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What Car? compares/£1400 family cars

January 1975

With petrol prices now standing at well over 60p per gallon, it is timely to examine some small cars. Over the past year quite a few motorists have been converting from their medium and large size cars to small ones and finding the change surprisingly pleasant, for technical ingenuity is most marked at the extreme ends of the price scale. Some of the small machines from VW, Renault, Fiat, CitroŽn and BLMC are as advanced in their way as anything from Ferrari, Lamborghini, etc. and far superior to many of the more mundane medium priced and sized cars. Small cars are no longer cheap by any standards and the three chosen for this test are certainly not among the cheapest for they all cost around £1400. The CitroŽn G Special is the cheapest in the GS range because it retains the original 1015 cc engine and lacks some of the luxury touches of the 1220 cc models. It retains the oleopneumatic suspension, four-wheel power- assisted disc brakes and all the other advanced features of the GS range. It sells for £1416. The Renault 12TL is second from the bottom of the five model 12 range, but this front-wheel drive 1289 cc machine has most of the equipment of the more expensive versions, except for a 54 bhp instead of 60 bhp power unit. The 12TL costs £1443. The Triumph Toledo is a relative of the now defunct front wheel drive Triumph 1300. Triumph decided to revert to a less advanced specification for the Toledo and 1500 models, retaining a live axle with rear wheel drive but also keeping the high standard of interior trim. Our test car was a two-door model costing £1370 but the most suitable competitor for the CitroŽn and Renault (both four door cars) would be the four door Toledo at £1419.


Not a great deal in the way of performance can be expected from these small engined cars. The Toledo engine gives 58 bhp, the Renault 54 bhp and the CitroŽn 55.5 bhp. By virtue of its greater freedom to rev, the CitroŽn keeps up with the other two cars up to 50 mph, and actually moves ahead above that speed. The CitroŽn gets to 7O mph in 23.6 secs compared with 25.8 secs for the Renault and 26.4 secs for the Toledo, which is pretty slow going by any standards.
Even to achieve these figures it is necessary to drive very hard through the gears so it can be seen that anyone moving down from a bigger car is going to have to sacrifice some performance. The engines let the driver know they are working hard too, for all three units are noisy when pressed, the CitroŽn perhaps being slightly the worst because of its air-cooling and lack of a sound deadening water jacket. However, the flat-four CitroŽn engine is subjectively smoother than the in-line four cylinder units of the Triumph and Renault and it certainly revs to its 6,500 rpm maximum with great ease.
Flexibility is not a strong point of these cars either as top gear performance is mediocre to say the least, so those who are stepping down from larger cars will again discover that they have to work a little harder with the gear lever to keep the car rolling along.
The CitroŽn is lower geared than the other two cars, which partly accounts for its willingness to rev but in turn this does create some fussiness for the car will not reach 30 mph in first gear or 70 mph in third, whereas the high geared Renault will just encompass 40 mph in first, almost 60 mph in second and a healthy 75 in third. The Triumph falls midway between the two as far as gearing is concerned but on the road the engine tends to feel rather fussy because of its lack of refinement.
Top speed of all three cars hovers around the 90 mph mark depending on road conditions, but the Toledo is really only happy up to around 85 mph, by which time the engine is sounding thoroughly uncomfortable. Both the CitroŽn and Renault will touch 90 mph but only the insensitive would attempt to cruise at much over 80 mph.
Our test CitroŽn proved to be a very poor starter, requiring several attempts before it burst into life, after which it needed a lot of choke for two or three miles before it would run at all smoothly and idle properly. The Renault engine was emitting an expensive sounding rattle when idling during our test but it performed well and had no oil pressure problems.

The G Special's roadholding is of the highest standard

The Toledo's safe handling is helped by precise steering

Renault handling inspires confidence despite body roll

The gearboxes of the two front wheel drive cars are less pleasant than that of the Toledo because of the apparent tenuous connection between gear lever and cogs. The CitroŽn's gear lever is especially vague, requiring quite a lot of movement across the gate while the actual engagement is rather uncertain. The CitroŽn gearbox is also rather noisy with a good deal of whine when accelerating in the gears and some rattling when idling.

