Darwin’s Estate

What happens when a subspecies falls prey to evolutionary overspecialisation? The 2008 Ford Flex is what happens.

Post-facelift Flex (c) cargurus

When J. Mays took over from Jack Telnack as Dearborn’s styling supremo in 1997, his avowed aim was to re-emphasise Ford’s homegrown product identity, appointing former Volvo design chief, Peter Horbury in 2004 as Executive Director for design with responsibility for FoMoCo’s cache of US brands.

By mid-decade, it had already become apparent that the US market was losing its appetite for minivans, but Ford, like most of its domestic rivals lacked the market foresight to Continue reading “Darwin’s Estate”

Every Day Is Judgement Day.

Continuing our meditation on the Austin Maxi and Fiat 128, some thoughts prompted by encounters with two survivors.

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The two cars pictured were photographed in the last 12 months. As well as being impressively original and looking as if they work for a living, they’re also examples of the last of their breeds.

The Maxi is one of the final ‘Maxi 2’ iteration, introduced to a largely indifferent world in August 1980, just 11 months from the end of production. The bright colour – ‘Snapdragon’ in BL parlance – suits it well. Far too many Maxis were specified in Russet Brown, Damask Red, or hearing-aid beige (formally known as “Champagne”), 1950s colours two decades on, in a time when BLMC’s Austin Morris colour pallet suddenly became positively vibrant. Tellingly, the archetypal Maxi customer avoided Bronze Yellow, Limeflower, or Blaze Red. Continue reading “Every Day Is Judgement Day.”

“To The Detriment of His Supreme Imperial Majesty – Hurragh!”

Oh, dear more actual news at DTW. 

Reduces stress
2019 Fiat 500L: source

Without wanting to drag Brexit into this**, I have to note that Larry Elliot at the Guardian is now visibly wrong about another big thing, the Renault-FCA merger (if it is even a realistic prospect). For your information, Elliot has been at the very least tolerant of the lunacy of Brexit. Now he is suggesting that the mooted, hinted, suggested alliance of FCA and Fiat is even worth considering.

The core of his recent article is that “Frosty relations between France’s Macron and Italy’s Salvini could scupper talks over £29bn merger”. It sounds so knowledgeable but Franco-Italian relations are 800 km beside the point.

Second, it’s not 1976 any more, a time when national leaders could push around large corporations as de Gaulle did with Fiat and Citroen. But the problem is so much more fundamental: the idea of FCA linking to Renault is as insane as suggesting someone should consider marrying a syphilitic zombie. In this instance Renault-Nissan is the “someone” and FCA is the “syphilitic zombie”. While Renault has had its downs and up, the F in FCA has been only able to Continue reading ““To The Detriment of His Supreme Imperial Majesty – Hurragh!””

Better By FAAR

Ignoring provisos about spin cycles, we report on some news.

2020 Corsa-e. (c) automotive news

Despite the question marks which remain poised above Groupe PSA’s revival under Carlos Tavares, one cannot deny that the French carmaking giant seems to be playing something of a blinder at present. Last week, following leaked photos which surfaced online, Opel released official images and some details of the forthcoming Corsa B-segment model, due to
go on sale later in the year. Continue reading “Better By FAAR”

A Candle Stick Fell Into The River One Day

Seven fat years: from 1993 to 1997 Fiat sold the Coupé Fiat as nobody calls it.  As if that was not enough Fiat also sold the cheaper Barchetta, which had a good ten year year run. Glory days indeed.

For inspiring the possessed
1997 Coupé Fiat

We’ll discuss the Coupé today. If the body slashes down the side of the car get the most attention, and deservedly so, this view shows another form of design discipline in operation.  The whole lot seems to be defined by very few lines: the outline, the dark trapezoids of the of lamps, grille aperture and the front screen and not much else.

How I wish I could Continue reading “A Candle Stick Fell Into The River One Day”

Nib of the Matter

A close shave with the lesser-spotted Citroen Saxo-BIC® edition.

(c) BIC

In 1944, two Frenchmen, Marcel Bich and Édouard Buffard set up a business in Clichy to produce writing instruments. In the post-war era, the company prospered and having adapted László Biró’s original design for a ballpoint pen, Bich introduced the mass-produced BIC Cristal in December 1950, quickly becoming a stationary cupboard essential. Such was its impact, commercial success and design influence that in 2001 a BIC Cristal pen was added to the permanent collection of the Department of Architecture and Design at New York’s Museum of Modern Art.

