Fiat 105 TC Strada

IT WAS back in February that the 105 TC Fiat Strada arrived in this country. At that time J.W. had just tried the Abarth Ritmo Strada in 2-litre 1.h.d. guise and expressed his disappointment that this rapid little car would not be available in the UK, leaving the 105 TC as quickest of the sporting little Fiats to be made with right hand drive. We had our chance to try one in mid-summer.

On paper, the 105 TC should be a scorcher — 105 b.h.p. in less than 19 cwt. compares favourably with the Golf GTi or Alfa Sprint Veloce and is only at a disadvantage against the Renault 5 Gordini Turbo by a mere whisker — but the reality is something of a let down, and leads one to think that Fiat b.h.p. may be a shade smaller than either Alfa Romeo or VW units. There is no doubt that the car we had for test looked the part — a deep spoiler at the front with auxiliary lights inset, a rear spoiler, wide tyres and wheel arch extensions and very little brightwork to relieve the black paintwork — but once on the road it felt very tame.

The transversely mounted engine is the tried and tested 1,585 c.c. twin overhead camshaft unit which has been seen before in the Supermirafiori, but it has been modified for Strada applications with a higher compression ratio and larger inlet and exhaust ports, while the exhaust valves are now hi-metal. A Weber twin choke carburetter is used and the exhaust system has been designed to incorporate Abarth silencers, to reduce back pressure. Marelli electronic ignition completes the package, although lubrication and cooling capacity have both been increased to cope with the extra loads imposed. Fiat claim the 105 b.h.p. at 6,100 r.p.m. with maximum torque of 98.4 lb ft at 4,000 r.p.m. The engine in the test car was smooth and willing at all times, but lacked any kind of punch.

To carry the power to the wheels, an uprated clutch and five speed gearbox with new ratios are used. The gear change on the test car was a delight, but other aspects of the front-wheel-drive arrangement were not so pleasing. For instance, the final drive ratio of 3.765:1 coupled with the 185/60 x 14 Pirelli P6 tyres gives a top gear road speed of under 18 m.p.h. per 1,000 r.p.m., which is very fussy for long distance cruising, especially when the engine would happily pull a “taller” gear: slightly lower third and fourth gears allied to a higher top would have made for a more relaxed car. Then there is a problem over directional stability, particularly when accelerating hard: to quote Fiat’s words on the subject “Revised output shafts and external transmission joints allow the use of equal length drive shafts. Thus torque transmitted to the front wheels is uniform, contributing to better directional stability under hard acceleration . . .” We thought the test car may have arrived on incorrect tyre pressures, but they were soon proved to be correct, and we can only conclude that previous Stradas with unequal drive shafts must have been very unpleasant under hard acceleration. The poor directional stability on the test car made itself apparent at high speed on the motorway, but it was windy.

The suspension is independent all round, that at the front being by McPherson struts, while the rear of the car has a transverse leaf spring, lower wishbones and telescopic dampers. An anti-roll bar is fitted at the front only. The suspension was nicely set up, provided a very comfortable ride and behaved well in extremis. Rack and pinion steering is used, and the brakes are very powerful, having 10” discs on the front and 7½” drums at the back, the whole system being servo assisted. With nice steering, good brakes and suspension but poor straight line stability, the car very much came into its own on twisty country lanes, when it behaved beautifully, even if a little more bite from the engine would have been appreciated.

Inside the car, all is black, except for the door panels and seat facings: even the headlining is black, giving a very sombre and oppressive feeling, but encouraging one to keep looking at the road. That said, the interior appointments of this three-door hatchback are very well contrived and fit admirably with its sporting role. The front seats are very comfortable, and give excellent lateral support, while the rear seats have sufficient leg room to be usable. Entry to the back is made easy by the front seats not only tipping forward, but sliding forward as well. Luggage capacity is limited with the rear seats in use, but can be extended by folding either one or both of the seat backs forward. Stowages in the front of the car abound, but are not of particularly practical shape — there are pockets in the doors for maps, a tray on the dash, a cramped glove box, and another tray under the dash, while the radio console, floor mounted in front of the gearbox, provides another storage space.

The instruments are neatly arranged in front of the driver, with engine temperature and fuel contents gauges neatly placed between the two major instruments and other warning lights positioned in two vertical rows either side of the panel. Gauges for oil temperature, oil pressure and volts are arranged in a little sub-panel to the left of the main array, while neat little rocker switches for the various electrical functions are to be found to the right of the instrument panel. Usefully, these switches are illuminated once the ignition is on, and turn red when the function they control is in use. One definite plus for the 105 TC Strada is its frugal use of petrol. Our overall consumption for a fair mix of London crawl, fast motorway cruising, country road thrash and gentle pottering about over a 500 mile period came out at 33.2 m.p.g. The car itself costs £5,195 inclusive of car tax and VAT, which compares with £6,177 for the Golf GTi. £6,350 for the Alfa Sprint Veloce or £5,750 for the Escort XR3. With the Fiat you get excellent value for money if all you want is the sporting hatchback image. — P.H. J.W.

Automatic Range Rover

UNTIL now, many prospective purchasers of rugged, dual purpose, road / cross-country vehicles have been pushed towards foreign made products by the lack of an automatic transmission for the Range Rover, while others have span significant sums of money on automatic conversions, such as the excellent Schuler system we tried late in 1980. But now there is a BL automatic option costing £646. This automatic transmission makes its debut in a limited series version, dubbed “In Vogue”, which BL claim to be the “most luxurious production Range Rover ever”, but will be available on the basic four-door models towards the end of the year. We had the chance to try an “In Vogue” version recently over a short but reasonably testing route.

