Media - Chrysler Articles/Road Tests

Road Test - Supercar Shootout (Modern Motor August 1972)

THE SUPERCAR test was easily the most massive project we have ever undertaken. And it was probably the most exciting. Like every Australian motorist, we've wanted to see the Supercars matched before. But it's the first time all three manufacturers have had comparable Supercars on the market at the same time in current models. After months of preparation, we finally got everything together late in June for a full workout with the Biggest of the Big Three. It was a totally comprehensive and very satisfying test program. The completion of our $50,000 fifth wheel in time for the three-way test added a suitable note of accomplishment. But it wasn't without its problems. Just collecting the cars took three months! Not surprisingly, the test fleets of the three major manufacturers don't carry a big stock of heavyweight machines - they're largely comprised of the you-and-me variety everyday consumer cars.

After nearly two months of broken schedules as one after the other manufacturer dropped out of the time plan (smashed cars, mechanical failures, service and delivery problems were among the reasons) we decided to switch tactics and go elsewhere for our test cars. Completely privately-owned cars were easy to come by - but generally not suitable for test for various reasons. Top dealers offered the best deal. Our first approach was to McLeod Ford of Rockdale Sydney. Max McLeod is one of the most energetic and dedicated followers of motor sport in the country. His enthusiasm spreads to general high performance machinery, and he's built an enviable reputation for his dealership in that area. A major reason is the highly successful activities of John Goss, who races the McLeod Ford Falcon GT and runs the McLeod Ford competitions department. McLeod and Goss turned up a brand new Falcon GT manual for us, tuned, run-in and ready to go with a mere 500 miles on the clock. It was one of the most immaculately prepared road test cars we've ever seen -  in both mechanical and detail preparation. At the end of our gruelling 1000 mile test it was running as sweetly as the day we picked it up. Finding a 350 Monaro was the next step. The Holden Dealers are always exceptionally co-operative and through our old friend Les Vagg at Pennant Hills we located an ideal test unit from Suttons -  the largest Sydney Metropolitan GM dealer. They produced a turquoise Monaro 350 with off-white interior that was also beautifully presented to the standard we've come to expect as normal from them. The car was tight and firm and went very hard, very consistently. Finding a Charger was practically impossible and we exhausted Chrysler and all its dealers without results. The highly active national sunroof firm of Slideaway came to the rescue with an E38 -  one stage up from the E37 street car we wanted for a fair comparison, but acceptable enough under the circumstances. Used regularly for sales promotional work, with nearly 12,000 miles on the clock, it had done a little more work than the other two cars - but was functioning well mechanically. It had several faults that should have been rectified in service - however they didn't affect our test.

We gave all three cars a final mechanical check-over and headed straight for Oran Park. We like this circuit for track testing - particularly on this scale. It is a very safe, open circuit with plenty of room for varied action photography. It has the added attraction of running regular national meetings at which the top cars appear, so a full range of ultimate lap times is available. The Ford and Holden were shod with brand new Dunlop SP Sports (Aquajets) and the Charger wore Goodyear Grand Rallies. We pumped 45 psi in the tyres and I took each car out for three exploratory laps to set-up the ideal tyre pressures.

