For A Few Pesos More

A Renault that came close to making it to market, and one that actually did. Some may prefer it to have been the other way round….

Image: Forocoches.com

IKA Renault 40: Argentina

When Varig flight 820 crashed just a few miles from its destination of Orly airport on 11 July 1973(1) causing 123 deaths and only 11 survivors, there naturally was widespread grief among the families and relatives involved. The air disaster also derailed a promising project by Renault Argentina owing to the fact that Yvon Lavaud, the president of IKA Renault, was among the victims.

In 1967, Renault became the majority shareholder of IKA (Industrias Kaiser Argentina). Lavaud was sent to Argentina to Continue reading “For A Few Pesos More”

Sun(beam) Up At 424

The dawning of a new car. 

1977 Chrysler Sunbeam. Image: avengers-in-time

John Riccardo, Chrysler chairman Diary entry October 29 1975: Hold press conference regarding corporation’s loss of £116M in the first nine months. Inform UK government Chrysler can be a gift or closed down – their choice. Rescue package of £55M from HMG plus £12M from US parent snatched up. Use wisely!

December 1975 was crunch time for Chrysler UK. Now propped up mainly by government money, a new small car was a must to Continue reading “Sun(beam) Up At 424”

Quelle Quatrelle! (Part One)

The Renault 4 celebrates its sixtieth birthday. We salute a French automotive icon.

1961 Renault R4 Image: weilinet

Certain cars seem perfectly to encapsulate a vision of their country of origin. It is easy to imagine a gleaming black Mercedes-Benz S-Class carrying a German government minister or plutocrat along an Autobahn at great speed and in discreet, sybaritic luxury. Likewise, one can dream of a pastel-coloured Fiat Nuova 500 driven by a strikingly attractive olive-skinned young woman, nipping adroitly through the narrow twisting streets of a sun-baked Italian hillside village.

Less romantically, one can readily visualise a metallic grey Vauxhall Cavalier sitting at a steady 80mph in the outside lane of a British motorway under a leaden sky, its driver grimly contemplating another difficult meeting with his boss about his failure to Continue reading “Quelle Quatrelle! (Part One)”

Fanfare for the Common Van – Part 1

We look at Ford’s most enduring European product, the clever and versatile van which not only became an instant best-seller, but shaped the future of Ford’s operations across the entire continent.

Image: Ford of Britain

Henry Ford II’s whole life had been turbulent, and he never shied from aggressive intervention. Hank the Deuce had been President and CEO of the Ford Motor Company from 1945, and by the late 1950s was becoming increasingly troubled by the fragmented nature of the firm’s European operations. Viewed from Dearborn, the absurdity and inefficiency of two factories less than 500 kilometres apart designing and producing separate, unrelated ranges of vehicles with few, if any parts in common could no longer be sustained.

Through the 1950s the situation was accepted as both operations delivered worthwhile profits, but the 1960s had scarcely begun before the opportunity to Continue reading “Fanfare for the Common Van – Part 1”

Bulletproof, Baby

The art of protection.

Looks can be deceiving. Image: Motor1.com.

Well, you’ve made it. King of the hill, head honcho. Now to get the country sorted, getting to grips with the nitty gritty. But, you’ve made more enemies than friends getting here. Some of those policies have disgruntled the populace. Changing the whole economy didn’t help, nor banning Sunday morning lie-ins. And as for pulling out of the Tufty Club.

Fortunately, some bright spark in procurement realised you might Continue reading “Bulletproof, Baby”

A Friend In Need

The Ami 6 was as expedient as it was successful. This is its story.

Image: (c) L’Aventure Citroën

It is probably reasonably accurate to suggest that while Automobiles Citroën was confident about the prospects of its radical 1955 DS19, the initial impact, and subsequent retail demand must have taken them aback somewhat. The Goddess of course was a relatively expensive, upmarket car, well outside of what the average French motorist could afford; the gap between the rustic 2CV, which primarily appealed to rural customers and the DS19 would therefore remain chasm-like.

Despite attempts at offering the big Citroën in decontented form, it was clear that a smaller, more affordable car was an urgent requirement.[1] But not simply lacking a 7-8 CV contender, Quai de Javel also found itself without a viable rival to Renault’s popular 845 cc Dauphine.

