And Now We Rise, and We Are Everywhere – (Part One)

Evolution of the Nissan Qashqai

Image: Allcarindex

What do we think of when we think of the Nissan Qashqai? The promising 2004 concept which introduced not only the name, but also the talents of Nissan’s London design studio? The worthy but visually underwhelming crossover which made its debut in Paris two and a half years later? The sales phenomenon which led to Nissan’s Sunderland factory producing more vehicles per annum than Italy’s entire automotive industry?

For this writer, the conclusion of the fieldwork element of a four week crash-course in Qashqai Studies is that it is Europe’s incognito car champion. Once I had set the radar on the self-effacing crossover, I suddenly found them everywhere, in all generations (they seem to last well) and trim levels. Before this, I would have more readily paid attention to items of street furniture.

With cars, as with people, solid virtues are a better path to enduring success than egregious self-promotion. I’ve previously commented that part of the success of a mid-size SUV is that almost everyone can Continue reading “And Now We Rise, and We Are Everywhere – (Part One)”

The Phantom Joint Venture – Part Two

Could a joint venture between Citroën and Lancia possibly have been on the cards, especially before they briefly shared a roof under Fiat?

After the discontinuation of the iconic Aurelia and its smaller sisters, Lancia spent the 1960s seeking a broader audience and larger profits. However, things didn’t go exactly as planned. Credit: motoristorici

Trouble in Turin…

Under Gianni Lancia, the Italian firm ran a costly racing program that gobbled up whatever profit its modest sales brought. Its cars were expensive to begin with, aiming squarely at the upper echelons of Italian society. In the post-war context, Lancia’s export efforts were always hampered, and not just by the high import taxes of the era: its cars, for all their mechanical refinement and excellent driving experience, had a niche appeal, which eluded the majority of the newly-emerging (or re-emerging) affluent potential customers. Too many of them viewed Lancias as too expensive for their body size, engine displacement, horsepower, and acceleration. Plus, they wanted something far more flamboyant. Clearly, the times had changed, and so had buyers’ tastes.

Lancia’s new boss, Carlo Pesenti[7] of Italcementi fame, gave Dr. Antonio Fessia[8] the go-ahead to Continue reading “The Phantom Joint Venture – Part Two”

Seventh Son

It’s not easy being green – or purple for that matter.  

Credit: Autocar

Purple patches: how the car industry seeks them out, wishing them unending. Barrels of confidence too, a strangely metaphorical catalyst. Combine the two and akin to many chemical reactions, effect closely follows cause. The Koreans have lately been planting purple by the acre, nurturing their allotments with generous amounts of confidence, the result being that the Seventh son has germinated. A concept large enough to rival contemporaries such as the Volvo XC90, another all electric family shifter, or indeed the now perfidious Sonderklasse, Hyundai’s epithet for the brute swells with confidence – this is a ‘Category Bending’ SUV.

Ignoring range (or its antithesis, anxiety) and dimensions, look deeply at this auto show reveal. The Seven may very well make it to production as is. Scoff at leisure, the Ionic 5 and 6 barely altered from their own concepts to lines rolling. The (practically) British Racing Green bio-paint makes a great first impression, highlighting how metal requires little, if any adornment. Flanks of elegance reside. Front wheel arch entasis, brawn to the rear. A counter over arch maybe a detail too far – removed for the facelift version, maybe?

Rear three quarter views reveal the gentle barrel roll to the belt line, eyes seeing strength without force. Whilst doubtful the poignée de porte will make it to job one, maybe Hyundai will Continue reading “Seventh Son”

Falling back to Earth (Part Two)

Saturn makes a promising start.

1990 Saturn SC coupé. Image: consumerguide.com

There was great interest and excitement, both from the general and specialist automotive press, when the first car rolled off the production line at the new Saturn manufacturing plant in Spring Hill, Tennessee, on 30th July 1990. Journalists were invited to tour the plant and engage with the workforce. They detected a certain evangelical spirit amongst the workers, who felt that the company was “people-oriented” and that they had a “voice” in the production process. This referred to regular team discussions with their managers and engineers, where problems were aired and suggestions for improvements were heard constructively and rewarded if adopted.

