During his short stint as a motoring technical editor-at-large, legendary motoring correspondent Archie Vicar wrote for the Whitchurch Advertiser & Bugle. This appears to be a transcript of a review of the BMW 520 from September 1972 entitled “Another new car from BMW”.
(Sept. 22, 1972. Original photos by Douglas Land-Windmanure (sic.). Due to abrasion and scuffing of the originals, stock photos have been used).
As Rolls-Royce like to say of their engines’ power output, English engineering is never less than adequate. If you want something safe and solid, Ford and Vauxhall have some quite good cars for you: the indomitable Granada 3000 and the fine Ventora; Triumph offer the notably louche and brash 2500 while Rover can sell you a 3500 with its innovative and rust-prone body engineering.
Not to mention BMC, of course, with their fine and ever-improving Wolseley range. Why would I say all of this? It is by way of underlining the superfluity of German-manufacturer BMW’s new entrant to the medium-sized executive car market, the oddly-named “520”.
Few of the old 2000 found takers here and so it seems that BMW wants to correct that car’s failings and improve the sales tally. Maybe in so doing they can attract business from Vauxhall and Ford too and perhaps sell a few hundred more cars. It’s small beer and won’t trouble the main players in the volume market. So, we ask is the 520 cutting the butter nonetheless?
Let’s compare! The engine capacity of the 520 is much the same as the outgoing 2000, with Stromberg carburetors shoveling the juice; compression ratio jumps from 8.5 to 9.0 while the torque goes up from 100 to 115 bhp at 5800 rpm. The final drive is exactly the same…. And without wanting to wear out the good readers of the Whitchurch Advertiser & Bugle .. (continued on page 13)
(continued from p. 4)
I shall avoid going further. The gist of it is that while Austin, Hillman and Rover and others are working hard to innovate in these increasingly competitive times, BMW is sitting on its single 2000-shaped laurel and merely (continued on page 14)
(continued from p. 13) making incremental changes to an already out-dated design. (continued on page 18)
(continued from p. 14) In order to appraise the relative merits of the 520 I took the car on an extended tour, starting at BMW’s London offices and ending 2400 miles later, a little short of BMW’s proving ground in Bavaria (I will go into detail about the car’s woeful on-the-limit handling below).
The first thing on my mind concerned BMW´s suspension choice. This being BMW, a firm of inveterate conservatives if ever there was one, the front set-up is the same as the old set-up! That means McPherson struts and it looks like they were inspired by the 2500 cars, since the struts are angled rearwards by an apostolic number of degrees. Supposedly the effect of this is to improve the castor angle and attain acceptable steering behaviour.
For the layman, this means that the car tends to revert to straight-ahead when the tiller is left unmolested (as when one is using both hands to light a troublesome cigar – you need to stuff a match into the end if the tobacco is rolled too tightly, for instance, or if you need to pack some Latakia into your briar) and it means that when the steering is activated there’s a usefully non-linear steering output. Ask Citroën about this, or indeed my former editor at the High Wycombe Times who is still getting letters from Slough about their damaged car!
By the time we had reached Paris I had come to terms with the front suspension. It’s not that different than that which Ford used to do: there’s a single lower link and and a trailing strut which is one with part of the anti-roll bar. All of this is attached to a sub-frame along with the main engine mountings.
Paris challenged the BMW’s suspension – the wretched lumpy asphalt and awful pavé made my dentures rattle. Wolseley and Simca are comparably better in this regard. BMW seem to have a hidden agenda with the 520, hinting it is some manner of sports car though the door count clearly says saloon. Maybe something got lost on the way from Bavarian to English!!
Having collected a few cigars from S.J Dupont I pointed the nose of the car (it’s very slanted!) towards the south, meaning to make it to Madrid after three days of hard charging. First stop, Bordeaux.
The ashtray is too small meaning I had to empty it as often as the car needed refuelling, which is often. 15 gallons don’t take you far when you are averaging 85 mph on the autoroute and getting through forty-three Gauloise a day. I ran out of Craven “A” in Paris but by good fortune the British consul in Bilbao had a supply waiting for us when we reached there. On the way, the rear suspension made its presence felt. It’s a complicated set-up. BMW have semi-trailing arms mounted on an entirely new design of subframe. Goodness me, what happened in Munich to let that happen?
The hinge points are set up so as to be enclosed in the lattices of the frame and not above. Furthermore, to save space and make it harder to remove for maintenance, the prop shaft shoots through the frame instead of going over it as on the old 2000. It’s heavier and more complex and that goes some way to explaining the lardy, lazy nature of the 520 along with its painfully high price. That cost has to be met and it means the BMW lacks the equipment of even the most Spartan car from Ford or Vauxhall.
Land-Windermere knew a good spot in Hendaye so we stopped there for the third night (hence the lovely photos and the lovely models draped over the car!) and the meal proved to be most acceptable. Say what you like about the French, their suspect cars and fish-scented hotels, the food is often not bad! I had steak and chips and jolly good they were too!
After some drama at the Spanish border concerning the car (something to do with the vehicle identification number), I squeezed the BMW into the land of Valencia oranges, sherry and sardines. Land-Windermere wasn’t so lucky but as he had taken the requisite six photos I left him to return to Blighty under his own steam, watched closely by the Spanish copper who was alert enough to notice Land-Windermere had brought his wife’s passport and not his own. The sozzled chap at customs didn’t notice that at Calais!
Most drivers will hate the (continued on p. 32)
(continued from p. 14) fussy appearance of the door (continued on p.9 of the Gardening Supplement)
Due to vibration damage, the rest of the original is illegible.