In 1973 the company introduced a range of disposable lighters, while two years later BIC launched the one-piece razor. Three staple products; perfect realisations of product design, made in their millions every year, reliable, ubiquitous and disposable. Yet each were masterpieces in their own right, eminently fit for their purpose, used and thoughtlessly discarded by millions around the world every day. Continue reading “Nib of the Matter”

Just Like The December Coronation

We’re back at the anniversary game again for this Saturday morning. Is it really forty years since the Opel Kapitan, Admiral and Diplomat cars first appeared (in their “B” incarnations)? No, it´s fifty.

KAD-B-Baureihe: source.  Look at those wheels.

I must confess that this anniversary did not leap into my conciousness unaided. The people at Oldtimer Markt did the classic-car world the service of putting the 1969 K-A-D cars on the front cover of the current edition of magazine. I am sure you all knew the cars were from around the late 60s. But did you know they they staggered on until 1977? That was the same year you could buy a Citroen CX, a Ford Grannie Mk 1, a Peugeot 604, a Lancia Gamma, Rover SD1 (if you were a sucker for pain) or a Mercedes W-123.  Only an actual Cadillac could Continue reading “Just Like The December Coronation”

On My Horsey

Everybody needs a hobby. 

Horses for courses. Pre-facelift B9-series A4. (c) Motortrend

To the casual viewer, it’s probably fair to say that the DTW offices are a rather sparse affair, lacking as they do much in the way of space, comfort or ambience – especially since our Editor-At-Large accidentally set the place alight a few months back. However, there is one item which not only survived the conflagration, but remains hard-won and much fought over. The Driven to Write hobby horse.

Earlier in the week, one of our readers appeared to take exception to our coverage of the newly refreshed Audi A4. I assume the individual in question perceived an element of prejudice on our part, a certain doing-down of the Teutonic big-three, or perhaps a labouring of a point previously made. But in the absence of clarification, one cannot be certain.

I’m perhaps not the best-placed individual to Continue reading “On My Horsey”

Tin Machine, Tin Machine, Take Me Anywhere

It has been thirty years since the Citroen launched the XM, on this day in 1989. On sale for 11 years and out of production for nearly twice as long, that makes it a real antique, doesn’t it.

1990 Citroen XM V6

(There are now people around who may never have seen an XM in motion, anyone born after 1999, I suppose.)

It is something of a pleasant coincidence (for me) that the self-titled album by Tin Machine came out just one day before Citroen announced the CX´s replacement. If Tin Machine was David Bowie’s way of getting back to what he most wanted to do, the XM presented another step towards watering down Citroenisme.

In the long game of a professional musician at Bowie’s level, Tin Machine was a necessary experiment, a form of throwing paint around and casting off unwanted rules. It was a step toward something else. For Citroen, the XM was claimed to Continue reading “Tin Machine, Tin Machine, Take Me Anywhere”

What’s It Going To Be Then, Eh?

Unusually for the company, BMW’s large coupés have traditionally been rather fickle creatures. 

BMW 3.0 CS, photo (c) mazda3revolution.com

The success of the German car industry is founded upon consistency and evolution. BMW is no exception, as exemplified by its core 3 and 5 series models, which have rarely deviated from the proven and tested formulae.
While other BMW models haven’t been as consistent and successful what with the 7 series never quite recovering from the after effects of the very disruptive E65 generation, it’s the brand’s large coupés that have been by far the most systematically unsteady. Continue reading “What’s It Going To Be Then, Eh?”

128 vs Maxi Part 4: The Racehorse and the Donkey

We return to our analysis of the 50-year old Austin and Fiat contemporaries with a look at their engines. One was the work of a revered racing engine designer, the other was cobbled together by two capable backroom boys under the eyes of an unsympathetic boss.

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On paper a conservative design, the Maxi’s E series engine turns out to be downright odd in its execution. It evolved from a 1300cc prototype with a belt-driven overhead camshaft, one of many experimental designs being developed in the West Works at Longbridge. Long-serving engine designers Eric Bareham and Bill Appleby were handed the task of reworking the inchoate power unit into an engine suitable for BMC’s new mid-range car.