There were practical innovations in the manufacturing process too. The production line was called the Skillet(1) and the vehicles were carried, not nose to tail, but at right angles to the line, thereby reducing its length by 40%. The workers rode on the skillet with the cars and were free to allocate jobs within the teams, to optimise the use of individual workers’ proficiencies. Any worker could stop the line if they encountered a problem or fault.

Beyond the factory gates, Saturn’s management was also keen to Continue reading “Falling back to Earth (Part Two)”

She’s Electric

ZOE’s days may be numbered, but its EV pioneer status is assured.

Image: highwaynewspro.com

A decade ago, two quite different, yet in their own way, equally significant electric cars would go on sale. While the Tesla Model S would come to define the latterday electric car as a tech-laden, super-computer on wheels, another – less significant from a purely historical context perhaps – would go on to become the best selling European battery electric car ever, a position it retains.

The 2009 Frankfurt motor show witnessed something of a bombshell from Groupe Renault, the carmaker displaying four fully electric concept cars[1], each destined to Continue reading “She’s Electric”

Lost in Space, Lost in Translation.

The car-hire tombola springs a surprise.

All imges: the author

For reasons that will be obvious to all, Driven to Write’s generous travel and entertainment budget has been conspicuously underspent over the past two years. Fearing that the suits on the sixteenth floor of DTW Towers might repurpose it for even more lavish fixtures and fittings to garnish their executive office suites, or that a certain DTW colleague(1) might run amok restocking the sherry cellar, I managed to persuade our esteemed editor to sign off(2) on an overseas assignment involving an extended road test of an as yet unspecified rental car.

So, bags packed, my partner and I headed off to Tenerife, excited to Continue reading “Lost in Space, Lost in Translation.”

Fools Who Dream

The car that choreographed a Cadillac lawsuit (and won).

Image: consumerguideauto

McCormick Place, Chicago, February 1982 – a not entirely salubrious (or meteorologically appropriate) launch venue for a factory convertible. American and British tastes regarding the drophead differ considerably. Ever optimistic for the kiss of solar rays, Blighty could not be satiated. America however, forty years ago felt altogether differently.

Wealthy customers have always been happy to Continue reading “Fools Who Dream”

The Phantom Joint Venture – Part One

In this series, we examine a persistent bit of car lore involving French President Charles de Gaulle and two beautiful, yet flawed cars: the Lancia Gamma and Citroën CX.

As a kid, a teenager and, later on, young adult, I had very little interest in sports, and my artistic talents were pretty much non-existent. So, I looked to car publications for a source of inspiration. Impressed as I was by the detailed reviews and technical columns that contained a wealth of information that would be considered taboo today, I confess I took pretty much everything written there at face value. This applied not only to the reviews themselves, but to other sections of those magazines – from the ones that dabbled in automotive history to the ones where the contributors unfolded their political wisdom.

This exposed me to a non-trivial amount of rather dubious narratives that were (and some still are) presented as some sort of indisputable truth. For instance, in my teens I genuinely believed the major car publications’ narrative about a leftist conspiracy led by evil trade unionists and the hard-left populists of PASOK[1]‘ and aided by the ‘unpatriotic communists[2] that aimed to Continue reading “The Phantom Joint Venture – Part One”

Falling Back to Earth (Part One)

Saturn was General Motors’ response to the Japanese invasion of the US auto market.

Saturn S Series prototype. Image: blog.hemmings.com

The Japanese automakers’ penetration of the US market gathered momentum throughout the 1970s and ‘80s. By 1990, this was a major cause for concern, not just in Detroit, but also in Washington DC, where politicians observed the country’s ballooning trade deficit with alarm. The problem was exacerbated by the behaviour of the US automakers themselves, who were sourcing an increasing proportion of their vehicle parts from Japan.

In 1990, the US-Japan bilateral trade deficit in vehicles and automotive parts was $31.1 billion(1). This represented 28% of the total US trade deficit, and 76% of the country’s bilateral trade deficit with Japan. The deficit in vehicles was $20.6 billion, barely increased on the $19.7 billion deficit seen in 1985. The deficit in automotive parts, however, had more than doubled over the same period, from $4.4 billion to $10.5 billion.