The Charger understeered firmly and progressively but the tail could be kicked out on exit with power. It was reasonably balanced so I left the pressures at 45 all round. The Falcon was handling well - a fraction of negative camber on the front end helped reduce natural understeer - and the car pointed into a corner with gentle understeer, but oversteered in the apex on a trailing throttle or on exit with power. it was smooth and progressive so I left the pressures untouched. The Holden understeered brutally on all corners - although a fraction of negative camber and positive castor would have cured most of this. I Instead I was forced to drop the rear tyres four pounds - any more made the car too tail-happy on the fast bits and on exit from other corners, and failed to reduce the understeer. The Holden on 45 - 41 continued to understeer heavily throughout the test session. We ran a number of laps for photography purposes - both single cars and multiple car formations, utilising the services of several racing drivers including Ross Bond. Then we got down to the serious stuff. To determine the overall performance of the three cars in actual cornering, we set-up a series of marker points on three corners and timed all three cars through these points in the process of a series of full-chat laps. The results are reproduced in our test table, but when Interpreted show that all cars were basically identical in performance on cornering ability. The difference in lap times which subsequently showed up, was almost entirely attributable to varying power outputs. Of three flying laps I performed in each car for outright lap times, the Charger proved fastest on 56.1 ahead of the Falcon GT on 58.5 and the Monaro on 59.8. The Charger had the unfair advantage of E38 specifications, which is worth more than 40 BHP in terms of performance and good suspension tweaks in terms of handling. More important, the car wore Goodyear Grand Rallies, which are generally accepted to be worth two seconds a lap on Aquajets. With all cars on equal tyres (the Goodyear's) more realistic times should have read: Charger 56.1, Falcon 56.5 and Monaro 57.8. The Falcon GT would probably be well over a second ahead if compared with the E37 road-going Charger and both clearly show their racing heritage. The Monaro, seriously de-tuned for its new low-compression standard-fuel engine, performed very creditably compared with the other machines. But the times are more noteworthy for their sheer competitive value. The outright lap record for Series cars in a race meeting is 51.1 seconds for a Falcon GT. Since race tyres are generally rated for 2 - 3 seconds improvement on radials and blueprinting, suspension tuning, brake mods and other race preparations are worth at least another 2 - 3 seconds the lap times produced on these stock standard road test cars are very creditable. Allowing for identical tyres being used on all three cars, we figure most of the individual corner times would be near-identical too. It is interesting to note the Holden went across the extremely fast Dogleg as fast as the Falcon GT. The three cars felt totally different on the track. I tried the Falcon GT first - and it proved to be the best. The car pulled right to its 5500 rpm maximum on the chute in third before using top and just over 100 mph indicated going into the braking area. One firm brake application squashed the soft, over-power-assisted brake pedal down through a long travel that made sliding the heel across to the throttle for the heel-toe downshifts a natural. The car liked second in the tight hairpin at the end of the straight, and with late braking and a slightly sideways entry, the car could be set up with the tail out all the way around the corner! Just how far the tail was put out was a matter of choice - the Falcon would hang at 45 degrees with armfuls of opposite lock in perfect balance and control for the full journey. Not surprisingly, a cleaner line was quicker, and made selecting a smooth route down into the right hander of the Esses a much neater business. But the safe oversteer proved the point on manoeuvrability. The Falcon was prone to oversteer on both the right and left kinks of the Esses unless a super-smooth line was followed, and it got particularly happy when selecting third from `6000 in second right on the left-harder. Down into Suttons corner, the big car would take a big gobful of throttle before setting up for a slightly sideways entry after a quick stab on the stoppers. It needed lots of power just before the apex to use all the road and get through quickly and it gobbled up fourth gear going up the short straight to fly almost-flat over the Dogleg (dead flat-out if the line was spot-on). The anchors could be tossed out halfway down the Armco into Energol picking up third, then second for a heavy throttle exit onto the chute, selecting third at the pitgate. Down the straight, the oil pressure read a constant 80 psi. The car was beautiful to drive. Fitted with a fixed-type seat belt, I felt locked-in for the fast laps. The buckets fitted snugly, there was no lateral movement and the relation to the steering wheel and gearshift was damn near perfect. The steering is very low geared, but it somehow works out well on the track - you don't get caught out twirling the tiller.

