Asleep On Stage

It’s all platforms, synergies and shared componentry these days. Let’s imagine a more interesting world.

2018 VW Golf with lots of commonality. Lots: VW UK

Economies of scale and platform sharing, hello. That means de Dion axles, narrow angle Vees, odd suspension solutions and three-cylinder boxers are out. Common seat frames are de rigeur. The world car is a five door hatchback with an L4 petrol engine (EFI) and MacPhersons up front and something boring at the back: torsion beams?  Six speed manual box. Check. Discs all around, no doubt. Maybe that’s optimum but it’s not much fun.

I have asked DTW readers for theoretical cars before, focusing on the brand and model range structure. Here I am politely asking you to imagine a single make car company whose USP is idiosyncrasy albeit useful idiosyncrasy. Suggesting a front-engined diesel selectronic sports car with leaf springs is fun but not much use.

Alfa 2000 Berlina. Image:

The things you can consider are engine type such as V-5, L5, V6 and V8 or even stranger configurations. And why?  It is only since Volvo have given up on L5 engines that I realise I miss them as an option and they gave Lancias a pleasant quirk. Air-cooling is a dying art but worth the trouble to avoid freezing up in winter.

Suspension is a rich areas for oddness. The de Dion has been out of vogue for a very long time. Volvo and Corvette (it’s a sub-brand, isn’t it) still do transverse leaf-springs. Multi-link suspensions aren’t too outré yet it is seldom I hear of much innovation or strangeness in that class. Citroen have given up on hydropneumatic. What about rheostatic? Or Hydrolastic?

1966 Datsun Bluebird interior: source

Inside the car: you can have three-abreast seating, umbrella gearchanges, no gearchanges, floor mounted pedals and ashtrays too.

And this still leaves the body-style. We are all bored of CUVs even if the market is not. The contrived designs we see result from there not being enough good variations left in the format so to differentiate the stylists must go for unhappy novelties.

To what kind of car would you fit your quirky engines, brakes and steering? In the end, the idea is to think of a characterful car that fulfils a motoring need and not merely a vehicle to support an extinct engineering concept. If you have ideas for even less obvious things such as ribbon speedos and lever HVAC controls then please fire ahead. Worm and roller steering, sir? Plastic body? Wooden panels? Go on, spoil yourself.  What about fabric and material – do they still even make velour, MB Tex or East of England Cloth?

Another thing is that you could consider the placement of the elements. In the 1960s handbrakes could be between the driver and the driver´s door. Batteries could be behind the front wheel or in the boot. Spare wheels could be under the bonnet or on the bootlid. Audi hung engine out in front while Skoda had them way behind the rear bumper.

Maybe I am asking here for the archetypal classic car in new form. What mix of the best aspects of exctint/endangered car engineering would you put in a hypothetical brand aimed at giving the fun of a classic minus the rust and despair of maintenance? What kind of car have you in mind? An amalgam of Italians? An compote of French? A blend of German?  A muddle of British?

I look forward to your thoughts about the ultimate idiosyncratic car.

Author: richard herriott

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

47 thoughts on “Asleep On Stage”

  1. My idea: a coke bottle sedan with glass/carbon fibre composite unitbody (so rust will not be a problem) with big glass area and thin pillars. For rear suspension live axle with glass fibre leaf springs. And upholstery made from bright colour vinyl.

    1. Thanks for that. I have to fill in some blanks. Are you proposing a tubular space frame or something more like a Lotus? We need to know the engine and if it´s front or rear driven. Finally, the size: small, medium or large. I could see this being given to a small company to make at, say, 2000 units a year. May I suggest you borrow an existing engine design rather than start from scratch? Or will you use on off-the peg engine?

    2. I think about composite unitbody without any additional frame. Think about slighty larger Escort RS1600 with body made from laminate instead from steel. As engine I think Cosworth is still making NA 2.3 four.
      Suspension shouldn’t be too stiff. And I like fat, 65 or 70 profile tires.

      Suming it up: classic feel of powerful rwd sedan with rustproof body and low maintenace engine.

      I think that 2000 a year would be great succes for car which isn’t a hybrid CUV.

    3. That composite unibody sounds a bit modern to me. Wouldn´t you prefer a cheaper steel or aluminium floor pan to which the body could be bolted?

    4. IMHO laminate could be very cost effective for small scale production, especially if we use cheap E glass as main reinforcement fibre reserving expensive fibers only for critical areas. Think about Lotus Elite with whole body/chassis structure glued from only 3 parts.

