Avida Dollars

Of Dali’s car, peppermills and ice cubes.

Image: wikiart.org

Filing the coffers is the name of the automotive game, be it through finance incentives, software investment or the plain shifting of tin. Of course, entrepreneurial spirit lies strong within the field – new avenues to pursue, lucrative boulevards to not only build but furnish, to the delights of old and potential customers alike. These can take many forms, especially when one combines celebrity and the historical record.

When one is a self-described (and wealthy) genius, allowances can curve toward the over exaggerated. Take the moustached dreamscape decorator, Salvador Dali. A marketers dream, then as now, the artist never drove a car, yet became absorbed by the American luxury only Cadillac could deliver.

Not obsessed with the motorcar per-se, for Dali, the looks of the car either dismayed or delighted – the technicalities were of no concern. Having had a great deal of success with the de Luxe, General Motors, on asking for Dali’s input, received his request to Continue reading “Avida Dollars”

A Gilded Cage?

Is Land Rover overawed by its own success?

Spot the imposter. Images: Land Rover Media.

Range Rover’s success over the past two decades in establishing itself as the pre-eminent manufacturer of luxury SUVs is truly remarkable, particularly when one considers JLR’s chequered and occasionally traumatic ownership history. British Leyland, BMW and Ford all attempted to impose their plans on the company, with decidedly mixed results. It was only in 2008, when JLR was acquired by Tata Motors, a subsidiary of the giant Indian industrial conglomerate, Tata Group, that the company finally enjoyed both the financial stability and management autonomy to Continue reading “A Gilded Cage?”

Cute Car Hall of Fame – FAB 1

Mr. Kearne reveals his softer side.

Fab 1 Crop
Image: IMCDb

This article was originally published as part of DTW’s Cute theme in April 2014.

I’ve asked myself if I can think of a large car that is cute and, at present, can only think of one, but perhaps that is because this particular vehicle will always have a dominant place in my memories. In the late Seventies, I filled in for the European Motoring Correspondent on Soldier Of Fortune magazine when he was unavoidably detained for several months by the German security services. Apart from it being the introduction to my beloved Alvis Stalwart, when I tested one for the ‘Used and Bruised’ feature, that time also has more tender memories for me.

Today I Continue reading “Cute Car Hall of Fame – FAB 1”

Muddy Boots Welcome Here

Our Sheffield correspondent likes it dirty. 

Image: The Editor

The tyres on everyday road going cars must endure many hazards, from the self (but more likely garage-induced) under or over-inflated pressures to sharp detritus. Heavy acceleration and braking all take their toll. But there’s only one substance that can enhance the look of a tyre – that’ll be mud.

My local environs is covered in the stuff. Washed off fields from endless rain, copiously blended with horse manure, along with the fleets of tractors passing by, the tarmac is more likely to be brown than black. ‘Tractor Splat’ can most commonly be found right on your line of enthusiastic attack for the next corner, leading to a fast moving steering wheel and raised systolic readings for those wearing a fitbit or similar. The farmer may Continue reading “Muddy Boots Welcome Here”

How the Dreams Stopped

Twenty-two years of Citroën XM ownership comes to an end.

1990 Citroen XM SEi. All images: the author.

Two decades account for about two-thirds of my time on earth so far.  How began this span? In Billericay, Essex where an unseen driver, who suddenly wanted to Continue reading “How the Dreams Stopped”

Independent Diptych (Part One)

Clever innovation from the smaller American automakers.

Image: the author

With pockets much less deep than those of the US ‘Big Three’ automakers, independent American manufacturers needed to be clever and creative to come up with new cars in response to an expanding market as the 1960s dawned. Studebaker’s solution was to use the mid-section of its existing full-size sedan that dated back to 1953 as a base, while American Motors resurrected a model, albeit with several updates applied to it, that it had discontinued years earlier.

One notable advantage of this forced strategy was that it enabled both companies to Continue reading “Independent Diptych (Part One)”

Modern Family [Part Five]

Super Mini or simply a better Mini?

Morris 1300 GT. Image: Classic Car Catalogue

For a car which would become their most commercially important product, the BMC motor business took a rather quixotic approach to ADO 16’s furtherance, with initial production being restricted to BMC’s Cowley plant where it was built (for almost a decade) alongside the car it had been intended to replace[1]. But as potential customers hungrily clamoured for delivery, it would remain some considerable time before the carmaker found itself capable of balancing demand and supply[2].

It has been well documented that BMC sold the Mini at a price which allowed for little meaningful profit, yet it would appear that with ADO 16, they simply repeated the error, selling the 1100 on similarly tight margins[3], which given its technical superiority, its lack of genuine domestic rivals and the pent up demand for the car, appears almost wilfully irrational. And while later, more upmarket models may have aided profitability, there were too many of them and as explored previously, they were not a cost-effective means of resolving the issue.

