The name of this band is Talking Heads.
In 1980, the Art Rock grouping of frontman David Byrne, Bassist Tina Weymouth, drummer Chris Frantz and guitarist Jerry Harrison released what would become their defining album. The four-piece, which played its first gig as Talking Heads in 1975 at New York’s CBGB venue had forged a reputation, first in the post-punk new-wave scene, but after they began to work alongside producer, non-musician and sonic pioneer, Brian Eno from 1978, their reach, as indeed their entire approach to music shifted.
A major breakthrough album for the band, Remain in Light is remarkable for a number of reasons, but especially insofar as it made so few concessions to commercial considerations, radio friendliness, or catchy melodies. With its circular polyrhythms, multi-layered electronic effects and overt Afrobeat musical inflections, fusing with the nervy, highly mannered and mostly oblique vocals of Byrne, the resultant sound was quite unlike anything from the alternative music scene at the time.
Probably best remembered for the single, Once in a Lifetime, which saw the band enter the upper reaches of music charts for the first time, peaking at number 14 in the UK in 1981. Here, Byrne channelled the fevered style of evangelical preachers, employing vocal call and response, repetitions, and exhortations with a spiritual sense of existential yearning which 40 years later, still sounds extraordinary. It remains the defining Talking Heads track.
In the auto-universe, 1980 witnessed new beginnings, fresh starts and a good deal of last legs, with models receiving a late life reinvention in the hope of holding back time. Also introduced to the world that year was future F1 World Champion, Britain’s Jenson Button, who was born that year. Bowing out for good meanwhile, certainly in a form anyone might have recognised, was Triumph and MG – both of whom lost their industrial bases, their workforce and their identity amid BL’s end of decade schisms.
In 1978, Audi had introduced the B2-series 80 saloon, its entry level model. This second series was schemed under the engineering leadership of Ferdinand Piëch with an exterior designed by Ital Design in Turin, finessed by a team under Martin Smith in Ingolstadt. Following the cessation of the C1 Audi 100 Coupé in 1976, there had been no sporting fastback Ingolstadt offering, but in 1980, this was remedied, firstly by the groundbreaking four-wheel drive quattro, but later that year by the more restrained looking Audi Coupé GT (from which the quattro had been derived).
Based on the B2 platform and virtually identical from A-pillars forward, the fastback body would not win many beauty prizes, but was entirely in keeping with Giugiaro’s mid-70s design thinking. Mechanically identical to the 80 saloons as well, the GT, while still comfortably seating four, came with the option of four or five cylinder power, offering fine handling, excellent finish and build quality, not to mention the reflected glow of Audi’s Vorsprung Durch Supercar.
The 1970s were a pretty torrid decade for all US automakers, as they attempted to navigate a seemingly endless barrage of safety and emissions legislation, several fuel crises, the steady loss of market share to the Japanese carmakers and the whirlwind of their own boardroom cynicism and contempt for the customer. The Chrysler corporation’s mid-decade answer to the imports, the plague-riddled Aspen/ Volare twins might not have been as notorious as GM or Ford’s rival offerings, but went a long way to hastening Chrysler’s descent into the near-bankruptcy in 1979.
The K-platform was the US number three’s fightback car, a shared platform design, employing tried and true front-wheel drive hardware derived from the Omni family, but honed for a more US-centric big-car feel. Mated to a highly conservative, if tidy enough looking saloon bodyshell, the so-called K-Car, introduced in 1980 as the Dodge Aires and Plymouth Reliant, arrived alongside US government loan guarantees which kept Chrysler afloat and allowed the company, headed since 1978 by former Ford VP Lee Iacocca to get the new car onto the market.
The K-car series, which came to encompass a truly bewildering array of models, bodystyles and related platforms, while hardly faultless, can be said without irony to have been a sound product which turned around the fortunes of the business and made a superstar of Chrysler’s flamboyant CEO, who received the plaudits for a programme which predated him. Certainly, by comparison to GM’s disastrous 1979 X-Car, the K was a paragon.
1975 car of the year, Simca’s 1307/8 cum Chrysler Alpine quickly established itself in the domestic market, but remained something of an outlier in the UK, despite production taking place in Coventry from 1976. Hampered by a lack of engine choice and the innate conservatism of the UK customer, there was a sense by decade’s end that something more overtly fleet-friendly was necessary to make a dent in the market.
There had been a gradual shift towards three volume shapes by then anyway, so when Chrysler UK’s design team under Roy Axe began work on a facelifted car, a saloon was also envisaged; work on the redesign believed to have been carried out by junior designer’s, Fergus Pollock and Gerry McGovern. Introduced in the Spring of 1980, the Solara, (badged a Talbot from day one) came on a slightly lengthened platform to that of the Alpine hatch, which enabled not only a cavernous boot, but improved rear legroom.
One of the better executed hatch to three volume conversions, if something akin to a Tagora in miniature, the Solara, while a moderate success, remained something of a minor player and would soon become outclassed by more modern opposition, dying out well past its use-by-date in 1986.
Serbia’s Zastava had been making Fiats under licence since the 1950s, which by the early 1970s, although still not entirely of their own design, were at least somewhat unique to them. Most notably, the Fiat 128-derived 101 hatchback, which was produced in Kragujevac until 2008 with over a million built. In 1980, Zastava Automobili introduced the Koral, marketed elsewhere under a number of names, but best known as the Yugo 45.
