“This morning, shortly after 11:00, comedy struck this little house on Dibley Road. Sudden…violent…comedy.”
As the 1960s drew to a close, centuries of hierarchy and forelock-tugging deference were under attack in class-riven Blighty. Television shows like The Frost Report saw a younger generation of university-educated writers and performers taking increasingly accurate potshots at a hidebound establishment who deserved every critical drubbing they received. The 1969 debut of Monty Python’s Flying Circus on BBC television therefore marked a watershed in what was deemed admissible for a primetime audience.
Owing a debt to the earlier Goon Show and Round the Horne radio formats, the Python’s anarchic, whimsical and often downright silly TV sketch series brought absurdist comedy into living rooms across the length and breadth of Britain, sending up authority and making household names of its creators – at least amidst those who understood, or at the very least appreciated its gleefully skewed logic. Post-Python, comedy would never look, feel, nor sound the same.
Overall, 1969 could be viewed as a year of firsts. But while the NASA moon landings lent the defining images and soundbites of the decade (perhaps the Century), and the successful maiden flight of the Anglo-French Concorde announced the prospect of attainable supersonic travel, a far more significant event took place rather more quietly. Funded by the US Department of Defence, the ARPANET sent its first message, marking the beginnings of the world wide web and ultimately the internet.
Cinemagoers were treated to Disney’s Love Bug movie, while those who preferred a little less sucrose in their diets, found more uneasy enjoyment amidst Easy Rider and Midnight Cowboy. But despite Herbie’s hilarious celluloid antics, it was business as usual for the domestic US auto industry, basking in what would be subsequently viewed as ‘peak musclecar’, a last high octane cubic-inch orgy before emissions regulations and downsizing began a steady process of emasculation.
In Italy, two sides of a broadly similar coin emerged from the engineering headquarters of Fiat Auto under the auspices of Dante Giacosa and Ettore Cordiano. Cleaving to the Giacosa doctrine of progressive yet economically sustainable technology clothed in a compact, functional, and broadly accessible envelope, the Autobianchi A112 was perhaps, even more than its Primula ancestor, the archetype of the modern supermini. Based on similar engineering principles to that of the Fiat 128 which launched the same year, with a pert and perfectly judged body style, the junior Autobianchi (sold in some markets as a Lancia) not only paved the way for an entire genre, but generations of top-selling front-wheel drive Fiat superminis. Was there a more significant car of 1969?
Meanwhile, the Fiat 130 was simultaneously conceived somewhat under protest, with Fiat’s engineering leadership in staunch opposition to management’s imposition to produce a more upmarket, Mercedes-rivalling flagship, befitting Lignotto’s push into more profitable sectors of the market. Despite this creative tension, the 130’s engineering package was impressive, even if the car itself, especially in early 2.8 litre form, was a little underbaked. The 130 berlina, even in its much-improved second generation, never quite gained a foothold – even in its native Italy – but charm and raffishly discrete elegance it had in spades, despite its rather formal appearance. The most convincing big Fiat ever?
Unlike Fiat, the Ford Motor Company never particularly over-estimated the sophistication of its customers, but even its most ardent detractors couldn’t fail to be impressed by Henry’s grasp of their desires and insecurities – even if they didn’t necessarily realise it themselves. The 1969 Capri perfectly encapsulated this. A product of marketing from its thrusting nose to its truncated tail, the Capri was every suburbanite’s dreams made flesh.
Employing tried, trusted and entirely conventional componentry (Cortina mostly), enveloped in a phallocentric, more European interpretation of contemporary Transatlantic-influenced style and available in a huge array of engine sizes and trim levels to suit every pocket, the Capri was not only a resounding commercial success, but a car which would become as culturally significant (in Blighty at least) as its better known US cousin.
Both acknowledging and reflecting the growing affluence of the French middle classes, two compact berlines from two contrasting domestic carmakers broke cover in 1969 – both of whom cleaved to marque-specific characteristics. The Peugeot 304 was to an overwhelming extent, a slightly larger, more upmarket variant of France’s best seller, the 204. Clothed (by Pininfarina) in a determinedly formal fashion, it evolved the 204’s basic style, excellent road manners, fine suspension (struts all round) and aura of refinement, with additional performance (courtesy of a larger displacement engine) and creature comforts.
The Renault 12 on the other hand, while replacing the R 10 and sitting below the seemingly larger hatchback R 16, was in fact longer than either. Like it’s Belfort rival, it was powered by a 1.3 litre engine (the Cléon unit), mounted longitudinally and driving the front wheels. Technically different from both its rear-engine predecessors and its front-driven Billancourt contemporaries, it was designed for ease and cheapness of manufacture and use – hence its rigid rear axle, in opposition to Renault tradition. Its body style, attributed to Robert Boyer was a curious affair, with its low nose, odd stepped roofline and dipping rear, which lent it a slightly broken appearance.
