Vintage R&T Track Test: Nine Showroom Stock Sports Cars – Swing Axles FTW!

Road and Track set out to test the field of the nice sports cars approved to participate in the SCCA’s new racing class: Showroom Stock Sports Cars, as an addition to their successful Showroom Stock Sedan Series begun a year earlier. The sports cars chosen by the SCCA were the Porsche 914 1.7, Opel GT, MG Midget, MGB, VW Karmann-Ghia, Triumph Spitfire 1500, Triumph GT6, Fiat 124 Spider and the MGB GT. All of them were required to run on tires no larger than 165-section radial tires, and the price ceiling was set at $4,000, although that had to be lifted a bit for the 914.

The nine cars were tested at Riverside International Raceway, and strictly on parameters relevant to racing. That’s a key distinction, as the performance parameters used for regular road tests are often not indicative of success on the track. Elapsed time between two curves or other milestones on the track may be more strongly influenced by the specific gearing than just the usual 0-60 and 1/4 mile times. And there’s more to getting through a curve quickly than a skid pad result.

These factors make for interesting reading, and the results are not quite obvious. Given the huge variation in horsepower, 94 for the DOHC Fiat to 46 hp for the venerable Beetle engine in the Ghia, one might expect similarly large variations in the outcome. Not so.

I’m not going to add a lot of commentary here, as it rather needs to be read to get in all the relevant details. But the outcome is a bit surprising, with the Triumph GT6 coming in first with the lowest lap time and the weaker Spitfire deemed to be”the most fun to drive”. This is despite their swing axle rear suspension, which are apparent trigger words for some folks (note: these were using the “swing spring” version of the Herald/Spitfire rear suspension, which was an intermediate step between the original version and the further modified version for the upcoming 1974  Spitfire 1500 with a wider track and more negative camber).

The powerful Fiat’s mid-pack result might also be a bit unexpected, but then its suspension was simply too soft. And the Karmann-Ghia’s last place is not a surprise, but its ability to hang in there as well as it did is rather. It was deemed to be both more fun and pleasant to drive than the MG Midget, which ranked very poorly.