More Equal than Others (Part Two)

Concluding our retrospective on the vehicles that served the Soviet apparatus of state.

1953 GAZ ZIM-12 (c) likegarage.com

Beneath the imperious ZIS and ZIL limousines, sat the ZIM-12, manufactured by GAZ* between 1950 and 1960. This was a full-size saloon with pleasant styling influenced by contemporary American designs. It was powered by a 3.5 litre in-line six-cylinder engine producing a claimed 95bhp and weighed 1.9 tonnes. Unlike its successors, it was notionally available for private citizens to purchase but its price, at 2.5 times the cost of the GAZ Pobeda mid-size saloon, put it out of reach of all but the most prosperous.

There was no significant development of the ZIM-12 during its decade on sale, but it was hastily renamed GAZ-12 in 1957. The ‘M’ in ZIM was a tribute to Vyacheslav Mikhailovich Molotov, the USSR’s powerful Stalinist Foreign Minister. When Molotov lost a power struggle with Nikita Khrushchev in May 1957 and was deposed, his Continue reading “More Equal than Others (Part Two)”

Curtain Call (Part 7)

A penultimate look back at unrequited automotive dreams from the former USSR and its COMECON satellites.

FSO Ogar. Image: Auto Swiat.pl

FSO Ogar, 1977

This four-seater Sports Coupé concept based on Polski-Fiat 125P mechanicals was styled by Cézary Nawrot. The rear end bears a faint
resemblance to the Alfa Romeo Junior Zagato, while the bumpers appear Volvo-esque, but otherwise the look seems quite original, if not exactly
beautiful to most eyes. The body was constructed from a laminate combination of epoxy resin and fiberglass.

An intriguing aspect of the Ogar is that the large bumpers and prominent sidemarker lights were fitted in order to Continue reading “Curtain Call (Part 7)”

Mezza Berlina

Fiat’s mid-Sixties compact saloon range was as convoluted as anything BMC could have contrived. Today we examine the 125 series. 

1967 Fiat 125 berlina. (c) wheelsage

Looking back through a dusty prism at Fiat Auto’s fifty-year old product planning decisions is unlikely to be fruitful – more likely to result in no more but a set of dubious assumptions and erroneous conclusions. Bearing this in mind and treading wearily by consequence, I propose we Continue reading “Mezza Berlina”

Under the Knife – Don’t mention the War

During its thirteen-year lifespan, Fiat’s D-segment saloon went under the knife on four different occasions, with varying degrees of success.

Take one. (c) autoevolution

The Fiat 132 was launched in 1972 to replace the 125 Berlina. The latter, although a pleasant enough car, had always suffered somewhat from the inaccurate perception that it was little more than a Fiat 124 in a party frock. Both cars shared the same doors and passenger compartment but the 125 had longer front and rear ends and an 85mm (3.5”) longer wheelbase, courtesy of a platform carried over from its predecessor, the Fiat 1500. This allowed the rear seat to be pushed back slightly to liberate a little more legroom. Notwithstanding the similarity to its smaller sibling, the 125 achieved over 600,000 sales during its five year production life.

With the 132, Fiat wanted to Continue reading “Under the Knife – Don’t mention the War”

A Raft Of Figures, A Wash Of Colour

Get ’em while they’re hot, they’re lovely…

(c) Carsite.co.uk

Everyone loves a bargain – conversations from Aberdeen to Ashby de la Zouch and beyond are frequently overheard concerning the used car game. Bought for a song! – maybe the deal included floormats, a tank of fuel (or these days, electricity.) Considering almost eight million used cars were documented as sold in the UK during 2019 – large numbers by anyone’s reckoning. Those pie slices get ever slimmer, according to the thousands of dealers attempting to bolster profit margins.

Figures mislead as easily as they inform, and our eyes can Continue reading “A Raft Of Figures, A Wash Of Colour”

Blues for Ceaușescu

Quai de Javel’s final act, or simply its slightly underpolished Craiovian cousin? We examine the Oltcit. 

Oltcit Club. (c) autobible.euro.cz

Given its geographical location, it probably wasn’t all that surprising that once-independent Romania would end up as part of Russia’s collection of Warsaw Pact satellites once the post world war II dust settled.

By the early 1970s, Romania’s communist government was led by Nicolae Ceaușescu. Outwardly an internationalist, acting with considerable independence from Moscow, the Romanian leader seemed intent on building up the country’s soft power, influence and economic strength on the international stage. However, for those inside the country, he was simply another self-obsessed, exploitative and repressive dictator.

As part of Ceaușescu’s plan to Continue reading “Blues for Ceaușescu”

More Equal than Others (Part One)

DTW recalls the vehicles that served the apparatus of state in the former Soviet Union.

