Missing the Marque: Ford Escort Mk5

A seminal car, but not for the reasons anyone might have expected.

1990 Ford Escort. Image: honestjohn.co.uk

The 1990 Ford Escort Mk5 was a car keenly anticipated by the market, as it would be the first all-new model for a decade. Ford’s rather casual attitude to mark numbers meant that the 1986 Mk4 was little more than a competent facelift of the 1980 Mk3. When the latter was launched, its sharp, contemporary styling and switch to front-wheel drive was fêted as a bold move forward for the model. In reality, it flattered somewhat to deceive, as beneath its apparent sophistication was a car that was distinctly ordinary in dynamic terms, with rough engines and a brittle ride. Continue reading “Missing the Marque: Ford Escort Mk5”

How To Be a Motor Enthusiast in the 21st Century – Part 1

Maintaining the faith in a changing world.

Ah, romance… Image: honestjohn

The past several years (broadly coinciding with the discovery and eventual contribution to Driven to Write) have been a period of rediscovering my enthusiasm for cars; their history, engineering, aesthetics and the experience of driving them. More recently, however, I have found myself troubled with doubts as to the potential future of such enthusiasm and increasingly, by questions regarding the moral status of our collective hobby.

If the above sounds a little melodramatic, consider the following: Whilst there are questions to which no definitive answer is possible – the value of which lying more in the discussions they prompt, rather than in finding one true solution – such as what constitutes the good life, free will versus determinism and why my smartphone came with two entirely separate SMS apps installed by default, questions relating to the environmental impact of the internal combustion engine are, to most rational persons, not amongst these.

Given the scientific consensus around the contribution of fossil fuels to climate change, it is clear that we must Continue reading “How To Be a Motor Enthusiast in the 21st Century – Part 1”

Water Loving Feline

Putting out fires all over the place, Andrew Miles gets his paws wet. 

PANTHER number 1000 at its Stansted airport home. (c) Rosenbauer.com

Returning to our fire fighting friends, the equipment size notches up somewhat along with a combination of countries, companies once we add highly flammable flying machines into the equation.

First up, Boughton Engineering of Wolverhampton. Founded in Amersham 1897, their core products revolved around the agricultural and forestry industries, later incorporating larger transport solutions, which included the military. Boughton’s prowess grew as did the chassis required for such operations.

By the 1970s, the arrival of the jumbo jet and easier international travel led to concerns as large as the aircraft themselves had become. Sadly, this was also a time when aeroplanes had an unfortunate tendency to Continue reading “Water Loving Feline”

Iced Gem

Hamamatsu does it again.

1997 Suzuki C2. diseno-art

From Turin to Tamworth, from Minato to Michigan and elsewhere besides, the mid-1990s sports car revival was in full swing. Leading the charge from an emotional and commercial-savvy perspective was Mazda, who just prior to the new decade had perhaps unwittingly created not just a durable global phenomenon, but as the passage of time would illustrate, the default (relatively) inexpensive 2-seat roadster – the MX-5 Miata.

Decades after Europe had started to Continue reading “Iced Gem”

Diminishing Returns

The Cortina’s less talented big sister.

1963 Ford Corsair. Image: storm.oldcarmanualproject

The arrival of the Cortina in September 1962 was a seminal event for Ford of Britain. Here was a light and efficient family car that was designed to be simple and inexpensive, both to build and to run. It offered everything the average motorist and their family needed, and nothing they didn’t. The Cortina exemplified the value engineering approach to design and manufacture that would come to define Ford for the next thirty years.

The Cortina also made the rest of Ford’s UK range suddenly look outdated. This was a particular problem for the Consul Classic and Capri models, which had been launched just a year earlier. Their introduction had been delayed by a couple of years because the Anglia small car was such a runaway success that Ford’s Dagenham plant lacked the capacity to Continue reading “Diminishing Returns”

The Hidden Side of Affalterbach

AMG: Big in Japan. 

Mitsubishi Debonair AMG. MMC.com

Prior to Mercedes-Benz rule, AMG was not limited to providing its services to just the products bearing the three-pointed star. A 51% subsidiary of Mercedes-Benz since 1999 and completely taken over and wholly integrated six years later, the company established by Hans Werner Aufrecht and Erhard Melcher (the G stands for Grossaspach, the birthplace of Aufrecht) has for obvious reasons been strongly associated with Mercedes-Benz from the outset.

To be sure, some sanctioned outside co-operations with Pagani and lately Lotus and Aston Martin has taken place but before AMG became part of the Stuttgart giant, there was nothing to Continue reading “The Hidden Side of Affalterbach”

There Is Only One

A kind of magic? 