This small, B-segment supermini employed the drivetrain and suspensions from Fiat’s popular 127 model, with a body (which lent the impression of a passed over centro stile design), being very much how one might envisage a mid-70s 127 replacement. In 1983, it was introduced into the UK market with 903 (45), 1116 (55) and 1301 (65) cc engines to compete at the lower end of the supermini market.
US exports began in 1985, with the car initially gaining some market traction. However, by 1990, with the political situation deteriorating and the former Yugoslavia soon to disintegrate into a bloody and brutal civil war, the venture petered out with Serbia under UN sanctions and Zastava forced to withdraw from all export markets. However the Koral, like its larger brother lived on in its home market until 2008 and remains one the region’s best remembered cars.
Talking Heads made a good many fine albums during their career, but Remain in Light was undoubtedly their greatest. Sadly, it was also one mired, both in artistic differences (the rest of the band felt shut out of the post-recording process by Byrne and Eno) and that perennial creative bugbear – attribution and royalties. The faultlines of the band’s ultimate demise were forged in 1980.
For the automotive class of 1980, and especially the examples presented here, there may be little common ground, but perhaps one aspect they do share (with one or two exceptions) is the fact that they were all, in a manner of speaking, born under punches.
Continue reading about the class of 1980 here.
The AC 3000 ME will be covered in more detail in a forthcoming series which details the history of the marque. The Talbot Matra Murena will also be covered in a separate article.
A typo in the original text which mentioned the Simca 1306 has been corrected to read 1307.
62 thoughts on “Anniversary Waltz 1980 – Born Under Punches”
Good morning Eóin. My goodness, the 1980 debutantes were a mixed bag. There was the first FWD Escort, which was competent, but less of an advance than it appeared to be from its sharp-suited exterior, and the clever and practical Panda, innovative in its simplicity. The Ital and Trevi were attempts to inject new life into fading and outdated models. (Apologies to Richard for including those in the same sentence.)
The Solara (despite its awful name) was a highly competent translation of the Alpine into a three-box saloon, and introduced a neat front-end facelift as well. It suffered from the Alpine’s feeble and antiquated engine range. Had both had modern engines ranging from 1.4 to 2.0 litres and a ‘sporty’ halo model, they might have done better, but the unknown Talbot name was always going to be a difficult sell. I remember the Solara print advertisement’s dreadful tag-line “The power to light up your life!” and here it is:
Speaking of Talbot, the Tagora was another misbegotten 1980 arrival, competent but unneeded, even by its manufacturer.
I also remember the hoop-la surrounding the K-Car. It speaks volumes for the state of Chrysler at the time that producing a car that was a merely competent was a cause for such celebration and the characterisation of Iacocca as a genius in the American media.
Daniel, mere competence was a great accomplishment for any American car in 1980.
The K car went-up against GM’s X cars, Ford’s Fairmont, and AMC’s Concord. The X cars were reliability disasters, and the other two were old-school RWD sedan/wagon of no particular appeal. Japanese imports were much smaller, and European imports more expensive.
Americans wanted a car that wasn’t too expensive, would run for a few years without too many issues, didn’t rust-through during its first winter (as any Toyota did), and provided reasonably good fuel economy. They were in the middle of a recession, gasoline sold for more than a dollar a gallon (which was a huge shock), and interest rates were heading up.
It was the right product at the right time.
bernard: thanks for that point of view. You are being very kind to the X-cars, I think. First year reliability was a problem and so was braking/brake reliability. My only data is from CC but out of the scores of comments about those cars, I can´t think of one that gets as close as calling them the right product. There was a global recession and during that time US cars were the only ones that were conspicuously and egregiously below par.
True, “US cars were the only ones that were conspicuously and egregiously below par,” but they were the only option in the US and Canada, at least in the mid-size segment.
Owning a European car was an expensive hobby. The Japanese offered the Datsun 810 and Toyota Corona. Expensive and rust-prone.
Things changed very quickly. Within a few years Americans could buy a Camry, Mark 2 Jetta, Mazda 626, or a Ford Taurus. They even purchased BMWs and Audis and Maximas, and other “yuppi mobiles” when credit freed-up in the mid-1980s.
K cars were obsolete within a few short years, but they had their moment in the spotlight.
I would love to say that this was before my time. As a car-nut 10-year-old it was exactly my time. I would have purchased a 240, 280, 404, 528, or 900 with my allowance money, if I could have, but they weren’t cars that most Americans and Canadians purchased with real money.
“The power to light up your life” is rather hyperbolic, I would suggest. Blame for permitting this kind of drivel falls with management who handed out the brief and accepted the sunrise and palm trees image in return. The Solara was evidently a car born of compromise and inspirational market-research. Advertised as though it was the elixir of joy throws into sharp clarity the banality of the car. To my knowledge I have seen just one of these. Others might have been parked by the roadside in 80s Ireland but I was not paying attention.
There are memorably forgettable cars like the Tagora. The Solara is just forgettable. Isn´t quite amazing how much money can be invested in something so pointless.
I drove a Solara in the early 80s (it was my uncle’s car) and liked it – even though I was young and wild then in which I naturally liked my father’s Murena better.
