bland” or “unmemorable” but they are still vast improvements on what mason general offer not so long ago.
The near future offers even better things to judge from the many “concept” cars. The Toyota FX1, for example, hints at computer-controlled four-wheel-drive skid control. The Mazda MX-02 has four-wheel steering designed for smoother overtaking and easier parking and the company is also developing an “active suspension” system. Nissan display a gas turbine engine which, with the current development of Constantly Variable Ratio Transmissions and electronic sensors means that form of propulsion is again a variable course to pursue. In the short term, I was given to understand that TV display navigation system (you punch in arouse and a combination of the display and a voice synthesiser gives directions), and the elimination of a rear view mirror by the employment of a wide angle TV camera, are production possibilities within a short time.
The Japanese makers are the ones who seem currently most willing to reveal the way of their thinking. Citroen showed its “Eco 2000” which is part of a programme to market a four-seater saloon with economy of better than 90 mpg but this seems to be an extension of current thinking rather than an innovation, it puts emphasis on aerodynamics, low friction components and lightness. Peugeot showed its Quasar, a mid-engined coupe of startling appearance with a “Star Wars” dashboard. The “concept” car which really excites, however, is the Lotus Etna, described elsewhere in this issue. It appears to be a practical prototype rather than a design exercise. Were it on sale, it would take my vote for “Star of the Show”. That title, however, must go to the Ferrari Testarossa for it is currently available, though at £62,665.80. It is everything we have come to expect from the combined talents of Pininfarina and Ferrari. With a top speed tel 181 mph and 0-62.5
mph acceleration in use 5.8 seconds, “sensational” is a weak word to describe it. It may be available only for the very few but stars have always been exclusive.
There was a time when any Ferrari was so rare that a sighting of one was a memorable experience (my first was a Vignale-bodied 330 on April 8th, 1958 — I nearly fell off my bicycle), the sight of eight delectable examples on the stand shows how times have changed.
Tucked away in a corner was the Jensen Car Company, born from the firm which has been supplying parts to Jensen owners since the company floundered. The Interceptor has been revived in open and closed form and a production run of one a month is planned. The engine is now a Chrysler 5.9-litre unit and prices start at £40,000. Other firms in that bracket include Bristol which, with four models, must be the firm offering the greatest variety in proportion to output. Aston Martin-Lagonda have a more advanced electronic dashboard for the Lagonda and their off-shoot, Tickford, has produced a limousine version of the Lagonda which, at over £105,000 qualifies for the label of the most expensive car on the naarket.
The frenzy of the presentation at the show rises in inverse proportion to how the makers are performing. Citroen had a roller skating act and Can Can girls, together with loud music, which rather distracted from its CX2500 GTi Turbo and Visa 14 TRS. Jaguar, by contrast, was confidently understated. Ford had a stand which looked like the setting for an advanced musical, but really had little new to offer, apart from the RS Turbo, BMW had an interesting test rig simulation of a front suspension doing a lap of the Niirburgring (the real one, not the autodrome) and had an engineer unhand to explain the vvorkings of a new system which electronically monitors the individual potential lives of components like sparking plugs and engine oil. This will be in production within two years, the savings to the buyer outweighing the initial cost.
The products of a number of makers are described elsewhere in this issue, so I am not deliberately ignoring the new Audis, the Reliant Scimitar SS1, the Toyota MR-2 etc. Panther’s new Ford-powered Solo, a mid-engined two-seater coupe, looked as though it might be interesting but it was unveiled late in the afternoon, and then kept in a glass cubicle, which was always full, so it is difficult to form an opinion. The rolling chassis, however, was promising. This car is scheduled for production next year. Two companies definitely on the up-and-up are Peugeot and Vauxhall. The former took a vast stand and looked as though they meant business. The 205 GTi is a fabulous little car, recently tested by MOTOR SPORT, and the rest of the range seems to be slotting in behind it. The 305 GTX, a performance version of the familiar saloon, looked a good proposition. The
company is justly proud of its recent rally successes and displayed one of the cars, but unless we forget the company’s recent troubled past, it has taken the extraordinary step of naming one of the Talbot Solara derivatives, the “Minx”, in honour of an awful Hillman of that name.
The men on the Vauxhall stand had their tails in the air, and no wonder after the firm’s recent upturn. The new Astra range, reviewed a couple of months ago, is a product of which tube proud. It shows what sound engineering and aerodynamics can do to a package. The GTE version will be seen in British rally and racing Prodsaloon events next year. There are also a number of other refinements throughout the range, notably a bigger engine for the Charlton.
