Anniversary Waltz 1988 – A Groovy Kind of Love

Driven to Write loses an uneven struggle to frame a rather unremarkable automotive year.

Phil Collins – Buster 1988 (c) agreatmovieblog.wordpress.com

Be it economically, politically, or indeed the arts, 1988 proved to be a year of transition. And while the UK music charts were increasingly dominated by the burgeoning counter-culture of dance music, some older orders remained stubbornly implacable.

Following his first solo album release in 1981, actor and former Genesis percussionist and lead singer, Phil Collins had become one of the World’s biggest grossing recording artists, amassing in the region of 150 million album sales. A large proportion of these came on the back of tracks like his chart-topping (across six countries) 1988 release – a cover of the 1965 Mindbenders’ single, Groovy Kind of Love, taken from the soundtrack of Buster, a sepia-toned UK made biopic of ‘Great Train Robber’, Buster Edwards, in which he also starred.

Dominating the domestic automotive scene on the other hand was the SMMT announcement that 1987 UK car sales exceeded the two million mark for the first time, but with economists warning of an impending worldwide recession, celebrations were premature. Also making the news that year was the announcement of the deaths of carmaker, Donald Healey and legendary BMC engineer, Sir Alec Issigonis.

The British Grand Prix at Silverstone was won by Phil Collins fan, Ayrton Senna, from tabloid darling Nigel Mansell, who later that year would sign for Scuderia Ferrari. Furthering the Collins analogy was the fact that the Ford Escort steadfastly remained Britain’s favourite motor car.

Maserati Karif. (c) klassiekerweb.nl

When journalists were summoned to Italy to be presented with Maserati’s latest supercar, anticipation was said to have run high. This was abruptly dispelled by the appearance of the Karif, simply another derivation of the endlessly permuted Biturbo concept.

Despite owner Alessando de Tomaso’s claims that the Karif was intended to ‘look normal’, it was more a matter of straitened necessity, there being little in the coffers to justify a bespoke body. So a hardtop variant of the Biturbo Spider’s shell was what we got, lending a somewhat abrupt appearance.

Performance of the twin-turbocharged 285 bhp 2.8 litre V6 was also rather abrupt, with supercar levels of acceleration and highly enjoyable powerslides available on demand. The Biturbo series raised Maserati volumes tenfold, but eroded its exclusive image with dubious durability, a matter the admittedly rapid Karif did little to dispel.

autodata24.com
1988 Opel Vectra. (c) autodata24.com

The Opel Vectra (A) of 1988 saw Russelsheim bring its mainstay model into the aero age with a slippery new body clothing a gently massaged Ascona C platform. A particularly well crafted piece of mainstream car styling, the newly christened Vectra looked great in the showroom and came with the usual bewildering array of engines, transmissions (including 4WD) and trim levels, but left drivers somewhat underwhelmed by somewhat inert dynamics.

A huge commercial success however, the Vectra gave the vital fleet market exactly what it wanted, while giving Henry’s facelifted Sierra even more to worry about. It also notably lent its platform (sad to relate) to Saab for the pretty if somewhat vacant NG900.

Renault 19. (c) thegearboxaus

The Renault 9/11 series was the 1980’s definition of vin ordinaire. Tepid both to look at and to drive, it’s demise ended the worst of Billancourt’s anodyne period. Having previously swapped Marcello Gandini for Giorgetto Giugiaro as go-to design consultant, Renault brought forth the 19, its first serious Golf rival since the unfortunate 14 model a generation before, said by Commercial Director, Paul Percie du Sert, to combine “a uniform balance of qualities”.

Unremarkable is the most apt adjective one could coin for the 19’s styling, but it was well proportioned and drove nicely, apart from the usual Douai ‘sticky’ gearchange. It was also decently well made, Renault going to some effort to raise its game in this area. Against the Mark II Golf, Peugeot 309 and Escort, the 19 acquitted itself well, but dated quickly.