The US automakers struggled in particular to Continue reading “Falling Back to Earth (Part One)”

Page Three

One man’s obsession with the third page. 

Image: Society of Automotive Historians via Deans Garage

The mention of page three to anyone under the age of thirty five probably elicits nothing more than a numerical continuation from the front page. For older folk amid these isles however, the phenomenon was frequently known to turn grown men into quivering heaps. In newspapers commonly known as rags, (tabloids to you and I) the oft-ignored headline (often dubious in nature) would be bypassed in haste in order to allow that day’s young lady briefly describe her tastes whilst baring her upper torso. Workshop banter would ensue.

There being little new under the sun, advertising has been a staple throughout the car industry’s history. And while some would pay happily for front page status, others towards the rear and the rest somewhere in between, one manufacturer chose one magazine and more to the point, one page in particular to Continue reading “Page Three”

Blowing Up the Mould

No more Mr. Stingray. 

All images: Author’s collection

As the Corvette became a more serious proposition after the commercially successful but softer by the year C3 Stingray, its publicity material followed suit…

When introduced for the 1968 model year, the voluptuous Corvette Stingray did not meet with the universal praise from the press that GM had hoped for. Of course, the C3 had big shoes to fill after its much loved predecessor, but embarrassing initial quality glitches as well as a perceived of loss of focus as far as the sportscar aspect was concerned did not help its plight either.

The buying public thought otherwise however, and as the seventies unfolded sales of the C3 actually went up year-on-year culminating in its best sales performance (for this particular model) in 1979. Nevertheless, those responsible for all things Corvette within Chevrolet division decided to Continue reading “Blowing Up the Mould”

Missing the Marque: MINI Paceman

Off the pace: the misconceived 2012 MINI Paceman.

2013 MINI Paceman. Image: autotrader.co.uk

One of the very few positives to emerge from BMW’s six-year tenure as owner of Rover Group was the successful reinvention of MINI(1). Barely six months after BMW finally disposed of its troubled English Patient, the R50 three-door hatchback was launched. It was a clever reworking of the style and proportions of the original into a larger and (somewhat) more practical package. It was by no means perfect and there were quibbles about the quality of its interior fittings and more substantive criticisms regarding the performance and refinement of its engine(2).

Despite its shortcomings, the new MINI was perfectly in tune with the contemporary Cool Britannia zeitgeist, with its cheeky looks and endless personalisation options. This was perfectly articulated by the dealership environment. Rather than the clean, efficient but rather sterile surroundings of a typical BMW showroom, MINI dealerships were all black walls and colourful neon strip lighting, more akin to the nightclubs supposedly frequented by its typical target customers(3).

The decision to Continue reading “Missing the Marque: MINI Paceman”

Supplements Supplanted By Sunroofs!

Special Editions from the 1980s

1986 Nissan Sunny. favcars

Should you have been in the market to purchase a new vehicle in Berkshire just over thirty years ago, you had only to buy The Observer newspaper and locate the twenty eight page Motoring Supplement. From Section D’s headline (B and C dealing with sport and finance one guesses), matters boded well – readers being informed of the £552 million of joint Renault and Giugiaro money funnelled into project X53 – the 19.

Also included was a nicely written test report of the 1.8 litre 8-valve Passat GT (with 118bhp and sunroof as standard) and plenty of information regarding the impending arrival of the ‘F’ plate on August 1st 1988. I passed my driving test two days later and was fully charged to buy my first motor.

With surprising detail for page six, we Continue reading “Supplements Supplanted By Sunroofs!”

When Henry Met André – Part 2

Scribing one’s name across the firmament.

Citroën’s famous publicity exploits. Image: Deseret.com/ Lepoint.fr

The roaring twenties was a favourable decade for Citroën; not only did his cars gain a reputation for reliability, economy of operation and modernity, but the carmaker also was one of the first in the field to appreciate and apply the power of publicity on a grand scale. And we do mean grand. During the 1922 Paris motor show he hired an aeroplane to fly over the city and write his company name in the sky – over three miles long – the first time this was ever done.