Throughout its lifespan, BMC management appeared to take the 1100/1300 series’ success for granted, allowing themselves to Continue reading “Modern Family [Part Five]”

Ain’t No Spin Here

Does your bow tie revolve?

Image: Autocarsindustry

Inspiration arrives in many forms. In today’s story, mystery, elements of sophistry and in this instance, anaglypta and food all play their respective parts as we peer into the entomology of a globally renowned car badge, yet one with an indeterminate history. Some believe that the badge is in fact a cross, stylised over generations, but the only genuine certainty is that Chevrolet’s badge is indeed a bow tie, although how this came to be is subject to one of four possible permutations.

The first of these suggests that company co-founder William Crapo Durant introduced the bow tie motif onto his cars in 1913, two years after the company’s inception. One simple but uncorroborated story involves the Swiss chap whose name went on to emblazon millions of vehicles over the intervening years – Louis Chevrolet. Possibly as an homage to the drapeu de la Suisse, it seems a blatantly obvious connection until one realises that Louis had left the company by 1915.

An altogether more elaborate reasoning stems from a story centred around a newspaper advertisement that Durant is said to have viewed in 1912, as related by Catherine Durant to interviewer Lawrence R. Gustin some years after her husband’s passing. On vacation in Hot Springs, Virginia, Durant noticed a bow tie emblem featured on another altogether different product – Coalettes, a refined solid fuel. Considering it to be suitable for his cars, he exclaimed to Catherine, Continue reading “Ain’t No Spin Here”

Folie Française

An Anglo-French automotive curiosity remembered.

Image: ranwhenparked.net

Over the past fifty years, the global automotive industry has witnessed an ongoing consolidation to the extent that it is now largely under the control of a handful of major players(1). The reasons for this are all economic: the costs associated with the design and manufacture of a new motor vehicle are now simply enormous, given the raft of fitness for purpose, safety and environmental regulations and legislation with which any new model must comply. Moreover, the product liability implications of putting into the hands of the public a machine that could be potentially deadly to themselves and others are truly terrifying. Only a lunatic and/or a genius(2) would now Continue reading “Folie Française”

Take My Hand and Let’s Walk Down Church Hill

Automotive design research can veer sharply between the obvious and the obscure.

A warm-coloured Ford C-Max seen recently in Nordrhein-Westfalen, Germany. All images: the author.

What would a lay-person get from this recent bit of research? Its title is ‘Identifying sequence maps or locus to represent the genetic structure or genome standard of styling DNA in automotive design’. Ideally an academic article title is supposed to clearly state what the text deals with. That then makes the reader feel unstoppably compelled to put down whatever they are doing and just run to Continue reading “Take My Hand and Let’s Walk Down Church Hill”

I Care About Lines

A soft day for a first sighting.

Editor’s note: This piece was written and first published on DTW in August 2018. All images via the author.

While the remainder of Europe desiccates amidst the most protracted heatwave of recent times, here at that question mark of a landmass at the Atlantic’s cusp, a more habitual form of summer has returned: Leaden skies, horizontal mist and high humidity.

But you didn’t come here to Continue reading “I Care About Lines”

Feeling Like a Spare Part

You find us today in pieces and parts.

Image: tradekey

I bid you dear reader to recall the chastisement you once received from your parents, irate at the bomb site you’d made of the room as you built that model car, tank or plane. This usually plastic model kit required careful assembly, with precision and adjustments, where necessary. That missing, vital piece which caused untold distress, the carelessly applied glue which resulted in delays and rectification – the admiring glances over coming months of a job well done.

Assembling a modern motor vehicle is in essence little different to the description above. Components, sub-assemblies, fasteners, grommets; any typical car is made up of hundreds if not thousands of the things. The assembly plant merely has to Continue reading “Feeling Like a Spare Part”

Not Leading by Example

An innovative but unapproved plan to build a flagship Citroën XM convertible.

Image: Koninklijke Hoogovens

After Citroën officially withdrew from the US market in 1972, an independent company called CX Automotive commenced unofficial imports of the CX model, much to Citroën’s annoyance. When the CX was replaced by the XM, the company, now renamed CXA, began imports of the new model and embarked on an ambitious plan to enhance the prestige of the XM by creating a convertible version via an innovative construction method devised in The Netherlands.

The seeds of the idea were sown in 1985, when CXA approached French carrossier Chapron to Continue reading “Not Leading by Example”

Modern Family [Part Four]

Taking on the world

Image: quattroruote

A true test of any successful product design is whether its popularity can be replicated outside of its country of origin, where tastes, loyalties and latent patriotism, for instance, tend to count for less. The immediate success of BMC’s 1100 within the home market was both justified and understandable, but not only would it prove popular elsewhere, it could be argued that ADO 16 would become as close to a world car that the organisation would create.

