Sketches of Andalucía [3]

It’s later than you think.

News broke this week that London’s Ultra Low Emission Zone is now certain to be extended outwards as far as the London Orbital Motorway (M25) which encircles the outer reaches of the metropolitan area, a decision which will be greeted with some dismay amongst certain (older) car owners amid the UK capital when it comes into force next August. And while most can probably agree in principle that a reduction in airborne pollutants is likely to benefit air quality, it will mean that swathes of perfectly serviceable older vehicles will be taken off the roads – or simply shunted out of London entirely.

Similar strictures would decimate the car pool in this part of the Costa del Sol, given what remains in daily use there, but I would posit that it’s only a matter of time before such matters eventually come to pass. But in the meantime, we at least get to Continue reading “Sketches of Andalucía [3]”

Savannah Postcard (4)

On my first morning, a Sunday, I crept out of my lodgings and strolled around the grid-system streets of old Savannah.

1995-2000 Mercury Mystique in Savannah, Georgia.

This postcard concerns what resembles an alternate-reality Ford Mondeo, the Mercury Mystique which Ford USA sold from 1995 to 2000. Why did it exist? It looks perhaps like a rejected Mondeo proposal. What it is, is evidence of increasing rationalisation of the global Ford product range. The Mondeo upon which Ford based the Mercury Mystique was intended to drag Ford’s mid-sized offering into the front-drive world where its main enemy, the GM Cavalier/Ascona, had been thriving for some time. Continue reading “Savannah Postcard (4)”

You Wait for Three Years and Then…

… along comes Donny 375.

All images: The author

A dozen or more reasons prevent your author from driving more diverse vehicles, but determination and perseverance can warrant its own reward. Anyone can pop down to a dealership and sample something new to them, but on the other hand, the total number of places you can Continue reading “You Wait for Three Years and Then…”

Sketches of Andalucía [2]

Intimations of Alemania.

Late ’80s Golf GTI 5-door. On factory-fit steelies. All images: The author

For a place where locals appear to think nothing of maintaining thirty-year-old cars as daily runners, the proliferation of German-manufactured cars in this part of Southern Spain amounts to less than one might reasonably imagine. Did German cars fail to chime with the Andalucían sensibility, or was it more a factor of up-front cost? Only a native could possibly Continue reading “Sketches of Andalucía [2]”

Elemental Spirit Part 5: Building the Perfect Beast

Drivin’ with your eyes closed. 

Image: spriteparts.com.au

From the moment the Austin-Healey Sprite met the world in Monte Carlo in May 1958, there was a widespread and urgent demand for much more power than the 42.5 bhp at 5000rpm delivered by its Healey-fettled 948cc A-series engine. Professional and amateur racing drivers, and road car owners who just wanted to Continue reading “Elemental Spirit Part 5: Building the Perfect Beast”

Swede Dreams are Made of These

A tale of some lesser-known Saabs.

Image: the author

Some will be of the opinion that ‘SAAB oddity’ is something of an oxymoron, in particular when it concerns the Swedish company prior to its acquisition (and homogenization) by General Motors. That may be so, but over the course of its existence, the Swedish marque produced and, in some cases, inspired its fair share of projects that were noteworthy and unusual, even by the company’s own sometimes eccentric standards. Today we will Continue reading “Swede Dreams are Made of These”

Missing the Marque: Renault Safrane

Renault replaces French style with Euro-blandness, with wholly predictable results.

Going incognito. Safrane Biturbo. Image: razaoautomovel.com

The 1965 Renault 16 was highly unusual for a large European car. Firstly, it was a hatchback when all of its contemporaries were three-box saloons. Secondly, it was front-wheel-drive when large saloons were mainly driven by their rear wheels. Thirdly, its styling was highly distinctive and didn’t observe any of the norms expected in such models. Ask me to Continue reading “Missing the Marque: Renault Safrane”

Sketches of Andalucía [1]

Italy, via Spain.

All images: The author

Occasionally, we get the opportunity to glimpse other possible lives. These are commonly known as holidays, although I prefer to imagine them as being more akin to dreamscapes. For the first time since before the Covid pandemic, I (very) recently found the opportunity to return to the Andalucían coast, and despite the lateness of the year, was mostly blessed by the weather deities.

As is now habitual, I spent a sizeable amount of time getting a feeling for the place, which involved a good deal of legwork – a happy consequence of which was that there was usually something notable (or simply unusual) lurking down a side street[1].

The Spanish do tend to Continue reading “Sketches of Andalucía [1]”

Savannah Postcard (3)

Truly one of the great and lovely names in the back catalogues of car history: Electra.

