Road impressions

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Opel Monza GSE

I drove one of these fine cars, in the guise of the Vauxhall Royale (no longer available, the Senator now being Vauxhall’s top model), six years ago and still recall its pre­cise handling as one of its many excellent characteristics. I have recently been driving an Opel Monza GSE three-door coupe and although the idea was to assess its ABS anti­lock brakes, the comfort, high-performance, and good-build quality of this handsome car came over in no uncertain terms.

Time has to some extent caught up with the outstanding roadholding, by which I mean that the average run of ordinary cars is now pretty good, but the sharp handling of the Opel Monza is still one of this car’s important features. The power-steering is also extremely good, although the rather large steering-wheel gives the impression that it might be higher geared, although 3½ turns take it from one to other of the generous full lock. The Opel’s Recaro seats are hyper-comfortable, the instrumentation and switch-gear well contrived (although the LCD readings, brightly lit, with curved lines instead of dials, is something I would rather not have to live with). From the com­mencement one feels fully at home in what is quite a large car (185.5 in long, wheelbase = 105 in), the five-speed gearbox pleasant to use. That there is high-performance on tap is obvious from the 180 (DIN) bhp devel­oped by the six-cylinder 2,969 cc cam-in­head engine at 5,800 rpm, the safe limit being 6,400 rpm, with a torque figure of 182.9 lb ft in the 4,200 to 4,800 rpm rev­band.

This power is delivered, through a limited-slip differential, very smoothly and the aforesaid sure-footed roadholding is enhanced by 205/60 VR 15 ultra-low-profile radial tyres (Uniroyal Rallye 340/80 on the test car) on painted light-alloy wheels. There is, in fact, a top pace of over 133 mph in reserve and acceleration of the 0-60 mph in 8.2 sec, 30-50 pick-up in 12½ sec order. Driving in London, I was surprised to find the fuel-injection engine hunting slightly and the transmission somewhat snatchy, but once the congestion eased this Opel Monza was a pleasure to drive, fast or more slowly, and the equipment and convenient fittings are well in keeping, including a manual sun­roof, headlamp washers, mud flaps, electric front windows, openable rear ¼-windows, on-board computer, central-locking, rear spoiler, tinted glass, etc. I had no opportunity to check fuel-thirst, but others have done over 26 mpg, which with a 15.4 gallon (70-litre) tank gives a truly” admirable range. It takes two hands to remove the ignition key (a safety trick) but some cars have a driver’s button for opening the tailgate electronically, otherwise the single key has to be used.

During my spell with this endearing Monza the sun shone and roads were dry, so I could not assess the ABS braking, except to say that the pedal action is exactly as it would be without it. There is the usual warning lamp to show all is well, and I do not need convincing that, whether on Opel, Vauxhall, Ford, or Audi, this is a major contribution to driving pleasure and road safety – but mind no-one rams your boot in really slippery conditions! Anti-lock braking has improved since the days when it caused pedal kick-back, so bad on one Jensen I remember that even the very experienced Tommy Wisdom abandoned it during a GMW Goodwood test day and walked back, thinking something was amiss. All credit, however, to Jensen for pioneering this and Ferguson system 4WD; gradually the braking kick-factor has diminished and now the invaluable ABS system functions perfectly normally on the Opel Monza. GM point out that it was developed by them not long after the B47 bomber had anti-lock braking in 1947 and that their vehicle test­fleet has done over a million miles, developing ABS in co-operation with Bosch. The latest speed-sensors are of revised design, there is now only one circuit in the control-unit, and ABS now functions down to a standstill, instead of the former five mph. On the Opel Monza it adds £838.44 to the price of £14,865.28. – W.B.

Citroen BX 19 GT

How Citroen manages to find converts is beyond me. You’ve done your homework, read the road tests, and decided that the BX 19 GT is on your short list. On paper it looks promising, a fairly large car with a 1,905 cc engine which gives a respectable, if not outstanding, 105 bhp at 5,000 rpm, though 119 lb ft of torque at 3,000 rpm looks interesting and suggests a mid-range flexibility which in everyday driving is a little more useful than the 0-60 mph time of 9.9 seconds and the 115 mph top speed.

Still going through the specification, servo-assisted disc brakes all round seem to fit the “GT” badge while it will not have escaped your attention that with the rear seats folded forwards the payload is nearly 1,000 lbs, with the hydropneumatic suspension automatically compensating with a volume of 51.4 cu ft. For £7,846 you get a high level of equipment: five doors, four electrically operated windows, central locking, attractive cloth upholstery and trim, a sophisticated computer and stereo radio. It all looks very impressive but how any driver used to current “GT” saloons is still interested after the demonstration drive beats me.

