German speed showcase
Is the era of the German supercar drawing to a close? At the Frankfurt Show last month there were fast, faster and fastest cars, manufacturers vying with each other with multi-valve heads, turbos and all-wheel drive. Yet, like distant thunder, the German government is shaping up to introduce American standard emission controls which could emasculate the supercars and bring a very different complexion to the Frankfurt Show of 1985.
The German manufacturers, with the total support of exporters such as BL, are united in preparing a case to present to the German Ministry of Technology, which has recently outlined proposals to reduce exhaust emissions by means of catalytic converters. By all means give us a standard to meet, including lead-free fuel, but do not tell us by what means to achieve the standard, the manufacturers are saying. The proposal is to limit the emissions from January 1st 1986, but the car makers are sure to press for a postponement for at least a year. Certain models, those exported to America, could meet the requirements straight away, but these represent a minority of current passenger car ranges. Lower emissions, lead-free fuel, and necessarily lower compressions inevitably spells out less power, maybe 10% less, right against the current trend.
Perhaps we should make the most of what we have. Audi’s new Quattro Sport, Porsche’s new Group B car and BMW’s new M635 represent the ultimates in current technology, the first two being homologation specials and BMW’s announcement a bid to join the supercar league. In their wake, a new 16-valve Scirocco, the first VW to have the 140 bhp high torque sport engine; a new 16-valve head with a turbocharger to power the next generation of Saabs; a new 16-valve Toyota engine; by way of a change, the announcement that all of Honda’s engines in current producition have 12 valves, two inlet and one exhaust.
The Bavarian company, BMW, should be taken most seriously because they avoided the outrageous and-presented a range which is intended for all their customers, from a four-door 3-series to a 24-valve, 286 bhp M635. Beautifully furnished, and capable of transporting four people at 158 mph, the M635 CSi is scheduled for production next May, though availability of right-hand drive is likely to be delayed until early 1985. The power unit was developed by Paul Rosche and his team from the 275 bhp M1 unit, now with Bosch Motronic engine management and new induction and exhaust manifolds. The M635 will be available only with a reinforced 5-speed gearbox, and will be equipped with a lower, more pronounced front spoiler, new forged alloy wheels with Michelin TRX tyres, ABS braking as standard, larger front disc brakes, and special chassis tuning.
Audi’s design department has been the most prolific this year in engineering terms, even if Ford have announced more body styles. The Quattro Sport, with its wheelbase and overall length reduced by 12.6 inches, is an unashamed homologation special which will go into production early next year for May 1st homologation, when 200 examples will have been built. And, VAG were proud to announce World Champion Rally driver Walter Rohrl has been signed to drive the car in a full programme, teamed with Michele Mouton and, in certain events, Hannu Mikkola.
The power unit is all-aluminium· with a new, cross-flow 20-valve cylinder head (five cylinders, four valves per pot) developing 300 bhp in luxurious road trim and, probably, as much as 450 bhp for rallying. The price of a road car is expected to be DM195,000, or £50,000 in Sterling value, for which you’ll get a left-hand drive shortened coupe, the rear seats now being vestigial, ABS braking (which is now standard on the normal Quattro) leather Recaro seats, electric windows, and rather special bodywork.
Designed by British engineer Peter Birtwhistle and built by Bauer, the fenders, spoilers, side flares and the roof are all made of Kevlar, while the engine cover and rear lid are made of reinforced plastic. The frontal styling has been changed to accommodate the intercooler, and the total weight of the Quattro Sport is reduced by some 650 lb to less than 2,200 lb.
Exciting as the concept may be, it’s thought that the Quattro Sport will be more sensitive to drive (“twitchy” is the term) and more difficult to drive on the limit. Interestingly, Walter Treser who was the competitions manager until the ill-fated Acropolis Rally last year, and who now has his own styling and tuning company, has reservations about the Quattro Sport’s potential, while Eric Carlsson on the Saab stand left us in no doubt at all about his views on four-wheel drive. Asked no doubt for the umpteenth time when we could expect to see a 4-wd Saab, he snorted: “Why would we want that? What advantage would it bring?” Carlsson is very sceptical indeed, pointing to Mikkola’s unhappy record of accidents since he signed with Audi, and from that we can safely presume that the Swedish company has no plans to produce such a concept, despite winter conditions in its home market. Interesting . . .
The VAG combine is, however, totally committed to applying four-wheel drive right across the range, introducing the Tetra Volkswagen Variant. Quattro is Latin, Tetra means the same thing in Greek, so the possibilities are endless. Overshadowed, maybe, was the new 115 bhp Audi 80 Quattro in two-or four-door form. Less highly equipped than the 136 bhp, 2.2 litre 80 Quattro, the new version has revised front suspension which makes it possible to offer the car without power steering, and therefore at a more affordable price. The engine has been extensively revised, having a larger 81 mm bore which takes the five-cylinder engine out to 1,994 cc (instead of 1,921 cc), a new water jacket, new connecting rods, new pistons and a “retuned” torsional vibration damper, all of which should make the unit noticeably quieter and smoother than hitherto.
Audi also developed the 16-valve head for the Volkswagen arm, the first application being in the Scirocco as a new version. It will naturally be fitted in the Golf GTI as soon as the new model is established, and in the Scirocco it develops 140 bhp, enough to take it to 60 mph in under eight seconds and then to a maximum of over 130 mph. This version has stronger driveshafts, disc brakes all round and a larger fuel tank, and should prove to be a very desirable car indeed.