1985-1990 Buick Electra in Savannah, Georgia

General Motors has produced some very charming cars and they have also been incredibly bad custodians of their brand equity. Here is an example of a great name on a good car, relics of an abandoned market and an abandoned badge. More than 30 years after it ceased production, the Electra name still casts bright-blue light, and it made my afternoon when I saw this one while I was about to Continue reading “Savannah Postcard (3)”

Who Shall Go to the Ball and What Shall Go to the Ball?

The Prius is reborn. But does it matter?

Image: (c) global.toyota

Twenty-five years after the nameplate made its debut, “just in time for the 21st Century”, and six years since the introduction of its astonishing looking predecessor, Toyota have revealed a new generation of their hybrid trailblazer. Billed as the “Hybrid Reborn” by its maker, the 2023 Toyota Prius is set to Continue reading “Who Shall Go to the Ball and What Shall Go to the Ball?”

The Gest of Robin Hood

Prince of… supercars?

Horacio Pagani and his namesakes. Image: carthrottle.com

Gest (a hard G) is an old English word meaning acts, or deeds. While it’s unequivocal that Robin Hood lived in the fourteenth century – but a stone’s throw from my own abode – his character will forever be open to speculation. Was he a thief who gave his plunder to the poor (à la Hollywood), a vagabond cast out to live life alone in the forest, or a plain woodsman who like many Englishmen from that time was skilled with bow and arrow?

My personal thoughts are that Robin Hood was indeed skilled in the art of thievery, along with a flashing blade and the gentle twang of a bowstring[1], to fell boar or errant henchman. But a benevolent thief; head honcho with an understanding side, engendering a brotherly, welcoming mien, to Continue reading “The Gest of Robin Hood”

Welcome to the Machine – Part Six

More than one way to behead a cat.

The XJ-S at its Geneva 1988 debut. Image: Car Magazine

Following the carmaker’s remarkable return from near-death only three years previously, America’s movers and shakers were once again buying Jaguars in number. “The word has got out on the cocktail circuit that the Jaguar is the car to have”, as Jaguar Inc Press Officer, Mike Cook told journalists in 1983. But the lack of an open-topped XJ-S model would soon become a genuine impediment to sales growth. From this point onwards, US requests for a convertible would become increasingly strident.

The Jaguar board realised that the expediently engineered XJ-S Cabriolet could only buy them a certain amount of time, but meanwhile something needed to be done to mollify potential US customers, for whom nothing but a full convertible would suffice and who would otherwise simply Continue reading “Welcome to the Machine – Part Six”

Talk to the Hand

He who dares, not always wins.

Image: Pininfarina SpA

The revered Italian styling house of Pininfarina has designed, and in some cases also built, cars for a multitude of manufacturers spanning the globe. As far as French triumvirate of mass-market automakers is concerned, the decades long collaboration with Peugeot is, of course, well known. With Renault, however, the only styling work commissioned has been for the Argentinian IKA-Renault Torino and, with what could be argued is the most distinctively French of the trio – Citroën – the counter stands at zero.

A little over two decades ago, Pininfarina did, metaphorically speaking, ask for the hand of PSA’s ‘other daughter’ by presenting the Osée research prototype at the Geneva Motor Show in 2001. This was the first and so far only Citroën conceived and clothed by the Italian styling house. The word Osée is French for daring and, even ignoring its rather radical appearance, the moniker was certainly apt as the Osée was a mid-engined rear-wheel-drive sportscar, a specification unheard of for a Citroën. Continue reading “Talk to the Hand”

Fortune Doesn’t Always Favour the Brave

Innovative designs, and better built than one expected from Fiat.

Image: honestjohn.co.uk

Prior to the inexorable rise of the crossover, the C-segment hatchback was the bedrock of the European automotive market. Every mainstream automaker knew the vital importance of success in this class, the champion of which was the VW Golf. The Volkswagen Group prospered on the enduring success of this car, while other manufacturers strived to match its qualities and capture its appeal in their own offerings. Some slavishly tried to build near-replicas(1) of the German car, an effort lampooned by Volkswagen in its witty and memorable 2009 ‘Just Like a Golf’ television advertisement(2).

The success of the Golf was, however, something of a double-edged sword for its maker. So concerned was Volkswagen not to inadvertently kill the golden goose that it allowed the Golf to Continue reading “Fortune Doesn’t Always Favour the Brave”

Compromise – The Paradox of Failure

As David Pye observed, every design is a failure.

Failure. Image: bringatrailer

Editor’s note: David Pye OBE (18 November 1914 – 1 January 1993), was Professor of Furniture Design at The Royal College of Art, from 1964 to 1974, in addition to being a respected wood turner and designer in his own right. He also wrote several notable volumes on design theory. This article was originally published as part of DTW’s Compromise theme in January 2017.