When work on Études Projet M began in 1957, early thinking was allegedly for an entirely stand-alone model; Panhard’s 850 cc horizontally-opposed twin being considered as a possible powerplant. However, perhaps for reasons of speed to market, or a desire not to step on Panhard’s toes, it was decided to Continue reading “A Friend In Need”

The Future Started Here

From the most modest of beginnings, Audi has become an automotive titan. We remember where, and how quietly, it all began.

1966 Audi Super 90 (c) honestjohn.co.uk

If truth is the first casualty of war, then Audi was a close second in 1940. Having been subsumed seven years earlier into the Auto Union combine that also included the DKW, Horch and Wanderer marques, Audi’s presence in Germany withered away to an inconsequential 0.1% market share before the outbreak of hostilities.

Demand for its large if slightly idiosyncratic Front UW 225(1) saloon evaporated as a result of the economic privations of the 1930’s. Auto Union instead concentrated on small and economical two-stroke engined saloons carrying the DKW brand. The Front was succeeded in 1938 by a 3.3 litre six-cylinder RWD model, the 920, which was manufactured at the Horch plant and was an Audi in name only. The 920 was itself discontinued without a replacement in 1940.

When production resumed after the war, the company remained focused on building small cars under the Auto Union and DKW brands. Mercedes-Benz acquired a controlling stake in Auto Union in 1958, but failed to Continue reading “The Future Started Here”

The South African Connection

A re-assessment of what really was the first BMW M road car.

BMW 530 MLE. Image: Stefan Kötze

BMW Motorsport GmbH, the Munich manufacturer’s sports division and the go-to specialists for creating the coveted M models, was established in 1972. In the public conscience the legendary M1 of 1978 has long been regarded as the first M vehicle, but the car presented in this article casts doubt upon that assumption. Two years earlier, what is now regarded as the first M car, although it did not actually Continue reading “The South African Connection”

History in Cars – An Echo, a Stain

Age and entropy catches up with the 304. 

Following my return to the UK, I briefly toyed with the idea of a permanent repatriation to the old country, but London exerts a powerful gravitational pull and before long I was back into a new career in a new side of town. Now domiciled in suburban East London, I was closer to my tame Peugeot specialist, and with the 304 now back on the road (it had survived storage without mishap), we resumed our largely comfortable association.

The 304 had always been predominantly weekend fare, my daily commute into Central London being the task of either public transport or my own two-wheeled efforts. This, I convinced myself was justification for running an older car; not required for daily drudgery, I could Continue reading “History in Cars – An Echo, a Stain”

Yeoman of the Guard

The Toyota Hilux: Never knowingly underestimated.

Image: carsguide

Should there exist the phenomenon of an average main battle tank, one is certainly looking at enormous metallic hulks weighing in excess of sixty tons costing millions of anyone’s currency to build. Naturally a secretive beast, tanks remain wieldy objects until disabled by either enemy action or breakdown when an infrastructure is necessary to facilitate their movements. However, if one is not financially replete or that infrastructure non-existent why not Continue reading “Yeoman of the Guard”

Heroic Failure

A noble project to mobilise rural India safely, the Tata Nano was a failure. Today we examine the reasons why.

2009 Tata Nano (c) slideshare.net

The Tata Group is one of India’s oldest and largest industrial conglomerates. It encompasses a hugely diverse range of manufacturing and service companies, including steel, chemicals, consumer products, home appliances, energy, telecommunications, hotels, finance, investment and, since 1954, motor vehicles. Tata’s first domestically designed and built car was the 1998 Indica, a supermini-sized five-door hatchback that went on to Continue reading “Heroic Failure”

Born in the USA

The Euro-pick-up truck is unwell.

FORD Ranger. Image: What Car

Broadly speaking, we have a good deal to thank our American neighbours for in automotive terms, notwithstanding of course, the fact that some influences have been better received than others. Nevertheless, the automobile evolved more rapidly, and improved in ways we could scarcely have imagined largely due to US market forces. For instance, the modern styling studio was very much an American innovation, and it’s probably fair to say that nobody did more to Continue reading “Born in the USA”

From A to B

A fly on the dashboard documentary series from the early ’90s captivates your Northern England correspondent this week.

Image: youtube

My excuse for neither seeing nor remembering this program when first shown is due to the fact I was probably out driving most nights after work. Needlessly, I might add, but so full of enigmatic memories; cutting ones driving teeth, investing the simplest form of driving enjoyment, simply because you can. Continue reading “From A to B”

Phoenix Follies (Part Two)

Today, we feature the CityRover, a cynical and poorly executed attempt to plug a perceived gap in MG Rover’s model range.

