"Motor Sport" Tests Two Continental Saloons



The Peugeot 203 and Borgward Isabella

As a tropical August merged into September two exceedingly interesting small Continental saloon cars came, along for Motor Sport road test, the Peugeot 203 from France and the Borgward Isabella from Germany.

The Peugeot 203 (pronounce it “Pur-jo”) was lent to us by Lockhart’s Service Depot of Dunstable, where they exude enthusiasm for this car, but did not in any way attempt to prejudice our opinion of it.

I drove it 622 miles before handing it over to pther members of the Motor Sport organisation, but long before then I was enraptured with this unusual family car.

The Peugeot 203 is outstanding on several counts but especially so in respect to the very fine steering and roadholding which its designer has somehow allied to soft suspension. I have seldom driven a car of this kind which afforded so much pleasure to take round corners or along a winding road, and I am glad it is endowed with a large and effective rear-view mirror because few policemen would believe that it is so safe to poke through gaps in the traffic!

The Peugeot 203 is essentially a small family car, notably economical, with a four-cylinder engine of 1,290 c.c., but outwardly, and from the driving-seat, it gives the impression of being a. far larger machine. Those who seek nothing more than an impressive-looking car of ample seating accommodation and luggage space, able to cruise at 70 m.p.h. and return a fuel consumption of better than 30 m.p.g., should find this Peugeot excellent value at £899. inclusive of p.t. and import duty. But there is much more to it than that!

In an age of standardisation this car’s specification is truly refreshing. The sturdy “over-square” 75 by 73-mm. four-cylinder engine has a handsome valve cover, through which pass the plug leads, reminiscent of a Lago-Talbot or a Lancia, beneath which are inclined overhead valves in hemispherical combustion chambers operated by ingeniously arranged push-rods and rockers, a valve gear introduced in 1948. This is a wet-liner unit which, on a compression ratio of 7.0 to 1, contrives to give 45 b.h.p. at 4,506 r.p.m., using a single Solex 32 PBIC downdraught carburetter, with Tecalemit BGT21 air filter. Practical items noticed while the spring-loaded alligator bonnet was raised were the accessibility of the dip-stick, which protrudes from a metal tray insulating carburetter from exhaust manifold, and the tap adjacent to it for draining the cylinder block in cold weather. There is also a battery master-switch, or more correctly a disconnettor, under the bonnet, and the 12-volt electrical system is supplied by a pair of 6-volt Cuirasse batteries located in the cool air stream behind the radiator grille, which folds to provide access Ignition is by Ducellier coil. A glass bottle contains the brake fluid, so that a glance tells whether it requires topping-up.

The Peugeot is of integral body/chassis construction and as such is somewhat “tinny” but it has a pleasing absence of exterior ornamentation. The metal dash possesses two separate lidded lockers, their lids (rather sharp-edged) spring-loaded; the centre lid fouls the gear-lever in reverse position when it is open. All the instrumentation is carried within a large half-segment 95-m.p.h: speedometer in front of the driver, which, living recessed and unheeded, is not as blatant as such dials sometimes are. Incorporated with this steady-reading speedometer are trip and total mileage recorders, the former with decimal reading, lamp indicators for lack of oil pressure and direction-indicator reminder, and dials for fuel contents and ammeter.

A series of knobs along the dash-sill control bonnet opening, instrument lighting, starter (the knob of which pulls out some four inches!), ignition advance-and-retard, choke and ignition (no key), while lower down are the controls for the self-cancelling, opposite-arc wipers and screen washer. The electrical fuses are accessibly located on the near side under the dash, and here, too, is the switch for left-hand and right-hand parking lamps.

From such details comes a warm appreciation of the practicability of the Peugeot. Moreover, apart from those items already mentioned, such as parking lights, screen washer, etc.,  a heater and defroster/demister/ air-conditioner is included as the roof is provided with sockets for a roof-rack, there are two-tome horns, etc., and rain-gutters run the full length of the roof, making the price of £633 15s. 11d, highly competitive, especially as the body is also remarkably well appointed.