  2. Being my first time writing here, I first have to thank you for all the wonderful essays out here. Secondly, being a romanian, and growing up amidst localy-license-built French cars vs old german cars recently brought in from across the border(s), then again vs. Russian machinery (I was a child of the ’90’s- first family car was a wonderful Renault 18 GTL I plan restoring soon), I have to say the perfect new auto would be a blend of minimalism and robustness (our bought-brand-new-7-year-old-80k km-garage slept 320d Touring nearly died of a faulty timing chain and autodestructive turbine- we still love it though).
    But it also has to be quirky. Why not a small shooting-brake, with double whisbones up front, some sort of independent at the back,with a longitudinal flat4, limited to 150 (watch any east-european dashcamflick), a tailgate similar to the R4 F4 van (hatch that is), maybe a variant with only 3 doors. And smaller taillamps- today they are way to huge! And inbord brakes (for the front- it has to be FWD). Like a cross between a R4 and a G4. And 3 lug-wheels (I don’t recall any wheels coming off pig and cabbage-laden Dacias towing a recently imported 30-year old Merc on a trailer- common sight here in the 90’s).

    Thank you,
    Vlad (not the impaler)

    1. Hi Vlad: We are glad you like DTW and thanks for your comment. You have ticked a lot of boxes with your proposal. Would it look a bit like a VW Polo “coupe” – the one that was really an estate, with the three doors and vertical hatch? In-board brakes give it a Citroen feeling. I visualise this car as being a nice mix of driveability and utility. Can anyone think of a similar car today? I can´t. I presume your car is around 1000 kg in which case we need an engine displacement figure. Is it water or air-cooled. Air-cooling will add points.

    2. Oh, and PRN controls! Worked on the Oltcit (strangely, I rember it being the most charred car I saw in my childhood- over 4 burnt wrecks over a couple o years)- hope it has nothing to do with the controls.

    3. Yes, I think aircooling would do just perfectly. I hope a 1.6 petrol-burning machine would be adequate. I was thinking a little more courvacious than the I generation Polo- but still rather pointy than blobby. None-agressive, happy smile, too.

    4. Vlad: 1.6 sounds about right. To give it an old-school feel, may I suggest you round that down to 1.5 litres? Styling wise, indeed the Polo is too angular. I´d think some nod to aerodynamics is in order. You now have an utterly unique car concept.

    5. ‘The most charred car …”! What a fabulously mad award. Vlad, I like your style, excellent prose and intelligent thoughts and observations: encore!

    6. Thank you, yet it’s hard not to be inspired in such a lovely place (DTW). (my passion for automobiles stems from the childhood image of a partially neglected Dauphine rusting away, badges fallen of- under a linden tree, in the literally shady and partially shabby jewish quarter of my Hometown-Arad).
      I suppose this is exactly the problem here: form and function (it’s not just a mechanical means of getting from A to B- it is a bit of integrated art)- today it has just become consumer ware. Just another object aimed at the bucket, not the bucket-list. What will my children find under the linden tree? (the again, will there still be any left?)

  3. My car would need to have some largely forgotten items like naturally aspirated engine with proper torque and willingness to rev, manual gearbox, steering with proper feel and true precision, brake pedal with feedback, low seating position, windows through which you can actually see something, corners visible from driver’s seat.
    Outside more Pininfarina-ness and less Banglicism with silly creases and bulges.
    Inside perhaps pannò Lancia or Poltrona leather and please leave wood to the Morganeers.

    A modern day Gamma coupé would come pretty close.
    But probably in an updated version with according weight the Gamma’s engine concept would no longer work.

    1. Thanks for that. We´ll need the engine format and displacement, number of gears (is it console mounted or dash mounted?), we need a steering system (rack, worm and roller, recirculating ball?). We can give you a low-h-point which may also determing the engine placement as well and then that might dictate the bonnet length. The visible corners/low-seating position criteria are clashing. You are the boss – please decide which takes priority.
      The Gamma was boxer four, I recall. Subaru still make those. You can maybe rework a Subaru Impreza – an Impreza coupe with a body from Pininfarina. I like that idea – an tragically, your concept is very close to something that could be done as well. Imagine an Impreza coupe with Italian coachwork. Would that satisfy you?

    2. For my car a low centre of gravity would be an absolute must.
      Therefore a boxer engine would be the obvious configuration.
      Unfortunately if you fit a boxer up front you most probably would be limited to four cylinders to keep the engine short. The Gamma’s 2.5 litre would be enough if with four valves the engine could be persuaded to produce 200 to 210 hp. As a boxer it could even be a reasonably smooth 3.0 litre four like Porsche’s 944/968 L4 big bangers.
      Six speeds with shift on the floor or at midlevel like an old Giulia.
      The Gamma coupé had a relatively low seating position and visible corners at the same time, as well as a BMW 2002 or E9 or an Alfa Giulia sprint GT. A low scuttle is key here, which would be easily achievable with a boxer, too.
      Steering could be well designed recirculating ball as it is less prone to kick back than a rack and pinion system. Front suspension could be Alfa-156-type double wishbones and at the rear a multilink to be able to fully exploit of today’s tyre technology.