Leonid Brezhnev in a 1962 ZIL-111G Parade Car (c) rusmed-forever.ru

One of the many paradoxes of the Soviet Union was its tightly controlled and rigidly hierarchical society. The Bolsheviks who led the 1917 Russian Revolution dreamt of an egalitarian nirvana where ordinary workers would collectively govern the country through grassroots councils known as Soviets. No more would Russia be ruled by a hereditary monarchy, aristocracy and wealthy capitalist business leaders, all exploiting the proletariat. Instead, the new leaders would be servants of the people, appointed to execute their collective will.

Of course, it did not work out like that at all. As early as 1917, the Bolsheviks established a secret police force known as the Cheka, to root out enemies of the people: counter-revolutionaries who would seek to re-establish the old order, or even those who, while broadly supporting the new regime, might seek to Continue reading “More Equal than Others (Part One)”

Beautiful Vision – Evolution of the Jowett Javelin (Part 6)

To the bright side of the road – The Jowett Javelin meets the world

Image: Jowett Car Company

In little more than a year, the Javelin emerged as a production debutante and established itself as one of the brightest stars of a reawakening British motor industry. Charles Callcott Reilly, Jowett’s swashbuckling joint Managing Director, had made an extraordinary effort to Continue reading “Beautiful Vision – Evolution of the Jowett Javelin (Part 6)”

Curtain Call (Part 6)

A further peek through the iron curtain, courtesy of Bruno Vijverman, taking in the GDR, Czechoslovakia, Poland and mother Russia herself. 

Trabant P610. (c) trabantegyegy.uw/ hupommerngreif.de

Trabant P610 1974

Powered by an 1100cc Škoda engine, this was yet another failed attempt, started early in 1974- to replace the old P601. Four P610 prototypes were made, of which at least one has survived. In November 1979 the SED
(Socialist Unity party of Germany) ordered Trabant manufacturer, VEB Sachsenring Automobilwerke to Continue reading “Curtain Call (Part 6)”

Tour de Enyaq

Making almost as brief an appearance at this year’s Tour as its stricken race director, Škoda gets its newest electric offering some valuable airtime.

(c) Skoda-Storyboard

Among the more familiar sights on each stage of the Tour de France is the presence of the race director’s red car (the colour is velvet red in case you’re wondering). This vehicle, in which the illustrious annual cycle race’s leading light holds court, (often with invited dignitaries aboard) leads the riders from the start line of whatever town or city has hosted that day’s stage, through the neutralised zone (where riders are not permitted to Continue reading “Tour de Enyaq”

Far-Sighted, or Visually Impaired?

The 2006 R-Class was a rare commercial failure for Mercedes-Benz. DTW asks if it was ahead of its time, or simply misconceived.

2006 Mercedes-Benz R-Class (c) honestjohn.co.uk

Over the past decade, the onslaught of SUV type vehicles has swept through the automotive market like a tsunami, pushing aside traditional formats such as the classic three-box saloon, estate and larger hatchback models. Even more recent innovations such as the monobox MPV have been rendered irrelevant by its irresistible rise. In the mainstream European market, anything larger than a B-segment vehicle now generally plays second fiddle to its SUV sibling, if it has not already been killed off by it. The premium marques’ larger saloons are still selling, albeit in reduced numbers as buyers Continue reading “Far-Sighted, or Visually Impaired?”

From Behind The Curtain Into The French Sunshine

Le Mans 1950 was a year for plucky outsiders, few more so however than this Iron Curtain entrant.

1950 Skoda Tudor at Le Mans. (c) theclassictimes

The Circuit de la Sarthe has been a Mecca for speed and endurance since 1923. History records the many who have attempted to conquer the 24 heures du Mans; from those dusty, wide boulevards of old to today’s billiard table smooth tarmac, and rightly lauds those victorious few.

But not every entrant can Continue reading “From Behind The Curtain Into The French Sunshine”

Bohemian Rhapsody

Like the 1975 Queen single, the Tatra 613 was big, bold and went on for a bit. But was it a stylistic pathfinder, or simply the end of a noble line? We investigate.

Tatra 613. Image: motor1

Kopřivnice is a medium sized town in the Moravian-Silesian region of Czechia and has been home for many years to the predominantly commercial vehicle maker, Tatra. Amongst the earliest auto manufacturers, the company was formed in 1850, but became a carmaker under the name of Nesselsdorfer Wagenbau-Fabriksgesellschaft in 1897, adopting the Tatra nameplate in 1919.

We tend to Continue reading “Bohemian Rhapsody”

Castle on the Hill

A retrospective on the German Democratic Republic’s less well remembered automotive marque.

(c) die-besten.de

Those of us old enough to remember the tumultuous events surrounding the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989 and the subsequent collapse of the German Democratic Republic less than a year later will have recollections of a time that seemed to be filled with hope and opportunity. Striking TV images showed thousands of East Germans flooding into West Berlin through breaches in the wall, either on foot or in their Trabants. So frenzied was the rush, so great the anticipation and excitement that not even the sound of David Hasselhoff’s singing* could drive them back.

