Which car to buy? Comparing the under-£900 cars
Modern Motor - September, 1964
Modern Motor - September, 1964
ALTHOUGH this special comparison article talks about cars in the under-£900 bracket, we have deliberately excluded the small, cheap "minimum" mini cars such as the Fiat 500D, Toyota 700, Mazda, Zeta and so on. These will be covered at a later date in a comparison article of the same kind.
So will cars in the higher price brackets. As with this one, our future comparisons will leave it to the reader to decide which car he prefers.
We have not drawn any conclusions about the way individual cars compare with their rivals because we believe the reader can work out for himself his particular needs more efficiently than we can by making sweeping generalisations.
By presenting the facts about design, size, handling, and performance, it should be a fairly easy task for the car buyer to decide which vehicle suits his needs best.
The under-£900 cars we have chosen for this article are among the most interesting being marketed because of the different approaches to the task of seating four to five people in a compact, economical unit. Of the nine, only the Ford Anglia, Vauxhall Viva, and Datsun Bluebird are truly conventional in design.
The Fiat 770, VW1200, and Hillman Imp all have their engines in the tail, whereas the Morris 850 and Renault R4 are front-engined and front-wheel driven. The Skoda is alone in having the engine up front driving independently suspended back wheels. Nevertheless, the end result is pretty much the same in every case. It is just a matter of different original design ideas.
It should also be noted that the European cars come equipped with some of the creature comforts lacking in the other models. For instance, a heating and demisting system is standard on the Fiat, R4, Skoda, and VW, but is optional equipment on the others.
And you can pay up to about £30 to be able to stay warm in the cold winter months.
With the exception of the R4 and the Datsun, all the cars have four-speed gearboxes, the VW, Imp, and Viva having synchro on first in their boxes.
None of the nine has disc brakes, but even if they did, only a couple would have improved stopping power.
The Datsun and R4 are the only ones with four doors. With its station wagon concept, the R4 is probably the most sensible choice for the person who needs to carry large quantities of luggage, or who wants a commercial-cum-private vehicle. It is the only one of the group which can be classed as a station wagon, but it is worth bearing in mind that the rear seats of the Fiat, Imp, and VW fold down to form a large platform when only two people are aboard.
Also known as the 600D, this model Fiat has its water-cooled 767c.c., 32 (gross) b.h.p. engine mounted in the tail to drive the back wheels through a four-speed gearbox. All wheels are independently suspended. A transverse leaf is used at the front, coils at the back. Baggage space behind back seat and under front bonnet. Price: £750.
HOW BIG? Overall length is only 10ft. 9in. with a wheelbase of 6ft. 7in. Width is 4ft. 6.2in, and height is 4ft. 7.5in. Clearance is 5.75in., weight at the kerb, 13cwt.
OUTSIDE FINISH? Quite good, but most of the colors are rather too chalky. Body panels fit neatly and the car has a tight feel. INSIDE? Accent on function rather than style, rubber mats, simple vinyl trim material.
COMFORT? Front buckets seats do a good job and have plenty of adjustment for tall drivers. Back seat has space for two, folds down as load platform when not in use, like the Imp's. Screen washer, heater are standard.
HANDLING? Oversteers on corners, but is very controllable and great fun to drive. Comfortable and stable on rough surfaces. Drum brakes all round, and they really work well with light pedal pressures and no fade when thumped. Steering is light and needs just over three turns from lock to lock for a 28.5ft. turning circle. Is very quick in town if driven enterprisingly.
PERFORMANCE? Not brilliant, but consistent with engine power and capacity. Four-speed gearbox is a beaut and the car will cruise at near maximum speed. Not very noisy, and willing performer.
FIGURES? Top speed 72.2 m.p.h., 58 in 3rd, 36 in 2nd, 23 in 1st. Through gears it goes to 30 in 7.0s.; . 40, 11.1s.; 50, 17.9s.; 60, 26.3s. Standing ¼-mile, 24.1s., 42 m.p.g. on test.
Incredibly popular baby sedan with big cabin, transverse engine and rubber suspension. Has two doors, seats four people and has ample bits-and-pieces space. Develops modest 37 (gross) b.h.p. at 5000 r.p.m. Developments over past year or so have resulted in vastly improved baulk-ring synchro gearbox; first is still "crash." Price: £764.
HOW BIG? Just 10ft. long with 7ft. 8in. wheelbase. Stands 4ft. 5in. high and is 4ft. 7.25in. wide. Ground clearance is 6in. and she weighs 12cwt. at the kerb.
OUTSIDE FINISH? Rather good, helped by basic simplicity of the construction. Above average paintwork INSIDE? Utilitarian with lots of painted metal, rubber mats and plastic trim, but neat enough.
