Ode To G — Part Two

The G’s inexorable rise.

Image: Autosport

1982 would witness the G-Wagen (almost[1]) tame the desert wastes of the Dakar Rally. Piloted by Belgian Formula 1 refugee, and six-time Le Mans winner, Jacky Ickx along with co-driver, Claude Brasseur, they placed fifth (with a fine bronze medal for Jean-Pierre Jaussaud/Micelles Briére), with overall victory bagged the following year. This being the most punishing of environments, considerable tweaking had taken place over its everyday counterpart. Utilising aluminium bodywork and extensive wind tunnel testing, a fettled 230GE made 220bhp.

Around the same time, workaday G-Wagens could be refined by paying for optional air conditioning, automatic transmission, an auxiliary fuel tank and cable winch. Later, more comfortable seating and flared fenders were also offered. The two-spoke steering wheel from the TN van was also demoted for the four-spoke, impact absorbing version from the W126, which to some eyes Continue reading “Ode To G — Part Two”

Harriman’s Folly

The 1967 Austin 3-Litre : Hubris or simply bad timing? 

Image: transpress.nz

Power and success can be a dangerous combination; in the wrong hands it can lead to overconfidence, over-reach and ultimately to folly. Foolish indeed is the automotive CEO who believes himself to be a master at the art of product planning, for aside from signing the cheques, he is best advised to stay out of the engine room. After all, few automotive chief executives are of the calibre of Sir William Lyons, or indeed Wolfgang Reitzle[1]. But even these individuals, both of whom were in possession of almost supernatural product divining abilities, were capable of getting it wrong on occasion.

British Motor Corporation Chairman, Sir George Harriman was not an automotive CEO from the top drawer; a man who was by all accounts a thoroughly likeable individual, but one lacking perhaps in finer judgement. It is probably fair to suggest that he may have been promoted beyond his abilities, and since his fingerprints were all over BMC’s late-Sixties business failure, he must Continue reading “Harriman’s Folly”

Jewels from the East — The Honda Sports Cars — 1962-1970

Soichiro Honda dreams in miniature.

Image: King Motor Sports

Soichiro Honda (1906-1991) is typically characterised as a brilliant and ambitious motorcycle designer and manufacturer who diversified into four wheeled vehicles only when he had conquered the two-wheel world. The timeline of his first four-wheel debutants might bear out the supposition, but cars were in Honda’s ambitions long before.

“It was the first car I saw. What a thrill. I could not understand how it could move under its own power. And when it had driven past me, without even thinking why I found myself chasing it down the road, as hard as I could run. Oil dropped when it came to a halt. How nice the smell was. I put down my nose to the ground like a dog and sniffed it. I smeared my hands with the oil and deeply inhaled the smell. It was then I dreamed of manufacturing a car myself someday.”

Soichiro Honda

The vehicle which set the path for Soichiro Honda’s life, one day in 1914 was not a BSA, Harley-Davidson or even a Hercules, but a Ford Model T. In the years which followed, he travelled to Tokyo at the age of 15 to find work as an apprentice mechanic, established his own car repair workshop at the age of 22, and was active in motor racing as a co-driver, then driver from 1924 to 1936. In 1937 he founded the Tōkai Seiki company in Yamashita, to produce piston rings of an innovative design, mainly supplied to Toyota. During WW2 his two factories were all but destroyed, Yamashita by bombing and Iwata by an earthquake, but there was enough value in the remaining assets for Toyota to Continue reading “Jewels from the East — The Honda Sports Cars — 1962-1970”

Long Story (Part Three)

On the home stretch.

Images: Pinterest and the author

Renault 8 (1962-1973) / Renault 10 (1965-1971)

Largely based on the Dauphine, which would continue to be offered for five years after its introduction, the Renault 8 was styled(1) in the typically ‘boxy’ idiom of other rear-engined cars from the sixties such as the Simca 1000 and NSU Prinz. The 8 would prove to be very popular due to its comfortable ride and spacious interior at an attractive price. The later sporty Gordini versions also enjoyed a strong following and were succesful in various competitions, their powerplants used by Matra and Alpine.

The 8 was powered by the new Cléon-Fonte engine and the little Renault had disc brakes on all four wheels(2) which was not common at the time, especially on a small and economical vehicle. The 8 was built, or sometimes assembled from CKD kits, in many countries in addition to France, including Spain, Romania (Dacia), Bulgaria (Bulgarrenault), Morocco, Canada, Venezuela and Australia. It would Continue reading “Long Story (Part Three)”

Making a Virtue of Adequacy (Part Two)

Continuing the story of the Ford Escort Mk1.

Image: automacha.com

The UK press launch for the new Escort in January 1968 took place in the exotic location of Morocco, a world away from the dreary British midwinter. Ford chartered a BAC One-Eleven jet to fly a coterie of journalists from the UK press and specialist automotive publications, putting them up in the newly completed Hilton hotel just outside Rabat. A fleet of more than thirty cars had been shipped over for the event.

Despite Ford’s largesse and the congenial surroundings, the assembled hacks were not wholly impressed by the new car, many examples of which displayed a number of faults such as excessive wind noise and driveline vibration. In one case, a gear lever spontaneously detached itself from the gearbox, while another car lost half its exhaust system on a test drive.

