DTW’s Top Twenty Three Great European Cars – Part 3

This is the third instalment of this series which definitively ranks the very best European cars of all time.

An old Audi 100 Image: Simon Stahel

To make cut the cars have been rigorously assessed for engineering merit, technical competence and design quality. Each parameter was subvivided into its essential elements and assigned a number of points. The total number of points possible is 100. The minumum grade was 79. Today we assay an Alvis, evaluate an Audi, weigh up a Wolseley, over-view an Opel and muse about an MG.

If you wish to find out which models made it to the ranks of 15-10, then you only have to carry on reading. Shall we begin?

1967 Graber Alvis: wikipedia.org

In at number 15 is the 1967 3.0 Graber-Alvis. One can only describe this as exotic squared. Alvis made the engine and chassis and the Swiss coachbuilder Graber produced the svelte body. This bodywork is non-obvious by which I mean it is not merely the strict application of one rule set. Nor is it a disjointed collection of shapes hammered into unity (step forward, Bristol).

The excellent proportions underpin the controlled variation of each element. Particularly thrilling is the rear screen and the side glass. You’d think the side-glass should have a soft radius where the cant rail turns down to the c-pillar. It doesn’t and it makes it lively. This might be one of the most beautifully understated coupes of the 60s: it’s light, feminine but strong; individual without being idiosyncratic.

In motion: hobbydb.com

The product history of Alvis is one of continuous improvements and changing model designations. The 3.0 Graber-Alvis was based on the TE21 and was assembled in Switzerland. If only Bristol had had the wit to retain an equally capable coachbuilder they might have fared a little better. Rating: 82/100

1984 Opel Kadett cant rail which set the standard: conceptcarz.com

Number 14 .The Opel Kadett (final version) is another DTW stalwart. I don’t need to say more about it other than to remind readers that it had a full range of engines and bodystyles and every single body-style trumped the equivalents from Ford and VW. Rating: 82/100.

Number 13. Woleseley preserved inside the Nuffield group some standards of quality and elegance while also throwing down the gauntlet to other upper-middle marques in Britain. The 1953 4/44 did the throwing and even if it had some elements shared with the Magnette ZA it was a far superior car. Under the impressive bonnet there lurked a 1250 cc engine with one carburetor.

Being a Wolseley it had to have four speeds not three and the control was mounted on the column for easy access. The illuminated badge provided a dash of charm and it had independent coil-spring suspension up front. A well-located live rear axle kept things under control hindmost. A cruise in one of these things probably epitomised the joy of 1950s Britain just as a Topolino summed up Italy at the time or 300 SL characterised Germany.

The construction was monocoque with independent suspension at the front by coil springs and a live rear axle. Rating:  83/100.

1976 Audi 100: autoevolution.com

Number 12: For this most apostolic of numbers, we turn to the Audi 100 of 1976. This handsome saloon offered six cylinder power and four cylinder economy by means of a novel five-cylinder engine mounted transversely. The car showcased Audi’s carefully detailed industrial design language. The car managed more than a million sales and can be seen as the model that moved Audi from being a rather indistinct middle-market brand to a potential premium player. The 100 also came with more conventional 1.6 and 1.8 litre petrol units and there was even a subtle two-door saloon. Rating: 83/100.

Number 11 rounds off today’s collection. This is a Belgian interpretation of the MGB by Jacques Coune.

1965 MGB Berlinette Jacques Coune: pinterest

A dizzying number of MG B variants existed, most of which had a 1.8 litre in-line four and rather unusual fastback styling but six-cylinder and 8-cylinder versions appeared as well. The standard MGB GT version had Pininfarina styling and the cars boasted Laycock overdrive systems. The MG B takes its place as the classic classic car due to its simple nature and appealing shape, giving a British twist to an archetypal car format. Even if the cars weren’t all that reliable they did have the advantage of being simple to fix. Rating: 83/100.

Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

16 thoughts on “DTW’s Top Twenty Three Great European Cars – Part 3”

  1. Enjoyed the article Richard. I thought that the Audi 100/A6 series have always had the engines mounted longitudinally as indeed have the 80/A4 series including of course the legendary Quattro. Transverse engine instalation began with the smaller Golf based A3 and TT.

    1. Thanks – I’ll note the engine arrangement when I revise the text. The Audi website has a long article from 2016 about their L5 engines and no mention of the orientation. I don’t have a good excuse for writing transverse except it seeemed better than longitudinal. The north-south arrangement explains the long nose of those cars.

