In the summer of 1979, the UK airwaves were dominated by the synthesized sound of Gary Newman and Tubeway Army’s ‘Are Friends Electric’. A single inspired by a novel which dealt with the subject of artificial intelligence was hardly your usual chart-topping fare, but as the decade moved towards its conclusion, it was becoming apparent that more than just music was moving in an increasingly technologically-driven direction.
It’s been a while since I contributed anything to DTW other than a few comments pegged onto others’ well-researched and insightful offerings. A rather thorny operational issue at the company I work for has meant that I’ve been somewhat distracted, but I would like to keep my hand in, so I offer some musings on our family’s current ‘garage’ of cars, all of which have previously featured in one form or other on these pages.
In our household, the hard work is done by our diesel (sorry) Škoda Octavia estate, the running around town and learning is the preserve of the FIAT 500 and the twice weekly, 90-mile round-trip schlep to the office is usually the domain of the Citroën C6. The Škoda is now over five years old, the FIAT is over six, and Citroën has been registered for almost thirteen years (although it was built fourteen years ago, according to records).
…adequately to describe how awful this was (but I’ll give it a go anyway).
From its very earliest days, the automobile was more than just a machine for personal transportation. It represented freedom, independence, individuality(1) and, of course, affluence. Automakers quickly realised that the wealthy could easily be persuaded to part with large amounts of money for a car that not only conveyed them in great comfort, but also conveyed clearly to others their social standing.
For some, Rolls-Royce stood at the pinnacle of the automotive hierarchy, with its superlative, hand-wrought quality and understated, refined elegance. For others, Mercedes-Benz was favoured for the excellence of its engineering. In the US, Cadillac proclaimed itself ‘The Standard of the World’ with at least some degree of justification before General Motors had done its worst to Continue reading “There Are No Words…”
Recognised as perhaps the most significant commercial automotive illustrators of the modern era, Art Fitzpatrick and Van Kaufman made their names from evocative, highly stylised, yet beautifully wrought promotional illustrations for General Motors in the United States, and for the Pontiac marque in particular. But in addition, this gifted duo would also define a mode of expression, one few have equalled without accusation of parody or copy.
Towards the latter portion of their career, with their services no longer required in Detroit, Fitz and Van were commissioned by GM’s European division to Continue reading “Drawn Out”
Upon leaving school back in the (very) late eighties, finding gainful employment wasn’t much of a priority at all, rather something we were forced to achieve by parental coercion. Aged seventeen, being told for the umpteenth time that money doesn’t grow on trees, and that it’s time to begin contributing, not just to home finances but to society as a whole was to be frank, boring. Work journeys necessitated the use of public transport for a while, but then my mate, Michael found a welding job, which came with a vehicle; a Peugeot 504 pick up in pale blue, quickly labelled, ‘The Battle Bus’. Better still, Michael’s boss allowed him to Continue reading “Bus de Combat”
Editor’s note: A more condensed version of this article was originally published on May 6 2017.
The introduction of the Maserati Biturbo in the Autumn of 1981 came as something of a shock, both for marque aficionados and industry watchers alike; Maserati, une grande maison, as former Citroën President (and Maserati overseer), Pierre Bercot might have put it, was at the time more associated in the mind as purveyors of automotive exotica of the most rarefied variety, with a hitherto unsullied pedigree and bloodline second to none. Hence the advent of a compact sports saloon bearing the fabled Trident of Bologna appeared incongruent to some, a matter of profound embarrassment to others.