VW Passat B3. (c) autowp.ru via autemo

It was a busy year for VW, with the launch of both Passat and Corrado models. The B3 Passat was an all-new car, the first on a transverse engined platform, believed to be derived from that of the Golf. Volkswagen made much of the car’s packaging, claiming as much interior room as that of a Saab 9000. Blessed with a long wheelbase and a truly massive cabin, the feeling of space inside was heightened in no small measure by the paucity of interior fittings. Spartan (if well fitted) was very much the word.

Claims of improved dynamics were not unfounded, with the big VW displaying fine manners and a decent ride, but the cable-operated gearchange was nasty, and the engines struggled in the weighty body. The in-house styling was aero-focused, and heavily influenced by VW’s 1981 Auto 2000 concept. Notable for the lack of a formal grille and body-coloured badging, the Passat’s visual ethos was almost entirely product design-led.

VW Corrado. (c) classics.honestjohn

Debuting alongside, the Corrado coupé was anything but. Schemed as far back as the late ’70s, work on the car, initially dubbed Taifun began in 1983 as a Scirocco replacement, but was put aside as its sophistication ruled out such a move on cost grounds. Like the Passat, the Corrado was based on Golf underpinnings, but featured a more sophisticated chassis and more powerful engines, including a novel 1.8 litre G-Lader supercharged version.

Originally intended as a ‘squareback’ shape, the body design was the work of VW’s own studio, with many noting a resemblance to Giugiaro’s original Scirocco – a claim Volkswagen’s design chief, Herbert Schäfer airily refuted to Car Magazine’s Georg Kacher, saying, “I don’t see this familiarity at all. What you refer to are typical and traditional VW styling elements such as a long nose, wide C-pillars and lipped wheelarches.” Tell that one to Giorgetto, Herbie.

1991 saw the Corrado fitted with a 2861 cc version of VW’s troubled narrow angle VR6 engine, which catapulted the Volkswagen into Porsche territory in performance, dynamics (shared with the four cylinder cars) and price. In the end, the Corrado was too ambitious, customers seeming to baulk at paying Zuffenhausen money for the Wolfsburg roundel, the Karmann built Corrado being axed without replacement in 1995. File under vanity project.

Audi V8. (c) geocities.ws

Speaking of vanity, Audi’s push into the upper reaches of the luxury car market had stalled by mid-decade, blunted by their ‘unintended acceleration’ woes in the US market and an ongoing customer resistance to paying top whack for Ingolstadt’s upmarket offerings. Ferdinand Piëch’s typically reasoned response was a new unimaginatively named V8-engined flagship.

Powered by an all-new 3.6 litre quad-cam unit, coupled to Audi’s Quattro 4WD system through a four-speed ZF automatic transmission, the Audi V8 appears to have proven a somewhat lacklustre performer. Employing a C3* Audi 100/200 bodyshell, the V8 was subtly lengthened (nose) and widened (wheelarches) but despite its more muscular appearance, it looked little different externally to its less pricey siblings.

Piëch is alleged to have told journalists that he didn’t expect the competition to arrive at an equally competent product in the next four-to-five years, which was somewhat ironic, given the car’s lack of either critical or commercial success. Arguably one of the few occasions Ferdi lost the run of himself.

But he wasn’t alone. Once a respected musician, by the late ’80s, Phil Collins had become something of a parody, omnipresent in film and TV, not to mention a purveyor of wallpaper pop – famously described by a critic as “some of the cheesiest music ever committed to acetate“. Within a few short years, his oeuvre would become the shorthand for the vacuous sheen of ’80s consumption as spelled out in loving detail by novelist Brett Easton Ellis in his 1991 novel, American Psycho.

1988, may have been a groovy kind of love, but times were changing and like most loves, it was one which would prove fleeting.

The cars of 1988 we did write about.

*See comments below.

Author: Eóin Doyle

Founding Editor. Content Provider.