His argument rested on the idea that no design can optimise every aspect. The more complex the object the more likely this is to be the case. If we take a simple example of a knife, it’s a compromise because unavoidably the designer had to work within constraints of time and materials. The knife has to function but be affordable and attractive to enough people to Continue reading “Compromise – The Paradox of Failure”

Punctuation Bingo!

Please gamble responsibly.

Image: The author

Best start with the facts. This is the cover composite from the November 2010 edition of Car magazine. It was, as we can discern, a busy month for the UK periodical. Big Georg Kacher was flown out to the United States (business class no doubt) for an exclusive ‘drive’ of Jaguar’s shapely CX-75 hybrid-supercar concept, while the fullest possible coverage was provided of the three conceptual offerings from the fevered imagination of Lotus’ then CEO, the much unmissed Dany Bahar.

Britskrieg ! screamed the headline, as stridently as a dive-bombing Stuka; a tortured and needless piece of bellicose verbiage which previously only the UK’s Red Top editors might have considered. Such language was not only rather inappropriate, but references such as an “all out sports car war” were really Infra Dignitatem for a once high-brow title such as the EMAP monthly. It would be interesting to Continue reading “Punctuation Bingo!”

Savannah Postcard (2)

The Century nameplate adhered to Buick’s mid-size cars from 1973 to 2005. In this postcard we look at the last two iterations.

Buick is a brand I think of as approximating to a combination of Rover, Lancia and Volvo but with a distinct veneer of the Ghia-character of European Fords. I hope that evokes the idea of the middle-market with comfort-orientated accoutrements. If we Continue reading “Savannah Postcard (2)”

SMS

Salmson – a brief history. 

Image: Bellina Classic Motors

Famous of course for being the spiritual home of Renault, but before Louis built his factory in Billancourt, an altogether different engineer set up shop here leading to some perhaps unexpected diversions. As with so many Victorian-era small time engineers, Émile Salmson (1858-1917) ran a workshop where he produced steam powered pumps for railway and military applications. Attracting the likeminded Georges Canton and Georg Unné, the company changed name to Émile Salmson & Cie, manufacturing pumps, magnetos and engines.

Further plans would include producing radial aero engines. Investment and excellent results found ES & C at the forefront of French aircraft engine production as the Great War began. At full capacity in Billancourt, some aero engine production migrated to Villeurbanne, near Lyon. This too would include an unsuccessful helicopter.

With hostilities over, priorities altered. Demand for aero engines fell, so typewriters and woodworking lathes would become the company’s mainstay, but the burgeoning private car business was seen as the way forward. Management realised the fastest route to Continue reading “SMS”

Gems on the Assembly Line…

…and it was not one of the cars.

Image: classiccarstodayonline.com

At the dawn of its existence, painting an automobile was done in the same manner as one would apply a coat of paint to a horse-drawn carriage: by means of a brush and, in some cases, paint-rollers. Since cars were in those days built more or less in the same manner as their animal-powered predecessors, this was only to be expected.

The introduction of the moving assembly line by Ford in 1913 and the consequent rising demand for cars revealed the limitations of this method of application(1), but it would not be until 1924 that the first car to be spray-painted rolled off an assembly line, not at Ford, but at competitor GM with the Oakland model, a precursor to the later Pontiac. Continue reading “Gems on the Assembly Line…”

Welcome to the Machine – Part Six

Giving the XJ-S a brake.

Lynx Eventer. Image: Autoevolution

Nobody ever purchased a grand turismo motor car for its load-carrying capabilities, there being vehicles better suited to such tasks. But for a select few, such binary propositions exist only as orthodoxies to be upturned. It requires a certain mentality to envisage the recasting of something as indulgent as a 2+2 GT into an estate car. But in order to fill a vacuum, one must first Continue reading “Welcome to the Machine – Part Six”

E1 before i3

Two decades before BMW launched its first production EV, there was the E1 Concept.

Image: cartype.com

Energy Density and Specific Energy are the twin holy grails for any automaker wishing to bring a viable electric vehicle to market. These two units of measurement are often confused, even by people who really should know better(1). In simple terms, energy density is the amount of energy that can be stored in a given volume, whereas specific energy is the amount of energy that can be stored in a given mass. The S.I. unit for the former is joules per cubic metre and for the latter is joules per kilogramme. In the context of electric vehicles, the energy component is more usefully measured in kilowatt-hours, since the joule is a very small unit of energy(2).