More capacity was needed, so it was bored out to accommodate 3 inch pistons, leaving no space for waterways between bores or any further outward expansion. Issigonis vetoed belt drive for the camshaft in favour of a traditional single-roller chain, on the reasonable grounds that belt technology was new and unproven at the time. Continue reading “128 vs Maxi Part 4: The Racehorse and the Donkey”

Empty Gesture

On the surface of things, the facelifted Audi A4 is an entirely predictable product action, but what it symbolises could be far more momentous.

(c) Autocar

It’s highly probable that the design director role at any prestigious OEM carmaker comes with a reasonably well-remunerated package of monetary benefits. This being so, we can take a wild guess that Audi’s Marc Lichte is not therefore on tuppence ha’penny wages.

The money must be, one supposes, some consolation, because there certainly cannot be much by way of creative satisfaction Mr Lichte could derive from masterminding Ingolstadt’s current design direction. At this point of course, we really ought to Continue reading “Empty Gesture”

A Photo For Sunday: 2019 VW Golf Variant

This’d be one of those under-the-radar kind of cars that I don’t notice much less write about. So what’s it doing here, today, now?

2019 VW Golf Variant (Denmark market nomenclature)

First and least importantly, the car’s presence here is a bit of DTW’s public service activity. I am documenting the car and making available a nice, clear side profile. Second, and more interestingly, we find the exception to the rule (and haven’t photographed that). What do I mean?

Well, if you manage to approach the car and Continue reading “A Photo For Sunday: 2019 VW Golf Variant”

Crying Fowl

While we await events or at least someone to quack the story, we speculate upon the probabilities surrounding a possible PSA / JLR marriage. 

(c) Coventry Live

There is a commonly quoted saying which states that if something looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, there is a strong probability that it is in fact an amphibious biped. Apply this reasoning to the speculation currently swirling around Jaguar Land Rover’s Warwickshire headquarters, and to the untrained eye it does appear that its Gerry McGovern designed outdoor water feature must be teeming with waterfowl. Continue reading “Crying Fowl”

Was That Leslie Crowther Over By The Bar?

Northern Europe’s largest classic race takes place over this weekend, from 17th to the 19th. I sneaked into the race paddock to look around. For once, DTW has something like news, in the form of this sketch of my snooping around the race paddock yesterday evening.

The event is called Classic Race and attracts an impressive number of classics sports cars. I noticed Ford, Alfa Romeo, Triumph and BMW vehicles made up a disproportionate number of the participants. Of those, Escorts, 2002s and Giulias and GTVs dominated. As well gazing at some expensively prepared cars I also had a chance to Continue reading “Was That Leslie Crowther Over By The Bar?”

Saving Grace – Part Eight

Concluding our profile of the Series III.

(c) Jaguar Cars

It can be stated without a trace of hyperbole that the Series III XJ remains the most commercially significant Jaguar of all time. Not the most successful, mark you; other XJ generations have sold in greater numbers, others still to come may yet again transform its fortunes, but the Series III remains to this day the car that single-handedly saved the company.

Ironic of course, given that it should never have come into being, and had BLMC’s Lords and masters given Browns Lane the creative freedom and the finances to Continue reading “Saving Grace – Part Eight”

128 vs Maxi Part 3 : Spring Song

We return to our two stars of the spring 1969 season with a look at the different approaches to chassis design adopted at Longbridge and Lingotto.  One car defied convention, the other defined the new orthodoxy.

Image: BMC

Raw facts first:  The Fiat 128 uses MacPherson struts at the front, with coil springs and a transverse anti-roll bar, and a fully independent system at the rear, comprising a transverse leaf spring, struts, and a single wishbone per side. The Austin has Hydrolastic springing and interconnection, with upper and lower links in a parallelogram arrangement at the front, and fully trailing arms at the rear.

That disregards the detail, which is significant in the understanding of the designers’ mindsets. Continue reading “128 vs Maxi Part 3 : Spring Song”

The Shoeshiners Dream of Sweeping Chimneys

This is one of 6,999 examples made, an Alfa Romeo 2600 Sprint. Bertone takes the credit for the admirable styling.