COMFORT? Firm, well-damped ride, will take rough roads cheerfully. Front seats lack support, but they are soft and there is legroom and headroom for everyone. There's no heater, but fresh-air ventilation is adequate through sliding door windows, hinged quarter panes.
HANDLING? Lots of understeer because of the front drive and very, very quick through corners. Safe, too, but it is necessary to keep the power on when cornering hard. Little body roll or nose dip. Stopping is done by drum brakes which can be made to fade if they are used hard when there's a full load aboard. Rack-and-pinion steering, 2.5 turns, 31.5ft. circle.
PERFORMANCE? Useful, but not amazing. Car makes time because of roadholding and nippiness in traffic. Gears are there to be used, so synchro on low would be an improvement. Top is nicely flexible.
FIGURES? Top speed 68.6 m.p.h.; 56 in 3rd; 38 in 2nd; 24 in 1st. Through the gears it goes to 30 in 5.5s.; 40, 10s.; 50, 15.7s.; 60, 24.7s. Standing ½-mile, 23.2s.; 38 m.p.g. on test.
Sold as a rival to the 850, the Hillman Imp has its 875c.c. single-overhead-camshaft, light-alloy engine mounted in the tail driving through an indirect all-synchromesh gearbox. Suspension is independent by coils all round. Unusual feature is lift-up back window to give access to luggage compartment behind seats. Price: £799.
HOW BIG? Overall it's 11ft. 7in. long on a wheelbase of 6ft. 10in., is 5ft. wide and 4ft. 6½ in. high. Ground clearance is 5.5in. and kerb weight is 13.2cwt.
OUTSIDE FINISH? Only so-so on early production models, but panel fit and paintwork improved greatly on later cars. INSIDE? Bit rough in parts, with rather austere vinyl trim and rubber floor mats, little crash padding.
COMFORT? Bucket front seats lack support for big people, but there is plenty of fore-and-aft adjustment and legroom. Neither front nor rear quarter panels open, so interior gets hot in summer. No ashtrays in the back, either. Suspension is pleasingly soft with well-measured action.
HANDLING? Despite rear engine, Imp has very pronounced understeer on corners, but wanders slightly in strong crosswinds. Is very sensitive to tyre pressures and tread pattern. Exceedingly safe, good-handling car. Brakes have sufficient lining area and do not fade unless provoked. Steering is by rack and pinion with 2.7 turns lock-to-lock and handy 30ft. circle.
PERFORMANCE? You can't expect too much from a car of this power, but lively use of the excellent gearbox keeps the Imp moving briskly. Engine revs like a turbine, although cabin gets noisy.
FIGURES? Top speed 71 m.p.h.; 66 in 3rd; 45 in 2nd; 25 in 1st. Through the gears it goes to 30 in 5.9s.; 40, 10s.; 50, 16.1s.; 60, 25.1s. Standing ¼-mile, 23.8s. 37.6 m.p.g. on test.
More station wagon than car, the R4 is a remarkably practical five-door vehicle (there's a big one at the back) with seating for four people on simple tube-framed seats with rubber bands stretched between. Power is from 845c.c., 32 b.h.p. at 4700 r.p.m. engine driving front wheels through three-speed box. Prices: £799 and £839.
HOW BIG? 11ft, 10in, long on a 7ft. 10.5in. wheelbase, is 4ft. 10.25in. wide and 5ft. high. At 7.9in., the ground clearance is good. Kerb weight is 12cwt.
OUTSIDE FINISH? No complaints; in fact, it was rather good overall and the panels were neat. INSIDE? Of course, it is utilitarian, but it is actually well put together, has rubber floor mats.
COMFORT? Sensationally good on all roads, feels much the same on goat tracks as it does on highway bitumen. Seats are great and there is ample legroom and headroom. On cheap version back seat comes completely out, folds on de luxe. Heater is standard on both.
HANDLING? Front drive and very soft, long-travel suspension make for lots of understeer and body roll, but the R4 gets around corners fast. It's stable in crosswinds and the all-drum brake set-up is very good except when used harshly with a full load abroad; then there is a bit of fade. Rack-and-pinion steering, 4.4 turns, 29.5ft. circle.
PERFORMANCE? Not shattering but in keeping with the type of vehicle. Four-speed box would be better than all-synchro three-speeder. Cruises around the 60 mark with a fair amount of engine-transmission noise.
FIGURES? Top speed 70.8 m.p.h., 45 in 2nd, 22 in 1st. Through gears it goes to 30 in 6.1s.; 40, 9.9s.; 50, 16.9s.; 60, 27.8s. Standing ¼-mile, 23.5s. 48.9 m.p.g. on test.