I won’t say anything about the Tagora, I still dream about it today. Unfortunately, they are extinct. Well, not quite, last year there was one floating through the sales portals of the usual suspects, but my wife gave me that special “I don’t have to comment on that now” look….
Ah Talking Heads! What an excellent band so thanks for reminding us Eoin. David Byrne is also a writer of books – Bicycle Diaries and How Music Works spring to mind and both worth a read imho.
Does Byrne discuss his work with Eno in any of those?
Unfortunately I no longer have copies of either book however I think he did mention him in How Music Works.
For those (like me) who have less sophisticated tastes in modern music, here’s ‘Once in a Lifetime’ the only Talking Heads song I could name:
Its a bit of an ear-worm and I’m sure that even those who know nothing about the band will still recognise it.
Remain in Light is terrific, and absolutely on the “must have heard before you die” list.
(And yes, the previously recorded “My Life in the Bush of Ghosts” as well).
Tina, who was responsible for the cover, was already struggling with Eno’s dominance and ego and originally wanted to put a portrait of Eno as a layer over the four portraits of the band members to make this clear. The band would have broken up if Eno hadn’t left. And? Well, Speaking in Tongues had its moments, but it wasn’t the big hit.
And if you look back today, Eno is still where the top is – I just say “Reflections” and “The Ship”, to name just a few of the last.
By the way, there is another collaboration by Byrne and Eno: “Everything That Happens Will Happen Today”. Not as world- and mind-changing as “My Life in the Bush of Ghosts” but worth listening to.
goods stuff Fred – keep on truckin…
Come on Daniel! Surely a writer for the world’s least influential motoring site has heard of the classic “Road to Nowhere”?
Ah, now that you remind me, John, of couse I do:
I’ve read Bicycle Diaries but not How Music Works (yet). Over Christmas, I watched the Spike Lee film of David Byrne’s ‘American Utopia’. It is exquisite spectacle, bringing a new dimension to both his solo and Talking Heads songs. It’s as good, in its way, as ‘Stop Making Sense’, the Jonathan Demme concert film. Amazing to think that Talking Heads broke up 30 years ago! They and Steely Dan remain among my driving staples.
Thanks for the reference to the Spike Lee film. Will take a look.
My driving list changes regularly but currently includes Jason Isbell, Neil Young, Paul Weller, Bob Dylan, Richard Thompson, Jackson Browne…..
Current driving list: REM (Live in Dublin, 2004), Morcheeba (Antidote & Big Calm), Goldfrapp (Supernature), Crowded House (Time on Earth), and Scott Walker (SW-4). I had Sea Change by Beck in the car for a while, along with Guero. My copy of Hyperspace has gone missing, annoyingly.
I also have Crowded House from time to time. interestingly – or maybe not – Neil Finn and his sons have started putting out new material online via fang radio.https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=&ved=2ahUKEwiUtJGns4fuAhVnURUIHa8jAM4QFjAAegQIAhAC&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.neilfinn.com%2Ffangradio&usg=AOvVaw0xZvt0pX50MymywlR5K5Jn
PSA thought of using Solara and Tagora parts to produce a 604 replacement. Not very exciting. I recall Talbot were king of the special edition, which just made the products seem even more stale.
Hi Charles. That’s an interesting prototype. At first glance, I thought it was a Solara with a new nose, but it’s actually a Tagora underneath. (The giveaways are the concealed B-pillar and door mirror sale panel treatment.) It might be unexciting, but it’s a very neat and well-resolved design. It doesn’t say ‘Peugeot’ to me though. It’s rather similar to a contemporary Toyota, the European Carina II:
Otherwise neat, the Carina II has a rather awkward concatenation of shutlines around the side mirror. The car manages like the later Carina E (the last one before the Avensis) to be bland and a bit noisy. The Solara has more discipline and that´s as much as I can say about the car.
Big fan of Talking Heads and David Byrne (Uh-Oh being sadly often overlooked in my book), so always a pleasure to read reference to them.
I too remember the launch of the Solara and also find it a very effective transition from the donor Alpine. I had not realised it ran on an extended wheelbase (I think that’s what you refer to) from the Alpine, which might explain why it looks like it was designed as a saloon in its own right. It’s a very simple , clean and un-flashy design, the kind of which I kind of crave more from today’s designs. It seemed to lack attention to the details that managed to make similarly formed Audis and VWs of the same era look more solid and, dare I use the term, premium in comparison. The lamps look borrowed from something else, there is probably one too many feature-lines down the side. What you can see is how the Montego might have ended up had Royden Axe got his way and been able to start again with that car, rather than having make the best of the bad job he inherited.
The Yugo is now something of a legend, and is a nicer design than it is to drive (I did so once, helping out a friend of my Mum’s by collecting it from a garage for her). The fact that one does still see one every now and again (unlike the early Uno) suggests either mechanicals and bodywork more robust than the Uno, or more of a cult following (maybe both?).
I have to say, I really enjoy these Anniversary Waltz pieces, thank you.
SV: From my understanding, the Solara employed a standard Alpine platform extended aft of the rear axle line, therefore maintaining the already quite generous wheelbase length. This was to allow for a more commodious boot, but the knock on effect was that it allowed the rear seat to be moved rearwards slightly, aiding rear passenger space.
