New designs beat the 'facelifts'
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EFORE the expected threeuarter of a million visitors oured into the NEC Motor how and covered everything in ght with seven million finger rints, groups of judges were asting a critical eye over some f the vehicles at the Show.
The judges were invited by the istitute of British Carriage and utomobile Manufacturers for s International Coachwork ompetition, which has been in Kistence since 1926. Gold and lver medals are awarded in any different classes of vehicle om cars to buses and tractive nits. Not every vehicle is condered; only those entered by 1E34. manufacturers.
This year I joined the three tiler judges nominated to cover ie commercial vehicles. This ear's entry for the section was le largest ever and was divided Ito several classes. Each ahicle was judged on laid-down arameters including exterior esign and finish, interior design id finish, accessibility for load arrying, comfort, ventilation id driver's controls. We were ot considering the mechanical ualities of the vehicles, only ieir coachwork.
The class that attracted most itries was that for standard roduction panel vans up to 3.5 nnes gross. With the exception f the A-Series, Ford had en;red an example of all its model Ppes in the Coachwork Compelion and four of them were in is class — the Fiesta van, Es)rt van, Transit and P100 pickp.
The Fiesta 1.1L van suffers om being a car-derived van ith the rear windows simply anelled in — the "coup6"-type yling that makes it an attractive ]r detracts from its practicality I its van guise. So while it ;ored marks on items like cornirt, it lost marks on its loadmce design. The tailgate leaves sill over which goods have to 9 lifted while the shock ab)rber turrets intrude rather too luch for a van. But the judges )ngratulated Ford on a neat )nversion from car to van; the dra panelling is neatly finished id the load area is tidily immed.
Another car-derived van we looked at was the new Metro 1.3L van, making its debut at the Show. The judges commented that because the Metro starts life as a boxier shape than the Fiesta it withstands the transition to a van rather better. The load space is uncluttered and surprisingly capacious given the small overall length of the Metro. The driver's area was not so highly rated. Access for the driver doing multi-drop work such as a messenger is not good — the Metro has a high sill to step over and the door bins tend to get kicked.
Moving across the Austin Rover (the latest in a long line of confusing BL name-changes) stand to the Morris 440 van, the judges were initially impressed by the external design. The load area is boxy and practical but not ugly while the front end is really very tidy indeed since its transition from Marina antecedence to Ital.
Inside the 440 it was a different story. Marks were lost primarily for its very spartan and poorly designed driver's area. It was criticised for its vinyl-coy ered seats, dated and ugly Marina-style dash and awful fibreboard door panels. The load area is generous, but a gap between the floor and the sides means that small items could be lost.
Its direct competitor is the Escort and we then judged the Escort 55L 1.3 van, which the judges found hard to fault. It was considered attractive from the outside and totally car-like inside but with a good load space. The "opera" windows behind the front windows, plus large glass area and excellent door mirrors add up to very good visibility for a van. All the body panels and trim fitted well and the only note of criticism was that the rear door fittings look a little on the flimsy side.
The Ford Transit 100 scored an average mark on most counts. The model entered was in Custom trim with a rear tailgate and hinged nearside load door and so scored well on access. But inside the load space is a failing found in many other vans; no holes or facilities for any form of load strapping or retention. On the Transit Ford has opted for rounded wheelboxes; the judges expressed a preference for squared ones, but this is debatable.
From a driver's point of view the Transit's dash and controls are functional and well-finished although not luxurious by modern standards — two judges thought that the gear lever is too close to the driver when in reverse.
Next to be judged was the lveco (Fiat) Daily 35.9 3.5-tonner in high-roof guise. This was immediately commended for excellent access to the load space — the rear doors are as big as humanly possibly and reach right up into the grp roof extension. With big rear windows and mirrors so large that they would not disgrace your living room wall, the Daily's visibility was rated as excellent. So was the interior with a tidy load area and a neat, well trimmed cab. The only jarring note is the gaudy and tasteless bright red plastic window winders and handles.
Another Continental contender in the class was the Renault Trafic T800. This has a refreshingly different (and supposedly aerodynamic) approach to a panel van's shape and was awarded a good score for its exterior design. The Trafic's floor is exceptionally low and large doors mean that accessibility to the load area is first rate. Inside, the load space is double skinned for the lower 18 inches or so for protection and plenty of holes in the internal ribbing offer some elementary form of load retention possibility.
In the Trafic's cab the dash was reckoned to be attractive, modern and functional, but its fit and finish deserved only an average score. Some of the colours used for the interior trim and mouldings seem to clash — a point noticed on other Renaults. A more serious fault is the ommission of an internal rear-view mirror.
