Road impressions of the new Daimler Dounbe Six, the Alfa Romeo 2000 and the Fiat 128 SL Coupe

It was evident, when Jaguar announced their new V12 5.3-litre engine and installed it in their well-established E-type sports-car, that it was destined to power the XJ6 saloon. This duly came about last July, although the British Jaguar workers did their best, aided by pickets, to sabotage it by preventing completed cars leaving the works and depots, so that the intention of having the new car in dealers’ showrooms on the day of its public debut was defeated and it was even difficult to get Press cars out onto the road so that reports could be written about them.

By the industry and conscientiousness of Andrew Whyte, Jaguar’s Public Relations Chief, however, I was able to assess this important new-model by spending a day with him in the Daimler version, which nostalgically takes the type-name of those equally refined but far more staid vee-twelve Daimlers which first appeared 45 years ago, namely the Double-Six. I did this before the release-date of the car but kept the name a secret, as I was asked to, unlike the Historian of the Daimler and Lanchester OC and Autocar. Basically the engine, that very tine piece of engineering evolved by Harry Munday and Walter Hassan, is the same as in the V12 E-type, which Motor Sport described and illustrated comprehensively in April 1971. To accommodate it in the shallow bonnet-space of the XJ body-shell the experienced Jaguar engineers were faced with fresh problems. Problems arise to be overcome and the necessary alterations to cooling and lubrication systems enabled the 60 deg. 90 x 70mm, 5,343,c.c. power pack, with its emission equipment, component and air-conditioning pump, etc. to fit tightly but neatly into the car. The E-type’s oil-to-water heat exchanger has given way to normal oil-radiators consisting of a couple of Clayton Still tubes ahead of the water radiator and the cooling system has been considerably revised. A Marston Superpak 1 radiator with cross-flow feed is used, behind which are two fans, an engine-driven 17 in. steel-blader cut out at 1,700 r.p.m. by a Holset viscous coupling, supplemented by a four-bladed Polypropylene Airscrew Weyroc fan driven by a Bosch electric motor which an Otter switch brings in when water temperature reaches 90 deg.C and cuts out at 86 deg. C, this fan being switched in permanently if air-conditioning is fitted and switched on. Another small electric fan serves to send cool air round the battery when temperature gets as high as 55 deg.C. The fuel system has been revised but twin fuel tanks, now of ten gallons capacity each, are retained, feed being by two SU pumps. The electrical supply is looked alter by a Lucas 20ACR alternator and there are detail revisions to the exhaust system, always a complex item on twelve-cylinder engines. To cope with an increase in engine weight of some 80 lb. and 123 lb. an extra taken by the front wheels, the front spring rate has been altered and the E-type’s ventilated front brake discs are used, with special provision for preventing the back wheels from locking up. Those excellent Le Mans-bred anti-aquaplaning Dunlop nylon carcass 205 70 VR15 SP Sport tyres with a new steel-breaker are fitted.

That summarises the technical thoroughness with which the long awaited Jaguar V12 saloon, which also has some minor but acceptable internal changes, was engineered. The Daimler Double-Six version which I drove reflects the same extra-ordinary value-for-outlay, at £3,848.89, of which the Coventry Company has been noted since pre-War times, the basic cost of an XJ12 being, indeed, only £3,082. This must make other manufacturers of top luxury airs think, furiously!

