Rd. 4 RESULTS
Chapter 15: Consumer car segment 1975-1984 - Sports car standard and premium
Left to right: KHI 792 Sparrow @doot, SAETA Lince CC, SAETA Lince Turbo @Petakabras, Turból 940 Superletara @donutsnail, Zephorus Stelvio Entre @Riley, Wolfe E320 Roadster 2+2 @karhgath, Mayland Paxton 3.8GT @TheYugo45GV
Although there was a general proliferation of sports cars in Letara, which led to two new car classes - family sports and small sports - you would not know it looking at the bottom brackets of the true sports car category. With only seven cars representing this category - one in the ‘standard’ price bracket and six in the ‘premium’, you might think that there was a true under-representation here. But with the improving economy, this might just have been a reflection of the times. So while relatively cheap, these cars are still expected to be good performers and relatively comfortable, certainly compared to their small sports car cousins. Let’s see how they did.
The first sports car on the market was the Zephorus Stevio Entre. Right off the bat this car aimed to make a statement with its very aggressive wedge shape. Not only the shape was pure sport. It had weight saving aluminium panels, a 202 HP mid-mounted boxer engine, sport compound tires, and a two-seater sports interior and only a basic 8-track for weight savings. The car’s tuning was very nice too that allowed precision handling particularly at lower speeds. Overall the car was not very comfortable, but that could almost be expected from such a wedge car. At first glance its performance was good, but Earth shattering: 5.9 s 0-100 km/h, and a top speed of under 240 km/h - but considering its competition at the time of launch, it was a very cheap way to get this kind of performance and handling - and a definite step up from the small sports cars on offer. So while not the ‘king of the road’, its was the cheapest way to get those supercar looks and rival the true kings and queens, and thus found its way into many garages among the richer classes who had enough to spare for a second car to terrorize the highways with.
Two years later the Mayland Paxton 3.8GT was released. This was a completely different beast altogether. First, it was a little more expensive than the Zephorus, with a more expensive upkeep, overall it was in the same bracket near the top of the ‘premium’ class. It was a much larger car on a ladder frame, but with weight-saving aluminium panels. It had 2+2 luxury seating and a premium 8-track, and was on medium-compound tires and had an automatic gearbox. The car was a convertible with a manual soft-top, which made it all the more desirable. So this car was more in the grey-zone between sports and family sports, but fell on the sports side with the rear jump seats. Performance-wise, it was good, but not exceptional: 8.6 s 0-100 and 224 km/h top speed. It was more comfortable than the Zephorus, but not by much, which was a disappointment for those that were cross-shopping from the family segment: this was more of a true sports set-up. It was fairly easy to drive, but was a bit cumbersome in corners, and potholes seemed to pose a bit of a problem too. So was it a bad car? By no means. It was just a little… ‘grey’. Good enough, but will not make your heart pump. It was more of a relaxed driver with the roof down, and had just a hint of sportiness that the older crowd appreciated. So it’s buyers consisted mostly of the ‘young-at-heart’ and ‘empty-nesters’ who were still mostly broke after kicking the kids out, and used the car for their trips to the local winery.
In 1978 the lower end of the sports market got an infusion of three new cars. The cheapest was the Saeta Lince CC, just clearing the ‘standard’ price bracket and ending up a ‘premium’ car. This relatively small convertible (manual soft-top) coupe had 2+2 premium seats and a standard 8-track in the dash. It’s looks and equipment hinted at a sporty car - manual gearbox, sports compound tires, sharp-ish handling and mild aero - but its engine sang a milder tune with barely 100 HP. The performance, then, was also quite lacking here: 11.7 s 0-100 km/h and a top speed of ‘only’ 186 km/h. So it was certainly not a speed monster, but it drove really well and crisp. Comfort was just about what you’d expect: not stellar, but about acceptable. But with its bright colour, fresh design, convertible top, overall sporty aura, and relatively price and upkeep, it became a favourite around the university campuses as some students now had more money to spend (sometimes helped by their parents) and could afford more than the bare basics to get around.
