It’s another new year. What was happening 20 years ago?
At Gaydon, Rover’s engineers worked on the R55 (to be sold as the R40). Predictions suggested a vehicle with rounded windows like a 1992 Nissan Micra and an upright chrome grille with main body surfaces akin to the 75. Rover expected the launch to be in 1999 when the last of the Honda-based Rovers would be phased out. Interestingly, it was expected that the R40 would be sold only a year from 1998 and that a mid-size executive car would
appear in 2002. Aronline suggests the cars were to be sold as R35 and R55, with a launch date of 2003.
Over at Audi, the A2 received the green light, and ended up resembling the Al2 shown in Frankfurt in 1997. More conventionally, BMW started showing images of the E46 3-series which reverted to fairly conventional classicism, with lots of lines down the body side, resembling nothing so much as a busier, smaller 5. This car was important for what it was not: daring. Chris Bangle, BMW’s then-new styling director used this car as an argument for a bolder styling direction that is still talked about today.
The COTY the year 1998 award went to the Alfa Romeo 156, plausibly the last convincing Alfa Romeo to also sell well – and before it a string of moderate to mediocre cars plus a few gems (164, for sure). Coming second: the VW Golf. In at three, the Audi A6. The Mercedes A-class came fifth and due to some error, the Citroen Xsara received 204 votes. Had the elk-test fiasco not wounded Mercedes, the A-class might very well have a) earned the award and b) been justly named as yet another (in retrospect) undeserved winner.
Volvo presented the C70 for review and it received a warm reception from Car. With a 2-4 litres turbo five it offered 6.7 seconds to 60 and room for four people. It provided a “relaxed, if rapid approach to B-road motoring” and managed to look like a Volvo and also be conventionally attractive. Funnily, it’s another forgotten car, from the tail-end of the coupe era.