  4. It actually would be like I wanted a modern Flaminia to be. I think of this every morning whilst I go for a walk in the park nearby:

    – two-door coupe with frameless windows and adequate rear head and legroom
    – NA 2700cc flat-6 engine up-front, a 3300cc V10 optional (with available “Fanalone” aftermarket supercharger and a stroker kit to bore the engine to 4500cc)
    – RWD with rear-mounted transaxle, like the Porsche 944 (manual cars). automatic cars would have the 9-speed Mercedes gearbox
    – boot-mounted battery
    – Nardi-designed wood-and-chrome steering wheel with airbag
    – a version 3.0 of Mercedes’ ABC suspension
    – wool seats as standard, in burgundy, blue, brown or beige. leather available as an optional
    – no silver paint. black paint available for an extra 50,000 euro. all other colours (even the old Lancia shades of grey and Ferrari’s Abetone green) free of charge
    – manual cars with a gated 6-speed shifter; automatic cars available with both floor-mounted and column shifters
    – no bulky centre console, so the gentlemen you can hug and kiss their Russian girlfriends more comfortably. maybe a bench seat available at no extra cost
    – the long-awaited (in my mind) back of coachbuilding, even if the car has a unibody construction
    – local sub-brands to customise the flagship versions. instead of “Designo”, “Individual” or “Vignale”, Lancia would license the names of some defunct brands to take care of special orders. so these versions would be sold as Lancia-Delahaye (in France), Lancia-Hispano (in Spain and Switzerland), Lancia-DeTomaso (in Italy) and so on. suggestions for the British branch are welcome.

    1. I like the bits about colour, seat covers and centre console very much! A boxer engine is welcome as well. What I would like is a different suspension (hydropneumatic based) and three more doors.

    2. Sorry! A coupe is a nice thing to behold, I have to admit. I have space for two cars.

  5. This is a fine exercise. I’d want a three door estate (two on the near side, one on the off-side), the length of the current Fabia Estate, but a bit wider to allow three passengers properly across the back. Power would be via a 180 BHP, 180 lb/ft, 1.8L, NA, water-cooled, petrol fueled flat 6, FWD, driven through a dual-clutch semi-auto with no floor mounted levers, so that there can be no floor c0nsole, enabling front passengers to walk through. Hence, I’d have a bench seat for 3 at the front as well as room for three at the rear. Suspension by double wishbones front and back, but using Moulton’s interconnected hydrogas suspension rather than trad springs. Disc brakes all round. Steering by rack and pinion, with hydraulic assistance. I’d want it styled as close to an estate version of BL’s ECV3 as possible, using steel for the monocoque but alluminium for the body panels – i.e. strong aero influence, deep window-line, semi-spats over the rear wheels).

    1. I know! I nearly wrote that :-). I thought that was an implicit part of the brief. It’s like an Audi A2 crossed with a Toyota iQ and a Citroen SM, all rolled together, with a bit of Veloster for fun. Yum!

  6. Hmm. This whole discussion seems a little off because it focuses on inputs rather than outputs. Why should I care what the powerplant is as long as it does what I need it to? Why should I care what material the body is made from as long as its shape pleases and, again, it does the necessary?

    With this in mind I’ll suggest updated versions of three cars I’ve owned and liked. The updates would include adequate rustproofing — if that means a composite body, so be it, but remember that the end is more important than the means to achieve it –, adequate sound-proofing, air conditioning and, oh, yes, cruise control. All three of the cars I have in mind were at least good for their times but really aren’t up to modern cars. Oh, yes, all with manual transmission because that’s what I like.

    My first Honda, a 1984 Civic-S hatchback. Capacious, economical, handled well, fun to drive. My first much nicer Honda, a two-door Acura Integra. Not as capacious as the ’84 Civic but it went better. And a 3 liter Scimitar coupe. I’ve been fantasizing about getting another one but the risk of the frame rusting and the lack of modern amenities put me off.

    1. Fred: true, outputs matter. Tacit in my inquiry is the way the input affects the output. I think all our new quirky proposals will be rustproofed and wired properly. But so are modern cars. I want to know if you think there’s a technology out there that you’d bring back in order to get an output the standard car does not provide.
      By the way, if only outputs matter do the ends justify the means?

    2. You’ve just made me think of that rather lovely (albeit the performance of the suspension was always reported as disappointing given the spec) Mk3 Honda Accord Aerodeck of the mid to late 80s. Honda doesn’t seem to do anything like that any more …

    3. Ends and means – this discussion could fill an entire month’s theme and more. In a profit oriented manufacturer’s world, the answer is naturally different than for an enthusiast. If I may again take the hydropneumatic example (sorry!), the people at PSA today tell you that there are way simpler and more reliable technologies to achieve the same or even a better result. This may be right if you look at some numerical criteria, but my senses tell me otherwise.

    4. Richard, many are the ways to reach a goal. I’m not sure that, for example, engine type has much effect on how a car drives or how pleasant it is to be in.