Sold in almost every continent, and assembled in fourteen distinct countries[1], the 1100/1300 it seems made friends everywhere, with perhaps one exception – a former British colony which would prove impervious to its charms. North America had already proven a difficult nut for BMC to crack throughout the 1950s, with efforts to Continue reading “Modern Family [Part Four]”

Norman and Nigel of the Forest

Ringing in the changes.

The birds-eye airliner grille motif has to be a first? Image: mad4wheels

Having enjoyed[1] the sinuous ribbon of tarmac known to all and sundry as the Nurburgring from both front seats of such esoteric machinery as a 5-litre TVR Chimaera, an 1983 Audi Quattro, a Mazda RX-8 and a Porsche 911SC from 1987, you might think your author qualifies to wax lyrical about the Green Hell, as Jackie Stewart famously termed the place. Think again. These events were spaced out over a period of several years and no matter how many YouTube videos one peruses, once the helmet’s on and the barrier rises (€25 per lap Monday to Thursday – €30 Friday to Sunday, when open to the public), most of the experience degenerates into a frenzied blur. As competent as one might feel behind the wheel, I never troubled Timo Bernhard’s 5:19.5 lap in 2018.

In fact the Nordschleife, whilst beguiling, has become something of a bore; reading of yet another manufacturer launching a ‘honed at the Ring’ model, one feels compelled to Continue reading “Norman and Nigel of the Forest”

Keeping it Real

Musings on the US automotive landscape.

Image: the author

I am writing this on our flight home from Chicago after spending ten most enjoyable days exploring the city and surrounding areas. Chicago is one of the great American cities and, with so much to see and experience, it is well worth a visit. Over the past thirty-something years, I have had the opportunity to travel to the US many times for both business and pleasure. One of my abiding fascinations is the country’s automotive landscape and how it has evolved over these decades.

When I first arrived on those shores in the late 1980s, the US car market was still dramatically different to its European equivalent, thrillingly so for a car-obsessive like me. Despite the downsizing precipitated by the 1973 fuel crisis, there were still plenty of US-manufactured ‘land yachts’ traversing the streets of the big cities and the country’s broad highways. American cars retained their highly distinctive style amongst a plethora of different marques, each with its own signature design features. Continue reading “Keeping it Real”

I Wasn’t Hiding But Somehow You Found Me

However much space there is in the boot of a car, your family always want to take 3% more. So why don’t they make boots 3% bigger?

Researcher M. Hruska looked into the things that the average driver was concerned about when assessing luggage compartments. He found that given the importance of the luggage compartment it was necessary to Continue reading “I Wasn’t Hiding But Somehow You Found Me”

Boys of Summer

The past steadfastly remains a foreign country.

ford-thunderbird
Image: carsinvasion

Editor’s note: A version of this piece was originally published on DTW in May 2018.

Don Henley’s 1984 Grammy-winning hit single, Boys of Summer was a meditation on reminiscence and regret. It plays on the slick US West Coast values of the lyricist’s Eagles[1] heyday, deftly subverting its MOR rock sheen to underline more mature themes of ageing and loss. The track was not only a sizeable success in the US and elsewhere, but gained Henley a critical credibility he had perhaps hitherto lacked. After all, looking back to the past can be instructive, and in some cases, a virtual necessity. However, true folly lies with those who attempt to Continue reading “Boys of Summer”

Viking Italianate

Norse legend via Turin.

Image: archivioprototipi.it

Love affairs can be fickle. Within the car industry, bed hopping is almost as natural as tightening nuts. The longevity of such associations is often a factor of money as much as talent, for matters of taste do not necessarily equate to success. As we have seen in a previous instalment, Volvo had given Fissore and Zagato short shrift, only to seek out one of their lesser-known rivals, Coggiola. Whether Gothenburg had been influenced by the carrozzerias’s previous Exemplar concept is unknown, but more likely it was their work with Trollhattan natives, Saab[1].

Unveiled at the 1971 Paris auto salon, the Volvo ESC, also known as the Viking was a fully engineered concept. Described as ‘the successor to the 1800′, a sobriquet that may have been wide of the mark, even if the original Pelle Petterson design was by then widely considered something of an obsolete Viking itself. Something of a show pony, Coggiola worked expressly on the bodywork and interior, leaving the oily bits untouched.

With a styling theme broadly similar to that of the GM-based Exemplar, Coggiola was asked to Continue reading “Viking Italianate”

A Census Taker Once Tried To Test Me

SEAT’s skunkworks sports car.

Image: forocoches.com

Sociedad Española de Automóviles de Turismo, more colloquially known as SEAT, was established in 1950 and for decades produced, with a few exceptions, virtual carbon copies of Italian Fiats until the partnership ended in 1982. In the period before Volkswagen acquired a majority shareholding in 1986, SEAT introduced the Giugiaro-styled compact Ibiza which, while still using many Fiat Ritmo elements in its underlying platform, is considered the Spanish firm’s first true post-Fiat product.

