A Borgward Isabella in Canada
Some Impressions of a VW Owner’s Graduation to Ownership of this German Saloon
You may be interested to learn the feelings of one enthusiast who bought a car, without even road-testing it, on the strength of a Motor Sport Road-Test Report.
I had previously, since coming to Canada, owned two Volkswagens, a 1954 30-h.p. model and a 1955 36-b.p., each of which had been driven nearly 50,000 miles on brutal roads at high speeds with no trouble whatsoever save for one broken shock-absorber — the result of clouting it on a high rock at excessive speed. On each of these cars a second spare tyre was carried and all six were rotated regularly, with the result that tyre wear at the time of sale was only about 50 per cent. despite the high mileage at high speeds. The conditions under which these cars were driven ranged from sub-zero weather on ice-rutted dirt roads to 100 deg. heat on endless dusty gravel roads and prairie highways. When the second VW began to bulge at the seams as the result of the rapid growth of my five children it was replaced with the fantastically economical MercedesBenz 180D. This car was subsequently sold when it became expedient for me to fly for four months, and for this time we were without a car. But the time came to buy another car, and I cast my eyes about for a roomy, fast, economical, road-worthy European saloon. American cars are firmly eschewed because of their inherent unwieldiness on our gravel roads, their unquenchable thirst, their poor construction and their firmly built-in troubles. Another 180D was ruled out because of its understandably low top speed and generally mediocre performance, despite magnificent construction and superb roadholding. Many cars were inspected and tested and rejected for various reasons — the new car would have to face the same conditions as the Volkswagens had suffered and survived.
The new Morris Isis — a good car — was rejected instantly, without even a test, because of the linkage of the beside-the-seat gear lever: this protrudes under the car and would be sheared off within the first 100 miles on a gravel road — it is surely one of the most ridiculous devices ever fitted to a car for sale in rough country. The Vauxhall Cresta, which I drove for nearly 1,000 miles, handled nicely enough in the city, left an unsatisfying impression at speed and seemed too fragile for this country; it has no resale value here, possibly because it looks exactly like a 1950 Chevrolet. The, Austin A105 felt heavy and unwieldy, the brakes are inadequate and the front-end suspect, although it looks pretty enough. The Vanguard Sportsman had no message beyond the fact that its seat was most uncomfortable,and memories of reported excessive tyre-wear in European rallies are disquieting. The Ford Zodiac seemed to be the only choice; it had a good report in Motor Sport and was quite pleasant to handle, and costs $800 less than the Mercedes-Benz 190, which had been the automatic first thought. The Zodiac, however, shared with all the other cars tested the infuriating tramping of the back axle on its cart springs over rough roads — the one very real fault to be found with it. For good measure, while the “test-fest” lasted, the Sunbeam Rapier and the MG Magnette were also tested, even though they offer only about the same amount of room as the VW, but the roadholding of each was pathetic and quite intolerable after so many enjoyable miles of Volkswagening, and the Magnette managed to trap even my size-eight shoe quite firmly between the gearbox tunnel and the brake pedal (remember this is left-hand drive), and its steering-wheel is at a most awkward angle.
I had just about decided to buy the Zodiac — though with some misgivings because of its adrenalin-provoking rear axle — because of its price difference with the 190 Mercedes, when in fretful indecision (you can see that I was scarcely over-enthused about it) I went leafing through some back numbers of Motor Sport. In the October 1955 issue I found a report on the Borgward Isabella. These cars are just gaining a foothold in this part of the world, and I had seen only one or two about, there isn’t even a full dealer in Alberta as yet. But your report seemed to suggest that it offered everything I was looking for — roominess, economy, comfort, and above all, roadholding. I decided that this was the car for me — without even driving one, so complete is my trust in your road-tests, and without any further messing about I bought one. The car itself completely justifies my faith in your reports and to my delight I later found your comments confirmed in two other periodicals which are also noted for the impartiality and integrity of their road-tests, Consumer Reports and Road and Track.
I can say without qualification that I have never been so impressed by any car apart from the VW. The roadholding is superb, the steering is altogether delightful (I wonder if your test-car had the correct recommended pressures for highway driving of 28 p.s.i. front and 30 p.s.i. rear — with these pressures the steering is definitely not “spongy”), and the economy is altogether out of line with the magnificent performance. This 1.5-litre car has the same top speed as the Zodiac, is slightly slower through the gears although the excellent 4-speed gearbox compensates for this on rough or twisty roads, yet the worst petrol consumption it has given is 24 m.p.g. in the city, and on one 200-mile stretch of hard-top highway which I regularly cover, it gives 32 m.p.g. at a steady 60/65 m.p.h., falling to 27 m.p.g. when driven at about stage nine, and this without benefit of overdrive. The Isabella costs $5 less than the Zodiac sans overdrive in this city. It is a full six-seater which amply accommodates the seven members of my family. The construction merits superlatives — not a rattle at nearly 20,000 miles despite the bad roads and hard driving: grease-nipples on the door-hinges, and 1½-in. thick insulation all around the fire-wall, as I recently discovered when I was fitting a windscreen washer. And that roadholding! Isabella cheekily “sees-off” hot Buicks and Chevvies and Mercuries as soon as the going gets rough or twisty. They sail by on the dual carriageways but are completely nonplussed to be passed with ease on the next corner or rough spot when their enormous stop-lights are illuminating the countryside. And all this compares with the 24/25 m.p.g. which I used to get consistently from my 1954 Anglia driving it at a fairly consistent stage nine before I came to Canada. Short of reading it in Motor Sport or actually experiencing it myself, I wouldn’t have believed it. And now I am thinking of a second car. My wife loves Isabella — the highest compliment she could have paid it was when she said: “But it handles just like a VW,” and wants to keep it for herself. We don’t need a six-seater as a second car — I will use it for my travels and I have been looking around, and the beautiful new Isabella coupe which comes out here this Autumn costs $500 less than the 2.4 Jaguar or the 220S Mercedes-Benz.
But for the obvious limitations of your space I would happily burble on for ever about Isabella. Other owners I have met are all reminiscent of VW owners in that they are infectiously enthusiastic about their cars. One owner I met had had occasion to write to the factory in Bremen about a speedometer cable which had broken after the warranty period. He received a reply by telegram and instructions were wired to the distributor, 200 miles away from here, to send a replacement by Air Express free of charge. He also had a letter from the factory asking him to report any short-comings or suggest any improvements that would be suitable for this terrain.
Another significant point is that most of the Borgward owners I have met are ex-VW owners like myself who have had to buy a larger car because of growing families. Just think of the huge number of VW owners who will be graduating into larger cars as their families grow up, and who, having had the benefit of i.r.s., will never reconcile themselves to cart springs, solid axles, and inferior roadholding. And Carl Borgward is the only one who can offer these potential buyers a car which will fill the price gap between the VW and the Mercedes-Benz. That is, as far as Canada is concerned, as there are no French or Italian cars available here at present. The only imported cars which I see regularly on my travels over the bad Northern roads here are the cars from West Germany. British cars — probably to the satisfaction of their manufacturers if to nobody else — are increasingly to be seen in the cities, doing boys’ work for the ladies as second cars.
In conclusion, I will come to the point of this article, which is to thank you most sincerely for an honest report on a car which, as you so aptly add, “is virtually without rivals.” — M C. Hogan.