For example, the seats are particularly deep, wide andcomfortable, separate adjustable bucket-seats being fitted in front, the backs of which let down to form a single or two-berth bed in conjunction with the wide buck seat, which has a folding central arm-rest. The Peugeot could carry seven adults if called upon to do so, and leg and head room is generous. The front doors have big ventilating half-windows, with tiny push-buttons to free their catches, and it is noticeable that both door handles and window-winding handles are so placed as not to intrude on the occupants’ elbow-space. The roof-lamp comes on when the front doors are opened and tiny levers operate the locks in the three doors not provided with a lock, as is the front-passenger’s door. Besides the two cubby-holes each front door has a useful elastic-topped cloth pocket, there is a very deep parcels’ shelf behind the back seat, and storage space under each front seat, that on the passenger’s side used for the tools. There is an ash-tray in the centre top of the dash sill, with stainless steel sprung lid, for those who indulge in the disgusting habit of smoking and another in the rear-seat arm-rest. Rubber carpets floor the front, proper carpets the back of the car; only the back doors “trail.” A nice touch is the use of stainless steel “kick panels” by the front doors, while on the front doors themselves are cloth “pulls” for easy closing, and the passenger’s door has a small arm-rest.

The large luggage boot has a rather heavy, but rigid, lockable lid and, although the spare wheel is carried therein, a wooden platform over it enables suitcases to slide in without damage; a rubber strap prevents the spare wheel from shifting. The steel stainless bumpers are neatly unobtrusive and jacking-up is easy. Twin anti-dazzle vizors are fitted and, as has been said, the rear-view mirror, with large back window, is fully effective, if apt to work loos. There is no clock. The bayonet-type fuel filler cap is concealed beneath a spring-loaded flap in the off-side back wing and the oil filler — Mobiloil is recommended — is on the valve cover.

It may be thought that we rather labour these points of detail especially by readers who are more anxious to get on with driving, which in the case of a Peugeot 203 requires no excuse, but those contemplating purchasing a car to keep for two or three years or more, living in it over big mileages, will do well to consider how the points of detail fit in with their personal ideals and requirements. To cap an impressive list, the Peugeot has a tiny crank-handle for operating the screen-wipers should the motor give trouble — even in the garage this is a car to command respect!

In the driving-seat respect grows. The two-spoke steering wheel with serrated rim is well away from the dash. To the left of it is the steering-column gear-lever, and above this a shorter lever which controls the (rather noisy) self-cancelling direction indicators, the arms of which emerge from recesses at an angle behind the back-door windows (they cancel rather too quickly). On the left of the steering column is one of those delightful and so-sensible Continental lamps-switch extensions, a twist of the knob controlling the sidelamps, dipped and full headlamp positions, and pushing in the knob sounding the horn, softly or loudly dependent on the “degree of press.” This extension, however, could with advantage be an inch or so longer, as it is somewhat lost beneath the wheel rim.

The gear-lever is good of its kind, being light to operate, rigid and positive, yet not too long. First is opposite reverse (no safety catch), third opposite top, and you go round-the-corner-and-up for overdrive-top; the lever is strongly spring-loaded to the higher-gear positions. The action requires practice and isn’t perhaps to be hurried, but so well chosen are the gear ratios that this all-synchromesh gear-change is quite satisfactory. The pedals are well placed and the view over the very long, sharply-pointed bonnet is pleasing; although the near-side front wing is completely obscured the Peugeot steers so accurately that this is scarcely of any moment to an experienced driver.

An interesting and outstanding aspect of the Peugeot is how its small efficient engine contrives to pull so well at comparatively low speeds. For example, bottom and second gear are quite low and top is a geared-up overdrive (4.38 to 1), which the makers recommend should not be engaged until a speed of at least 40 m.p.h. has been reached in the direct third gear. Below this speed overdrive-top emits a slight, not unpleasing hum, and it may be for this reason that Peugeot insist on this 40-m.p.h. engagement-speed, for, in fact, the car pulls away quite briskly from 20 m.p.h. in the highest ratio. In third gear it does likewise from about 15 m.p.h., accelerating fairly well, so that even enthusiastic drivers find themselves using mainly the two higher ratios, dropping to second only for crawling in traffic or for better acceleration. Bottom is rather difficult to locate from top or third when in a hurry, but engages well at rolling pace, and the changes between top and third can be made very quickly. The gears arc completely silent except for the aforementioned overdrive hum, and a speedometer maximum of 60 m.p.h. is available in direct third (5.75 to 1), 37 m.p.h. in second, and 20 m.p.h. in bottom gear.