Before the Ibiza, however, there was the 1200/1430 Coupé, affectionately nicknamed the ‘Boca negra’ because of its distinctive black snout. This was a car mostly developed by SEAT and first seen in concept form at the 1970 Turin motorshow as the NSU Nergal prototype, styled by Aldo Sessano. It is much sought-after today by aficionados of the SEAT marque. Continue reading “A Census Taker Once Tried To Test Me”

Modern Family [Part Three]

Harriman’s Ladder.

Image via ebay

Amongst the more striking aspects of BMC’s front-driven family of cars – if we set aside for a moment their technical courage – was the stark modernism of their design. Whether the Issigonis-inspired ADO series should be considered part of a design movement which would permeate the UK as the Sixties progressed – in architecture, product design, furnishing and in tentative forays amid the domestic automotive domain is perhaps a matter for more learned minds, but it nevertheless required a leap of imagination to Continue reading “Modern Family [Part Three]”

Livin’ It Up

Quiet flight, by Lincoln.

Image: ablogtowatch.com

Softness: increasingly difficult to find in this harsh world. Interiors can cosset but can an entire car be defined as soft? Practically 2.3 tonnes of metal, glass, plastics and leather suggests otherwise, but Dearborn’s luxury arm begs to differ. Lincoln, until recently home to stately sedans have chosen to park that genre for vehicles of a physically larger nature – taking a more tender route – if one which only those in the US and selected regions can sample. 

In an ever-competitive luxury marketplace, the new for 2022 Aviator  sees Lincoln up the ante in a most restful manner. Aviator can be optioned with air glide suspension where the car bows to greet the driver or assist with loading – the area lit by what the maker dubs a welcome mat, along with headlights that greet your appearance. For such a well mannered and relaxing-natured car, should it surprise that the interior contains 28 speakers? If only perhaps to Continue reading “Livin’ It Up”

Boxing Clever (Part Two)

Concluding the story of the 1982 Citroën BX.

Image: motorpassion.com

Following a successful launch, the BX sold strongly, although there were some early build quality issues that were overcome during the first year of production. A year after launch, the BX range was augmented with the addition of a Break estate version. Production of the estate was outsourced to the French coachbuilding firm Heuliez.

Unusually, the estate retained the hatchback version’s rear passenger doors. This was problematic in that the hatch featured a roofline that fell noticeably towards the rear of the car, and the rear door window frames followed suit. However, in order to maximise load capacity, the estate, although only a little taller overall, was instead given a horizontal roofline. The solution was slightly makeshift: the estate’s additional rear side windows were mounted higher than the rear door windows, with long horizontal air vents below them. The mismatch was partly disguised by satin black trim and paint surrounding the DLO on all but the base versions, where it was readily apparent. Continue reading “Boxing Clever (Part Two)”

Franco-Italian Design Rationalism II

PSA’s ’80s midliners in microcosm.

Image: citroenorigins.nl

Editor’s note: Today, we revisit the second part of a two-part meditation on rationalism in design, featuring the Peugeot 405 and Citroen BX. The original article was first published on DTW in April 2015.

I present here the Peugeot 405 and Citroen BX together with some highlighted lines marking out their main features. I have extended the lines to see how they Continue reading “Franco-Italian Design Rationalism II”

Last Picture Show

Millennial-era nostalgia from Uncle Henry.

2001 Ford Forty Nine. Image: supercars.net

America in the late 1940s was awash with post-war optimism, and one of the loudest fanfares would blow from the Ford Motor Company’s trumpet. Before its official launch in June 1948 at the Waldof-Astoria hotel in New York, the generated buzz was palpable – the ‘49 was here. Hailed as a dream car with simple lines, picture window visibility along with mid-ship ride, the 1949 Ford was not only a huge success, but slipped easily into the burgeoning craze of cruising and customisation. On sale a mere two years, this car replenished Dearborn’s black ink wells and some believe, saved the company’s hide.

Fifty years later, at a time when the blue oval began to lose faith in the saloon shape, a concept almost made the company Continue reading “Last Picture Show”

Nicer Than a Pint of Plain at the Widows Pub

The first Renault Kangoo (1997) is now old enough to be a bit of vintage street furniture.

1997 Renault Kangoo in east Cologne, Germany.

You can tell this is series 1 Kangoo because of the fun and slightly incongruent indicator lamps. Renault once had a bit of a habit of putting in one design feature that caused you to Continue reading “Nicer Than a Pint of Plain at the Widows Pub”

Modern Family [Part Two]

In 1962 BMC sprang a surprise with the 1100 – in one area in particular. 

Image: Veikl

Even without its innovative interconnected hydrolastic suspension, the BMC 1100’s status in the automotive pantheon would have been beyond question. However, a good deal of its historical significance remains bound up with its adoption. While interconnected suspension designs were not an entirely unknown quantity by the late Fifties, it was the first production application of a fluid-based system in a compact, affordable (and no small matter this) British car.