Both Peugeot and Renault were fine cars – markedly better than most of their European and UK rivals, both too would prove long-lived, although it was the Renault which survived longest, ending production in Romania (as a Dacia) in 2004.
Having inherited responsibility for Citroen’s bureau d’etudes upon the sudden death of chief designer, Flaminio Bertoni in 1964, Robert Opron presided over a rather difficult time for the double chevron. Mired in stillborn projects (Projet F in particular), Citroen exited the decade with a sizeable hole in its mid-range. The 1969 debut of the Ami 8 was intended, firstly to soften Bertoni’s rather polarising and by then quite dated looking visuals, and secondly to offer something of a more sophisticated mien to a more affluent customer.
Of course, what they really needed was a rival to Peugeot’s 304 and Renault’s 12; one was in hand (1970’s Projet G), but for now, the Ami would have to suffice. Changes wrought were mostly cosmetic, with mechanicals largely shared with those of the 1967 Dyane model. A revised nosecone was added, and while the door pressings were retained, the canopy was altered to provide a fastback profile (reminiscent of the stillborn F), which suggested a hatchback, but it was left to the popular break estate to provide one.
If the Ami 8 can be characterised as a placeholder, it was a long-lived one, lasting almost another decade on sale. But then, lengthy production runs were not an entirely unexpected phenomenon in the French auto industry, quite unlike the Spanish Inquisition, for instance.
The class of 1969 we did write about.
Some of the class of ’69 we’ll get around to at some point. Volkswagen K70/ Maserati Indy/ Porsche 914.
28 thoughts on “Anniversary Waltz 1969 – I Didn’t Expect A Kind of Spanish Inquisition”
Mention of the Renault 12 reminds me of just how many different mechanical layouts the company experimented with during the 1960’s and 70’s before settling on the now ubiquitous transverse-engined FWD format. The classic front-engined RWD layout was still offered in the Fregate saloon and estate in 1960, alongside the rear engined, RWD Dauphine, which was succeeded by the 8 and 10 models, both with an identical layout. There followed the FWD 4, 5, 6 and 16 models, all with longitudinal mid/front engines with the gearbox (and front wheels) mounted in front of the engine, giving these models more of an RWD stance. The FWD 12 was different again, with a longitudinal front engine, but with the gearbox mounted behind the engine. That layout, together with its conventional boot, made it longer but noticably less roomy inside than the 16:
It wasn’t until the launch of the 14 in 1976 that Renault introduced a transverse engined FWD model. That didn’t finally settle matters, however: the Renault 21 was offered in both longitudinal and transverse engined versions, depending on which engine was fitted. Did any other car manufacturer offer such a variety of mechanical layouts, either simultaneously or over such a relatively short period of time?
Does the Renault 12 qualify as an example of a good facelift? I always thought it tidied up the original a great deal, bringing it up to date but without the heaviness that plastic mouldings were soon to bring us.
One other oddity of the 12 was the roof gutter, which actually changed course a couple of years before the facelift in about 1974, by staying horizontal across the C pillar as opposed to following the DLO/rear door shape in the earlier versions.
…and the facelift of course:
Adrian, I salute you sir. That roof gutter detail change on the Renault 12 really is PhD level spotting on your part. I wonder if it was done to simplify the roof/C-pillar assembly? In any event, congratulations! Your prize is in the post, a new anorak in a very fetching shade of beige, naturally.
Yes, I agree that the 12 is an unusual example of a successful facelift, although I wasn’t crazy about the cheap pressed metal capping on the boot lid rear edge and corners of the rear wings:
The 12 lived on as a Dacia, of course, including this, er, distinctive two-door “Sport” variant. It was later subject to further, increasingly ersatz facelifts before finally being laid to rest.
Oops, forgot the photo of the Dacia two-door:
Here’s an example of the final indignity suffered by the 12 in its Dacia guise:
Thank you Daniel. May I enquire which shade, precisely, of beige?
Moving swiftly on from the indignities of Dacia, I always fancied one of these as the ultimate 70s French rarity:
I have only ever seen two, in photographs, and never in the flesh. The other was in a very fetching yellow, black and white Renault Service livery.
I’ll get my anorak….
Adrian, as you are clearly already in possession of (at least) one beige anorak and seem strangely fascinated by all things Renault 12 related, I’ve decided to upgrade your prize to the following images:
This is the Dacia 1300 concept from 2014, essentially a reimagined Renault 12. Enjoy!
