Messages : 343
Date d'inscription : 27/05/2010
|Sujet: Chevy Corvette VS Bricklin Sv1 Dim 30 Mai - 11:52|| |
America's Best Sports Car: Being "second" doesn't necessarily mean being "last."
BY DON SHERMAN, PHOTOGRAPHY BY KEN BIGGS May75
Willow Springs Raceway wanders across the desert floor and slithers up foothills of California's Soledad Mountain as if a passing glacier long ago had snagged the asphalt ribbon and towed part of the course up the slopes. Turn Six's descending corkscrew is Willow's equalizer. The Corvette is on its tiptoes diving downward, darting from left to right, its tail yawing sideways under light braking. The Bricklin seizes the opportunity to close the gap — it has the advantage of stability with soft understeer through the switchback and can brake aggressively right up to the pavement's edge. Delayed by the corrections its driver is forced to make, the Corvette is late turning on the power as it exits onto the straight. Accelerating down the flattening grade, the Chevy gradually recaptures the advantage from the charging Bricklin, and the gap widens on the long back straightaway. By the start/finish line, the interval between the cars has grown to just under two seconds (on a 1:54 lap), a symbolic performance separation that was to hold throughout Car and Driver's test of the original U.S. sports car and the Canadian-made challenger hot on its heels.
Vast financial investments, a loudly publicized New Brunswick assembly plant and an artful promotional effort have finally produced a tangible threat to the Corvette. Skeptics be damned; the Bricklin lives. With two contenders eyeing the same turf, a championship bout is the inevitable test. So we took to a few California and Arizona highways, Willow Springs and Irwindale Raceways and the testing laboratories of Automotive Environmental Systems to sort out a winner.
The gull-winged protagonist is Bricklin Number 781, the very first 1975 model off the New Brunswick assembly line. Unlike all 780 of its 1974-model forebears, this Bricklin is powered by a 351-cubic inch Ford Windsor V-8 instead of an AMC 360 engine. The current season's output will also be massaged with a host of other detail refinements inevitable in an automobile struggling through its infancy. Most important among them is the deletion of a four-speed manual transmission choice. Malcolm Bricklin has deemed it not in keeping with his car's safety image, so the Ford-made "C-4 Cruise-o-matic" is the only transmission currently specified. Another "detail" change: What started out as a $3500 idea has become a "fully-equipped" reality at $9780.
In the incumbent's corner we have the thoroughly experienced Corvette Stingray. It too has shed an important option for 1975: the big-block 454-cu. in. engine. Only two versions of the 350-cu. in. small block V-8 remain, both exhaling through a single catalytic converter. Our test car was built with the base 165-horsepower (net) engine because the optional 205-hp L82 engine had not been released at the time of this comparison. Wherever possible, we chose options for the Corvette to match it to the Bricklin, including a Turbo-Hydramatic transmission (mandatory in California), boosting the base $6810 Corvette up to a $8352 machine.
They come off amazingly close, these two American GT coupes. As long as you focus on the performance readout, they are practically identical. Whether it's regulatory strictures, market pressures or economic demands that have squeezed both cars down to a comparatively mediocre but remarkably similar level doesn't really matter. Stand on the gas and both machines will deliver you to the end of the quarter-mile within half a second of each other. They both corner within 0.01 G of each other and even deliver fuel economy within a half mpg during every phase of the C/D Mileage Cycle. On paper, they're almost interchangeable — with the Corvette enjoying a small performance edge. But live with them and they become completely different cars. Each has a character so individual that you know immediately if your mount came from St. Louis or New Brunswick.
The Corvette feels highly competent, with power-everything to help you guide the long body around as well as an automatic transmission that knows just when you want it to upshift. But its excitement level inevitably sags under the eighth annual repeat of its dated body style.
Meanwhile, the Bricklin bursts on the scene all flair and flamboyancy, with gull-wing doors and a rakish wedge profile. It's a little crude, especially compared to the Corvette's practiced proficiency, but Malcolm's toy unquestionably has the more interesting personality. If your happiness computer accepts only performance inputs, the Corvette is your car. But if there is an adjustment factor for character and panache, you'd better cast your lot with the Bricklin.