The Peugeot has rack-and-pinion steering which, like the rest of this outstanding car, is interesting to analyse. It is geared just over 3½  turns lock-to-lock, yet so extremely generous is the lock that in normal driving the impression is of 2½ turns at the most. Rather heavy for parking, the steering becomes lighter as speed increases, while it is smooth and absolutely positive. The front wheels can he “felt” but few road-shocks are transmitted to the driver; some vibration is noticeable on rough roads. Its quick, essentially-accurate steering is complementary to the splendid roadholding. There is mild castor action. There was not so much as a trace of lost motion; the car had run 9,300 miles.

Suspension is by transverse leaf-spring and wishbone i.f.s. and coil-springs for the back axle. This axle is of the underslung-worm type, to provide a low build, and the propeller-shaft is enclosed in a torque-tube — did we mention that the 203 is refreshing in an age of standardisation? The ride is exceptionally comfortable, poor surfaces doing nothing more than to impart quick upward movements to the occupants; pitching and road-shock are practically absent. There is very little roll on corners and not a trace of roll-oversteer, and the manner in which the Peugeot 203 corners at speed, holding-in round long bends without pronounced over- or understeer tendencies, changing direction without loss of stability, even when cornered so that the Colombes Grand Raid tyres cry somewhat in protest, is an outstanding feature of this remarkable car. Only over bad bumps or a rippling surface does the back axle try to steer the car and this tendency to lurch is somehow stifled at birth, leaving the driver practically no correction to do with the steering wheel. The car corners fast in a pleasantly well-balanced manner, the tyres not normally protesting.

Add to this precise steering and excellent roadholding and cornering exceedingly powerful Lockheed brakes and you find in the Peugeot a recipe for safe, fast motoring. The brakes are quite beyond criticism — powerful, all square, fade-free, progressive, yet calling for moderate pedal pressures, and perfectly silent. The pedant metal hand-brake is inconveniently far forward under the centre of the scuttle and its ratchet control is rather unpleasant to use, but it holds the car securely.

By reason of outstanding controllability, good driver visibility, and a very willing engine, this Peugeot covers the ground most effectively, the sense of spaciousness it imparts to those travelling in it enhancing their pleasure. It is a car in which the emphasis is on average speed and the maximum matters little, although about 80 m.p.h. is obtainable, given time, and 50 m.p.h. is reached from a standstill through the gears in about 20 seconds. 60/65 m.p.h. is the habitual cruising speed.

The clutch is light and smooth and the flexibility of the engine makes driving easy; yet, when extended, this same power unit performs with the rugged power expected in a French motor car. It is not an absolutely silent engine but is smooth, starts easily, doesn’t “pink” (yet cheap fuel is said to be permissible), and it doesn’t run-on. We found it unnecessary to habitually use the manual ignition advance-and-retard. No oil or water was required in a total of 861 miles, and driving in traffic and fast when away from it, petrol consumption was 31.0 m.p.g. This provides an excellent range of 374 miles.

Except for a very slight metallic noise from the region of the dash the body was as free from rattles as from wind-noise, but the doors squeaked on opening or shutting them. The scuttle is free from any trace of shake and the bonnet is virtually tremor-free.

The lamps are Marchal, the headlamps having a flat-top beam and the switching arrangement (already described) being excellent for flashing a warning at night. The bonnet merges into a lion’s head motif (the Peugeot lion) which has real, quite sharp teeth in its open mouth! There is an under-bonnet lamp; a neat point is a single nut securing each wheel hub-plate.