It is difficult to convey the way in which a modern Daimler Double-Six drives you, rather than the person behind its steering wheel having to make any conscious effort to control it. The power steering at first feels too light but within ten miles it seemed to me entirely acceptable. The power, 265 (net) b.h.p. from an engine which can be run up to 6,500 r.p.m., is such that the Borg Warner transmission can profitably be left in “D” all day. It is provided with the customary holds in bottom and second gear, selected by light, very short movements of the central control toggle-lever, which I did not find notchy as some drivers have. But to all intents and purposes this Daimler is a “D”-drive proposition, from a whispering crawl to a quiet 140 m.p.h. or thereabouts. I had no chance to put a watch on it but can well believe that it goes from 0-60 m.p.h. in the 7.60 sec. Jaguar’s claim, going on to an entirely effortless 100 m.p.h. in less than 20 sec. The acceleration is certainly enormously impressive, and essentially useable, the rear wheels giving a yelp if the power is turned on from a standstill. This is a car in which 100 m.p.h. is safely possible along what would be 80 m.p.h. stretches in most other cars, and the impressiveness of the pick-up really only begins from 100 m.p.h.! The cornering and braking are in keeping, ventilation not quite perfect, so that one tends to play with the electric windows on hot days, and I confess I find this car dull to drive—it is just near-silent luxury transport in this country but as a Continent-consumer it should be a thoroughly exciting proposition. The ride is very good, the leather upholstery most acceptable, and the Clubroom air of refinement as typically Jaguar/Daimler as ever. The sense of hush even when using much of the vast flow of smooth power which is on tap, is impressive, even the big tyres not materially intruding on it, and one’s ever-present thought while trying this most impressive of new cars, the world’s only four-door 12-cylinder production car as Jaguar has it, is that the unique Company, the branch of British Leyland which one still thinks of as Sir William Lyon’s own, has done it again, or more aptly, has continued the tradition of beating the opposition at an unbelievable price to the customer, on which Jaguar fortunes were built up. The only way in which you pay for this 5.3-litre V12 silent performance is, I suppose, in petrol thirst, which will probably be found to range from under ten to perhaps as low as 16 m.p.g., depending on how much of a hurry you are in. As a prestige possession for Jaguar people this latest multi-cylinder model is unbeatable; it is recognisable by the new radiator grille and V12 badges. Self-preservationists will be glad to know that Jaguar list 30 items as contributing to the car’s safety.

During the time when I drove the significant new Daimler I was taking re-acquaintance with a make which I am always happy to test, an Alfa Romeo, this time in the form of the new 2000 saloon. This is really the old 1750 which I knew and liked so well, with an enlarged four cylinder light-alloy twin-cam engine of 84 x 88.5 mm. (1.962 c.c.) giving 150 (gross) b.h.p. at a modest 5,500 r.p.m., which has lifted this vivacious saloon’s top speed to 115 m.p.h. and enabled it to claim the excellent 0-60 m.p.h. acceleration time of nine seconds. In other words, this always quick, compact closed Alfa now really gets up and goes.

It has other charms far beyond timed speed and pick-up, however, in specification and detail it is the same rather-dated car as the 1750, even to mild dislikes such as the close proximity of the ignition-key to the steering column, the hand brake which needs a good tug to make it hold on a hill, the too-quickly self-cancelling direction-indicators, the lack of door “keeps”, the too thick and slippery steering wheel rim which comes too close to the driver’s thighs, screen washers operated by foot which spray only the centre of the screen and do not enable intermittent wiping to be accomplished with conservation of the washer liquid, and a narrow body shell which necessitates humping luggage up into the spacious boot and the appearance of which Robert Glenton of the Sunday Express rudely described as somewhere between a telephone kiosk and Mr. Reginald Maudling.

However, all this is fairly easily forgiven because of the willingness, one might almost say enthusiasm, with which this dimensionally-small Alfa Romeo performs. It has a smooth and responsive engine, that smooth and precise, if rather heavy, gear change for the famous five-speed gearbox that provides a ratio for every situation (it was especially enjoyable over the Abergwesyn-Tregaron mountain road, which the road improvers have not yet ruined from the aspect of driving fun) and the revised suspension gives a firm and rather lurchy but very comfortable bad-road ride, the former Alfa Romeo wallow not being allowed to develop. This, in conjunction with accurate recirculating-ball steering, makes this Italian saloon one of the most secure-feeling cars I know when it comes to poking it rapidly through narrowing traffic gaps.

It is essentially a lively car, emphasised by the crisp exhaust note and a shrill whine at certain speeds which emanates from the transmission or back axle and is not confined to the geared-up fifth speed. The racing-type engine comes to life at about 2,000 r.p.m. and there is a reassuring 80 lb./sq. in. oil-pressure at speed, when, in hot weather, water heat stays at just over 175 deg.F. The steering is smooth but heavy and the turning circle is poor. The all-disc servo brakes are a match for the performance. In brief, this Alfa is as much fun as ever, fun now enhanced by some very real performance.