The Renault’s gear lever is rather rubbery but actual engagement is reasonably precise. The Toledo’s gear lever feels as if it has some direct connection with the gears and the change is therefore precise although the synchromesh is a trifle obstructive. The clutch pedal pressure on all three cars is light, with progressive snatch free take up. The two front wheel drive cars tend to spin their front wheels under hard acceleration because of the rearwards weight transfer but this can be guarded against by more gentle acceleration.

Above : The air-cooled, flat-four engine is partially concealed by the spare wheel
Below : Comprehensive instruments are clear

Above : Rear passengers are well catered for with ample legroom and comfortable seating
Below : Low sill eases loading of the large boot

Road holding

When the CitroŽn GS was heralded as Car of the Year nearly four years ago one of its most remarkable attributes was its roadholding. This has remained unimpaired over the years, for the GS will go round corners faster than the vast majority of cars despite an initial alarming angle of roll which the driver soon learns remains constant. The soft, self-levelling suspension ignores mid-corner bumps completely, allowing the driver to get on with the business of cornering. The rack and pinion steering is not light yet it is accurate.
The 12 is softly suspended, too, on its steel springs but not so soft as the Citroen, so it does not roll as much, but it too soaks up bumps extremely well. Ultimate cornering power is not as high as that of the Citroen due largely to its tendency towards strong understeer which causes the steering to become rather heavy.
The Toledo's conventional suspension limits its cornering ability but within its limitations it handles well on smooth roads but hopping a lot on bumpy corners. The steering is reasonably light although a trifle low geared at nearly four turns lock to lock. Again, understeer is the Toledo's cornering tendency but it is quite manageable.

Above : Front hinging bonnet reveals 1289 cc engine with all components within easy reach
Below : Oddly angled pedals mar driving position

Above : Sumptuous seats provide a high degree of comfort. The rear seat has an armrest
Below :
Boot of useful size marred by the high sill


The CitroŽn outshines the others because of its power assisted four wheel discs. The GS has a normal pedal unlike the DS's tiny button but the pedal feels rather dead as there is very little play in the pedal unlike conventional hydraulic systems. But when the driver stands on that pedal the car screeches to a stop very smartly. In fact it does it so well that Citroen were plagued by incredibly short disc pad life in the GS's early life. It is now more reasonable but few fast drivers are likely to get more than 10,000 miles from a set of pads.
The Toledo originally had an all-drum braking system which was rather inadequate, but with the servo assisted front disc, rear drum setup the Toledo brakes very satisfactorily indeed, the light pedal pressure being just right for the car.
The 12 has front discs and rear drums in conjunction with a servo which gives good stopping power, although the car tends to nose-dive under hard braking.

Above : All items on the Toledo engine requiring routine maintenance are easily accessible
Below : Wood veneer facia adds a touch of class

Above : Enstry to the rear seat posed no real problems. A four door model is also available
Below :
The boot of the Toldeo is rather small

Ride comfort

The CitroŽn has an outstanding ride for a small car because the soft self-levelling suspension eliminates all the pitching and jolting to which small cars are so prone. It also has the added advantage of height adjusters so that the ground clearance can be increased for traversing rough roads or to jack up the car quickly. The only problem of any consequence is the rather high level of road noise transmitted to the interior.
The 12 is a comfortable car in which to ride for the soft suspension copes with most bumps very well, although not quite as well as the GS. There is some pitching over wavy surfaces but generally the 12 is comfortable.
The Toledo is not quite so well served for the suspension is firmer, the wheelbase shorter, with the result that the car does jolt and hop very noticeably on bumps. However, for some people this may be preferable to the marshmallow ride of the CitroŽn.


