Renowned motoring writer Archie Vicar considers the 1978 Colt 1400. In this transcript from “The Driver’s Periodical” (November 1978), he reflects on what he felt was one of the year’s most significant new cars.
What is it that makes the Colt 1400 such a very interesting car? At first glance it would appear to be a rather inoffensively characterless family “hatchback” out of the same mould as the Renault 5 and Volkswagen Polo, merely offering another variation of noise and discomfort. The interior is available in an admittedly pleasant tan colour but the Colt 1400 makes no efforts at sporting appeal.
The shapes are devoid of much decoration and could almost come from a European manufacturer barring the distinctly Oriental steering wheel. The seats work well, I suppose, and the driver views the speedometer through a non-reflective black panel, something the residents at Rolls Royce’s retirement home for engineers ought to notice one day. The world outside the Colt is visible thanks to a low window line and very thin A-pillars. In short, there is nothing to deter a motorist interested in economical, easy A to B driving but nothing much that calls for our attention.
It is under the skin that the Colt gets intensely interesting, casting into sharp relief the difference between the test car and the rest of the vehicles vying for consumers’ earnings.
The Colt has an independent rear suspension, essentially a single trailing arm left and right, pivoting on a tubular cross member in conjunction with separate coil springs and dampers. Closer investigation reveals that the right hand arm is a one-piece construction, with a cross tube extending almost right across the car and supported by a rubber bush at each end, bushes specially made to Colt’s specification. The left hand arm has a rather short cross tube which is bushed with nylon to pivot on the full-width tube. This means there is more space for cargo. The assembly can be removed easily in one piece should one wish to repair it after reversing over a low metal bollard that was not visible in the car park of a Belgian Auberge, for example..
When one drives this responsive and agile little car, one notices that there are eight forward speeds, made possible by a two-ratio input to the four-speed transmission. Notice the dual gear lever on the centre console in the photo (page 85, ed.) It also has two reverse speeds. Great for thrilling B to A driving, I suppose. The 1401 CC engine is a cross-flow design with an inlet on one side and the exhaust on the other. Icing problems are avoided by the carburettor being mounted near the firewall.
The only fly in the Colt’s ointment is that cold starts are very, very problematic. For the first few miles careless gearchanging upsets the engine and it sounds raucous and harsh. Stalling is a distinct possibility. The gear box likes to whine and whizz in the manner of many front wheel drive cars.
Colt have been careful in other ways. The bolts are cadmium plated and every link looks substantial. The ashtray is very well placed indeed, being a smoothly engineered drawer located precisely in the right place for smoking and casual driving. It held the remains of four packs of Craven “A” cigarettes consumed during the extensive two day test the car was subject to in the Ardennes area of Belgium before the car was incapacitated.
While not as good as the Renault 5 or Polo in the driving stakes, generally the Colt is very daring car with which to begin the combat for customers in these increasingly competitive times. There is no doubt that Colt will make their mark with this car and perhaps jolt the more complacent manufacturers into higher state of alertness.