The Editor revives his enthusiasm for the Volkswagen by driving the VW 1500 estate car for 2,000 miles, finds the Peugeot 404L 7/8-seater family saloon an exceedingly useful and highly desirable car, and refreshes his memory of the two-stroke Saab.
This series, like Richmal Crompton’s William books of my boyhood, seems to go on and on, in an endeavour, which Motor Sport has pursued under various headings for many years, to give impressions of variants of cars of which full road-test reports have been published previously and of cars of which insufficient experience has been gained to justify a more detailed report or which, for other reasons, seem more fitted to a comparatively brief appraisal rather than several thousand words of analysis.
The first car to come up for such treatment this month is the Volkswagen 1500 Estate Car, in which I was able to revive the enthusiasm I have long felt for the products of Wolfsburg by driving it for an appreciable mileage and really making it work for its living. My one-time unconcealed appreciation of the VW (which has persuaded so many Motor Sport readers to purchase these cars, usually without any regrets, and has upset a number of patriots who consider that I had no right to accord so much praise to a foreign product, no matter how good) was nurtured some half-a-dozen years ago, when British cars were not anything like so sound, so interesting or so ambitiously designed as is the case today.
Since the Editorial VW went the way of all metal, I have used B.M.C. cars exclusively for official motoring and although during this time I have on far more than isolated occasions had reason to wish myself back in a VW, I had in recent times thought of the Wolfsburg wonder as dependable, comfortable, extremely pleasant, good fun to drive, and superbly finished, but somewhat sluggish, out-dated and unable to rush its corners like the Mini Minor I exchanged it for.
This impression persisted when I made the once-so-familiar journey to Lord’s Court to collect the road-test VW 1500 Estate Car, or VW Variant as the magnificently-produced colour catalogue has it, to distinguish it from the saloon 1500. The fact is that in traffic the clutch and brake pedals are in continual use and the position of those in a VW makes them tiring to operate. As I crawled through traffic-infested Marylebone Road, Bayswater and Holland Park in making my escape to Hampshire it occurred to me that protagonists of automatic transmission are probably influenced as much by having no clutch to control in heavy traffic as by automatic selection of the gears….
The VW 1500 needed lots of work with the gear-lever, had nothing very elaborate in the way of instrumentation, the steering, though quite commendably light, had none of the finger-and-thumb lightness that so delighted me in the 1955 VW 1200 I used to drive (indeed, the front wheels of a Morris 1100 turn more easily, in spite of being coupled to driving-shafts!), and acceleration wasn’t anything to feel particularly pleased about (in sober fact, 0-50 m.p.h. in approximately 15 sec., 0-60 in 22 sec., the tell-tale s.s. 1/4-mile occupying the same time as rest to mile-a-minute step-off.
I was irritated that a car which, in this country, due to the import duty that protects the products of the British Motor Industry from foreign invaders, costs, with p.t. £977 10s. in Estate Car form (or £997 8s. 9d. in heavy-pay-load form) had not been fully converted for r.h.d., by which I mean that the interior lamp and bonnet release knob had not been moved to the driver’s side. The front bonnet needed a hefty slam to make it stay shut and, mindful of how the bonnet broke its safety catch and blew up on a very early 1500 I was sampling, this worried me. The wipers left a blind spot on the right-hand side of the screen. The appearance was neat and entirely unobtrusive, but not exactly inspiring. My VW days are over and no regrets. I thought.
The next day I (or rather my wife) loaded the car full of household equipment and bade me hurry it 165 miles to a week-end party. The weight was really formidable but the VW 1500 took it in its high-geared, generous-tyred, torsion-bar-sprung stride. The brakes pulled a bit and felt as if descent of an Alp might make them fade, but remained effective, nevertheless.
For a week I used the VW as matter-of-fact transport, noting only the more obviously apparent items. Then I got down to testing it seriously, and the excellence of this unobtrusive 1,493 c.c. all-purpose car stood out clearly and irrepressibly.