Rugged two-door sedan with reasonably large cabin to seat four to five people. Has all-independent coil suspension. The 1089c.c., 47 b.h.p. (at 4500 r.p.m.) engine drives back wheels through four-speed gearbox which has synchro on upper three ratios. Prices: £799 and £859.
HOW BIG? Is 13ft. 4in. long with wheelbase of 7ft. 10in., in width is 5ft. 3in. and stands 4ft. 8in. high. Ground clearance is 7in. and she weighs 17cwt. at the kerb.
OUTSIDE FINISH: Pretty good overall with nice paint work to match neat panel fit. INSIDE? Designed for durability rather than beauty, but the fact remains that it is practical.
COMFORT? Has choppy ride on anything but good road surface but will nevertheless charge across very bad surfaces with no problems. Shaped seats in front are quite comfortable and there is adequate legroom and headroom. Access to rear compartment is okay and a powerful heater is standard equipment.
HANDLING? All independent suspension makes for plenty of oversteer in corners and wander in strong crosswinds. It is one of those cars which requires sensitive control if the best is to be obtained from it. Brakes fade a little if they are used hard and the mechanical handbrake has a good action. Turning circle is just a shade under 35ft. Wheel needs 2.75 turns lock to lock.
PERFORMANCE? Very good for a car of this class and price. Gear ratios are not too well chosen, but first and second let you climb walls. Will cruise at 65 to 70 m.p.h. all day; engine is not particularly smooth.
FIGURES? Top speed 82.3 m.p.h., 62 in 3rd, 43 in 2nd, 24 in 1st. Through the gears it goes to 30 m.p.h. in 5.5s.; 40, 9.5s.; 50, 14.7s.; 60, 20.7. Standing ¼-mile, 20.8s. 29 m.p.g. on test.
Developed over a long period, the VW seats four people, who get in through two doors. Probably the most efficiently quality-controlled car in Australia, it has independent torsion bar suspension all round and air-cooled 1192c.c., 40 b.h.p. (gross) at 3800 r.p.m. engine in the tail, all-synchro indirect box. Prices: £799 and £899.
HOW BIG? 13ft. 4in. long with 7ft, 5in. wheelbase. 5ft. 0.5in. wide and 4ft. 11in. high. Ground clearance is 6in., kerb weight 14cwt.
OUTSIDE FINISH? As good as you can get in a mass-production car. First-class panels and excellent paintwork. INSIDE? Cheap model is spartan, but neat and the de luxe has higher standard of trim both inside and out.
COMFORT? Excellent ride over rough roads, little pitching action. Good support from bucket seats. Bench in back has space for two, sometimes three people. Headroom marginal. Heater standard on both models, draws warm air from around engine. De luxe also has screenwashers.
HANDLING? Not startlingly good on dry bitumen, but fantastic on dirt if driver is prepared to make use of the car's basic oversteer to hang the tail out on corners. Very little body roll on corners, no nose-dip under braking. Drum brakes all round and they can be made to fade with hard use. Sturdy handbrake. Worm-and-roller steering, 2.5 turns, 36ft. circle.
PERFORMANCE? Being slowly outdated, but still able to deal with other cars in the same class. All-synchro gearbox has to be stirred along. Top is an overdrive ratio, so third has to be used frequently.
FIGURES? Top speed 74.2 m.p.h.; 63 in 3rd; 43 in 2nd; 22 in 1st. Through the gears it goes to 30 in 6.3s.; 40, 10.6s.; 50, 15.8s.; 60, 28.8s. Standing ¼-mile, 23.1s. 32.6 m.p.g. on test.
Long established and far more popular overseas than locally, the Anglia has won an enviable reputation for its excellent engine and gearbox. Seats four people, has two-door body, reverse slope on back window. Oversquare 997c.c. engine develops 39 b.h.p. at 5000 r.p.m. Coil independent front springing. Price: £830.
HOW BIG? Overall length is 12ft. 9.5in. with 7ft. 6.5in. wheelbase, 4ft. 9.25in. wide and 4ft. 8.25in. high. Ground clearance is 6.5in., kerb weight 14½cwt.
OUTSIDE FINISH? Reasonable rather than great, with most of the panels fitting well enough, but rather dull colors in the paintwork. INSIDE? Typical durable Ford trim, big improvement over earlier models.
COMFORT? As good as you could expect from a conventionally sprung car. Not much support from front bucket seats; bench for two, three at a squeeze, in the back. Adequate head and leg room in both compartments. A heater costs extra.