But there was little room for sentiment or much by way of respect for tradition in the mind of Alejandro de Tomaso as he moved heaven and earth during the late 1970s to first re-establish the Maserati business on a firmer commercial footing, while simultaneously, expunging every trace of double chevron influence from the Viale Ciro Menotti. A cultural revolution then, as much as it was a creative one. But today we must Continue reading “Via Biturbo”
A beer brewer, a candymaker, a travel agent(1) and a car manufacturer get together for a meeting…
It may sound like the opening line of a joke, but the vehicle you see here was the product of a serious business initiative. Incidentally, other representatives from various sectors in the consumer products industry were also part of the think-tank that gave birth to the WiLL brand at the turn of the millennium; the electronics giant Panasonic, a cosmetics company named Kao, and Kokuyo, a manufacturer of office furniture and stationery products. The aim of the venture was to Continue reading “Where There’s a WiLL…”
In the wake of BLMC’s 1968 marriage of convenience, Donald Stokes and his management team began piecing together a product strategy for the multifarious (and in some cases) overlapping marques that constituted the increasingly unwieldy British car giant. Amid this new order, the fate of MG would be subordinated to that of Triumph. And while some speculative MG designs were proposed, the reality was that Abingdon came virtually last in the BLMC Chairman’s priority list – the MGB remained a successful, profitable model line – a cheap nip and tuck and it was good for another couple of years.
The pall of smoke hung closely to the clattering, diesel din. The gruff acceleration, occasionally squeaking, yet hollow sounding brake alongside the hiss of the air compressor; these, more than any roaring car engines were the sound of my childhood as we rode the buses, and one in particular, the Leyland National, fifty this year.
By nature, Coachbuilt meant craftspeople hand building the bodywork onto a supplied chassis and taking anything up 1,000 man hours to complete. The National was “designed like an aircraft, built like a car” and took around 300 man hours, the idea being to Continue reading “Reluctant To Fall – The National”
Concluding the story of the Biturbo and the models developed from it.
Apart from the coupé, saloon and Spyder variants, the Biturbo’s platform and mechanical package was the basis for an additional five closely related Maserati models. The first of these was the 228, unveiled in December 1984 for launch a year later as a 1986 model. This was a two-door coupé, but was based on the Biturbo saloon’s longer 2,600mm (102½”) wheelbase. The 228 was intended to be a grand touring coupé in the Maserati tradition and featured the first application of the enlarged 2.8-litre V6 twin-turbo engine. Although superficially similar in appearance, it shared no body panels with the Biturbo coupé, being both longer and wider than even the saloon.
The 228 was again designed in-house by Pierangelo Andreani. Overall length was 4,460mm (175½”) and width was 1,865mm (73½”), making it 60mm (2¼”) longer and 135mm (5¼”) wider than the Biturbo Saloon. The Biturbo’s geometric lines had been softened, with a gently upswept lower DLO line and more curvature in the bodysides. Continue reading “Maserati for the Masses (Part Three)”
Editor’s note: This piece originally dates from 2 May 2014.
It is always useful to consider a counterfactual. For example, by asking what would have happened if the Archduke, Franz Ferdinand had survived his assassination attempt, we ask about how avoidable the first World War was. Another counterfactual might be to ask what if REM had disbanded after their drummer Bill Berry retired? That is to ask what was the importance of Bill Berry to the band. The answer to that second question is easier than the first. REM should Continue reading “If All the World Were Paper and All the Sea Were Ink…”
A long time ago on this sceptred isle, hordes of Danes visited the land, leaving behind language and place names, farming principles and legal terminology which (given plenty of time) helped the establishment of parliament. Many years on, the Danes have returned, albeit in far lesser numbers but equally as fierce. Behold Zenvo.
Using the first two and last three letters of his surname, Troels Vollertsen founded the company in 2007. Not that his eponymous cars require more muscle, the badge has that name underlined. Should you Continue reading “Danelaw”
The 31st staging of the Le Mans 24 Hour endurance race took place at the circuit de la Sarthe over the 15th and 16th of June 1963. It would be won by the Scuderia Ferrari entrant, a 250P, driven by an all-Italian pairing of Ludovico Scarfiotti and Lorenzo Bandini, marking not only the first time a mid-engined race machine had won the event, but also the largest winning margin in 36 years.