The use of rubber (to say nothing of fluid) as a suspension medium was not something that Alec Issigonis seemed to favour at first[1], but he became convinced after sampling a Morris Minor which had been re-engineered with a prototype rubber suspension[2]. Having discerned its potential, Issigonis, in conjunction with Alex Moulton developed an interconnected design employing rubber springs for the the stillborn Alvis TA/350 project, initiated in 1952. After this programme foundered and Alec was lured back to Continue reading “Modern Family [Part Two]”

The Many Faces of Flour

The lesser-known Argentinian Farina variations.

Images: issuu.com and supermercedes.com.ar

The car you see before you here today is likely to be, for many at least, an unfamiliar member of the BMC Farina family, but it was a unique and interesting variation in its own right. Its story begins with one of Argentina’s greatest and most revered industrialists, an Italian immigrant named Torcuato di Tella (1892–1948), who had disembarked in Buenos Aires with his parents in 1895. At just eighteen years of age, di Tella developed and produced a dough-mixing machine which became very popular with bakeries across the country.

Before long, di Tella had extended his range of products to include gasoline pumps, refrigerators, washing machines and other household appliances, but S.I.A.M., the name of the manufacturing company he established in 1911, paid tribute to the product started it all: it is an acronym for ‘Sección Industrial Amasadoras Mecánicas’ or, in English, ‘Bread Making Machine Industries’. Continue reading “The Many Faces of Flour”

Buckaroo!

Saddle up hombres, there’s a new Bronco in town. 

Don’t you dare grin, Troy…. Got my mean face on, Chester. Image: Ford.com

When Dearborn hinted at the return of the Bronco, the American nation rejoiced. The internet lit up. But for the inconvenience of trivial global public health issues causing incontrovertible delays, many a soul would Continue reading “Buckaroo!”

Boxing Clever (Part One)

Confounding the cynics, the 1982 BX was a proper Citroën.

Image: honestjohn.co.uk

The 1976 takeover(1) of the bankrupt Citroën company by Peugeot S.A. caused consternation amongst diehard fans of the products of the Quai de Javel. Since the days of the Traction Avant, Citroën had been fêted as a manufacturer of technically advanced and highly innovative cars, noted in particular for the superlative ride quality delivered by their unique Hydropneumatic suspension system. Would Peugeot, noted for its technical conservatism and financial rectitude, be respectful of this tradition, or discard it in favour of cars that were Citroën in name only?

The first(2) post-takeover all-new Citroën was the 1978 Visa. While heavily based on the Puegeot 104, the Visa at least looked sufficiently different(3) and had enough quirky details to be accepted as a proper Citroën in the mould of cars such as the Ami and Dyane. However, Citroën’s small cars were historically relatively simple in technical terms, so the bigger test of Peugeot’s commitment was yet to Continue reading “Boxing Clever (Part One)”

Romance in Rougrane Throws Light on the Meadows

 Festival of the Unremarkable.

Ford Fiesta Mk 3 (BE13) circa 1989 seen in Köln, Easter, 2022

For many people Cologne is a city people don’t even know well enough to associate with the smelly liquid that goes by the same name. Due to pure good fortune I had the amazing opportunity to Continue reading “Romance in Rougrane Throws Light on the Meadows”

Blackhawk Down

If you’re feeling sinister…

Image: Hemmings Auto News

One sure fire way of upsetting your customers is to halt production of an established favourite. Buick caused a national outcry when they axed the Grand National. When the Riviera was retired, the overtures were quieter perhaps but no less felt. GM rolled out concepts from time to time, and potential customers took notice until the realisation dawned that this was more a case of theatrics over genuine articles – another false dawn.

Are we perhaps being a little harsh here? Given the chance to design something from scratch, any designer worth their salt would Continue reading “Blackhawk Down”

Back to Front

Swimming against the tide of automotive history.

Over the past century or so, many mechanical configurations for the automobile have been devised, developed, engineered, tested and produced, although several failed to clear those demanding final two hurdles on their way to the showroom.

Front-wheel-drive, rear-wheel-drive, all-wheel-drive, even just one driven wheel: they have all been tried, some with more success than others. The same goes for the location of the powerplant: it can either go out front, in the middle or at the back(1), each option coming with its own set of pros and cons. Engine location and driven wheel combinations have resulted in seven more or less widely applied pairings(2), but there have also been some unusual and eccentric mixes: one definitely belonging in the latter category is the rear-engined, yet front-wheel-driven car. Continue reading “Back to Front”

Modern Family [Part One]

More than just a Midi-Mini

1962 Morris 1100. Image: Car Magazine

During the run up to the 1997 UK election victory which swept them into power, Labour Party strategists identified a core median demographic to which they hoped to appeal, which they labelled, Mondeo Man[1]. But had this election taken place some twenty years earlier, Labour’s archetype might have hailed, not from Genk, but Longbridge, because for most of the Sixties, Britain’s favourite car had been BMC’s 1100.

