Tuning Test: An Avenger with sparkle

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As you will have gathered from this month’s issue, the Hillman Avenger is currently very much on the minds of our editorial staff. My interest naturally lies in improving the basic product, by which I mean not only straight-line acceleration but also its road manners in terms of adhesion and enjoyable handling. It was with these thoughts in the back of my mind that I accepted Mr. Ralph Denne’s, of Davenport Vernon, offer to try their £60 Master Avenger engine kit, installed in an early Grand Luxe 1,500-c.c. car. The smart gold demonstrator also had a number of extras including 5-1/2 in. alloy wheels and appearance items such as a sporting steering wheel. We used the car solidly for just one day in the wilds of the Berkshire Downs and for quite a bit of traffic work in the surrounding towns, being lucky with the weather from a testing point of view as we experienced torrential rain, followed by an afternoon of sunshine for performance testing.

The engine modifications are very simple, a pair of 1-1/2-in. choke Stromberg 150 CDS carburetters being supplied on fresh tubular steel inlet manifolding, working in conjunction with a high-lift camshaft. On the latter subject Denne is somewhat reticent as when his company first became interested in the conversions market they sold a machine known as the Master Hunter; it had a Sunbeam Rapier camshaft and the Press scrupulously noted same, with the result that Davenport Vernon & Co. (a big Rootes dealership outside High Wycombe in Buckinghamshire) suddenly found a lot of potential customers doing their own Master Hunter conversions! In fact, two camshafts have been tried for the demonstrator, one being a high winding effort with power between 4,000 and 7,000 r.p.m., and the second, which we tried, had a shaft ground to give excellent breathing between 2,000 and 6,000 r.p.m. Quite honestly we would not have known that the camshaft had been changed from standard, except for the spirited way in which the engine ran to 7,000 r.p.m. in the gears! Tickover speed is an even 1,000 r.p.m., but unless one stands outside and listens to the exhaust note, the Master Avenger sounds as would a normal production model.

Perhaps the most significant extra was the Kenlowe electric fan at £17 10s.; Denne commented that this was fitted entirely to cure mechanical noise at high r.p.m. when the more vigorous camshaft was fitted. Incidentally, Avenger owners who want the modified engine parts fitted to their cars will probably find that it costs an extra £5 over the £60 charge that we quoted earlier. This is because the cam followers will have to be replaced in an engine that has already covered a fair mileage.

Other extra cost items on the test car included four 5-1/2J Cosmic alloy wheels at £29, a set of 165 x 13-in. radials costing £12, a dished and black synthetic leathercloth-rimmed Formula steering wheel (£9 19s. 6d.), the factory-fitted tachometer which retails for £9 15s. for the GL and £14 7s. when attached to the De Luxe and Super versions and a body stripe that is charged out at £5.

The tyres on the car we borrowed were Goodyear G800s, but quite a few Master Avengers have gone forth on Michelin ZXs as these have been easier to obtain in recent months.

The car starts readily, and with a few words from Mr. Denne on the non-standard seat finish and accelerator linkage on this their first demonstrator car which has covered nearly 15,000 miles, we slithered away into the murk surrounding High Wycombe. The author’s previous experience of a standard Avenger was limited to under 50 road miles and rather more than that taking performance figures, but the kick-back-free rack-and-pinion steering, excellent brakes and adequate, if not inspiring, gear-change, all felt familiar.

During the damp morning we found the car ran strongly and undisturbed through the deep puddles surrounding the roadside. The wider tyres certainly made a difference to the dry surface adhesion, but on that streaming Berkshire tarmac the MA was wiggling its bottom at all and sundry, albeit tidily, for one can catch any rearward motion instantly at moderate speed. Stepping up our pace and running regularly at over 50 m.p.h. in 2nd and nearly 80 in 3rd, made us respect this golden converted Avenger even more as it safely coped with whatever foolishness we cared to hand out. One moment stands out particularly clearly, this being when we entered one half of the car into a particularly good imitation of a roadside lake, only to see through a wall of water that a modern Ford truck wanted that piece of road. Shuddering at the recollection of previous motorcycling experience, the driver applied more lock and blessed the lively 3rd-gear acceleration. Now a standard Avenger would doubtless have got through this sort of situation unscathed, but I am willing to bet it would have snaked a little, whereas the Davenport Vernon car whistled through in an unruffled manner.