Le Mans was to prove something of a Ferrari benefit that year, with Maranello taking the first six places of a field, which through a combination of attrition, misfortune and tragedy was whittled down to 12 finishers. This final classified car was an MGB, a solo privateer entry, discretely backed by the works. But in this case, finishing at the rear of the field would be marked as a victory (in Abingdon at least).
The MG marque iconography was forged to a very large extent upon competition, and although by the early 1960s, BMC’s racing activities were primarily focussed upon the Mini Cooper, their well organised competition department was centred at MG’s Abingdon facility. Not that BMC did everything themselves; the Cooper Car Company, Broadspeed and Equipe Arden handling the Mini’s UK and overseas track career, while the Healey Motor Company prepared heavily modified Sprites in the International Sports Car classes.
The Brandt Reine 1950 remained an unrealised dream for its creator.
Of all the new car introductions at the 1948 Salon de L’Automobile de Paris, in those times held in the magnificent Grand Palais on the Champs-Élysées, the Citroën 2CV is the car that will likely be most readily and widely remembered. There were, of course, several other premieres amongst the hundreds of voitures exhibited, many of which are now long forgotten, even though some were arguably at least as unusual and radical as the 2CV.
The Brandt Reine 1950 certainly qualifies in this regard. Looking like an elongated Isetta, but five years before that tiny ‘bubble car’ would first appear on the streets, the Reine 1950 was unorthodox in almost every way imaginable. It was only possible to Continue reading “Queen Without a Crown”
In a world already awash with noise, the fabled prancing horse of Maranello has seemingly been directly connected to a mains-wired megaphone, a matter which you may or may not believe went practically unnoticed to these ears (and eyes) until fairly recently. But to make up for this deficiency, it has reached my attention that the Ferrari online store has lately been selling £600 Ferrari-branded trainers guilefully entitled Rosso Lamina Liquida, which we are reliably informed come “with a bold look that echoes the appearance of the Ferrari bodywork“. Marvellous.
The MGC was born under a bad sign, or to further the musical analogy, a bum note. On paper it ought to have been a winning combination. Take a proven, popular car and improve performance and desirability with a larger, more powerful engine. Yet largely due to BMC’s parsimony, MG was saddled with a car which was met by derision. Whether the car’s short production life and paltry production numbers was a direct consequence of apathy from buyer or manufacturer remains a matter of debate, but what is evident is that the MGC was considered something of an orphan, even before going on sale.
During the pre-war era, the MG marque enjoyed something of a performance image, being offered with large-capacity six cylinder engines and in certain cases, supercharging. However, post-1945, MGs had been confined to whatever small-capacity power units that could be wheedled from their Nuffield and latterly, BMC masters. Following the 1952 merger, which brought the British Motor Corporation into being, MG would end up playing second fiddle to Austin Healey, Leonard Lord’s favoured sports car marque.
Continuing the story of the Biturbo and the models developed from it.
The 1982 Maserati Biturbo was a fundamentally sound design, but a rushed development programme and hasty scaling up of production to meet strong initial demand had damaged its reputation for build quality and reliability.
In a later interview(1), Giorgio Manicardi, Maserati’s International Sales Manager, laid the blame for the Biturbo’s early quality and reliability issues firmly at Alejandro de Tomaso’s door. Manicardi had wanted to launch the Biturbo at a price of 22 million Lira, but it was de Tomaso who insisted on the sub-20 million Lira starting price. “As a result we lacked the [profit] margin to implement quality controls,” Manicardi contended. Moreover, de Tomaso allegedly maintained an iron grip on the project, to the extent that he rejected importers’ pleas for a cover to Continue reading “Maserati for the Masses (Part Two)”
Ten years ago, MG’s future looked something like this.