Writing about the launch in the Car Magazine’s March 1968 issue, journalist Doug Blain was inclined to Continue reading “Making a Virtue of Adequacy (Part Two)”


Two times three equals… thirty six?

BMW E36 3 Series. Marbella 2023. All images: The author

“It is always advisable to open with an arresting image to draw the reader’s attention”. The Driven to Write style guide is really quite unequivocal on this, and other matters pertaining to appearance and form, so given the less than top-notch composition of the lead photo, it’s probably just as well that the editor has been on vacation[1].

Shooting cars in the street, guerrilla fashion comes with its own set of challenges, both technical (I lack the relevant equipment and skillset) and situational (potentially having to Continue reading “Aide-Mémoire”

Beavering Away

Did it really require an explanation?

Image: silodrome

Editor’s note: To complement our current series on the Ford Escort, we are rerunning this article which first published on DTW in October 2020.

The 105E Anglia was not by any standards a bad car. In fact, it was rather a good one, especially by the reckoning of the time. It did however arrive at a somewhat inconvenient time. By this I mean a point when the tailfin was beginning its inexorable retreat into the history books, albeit one which would happen at considerably slower speed on this side of the Atlantic. Because not only did Europe arrive comparatively late to the tailfin party, it imbibed more lightly and made its effects last longer — in same cases, well into the 1970s.

The Anglia’s appearance was also somewhat inconvenient for rivals, BMC, who were themselves releasing an inexpensive small car into the marketplace the same year, leading potential customers to Continue reading “Beavering Away”

Ode To G — Part One

Seid umschlungen, Millionen! 

Image: Jalopnik

Where better than the Paul Ricard racetrack in the South of France to launch a box on wheels that will populate the urban environment for the next forty years? Before we skilfully avoid the rap artists and Terminator-spec modern day equivalents, we should rewind to the late 1960s in order to ascertain this model’s evolution — the Mercedes G.

The summer of ‘69 saw Sindelfingen management open discussions with Steyr Daimler-Puch AG (SDP), based in Graz, Austria. These early talks centred around a co-operation, looking at passenger cars, buses and off-road commercial vehicles. Initially, the impetus swung towards omnibuses and trucks. The light-duty but off-road capable Puch Haflinger was viewed as a possible Unimog contemporary. SDP went ahead building a chassis for a new off-road vehicle — codenamed Puch H II (Haflinger II). 

Mid-June 1971 saw three vehicles heading up the Sauberg Mountain, near Gaggenau, home of the Unimog. With respective board members observing, the Austrian products —H II along with heavier Pinzgauer — having already been extensively tested on the Schöckl mountain in Graz, gave the Unimog a fair fight. Impressed, Dr. Rolf Stein, Mercedes-Benz board member for exports signed the collaboration between the two companies the following week. His argument being both partners would Continue reading “Ode To G — Part One”

Doing the Business

BMW’s ‘Business Sedan’ enters a new era. 

Image: Bild via Time News

For two carmakers so often portrayed as being in diametric opposition, more appears to unite Bavaria’s BMW and Stuttgart’s Mercedes-Benz than separates them. Take their (once) core products for example. Both carmakers remade their post-Wirtschaftswunder identities with medium-sized saloons, recognising that catering to an emergent middle (and business) class was a more lucrative business model than the (slow-selling) plutocratic conveyances previously proffered[1].

In BMW’s case, the (New Class) 1500 Saloon of 1961 was to prove its lifeline and subsequent profit engine, a model which not only set the carmaker’s visual and conceptual template for over half a century, but would over time evolve into BMW’s most commercially significant — the 5 Series — whose eighth (G60) incarnation was officially announced last week[2].

The timing of this announcement is perhaps at least as interesting as the product itself, with BMW and Mercedes seemingly locked into a self-defeating race for market domination. So with Sindelfingen showing their hand in late April, it was clearly deemed necessary for Milbertshofen to Continue reading “Doing the Business”

What’s Up, Dok?

Driving across Sicily in a Chinese SUV

The Doktor. All images: The author.

‘Lahm, Kimmich, Götze’

The town square of Avola, Sicily, on a grey, brisk Sunday afternoon hardly resembles a bastion of exuberant Mediterranean joie de vivre.

Despite the town having lent its name to a well-known wine famous for its lush fruity notes, Avola isn’t the kind of place to inspire one to stand up and start a Tarantella. It’s sepia-hued through and through; derelict in a way that’s likely to preclude it from featuring in pretentious black-and-white postcards any time soon. There is beauty, but there also is far more decay. And on that Sunday, there is hardly an Avola citizen to be found, making for one remarkably gloomy afternoon walk. Continue reading “What’s Up, Dok?”

Long Story (Part Two)

Continuing our stretching excercises.

Images: collectingcars.com and the author

Peugeot 204 (1965-1976) / Peugeot 304 (1969-1980)

Launched in 1965, the Peugeot 204 was somewhat of a departure for the Sochaux carmaker whose output had thus far usually been rather conservative — especially when compared to Citroën. The 204 was the first FWD Peugeot, and also the first to have disc brakes at the front and independent suspension on all four corners. The styling by Pininfarina, while not especially ground breaking, was pleasant and modern.