19 thoughts on “Anniversary Waltz 1988 – A Groovy Kind of Love”

  1. Good morning, Eóin, and thank you for a nice retrospective. Regarding Phil Collins, his “Miami Vice” era music may have been cheesy and commercial, but it was very finely wrought and remains one of my guilty pleasures. I wouldn’t seek it out, but always enjoy it when I hear it on the radio.

    The B3 generation Passat was an interesting and unusual piece of industrial design. Its transverse engined Golf underpinnings gave it a huge cabin and interesting, unusual proportions, although it always looked somewhat over-bodied (or under-wheeled) to my eyes. I recall the grille-less front being described, rather fatuously, as a historical reference to the Type 2 rear-engined van. Unfortunately, VW lost confidence in its quirkiness and tried to “normalise” its appearance with the B4 facelift, which added a conventional grille and deleted the bodyside indent, to no worthwhile effect.

    The Corrado was, of course, the car that should have replaced the lovely Giugiaro designed Mk1 Scirocco. Instead, we got this:

    The Scirocco Mk2 looked a bit inert and shared too many design details with the contemporary “breadvan” Polo Mk2. One particularly jarring detail to my eyes is the “upside down” front indicators that exacerbate the bluffness of the front end and clash with the ends of the (rather mean looking) front bumper. Had the indicators been the “right way up” and aligned with the ends of the bumper (or, even better, the bumper continued around to the wheelarch) the effect would have been much more dynamic. The chosen treatment falls into the “what were they thinking” category for me.

    The Audi V8 was actually a fine looking car, whatever its other shortcomings. The different wheel arch treatment gave it a much more muscular stance compared to the 100 on which it was based:

    1. A fabulous design, the 100 shown above and, for me, it marked a point of inflection in the direction of saloon car design. It simply was modern. Looking at it now, the wheelbase looks too short and the track a little narrow, and yet it still looks modern, effortlessly classy and, just, impressive.

  2. For some reason the advertising tag line for the Renault 19 is still in my memory banks thirty-odd years later: “Designed without compromise, tested without mercy”. At least the first half of which is total nonsense of course.

  3. Please not that the Audi V8 was based on the 100 C3, not C4 (C4 was the one that later transmogrified into the first A6).
    Despite of 95 percent of the car being different from the vehicle it was based on it looked like mildly reworked. At least it put right the C3’s biggest fault, its absurdly narrow track in relation to the far too wide body. Audi missed the mark truly big time with an engine that was too small in 3.6 form and its absurdly over engineered front brake system. The V8 absolutely deservedly bombed in the market which helped to convince Audi they should do it properly with the A8 D2.

    1. Was the track of the C3 100 really that narrow in relation to the body? The increase in track between the 100 and V8 was pretty modest, about 45mm front and 60mm rear, but the stance of the latter was remarkably improved. This was, I think, more down to the addition of “proper” wheelarches on the V8, which countered the barrel-sided look of the 100. The wider track did no more than fill the new wheel arches, but to very good effect.

  4. Talking of 1988, this video from the Rovr channel came up today. It’s from 1988 and is a promotional film for the Ford Granada Scorpio featuring middle England’s favourite be-jumpered, coke snorting TV presenter Frank Bough and former Formula One driver and very unjocular tartan wearer, Jackie Stewart. If you can watch to the end without falling asleep or skipping large portions then you’re probably a Phil Collins fan.

    1. The popularity of Mr Collins is the more remarkable for his almost total disappearance from music culture, like he was little more than a blast of synthetic pine and lavender air-freshener in the public sphere. How did Genesis get by without him?

    2. ‘Peelip’ (Collins) did write and perform some excellent, 80’s defining stuff, was awesome in concert and was a fantastic drummer. Genesis was never his band and he was a relative latecomer to it, it was Tony Banks’s band (and always will be). That said, I prefer Peter Gabriel as both lead singer and as a solo artist.