To engender inner calm
Alfa Romeo 2600 Bertone coupe

Bertone did the coupé, Touring did the Spider and, I suppose, Alfa Romeo did the handsome saloon one sees very little of. In 1962 this must have been certain to make the neighbours sit up and notice, especially in the UK and Ireland where the British marques had such a dominant presence in the market. It would have cost more than three times the price of Cortina or Austin 1800. So if you wanted to Continue reading “The Shoeshiners Dream of Sweeping Chimneys”

Test Drive: Kia Ceed

It’s my favourite holiday of the year again and time, once again, to play ‘hire car lottery’.

kia ceed
Ceed in mid blue (source: Irish News)

Our Easter break trip to the middle of France. Staying in the grounds of a charming chateau owned by a Danish couple who are living their dream. It’s always a peaceful and restful stay in a largely by-passed part of France where the pace of life is borderline somnambulant.

It’s also the time of anticipation and surprise of booking a hire car in advance and then waiting to Continue reading “Test Drive: Kia Ceed”

Welsh Invader

Unicorns do exist. I ran into one yesterday. Unusually, it bore a dragon upon its nose.

DTW

Car manufacture is difficult, expensive and potentially ruinous, so if you’re going to embark upon it as a career, it’s probably best to carry out the exercise within proximity to others engaged in similar activity, for the purposes of logistics, not to mention access to the requisite know-how. But not everybody cleaves to the safety of numbers.

It’s tempting for the writer to stoop to cliché when one speaks of the harp-shaped hills and valleys of Wales, but moreso is the habitual expressions of surprise, tinged with latent snobbery uttered by auto journalists at the mere notion of a Welsh car manufacturer. The very idea. But why not there, as anywhere else?

Probably the only carmaker to Continue reading “Welsh Invader”

See Them Dance Around The Five-Lamps At Sunrise

The words “Double Six” constitute a very short poem, don’t they? 

But I will anyway…

Even when new, the words Double Six carried a lot of force, a force approximate to the stump-pulling torque of the 12-cylinder power station jammed under the lusciously scultpted bonnet. Since then the heft of the words have only increased. Twelve pot engines are exceedingly rare now and they were not common when this Daimler could Continue reading “See Them Dance Around The Five-Lamps At Sunrise”

Fade Away and Radiate

Renault has made a name for itself as a monovolume specialist. This must change.

(C) DTW

Recently, we highlighted Ford’s retreat from the Euro-minivan sector, amid a rapidly contracting market for such vehicles and FoMoCo’s own fiscal woes across the region. However, the blue oval is far from alone in viewing this segment with jaundiced eyes, with news breaking more recently that owing both to falling sales and the advent of the newer and more crossover-ish C5 Aircross CUV to the market, Citroen is ceasing production of the short bodied SpaceTourer (aka Picasso).

Having previously declared the compact MPV sector for Renault’s Scenic, further study however reveals that the real 2018 winner was in fact the VW Group, who arguably had the good sense to Continue reading “Fade Away and Radiate”

If So, Then Yes

Sometimes what you are looking for is not far from the front of your face. I have often bemoaned the lack of a modern equivalent of Lancia’s Spartan but high-quality interiors. It was under my nose, so to speak.

2018 Range Rover Evoque dashboard: source

I wasn’t paying attention, was I? While in Scotland recently I had the time to take a look at the dashboard and interior of a Range Rover Evoque. They have only been on sale for eight years now so it was maybe a bit much to expect I’d get to Continue reading “If So, Then Yes”

128 vs Maxi Part 2 : Function over Form

We continue our look at the spring 1969 debutants, contemplating heady matters of gestalt

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The rather Lancia Beta-like profile rendering from the early stages of BMC’s ADO14 project shows considerable promise. Too short in the nose, probably at Issigonis’ prompting, but otherwise elegant in spite of the ‘carry-over’ 1800 doors. So what went wrong along the road to BLMC’s five-door fiasco? Continue reading “128 vs Maxi Part 2 : Function over Form”

Gran Illusion

Farewell Gran, I didn’t even know you were gone.