The 204 was a belated replacement for the old 203 that had been discontinued in 1960. The 403 ‘Sept’, powered by the engine from the 203 with seven French fiscal horsepower (hence the name) was an alternative of sorts, but really a car of another segment. Notable also for being the first compact passenger car fitted with a Diesel engine, the 204 was a very good seller and led the French sales charts between 1969 and 1971 – a first for any Peugeot. Continue reading “Long Story (Part Two)”

Making a Virtue of Adequacy (Part One)

Sometimes ‘good enough’ is enough.

Image: viaretro.com

The winter of 1967 saw the unveiling of two new European saloon cars that simply could not have been more different in conception, design and execution. The first of these was the NSU RO80. Not since the launch of the Citroën DS in 1955 had anything so audaciously forward-looking and revolutionary caused such a wave of excitement and anticipation amongst those interested in matters automotive. Here was a car that looked shockingly modern and made everything else on the road, apart, perhaps, from a few exotic supercars, look like relics from the past.

There was substance behind the avant-garde styling, attributed to Claus Luthe(1): the car boasted an impressively low drag coefficient of just 0.355. The RO80 was no less revolutionary beneath its slippery skin: it was powered by a twin-rotor Wankel engine(2) with a capacity of just 995cc that produced maximum power of 107bhp (80kW) and torque of 101 lb ft (137Nm). That the RO80 could have been produced by an automaker such as NSU, better known for its small and outdated rear-engined economy cars, simply added to the sense of amazement. Continue reading “Making a Virtue of Adequacy (Part One)”

Exquisite Corpses

There can be no true beauty without decay.

Image: Paul Doyle©

Life is fleeting. The spectre of mortality hangs over each of us, our own personal sword of Damocles. This anxiety is a subliminal one for the most part, for to confront the inevitability of our ultimate destination is too troubling an image for us to comfortably dwell upon. And yet we still find ourselves morbidly drawn to art and imagery which depict death in all of its forms. L’appel du vide[1], the French call it. All roads inevitably lead to the grave.

Within the automotive realm, there too is a similar attraction, in this case to abandoned hulks of decaying automobiles. There is a poignant allure to such images; the often stark contrast between these one-time objects of desire and the entropic state which neglect and the passage of time has wrought upon them. All cars contain a narrative. Who owned these vehicles? What were their lives, their passions, their stories? Are there still some spectral remnants of these lived experiences held somewhere within these rusting carcasses? Continue reading “Exquisite Corpses”

The Ford Cortina Mark IV at Forty.

The quintessential Cortina.

Image: bildata

Editor’s note: To coincide with this week’s Cortina article, we are re-running the following piece, first published on DTW in October 2016.

The BMC Mini and the Ford Cortina represented two contradictory strands of the British character. Soon after its release, Ford, notoriously, took apart a Mini and realised what BMC hadn’t worked out, that each car sold would lose the company money. The blue oval wasn’t going to make the same mistake. Ford of Germany inherited the abandoned front-drive ‘Cardinal’ project from the USA to become the Taunus 12M, but Ford of Britain were having none of this fancy stuff and its ‘Archbishop’ (ho, ho) project was very, very conventional.

But what the first (Consul) Cortina did offer was a lot of up-to-date looking car for the money. Less well recorded is that BMC, returning the favour, bought a new Cortina, took it apart and were appalled at the bodyshell’s lack of torsional stiffness. But even had this fact been publicised, it’s unlikely that it would Continue reading “The Ford Cortina Mark IV at Forty.”

I Am a Camera

Observance isn’t necessarily confined to Sundays. 

Peugeot 408, Marbella – May 2023. All images: The author

What is a fella to do? You’re innocently making your way to the supermarket, or back from the beach and without warning, you’re confronted with what can only be described as a ‘photo opportunity’. Of course, there is only one course of action worth pursuing, especially if you’re overseeing a site like this one, and that is to Continue reading “I Am a Camera”

Doll, Russell and Maybach

What is good must also be beautiful — Wilhelm Maybach

Image: (c) media.mercedes-benz.com

As a member of the 21st Century ascendency you have become used to the finer things in life. Your cutlery is silver, your furnishings ornate and the staff just a bell push away. Luxury and ostentation is a way of life, so naturally, you demand your vehicle to announce this reality, to herald your self-importance. But rather than continue to state the bleeding obvious, we must Continue reading “Doll, Russell and Maybach”

National Treasure

The many lives of the Ford Cortina

1963 Ford Consul Cortina. Image: classiccarcatalogue

I wanna be your vacuum cleaner
Breathing in your dust
I wanna be your Ford Cortina
I will never rust
If you like your coffee hot
Let me be your coffee pot
You call the shots
I wanna be yours

This is the opening to the poem, ‘I wanna be yours’ by John Cooper Clarke, legendary post-punk poet and recording artist, first released on 1982’s ‘Zip Style Method’ LP. So influential has the Salford-based bard’s verses become over the intervening decades that I wanna Continue reading “National Treasure”

Book of the Dead – Dual-Ghia

Not to be confused with a Karmann-Ghia.

Image: mecum.com

For a brief moment, it was the car to have amongst the rich and famous in the United States: Dwight D. Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, Peter Lawford, Debbie Reynolds, Dean Martin, Lucille Ball, Desi Arnaz, Sammy Davis Jr. and Frank Sinatra — you get the picture. Ronald Reagan also owned one, but lost it in a high stakes poker game to fellow political heavy hitter Lyndon B. Johnson. Columnist and reporter of the rich and famous Dorothy Mae Kilgallen was moved to remark that a Rolls-Royce had become “merely a Hollywood status symbol for those who can’t Continue reading “Book of the Dead – Dual-Ghia”

A Promise Unfulfilled

The Jaguar I-Pace shone brilliantly, but briefly.