I realised that the VW 1200 built up such a reputation that the VW 1500 is expected to be quite impossibly perfect, and that the keen anticipation with which it was awaited automatically tended to a certain disappointment when test figures-were published. When I wrote the full Motor Sport road-test of the VW 1500 saloon (issue dated May, 1962) I was enthusiastic, but perhaps not wildly so.
Now, able to assess the larger of the Volkswagen models in a more unbiased state of mind, I recognise that it is a very good motor-car indeed, incorporating all, or almost all, the good features of the smaller VW, with more performance, improved handling characteristics and greater refinement. It is not intended as a super car, a paragon among automobiles, so much as a thoroughly dependable, quality-finished product that will go on serving its owner day after day, year after year, with the assurance that it will start and keep going effortlessly and predictably, which are the factors on which the Wolfsburg reputation is based.
Judged like that, the VW 1500 cannot fail to appeal. Its air-cooled, flat-four 83 x 69 mm. (yes, really!) engine, so cleverly buried under the rear floor (see accompanying drawing), develops 45 (net) b.h.p. (53 S.A.E. b.h.p.) at a comfortable 4,000 r.p.m., on the modest c.r. of 7.8 to 1, and contrives to pull a 3.67 to 1 top gear. Because of its sober crankshaft speed the beautifully engineered and constructed power unit hardly ever needs attention, or uses any oil. If you do want to inspect this ingeniously compact power unit the cover over it is released by operating the “Auf” and “Zu” catches, and the electrical components, Solex 32 PHN-1 side-draught carburetter and air-cleaner are then rendered accessible. The oil-filler-cum-dip-stick could not be more accessible, being immediately seen, and clearly labelled, as soon as the tailgate is raised, with no need to open the engine hatch cover.
The VW 1500 Estate Car was described by one of my friends as a shooting brake for those who don’t go shooting. By this he implied that it is nicely made, perhaps not quite so roomy as some, the sort of vehicle for filling with household effects rather than gun-dogs and carcases. Nevertheless, it is an entirely practical vehicle, providing a platform of 42 1/2 in. x 48 in., or 19 1/2 sq. ft. with the back seat in use; a space of 65 3/4 in. x 48 in., or 19 1/2 sq. ft with it folded. The tail-gate, which is lockable, rises automatically after the initial lift, and stays up under the influence of a torsion-bar, giving protection from rain to the loader. The floor may be slightly higher than on some similar-bodied cars, but there is a flat-floor, sensibly covered with rubber matting.
The under-floor power unit has one disadvantage, it transmits quite a lot of heat to the hatch cover, enough to turn butter rancid or melt it even when it was in an insulated container. Housewives and picnickers should take heed and carry perishable foodstuffs up front!
The body, admittedly, possesses but two side doors, but entry to the back seat is reasonably easy and the front-seat backs lock automatically when the doors are shut. This back seat folds down firmly and easily when the full platform space is required.
The VW 1500 Estate Car in fact swallows a fine amount of luggage (see photograph) and, when full, there is still the very considerable front luggage space, 6 1/2 cu. ft. of it, for the family suitcases, squig bags and raincoats! The petrol filler and spare wheel are safe when the front bonnet is shut and the car locked.
Naturally, coat hooks are provided, excellently-contrived safety-belts, locking onto a plated metal hoop bolted to the transmission tunnel, were fitted on the test-car, and the clever twin-lever interior door-handles-cum-locks are beautifully made and, like all VW minor controls, function impeccably. The doors also have splendidly contrived shallow arm-rests-cum-most-conveniently-formed moulded “pulls.”
The controls I described fully when writing-up the VW 1500 saloon. Suffice it to remark that there is absolutely nothing flamboyant or superfluous about the interior of any VW. The metal facia is quality-painted, the black-matt facia sill nicely formed, the low-set steering wheel with its half-horn-ring pleasant to hold and to look upon.