Regarding David Byrne, I have never been altogether convinced about his solo work, one or two stand-alone tracks notwithstanding. I think Talking Heads were a more convincing outlet for his talents – the remainder of the band really deserve more credit than they generally receive. To my ears, Remain in Light is a masterpiece. My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, which he recorded with Eno prior to Remain in Light is also an extraordinary piece of work, and a real precursor of what was to come.
I’m pleased there is an audience for these articles. They are a bit of an indulgence and a bit of a task to write…
David Byrne put together a compilation record about 1989 called Beleza Tropical (you can get it all on youtube) which introduced me to Brazilian popular music of the 1960s and 70s – mostly unknown over here back then but one of the great glories of humanity. Because of David Byrne and his introduction to this music I ended up moving to Portugal and Spain and getting to visit South America on a number of occasions – seeing such marvels (to me anyway) as the little VW Brasilia – like a smaller version of a 411 estate – and in Argentina, the Peugeot 504 pick-ups (the saloons mostly have ‘revised’ – horribly – rear-ends) and the local versions of the Ford Falcon, nowadays an object of veneration and seen all over the country in all states of repair.
Hello Pat: I actually do recall that record. Irish radio host, Dave Fanning played a number of tracks from it when it first came out on his RTE (Irish national broadcaster) ‘Rock Show‘, now defunct. I particularly recall being taken by a track called Ponta de Lança Africano (Umbabarauma), by Jorge Ben (I had to look that one up). In fact, it’s a track that jumps into my consciousness quite frequently despite the fact that I haven’t actually heard it in about 30 years.
You will find a number of articles on the site which relate to South America – for instance the Brasilia, and even the face (and tail-lifted 504), amongst other delights. It’s all in the archive…
Anyway, thanks for dropping by – hope you enjoy the site.
As far as the music goes, I’m pretty much lost for words right now. I spend my primary and most of my secondary school time in the eighties, but can’t remember much of the music of that period, other then the silly clothes and hairstyles one would see in the music videos.
The cars are a different matter, though. My dad had a Simca 1308 GLS, the first car he bought new in 1977. Was there ever a 1306? I thought it started with the 1307. The car was nearly totalled in 1978 only hours after my granddad was in a very severe 20 car pile-up that destroyed his beloved Taunus GXL coupe. The Simca was traded in for a Peugeot 504 GR in 1980.
There was a Dodge Aries wagon in my neighborhood about ten years ago or so. Probably a late 80’s version in ruby red.
Of all the cars mentioned here the only I’ve driven was a Fiat Panda. Not an 80’s model, but one from the mid 90’s with a CVT transmission. It belonged to my brother’s girlfriend. She let me drive it once. Quite an interesting car, very easy to drive, slow, but still it put a smile on my face.
I don’t know why they gave the Solara such powerful interior lights – I would have thought it’d be distracting. (I claim the first ‘dad joke’ of 2021).
Interior lights? Nah, someone’s dropped a lighted cigarette end on the brushed nylon seat upholstry…😲
happy new year y‘all!
Funny bit that might be mentioned: both the K-Car and the Solara share the same roots. They both are off-spring of the 1967 Simca 1100. The 1307 (and its derivatives) was merely an update of the (stretched) 1100 platform, as was the Horizon, which spawned the Chrysler-U.S.A „Omnirizon“, which in turn spawned the K-Car, which was the basis for almost everything Chrysler built in its home-market through the eighties. They wrung quite the mileage from the little 1100, I reckon!
Btw, I always thought it remarkable how Chrysler managed to get an infusion of foreign technology just in time to march on for another decade: first the Simca derived K-Car, then the Renault 25 based cab-forward cars and Cherokee and then (until today‘s 300 and Charger/Challenger) the MB W210 platform. Which Peugeot platform will base the Chryslers of the year 2030? (I just realize this is not exactly a good omen for Stellantis, but then, it‘s „expansion defensive“ all over again, as with Simca/Chrysler Europe, and just like back then, a few brands of Stellantis be history in a short time anyway, Chrysler surely being one of the dead)
CX.GTi: From the reading I have done on the K-programme (far from extensive, but I suspect a more interesting story than the car itself), my understanding is that while the K car’s technical specification was derived from the Omni, it was only distantly so – Chrysler engineers having made a host of changes to it to imbue a more US-centric driving ambience. Furthermore, the Omni itself was technically quite differentiated from the Euro-Horizon, sharing little common componentry, despite looking rather similar.
No doubt other more knowledgeable souls can elaborate (or refute), but this is certainly how I understand matters.
CX.GTi, I appreciate your opinion but primary sources don’t concur regarding LH. So while your argument follows logic, it is still lacking in supporting evidence beyond mere speculation.
Maybe Castaing is being intentionally obtuse, even offering a misdirection? He would be very good at this because his justification for using a north-south FWD layout seems quite reasonable, not to mention that it would have facilitated potential AWD or even RWD variants. Obviously a lot of people who worked on the LH project were influenced by their experiences with AMC/Renault, but would you be as willing to credit the Simca 1100’s design to Issignonis or Giacosa?
Regarding the ZJ Grand Cherokee, while it was financed, designed and developed under Renault, I believe it has nothing specifically in common with any Renault badged product.
