Road & Track, February 1973
When my grandfather died last year, I inherited his collection of Road & Track magazines, encompassing nearly every issue from 1950 to…well, I also inherited his current subscription. So, it’s a lot of magazines. Expect to see issues with content that tickles my fancy featured here semi-regularly.
The reason the February 1973 issue appeals to me should be obvious from the cover:
One of the stars is my car! Which is best, indeed. We’ll get to that in due time.
Heading inside, we first encounter a very confusing Oldsmobile ad.
It’s for the driving enthusiast, but the seats are more like easy chairs than buckets! It makes you want to relax, but also get up and go!
Go home, Oldsmobile, you’re drunk.
Next, we find this enchanting spread. The stuff of enthusiast dreams! And, as you read the ad copy, products of an impressive pedigree that…
…maybe you shouldn’t…
Those of you who flew in the U.S. Army Air Force or in the RAF in World War II will no doubt remember the Luftwaffe’s yellow-nosed Focke-Wulf 190 fighters. Their engines were ours, of course. Fourteen-cylinder, 2000 HP supercharged radials.
Gee, that’s a swell way to sell your nice little cars, there. Best of luck to you.
I love how, in the pre-spy shot era—it doesn’t seem like it became common to capture cars out testing during the prototype phase until the ’80s—forthcoming models were rendered in nice little sketches. Road & Track always had the best quality renderings. Here are the Volkswagen Passat (Dasher to us ‘Muricans) and Golf (or Rabbit)! The Passat, which at this point was only a few months away, looks pretty spot-on, while the Golf, still over a year from introduction, is a curious blend of accurate—the Giugiaro creases are present and accounted for—and anachronistic—check out the 411/412-style tacked-on lights.
The “Cars of our Staff” item on this page is interesting. R&T‘s publisher at the time, John Bond, throws off the curve somewhat with his expensive tastes and superior budget—it doesn’t say who owns what, but I know that the listed BMW 2800CS and Bavaria were both his, for example. Other staff rides included a 1964 Ferrari 330 2+2, a 1971 Jeep Wagoneer, a 1955 Porsche 356, a 1963 Lotus Super 7, a Mercedes 300SEL 6.3, and, the one I’d most want to track down, a 1968 Mercedes 230S station wagon, probably a Universal by Binz, which, the article notes, “attracts much attention wherever it goes.”
I also love the technical data panels with cutaway drawings that accompanied road tests starting in the 1960s and continuing, in a modified form, to the present day. The road tests in this issue include a Porsche 914 2.0 and a Mazda RX-2 automatic, a car that Mazda advertised in this very issue as a competitor to the Vega and Pinto, but with which R&T managed a paltry 16.5 miles per gallon.
R&T notes that Porsche’s U.S. distributor wanted to badge the 2-litre 914 an S, like its 911S big brother, but that they were rebuffed by the mothership. The road test concluded that, “Ever since the 914 was introduced it has been easy…to make fun of the confusion over whether the 914 is a Porsche or a VW. The 914/2 is neither. It sounds like a blend of both but it doesn’t look or drive like big or little brother. The price will keep the 914/2 from being a sports car for the masses but with the extra torque, the improved gearshift, the handling and the extra quality of the exhaust note, the 914/2 is one of the better sports cars around.”
Next we pay a visit to the Torino Salone Internazionale dell’Automobile, otherwise known as the Turin Auto Show, which had taken place in the fall of 1972. Notable introductions at the show included the Fiat 126, Lancia Beta (of which my grandparents owned a late ’70s example, their second Lancia after a Flaminia berlina served as family transport in the mid-’60s), Lotus Esprit, and Maserati Khamsin. The 1972 show was the last annual Turin show; from 1974 to 2000, it became a biannual show, then went on hiatus until returning on an annual basis beginning in 2015.
Other cars appearing in Turin in 1972 following introductions elsewhere included the BMW 520 (E12) and Turbo concept, Maserati Merak, Alfa Romeo Alfetta, Jaguar XJ12, and Mercedes-Benz 450SE (W116).
At last, we have arrived at the cover story!
Road & Track has never done a ton of comparison tests—certainly not compared to Car and Driver or Motor Trend—but when they do, they are exhaustive. This one gets cutaways of all three contenders (clearly repurposed from prior road tests, as the Bavaria is shown with the 1971-style horizontal air extractors on the C-pillar) and three-color printing to help us keep them straight.
I am bummed to report that the Mercedes was declared the winner, with winning scores in the categories of handling and steering (with worm and roller steering? Really?), ride, braking, body structure, and HVAC. The BMW came in second, topping the engine performance, transmission, instrumentation, outward visibility, and ingress-egress categories. The Jaguar mustered wins in quietness, drivability, seatbelts, and styling, but placed last in six categories.
The Jaguar may have won the seatbelt category, but the BMW’s three-pointers get a photographic shoutout, and I am obsessed with this guy. I am in awe of his turtleneck. I desperately want his hair. He makes me want to listen to Neil Diamond. He is my new idol.
One of the reasons that it’s so interesting to me that the Mercedes was declared the winner is that, from a historical perspective, it’s probably the biggest loser of this trio. Gas-engined W114s are practically nonexistent these days, and the diesels haven’t achieved the cult collectibility of their W123 successors. Neither the Series I XJ nor the Bavaria is as highly valued as they probably ought to be, but they at least each still have small but ardent fan bases.
Whew! We’re covering a lot of ground here!
Moving toward the “back of book,” as they say in the magazine biz (if The Devil Wears Prada is an accurate depiction of the magazine biz, which I have no doubt it is), we find driving impressions of the Alpine A310, introduced as the successor to the classic A110. A new A110 has just been revealed at Geneva this week, so I guess what goes around etcetera etcetera.
Audi gets one of its first tastes of bad U.S. press on page 87 in the form of an owner survey of the 100LS, then three years into its foray into the American market. The Werner Bührer line drawing, another highlight of ’70s R&T, is probably the aspect of this article kindest to the poor Audi, which the owners rated as one of “the most troublesome cars we have surveyed,” joining the MGB, Triumph TR, Rover 2000, and Ford Mustang as having the lowest owner satisfaction. This is but one of the first in a series of knocks Audi couldn’t quite seem to shake until the ’90s, but they’re doing okay today, even if they’re getting a little complacent.
Let’s finish it up, shall we? Last, as always, is the delightful PS. In this issue, it’s a picture of a weird plant? tissue paper? garbage?-festooned Citroën ID19. Oh, and there’s a cigarette ad, to remind us one last time that this is the ’70s. All the outdoorsy types in the ’70s were big menthol smokers, I guess. Go figure.
Until next time!