A few years later, the Eiffel tower would become the world’s largest lighted commercial display by means of 250,000 light bulbs; upon his final descent to the airport of Le Bourget after his 33-hour solo flight, Charles Lindbergh used the lighted Eiffel tower as a guiding beacon. Seizing the publicity opportunity, Citroën invited the aeronautic pioneer to Javel where the entire workforce as well as the domestic press greeted the first man to Continue reading “When Henry Met André – Part 2”

Raking the Embers [4] : How to Disappear Completely

The E65 changed BMW forever.

‘Everything in its right place….’ Image: autoevolution

In October 2000, UK rock band, Radiohead released their fourth studio album, the much-awaited follow up to their acclaimed and large-selling 1997 release, OK Computer. But the Gloucestershire five-piece, having foreseen a future trapped upon the stadium rock treadmill instead took a leap into leftfield and recorded a soundscape as haunting as it was alienating. Kid A[1] was received by fans and critics with a mixture of shock, awe and a certain dismay. Many would not Continue reading “Raking the Embers [4] : How to Disappear Completely”

Raking the Embers [3] : Details, Details, Details

Why the facelift failed to fix the BMW E65-generation 7 Series’ most egregious faults.

2003 BMW E65 7 Series. Image: carpixel.net

Someone much more literate in such matters than me once used the terms lumper and splitter in connection with automotive design. I find these terms useful and try to be a holistic lumper, but often find myself unduly irritated by what I perceive to be flaws in the detail execution, hence I am an inveterate splitter. This is why Adrian van Hooydonk’s(1) 2001 Siebener has always irritated me to an irrational degree, and why I feel the facelift did little to address its many flaws.

In the photos below, the blue car is the pre-facelift model, the grey is the facelifted version(2).

The most egregious of these flaws are to be found in the area of the rear door, rear quarter panel and C-pillar. The horizontal bodyside crease in the door skin appears to come to a dead stop when it reaches the door’s trailing-edge shut-line. It has to do so to avoid interfering with the curvature of the rear wheel arch. Actually, if you Continue reading “Raking the Embers [3] : Details, Details, Details”

Raking the Embers [2] : Love Is Lost

In defence of the Siebener.

Image: Carpixel

Calendar pages numbering two hundred and forty months have turned since the E65 BMW 7 Series rocked the upper automotive echelons. With sober feelings toward most blue and white propellers, along with puzzlement as regards their food additive nomenclatures (they begin at 100 – curcumin), this fourth generation flagship has never been a common sight for this particular author. Engaging though, when seen. 

To these now more nuanced eyes, time’s hand has been gentle, keeping that deportment smooth with appropriate treatments liberally applied – difficult for granite-made objects. One cannot deny both the heft and gravitas of the machine: move over, coming through.

The Bavarian range topper cleaved opinions practically 50-50 on matters of importance to the average auto enthusiast. Love it, or as many see even today, lost it in the stakes of styling. Customers and commentators alike have lasting memories when the moniker Bangle or much over-used phrase ‘flame surfacing’ climbs the parapet. Is it not time to Continue reading “Raking the Embers [2] : Love Is Lost”

Raking the Embers [1] : Chi Non Fa, Non Falla

Introducing the first of a four-day meditation from the DTW editorial team: reconsidering the E65 Siebener on its 2oth anniversary. 

autotrader
2002 BMW 7 series (source)

Why are we still discussing the E65? It’s because twenty years ago it mattered when BMW produced a new model. As a clear leader in automotive engineering, people interested in the intellectual challenges of designing better cars looked to BMW’s products for clues about the rate and direction of progress. Retrospectively, we still wonder about whether BMW’s thinking was wrong, ahead of its time or instructive. Or a combination of all three.

The E65 attempted to answer some pressing questions, offering solutions to the problem of a changing market, solutions that many did not understand at the time or could accept. The first change in the market related to Europe’s ageing population and a greater awareness of the urgent need to Continue reading “Raking the Embers [1] : Chi Non Fa, Non Falla”

New Year Cracker

A few more things to chew on, and they’re low on calories.

Dinner is served. Image: foodies.pk

Before DTW service returns to normal, one final festive brain teaser. Step away from those biscuits…

[1] What car model name started life as the name of a four door version of an existing coupé (which frankly did not resemble said coupé much at all) before it became a model name in itself three years later?

