A Geneva Gaffe?

The ninetieth rendition of the Geneva Motor Show, billed as Europe’s largest, is almost upon us. It seems barely five minutes since the last one.

(c) gims.swiss.

Several manufacturers have chosen not to play this time. Bats and balls safely stored away. Lamborghini are preferring to chose more bespoke events to launch models. The PSA combine, which these days includes nearly ever other car on the road it seems, are staying home with the fire turned up to the third bar. JLR are most definitely not leaving Blighty either, an odd decision for when new Def’ner is almost ready to be purchased.

I’m Positive that the venue will remain lavish and brightly lit (having never been, this is of course my estimation), with excellent fare for the chosen few along with some bocadillos and lattes for the great unwashed. I expect the footfall to be high. GIMS, who run the Palexpo reckon over 600,000 for the ten days. They also promise that over 900 cars will be exposed which borders on the risqué, along with the ECotY brigade on show.

As a first, an indoor circuit offering a ten minute drive round a 460 metre long track in an eco-car will surely cause bottlenecks of prospective punters. Expectant children with parents hoping ‘for a go’. Track central has a meeting area with room for three hundred humans. I’m guessing they won’t be there for the racing.

Perhaps mum admires the new Fiat 500 electric? Dad may prefer to drool over the Koenigseggs or the string of other supercars not previously known to mankind whilst surreptitiously eyeing the girls on the stands. Whereas Josh (9) and Astrid (7 and a quarter) will be photographing everything with their smartphones, eager to post them all on social media, including the pictures obscured by a thumb as someone brushes into them as they click the shutter. There may be tears and placating chocolate. There will be sore feet if the Palexpo resembles the British NEC for acreage shuffled, no seating and nigh on a thousand motors to see.

Undoubtedly, many will enjoy what’s on offer. Mercedes are bringing the GT73 that has over 800bhp. Handy for aggressively fetching the Sunday papers. Ferrari might just bring their new Roma GT out to play but haven’t confirmed their attendance as yet. It does look nice. But for the delegate, journalist or the catered for by DTW – The Enthusiast, what exactly is there to tempt, tease or terrify us? With my only connection to this esteemed show being AutoCropley and www.gims.swiss sites, the bias is arguably biased towards little more than a bun-fight.

Stepping back in time, my late teens to early twenties, the anticipation felt on heading to the NEC was palpable. I expected to see the exotic, the foreign, the full works. My derrière looked forward to sitting in a Porsche, a Rolls-Royce, a Montego or a Lada. This was the late ’80’s-early nineties, remember.

My father and I would happily queue for the briefest moment with these cars we would not normally see. Targeting the bigger and more popular marques required planning and cunning. Get in early and ignore the stand guard. Should the rope deny access, move on to the next stand and plan a return sortie for that hallowed brochure. Swipe stuff on the hoof and should the opportunity arise, grab it.

A bag with a pen or sticker, or some kind of extra information inside was the holy grail – we wanted to return to our Metro exhausted and the boot groaning under the weight of literature gleaned. Mission successfully accomplished three times. Earned some stripes, there. Home consumption of this tree-unfriendly material lasted weeks. As did the usual cold from all those great unwashed in air conditioned captivity. Splendid.

(c) gims.swiss.

Back to the future and the soon to be show. Barring facelifts and updates, what will hold the families interest? Those supercars available for telephone number price tags are forever a crowd pleaser. There’ll be touchscreens aplenty for mucky fingers and one expects an army of cleaners (in facemasks) to sanitise them.

For The Enthusiast, looking deeply into construction methods, power supplies, shut lines and perceived quality, can we get excited over dozens of German re-hashes of old favourites? In a word, no. This show appears to be facelift central. And lots of electric carriages, obviously. Has the industry that we so avidly follow got anything new for us? From my screen, sitting a thousand miles away from all those meetings, clandestine deals, the nine hundred exposés and zillion photos, it’s easy for me to say no. Because in reality, these eyes can find nowt new. How big a gaffe is that?

I truly hope that the families, the working person taking time off to visit, and those romantic dreamers with starry eyes like mine thirty years ago, are able to take something away from attending. Even if the brochures no longer exist.

Editor’s note: Assuming the Geneva show goes ahead (and at the time of going to press we hear that it will), we will be covering the highlights courtesy of regular contributors, Christopher Butt and Robertas Parazitas. We extend our grateful thanks in anticipation to them both. 

Author: Andrew Miles

Beyond hope there lie dreams; after those, custard creams?

27 thoughts on “A Geneva Gaffe?”