Having painfully emerged from post-war privation, a recovering Sixties Britain remained a hidebound and socially conservative nation. A matter which makes it all the more striking that a car marrying contemporary Italian style with a highly sophisticated technical specification should prove a bestseller. In many respects, the BMC 1100 seemed more akin to what was then termed a continental car than one hailing from the British midlands, the type of car more likely to have been viewed by Mondeo Man’s forebears as something akin to witchcraft.

Perhaps then it should surprise nobody that it would take the profound influence of that foreign chap[2] to Continue reading “Modern Family [Part One]”

Untamed Soul

Where Bronco began…

Image: Motor1

During the Second World War, the Ford Motor Company built tens of thousands of Willys Jeeps under licence for the war effort, yet it was almost twenty years from the cessation of hostilities before Dearborn created an offroad lifestyle vehicle of their own, one which has more recently undergone something of a re-birth.

During the early ’60s, and somewhat belatedly spotting a potential market for a vehicle equally adept on, or off-road, the blue oval surveyed Jeep and International Harvester Scout customers. The revelation that these rivals suffered from “poor comfort and ride with harsh noise and vibration problems” led to a product planning committee memo dating from October 1963, code named Bronco. Seven days later, another memo, this time entitled GOAT (Goes Over Any Terrain), was distributed, leading those in the know to Continue reading “Untamed Soul”

Hardly Noble, but not Inert Either

An American take on the small car.

Before the all-conquering SUV transformed the automotive landscape, America’s taste in automobiles was really quite conservative and the traditional three-box sedan in a variety of sizes was very much the norm. Americans didn’t really buy into the European fashion for hatchbacks, preferring station wagons or pick-up trucks for lugging loads around. Even younger buyers, whom one might have expected to be more receptive to new fashions, still wanted to drive around in a car just like mom or dad’s, only smaller and, ideally, more economical.

Bob Lutz, who had joined Chrysler in 1986 as Executive Vice President in charge of global product development, saw an opportunity to develop a new small car that would be specifically aimed at younger American drivers. It would take Chrysler’s contemporary styling tropes, which were cab-forward proportions and organic, curvaceous shapes, and adapt them to create a small car with a friendly, unthreatening face and a ‘fun’ personality that would Continue reading “Hardly Noble, but not Inert Either”

It’s Such a Fine Line …

We consider two complicated entities – the Citroën DS and Pierre Bercot.

image : lignesauto.fr

For loyal enthusiasts, the sound of a hissy, lethargic A Series engine is essential to the holistic experience of the Morris Minor – none of the readily achieved Ford, Fiat, Rover, Toyota or other engine swaps could ever appeal. Likewise in the case of another car that did not receive the engine it was promised. For many Citroënistes, the wet-liner straight four, tracing its conceptual roots back to the early 1930s, is now part and parcel of the Citroën DS’s character, however much its uncultured sound rails against the rest of the car’s smoothness. But for others it is the one great disappointment, and mention is often made of the six-cylinder engine it should have had. But we ask the question, is the DS great, not despite its engine, but because of it?

Pierre Bercot was a complex man. An intellectual in the French tradition, after a doctorate in Law, he completed his education at the National School of Oriental Languages in Paris. With an impressive knowledge of Ancient Greek and an accomplished pianist, he wasn’t the average car industry boss. Joining Citroën under Pierre Jules Boulanger shortly before the War, he worked on lowering production costs of the nascent 2CV. Following Boulanger’s untimely death, in 1950 he took over the Voiture de Grande Diffusion project, encouraging engineer André Lefèbvre not to Continue reading “It’s Such a Fine Line …”

AUTOpsy: Dodge Avenger

Revisiting a mutt from Motor City. 

fullsizeoutput_14c6

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared on DTW in March 2018. All images courtesy of the author.

Was it ignorance? Negligence? Arrogance? The motive(s) may be up for debate, but there’s no arguing about the utter lack of lustre this 2007 vintage Dodge Avenger embodies. Nor that the utter cynicism of this product was the result of management decisions betraying one or all the above-mentioned traits. Naturally, by the time the Avenger was brought to market, most of the people who had made these decisions had departed for pastures new, considerably further afield than Auburn Hills.

After a most glorious turnaround performance abroad, former Chrysler CEO and self-styled Dr Zee, Dieter Zetsche, returned to the parent company in Stuttgart, where he immediately instigated the fire sale of the American car maker. His right-hand man, Wolfgang Ayerle/Bernhard, had already departed, but would eventually rejoin Zee at Stuttgart. Chrysler chief designer, Trevor Creed, was also about to Continue reading “AUTOpsy: Dodge Avenger”

The Hurricane is as Tame as the Kitten

Toyota once took turbines very seriously indeed. We look back at Aichi’s efforts.

