HIGHLIGHTS OF THE VOLKSWAGEN
A Willing, Practical, Economical Saloon Which is a Pleasure to Drive 4AST year we sampled and reported on an early but reconditioned
Volkswagen air-cooled, rear-engined saloon, and were very impressed by its willing performance, economy and excellent stability.
Since then VW Motors have commenced to import the post-war Volkswagen to Britain, as outlined in a leadingarticle in last month’s issue of MOTOR SPORT. Consequently, we were interested to be able to sample a 1953 de luxe version of Dr. Porsche’s pre-war “people’s car.”
For this purpose we parked our open sports two-seater in Moon’s Garage in Davies Street, where a smart, blue, de luxe, r.h.-drive Volkswagen awaited us. The rush-hour traffic was imminent, se we were somewhat disconcerted to have to be pushed up and down with no response front the engine, which was as flat as the clever disposition of its four cylinders. Then someone suggested we should buy some petrol (Oh ! halcyon days when Press cars were handed over with brimming tanks !), and that got u8 a fewyards, when we stopped plumb outside the garage’s main entrance—tests of Carburetter, coil anti petrol pump ensued ere someone else suggested that instead of the petrol tap having been turned from ” reserve to ” main ” it had been turned off. Out into the press of Regent Street traffic we went, rather cross and flurried and inclined to eriticise.
So in the first half-dozen miles we decided that the clutch and brake pedals are hung awkwardly, so that the feet have to be moved up off the floor to operate them, a tiring process, that the clutch is rather fierce, and that the hydraulic brakes call for a good deal of pedal pushing and sometimes squeaked slightly, although they are very sure and adequately powerful. The interior, we. decided, was somewhat utilitarian by English standards, for although the de luxe VW has leather upholstery, a good roof lining, and very sensible anchorage of the cloth-edged rubber floor coverings, the single anti-dazzle visor is flimsy, there is no pocket in the passenger’s door, an arm-rest on this door but not on the driver’s, fixed rear windows, the speedometer has co trip and its mileometer does not. read in tenths, and the only instrument is the speedometer; there is no clock. But this observation is prompted by the price of the car in this country—in those parts of Europe where it sells for the equivalent of approximately £450 it would he considered a very decently appointed car.
Certainly the comfort of the separate front seats, with their high backs and easy adjustment, calls for high praise, and the driving position and controls—the aforesaid awkward pedal location apart-are truly ideal. The small, thin-rimmed, two-Spoke steering-wheel is set low, so that its rim does not impede vision through the big screen, yet it is nicely placed. The expression ” the controls fall readily to hand ” applies literally in the case of the Volkswagen. The central gear-lever is mere inches from the steering-wheel rim, the direction-indicator lever is operated by extending a finger of the left hand from the wheel, and a little behind the gear-lever. on what would be the propeller-shaft tunnel on a front-engined car, is the knob which controls a supply of warm air ducted into the interior from the air-cooled engine.
The gear-lever works very lightly, its mounting seeming almost frail, yet this is an altogether delightful gear-change, very quick and positive, the synchromesh on all save bottom gear, which is a feature of the de luxe VW, functioning well, although so quickly do engine revs, respond to the driver’s desires, that double-declutching is the normal method of swapping cep. Here it should he observed that the high (4.43 to 1) top gear, which promotes effortless cruising and good fuel economy, naturally calls for frequent use of the third ratio on hills or for improving -acceleration or when running at under 20 m.p.h.—it is then that the quick, light, positive change up or down between these ratios is a source of pleasure to thou . who appreciate the finer points in a car’s character. While discussing the gearbox it can be said that the lever lifts to engage reverse, which is beyond second, that a very slight whine is heard in the top and indirect ratios, and that only %Olen wanting second in a hurry does the remoteness of the box give rise to an all but imperceptible sense of vagueness at the lever. .1.11.e clutch is light and entirely positive, but calls for care in engagement. The roadholding and cornering of the VW render it a car from *licit the connoisseur cannot fail to derive lasting pleasure. The
all-independent torsional suspension combines extreme comfort (pitching occurs only at low speeds) over the worst surfaces, with firm, accurate cornering. The Michelins seldom protest at imitationAscari cornering technique. The steering (geared 2 turns, lock to lock) is firm, light, and free from vibration or transmission of severe road-wheel movement, while it has just-adequate castor-action.
The rear-engine location gives rise to an oversteer tendency, which, however, is never so excessive as to spoil the safe handling qualities at speed, although on sharp corners or in a cross-wind a little additional concentration is called for. No doubt the compact engine and its low-set Mounting do much to negative pronounced oversteer. The steering lock is fairly good; the wheels rub on full lock.
A noteworthy aspect of the VW is its effortless running—it cmveys a sense of lightness and well-being to the occupants and the rearengine location adds to this effect because at most speeds it is virtually inaudible, giving indeed, almost the effect of a freewheel both Oil drive and over-run. In this respect alone the VW feels more sprightly than the average conventional car of the same size, and the facility with which far larger vehicles were overtaken suggests that it is indeed so.