      As for ends justifying means, in general, no. But there’s something Marxist, sorry, Ricardian, about thinking that inputs determine value. With tangible objects, “contains a rare and wonderful material” is mainly a selling point that tries to dazzle with irrelevancy. “Wottle she do?” is much more important than “wot’s inner?”

      I’ve always fancied the Farina bodied Flaminia coupe. I tried out a used one when I was shopping for a car in 1975. Lovely thing, about the right size, driving it was enjoyable, and it was thirsty. It wasn’t quick, but who cares? I’m not sure that its convoluted braking system gives better results than a simpler one would. I’m not sure that a transaxle in the rear gets advantages that couldn’t be obtained by other means. And so on.

  7. The perfect starting point for this exercise for me is a Citroën CX. While I’d improve drag coefficient (working on the details!), rust protection and interior material quality a lot and have durable seats in nice (this includes colour!) fabric, a lot of things can stay as they are:
    – Almost all design features – early CX versions are preferred.
    – The whole holistic arrangement of suspension, brakes and steering. I’d go for the later brakes with antilock, but early suspension (softer). I’m not sure if I’d include later-day achievements as an electronic regulation or even a camera-based road recognition, but it might be a good idea to include them and have a switch to turn them on and off. At the same time, I’d also like to be able choose from different suspension setups (sporty, comfy, very comfy etc.).
    – The PRN satellites and the instruments, although one could think of executing them in a much more modern manner, and also include a head-up display.
    – The possibility to have an elongated version and a really spacious estate.

    Now for the power source I’m still a bit undecided. I’d either follow the rumours that the CX was intended with a flat-six, and combine this with an automatic gearchange, I think also a silent, but powerful electric drive would suit the comfortable and relaxed character of the car and its futuristic looks exceptionally well. What is a bit of a sticky point in the latter case is how to marry the excellent idea of a one-pedal drive with recovery to the brake feeling of the CX. It may require some thought and work to make this feel right. The battery pack would help to keep a low COG, but also shouldn’t be too heavy (future technical progress welcome) in order to keep the licht-footedness of early hydropneumatic setups.

    1. Oh, and give the car that hatchback it looks like it must have!

  8. My wish is very simple, but will probably never be fulfilled.

    How about a BMW 2 Series Touring – not an a Active or Gran, but the proper RWD one?

    It would be in the spirit of the original -02 based Touring. It should also be a useful load carrier with at least a 1.8m long load bed. There should certainly be an M140i version, but I think I’d prefer a less frenetic six, something in the manner of the old 525e’s tuned-for-torque 2.7 litre M20.

    1. Worthy subject yet I have to politely remind you (and others) that it’s not a remake of a model we are searching for but the old engineering solutions we want.
      I forgot about incandescent bulbs for instrument displays.

  9. I’ve spent a pleasant half hour thinking about this Richard. Problem is that I won’t come up with something better than has been already done but something that I’d prefer. First up only two doors (no big surprise there). I want the seats from my Volvo C30 up front. I have sometimes spent over 12 hours in one day sitting in them and I’ve never been in a more comfortable seat. I’d like to take the best bits from an E24 sixer, a C126 merc and mix them up with a Ferrari Daytona. I want a long distance GT car with proper poke (the Daytona’s V12 will do nicely) with the comfort and liveability of the Merc. Engine up front, power at the back and 3 defined volumes. 2 ultra comfortable bucket seats behind with armrest, separate temperature control etc. Staggered wheels, 17″ is fine with 50 profile both dished but 20mm wider at the rear. Sunroof is a must and no B pillar. Frameless windows too.

  10. Nice challenge…
    I want an old school, roomy, boxy station wagon in the mould of the US stations from the 60’s and early 70’s. Very simple but absurdly well made and big – 5.5 meters overall. No electrotrickery needed, but a modern powerplant and electronics for reliability and a long life. Priority on roominess and sturdy materials. No leather, only cloth or velour. Interior should be inspired by the more outlandish shapes and colours of 60’s Americana.
    Tech wise: petrol inline 6 with a supercharger, start-go and maybe a mild hybrid capability. RWD and a ZF 8-speed auto. Independent suspension all round. Wheels no bigger than 16″ and tires no slimmer than /65. Foldable side facing seats in the back for the kids – and it will seat 9 ! And finally, a side opening tailgate with roll-up glass.
    There… I’m happy.

  11. I fantasize about a car that does away with what I consider the glaring faults of many modern vehicles, which I will enumerate:

    Laid back windshields that compromise front door size too much
    Insufficient ground clearance
    Wheels of too large a diameter and hence need for rubber band tires
    Insufficient suspension travel for a good ride
    Rubbish seating to include lack of head and foot room front and rear
    Insufficient suppression of vibration, road, wind, tire and engine noise
    Video game electric power steering with poor or no feedback
    Unacceptable straight line stability on worn roads and in crosswinds
    Tramlining under braking
    Poor turning circles
    Cheap ‘n nasty “AWD” systems

    I have only had one car in 50 years that actually made me chortle as I tackled a little-used secondary road at almost double the posted speed limit, 150 km/h in an 80 zone with a following wind. And it had many of the faults detailed above, but exhibited sweet spots now and then in its performance envelope that just made me happy. Mechanical harmony in a 1999 vehicle.