2003 CityRover (c) parkers.co.uk

In 2000, the newly independent MG Rover found itself without a contender in the sub-B city car segment. As the formerly BMW-owned Rover Group, it had continued to field a version of the long-running 1980 Austin Metro, subject of three major facelifts before being renamed Rover 100 in 1994.

Despite its antiquity, it remained popular, at least in the UK, where it was valued for its compact size and nimbleness. A disastrous Euro-NCAP crash test in 1997 however, where the 100 received a uniquely poor one-star rating for adult occupant safety, caused sales to collapse and the model was discontinued the following year. Continue reading “Phoenix Follies (Part Two)”

Going Up

Introducing the MegaPanda…

Emelba Chato. Image: Esacademic.com

After the fall of Generalissimo Franco’s regime, Spain became free in more than one way; its market could now be opened to more products and brands produced outside of the country. This revitalization of the market stimulated the foundation of many new businesses, of which coachbuilder Emelba was one.

Commencing operations in 1978, Girona-based Emelba swiftly developed close ties to the national car maker SEAT and started producing the SEAT 127 Samba for them – the Spanish sister of the Fiat 127 Scout. At the time the market for small utility vehicles in Spain was dominated by Renault (4 F4 and F6) and Citroën (Acadiane). Oddly enough SEAT never brought its own version of the Fiat 127 Fiorino to market, instead Emelba built the SEAT 127 Poker: a 127 with a Fiorino-like rear section but executed rather more crudely.

The 127 Poker was still more a worklike van than people carrier, prompting Emelba to Continue reading “Going Up”

History in Cars – Brand New, You’re Retro.

Life with a Peugeot 304S – part two. 

Image (c) The author

Domestic bliss with my newly acquired, more comely automotive companion from Sochaux was initially tempered by the fact that there were other, less savoury matters to attend to, like disposing of the now good as landfill Fiat. A number of phone calls ensued before a man turned up with a flatbed, lifted the hapless 127 aboard, and twenty quid better off, Mirafiori’s errant son departed for the eternal. Of all the cars I’ve owned, I have never smoked one as morbidly close to the filter.

Meanwhile, the 304 continued to beguile, every journey an event, every destination a succession of benevolent glance-backs; could this Maize Yellow vision of loveliness actually Continue reading “History in Cars – Brand New, You’re Retro.”

Phoenix Follies (Part One)

At a crucial moment, and to the detriment of their mainstream business, MG Rover’s management squandered time and money on frivolous distractions.

2004 MG Xpower SV-R (c) topspeed.com

It had all started so well, or so it appeared. It was May 2000 and, after months of uncertainty and worry, Rover Group, the UK’s last remaining indigenous volume car manufacturer, was independent again and back under British ownership. Phoenix Venture Holdings, a consortium of businessmen led by John Towers, had secured ownership of the bulk of Rover for a nominal fee of £10 and negotiated a generous ‘dowry’ of £500 million from BMW AG. The German automotive giant was just relieved to Continue reading “Phoenix Follies (Part One)”

Understanding the Welsh Air. And Yoghurt.

Lucid dreams. 

Lucid Air. Image: yankodesign

We aim to make not only the best electric car but also the best car in the world.” This may sound somewhat boastful but the chap expressing these words has quite the curriculum vitae to back it up.

Peter Rawlinson began life in South Wales, raised and schooled in the Vale of Glamorgan, later graduating in Engineering at Imperial College, London. Jaguar employed his young talent, where he reached the heights of Principal Engineer before quitting to assist Lotus. During his stint at Hethel, Rawlinson managed to Continue reading “Understanding the Welsh Air. And Yoghurt.”

Living with a Mercedes-Benz 190E

The author recalls his experience of Stuttgart’s first compact executive model.

Not mine, but almost identical (c) rjhcars.co.uk

The 1970’s was a dismal era for the UK as the economy struggled with economic shocks such as the 1974 Middle-East oil crisis, stubbornly high inflation, a bloated and inefficient public sector, declining industrial base and a restive, militant workforce. This culminated in a balance of payments and Sterling crisis in 1976 that forced the Labour government of Prime Minister James Callaghan to Continue reading “Living with a Mercedes-Benz 190E”

God Save the Queen

“There’s no future, in England’s dreaming…”

“That look of distinction”. Image (c) VPOC

Ah, the Allegro: Worst car ever. All Aggro. These and other less flattering terms have been routinely flung like wet rags at BLMC’s 1973 compact saloon offering in the intervening decades since the car ceased production in 1984. But while ADO67 itself would over time become notorious, its more dignified Kingsbury derivation was the object of ridicule pretty much from the outset.