Much of the Bricklin's appeal comes from the fact that you get it on just by getting in. Roll this set of gull wings into a shopping-center parking lot and it's as though a flying saucer had landed. An occasional bystander may recount memories of the legendary 300SL, but for your average American, the Bricklin is a far-out form of transportation.
Entry is a bit of a hardship with the high, wide sills to cross, and the hardware to open the doors is rather complicated. A hydraulic pump groans into activity at the touch of a switch and powers a pair of convertible-top rams, one to boost each door open. Solenoid-activated unlatching is automatic. If you leave the lights on and run the battery down, you'll have to connect jumper cables to a socket in the right front fender well. But if you're inside trying to get out when some phase of the system fails, there is a manual latch release and a removable pivot pin connecting the hydraulic ram to the door. That allows you to lift the 90-pound wing and squeeze out through whatever crack you can make between it and the body. It feels a lot like climbing out a manhole while a semi-trailer is parked on the cover.
Our one major complaint about the design of the gull-wing doors is that there is no switching interlock to prevent one from simultaneously raising one door and lowering the other. This act blocks the hydraulic pump and burns out its electric motor. Running both doors up or down at the same time is fine (though they move more slowly), but there is no protection against the one taboo that can cause the system to self-destruct before your eyes.
The interior of the Corvette, for contrast, is a snug fit but easy to jump into and motor off with no fuss. Once you're in, the instrumentation seizes your attention. The tach and speedometer are the biggest, easiest-to-read dials on the road, and they're backed up by five subordinate dials to the side. From there it's gradually downhill as the problems mount up. The steering wheel offers a clear view of the gauges, but it's located a good six inches too close to your chest. The $82 tilt telescope option offers no relief whatsoever — its range is from too close to really too close. The heater/air-conditioner controls are too small to read (particularly at night) and the system refuses to circulate a reasonable volume of ventilation air unless the air-conditioning compressor is engaged. The automatic shift quadrant has no indicator pointer, so you have only feel to tell you what gear you're in.
Throughout the Corvette, it seems as if some design team had been determined to sterilize all the character out of the command station. There is no suggestion that this is the spaceship on wheels it could be if only the designers had taken advantage of current technology. It's not luxuriously distinguished as the most expensive Chevrolet — or even identified as a Chevrolet at all. Padding with imitation stitching covers the front wall, but the steering-wheel rim doesn't even rate fake thread to disguise its test-tube origin
The Bricklin's interior problems are more critical and will, in fact, soon cancel much of its tremendous novelty advantage over the Corvette. Every furnishing seems to work against basic comfort. The roof is too low for headroom, the throttle pedal raises your right knee into interference with the leather steering-wheel rim and the lumpy seat doesn't offer any support for your thighs. The value of the VDO instrumentation array is lost because you can't see the speedometer or tachometer unless you crane your neck to peer around the wheel rim, and the upper half of the digital clock in the radio dial is masked unless you bow your head.
And it's a hard car to see out of as well. The thick-section A-pillars block a fat wedge out of your forward vision, and a belt line hiked up to earlobe level cuts off the side view. Through the hatchback window, you see a thin rectangle of the road close behind the car, so you must dip your head to make any effective use of the inside rearview mirror.
If twisting your neck isn't enough to generate a headache, there are other forms of punishment in the Bricklin. The wind whooshes across the side windows in vigorous symphony with the rumbling exhaust (which is intrusive even at idle) to raise the interior sound level to a 79 dBA crescendo at 70 mph — compared to the Corvette's 76 dBA. It's easier to see up than out through the side windows, but that also makes it easier for the sun to beat through them. And the air vents can't keep up with that radiant heat until you switch on the air conditioning (and take a fuel-economy penalty).
While they're working on those interior problems, Bricklin's engineers would do well to take a careful look at the general quality level of their materials. The car looks a little too much like a carefully finished Fiberfab with its glued-down vinyl trim, carpeting that doesn't quite cover the fiberglass floor and flimsy plastic shift gate (a part fine for the Hornet it came from but hardly up to the standards of a $9780 GT car). The luxury level would rise substantially if the suede-like upholstery material used in the center of the seats were spread throughout the interior in place of the smooth vinyl. It looks much like the genuine article but is in fact just a convincing imitation, so cost shouldn't be too much of an obstacle.