Highlander headlamp. (c) pressroom.toyota

Considered a mandatory part of a ’70s boy’s upbringing, car spotting for many, held sway over football and girls – for a while. In those formative years anyone could discern that the yellow car 200 feet away was a Cortina. Only the eye of one more nuanced would know the car to be a GXL and therefore worthy of knowledgeable discourse. Replete with such incendiary information, one could hold court, fellow subjects agog, mythical status achieved. Those questioning the omnipotent would face swift, often brutal retribution – indignant children reduced to Continue reading “There Is Only One”

Taking the Current When It Serves.

European Car of the Year shortlist 2022: Consumers’ companion or cleverly controlled chauvinism? 

archyewsy

The worth of the European Car of the Year contest has often been questioned, but at least it gives a regular snapshot of what’s been happening in the automotive world over the preceding 12 months.  2021 has been surprisingly fecund, despite Covid-19 and the chip crisis, but has not been without casualties.

The earnest ECotY jurors were presented with a provisional list of 65 vehicles, reduced to 39 for the longlist, despite the late inclusion of three Chinese EVs (Aiways U5, MG EHS and Marvel R). Most drop-outs were the result of delayed launches, but for the provisional listed Jaguar XJ and J-Pace it was the end of the road, with both projects terminated and – it would seem – erased from JLR’s corporate memory.

The ECotY shortlist was announced on Monday 29 November: Continue reading “Taking the Current When It Serves.”

The Bridgehead Falls (Part Three)

Disagreements, divorce and downfall.

Quietly revolutionary: 1990 Nissan Primera. Image: drivemag.com

Nissan did not like having so little control over its increasingly significant UK business and found Botnar’s forceful style of negotiation distasteful. In 1990 the Japanese company offered to buy Botnar out, or at least take a stake in Nissan UK, but Botnar demurred, determined to retain full control over the franchise. To this end, he refused to renew contracts with the independent dealers that had been key to the company’s early sales growth and began replacing them with his own dealerships.

These dealerships, owned by a Nissan UK subsidiary company, the Automotive Finance Group, were large and aggressively managed, with onerous sales targets. Botnar showed little patience with any dealership manager who failed to Continue reading “The Bridgehead Falls (Part Three)”

Toyota’s First Supra-Car

Toyota City upstages Europe. 

wallpaperfx

Editor’s note: A version of this piece was originally published in April 2016 as part of DTW’s Japan Theme.

From a purely commercial perspective, the Toyota motor company appears to have fared perfectly well without the benefit of image-building halo cars. While enthusiasts have been well served by innumerable performance versions of regular production models over the intervening decades, the Japanese car giant has largely eschewed outright exotics. Not so fast however. As long ago as 1965, crowds at the Tokyo motor show were captivated by the introduction a sleek and beautifully proportioned coupe from that most cautious of Japan’s burgeoning carmakers. Deliveries began two years later, but by the decade’s end, and after a mere 337 cars, the Mayfly Toyota 2000 GT disappeared as quickly as it had emerged.

The story (as commonly told) begins in the early 1960s. German nobleman and designer, Graf Albrecht Goertz[1] had forged a successful consultancy in the United States, having been involved in the design of a number of post-war BMW models, most notably the acclaimed 507 roadster. Commissioned by Nissan to assist in the design a two-seater coupe, he is said to have drawn up a low-slung concept, a running prototype of which was subsequently built for Nissan by Yamaha. Nissan’s management however opted to adapt their in-house Fairlady model along different lines, introducing it as the highly successful 240Z in 1970.

Undeterred, Yamaha pitched the concept to Toyota and to their surprise, they elected to Continue reading “Toyota’s First Supra-Car”

The Appliance Of Science

He’ll never sell any ice-creams going at that speed…

(c) e1group

School was never a favourite period of life for your author, but one aspect of physics lessons in particular remains lodged in the mind – the fact that water and electricity do not mix well. Therefore, as we career toward an electrical vehicular future, how do we go deal with the worst happening – an electrical fire caused by either malfunction or accident?

Today, Britain has over 23 million vehicles road-bound with around 400,000 propelled by some form of electricity. Exponential growth in the coming years will see these figures shift ever-upwards, so one hopes the manufacturers will Continue reading “The Appliance Of Science”

The Bridgehead Falls (Part Two)

Despite opposition, Octav Botnar asserts his growing power and influence.

Breakthrough: 1973 Datsun 120Y Sunny. Image: honestjohn.co.uk

Datsun’s breakthrough model in the UK was the 1973 120Y Sunny. Like its predecessor, the 1200, the 120Y had a rigorously conventional, conservative and well-proven mechanical layout, but was clothed in a smooth contemporary bodystyle with an upswept side DLO(1) that would become a signature for this generation of Datsun models. The styling flourishes, such as the ornate grilles and wheel covers, were rather ersatz for some tastes (including this writer’s) but the model really struck a chord with UK buyers and helped Datsun Continue reading “The Bridgehead Falls (Part Two)”

Dublin, Land of the Rising Sun

Empires can spring from unlikely places.