If you want a car which looks rather like a scaled-down American, without the flamboyancy, yet which possesses very different roadholding, which could be mistaken in respect of comfort and roominess for a 2-litre but which gives small-car economy, which steers as only good rack-and-pinion can, and has such interesting technical features as push-rod-operated inclined o.h.v., a geared-up overdrive top, worm-drive back axle, and a leaf-spring at the front, coil suspension at the back, by one of the oldest firms in the industry, you want a Peugeot 203. Seldom have I felt so quickly at home in a car or driven a family saloon so consistently fast with such a full sense of security. Add to this the very complete equipment offered for £899 and I cannot see how an enthusiastic motorist with a family can resist a 203! It is perhaps symbolic that the first 203 we met while doing this test was weaving quickly in and out of the traffic just as we were ourselves — for this is essentially a car which inspires confidence in its driver.

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The Peugeot 203 Saloon

Engine: Four cylinders. 75 by 73 mm. (1,290 c.c.). Inclined push-rod o.h.v. in hemispherical combustion chambers. 7.0 to 1 compression ratio; 45 b.h.p. at 4,500 r.p.m. 
Gear ratios: First, 19.78 to 1; second, 8.85 to 1; direct third; 5.75 to 1; overdrive top, 4.38 to 1.
Tyres: 155 by 380 Kleber Colombes Grand Raid on steel bolt-on disc wheels. 
Weight: 15 cwt. 1 qtr., without occupants but ready for the road with approx. one gallon of fuel. 
Steering ratio: 3½ turns, lock-to-lock. 
Fuel capacity: 11 gallons. Range approx. 374 miles. 
Wheelbase: 8 ft. 6 in. 
Track: 4 ft. 4 in. 
Dimensions: 14 ft. 3 in. by 5ft. 3½ in. by 5 ft. (high).
Price: £633 I5s. 11Id. (£899, inclusive of p.t.). 
Lent for test by: Lockhart’s Service Depot, Ltd., Dunstable, Beds.

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Within a few hours of returning the Peugeot we were able to conduct a similar test of a Borgward Hansa 1,500 Isabella, which we took over from C. J. Bendall, of Stevenage. This German car has aroused great interest in this country in the last few years and we were eager to make its acquaintance. There is no question of comparing the German car with the French because the former costs £232 more and its engine capacity is 1,493 c.c., whereas the Peugeot 203 is a 1,290-c.c. car, the comparable model being the 403.

The Borgward’s outstanding virtues are its exceptional passenger and luggage accommodation, the excellent performance it offers for an economical 1½-litre car this spaciousness notwithstanding, its high-quality finish and good roadholding characteristics.

The engine which provides this good performance is a straight-forward over-square four-cylinder o.h.v. unit which develops a useful 60 b.h.p. at 4.700 r.p.m. on the comparatively modest compression ratio of 6.8 to 1, using a single Solex 32 PJCB downdraught carburetter. The top gear ratio is high, 3.9 to 1, but by making proper use of the gearbox very good acceleration is available from this 1-ton saloon, in the order of 0-50 m.p.h. in 15 seconds, while the maximum speed is in excess of 85 m.p.h.

This is a saloon in the modern manner, so that instead of the occupants being almost hidden within the closed interior (remember the first Riley Nine Monaco?) they enjoy splendid visibility from generous side windows and very large-area curved windscreen and back window. The driver just cannot see the near-side front wing and the bonnet is broad, but his general view is excellent.

Rather unusually, this is a two-door car, access to the back seat being by tilting the front-seat squab forward, this being in two sections and hinging at an angle to facilitate its purpose. The doors possess triangular quarter-windows which wind open but do not swivel as is customary. The winding handles for the main windows could hardly be set more inconveniently, and when using those for the quarter-windows one’s elbow tends to foul the arm-rests fitted to each door. The back windows hinge outwards an inch or so to assist ventilation.

So wide is the bench front seat that it really does comfortably accommodate three persons, and the back seat is just as wide. Moreover, the Borgward is an all-time six-seater, by which I mean that so generous is the luggage accommodation that that number of passengers could tour in the car without skimping over personal luggage. The boot, with its balanced, spring-loaded lid, is truly capacious, as a photograph shows, the spare wheel being below the luggage floor, although jack and tools occupy the side recesses.