Forward visibility - was fine, but rearward and sideways visibility was negligible - which makes the car great for shutting the gate on your fellow competitors. The Holden was totally different. After driving the Ford, with its tight, snug feel in the cockpit, the Holden was like driving in a big space machine. The car is incredibly light and airy and the visibility is exceptional in all directions. The car feels much smaller to drive on the track, but its understeer problems made it harder to fight around the circuit. The steering is much more direct than the Falcon's - most oversteer conditions can be gathered up in one armful of opposite lock - whereas on the Falcon you have to start winding. The car was unbearably slow through the hairpin - where it lost all its time - and unbelievably quick over the Dogleg where it was as fast as the other two and a good deal more predictable. It lost out on gear ratios - it used third and top everywhere except the hairpin and second didn't help much there either - and it was down on power, but it made up with magnificent braking and good handling on the quick bits. But the bucket seats made driving an effort. A good set of seat belts couldn't beat the lateral forces that tore me out of the seat on every corner - alternatively throwing me against the door, or hanging me out over the centre console. GM's million dollar seat re-development plan won't come before time. The Monaro had two instrument problems - a tacho which had been incorrectly wired up to the six cylinder points and constantly indicated a disconcerting 7500 rpm without valve float, and a speedo that was 15 mph out at the top end due largely to the different tyres fitted. It indicated an effortless 110 at the end of the chute which looked great until the corrections proved it out at less than the ton. We fitted the master tacho to avoid genuine over-revving and found the car pulled 5800 quite happily. Oil pressure indicated around 60 psi on the straight every lap. Climbing into the Charger was like dropping into a Japanese sunken lounge. The seats were low and cushy - quite grippy, but not aided by Chrysler's dubious inertia-reel belts (a belt should provide location as well as crash protection - the Chrysler inertia reel doesn't). The sides of the car loom high-up almost at eye level, and the visibility is woeful in most directions. But the sense of security is great. The gearshift feels clunky and awkward and the restriction of three forward ratios seems almost unbelievable in a car that growls so fiercely when you tweak the ignition key. But the bloody thing goes. As our acceleration figures prove, the three-slots aren't a handicap most of the time, although an extra ratio at Oran Park would probably be worth a minimum 1 - 2 seconds a lap. Still the car is dynamically accelerative and has plenty of power to pop that tail right out past any suggestion of understeer. The car runs straight ahead on the hairpin, but you'd expect that. It also understeers more definitely than the Falcon in all situations, but it is progressive understeer that you can predict and control. The brakes are something else. We nearly broke our pedal pressure gauge getting brake-stop readings - and frequently recorded pressures of 120 lbs-plus (the Falcon was doing 40 lbs and less). In Chrysler's immortal words, the pedal is designed for racing drivers to give progressive stopping power and avoid brake lock-up, but you can get a telescoped right leg just proving their point. But they're right - you can't lock the brakes. I got great stopping at the end of the straight on Oran Park and the brakes refused to lock despite using two feet and bending the seat frame on one occasion. Getting gears is something else. In the braking area, selecting a lower slot can send you bouncing straight off the end of a corner in uncontrolled rear-wheel-hop if you pop the lower gear in the wrong place. The secret is to do your braking, heel-toe and slot that lower ratio into place - but don't let the clutch out till you're ready to hit the apex and give it the gun. It's a technique you learn and it works well, but it's not efficient and it doesn't reflect a good suspension.

Our Charger pulled third past the pits and put down over the ton down the straight. After showing 40 - 60 psi oil pressure, it could be braked quite late and second eventually selected for the hairpin. This gear was useable only to the exit of the Esses right hander when third was required briefly to avoid over-revving, before snatching brakes and second for Suttons sweeper. Third was needed near the end of the short straight and the Dogleg could be taken flat on an erratic line before using a great gob of brakes and second for the tight Energol corner onto the straight. We had no drama with any of the cars, putting down around 100 laps between them on a track that was never completely clear of workmen finishing the edges, and dirt drifts over the surface. From Oran Park, we headed for Castlereagh drag strip, where we spent a full day running wet and dry performance figures and sorting the fifth wheel. The performance figures were fascinating as much for their comparisons between wet and dry as for the relative performance of the cars.

We were surprised to find the Charger, which seemed to have the worst rear axle location, responded best to coaxing up the quarter in the wet. The Charger was also quickest overall in acceleration - not surprising in view of the E38 engine specifications, but a little surprising when you consider this is offset by a three-speed gearbox. However, the fact that the Charger ran out of legs up top indicated the final drive ratio was suited more to drag-racing than overall performance. The Holden Monaro proved the claims for its amazingly torquey 350 cube are not to be taken lightly with top gear acceleration figures that made the other two look silly. Our braking figures show the cars are pretty compatible for a fade series of test stops - although the Monaro is consistently the best performer. The different brake systems each had their good points. The Charger was heavy to stop, but lock-proof and very safe in the wet provided you had the leg muscle power. The Ford was soft, squishy and effortless - and amazingly efficient For stop after stop considering the weight of the vehicle. The Monaro was the best stopper all round, with the best pedal feel, but it occasionally locked alternate brakes - sometimes in the wet. Usually this occurred near the conclusion of a brake stop where it wasn't a hazard. The test wouldn't have been complete without a short sortie onto the dirt. A very short sortie on to some smooth, loose gravel was all that was necessary.