Introduced in September 1974, the Vanden Plas 1500’s debut was greeted not only with a gilded tureen of derision but a sizeable component of incredulity; not so much for what it was, but largely for the manner in which it had been executed. So, what in the name of all that was sacred and holy possessed Vanden Plas to Continue reading “God Save the Queen”

Third Time Lucky, but Second Time’s a Charm (Part Two)

Concluding our profile of the Mercedes-Benz W201 compact saloon.

Image: Autoevolution

Pilot production of the W201 began at Mercedes-Benz’s Sindelfingen plant in early 1982 in preparation for its launch on 8 December. Following an extensive modernisation programme, the company’s Bremen plant, which had previously produced commercial vehicles and the S123 estate car derivative of the W123, would also manufacture the new model from November 1983.

Critical and public reaction to the new compact Mercedes-Benz was hugely positive, with most reviewers praising the unprecedented level of engineering, build quality and safety features in a car of its class. The only significant criticisms were related to the paucity of standard equipment, limited rear legroom, and overly firm seats. Continue reading “Third Time Lucky, but Second Time’s a Charm (Part Two)”

Comfort Food

Catch a Crown Comfort while you still can.

Tokyo Taxi. Image (c) The Author

In what now seem like very distant times, procuring the services of a taxi in New York would inevitably see one on the vinyl-clad rear seat of either a big yellow Checker, later a Chevrolet Caprice Classic or Ford Crown Victoria, whereas in swinging London an Austin FX4 “black cab” or its similar looking successors.

Nowadays virtually all these once ubiquitous vehicles have been succeeded by more modern, cleaner, more efficient but at the same time also much less characterful replacements. The minor sense of occasion one experienced as a tourist has gone as well since Toyota Prii and such now Continue reading “Comfort Food”

Compact Class

The Opel Kadett E story.

Opel Kadett GSi/ Vauxhall Astra GTE. Image: cargurus

1984: On the world stage, Ronald Reagan is re-elected as US President, whereas in India, Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi is assassinated. Apple present their first Macintosh computer, Band Aid has the UK’s Christmas No 1, while a car designed in Germany goes on to Continue reading “Compact Class”

Third Time Lucky, but Second Time’s a Charm (Part One)

Circumstances prevented Mercedes-Benz from entering the compact saloon market on two previous occasions, but the company nailed it with the hugely impressive 1982 W201.

Image: Autoevolution

The 1982 Mercedes-Benz W201, better known to most as the 190E, was the company’s first foray into what is now called the compact executive market. However, almost two decades earlier, Mercedes-Benz came close to launching a similarly positioned but more radically engineered front-wheel-drive model, codenamed the W118/119(1). This followed an earlier proposal for a conventional small saloon, the W122, which was approved for development in 1953, but cancelled in 1958.

The official reason for cancellation was that, in the same year, Mercedes-Benz acquired a controlling 87% stake in the Auto Union combine of the Audi, DKW, Horch and Wanderer brands(2). The company was concerned that a new, smaller Mercedes-Benz saloon would Continue reading “Third Time Lucky, but Second Time’s a Charm (Part One)”

Last of England [3]

Understanding the X-Type.

Does X stand for expedience? Image: Autocentrum.pl

Given the unprecedented levels of investment, and the expectations of both maker and benefactor, the X-Type had a good deal of heavy lifting to do. Its eventual failure not only cost Jaguar dearly, it set the carmaker back to such an extent that it never truly recovered. X-type was commissioned with one overarching mission, to more than double Jaguar’s sales volumes, transforming the carmaker as a serious player in the luxury car market, especially in the US, where these cars had historically sold in large quantities. But the X400 misfired, falling well short of projections, and as it would transpire, fiscal break-even. How so?

A moment, if you will. Lest the following reads as a full-throated orgy of blue oval bashing, we should first Continue reading “Last of England [3]”

The Brakeman

Let’s slow things down for Sunday.

I’ve driven under this bridge many times in my home town. The bridge remains but the slogan, lost. Sheffieldhistory.co.uk

Ever since cavemen realised the wheel was more conducive to transportation, reducing vehicular speeds safely has been a problem, to say the least. Fine to get motion rolling but just how do you make that cart or wagon slow down and stop, preferably before the impending river/edge/group of people?

