Matters of moment, September 1981

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Confusion

We are glad not to have been assigned the task of writing a layman’s guide to motor racing and high-performance cars, for in those fields confusion reigns. Apart from the legal wrangles that are undermining the validity of F1 racing, especially the problems Colin Chapman has had with his latest GP Lotus-Ford, which we were glad to leave to DSJ to explain, there is the matter of Ford announcing that the next generation of Rally Escorts (the Escort RS Turbo, for 1982) will have rear-wheel-drive, at a time when it is commonly accepted that front-wheel-drive for the smaller cars gives advantages of better slippery-road cornering, more interior space and less-costly manufacturing methods than can be obtained with rear-wheel-drive. 

The ploy is to pull the car along, as a horse, mule, or bullock pulled a wagon. Yet here is Ford, so experienced and successful at International rallying, reverting to the old concept “invented” by Panhard-Levassor, of pushing the car along through its back wheels, while keeping the gee-gees up front. Ford has explained that it is “not effective” to put more than 160 hp through the front wheels (and they will need far more horses than that to win next year’s rallies, which the boosted 16 valve, twin-cam engine will hopefully give them) which makes sound sense and means that rear-drive cars will be with us for as long as there is a market for the bigger, petrol-thirsty cars. Note, though, that in the early 1970’s, the Oldsmobile Toronado was pushing a hefty 250 bhp from its 71/2-litre engine through its front wheels, while the current Buick Riviera has front wheel drive and a turbocharged 3.8-litre engine developing 180 bhp, and Audi claim 170 bhp for their FWD 200 Turbo. It is interesting to see that Ford are using a Porsche transaxle for their future Escort rally cars, but the excellent Escort XR3 provides the basis for the body-shell.

On the subject of ordinary car-customers and their view of competition performances, while enthusiasts have taken happily to turbocharging on cars like Lotus, Porsche and Saab, customers less circuit-orientated may hang back from buying turbo-charged cars until there are fewer retirements on the part of the engines so boosted from GP races. Renault’s victory in the French Grand Prix and Prost’s second place in the German Grand Prix must have done the 18 Turbo a power of good publicity-wise, yet we feel that more Renault outright wins are necessary to endorse it, in the eyes of Mr and Mrs Showroom-Shopper. Talbot, if you can swallow the rehashed name, must be reaping the benefit of rally successes with the Talbot-Sunbeam-Lotus, and they have a catalogue Sunbeam-Lotus model at £7,643 as a follow through. And the customers will not have failed to notice that a Mazda RX-7 beat BMW 530i and 3-litre Ford Capri in the prestigious Spa 24 hour race, Walkinshaw/Dieudonne winning in the Wanke! rotary-engined car, with another such Mazda in 5th place, ahead of more BMW, Ford and Audi contenders. The RX-7 we are testing is proving, by the way, very pleasant to drive, rather like a modernised more spacious MG-B with Japanese mod-cons, a fast car that has returned better than 26 mpg of two-star to date – more about this later. 

We are even more glad we do not have to explain politics to the populace. How can one reconcile Britain’s North-Sea-Oil bounty with the increased petrol prices, in such close and savage increments, one every month on average, since last March (unless it’s greed?), at a time when we are told there is a glut of petrol in the tankers and storage tanks? Come to that, why this talk of a fuel-glut, when it wasn’t long ago that politicians were weeping endless crocodile tears, because, they insisted, the world’s supply of hydrocarbons wouid soon run out for ever? Thank St Christopher we don’t have to try to relate the alleged lowering of inflation to rising petrol costs, higher postage-charges forecast for next January, increased public transport fares (all the more reason to use a car!), and the continuing high price of milk, bread and other essential foodstuffs. Or, for that matter, explain why the Banks that make annual profits in millions, from the present-day “money-shops”, cannot offer such good interest-rates as the Post Office Savings Bank and the Building Societies …. 

It seems better to keep to motoring, and just hope that we can continue to enjoy it! 

 

 

 

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