The Monaro was the only car that had an acceptable suspension for these conditions. And even it suffered certain disadvantages - particularly excessive shock reaction in the steering, and a high suspension and road noise level. The Falcon was quieter - but diabolically unmanageable driven quickly. The oversteering condition that was pleasant and controllable on the track was suddenly nasty, vicious and completely uncontrollable on the dirt. Correction was often impossible without over-correction, and wheel tramp was severe. The Charger was probably worse. It put down more power with less rear-axle roadholding. The steering had slightly more positive and direct control than the Falcon and slightly more shock as well. It was the noisiest car of the lot on the dirt. Neither the Falcon nor the Charger should be driven fast on dirt. The Monaro on the other hand revelled in the conditions - reflecting the rally experience that in pre-Torana days rated the car as Number One in Australia. The car feels small and light and can be tossed around like a small car. It gets its power to ground well - only protesting in wheel tramp when you feed in far too many horses. You soon adjust to getting a good grip on the thick wheel rim and fighting the direct reaction, but you never really adjust to constantly being tossed out of your seat.

Downtown, it's hard to pick a winner. The Charger still seems to stop the traffic and shuts down almost everything at the street-corner GP. The Falcon is smooth and torquey, with well-recognised pose value and a pleasant feeling of prestige. It steers well, rides well and is exceptionally comfortable. But it has woeful visibility - which shows up in everything from lane changing to reverse parking. In practical terms its body is a retrograde automotive engineering step. If the gaze of Average Fred Public can be taken as a guideline, its physical acceptance is exactly the reverse. The Holden is undoubtedly superior in round-town conditions. All three cars have chatty gearboxes, but the Holdens is the most reliable. Though clunky and notchy you can always fight your way into the right gear whereas the Falcon occasionally gives five neutral slots, and the Chrysler is hard to pullout of slots. In any case, the Holden's superior torque means shifting is generally less frequent and top is immensely more useable. Fourth gear starts are no sweat - even on reasonable inclines. You can also see out of the Holden better than the other two, although fewer people apparently want to see in. Riding by far the most practical and modern body in engineering terms, the Holden probably suffers from a lack of the spectacular. There is a certain growing section of the sporty car buying public that welcomes this. The Holden does suffer a summer problem of intense cockpit heat from its deep glassware, though its various cooling systems are impressive. Some edge is taken off the vastly superior fuel economy by the appalling filling system which results in constant spit-back and a protracted filling session. The boots of all three cars carry more luggage than most other cars in their class of machinery, and the under-bonnet areas are generally simple and accessible.

This test has intentionally avoided discussion of interiors and fitments because of the varying specification of the body styles - but all three cars are well-equipped in basic form and leave little for the options lists except what you'd reasonably expect to find there. And the over-riding result of our giant comparison is that each car emerges with a clear and distinct character and an equally definite slot in the marketplace.

The Falcon GT is unquestionably the best all-round performer and should be the first selection for any budding trackstar. The Charger could be a good second choice for the track, but is best side-stepped in that area at the moment since it fulfils a fine purpose catering to youth markets and older drivers seeking to recapture their youth. The Monaro takes the role of sophisticate, with the most advanced engineering and styling, but a more subdued and pukka image. it proves above all else, that buying a Supercar just because it is called a Supercar is not always common sense - since a well equipped 308 Monaro will go just as hard with more luxury, less cost and fewer ownership hang-ups (like insurance loadings).

While our Supercar test provided a fascinating performance evaluation, particularly on the racing track it proved that these three are not really a brace of comparable and competitive race cars.

The three that are comparable race cars include the one we tested here - the Charger E38. We hope to bring you a real Muscle Car comparison track test between the '72 Charger, Torana V8, and Phase Four GT HO when they are released prior to Bathurst.

It should be worth waiting for.

  Oran Park Lap Times Quarter Mile Dry  Quarter Mile Wet 
Charger 56.1  14.8  16.1 
Falcon 58.5 15.1 16.8
Monaro 59.8 15.3 16.9