Continue reading “New Year Cracker”

Welcome to 2022

Ready for another one?

Lancia Appia
Image: La Repubblica

When Driven to Write was initiated in 2014, it was with a combination of blind faith, optimism and a certain naivety. Now, almost eight years on, we appear to have established a solid niche amid the outer margins of automotive discourse; well removed from the mainstream, but nonetheless, a distinct and distinctive part of the conversation.

2021 has been another intensely difficult year for us all, so much being lost amid a seemingly endless (if mostly necessary) series of restrictions and privations. Yet, we have demonstrated our resilience; our overwhelming capacity to Continue reading “Welcome to 2022”

New York State of Mind

Remembering the city’s iconic yellow taxicabs.

Image: cityandstateny.com

I love New York. Since my first visit over thirty years ago, the city has always entranced and beguiled me with its energy, ambition, self-confidence and irrepressible optimism. It is so much more than mere steel and stone: it is a living organism powered by human endeavour and entrepreneurship. Even though I am very familiar with the city, having visited on many occasions and worked there for a time, I am still irrationally excited on the ride in from JFK airport, waiting to catch my first glimpse of that unique and unmistakable skyline. Continue reading “New York State of Mind”

Festive Frolics (2) – Yule Be Sorry

Overindulged much? Time for some more questions.

Post War Classsic

Test your knowledge of all things automotive. Again, there’s something for everyone – if all else fails, try lateral thinking…

Continue reading “Festive Frolics (2) – Yule Be Sorry”

Eyes Wide Shut

A brief, incomplete and highly subjective history of pop-up and hidden headlamps.

Where it all started: 1936 Cord 810. Image: classicandsportscar.com

Ever since the Cord 810 caused a sensation at the New York Motor Show in November 1935 with its staggeringly sleek and futuristic looks, pop-up headlamps have been subliminally associated with high performance, aerodynamic efficiency(1) and technical sophistication. It matters not that many of the cars on which they subsequently featured, for example the 1985 Honda Accord and 1989 Mazda 323F, were otherwise pretty humdrum devices.

Returning to the Cord, its pop-up headlamps were modified landing lights taken from a Stinson light airplane. They had to Continue reading “Eyes Wide Shut”

Festive Frolics (1) Sprouts With Everything

Go on, they’re only small…

classic car catalog

The season of enforced merriment is once again upon us and DTW offers an opportunity to test your knowledge of all things automotive. There’s something for everyone – if all else fails, try lateral thinking…

Continue reading “Festive Frolics (1) Sprouts With Everything”

Have A Cigar

One for the road, or should we say, gravy train?

DTW has quite the history concerning car ashtrays; an entire section devoted to nothing but covered in great detail by Richard Herriott. Fascinating regarding detail and engineering, smoking and driving were once considered under a more roseate light. Concurrently, the modern day car’s lighter socket can sometimes be found empowering the tobacco smokers alternative, the vaping machine. However, for the (extremely) well heeled, Rolls-Royce can offer a real world experience, if not, perhaps within the confines of the plush cabin then a geste, al fresco.

Recently released to those whose world revolves around the Spirit of Ecstasy, one can have fitted in one’s boot space[1] the Cellarette – a bespoke whisky and cigar chest. Historically, the Cellarette was used to store bottles of your master’s favourite tipple in something other than a wicker basket within the confines of the motor carriage. Whether stopping to Continue reading “Have A Cigar”

Season’s Greetings

Have yourselves a Mini little Christmas…

“Now look son, we really need to nip this Oedipus complex in the bud. Tell you what; give it a rest and you can have Rosebud back…” Image via Pinterest

Well, here we are again – another winter of long shadows and dashed hopes. Amid what appears to be the worst festive movie sequel ever, we reach a brief pause in the narrative. A time to make sense of the past twelve months, to marshal our gains and to reflect upon our losses – at least until the storyline sweeps us off our feet and into the immense unknowable once more.

So, whether you Continue reading “Season’s Greetings”

Trochals, Hogs and Whirlygigs

AML’s other transports of delight.