Petrol has a specific energy(3) of around 12.5kWh/kg. Diesel is slightly lower at around 11.5kWh/kg. These numbers might appear meaningless in isolation, but compare them with the specific energy of a traditional lead-acid battery, which is a tiny 0.04kWh/kg and you can Continue reading “E1 before i3”

Birthday Present, Birthday Past

“The Magnification of Inspired Performance

Infiniti Essence. Image: automobilesreview.com

The Japanese luxury carmaker had something it wanted to make clear in its 2009 Geneva press release: “What Essence is not is merely an indulgent birthday present from Infiniti to itself“, it asserted, immediately planting the germ of doubt into those of a more cynically minded bent.

2009 marked Geneva’s 79th motor show. Infiniti was present that year, celebrating twenty years since its inception. To mark this auspicious milestone, they displayed Essence, a petrol/electric/hybrid concept GT coupé. Essence’s mission it appears was twofold. To showcase a new design ethos, forecasting a range of more exciting vehicles to wear the Infiniti badge, but also to generate excitement around the brand as it made a late entry into the European market.

Nissan’s upmarket sub-brand needed to make up for lost ground. Having made its US debut in 1989, it arrived concurrent with, yet somewhat on the tail of Toyota’s more impactful Lexus nameplate. Over the intervening two decades, while its Toyota City rival became an accepted member of the ‘prestige’ firmament, Infiniti, owing in part to Nissan’s US-centric focus, not to mention a somewhat half-baked commitment to product development, remained something of an also-ran.

Nissan, never as strong or well-resourced as Toyota, probably bit off more than it ought by attempting to go head-to-head with Lexus. By 2009, not only had it the carmaker been forced to Continue reading “Birthday Present, Birthday Past”

1974 Volvo 244: Review

“No mashed Swedes!” Archie Vicar on the Volvo 244 saloon.

Image: autoevolution

Auto Motorist, September 1974, pages 23-29. Photos by Ian Cambridgeshire. Owing to unexplained fermentation affecting processing of the original images, stock photography has been used. [Editor’s note: This transcript was first uploaded to DTW on 2 November 2013.]

The Swedish like eating tinned rotten fish. It’s an acquired taste, I am told by those with experience in such things. One is advised to open the tin can under water so as to contain the noxious aromas that would otherwise emanate. And one is also advised to drink plenty of schnapps to kill the taste. That’s really the only part of the whole palaver I can really see my way to agreeing with. I mention all of this by way of an introduction to Sweden’s other acquired taste, their Volvos.

And they have a new one on the way, the 244. It’s in the spirit of fellowship between our two great nations that I Continue reading “1974 Volvo 244: Review”

Livonia, There’s Something About You

Four feral felines from Buick. 

1953 Buick Wildcat I. Image: oldconceptcars

Buick have form when it comes to concept vehicles, especially since a certain Harley Earl began such pioneering strides with 1938’s seminal Y-Job, which helped to define the Tri-shield’s design credentials. In 1949, GM’s Autorama car show was held at the Astoria Hotel in New York to promote new concept designs to a public desperate to Continue reading “Livonia, There’s Something About You”

Show and Tell (Part Seven)

Concluding our recollection of a phenomenon now in danger of extinction: the traditional motor show.

Image: the author

Detroit 2000

Chrysler’s PT Cruiser was styled by Brian Nesbitt(1) with the assistance of Gilbert Clotaire Rapaille, a French medical anthropologist, which may well have been an automotive industry first. The reason for employing the services of Rapaille was to Continue reading “Show and Tell (Part Seven)”

Grand Horizons

A further lesson in design from Hyundai.

Image: (c) Hyundai.com

It has been stated with considerably greater authority[1] than mine that the current automotive design centre of gravity no longer resides in Europe, the US, nor indeed (as yet at least), China. Car design’s True North now points inexorably towards South Korea. Several factors have contributed to this enviable state of affairs, not least an influx of senior European design talent to the Hyundai group over recent decades, but the end results are entirely their own and can now Continue reading “Grand Horizons”

Elemental Spirit Part 4: The Sisyphus Game

The Spridget turned out to be a difficult product to replace. We look at a diverse selection of proposals developed through the 1960s.

Image: MG Cheshire Owners Club

Far from perfect, and never very advanced in its design or engineering, replacing the Spridget became one of several long-running displacement activities within BMC and pre-Edwardes BLMC, although in a far lower league than The New Mini, and ‘The Little Engine That Could’ (replace the A Series). All turned out to be as pointless and unproductive as parlour games, with the participants’ abundant creativity never rewarded with a tangible prize.

When Leonard Lord and Donald Healey first imagined the low-budget car which would become the Austin-Healey Sprite, they probably envisaged a production life of possibly 3-4 years before technology and fashion left it behind. Within MG a ‘New Midget based on Sputnik FWD’, was registered in the experimental department register as EX 220, four months before Sputnik (better known as the ADO15 Mini) went on sale in August 1959. The project was given a proper Longbridge code, ADO34, despite the strong disproval of Alec Issigonis[a], and progressed for some time with competing design teams from Abingdon and Longbridge. Continue reading “Elemental Spirit Part 4: The Sisyphus Game”

Swedish Iron (Part Three)

Concluding the story of Volvo’s long-running and successful 100/200 series.