The Trabant, with its Duroplast body made out of cotton waste and phenol resins and its smelly and polluting 500 cc twin-cylinder two-stroke, was emblematic of both the GDR and its industrial failure. There was, however, a less well known but rather more competent East German car for the masses, the Wartburg 353. Today, we Continue reading “Castle on the Hill”

Curtain Call (Part 5)

Uncovering more unrealised projects of the former USSR and its influence sphere.

Bosmal Beskid. (c) Dziennik.pl

Bosmal/FSM Beskid 106 – 1983

The Polish Bosmal research centre worked together with FSM on a few projects, one of which was the Beskid 106 – named after a mountain range in the Carpathaians. An up to date proposal for a successor to the license-built rear-engined FSM/ Fiat 126 was needed and Bosmal did not disappoint; styled by Krzysztof Meissner, the Beskid 106 presented in the spring of 1983 was more than contemporary.

Its drag coefficient of 0.29 was excellent, and the front-engined and front-wheel drive Beskid offered five person space within dimensions that were not much greater than those of the 126; seven inches longer, while its axles were twelve inches further apart. It did use the same 594cc two-cylinder engine, although a larger 703cc version was fitted to later versions. Development was halted in the late eighties, the most cited reason being that Fiat was going to Continue reading “Curtain Call (Part 5)”

Fifteen Years after LJKS

Fifteen years ago today LJK Setright departed this life at the age of 74. Bereft of his guide, one DTW writer looks at the years which followed, and considers how this extraordinary man might have viewed them.

Image: The author’s collection

Firstly, I will assume that the reader has some level of familiarity with Setright’s work. He was best known as a writer on automotive and engineering matters, but that scarcely defines him; polymath, autodidact, wordsmith, bebop clarinettist, classicist, libertarian, controversialist, modern-day Jehu, dandy, Ba’al teshuvah. I could go on…

His description of Frederick Lanchester: “The most accomplished gentleman ever wasted on the motor industry” could equally apply to Setright himself.

Even for those of us well into middle-age, the day in September 2005 when this other-worldly man proved to be as mortal as the rest of us seems long in the past, more so since Setright’s last column in CAR* appeared in February 1999**, and afterwards his output was sporadic and thinly spread. Throughout his time as a writer, Setright viewed the world with scant regard for the preoccupations and fashions of the day, and was never afraid to Continue reading “Fifteen Years after LJKS”

Death At One’s Elbow

It’s the circle of life folks…

Ferrari GTC4 Lusso. (c) automobile

There is, as perhaps you’ll notice, something of a ‘births and deaths’ feeling to our weekend proceedings. Yesterday we reviewed of some of the more significant new arrivals, while today, we don black armbands in doleful anticipation and bid a socially distanced adieu to three storied model lines, soon to Continue reading “Death At One’s Elbow”

Sense and Sensuality

Modern luxury collides with post-opulence. 

W223 S-Class. Image: gtspirit

With summer now officially over, and perhaps more in the spirit of hope than confidence, OEM carmakers are gradually returning to the business of product. This week amid the sudden outpouring of new announcements, previously squeezed and distorted through the narrow pipette of PR drip-feed, we are presented with two super-luxury land-yachts from differing echelons of wealth, privilege and position. Let us first Continue reading “Sense and Sensuality”

Economy Drive (Part Two)

In Part One, we looked at two of the old stagers from the Soviet era. Today, we consider two from the next generation. 

Skoda Favorit. (c) autoevolution.com

By the time the Škoda Estelle and Lada Riva were withdrawn from the market, their engineering was over thirty years out of date and both were hopelessly uncompetitive, selling only on their bargain prices. The countries of the Eastern Bloc realised that they needed to Continue reading “Economy Drive (Part Two)”

Electric (Tonka) Dreams

Andrew Miles plays with his trucks.

The sports truck does its thing… (c) Liebherr

I was five years old that Christmas when the bright yellow truck arrived – chunky tyres, opening doors and that tipper truck action – get me to a sand pit, now! Tonka toys were large, usually painted bright yellow and virtually indestructible. Since that time my interest into the real-life enormous dump truck has never waned. 

Think electric power is the preserve of cars future? Think again…

The Erzberg open cast mine, near the Austrian town of Eisenerz, is roughly forty miles northwest of Graz. They found stuff to Continue reading “Electric (Tonka) Dreams”

A Song For Erika

‘Simple is efficient’ the adline stated. But Ford’s 1980 Escort really was all about design. 

1980 Ford Escort Ghia. (c) curbsideclassic

Throughout the 1970s, the Ford Motor Company’s European satellite produced cars that were precisely what large swathes of the market not only wanted, but actively aspired to. This highly lucrative recipe was a combination of tried and trusted conventional engineering, slick marketing, a gimlet-eyed focus on product strategy and well judged, contemporary style.