Brand new to the UK market is the Talbot Express. Its appearcontinued overleaf ance was found to be rather characterless in the eyes of the judges — it has shades of Daily, Sherpa and Transit about it. But it is eminently practical and the sides of the Express are notably free of swaging to give a clean flat surface. The paintwork was also considered to be above average.
Accessibility to the load space is helped by a generous-sized lift and slide side-door but hindered by a narrower-than-usual rear door aperture. The cab of the Express was fairly well liked by the judges; it is a good example of a modern moulded car-like dash, but the finish of the fitments was universally criticised. For instance, the glovebox lid fitted badly and the floor covering on the wheelarches was badly wrinkled.
In the last Coachwork awards in 1980 the Toyota Niece had taken the gold medal in this class but this year it did not do so well — a sign of progress and better competition. The judges still liked the smooth external appearance of this forwardcontrol panel van except for the frontal styling which has some fiddly trim around the headlights and a gaudy Toyota symbol; all very reminiscent of Japanese styling five years before it was Europeanised.
Good detail inside the Hiace's load space include double skinning to the lower half of the sides and sound insulation material running the entire length of the roof rather than just above the cab area as is usual. The dash is another example of dated Japanese thinking — full of features, but rather tastelessly executed. The judges asked: Do you really need three horn buttons sunk into the spokes of the steering wheel? The Hiace is well put together and the paintwork is good.
Freight Rover had entered two Sherpa variants; a 200 City and a 280HL. Recently restyled, the Sherpa was considered a big improvement on the previous model by the judges, but is the improvement sufficient? Externally, the body is clean and commendably free of swaging now and inside the load area top marks were awarded to Freight Rover for supplying a useful perforated strip on each side for load strapping. In the Sherpa's cab it was thumbs down — there is still a lot of room for improvement despite being much better than the old model. The plastic used for dash was thought to be cheap-looking and somehow not together. For instance, the instrument cowl in front of the driver is made of thin, smooth plastic and is slightly curved while the rest of the dashboard is made of straight-edged grained plastic — an annoying detail mismatch.
The last vehicle in the class to be judged was the Ford P100 pick-up. As a pick-up it is attractive with car-like cab and comfort and a boxy double-skinned load area. But because it was entered as a panel van with the Walker hard-top fitted, it had to be judged as a van and in this role it is less satisfactory. The Walker hard-top is rather stylised and does not maximise volume and all in all the P100 was not in the running for a panel van award.
When the points were added up the Ford Escort 551_ van took the gold medal — a unanimous decision by the judges — with the lveco Daily 35.9 narrowly beating the Renault Trafic for the silver medal in this panel van class up to 3.5 tonnes.
At the other end of the weight scale was the class for tractive unit cabs. The judges' first port of call was the Iveco stand to assess the top model, the 190.38 rated at 44 tonnes and its smaller brother the 165.24 rated at 35 tonnes. The smaller of these two units had the day cab which has been around for some years now and is beginning to show its age somewhat. The judges did not fault it but nor could they commend it; rather bland it rated an average mark for exterior design. It is essentially the same cab on the 190.38, but mounted higher and, on the show model, in sleeper version. The judges thought the extra height did not help matters as far as external appearance was concerned.
Both cabs are well-finished. Three different badges (Iveco, Fiat and Turbo) all in different typefaces on the front of the 190.38 give the impression that this unit is suffering from an identity crisis. Inside the Iveco cabs the design and finish was fairly well liked although one judge thought the green graph paper-like dash pattern on the 165.24 does not aid clarity.
Karrier Motors had entered the new Renault R310 unit which uses basically the same Berliet cab as the higher mounted Ford Transcontinental cab. There was an orange-peel effect on the red paint used on the cab, which lost it marks for external finish. At first sight the interior of the cab seems fairly plush, as befits this premium unit, but there is another example of bad colour matching with the trim finished in various shades of beige, brown, orange and oatmeal which just do not look right. Nor did the judges consider the trim to be well finished.
The Ford Transcontinental scored the same as the R310 for its exterior design but was better on exterior finish because of its superior paintwork. Access to this high-mounted cab is good, because of some well-placed steps and grab-handles, but once inside the judges expressed their disappointment; for a premium, international unit the cab interior was not considered to be on a par with most of the competition. It now looks a little dated and spartan where it was once considered luxurious.
And considering that as a Conti nental unit it will spend much its time on the "wrong" side the road, the mirror set up definitely inadequate in its sta dard form.