Airbus.com

Conducting a highly scientific straw poll at work recently, my enquiries were to the full dozen souls what car they’d buy with a big lottery win. Some required momentarily longer than others to respond but eight replied with “Aston Martin or something,” two preferred properties whilst the remainders spirit didn’t enter the equation.

Proving to this enthusiast that the Gaydon still makes covetable bolides, regardless of the fact that none of those questioned could Continue reading “Trochals, Hogs and Whirlygigs”

Striving for Adequacy

The 1995 Escort Mk6 was… an improvement.

1995 Ford Escort Mk6 Ghia Saloon. Image: auto-abc.eu

The 1990 Ford Escort Mk5 was a terrible car. It was designed to be manufactured as cheaply as possible and was woefully under-engineered, nasty to drive and uninspiring to behold. It was rightly lambasted by the motoring press, to the extent that some of the criticism even spilled over into the mainstream media, damaging Ford’s reputation for competency.

A facelift in 1992 attempted to deal with the most egregious faults but achieved little substantive progress, while making the car ugly rather than merely bland. Such was the strength of Ford’s marketing machinery and wealth of its advertising budget, however, that the Escort and its Orion(1) saloon equivalent remained strong sellers, despite the cars’ blatant inadequacy. Continue reading “Striving for Adequacy”

When Henry Met André – Part 1

André Citroën and Henry Ford: An unlikely pairing?

Image: Auction.fr

The often innovative cars his Quai de Javel factory on the banks of the river Seine produced were noteworthy, as was his unmatched knack of thinking of new and audacious forms of publicity, but André Citroën always kept an eye open for new ideas and methods initiated by other manufacturers as well; notably those from the land of the free and the home of the brave. Over the course of two decades Citroën would Continue reading “When Henry Met André – Part 1”

Made In Wales – For Whom?

Wizardry and Dragons… are we in Middle Earth?

Image: MOTOR1

An impressive opening gambit for the Aston Martin DBX, the company’s first attempt at the ever expanding luxury crossover sector. Made in St. Athan, near Cardiff, Wales: 542bhp, 516 foot pounds of torque from a four litre, twin turbocharged V8, permanent four wheel drive on 22” wheels and available in 42 subtly named hues.

Sheffield born chief creative officer, Marek Reichman appears proud of his design team’s baby. This car has to Continue reading “Made In Wales – For Whom?”

How To Be a Motoring Enthusiast in the 21st Century – Part 3

Does this story have a happy ending?

Image: Wikimedia

In part one of this little series, I sought to share the thought process arising (inevitably, it seemed to me) from the moral uncertainty surrounding enthusiasm for cars powered by the internal combustion engine in this age of global warming. In part two, we took a trip into a possible future resulting from the current state of affairs. Both articles led to a healthy discussion in the comments and, following part two’s diversion into utopian fiction (that many found to be dystopian), I want to try to provide some sort of conclusion to this story. Can it still end well?

Firstly it is important to note that the day in the life of possible-future-me is an imagining; one of many possible futures, rather than a prediction, though I do think it reasonably plausible. Secondly, when we Continue reading “How To Be a Motoring Enthusiast in the 21st Century – Part 3”

Tomorrow’s World

A Seventies’ futurist landmark remembered. 

aston-martin-club.com

Editor’s note: A version of this piece was originally published on DTW in September 2016.

Marking its debut the year Concorde entered commercial service,  the 1976 Aston Martin Lagonda, like the Aerospatiale/BAC supersonic airliner it vaguely resembled, would ultimately embody a future which failed to take flight.

There was no means of placing any form of veneer upon the situation facing Aston Martin in 1975, the Newport Pagnell-based specialist carmaker was facing ruin; falling prey, like so many of their UK and European equivalents to a perfect storm comprised of the spiralling costs of adhering to ever-tightening American safety and emissions regulations, and the stark market contraction stemming from the 1973 oil crisis. Rescued from bankruptcy by an Anglo-American consortium, the Lagonda programme was aimed, not only at providing embattled Aston Martin dealers with something new to offer, but also to help Continue reading “Tomorrow’s World”

Christmas Fantasies, Shattered Dreams

I should be so lucky

Aston Martin Vantage Zagato. Image: Auto Express

From an early age my Christmas wish list contained an Aston Martin. Scale models, obviously – my family were not financial wizards. As time moved on and lascivious tastes deepened, the marque remained a written talisman alongside a diminutive Australian singer from a soap opera – neither sadly entering my world – I cannot have been good that year.