The G Special is finished in a garish orange colour both inside and out, the cloth trimmed seats of our fairly new test car showing signs of staining already. But they are very comfortable seats, offering soft cushions and backrests, well shaped for location. The front seats recline fully and provision is made for headrests. The rear bench is adequate for two adults, cramped for three, but leg room is quite generous for a small car - certainly adequate for anyone up to 6 ft tall. Sensible rubber matting covers the floor while other trim is in PVC. Stowage for oddments is provided by a small facia locker, small shelves below the facia, a large rear parcels shelf and map pockets in the sides of the front seats.
The 12 is on a par with the CitroŽn as far as interior space is concerned. The front seats have oddly curved backrests but they are soft and comfortable as are the cushions. The backrests recline by means of tiresomely slow knurled wheels and there is no provision for headrests. The rear bench is designed for two as there is a large central armrest, but three could ride for short journeys. Seats are PVC trimmed but cloth trimming is an extra cost option. Stowage for small items is provided by a small locker on top of the facia, a full width front parcels shelf and the rear parcels shelf.
The Toledo's seating does not look as opulent as that of the two French cars and experience showed that the rather spartan PVC covered seats left some of our drivers with backache over long mileages. On the two-door test car the whole front seats hinge forward to give access to the rear bench which will take two adults and leave quite acceptable leg room, while the body sides are recessed to provide armrests. Stowage is provided by a facia locker, a full width parcels shelf and the rear parcels shelf.


The CitroŽn is equipped with a silver-finished instrument panel under a matt black cowling to mask reflections. The round, clear instruments include a tachometer, speedometer, ammeter, clock and a fuel gauge. With neat white lettering on a black background the instruments are very legible, only the ammeter being masked by the steering wheel rim.
The Toledo has a wooden panel in which the only instruments are the speedometer and dual purpose instrument for the fuel gauge and the water temperature gauge.
The 12 TL has an aluminium panel in which are set three hooded dials; in the centre is the 100 mph speedometer flanked by the fuel gauge and the voltmeter. The various warning lights are incorporated in the two outer dials. The CitroŽn is pretty comprehensively equipped by small car standards. It has a good heating and fresh air ventilation system together with a heated rear window, two speed wipers, irritating non-cancelling direction indicators, a rather poor spade-handled facia mounted handbrake and well placed column controls for the lights, horn and light flashing. Other interior equipment includes a pair of sunvisors, the passenger’s with vanity mirror, dipping rear view mirror, combined door armrests/pulls, the rear ones having integral ashtrays. An ashtray is fitted on top of the facia.
The Toledo has sensible but not lavish equipment. There is a good heating system with fresh air ventilation by eyeball inlets on the facia, together with a heated rear window. A column mounted stalk looks after the direction indicators, horn, and light flashing. Facia mounted knobs are used for the headlights, wipers/washers and the choke. Other equipment includes a pair of sun visors (the passengers with vanity mirror), a rear view mirror, interior light, a pair of coat hooks, front door arm-rests/pulls, ashtrays in the front doors and rear body sides. The Toledo also has front quarter lights, a rather rare fitting on modern cars.
The 12TL is possibly the best equipped of the three cars for it has twin sun visors, one of them with a vanity mirror, a dipping rear view mirror, grab handles for passengers, superb heater and fresh air ventilation with a heated rear window, door armrests/pulls on all four doors, ashtrays on rear doors, an ashtray on the facia, interior light plus an illuminated glove locker and boot, two speed wipers, cigar lighter, and well placed minor controls.

The costs

The standing costs of the three cars will be much the same, although the Toledo will be cheaper to insure than the two French cars. We found that all three will average around 30 mpg if the acceleration is not used to the full, but even with hard driving we could not depress the consumption below 27 mpg on any of the cars, while the careful driver ought to approach 35 mpg with ease. The area where the cars will diverge is in the matter of servicing and repair costs.
The GS has proved an expensive car to maintain even when it has been running well, and a serious fault is usually very costly to put right. The Renault is not as expensive to maintain but owners speak of only moderate life on the front drive shafts and consequent very high bills for replacements. In contrast the Toledo is simple and rugged, having no exotic components to go wrong and even if they do they are cheap to replace.