Ooh you spoil me! – look, it even has re-imagined 12TS wheels!
Considering the variations of drivetrains look no further than Fiat at the same time.
In Torino you got air cooled twins in the back, transverse mid engines, normal RWD drivetrains and transverse front engines.
That’s my favourite R12:
Mention of the Capri’s “phallocentric” design brought to mind this image I had seen of the underbonnet area of an early German Capri with the Taunus V4 engine:
I’m not sure, but think that the radiator has been repositioned further forward in this restored example, which gives a better idea as to just how much wasted space there was under that long, thrusting bonnet. I imagine that this is the automotive equivalent of a man stuffing a rolled up pair of socks down the front of his “pulling pants”!
Ford could have filled the dead space with the spare wheel, as they did on the Mk4 Zephyr/Zodiac:
Given the potential adverse effect on weight distribution, exacerbated in the Zephyr/Zodiac’s case by its poor rear suspension design, I suppose it’s just as well that Ford resisted that temptation.
The engine bay of this Capri is heavily modified. The V4 engine had an engine driven cooling fan and the radiator would have been where the screenwasher bottle is in this car, about the place the circlips in the coolant hose are. There was a long plastic cowl between radiator and engine and some extended metal panelling between grille and radiator.
The final Dacia 1300 facelift is a contender for the worst I’ve ever seen.
Re the R12’s original gutter, wouldn’t that have dumped water in to the rear seat?
Great minds, Charles! (See above.)
Design-wise, the best version of the Renault 12 was the Ford Corcel, hands down.
Every time I look at this:
I think of this:
It’s the shape of the rear side window and bodyside crease.
I might need professional help…
We will have to ask Eóin if he can arrange some help for you Daniel. We can’t afford to lose a stalwart such as yourself to Anglo-Romanian hallucination syndrome. But now you have pointed it out, it’s hard to get it out of my mind too….
I wouldn’t worry too much about it Daniel- it’s a benign ailment and you can get very old with it; this coming from a fellow “sufferer” 🙂
That Dacia Coupé reminds me (in rear 3/4 view) of a SAAB 90 or 900 2-door sedan for instance:
Hmm, something I did wrong it seems. Second try-
Good morning, Bruno. Please allow me to assist:
Actually, the earlier 99 two-door is an even closer match to the Dacia:
Thank you! Did you detect what I did wrong so I can prevent this in future?
The taillights of the 99 certainly are very much like the ones on the Dacia; the chrome rubbing strip is another thing it shares with the Romanian ex-Renault. But the bootlid as well as the tops of the rear wings of the 90/900 are a bit squarer and flatter looking than those on the 99. Anyone handy with photoshop? 🙂
I don’t know exactly when Dacia introduced this unique coupé style, but if they did it in 1978 or earlier the 90/900’s rear actually looks like the Dacia and not the other way around, I realise now.
Test Imgur embedded photo to check procedure for Windows laptop:
The two door “Sport” version of the Dacia 1300 was introduced in 1983 and the Saab 90 in 1984, so any resemblance is likely to be merely coincidental. The resemblance to the 99 is mainly down to the falling boot line and tail light layout. The latter was almost “industry standard” in the late 70’s and 80’s: a rectangular cluster with indicator lenses top outboard, reversing lights top inboard, and a red strip below containing tail lights, brake lights and reflectors
The Dacia Sport was extensively changed over the Renault 12/Dacia 1300 four-door. It lost the rising roofline and distinctive concave rear window for a more, er, sporty, shallower DLO:
Good morning Bruno. Imgur offers you different links to your uploaded photo, but only one option works to embed the photo directly in your post. How you find the correct link depends on the device you’re using. I mainly use an Android tablet, so here’s the method that works on this device:
1. Upload the photo to Imgur.
2. “Touch and hold” on the image for a couple of seconds.
3. A window will pop up giving you s number of different “Share to” options.
4. Touch the “Copy URL” icon.
5. Paste that URL into your post.
I’m sure there’s a correct technical term for “Touch and hold” on a touch-screen device. What I mean by this is to place your finger on the image and keep it there until the window pops up.
I’ll remind myself of the procedure for my Windows laptop and post these here shortly.
Hope this is helpful!
Here’s the instructions for embedding Imgur photos using a Windows Laptop:
1. Upload the photo to Imgur.
2. Right-click on the image.
3. A window will pop up giving you a number of different options.
4. Click on “Copy image address”.
5. Paste that URL into your post.
Thank you for the instructions Daniel- I’ve copied them and hope I will no longer suffer these embarassing “no shows” !
You’re very welcome, Bruno. I now have them to hand should anyone else be puzzled by the peculiarities of Imgur!