Regarding LX, the rear suspension is known to have borrowed directly from W210, but the front suspension is derived from W220. I don’t know of anything else on LX that was borrowed from W210. Certainly the Crossfire was a re-bodied R170 SLK, but they never pretended otherwise.
I think your opinion is valid, but it is a question of perspective, for example regarding K and Horizon, I think that Eóin’s expressed perspective is closer to the truth in this matter. Then again, perhaps we have been relying on Allpar too much for our information?
I am currently working on the subject of design and improvisation so I am seeing things through this lens. The Chrysler saga looks like a series of improvisations based on available resources. It resembles the gradual and somewhat happenstance evolution of vernacular crafts: iterations based on previous experience and based on available resources. The alternative is the clean-sheet, scientific approach where everything is considered afresh. Both approaches have disadavantages. Improvisation means compromise (ever tried cutting bread with a fork?) and ground-up innovation can leave unanswered or unspotted problems (a holiday to somewhere new?)
In gross terms, Chrysler was stuck with improvisation yet they also could have exploited its advantage which is the minimisation of unknown problems (Toyota is ace at this). Over at GM, they started from scratch with the X-bodies and the result was unknown problems emerging after sales.
The K-Car certainly had a broad range.
Charles, that is superb! Lipstick on a pig and applied with a trowel. Did you dig that up from memory or was it diligent research? Once seen, never forgotten, I suspect. Why am I the only one to have commented? Are the rest of you still reeling in shock?
Thanks, Peter – I decided to do a bit of research in to the K-Car range and came across it. It’s not to my taste, but then again, if it makes someone happy…
Is that Ricardo Montalbán?
I would agree that the U.S. market Horizon shared very little with the European version, under the skin.
Still have some Chrysler Alpine parts in the attic if there are any fans out there….. ( glass, door seals, even a door !)
Really? Which door?
@Eoin: it is true the Simca 1100 is different from the 1307, and the EU Horizon is different from the US Omnirizon and the K-Car again is different from all of them. But they all share genes: same platform, lots of tweaks along the way.
Chrysler was essentially bankcrupt for the most part of the 1970ies. Surely they did not have the money to develop two distinct new FWD platforms?
I have just reviewed a score of photos of the Solara from various angles, distance and in a selection of colours. It has been like trying to find the character in a disposable cardboard cup. Yes, the design is very neat and tidy and I respect that achievement. However, any character the car has is at homeopathic levels of dilution. I thought the Tagora was the zenith of neutrality. Axe & Co went a degree further with the Solara which is identifiable only by deduction: it is not identifiable as any other car and by elimination can only be a Solara. It is not identifiable positively in the way, say a CX might be or even the fabulously restrained Lancia Kappa (identifiable from several hundred metres). For the sake of scientific inquiry or the historical record I´d almost be keen to ask if the design team´s intent was to produce a wholly neutral shape or did they feel like they were trying to restrain the wild steeds of their imaginations when resolving the form?
I think it is a corollary to the same influences that produced the Renault 9 snore-fest, perhaps a sort of collective boardroom exhaustion from Archie Vicar and his cohorts’ snide missives on garlic and escargots, rather than noting his fondness for Bordeaux wine?
I’ll opine that Roy Axe was capable of imbuing a strong character to his designs, but his superiors tended to rein him in. Take the MGF for example vs. the concepts that preceded it. Likewise for Opron and the 9.
Hi Richard. With all due respect to Robert Opron, whom I regard as one of the great automotive designers of the 20th Century, I find the Renault 9 (and, to a lesser extent, 11) much less forgivable than the Talbot Solara. The 9 and 11 were ‘clean-sheet’ designs, albeit influenced by the failure of the 14 (for reasons largely unconnected with its appearance, I would argue) and the need to design cars that would sell in the US through AMC. Even so, the 9 was an unforgivably dreary car. My brother-in-law’s brother is a veterinarian who used to do high mileages and changed his car annually. He owned a Renault 4, 14, 12, 18 and 9 in succession. The 9 was a miserable, mean looking thing in comparison even with the characterful 4, and unreliable as well.
Returning to the Solara, do you find it less satisfactory than the Alpine, or are both equally uninteresting? I ask because I would regard it as a perfectly competent conversion of the Alpine into a three-box saloon, particularly in light of the fact that it was not designed concurrently with the hatchback. I also remember thinking how modern and contemporary the Alpine looked when launched. I thought that the Alpine’s facelift that accompanied the launch of the Solara was also an improvement, with the sloping front end and enlarged tail lights. I’m not arguing that they were great, but perfectly competent, with no obvious design errors.
It´s a back-handed compliment, I suppose, that at least we bothering to discuss the Solara. It reminds me of the Roxy Music album “Manifesto” which I simultaneously hate and still think about (rather than like and never play at all). As Oscar Wilde said (I paraphrase) “being talked about is a lot less worse than when people are not in a position to mention one” (or words to that effect).
This is another of the “oddest competitions ever” when we have to compare the relative merits of the 9 and Solara. I am in a position where I have to rate the studied neutrality of the Solara with the slightly more busy 9…. I will come back to this.