    The goal then would be to make it nice at all times.

    Having driven some ’60s cars over the years, I have always been surprised at how dreadful they were, compared to my period memory of them. So no old stuff coloured by the rose-tinted spectacles of time. No arm-wrenching effort to park with manual steering. No smelly exhaust caused by uneven mixture distribution between cylinders. Particularly, no noisy, impossible to maintain even temperature combustion chamber air-cooled engine.

    So the basis for my dream car is a four passenger vehicle about 4.5 m in length. It would follow the Subaru layout, but boy it would need refinement from that maker’s underwhelmingly average product of today. And it would require a professional styling job over the bones.

    Anyone who compares a Golf/A3 to the current Impreza and is half awake, will note how easy it is to get in and out of the latter, how far back the B-pillar is even on a four-door car. Side and over the shoulder checks are simple if safety nannies are not to be trusted. Visibility is wonderful. Pity about the general execution, so a return to frameless glass is a must, as is raising the ride height 50 mm. 160 mm minimum ground clearance. There is also perfectly good rear room ruined by a too low roofline. Much roomier than a Golf though, and it has a small turning circle. In the suspension department however, the Golf slays it.

    So, 4 cylinder flat four liquid-cooled engine, front mounted using a single aluminum block, no split halves. 2.2 to 2.5 litres with light pressure turbo. Direct and port injection O2 controlled just the way it’s done now. No struggling little wheezer, thanks. Geared for at least 55 km/h per 1,000 rpm in top to keep rpm and noise low at cruise. Attention paid particularly to inlet manifold design to give a smooth power curve – the bete noire of pancake engines. A twin-turbo configuration to avoid the tentacle inlet manifolds from a central plenum, giving instead in effect two separate two-cylinder engines on a common crankshaft with short inlet tracts. Variable valve timing and lift.

    Suspension with minimum 150 mm total travel at the front, 180 mm at the rear. Who needs abrupt ride motions? Coil steel springs. Hydraulic damping of the Tenneco variety, front to rear and side to side cross-connected piping, central reservoir and variable central valve block for control giving the ability to set valving and hence damping by “weighing” the car at each corner by suspension deflection, measured automatically each time at low speed after the car is under way from a stop, in case someone extra has hopped in. Tires, 16 inch wheels 55 or 60 aspect, 215 maximum width.

    Maximum 6 ratio transmission, manual or automatic, no CVTs need apply. These new 9 and 10 multi-speed automatics are made to game official CO2 testing. Decent torque obviates the need of such in the real world. Full time AWD centre gear differential, no cheap single clutch packs claiming torque splits that cannot exist in reality. Electronically-controlled clutch packs as limited slip elements front, centre and rear. Handling response sorted well enough to obviate the need for torque vectoring side to side and front to rear beyond what the limited-slip clutch packs can accomplish. The Golf GTI shows how one of these is brilliant at just the front.

    Steering by hydraulic powered rack and pinion, pressure supplied and maintained by electric pump and pressurized reservoir. Current electric power only systems have a ridiculous inertia caused by geared down motors – they do not want to be driven “backwards” by wheel motions, so heroic programming is required to give a semblance of feel artificially. The rack needs to be mounted to a suitably reinforced bulkhead to avoid oil-drum effects – a fair proportion of total tire-generated cornering force has to be resisted without deflection.

    Old Mac struts will be fine at the front but with Civic Type R refinement – pay the royalty for that extra link cleverness. An updated version of the extremely clever 1976 Jaguar XJ rear suspension. Longitudinal compliance for ride, road and mechanical noise isolation, and great handling all in one deceptively simple-looking design. Turning circle would be as tight as possible, not Honda wide.

    Chassis of modern high-strength steel and aluminum for rigidity and crash protection. Nothing wrong with that with properly applied anti-corrosion protection. Greenhouse itself about 60 mm taller than the norm for increased interior room, allowing higher mounted seats not requiring slumped driving or seating positions. But not to crossover gawky height.

    Volvo knows how to make decent seats. Copy the best of them and no shorty bottom cushions allowed. No pleather like MB’s Artico, which is the modern name for MB-Tex chosen to confuse punters. Either decent leather or cloth. Ventilated seats for comfort in front, full AC controls in rear. Not a fan of wood or stitched dash pads, faux luxury at best. An infotainment system not designed by electronic nerds, many too young to even drive. Surely a bit of brainpower can be spent coming up with a truly ergonomic design – none I’ve seen so far are. There must be an optimal mix of single-use buttons and menu-driven electronic controls, but we have not got there yet.

    Dynamically, I’m fed up with poor crosswind performance, rear roll centre height sensitivity sometimes ruining things even more. I’d spend development money to tune the shape for more than mere fore-aft low drag.