First introduced in 1968, the big-selling Escort model was successfully rebodied in 1975. However, by the latter part of the decade, it had fallen behind, stylistically, but particularly on the technical side. With most of Ford’s rivals moving inexorably towards the front-wheel drive, hatchback layout, the blue oval needed to Continue reading “A Song For Erika”

So You Think You Can Race?

Racing CXs in the desert. What could possibly go wrong?

(c) Monamicitroen

Frequently, one can witness famous people on TV performing acts of a nature for which they profoundly lack the talent, relevant image or physical capability. A programme such as Dancing with the stars (or its local equivalent) is an example, as are those occasions where politicians, in a bid to appear ‘with it’, allow themselves be tempted to Continue reading “So You Think You Can Race?”

Economy Drive (Part One)

DTW remembers the once fraught and risky business of buying a second-hand car and recalls an alternative course for the impecunious.

Skoda 105 L ‘Estelle’. (c) Sunday Times

Before the introduction of effective consumer protection legislation and manufacturer-backed Approved Pre-Owned schemes, buying a used car was often a tricky and less than pleasant business. Even relatively new cars could harbour hidden problems beneath their highly polished paintwork. Franchised dealers seemed rather embarrassed to have to Continue reading “Economy Drive (Part One)”

2020 Vision.

We’ll have no shouting here…

Are you sure this is Cork? All images:  CB

Despite life returning to a semblance of normality around these parts over recent months, the sighting of 2020-registered cars remain something of a novelty. Of course cars have been registered – some having even been sold – but in a country where new car sales had already been in state of contraction before the pandemic swept all before it, the current situation facing the Irish retail sales trade must be sobering indeed.

One of the more superficial downsides to this is that sightings of new models, while normally a relatively frequent prospect, have been sporadic at best. Amongst the more recent arrivals to these shores is Opel’s current generation Corsa (none of your Vauxhalls in these parts), but to be honest, and in contrast to the (closely-related) Peugeot 208 which preceded it to market, it has been a comparatively rare sight.

During my twice-daily dog walking duties I Continue reading “2020 Vision.”

Sir Alec ‘Nose Best

Widely derided as a travesty of Issigonis’ original, but was the 1969 Clubman intended to be something more?

‘Honey, the Rover won’t start again – be a love and run me down to the station…’  Author’s collection

The Mini was wasn’t really styled as such – its body style simply a clothing for the technical package set out by its creators, with only the barest concession to style. Surprisingly, it worked, the car’s appearance proving relatively timeless, endearing and well proportioned. The problem was, it didn’t really lend itself to facelifting. By 1967, the Mini had yet to become legendary, to say nothing of iconic. It was just another product which had been on the marketplace for some time and would soon require more than the rather perfunctory nip and tuck it had just received.

Appointed head of the BMC car division in 1966, PSF chief, Joe Edwards quickly put into action a plan to Continue reading “Sir Alec ‘Nose Best”

Under the Knife – Rounding Error

Today DTW recalls the 1994 Ford Scorpio Mk2, a car that defies any attempt at rational analysis or explanation.

Not ‘conventionally handsome’… (c) autoguru-katalog

When Ford launched the Scorpio* Mk1 in 1985, it did so in five-door hatchback form only. This surprised some observers, knowing the resistance that Ford had faced to the hatchback Sierra three years earlier from conservative buyers who preferred the saloon format. Even more surprising was the absence of an estate version, given the popularity of the Granada estate in both Mk1 and Mk2 forms.

Just as with the Sierra, a three-volume booted version was added to the range in December 1989. Estate buyers had to wait until January 1992 for the launch of that version, which coincided with a facelift of the whole range. The facelift was a competent if relatively minor overhaul, comprising a smoother front end with larger light units and smoked tail lights with a matching filler panel at the rear. The saloon forwent the hatchback’s concealed C and D-pillars for a more conventional six-light DLO and was a handsome and imposing design. It was also well equipped and remarkably comfortable over long distances, making it an excellent executive (hire) car.

Then something very strange happened: Continue reading “Under the Knife – Rounding Error”

Cap 112 (180)

Sitting comfortably? Buckled in safe? Then we’ll begin…

(c) Drivingtorque.com

Since its inception in 1927, Volvo Cars has given the world a lot to think about. At least as safety-focused as Mercedes-Benz (but with added acronyms), 1959 saw the Torslanda-based car firm installing front seat three-point safety belts as standard, allowing free use to any other manufacturer, not that many took up the initiative.

A concerned friend of mine once amassed a comprehensive file of seat belt data, weighing up the pros and cons from dozens of firms back in the early 1960s. After weeks of cogitation, he spent a weekend fitting Irvine belts (initially a parachute manufacturer) to his Morris 1100, which gave sterling service. The file carried weight – influencing one of his employer’s directors to Continue reading “Cap 112 (180)”

Unfinished Sympathy

Sir Alec Issigonis’ great lost masterpiece, or last will and testament?