(c) Hino.com

With Hino’s ventures into the realms of car production hastily truncated, we now rewind to their more staple area of interest: the heavy commercials business.

Rudimentary as most vehicles were during the first two decades of the twentieth century, Hino produced their inaugural solid, reliable workhorse in 1917. The first Hino bus arrived some thirteen years later with another score passing before building Japan’s first trolleybus. Far from a delayed timetable, Hino ploughed on with purpose.

Once inside the comforting cradle of Toyota, Hino became the mirror to Toyota’s cars, their trucks providing plain, honest and reliable machines capable of heavy use and high mileages with minimal service. Over in Europe there were similitudes but tastes naturally showed through; nods toward comfort, adjustability, desirability, the States exacerbating this trend. Hino offered belt and braces trucks, engendering a loyal following.

As their initial car expansion plans loomed, so too did the big stuff. 1964 saw Thailand opening their first overseas truck service outlets. Many more would Continue reading “Dublin, Land of the Rising Sun”

The Bridgehead Falls (Part One)

Octav Botnar turned Datsun into the UK’s best selling automotive import, but it would all end badly for him.

Small beginnings: 1967 Datsun 1000. Image: Nissan Global

The first Japanese car to be offered for sale in the UK was, surprisingly, not from one of that country’s leading automakers, but from Daihatsu, a minnow of the Japanese auto industry. That car was the Compagno, a diminutive but pretty(1) conventionally engineered small car, offered in saloon, estate and convertible forms from mid-1965. The lack of any name recognition and a steep list price(2) meant it had little chance of making an impact, and the importers managed to Continue reading “The Bridgehead Falls (Part One)”

The Countess

The Franco-Italian-Japanese connection. 

Hino Contessa 900. leBlogAuto

From their origins as the Tokyo Gas Industry Company in 1910, another thirty two years would pass before the name Hino (Hee-no) Heavy Industry Company Limited began to develop and produce trucks and diesel engines. By the War’s end, their large marine engine production was halted but permission was granted by the ever watchful Allies to Continue reading “The Countess”

Stayin’ Alive (Part 2)

Exiles off main street – a conclusion. 

Austin Yema. Image: Cartype.com/ Autohome.com

Returning to our brief review of the automotive afterlife, we pop across the channel to arrive in the United Kingdom. Bidding here is opened by the Austin Maestro (1982-1994) which ended its days in China as the Yema SQJ6450 in 2010, resulting in sixteen years of continued production in exile. Yema also sold the F12 until 2014 which did use the old Maestro/Montego platform but with a totally different body and interior. Continue reading “Stayin’ Alive (Part 2)”

A Car for Sunday: Ford Mustang Mach-E

A chance encounter afforded an opportunity to assess Ford’s first bespoke mainstream EV.

All Images (c) the author

Taking the air on a lovely crisp late autumn morning, my eyes were drawn to the vehicle you see pictured here today, the Ford Mustang Mach-E. To the uninitiated, however, its manufacturer would remain a mystery, as there’s no sign of the blue oval badge anywhere on the exterior. Neither, for that matter, does the word Mustang appear. The only verbal clue to its provenance is the legend Mach-E positioned low down on the front doors. We will return to this curiosity later.

Launched in December 2020, the Mustang Mach-E is Ford’s first(1) bespoke mass-production electric vehicle. Continue reading “A Car for Sunday: Ford Mustang Mach-E”

I Want to Tell You a Story

Singalonga’ Sirion.

Image: Parkers

Mention the name Max Bygraves to anyone under fifty and you will inevitably elicit blank stares. In the 1970s when UK television was in its heyday, Max[1] was the doyen of Saturday night TV entertainment. Crooning a ballad, he would then relocate to his armchair, emit the title phrase (which had the public impersonating, ad Infinitum) to begin his raconteur session, replete in chunky knit cardigan. Adored for years, by housewives and knitwear aficionados alike, he most likely encouraged an entire generation into the pleasures of yarn.

Looking out my workplace window recently, you can only imagine my surprise to find the automotive version of the London born troubadour – a twenty year old Daihatsu Sirion. Cardigans are somewhat unfashionable garments nowadays but this story contains a few twists, as cable-knit. Get settled in your comfiest chair, grab (carefully) a hot drink and a biscuit and Continue reading “I Want to Tell You a Story”

Outdoor Couture

The Derek Zoolander of CUV’s? We consider the Evoque.

Autocar

In product marketing terms, the concept of a compact luxury car, while appealing on paper, has largely proven a tough sell on the field of play. Buyers had an annoying habit of equating luxury with scale and visual heft, the perception being that smaller cars were cheaper cars. For strategic planners in the early years of the current century, such nostrums were increasingly being challenged in the face of evolving regulation and buying habits, but a nagging uncertainty remained – carmakers never having made a fortune by asking customers to Continue reading “Outdoor Couture”

Coming to America (Part Four)

The Z-car transcends.

