Anniversary Waltz 1989 – Tin Roof, Rusted

If you see a faded sign at the side of the road…

The B52s (c) Orlando Times

Formed in Athens Georgia in 1976, the US alt-surf-rock band The B52s had existed relatively contentedly on the peripheries of the contemporary music scene for a good decade and a half before a single taken from their 1989 album, Cosmic Thing propelled them into mainstream international chart success, and an element of immortality.

Written partly to recall their early years as impecunious art-loving musicians, and to honour their guitarist Ricky Wilson who had died in 1986 from a HIV-related illness, Love Shack was not so much the B52s shifting their retro-futurist sound and aesthetic to meet a wider audience, more the public attuning to a band being unapologetically themselves. By the close of 1989, the track was everywhere.

Elsewhere too, the music scene was shifting, with a growing and vibrant dance/ rave club culture taking root across the UK, and these developments arising alongside the mounting influence of Hip Hop which was crossing into the mainstream from the US, would increasingly dominate both music and popular culture.

Geopolitically, walls were tumbling, most notably one bisecting the divided German city of Berlin, underlining the epochal collapse of the Soviet Union. Elsewhere too, dominos were falling. Tokyo’s stock market crashed, which would have lasting repercussions for Japan’s motor industry. Yugo’s US arm collapsed and Ford, in an act of uncharacteristic corporate hardball, and with the connivance of the UK government mounted a hostile takeover of Jaguar.

alfa sz

Ford had previously attempted to gain control of Alfa Romeo, but with Fiat Auto now firmly in control, Arese announced the 75 saloon-based, limited production SZ – although upon first viewing, some wished they hadn’t. Dubbed the monster by the Latin press, its uncompromisingly styled composite body, chosen over rival proposals from the Italian carrozzieri and allegedly created at centro stile by Antonio Castellana under the supervision of Robert Opron. The short-wheelbase, transaxle rwd driveline mated to Ing. Busso’s fabled V6 equalled vivid performance and polished road manners. Something of a cult car as much then as now, the SZ may not have been pretty but it was good.

(c) wsupercars

Like Milan’s Biscione, Britain’s Aston Martin had become synonymous with financial calamity over the preceding decades. But an intervention by Uncle Henry brought not only financial stability, but the funding to develop the first all-new Aston Martin model in a generation. The Virage was very much created to a tried and trusted Newport Pagnell recipe – rear wheel drive and a hand-built multi-valve V8 of their own design. The Ford parts bin was plundered both beneath the surface and in the cabin. The Virage was in characteristic Aston fashion a bit of a brute, which neither lacked charm nor visual impact, but subtlety and finesse were perhaps other matters.

Klaus Kapitza’s E31 8-er. Image credit: (c) ozbmw

Also lacking a certain restraint was BMW’s E31 8-series, a car which bore the stamp of its creative lynchpin and cheerleader in chief, Wolfgang Reizle. Also akin to the Aston, the E31 was seen as overwrought, overthought and most tellingly, not what the market had hoped for. But more decisively, the timing wasn’t brilliant. The ’80s boom would soon run itself out, which wouldn’t auger well for indulgent, ultra-expensive luxury vehicles, especially those which were not immediate sales successes. It was therefore, by Petuelring standards at least, a comparative flop – if an one which has aged with some considerable grace nonetheless.

(c) topspeed

If Ferrari’s end of decade mid-engined offering was not entirely a failure, it certainly remains a car which has never quite ignited the enthusiasm of aficionados like either its immediate 328 predecessor – or successor for that matter. The first 2-seater Berlinetta to receive the innovative transverse-mounted gearbox as previously fitted to the previous year’s Mondial T (and some of the Scuderia’s Grand Prix machines), the 348 had a more projectile-like appearance, (courtesy of Pininfarina) and was more user-friendly than any mid-engined Maranello steed yet, but the advent of Honda’s NSX the same year had (snob value apart) definitively altered the conversation.

(c) Favcars

Despite the soon to implode Japanese economy, Nissan’s upmarket nameplate launched in the US under the Infiniti nameplate. Unlike Toyota’s purpose-designed Lexus LS, the debut Infiniti Q45 made use of a good deal of JDM carry-over. A more driver-focused vehicle than the LS400, the Infiniti was an impressive car, but one which was deemed to have looked a little odd, was poorly marketed and would forever live in big Lex’s shadow. Still does.

(c) caradisiac

By 1989 there really wasn’t anything the Japanese carmakers couldn’t successfully put their hand to. Having previously demonstrated an ability to recreate the past so successfully as to be demonstrably superior to it, Mazda announced the MX5 roadster, a shameless facsimile of the classic 2-seater British sportster – part MG, part Lotus Elan, but without the requisite grinding of teeth. Mazda engineers allegedly went to painstaking lengths to recreate the quintessence of the genre, even engineering a slight resistance in the gear linkage – akin to a producer digitally adding tape hiss to a modern music recording. But instead of pastiche, Hiroshima created a timeless classic – a rare case of the cover bettering the original – well, perhaps.

(c) Supercars.net

Park an Opel Calibra next to an Aston Virage and the untrained eye could momentarily be fooled. And if this was to the credit of Wayne Cherry’s GM Europe studio, it probably was deemed less so at the offices of the Heffernan / Greenley design consultancy to whom Newport Pagnell had turned. A clean, aero-influenced shape in the contemporary Opel studio idiom, it tended a little towards blandness, but in a market so long devoid of relatively affordable coupés, it arrived with a good deal of latent goodwill. Sadly however, a whole less than the sum of its parts, largely by consequence of its uncouth Vectra/ Cavalier chassis. Ultimately then, the Calibra was to all intents and purposes Russelsheim’s Capri.