The three hooded Vdo dials (clock, speedometer with total but no decimal mileometer, and fuel-gauge-cum-warning lights), are simple but effective. There is a clearly-indicated fuel reserve area on the fuel-gauge dial which the needle shows accurately, providing for approximately 32 miles’ motoring. The r.h. press-buttons for wipers, washers, side and headlamps, are small, neat but rather “fumbly” at night. Horizontal knurled dials provide for variation of instrument lighting and wiper speed. The screen pillars are rather thick. The 1/4-lights have rain gutters, the door winders wind nicely, the side windows act as vents, and there is a Ford-style roof lamp, with courtesy action. The rear-view mirror is excellent, and really effective vision is provided by the o/s external mirror. The seats are of the usual generous VW dimensions, comfortable, but very hard. The squab angle is adjustable by rather stiff side knobs although the backs do not fold down to form beds. The doors shut with quiet precision.
I never did get accustomed to the high-set pedals, the treadle accelerator biased to the left to clear the front wheel-arch, and blame them for the pain I noticed in my right leg while I was in possession of the car—has anyone any comment, or must I attribute it, in fact, to old age and a damp summer?
The fresh-air ventilation system, with three single facia controls, is good, although more air blown on the face would be welcome at times. The blue spots for identification of these and the red spots on the floor knob that controls a very effective heater, with front and rear compartment floor ducts, is typical of the unobtrusive quality-finish of VW interior appointments.
On the road this VW gets along so unobtrusively (a word it is difficult not to over-apply where the Wolfburg product is concerned!) that it can be misjudged as sluggish. Acceleration isn’t brilliant but the engine will wind up to 68 in 3rd gear and top gear gives a genuine maximum of 82 m.p.h., with more to come along an autobahn or Motorway, when the speedometer can be wound up to beyond 90 m.p.h., a real speed of 84 m.p.h. or more. Modestly, the makers settle for a cruising/maximum speed of 78 m.p.h.! All this is done quietly and effortlessly, the engine noisy to by-standers but all but inaudible within the car, especially if the fresh-air vents and windows are closed. The quietness of the indirect gears contributes to this peaceful motoring. The gear change is superb—light, smooth and quick, but perhaps not quite so decisive from 3rd to 2nd as on the VW 1200. There is synchromesh on all four forward gears but a crunch can be caused if the clutch isn’t fully depressed. Reverse is extremely easy to select, in common with the forward ratios. The gear change is in frequent use, on account of the high gearing, the ratios being 15.67, 8.50, 5.44 and 3.67 to 1.
The steering is high-geared, smooth and light, and transmits not so much return-action as a typical rocking feel over bad roads as it pulls against the hydraulic damper. The clutch needs care for starting if some mild judder is to be avoided. I was never quite happy about the brakes yet never made them fade seriously. But they felt hard, ready to fade, and were too sudden—the fact is they needed adjustment, the pedal going down rather far. The conventional central floor handbrake lever is substantial, well-finished and beyond criticism—typically VW.
A very good item is the substantial, nicely-placed l.h. stalk for the direction flashers that incorporates on its underside the switch for daylight headlamps’ signalling, or dipping at night. The action is excellent; like the foot-controlled wipers button on the Fiat 1500, I could almost buy a VW 1500 for this feature alone! The facia contains an unlockable cubby-hole of reasonable but not remarkable size, above which is a rather shaky moulded hand-grip. There arc useful elastic-topped pockets in the doors.
The outstanding items which helped to endear the smaller VW to its adherents are found in the VW i500—the sensible size 6.00 x 15 6-ply tyres (Continental “Schlauchlos” tubeless on the test car), the big 8.8-gallon fuel tank, providing a total range of 234 miles, the low engine speed which makes for small oil thirst and long life—peak revs. are only 3,860, at which r.p.m. piston speed is only 1,720 ft. per min., and 3,000 r.p.m. in top gear equals 62 m.p.h. These factors, coupled with the well-known service facilities, fine finish (four coats of synthetic enamel) and long life are what make the VW 1500 a unique proposition, rather than jazzy appearance or sheer performance.
