Two long-duration road-tests

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Reports on the Ford Escort RS 1600 and a Hillman Avenger GL.

Ford Escort 1600RS

I published an interim report on this formidable BDA 16-valve twin-cam Cosworth-engined Escort 1600RS in July, in which this very accelerative, road-clinging Ford was compared, not altogether favourably, with the other twin-cam saloon, an Alfa Romeo 1750, which we were long-term testing concurrently. I concluded the comments on the Escort RS with the words: “Only time and more mileage will tell which is the more dependable and satisfactory overall.”

Well, after my initial 1,900-mile stint in this exhilarating multi-valve Ford it was used by other drivers over a considerable mileage, including a journey to Zandvoort for the Dutch GP, so that when I took over again the mileage was 10,680. The white Escort looked much as before, apart from a mangled radio aerial and funny plastic valve caps on its India tyres. It went just the same, too, which meant that after I had re-accustomed myself to the fierce clutch and the rather long pedal movement before the brakes worked, it proved both a very quick car for long runs and a docile shopping vehicle. Acceleration, hard, purposeful and very quick, is the Escort RS’s best feature, because in normal 120-b.h.p. form its speedometer is none too willing to go over the 100-m.p.h. mark in the sort of space available on my habitual off-Motorways routes. But rapid regaining of cruising speed, coupled to sure-footed handling, makes this little Ford a very quick car indeed. Yet its expensive and complex engine, like those that won for Cosworth the British, European and French Formula Two Championships every year since they commenced in 1967, is quite unconcerned at comparatively modest revs, nor, at the opposite extreme, is there any need to “stick it in the red” when motoring quite quickly. The gear-change, too, is excellent, the precise-functioning lever lying curiously far to the left even when in top gear, and the lowest gear in the box is quite often used, thanks to good synchromesh.

At 11,892 miles the car went to Ford’s Brentford depot for routine servicing, Alf Belsen’s ever-helpful staff turning it out in spotless condition, tank full. It ran 274 miles before going dry and a later check showed that I was now getting 27.2 m.p.g., whereas before servicing the consumption had fallen to 24 m.p.g. A sense of roughness around 80 to 90 m.p.h. had vanished and the engine idled normally and started quite easily. I noticed that the n/s window winder seemed to be secured by Sellotape but otherwise this Escort RS was like new and I anticipated a long spell of enjoyable fast driving in it.

Alas, it was not to be! Taking its cue from the troubles which recently beset Cosworth V8 Grand Prix engines, it made a noise as if the starter bendix had chewed up, while I was warming it up carefully in 2nd gear one morning while coming down the drive. It locked up momentarily and inspection showed the starter to be free from blame—it was quite ready to turn the engine but only the crankshaft and fan (which is not free-running) went round, the camshafts and distributor remaining stationary. The sump was full of oil. . . .

I was obliged to write “test concluded” (or in abeyance) in the logbook. The Ford had done 12,282 miles, the equal, I suppose, of four Continental rallies (though it hadn’t been thrashed anything like so hard), but it wouldn’t have completed the World Cup.—W. B.

Hillman Avenger GL

Feeling that perhaps I had not done full justice to the Hillman Avenger Super 1500 reported on earlier this year, the new family saloon which was to save the Rootes Group from Chrysler avarice (only it didn’t!), I asked the always-obliging John Rowe of Chrysler UK if I could try the car again. The outcome was the loan of a smart Plymouth Cricket, sorry, Avenger GL for more than a month. During this time I, and daughters who decided they approved, drove the car some 400 miles a week. It proved completely dependable until, with a startling loud report, a stone flew up and damaged the silencer, the exhaust note becoming decidedly sporting, although no part of the piping appears to be adrift.

My own feelings about the Avenger appear on page 1086. To enlarge on a favourable report, the rear-end thump I had experienced in the Super seemed to have diminished on the GL, It gave nearly 32 m.p.g. and its very accessible dip-stick recorded an oil consumption as low as 2,800 m.p.p. Starting was instantaneous, although the throttle tended to stick open, momentarily, if the choke was used. The body finish is smart, with “executive-style” paint lining but the tail treatment is ugly. The lockable cubby-hole is even big enough to accept a Rolleiflex camera, which, if it is rather weighty for the under-facia lid, can also be accommodated in the big door wells. The interior is rather plain, but comfortable; the very light gear-lever can be too easily poked inadvertently into reverse by casual manipulators.

Altogether, this Avenger is a sound family car, which should make money for Chrysler UK in their British factories. The youngest driver complained that the steering-wheel spoke obscured the fuel gauge and was very annoyed when the speed did not want to rise above an indicated 80 m.p.h., so there is room for the coming souped-up version, perhaps with stiffened suspension. It is interesting that while Ford, GM and AMC in America are frenziedly introducing their new Pinto, Vega and Gremlin sub-compacts, when you might have thought that the first two giants have them already, in Escort/Cortina and Viva/Victor, Chrysler are to sell Hillman Avengers to their US customers, suitably re-equipped for American requirements, as Plymouth Crickets, by the end of the year. Which, to my lay-mind, makes economic sense.—W. B.