But why worry about it? In the final analysis, both these cars win friends and influence people with their exterior looks. Hit the road with a Bricklin and women fall hopelessly in love from two lanes away. Z-Car drivers circle in for a closer look knowing full well this new kid on the block has lowered their car's sex appeal a hefty notch. The demand for a transportation device that can radiate such excitement is so vigorous that neither Chevrolet nor Bricklin's General Vehicle Inc. can hope to satisfy all their cash customers. This year's production of Corvettes was entirely spoken for by dealers by March 1, and dealers who don't have enough of them seek out Stingrays with offers of up to $1000 over invoice to help out those hooked on Corvettes who need a fix. As for the Bricklin, entrepreneurs buy `74s on the East Coast, truck them west like contraband and sell them for over $10,000.
Surprisingly enough, the sheer enthusiasm for these cars doesn't seem to hinge on any real demand for sparkling performance. Chevrolet's market research shows that 60 percent of the new Corvette buyers ultimately move on to either a Monte Carlo, a Grand Prix or a Cougar. More than likely, few of this year's buyers are aware that there is a whopping 30-hp sacrifice in the base engine and 35-hp loss with the optional L82 because a proposed dual-exhaust system didn't make the emissions grade, forcing the engineers to come up with a last-minute design that funnels everything through one large catalytic converter. This has driven the acceleration levels of our test car (admittedly a worst-case version with the base engine, economy axle, air conditioning and automatic transmission) back to the level of a good 15 years ago. A quarter-mile takes 16.1 seconds to build speed up to 87.4 mph — only slightly quicker than a Mazda RX-3. If the road is long and straight enough, you can still coax the 1975 Corvette Stingray up to 129 mph. The L82 is a worthwhile investment for around-town snap. Its additional 40 hp comes from higher compression, a hydraulic cam with more radical valve timing and lift, and larger intake and exhaust valves.
Bricklin buyers have no choice but to take the performance represented by the C/D test car, which trailed both the Corvette's acceleration and top speed. The Bricklin's Ford 351 rumbles lustily at idle, but its two-barrel carburetor flattens the engine out above 4000 rpm; 16.6 seconds (83.6 mph) was our best time in the quarter-mile in the Bricklin, though it is 130 pounds lighter than the Corvette.
The small carburetor also effectively limits the noise during acceleration inside the Bricklin, which is hardly the case in the Corvette. As you snap open its secondaries, the Corvette's cold-air hood comes into play and intake noise is channeled through the heater plenum for your 97.5 dBA listening displeasure. The Bricklin's noise level peaks at a comparatively sedate 82 dBA up to 70 mph, and its engine doesn't sound much louder when you run it flat out. (It will pull 118 mph — hardly the stuff exoticar dreams are made of.)
Malcolm Bricklin has his own dreams of what this car should be, and speed isn't a very important part of them. Safety is the most marketable attraction, he thinks, so his sports car is labeled SV-1 to let you know up front that it's a "safety vehicle." The car's principal advantage over contemporary automobiles is a steel-tube perimeter frame that circles the passenger compartment at bumper height. Its main body cab is also built around a tubing cage, as is the Corvette's — this is almost a necessity for sufficient stiffness with a fiberglass body. The Bricklin, however, probably does have some strength advantage over the Corvette due to its large-section windshield pillars and an overhead structure sturdy enough to take the loads imposed by gull-wing doors.
Two other unusual features of the Bricklin have been widely but incorrectly promoted as safety features. The huge bumpers prevent cosmetic damage up to an impressive 12 mph during a barrier impact, but that really offers no extra increment of occupant protection. Crash injuries are caused by a passenger's impact with the interior of a car, so it matters little whether the front fenders or a urethane-coated bumper is the first to collapse on the outside.