1987 Toyota GTV. Image: oldconceptcars.com

Automotive technologies have a natural tendency to evolve. With Rover of Solihull firmly closing the door on gas turbines by the mid-1960s, we open an eastward-facing door, to see how Toyota took up the baton.

First mooted in 1965, sixty months of intense development took place at an undisclosed cost. The results brought forth a two-shaft gas turbine, intended for a bus chassis. A further five years of research entailed, the outcome being a car based turbine, the flagship Century being the chosen home for such a noble power unit. With its V8 removed, the gas turbine was not mechanically connected to the drivetrain. Instead, those ultra high revolutions charged a bank of batteries, in turn feeding motors to both front wheels – the gas turbine hybrid[1].

The Century tests were reasonably positive but Toyota’s engineers quite naturally wanted to Continue reading “The Hurricane is as Tame as the Kitten”

South Bend Undead

The many afterlives of the Avanti.

All brochure images: Avanti / the author

As a Studebaker, the Avanti was short-lived and proved unable to prevent the venerable independent automaker’s demise not long after its launch. The death of Studebaker did not mean the end for the Avanti, however, not by a long shot.

In fact, even while Studebaker was still an active car manufacturer, albeit in Canada instead of South Bend, Indiana, as before, the first Avanti resuscitation was already underway. In July 1964, Nathan Altman and Leo Newman, two South Bend Studebaker dealers, signed an agreement with the company whereby they acquired the rights to the design, moulds and tooling for the Avanti as well as the rights to Continue reading “South Bend Undead”

The Accidental E-Type [Part Two]

The E-Type outstays its welcome.

Image: jag-lovers

As is frequently the case, what is given with one hand is taken away by another. By the late Sixties, the motorcar had become ever-more sophisticated, yet while speed and dynamic competence were on the ascendant, the unfettered enjoyment of high performance was already in retreat. Concerns too were growing over the automotive emissions and the affect they were seen to be having on air quality. Traffic congestion had become a grim fact of life, with motorists spending ever-increasing periods at a standstill. A shortlived period of unfettered freedom and self-expression was drawing to a close.

By the Series 3’s 1971 debut, a growing market for indulgent GTs had witnessed two new entrants which would in their respective ways, Continue reading “The Accidental E-Type [Part Two]”

Bold and Pure

The lesser-spotted 2022 Astra

Image: Autocar

The evergreen Astra: around these environs, you might be hard pressed to believe that seasons five, six and, to a lesser degree, seven have ceased production at all. Examples of each of these generations still ply their trade, from the local builder’s grubby estate car or faithful family holdall, to the noisome kerbside cruisers beloved of maxed-up youth. These and other variants remain daily sightings, their longevity a credit to the brand.

But wherefore the latest incarnation? Astra achter was revealed to this fair land during the Summer of 2021, becoming available to download[1] (sorry), purchase from November, yet your North Western correspondent has yet to Continue reading “Bold and Pure”

VAZ: Diplomacy, Politics, and Urban Legends (Part Three)

Debunking the persistent legend of Russo-Italian rust.

Image: Scrawb/Flickr

Fiat’s cooperation in the establishment of the VAZ factory, along with Alexei Kosygin’s new policies(1), helped mobilize the Soviet citizenry en masse. With the quite excellent Fiat 124 as a basis, the end-product was arguably a better car to own and drive than anything offered by ZAZ(2), AZLK(3) or GAZ(4) at the time.

The establishment of the VAZ factory was, as we now know, politically motivated(1). For the Soviet government at least, the project was a major success: they took a good initial design and successfully adapted it to their country’s conditions and needs. They even sold it successfully in export markets. For the Italians, though, things played out somewhat differently: Continue reading “VAZ: Diplomacy, Politics, and Urban Legends (Part Three)”

A Diamond in the Dust

The 2005 Chrysler 300 was as good as it got for DaimlerChrysler.

Image: parkers.co.uk

The 1998 merger of Daimler-Benz and Chrysler Corporation was the brainchild of Jürgen Schrempp, Daimler’s ambitious CEO. Schrempp was on a mission to drive up the profitability and shareholder value of the group, following the disastrous early-1990s acquisitions spree of his predecessor, Edzard Reuter. Reuter had tried to turn Daimler into a broad-based global technology conglomerate, but instead oversaw a collapse in profits and share price that precipitated his sacking in 1995.

Schrempp believed that there was enormous untapped potential in Daimler’s automotive division, Mercedes-Benz. He wanted to leverage this to achieve a step-change in sales and market share for the traditionally conservative and upmarket automaker. This could (and indeed would) be achieved organically by extending the company’s traditional range downwards into mainstream territory, but this would take time and Schrempp was a man in a hurry, driven at least as much by quarterly financial reports as long-term strategy. Continue reading “A Diamond in the Dust”

From Today Until Tonight, Onward They March To Yesterday

The 1990 E31 shown here is an example of what was up to then a rare bird in the BMW cage.