The suspension gives a very good, slightly lively but notably level ride, and is unaffected by enormous loads. The old excessive oversteer bogy (largely imaginary anyway) has gone entirely. I even felt a trace of understeer at times. Using normal good-quality fuel (although mixture-grade was acceptable) I got an average of 31 m.p.g. inclusive of London traffic, long-distance fast cruising and much heavy haulage work. Oil consumption? Checked after 1,500 miles the level had dropped by barely 1/2-a-pint. The sump only needs draining and refilling at 3,000 mile intervals and is then satisfied with less than 4 1/2 pints of oil.
There was an occasional tendency to stall. Starting can be mildly troublesome when the engine is hot, but the automatic choke functioned entirely satisfactorily from cold.
The low oil consumption is, again, typically Volkswagen, much appreciated if only as evidence of careful engine assembly. The bodywork’s freedom from rattles is another recommendation along these lines. A minor, but discerning, feature is the sensibly high location of the front number plate and, of course, the doors seal perfectly against rain and dust. Ground clearance is such that one can motor over fields and unsurfaced places with impunity, aided by the good rear-wheel grip.
Unusual aspects, apart from the highly ingenious engine, are the perhaps not entirely necessary air-pressurised screen washers and the availability of two suspension variants on the Estate Car, providing for payloads of 827 lb. or 1,013 lb., respectively. Eight chassis points need greasing every 3,000 miles. There is no starting handle; the Bosch-Hella electrics are 6-volt.
I am genuinely convinced that the VW 1500 is the answer to the many people who are fed up with gimmicky, shoddy modern cars. There—I’ve become a Wolfsburg disciple again; for better or for worse, cancelled subscriptions by irate patriots or not, I feel compelled to give this honest (if dull by some standards) car my blessing. When I returned it, it was running as well as ever except for a squeak, characteristic I believe, from its clutch pedal. The oil level was at the correct mark on the dipstick—that 1/2-pint had sufficed for the 2,064 miles covered.
Exactly two years ago I reported in enthusiastic terms about the Peugeot 404 saloon, and last year expounded on the practicability of the Peugeot 403 Station Wagon. The next car to come along for appraisal after the VW 1500 Estate Car was that highly individualistic vehicle, the Peugeot 404L Family Saloon.
The VW and this Peugeot have several things in common—high gearing, spacious luggage accommodation and an essential honesty of engineering and construction. I am immensely enthusiastic about this ingenious 7/8-seater Peugeot because there is no other car quite like it and for carrying capacity allied to conventional saloon-car layout there is but one European car that in any way resembles it, the Citroën Safari, which I have yet to test.
French logic argues that the ordinary saloon is only just big enough for the average family of five or six, leaving no accommodation for friends or relations. In the Peugeot 404L Family Saloon there are two separate front seats which will accommodate two or three people, a bench seat with central folding arm-rest behind that to carry another three passengers, and behind that again, another bench seat which will accommodate two persons, sitting higher up, over the back axle, so that their view forward is over the heads of the other occupants. This third seat, its squab normally held in place by two domestic bolts, can be folded to provide almost as much luggage space as the average station wagon (see photograph), while even with the seat in use there is a reasonable baggage well behind it, for piled-up suitcases, the motoring dog, etc.
Access to this third seat is by lifting the central seat after a lever found on either side of it has been used to release the catch that secures it. It is not difficult for the occupants of this back-most seat to release themselves. Access to the other seats is through the doors, as on the saloon.
In fact, this extremely useful Peugeot will seat something like ten people at a pinch—the makers claim that it is suitable for six persons and 440 lb. of luggage or eight people and 110 lb. of luggage.
For anyone requiring commodious family transport, a small station ‘bus, an accommodating hire-car, etc. I can think of nothing better than this so sensibly contrived Peugeot 404L. Even if it paid the penalty of load-carrying by sluggishness, indifferent handling or noise, it would still represent an enormously practical vehicle. In fact, it is a delightful car to drive, and its length and seating capacity are never apparent to those in control of it.
The rack-and-pinion steering is really light and smooth, and the lock is so good (35 ft. turning circle) that parking or turning this 9 ft. 4 in.-wheelbase Peugeot presents no problems. Even with a very heavy load, represented by much luggage and all the seats occupied—the passengers in the rearmost seat seeming astonishingly far away from the driver!-I found that the car could be cornered with ambition and that the unobtrusive Lockheed-actuation ribbed cast-iron/steel drum brakes were entirely adequate. The worst that could happen was the sensation that bad roads were twisting the structure to some extent, but the grip of the 185 x 380 French-made Michelin “X” tyres holds the Peugeot securely to the intended path.
