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Sunday, May 31, 2015

Comparison: Hot Wheels (and a Matchbox) 1960's Sport Sedan's.

The 1970 Ford Escort RS1600 is the newest entry in a group that contains quite a few sporty two-door sedans of the 1960's from Mattel over the past eight years.  The popularity of taking a standard two-door European sedan and turning it to a track-ready car was all the rage back then and it is today, not to mention giving the automaker its performance heritage.  The Escort joins the similarly popular Datsun 510 from Japan that was introduced in 2009, the German BMW 2002ti introduced in 2012, and the older, and quite limited, Matchbox Alfa Romeo Gulietta Sprint GTA introduced in 2007.  Now it's time to see which one of these fast sedans takes the win!

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The Escort looks sporty in Grabber Blue with white racing stripes that perfectly mirror the original RS stripes, FORD letters on the hood, front grille with integrated headlights, chrome bumpers, and driving lights that are part of the interior.  The rear has a typical rear-end that looks also like the Datsun with chrome bumper.  Cool touches include the passenger-side rearview mirror and some red logo on the windshield cowl on the left.  The Alfa is a classic and the only car that has a normal ride height on cool blacked-out wheels with center spinner.  The front has detailed grille with single headlights, separate front and rear chrome bumpers (like the Escort), and the V-shaped Alfa grille.  The rear also has the typical square taillights, but I do give Matchbox the thumbs up for added details to the rear that include the taillights, rear plate, and four-leaf clover.  The BMW has a low and wide stance with taillights that have a round look and flared fenders.  The front-end has single headlights with twin-kidney grille flanked by side grilles and a smooth no-front bumper.  The forward look of the BMW looks a bit odd compared to the rest of the car.  The Datsun is very sporty and popular, but the front grille that is part of the chrome base is sloppy on details when compared to the newer wagon and 620 pickup.  The rear-end has more body line details than the rest, while the sides are the most tame (aside from the Alfa) and almost has a look of a 4-door sedan.  Being littered with racing decals shows what this casting is all about: the track!

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All have seating for four with reasonable space in the back.  The Escort is the only right-hand drive car and while it doesn't have a rear seat there is room for two in the back anyways.  The dash layout is nicely done if a bit plain (so is the actual car) and the racing seats look neat.  The Alfa has nicely-done seats, but unlike the traditional Matchbox car in 2007 this one has a dashboard that needs details on the gauges and dials.  The BMW is the best of the group with a simple, sporty look with well laid-out controls and comfy seating for four.  The Datsun is the crudest with no back seat and a roll bar that shows off its track heritage.

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All four cars have I-4's, rear-wheel drive, and uni-body construction.  With the benefit of Cosworth technology, the Escort uses a 2.0L 16-valve DOHC I-4 that produces over 200 hp. through a 4-speed manual.  The Alfa also uses a 2.0L DOHC I-4 that produces 115 hp. through a 4-speed manual.  The BMW uses a 1.8L SOHC I-4 that produces 120 hp through a 4-speed manual.  The Datsun 510 uses a 1.6L I-4 that produces 96 hp. through a 4-speed manual.

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Acceleration and Braking

All had very similar performance expectations, with the Escort and Alfa the fastest in the acceleration runs, the BMW next, and the Datsun last, but again all three were very close.  In braking the BMW and, surprisingly the Alfa, had the shortest distance, with the Datsun and Escort stopping a bit later.

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While acceleration runs were close, handling was a different story.  The Escort has a rear live axle with leaf springs, as does the Alfa, while the others have independent rear suspensions.  The Alfa sits the highest so it exhibits more body roll and oversteer, but still the car was fast and well-controlled through the corners, not to mention smooth on the open road.  The Escort was just as fast with little to no body roll and a blast to drive on the track.  The Datsun was pretty good on the track, but not as fun as the Escort nor as respectable on the highway.  The BMW, even with a wide track and wider tires, failed to handle as expected, feeling much more like a larger car and exhibiting more understeer than expected.

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Oh, this was a hard one to choose since all four had the same content and boxy sedan shape, but it was a tie between the racing livery and rally lights of the Escort to the details and classy shape of the Alfa.  Heck, even the BMW, despite the avant-garde front-end and handling downsides, had plenty to be proud about with a perfect interior and nice design touches.  The Datsun has a racing pedigree and a few nice touches but it needs to be retooled badly, especially with the front grille that should be part of the metal body.

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All four were the entry-level points in each car line, so that's not expected, and their performance models were marked at a higher premium.  The Datsun 510 would be the winner here for the most affordable, followed by the Escort RS.  On the other hand BMW always cost a premium, and the Alfa in GTA trim is worth much higher than the other Gulietta line.

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It was a close race on the track, but in the end the voting was pretty much spaced evenly apart.  Fourth place went to the BMW 2002: It's a sharp-looking casting with a great interior, but the car is too wide for quick handling reflects and that front-end always looks funny on the 2002.  Third place goes to the Datsun 510: It's a casting that all of a sudden is a hot commodity for collectors today, but seems too old or weak compared to the competition.  Second place goes to the Ford Escort RS1600: A wild and eye-catching casting that is fun on the track, but comes up a few details short of the win.  The First place Winner is the Alfa Romeo Gulietta Sprint GTA: Rare, sporty, good-looking, and great to drive on the highway, something you'd least expect from a race-trimmed package.  Then again, the Matchbox Alfa is no-more, so the unofficial current-to-date casting to win would be the Escort.  Either way pick your favorite because all of them offer cool looks, room for four, and fun on the track.

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