HANDLING? Nice and stable on smooth bitumen, bounces the tail around on any other sort of corner, but very controllable overall; basic understeerer, unworrying to drive hard. Little body roll or nosedive, good, secure car on the road. Drum brakes all round do an adequate job with little fade, powerful handbrake between the seats. Worm-and-roller steering, 2.7 turns, 32ft. circle,
PERFORMANCE? You won't get left behind in traffic-light derbies, but it is not a firecracker like the Cortina GT. Three main-bearing engine is incredibly smooth, but the gearbox must be used for maximum results.
FIGURES? Top speed 77 m.p.h.; 60 in 3rd; 43 in 2nd; 25 in 1st. Through the gears it goes to 30 in 6.4s.; 40, 11.1s.; 50, 15.9s.; 60, 28.3s. Standing ¼-mile, 23.7s. 38.2 m.p.g. on test.
Newcomer to the ranks of small cars, the Viva has good cabin space for four people, plus a very large boot. Comes as two-door model only. Mechanically it's conventional, has transverse leaf springs at the front, half torque tube and semi-elliptics at the back. Engine has 50 b.h.p. at 5200 r.p.m. Gearbox has synchro on all gears. Prices: £839 and £885.
HOW BIG? Only one inch under 13ft. long with 7ft. 7.5in. wheelbase, is 4ft. 5.5in. high and 4ft. 11.5in. wide. Ground clearance is only 5in. and kerb weight is 14cwt.
OUTSIDE FINISH? Typically G.M.H. with good paintwork and reasonable body-panel fit which seems to be improving as production increases. INSIDE? Neat and durable but not very inviting; rubber mats, Holden-standard trim material.
COMFORT? Good ride on all surfaces without being sloppy. Plenty of headroom and surprisingly comfortable seats. Only the driver's adjusts, though. Heater is not standard, of course, but the de luxe version carries a screen washer. Rear quarter panes open only on de luxe.
HANDLING? Nice amount of understeer when driving mildly, neutral steer when going hard, final oversteer. Hangs the tail out too easily on dirt, but is easy to control. Fair amount of body roll. Drum brakes do the stopping and they don't fade much when the car is used savagely, unless there is a full load aboard. Turning circle is 29.4ft. steering is rack and pinion, needs 3.5 turns lock to lock.
PERFORMANCE? One of the best features of the Viva provided the gearbox is stirred along. Engine is very smooth and will provide 70 m.p.h. cruising speeds and handy 65 m.p.h. in third for overtaking.
FIGURES? Top speed 74.3 m.p.h.; 65 in 3rd; 44 in 2nd; 26 in 1st. Through the gears it goes to 30 in 5.1s.; 40, 8.2s.; 50, 13.9s.; 60, 21.6s. Standing ¼-mile, 21.45s.; 30.22 m.p.g. on test.
Basically sound four-door family sedan with 1189c.c., 60 (gross) b.h.p. engine coupled to a three-speed, all-synchromesh gearbox with steering column change. Front wheels independently sprung by coils, with live rear axle using semi-elliptics. There is also a more luxurious model which sells in the under-£1000 bracket. Price: £898.
HOW BIG? Overall it's 13ft, 1.4in. on a wheelbase of 7ft. 9.8in., is 4ft, 10.7in. wide and 4ft. 6.8in. high. Ground clearance is 6.8in., goes 18cwt. at kerb.
OUTSIDE FINISH? Outstanding paintwork and body-panel fit, equals some cars costing twice as much. INSIDE? Just as good with utilitarian plastic and rubber trim, thick crash padding. Everything well fitted.
COMFORT? Bench seats with too soft, out-of-phase springs over too little padding. Cabin space is cramped if a tall driver moves front seat far enough back to drive comfortably. Suspension gives hard ride, but takes rough roads well enough even if passengers are jerked about.
HANDLING? Very stable in strong crosswinds. Understeer on corners, changing to roll oversteer at adhesion limit. Rough corners make tail end jump out of line and crash stops produce some back-spring wind-up. Brakes (drum all round) are adequate for normal motoring, fade easily when really pushed. Excellent handbrake. Cam-and-lever steering, with 2½ turns lock to lock and useful 32ft. turning circle.
PERFORMANCE? Good for engine of moderate capacity, but would benefit greatly from four-speed gearbox. Cruises around 65 m.p.h., but engine is noisy and not particularly smooth as revs increase.
FIGURES? Top speed 78.2 m.p.h.; 57 in 2nd; 27 in 1st. Through the gears it goes to 30 in 6.1s.; 40, 9.8s.; 50, 13:8s.; 60, 23s. Standing ¼-mile, 22.0s., 31.2 m.p.g. on tent.
This article was originally published in the September, 1964 edition of Modern Motor magazine.
Last updated 18 August 2021