Over the Easter period there will be a series of articles on the best European cars. I have my own ideas of what these might be.
However, I would like to ask the DTW readership if they have some suggestions. You can propose attributes of a great European car or you can suggest actual candidates for the list. I would probably prefer discussion on the attributes though: is it engineering, style, quality, handling or performance? It is about aristocratic manners or it is about democratic good taste? Is it about the ability to blend these in surprising ways? Is there some other spirit at play?
Does the question even make sense because in truth Europe is a collection of very different cultures and the attributes of a great Italian car are not much like those of a great British one; Bristol and Lancia? What makes a Volvo good (the old school ones) would not apply to a good Fiat.
What of the Americans in Europe: Opel and Ford. Are they European cars or more like cars for Europe? For a long time I didn’t dwell too much on the American roots of Ford and Opel – I saw them as cars made in and for Europe. Where the profits went did not matter so very much. If we consider the Escort and the Kadett: were these really European at all? And earlier cars like the UK-market Cortina were as Anglo-British as VW was German.
In such a survey we must not lose sight of cars from defunct manafacturers: Wolseley, Simca, Autobianchi, Jensen, Austin, Borgward, Glas to name a few. I don’t expect readers to stretch further back than the 1950s. Before that there were scores of small and medium-sized marques which themselves did not know what they were aiming for because the product had not been defined.
While writing this it seems clearer to me now that the period when we can talk of European cars is not open-ended. It starts after the second World War when there were inklings of competition across borders and when there were a reasonable number of large and independent marques. The period may be ending or have ended sometime after the turn of the millenium after which time it seems that more and more cars are shaped according to a common formula and the number of independent brands diminishes steadily.
Ford is well on the way to losing its European identity: the Fiesta and Galaxy keep the flame aloft. Opel we talked about today though perhaps the unfortunate part is that they are more European than ever (and less German than they were). Fiat is a ragbag of disparate and opportunistic models. Saab is gone. Perhaps we can point to Jaguar and Volvo as retaining some more of their regional identity than others such as Seat or Mercedes.
That introduction frames the discussion. What is your view?