The slightly more expensive Saeta Lince Turbo aimed to be a more
serious mature contender among the sports car crowd. It had a solid top, sports interior, and larger rims that fit larger brakes. The car had a smaller and lighter engine than the Lince CC, but with its turbocharger it made nearly 1.5 times as much power. Despite the solid top, this car provided a significant (nearly 200 kg) weight savings compared to the Lince CC, and with the more powerful engine it had proper sports car performance: 6.8 s 0-100 and a top speed of 210 km/h. Handling was much crisper too at both slow and high speeds, and its brakes were much more powerful too resulting in more confident stopping power. So overall it succeeded in being a lot more sporty than the Lince CC, but it came at a significant comfort cost, making it the least comfortable full-size sports car of the decade, and even worse than most small sports cars by a margin. Given that the much cheaper Levante Grifo V6 outperformed in most metrics, it is not hard to see why the Lince Turbo faced very stiff competition. Again, not a bad car by any means, but when there are many similar or better options out there, it is hard to make a real dent in the overall market. But for those that bought one, it certainly put smiles on their faces on the road as well as during track days.
The third car of 1978 was the Wolfe E320 Roadster 2+2. This car was introduced as a direct competitor to the Mayland Paxton. The Wolfe was slightly cheaper, but there was no appreciable difference between the two. It had a similar ‘stately’ design, ladder frame, manual soft top, and 2+2 seating in a luxury interior. Compared to the Paxton it had some upgrades, including an advanced automatic gearbox, luxury 8-track, better safety equipment, and larger rims that fit larger rotors. As drawbacks, however, it had simple solid discs rather than vented ones, and it had a 160 km/h speed limiter. It did have a large and powerful, but ultimately lazy engine, and the car’s 0-100 km/h was 9.1 seconds. Much of the lack of performance was also due to the car’s weight, which clocked in at over 1.5 tons. But, it was a very comfortable car - one of the most comfortable in the entire segment in fact. And it did handle corners much better than the Paxton, and was overall much easier to drive too. So its categorization in the sports category really relied on its number of doors and seats and body shape, it had just enough handling and power to not be a complete outlier - and took off where the Paxton left off - in the hands of grey(ing) couples with a heart younger than their years.
The Turból 940 Superletara hit the market in 1980. This car was priced near the middle of the ‘premium’ market, above the Saeta cars, but below the Zephorus. This was an interesting beast. It had a very strong engine for the price: at nearly 350 HP it was nearly 150 HP stronger than any other in the ‘premium’ bracket, and only beaten by cars in the ‘luxury’ bracket that were twice as expensive. And despite being on a ladder frame, it handled really well with superb cornering characteristics. Its two premium seats and premium 8-track provided just about adequate comfort - comparable to the Zephorus, and overall it was quite a pleasant car to drive. Its acceleration was excellent too with a 0-100 time of 4.8 seconds - making it fastest in class and beating many more expensive cars. But the car was limited to 250 km/h - at first seemingly an oversight, but it was done for cost saving purposes, as the car naturally managed 251. So it was the fastest car in the segment, again beating several more expensive cars. Its Achilles heel? It got stuck in potholes. Indeed, like many of the small sports cars, it was only suited to the most pristine of tarmac surfaces, and had to be trailered to the track. But there it destroyed its price-equivalent competition, and paced ahead of many much more expensive cars too. So it was clearly not a car for everyone - but it became a track-day favourite.
Last on the market was also the cheapest of the bunch - the only ‘standard’ car in fact: the KHI 792 Sparrow. This was a small car, barely clearing the small sports size limit. It was a 2+2 seater with a standard interior and standard 8-track. For its size, it was on surprisingly large 16" rims and full-size rotors inside, but with very comfortable pads. It had a class-only I5 engine with 111 HP propelling the Sparrow 0-100 in 10.9 seconds and a top speed of 177 km/h. Its comfort was a little lacking, beaten by many of the small sports cars, but it was quite drivable and had decent handling. So while not the fastest, or very comfortable, its bargain price that undercut even all small sports cars cannot be overlooked. In this booming economy it was mostly overlooked, but those that could not afford any more for a second ‘fun’ car, this might have been the only option to buy.
…to be continued…