Reflecting that this sort of thing was perhaps not in the style that our readers adopt, we took to changing gear at a comfortable 4,000 to 4,500 r.p.m. and used 3rd gear above 3,000 r.p.m. to push us round most sharp curves. Driven in this manner the converted car is quite restful, whilst covering the ground at a deceptively respectable pace. As witness to that fact I would instance the grinning gentleman who had the hood down in his Sprite whilst the wind and rain tore the twigs from the trees!

Apart from the rather joggly coil-spring suspension, just as it left the production line, we found that the Master-badged machine was an extremely enjoyable and efficient way of covering by-roads. So after lunch we switched our attention to broader things. We noted that the converters had supplied a picture of the car traversing rough ground and so headed for the Downs to find a convenient photographic spot. The Avenger romped up the track which leads up to the rolling chalk Downs (soon to be covered by the M4 ?) and quickly settled any doubts we may have had over its robustness, the well thrashed car scrabbling over loose surface without rattles or groans. Traction is on a par with any light car employing front engine live axle rear drive, but the wide tyres probably saved us from ever having to get out and push, even though their treads were quickly rendered into a slick mass.

A dry private road soon sorted out both performance queries and handling under these conditions. The acceleration figures are good by just over 17 cwt. of Avenger GL standards, but we would be the last to stop you saying “but a standard Ford 1600E does X and the 1300 GT from BL has Y performance figures in production form”. The truth is that the Master Avenger is not particularly quick off the mark to 60 m.p.h., but the 0-70 and 0-80-m.p.h. figures and top speed are competitive by both the standards of price and actual performance. There is plenty of torque too, judging by the way that the car will pull away from the middle of its rev, range in 3rd and top gears. In fact just over 1-1/2 seconds are saved on the 50-70-m.p.h. time in 4th gear and nearly 10 seconds is taken away from the 60-80-m.p.h. top-gear acceleration. The converted car is in fact more pleasant to live with in terms of everyday demands, a quality which we applaud in any modified car intended for general road use. Unfortunately the fuel consumption suffered during a 100-mile period in which we checked it, working out at just under 24 m.p.g. Although we did drive hard for a lot of the time, we find that our experience is not unusual and other tests show a loss of 2-3 m.p.g. on the overall figures for the standard GL.

We found that the handling on dry roads was unusual by modern saloon-car standards as the rear will move outwards under the pressure of body roll. This is-especially pronounced on fast curves where one must maintain a smooth entry, for any attempt at twitching the car on to line will quickly call for corrective lock. Personally we found this a pleasant change for one soon adapts to using body lean as a method of neutralising any understeer.

Judged overall the Master Avenger looks like a very good idea indeed and our only complaint about the seemingly unburstable 1,498-c.c. engine, which will run at 7,000 r.p.m., in production form, though nothing like so readily as this converted car, was a boom period on approaching 5,000 r.p.m. So long as the customer is not plagued with this trait, we have no hesitation in saying that the Davenport Vernon kit offers a worthwhile improvement to the Avenger— and these remarks will still apply during and after this Motor Show month,—J. W.

Performance0-30 m.p.h. …………………….. 4.0 (4.1) sec.

0-40 m.p.h. …………………….. 7.0 (6.6) sec.

0-50 m.p.h. …………………….. 10.0 (9.6) sec.

0-60 m.p.h. …………………….. 15.4 ((13.5) sec.

0-70 m.p.h. …………………….. 22.8 (18.3) sec.

0-80 m.p.h. …………………….. 39.6 (25.8) sec.

Gear speeds
1st.……. 34 m.p.h.

2nd. ….. 56 m.p.h.

3rd. …… 84 m.p.h.

4th. …… 89 (94 m.p.h.

Fuel consumption:See text

Converters:Davenport Vernon & Co. Ltd., High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire

Prices:

Engine parts, £60.

Complete cars with badges and converted power units:

De Luxe 1500, £899 15s 9d.

Super 1500, £943 8s 4d.

Grand de Luxe (as tested), £1,022, plus extra detailed in text.

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