Detail refinement is also the theme at Porsche though the odd-looking Gruppe B 959 was also on view. Over at Renault the excitement centred on the 25 range (soon to be tested) and the refined S. Next year the 5 Turbo is to form the basis of a one-marque racing series with Renault being deeply involved.
Lancia has decided to keep the launch of the Thiema until the Turin show and so made much of the handsome Pininfarinastyled Gamma, the splendid little Delta HF Turbo being rather overshadowed. Alfa Romeo star the 90 Cloverleaf saloon, which seems a decent, but unremarkable, car. Volvo has introduced the 740, which is a 760 but with a new 2.3-litre, four-cylinder, low friction engine. The word is strong that the 240 Turbo will be seen in British Group A racing next year and its ETC presence will be enhanced.
The Saab 9000 Turbo damages the company’s reputation for making ugly cars. First seen at the NEC, this will go on sale early next year in Britain and we look forward to trying one; it seems a serious piece of work. Of the specialist builders, Marcos showed its new 2-litre and injected Rover V8 models. The Caterham Seven, always a welcome addition to any show, the company having kept the flag flying for inexpensive very high performance motoring for a long time, was also in evidence. Morgan had an injected version of the Plus Eight. TPC offered a well made, and finished, Porsche 356 Speedster Replica based on Beetle components. Naylor’s MG TF copy, the TF 1700, which is a quality car, has made over L250,000 worth of orders and that should help the company to produce “original” cars in the future, as I understand its aim tube. Attention on the TVR stand centres around the 390SE, a 150+ mph convertible with a 270 bhp injected Rover engine of 3.9-litres developed by Andy Rouse Engineering. Rouse has recently added two more championships to his impressive list, being the RAC British Saloon Car Champion for both 1983 and 1984 (because of politics, both titles were confirmed within a few weeks of each other). The TVR has
0-60 mph acceleration in five seconds and costs £19,700.
Mitsubishi-Colt reminded everyone that they are not exactly a new firm by displaying a replica of their Model A, first made in 1917. A four-wheel-drive Starion rally car to be seen in the RAC Rally added some excitement to the stand. The company’s Lancer turbo remains an under-rateecar but the firm has yet to gain a secure hold in the market.
For some readers, the Elswick Envoy will be the most important car at the show. Based on Metro parts, this allows a driver confined to a wheelchair to drive into it and carry two passengers with luggage. Each car is modified according to the customer’s needs and it provides a style and dignity, together with performance, which has not always been available to the severely handicapped motorist.
Four-wheel drive was a sub-plot at the show. Fiat had the 4×4 Panda. Subaru showed its clever transmission which provides twoor four-wheel drive and which in “two-wheel” mode will provide four-wheel drive automatically in stressful circumstances. A new saloon, including a GTi version, will be on sale next year. Another clever feature is a transmission lock which prevents rolling back when stopping on an incline, without the use of a handbrake.
Next door, Hyundai offered its comprehensively equipped “replacement Cortina”, the Stellar, at an extremely attractive price, the Korean company having a large British imput as well. Daihatsu had a turbo-diesel version of the Charade and Suzuki introduced a 1.3-litre hatchback called the “Swift”. Elsewhere in this issue we comment on the ARG revisions. Rolls Royce-Bentley continue to progress at their own pace, the Bentley Eight looking particularly handsome form detailed a revision. Dutton had its four seater “Rico” hit car which looks like an Astra GTE gone rogue at an early stage, but is cheap to build. The best Yugo model, the 55 GLS has been with us since mid-year and a Romany fortune-teller was also on hand. The extremely attractive Bitter range made its British debut, it’s a company of which we will hear a lot more. According to my notes, that mentions everyone (except the one, there’s always one missed out). It’s a good show with a lot of tit-bits which promise well for the future. Motor cars anyway are not only ahtiul technical advance, they are also about emotional response. I couldn’t make up mY mind which was the most impressive, the technical display, with a chance to ask questions of an engineer, not a video taPe, on the BMW stand or the sight of craftsmen on the Jaguar / Daimler stand meticulouslY cutting up hides to create the leather’ um: for cars which may not “talk” to you 11
as which are as refined and well-engineered any you can buy. — M.L.