    Finally, fill the car’s structure with sound-absorbing foam, pads and insulation. Eliminate extraneous bulkhead holes. Keep it quiet. Spend the money to make strong suspension attachment points – most look like minimal almost afterthoughts. A bit more actual metal that didn’t bend when the bolts or nuts were tightened would be de rigeur. Rubber bushings and engine mounts should be designed and/or selected for performance, not cheapness. Development is key to sophistication. Refinement is key to real performance, but budgets seem to stop with the job half-done.

    My dream car would be spritely, economical, as impervious to external conditions as possible, predictable in its handling, comfy to sit in and be transported, ride well, be easy to look out of, quiet, and easy to clamber in and out of.

    Yes, I’ve driven the C Class, and this is not that.

    1. In my role as educator I often have to conduct examinations. Sometimes when I see the work handed in I have to wonder if the student at any time read the brief for the project or the course description. For this particular assignment I have rueful grounds to wonder something similar. There have been many interesting answers which work on their own terms but which don´t reveal to me the old technology people would like tried again. By old I mean old principles. I think if some modern thought was applied to things like narrow angle Vees they could be made to work even better; ditto an updated de Dion axles or Watt´s linkage. I am sure many of the 1960s and 1970s packages could be amerliorated but rather than re-hash those I was thinking of new cars with bits of neglected engineering concepts in residence. Vlad got the idea pretty soon. If anyone else wants to go back to the drawing boards, feel free.
      Overdrive! The Laycock de Normanville system is due a revisiting. Imagine slipping into fifth at the presss of a button on the top of the gear stick. The ease, the convenience…. The Morris Minor had a feature where you dipped the headlights by pressing a button on the floor of the footwell. Brilliant but forgotten. Pull-push parking brakes anyone?

    2. I’ve been away for a while chauffering around my niece, husband and kids in for a nice visit from RSA, so didn’t get to read your take on my idea for a car until half-an-hour ago.

      So apparently you think I did not understand your original remit. I did and rejected most of it summarily – as an engineer I see little point in resurrecting dead ends like worm and roller steering boxes, five cylinder engines (I’ve owned three), overdrives, narrow angle vee engines with asymmetrical internals impervious to offset cranks for lower friction or decent balancing, air cooling and its impossible to evenly maintain cylinder head temperatures when we should all vaguely be going green.

      I’ve struggled in the past with non-power steering, vacuum wipers, floor-mounted dip switches crudded up with snow and ice in winter which underspecced or misaimed duct heaters failed to melt while also keeping the windscreen cleared, umbrella parking brakes, bench front seats that force passengers to adopt the leg lengths of the driver, drum brakes that jam on due to overcentre action, BLMC “carpet”, steel dashes, dodgy gearshift action, and most of all, loads and loads of extraneous noise. Multi-speed automatics obviate the need for an expensive add-on overdrive unit.

      Things worth resurrecting and updating I like and included – Mac struts as reinvented by Honda and old Jaguar IRS. Adequate ground clearance of the 1960s, steeper windscreens allowing better seating and visibility, a cheaper modern version of Hydrolastic, tyres with bigger sidewalls for a pleasant ride while not ditching handling (60 aspect ratio is fine), and attention paid to crosswind performance. Plus the interior quietness of a 1959 Buick Invicta. Nobody offers this today – one suffers with too-low sedans or too-high crossovers. I’m convinced a practical line of tweeners with saloon and estate bodies would beat back the fake SUV scourge. Ease of entry and egress seems to be restricted on purpose forcing people to buy pricier hatchbacks on stilts.

      In short, since this was not an exam, I feel I met most of your criteria with the rose-coloured nostalgia spectacle items safely binned. Too bad you didn’t like it. I thought it was great myself!

  12. An update to a couple of Citroen models of days gone by would get pretty close to the (my) ideal.

    Something along the lines of a modernised GS or CX with modern NVH characteristics, coupled with Xantia’s Activa suspension and brakes, SM steering and a variation of Nissan’s e-Power ( using a flat four and possibly twin-air tech.

    The car would focus more on comfort rather than Nürburgring times, with suitable profile wheels and tyres to mask road noise and mask the surface imperfections. The overall width should be kept as narrow as praticable, and length kept under 4.5m. I’d like an interior modelled on that of the BMW i3, but with the use of natural wool for seat coverings.

    The variation of e-Power would be to have a battery-only autonomy of 50km. That could be linked up to the satnav so it could “plan” for least emissions or greatest range.

    Another variation for the power unit could be to use liquid fuel “batteries”, if ever something like this ( comes to fruition.

    1. Old tech that I’d like back? Comfort based suspension for starters, decent visibility without the need for cameras, and controls like the pod clusters in some Visa, GSA and CXes.

      Maybe I should just buy another older Citroën?