  1. I remember going to the NEC every year, or was it alternate years? Can’t quite remember now. All very exciting. I even queued to witness the unveiling of the Mini Metro, as it was originally called. And you didn’t have a good day unless you were laden with freebies and glossy brochures. Electronic downloads just font fo it for me now.

    1. I remember it well, Tim.

      First time I had a French Bread Pizza.

  2. Just heard GIMS 2020 is officially cancelled.

    For the best; it would have been madness to proceed, but a shame for all those who put in so much effort.

  3. An accurate reflection on how things have changed so much in what seems a very short time. I also remember returning home with a plastic bag full of brochures, pens and key rings from car shows in London. Never made it to Brum until I was much older.

    It is good to know that large numbers still attend in person, even though the internet is awash with spy shots of all the lates exotica covered in camouflage wraps.

    If the present show has been cancelled keep hold of a copy of that poster Andrew. It could become a collectors item!

  4. Hi Andrew,

    I only went once to the Geneva show. It must’ve been around 1994. I think I even have some photos, as in real paper-photos, somewhere. Just like with the other salons I was exhausted at the end of the day, hoarding bags of brochures, fridge magnets and free pens. Aaahh, good times.

    1. You get a distinct shoulder/neck pain from carrying several loaded Auto Salon bags with strings as a handle, they kind of cut your blood flow after several hours of roaming the alleys. A real pain in the neck, literally.

  5. Ah yes, car brochures. They were catnip to a car-obsessed youngster like me. I had piles of them in my bedroom, much to the annoyance of my mother. I used to blag them off friendly car salesmen in my locality, who knew that a twelve year-old on a bicycle was unlikely to be a serious prospective customer!

    My favourites were from VW. They had excellent photography and a cool, modernist style, very much in keeping with the new generation of FWD cars, although the Beetle looked rather anachronistic in that context:

    I guess it was hard to find attractive features to promote on a base-spec Beetle, hence the photo of the (non-locking) fuel filler cap!

    1. Same here, Daniel. My speciality was SAAB brochures from B.A. Lewis in Long Eaton, and later Citroën. I also recall Maxi, Renault 12 and, er, Van Den Plas 1500 brochures

      Plenty of these now seem to be available online, I’m pleased to say.

      Renault 12 brochure c.1970 01

    2. My guess is that Renault wanted an arrow shape for the car. The raised rear of the roof makes the silhouete more arrow-like. That might be a nice idea but does not work in practice. It is good they did it because almost every car is conventional in the roof line drop-off. Le Renault 12 shows why nobody else has tried it. Examples of “bad design” like this are not that easy to come across, interestingly.

    3. It certainly doesn’t share the back seat visibility issue that affects the Mazda 3 does it?

      I grew up with a Renault 12, quite literally, as my parents purchased a new 12TS when I was 6 years old, and kept it for a grand total of 22 years.

      I travelled for years in the back seat, learned to drive in it and used it for several years after that too. Probably as a result of its familiarity I never really considered the styling in any detail until this thread. It really is rather unconventional isn’t it? Ours was resolutely reliable, rusted very little until about 20 years of age, and was generally a well loved member of the family.

    4. Adrian: I recall our next door neighbour having a late-era R12 for years. It proved (and it was by no means an anomaly) remarkably resistant to rust, and believe me, that was no small achievement in our little pocket of Munster. They were a well-regarded car, I seem to recall, with no major foibles or failings. A good seller in Ireland in its day…

  6. Is it false memory on my part, or were there motor shows held in the RDS showgrounds in Dublin back in the 1970’s and 1980’s?

    1. I went to one of those car shows but don´t remember a whole lot about it. Is the R12 not a very strange car indeed? I see that Peugeot tried a similar body crease on the 406. I didn´t notice that before. The R12 has a messy A-pillar and the area around the top of the lights is awkward. There is a widening surface under the base of the side glass this is visually disturbing, like it goes the wrong way.
      How I miss these naïve cars.

    2. Hi Richard. Yes, the Renault 12 really was an oddity and full of dissonant angles, from the upward sloping roofline, with that odd step down at the rear, to the downward sloping boot and the other smaller details you have highlighted:

      Interestingly, Dacia attempted to ‘normalize’ the design when they introduced a two-door version, flattening the roof so that it actually sloped downwards towards the rear of the car and eliminating the step:

    3. For a long time I felt that the R12 is one of those car designs which (like Jaguar’s XJ-S perhaps) existed entirely of itself. But for the first time yesterday I was disabused of that notion, when I noticed a resemblance in silhouette to the Saab 900 saloon of 1980, which was of course distantly related to the ’67 Saab 99. This is particularly so in the C-pillar and bootline. Nevertheless, having viewed the link to the styling prototypes above, one has to wonder what Renault stylists were imbibing when the 12 was being conceived.