Other childhood plans also became dashed on the floor of reality. I would never Continue reading “Christmas Fantasies, Shattered Dreams”

Missing its Moment: The Reliant Scimitar SS1

There was no reward for Reliant getting it right at the second attempt.

Sporting: 1984 Reliant Scimitar SS1. Image: Reliant

In the decade before the arrival of the all-conquering Mazda MX-5 in 1989, the choice in European small two-seater roadsters was very limited. The ancient MG Midget and MGB had finally been killed off in 1980, but not before their handling and looks had been comprehensively ruined by US regulations(1). The Triumph Spitfire also died in that year, while the more exclusive  Lotus Elan had been pensioned off in 1973(2).

Concerns about the possible outlawing of soft-top cars in the US had also caused delays or cancellations in the development of such models. The Triumph TR7 drophead finally arrived in 1979, almost five years after the launch of the fixed-head coupé. By this time, the TR7 had acquired a grim reputation for build quality and reliability, and both versions were discontinued in 1981 as a consequence of the closure of BL’s Solihull factory.

British manufacturer Reliant, famous for its Scimitar GTE sporting estate and equally infamous for its Robin three-wheeler, saw an opportunity to Continue reading “Missing its Moment: The Reliant Scimitar SS1”

One-Way Towns Of England

Remembering William Towns, master of the linear.

Image: ja.autodata.org

When designing with straight lines, in essence we have but three angles to play with. Those less than ninety degrees are acute. Above ninety but below one hundred and eighty become obtuse, whilst those exceeding what aficionados of darts call a ton-eighty are deemed reflex. Car designers being flesh and blood (even human, sometimes) curve such values at their will – or not. Human traits often blend those named angles but not in today’s case. This is the story of William Towns (1936-1993) the straight-laced, French curve-avoiding, oft overlooked automotive designer.

Beginning his automotive design career aged eighteen with Rootes Motors, Towns’ early efforts were centred on the less glamorous and more mundane aspects of design work, on items such as seats and door handles. Through time and perseverance, Towns contributed to the Rootes Arrow project, a.k.a. the Hillman Hunter, before an opportunity in 1963 led him to Continue reading “One-Way Towns Of England”

Second Failure

With Marchionne at Fiat’s helm, corners were cut at Lancia. Yet, the company indulged in a pointless, bandwagon-jumping, and failed marketing drive in Second Life. 

The 2008 Lancia Delta in real life. Image: autocentrum

I thought the gross mismanagement of Lancia at the hands of Fiat had been exhaustively detailed, both here and in other corners of the internet. Recently, though, I spoke with an old friend from my university years, who like me, owns a third-generation Delta[1]. It had been a while since we last spoke, so our Skype call lasted a while, as we talked about all manner of things – from our family lives and our jobs to the things that interested us back then.

One of those things was Linden Lab’s once-overhyped, but now largely forgotten 3D, sandbox-style, virtual world named Second Life[2] (SL for short). As young, wide-eyed PhD candidates looking to explore the capabilities of contemporary virtual reality platforms for collaborative design and simulation, we had both dabbled with it. Seeking to attract investors looking for a quick buck, LL’s founder and CEO Philip Rosedale made extremely bold claims about how SL would Continue reading “Second Failure”

Autour du Virage

Last of the old-school bespoke Aston Martins.

Aston Martin Virage. Image: supercars.net

There is a somewhat hackneyed old joke that summarises the colourful history of Aston Martin rather well:

Question: “How do you make a small fortune in the automotive business?”

Answer: “Spend a large fortune on a prestige British luxury car manufacturer.”

Over the company’s 108-year history, Aston Martin has changed ownership ten times and left most former owners, if not bankrupt, then rather poorer for the experience. Such is the allure of the marque name that a succession of wealthy and (mainly) smart and business-savvy individuals (and the Ford Motor Company) have thrown their hat in the ring, thinking that this time, it will be different. Continue reading “Autour du Virage”

How To Be a Motoring Enthusiast in the 21st Century – Part 2

Allow me, if you will, dear reader, to take you on a brief sojourn into the future.