  5. If I remember correctly, here in the US the automotive press criticized the D1 V8 for having a peaky torque curve paired with a long legged gearbox, which rather blunted the expected performance. I recall a twin test with the contemporary 535 which saw the BMW completely smoke the Audi, despite being down about 40bhp. VW tried to fix the issue by fitting a combo of the larger 4.2L engine with an shorter ratio transmission, but it was too little, too late. An unexpected upside was a better ride; the new autobox resulted in a lower, limited top speed of 130mph, allowing them to fit less agressive tires.

    On another note, did it make much sense to invest in three different wing pressings for the 100, 200 and V8?

    1. Thanks for stopping by Ben. Car magazine’s Brett Fraser (if memory serves) also severely criticised the V8’s torque characteristics and found the car generally wanting. I believe Audi revised the gearing to help mask the somewhat peaky power delivery, but to what extent that improved matters I cannot say. Half baked is probably the charitable thing to say about the car. I have never clapped eyes on one and somewhat doubt any were officially sold in the UK or Ireland.

      Regarding the wing pressings – good point. But then Audi were not making brilliant decisions at the time. They allegedly massively underpriced the B3 series 80/90 models in Europe, leading to them having to compensate in other markets, to the detriment of sales. Not aided by the fact that these cars were massively underwhelming to drive, (if finely wrought). Uncle Ferdi, for all the bouquets draped at his feet, wasn’t necessarily unerring.

    2. Adding a lipped wheelarch as in Audi 200 to an existing wing is relatively easy and cheap but to also alter the complete rear door is economically mad. Even if it does not look it, the V8 shared nearly no internal or external body panels with the Type 44/C3.

      I can confirm that the smaller engined 3.6 V8 was not a good drive because its engine seriously lacked power – the difference to the 4.2 is much bigger than the numbers suggest.
      Those silly brakes up front alone would be enough for me not to buy such a car. They are susceptible to all kinds of unwanted noises and vibrations, prone to overheating and terrifyigly expensive to repair (brake pad change at an Audi dealer ~600€, new discs ~1,100€)…

  6. Eóin, you’ve succeeded in making me realise how old I must be – 1988 seems like only yesterday. And for some of us, the swan song era of the company car, invariably a Ford or Vauxhall which we thrashed from one end of the country to the other. I never found any pleasure in driving a Ford (except Transit vans); Astras & Cavaliers were fine – competent and entirely fit for purpose. But would I have actually bought one? Well, no – during the ’80s I bought 3-year old SAABs (thus allowing the doctors, engineers & professors to bear the costs of initial depreciation) and then trade them in for another one at 5 years old. In 1988 my company car (my employer gave us no choice) happened to be a diesel Mitsubishi Lancer. My initial horror turned to total respect for this bland box on wheels, ignored by everyone, which was capable of surprisingly high-speed, under-the-radar cross country progress. Totally reliable and every journey enjoyable. Not to mention completed in comfort. The Vectra which replaced it was obviously far in advance of it in so many ways – but was it so much better in the real 40k miles per annum world?
    As for Mr Collins – to be properly appreciated he has to be unplugged . . .

  7. Good morning, Ben, you must have an excellent memory: I had forgotten about the C3 200 which, as you say, offered a third variation on the wheel arch treatment after it was facelifted:

    The C3 200 was actually launched with the 100’s standard wheel arch treatment. Given that Audi made a big deal of the C3 100’s low drag coefficient of just 0.30, to the extent that they printed it on the rear three-quarter window, I wonder how the different wheel arch treatments affected this?

    1. If memory serves, the 200 received the honour of being the only Audi to ever become a Bond car (albeit briefly, with the Welsh Bond – who didn’t play it as a Welshman – at the wheel).

    2. The official Audi numbers for Cd were 0.30 for the 100 and 0.33 for the 200.
      The car pictured above is fascinating because it is registered in a US state KROY WEN where RHD seems to be mandatory.

  8. Well spotted, Dave! My OCD kicked in and I flipped the photo before posting, to align it with the two previous photos.

    I need professional help…

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