Ayrton Senna's test drive marathon at Interlagos
Back in february 1984, on the eve of debuting his F1 career, Ayrton Senna took on the challenge of reviewing 12 domestic market cars on the Interlagos race track for the brazilian magazine Quatro Rodas.
For each car he checked the performance and based his review and scores on 14 checkpoints. Of course he also talked about the first season in F1, which was about to start for Toleman-Hart : "Do not expect victories. If I get a fifth or sixth place, I can already consider myself accomplished."
As everyone knows 36 years later, Senna achieved much more than that. For the 6th race at Monaco he finished 2nd. In England and Portugal, he finished 3rd. His talent was quickly recognized and, the following year, he was driving for the Lotus team.
And the rest is history...
Ayrton with one of the Quatro Rodas journalist, taking notes and writing comments on the cars he was testing
So, having an F1 driver to test-drive some road cars was a Quatro Rodas tradition. Jackie Stewart was the first in 1970. A year later, Lotus owner Collin Chapman and Emerson Fittipaldi took up the challenge.
In 1975, Emerson did it again and, in 1978, it was the turn of Jody Scheckter, who would win the title the following year. For Ayrton Senna, driving 12 models a few days before his first Grand Prix at Rio was just a nice little warm-up for the coming season.
"Patient, scrupulous, attentive, Ayrton Senna tried all vehicles in the same way. He adjusted the position of the seats and fastened the seat belts before activating the controls. After completing a few laps each time, he insisted on examining the trunk for a long time, in addition to checking all the instruments. A professional behavior that he did not deviate from during the 8 hours of testing, in the harsh February sun. In the end, Ayrton did not hide his preferences for the Ford Escort and the Chevrolet Monza" remember Quatro Rodas journalist Claudio Larangeira and Saulo Mazzoni.
Below is what Ayrton, VIP Test-driver of the day, had to say about each of these 12 brazilian marketed cars.
1. VW Passat LS
The imaginary green light went on and Senna started the test with the Volkswagen Passat LS. Right away, his said : “The car came equipped with a long gearbox, which was very pleasing. It has a good use of the engine and little internal noise ”.
He liked the braking performance, despite the exaggerated effort that the brake pedal required from the driver. He gave the car a good 9/10, but considered the dashboard as poor and with few instruments.
2. Chevrolet Monza SL/E
On board the Chevrolet Monza SL / E, Ayrton was surprised by the smoothness that did not compromise stability : “The engine is so quiet, it seems to be off. The dash is very cool, with all the instruments easy to see. ”
Senna did not approve the position of the steering wheel - too low and close to the legs - and thought that the brake was too heavy.
3. VW Gol
Always straight to the point with his opinions, Ayrton did not think much of the VW Gol LS : “This car does not please me at all. The engine at low revs is cheerful. But it loses all charm when the third is engaged. It becomes too noisy. A fifth gear could solve that ”. He reported that the car slided a lot from the rear in the corners and that the suspension was too hard. The best notes, such as steering, trunk and instruments, were no more than 7. And the Gol scored a 5 in noise and brakes.
4. FORD Del Rey Ouro
The highlight of the Ford Del Rey Ouro was the dashboard, the most complete of all national automobiles and, according to Ayrton, comparable to that of the Alfa Romeo. "Del Rey is soft and comfortable, suitable for the target audience", he commented.
He liked the driving position and the seats, which held well around corners. But he noted that the shift lever had “a lot of play”, without compromising the car's performance.
5. CHEVROLET Chevette SL
“The Chevrolet Chevette SL has the best gearbox among all the cars evaluated,” said the Brazilian driver. When comparing it with the Monza (from the same manufacturer) he said that getting into 5th gear was easier and more precise on the Chevette. The problem was with excessive engine noise.
Always demanding on the brakes, Ayrton revealed that they only started to respond after a lot of effort on the pedal. “The driving position is pleasant and the seats are comfortable. Too bad the instrument on the dashboard are incomplete, ”he said.
6. FIAT Oggi CL
Ayrton began evaluating the Fiat Oggi CL by criticizing the lack of internal space. "Advancing the front seat so that a person can get in the back is not that great" he said.
Except the trunk, which was good, the model only got bad notes : “The brake pedal is very hard and the travel of the gear lever is long : the second one is glued to the driver's leg and the fifth to the passenger's leg. The dashboard is missing instruments. The performance of the 1 300 engine is weak and, despite the good stability, the car is rolling too much ”.
7. FORD Escort GL
Of the 12 models evaluated, the one that most impressed Senna was the Ford Escort GL, with a flood of 9 notes, including brakes, style and driver position. "The brakes have proven to be a highlight of Ford," said Ayrton. "Activated in an emergency, they lock the front wheels, slowing down without scaring the driver."
He considered the performance of the CHT engine to be excellent, aided by the good staggering of the five-speed manual transmission.
8. ALFA ROMEO 2300 Ti
Despite the luxury and standard items that would be optional on other cars, the Alfa Romeo 2300 Ti presented some problems. One of them was the loud noise of the engine at high revs, which prevented even the conversation between passengers. The brakes were disappointing, as only those on the right wheel worked !!! For the rest, the car pleased. It had a quality finish, great hydraulic steering system and anatomical front seats.
9. Chevrolet Caravan
Ayrton went to the trunk of the Chevrolet Caravan : “You can transport a lot of things and still have a car for the family. The design is old, but the style continues to please, ”he said.
Ayrton considered the dashboard to be a little distant, so he found it difficult to operate the controls. Another problem was the power of the engine, incompatible with the size of the car, especially with the overloaded luggage compartment.
10. VW Parati
VW Parati's performance did not satisfy Ayrton, but it showed other qualities, such as the great front seats, which allowed for various adjustments.
The four-speed gearbox allowed precise and smooth shifting and the suspension guaranteed comfort because it was not too hard.
11. FORD Belina
The Ford Belina had the same CHT engine as Escort and Del Rey, which was a negative fact, in Ayrton's view : "It is a model with greater load capacity and, for this reason, its performance is compromised".
The brakes did not work well. Internally, the car was very poor and the seats did not repeat the pattern of other Ford cars. The driving position was not the best: to reach the dashboard instruments, it was necessary to move forward from your seating position.
12. Fiat Panorama CL
On the finish line of the evaluation, Ayrton drove the Fiat Panorama CL. "The differences in relation to the Fiat Oggi are in the dimensions, because they are equal in engine and performance", he said. He liked the four-speed gearbox, more efficient than the Oggi's five-speed. The brakes were also superior, but the pedal was too hard. “Finishing and comfort look poor, but I like the style. I'm a fan of station wagon” he said.
From the first guest Formula 1 driver, Jackie Stewart, to Ayrton Senna, 14 years have passed. Backed by the champion's impressions, QUATRO RODAS gave a very encouraging verdict: “During this period, the evolution of our cars was remarkable”.
Ayrton's conclusion followed the same path: "Brazilian cars have improved a lot over the years and can be compared to Europeans".
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