Driving the 997-cc. Austin-Cooper
85 m.p.h. -70 m.p.h. in 28 seconds 36 m.p.g.
DOWN the years it has always been fun to own a car with a larger engine than normal for its size or weight, giving a resultant sparkling improvement performance-wise, to the astonishment of drivers of outwardly similar vehicles who have the misfortune to challenge it on speed or acceleration. Many years ago the late F. I., M. Harris, when he was Editor of the latelamented Light Car, possessed one of those rather spidery to-h.p. Lea-Francis cars with ” chummy ” bodywork endowed with a IA-litre twin-carburetter Meadows engine of the kind used in the later Frazer Nash sports cars. . . . I have always envied owners of such ” wolves in sheep’s clothing.” The installation of aeroplane engines in high-geared old chassis was another approach to this motoring utopia.
Now, in 1961, we have the Austin-Cooper.
It is to the lasting credit of engineers Alec Issigonis and Alex Moulton that the I3.M.C. AD015 possesses such inbuilt stability and strength that it con, virtually Without modification, take 50% more power (55 b.h.p. in place of 3.7 b.h.p.), in the form of a new engine of 17.45., greater capacity, tuned to a prescription of the Cooper Car Company, makers of World Championship racing cars, following their experience with Formula Junior cars using B.M.C. engines.
The result is quite phenomenal performance from this popular compact 4-seater saloon, rendered usable by the aforesaid inbuilt stability, deriving from the ingenious rubber suspension, tiny wheels and other factors. and the introduction of 7-m. Lockheed disc brakes on the front wheels.
Much of the enjoyment of this performance is derived from the fact that outwardly, apart from the name ” Austin-Cooper ” front and back, the big tail-pipe and silencer and a slightly different grille, the appearance is unchanged, even to Dunlop ” Gold Seal ” tubeless tyres. Internally there is improved carpeting, upholstery and sound damping, a new Smiths circulatory heater, enabling fresh air to be introduced at floor level, the remote gear-lever which should have been incorporated in all Minis from the commencement, and a new oval instrument panel with water-temperature and oil-pressure gauges flanking the roo-m.p.h. speedometer, this panel encroaching on the facia shelf, which, however, accepts triangular parcels. Under the bonnet properly-brazed copper fuel lines and fully waterproofed coil and distributor are found but the top Water hose was chafing on the underbonnet felt. The test car had a Smiths Radiomobile radio and Britax safety harnesses. There is now a roof lamp, and choke, facia lighting and heater switch and heater controls have been re-positioned, the heater knob protruding rather too far when heat is turned off. A separate knob pushes in for fresh air. New press-down internal door handles, set far back, are more inconvenient than the fOrmer wire ” pulls.” The spare wheel now lives under a shelf in the boot. Manually-cancelling wipers and doors devoid of ” keeps ” and courtesy-light switches remain utilitarian aspects of the little
car,. and the overriders on the front bumpers wouldn’t fend off a PUPPY.
First impressions are of less ” punch ” than anticipated and lack of ” through-the-windscreen ” retardation but it didn’t take long to appreciate that a very sensible balance between docility and urge has been struck in what, after all, is a production model, and that the extremely powerful and impeccable disc braking has been cleverly applied to permit of maximum application, even on slippery roads, without disastrous loss of control. The splendid brakes are supplemented by a fine Continental-note horn. Lady drivers need never know about the 5:o% power increase, except in terms of excellent top-gear pulling. Normally roundabouts can be taken in this gear, but for good pick-up it is advisable to use 3rd below 30 m.p.h., although the engine pulls away from 20 m.p.h. in top. The noise level remains high, but bearable.
The engine commences instantly, needs scarcely any choke and attains normal (85′ C.) temperature in a mile or two. Oil pressure is reassuringly high, varying between approximately 55 and E5 lb/sq. in.
The gear change is a great improvement, the lever splendidly placed, although after 3,500 miles the action was too stiff, the synchromesh can be beaten, and there is unpleasant vibration on the over-run at loss, speeds which causes the driver to keep both hands on the wheel and may warm a rally driver’s numb fingers but which doesn’t seem quite right.. ..
I was privileged to use an Austin-Cooper, in that warm red colour chosen, I believe, by Kay Petre, Colour Consultant to B.M.C., for a week when it was still so much on the secret-list that even at the Longbridgc factory I was not permitted to leave it in the normal car parks. Naturally, my main concern was to obtain acceleration figures, but first let me enthuse over the unexpected economy of this ” little bomb.” The range, full to dry tank, was 214 miles; it would be worth while fitting a second tank, with change-over tap a la Jaguar, to increase the range to some 400 miles. Consumption of Esso Extra and National Benzole (too-octane fuel wasn’t needed) came out at 38.6 m.p.g. on a fast run to Birmingham in Sunday traffic and 35.0 m.p.g. including cold starts, crossing London, and making one of the quickest runs from office to home I have done for many a long day. Performancetesting reduced it to 32.0 m.p.g. and driving auntiewise (a great strain!) put it to 39 m.p.g.; an overall average of 36.1 m.p.g., which I regard as excellent economy from a miniature sports saloon which, if there is any red blood left in your veins, you cannot resist driving fast. Oil level fell to minimum in 570 miles, a quart of Castrol XL refilling the sump-cumgearbox. Throttle linkage is well contrived but there was an annoying flat-spot around 38 m.p.h. in top cog. ‘I’he engine ticked over very fast and ran-on very slightly during pertOrmance testing. Without occupants and with fuel for a mile the weight was 12 cwt. I qtr. Continued on page 862
The performance is quite staggering. The lower gear ratios have been raised to 12.04, 7.22, and 4.68 to s but top remains at 3.76 to I. The speedometer quotes maxima Of 29, 46 and 64 m.p.h. in the indirect gears but will go to 30, 50 and 70 m.p.h. before very sudden valve crash intrudes. Seventy is a casual cruising speed and a sustained So m.p.h. is well within the compass of this astonishing small car. Top speed will work up to some 85 m.p.h. or more, but you need a motorway to get it. Acceleration is the Austin-Cooper’s outstanding feature. An unbalanced speedometer needle that even road undulations set swinging made recording it difficult but here are the results of a series Of two-way runs, two up, allowing for speedometer error :—
These splendid figures comfortably surpass those of the new Austin Healey Sprite and M.G. Midget sports cars!
Laurence Pomeroy concludes an appraisal of the AustinCooper written for B.M.C. by remarking that ” It not only takes you but also sends you.” To me this is double-dutch but after a week with this fascinating little car I can understand why racing drivers and other discerning motorists arc placing their orders. It is good to know that, just as the original Austin Seven was Sufficiently sound to lead to the highly-successful Ulster sports model, so Issigonis’ ingenious ADOI5 design has proved capable of development into this 997-c.c. version (still officially called an Austin Seven!), one of the quickest A-to-B vehicles I have experienced and, for the same reasons, an admirable town-car. I await release of its price with lively interest.—W. B.