The only surviving fully engineered 9X prototype. (c) Daily Telegraph

During 1967, Sir Alec Issigonis approached his BMH* superiors, asking to be temporarily relieved of day to day duties so that he could devote himself to a new vehicle project, one intended to directly replace the Mini. Remarkably, his request was granted, particularly since this was no sanctioned model programme, merely a speculative one.

There are opposing rationales as to why Chairman, Sir George Harriman and Chief Executive, Joe Edwards agreed to Continue reading “Unfinished Sympathy”

Curtain Call – (Part 4)

More Soviet-era conceptual shenanigans, courtesy of Bruno Vijverman. 

Wartburg 313. (c) Stadtarchiv Eisenach

Wartburg 313-2, 1960

This little known sporty prototype in the Renault Floride vein was publicised with a photo in East German newspapers but never shown to the public at any motor show. Standing at just 50 inches tall it was quite a stylistic departure from the 311 and 313/1 models on the road
at the time.

The 313-2 was more modern under the skin as well- it had a monocoque body and coil springs on all four wheels. Powering the 313-2 was the same three-cylinder two stroke however, although here it was fitted with two carburettors increasing the output to 60hp. Continue reading “Curtain Call – (Part 4)”

The Man Who Broke BMC? (Part Four)

DTW completes its investigation into Sir Alec Issigonis’ career and legacy, and arrives at some conclusions.

Alec Issigonis, Technical Director of BMC in his office at Longbridge in 1959. (c) Wired

It is important to state from the outset that we make no insinuation that Sir Alec Issigonis was solely responsible for all the problems that beset BMC and, later, BL. The company’s failure was very much a collective one and there is plenty of blame to share around.

In the first instance, Leonard Lord, then Chairman of BMC employed Issigonis to replace Gerald Palmer, a talented and capable engineer with whom Lord fell out and summarily dismissed. Lord and BMC’s CEO, George Harriman, then promoted Issigonis to the post of Technical Director, a senior management position for which he demonstrably had none of the essential organisational, interpersonal or management skills.

This was extraordinarily ill-judged and the problems it created were exacerbated by Harriman’s excessively deferential attitude to BMC’s technical wunderkind after Lord retired and Harriman became Chairman and CEO of BMC.

A more astute leader might Continue reading “The Man Who Broke BMC? (Part Four)”

Strike a Pose

Getting the Mini message across – 1970’s style.

Image: the author

You can have anything you want in life if you dress for it.” Edith Head

The Mini received its third and most significant technical and bodyshell-related change in the Autumn of 1969. The Mark III Mini – and it was now simply that (with no marque-related branding whatsoever), lost the hydrolastic suspension fitted to it as a running revision in 1964, not to mention its more upmarket variants, in an effort to reduce costs (the Clubman was a separate model), but gained internal door hinges and winding windows, much to the disgust of the car’s now sidelined spiritus rector.

It would also be its last. All subsequent changes to the Mini (1980 A+ revisions notwithstanding), would be of the purely cosmetic variety. Such as in 1977, BL’s annus horriblis, and the year in which the Mini gained a matt black grille, larger rear lamp units, which included reversing lights, and cheerful striped fabric upholstery – on the Mini 1000 model at least. Stripes too were applied below the side windows. 850 versions however remained somewhat more austere, although the subsequent 1979 Mini City 850 would Continue reading “Strike a Pose”

A Right Pair of Nymphs

Designer, Tom Tjaarda took two very different bites at the Lancia Flaminia during the 196os. Only one however is truly memorable. 

topcarrating
1969 Lancia Flaminia Marica: (c) topcarrating

During the Autumn of 1969, carrozzeria Ghia debuted the Marica concept at the Turin motor show, a styling study based upon the platform of the Lancia Flaminia, a car which had already ceased production. Not only that, but its maker had also gone bankrupt and was desperately seeking a benefactor.

Enter Alejandro de Tomaso, a phrase which would be uttered with increasing regularity within the Italian motor industry over the coming decade or so. Having purchased carrozzeria Ghia in 1967, he is alleged to have sanctioned the Marica study as a means of assisting Lancia’s bid to find a buyer – a statement which sounds suspiciously altruistic for such an automotive opportunist as he. But we are perhaps getting a little ahead of ourselves. Allow me to Continue reading “A Right Pair of Nymphs”

Disappointment at the Ambassador’s Reception

The 1982 Austin Ambassador was a poorly executed attempt to update the BL Princess and was met largely with indifference in the market. DTW examines why the Ambassador was such a flop.