  13. Many of us here proposed modernised versions of old cars, me included. I don’t think it’s a contradiction to having old technology revived. On the contrary, I can see many times where nostalgia for technologies is expressed, but also where useful bits of modern achievements are combined with that. Progress has to be in every car for me to like it. There would never have been a DS by combining leaf springs and steel body parts in a new way.

    What I can read a bit out of all the statements here, different as they may sound: it’s not so much the old technology we want back, but the old thinking. Call it engineers vs. accountants, or substance vs. styling or also technology that you can see and feel vs. a cost-optimized setup covered in three or more layers of electronics, cladding and decoration.

    1. This reminds me of the old saw about the hundred year old axe: the head was replaced twice and the handle four times. Or is the glass half empty or half full. I had in mind the car-body as a neutral holder for some archaic technology rather than a “remake” of a previous car. Still, people make of these queries what they will and the public have spoken!

  14. Sorry for being so late to this game, my answers will only look derivative to yours now, but I’ve been thinking about this since a previous thought experiment by Mr Herriot concerning the De Havilland, as seen as a footnote in the Aerodynamics article on Sayer and Costin.

    My thought experiment is also somewhat parallell universe as it concerns a German company in a world where Germany if not didn’t win outright then at least came out of it unscattered. Say for example Messerschmitt had another fate befell on it more in line with what happened to say Bristol and Saab, namely making cars after the war.

    And I’d combine that thought with the thought of deliberately long production runs, with a team of core engineers taking a very long time for making a completely new model, namely 16 years, with a major facelift at half time of eight years. The point would be every model run had to be so advanced it could still be competetive even after fifteen years.

    The company would make a small batch of cars, not more than say between 2000-4000 cars a year, and it would always be around the same amount every year. They would be expensive but not prohibetively so, perhaps more than an S-Class but less than a Maserati, and with a client base perhaps preferring just that, positioning Messerschmitt between Maserati and Mercedes.

    The car would always be about the same size, about five metres long, the car would always be completely built in aluminium, it would always have a straight six engine, it would always be a four door fastback, and it would always seat six people, three abreast in two rows. Pininfarina would always do the design, and it would always follow current trends.

    The first generation was presented in 1948, because it was in 1948 everything really happened, didn’t it? With a low slung fully integrated fastback four door Body that later inspired the Bentley R-Type Continental. It really looked like a larger four door cousin to the Cisitalia that was presented at the same show, giving Pininfarina almost a home run for that year.

    The Messerschmitt ME240 had a 2.4 litre straight six, a single overhead cam, and three dual carbs. It was completely built of aluminium, and the entire engine was canted almost 45 degrees to the right for a very low bonnet line, with very long intake runners aiding engine breathing. Bore and stroke was perfecly square, making it a revvy little engine compared to other six cylinder cars.

    The car had double wishbones up front and a very simple swing axle set up at the rear, exchanged for a new De Dion system in 1950. Transmission was a transaxle in the rear through a torque tube to the engine up front. The transmission was a ZF four speed with a standard Laycock de Normanville overdrive and a Wilson pre-Selector gear change, the later patents given to the Germans as war reparations.

    In 1952 larger engine alternatives came to the market in the form of the Messerschmitt ME280 and ME320, with obvious engine capacities of 2.8 and 3.2 litres. Bore was the same but stroke was increased through larger deck height on the engine block, making the larger engines increasingly tourqier and more long stroke.

    In 1954 fuel injection was introduced as standard on all models, making Messerschmitt the first company in the world to ditch carburettors completely. In 1956 the first major update was made om the body, with a more streamlined appearance, faired in headlights, and all glass hatchback.

    Long low and wide it looked more at home at Le Mans and became a must be for the jet-set around the world. In 1958 disc brakes on all four wheels was introduced, in 1960 the engine got an overhaul and received a new DOHC arrangement instead of the old SOHC head.

    In 1964 the entirely new second generation was introduced, also with a design by Pininfarina. The prototype was called Aerodinamica and was later to inspire the entire design language of both Citroën and Rover. The new version of the Messerschmitt had a much more integrated design without quarter lights on all four windows.

    And the cars piece de resistance was that all the four doors were sliding doors, the front doors slided forwards and the rear doors slided backwards, leaving one large opening save for a very thin pillar in between. The glass in the doors was frameless glass and slided neatly and uniterrupted into the doors.

    The impression of the car as presented in 1964 was that this was a concept car for the street. The de-Dion rear had been substituted for an independent short/long arm rear suspension but the springs and dampers had been exchanged for the Oleopneumatic system Citroën had been forced in court to share with the rest of the world.

    Though many had asked for a bigger engine and preferrably a V8 the Messerschmitt leadership held the steadfast believe that a well balanced straight six is really ever the only engine one would ever need, and they continued development and refining it throughout the years.

    In 1972 ready for the facelift the engine got a new multivalve head with four valves per cylinder. In 1978 the top of the line became the ME320T for Turbo model, and the four valve Turbo became without a doubt the strongest six cylinder in the market if not one of the strongest under any circumstances.