Image: motor1.com

Rarely can a car have carried such a weight of expectation at launch than the Jaguar I-Pace. It was first previewed in concept form at the Los Angeles Auto Show in November 2016 and the reaction was overwhelmingly euphoric. Designed in-house by a team led by Ian Callum, the I-Pace Concept successfully integrated Jaguar’s styling cues into a low-slung crossover coupé form. That automotive sub-genre had been around for almost a decade(1) but the I-Pace was radically different in proportions and stance to other such vehicles, many of which looked like regular SUVs with a (not always successful) roof chop. The I-Pace, with its ultra-long wheelbase(2) and cab-forward stance, was new from the ground up and, stylistically, very much the better for it.

Buoyed by the reaction, Jaguar moved quickly to bring the I-Pace to market and the production car was launched in March 2018, with deliveries beginning in June of that year. Wisely, Jaguar made only fractional adjustments for the production vehicle, and one would need a keen eye and tape measure to Continue reading “A Promise Unfulfilled”

Only Something, Nothing Less

A rather damning biannual vehicle roadworthiness test has spelled doom for Penelope the Peugeot, the much-loved family steed.

2002 Peugeot 406 1.8 petrol manual.

Although the only apparent problem involved a bit of noise from the exhaust, the vehicle inspector found so many faults he could not Continue reading “Only Something, Nothing Less”

The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie

Simca’s underappreciated mid-liner under the spotlight. 

Image: homemcr.org

Editor’s note: This piece first appeared on DTW in March 2017 as part of the Simca Theme.

The Simca 1300/1500 stepped elegantly into the Aronde’s shoes yet, despite good looks and strong sales, it never really escaped the rather ‘grey’ reputation bestowed by its casting as the universal anonymous saloon in Jacques Tati’s 1967 film Playtime. The casual seeker after knowledge might therefore too easily conclude that the mid-size Simca’s sole contribution to the advancement of the automotive art was the availability, in the estate cars only, of a Formica-faced boot floor which could double as a picnic table.

The reality is that it was a well-balanced product, both in engineering and style, for which Simca adopted ‘best’ practice, rather than joining the technological revolution which was sweeping through the car industry in the late fifties and early sixties, one which saw even conservative businesses like BMC, GM, and Rootes trying to Continue reading “The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie”

Mirage End I

The House of Brands needs no wolf nearby

Image: jaguarlandrover.com

JLR: A term used for years. Fits alphabetically, trips off the tongue. Their recently aired Reimagine reconfiguration thoroughly confused this author. Jaguar clearly heads the pack now. Land Rover demoted to initials, dropped like a stone. According to Professor McGovern OBE “Range Rover and Defender are the brands. We love Land Rover but that name doesn’t hold the other’s equity. In luxury you need absolute clarity.” Prof Gerry continued with “The Jaguar of 32 years ago is where we’re going back to — and it’s the right place for us to be.

I headed to the corporate website for (hopeful) clarification only to find this. Land Rover — vehicle and driver united by adventure. Jaguar (by 2025, not far away) will Continue reading “Mirage End I”

Coupé de Grâce

A 20th Anniversary present for the CLS: Death.

2023 Mercedes CLS. Image: Autoblog

Amid the seemingly unstoppable backdrop of automotive colossi crumbling amid shifting regulatory and market tectonics, the announcement last week from Mercedes-Benz that CLS production will cease entirely in August appears something of a sideshow. It certainly is not one to elicit a great deal of garment-rending, for the CLS has never been a car one could take all that seriously.

Perhaps one reason for this is that neither did its maker. This of course is a rather disingenuous statement to make, given that Mercedes-Benz by necessity has to take all of its model lines very seriously indeed, but it can be stated that the CLS model line did suggest a more casual visual approach from Sindelfingen — representing the somewhat unedifying sight of the otherwise po-faced Swabian carmaker loosening its shirt collar, shedding its suit jacket and metaphorically at least, Continue reading “Coupé de Grâce”

Sud by ‘Sud

Bringing it all back home.

All images: The author.

There is a quality about Italy and Italian cars in particular that brings out the romantic in us all – and as we know, often to our cost, romance often impels us to carry out impetuous acts. Like driving from Lüneburg in Lower Saxony to Naples in a 45-year old motor car for example. And not just any 45-year old car, but an Alfa Romeo. Why? For a nice photograph and more to the point, to take the car back to its birthplace.

Some of you might know that a 1978 Alfasud Sprint entered our lives in 2014, supplementing a 1990 Alfa Spider — now departed. We purchased the Sprint partially restored and in sound, fully roadworthy condition. And while it wasn’t exactly the Alfa Romeo we had been looking for, (I was after a 1750 Berlina), we’ve had no regrets since. It’s not a daily driver, but we use it as a normal vehicle several times a week.

It’s nothing special to drive an old car, especially as the Sprint drives just like a modern one, despite being 45 years old. Yesterday for instance, our 17-year-old neighbour’s boy (who is currently learning to drive) sat behind the wheel for the first time. His comment: “Yes, a bit easier than in the tank I’m currently learning in, but it’s got everything you need”.