Having had another look at the Solara and the R9 I have to say that in a race where both cars came last, the R9 is ahead by a nose and a Gitane dangling from the lower lip. The angles are a shade more emphatic and there is the faint trace of the Alfa Giuila in its glass-house to bonnet arrangement. At the back, the way the C-pillar sweeps back into the boot gives it some more style. I feel like a wine-critic being asked to choose between Hirondelle and Piat d’Or. You could say it´s a good excercise in training one´s critical sensibilities, to look for the finer differences between two very indifferent (I mean that in the official, dictionary sense) and undistinguished entities.
My vote is that the Solara is actually worse, as it’s so non-descript, but I’d expect a lot better from Renault, so the 9 and 11 deserve more criticism. I think Phil Llewelyn at Car magazine ran a 9 or 11 and it ended its tenure by catching fire.
Still, 20 years later, Renault did the W84 Mégane, which is pretty good by way of an apology.
Renault came up with the Eve in the early ‘80s. It strikes me as similar in concept to the 9, but much better in execution (as evidenced by its performance). I think the 9 was a V-sign to those who criticised the 14. “You want conventional? Here you go. Enjoy”.
Dear old Lido, hawking his K-Car, stared out at me from the box , pointed his finger, and challenged: “If you can find a better car, buy it!”
So I did, a brand new metallic red 1982 Audi Coupe which is what the Audi GT pictured first above was called here. Arriving a year later than in Europe, as was and is VW’s inscrutable wont, the extra time allowed Piech and gang to reduce the 5 cylinder engine’s output from 136 to an even 100 ponies, the better to run on lead-free fuel. I have a brochure for all the cars I’ve owned. Europe at that point stank of petrol fumes (and diesel) on my visits, the governments wondering whether the Americans had lost their minds. Catalytic converters, hydrocarbon traps , lead-free petrol — what on earth were those damn Yankees thinking, anyway? Well, there wan’t any ambient petrochemical smell here in 1980, I can assure you.
Malaise-era US cars, as they came to be known much later, were hardly the only ones that “were conspicuously and egregiously below par”. Europe also excelled at producing them in the popular price classes, as the Wolsburg-built Jetta I could not stand for more than 18 months prior to the Coupe, proved in spades. Scuttling French and Italian tin junk, BL rubbish and so on filled up roadways when I visited old uni friends in the UK and Europe. The main problem in NA was getting engines to run properly with emission controls but without expensive fuel injection, as the flawed and cost-cut fwd Escort proved on its introduction here. It bunny-hopped in surges down the road, most unpleasant. That took two model years to sort out. The 1983 Thunderbird Turbo Coupe from late 1982 with injection, however, was quite the mind blower. Very nice car indeed. That’s what my friend bought with the rickety Escort as part exchange. Night and day difference, and it looked far better than a Mustang, its platform mate.
I drove several original X-Cars and lots of K-Cars as rentals in the course of my job, and the X-Car for all its lack of a brake-proportioning valve which I luckily never had to test, was a far nicer car to pilot than the K-Car, feeling much more solid and together. The K-Car was a scuttle-shaker on poor roads. In V6 form the X-Car could handily see off my Audi, and in the parlance of the day, felt very “peppy”. GM sold 800,000 of them the first model year, from which you can gauge its appeal before teething, design and production problems manifested themselves and the cars went out of production. The problems were fixed, the styling changed, and Voila, the Chevrolet Celebrity and platform mates appeared and sold like hotcakes. If I recall correctly, Mr Herriott once owned a Buick version.
The K-car always had an unfortunate look, whether as a basic one or the bigger more upmarket Dodge 600ES. Its front end was always pointed up in the air, and the rear was pre-sagged from new, even as it sat there empty. Fill it up with a family and the effect was exaggerated. They looked dorky. Based on the Omni/Horizon with MacP struts not the Simca torsion bar version that wasted interior space in Europe but which looked the same externally, the K-Car was meh, merely OK. However, it turned out to be a cockroach, running seemingly forever and hard to kill, so not a bad buy for those with limited means and an old-timey hankering for a front bench seat. Then in 1983, Chrysler built the first mass-produced minivan on the K-Car bones, and that was a genuine smash hit. Lido employed his own PR person, and enjoyed being a celebrity, so the positive press he received was a calculated campaign of self-promotion. The new president and CEO of Ford, Farley, who is replacing the batty professor, has a similar M.O. to Iacocca. These people taught themselves to blow their own horns.
I read CC myself but rarely comment. The site is based in Oregon, where quite literally the climate grows moss on old cars rather than allowing them to rust. In the more populous East of NA, Japanese cars and the tin worn were fast friends, so they became known as disposable because the excellent if uninspiring mechanicals never went wrong while the body managed to actually survive annual safety inspections. Five years was typical. That aspect wasn’t fixed until the middle 1990s, when Honda, Nissan and Toyota belatedly discovered galvanized sheet metal at least five years after the misers in Detroit switched. And in the early 1980s, they had no balance between ride and handling that appealed to me — that was an art the Japanese took decades to master. The first Legend showed that compared to an Audi 200 let alone the benighted Rover 800, for example. Not there yet, not by a long shot. Honda loved short travel suspensions for some odd reason and Toyotas were just um, no.