Since the desiccated remains of MG Rover was picked over by Nanjing Auto, later merged with Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation (SAIC), the resultant MG-badged products have left observers and MG marque aficionados somewhere on a spectrum between bemusement and outright horror. Taking ownership of a heritage brand always comes with a measure of responsibility – certainly if one hopes to Continue reading “Highly Volatile”
New Year’s Day: Normally a time of headaches, compromised hand/eye co-ordination and the avoidance of anything remotely complicated. Perhaps using a shoe horn to ease into the day, but certainly no haste or sudden movements. Definitely not one for starting a business. But 117 years ago, twenty two year old Fullerton George Gordon Armstrong, who clearly hadn’t indulged in anything intoxicating the night before, did just that. With initial plans to build cars bearing his surname, his venture would eventually lead to a global empire which followed the path of many a British enterprise, with a dash of turmoil thrown in.
Whether aware of the Chinese proverb of the long walk beginning with the first step or not, Gordon had inculcated his younger self with an engineering apprenticeship, twelve months spent at sea as a marine engineer, chief mechanic, then proprietor at a larger, land-based garage. His opening gambit in the auto business would take place in a small rented workshop in Beverley, East Yorkshire, entitled The East Riding Garage & Engineering Works. On Whit Monday 1912, competing with his own 8hp car, Armstrong won both Scarborough speed trials and hill climb on the same day, but had to Continue reading “They Came From The East (Riding)”
Its makers openly cited the Africar as an inspiration for the Ox, but why not the Hormiga?
The Ox, the Africar and the Hormiga were specifically conceived to help countries in the developing world with a poor quality road infrastructure achieve and hopefully reap the benefits of improved mobility at the lowest possible cost. It may come as a surprise to some (as it was to your author when he discovered the fact) to realise that the nearest Third World country to the UK is the Republic of Ireland(1) but none of these three vehicles has likely ever been driven on or off the Irish road network.
Philanthropist, former toy manufacturer and banker Sir Torquil Norman came up with the basic idea of the Ox and, together with Gordon Murray(2), developed the concept into fully functional prototypes under the GVT (Global Vehicle Trust) banner. Continue reading “The Ant and the Ox”
National Treasure is a term which gets bandied about rather a lot in the media nowadays, particularly amid the world of showbusiness. Normally bestowed on the basis of merit, but in some cases it is as much a matter of longevity, dogged persistence even. But regardless of rationale, most recipients tend to exhibit a common sense of virtue. It is therefore perhaps fair to suggest that all of the above traits have contributed to the MGB’s beatification in afterlife, a seemingly impregnable status close to the pinnacle of historic car national treasure-hood. For in the UK at least, a classic car event without at least one MGB in attendance really cannot authentically call itself a classic car event at all.
Taiwan may not be your first port of call as regards car manufacturing, but this relatively small island in close proximity to China has been producing motor parts for many years. Alongside this essential line of work, several factories are involved with car production, usually under license from GM, Mercedes-Benz, Nissan, Mitsubishi and Honda.
Yulon is a sixty-year established Taiwanese vehicle manufacturer and importer who branched out in 2009 to create the Luxgen Motor Company Limited. Combining the words Luxury and Genius with their Think Ahead motto, the new carmaker accrued a gamut of technologies from long standing partners such as Aisin (transmissions), Delphi (steering), LMS (NVH suppression), Magna for suspension along with Prodrive for the dynamic set up.
Their first vehicle was a seven-seater MPV, effortlessly named the Luxgen 7. Based upon the 2009 Renault Espace, the chrome-winged nose and cascading grille lent the DRG a somewhat sit up and beg stance. A 2.2-litre diesel motor powered the front (or four-wheel) drive 4.8 metre long car. Co-developed with the HTC smartphone company, the car’s Think+ system incorporated 23 ECUs which controlled the myriad of sensors and eight cameras through a Windows operating system. Home sales encouraged Luxgen to Continue reading “Luxury and Genius”
DTW marks the fortieth anniversary of the Biturbo, a car that sired a range of more affordable Maserati models.