The front doors have good pockets; there is the usual shelf behind the back seat, and a lidded, deep, lined cubbyhole in the dash.

There are wide side arm-rests for the rear-seat occupants but neither seat has a central arm-rest and the driver sometimes feels the need for some support.

The interior finish of the Borgward Isabella is fully up to German standards and the equipment is generous rather than comprehensive. There are self-parking, same-arc screen-wipers, cloth “pulls.” two ashtrays for the back compartment and another under the dash, a fan-less fresh air/heating/demisting system with separate air vents for driver and passenger, as well as individually-controlled screen demisters, a roof light operated by opening the doors, push-button exterior door handles, and, on the car tested, a foot-operated Tex sereen-washer. In addition, your Isabella comes with an instruction book in a zip-fastened leatherette holder, its own tyre gauge in a neat box, and a miniature inspection lamp for map-reading, tyre changing, etc., which plugs into a socket in the dash normally occupied by the cigarette lighter.

There is an anti-dazzle visor for the driver but not for the passenger. The good central rear-view mirror was supplemented on the car tested by wing mirrors. The fuel filler cap is rather inaccessible behind a spring-loaded flap in the off-side back wing, the tank being on this side of the car. The dash treatment is subdued, three recessed dials before the driver dealing with speed, water temperature and petrol tank contents, and time (only the clock was inoperative on the test car). These dials have neat black faces with gold figures but the 105-m.p.h. speedometer is difficult to read as it is calibrated at intervals of 15 m.p.h.; it possesses a total mileage recorder but this reads only to the nearest mile and there is no trip. White knobs control heater, lamps and choke, additional knobs below the scuttle opening the heater air ducts and opening the alligator bonnet. The ignition key operates the starter. An interesting point is that instead of locking the luggage boot this cannot be opened unless a handle by the back seat on the near side is given a strong pull; with the car locked the boot is thus rendered thiefproof.

Turning to the controls, the gear-lever is a slight but absolutely stiff lever on the left of the steering column. It is spring-loaded towards the lower-gear positions; reverse is selected by pulling out the lever and lifting it beyond the first-gear position. The lower ratios are selected with the lever uppermost. This is a very nice change as far as steering-column levers can be nice, but with them I find I sometimes poke the wrong cog, which would be unforgivable with a proper gear-change. The Borgward lever is rather heavy to use because the synchromesh baulk-ring takes considerable force to overcome. There is some slight transmission hum.

The hydraulically-actuated clutch is smooth but its pendant pedal can result in jerky operation, and the other pedals are also of the hanging type, over which I cannot enthuse. Full marks, however, to a foot headlamps dimmer which, literally, is right under the left foot.

Another lever, a trifle too short, on the right of the steering column, operates the self-cancelling flashing, direction indicators, but I missed the Continental-pattern lamps-control, the Isabella relying on a single pull-out knob for side end headlamps, in conjunction with aforementioned foot dipper switch.

The worm steering gear is smooth rather than light and the wheel transmits more vibration than return motion. No lost motion was evident in a car which had run 9,800 miles. Castor action is mild and the steering is geared rather low at just over three turns lock-to-lock, although the lock is generous. The two-spoke serrated steering wheel has a horn-push in its hub which blows a rather blatant note. The steering wheel is placed well clear of the dash and although there is a considerable sill between the driver and the windscreen he does not experience that feeling of being remote from the controls which is experienced in some cars.

The Borgward has very powerful hydraulic 2LS brakes and until I realised how powerful they were and what good stopping power was available for a light caress on the pedal, I tended to come to rest on locked wheels, Michelins indignant. Greater experience shows these to be progressive, if sensitive, vice-free, very powerful anchors. The hand-brake lever is rather far over to the left under the dash, being in the location for a l.h.d. car. It is released by turning the handle, but the ratchet sometimes needs a little assistance; the brake holds satisfactorily.