Boughs from trees, old boots, metal, bricks, rocks – all of the above have at one time or another been employed to Continue reading “The Brakeman”

Under the Knife – Swings and Roundabouts

Largely unnecessary, possibly retrograde; the Focus got the Kinetic treatment in 2007.

2007 Focus v2.5 Image: The RAC

Claude Lobo returned full-time to Köln-Merkenich in 1997 to head Ford’s European design team, following a three-year stint as head of Ford’s advanced studio in Dearborn. By then, the blue oval’s European satellite seemed at something of a creative crossroads. Throughout the decade, Merkenich’s design quality had become decidedly uneven and in terms of direction, its previous stylistic assurance seemed lost.

Under Lobo’s direction, two highly significant Ford designs were enacted, the original 1996 Ka and the 1998 Ford Focus,[1] both spearheading a newfound confidence in form, graphics and style. Two years later, the Parisian retired, his replacement hailing from Ingolstadt. Chris Bird was part of the design team at Audi since 1985, contributing to the original A8 model, becoming Ingolstadt’s studio head under Peter Schreyer in 1995. Continue reading “Under the Knife – Swings and Roundabouts”

Searching for the Next Big Thing

We recall three vehicles from different European manufacturers, each trying to offer a new twist on the large executive/family car formula, but all failing comprehensively to break the stranglehold of the status quo.

2001 Renault Vel Satis (c) Haessliche Autos

It is the Holy Grail for automakers: coming up with a design that defines a whole new automotive genre. You reap the rich rewards of first-mover advantage while your rivals struggle to catch up. Sticking your corporate head above the parapet of automotive convention is not without risks, however. For every Nissan Qashqai there is a Suzuki X90, selling in tiny numbers before being canned, then hanging around like a bad smell to remind the public how foolish you were.

To compound your embarrassment, it will also Continue reading “Searching for the Next Big Thing”

Material Handler

The Goddess makes a triumphant return.

All Images (c) Citroenvie.com

Designers, akin to writers are seldom idle. Whereas us impoverished keyboard jockeys are tied to our workstations, the designer usually prefers to get stuck in, hands dirty and not simply bear witness to his (or her) thoughts, more help them bear fruition.

One such hands-on designer being Gérard Godfroy. Now aged 73, and living in Normandy, Godfroy views design as an emotional transmitter – why not share those feelings? He should Continue reading “Material Handler”

Last of England [2]

The X-Type’s heyday – brutish and short.

US market X-Types were fitted with a bonnet-mounted ‘leaper’ ornament. Image cars.com

The Jaguar X-Type made its world debut at the Geneva motor show in March 2001 amid a good deal of optimism, Jaguar’s then Managing Director, Jonathan Browning outlining the model’s significance to the press in transformative terms. In this he would be proven correct, albeit not in the manner intended. 

Early reviews spoke of a car which met the required criteria of Jaguar-ness. Reporters seemed particularly keen to Continue reading “Last of England [2]”

(Dis)missed Opportunity

Citroën suffocated France’s oldest carmaker in what seemed a needless fashion. Could it have ended differently?

Image: The author

At the official June 1963 presentation of what would be Panhard’s last new car introduction – the 24 – Jean-Pierre Peugeot was among the attendees. Having inspected the new car he took CEO, Jean Panhard aside and said to him: “How fortunate you are to have such talented designers – we’re forced to Continue reading “(Dis)missed Opportunity”

Z-List or X-Factor?

The Citroen ZX celebrates its thirtieth birthday in 2021. Will anyone remember to send a card?

1991 Citroen ZX Aura. Image: motorstown.com

The 1978 Citroën Visa came as a pleasant surprise to those who expected the Double-Chevron’s highly distinctive identity to be crushed under the weight of Peugeot’s conservatism and financial rectitude. Although heavily based on the Peugeot 104, the Visa retained more than enough Citroën quirkiness to be accepted as a spiritual heir to cars such as the Ami and Dyane. Likewise, the 1982 BX and 1989 XM models were both unlikely to be mistaken as anything but Citroëns.

Citroën had lacked a mainstream C-segment competitor since the demise of the GSA in 1986. It had hoped that the Visa and BX ranges might be stretched to Continue reading “Z-List or X-Factor?”

Under the Knife – No Advance

2004’s (B7) Audi A4 was a highly significant (re)design, if not entirely for the right reasons.