1989 Nissan 300ZX 2-seater. Image: wallpaperflare

Despite its considerable technical and dynamic advances over its dull-witted predecessor, the 1983 300ZX still had an outdated and frankly, rather naff image. It looked like the sort of car that Austin Powers, the 1960’s throwback and International Man of Mystery in the spoof comedy spy movie series might have driven, cheerfully referring to it as his Shagmobile. Nissan realised that it was now (past) time to reinvent the car and lend it a more contemporary mien.

The new model arrived in 1989. While it retained the 300ZX name, it was dramatically different to its predecessor(s). This time, the opportunity was taken to Continue reading “Coming to America (Part Four)”

空と、風と遊ぼう

The Suzuki method: Just add joy.

What’s Japanese for ‘Jazz-hands’ again? Suzuki.co.jp

Venturing onto Suzuki’s Japanese Domestic Market web portal is not only a journey of discovery in itself, its colourful site is quite the joy to behold. And should you find the succinctly melodious Alto not to your liking, there’s a whole host of radical, sophisticated and downright interesting models to whet those with a JDM appetite.

Our Western values place freedom, and power alongside that ole chestnut, sex appeal – not to forget the wonders of that new-fangled electricity in brand advertising. Add in easy terms at every opportunity. That’s our way – the choice is yours to accept them or not. The Japanese, to eyes unaccustomed to such a varied culture, appear to promote fun, safety and economy, alongside more subtle allusions to attracting the attention of whomever one is attracted to. Having had electrical cars since Adam was a lad, Suzuki wish to Continue reading “空と、風と遊ぼう”

Stayin’ Alive (Part 1)

Automotive exiles. A two-part study. 

Image: Nairaland.com/ Peugeot/ Favcars.com

The average shelf life of a newly introduced car before it is withdrawn and replaced by a new model has steadily shrunk over recent decades.[1] Whether this is due to the exponential speed at which technology is now developing or simply marketing-driven is a matter of debate, but in a number of cases the cessation of production in its country of origin does not necessarily mean that the car’s production life is over, many car lines continuing to thrive elsewhere around the globe.

There are several well known cases but equally some that have continued their career in relative obscurity. The ubiquitous Volkswagen Beetle will probably jump to mind for many because it was in production for close to 70 years. However, if we Continue reading “Stayin’ Alive (Part 1)”

Coming to America (Part Three)

The Z enters its Vegas period.

Nissan 280 ZX. Image: DTW Collection

The major change to the 280ZX during its lifetime was the addition of a turbocharged version in 1981. This produced maximum power of 180bhp (134kW) and torque of 203 lb ft (275Nm). With a three-speed automatic transmission(1), the 280ZX Turbo  achieved a 0 to 60mph (97km/h) time of 7.4 seconds and a maximum speed of 130mph (210km/h). The rear suspension was stiffened to improve stability, but the brakes, already marginal, were even more prone to Continue reading “Coming to America (Part Three)”

Play, The Adolfe Way

For such a wee car, the Suzuki Alto packs a musical punch.

1979 Suzuki Alto. Favcars

Belgian, Adolfe Sax patented the saxophone back in 1864. A lifelong inventor, any influence upon the nascent motor industry he may have had is doubtful, shuffling off this mortal coil, penniless in 1894. Fast forward to 1909, when Michio Suzuki founded his Loom Manufacturing Works – another 28 years passing before becoming a motor manufacturer. Again, it’s somewhat unlikely that he himself (then aged 92) had any input in the naming or gestation of what became his eponymous company’s smash hit selling vehicle in 1979. But this little car was destined to Continue reading “Play, The Adolfe Way”

Vier Bleierne Luftballons*

Uncovering some stillborn concepts of German origin, now largely obscured by the mists of time.

Autorevue.at/ Retrovisiones.com/ Pistonheads.com

Steyr-Puch / BMW AM2, 1981

BMW’s 1999 X5 claim to fame is being the Bavarian car firm’s first SUV, but BMW passed on an opportunity to introduce one almost two decades earlier. In August of 1981 Steyr-Puch unveiled a 1:10 scale model of what was at that time an almost unknown quantity: what we now call a Sport Utility Vehicle. Steyr claimed they had developed a new type of passenger car – a multipurpose family vehicle with four-wheel drive, a car-like body with an elevated roofline, room for five to seven, and a moveable rear bench seat to Continue reading “Vier Bleierne Luftballons*”

Coming to America (Part Two)

The Z-car evolves.

Image: vintagecarbrochures

The first significant change to the 240Z came in 1974 after five years on the market. The engine was enlarged to 2,565cc by lengthening its stroke. This increased its maximum power output to 165bhp (123kW). Unfortunately, US specification cars had to be fitted with new emissions control equipment that stifled the engine and actually reduced maximum power output to 139bhp (104kW) which was 12bhp (9kW) down on the original 240Z. Hence, the 0 to 60mph (97km/h) time deteriorated to over 10 seconds.