The Transcontinental's m rors are in complete contrast those on another unit the judgi inspected, the Scania R142I The prefix R means that the ci on this top-line unit is fitted o to the most luxurious ar spacious specification and th is certainly the impression th the judges received. It is all ve well and tastefully trimme comfortable and with the co trols to hand. Instead of tl usual glovebox out of reach the passenger side the Scar has a spacious box in the cent of the dashboard within the dr er's reach.
Nice detail touches inside z mired by the judges includ overhead swivelling mapligi and a light and net pocket on t side panel at the head of t bunk. Only some flimsy-looki sun visors came in for criticis All in all, the Scania 142 is d€ nitely the driver's choice. exterior shape is traditional Sc nia, but was redesigned jt over a year ago, and is certair not in the mould of non-aggn
lye styling like the Leyland C40 ab. A point that detracted from s exterior design score is the lacing of the step on the front umper — a driver wearing. eavy shoes or boots could kick ut the headlight glass, said the adges.
The new Ford Cargo 3220 unit tith a Deutz engine was the ther cab in the running. This ightweight 32-tonner is obqously designed to fulfil a very lifferent role from that of the big ;cania and so its interior, which 3 very much less plush than the ;cania's could not be compared. or its overall styling the cab ated the top marks.
Inside, the design is not so utstanding but is still above verage. Visibility is particularly ood with such a large glass rea.
Two points came in for riticism. One is the lack of a cab handle near the seat back )r: the driver's left hand as he imbs up into the cab, while the ther point is the use of small )peater lamps in a vulnerable osition on the edge of the rheel-arches.
Overall, the Ford Cargo 3220 )ok the gold medal for tractive nits with the Scania R142M warded the silver. But it was a Dlit decision among the judges nd one that required a second isit to the respective stands to )rt out.
For panel vans over 3.5 tonnes gross it was the lveco 60.10, a six-tonne-gvw panel van, that took the gold medal. The judges considered its standard of finish to be above average, both inside and out. Its floor height is not particularly low but this has the effect of reducing the intrusion of the wheelboxes. The rear doors and the lift out and slide side-door do not reach right up to roof level but are reasonably wide.
A grab handle screwed to the rear offside door pillar is useful but reduces the effective aperture width slightly. The judges commented on the usefulness of a pocket for delivery notes that was added to the inside of the rear offside door.
The Renault Master, big brother to the Trafic took the silver medal in this class. The Master did not score as highly as the Trafic for its exterior design; the larger rear load space of the Master creates some ugly lines of seams where it joins the smaller cab section. With its low floor height and very large rear doors access was rated as very good. The Master's dashboard was not thought as good as the Trafic's and once again there was no interior mirror.
Also entered in this class was the Boalloy Localiner delivery body built on a central-spine Dodge chassis converted by York. Designed for extra lowfloor height to deliver Coke, the vehicle was not judged on the grounds that it is not a true panel van (the cab is separate and the body is predominently curtainsided) and because insufficient numbers had been built to qualify for the competition. A pity, because it looks an effective design.
Another Boalloy product, its Insuliner insulated curtainsided body, took the gold medal for the best refrigerated van. It is really designed for chilled products, not refrigerated ones and offers unrivalled access to the load via its double-thickness insulated curtains and Boalloy 'swinging side supports. As a unique type of body the judges could not compare it with anything else, but everything on it seemed well designed and finished and so it deserved the gold.
In a similar situation was the fibre-reinforced plastic tanker by M&G Trailers. This repeated its success at the last Show by winning the gold medal for the best bulk tanker. A good practical point of the tanker is its wide, non-slip top which makes the driver's job so much safer.
No gold medal was awarded in the section for custom-built panel vans up to 3.5 tonnes; the judges felt that there was nothing that warranted this award. Freight Rover's Sherpa 255 with a Luton body was awarded the silver medal. The vehicle is offered in Luton configuration as a standard option although the Luton body is actually built by bodybuilder Ingimex. The Luton is fairly well finished with a nonslip floor and ply kick panels to protect the lower portion of its aluminium planking body.
Some general points to emerge from the judging included the observation that progress is taking place: most of the newer designs are better than the old ones. For instance, the Escort is better than the Fiesta and the Metro scored better than Morris 440. And recent facelifts to Sherpa or Transit have not entirely brought them up to the standard of the newest competitors.
Particularly strong points on the newer contenders seem to be bigger and better access to the load space, better visibility and more creature comforts in the cab. Not so good points include the practice of sticking interior mirrors directly to the windscreen and the almost total lack of load retention points in vans.
It should also be remembered that these are purely coachwork awards; just because a vehicle does not win a medal for its coachwork does not mean that it is not a good vehicle in other respects.