As seems befitting for an Italian company manufacturing sports cars, grand touring coupés and luxury saloons, Maserati S.p.A. has had a colourful and occasionally tumultuous history since its establishment in 1914. One brief period of relative calm began with the company’s takeover by Citroën in 1968. The deal was predicated on a joint-venture project whereby Maserati would design and build a new V6 engine for Citroën’s forthcoming flagship, the SM. Financed by French investment, Maserati introduced a new range of models, notably the 1971 V8-engined Bora, the company’s first mid-engined supercar, its smaller brother, the 1972 V6 Merak, and the stillborn SM-based 1974 Quattroporte II saloon.
Unfortunately, the Middle-East Oil Crisis of 1973 caused a collapse in demand for the sort of cars in which Maserati specialised. Citroën, struggling with its own mounting losses, put Maserati into receivership in May 1975. Political pressure to Continue reading “Maserati for the Masses (Part One)”
The Mid-1980s downsized GM range would prove a step into the unknown for the US car giant, one which could be said to have been successful, at least in terms of raw sales numbers. But while the C-body Buick sedans proved popular with buyers, the E-bodied personal coupés would prove a far tougher sell. There was a good deal of trepidation amid the design leadership at Buick’s studio in GM’s Warren, Michigan Design Centre as the 1986 model year Riviera was made ready; doubts which would crystallise as the drastically downsized model failed to appeal to existing Riviera customers, who not only baulked at the style, but also its notable lack of road presence.
As soon as was deemed possible, Buick Design chief, Bill Porter (who had overseen the E-body design) supervised a revised styling scheme, based upon one which had originally been proposed featuring a sloping tail motif, the victim of engineering package requirements (in this case luggage capacity). With this heavily revised Riviera, the work of a team under Steve Pasteiner, the model’s fortunes were revived to some extent, but still failed to return to pre-downsized levels. Continue reading “Swiss Riv”
While the name of Sergio Coggiola might be known to the enthusiast, that of Mario Revelli de Beaumont may not. Roman born Revelli made his name submitting handsome designs to coachbuilders in the nineteen twenties and thirties with Rolls-Royce, Lancia then post-war, with Fiat. Coggiola on the other hand spent time under Pietro Frua at Ghia before setting up his eponymous carrozzeria in Orbassano, a district of Turin during 1966. Around that time, the two Italians collaborated, with the use of atomic element number 29: copper.
We recall the extraordinary career of Walter Schätzle, a former Borgward dealer whose dedication to the marque briefly made him West Germany’s smallest carmaker.
The collapse of any large manufacturing business is a traumatic and far-reaching event. Lawyers quibble, accountants audit, suppliers stumble, vultures gather. When the collapse involves an automaker, loyal customers feel that their prized vehicles are like orphans and may find that their only support and solace is the dealer who sold and maintained their cars. Many of those dealers will have moved on to other franchises – they have to make a living – but some remain in the thrall of the defunct marque, with a dedication that far transcends vulgar commerce.
The collapse of Bremen-based Carl F W Borgward GmbH in 1961 shook the assuredness of Wirtschaftswunder West Germany, but the controversial story of that event is beyond the scope of this article. One former Borgward dealer, Walter Schätzle (1928-2021), not only went above and beyond expectations to Continue reading “Walter Schätzle – Resurrection Man”
An almost mythical aura surrounds the second of the Silver Arrow concepts, which is more than can be said of the car itself – now vanished without trace. Hype and overall interest for 1967 was considerably lower when compared to the first Silver Arrow; no chassis number, no documented dates, no confirmed photos, zilch.