(c) leylandprincess

The old axiom that “You never get a second chance to make a first impression” may be literally correct, but that does not stop people trying. The British Leyland 18-22 Series is a case in point. It was launched in February 1975 under three different BL marque names, Austin, Morris and Wolseley, each distinguished with its own bonnet and front grille treatment, but nothing else in the case of the Austin and Morris versions. The Wolseley had a light dusting of the more upmarket fixtures traditionally associated with the marque, including its rather twee illuminated grille badge.

The 18-22 Series was a quite stylish wedge-shaped four-door D-segment saloon, replacing the spacious but frumpy 1800/2200 LandCrab. It was designed under Harris Mann, Head of BL’s Longbridge design studio. Despite its profile, it did not have a hatchback, but a conventional boot. At the time it was launched, BL insisted that its research showed this was what the market wanted, but a more likely explanation is that BL didn’t want to Continue reading “Disappointment at the Ambassador’s Reception”

Curtain Call (Part 3)

DTW’s Eastern Bloc party of stillborn concepts and prototypes continues.

FSO Warszawa Ghia and Syrena Sport. (c) Autokult.pl /Auto Swiat.pl

FSO Warszawa Ghia, 1957

In search of a suitable replacement for the dated GAZ/Warszawa M20, FSO enlisted Ghia of Italy to deliver a proposal. Designed under Sergio Sartorelli at a cost of US $62,000, this Warszawa Ghia was the result. Looking somewhat like a shortened Lancia Flaminia, the car had a pleasing and up to date look. FSO sent the car to its research and development centre to be stored until further notice. Apparently no action was ever taken to Continue reading “Curtain Call (Part 3)”

Evolution of the Crustacean

A Greek fable of a horse which was transformed into a crab. 

‘Those doors’ – conspicuous here by their absence. (c) hemmings

The public don’t know what they want – it is our job to tell them…” Sir Alec Issigonis.

Even as Britain entered the 1960s, product planning remained something of an alien concept to its native carmakers, the majority of whom viewed such matters as being the sort of recondite nonsense invented in the United States, and best left there. So too, in the eyes of BMC’s benighted Technical Director was the art of automotive styling, which which he famously once stated “tends to date a car.

It’s a timeworn nostrum that any creative endeavour is only as good as the brief which underpins it, and in the case of ADO17 (or XC9001), brought to market in 1964 as the Austin 1800, the brief appears to have been a somewhat confused one. Was the car to have been a direct replacement for the ‘Farina’ A60 series, or a larger, more overt statement car? That seemed to depend upon who one spoke to.

It appears extraordinary in retrospect that key decisions surrounding a model programme as important as ADO 17 were taken by those so poorly-equipped to Continue reading “Evolution of the Crustacean”

(Not So) Background Distractions

Andrew Miles is watching the detectives. 

(c) Imcdb.org

Watching television was once a simple act. As youngsters, the choice was scant, yet memory suggests programs containing both interest and drama. With modern day 24 hour, on-demand supply, choices of what and when to be entertained with often raise anomalies when one is forced to observe a production that might not be one’s first choice.

Attempting to Continue reading “(Not So) Background Distractions”

The Man Who Broke BMC? (Part Three)

The story continues: BMC struggles with the failure of the 1800 and Maxi, but Issigonis has moved on.

(c) curbside classic

The Austin Maxi was reluctantly launched by BLMC* in 1969 and was greeted with a similarly lukewarm reception to that given to the 1800. With its five-door layout, it was an eminently practical car, but it lacked any element of desirability and, as launched, was plagued with technical issues. Increasingly desperate, BLMC hurriedly cobbled together a conventional RWD saloon and launched it in 1971 as the Morris Marina. It sold well enough, on the back of conventionally attractive looks and simple, proven (if antiquated) mechanicals, but it was still very much in the shadow of the all-conquering Cortina from arch-rivals, Ford.

Conceptually, there was much to like about the Maxi, but Donald Stokes, now chairman of BLMC, would not sanction any serious remedial work, a disastrous decision for a car that had much potential. For his part, Issigonis appeared indifferent and simply abandoned the Maxi to Continue reading “The Man Who Broke BMC? (Part Three)”

Under the Knife – A Late Reprieve

2007’s X-Type facelift illustrated how one can do more with less.

(c) cargurus

Few cars are created with an unlimited budget – after all, such a bounteous situation is no guarantee of an inspired result. On the other hand, budgetary restrictions are rarely a recipe for a successful product either. Certainly, when Jaguar’s 2001 X-Type was being scoped during the latter part of the 1990s, the Ford-controlled British luxury carmaker wasn’t exactly awash with cash, even if by then they were at least making money rather than haemorrhaging it as they had been, only a few years earlier.

X400 (as the X-Type was termed at Jaguar) formed the core of the blue oval’s growth strategy for the leaping cat, aimed at catapulting the marque into the big league with annual sales in excess of 200,000 cars. A hugely ambitious programme, which also encompassed the refitting of the otherwise defunct Ford Halewood plant in Merseyside; this latter aspect ladling such costs upon the programme that anything less than total success would be viewed as failure.