The revised model was renamed 260Z. Its chassis was stiffened, and a rear anti-roll bar fitted. Other suspension tweaks improved both ride quality and high-speed stability, reducing the 240Z’s tendency to Continue reading “Coming to America (Part Two)”

So Glad They Bothered: 1984 Mitsubishi Galant

A forgotten ’80s gem gains a reappraisal. 

Galant of the 80’s (Source: momentcar.com)

Following coolly on the heels of the first article in this occasional-to-the-point-of-random series, we look back at another rare but strangely appealing car which was imported in relatively low volumes into the UK, thanks to the quaint-sounding ‘gentlemen’s agreement’ with Japan.

It interests me, how certain things or events prove to be memorable, and not others. When these things or events were in the present, did I realise then that they would still figure strongly in my memory now? What is it that buries some things forever in the abyss of the mind, and yet somehow others, possibly more trivial stay for longer? Answer: Continue reading “So Glad They Bothered: 1984 Mitsubishi Galant”

Coming to America (Part One)

The Datsun 240Z transformed Nissan’s image – especially in the US.

Image: motor-stars

By the late 1960’s Datsun had been exporting to the US market for around a decade and had gained a reputation for offering cars that were meticulously built, well equipped and reliable, but were singularly unexciting, with slightly ersatz styling. Yakuta Katayama, who was president of Datsun’s US import company(1), was an ambitious and capable manager with a penchant for motorsport. It was Katayama who decided that the best way to change the US perception of Datsun was to produce a car that espoused the marque’s traditional virtues but was also fun to drive.

Katayama’s first such offering was the 1967 Datsun 510. Beneath its sober saloon styling was a 1.6 litre SOHC four-cylinder(2) engine producing 96bhp (72kW) and fully independent suspension employing MacPherson struts at the front and semi-trailing arms at the rear. The car weighed just 2,072 lbs (940kg) and was good for a 100mph (161km/h) top speed. It also handled sweetly and quickly became regarded as a ‘poor man’s BMW’ because of its similarity to Munich’s saloons.

This was a good first step, but Katayama knew that what he needed was a proper sports car as a halo model to Continue reading “Coming to America (Part One)”

The Second Act

Lancia hits the marque.

veiling.catawiki

It is tempting to characterise the 1960s as a period of wild hedonism, artistic abandon, sexual freedom and social progress, but in reality it was nothing of the kind. Not in Italy at least, still firmly under the heel of the Vatican, whose tentacles encroached into all areas of domestic life. Strict social and societal mores were observed. Matters of appearance remained of the utmost importance. Yes of course, in the ateliers of Milan, fashions were of a most flamboyant, provocative nature, but the garments one actually wore, even to the local tabaccheria, were well chosen, decorous – demure even.

This sensibility pervaded Italian life, product design included. Because even if the most prosaic piece of household equipment was designed to please (or at least satisfy) the eye, it was nonetheless a function-first device. So too the automobile. Throughout the ‘Sixties, the Italian aesthetic for the berlina was highly formalised, upright, rectilinear. Regardless of whether it hailed from Portello, Mirafiori or Borgo San Paolo, there was little for the unschooled eye to Continue reading “The Second Act”

Hello Kitty

Daihatsu: Committed to cute since 1951.

Diahatsu Mira Tocot. headlightmag

When all boils down, Western culture leaves little room for anything other than the normative. If it isn’t masculine, it’s feminine (with slow acceptance of gender neutrality) but when parameters are so rigidly defined we must head to Japan for inspired creativity. The keijidōsha-car dimensions you have to play with are (all maximum) 3.4m long, 1.48m wide and just two metres tall. Go figure out a way to Continue reading “Hello Kitty”

A Car for Sunday: 1971 Ford Cortina Mk3

Once ubiquitous on the streets of the British Isles, the Mk3 Cortina is now vanishingly rare, and worthy of reappraisal.

1971 Ford Cortina Mk3. Image: The author

Walking through the lanes of the Suffolk market town I call home recently, I happened upon a car that I haven’t seen in the metal for many years. It was an arresting sight.

The car in question was a 1971 Ford Cortina, an early example of the Mk3 generation of Ford’s family stalwart. It was a four-door saloon, resplendent in dark metallic green. The lack of any additional badging on the boot lid and an absence of brightwork indicated that it was an entry-level base model. The cod-heraldic shields on the lower front wings behind the wheel arches proudly proclaimed it was a 1300, the smallest engine option available. Continue reading “A Car for Sunday: 1971 Ford Cortina Mk3”

For the German Bands

Andrew Miles takes a hands-on approach. 

So taken at seeing an old flame, I forgot to zero in on the handle!

From DLOs to DRGs. Pillars, A through (occasionally) D, manufacturers and commentators spend countless hours unpicking these traits. Directives about placement, rules concerning dimensions, legislative measures, crash tests and, finally, the greasy paws of the customer. However much we admire (or admonish) a car’s looks, our first point of contact with any is that oubliette feature: the door handle.