Whether here or on CC, I feel revisionism is a sport indulged in by many commenters, with conclusions from people that weren’t there at the time having come to dominate the discourse. The Talking Heads remind me of a sharp acquaintance with encyclopedic book larnin’ music knowledge who seriously lectures me and my older pals as to what the ’60s music scene was like at the time, and he born in ’72 at that, when I was in London studying. Intellectual theorizing from reading can only take one so far if you were not there, so I often hold back when I see opinions I regard as shall I say, unlikely. However, today after a good breakfast, I got the urge to say what I feel and experienced.
Good stuff, thank you Bill. A quick question on the K-Car, if I may: somewhere in the dusty recesses of my memory there sits an image of a two-door convertible K-Car (not sure which marque) with a bonnet and integral black grille that was a complete rip-off of the contemporary Mercedes-Benz SL, even down to having a large pentastar in the centre of the grille in imitation of the similarly placed Mercedes-Benz tristar. I seem to recall it being pitched as M-B quality and style in an American car for half the price, or some such. Unfortunately, I can’t find any photos to support it, so Maybe it was a dream. Can you enlighten me, by any chance?
Correct, I had a Buick Century and, in the end, rather liked it despite the awful back-ache inducing front seats. My judgement must be tempered by the fact I had much less sensitively attuned critical faculties in 1993 than I do now. I would dearly like to re-drive a similar car to see how much of my memory is accurate and how much of what I consider is my recollection is merely nostalgia.
Regarding talking of history instead of living it, I think there are two not incompatible ways of dealing with events. The first-hand experience is seldom comprehensive or systematic. The second-hand experience is often missing direct observation. With music it´s possible to have a valid “I was there” experience and also a valid “I bought all the CDs and read loads of books” experience. I´d hate to say the only way to legitimately understand the history of music is by going to the shows. But also, someone who hasn´t at least looked into the documents of the time is not getting all of the musics´s meaning. I am paralysed with regard to the Beatles. I´ve never heard a single one of their records. Holding me back is the fear that if I do not research the music of the time (what did the mop tops themselves listen to) and the culture of the time plus the other records released during the Beatles period I will not “get” the records. Or do I just listen to them one after another and consider this all part of one cultural “now”?
The only thing one can do with the cars is read the period reviews and try to drive some of them if you can (and that´s hard!)
Despite the 84-onward Century not really being all that good, they cost a lot in Europe now. 1oK in Euros is the price of an 1987. Who wants these cars that badly? I don´t think they are worth more than 5K.
(I found one for 3K in Werder, Germany – that´s more like it). It has a lovely blue velour interior and might really be ideal for Denmark where top-speeds are rather low. I never do more than 100 kmph these days except on the motorway where it´s a steady 120.
Wow, 10K for such a vehicle is a statement. Even the 3K demanded for the vehicle in Werder is absurd. (You can get two Rover 75s for that) I wouldn’t even pay 4 figures for it. Not even to annoy the neighbours.
But I’m burdened with memories (not pleasant ones as far as cars are concerned). All those X and K junks were what the production manager had approved for us as production vehicles when we were filming in LA. Horrible, unappealing means of transport.
(I quickly found a solution: I joined the Emerald Club at National Car Rental – just filled out a form, signed it, done – and had a lot of fun with a ’57 Fairlane, ’56 BelAir and ’51 Pontiac – convertibles of course – it ruined my income, but it was worth it).
But the MiniVans were fun. And practical. I didn’t know they were built on a sedan platform.
As for the (theoretical) music experience: if you can’t place the context in time, it’s difficult to listen to old music properly. Or something totally new emerges when you listen to it. I’m currently experiencing this with my 15-year-old neighbour’s boy, who has just discovered David Bowie for himself. He has been playing the piano since he was 8 and is currently soaking up everything that is “piano”. He came to jazz via Jamie Cullum (who is just about old enough not to be considered “old”) and via – strange coincidence, without my doing – he stumbled across Mike Garson and the recording of “Aladdin Sane”. He listens to the album with completely different ears than I do. Although, and this is interesting, we were/were both pretty much exactly the same age when we first heard the album. He can talk about the album for half an hour (while his father rolls his eyes and hopes it will soon pass), and I can say some things about it, but he talks about something totally different than I do, although we talk about the same thing. Fascinating.
(Have I ever said that this is the best web/blog site on the whole internet where you can write about cars – and music – and most readers have a meaningfully refreshing approach to it? No? Then I would like to do so with this).
Fred: regarding Mike Garson and his piano work. If you can let your neighbour´s son have a listen to South Horizons which is on Buddha of Suburbia he might enjoy it. It´s a remarkable bit of piano work. As Bowie said himself, it´s “thrilling”. Garson is also featured on 1. Outside, both on the main tracks and the segues. It´s lovely stuff.
Your observation about listening to the same music and hearing it differently is pretty much what I´d expect. I suppose the same is true for literature but we expect it. Or, perhaps we overlook that reading, say, Dickens or Sartre now is not like reading it at the time. This is because we expect literature to be more personal and music to be more shared?
“Intellectual theorizing from reading can only take one so far if you were not there, so I often hold back when I see opinions I regard as shall I say, unlikely.” Mr. Malcolm, if this is intended a comment upon my commentary on Remain in Light, let me assure you, I was very much a record buyer when the album was current, and while I grew up in what you might consider a backwater, I can nevertheless confirm the profound effect it had upon me and my appreciation of contemporary music thereafter.
