Small Car Topics

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THE Citroen 2 c.v. has had a virtual stranglehold on the economy runabout market since its introduction in 1953, when it was gratefully accepted by the impoverished Frenchman who required even cheaper transport than that provided by VW and Renault at the time. Even now, in 1961, the 2 c.v. sells well although the rising prosperity of France can be gauged from the number of 2 c.v.s appearing With a variety of accessories and in different colours from the usual drab grey.

Renault have obviously been hesitant in entering this relatively restricted market but with the R4 and R4L announced yesterday they have made an important advance in the search for minimum cost motoring.

With typical Renault hospitality the World’s Press was invited to the fascinating Camargues area of Provence, quite close to Marseilles, where the Spanish influence is very strong and which can be highly recommended as a touring centre as so far only the French have discovered its delights. At the Renault headquarters at Les Saintes Maries we were able, first of all, to examine a sectioned chassis and in the following days get to know this fascinating vehicle.

The most startling change for Renault is the complete about-turn in putting their engine at the front and driving the front wheels. Apart from any technical advantages this has bean done to provide a completely unbroken floor line in the passenger compartment. The engine is a slightly modified version of the well-known 4 c.v. and Dauphine unit, of which more than 3,000,000 have been produced. In the search for cheapness the 3-speed gearbox has been retained, mounted ahead of the engine, the differential being located between these components. The drive shafts each have two constant velocity joints, a Weiss ballbearing on the gearbox end and a double universal with needle roller bearings at the wheels.

The front suspension is by an upper pressed-steel wishbone and a single lower arm together with a locating rod anchored to the front end of the chassis. Springing is by very long longitudinal torsion bars. An anti-roll bar is fitted and damping is taken care of by telescopic units. At the rear, suspension is by single trailing arms and transverse torsion bars, each wheel pivoting on rubber bushes which require no maintenance. The torsion bars being mounted behind each other in the chassis means that the wheelbase on the off side of the car is some 2 in. longer than that on the near side!

The chassis is a platform type made up from two box-section side-members with three cross-members and a sheet metal floor with two separate chassis sections front and rear for the engine and front suspension and the rear suspension respectively.

Renault have endeavoured to keep maintenance and running costs to an absolute minimum. Rubber bushes needing no maintenance are used extensively and those requiring grease are permanently sealed; so your old grease-gun can be thrown away when you buy an R4. Moreover, although the engine is quite naturally water cooled as before, the cooling system is permanently sealed and contains enough anti-freeze to cater for temperatures down to —40˚C. The normal pump, radiator, fan and thermostat are retained, being supplemented by an expansion tank which will accommodate any expansion of the cooling liquid. Renault therefore proudly claim that maintenance on the R4 is confined to changing the engine oil every 3,000 miles. changing the gearbox/differential oil every 6,000 miles, and the routine checking of brake fluid, battery level and tyre pressures. They also claim that, with the engine having wet liners, overhauls will be cheaper, while the simple body is attached to the chassis by only 16 bolts, reducing body repair time to a minimum.

For us to sample these technical tit-bits Robert Sicot, the Renault Press Chief, had laid out a 180-mile route covering most types of terrain from straight, smooth English-type roads to rough, rutted cart tracks, and a special test circuit which was nothing more than a rock-strewn hillside. Some of the more blasé journalists started out on the test wondering why they had been talked into driving this ugly-duckling but by the time the lunch stop was reached they were all enthusing over the various qualities of this little machine.

The 4 c.v. engine naturally gives a far greater performance than that provided by the 2 c.v. and the highest of the three speeds appears, to be good for a genuine 65 m.p.h., although we took no figures. The gear-lever has the push-pull action of the 2 c.v. and works well, the 4L model (the de luxe version) having an overgrown table tennis ball for the driver to grasp instead of the bent piece of metal in the R4. With only three speeds there is rather a large gap between second and top but the engine does not object to being taken regularly to valve bounce in second. The noise level is commendably low although some buzzing is transmitted from the gearbox.