Through an exhaustive half hour lunch break during the no longer recent summer – cobalt blue skies and the mercury nudging thirty degrees – my gaze became fixed upon the indents and recessed areas our digits seek out in order to Continue reading “For the German Bands”

Hark! What Sound in Yonder Window Breaks?

An old name makes a barely audible comeback.

Audi A8L Horch Founders Edition. 20mn.fr

There appears to be something rather half hearted and unmistakably anti-climatic surrounding recent product activity amid the traditional full-sized luxury saloon car. Last year, Mercedes introduced a new-generation S-Class and the automotive world yawned. In fairness, the renewal of the Mercedes flagship has long ceased to be a notable event and truth be told, the W223 bears hallmarks of even Sindelfingen’s ambivalence, now that the EQS EV bears its electrified North star.

So too at Ingolstadt, where Audi’s A8 has this week been in receipt of a refresh, aimed at seeing the model through to 2024 and its reputedly more ambitious replacement, heralded by the recent Grandsphere concept. Speaking of which, the current A8 itself was previewed in 2014 by the striking Prologue, an indulgent 2-door coupé (remember those?) whose muscular proportions were somewhat lost amid the transition to a production-ready four-door saloon.

The current A8 arrived in 2017 and has since settled down to Continue reading “Hark! What Sound in Yonder Window Breaks?”

Uncompromised, not Uncompromising

The 1978 BMW M1 should have been simply a road-legal version of a racing car, but it was so much more rounded and accomplished than that.

Image: automobile

More than any other mass-market(1) automobile manufacturer, BMW has built its reputation on producing dynamically accomplished cars, designed to appeal to keen drivers above all else. It is a moot point as to whether the vast majority of BMW drivers have the skills and talent to exploit such cars to their maximum potential, but many are surely flattered by the inference that they might Continue reading “Uncompromised, not Uncompromising”

Please Be Seated

A large chair does not make a king*, as the Korean carmaker discovered.

Ssangyong Chairman. The author.

The brand name SsangYong is derived from Oriental legend and means Two Dragons. It stems from a fable about two dragons who longed to fly to heaven. In order to be able to embark on that journey however, they each required a magical gemstone – but they had only been given one to share between them. For a thousand years each insisted the other go first but to no avail. Moved by their altruism, a heavenly king sent down another magical gemstone so that at long last they could Continue reading “Please Be Seated”

Le Pas d’Acier

Two steps on the water.

BBC

Situated a thousand kilometres South East from Moscow on the banks of the historically troubled river Volga, lies an enormous industrial plant. Up to 650,000 vehicles wearing a handful of badges are built per year, the area having become known locally as the Motown of the East. But to understand the Autovaz plant, we must first Continue reading “Le Pas d’Acier”

People’s Coupé

The Beetle’s comelier cousin.

1961 VW Karmann Ghia Coupé and Convertible. Image: motorauthority.com

Mention the name Ghia to anyone who is not a car enthusiast, and they are most likely to recall plushly trimmed Fords from the 1970s. That is rather a shame, because Carrozzeria Ghia & Gariglio, established in Turin in 1916, had a long and distinguished history, designing and building upmarket luxury and sporting cars. Ghia’s best known work is, however, a much more modest car based on humble underpinnings.

In the post-war period, many European auto manufacturers were switching to unitary construction, where the platform and bodyshell is constructed as a single unit. This typically brought benefits of lower weight and greater torsional rigidity. However, it created a problem for both independent design houses and coachbuilders, as there was no longer a separate chassis to build upon. Instead there was a body-in-white, which severely curtailed the freedom of the designers to Continue reading “People’s Coupé”

Drawing Restraint

No, you haven’t blundered onto Auto Cropley by accident. 

(c) media.landrover

Since their acquisition in 2007 by Tata Motor, JLR management’s brand-stewardship has been, how shall we say this: uneven. Not so when it comes to brand-Range Rover however, for there is no conceivable question now about its elevated position, close to the pinnacle of the luxury vehicle ziggurat. Of course this is no rags to riches fable; in metaphorical terms, more a muddy pair of Wellingtons to Church’s hand-tooled Oxfords style transition, given the use to which the average L405 series is habitually put. But it is likely that Anno-2021, the RR is probably a more convincing luxury conveyance than anyone’s private-hire Sonderklasse.

Yes, we are in another country from Charles Spencer King’s 1970 opus[1] and have been for some time now. Indeed, as we Continue reading “Drawing Restraint”

Send in the Paratroopers

Customer service? Who cares!

The former Art Deco style Mann Egerton Austin Rover dealership in Morden, South London. theminiforum via Merton Council.