A distinct lack of Vorsprung. 2004 B7 series Audi A4. Image: dsf-my

The four rings of Ingolstadt were a long time in the ascendant, frequently taking one step forward and several backwards, before hitting a more assured stride. Indeed, according to former design director, Peter Schreyer, it was at one time considered an embarrassment to Continue reading “Under the Knife – No Advance”

Best Bitter (3)

Third Pint (With Whisky Chaser): Still Bitter after all these years.

bitter
1987 Type 3 cabriolet.

Maintaining his interest in rally-inspired machines, another EB project was the Rallye GT. Observing there was a well of potential customers, not only younger but less well heeled than contemporary owners, his 1978 plan was also aimed at bringing financial stability. The Manta B offered up it’s floorpan and mechanicals for Eberhard Schultz, Gallion and Bitter to thrash out a design.

With its ideal front engine – rear wheel drive set up, Bitter planned to Continue reading “Best Bitter (3)”

Last of England

Jaguar’s compact post-Millennial contender misfired badly. We look back on the X-Type and consider its legacy.

Image: Sunday Times Driving

In car manufacture, there can be no success without failure, each new model an educated shot in the dark, each failure a reproach, all the more so should the product in question represent a new market sector for its maker. Moving downmarket carries greater risk, for the virtues to which customers have become familiar and value most must be offered in diminished form. Nor does development cost fall, any gains being rooted in volume and economies of scale. Furthermore, once a business has taken such a step, there really is no going back.

To some extent therefore, the X-Type irreparably damaged brand-Jaguar, the carmaker never quite recovering from the financial losses incurred by the X400 programme. The figures involved are sobering. According to a study carried out by corporate analysts, Sanford C Bernstein a number of years ago, Jaguar allegedly lost €4600 on every X-Type sold – an overall loss amounting to over €1.7 billion.

Widely viewed as Jaguar’s deadliest sin and the butt of derision amongst the more sensationalist automotive press, the story behind the X-Type’s less than charmed career is not only more complex than is often told, but deserves a less emotive, more nuanced telling. But beforehand we must first Continue reading “Last of England”

Der Zenit (Part Two)

Mercedes-Benz would never build another car like the 1991 W140 S-Class.

1994 Mercedes-Benz W140 S-class (post-facelift)

European automotive industry watchers, motoring journalists and the public were amazed that Mercedes-Benz could launch such a large and profligate flagship in the teeth of an economic recession and growing environmental concerns. Journalists’ preconceptions and reservations about the size of the W140 were, however, seriously challenged when they drove the new S-Class. While they had expected that it would be beautifully built from the highest quality materials and would Continue reading “Der Zenit (Part Two)”

Swiped Left

Amid high hopes, Argentina’s Zunder proved a damp squib.

Image: Archivodeautos

A substantial percentage of the population of Argentina is of European origin- so much so that even today many Argentineans consider their country as in a way a separate one from the South American continent. Until the middle of the 20th century Argentina and its inhabitants were doing rather well economically, exporting cereals and meat worldwide. What was felt to be missing however was a domestic car make; several enterprising souls would try their luck at clearing this prestigious but tricky hurdle. The Bongiovanni brothers were among them.

As their surname suggests, Nilson and Eligio Bongiovanni were of Italian descent. After the second world war they ran a large and prosperous Chevrolet dealership in the city of Rio Cuarto, west of Buenos Aires. The implementation of protectionism measures by the government in 1952 threw a spanner in the works: among other things it meant the end of the import of foreign cars including of course, Chevrolets. This left the brothers with only repairs and maintenance as a source of income. This setback did however stimulate the Bongiovannis (both of them creative personalities with excellent engineering skills) to Continue reading “Swiped Left”

Best Bitter (2)

Second Pint: Bitter comes of age. 

Down but far from out, Bitter once again looked in Opel’s direction; the Diplomat having run its course, giving way to the Senator in 1978. Following two years planning and hefty external investment, the SC model was brought forth on the Senator platform. Assisting Bitter with production design were Opel stylists, Henry Haga and George Gallion; Bitter also enlisting Michelotti to assist with body detailing, while Pininfarina undertook wind tunnel tests. Quite what those at Cambiano made of the SC is unknown, especially considering this new upstart’s rather similar lines to Mr. Fioravanti’s contemporary Ferrari 365/400.