The tax system keeps engine capacity modest in France. This Peugeot 404L. relies on the Type XC four-cylinder 84 x 73 mm. 1,618 c.c. engine. But if this restrictive taxation has encouraged the Peugeot engineers to employ an Alpax alloy head in which the valves are inclined in segmental hemispherical combustion spaces (but operated by push rods from a base-chamber camshaft), so that 65 b.h.p. (72 S.A.E. b.h.p.) is developed at 5,400 r.p.m. on a c.r. of 7.4 to 1, I am all in favour. In other countries the tendency would be towards less-ambitiously-designed iron power units of 2 1/2-3-litres! Peugeot, incidentally, use an 80 mm.-bore version of this engine for their 1,468 c.c. station wagon, which, on a fractionally higher c.r., gives a maximum b.h.p. of 60 at 5,000 r.p.m. Both power units have removable wet cylinder liners.
The only indication that this big vehicle is propelled by a 1.6-litre engine is mild power roar from 50 m.p.h. in top gear, suggesting that an even higher ratio could be pulled, and intimating to the driver that he should change up, or put in overdrive. In fact, Peugeot intend this 4.75 to 1 top gear as an overdrive, although you can run down to 20 m.p.h. in it. The substantial I.h. steering-column gear-lever is arranged with French logic. At first I disliked this gear-change but now I have come to accept it as entirely sensible. Bottom and reverse gears are in the lowest plane, second and third gears in another, to which the lever is spring-loaded, while top is uppermost and forward. Many drivers would disregard bottom except for restarting on steep gradients and use top only for fast cruising, regarding the Peugeot as mainly a two-speed car, content with the 2nd and 3rd gear ratios of 10.64 and 6.84 to 1. The ratios are well-chosen and the indirect gears notably quiet, while the change functions nicely, adding to the pleasure of driving this unique Peugeot. Other details are as for the 404 saloon and do not call for detailed repetition. The big, clear speedometer has separate windows for total and trip with decimal mileometers, and for the water thermometer (calibrated 104, 140, 176 and 212°F, with the needle normally just below the third calibration), fuel gauge, ammeter and clock. There are no 1/4-lights for the door windows, but these open to give a venting effect at their trailing edges, and are supplemented by truly efficient fresh-air vents, with rotary adjustments, at the extremities of the facia sill and a scuttle fresh-air intake. Apart from ventilation controls two knobs suffice, one or screen wipers-cum-washers, the other for the choke on the Solex carburetter.
The driving position is excellent, the big steering wheel low-set and sensibly serrated for grip, the front-seat squabs recline fully to form beds, there is a commendably spacious (if unlockable) cubby-hole and pockets in the front doors, while access to the luggage compartment is by a top-hinged lockable tail gate that stays open automatically.
The doors have sill-locks that pull up for locking, just another item of Peugeot individuality, and the petrol filler is concealed beneath a spring-loaded flap on the near-side rear of the body and accepts a can for refuelling.
I need hardly remind enthusiasts for foreign cars that Peugeot use lots of stainless steel, provide proper inbuilt roof-rack mounting points as if the luggage accommodation inside this Family Saloon isn’t enough, and retain the famous 4-thread worm-drive back axle with its cast-aluminium casing. It is a rigid axle, but at least a lightweight one, decently located by Panhard rod and triangulated torque-arms. The coil-spring suspension gives a very comfortable, fluid ride, and the seats are of generous dimensions, deep, soft, and luxurious.
No separate lamps-flasher is needed on this Peugeot, because a r.h. stalk goes easily from lamps off, through sidelamps-on, to dipped and full headlamps’ beam positions. The direction indicators are operated by a light l.h. stalk above the gear-lever. Four electrical fuses are accessibly located on the scuttle, by the front passenger’s feet.