Perennial kicking-post, Austin Rover. Years after their slow-motion demise – still fresh in many motorists minds, an incorrigibly persistent bad taste joke. And the material just keeps on rolling; we all know how the story ends but remain enthralled as there’s often a fresh nail awaiting the coffin’s hammer.

But it’s not all bad. Austin Rover attempted a turnaround, a stoic final stand against the enemy by dropping in the parachute regiment. A cynic might have called this project Operation Market Garden, as in the rather doomed Allied attempt at hastening the end of the Second World War by capturing bridges at Arnhem and Nijmegen. Praise the wag who chose to keep the parachuting theme but with a modern twist – that of the (at the time) clandestine 22nd Special Air Service. Who Cares Wins, the fight to keep the customer happy. Step up to the green light and Continue reading “Send in the Paratroopers”

Missing the Marque: Alfa Romeo 166

The automotive world had high hopes for Alfa Romeo’s late-’90s large executive saloon, but disappointment was not far away. We remember the Alfa 166.

1998 Alfa Romeo 166. Image: carandclassic.co.uk

The unveiling of the Alfa Romeo 156 at the Frankfurt motor show in September 1997 was cause for celebration amongst the Alfisti and, more generally, for all who love the automobile as an art form and expression of style. Following two decades of increasingly divisive and unhappy rectilinear designs, Alfa Romeo had produced a car of rare beauty. Its curvaceous, sculpted form received a hugely positive welcome, and sales started briskly.

Alfa Romeo’s next task was to Continue reading “Missing the Marque: Alfa Romeo 166”

Production Ends 31/12/2023

Hurry! You do still want that classic Lada Niva, don’t you?

ceautoclassic

The name stems from those areas the car was built to traverse, Niva being Russian for corn (field.) Also described as a “Renault 5 on a Land Rover” body by its designers, the Lada Niva will crisscross fields no more from 2024 so firm up that ushanka and take a trip back to the Soviet Union in the early 1970s.

Tasked by the Kremlin in 1971 with creating a rugged, capable vehicle, one which the many poor farmers cast far and wide along the Russian Steppes could easily use and repair, the loser of this particular design competition was the the AZLK Moskvitch. Yet the first Autovaz prototypes (led by Vladimir Solovyev) known as Krokodil[1], were deemed “too utilitarian.” A new, more civilised design garnered the internal type number 2121 consisting of a hard top roof and doors to keep the weather out, along with unibody construction, car-like looks, a 1600 cc petrol engine and permanent four wheel drive. 

Three years of heavy testing and comparisons against vehicles such as the Land and Range Rover (under Vadim Kotlyarov), in the Ural Mountains, Siberia and the Kazakh desert wastelands brought about the Niva, the first Autovaz to Continue reading “Production Ends 31/12/2023”

Scribing a Line

Sant ‘Agata Bolognese oversteps the mark. 

Lamborghini LPI 800-4 ‘Countach’. drivesection

Heritage is a highly lucrative business model amid the upper echelons of the OEM motor industry. For carmakers with a history to plunder and a reputation to uphold, there are seemingly unlimited numbers of what are politely termed high net worth individuals with bank accounts fit to burst, seeking super-priced, super-exclusive, supercar nirvana. For those at the sharp end, cost, it does appear really is not an object, but execution is, heritage is, provenance certainly is and authenticity, not to mention bragging rights very definitely are.

Given the strictures, regulations and privations currently visited upon carmakers, finding new and profitable revenue streams has become the very stuff of life itself. Currently there appear to be two main prongs to this end of the market: The limited run series, (or one-off), which largely tend to Continue reading “Scribing a Line”

Name Lost in Translation

Sorry, it’s a what? 

Image: The author

Although comfort-oriented big Citroëns such as the DS and CX would seem to be very suitable cars for the North American driving environment, the French manufacturer has never really been able to achieve any sustained or economically viable market penetration there. A too-thin dealer network, quality and durability levels unsuited to American driving conditions (in certain aspects), the idiosyncrasies inherent in their design concept and construction and a high price tag were the main impediments to their sales success.[1]

Citroën officially pulled out of the American market in 1972, but after their departure several enterprising souls attempted to Continue reading “Name Lost in Translation”

Trojan Mule?

Was the Alfa Romeo Arna one of the ‘worst cars ever’?

Hybrid, of sorts: the 1983 Alfa Romeo Arna

At the beginning of the 1980’s Alfa Romeo was in grave trouble. Its reputation had been marred by the problems that afflicted its C-segment Alfasud. Built at the behest of the Italian government in a new factory in Pomigliano d’Arco near Naples, it was riddled with faults, the most serious of which was its tendency to dissolve into ferrous oxide at an alarming rate.

By 1980, the Alfasud’s build quality had improved noticeably, but not so Alfa Romeo’s reputation. A replacement model, the 33, was in development and would be launched in 1983. The 33 would be a somewhat larger and more expensive car, growing by just 20mm (¾”) in wheelbase, but by a more substantial 185mm (7¼”) in overall length. This left room for a smaller and cheaper car to replace the entry-level Alfasud. It is a moot point as to whether or not Alfa Romeo actually needed such a car in its range, unless it was really determined to Continue reading “Trojan Mule?”