Initially offered with a 3 litre in-line six cylinder engine producing practically equal power and torque (180/182) the SC was treated to some tuning in 1983 by Mantzel who enlarged the GM unit to 3.9 litres and 210bhp. A no-cost option three speed automatic from GM was the preferred gearbox with a Getrag five speed manual only taken up by around forty customers. Top speeds approached 140 mph from the larger capacity engine.

Bitter had set up a new enterprise Bitter-Italia; and with the Baur build contract for the CD now ceased, Turin based OCRA was employed in their stead. Subcontracted to Continue reading “Best Bitter (2)”

Der Zenit (Part One)

The 1991 W140 S-Class was a technological tour de force, and possibly the finest car Mercedes-Benz ever made. Its arrival was also painfully mistimed. We remember the Uber-Benz on the thirtieth anniversary of its launch.

Mighty. Image: Australiancar.reviews

The arrival of a new Mercedes-Benz S-Class was always a seminal event for the automotive industry. It often heralded the introduction of new technology and safety features that would subsequently be adopted by other Mercedes-Benz models and, eventually, by its lesser competitors.

The 1959 W111 predecessor to the S-Class was the first car to feature a rigid passenger safety cell with front and rear crumple zones, to slow the deceleration that occurs in a high-speed impact and dissipate the kinetic energy released(1). In 1978, the W116 S-Class was the first car in the world to Continue reading “Der Zenit (Part One)”

Micropost: If Sacco had Prevailed?

We wonder if the 1991 Mercedes-Benz W140 might have fared better, both in stylistic terms and in the market, if Bruno Sacco had been allowed to realise his original vision for the car.

Bruno Sacco

One of the surprising nuggets I uncovered in my research on the W140 was that Bruno Sacco, Mercedes-Benz’s highly talented but modest and self-effacing Head of Styling, was an admirer of the Jaguar XJ saloon. Sacco very much liked its low and sleek lines. His original concept for a replacement for the W126 S-Class was a Germanic interpretation of that car. Unfortunately, his vision was corrupted by demands that the cabin should have generous headroom, even for two 190cm (6’3”) adults sitting one behind the other. This resulted in what most would adjudge to be an excessively tall glasshouse, making the car more suitable for monarchs and dictators on parade than fast and discreet point-to-point travel by captains of industry.

Sacco and exterior designer Oliver Boulay even tried to Continue reading “Micropost: If Sacco had Prevailed?”

Saints Alive!

The many vehicles of the Sainthood.

Roger Moore as The Saint. Image: odessasteps

The character of Simon Templar has smoothly transitioned his way from the printed page, to radio and finally the silver screen, both large and small. Created by British/ Chinese author and scriptwriter, Leslie Charteris, the devilishly handsome detective known as The Saint has always needed wheels – real or otherwise – something characterful, with a dash of the debonair.

First appearing in book form in the 1930s with Charteris employing artistic license to Continue reading “Saints Alive!”

Under the Knife – A Kiss of the Blade

The 2004 facelift of Alfa’s 147 was of the light-touch variety. We check for residual scarring.

2004 Alfa Romeo 147. Image: bipedia.info via occasion-automobile.fr

It wasn’t possible to know it at the time, but the immediate pre and post-Millennium period would represent the final creative and commercial flowering of FIAT Auto (as then known), a statement which is particularly apt when it comes to matters surrounding the fabled Biscione of Milan.

Part of FIAT’s sprawling auto group since 1986 and in the wake of a somewhat chequered start in product terms, a cohesive and (from a purely design perspective at least) credible strategy had been formulated for Alfa Romeo; matters taking a decidedly more upbeat tone with the Enrico Fumia-helmed 1993 Spider and related GTV models. Continue reading “Under the Knife – A Kiss of the Blade”

Up, Up and Away

Would you like to ride in my beautiful… Lexus

Lexus SC. Image: The author.

Filling balloons with wet plaster, squeezing them into abstract shapes, photographing the amorphous images and projecting the slides on a wall may sound like the description of an LSD powered mind trip, but in this case it was a new and unprecedented way to design a car.

In 1987 Toyota started work on project F3, the planned successor to the then recently introduced Soarer Z20. Contrary to the previous Japanese domestic market-only model, the planned new car would also be marketed in North America under the upcoming Lexus brand. Since it was considered essential that the future car be a success in the North American market, the job was given to Calty Design Research – Toyota’s Californian design centre established in 1973.

Not leaving anything to chance however, Toyota instructed their in-house design team in Japan to Continue reading “Up, Up and Away”

Confounding Conventional Wisdom

For the past two decades, one manufacturer has proved that there is still significant sales potential in Europe for large mainstream saloon and estate cars.