With so much riding upon it, X400 had to Continue reading “Under the Knife – A Late Reprieve”

Death to the Mondeo

It’s now only a matter of time before Ford’s largest European car offering loses its uneven struggle against customer apathy. 

(c) caradvice

It’s all change at the blue oval, as our dear, departed Archie Vicar might have put it. The Ford Motor Company, it seems, has been rather busy of late, not simply rearranging the deckchairs by putting an end to car production in the United States, or announcing the breathlessly anticipated body-on-frame Bronco offroader, but shuffling the deck on the bridge to boot. Iceberg? What iceberg?

The dance of the two Jim’s has kept blue-oval watchers amused for months now; the word at ground level being that (former CEO) Jim (Hackett) hasn’t really lived up to expectations, but that (new CEO) Jim (Farley) is either (a) absolutely and without doubt the chap to steady the ship, or (b) the diametric opposite of the above. It really depends on who you Continue reading “Death to the Mondeo”

Definitely Not The Italian Job

To many observers, the Morris Ital marks the absolute nadir of the BL era. Today we celebrate the Ital’s fortieth birthday and reappraise this much maligned car.

(c) carandclassic

The story behind the Morris Ital is one of pure desperation on the part of its makers. Throughout the 1970’s BL wrestled with an outdated, incoherent, poorly built and often unreliable range of cars, terrible labour relations and an owner, the British Government, that was fast running out of patience with having to Continue reading “Definitely Not The Italian Job”

Curtain Call (Part 2)

Comecon in and enjoy part two of Bruno Vijverman’s trawl through the former USSR’s automotive waifs and strays. 

Moskvitch 1974 C1. (c) Wroom.ru/ Autodata1 com

Moskvitch C1, 1975

AZLK, or Avtomobilny Zavod imeni Leninskogo Komsomola – which translates as Lenin-communist Youth Union – sold its vehicles under the more palatable brand name Moskvitch (Moscovite). In February of 1975 the C1 prototype was readied in response to a demand for a successor to the dated 412 model. Under its SAAB-esque skin, the work of chief designer Yuri Tkachenko, still beat the 412’s 85hp four; the hump stamped into the driver’s side of the bonnet accounted for by the engine’s height. Sharp eyes may spot the Opel Ascona B headlights. Still, the C1 looked modern- sporting even.

The bad news however was that the C1’s underpinnings were carried over from the car it was intended to replace. One would expect to Continue reading “Curtain Call (Part 2)”

Saving The World, Volvo Style

Forty years ago Gothenburg tried its hand at an eco-car. It didn’t catch on. 

(c) Popularmechanics

Large scale manufacturers have the ability to try new technologies, regardless of their commercial non-success. On these pages we have read of countless millions budgeted for a non-starting project or concept, at the time heralding new automotive beginnings, only to forever reside within the confines of a museum. A historical artefact from a less well informed period.

One such previously unsung example being Volvo’s LCP2000 project. The Light Component Project for the year 2000 started life in 1979. After an exemplary twenty five career with fellow Scandinavian carmaker, SAAB, where he had input with the Sonnet, in addition to rally-driving and engine development (tied with being an executive), the ever genial engineer, Rolf Mellde sought a new challenge at Volvo.

The simple brief being to Continue reading “Saving The World, Volvo Style”

The Man Who Broke BMC? (Part Two)

We continue our examination of Sir Alec Issigonis’ BMC legacy.

ADO16 Press photo. (c) Autocar

While development of the Mini was progressing at Longbridge, the XC/9002 family car project, now carrying the ADO16 development code, was initiated. Issigonis envisaged ADO16 in very much the same austere style as the Mini, simply larger and with four doors. A prototype Big Mini was built at Longbridge and shipped to Cowley for further development.

Issigonis visited Cowley regularly, but was still a step removed from the detail development work overseen by Charles Griffin, who headed the ADO16 engineering ‘cell’, so he had much less opportunity to Continue reading “The Man Who Broke BMC? (Part Two)”

Curtain Call (Part 1)

You don’t know how lucky you are…. Commonly believed to have been an automotive wasteland, but in fact a hotbed of innovation and inventiveness – Bruno Vijverman goes back to the USSR.

Moskvitch C1. (c) Forocoches.com

From establishment until its dissolution at the end of 1991 the USSR, with its highly centralized government and economy, kept its subjects in check under a stifling regime of five-year plans (pyatiletka) and widespread collectivisation. Stray too much – or too often – from your allocated path within the one-party state system and you risked intimidation, re-education, arrest or worse.

Such an environment of course was hardly conducive to creativity or self-deployment; at first sight this would also seem to be reflected in the vehicles that the (relatively) lucky few were allowed to own, assuming they could Continue reading “Curtain Call (Part 1)”

Sighting and Seeing

A Laguna Coupé ought to be both a rare and welcome sighting. But it doesn’t do to look too closely. 