There is a starting handle, courtesy action of the interior lamp is effected by the front doors even when all the car lighting is off, a full horn-ring operates a two-tone horn, there are pockets in the front doors, the lamps function well, the ignition and steering can be locked by the Neiman steering-column lock, the doors lock easily with two keys for ignition and door-locks, there are dual vizors with vanity mirror and a large ash-tray in the centre of the matt-surface facia sill—that kept jumping out on the test car. The exterior mirror tended to blow out of adjustment at speed and, as I think I once criticised this on a Ford, I had better add that the headlamps are rather crudely inset into the wings so that the seams show. Sliding interior door catches, rigid metal “pulls,” arm rests—all are well contrived, and there are childproof safety locks for the rear doors.
The fuel tank holds 11 gallons, so that I was able to leave S.E. Hampshire, drive to mid-Wales, continue the next day to the Welsh coast, and return, all on a tankful. Indeed, the range was a useful 283 miles, without putting the very last drop into the tank.
This so-spacious Peugeot completely captivated me. It is so essentially practical, without the noise, unusual forward-control driving arrangement and “commercial” appearance of those passenger vans that are the only other way of carrying so many people, so much luggage, in one vehicle. It is an honest car, full of character, which runs and steers with a subtle smooth luxury. Speed is obviously not a primary appeal, yet, when August Bank Holiday was over and I was able to disregard the “universal 5o”, this long, angular 8-seater showed 28 m.p.h. in 1st, 47 m.p.h. in 2nd gear and indicated a furious Marples-horrifying 70 m.p.h. in 3rd gear on its speedometer, which has a very easy-to-observe steady needle (like a piece of twin plastic flex which vanishes from sight when the car is stationary), arcing over the clear dial of a French Jaeger 100 m.p.h. instrument that is illuminated clearly with rheostat-controlled brightness when the sidelamps are put on.
Pottering about under Marplean control fuel consumption averaged 24.8 m.p.g. A long fast run put this to 27.8 m.p.g., an -average of 26.3 m.p.g. of premium petrol. At the end of an entirely enjoyable test I found I had driven this “sporting omnibus” over 800 miles. The clearly and logically calibrated dip-stick then showed that a pint of oil had been consumed.
I must refrain from going on about this particular automobile or I shall be accused of being as pro-French as I am classed in some quarters as pro-German when writing about the Volkswagen. I will content myself by saying that there is nothing like it, or so essentially useful. The bulk of the Peugeot 404L Family Saloon need be no deterrent to its purchase. It costs, in this country, purchase-tax paid, £1,274 2s. 11d. The basic price is but £1,054, which gives some conception of the value provided. The Peugeot Lion badge has every justification for riding proudly on the Farina-styled front-end of this remarkably useful and adaptable car.
By co-incidence, the next car I drove was also a station wagon, in the form of a Firestone-shod four-speed, two-stroke f.w.d. Saab 95B. I have never been a particularly keen Saab advocate but two-stroke fanatics who want a tough car just love them. The 3-cylinder two-cycle engine may be as smooth as a four-stroke six when it is pulling but when idling it vibrates steering wheel and gear lever like a car in a Mack Sennett comedy. This vibration persists when the Saab is going, due to transmission of road shocks through the body structure.
The two-stroke 70 x 73 mm. 841-c.c. engine is a nuisance because oil has to be added with the petrol (a quart per six or eight gallons), whereas Auto-Union now contrive automatic mixing of fuel and lubricant. Although the Saab will consume the least-expensive petrol, this petroil nonsense inflates the cost to that of using the higher octanes, and at the extravagant fuel-thirst associated with a ported two-stroke. A petrol gauge that cannot make up its mind contributes to the fussiness of re-fuelling a Saab, of which one is firmly reminded by a facia transfer reading “Add oil to gasolene when refuelling.”
The engine doesn’t pull the skin off the proverbial milk pudding unless it is revving, so that continual gear-changing is called for. A free-wheel (surely illegal?) is incorporated in the transmission to obviate low-speed snatch, but this calls for smooth throttle action to avoid another kind of snatch as the drive takes up and serves to emphasise what a heavy push the brake pedal needs—the Lockheed drum brakes are powerful enough but insensitive, rather like vintage cable-applied anchors. They proved fade free with eight up over mountain roads, however.