The Bricklin's body material also has no real safety advantage, but it should be highly resistant to light damage. It's made just like the Corvette's (fiberglass in a sheet molding compound composition formed between two matched metal dies) but with one additional step: The Bricklin's outermost skin is a 0.40-to-0.60-inch-thick sheet of acrylic plastic that is first vacuum-formed and then laid into the dies with the fiberglass, where the two bond together while curing. This acrylic is more scratch-resistant than paint because it is impregnated with color rather than just covered on the surface. Light scratches come out with sanding and polishing, and deep gouges can be filled by any reasonably competent Bricklin owner with liquid acrylic of the proper color and then sanded. Between the bumpers and the body material, the Bricklin should be the most damage-resistant car on the road. But it is hard to label it a legitimate safety car because the interior surfaces do not have the "soft" lining that ESV experiments have shown to be essential.
In terms of active safety from good handling and braking ability, the Bricklin does a fair job with what amounts to an AMC Hornet suspension and brakes. Stopping ability is limited by rear drums that lock the back wheels early, and we encountered some fade of the front discs during the fray at Willow Springs.
The Corvette's four-wheel disc system allows substantially shorter stops than are possible with the Bricklin (191 feet versus 216 feet), but care must be used during cornering and braking to keep the Stingray's nose ahead of its tail. The GM-specification radial tires inflated to a soft 20 psi (recommended pressure) break loose before generating much lateral grip (0.67 G versus the 0.68 G attainable with the Bricklin), so its's hard to use the Corvette's penchant for swinging its tail wide. Getting the car sideways is easy, though. In fact, the Corvette will do it for you if you aren't gentle at the steering wheel. But getting crossed up and sliding back and forth across the track is hardly the fast way around; it scrubs off too much forward speed.
It takes a long sweeping bend for the Corvette to feel really keyed into the track. The tail drifts just wide enough to cancel undesirable understeer and you can motor through with your foot flat on the throttle. In the same circumstance, the Bricklin's speed is limited by the grip of the front tires and it feels more like a big sedan. Body roll is well controlled, but it takes a quarter turn of the steering wheel before the car's direction changes a noticeable amount. The Bricklin's fat BFG Radial T/As break away gently with plenty of warning; off the track, they give the car a soft, supple ride.
The Bricklin's chassis designer, Tom Monroe, has helped the AMC front suspension by doubling its amount of camber change with travel to keep the wide boots flat on the pavement. The steering linkage has also been positioned to give the car practically no tendency to change its heading over bumps. As a result, high-speed directional stability is so good that you can almost set the steering wheel and forget it.
The development will go on and the Bricklin people may someday reverse their current position that their car "is not a finished product at this time." But in truth, technology has already passed both the Corvette and the Bricklin by. Mid-engine powertrains, more favorable power-to-weight ratios and tires aimed at cornering instead of ride are the essential ingredients of a modern high-performance car — which neither the Bricklin nor the Corvette really is.
Maybe it doesn't matter. Their appeal lies in the excitement they can generate amid a sea of opera roofs and stereo-typed vertical grilles. A set of gull-wing doors are a dramatic visual trip, especially when they're so rare. The Bricklin is a rebel, thumbing its nose at Detroit convention very much in the style of Bricklin himself. Malcolm doesn't like people smoking in cars, so the Bricklin doesn't have an ash tray. For more obscure reasons (probably lack of space) it doesn't have a spare tire either. Add to this the factory's snail-like start-up pace and present maximum capacity of 12,000 cars per year and exclusivity is assured for a long time. Even the Corvette — a better finished but dated and therefore less interesting design — seems eternally limited to a peak of 41,000 cars per year. But perhaps what this means is that America's performance-image cars no longer have to advance with technology to stay irresistible. They just have to be hard to get.
Vin # Bientot # / Facebook : Pierre De Lorean http://www.dailymotion.com/PierreDelorean/delorean / Video sur youtube !
Messages : 336
Date d'inscription : 27/05/2010
Age : 43
Localisation : Isère
|Sujet: Re: Chevy Corvette VS Bricklin Sv1 Dim 30 Mai - 12:42|| |
C'est l'article paru dans le magazine "car & driver"