After extensive research with limited resources, Silver Arrow II appears to have barely differed from a 1970 model year Riviera – the grille perhaps receiving the most noticeable change – 74 teeth opposed to only 60. The side chromed spear overlaid onto bodywork. An interior again in silver leather. Other small details differing from that of later production models include side view mirrors, the hub caps (not seen on any other Riviera) and the rear side reflectors. What is known as the Rocker Moulding, was also chromed. Continue reading “Silver Car For Mr Mitchell (Part Two)”
And you thought those sixties and seventies experimental safety vehicles were ugly…
From the late nineteen-sixties until well into the seventies, a slew of safety-oriented concept cars from several automakers broke cover. Some of their notable unifying themes were large black rubber extensions front and rear, early variations of airbags in combination with heavily padded safety seats in various guises, with bodywork usually painted bright yellow or orange. Before that time, and preceding the publication of Ralph Nader’s influential book ‘Unsafe at Any Speed’, safety usually took a back seat to styling, comfort, cost and performance(1).
Swedish manufacturers SAAB and Volvo were arguably the only ones at the time that could legitimately claim to have safety as one of their guiding principles. That said, ever since the first motor accident involving casualties occurred, carmakers were aware of the risks and, in various shapes and forms -as well as degrees of naiveté and effectiveness- many attempts to Continue reading “Unsafe to View from Any Angle”
Remembering Ford’s blue-collar big saloons of the early 1960s.
If such a thing is possible, then its fair to say that America had a good Second World War. Provoked into action by the surprise Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbour on 7th December 1941 which caused the death of over 2,400 service personnel and civilians, America mobilised its vast industrial resources to produce military vehicles, ships, aircraft and armaments. Unemployment was virtually eliminated and the economy boomed during the war years.
When the war ended, Europe was bankrupt and its infrastructure shattered. Both winners and losers suffered equally from the privations of the years that followed. For many, life was little better than it had been during the war as the long struggle to Continue reading “Ordinary Joe in a Sharp Suit”
Cab-Forward was the design buzz-word of the mid-’90s. It didn’t age well.
This sideways view of the JA-Series was originally published on DTW in December 2014.
This car has two claims to our attention today. The first is that in the cold light of day, it is hard to believe this car and its almost identical stable-mates were once nominated on Car & Driver’s 10 best list. I was not aware of this at the time. The second reason I am drawn to it is because it was the first car I was ever paid to review. I wrote 1,000 words and saw the editor chop out 200 of them, more or less killing the nuances of the text stone dead. I wanted to Continue reading “Something Rotten in Denmark: Chrysler Stratus”
In the realms of car design, chances must be taken. Regardless of the ever-building pressure generated from all quarters as to the next sure-fire sales wonder, calculated risk taking is part of the game. Such incontrovertible weights require shoulders of strength, astute vision, alongside the ego of a vain, mirror-devoted individual, obsessed with appearances. Praise be that a certain William Mitchell was in possession of all of the above qualities, along with a marked penchant for items of an argentine nature.
For some years now, there has been a modest but persistent sentiment amid the European motor industry’s think tanks that the current wave of CUV crossover popularity would eventually peak, there being a point after any new fashion takes hold of the public consciousness, long after the early adopters Continue reading “Better With Allure”
A special edition Citroën BX, the 1989-1990 Palmares.
It’s named after a place that’s hard to find on a map. It might be in Buenos Aires. This example lurked in a gravelly forecort in the east of Jutland, about half an hour from Aarhus. Seeing it came as a surprise. It has been a while since I had the pleasure of slamming on the brakes and pulling up so I could hop out of the car to take some hasty photographs. The kids simply hate this kind of adult behaviour, that and visits to castles, roadside churches, ancient monuments, striking views and pretty much anything that isn’t a petrol station, shop or other opportunity for retail activity. But, now and again, I insist on making the kids Continue reading ““Blow-ins from Castlejane, no Doubt!””
London in the late 1950’s could still fall victim to enveloping airborne elements. Long since relieved from wartime bombardment, the city’s endemic smog, while atmospheric (in either sense of the word) was hardly conducive to those of a compromised bronchial nature. But what transpired for a certain American one evening in the capital, would prove even more breath taking, prompting something of a three-decade exhalation.