But sometimes having everything you need just isn’t enough and having already taken the Sprint on a most enjoyable 4000 km ‘Tour de France’ in 2022, my wife and I decided to embark upon a more ambitious and romantic mission. To Continue reading “Sud by ‘Sud”

Long Story (Part One)

Now we’re stretching things.

Image: the author

It wouldn’t fly with the 21st Century car buying public, but restyling an existing vehicle by adding a few redone inches on one or both ends of the car, then selling the result as a new model under a different name (often while retaining the original rendition in the lineup) was a practice resorted to by several car manufacturers in the 1960s and 1970s.

Using a pre-existing base is, of course, less costly and, in those more naive times, enough potential buyers were either oblivious to the car maker’s sleight of hand, or simply didn’t care that the new model was not as new as it appeared to be at first glance. A selection of these cheap ‘n quick stretches will be covered in this series(1). Continue reading “Long Story (Part One)”

Missing the Marque: Jaguar XE and E-Pace

The scale of Jaguar’s failure in the vital compact premium market is now clear.

Image: stratstone.com

The car that established and defined the compact premium market segment was, I would argue, the 1982 BMW E30-generation 3 Series. There had, of course, always been sporting saloons from European manufacturers that were regarded as a cut above the mainstream, for example Alfa Romeo’s lovely 1962 Type 105 Giulia but, outside their home market at least, sales of such cars were always modest, hence they offered the benefit of exclusivity to their buyers. The genius of the E30 and subsequent generations of 3 Series was that they were able to sell in very large numbers while still remaining desirable and aspirational.

The E30 also benefitted hugely from the emergence in the 1980s of a new tribe of potential customers, the so-called ‘Yuppies’(1). These individuals were a product of financial markets deregulation that created a boom in highly-paid jobs in financial services on both sides of the Atlantic.

Yuppies were characterised as highly ambitious individuals who enjoyed the benefits of their new found wealth. They were also very competitive and status-conscious, so needed to Continue reading “Missing the Marque: Jaguar XE and E-Pace”


From the ridiculous to the… ridiculous. 

I like walking at night. There is a meditative quality to the endeavour —the mind drifts into neutral, you navigate by instinct and by curiosity — ‘where does that street lead, and what might I discover down here’? There’s a frisson to the streetscapes at this hour of night that appeals to the dramatist in me, but also the chance to Continue reading “Nightcrawling”

CAR is a Four Letter Word.

The quintessence of Golf.

Image: news18

Editor’s note: Today’s article is a revised version of a piece first published on DTW in 2017.

In 1974, a faltering Volkswagen crossed its metaphorical fingers and took a risky punt into the unknown. The Golf was by no means an avant garde product by early seventies standards, but nonetheless arrived slightly left of market-centricity[1]. And while it would be ludicrous now to suggest that it was to prove anything but a commercial success, there was no certainty at the time that this would be the case. In fact, it really wasn’t until its second permutation that the Golf truly began to dominate the sector it would later define.

Like most overnight successes the Golf’s rise to prominence masks innumerable false avenues and bitter reversals along the way, but today, its ubiquity makes for a slightly nebulous subject to pin and mount. After all, the Golf is a such an entity in itself, what is left to Continue reading “CAR is a Four Letter Word.”

係本田 Mobilio Spike

A Japanese delicacy, sampled in Hong Kong.

2002 Honda Mobilio Spike

You can enjoy  quite a few regional specialties in Hong Kong. They serve milky, sweet tea in ‘tea cafés’ and a pineapple bun accompanies this very well. Or try a Hong Kong-style French toast. Other local specialties, or regional specialties, are the JDM/emerging market cars that we don’t get in Europe. I am not saying all of these cars would be sure-shooting successes if sold here but it would be a little boon if Japanese companies could at least Continue reading “係本田 Mobilio Spike”

Philosophy in Unica 77 with Polstjärnan

Shedding light on Volvo’s electric off-shoot. 

Polestar 1. Image: volvopassion

As a recognised name, Polestar first came to light on the world’s racetracks in 1996, closely collaborating with Volvo. The race team, which had previously introduced official performance enhancements were entered into the Geely fold in 2015. The leap from tuner to manufacturer required a new tangent, one led by former Volvo Design Director, Thomas Ingenlath. “The automotive world is changing”, he offered at the time, continuing by stating, “Connectivity is a basic necessity. We embrace this and will Continue reading “Philosophy in Unica 77 with Polstjärnan”


An unfamiliar wind from afar.

Volkswagen Bora. Marbella: 2023. Image: The author.

What in the name of Piëch has been blown in on the Mediterranean breeze today? Something from the Adriatic, or maybe even further afield? Taken at first glance it’s simply a well preserved example of the underappreciated and increasingly rare Volkswagen Bora, but take a closer look and… now hold on a second! It certainly had me scratching my head in perplexity during my afternoon stroll last Sunday.

For all appearances, it seemed to be a curious hybrid[1] of Bora and successor-Jetta. Once successfully pinned and mounted, it then became a matter of establishing exactly what I had. The results of this, I’m forced to admit, remain inconclusive. But I’ll come back to that. Beforehand, we really ought to Continue reading “Blow-In”

Book of the Dead – Matra

To become a Henokien(1) is granted to few.