Daniel: I think the car you are searching your memory for is the Chrysler TC by Maserati, a joint venture between Lido Iacocca and Alejandro de Tomaso – (who else?). It was touted as a Cadillac Allanté rival, despite its turbocharged four cylinder power unit and K-car derived underpinnings.
Speaking of over-valued, this Cadillac Deville is a pretty splendid car
and is 10K euros which is not an unusual price for a good one. Something fishy is up with the 10K Buick Centuries. I would not balk at 10K euros for a decent Cadillac of this vintage (it´s an agreeable car in good condition) whereas the Buick is little more than an American equivalent of a Cortina in Ghia X trim (which is not doing the Cortina any justice since even basic ones drove and handled well, according to Myles Gorfe).
Eoin: I think Bill is really talking about the cars. If that´s the case, then it is true that driving them at the time is a bit different from reading the reviews. When I read CC I do pay attention to the people who say they owned these cars at the time. As it happens, the X-cars were featured there recently and the impression I get from former owners is that they weren´t all that hot. I have to ask why the US couldn´t do better than the X-cars and why building to Opel tolerances was a) a problem or b) even necessary (meaning they could have used Opel designs at a lot less cost).
Richard: You may be correct, but either way, I find the comment unhelpful. I have heard this argument since we started and I still fail to understand it. DTW would be pretty thin gruel if we were to adopt the principle that only directly lived experience counts. But there’s no pleasing people, it would seem. I do hope Mr. Malcolm enjoyed his breakfast however.
@ Richard H.: Thanks for the tip. Buddha of Suburbia was still missing from the collection, it completely passed me by. I bought it now. I’m very curious to see what the starman has made. (Of course I don’t have to buy the 1. Outside, I’ve owned it since it was released and I could sing along with it).
Fred: We could form an impromptu barber shop trio and attempt to butcher it. No offense to you – or Richard, who I can attest has a beautiful singing voice, whereas I haven’t a note in my head.
Hi Eóin. Not the Chrysler TC, but a generation earlier, and I’ve found it:
It was a prototype, as the caption says, but never made it to production, in this form, at least. I wouldn’t mind betting that Chrysler was threatened with a copyright infringement suit by Mercedes-Benz if they put it into production. Chrysler did thumb their nose back at Mercedes-Benz in a minor way with the production Dodge 400 K-car convertible: take a look at the strangely familiar looking badge on the boot lid:
Fred: That makes three of us. I think Eoin has a copy. It´s a remarkable record, really. I´ve learned how to sing “A small plot of land”, for one thing. You´ll find that DB put Strangers When We Meet on Buddha of Suburbia and then on Outside because he (correctly, I guess) assumed nobody had heard it. BOS was recorded in a week, by the way, making it even more astonishing. It´s a lovely disc and not at all soundtrack as it was billed. It´s a whole DB album under the radar!
Thanks for the invitation, Eóin. However, you don’t want to hear me sing (my wife can confirm this).
So either you want me in the band, then you have to deal without a (paying) audience – unless you count flying beer mugs as payment. Or you want an audience, then I shouldn’t be in the band – at least not singing.
It would be fairly difficult today to find anyone who attended a performance of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, say, while the Red Priest was still alive and working in Venice. Nor can we experience Paganini’s playing, since recording technology wasn’t to arrive until after his death. In Vivaldi’s case the instruments, formation of the ensembles, and indeed the sonic character of typical performance spaces have changed over the centuries so that a conscious effort has had to be made in recent decades (the Early Music movement) to recreate what the Four Seasons suite actually sounded like when it was first performed. The debate raged for some time over whether or not a performance on period instruments was more or less worthy than one on contemporary ones. A truce appears to have been drawn at this stage, as it came to be realised that there was merit in both approaches (and indeed in combining the two, using more modern instruments with smaller orchestral forces and interpretations believed to be closer to how the music might originally have been played). It came to be accepted too that no matter how carefully we might recreate the sound of Baroque music, we have a different range of cultural influences now, and simply cannot hear it in the same way as Vivaldi’s contemporaries did.
Eventually, too, there will be no one left alive who has heard the Beatles or the Stones for the first time listening to Radio Caroline, or (more likely?) at the neighbourhood hop. Should we at that point declare that all true understanding of sixties music is dead? At least we will still have recordings and first hand “I was there” memoirs to give us an idea of what it was like to hear The Rolling Stones for the first time. I wasn’t personally alive when the British blues explosion/revival started, but if I can’t recreate the experience of living through it, at least I have the benefit of distance to help me appreciate where the Stones singing, “Baby Please don’t go”, fits, or doesn’t fit, into the long tradition of the blues.
I can’t appreciate the effect of the Citroën DS’ release upon a startled world since I wasn’t around at the time, so all I have to go on is eye-witness testimony in the form of news reports, etc.. But that testimony is available to me if I wish to find out about it, so should I want to investigate it, I can. Is it the same as being there? No. Does studying and contextualising its impact have merit? I would say yes. Should I be writing long posts at this hour of the night? Almost certainly not, and I will cringe when I reread this in the morning!
I wouldn´t have thought about this if it wasn´t for Bill´s intervention. The judgement I reach is that there are different ways to experience a phenomenon and each has some value.