In the categories
of automobile, from the racing kart buzzing around a one-eighth-mile course to
the 170-mph Grand Prix machine, the gran turismo car is probably the most
interesting to the most people. The phrase gran turismo, which is to say fast
touring, is a link with the storied giants that roamed the world's roads in the
first three decades of the century: the Phantom I Rolls-Royce, the SJ
Duesenberg, the 8A Isotta-Fraschini, the 540K Mercedes-Benz and the rest. A
gran turismo motor car is a special thing: not as fast as a race car, not as
Spartan as a real sports car, but faster than the ordinary passenger car,
nimbler and safer. A gran turismo car might be called a sophisticated sedan or
a sophisticated hard top coupe. The American industry has not often produced
For example, the
Chrysler 300H has been one of the few American gran turismo automobiles in
current production, but at 219 inches over-all it is bigger than some modern
enthusiasts like, and at $5,800 it is too expensive for many. A handier size is
170 to 180 inches; if a car is small and light it doesn't need the 405 maximum
horsepower the Chrysler offers. The Chevrolet Corvair is a 188-inch car, and
some months ago this and other interesting Corvair characteristics began to
intrigue the inventive automotive mind of John Fitch. Fitch, one of the first
of the postwar U.S. road-race drivers, and for years, as a member of the
Cunningham and Mercedes-Benz teams, one of the best, had driven most
high-performance automobiles on the world market and thought he knew what ought
to go into a gran turismo car. The first result of his thinking in the matter
is now on the road, having appeared without a trace of the usual preliminary
rumor. As these pictures show, it is intriguing.
made a start in the right direction by producing a hot version of the standard
Corvair, the Monza, named after the Italian racing circuit. The Monza is a
two-door coupe carrying a 102-horsepower engine instead of the standard 80 to
84 of the four-door sedan, and with various other optional extras available.
Using as a base the factory Monza, a strikingly good-looking car, Fitch worked
the engine up to 130 horsepower with a mild degree of tune, a Paxton
supercharger, a dual-pipe exhaust system and so on. He has since replaced the
supercharger with a four-carburetor manifold as less complicated but equally
potent. The carburetors are stock Corvair. With 130 horsepower the Corvair
engine can take Fitch's car, which he calls the Monza " Sprint," from 0
to 60 miles an hour in 12 seconds, comparable to the 0-60 times of a good
Porsche Super 90 GT and better than the Volvo P-1800. The Sprint's top speed
rating of 115 miles an hour also betters the Volvo's 105 and equals that of the
Porsche. Fitch intends to sell the car through dealers, at $2,995, and it is in
the light of this price that the Sprint's performance figures are most
impressive: the Porsche costs $5,500 and the Volvo $3,795.
handling with performance, springs and shock absorbers heavier than standard
are used, and 2� of negative camber are enforced at the rear wheels. The
steering is modified to be faster, or quicker, and because of the light
front-end loading of the Corvair chassis, no additional effort is noticeable.
The car is not intended for racing, but its tractability and safety in
high-speed road use have certainly been increased, and its appearance in gran
turismo races or rallyes would be no surprise.
There are certain
bits and accessories that traditionally belong on a gran turismo car, and the
Monza Sprint has most of them: a four-speed, all-synchromesh manual
transmission; an alloy-spoked steering wheel with a finger-grooved rim of
exotic woods; bucket seats and safety belts; a tachometer; a grab rail to help
passengers to cope with centrifugal force in corners; a spotlight that is
mounted conveniently on the inside of the windshield. Not traditional but
useful and present is a compass.
The Sprint is
distinguished by uniform paintwork and upholstery: white body with a double
metallic blue stripe of modest width, black vinyl upholstery. It mounts extra
lights and a chromed steel mesh stone-guard to protect them. The metal hardtop
is tautly covered with a shiny, nylonlike fabric to simulate a fold-down
convertible roof, and the rear-window area has been reduced in the same way.
Since the Monza, as delivered to Fitch, has the optional padded dash, backup
lights, windshield washer and radio, the end product, the Sprint, may
reasonably be said to be well equipped.
The car is
rewarding to drive, and pleasant. Its rate of acceleration is in my view nearly
right for this kind of automobile in everyday use: 14 seconds 0 to 60 is slow
by today's standards, and a car that will do 10 seconds can be too quick for
some drivers. Twelve is adequate, and will meet most needs. A top speed of 115
miles an hour means that 90 or 95, which is all that most people will ever find
use for, can be brought up quickly and maintained for reasonable distances
without harmfully stressing the machinery.
It is a
comfortable automobile, too. The engine has not been so awesomely set up as to
be hard to start on a cold morning or a hot afternoon; the exhaust noise is
louder than standard but not irritating, and it does not, as with many cars of
more pretension and less performance, produce the blatting on the overrun that
so offends police officers. The firmness of the springing did not annoy me in
the least; by European standards it is not really firm, and I hold with those
theorists, among them the Rolls-Royce designers, who maintain that short rapid
movements are less fatiguing to the body than long slow ones. The handling
seemed happy at any speeds to which I cared to take the car; it was in neutral
balance nearly all of the time, the wheels securely tied to wet roads or dry.
It was fun to see the puzzlement of standard Corvair drivers as they were
passed—the Sprint is so obviously a Corvair, and yet its appearance is so
obviously a little different, its way of going a lot different. It is, in the
timeworn but meaningful phrase, a desirable property, and I should think John
Fitch would not be long in installing in further Monza Sprints the 250-odd
four-carburetor manifolds he has ordered made up.