Image: the author

Now an exposition centre and museum, the factory in Romorantin-Lanthenay where once Matras were made started out as a spinning mill and weavery. Designed by the architect François Hennebique, it saw one of the earliest applications in France of reinforced concrete in its construction.

Owned by the Normant brothers, the business went very well for decades but saw a sharp decline after the end of World War Two. One of the main customers of the Normant factory had always been the military(2) so, when hostilities ceased, so did demand for uniforms. Forced by the arduous economical situation, in 1961 the Normants decided to Continue reading “Book of the Dead – Matra”

Dante’s Peak (Part Three)

Concluding the story of the Fiat 128 and its derivatives.

Image: serbiancarfans.wordpress.com

Italian production of the Fiat 128 came to an end in 1985, but the car lived on in modified form well into the 21st Century. The best known derivative was built in the former Yugoslavia by a division of Zastava, the state-owned armaments manufacturer. Zastava’s relationship with Fiat dated back to 1954, when an agreement was signed to manufacture the Italian company’s vehicles under licence at Zastava’s automobile plant in the city of Kragujevac(1). The most commercially significant of these was the Zastava 750 which, engine displacement apart, was largely identical to the Fiat 600. The 750 remained in production for thirty years until 1985.

By the late 1960s Zastava began looking for a more modern car to offer its customers and an agreement was reached with Fiat to Continue reading “Dante’s Peak (Part Three)”

A Matter of Standing

Altura del estilo.

Citroen C5 X. All images: The author.

Your eyes do not deceive you — this isn’t Cork[1]. Ireland’s second city does have its charms, but the weather isn’t one of them — not unless horizontal rain is your idea of meteorological bliss. Hence, today’s meditation finds us in more Southern (and far warmer) climes — Marbella to be precise. And while there is plenty to divert any visitor’s attention, either along the Costa del Sol, or inland, it remains for me, something of a (lately impoverished) car-spotter’s paradise[2].

Now, some of you might characterise this pursuit of automotive ephemera as being something of a busmans’ holiday[3], especially while nominally on retreat, but having been at this Driven to Write lark for almost a decade now, I’m not really certain I have the ability to Continue reading “A Matter of Standing”

It’s Not How Far You Fall, It’s the Way You Land

Sometimes a quantum leap is called for, but care is required.

Image: internationalbanker
Image: internationalbanker

Editor’s note: Today’s piece is a revised version of an article first published on DTW in July 2016.

“Evolution: /e-va-loo’ shan/ n  The cumulative change in the genetic composition of an organism over succeeding generations, resulting in a species totally different from remote ancestors.”

What we’re looking at here is a collection of what we now would term E-Class Mercedes generations, from the W120/121 Ponton, up to the 2016 (and about to be superseded) W213 series. But this image is not the point of today’s exercise. What I would like to do instead is to Continue reading “It’s Not How Far You Fall, It’s the Way You Land”

A photo for Friday: Cadillac BLS

This is a Swedish and, temporarily, Russian-made Cadillac based on a GM platform that saw service with Chevrolet, Saturn, Fiat and Opel-nameplates.

2005-2009 Cadillac BLS. Out there is a Russian-made American-branded car built off a Swedish and German base. This is not one of them. It’s in Denmark.

I have to say it’s easy to imagine the name BLS stood for something other than Business Life Sedan. Or did it stand for anything? If we feel like investigating further, the BLS is one symptom of all that was, and probably still is wrong with GM. But that line of inquiry is well-trodden: the criminal neglect of Saab, the maltreatment of Cadillac, the downgrading of Buick and the strange, unlucky short-term relationship with Fiat that funded Sergio Marchionne’s plans to Continue reading “A photo for Friday: Cadillac BLS”

Empire State

As a new generation dawns, we must prepare to bid farewell. 

Image: Autocar

All of the great marques can be characterised by one core model. For Mercedes-Benz, it has largely been what has become known as the E-Class, its heartland product since the 1950s. For most people born prior to the millennium, it is the car (a conservatively styled three-volume saloon or estate) that personified the brand, be it luxurious status symbol, taxi, or ‘lifestyle’ load-bearer. That it could in effect be any of those things spoke volumes of Mercedes’ reach and appeal. The E-Class (in the present tense) also very much the sweet-spot of the Mercedes-Benz car range, possibly its finest, most rounded current product.

Furthermore, given that the flagship Sonderklasse is, for most European cities and towns at least, now something of a leviathan[1], it is nowadays the E-Class which best represents Mercedes-Benz’s values and ideals. It has, this past generation at least, also represented the closest approximation to elegance of line to see the light of day from the Sindelfingen dream factory. For even if the W213 was no Mercedes design for the ages, the outgoing model was at least coherent, and in non AMG-line form at least, restrained. Continue reading “Empire State”

It’s A Mystery

It can lift you to the heavens 

Born, again? Image: automotobuzz

Regular parish disciples here know well my disdain for most things mathematical — this to my eyes being rather like knitting fog. Wayne Griffith, CEO of SEAT sub-brand, Cupra clearly sees otherwise. 150,000 Cupras were sold in 2022, generating profit margins of £158M for the group with a £9B turnover, the second largest in the (SEAT) brand’s 73 year history.