The suspension of the R4 is an excellent compromise, being firm enough to be enjoyable on main roads and soft enough to absorb the most appalling shocks on rough ground. The ride is generally very good, with little of the floating motion so well-known to 2 c.v. drivers, and corners can be taken very quickly although understeer is present in fairly large quantities and tyre squeal is easily provoked both on the Kleber-Colombes and Dunlop tyres which we sampled, although this can largely be put down to the tyre pressures of 15 p.s.i. front and 18 p.s.i. rear which Renault recommend. The rack-and-pinion steering is not as light as the various British rack-and-pinion layouts but is certainly not heavy, and a centring spring gives a reasonable facsimile of castor return action. When the rough stuff was reached we found that the R4 could be taken over extremely rough going at speed with little deterioration in riding comfort, aided no doubt by the extremely comfortable seats which on first sight look like something from an army surplus store. These tubular steel seats are covered with synthetic foam overlaid on a sprung rubber and fabric base which must he very cheap but at the same time superbly comfortable. Both front and rear seats can be removed quickly for picnics or for carrying goods, there being 17 cu. ft. of luggage space with the four seats in place. and 50 cu. ft. with the rear bench seat removed. Being a 4-door saloon with a top-hinged rear door the rear compartment is cosily accessible from outside. The “ugly duckling” is certainly a great step forward in the provision of a lot of baggage space in a small machine which has every prospect of providing many thousands of trouble-free, maintenance-free miles, miles which will be not at all boring to cover; in fact we enjoyed driving the 4L more than many more outwardly exotic cars. Driving it to its limits over 180 miles, Motor Sport had the distinction of recording the worst fuel consumption of any of the journalists present – 39.6 m.p.g., and we would imagine that most owner/drivers would average 45 m.p.g. without trying to economise. It has its points of criticism; the brakes appear to be marginal under hard use and the driver and passenger tend to bump into each other on the bench seat, and English sensitivity will be alarmed at the functional, nay crude, appearance of some of the controls and the external appearance. Renault are well aware of the British attitude of “keeping up with the Joneses” and this vehicle can hardly be expected to compare with the sleek Farina jobs which reside in suburban garages, but anyone who cares to look below the surface will be in for a pleasant surprise. – M. L. T.

THE D.K.W. JUNIOR 40S – a 741-c.c. Two-Stroke Front-Drive Luxury Small Car

If the new Renault described in the preceding paragraphs is an ideal “peasants’ car,” its ingenious cooling system technically commendable and the rest of the vehicle brilliantly suited to utilitarian motoring on roads rough and smooth, the latest product of Auto Union rates as a luxury small car.

It is common knowledge that the great Daimler-Benz organisation took over Auto Union, their pre-war racing rival, a few years ago. Time was when there were Mercedes-Benz small cars – the rear-engined 1.3-litre 130 of 1934 and 170 of 1948 – but in recent times the famous Stuttgart Company has concentrated on high-quality, dimensionally-large motor cars. It obviously looks to Ingolstadt to supply the small-car market, but there are signs that Mercedes-Benz engineers are taking an increasing interest in these Auto Unions and particularly in the little 741-c.c. D.K.W. Junior.

I am said to be more sympathetic than some people towards modern “lost causes” but the Junior does not fall into this category, so perhaps it is not surprising that I became positively enthusiastic over certain aspects of this 3-cylinder, 68 x 68 mm. front-wheel-drive two-stroke.

The external appearance of this little German saloon is not inspiring, apart from the fact that it is distinctive and “big car,” but once inside the Junior the luxury appointments and quiet running are fully in keeping with Mercedes-Benz standards. The separate front seats are roomy, high-backed and comfortable, and the passenger seat is prevented from folding forward under heavy braking by a simple catch which is released by depressing a knob when passengers wish to enter the back compartment. The back seat is wide and deep but leg room is restricted when the front seats are set fully back. The interior colours clashed on the test car but various combinations are available and the latest Juniors have recessed interior door handles and arm-rests-cum-pulls modelled on those of the Mercedes-Benz 220S, and on the near side the plastic “pull” incorporates a coat-hook. The facia is covered in leather-cloth and carries the instrument cluster before the driver, comprising 80-m.p.h. Vdo speedometer with single milometer (no tenths), fuel gauge and water thermometer. The control knobs, in two sizes, neat white but unlettered, occupy the right of the facia, three neat little vertical quadrants in the centre control heating and fresh-air ventilation, the test car had a good Philips radio in the centre, and there is a drawer-type ash-tray and a small open cubby-hole on the left. There are no door pockets, but the usual back shelf.

The wheel arches bias the pedals to the left although not uncomfortably so, but clutch and brake pedals are small and high up from the floor. The steering-column gear-lever extends from the left of the column (I am writing of a r.h.d. car) and moves with extreme lightness but with rather excessive movements, to select the four forward gears, all having synchromesh. Reverse is easily selected by depressing the lever and pushing it towards the 1st. gear location. In 3rd gear the lever extends almost vertically but if this is disliked an adjustment can be made to the linkage to drop it downwards to a more normal position. The lateral movement is small and occasionally I found myself in an unintended cog, as I do sooner or later with all but the most precise gear-levers of this kind, but on the whole the rapid changes so lightly effected on the D.K.W. Junior are most commendable and the gears are really quiet.

A shorter stalk above the gear-lever flashes the headlamps when moved downwards, and dims the full beam when moved upwards if the headlamps have been switched on. A matching lever on the right controls the flashers, which have to be manually cancelled.

The horn-button is in the centre of a steering wheel that is unusual inasmuch as it is deliberately made oval to enable fat stomachs to slide beneath it, and the hand-brake is set between the seats.