The gearbox chosen for the option is Chrysler’s A727 box, the Torqueflite, which is used in conjunction with a new Land-Rover developed transfer box. The new transfer box retains the same high and low options and the facility of being able to lock the centre differential on the move, but is both stronger and lighter than its predecessor and is considerably quieter in operation. Adaptor plates to mate the Chrysler box to the V8 engine are made by Land-Rover, and the gearboxes themselves are sealed and provided with alternative ventilation arrangements to prevent water getting in when fording streams etc. The temperature of the gearbox fluid is controlled by a high capacity cooler, mounted between the grille and radiator, and a warning light is fitted on the instrument panel. The remaining mechanical specification is unchanged, including the heal drive ratio.

On the road, the first thing about the automatic Range Rover which becomes apparent is its quietness — gone is the familiar howl from the transfer box and gone is the clunk as the driver transfers from drive to overrun. It is fuss-free and drives very smoothly unless one is being brutal with the throttle pedal, in which case up and down changes can jolt significantly. Performance is quite brisk enough for a two ton vehicle which has no sporting pretensions, while cruising capability and top speed are unaltered from the manual version.

Off road, there are some distinct advantages to an automatic transmission, especially when starting off on a loose or slippery surface, for it is much easier to feed power to the wheels in a gentle, progressive, manner with an automatic car with clutch. We found the new Range Rover admirable in this respect, it being very easy to balance engine speed and forward speed to maintain optimum grip. The lockable differential is very useful, especially when traversing uneven terrain and the new transfer box has the advantage that the dill can be locked simply by knocking the transfer lever sideways, instead of having to lift a separate button. What is not quite so satisfactory is the transfer from high to low ratio — this cannot be done on the move (other than at a snail’s pace) without risk to mechanical components, and the Land-Rover recommendation is that one should slow down to a crawl, select neutral with the main selector, transfer to high or low as appropriate, and reselect drive: not something to be done in the middle of a difficult stretch of ground.

Downhill going on the loose requires low ratio, with the gear selector in 1 to provide maximum engine braking. Even so, we found it necessary to use the brakes on all but the gentlest slopes, and then we suffered the embarrassment of having the engine cut out two or three times on very steep downhill sections, necessitating the selection of neutral or park before being able to fire the engine up again. A valuable safety item is the catch to prevent inadvertent selection of 2 from 1 when driving cross-country, but the selector itself on the very new vehicle we were driving, was very stiff, making it difficult to differentiate between and 1 when changing down from D for awkward sections.

The “In Vogue” version has very smart and comfortable trim and is based on the four-door body. For £16,700, the customer gets the full automatic transmission set up, plus alloy wheels, distinctive side tapes, armrests and headrests on the front and rear seats (although the front seats are still non-reclining as the seats provide the anchorage points for the seat belts), full stereo radio / cassette player system, walnut door cappings, carpeting throughout and a built-in cool-box for those country picnics. Air conditioning can be had for a further £800. The windows are still manually operated, and the mirrors can only be adjusted from outside (something of a disadvantage. especially when towing a trailer), but we were assured that electrically controlled options for both these functions are on the stocks, as is a central locking system.

“In Vogue” apart, the automatic option is an important addition to the Range Rover’s possible specification which will widen its appeal and enable BL to compete more effectively.


Honda Civic S

SINCE March this year, UK purchasers of Honda’s small one for the masses, the Civic, have had the option of a high performance version, the Civic S. Based on the 2-door Civic (one of the most “European” of Japanese cars), the new S has little to distinguish it at first sight from its lesser brethren. External alterations are limited to a deeper front spoiler and a rear spoiler. Those with very keen eyes might notice the Civic S sits lower on its suspension, and that there are only two colour options, red and black. Inside, the only changes are a four-spoke sports style steering wheel, red and black tricot covered seats of a rather more comfortable style than basic Civic and the provision as standard of a glass sunroof (which can be tilted, or removed and stored in an envelope behind the rear seats).

That Honda have been at work under the skin is immediately apparent as soon as one drives the new car. It has a very lively performance, handles well and rides over bumps rather more comfortably, despite the harder suspension. High speed cruising ability is good and is not accompanied by too much noise, as is so often the case with small performance cars, and fuel consumption over our 500-mile test was surprisingly good, working out at better than 32 m.p.g. of 2-star overall.

To achieve the added performance, Honda have not gone to the extent of increasing engine size, but have simply made their current 72 X 82 mm., 1,335 cc, o.h.c., transversely mounted engine rather more efficient by dint of a new cylinder head with revised valve layout and the fitting of twin carburetters. Interestingly, the compression ratio has been reduced from 8.7:1 to 8.4:1 in this application — perhaps with a future turbocharger installation in mind? The resulting increase in power is 18% bringing the little motor up to 70 b.h.p. at 5,750 r.p.m. The torque figures remain much the same.

The five-speed gearbox has a smooth change and is immediately distinguishable from the normal Civic five-speed device in that the two bottom gears are higher and closer, making acceleration that much better and low speed driving more comfortable. The final drive ratio has also been raised, and with the 165/70 X 13 tyres, cruising is considerably improved.

Braking has also been uprated by the fitting of the ventilated disc brake arrangement for the front brakes, as to be found on the latest Accords, and the suspension has received its fair share of revision. Heavy duty shock-absorbers have been fitted at the back. As previously mentioned, the car sits lower on its suspension by some 2 cm.

Hondas have long been amongst the best of the Japanese small cars from the driving point of view, and this latest offering enhances that reputation. At £4,500 it is also very competitive.