CitroŽn G Special 1015

Length 162.5 ins
Wheelbase 100.5 ins
Track 53.5 ins
Width 69.5 ins
Height 53.7 ins
Interior width 53 ins
A: 36 ins
B: 33.5 to 39.5 ins
C: 11.5 to 17.5 ins
D: 34 ins
E: 25.5 to 32 ins
Speeds in gears
Acceleration Fuel consumption
Maximum speed 90 mph 0-30 5.4 secs Full test 27.5 mpg
Maximum in 3rd 67 mph 0-40 8.8 secs Touring 29.8 mpg
Maximum in 2nd 45 mph 0-50 13.2 secs Tank holds 9.5 galls
Maximum in 1st 28 mph 0-60 17.4 secs Range 285 miles
Speedometer error 2 per cent fast 0-70 23.6 secs Fuel grade 4 star

Standing 400 m 21.2 secs Fuel for 15,000 miles £320

Terminal speed 65 mph

Top Gear

30-50 13.8 secs

40-60 14.4 secs

Engine: Alloy block and head
No. of cylinders: 4 horizontally opposed
Bore and stroke: 74 mm x 58 mm
Capacity: 1015 cc
Valve gear: Single overhead camshaft per bank
Compression ratio: 9:1
Carburation: Solex 28 CKM twin choke
Maximum power: 54 bhp at 6750 rpm
Maximum torque: 51.9 lbs/ft at 3500 rpm
Cooling: air
Main bearings: 3
Brakes: Hydraulic servo-assisted
Front: 10.6 ins discs
Rear: 6.9 ins discs
Wheels 4 1/2J x 15
Tyres: 145-15
Body construction: unitary
Steering: Rack and pinion
Power: No
Turns: lock to lock: 3.7
Turning circle: 34 ft
Front: Independent with double wishbones, hydropneumatic struts with rear interconnection
Rear: Independent with trailing arms, hydropneumatic struts with front interconnection
Clutch: 7.06 ins diaphragm spring
Gearbox: 4 speed all-syncromesh
Ratios: 3.82, 2.38, 1.52, 1.12 to 1
Final drive: 4.12 to 1
Mph per 1000 rpm in top gear: 14.27
Weight: 16.8 cwt
Distribution (front/rear) 66/34 per cent
NCC recommended towing weight: 12.6 cwt
Payload: 915 lbs
Price: £1416
Car: CitroŽn G Special 1015
Importer: CitroŽn Cars Ltd.
Mill Street, Slough, Berks

Renault 12TL

Length 171 ins
Wheelbase 72 ins
Track 51.75 ins
Width 63.5 ins
Height 56.5 ins
Interior width 50 ins
A: 39 ins
B: 30 to 40 ins
C: 7.5 to 19 ins
D: 33 ins23 to 35 ins
Speeds in gears
Acceleration Fuel consumption
Maximum speed 90 mph 0-30 5.0 secs Full test 28.5 mpg
Maximum in 3rd 73 mph 0-40 8.4 secs Touring 32.0 mpg
Maximum in 2nd 57 mph 0-50 12.0 secs Tank holds 9.7 galls
Maximum in 1st 40 mph 0-60 18.0 secs Range 310 miles
Speedometer error 2 per cent fast 0-70 25.8 secs Fuel grade 4 star

Standing 400 m 21.2 secs Fuel for 15,000 miles £310

Terminal speed 65 mph

Top Gear

30-50 11.6 secs

40-60 13.8 secs

Engine: Cast iron block, alloy cylinder head
No. of cylinders: 4 in line
Bore and stroke: 73 mm x 77 mm
Capacity: 1289 cc
Valve gear: Overhead by push rods and rockers
Compression ratio: 8.5:1
Carburation: Solex EISA 4
Maximum power: 54 bhp at 5250 rpm
Maximum torque: 65 lbs/ft DIN at 3000 rpm
Cooling: water
Main bearings: 5
Brakes: Hydraulic
Front: 9.0 ins discs
Rear: 7.0 ins drums
Wheels 4J x 13
Tyres: 145-13
Body construction: steel unitary
Steering: Rack and pinion
Power: No
Turns: lock to lock: 3.5
Turning circle: 32.75 ft
Front: Independent with double wishbones and coil springs, telescopic shock absorbers and anti-roll bar
Rear: "Dead" axle with radius rods, A-bracket ,coil springs, antiroll bar and telescopic shock absorbers
Clutch: 6.7 ins diaphragm spring
Gearbox: 4 speed all-syncromesh
Ratios: 3.46, 2.24, 1.48, 1.04 to 1
Final drive: 3.77 to 1
Mph per 1000 rpm in top gear: 16.8
Weight: 16.7 cwt
Distribution (front/rear) 61/39 per cent
NCC recommended towing weight: 12.0 cwt
Payload: 860 lbs
Price: 1443
Car: Renault 12TL
Importer: Renault Ltd.
Western Avenue, Acton, London W3

