MOTOR TREND: Testing a Ford-powered, $8000 sports carOn one of those forlorn stretches of highway cutting through a historic section of an old Spanish land grant area between Los Angeles and Las Vegas, you suddenly discover yourself alone on the highway in your Omega. Devoid of even a local "speedwriter" with you as the object of his affections, the timing is perfect. Dotted highway lines are drifting by rapidly, reflected beautifully in the fender mounted racing mirror as you tuck the 4-speed into 3rd gear. Rpms climb slowly from the transition, and then WHOM!, you bury your foot in carpet and open up the Holley 4-bbl. while watching the tach head for 7-grand. Drop into 4th and hang on for a moment more before realizing legality must be reattained. But wouldn't it be groovy to see if the 180 mph speedometer is accurate. No. Resist temptation, pal! A light tap of the toe on the brake pedal sets the power-assisted spot brakes to work, but this time you're 'gonna let 'er just drift down nice and easy How did this happen? A nice average guy like you running a GT Coupe at century mark speeds and coming up with excuses to run between Vegas and L.A. every week or so. Gee, you used to be so happy with that sedan and all, and then this. Well, read on Walter Mitty. Omegas aren't hard to spot, but there aren't many around to see as yet, so we'll give you some background. Bodies are built in Torino, Italy by Carrozzeria, Intermeccanica. The steel body panels are hand hammered over a wooden buck, and then the complete Unit is welded to a 4-inch square tube frame. I hey then go across the water to Charlotte, N C ., and into the Holman and Moody shop at the Municipal Airport. Complete Ford engine and driveline is then installed as well as some accessories. This brings about an almost total "Americanization" of the Omega, at least enough so 'hat parts and service are very nearby.
Powertrain & Performance Only two engines are offered, both 289-cu.-in. V-8s, and we were fortunate enough to sample both. The basic engine is a 225-hp model with a single 4-bbl. and hydraulic lifters. There are some modifications applied which may raise output by a few hp, such as low-restriction exhausts and high output ignition, but not enough to mark any significant difference. This engine comes hooked to a 4 speed gearbox, and drives a 3.25:1 rear axle in the Ford rear end. It performed flawlessly for us, delivering 15 miles of travel for every gallon Of gas at the minimum, with a high of 1 9 Engine noise isn't the least bit evident, and it runs without overheating. The 4-speed is of course synchronized in all forward gears, has a good ratio spread and is the standard transmission, starting tip the 271-hp, optional 289 V-8 engined coupe gets your blood warm enough to send you straight to the race track. The near-to-the-ear exhaust exiting point sends that sweet tone right through you. Throttle response is excellent, another bit of Holman-Moody magic we're Sure, and acceleration is smoothly executed without any missing notes as you climb through the gears. High gear action is exceptional. At any engine speed short of 2000 rpm, the engine pulls without objection. We like this in any car. Quarter-mile times hover right around 15.0 seconds flat in the big engined car, and we picked LIP a best of 14.74 at 95 mph. Tire car isn't destined for strict dragging action, and neither is the clutch. We missed a few gears after several runs due to the clutch warming up. But (In a road course where power shifts aren't as common, and you're moving up and down the gears, the standard clutch works adequately. Handling, Steering & Stopping Weight distribution is 50/50 front to rear with the driver in place, and this can get "Joe Average" mixed tip in a cornering exercise. The tail wit come about if he's not careful, and there's little warning beforehand. Overseer isn't there until the rear end is loose, but correction is fast through the quick working steering. Providing the driver has as much sense as it takes to play it safe, anyone can handle the Omega without fear. That's how we played it, and we're still here to tell about it. We came away happy with the results of an afternoon of twisting around the road course at Orange County International Raceway. The car hold, true in a constant radius him without readjustment of the wheel. The Firestone 500 Super Sports tires take lots of sideplay, grip well in stops and work exceptionally well in the wet. Stopping ability is on a par with any GT car we've had, Repeated stops bring out no fade or pedal reduction. Girling spot brakes are fitted at each wheel, and a power assist is used. The stops were all in a straight line from whatever speed we chose and rarely did we incur any lockup. Comfort, Convenience & Ride If the old arthritis has been acting up lately, shy away from folding into the driver's spot in this car, Some deft work is needed to fold down and in, and miss the protruding rear fender door post at the same time. Door openings are very wide, so feet and legs make it okay. just the overall height of 46 inches precludes non-limbered people from enjoying their egress and ingress. The wood-grained wheel reposes just far enough away for comfortable reach, and the seats are leaned back for head clearance and restful position. Seat cushions are thickly padded, and there's sufficient frontal padding to support thighs. Full instrumentation is fitted to the businesslike dash panel in very obvious order. Those on the nicotine kick will find the tunnel mounted ash tray a bit difficult to use since it's mounted on the floor tunnel between shifter and console. Both passengers have good leg room, and the door armrest is positioned in excellent fashion. The 7-cubic-foot trunk gives plenty of room for a pair of 2-suiters and maybe a camera bag. More than that you'd better send on ahead or invest in a trunk rack. There's a stiffness to the ride, not at all uncommon in well built GT cars, but harsh by comparison to the average domestic auto. We stayed aware of it for only a short time, and then forgot I he matter. Rebound isn't good, and the driver may find himself pulled tight against the seat belt after hitting a sharp dip. That in itself should be a good reason for belting in, if you can't find any other. We mentally reacted to the stiffness only on finding dips or quick bumps in our path, and enjoyed the rest of our journeys. Control is a factor more closely associated with stiffness than softness, and we're all in favor of retaining control Of our cars. Plus & Minus Features If viewed as a regular use car, we could find crutch to gripe about, such as poor access to interior from curbside, low on luggage space, and so on. But the car has a particular destiny to provide driving enjoyment to anyone who "digs" cars. At this it fulfills the task well. Granted, the handling can be tricky to a novice, but at least people are now aware of that. And if you're willing to trust your Omega to an unknowledgeable handier on a twisty road, that's not our doing. The swept down front end drops out of sight before it ends, almost the same as a Corvette. A couple of dings in the handsome front end may alert the driver to be more cautious, but that can be an expensive lesson. Features that really struck us right are the recessed door grip, the safety light built into the door edge which comes on when the door is opened, the forward opening hood and good engine compartment access and full instrumentation. When considered in its natural realm, the car comes on strong. Handling, performance in acceleration and stopping, and styling are major highlights. Comfort that you'd expect in a handmade automobile is definitely there. The Omega appears to have a future in the U.S. If quality can be maintained at its high level without cost increase, and if enough exposure comes about, then they just might populate the highways in ever growing numbers from now on. It costs a bundle, in layman's terms, but there's always a waiting list for a car that really stacks up in the performance department. The line forms way to the rear. /MT