All images: the author.

The E31, also known as the 8 Series, embodied everything BMW knew about making cars. Oddly, it didn’t really move many people, didn’t change the gameplay or influence anyone much. What it did do was to exist as an example of excess everything. It also trotted in a race in which the public had lost interest, the race to make the fastest, most technically accomplished production road car in the world. As it happened, BMW won that contest, zooming over the finish line ahead of the competition(1).

Mercedes-Benz’s much-vaunted W140 S-Class appeared a year later and it too was met with a chilly disdain. (Audi was still trying to Continue reading “From Today Until Tonight, Onward They March To Yesterday”

Lights are Darker, Darks Lighter

Frank Wootton – illustrator, artist. 

A Frank Wootton advertising illustration for Rootes. Image: Motoringart

Widely hailed as the finest aviation artist of all time, Frank Wootton OBE (1911-1998) is equally well known and regarded for his artistic work in both equestrian and landscape fields. But his skills could be said to have been honed, be they in pencil, oils or in charcoal, during the earlier portion of his career, drawing and painting motor cars.

A Hampshire native, Wootton attended the Eastbourne School of Art, being subsequently awarded a gold medal and a £25 travel scholarship, which he used to tour Germany for a season painting murals. London called and led to a position as a commercial artist in the Grafton Studio. During the mid-1930s, Wootton’s employer pitched for Ford of Dagenham’s promotional business. The carmaker was seeking high quality, American-style illustrations, but most importantly, in colour. Just about to Continue reading “Lights are Darker, Darks Lighter”

Con Velocità Extra Per Favore

Alfa Romeo’s GTV given more muscle.

For power-hungry clients desiring a ‘maximum’ Tipo 116 GTV, the 2000 and later 2.5-litre GTV6 were, with the exception of the rare Autodelta turbocharged version, the limit. However, if you happened to live in South Africa, the USA or Germany, there were other exciting options, one of which also involved Autodelta. Continue reading “Con Velocità Extra Per Favore”

 The Accidental E-Type [Part One]

The E’s ‘pointless’ swansong.

Image: jag-lovers

The more advanced students of Jaguar lore will by now have recognised that a good many of the most well-loved cars from Browns Lane were at best, incidental, if not wholly accidental in conception. Similarly, when it came to the subject of mid or late-life facelifts, not only were they predominantly of a reactive nature, but rare indeed was the aesthetic revision that amounted to a palpable improvement. But while it might be considered a little provocative to describe the Series 3 E-Type as being accidental, it would hardly be inaccurate to suggest that it was unplanned.

While Sir William Lyons ran Jaguar in his benignly autocratic style, product planning was also somewhat reactive in nature, largely informed by the ever-shifting vagaries of the US market, a case in point being the Autumn 1968 refresh of the E-Type, the series 2. Beyond this, the intention was to Continue reading ” The Accidental E-Type [Part One]”

Swedish Cliffhangers

More lost prototypes from Volvo’s cutting room floor.

1952 Volvo Philip prototype. Image: Secret Classics

Measuring the strength of any influence can prove difficult. The film and TV industries revel in suspense, from those early monochrome Flash Gordon and Zorro weeklies to today’s greedy multi-franchised big-screen sequels. Leaving the audience wanting more invariably guarantees success, but do these eleventh hour on-screen nail-biting endings have much in common with those created within the car industry? More so than it might appear: that most conservative and safety-conscious of Swedish carmakers had several instances of the will they, won’t they?  cliffhanger, the first being named, of all things, Philip.

Whether Jan Wilsgaard was partial to Continue reading “Swedish Cliffhangers”

VAZ: Diplomacy, Politics, and Urban Legends (Part Two)

Fiat’s Soviet project faces politically-charged setbacks.

The first VAZ 2101. Image: vadim/Wikimedia Commons

No one could ever accuse Lyndon B. Johnson, President of the United States from 1963 to 1969, of lacking confidence in his own power or in the power of his office and country. Quite the contrary, as Greece’s ambassador found out in 1964, when Johnson told him in no uncertain terms what he thought of the smaller nation’s sovereignty(1). Yet, a persistent feature in US and US-aligned political discourse proved to be a double-edged sword for him: the words ‘Russia’, ‘Soviet Union’, ‘communism’ and ‘socialism’ were and remain veritable berserk buttons(2) for legions of politicians, pundits, and voters on the right of the political spectrum. This sort of sentiment, of course, is not unique to US political discourse, but it remained especially acute, even more than a decade after the McCarthyite purges of the late 1940s and early 1950s, which created near-hysteria at the time.

When such sentiment is prevalent in a society, it is easy for certain factions to Continue reading “VAZ: Diplomacy, Politics, and Urban Legends (Part Two)”