Although the four-speed gearbox is an improvement, the gap between 3rd (7.0 to 1) and 2nd (11.4 to 1) is unfortunate. The body shape May be nicely aerodynamic, but it is narrow and out-dated and the high scuttle precludes seeing very much on the near-side, while the mounting of the mirror on the scuttle sill does nothing to assist vision.
The Saab hasn’t any springs to speak of, although the ride is reasonably flat (but so lively) and the separate front seats, with (stiffly) adjustable squabs, are comfortable in a hard sort of fashion. The statio wagon body tries to ape that of the aforesaid Peugeot 404L, in having three rows of seats when the full luggage space is not in use. With the centre seat folded there is a platform space of 5 ft 4 in. But the two rearmost passengers have to face backwards, with their feet in a well, which may be highly enjoyable to troublesome children who want to make faces at following traffic but which can otherwise only be inflicted on serving-menials! So I regard this Saab 95B as only a very occasional 7-seater (eight at a pinch) and normally it is a 5-seater like most estate cars. The spare wheel lives inaccessibly under the centre seat; there are two doors and a convenient self-supporting tail-gate.
Apparently Saab doesn’t entirely trust the thermostat, which has been with us since vintage times, because water temperature has to be controlled by a blind positioned by an inconveniently long, crude piece of cord.
Performance is nothing phenomenal; although the willing stream of smooth power from the 38 b.h.p. engine gives the impression that acceleration is better than it is. The steering is not outstanding and some snatch from the front-wheel-drive can be felt at low speeds, but the little car certainly rushes round corners, especially for those brave enough to do a Carlsson and bounce it off the banks. There is some roll and a feeling of instability unless the wick is kept burning brightly round the the bends, however, and I prefer a Morris 1100, which you don’t have to bounce off the banks!
With windows shut this is a notably quiet and smooth car except for subdued two-stroke yowl. The steering column gear change functions in a pleasantly seductive manner, quick changes aided by the (lockable) free-wheel and spring-loading aiding the swop from 2nd to 3rd gear. Reverse is quite easy to find, beyond 2nd gear position. The engine starts promptly, warms up very quickly, and feels indestructible.
Good items of the Saab include two good exterior mirrors to supplement a wide interior mirror, unusual forward-hinged door windows that exclude most draughts without recourse to 1/4-llights, hot-air venting to demist these windows, adjustable arm-rests on the doors, scuttle ventilator, a wide but rather shallow lockable cubby hole, door pockets, mud flaps behind the back wheels, an air deflector to keep the tail-gate window clear of mud, soft anti-dazzle vizors, and a row of neat instrument dials for water temperature (uncalibrated), fuel contents (pretty useless), ammeter and clock—the latter has to be hand-wound every eight days, however. There is a clear strip-type speedometer, with a total no-decimal mileometer, and two lidded ash-trays hung on the doors rather as an afterthought. There is rheostat panel lighting, and courtesy action of two interior lamps from both doors and tail-gate.
An ingenious idea is to put the radio in the cubby hole to render it thiefproof but the Motorola set on the car I drove was located normally. The side windows of the rearmost compartment open inwards as air vents and the tail-gate can be opened from inside the car.
Although I quite enjoyed my re-acquaintance with the Saab, which gave me an entirely reliable spell of concentrated two-stroking, and it is a car which has deservedly gained a great reputation on account of its rally victories, it is old-fashioned in so many aspects that it is not worth buying merely because it is foreign—a foreign car is often attractive because it is “different” but it must also show superiority over native products to justify import duty, and the ugly Saab 95B Estate Car is not in this category and is too expensive at £909 4s. 7d.—W. B.
Postscript: After experience of these two multi-seater estate cars the Peugeot 404L and Saab 95B, I shall in future regard any vehicle of this type which does not have three sets of seats to be displaying a ridiculous waste of passenger space.—Ed.