    2. Audi’s only transverse applications of and I5 are their S3/RS3/TT models.
      All 80/90, 100/200 or A6 have longitudinally mounted engines, hence the long nose and/or absurdly short wheelbase of the 100 mentioned here.

  2. A self correction! The Audi 50 from the late 70’s on which the first Polo was based was transverse engined.

  3. The Audi 100 C2 was a strange car.
    The first 100 C1 had been a skunkworks operation developed without VW management’s approval but was an instant hit in the market. The first 100 became an accepted competitor to the W115 (the four pot) Benz starting from nothing.
    The C2 Type 43 ‘pensioner’s dream’ could not successfully keep this impetus and partially lost the plot for Audi. Audi didn’t know what to do with their marque at that time and declared themselves an “über Opel and under BMW”, hardly a recipe for success.
    Insistence on using strange Paolo Nestler-prescribed interior colour combinations didn’t particularly help with being accepted as an upper class competitor as did the inital use of an engine derived from the Volkswagen LT delivery van.
    The top of the range 200 with ugly US style lights all round, brown chrome trim, psychedelic seat patterns and turbocharged five pot engine (you only need a turbo-ed five when you can’t afford a proper natural induction six) showed this home grown dilemma most openly.
    Audi lost a lot of time until they finally knew what they wanted and spent the money to achieve it which was around the time they started to use paper sizes for names of their cars.

  4. Interesting* fact of the day regarding the Audi 100 B2 generation: the fascia and even the instrument faces were dark brown, rather than the usual black. Apparently, the designers wanted the interior to be a calming environment and black was considered to be an “aggressive” colour.

    * Well, I think it’s interesting!

    1. We return to the general issue of colours. I don´t think dark brown is all that controversial. For many anything other than black is an offence. Regarding the interior colours, it should be noted that BMW and Mercedes also had interesting colourways. Audi´s interiors were not at all unusual for the time. “Er entwickelte Mitte der 1970er Jahre für Audi NSU die Farbpalette des von 1976 bis 1982 gebauten Audi 100 C2. ” That´s Paolo Nestler. I rather like it that Audi asked a non-car designer to provide some input. Was Marc Newson the last outsider to do anything much for a car company?

    2. Facia as well as door trims (not sure about the steering wheel inserts), seat consoles and many other things for the 100 C2 were avilable in chocolate brown, pastel green and dark blue.
      This gave a beautiful contrast to the typically Seventies’ seat covers and carpets in bright orange or pastel green. Particularly eye watering was pastel light green outside with brown downboard and orange seats. (Flares and sideburns not included as standard equipment.)
      With the 200 Audi went one better with checkerboard pattern in anthracite and silver in a semi shiny velours.

  5. So – can we agree the Audi 100 had a longitudinally mounted L5 engine?
    These L5s do polarise opinion. Some consider them unbalanced and to have the fuel consumption of a six and the power of a 4. The answer must be split down the middle and it must depend on how they are set up and not the layout in principle that is the problem/non-problem.

    1. All Audi 100s/200s and A6s have longitudinally mounted engines.
      All engines with an odd number of cylinders (or, rather, an odd number of crank throws) and homogenous firing intervals suffer from the fact that they cannot be properly mechanically balanced without a balancer shaft. Kind of workaround is to tune for high frequencies vibration and use big and soft engine mountings to filter them out. Remember that the Fiat five cylinders had forged crankshafts to withstand the unbalanced forces where the four cylinders had cast iron ones.

  6. All “real” Audis since the DKW of the 30’s have had longitudinal engines in front of the front axle with the transaxle behind the axle line, it’s the default brand dna. All transverse engines cars except the 50 have been VW developed cars. That means the Bauhaus styled Passat B5 is more of an Audi than it is a VW, while the A3 is more of a VW than it is an Audi. It also means there’s an uninterrupted line of dna linking the DKW and the Bentley Continental. It amuses me no end they continued with that placement of the engine even for the Bentley with the stubborness of a village drunkard.

  7. I owned 5 Audis in a row. The first was the 1974 100LS 4 cylinder north-south that got to 94K miles before dropping a valve seat. It was incorrectly stated above the engine was derived from some VW van. Twas the other way around, folks. Was increased from 1.9 to 2 litres, given a SOHC, and shoved in the new Porsche 924, the VW van and later flogged to American Motors as well. The ohv version in the 100 LS was a far sweeter revver than the later OHC, in my experience. Unintuitive, but true. Stopped me getting a 924.