Technically, it should be impossible to go beyond Pantera as the name derives from the ancient Greek word ‘Panthera’ meaning ‘all beasts’, both real and mythological. Still, Argentinian ex-racing driver Alejandro de Tomaso was involved in the creation of more vehicles than just the one with which he is most readily associated, and some of the others involved partnerships with some unlikely players in the automotive firmament. Continue reading “Beyond Pantera”
Toyota’s switch to front-wheel-drive began very tentatively in 1978.
The Toyota Motor Corporation vies with Volkswagen Group as the world’s largest manufacturer of motor vehicles. Global sales in 2021 were just shy of 10.5 million vehicles, earning revenues of approximately US $250Bn. The underlying philosophy that has taken Toyota to this dominant position has been one of cautious, iterative product development over decades, always giving the customer exactly what they expect from the company; finely engineered and meticulously constructed vehicles that deliver a long and reliable service life.
The Silvia series, if it can be described as such began at the Tokyo motor show in 1964, when an elegant Italianate coupé was shown, based upon the existing Fairlady platform (hence the rather stunted-looking wheelbase). Powered by a 1.6 litre four cylinder engine, it was no roadburner, but for the nascent Datsun car business, it was to prove something of a halo car, somewhat in the manner of Toyota’s perhaps even more comely, and technically more accomplished 2000 GT. With slightly over 500 built, they were vanishingly rare at the time, and remain so a good sixty years later. Continue reading “Silvan Song”
Call me a Luddite, hurl vitriol to my face, shake your head in disbelief, but one thing cannot be denied. Since strolling onto this site as a wet behind the ears enthusiast, the act of reading, researching and writing about cars has improved my level of knowledge to that of a rounded enthusiast. Few can ever learn everything, but the journey is often more interesting than the destination. And as the saying goes, if beauty is only skin deep, here, the inner beauty of the car is allowed, encouraged even, to shrine through.
Formula One was something of a catalyst, showing the way with their tyre temperature thermal cameras, often making for more excitement than the race itself. Witnessing those temperatures rise and fall drew me like seagulls to tractor’s rear amid a freshly ploughed field, dazzled as those pale blues and burning reds danced a Celsius Cabriole, if you will.
Obviously we see but the tyre, only the sensors (and cameras) can permit such internal vision. Having these secrets revealed has made me Continue reading “X-Ray”
Studebaker’s shoestring-budget foray in the compact market.
Development of the compact Studebaker Lark started in the spring of 1957. The South Bend, Indiana firm had created a stop-gap of sorts that year in the shape of the very austere Scotsman model, but it was obvious that this was just a severely decontented full-size car instead of the more compact vehicle envisioned to revive Studebaker’s fortunes by capturing a slice of an emerging new market segment. And a revival was desperately needed: like its rival, American Motors, Studebaker had entered into an ultimately fatal merger, in this case with the once-great luxury carmaker, Packard.
As work on the Lark started, Packard was as good as dead and its last models, which were little more than Studebakers in fancy dress, were only gathering dust on the showroom floor. For Studebaker itself, the situation was not much better as the company suffered its worst year since 1938 with fewer than 45,000 cars sold. Clearly, the new model, designed to tap into a rapidly growing market and generate much-needed profits, could not come a moment too soon, and that the Lark was ready to be introduced for the 1959 model year was a minor miracle. Continue reading “Independent Diptych (Part Two)”
When Volkswagen successfully took control of the storied Škoda Auto business in 1991, it did so, like many larger, more powerful entities, primarily for its own betterment. So while any residual altruism on their part was largely incidental, to its credit, Wolfsburg did take a fairly enlightened approach to their acquisition. By then, the Czech carmaker was in need of considerable investment and redirection, for despite having left behind the dated automotive fare it served up to widespread derision for decades, it remained prey to the snide dismissals and cheap jokes, primarily from the motor-jock element of the journalistic cohort.