Perhaps one of the nicest aspects of the D.K.W. Junior is its effortless output of strikingly willing performance. The triple-cylinder water-cooled two-stroke engine pushes out 34 b.h.p. at 4,300 r.p.m. with turbine-like smoothness and only resorts to two-stroke whir when taken towards 6,000 r.p.m., a crankshaft speed within safe compass of this “square” engine. When idling only faint two-stroke sounds are evident, but the running becomes faintly snatchy at around 30 m.p.h. in the 3.64-to-1 top gear, calling for a flick into 3rd. At cruising speeds, say 60 or even 70, on the speedometer, there is real luxury silence of running, enhanced by lack of body rattle or road-noise from the 5.20 x 12 Firestone “Phoenix” tubeless 4-ply tyres. There are no quarter-windows in the doors but the top front edge of the glass is cut away, enabling fresh air to enter the car with the windows virtually closed, so that noise from this source, too, is absent.

The rather noisy wipers are wired independently of the ignition circuit and are efficient.

The performance, of 0-50 m.p.h. in just over 20 seconds, indicated maxima of 35, 50 and 73 m.p.h. in the gears and a genuine top speed of 73 m.p.h. (when the speedometer goes off the scale), is commendable indeed for a roomy, well-built 4-seater saloon having an engine smaller than that of a pre-war Austin Seven. The effortless step-off in the two lower gears (0-30 m.p.h. in 7 sec.) is extremely useful in traffic, the little car surging quietly and easily past bigger vehicles. The Junior weighed 13 cwt. 1 qtr. empty but ready for the road, with its fuel tank nearly empty, but with radio and Bosch spotlamp. Lubrication involves putting in pint of S.A.E. 40 oil with 5 gallons of petrol but the cost is offset because bore-wear is almost unheard of and commercial-grade petrol can be used. Over a considerable mileage involving much pottering about, restarting and heavy traffic work, wherein a two-stroke does not excel for economy, interspersed with flat-out driving along the very limited length of the Maidstone Motorway, for example, overall consumption was 34 1/2 m.p.g. An average range on a tankful to completely empty was 222 miles.

The rack-and-pinion steering (2,1 turns, lock-to-lock) is notably light and smooth, with powerful self-centring action and no f.w.d. shortcomings, and although the suspension is very supple, corners can be taken far faster than this suggests on first acquaintance. The ride is very comfortable, if inclined to be wallowy. On wet roads the adhesion might be described as uncanny. The usual f.w.d. understeer changes conveniently to oversteer on lifting off on the accelerator. There is no kick-back but slight vibration is transmitted on bad roads. The column is lockable with the ignition key. Altogether, therefore, the D.K.W. Junior justifies my initial description of it as a luxury small car. The finish is of notably high quality, there is a roomy rear boot in which suitcases rest securely on a rubber matting, the spare wheel (with tools, jack and winter radiator muffs) being stowed vertically on the right. On English Juniors the interior decor is neatly offset with unpolished wood fillets and plated beading on doors and facia and the headlining is light and smart. The windows are well sealed, the door locks function well, the mirror gives a useful view and the door keeps are efficient. The Hella headlamps give an excellent beam. Visibility from within is excellent, the short bonnet dropping smartly between the headlamp channels. The brakes, with big inboard ribbed drums at the front, reminiscent of Mercedes-Benz racing practice, are so powerful that care has to be taken to correct tail slides in emergency stops when the car is lightly loaded; the hand-brake provides real retardation.

It is interesting to find a very comprehensive stock of every conceivable spare part held at Auto Union’s Great West Road premises, which is combined with this strategically-placed Mercedes-Benz. depot, which Thomas Tilling controls in this country. They even have a few spares, such as crankshafts, etc., for pre-war 2-cylinder D.K.W.’s, and replacements are surprisingly inexpensive, a Junior front wing, for instance, being replaceable for little more than £8. Low insurance rates are being sought, in keeping with the Junior’s low repair charges.

While it can be said that at prevailing prices in this country the D.K.W. junior must appeal chiefly to enthusiasts for two-stroke engines and front-drive, there. is no denying that this smallest Auto Union is selling strongly in Europe and as a luxury small car will be a powerful competitor of British products in the Common Market. It will soon be produced at the rate of 400 per day.

It is interesting to see a coil for each cylinder over the dynamo above the light-alloy head of the Junior’s engine, and Auto Union will point out proudly that this is thus a true “seven moving parts” two-stroke, unlike the Saab engine with its drive for an ignition distributor and a more complicated lubrication system. It is also a tribute to the strength of the gearbox that when converted into a potent racing saloon by substitution of the Auto Union 1000 engine with twin-choke Solex carburetter, larger radiator and underslung rear axle beam, the Junior retains its standard transmission. It is a small car designed very much with what “Mr. Average Motorist” wants and I became a convert after more than 1,000 entirely trouble-free miles in this willing and so restful Mercedes-Benz-sponsored 741-c.c. saloon, the quiet running of which is outstanding. The lack of noise would alone “sell me” on a D.K.W. junior, which costs here just under £800, inclusive of p.t., or £823 9s. 7d. in de luxe 40S form. – W. B.

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