Image: the author

The Renault Laguna, especially in its third and final iteration was a popular car in Ireland. Not popular in Passat or Avensis terms, but sold in quite respectable numbers nonetheless, notwithstanding Irish motorists’ long-standing distrust of the larger offerings from our esteemed French neighbours.

This was all the more surprising really, given the frightful reputation its immediate predecessor earned over its lifespan – riddled as it was by electronic gremlins which cost the carmaker dear, both in market share and in warranty costs. But then, Renault’s Irish importers were (perhaps through grim necessity) somewhat generous when it came to sales incentives. Continue reading “Sighting and Seeing”

New Broome

The 1970 X6 Austin Kimberley and Tasman ushered in a fresh start for British Leyland’s Antipodean outpost. But it would prove a short-lived one.

Even prior to becoming part of the British Leyland conglomerate, the BMC motor company was not renowned for making astute product decisions. Certainly, from the point when the ADO 17 (Landcrab) series was introduced, little or nothing to emerge from Longbridge was entirely fit for its intended purpose. ADO 17 entered the UK market in late 1964 as the Austin 1800 (its identical Morris equivalent arrived a bewildering two years later) and was met with a decidedly lukewarm reception from the domestic market, who were not clamouring to Continue reading “New Broome”

The Man Who Broke BMC? (Part One)

Did a brilliant but uncompromising engineer sow the seeds of BMC’s downfall?

Sir Alec Issigonis with the result of the XC9000 programme. (c) BMIHT

Sir Alec Issigonis was undoubtedly a brilliant and visionary engineer. He was also, allegedly, imperious and autocratic, and highly intolerant of what he perceived to be interference or compromise. Latterly, it has been suggested that BMC’s failure to manage Issigonis effectively and channel his engineering talents to produce motor vehicles that were both desirable and profitable was a significant factor in the company’s ultimate commercial failure. This is the hypothesis we will examine in this series of articles.

Issigonis was born in 1906 in the Greek port city of Smyrna, (now called Izmir and part of Turkey). Greek by birth, he also enjoyed British citizenship because of his father’s naturalization while studying in London in the closing years of the 19th Century. Following his father’s death, Issigonis and his mother moved to London in 1923, where he studied engineering. He initially worked as an engineer at Humber, in his spare time competing in motorsport. His first racing car was a supercharged Austin 7 Ulster with a heavily modified front suspension of his own design.

Issigonis’ success in racing brought him to the attention of the Austin Motor Company, and he was invited to Continue reading “The Man Who Broke BMC? (Part One)”

It’s Squirrel, Actually.

Sounds odd, doesn’t it? And so it should! Who would’ve thought the thuggish American grey squirrel could do some good?

“Don’t sneeze”. (c) Images.complex.com.

Artwork has been around since man first walked the earth, from those basic but enigmatic cave paintings through innumerable differing themes, spheres and periods. Prior to the automobile entering the scene, the largest canvas one could expect to become embellished by a more detailed approach might have been a carriage, steam engine, a wagon or the mighty locomotive. With these large expanses to adorn, you could really personalise, promote your product.

JJ Deal of Janesville, Michigan was the producer of fine wagons, carriages and buggies powered by natural horsepower. From 1845 Deal swiftly gained a reputation for building not only quality products but also a highly detailed paint finish. Deal’s Chief Striper was a fellow named Andrew Mack. A perfectionist, Mack was never completely satisfied with the quality or performance of his paints and brushes whilst working at Deal, seeking better products and methods in which to Continue reading “It’s Squirrel, Actually.”

Beautiful Vision – Evolution of the Jowett Javelin (Part 5)

In the face of extraordinary challenges, Gerald Palmer’s vision becomes reality.

Happy days ahead Image: Jowett Car Club

As the hand-built prototype Jowetts pounded the roads of Eastern England and war ended, the intrepid Yorkshire company faced new challenges of recovery and reconstruction. In March 1945 the entrepreneur Charles Clore bought out the Jowett brothers’ holdings and thereby took control of the business. The new capital was welcome, but Jowett was no longer a family firm, and the new master would soon Continue reading “Beautiful Vision – Evolution of the Jowett Javelin (Part 5)”

Earl’s Take On Nature

The Artistry of the 1920s has been widely and lovingly depicted, but colour has been more notable by its absence. Although not entirely. 

All images: The author.

The human mind sometimes works in mysterious ways. Because until relatively recently the fact that photography and film originating from the late 19th and early 20th century was black and white, subconsciously the idea that the world presented in those pictures was one bereft of colour often took hold in our brains, even though we of course knew better in our hearts.

The rediscovery of the amazing body of work by French philanthropist Albert Kahn and his colour photographs using experimental autochrome plates – the oldest ones dating back to 1909 – has done a lot to Continue reading “Earl’s Take On Nature”