    The 1972 facelift also introduced Pininfarinas all black series, where all the chromed exterior parts had been blacked out in matte black. This created a new trend of sorts giving the cars a new lease of life and making them very modern looking without much actual change in the bodywork.

    In 1980 the third generation was introduced, and with it the new aluminium production system developed by Messerschmitt. All parts of the car could now be automatically extruded or forged at site and the entire body in white was built by robots without a human hand in between. The car looked sleaker and more streamlined, with integrated coloured bumpers and no visible seam between metal and glass.

    The entire side of the car could be stamped in one single deep pressing making the car look like it was made from only very few stampings of sides, hood, windscreen, roof, rear screen and hatchback. The car was simplified with a traditional door set up, but the new thing for this generation was the optional glass roof, making the car look like it had an uninterrupted flow of glass from windscreen to rear bumper.

    In 1982 the company became the first company in the world to offer a turbo as standard on all engine sizes. The Messerschmitt six cylinder engine had now been the benchmark for some time for all the other six cylinder cars, being all DOHC, 4 Valve, and Turbo as standard on all sizes. It really was a monster of an engine, despite its size. And through the 2.4 cylinder was more expensive than the most expensive S-Class, no one ever complained about that either.

    In 1996 the fourth generation was introduced, in 2012 the fifth generation. The world had now become pretty accustomed to the fancy Messerchmitts and their long production runs. And sales never went down even fifteen years in, because the buyer knew they was in it for the long run. These weren’t just any cars, a Messerschmitt really meant a very strong commitment, and owners held on to their cars for as long as they could.

    Upkeep was also easy with one single service center in every country, dedicated and educated personel who knew how to work their cars and free service for the length of the life of the cars itself. This made it very easy to keep them and maintain them, and records show there are more Messerchmitts still rolling than just about any other car.

    1. The Line of thought that inspired my thinking can be found in the commenter section of this article. I read it some years back, forgot about where I read it, but started to think in similar lines. Then I spent the better part of last summer reading every article from back to front just to te read those comments. And I had forgotten the name of the imaginative company, so there was no way for me to search any keywords either. The only thing I remember was that it was in a comment section to a totally unrelated article.

  15. Bill: thanks for that. I prefer the second half of your answer and it’s full of good nuggets. I had forgotten high sidewall tires. The quietest car I have been in was a five year old 7-series with a V10 (I think…). Even full throttle produces less noise than … I can’t think of something making that low level of noise. The Invicta must have been remarkably quiet. Lincolns were too, weren’t they?
    About the old tech, I allow for updates and revisions so, if you plumped for a narrow-angle vee it would not be stuck in the last phase of development. It could be revised and I think improved. Even if some tech is inherently unimprovable it still has qualitative charms. I like engineers but if artists forget feasibility, engineers neglect the qualitative. We need both as I always say.
    On balance, the censor and I are pleased to say you have passed the re-sit. Well done!

    1. Not being an engineer, (a) I cannot sufficiently evaluate the merit or otherwise of an engineering solution and (b) am probably not clever enough to fully grasp the principle in the first place. However, there are two (to me) intriguing developments I would be interested in having re-evaluated, one of which was tried briefly but is now defunct and the other which was experimented with, but never employed.

      The first is BMW’s ETA engine series, which was produced briefly during the 1980s. This engine which was fitted to the E28 5-Series in Europe was I believe a long stroke 2.7 litre version of their familiar 2.5 litre in line six unit employing a raised compression ratio, and operating at lower peak revolutions. Mated to a four speed automatic transmission, and an advanced (for its time) engine management system this low-end torque-biased powertrain was said to have offered a very relaxing combination which came with useful gains in fuel consumption and flexibility – BMW claiming a 20% improvement in consumption over a regular 528i.

      I believe other ETA units were offered in the US for a time, but my understanding is that the market requirement shifted away from economy by the latter 80s so the idea was dropped. I always thought it was a rather elegant solution and one which deserved to be at least revisited. Better minds than mine might know why it never has.

      The second one is a little more mysterious. During the 1970s, at the height of the fuel crisis, Jaguar engineers developed a 6.4 litre V12 engine mated to a two-speed final drive. It’s unclear as to whether it employed a manual or automatic transmission (Harry Mundy reputedly had a 6.4 with Jaguar’s own stillborn 5-speed manual as his daily driver) but the principle as I understand it was to employ a standard axle ratio for give and take driving conditions but to have the ability to switch to much taller gearing under cruising conditions – akin perhaps to an overdrive. It has been said that it gave notably better fuel economy in steady-speed driving, but from the little that has been revealed, it’s said that engineers at the time couldn’t achieve an acceptable level of noise suppression and refinement in operation.

      It’s possible the modern multi-speed automatic transmission obviates the necessity for such a thing now, but given that Lexus’ 10-speed auto seems more nuisance than aid, one can’t help wondering…

      Anyone clever people out there know more?

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