Mr Griffiths expounded Cupra’s virtues, “wanting half the group’s overall sales and 500,000 per year in the mid-term as we aim to become a top global brand by 2030.” His gaze is moving Stateside by “testing Cupra” there, Griffiths’ hope being that “the Americans will love Cupra’s design and (electric only) performance.” These potentially American bound machines will require further additions to the coffers, along with the VW Group’s larger SSP Platform. The vehicle we’re examining today however is not for that continent. 

The Born sits on the MEB Platform, shared with VW’s own ID3. The world was first introduced of the Spanish version at the 2020 Palexpo, known then as the SEAT El-Born. That particular vehicle being “95% production ready.” Then design chief, Alejandro Mesonero-Romanos described the car as “the ultimate translation of our emotional design language into the new world of electric vehicles. We have to Continue reading “It’s A Mystery”

Maximum Impact

The story of an automotive impresario.

Image: newsroom.porsche.com

Mercedes 300SL, BMW 507, Porsche 356 Speedster: if someone were instrumental in the creation of just one of these cars, their legacy would be assured in the annals of automotive history. Max Hoffman was an essential driving force behind all three, and more besides.

Maximilien Edwin Hoffmann (his actual name — the second ‘n’ in his surname would be dropped later) was born in Vienna in 1904. His father owned a bicycle factory, lighting the fuse of his son’s love to go fast with anything on wheels, and young Max became an enthusiastic amateur bicycle racer. Soon, however, he craved more speed and switched to motorcycles, then to what would become his greatest love, motor cars.

While still enjoying the occasional outing as an amateur competitor in motor racing, Max Hoffmann established a car import company in the 1930s, Hoffmann & Huppert. The company represented revered marques such as Rolls-Royce, Bentley, Alfa Romeo, Talbot, Delahaye and Volvo. It was there and then that Max Hoffmann discovered his true calling: he proved to be an excellent salesman, as well as persuasive influence on the car manufacturers his company represented. Continue reading “Maximum Impact”

Dante’s Peak (Part Two)

Continuing the story of the Fiat 128 and its derivatives.

Image: classicandsportscar.com

In 1971, Fiat introduced a mildly sporting version of the two-door 128 saloon called the ‘Rally’. This featured an engine enlarged to 1,290cc. Perhaps surprisingly, given how oversquare the original 1,116cc engine was, this was achieved by increasing the bore by 6mm to 86mm while keeping the stroke at just 55.5mm. A twin-choke Weber carburettor and slight increase in compression ratio raised the maximum power output to 66bhp (49kW). The Rally was fitted with servo-assisted brakes and an alternator in place of a dynamo.

Externally, the Rally was distinguished by front quarter-bumpers, spotlights, black stripes along the lower bodysides and a black rather than grey front grille. One expensive change was a new rear panel incorporating inset twin circular taillights, the latter sourced from the Fiat 850 coupé. Inside the Rally was equipped with additional instrumentation, comprising a tachometer, water temperature and oil pressure gauges. Continue reading “Dante’s Peak (Part Two)”

Grace Note

City, Jazz or Fit? How about Grace? 

Image: autoevolution

Like many English language words, Grace carries multiple meanings. Given the Japanese carmakers’ often approximate relationship with what must be for them, a veritable minefield of misappropriation and malapropism, it’s somewhat unclear exactly what, if any meaning Honda’s product strategists intended by so naming its B-segment sedan[1].

The Honda Grace is a car I had never heard of, let alone encountered until a couple of days ago, when confronted by an example nestled somewhat appropriately perhaps, in the car park of the local Catholic church[2]. After all, one takes one’s blessings where one can in this vale of tears. I must say that I was rather taken by its appearance, but despite having long put all religious observance behind me, I still felt slightly reticent about entering church grounds to Continue reading “Grace Note”

2015 Renault Clio Sports Tourer dCi Road Test

The Clio’s more useful, better looking brother. 

2015 Renault Clio dCi in the DTW garage.
2015 Renault Clio dCi in the DTW garage.

Editor’s note: This piece was first published on Driven to Write in April 2015.

I have a bit of a soft spot for small estate cars. DTW has tested the popular Renault Clio ‘Sports Tourer’ dCI which is a small estate car. What was revealed in the course of 361 kilometres?

The Clio has proved to be a successful entrant in the small car market and the estate version is as numerous (to judge by its ubiquity) as the ‘standard’ five door body. Is there a difference? Yes, one you can measure and feel. The estate’s maximum boot volume is 439 litres compared to the 300 litres of the normal car. Both models have the same wheelbase. With the rear seats folded down, the volume rises from 1038 litres of the standard car to 1277 litres in the ‘sports tourer’ or station wagon. You can see why people Continue reading “2015 Renault Clio Sports Tourer dCi Road Test”

Get up! The Sun Rises For Everybody.

The SpaceWagon is not all that renowned but this particular example might claim to be almost famous (at least in our circle).

Mitsubishi Space Wagon, Copenhagen.

DTW saw this particular car in Copenhagen at the very end of May. Since it exuded an intriguing banality, I decided would be a good idea to photograph it for an article. Much to my surprise I found the very same car featured in Curbside Classic on April 6, 2023. You can Continue reading “Get up! The Sun Rises For Everybody.”

Some Misunderstanding

Clio via Sochaux?

