|We're used to certain engines being
lauded for their excellence, longevity,
ubiquity and hertage - Austin's A-
series, Jaguar XK and small-block Chevy
- but there's a more recent motor that's a seroius
contender fo a place among them. This engine
has nearly as wide an installation list as BMC's
pushrod four, features a single cam per bank
upstairs (not quite aping Jaguar's dohce), and has
its cylinders mounted in a 90° V just like the
reversed small block Chevy. It had a 32-year life
from conception in 1966 to the end of produc-
tion in June '98, and 970, 315 units were build.
So what is it? It's the PRV Z engine, known as
the Douvrin V6, natural habitat the Volvo 264,
Renault 30 and Peugeot 604. But it was also
fitted to the Matra-developed Espace people
mover and has recently as 1998 powered Le Mans
contender the Helem V6, based on the Renault
Sport Spider. It may not be an obvious choice in
the English-speaking world, but in the lands
of Aznavour and Abba it was a range-topping icon.
As if to prove its versatility, it links three dispara-
te-looking contenders - Volvo's Bertone-built
but in house designed 262C personal luxury car,
Alpine's sensual A310, and John Zachary De
Lorean's pet project, the supposed "ethical car'
that proved almost anything but, the DMC12.
The engine's creation lay in April 1966
contract between Peugeot and Renault to jointly
manufacture common mechanical parts, and in
1969 La Francaise de Mecanique - FM - was
formed with a factory base at Douvrin, on
the outskirts of Lens in northern France. By 1971, Volvo's new chairman Pehr Gyllenhammar wanted in on the action and with Renault, Peugeot and FM,
set up Société FrancoSuedoise des Motors PRV. Work started on creating a new highpower eight-cylinder 3,5-litre all-alloy wet-liner engine.
Late in the develoment, however, the 1973 fuel crisis hit, the market for smaller engined cars increased and
The plans were rapidly revised. As a result, 2664cc would be initial swept area for a V6 version of the stillborn V8, not least because in France
there was already a precedent in production. The Citroen SM used Maserati´s V8 with two cylinders lopped off the end.
|The big headache for PRV´s engineers was to get the motor to run evenly - 90° crank offsets meant the timing had to be different
for each cylinder bank to operate smootly. This ´Z´ engine was launched in the Volvo 264 on 3 october 1974, followed by the Peugeot 504 coupé
and cabriolet, then the Peugeot 604 and Renault 30 TS in March 1975.
Low volume manufactures took notice of the advanced engine too: Dieppe-based Alpine been bought by Renault in '73 and was intent on putting
the Douvrin into its new A310.
Volvo, meanwhile, was trying to bolster failing US sales with an attention-grabbing range-topper Jan Wilsgård featured triple crown motifs on the C-pillar, so the 262C became reffered to as the Tre Kronor, or three crowns, even though the procuction car was only fitted with one. More importantly, the new engine would be compliant for Volvo's US Market. This also suited John De Lorean's ethical car concept, but he'd offended so many in the US that supplies of chassis enigines would not have materialised, so eventually his car was based on a Lotus Esprit fitted with Douvrin engine. His target market was the USA, where he hoped to destroy what he saw as 'concerous amorality' within the motor industry.
The Volvo stands tall with the bulk of the design sitting heavily over the 14in alloys. That tough curve on the C-pillar, the turret-like vinyl-covered cabin top and rake of the A-pillars conspire to give the car a hunkered stance. Check the specs and it seems to have all the millemmium requisites too. Modern inconveniences are all present, but existing within an envelope that screams Night Fever. Open the door and you're presented with an interior that Volvo dashboard excepted, conjures up 1970s disco bondage.
|The pleated and rouched leather seats are banded by perforated 2in-wide leather straps that wouldn't look out of place at Cynthia Payne's place.
Settle into the chair - 'seat' doesn't do the Bertone-trimmed thrones justice - and the instuments view is typical Volvo: minimum dials,
logical switchgear and an ergonomic layout that seems created with sensible, slightly furrowed, brow.
Lever in Park, flick the key and the V6 burbles into live, it idles quietly and the cabin seems wel insulated. Slide into Drive, drop the handbrake and the car sets off at a torque-converted walking pace. FLex the throttle, and the car heads off with brisk accelaration and neutral stance. The hydraulically assisted steering is feather-light and the brakes inspire confidence with a vast servoed bite to bring the speed down. It's a fine device for tooling around urban sprawl, with damper rates tuned to soak up rough ground and the cracks that appear betweeen the sectional concrete roads found over the USA.
Fine for its intended market then, but in Europe the lack of concerning poise is a severe hindrance to press-on progress. Small wheels and relatively narrow tyre contact patch conspire to negate any feeling of turn-in. Approach a sharper kink, flick the steering wheel and the car rolls on to the front tyre-walls and udersteers like a stuck pig, with attendant squealing. Even so, as a dollar-earning headline act, it sold for much much more than the car it was based on, and didn't take production volume away from Volvo's Kalmar factory. The anomaly of the 262C is that it is a European car built for the US taste, losing identity and integrity in the process. If you wore Dralon loons and needed to look cooler than Huggy Bear on Brooklyn's mean streets back in '78, though, a 262C was the tool for the job.
| The DMC 12 is almost the complete opposite. It seems entirely American, from its flawed creation by John De Lorean
to the car's starring role in Back to the future. De Lorean learned what the American bayer wanted from his time turning around Pontiac in the 1960s and
Chevrolet in the '70s. That's if you believe his official biograpy, On a clear day you can see the General Motors by Patrick Wright.