(c) BMW

As a younger man, I used to marvel at the enthusiasm with which my more elderly relatives would pounce upon the obituary section of their local newspapers. At the time it seemed a rather morbid pasttime to seek out those amongst one’s number who had most recently entered the spiritual realm, but as I’ve entered middle age and become a little more empathetic, (not to mention closer to time’s scythe), I’ve realised that this habit stems more from a not unreasonable concern that a neighbour or acquaintance might Continue reading “Gran Illusion”

The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway

Surprisingly, yet inevitably, the most original interpretation of modern luxury doesn’t come from Germany – but South Korea: The rather stupendous Genesis Mint.

Aspirational flair is not a matter of size. Photo (c) The Verge

Creating a ‘premium’ car brand is no walk in the park. It takes decades, unique flair, racing success (Jaguar), billions and a great many wise product decisions (BMW, Audi) to achieve this. Anything less than boundless commitment to the cause is bound to fail (Infiniti, Acura). It was therefore a brave/reckless choice, courtesy of Hyundai, to try and Continue reading “The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway”

Match Not Found

A Shanghai Surprise for your Sunday deliberations.

(c) motoringresearch

Earlier this week, our German correspondent offered his considered views upon the stylistic progress of the Chinese auto industry, as evidenced by some highly credible concept cars shown at the recent Shanghai show. What’s clear from his report is that China’s carmakers, with some assistance from Western design professionals, are making significant aesthetic strides and that in this arena at least, the so-called developed world’s carmakers have little to feel complacent about.

The standard of many domestic concept cars at Shanghai would have put any European or North American motor show to shame, and while we have yet to Continue reading “Match Not Found”

Ashtrays: Lancia Thema 8.32

Driventowrite has bagged another rare ashtray: the Lancia Thema 8.32. Pretty damn fine it is, too.

Lancia Thema 8.32 interior

The kind people at Deane Motors, Dublin, permitted me the chance to experience the lush interior and the acoustic charm of this rarest of Lancias, the Ferrari-engined 8.32 for which I am rather grateful. One doesn’t get a chance to sit inside one of these all that often.

For starters Mk1 Themas don’t clog our streets; and the 8.32 in particular is a rarer bird still. Around 4ooo of them were made. Before going on to consider the car’s general merits let’s cut to the chase and Continue reading “Ashtrays: Lancia Thema 8.32”

Everything That Rises Must Converge

As we await the newest iteration of VW’s bestseller, we examine what opposition it will face. 

Outgoing. (c) netcarshow

It’s no good. Despite repeated efforts, no European carmaker has successfully unseated the Volkswagen Golf from its lofty promontory; a position unique insofar that not only does it occupy a sub-segment of its own, but also in that its name can be expressed as both noun and adjective.

In fact, one senses that VW’s rivals have largely given up, corralling their efforts for a distant second or third place. Do I Continue reading “Everything That Rises Must Converge”

Hey There, You, Dancing The Pasodoble…

Regular readers to DTW may already know the special plinth on which this site places the 1997 film Gattaca. You will not be surprised then that I might try to hang an article off a reference to this kinematographic production.

Electric Citroen DS in Gattaca: source

Apart from a memorable performance by Ernest Borgnine and equally impressive editing by Lisa Zeno Churgin, the movie features some elegant classic cars. These fitted into the retro-futuristic style of the film: a Rover P6, a Citroen DS and a Studebaker Avanti. The schtick with these retromodded beauties which glide through various scenes in the film is that they Continue reading “Hey There, You, Dancing The Pasodoble…”

128 v. Maxi Part 1 : Last Tango of the Titans

A little over 50 years ago, two of Europe’s leading automotive businesses introduced a pair of rather utilitarian cars to the world. One was hugely successful and influential, the other turned out to be a prophet with little honour in its own time.

In bombastic terms, there’s a ‘clash of giants’ story to be told. Issigonis v. Giacosa. BLMC v. Fiat SpA. Maxi v. 128. It’s not quite ‘rumble in the jungle’, but a comparison tells a lot about the way things were done at Lingotto and Longbridge.

In a curious coincidence, the Austin Maxi and Fiat 128 were the last cars developed by their lead designers which reached production.

In Dante Giacosa’s words, “On 3rd January 1970, the chequered flag signalled my arrival at the finish of my career”. He had reached the age of 65, and resigned in compliance with company rules. Continue reading “128 v. Maxi Part 1 : Last Tango of the Titans”