The waltz continues its overdue retrospective sweep through 1987.
By the mid-80’s the Japanese car companies were beginning to really give the European car business the willies, with the UK’s Car magazine bewailing their advent in luridly melodramatic terms. With Honda’s existing midliner being Accorded viable 3-Series rivalry status, Minato-Tokyo prepared a fresh salvo into the hearts and minds of their European rivals with this third generation Prelude.
Utilising the core body structure of its 1982 forebear, the ’87 car’s smoother, softer style and lower nose (made possible by the engine being canted back 18°) lent it a visual grace its predecessor slightly lacked, but its distinctly three-volume silhouette meant its styling appealed more to US eyes than to those here in Europe.
It was a Honda, so technical delight was a given – in this case 16-valve single or twin camshaft versions of the same 2.0 litre B20 engines, and the fitment of double-wishbone suspension all round; either of which would have been enough for most people but the headline innovation was the first mass-produced directly mechanical four wheel steering system, one which steered the rear wheels in conjunction with the fronts in normal driving, but counter-steered at parking speeds.
That same year, Honda also launched a new-generation Civic, based squarely on the principles of the highly regarded 1983 model. A slightly larger car than its (allegedly Pininfarina-designed) predecessor, it gained a slightly longer wheelbase, double wishbone front suspension, and a sophisticated rear trailing arm layout which despite Honda’s claims wasn’t entirely the double wishbones they suggested it was.
Its chassis sophistication wasn’t necessarily a recipe for a dynamic drive, or indeed a supple ride for that matter. Insufficient wheel travel being a typical contemporary Honda bugbear.
Sporting a sleeker, if slightly less distinctive appearance, it was nonetheless as expected; a more grown-up, more rounded product, but one which for all its cleverness (and it was certainly that), remained a car for those already converted to the Civic cause.
With the Belfort Lion going from strength to strength following the massive success of the 205 hatchback, ultra-conservative Peugeot had found itself (much to its own shock) the height of fashion. Further up the range however, Peugeot’s long-running mid-sized 305, while both competent and fine-mannered, looked increasingly like last season’s cast-off.
The 305’s replacement was Peugeot’s opportunity, not only to better their double chevron bedmate, or indeed domestic rivals Renault, but also to make serious inroads into the (then) lucrative European D-sector saloon market dominated by Ford and Opel.
Styling was of course by Pininfarina; the 405 offered conventional three volume saloon and estate bodyshells with unusually well judged proportions and exceptionally clean lines. Similar in theme (but quite different in detail) to the Alfa 164, it’s been suggested the 405 was rushed into production in order to steal the Italian manufacturer’s thunder. However, given the quality issues which bedevilled early cars, this appears to have rebounded badly upon them.
Using a variant of the BX’s platform, shared engines and transmissions, the 405 eschewed Citroën’s oleopneumatics for Sochaux’s usual blend of finely honed conventionality. So it drove beautifully – or would have done had the interior not been a symphony of squeaks, rattles and grating plastics. This was the era where Peugeot lost their hard-won reputation for quality, one they’re still struggling to regain.
It was also the last Peugeot model to be sold in the North America. Another case of a European model receiving broadly positive write ups in the press but failing to satisfy customers, either from a usability, durability or serviceability perspective. The model has been considerably longer-lasting elsewhere in the world however and remains in production which does suggest the fundamentals (whatever about the fundamentalists…) were right.
Toyota went front-drive with the 1978 Tercel and in 1983 so did the unstoppable Corolla – a move which perhaps legitimised the format once and for all. After all if the world’s most popular car is driven by the front wheels, who is reasonably going to suggest otherwise?
Toyota quite naturally did a characteristically thorough job with the polarity-shift, eschewing the Tercel’s layout for the industry-norm transverse / end-on layout. 1987’s E90-series was largely a reskin of its belated revolutionary 1983 predecessor – (Toyota, like their Honda compatriots also being locked into four-year product cycles).
Available in three-volume saloon, three or five-door hatchback or five-door Liftback (Sprinter) bodystyles, the crisp, sharply tailored appearance of the earlier E80 was substituted by a softer if, (in saloon form at least), more amorphous appearance; the hatchback models perhaps offering more for the eye to linger upon.
The E90 offered a more pleasant driving experience too, the rather remote control weights of the previous model replaced by (slightly) more mechanical sensations, sharper steering and a more pliant ride – even if some journalists discovered that the tail could snap out under provocation. But the odd quibble aside, the Corolla marched inexorably on.
For years, Zastava had been something of a Fiat subsidiary, much like Poland’s FSO, utilising Turin’s cast-offs. Sold in Western Europe and the US under the Yugo brand, the 127-based 45 had proved a moderately successful import for those on a budget, but its proletarian roots showed. The 1987 Sana however, saw the Zastava parent move upmarket, producing its most ambitious and largest model to date.
Based on the much-employed Fiat Tipo platform and mechanical package, the Sana (also known as Florida and Miami in some markets) was designed under Giugiaro by Ital Design in a style which (arguably at least) suggests it as a candidate for our ‘Cars that could have been Citroens’ series insofar as it appears to have ‘anticipated’ Bertone’s 1990 ZX model by several years.
The Sana’s career came to an abrupt halt owing to the effects of the devastating civil war in the former Yugoslavia and the trade embargo that came into force by consequence. In effect, this put paid to whatever prospects Zastava had and it could be said that neither the model nor the company recovered. Sana production ceased in 2008 with less than 30,000 made.
The waltz continues soon with a look at the cars of 1977 we couldn’t talk about.
Cars of 1987 we did talk about