In setting up his own company, the first tried to buy the mid-engined Corvair sports car prototypes (C&SC, April '06) from GM, but failed.
He then got William T Collins Jnr to work on an initial prosposal with Giugiaro's Italdesign while Lotus was enlisted to productionise the prototypes.
Rumour has it that Colin Chapman asked for a personal cheque for $ 17 million to ensure the design was completed within the two-year timeframe
De Lorean was working to.
The result was an amalgam of Lotus Esprit and Douvrin V6, clad in pizza-oven stainless over an Elastic Reservoir Moulded GRP sub-structure, on a GKN-built backbone chassis. So the all-American ethical car vision became a cocktail of financially constrained design inputs. Lift that gullwing door and it doesn't feel compromised. Step over the wide sill, and sink into leather seat. Reach up to your left and tug down the door, making sure it catches front and rear, otherwise it'll rattle. Look to the left and the A-pillar seems far away, with a slim, lightweight curve that holds a slender 'screen' pillar. The pronounced tumblehome gives plenty of elbow room outboard, but inboard you are slightly hemmed by the transmission tunnel, swatched in peaceful pale grey leather. Try to resist playing 'spot the source' for the switchgear, vents and heater controls.
RENAULT ALPINE A310 V6Produced/built 1976-'84/9276
Construction glassfibre body over a steel
Engine all-alloy 2664cc 90° V6 fed by a pair
of twin-choke Solex carburettors
Max power 148bhp @ 6000rpm
Max torque 151 lb ft @ 3500 rpm
Transmission four-speed manual transaxle
Suspension: independent all round by double
wishbones, coil springs, hydraulic dampers
and anti roll bar Steering rack and pinion
Brakes vented discs (f), solid discs (r)
Wheels & tyres185/70-13 (f), 205/70-R13
(r) Michelins on cast aluminium wheels
Length 13ft 8in (4178mm) Width 5ft 4in
(1621mm) Heigth 3ft 8in (1151mm)
Weight 2072lb (940kg)
0-60 mph 7,2 secs Top speed 133 mph
Price new $11,000 price now £10,000
VOLVO 262CProduced/built 1977-'81/6622
Construction steel monocoque
Engine all-alloy 2664cc 90° V6 with Bosch
Max power 140bhp @ 2750rpm
Max torque 150 lb ft @ 2750 rpm
Transmission three-speed automatic
Suspension: front independent by
MacPherson struts and anti roll bar rear live
axle on trailing arms and Panhard rod, coil
springs, hydraulic dampers and anri-roll bar
Steering power-assisted rack and pinion
Brakes vented discs (f) and solid discs (r) with
servo. Handbrake by internal drum
Wheels & tyres195/70-14 (f & r)on Volvo
cast aluminium wheels
Length 16ft (4879mm) Width 5ft 7in
(1707mm) Heigth 4ft 5in (1360mm)
Weight 3197 (1450kg)
Top speed 110 mph 0-60 mph 11,2 secs
Price new $15,000 price now £2500
Yet the DMC is more real, more serious than its comedy icon status would suggest. The Douvrin fires with a muted burble, chunck the lever into firtst, step off the clutch and the car pulls away strongly. It's much more insistent than we have led to believe. The change is slightly baulky as you swap cogs, with more revs the irregular Douvrin note warbles slightly revs climb. Your semi-prone driving position feels more natural as the car gathers pace, and its wide-track stance comes alive as you enter a corner. There's little roll and a flick of the wrists is all you need to change the yaw angle midcorner, through there's no doubt over where the engine sits. Its presence far out in the tail gives a moment of inertia that seems just inboard of your right shoulder. That's what makes the car great: the subtlety of its controls of the driving mass. the message it gives a sprirted driver. And that's almost the opposite of the Alpine A310. Vibrant paint draws your eye from the irregular panel gaps to the intense arrow shape, fronted with beautiful headlamps. It's so low you could trip over it, and make sure you don't sneeze as you get in because you'd blow the dash top off.
Touch the instruments surround and it really does bend 3in as your hand falls on it. The gauges are lobbed into a flat panel fairly randomly, and while the nylon fabrics is all there, and in good condition, the car conveys no more than a sense of flimsy when you settle in.
Crack the key and the impression is smashed. A310s were four-speed, but this one has five the transaxle, plus a few performance tweaks. Dip the clutch, snick first and bury it, and the lightweight machine snarls forward. Before you know it, you're heading toward a bend the Volvo tackled at 45 mph, which became a curve when the DMC carried 60 through, and this Alpine's treating it as nothing at 85, the screaming V6 heading round the rev counter and needing another gear thrown at it. As curves tighten, the A310's steering lets you understand the car's mastery. It's pin-precise, exquisitely weighted and transmits every nuance of road surface, grip level anf wheel angled friction coefficient. Lean heavier into tightening bend, and the back end steps out with chirruping tyres. A snatch of opposite lock brings the chassis into line and throttle wide, the Douvring punches the car forward again. That's how Douvrin motor shows its versatility and depth, with a chameleon character for whatever vehicle it lands in.
Each of these cars has its own sense of anomie. The Volvo for its distubing sense of displacement, for being neither an American luxury compact nor a European bespoke exotic. The DMC12 carries the emotional bagage of its birth, death and creator, and the Alpine adopts the principle of uti possodetis - it is a belligerent fully deserving of that which it has acquired, Douvrin's amazing V6