Rebuilding reputations has never been the job of a moment, but as the decade progressed and the engineers at Mladá Boleslav, working alongside a reinvigorated design team created a more credible range of cars, the joke really started to wear thin. Škoda (and its well-heeled German backer) was no longer prepared to Continue reading “Living Room”
Filing the coffers is the name of the automotive game, be it through finance incentives, software investment or the plain shifting of tin. Of course, entrepreneurial spirit lies strong within the field – new avenues to pursue, lucrative boulevards to not only build but furnish, to the delights of old and potential customers alike. These can take many forms, especially when one combines celebrity and the historical record.
When one is a self-described (and wealthy) genius, allowances can curve toward the over exaggerated. Take the moustached dreamscape decorator, Salvador Dali. A marketers dream, then as now, the artist never drove a car, yet became absorbed by the American luxury only Cadillac could deliver.
Not obsessed with the motorcar per-se, for Dali, the looks of the car either dismayed or delighted – the technicalities were of no concern. Having had a great deal of success with the de Luxe, General Motors, on asking for Dali’s input, received his request to Continue reading “Avida Dollars”
Range Rover’s success over the past two decades in establishing itself as the pre-eminent manufacturer of luxury SUVs is truly remarkable, particularly when one considers JLR’s chequered and occasionally traumatic ownership history. British Leyland, BMW and Ford all attempted to impose their plans on the company, with decidedly mixed results. It was only in 2008, when JLR was acquired by Tata Motors, a subsidiary of the giant Indian industrial conglomerate, Tata Group, that the company finally enjoyed both the financial stability and management autonomy to Continue reading “A Gilded Cage?”
This article was originally published as part of DTW’s Cute theme in April 2014.
I’ve asked myself if I can think of a large car that is cute and, at present, can only think of one, but perhaps that is because this particular vehicle will always have a dominant place in my memories. In the late Seventies, I filled in for the European Motoring Correspondent on Soldier Of Fortune magazine when he was unavoidably detained for several months by the German security services. Apart from it being the introduction to my beloved Alvis Stalwart, when I tested one for the ‘Used and Bruised’ feature, that time also has more tender memories for me.
The tyres on everyday road going cars must endure many hazards, from the self (but more likely garage-induced) under or over-inflated pressures to sharp detritus. Heavy acceleration and braking all take their toll. But there’s only one substance that can enhance the look of a tyre – that’ll be mud.
My local environs is covered in the stuff. Washed off fields from endless rain, copiously blended with horse manure, along with the fleets of tractors passing by, the tarmac is more likely to be brown than black. ‘Tractor Splat’ can most commonly be found right on your line of enthusiastic attack for the next corner, leading to a fast moving steering wheel and raised systolic readings for those wearing a fitbit or similar. The farmer may Continue reading “Muddy Boots Welcome Here”
Clever innovation from the smaller American automakers.
With pockets much less deep than those of the US ‘Big Three’ automakers, independent American manufacturers needed to be clever and creative to come up with new cars in response to an expanding market as the 1960s dawned. Studebaker’s solution was to use the mid-section of its existing full-size sedan that dated back to 1953 as a base, while American Motors resurrected a model, albeit with several updates applied to it, that it had discontinued years earlier.
For a car which would become their most commercially important product, the BMC motor business took a rather quixotic approach to ADO 16’s furtherance, with initial production being restricted to BMC’s Cowley plant where it was built (for almost a decade) alongside the car it had been intended to replace. But as potential customers hungrily clamoured for delivery, it would remain some considerable time before the carmaker found itself capable of balancing demand and supply.
It has been well documented that BMC sold the Mini at a price which allowed for little meaningful profit, yet it would appear that with ADO 16, they simply repeated the error, selling the 1100 on similarly tight margins, which given its technical superiority, its lack of genuine domestic rivals and the pent up demand for the car, appears almost wilfully irrational. And while later, more upmarket models may have aided profitability, there were too many of them and as explored previously, they were not a cost-effective means of resolving the issue.