    Pal was so impressed with my 100LS after a high speed run to hospital, he bought a 1981 5000, which was the Euro 100, with a far nicer front end than the dour German version I encountered on holiday in West Germany in 1980. Nasty square headlights on the German one, made the car look cheap and industrial. Had the five cylinder north/south orientation.

    Me, I bought a 1982 Audi Coupe 5 cylinder north/south. My brother bought a 1983 5000 turbo (last year before aero blob shape), with which he terrorised Albertans in pickup trucks. Pal sold the ’81 and got an ’85 5000 (100) turbo. I got an ’88 (they sold the old square one I got a year longer in Canada than Europe where it was the 80) 4000 quattro.

    Finally, leased a ’94 90 quattro V6. What a dud. Weighed too much, suspension too stiff, yet dissolved into gross understeer at the first opportunity. Not a patch on the old five cylinder ones for handling. Then the 90 became the A4, the one with the “brilliant” four link front suspension that was always breaking. Same half-asleep 170 hp V6, north south orientation. Drove my business associate with one almost round the bend. Me? I went Subaru, cheaper and better but still north-south mounting.

    See, the difference between opiners and me is that I owned/leased these things, until they were no longer the Audis I knew and liked. Much the same has happened to Subaru – they have changed into bubblicious bumblers since 2010. Fine for transportation, not much inspiration any more. At reasonable prices, only Mazda seems left to make semi-alive cars. Well, VW if you can trust them to run trouble-free, but it’s a gamble. Some customers win, others turn grey, since inconsistency is a VW trait from what I see and hear.

    1. The original two litre four cylinder engine used in the 100 C2 (not the C1) was the EA831 with its roots in the pushrod engine of the first post war Audi ‘72’ F103. I was basically the surplus of a cancelled military engine project by Mercedes that was dumped on Audi together with Ludwig Kraus when Auto Union was sold to VW.
      This engine came in sizes from 1.5 to 1.9 litres in OHV form with 55 to 115 hp and was used in OHV guise in the 100 C1 which must have been the one you owned.
      When the first VW LT van was developed, that engine got an SOHC head and was enlarged to two litres with 75 hp.
      Audi used this engine for their 100 C2 (starting in 1976) with 115 hp, Porsche later added K Jetronic fuel injection for 125 hp in the 924. No matter how you look at it, the LT was the first car to use the ‘new’ engine, which was and is bitter truth for many a 924 fan.

  8. 15, 13, 12 are tremendous choices.

    Nothing wrong with the others, although I feel that the Gordon Brown Kadett was let down by horribly cheap looking exterior plastics, even down to the very badges.

    It’s a bit of a mash-up of the Alfasud shape and first generation Renault 5 surfacing. The basic shape is good, but Michel Boué carried off the plastics far better. It’s a pity that the much ‘richer’ exterior treatment of the GTE/GSi wasn’t adopted for the mainstream range, with the stain-prone and hard to match grey plastics reserved only for the meanest versions.

    1. The Kadett’s rather good: very consistent at all levels. The R5 is much squarer and like product design overall. Opel’s car remains anchored in automotive design form language and is none the worse for it. Of the Golf/Escort/Kadett group it’s clearly the best bit of car design inside and out. The other too look and are crude.

  9. There’s much to be said about the Magnette, 4/44, and 15/50. The Magnette was the first to be designed, by Gerald Palmer, in short order with a small team. Greek Al was supposed to have dealt with the Wolseley brief, but couldn’t be bothered, so Palmer did the job himself.

    The Wolseley was the first to go on sale, with a feeble de-tuned 1250cc MG TD engine. The Magnette’s launch was delayed to allow the fitment of the 1489cc Austin B-series engine, much heavier than the MG engine, but with a useful extra 14bhp. The Wolseley had raised suspension, and a completely different interior. The only shared external panels were the roof, front doors and boot lid.

    The pair were an textbook piece of shared platform engineering, but the Magnette was the true product of Palmer’s heart and soul. Palmer knew that the MG was underpowered and set to work on a twin cam fuel injection cylinder head for the B-series, in 1954 (!), but was peremptorily dismissed by Len Lord the following year.

    I’m solidly biased in the Magnette direction but the Wolseley is a fine-looking car in its own right.

    I wonder what Gerald Palmer would have thought of this. The underpowerment matter dealt with comprehensively with an engine from his post-BMC employer:

    I think he’d have loved it.

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