Image: (c) media.renault.com

If the seminal Renault 4 can lay claim to being the most popular Renault model ever[1] — and France’s best selling car of all time — Boulogne-Billancourt’s evergreen Clio can equally be considered the French Republic’s best-selling nameplate, with over 16 million built and sold since the model line’s inception in 1990. And not just in its home country either, the Clio has proven a resounding sales success right across Europe.

This level of sales significance, while not in the Toyota Corolla or Volkswagen Golf scale, is still mightily impressive. But whereas one can Continue reading “Some Misunderstanding”

The Bucket Seats, 82nd Variety

Bellicose bug.

Image: redrkracing

The Volkswagen Beetle was never intentionally designed with conflict in mind, but that didn’t stop the military taking an interest. Early 1938 saw the bellicose German Chancellor commission Ferdinand Porsche to produce a Beetle for the battlefield, with results appearing within a month. Given the Type 62 moniker[1], this version was essentially a Beetle chassis with rudimentary body, along with 19” wheels for improved ground clearance.

The German army stipulated a vehicle weighing no more than 950 Kg, laden with four infantrymen. Unladen, the vehicle was required to weigh 550 Kg and with its practically flat floor was intended to slide easily over almost any surface. Porsche sub-contracted the bodywork to Trutz, a long established coachbuilder, based in Coburg.

These hastily prepared vehicles were pressed into action with creditable results but such urgency soon exposed the inevitable shortcomings — the most serious being of all things, too much speed. Seen as a ubiquitous support vehicle, devoid of armour or weapons, the four speed manual Type 62 was deemed too fast for supporting infantry. Porsche returned to the workshop to Continue reading “The Bucket Seats, 82nd Variety”

Luxury Problem

Choices, choices…

Image: the author

It was not realised by many, except perhaps for the senior management of the troubled Packard company itself, but the 1956 model year would turn out to be the last that a customer looking for a large American luxury car could still choose between all four domestic manufacturers that traditionally served this field(1). Using illustrations from period brochures, we examine the models offered by Lincoln, Packard, Cadillac and Imperial for 1956.

1955 had been a record-breaking year for the domestic US car industry. The forced austerity and hardships of World War Two and the immediate post-war period were, thankfully, increasingly distant if still unpleasant memories. 1956 also proved to be a good year for the car manufacturers, although not quite as stellar in terms of sales numbers as the previous year and, within a year, the country’s economy would be suffering a recession. For the time being, however, things were just fine and putting a lavishly equipped, fast and confidently styled luxury car on their driveway was the ultimate ambition of just about every American driver. Continue reading “Luxury Problem”

Dante’s Peak (Part One)

Remembering a highly successful car from a company that was once an automotive giant.

Image: Fiat Auto

It is generally acknowledged that the honour of producing the first true mass-market(1) European B-segment supermini is most equitably shared between Fiat and Renault. While the Fiat 127 was unveiled first, in April 1971, it did not initially feature that essential ingredient, an opening tailgate, but instead had a conventional boot lid and fixed rear windscreen(2). The three-door Renault 5 followed in December of that same year, but its front-wheel-drive mechanical layout, featuring a longitudinally mounted engine with gearbox sited out in front(3), would not be adopted by any other supermini and, when the second-generation Renault 5 arrived in 1984, it featured what had by then become the supermini norm, a transverse engine with end-on gearbox.

Today, however, we are recalling a Fiat that predated the 127, but featured the same mechanical layout, the 1969 Fiat 128. Continue reading “Dante’s Peak (Part One)”

Past Perfect

A false dawn from 2003. 

Image: Autocar

Editor’s note: The original version of this piece appeared on DTW in February 2016. Today’s version reflects a re-evaluation of the 2003 concept.  

Over the four decades FIAT Auto was in control, it had been possible to obtain an insight to the health of the parent company’s fortunes by how much development resource was drip-fed towards their habitually impoverished Lancia division. In the early years of the new millennium, despite being heavily indebted and messily extracting itself from an abortive association with General Motors, FIAT seemed primed to Continue reading “Past Perfect”

Facelifts – Loewy’s 1953 Studebaker

You can’t polish a turd, but can you sully a diamond?

1953 Studebaker Commander Starliner. Image: carstyling

Editor’s note: This piece was first published in July 2014 as part of DTW’s facelift theme.

Once, whilst Europe was happy to go on producing the same identical model year after year until the dies got too worn out to function, the United States car manufacturers doggedly changed models every three years, with a facelift every year in between. Thus, any reasonable US car spotter will be able to identify the exact year of a Ford Thunderbird, first by the shape, then by the radiator trim or the rear lamps. Any domestic manufacturer who didn’t Continue reading “Facelifts – Loewy’s 1953 Studebaker”

I Say We All Sit Down and Discuss This, Shall We?

Here’s a taste of the late Clinton years and most of the Bush Junior years, the 1997-2007 Buick Park Avenue.

1997-2005 Buick Park Avenue, Savannah, Georgia.

I have to say I jumped a small jump of joy when I sighted this car last autumn on a short sojourn in Savannah, Georgia. The lighting is terrible but this was one of very few older Buicks I saw during my stay and I had to document it and, indeed, risk my health and well-being by deciding to Continue reading “I Say We All Sit Down and Discuss This, Shall We?”