Image: media.volvocars.com

After eight years and 1.25 million sales, the Volvo 100 series was heavily re-engineered and restyled to produce its successor. The budget for the research, development and updated production facilities for the new model was a relatively modest £60 million. The 200 series was launched in the autumn of 1974.

It retained the body of the 100 series from the A-pillar rearwards but was given a completely new front-end, inspired by the 1972 Volvo Experimental Safety Car. This was designed to improve passenger safety in a frontal collision and added a substantial 172mm (6¾”) to the overall length(1), which was now 4,823mm (189¾”) for the saloon and 4,844 mm (190¾”) for the estate. Unfortunately, the ‘shovel-nosed’ new front-end, again designed by Jan Wilsgaard, looked rather ungainly, and it unbalanced the proportions of the saloon(2) somewhat. Continue reading “Swedish Iron (Part Three)”

The Circus is Leaving Town

Farewell Fiesta.

Image: ar.motor1.com

When Ford began work on what would become the Bobcat programme in 1969, the small car market had not wholly coalesced around a single format. Even amid the developed nations of Europe, there was no real clarity, although there were vehicles in development, not least in France and Italy which would before long help change that.

The previous year, Ford of Europe had introduced the conventional rear-wheel-drive Escort as its entry level offering, a car which built upon the success of the UK-developed Anglia, offering similar virtues in a more updated, slightly larger, more refined package. However, apart from one or two high-tax markets, the Escort had moved above the Anglia’s one-litre entry point.

Escort’s (slight) shift upmarket was a wholly logical strategic decision at the time, one entirely in keeping with the blue oval’s growth plans. Customers were more affluent and had become more discerning and anyway, Ford did not Continue reading “The Circus is Leaving Town”

The Man Machine

Pressing concerns.

Image: Acharts.com

Designers reap the plaudits whilst manufacturers soak up the awards, but without the hidden practice of metal stamping, the car making process would remain firmly in the carriage days, accompanied by a dirge rather than a more symphonic assurance.

While the engineering technology was pioneered in the Victorian era, nowadays many groups and global corporations deal with the stamping of metal. Today, we look at two well established companies who shape metal for a variety of manufacturers, whose methods, size and ownership have changed far beyond their humble beginnings. One must add that from this layperson’s perspective, the process is not only fascinating, but quite musical.

Schuler, now a member of the Austrian Andritz Group, was established in 1839 by Louis Schuler and a single apprentice. Based in Göppingen, a town around 40 kilometres east of Stuttgart, his small firm began to produce fruit and cider presses. By 1852, he believed his company had taken on too many projects too quickly and rather hot-headedly took an axe to his existing machinery in order to Continue reading “The Man Machine”

Show and Tell (Part Six)

Blowing the dust off another set of rediscovered envelopes and their contents, rekindling some memories.

Image: the author

Paris 1990

Project 2758, as the Mercedes-Benz 500E was known internally at Porsche AG, who partly built the car, was a ‘Q-car’ in the vein of the BMW M5 but, this being Stuttgart, the 500E presented itself in an even more discreet way than Munich’s autobahnstormer.

The 5-litre, 32-valve M119 V8 propelled the 500E to an electronically limited maximum speed of 250km/h (155mph) although, without the limiter, its terminal velocity was known to have been quite a bit higher. The 500E was strictly a four-seater, which was not entirely by choice: the differential needed was so large that there was no room left for any suspension or even padding in the middle of the rear seat area. Continue reading “Show and Tell (Part Six)”

Elemental Spirit Part 3: When Donald Met Donald

When two West Countrymen clash.

Image: British Leyland (Austin-Morris) Limited

In his biography My World of Cars, Donald Healey recalled a meeting with Sir Donald Stokes in the first few weeks of British Leyland’s existence:

“I was summoned to Donald Stokes’s office at the Standard works in Coventry, he told me he was going to discontinue MG, together with the payment of royalties to the names associated with what were BLMC cars. This included John Cooper and myself, together with Harry Weslake, and John Thornley (MG General Manager) too, was eventually to be retired. He explained that he didn’t need the help of all of us people to Continue reading “Elemental Spirit Part 3: When Donald Met Donald”

Welcome to the Machine – Part Five

Opening up the XJ-S. In sections.