Sunday Service : Standing Out

Some things simply take time.

Despite appearances, not everything is monochrome in West Cork. Image: The author.

Outstanding: As an adjective, it’s one that’s prone to be overused, or maybe ill-employed; frequently used to describe something which is at best average. The 1993 Coupé Fiat (as it was designated by the marketers in Turin) was an above-average car, well regarded, possessed of the expected verve and swagger one had come to expect from a close coupled Italian. However, despite its undoubted appeal as a driving tool, the descriptor did not entirely apply. For while the Coupé Fiat was rather good, it did not raise the art of corner-carving, or apex skirting to any noticeable extent.

Where Fiat’s mid-’90s coupé offering did stand out however was in the visual realm. Because, it can be said without fear of contradiction, that at its debut, the Coupé Fiat looked like nothing else on the road. Part of the reason for that of course was the fact that it was, in stylistic terms wholly unoriginal. Now before you Continue reading “Sunday Service : Standing Out”

The Coming Of Age

Growing up, in the age of the car.

Film director, George Lucas. forcematerial

When George Lucas survived a serious automobile accident, his ambitions of becoming a professional racing driver ended. Fortunately, his ideas concerning movie making took an altogether less destructive route.

American Graffiti revolves around several characters on the cusp of life changing affirmations – leaving school, home, starting college or jobs – growing up. Gawky, inexperienced teenagers fighting with pent up emotions; some brim with confidence, others Continue reading “The Coming Of Age”

A Mighty Wind – [Part Two]

Getting in shape.

Influx.

By 1965, Giorgetto Giugiaro was already a name of significance amid Turin car design circles – and by the mid-point of the 1960s, there were no design circles more influential or significant than those within the Piedmontese capital. The year in question was a highly significant one for the 27-year old automotive designer, having departed Stile Bertone somewhat abruptly that November, leaving behind several partly completed designs for his successor to complete.

It did not matter, Giorgetto was moving on; first to carrozzeria Ghia where a position awaited him, but he had other, more elaborate plans. His stay at Ghia therefore was brief; a couple of commissions, a pair of designs for the de Tomaso concern[1], and more significantly, the Ghibli gran turismo for Maserati, making its debut as a prototipo at that November’s Turin motor show.

By the end of 1966, he was gone, this time to Continue reading “A Mighty Wind – [Part Two]”

Missing the Marque: Rolls-Royce Camargue

The 1975 Camargue proved conclusively that more is not necessarily better.

1975 Rolls-Royce Camargue. Image: mycarquest.com

The rules of automotive design that apply to Rolls-Royce motor cars are quite different to those that apply to other, less rarefied marques. Because of their low production volumes and the longevity of their model cycles, they eschewed the fashionable and ephemeral in favour of timeless elegance, understatement and peerless quality. The 1965 Silver Shadow exemplified these qualities perfectly, and Rolls-Royce was rewarded by it becoming the company’s best-selling model in history.

Despite the success of the Silver Shadow and the closely related Corniche coupé and convertible models, the early 1970s was a tumultuous time for Rolls-Royce Motors. The British government had been forced to Continue reading “Missing the Marque: Rolls-Royce Camargue”

Trois Gymnopédies

The fine art of badge-engineering – Franco-Japanese style.

Mitsubishi Outlander. Parkers

Just as Karl had given life to the patentwagen in 1886, the emergent car industry’s Frankenstein-like adoration brought ever newer machines to market. In turn, ideas became distilled, since begging borrowing or stealing ideas was easier than inventing something from scratch. Financial incentives greased wheels leading to similar, if not identical machines wearing different badges; nothing new under the sun.

Concurrently, French composer, Erik Satie experimented to form three pieces for piano, sharing a common structure and theme. Possibly evolved from the French version of the Greek phrase, gymnopaedia, an annual festival where young men would Continue reading “Trois Gymnopédies”

Secret Sister

Even amongst the more rarefied universe of Portello’s competition cars, there are the outliers, the runts, the ugly sisters. Today, we briefly examine one of this less than happy breed. 

Image: The author

Pretty, lovely, delicate. Three words that immediately spring to mind whenever one envisions an Alfa Romeo coupé of the ‘Sixties: Giulietta Coupé, Sprint Speciale, Sprint GT as well as the more rarefied sisters, the Giulia TZ 1 and 2 to name just a few. There does however exist a third Giulia TZ sister, but she was relegated to a dark corner and kept out of sight at AutoDelta for decades.

Ludovico Chizzola, AutoDelta’s co-founder, designed and built the Giulia TZ Prototipo Berlinetta (also known as the TZ 1.5) after a
request by Alfa Romeo to Continue reading “Secret Sister”