If shows have “stars” these days, it had to be Porsche’s new Group B 911 scheduled for homologation in January 1985. Reminiscent of the 935/78 “Moby Dick” it has low-down headlights, flared but flowing bodywork and a full-width rear wing, looking like a futuristic styling exercise despite its 20-year ancestry.
The prototype was exhibited with a full-blown 630 bhp Porsche 956 racing engine, a new six-speed gearbox and four-wheel drive, incorporating an electronically controlled system of front and rear differential locks. Two hundred production examples will be built in the latter part of 1984 for homologation, followed by 20 or more full race or rally competition evolutions.
The road cars will be fitted with Porsche’s next generation 911 engine having one-piece cylinder heads on each bank (rather than six individual heads which are interconnected), water cooling for the heads, four valves per cylinder and hydraulic valve lifters. A power output of 400 bhp is envisaged from a twin turbo 2.85-litre ‘cooking’ engine (this capacity increasing to a 4-litre class limit when multiplied by the FIA’s 1.4 factor), giving the 1,115 kg vehicle a top speed of 186 mph, acceleration to 60 mph in 4.9 seconds and to 125 mph in 15.4 seconds. The competition versions will have normal valve adjustment and a minimum of 450 bhp, rising to over 600 bhp at the whim of the customer. Porsche’s torsion bar system of suspension has been dispensed with, replaced by upper and lower wishbones front and rear, twin coil spring/damper units at the front and single coil spring/dampers at the rear, supplemented by another pair of dampers. The 17-inch diameter forged alloy road wheels also bring the debut of Dunlop’s Denloc safety road tyre, with run-flat capability, already proven on the race tracks, together with the Bosch/Porsche low pressure warning light system used on the race cars for the past three years.
Secrecy surrounds the electronic control of the front and rear differentials, though it is explained simply. On the dashboard is a visual display, with straight, curved or squiggly lines being illuminated. A column lever, like a speed control, can be moved to any of four positions by the driver depending on the road conditions ahead: for straight-line driving both differentials will be locked up for maximum traction; for fast curves, medium turns or twisty roads the electronic control unit will vary the amount of power to be transmitted by front and rear wheels.
Porsche’s new Group B contender will make its debut in the Paris-Dakar rally next January driven by none other than Jacky Ickx, this year’s winner in a Mercedes G-wagen. We can safely presume that it will not have the swoopy 0.32 drag coefficient, pearlescent white bodywork fitted for the arduous event. Rather, lckx will drive an outwardly normal 911 rally car equipped with the standard 231 bhp Carrera engine, but incorporating the four-wheel drive system and some other features of the Group B car including the visual display compass! Two support vehicles will be built to the same specification for maximum experience. The price of the customer Group B cars, by the way, will probably be less than DM 250,000, or £64,000 at today’s rate of exchange.
Tearing ourselves away from the exotica, there was a lot more to see at the busiest, most exciting motor show we have covered. Ford of Europe have been busy this year announcing the Orion, the new Fiesta, the Sierra two-door hatchback (a model which will surely overcome prejudice against the saloon’s rounded styling), and had for good measure the Spridget sized Ghia Barchetta, based on the XR2, an AFV (Alternative Fuel Vehicle) Coupe which will run on methanol, LPG, Diesel or natural gas, and a continuously variable transmission.
Renault had a 132 bhp Turbo version of the Fuego and a four-wheel drive 18 estate car variant, Saab a Cabriolet version of the 900 model, also fitted with the new 16-valve turbo engine developing 170 bhp, Mercedes the Cosworth 16-valve headed 190 model, and Opel a hot version of the Monza GSE powered by a 180 bhp injection 3-litre engine. From Holland a new version of the Volvo 3-series (the ninth best selling car in Britain so far this year) is now available in Saloon form with a boot instead of a bustle — though increasing the capacity merely from 350 to 362 litres.
Toyota presented their latest version of the Corolla, the world’s best-selling car they say, in front-drive form for the first time, the Coupe version of it powered by a virtually new 1.6 litre 16-valve twin-cam engine rated at 124 bhp. Honda made a world premiere with new Civic and Accord models, a complete range including the torsion bar suspended Civic 1.3 litre Hatchback, the 1.5 litre S and the Shuttle two-box estate; in the Accord range a new four-door saloon and two-door hatchback were presented, all models having three-valve per cylinder engines. UK availability will be early ’84.
From Britain, the Austin-Rover Group launched the Maestro into Germany with a strong message from chairman Harold Musgrove, and proudly showed the TT winning Rover Vitesse, scourge of the BMWs on the race tracks. Lucas-Girling exhibited a form of anti-lock braking for front-drive cars, mechanically operated via a belt from the driveshafts, which is claimed to be half as expensive as an electronic system; it will, apparently, work very well on motorcycles, and the group sees a big future for this development. Grand Prix entrant Jackie Oliver was on hand to announce that he has the UK rights to market the new Speedline twin-wheel concept for road cars, reminding us of the twin rear wheels which used to be fitted for hillclimbing. Goodyear motorcycle tyres are fitted to the twin wheels which run cooler than a single, wide sport tyres, have almost complete immunity to acquaplaning, and will remove the need to worry about punctures.
There was more, much more to see and describe but space does not allow. In the land of unrestricted speeds on the autobahns, ever-faster cars are being developed and launched. But they are also quieter, better handling, better braked and more economical so as to be socially acceptable. It just remains to be seen whether the Greens (the environmentalists) will get the better of the industry. MLC.