After my first 150 miles in the car I began to draft out the most vitriolic test report I’ve ever written: massive understeer… dead steering ridiculously over-servoed brakes… too soft a ride… excessive body roll at even moderate cornering speeds…

Having got it all off my chest and sleeping on it, I took the car onto a favourite route and attacked it and found to my surprise that the harder I drove it the more pleasant it became. It was not a case of a frog turning into a prince and the “GT” badge should not be taken too seriously, but I found myself enjoying my driving.

The carburettored engine is smooth and muscular in the mid-range and its instant response is the key to getting the best from the handling. When one adapts to the car quite high cornering speeds can be achieved and, in achieving them, the suspension stiffens giving a far greater degree of feel.

The five-speed gearbox is similar to that used on some Peugeots, the 205 GTi for example, though the remote gear linkage is not as crisp. On “my” car, the synchromesh had become worn on second after just 10,000 miles, but I recently drove a Peugeot where this had happened after just 5,600 miles. It is true that testing a car for performance figures puts unusual strain on a transmission but even so the same problem on two similar ‘boxes suggests an inherent weakness.

Just as you have to adapt to the control layout where all functions are done by switches, there being no stalk controls (and no self-cancelling indicators either) so you have to adapt to the handling and over­sensitive brakes but once you have done that, the car becomes fun. It took me some time to do it, and driving around 100 different cars a year, I adapt pretty quickly. How the average customer decides to buy one after a short demonstration drive is still a mystery.

The “GT” badge is a marketing ploy and should be ignored. The BX 19 GT is really a spacious, smooth, comfortable, long-legged and quiet saloon which has a high level of equipment for the price but which is not· particularly economical to run. It returned 19.7 mpg after 155 miles of city driving and 24.6 mpg during mixed driving. Its extraordinary luggage capacity and torquey engine makes it ideal for anyone who regularly carries large loads over long distances. I began by loathing this car but eventually we were rubbing along happily together and if I was hardly heart-broken when it had to go back, I was not over-joyed either. – M.L.

Ford Flexes Its Muscles

Make no mistake about it, we are living through one of the most exciting periods of motor car design in its 100 year history. Companies in Europe, Japan and America are following in the wake of the microchip revolution and we are in for some startling innovations in the near future. Currently no company is making greater strides than Ford. In September I was able to drive three new Ford models in Sardinia.

Writing recently about the Sierra XR4x4i, I expressed my admiration for the car and added that when it is fitted with ABS it might be sensational. It has now been so fitted – and it is sensational. The delay in fitting ABS, which is standard on the Granada/ Scorpio range, came about because Ford’s electronic system normally uses the undriven wheels as a reference. To fit the system to a car with all wheels driven required a more sophisticated program which Ford engineers have now achieved.

The result is a serious high performance saloon with superb roadholding, a taut feel, a powerful engine and a braking system which allows the sporting driver to explore the limits of the car in safety. The highlight of my drive in one came on a rutted, un­metalled track. I felt I was taking things pretty gently and was surprised to find the speedo reading 50 mph – the ride and handling felt like 30 in most cars.

On the urging of my passenger, a Ford engineer, I braked hard in the middle of corners taken at speed on a loose surface. All that happened is that the car slowed rapidly, better than many cars on a perfect road in a straight line. It was very impressive indeed.

With a premium of £840 for ABS, the price of this car is £12,340 which may seem a great deal of a derivative of a middlebrow saloon. The trouble is that we are not used to seeing production Fords at the cutting edge of technology and the company’s image may tell against it when the buyer comes to part with his money. The position is a little like discovering that a supermarket’s “own brand” malt whisky is considered superior to famous, and more expensive, brands in “blind testings”. The question is, do you go for the label or for the product? If it’s the latter, then you consider this car very seriously.

The Scorpio has had to wait for 4wd for the same reason that the Sierra XR4x4i has had to wait for ABS. I do not want to say too much about this car at present for it will shortly be featured at greater length in Motor Sport. I have been struck by the Granada/Scorpio range from the start and even though this latest addition costs around £18,000 which puts it against marques with great social cachet, it is hard to beat as a package.

If the 4wd Scorpio has a weakness, it is in the engine. Ford’s 2.8-litre V6 appears a little coarse but it is comparative to the refinement of Granada/Scorpio. That is meant as a compliment to the car rather than a condemnation of the motor which remains a decent unit, a couple of cuts above the average without being special.

In the pipeline is a range of advanced new engines which promise extraordinary lon­gevity combined with economy, refinement, and power. There is also talk of a turbo­charged engine, developed with Cosworth, which may result in a 150 mph Granada.

It amused me to see that a weekly motoring magazine screeched the headline “We drive the RS200” and spread the news across four pages. Motor Sport has driven the RS200 as well but I hardly think it worth four pages to relate a drive of just three miles which is what journalists were allowed after a brisk demonstration by an experienced rally driver.

The experience was interesting and fun but Motor Sport has standards and will not comment on a specialised car after three miles. We’ll leave it to others to translate three miles of driving into a four page article. – M.L.

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