Saturday, March 21, 2009

Austin Kimberley

Southern east-west six for north?

Austin Kimberley (by retromotoring)

From Motor Magazine, September 11 1971

Former deputy editor Rob Cook is now working in Australia where he’s been trying the Austin Kimberley for us

The Austin 3 litre wasn’t the only production car with an 1800 centre section, revised extremities and a six-cylinder engine. Oh no! The Austin X6 in its Kimberley and Tasman versions is in full production in the British Leyland factory at Sydney, Australia. And it’s rather a pleasant motor car.

In fact, if you want a saloon that is really different from all the others, then the economics of importing a Kimberley aren’t all that frightening, and the majority of the spares are available in Britain unless you happen to crumple the nose or the boot.

The engine, for example, is a six with overhead camshaft which has, with the exception of the seven-bearing crankshaft, all the moving parts of the four-cylinder E series unit. Its capacity is 2,227 cc and in the two carburetter Kimberley version, it produces 115bhp at 5500 rpm with a torque of 118 lb.ft. at 3500 rpm (the Tasman, with single su, has 102 bhp and 116 lb.ft. torque at the same revs).

This engine, at 346lb, is 14lb lighter than the 1800 unit and the whole car is 34lb lighter than an 1800, giving a Kimberley power/weight ratio of 99 bhp/ton. The 1800 had 75 bhp/ton so the increase is 32 per cent.

The gearbox is the 1800 one and the unit is mounted east-west, driving the front wheels. However, the radiator is at the front and cooling is assisted when necessary by a thermostatically controlled electric fan which ems in at a water temperature of 205°F.

Other changes from 1800 specification include, 1.5in greater ground clearance and, since this increases the drive line angularity, constant velocity joints have been fitted to the inboard ends of the drive shafts as well as the outers.

The Australian engineers have played around with the valving in the Hydrolastic suspension and fitted rubber helper springs at the rear to reduce attitude changes under full load and pitching. They have succeeded in full measure.

On the manual gearbox version, the gearing gives 16.9 mph per 1000 revs and on the automatic, 17.9. Almost needless to say, the automatic box is the Borg-Warner Model 35.

The boot is almost big enough for a country dancing class— 5 cu.ft. bigger than that of the 1800, but for some reason which escapes my limited intelligence, the fuel tank remains at 10 gallons, giving a range of 230 miles if you keep a quart in reserve, but that’s cutting it a bit fine and the gauge is of the usual "rough estimate" type, but very fail-safe - zero equals l.5 gal.

I went rushing off in a Kimberley to the next city—some 600 miles—and despite thinking that various things could be improved, ended up liking it rather a lot. The weather was pretty foul with a raging gale at right angles most of the time (blowing straight from the south pole), and I have never been in a car less affected by such gusty conditions. Only if the accelerator were suddenly raised did the wind have any effect on the steering, and that was fairly minimal.

The suspension I found firm but jolt free and roll something that doesn’t happen. Plenty of feel in the steering with very little front wheel drive reaction, and what there was only became apparent at low speeds during my "getting to know you" initial few miles.

The gearbox was rather noisy—a deep whine in the intermediates—with very good synchromesh, and the cable-operated change absolutely horrible. It felt as though the cables were in dire need of greasing and I’m told that as the miles build up the situation improves but if you can imagine stirring a crowbar through a drum filled with cobblestones, you’ll have a fair idea of the feel of the thing.

Oddly enough, this doesn’t matter a great deal because the engine has so much torque that you hardly ever change down once on the move. The non snatch speed in top, is 5 mph, and a normal pull away from a stand-still can be made in third.

The engine will certainly never be wrecked by over revving because the camshaft/valve spring set up is such that when you get to a given speed in each gear, the power curve just goes horizontal and the only way to go faster is to change up. The unit hustles up the range with a gradually increasing sound of cams thrashing on valves, reminiscent of a Rover 2000 unit getting frenzied, but once you reach 32 in first, 55 second, 82 third and 98 in top, that’s it. Full point. With a long downhill grade you might just top 100 but it’s rather an academic thing and doesn’t matter a great deal, because the comfortable cruising speed is between 85 and 90 and it will do that all day long.

In fact, I averaged 84 for half an hour on one stretch without topping 90 which is as much a tribute to the car as it is to the road because the gale was really wild. Yet it was a one hand steering job, completely relaxed. On this run, by the way, we did 23 mpg and that seems to be the figure that most folks get with Kimberleys, whether in town or on flat out inter-city belts.

The acceleration figures aren’t all that startling with 0 to 30 in 4.6sec.; 40, 6.7; 50, 9.1; 60, 14.9; 70, 19.2; and 80, 30.0. The standing quarter needs 19 seconds. But there are two points to bear in mind: 1) this is better performance than that of the larger engined Austin 3 litre; and 2) it isn’t an easy car to take acceleration figures with from a standing start. The driver has a choice of wheel scrabbling, clutch slipping, a combination of the two, or neither.

I found it hard to decide which gave the best results and one early attempt at 0 to 40 gave 7.8 seconds against the final 6.7. It doesn’t matter a lot—what does matter is that when you press your foot down at 30 mph, the Kimberley slides smoothly up the scale to its cruising speed and only the wind roar really indicates that you are going rapidly.

Road noise is acceptably low, even on coarse granite chips, and the good through flow ventilation means that you can keep the windows firmly shut, and the seals were fairly noiseless. But one of the eyeball air inlets whistled in its closed position and stuffing Mr Kleenex into it seemed to be only cure.

I reckon that a competent mechanic could improve the gear change cables and, with that done, there would seem to be little or no need for the automatic version because top gear is very nearly in the steam-engine category. The seats aren’t all that clever because the cushions are too short and the backs non-adjustable, so when you import your Kimberley, get it without
seats and then fit 1800 or Wolseley ones. Forget the Tasman—it is the cooking version.

In Adelaide I drove a three carburetter version with stronger valve springs and modified seats and it gave me a pretty good idea of the car’s hidden potential, but, even as it stands, it’s a very pleasant piece of mechanism, very safe, very comfortable, and easy on the eye.

The economics of the deal might be a little frightening, though. The shipping costs aren’t too bad at about £150 and there might even still be some sort of Commonmarketwealth preferential treatment when it comes to import duty (note the tinge of bitterness creeping in) but when the whole deal was over you mightn’t have a lot of change out of £3,000. And you’d have to make the arrangements direct with British Leyland in Sydney because, of course, the X6 isn’t listed in the UK.

However, the model is being exported to a few countries around this segment of the globe and there would be no harm in having a word with your friendly Austin dealer. When he says "A what?", show him this article. Tell him I said it’s a fair dinkum beaut motorcar.

I’m sure he’ll understand.

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