Motoring into Motorfair
Naturally, the approach to the Autumn motor shows of Frankfurt and London Motorfair is littered with new car launches. We have been ruthless in our selection of cars, but we believe the following items on Jaguar, Vauxhall, Volkswagen, SAAB and BMW represent the most diversified of recent announcements in 1989 sports motoring.
Undoubted star of these autumn shows was Opel-engineered Calibra coupe (Vauxhall Motors Stand No E3) that will appear in 1990 Britain. As much of the running gear is now available in the latest GSi Cavaliers, we begin with those front-drive and 4×4 saloons. They share much in appearance and extensive equipment, but their renditions of the equally powerful 2-litre, DOHC, 16v engine (ex Astra GTE) are significantly different.
At £15,999 the front-drive GSi 2000 16v can run on leaded or unleaded fuel, whilst the equivalent 4×4 model at £17,567 has a catalytic convertor and can therefore accept only fashionable (26% of petrol sales and rising) unleaded petrols. The 4×4 version allows 24.6 urban mpg of 95 octane unleaded, versus 27.7 mpg for 2WD. Vauxhall are right to predict they will be “competing against prestige names in a way that Cavalier has never done before”, because a £20,000 Audi quattro 20v (when equipped to a similar level), Ford’s equivalent 150 bhp 4×4 for the Sierra has lot more heavy metal in the power train of less sporting appeal.
It is the alliance of a viscous coupling 4×4 system to the accessible and invigorating General Motors 1998cc that is remarkable. A transformation made possible by adding a transfer box (which intrudes further on transmission tunnel girth, adjacent to the front passenger) to the usual Cavalier GSi 2000 transaxle and feeding power back to a final drive and crossmember that have most in common with the Carlton/Omega lines. Within the transfer box, planetary gears apportion power and an hydraulic clutch is used to interrupt RWD whenever the effective, and standard, ABS disc braking is activated.
The Vauxhall 4×4 has a little more engine flair and close ratio gearbox appeal than the Audi 20v coupe’s and saloons, but is not built (quite) to Ingolstadt standards. Meanwhile the front-driven Cavalier is embarrassed to frequent wheel spin on dry roads by the shared 150 bhp at 6000 rpm (or, more relevantly, a torque curve culminating at 144.6 lb/ft on 4800 rpm).
Both 10.5:1 compression inline fours were happy to escalate from 1500 to 6900 rpm with a vigour that agrees with predictions of 130 mph for the 4×4 and another 4 mph for the 2WD machine. More importantly at 70 mph the belt-driven DOHC growls with agreeable restraint at a steady 3300 rpm and is willing to reach 125 mph with ease. Acceleration figures are conservatively quoted on a 0-62 mph basis at 8.5 and 9.5 seconds, that speed hovering just above the second gear maximum of some 60 rnph; third provides nearly 90 mph in both models. They have slightly varying final drive ratios for the same 6Jx15 alloys and (on the test cars) Continental Super Contact 205/55 VR tyres. Driving over the same route I had previously used for the 250 bhp Ford RS200 and an equally powerful Mike Spence Lancia Delta Integrale, I was almost persuaded the Vauxhall was equally exhilarating. As ever, you get what you pay for and the GM machine does have shortcomings. The gear change is swift, but slightly rubbery; there were some over-run engine resonances, despite extensive soundproofing; the steering could have had more feedback to compliment its accuracy; the low-speed ride is definitely hard-edged, whilst some traces of float are encountered at high speeds. Finally, cornering roll resistance could be improved under duress.
These are all fine tuning points in a 4×4 design that, I believe, breaks new ground in combining sport with saloon civilisation at a cost that is at least understandable in comparison to many West German imports.
Jaguar, and their 50% partnership with TWR at JaguarSport (Stand No. 3, level 2), decided that big engines be the order of their autumn 1989. JaguarSport’s 6-litre substitute for 5.3 XJS litres obviously provides more power, particularly in the lower and middle rpm ranges, but also alters the character of the product. Despite the 1984 European Touring Car Championship win that TWR scored with the XJS, the V12 version has remained in the role of comfortable cruiser. JaguarSport take it a determined step toward Porsche 928 GT territory with considerably firmer suspension, Dunlop D40 M2 grip and claimed maximum speed of “almost 160 mph.. JaguarSport have not invaded the £50,000 plus high ground of Porsche pricing, but £45,500 does make this, the XJR-S, the most expensive new Jaguar you can buy from (selected) JaguarSport dealers within the Jaguar network.
Changes to the imposing aluminium V12 are extensive, including a replacement steel crankshaft that takes the stroke from 70 to 78.5mm, a standard bore means a capacity of 5993cc. The cubic increases of just under 15% and a switch to Zyteck electronic ignition and injection management are key ingredient in increasing torque 17% (362 lb ft at 3750 rpm) and horsepower from 286 to 318 bhp. New liners support replacement pistons, these allowing 11.2:1 or instead of the now standard 11.5:1, considerably down on the original “HE” Michael May specification of 12.5:1.
The GM 400 transmission has its gear change times almost halved, but the biggest changes outside the engine bay are to the suspension and steering. As in past TWR conversions, the steering each is more solidly mounted, Bilstein dampers are worn and the spring rates suitably calibrated to control body motion under cornering pressure.
There may be traditional Jaguar customers who would not like the low speed ride on 225/50 front and 245/55 rear rubber for the 8 x 16 inch wheels, but there will be many more who will be attracted by the functional appearance and enhanced road adhesion. Even from a standing start, one can tell that the level of grip offered had been sincerely reinforced, an impression underlined as the JaguarSport XJR points faithfully into each apex at startling speeds without fuss. The V12 sounds as though it means a milder version of racing business, thanks to an exhaust that culminates in four muted outlets. Under open throttle conditions, when the computer flickers into single figure crisis mpg reports, the note is distinctly deeper, but has yet to be proven by independent figures. JaguarSport claim 6.5 seconds from the rest to 60mph and 0-100 in 15.4 seconds. Neither sufficient to wean away 928 owners naive enough to be swayed by acceleration statistics.