    4. This link to the R12 prototypes is hilarious. Thanks Charles!
      I can only agree with Eóin: one can hardly imagine these designs having happened without the help of any (legal or illegal) substances. My special favourite is the one with the three asymmetrically placed headlights. Or is this just a way to show different possible arrangements: single headlights for base spec and double for better versions? Renault did a lot of this at that time.

    5. Hello Simon,

      Judging from the models, I think the Renault 12 design proposal is actually meant to be like that on one car – an asymmetric design when in production.

      Eóin – having looked at the Renault 12, (and a Maxi and others), my father went on to buy a SAAB 99, so that backs up your observation.

  7. Well found, Daniel. A delectable trip back in time but one with melancholic tones, certainly for the then Irish car industry. I never realised Mazda and Renault were made there. Ona brighter note, as the wet snow keeps hurtling down here, was the dubious driving and parking skills of the motor show cars. The cameraman’s vexation of will this berk run me over or turn, sharpish? As you rightly say, happy memories

    1. Lots of “lovely girls”, modestly dressed in tune with Irish (public) sensibilities at the time. There was none of the press-day nudity that accompanied the Earls Court Motor Show a decade earlier. Early 70’s copies of Car Magazine are a bit of a shock to read these days: their motor show coverage really ought to have consigned the magazine to the newsagent’s top shelf!

      Regarding Mazda, I seem to recall that Motor Distributors, the Irish agent for both VW and Mazda, did a deal in the late 1970’s whereby they could import fully-built VWs if they assembled Mazdas from CKD kits.

      I regret to say my family’s experience of Irish assembled cars was pretty dismal. My dad bought a new VW Beetle in 1968 and, within a couple of years, the folded joint between the roof and sides that formed the rain gutter began to rust from the inside out. Apparently, it had never been painted during assembly. It was impossible to fix but such was the lack of interest from VW that he received no compensation.

      I should have known better but nevertheless bought a Mazda 323 in 1979. Within a couple of years there were rust holes in the top of both front wings and bottom edge of the tailgate, again from inadequate rustproofing. Mazda agreed to supply replacement parts, but I had to pay the Labour charge for the remedial work.

      Thank heavens for consumer protection legislation that forces companies to stand behind their products and accept responsibility for their failings these days.

    2. My father had an Austin Maxi and I suppose it was assembled at the BL workshop on the Grand Canal. It was a disaster: British design and Irish assembly.

  8. NRJ. – blood flow cut off by the weight of plastic bags meant a hasty purchase of a terribly styled rucksack. Inevitably though, your back then cried out, no more! I took many rolls of 36 exposure film over the years. Mostly with terrible results.

    Richard. – naive times in many regards. Now the show is cancelled, I’m guessing some will be covered by insurance but expect others to loose out financially. That’s a shame

    1. Tons of brochures and rolls full of blurry photos from my first camera – exactly my memories from a few Geneva Salon visits with my dad. This was probably from ages 8 to 18. I did go there once or twice afterwards, but somehow lost interest. Too many people, too bad food…

  9. Well, it’s all a bit academic now, since the Geneva show is cancelled. Satellite pics of China show clear skies with all those factories at idle. Enforced carbon dioxide reduction.

    At least my remembrance of the dopey Renault 12 was revived, however briefly. When viewed from the rear three-quarter, it always seemed to be turning away from the observer due to the pinched front. I always regarded it as the papier mache version of the 16, myself. Time for an in-depth DTW analysis.

    But all Renaults to the mid-eighties featured front-drive homokinetic joints of little worth. Twenty to thirty thousand klicks and they were as done as burnt toast. Salt water ruined whatever the Regie put inside the rubber covers to cover the gubbins lurking in there. Fuegos were popular until this Achilles heel was discovered, as a work colleague found out. Three sets and he called it quits. Just the basic kind of stuff the Japanese NEVER got wrong.

  10. I’ve long regarded the Renault 12 as one of the best and most honest
    cars ever built, so it’s fascinating to see those prototype photos.
    they were assembled in Australia in the 70s and much-loved for their
    amiability and endurance. my wife bought a well-worn one in the late 80s
    when I had burdened myself with a Lancia Beta coupé. unlike the Lancia the
    R12 proved utterly dependable, also, unlike other FWD cars (don’t mention
    the R16!) the R12 – capacious in all ways – was a pleasure to work on.

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