Triumph Toledo

Length 156 ins
Wheelbase 96.25 ins
Track 53 ins
Width 61.75 ins
Height 54 ins
Interior width 50 ins
A: 37 ins
B: 32 to 38 ins
C: 14 to 20 ins
D: 33 ins
E: 25 to 31 ins
Speeds in gears
Acceleration Fuel consumption
Maximum speed 87 mph 0-30 514 secs Full test 28.1 mpg
Maximum in 3rd 70 mph 0-40 8.6 secs Touring 33 mpg
Maximum in 2nd 52 mph 0-50 13.4 secs Tank holds 10.5 galls
Maximum in 1st 33 mph 0-60 18.4 secs Range 340 miles
Speedometer error accurate 0-70 26.4 secs Fuel grade 4 star

Standing 400 m 21.4 secs Fuel for 15,000 miles £300

Terminal speed 65 mph

Top Gear

30-50 10.6 secs

40-60 12.2 secs

Engine: Cast iron block and head
No. of cylinders: 4 in-line
Bore and stroke: 73.7 mm x 76 mm
Capacity: 1296 cc
Valve gear: Overhead by push rods and rockers
Compression ratio: 8.5:1
Carburation: SU HS4E
Maximum power: 58 bhp (DIN) at 5500 rpm
Maximum torque: 68 lbs/ft at 3300 rpm
Cooling: water
Main bearings: 3
Brakes: Hydraulic servo-assisted
Front: 8.75 ins discs
Rear: 8.0 ins drums
Wheels 4J x 13
Tyres: 155-13
Body construction: unitary
Steering: Rack and pinion
Power: No
Turns: lock to lock: 3.75
Turning circle: 29.75 ft
Front: Independent with coil springs, double wishbones and telescopic dampers
Rear: Live axle with ,coil springs, 4 links and telescopic dampers
Clutch: 6.5 ins single dry plate
Gearbox: 4 speed all-syncromesh
Ratios: 3.504, 2.158, 1.394, 1.000 to 1
Final drive: 4.11 to 1
Weight: 17 cwt
Distribution (front/rear) 56/44 per cent
NCC recommended towing weight: 12.0 cwt
Payload: 800 lbs
Price: £1370
Car: Triumph Toledo
Manufacturer: Triumph Motor Company


The costs of motoring must be uppermost in many people's minds today and with this in mind the Toledo has a lot going for it, because as already mentioned it is going to be a lot cheaper to maintain unless some catastrophic faults develop. However, for the same price as the CitroŽn and 12 it does not offer much refinement or space and certainly cannot match either of them in ride or comfort.
The GS is of course outstanding in its ride and handling, offers excellent braking and interior comfort. Its gearbox is not very plea sant and the car can be noisy both through the engine and road transmitted noise. But its styling is still futuristic, it has a large boot and is quite a lot of car for £1400.
The Renault is less futuristic than the GS, although its styling still looks odd even today. It does almost as well as the CitroŽn in ride, handling and braking but suffers from a noisy engine and a vague gearbox.
The Toledo's engine can be fussy, its ride is quite hard, the seats are only average, but it handles well and is easy to maintain. If we were not unduly concerned with maintenance costs then there is little doubt that the Citroen is the best car of the group. If we wanted some of the advantages of front wheel drive without the CitroŽn’s complications we would plump for the Renault, but if we needed a reliable uncomplicated car with a dash of style then we might stick with the Toledo.

© 1975 What Car?/2011 CitroŽnŽt