2001 Škoda Superb Mk1 (c) drive2.com

At the dawn of the new millennium, the market for large non-premium saloon cars in Europe seemed to be in terminal decline. The traditionally big-selling Ford Granada/Scorpio series had ended production in 1998. The Rover 800 and Renault Safrane followed suit in 1999 and 2000 respectively. Sales of the Opel/Vauxhall Omega were falling precipitously, from 74,753 (1) in 1997 to just 15,542 in 2003, its last full year on sale. Like the others, it would bow out without a replacement.

Peugeot attempted to Continue reading “Confounding Conventional Wisdom”

German Film Star

Part three: Concluding our close-up of the R107 Mercedes SL.

Three dimensional actor. Image: Autoevolution

Despite entering a world yet to experience the true meaning of the term, Oil-Shock, Mercedes-Benz’s 1971 newcomer did not find its way bestrewn with rose petals, as one might have envisaged with half a century’s hindsight to draw upon. The product of a great deal of regulatory hurdle-jumping, Sindelfingen’s engineers did themselves proud on the safety and technological side of the SL coin, even if stylistically, few seemed poleaxed in mute adoration. Which isn’t to suggest that it wasn’t well received. It was. However, it is possible to Continue reading “German Film Star”

Best Bitter

First Pint: The Bitter origin saga. 

All images (c) Bittercars.com

The world needs characters such as Erich Bitter. At 87, if the Westphalian runs on oil, he must have reserves aplenty, at least from wells of entrepreneurship and dogged determination. For without that close to wind, to blazes with millstones like finance and ruin, his dogged spirit and an array of automotive anomalies would never have been. Although that output may have been small in relative terms, his legacy (of which surprisingly large numbers survive) continues. Mind you, those seeking marriage or financial guidance might wish to Continue reading “Best Bitter”

Heroes and Villains: BMW Design (Part Two)

The author identifies what he regards as the best and worst of BMW design over the past six decades.

Yikes!  2001 BTW (E65) 7 Series (c) autoevolution.com

In part one I identified my BMW design heroes. Today, the villains take centre-stage. Get ready to hurl whatever comes to hand in their direction. Continue reading “Heroes and Villains: BMW Design (Part Two)”

Newsgrab

Reviewing the automotive week ending 7 May 2021.

“I see a little silhouette of car… Scaramouche Scaramouche, will you do the Škodango” The 2021 Škoda Octabia – or is that Corbia? Image: Drivespark

Say what you will about newly-forged Stellantis, but now that the reconstituted car giant has cleared its regulatory hurdles, it has hit the ground at a blistering pace – particularly on the new model front. Much of it of course being massively overdue, given the delays and re-organisation such a colossal enterprise necessarily entailed, and that is before we mention the malign effects of the pandemic, or the recent industry-wide shortage of micro-chips, the most recent frontier in the automotive industry procurement wars.

This week, as reported in Automotive News, CEO, Carlos Tavares told reporters from French publication, Le Point that it will no longer be necessary for Stellantis to Continue reading “Newsgrab”

Formula Toast

The appliance of… well what exactly?

Image: Motorbox

Alejandro Agag is clearly a well connected sort of chap. It was he who had the bright spark of introducing electrically powered racing cars to the world with the advent of Formula E. Yes, there were teething problems as one could reasonably expect with something so technically unproven. The set up took time, Dallara were chosen for chassis, Williams sorting out the sparks, Hewland the cogs.

In that first season, Formula E needed two cars per driver; the battery simply could not Continue reading “Formula Toast”

Glorious Anachronism

Concept cars are often used to gauge public reaction to a new design direction before applying it to mainstream models. Not so the BMW Z07 concept, which became the Z8 Roadster.

2001 BMW Z8 Convertible (c) rwd-cars.de

By the mid 1990’s BMW had acquired an enviable reputation as a manufacturer of finely wrought and handsome drivers’ cars. The 1990 E36 3 Series and 1995 E39 5 Series were both rightly regarded as dynamically superior to their competitors from Audi or Mercedes-Benz, so possessed a more youthful appeal (to drivers of all ages). Plans were already well advanced for the 1997 E46 3-Series which, in design terms, would be a careful evolution of its predecessor.

For all this success, there was a concern within BMW that the company’s designs were perhaps too safe and evolutionary and might Continue reading “Glorious Anachronism”