Image: erwinxjs

Even amongst luxurious and indulgent grand turismos the Jaguar XJ-S stood apart, alongside its other more contentious attributes for its disproportionate length-to-cabin ratio. Despite generous exterior proportions, the XJ-S was avowedly a 2+2, with the rear seats of only the occasional variety. But if close-coupled coupés might be considered the preserve of the sybarite, its drophead coupé equivalent was by comparison entirely the chariot of the hedonist.

During the early 1970s, convertibles began to fall out of favour on both sides of the Atlantic. The reasons for this are complex, but a major factor influencing carmakers involved fears of draconian United States federal safety proposals which threatened to outlaw open-topped cars entirely, or at the very least render them unsaleable. In Europe on the other hand, as socio-political tensions began to turn violent, the Riviera-set elected to Continue reading “Welcome to the Machine – Part Five”

Savannah Postcard (1)

A recent short visit to Savannah, Georgia afforded a chance to peruse the roadside vehicle population of the South.

Savannah, Georgia roadside last Monday morning.

Many people visit Savannah to enjoy its urban milieu: late Georgian and early Victorian architecture situated among lines of old, large trees draped with Spanish moss. I had a look at all that but also hoped to see a reasonable sampling of faces familiar mostly from photographs. I found some surprising juxtapositions and odd vignettes. It’s a place of contrasts. If you Continue reading “Savannah Postcard (1)”

Swedish Iron (Part Two)

Continuing the story of Volvo’s long-running 100/200 series.

Image: Veikl

In July 1968, Volvo unveiled its new range-topping 164 saloon, based on the 144. As the model designation implies, the 164 featured a six-cylinder engine, making it the first Volvo for twenty years so powered. The new B30 engine was simply an six-cylinder version of the B20 inline-four and shared many common parts. It had a capacity of 2,979cc and, fitted with twin Zenith-Stromberg carburettors, it produced maximum power of 145bhp (108kW).

The engine was mated to a four-speed manual gearbox or three-speed Borg-Warner automatic transmission. An overdrive, which operated on top gear only, was an option with the manual gearbox. From the A-pillar rearwards, the 164’s body was identical to that of the 144. However, the longer engine required a 96mm (3¾”) extension in the wheelbase to 2,700mm (106¼”) while the overall length grew by 63mm (2½”) to 4,651mm (183”).

Volvo took the opportunity to Continue reading “Swedish Iron (Part Two)”

Star Fighter

Cadillac dares. Greatly.

Image: Autoevolution

In 1910, former US President, Theodore Roosevelt gave a speech at the Paris Sorbonne entitled, ‘Citizenship in a Republic’, a rousing panegyric[1] in which he lauded the protagonist, the man in the arena, rather than the spectator or the critic. It was the figure of action who mattered, he posited, the man who dared. In the century since it was given, this oft-cited piece of oratory has resonated and inspired generations[2].

At the 2016 Pebble Beach auto show, Cadillac displayed Escala, one of a long line of high-end Cadillac concept cars destined to founder upon the jagged rocks of GM’s timorous caution. The Escala was an elegant fastback sedan, one which elicited an element of critical handwringing owing to its hatchback format, a curious style decision given the US car buyer’s long-held distaste for such layouts.

Certainly, Cadillac themselves appeared to acknowledge that they had some convincing to do, and since every concept nowadays must have a catchy PR slogan to underpin it, the one appended to Escala urged one and all to Continue reading “Star Fighter”

Kenosha Kid

The immortal ‘Frogeye’ Sprite was a quintessentially British design, but could its roots have lain further West?

Image: amklassiek.nl

Editor’s note: This article was originally published in July 2018.

The compact two-seat sportscar wasn’t necessarily a British invention, but for a period during the twentieth century, the UK was perhaps its prime exponent. Hardly surprising, given Britain’s traditionally serpentine network of narrow undulating roads and a taxation regime which dictated lower capacity, longer-stroke engines of limited outright power.

But the British are an inventive people and soon found ways to Continue reading “Kenosha Kid”

Training Day

To Daventry, Nimrod, and don’t spare the DERV.

Volvo’s Daventry Training Centre. All images: The Author

My Volvo S90 would be the perfect town and commuter car if not for the fact he runs on diesel. Both derrière and back are supported supremely but the engine and that particulate filter prefer the motorway dash to the monotonous urban grind. Having had little opportunity to head out anywhere other than the supermarket and workplace for seemingly an age, the opportunity to Continue reading “Training Day”

M Too

Born, raised and terminated during the Asian bubble economy- the story of Mazda’s shortlived design and performance skunkworks.

Images: ameblo.jp, architecturetokyo.wordpress.com and Mazda Motor Corporation

In Tokyo’s Setagaya ward stands a building that is hard to miss, thanks to its highly unusual appearance. Currently occupied by a funeral company, it originally served as the headquarters and showroom for M2, Mazda’s creator of limited-edition specials and prototypes. The eye-catching structure, designed by architect Kengo Kuma, is made out of reinforced concrete, although it is executed in such a way that it resembles masonry construction. A gigantic central Ionic column dominates the view and contains an atrium plus a glazed elevator shaft. Clearly, this was no ordinary showroom but then M2 was no ordinary outfit.

