In a series of articles, Driven to Write gives 2017 the meta treatment.
It’s normally customary at this time to reflect upon the just-departed year, its themes, its happenings and how these events might offer some guide to the coming one, but my DTW colleague-in-arms has already covered that. No, what I am offering today (and over the coming days) is to all intents and purposes a series of retrospectives on a series of retrospectives. Well after all it’s Driven to Write you’ve blundered upon, what exactly were you expecting?
Over the past 24 months, I’ve chronicled various (arguably?) significant cars, marking their various anniversaries and have found it to be a rich seam. After all, it’s pleasing to do a car justice, and perhaps, given a following wind, debunk a few myths along the way.
These profiles were never intended to be definitive, (even if they have been subject to considerable research), but throughout I have striven above all, to be fair. However, some cars simply leave the writer cold, and I’ve always believed that if one cannot find something interesting to say, one should pretty much keep a sock in it. Hence, this series of waifs, strays and stragglers. So before I set about documenting the coming year’s set of candidates, here are the cars I couldn’t write about in 2017.
We begin in 2007. Not entirely a vintage year for new car introductions, which may explain how few we documented over the past twelve months. Ten years ago, Audi introduced two new models on a shared platform. Firstly at Geneva, the A5, the first Audi Coupe for over a decade. Designed under the auspices of former Alfa-Romeo and Seat design overlord, Walter de Silva, the design (which de Silva took full credit for) was said to have been inspired by the 2003 Nuvolari concept, but in effect took little of substance from it.
Credit where it’s rightfully due, the production A5, which was largely the work of designer, Satoshi Wada, introduced an undulating version of Audi’s ‘Tornado Line’ along the flanks. A handsome, well proportioned if largely undistinguished design, the A5 has weathered the intervening decade rather well, its 2016 replacement being essentially a very mild variation on the same theme.
Later the same year, Audi also announced the more commercially sensitive (B8-series) A4 range, sharing the corporate MLP platform with its coupe sibling. A larger car than its predecessor, it took the styling themes de Silva had introduced – (Tornado Line / Auto-Union style grille), placed them on a larger canvas and refined them considerably, adding up to a more visually harmonious affair. Another nearly-Audi which remained everybody’s third choice, one could reasonably argue.
Ford introduced the third-generation Mondeo in the spring of 2007, having previewed it in the previous year’s James Bond vehicle. A notably larger car than its well-regarded predecessor, it sat on the much-employed corporate EUCD platform – (one which continues in much modified form beneath innumerable JLR products to this day).
Styled during the transitional phase where Chris Bird gave way to Martin Smith within the top echelons of Ford’s Merkenich styling centre, it was notable for heralding the model’s decline in Europe as the market reacted to both its bloated dimensions (Opel’s more compact feeling and better-looking Insignia consistently outsold it) and the steady encroachment of upmarket nameplates. It was also the final model line produced at Ford’s Genk plant in Belgium, which went the same way as this iteration of Mondeo in 2014.
By 2007, Sergio Marchionne was remaking Fiat Auto in a faster and more far-reaching manner than anyone could then have imagined. The spring announcement of the (Tipo 198) Fiat Bravo saw the Italian generalist’s last foray into the commercially pivotal C-segment. Designed at centro stile, a good deal of the model’s body engineering was allegedly farmed out to external suppliers – a classic Marchionne ruse to slash costs.
Using a modified version of the underwhelming Stilo platform, the Bravo, (incidentally, marketed as Ritmo in Australia) while viewed as a more compelling entrant than its justifiably derided predecessor, was deemed something of a damp squib nonetheless, failing to make significant inroads before the plug was pulled in 2014. (Although it lived on a further two years in South America). At the time of writing, there are (incredibly) no plans to (directly) replace it.
Having introduced the second generation R55-series MINI the previous year, BMW surprised the motoring world with the 2007 Clubman. Conceptually based on the Countryman series of the original Mini, (a name BMW didn’t hold the rights to), the Clubman offered a more practical, a (slightly) more spacious and a good deal more quixotic package to the more familiar 2+2 hatch.
With a longer (80 mm) wheelbase, a pair of van-style rear doors and a rather eccentric single rear-hinged doorlet, the practicality side of the Clubman was debatable, although marks ought to be added for novelty, to say nothing of the structural engineering challenges it must have entailed. Coincidentally, BMW reprised a similar door arrangement for its i3-series, so perhaps the lessons weren’t entirely wasted.
In 2007, veteran Peugeot design director, Gérard Welter retired. Over his lengthy career, Welter presided over some of the Lion of Belfort’s more accomplished outpourings, but towards its latter-days, some of its most cack-handed. The T7-series Peugeot 308 was arguably one of the most egregious of this ‘Drive-Sexy’ era of Mariana Trench bottom feeders, a car which addressed a good deal of its much-criticised predecessor’s quality issues, but left the viewer with a severe case of visual indigestion.
With Socheaux’s one time pre-eminence in chassis dynamics already cast to the four winds, PSA’s long march to irrelevance was in full swing, because while the PF2 platform would inform a vast number of contemporary PSA model programmes, none would amount to anything of a remotely distinguished mien.
Offered in a range of body styles, each more visually upsetting then the last, this iteration of Peugeot’s C-segment mainstay implored the question of what alternative proposals were rejected in its wake? What is clear however, is that Peugeot (and the much-revered Welter himself) never missed their old Italian carrozzeria more.
Next time, we’ll cast an eye over the cars of 1997 we couldn’t write about…