Roadholding and cornering are interesting. The suspension is independent front and back, at the front by coil-springs and wishbones, at the back by swinging half-axles and coil-springs, an antiroll bar being fitted in front. This is essentially “comfortable.” suspension, the Isabella floating over bad roads with the utmost insulation of wheel movement from the occupants, there being faint up-and-down movement at times. This soft springing suggests soggy roadholding, yet experimentation proves the Isabella to be very stable round corners, roll not pronounced and rear-end break-away easily controlled by the steering. Spirited driving occasions only slight tyre protest and the softness of the suspension does not spoil the average speed, although at times one is conscious of small wheels not tied very rigidly to the car.

Outwardly, what a smart car this Borgward Isabella is! The finned wheel discs, long body and neat bumpers, the Borgward name on the side of the front wings and the diamond Hansa motif centring the radiator grille, were enhanced on the car we tested by whitewall tyres and the V.S.C.C. and V.C.C. badges, this being Mr. Bendall’s personal car, which he used this summer for luxurious Continental touring.

Regarded in the light of its capacious seating and overall dimensions, the performance from the 1½-litre engine is little short of astounding. In the 3.9 to 1 top gear the car seems happy at speeds above 25 m.p.h. or so, and third gear suffices for most of the traffic running, while acceleration in this 5.73 to 1 ratio is extremely employable on our congested roads. 60 m.p.h. is a mild speed for this fast 1½-litre and 70 quite usual.

I was unable to check the fuel consumption during the 221 miles I drove the car, but it is about 28 m.p.g. driven by enthusiasts, improving to better than 30 m.p.g. when handled by Auntie Gertie. In the indirect gears speedometer speeds of 22, 40 and 60 m.p.h. were attained.

The water temperature normally reads 90 deg. C, rising to nearly 100 deg. C. at films, but in a considerable mileage in the hands of various members of the staff no water was required, nor was more than a pint of Duckham’s Q5500 oil needed to top-up the sump, in a total mileage of over 900 miles.

The body was free from rattles except for one emanating from near the driver’s door. The doors trail; they seem rather heavy.

Under the bonnet the alloy cylinder head with gauze-covered vents to the valve cover is notable. The Exide battery is accessible, as are the fuses in a box on the off-side scuttle sill, the coil is Bosch, and the air-cleaner has a spout extended towards the radiator to draw in warm air. The bonnet is self-supporting when open. The Hella lamps provide a good headlamp beam but cut off rather sharply when dipped. The electrical system is six volt.

For a 1½-litre car with the passenger accommodation of a scaled-down Yank, the finish for which German cars are famous, good handling qualities and a very fine performance, with a top speed of better than 85 m.p.h. and a top gear suited to high-speed cruising, the Borgward Hansa 1,500 Isabella is a car virtually without rivals.

I enjoyed trying these two small Continental cars, which emphasised further that there is no excuse for many litres in modern cars.

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The Borgward Hansa 1,500 Isabella Saloon

Engine: Four cylinders, 75 by 84 mm. (1,493 c.c.). Vertical push-rod o.h.v. 6.8 to 1 compression ratio; 60 b.h.p. at 4,700 r.p.m. 
Gear ratios: First, 16.3 to 1; second, 9.04 to 1; third, 5.73 to 1; top, 3.9 to 1.
Tyres: 5.90 by 13 Michelin whitewall tyres on bolt-on steel disc wheels. 
Weight: 19 cwt. 3 qtr. 21 lb., without occupants but ready for the road with approx. two gallons of fuel. 
Steering ratio: 3 turns, lock-to-lock. 
Fuel capacity: 8.8 gallons. Range approx. 247 miles.
Wheelbase: 8 ft. 6 in.
Track: Front, 4 ft. 4 5/8 in.; rear, 4 ft. 5 5/8 in. 
Dimensions: 14 ft. 4 in. by 5 ft. 7 in. by 4 ft. 9 in. (high) Price : £798 (£1,131 13s. 10d., inclusive of p.t.). 
Lent for test by: C. J. Bendall, Stevenage, Herts.

W. B.