Overall, we liked the enhanced muscularity of an XJS derivative that could be produced by the thousand when export markets are tapped in the coming year.
Setting new sales records in Britain and Europe, Saab (Stand No. G4) have been badly hit in recent months by poor American results and losses incurred with assistance from the exchange rate. When this was written it was not clear who the healthy truck and aerospace Saab divisions would agree to cooperate with in the future of their troubled car division.
Meanwhile, the company had some important changes to announce for keen drivers. Internationally, there was the debut of the 2290cc (90 x90mm) four cylinders, a counter balanced design that owes a six year licence fee to Mitsubishi (for bearing technology rather than Lancaster inspiration) and Porsche, whose 2.5 litre (90 x 90mm) engine Saab engineers particularly admired. For the British market only, there has been a further expansion on the £20,000 plus use of the Carlsson name to provide a fashionable body kit, more power and improved handling. Prices for the 2.3 litre engines, confined to the three-box CD shape in 1989 Britian, had not been confirmed at press time, but I understand £16,995 is a likely starting point. In January 1990, when the 5-door hatchback equivalents arrive, prices will be several hundred pounds less.
It is worth noting that top level SE or CDE 9000 turbo models are now more than a thousand pounds cheaper, owing to the deletion of air conditioning as a standard item. The 9000 has also received a smaller (T25) Garrett AiResearch turbocharger unit, this follows a year with a smaller Mitsubishi unit that cut out the On/Off nature in the original Garrett T03-equipped 9000; standard quoted power remains at 175 bhp, but the Carlsson derivatives drop from 204 to 196 bhp.
Assured by Saab that the iron block motor driving the front wheels was completely different to the existing DOHC I6v unit -aside from the French alloy cylinder head casting and exhaust manifold- we explored some Swedish terrain. The 150 bhp at 5500 rpm does not feel very different to the normally aspirated 2-litre, but 156 lb/ft of torque at 3800 rpm is joined by more than 141 lb/ft of effort through most of the 6000 rpm limited rev range, which does allow a far stronger mid-range performance.
Outright drag strip acceleration has never been a Saab speciality and a journal such as ours would be pleased to receive a little more than 0-62 mph in 10.5 seconds from this class of car. However pick-up in third, fourth and fifth is stronger than many rivals in the 37 to 62 mph band. One can only admire their engineers for providing “real world” performance improvements rather than headline-hunting 0-60 mph times, or a maximum beyond the “sufficient” 124 mph.
The balance shafts do smooth out much of the working rpm range (say 1500 to 5000), but there is no comparison with a good inline six beyond 5000 rpm. Fuel economy is far from startling. Saab report 23.1 urban mpg and we rarely exceeded this figure in either automatic or 5-speed derivatives.
The bumpier the road, the more competent the Saab seems to be at deflecting punishment from the occupants, putting power to the ground and remaining a fine ambassador for practical Swedish solidarity.
The Carlsson CDE and its 195 bhp, including a claimed 140 mph ability, are dominated by the discreet speed allowed. The suspension, now featuring Swedish spring and damper rates, combined ride quality with body control in exemplary fashion, supported by Pirelli products in seeking grip during a weekend of sharply variable weather. At nearly £26,000 this Saab thrusts into a class beyond its natural habitat, but I certainly enjoyed its charms until an exhaust pipe joint eased apart sufficiently to allow a hiss of protest every time the Garrett T25 was heading for the heights of 100,000 rpm.
Finally, two West German Motorsport projects of totally different ambition, but similar pricing and power. The 210 bhp Volkswagen G60 Limited Golf 5-door and Roberto Ravaglia BMW M3 of 215 bhp hover around £25,000. Both are sold out, and the syncro VW with supercharger allied to the 1.8 litres was never offered to British customer, whereas you can buy LHD BMW M3s to similar catalytic convertor engine and running gear specification in the UK.
Now priced at £24,200 the M3 (Stand No. E7) is smoother and quicker than before, the 2.3 litre 16v eager to romp beyond 7000 rpm. Some 7.5 x 16 alloy spoked alloy wheels carry gripping Pirelli 225/45 ZR rubber that contains wet weather oversteer admirably and enjoyably. Just 25 Roberto Ravaglia M3s were imported into Britain at £26,850. They were recognisable by their Evolution body panels (extended front spoiler, secondary bootlid air dam), an internal commemorative plaque and rather gaudy seat insert panels.
The Volkswagen (Stand No. D2) was a new ultimate in parts bin conglomerations, mixing restrained 5-door bodywork with Golf G60 Rally Group A suspension. Plus the unique 16v motor with an absolute boost pressure of 22.6 psi to yield 210 bhp at 6500 rpm. That is enough to bring an independently audited 142 mph and 0-62 mph in 7.4 seconds.
Yet, the real point of just 70 such “G60 Limited” Golfs was to demonstrate the seductively wide power band that the alliance of 16v and supercharging has. The peak torque figure was 186 lb/ft at 5000 rpm, but what mattered was the absolute assurance of mid-range overtaking capabilities without the need for a lower gear. The Golf 16v is not the best example of midrange muscularity in production form and this £22,385 example overcame its greatest deficiency whilst demonstrating that Volkswagen could build an half size Audi quattro. Complete with Terra ABS and occasionally quirky syncro 4WD it demonstrated perfectly the kind of mass production car we can expect to become the norm in the Nineties. Volkswagen should build it now, and set the mass production pace. JW