I do not like the re-styled Veglia instruments, each of which, apart from the clock, incorporates the Alfa badge. The tachometer which incorporates the oil-gauge and the speedometer with additional k.p.h. calibrations are big dials before the driver, with thermometer, fuel gauge and clock with seconds’ hand as small dials in the centre of the panel. A sensibly-sized lockable cubby-hole. l.h. under-facia shelf and an open well on the console are provided, the tiny switches for fan and wipers being on this wood-simulated console with the heater controls and ash-tray. Seats and interior are cloth upholstered, which will not appeal to those who own motoring dogs; the front seat squabs fold down, bed-fashion. The pedals are bottom-hinged and too upright for some drivers but the comfort of the seat-shape and the power of the new facia fresh-air vents cannot be criticised. Warning lights, eight of them, are neatly accommodated in a panel between the main instruments and the vague fuel gauge has its own discreet warning light. Fuel thirst averaged out to 24.4 m.p.h. of 4-star, and no oil was needed in more than 1,300 miles’ motoring. The dip-stick is blanked by the distributor and difficult to read and the release for the front-hinged, prop-up bonnet panel is on the “wrong” side of the car. A pleasing new styling feature is the deletion of wheel nave-plates, the four wheel retaining nuts on each wheel being fully exposed. There are some nice mechanical items, such as metal presses for the rather sordid-sounding horn on each of the three steering-wheel spokes, a somewhat insensitive hand-throttle on the facia adjacent to the lift-out choke control, and a screw-threaded fuel filler cap.

This Pirelli Cinturato-shod bigger-engined Alfa Romeo is rather expensive, at over £2,000, but acquired tastes often are, and it has a heated back window, limited-slip differential and small front-seat head restraints as standard. It remains an endearing motorcar, now capable of over 90 m.p.h. in direct top gear, but in basis conception it has been with us for a long time, so it is understable that the Milanese manufacturer should have recently introduced the de-Dion-rear-end Alfetta, apart from the little f.w.d. Alla-Suti of which I hear good reports.

Last month I was also able to try briefly the Fiat 128SL coupé with the 1300 engine. This means that a maximum of 75 b.h.p. is taken through Fiat’s well-established front-drive layout, the bored-out (86 x 55.5 mm., 1,290-c.c.) transverse engine having an o.h.-camshaft driven by toothed belt and its cooling aided by an electric fan. The body is a close-fitting, two-door fast-back with limited rearward vision, so that I feel the better policy is to install the hotter power pack in a normal saloon, as Ford do with Escorts and Cortinas. However, the Fiat’s appearance attracts attention. At first, having exchanged the beloved BMW for this little package, I thought it cramped and its brakes spongy, and the engine worried me in traffic jams by hunting at idling revs, although in August heat these stayed around 1,000 per min.

Away front the traffic the little Fiat got along remarkably well, its engine showing equal unconcern at pulling away front low speeds in top gear or revolving smoothly at up to 6,500 r.p.m. It has plenty in hand cruising the car at 70 m.p.h. and top pace is fractionally under 100 m.p.h., with 74 available in 3rd gear, and there is surprisingly good pick-up as the twin-choke Weber 32DMTR20 is opened up. In a cloudburst along the M40 the Fiat was unperturbed and as stable as only f.w.d. cars can be on such surfaces, the rack-and-pinion steering taut, but I would have liked a faster wiper action. The gear-change is nice, except that first gear often baulks, but the seats, with nonadjustable squabs, were hard and uncomfortable. Plenty of fresh air can be induced into the body, the boot is capacious for a small car and there are the usual, sometimes confusing, Fiat triple-stalk controls, a tachometer (red from 6.750 r.p.m.) and speedometer flanked by thermometer and fuel gauge, all hooded, and stowage confined to a rather restricted shelf, an open well by the stubby gear-lever, and on the moulded facia and rear window sills. The ride is good, wind noise commendably low, but the pedals are biased to the left. The Pirelli Cinturato-shod wheels each have four fashionably-exposed retaining nuts. The Fiat 128 Sport coupé, as it is usually called, is nicely appointed, with a really small leather-grip steering wheel. The price is £1,399 — W. B.