(c) wheelsage.org

Peugeot’s 605 has perhaps already received sufficient comment upon these pages to require more here, but while Sochaux’s turn of the decade flagship was an entirely creditable and credible effort, it suffered from the fact that its cheaper, visually similar (Pininfarina again) and more frangible 405 sibling arrived to market beforehand, undermining the 605’s impact to a limiting degree. Certainly, a more determined effort to visually differentiate the pair might have aided matters. The car itself was rather good, although what it did that Citroen’s XM couldn’t remains as unclear today as it did thirty years ago.

The mood music of 1989 was broadly euphoric, signalling a new, post-history epoch, so the fact that it too would shortly become yet another faded sign at the side of the road remains one of life’s more poignant reversals. But for a time at least, as we headed down the Atlanta highway in a Chrysler as big as a whale, the possibilities (and the choice) appeared almost limitless.

The class of 1989 we did write about.

1989 outliers: Daihatsu Applause, Ford Fiesta, Maserati Shamal, Nissan 240 SX / Pao / S-Cargo, Porsche 964, Subaru Legacy.

Editor’s note: DTW will return to the Honda NSX and Mercedes R129 in due course.

Author: Eóin Doyle

Founder. Editor. Content Provider.

2 thoughts on “Anniversary Waltz 1989 – Tin Roof, Rusted”

  1. An amusing article, to say the least, Eóin. Zeitgeist is a seasoning only top notch journalistic Chefs can afford to use so well. Whilst I am definitely disinclined for any debates at this time of the year, the following
    sentence induced a scar on the plush, enjoyable bonanza that
    your article induced in my bright, zero hangover morning:

    “…although what (the 605) did that Citroen’s XM couldn’t, remains
    as unclear today as it did thirty years ago”.

    At the same time, advocating a car that was, back then, (prejudice-based) sentenced as boring, ‘pumped up 405’ / would-be-French-Benz
    is an activity I find profoundly idle, even for a lazy,
    very late December midday.

    I shall therefore not defend the 605 at all (a lost case, probably), only
    consume the luxury of affording to remind of several disciplines where
    the 605’s gratitude on satisfying its captain and occupants does
    (to a fair extent, objectively) exceed that of the XM:

    – Freedom of ergonomic movement : whilst it cannot be argued that
    the XM’s chairs are without doubt one of the (if not The) most comfy
    & supportive automotive crests that ever saw a showroom, those
    of the 605 have a noticeably less strict attitude towards the position
    of the body they support. They are, therefore, way more suited to an archetypal big french sedan (expectations of relaxed occupants,
    laissez-faire ambiance etc…), and indeed make any visit to its cabin
    a joyful, ergonomically liberating occurence. The XM, on the other side,
    employs almost a “GT/GTI” type of seating ergonomics philosophy, and dictates how do you keep your body within the seat – being much more
    reminiscent of a german car, in this particular aspect (still way plusher than those, but essentially it dictates your posture). The 605 instead just lets your body exist. In a very comfortable connotation of ‘exist’. I am fully aware that the definition of “better” is always a paradox. To many drivers, a strict, dominant attitude of the car designer towards how will the driver position her/his body is better. To me, in cars of such relaxation expectations
    it is a clear downside. In defense of the XM, though, it’s high-speed handling competence was so game-changing, that electing to use such laid out seats was inevitable simply due to the big G-forces involved.

    – Primary and secondary ride: the 605 has a broader scope of offering
    a competent ride quality in adverse, changing road-surface quality conditions.
    On perfectly paved roads, the XM does indeed have that elusive oleopneumatic feeling of a flying carpet (a rather stiff, racecar-like carpet, admittedly),
    but in real-world conditions, the 605 just silently dances with the road imperfections, isolating you of most any inappropriate small-talk /
    earlobe whispering that might occur between the two dance partners.

    – Steering feel: the 605 offers (this side of a 306 XSi / 205GTI) the most
    “transparent feeling” steering feel, in almost any speed range
    (any gyroscopic ‘load’ of the front tyres’ sidewalls). The XM’s, at best,
    is an american-car flavoured, overassisted affair, that’s especially
    unpleasant at lower, urban speeds. At higher speeds, though – especially sustained very high speed ‘sessions’, the XM superior active safety and high-speed handling often awe the observer (the driver) so much, that she/he
    often mistakes this dynamic brilliance as ‘exquisite steering’. No, the XM steers exquisitely, but its steering (and particularly steering feel) is not exquisite by any stretch of the imagination.

    – The 605 is a sedan. The XM is not. Whilst I personally do not find that
    a disadvantage of the XM, their target groups were very conservative,
    very strict – in the sense that it “just has to be a sedan”. Full stop.

    P.S. Wishing an amusing 2020 and many more happy ICE (s)miles to all of you.

  2. I’d forgotten just how similar in profile the Virage and Calibra were, particularly the DLO:


    It’s a shame the Calibra, 406 Coupé and Laguna Coupé failed to revitalise the affordable coupé market. They were all good looking and likeable cars, but the market had moved on. “Sporting” now means SUVs in most people’s minds.

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