Established in 1990, M2 was no doubt partly inspired by competitor Nissan’s ‘Pike Factory’ success in selling uniquely styled limited editions such as the BE-1, PAO and S-Cargo. These were based on Nissan’s regular offerings and sold through the Cherry Stores network. Continue reading “M Too”

Elemental Spirit Part 2: Metamorphosis

The Second Face, and a short-lived dupoly.

Image: the Austin Motor Company

The final years of the 1950s were a time of advancement and renewal for the automobile industry. Fashions changed rapidly as American influence waned, and the European carmakers forged their own visual identities. Model replacement cycles were short, and consumers gravitated to whatever was new and progressive. The Austin-Healey Sprite’s designers never expected the expedient Frogeye design to have a long life, and not long after its launch, the designers at Donald Healey Motor Company in Warwick were working on a facelift, scheduled for production in 1961.

Even before this date, BMC’s Italian licensees had shocked their British supplier and delighted the world with their own version of the little Austin-Healey, presented at the 1960 Turin Motor Show in November 1960. Continue reading “Elemental Spirit Part 2: Metamorphosis”

Sons of Pioneers

A visionary BMW? It doesn’t seem so long ago.

Into the sunset. Farewell i3. Image: (c) Media BMW

It has become customary nowadays to discuss the carmaking giant of Bayerische Motoren Werke AG in anguished tones, akin perhaps to the sort of concern one might feel towards a once-reliable friend in the throes of an unnerving and potentially damaging life-crisis. But it wasn’t always thus. A little over a decade ago, the German carmaker was at the forefront of automotive future-thinking and a genuine pathfinder towards zero emission mobility. Not only that, the cars with which BMW entered the EV market were as futurist in appearance as they were beneath their arresting skin panels.

The birth of the BMW i programme goes back to the latter portion of the post-millennial decade, a time of unfettered expansion for the Vierzylinder, not only in commercial and product terms but also in the visionary sense. During this fecund period, in a quiet corner of BMW’s FIZ engineering nerve centre, a radical and potentially transformative project was gaining impetus and momentum. Project i brought together a small group of electrical engineers, chemists and product strategists under the leadership of Ulrich Kranz, to Continue reading “Sons of Pioneers”

Swedish Iron (Part One)

Remembering Volvo’s long-running and highly successful 100/200 series.

Image: autoevolution.com

One of the near-constants of the automotive industry is the model replacement cycle. It typically works like this: a new model is introduced, given a facelift (for better or worse) after, say, four years, then is replaced by an all-new model after a further four years. Of course, ‘all-new’ is a term used pretty casually by automakers. Often, beneath the shiny new bodywork, many carry-over parts will be found.

A number of factors conspire to enforce this cycle. Ever tighter active and passive safety standards and regulations need to be incorporated. Likewise, developments in technology, both for the vehicle itself and the machinery used to build it, will, in the best of circumstances, allow the redesigned vehicle to Continue reading “Swedish Iron (Part One)”

Sayer’s Moodboard

The Jaguar XJ-S came from outer space – or did it?

Image: XJ story

Editor’s note: This piece was originally published in November 2017.

A shape which to this day repels as much as it fascinates, the Jaguar XJ-S remains a car which divides opinion. While the reasons for repulsion are easy enough to discern, its fascination lies not only as a function of its striking shape, but also from a sense that its styling came about without precedent. But surely no car is developed entirely in a vacuum?

Driven to Write has covered the XJ-S’ stylistic development in some detail already, so you might consider it a little self-indulgent to Continue reading “Sayer’s Moodboard”

Something Rotten – Fiat Tempra

Time waits for no Fiat.

A Fiat Tempra amid gentler surroundings. Image: Motortudo

Editor’s Note: This piece was originally published on DTW in August 2016.

Remember the Chrysler K-car? It helped save Chrysler until the next crisis. The Fiat Tipo played a similar role, at least in underpinning a lot of models. This is one of them. Another Fiat, a 125 behind glass, made me stop at the location. When I stopped looking at that I wandered further. In the otherwise empty lot nearby this Tempra crouched. It looked good from afar, but it’s far from good. Although the body had galvanising, rust is biting the doors and the handles are seized. It’s not for sale anymore and evidently wasn’t worth taking to the dealer’s new location 10 km away.

As ever, the interior is in decent condition so anyone wanting stock with which to Continue reading “Something Rotten – Fiat Tempra”

Show and Tell (Part Five)

Look and you shall find.