As this is a utility saloon, not intended to be a high-performance car, we took no performance figures. Suffice it to say that intelligent use of the gearbox provides adequate acceleration, and that over 50 m.p.h. is attainable in third speed. The speedometer will sit at 65 m.p.h. for mile upon mile, this being the happy cruising speed of a VW, but a slight downgrade sends it up to 75 m.p.h. and more. We would estimate the true maximum as about 65/66 m.p.h., with 68/69 m.p.h. available under favourable circumstances. The shape of the car is responsible for a Complete absence of wind roar at all speeds. So that, coupled with the aforesaid light and easy ” feel,” long journieS are anticipated with relish. The engine set up a somewhat unpleasant drumming in t he interior, audible with the windows down, but at all other times could be forgotten—and, of course, all heat and fumes are swept away behind, while the unit is frostproof and leak-proof. When the rear panel is raised, the Bosch coil, spring-loaded oil filler, dip-stick, etc., are rendered fully aceessible, although the plugs are rather deeply buried. The Exide battery lives under the rear seat. No Castrolite was called for during our test, which extended over 400 miles. Nothing went wrong in that mileage, and the engine, which has a useful dashboard hand-throttle but no choke, started promptly from cold, although it hesitated momentarily at times when warm. Economy is a strong feature of the VW, but we were disappointed not to achieve the consumption often claimed for these cars. However, a gallon of National Benzoic took us 36 miles (per mileometer)
of decidedly rapid driving. Later we drove the car, this time supplied with a brim-full tank, more than 300 miles which embraced all manner of usage, and a good deal of starting and stopping, and the consumption of Esso came but at 35.5 m.p.g. The cistern-like tank under the front ” bonnet ” holds 8.8 gallons—an excellent capacity— and has a huge filler cap, which makes replenishment from can or pump extremely easy. As this ” bonnet,” beneath which spare wheel, jack and tool roll are carried, is locked until a knob on the left under the dash is pulled, the petrol supply is virtually thiefproof. Both front and rear “bonnets” open and shut easily, and possess secure ” props.”
Reverting to the interior of the VW, the fixed rear windows in what is a two-door saloon make the back compartment especially Safe from the point of view of carrying young children. Entry and egress to all seats are reasonable, the rear seat amply wide enough for three normal adults, the doors trail, have flush-fitting handles, and the passenger’s a lock.
The facia has a small but useful cubby-hole with metal lid, opened by a push-button, pull-out lamps, wipers and hand-throttle knobs, the speedometer incorporates oil, dynamo and direction-indicator warning lights; the starter-button is a pleasant little affair on the right of the panel, and a tiny under-facia lever puts on the speedometer and interior lights. There is a foot double-dipper switch, roof lamp which can be set to light up when the doors are opened, a useful elastic-topped pocket in the driver’s door, passenger arm-rest, “pulls ” for the rear-seat passengers and a sensible horn sounded by a steering-wheel button, on which is the imposing VW ” castle” badge. A fully-laden VW would require a roof-rack but behind the rear
seat is a vast, lined well which can accommodate Suitcase’s, coats, umbrellas and so on for three persons—it is handy to be able to dispose of luggage thus, where it does not obscure the view in the rather shallow mirror, yet from whence it can be hauled out by a back-seat passenger as required. The rear squab hinges forward for loading purposes, as do the backs of the front seats for egress, and this squab can be laid flat if required for the carriage of bulky objects. This luggage stowage is another of the Volkswagen’s practical features and, as there. is room for extra tools, an odd coat or two and so on beneath the front ” bonnet,” no one can accuse the people’s car ” of lacking luggage space. Coat hooks are, provided on the “pull” mountings. All windows have Sekurit safety glass and there are dual screen wipers.
The doors shut in ” expensive ” style, trapping air if the windows are closed, there are openable half-windows (released by pushbuttons on their levers), and there should have been a facia ashtray, only this was missing. The body suffered from a few rattles and an anno):tig metallic clank near the cubby-hole. Daylight could be seen near the base of the passenger’s door, which might let in dust in tropical climes. The bumpers look substantial, but the exhaust pipe is rather vulnerable.
That, then, is the de luxe English-inaported VW as we found it. And it was a motor car very much to our liking. It is difficult to convey in words the sense of pleasure which the light steering, excellent controllability and ease of running combine to provide, but quite irrefutably this 65-m.p.h.-cruising, 36-m.p.g. four/fiveseater saloon is an enthusiast’s car. Its specification is enthralling but it is the way it runs and handles that most set the seal to many VW sales. Before you condemn it as rather high-priced (£739 4s. 2d. with purchase tax) in comparison With British cars of similar size and capacity you should samPle it on the road.—W. B.