Earlier this year Ford-of-Britain announced with a powerful build-up a revised edition of the long-lived, popular and successful Escort and Vauxhall Ltd. brought out its new Chevette small-car, based on Viva components. Both were dealt with in these pages at the time, but I have since tested these cars over British roads, allowing a comparison.
Ford found me an Escort at short notice— an 1,100 c.c., or 1.1 L. Vauxhall shifted schedules for my convenience and produced a three-door Chevette L without having serviced it as thoroughly as they wished.
Both Escort and Chevette are very useful family cars, at a time when the economic crisis calls for economy but has not yet sunk to quite the state where we shall all have to run Fiat 126s or Citroen CVs. I sampled the Ford first. After bigger and more powerful cars it felt horribly gutless but I grew to like it and it served me well for more than 700 miles, of which 351 were accomplished on a tankful of fuel. In appearance the Escort has been made to look outwardly more ordinary than its predecessors but within it is more habitable. The seats are notably comfortable for a modest-cost car, the instrumentation is very easy to read, and triple stalks, as on a Fiat, control the various services. The short r.h. one for the lamps is apt to be moved upwards inadvertently, putting on the sidelamps in daylight. It was confusing that whereas the turn-indicators were operated by a r.h. stalk on the Escort, on the Chevette this was done with the I.h. stalk, so that I wiped the screen for a time before making a turn.
The ride may have been smoothed out compared to the bucking progress of the old Escort. But I thought there was still room for improvement here, in the New Escort, especially when I got off the main highways. The back-axle still tries to escape, over rough going. The car may have been made quieter but at 70 m.p.h. the engine emits a hunting note that I could have done without. As expected, there was not much performance from this 1.1-litre version and as there was no indication to the contrary I fed it four-star petrol, which it consumed sparingly, at 38.2 m.p.g. The two-door body tended to he rattly and “tinny”, but one sat comfortably, big knobs setting the front-seat squabs to the required angle. Internal stowage was confined to a parcel shelf in front. Demisting was effective, a good Ford radio was fitted, and I liked the improved internal decor.
The Escort had a terribly fierce cable-operated clutch, although once this was recognised smooth starts were possible. The brakes felt spongy but were effective, and there was that splendid all-synchromesh Ford gearbox. The steering was light but it had a sticky action around the straight-ahead position. I grew to regard this New Escort as a good workhorse and I feel that for those who prefer the old-style front-engined type of small car to the newer sardine-tin kind of package with the power-pack set like a fireplace in front of them, the Ford will find a ready market. The version I tried, since replaced by the £1,299 Popular version, cost £1,529. It had Michelin tyres and used no oil.
The Vauxhall Chevette has the merit of a convenient third door and conversion into an estate car when required, but there is not much headroom in the back compartment. It was naturally more lively than the Escort, with the extra 158 c.c, in its engine, which, like the Ford’s, is the iron push-rod package which has been a stable formula for all mass-production manufacturers for many decades. It can get quite noisy if revved. There is a good gearbox, but it hasn’t quite the seductive smoothness of the Ford box. The seats are flat-formed and rather small. Neither car had a vanity mirror for m’lady. Vauxhall have styled the Chevette nicely, with a low roof line and the Firenza-droop-snoot-nose.
To say the Chevette corners almost like an Alfasud is being unduly kind to Luton and not quite fair to Milan, but served to remind me how competitively priced the much superior Alfa Romeo is! The Chevette has smaller instruments than the Escort, with rather horrid, though easily-read, yellow needles. It has a clock which the Escort hasn’t but as this didn’t work for long that was no advantage. There is again only an under-facia storage-shelf, in this case on the n/s only. The throttle on the Chevette had a nasty tendency to want to remain wide open at times. Its engine was not as flexible as the Escort’s, needing 3rd gear in built-up areas, and there was muffled-pinking on 4-star fuel. The boot of the Escort and the lift-up tailgate of the Chevette are self-locking. Both bonnets required propping open, the Chevette’s prop awkward to stow, and the Escort’s bonnet-release is on the wrong side for an r.h.d. car, With the ventilation turned off there was an irritating whistle. Like the Escort, the Chevette was on Michelin tyres, but it scored by having disc/drum braking, which were nicely progressive. The steering is fairly light but the clutch as fierce as the Escort’s. In handling the Lutonian has the edge over the Escort and is more spacious within, but the suspension sets up drastic body-shake over unmade roads. It gave 37.1 m.p.g. and consumed a pint of oil, after 1,300 miles. The range on a tankful of fuel should he around 297 miles. It attracted much favourable attention and will surely be a sales winner. I expect “hot” versions will be arriving any minute; Ford already have Escort Sport and Ghia models in production. As tested, the Chevette cost £1,650. Which to choose? It is a close-run thing, so a trial drive seems the best way of deciding, but the New Escort would carry my money.—W.B.