Ending an aesthetically dodgy episode during the eighties, the final facelift made the Spider regain most of its former prettiness. Image: the author

Some envelopes with car show photos that were elusive when the first four instalments of this series were being written in 2020 have now resurfaced.

Geneva 1988:

Quite late into its life, the Jaguar XJ-S was finally offered as a true convertible(1). Although the conversion might at first glance seem to be relatively straightforward, no less than 108 new panels and 48 modified pressings were needed to make the car a production reality. Also required were reinforcements to the transmission tunnel, rear floor and both bulkheads. The car was available in V12 form only, making it the most expensive vehicle in Jaguar’s model range apart from the very limited production Daimler DS420. Continue reading “Show and Tell (Part Five)”

A Stock Car at La Sarthe

NASCAR comes to Le Mans

Image: Static.wixstatic.com

June 1976: The United States of America is about to celebrate its bicentennial. And what better way to mark such an auspicious event than conquering a certain French motor racing circuit with some all-American iron?

Three years before, the oil crisis affected the pockets of Joe Public and racing teams alike. Budgets were slashed, ideas sidelined but racing continued if perhaps not as freely as before. The Automobile Club de L’Ouest (ACO), fastidious organisers of the 24 Hours of Le Mans were struggling to fill the fifty-five-place grid for the ‘76 event. They turned to Big Bill France, owner of Daytona International Speedway, home to the Stateside version of the twice round the clock endurance[1]. In a spirit of International Exchange, the ACO would Continue reading “A Stock Car at La Sarthe”

Elemental Spirit Part 1: A Power Partnership

From Sprite to Midget – profiling BMC’s diminutive sportsters.

Image: The Austin Motor Company

Who would have imagined that the joyful, cartoonish little sports car introduced to the motoring media at Monaco on 20 May 1958, two days after the Grand Prix, was born out of the anguish and self-doubt of the most powerful man in the British automobile industry?

Leonard Percy Lord (1896-1967) was a brilliant production engineer whose breadth of ability led him to rapid promotion at Morris Motors, and then, after crossing sides, a fast-track path to Chairmanship of Austin in the early post-WW2 years. He had a consistent ability to Continue reading “Elemental Spirit Part 1: A Power Partnership”

Welcome to the Machine – Part Four

Supercat leaps back to life. 

Image (c) Auto-Didakt

If ‘efficiency’ is the watchword for the 1980s, what hope is there for the Jaguar XJ-S?” Opening their October 1980 test report of Jaguar’s embattled grand turismo coupé, UK magazine, Motor got right to nub of the matter. Because at the time, the auguries were ominous.

That Spring, Jaguar itself had come within squeaking distance of closure. With production having slumped to levels not seen since the 1950s[1]; convulsed by a bruising walk-out of production-line workers, a full-blown crisis at the Castle Bromwich paint plant, and high drama at boardroom level, the carmaker (if indeed it could still be described as such) was clinging by a thread.

This nihilistic mindset was echoed by striking line workers at Browns Lane, who had become convinced that BL management were determined to Continue reading “Welcome to the Machine – Part Four”

Whisper, don’t Shout

The author attempts to explain his violently opposed reactions to the design of the 2020 Rolls-Royce Ghost and 2022 BMW 7 Series.

In a comment appended to a recent piece on DTW, a reader asked me to elaborate on why I thought that the Rolls-Royce Ghost works as a design, whereas the latest BMW 7 Series* simply doesn’t. It is a good question, and one I have been pondering. In what follows, I will attempt to explain my thoughts. As ever, I should begin with the caveat that, while there are well understood principles of good design, I have no formal training in that field. Hence, my observations are simply those of an enthusiastic amateur, no more or less valid than any others, so I am very happy to be challenged on anything that follows.

Cars like these, being large and expensive, should offer designers maximum freedom to Continue reading “Whisper, don’t Shout”

Japan – Boxing Clever

Why is Japan so good at thinking inside the box?

1989 Nissan Chapeau image : conceptnissan.com
Chapeau, Nissan? Well, it’s a start, I guess. 1989 Nissan Chapeau image : conceptnissan.com

First published on April 27, 2016, this fine piece by the now-retired DTW co-founder, Sean Patrick formed part of the Japan Theme.

An obvious introduction for an obvious concept. If you want to fit people shaped people into a car, the architecture that allows them the most room to sit in comfort is a box. An empty volume bounded by a series of flat rectangles. In the early days lots of cars were like this, now they are not. A common criticism of car design, used in the UK at least, is that a car is ‘boxy’.

This comment needs no expansion – the fact that the car resembles a box condemns it. Yet, of course, a box is the best shape if you want to Continue reading “Japan – Boxing Clever”