Image: commons.wikimedia.org

The year is 2051 and, as I approach my mid seventies, I hope to be able to retire in a few years and spend more time on my various hobbies. Today is a prelude to that happy prospect, in the form of a paid day off work as part of the European West Central Union sponsored ExperiencedWorkersKeepVITAL! programme and I have arranged a treat for myself in the form of a morning’s participation in a driving day at the Zandvoort racing circuit on the west coast of the Netherlands (not that you get to Continue reading “How To Be a Motoring Enthusiast in the 21st Century – Part 2”

Suspended State

The G-Series transformed Citroën’s Irish market fortunes – albeit not necessarily in the manner intended.

GS publicity shot. citroenet.org.uk

The Citroën GS was a vitally important motor car for the French automaker, marking its first serious post-war offering in the medium (C-segment) class, placing the double chevron into the very heart of the volume car market. Overwhelmingly voted Car of the Year for 1970, the technically and stylistically advanced G-series appeared set for pan-European sales success.

The GS would also prove a defining model for Citroën’s ambitions in the Republic of Ireland, albeit not for reasons Quai de Javel would necessarily care to be reminded of. But before examining this unfortunate episode, let us first Continue reading “Suspended State”

Latin Escorts

Necessity makes for some strange bedfellows.

1994 VW Pointer. Inage: autorealidade.com.br

In July 1987, Volkswagen and Ford’s Brazilian and Argentinian divisions created a joint-venture company, AutoLatina. The ownership was split 51% to 49% in Volkswagen’s favour. Volkswagen would manage AutoLatina’s passenger car operation while Ford looked after the commercial vehicles business. Autolatina was established in an attempt to defend both companies’ market share in what was a distressed and shrinking market.

Rather than compete with each other directly, the joint venture would Continue reading “Latin Escorts”

G16E-GTS

Not your usual shopping trolley.

Toyota GR Yaris. Adelaidenow.com.au

Should you consider the everyday Yaris somewhat tepid, yet find the shape appealing, Toyota can offer you an alternative. And should you choose to shell out the old fashioned way of (well over) twenty thousand pounds for, let’s be honest, a city based shopping car; for a wedge more folding, one could be firmly ensconced in this pocket rocket that will flash past the shops. Unlock your inner rally driver, Gazoo Racing style.

Toyota’s coffers are large enough to not only allow their extensive range, but also to indulge the whims of boss, Akio Toyoda. Himself a competent helmsman, Akio has been known to remove racing attire, don his suit and enter the boardroom to Continue reading “G16E-GTS”

The Shark That Swam Against the Tide

Sharky’s machine.

Covington El Tiburon. Image: Forocoches.com

With few exceptions, the American performance car of the sixties was a pretty straightforward beast: a traditional, proven suspension and platform layout, big V8 up front, fat tires and all of it dressed in an imposing body often painted in some of the more vivid colours of the spectrum, with decals and striping to emphasise the point. Simple, effective and to most eyes handsome as well as desirable: why do it any different way?

There were of course alternatives of European origin such as MG, Alfa Romeo and Porsche, but those appealed to a different kind of customer – often one who had experience with them while serving abroad in the military after WW2. Continue reading “The Shark That Swam Against the Tide”

Starter in the Blocks

On your marks…

Toyota Yaris. autotrade.ie

As age creeps ever on, the eyes often need time to adjust to unexpected occurrences. Seen from a good hundred feet, I liked what I saw. The car was glossy black, small, by modern standards but owning its stance. Goodness, it’s a new Toyota; the fourth attempt at the Yaris. And, by George, Akio’s gone and done it – at least on first impressions.

Released August 2020, saw round four of the Big Small car bucking the trend; smaller, improved upon by degrees. Yaris part three was doing nicely for Toyota. A rising market share, reasonable looks and prices, typically impressive warranty – a customer mainstay. Nothing lasts forever; Yaris 4.0 moved over to the TNGA-B platform.

The Yaris 4.0 programme, internally known as The Compact Car Company, saw Chief engineer, Yasunori Suezawa Continue reading “Starter in the Blocks”