Nordstjärna (Part Three)

Desperate times. Desperate measures. 

Image: carthrottle

The early 1960s had been good years at Trollhättan. Saab sales had risen exponentially, the export performance of the 96 showed considerable promise, and its rally exploits further bolstered its appeal. But it was clear that to consolidate upon this success, a more modern, more adaptable Saab motorcar was required. In April 1964 management initiated Project Gudmund which would culminate in the 99 model, unveiled to the press in November 1967.

But meanwhile sales of the two-stroke 96 were stalling, and technical chief, Rolf Mellde recognised the need to act. Not that his engineers had exactly been warming their hands in the interim. Between 1960 and 1964, a number of four-stroke engines were evaluated in Saab bodyshells. Initially three powertrains were selected, a longitudinal 897 cc four cylinder Lloyd Arabella unit, a transversely mounted 848 cc BMC A-Series (à la Mini) and a 1089 cc V4 Lancia Appia unit.

Despite this however, Saab CEO, Tryggve Holm remained implacably wedded to the two-stroke concept, vetoing any move by Mellde to Continue reading “Nordstjärna (Part Three)”

Strip Club

Sorry gentlemen, no lucite heels and garterbelts here, just painted metal and blanked out switches.

Image: Balconistasa com

There can be a quiet sort of dignity in an austere car. Shorn of distracting embellishments, the observer has an excellent opportunity to judge the essential purity – or lack thereof – of the design in question. But there are limits to how far a manufacturer can Continue reading “Strip Club”

Family Breadwinner (Part Two)

The Citroën Visa might have offended some Quai de Javel purists, but it still espoused enough of the marque’s unique character to be well regarded and fondly remembered.

1978 Visa Club. Image: parts-specs.nl

The 1976 Citroën LN was unambiguously a stop-gap car, engineered quickly and expediently to give beleaguered Citroën dealers something new to sell. But Peugeot realised that Citroën also needed a proper supermini-sized contender to replace the ageing Dyane and Ami, and again looked to the 104 platform, this time the five-door version. Prior to their takeover, Citroën had been working on its own replacement (initially in conjunction with Fiat), codenamed Model Y (1). The Peugeot takeover ended that programme however, and the project, renamed Model VD, would now Continue reading “Family Breadwinner (Part Two)”

When An Estate Car Just Won’t Do

Just Musk? Not in this instance.

(c) nielsvanroij.com

Odd how certain phrases can cause strong emotions yet in a physical form, leave many cold. The shooting brake is just one such term. It derives from a time (circa 1890) when a British gentlemen required transport not only for himself but his Batman (butler/ driver) along with his fellow shooters, kit, caboodle and most necessary, dogs, in order to Continue reading “When An Estate Car Just Won’t Do”

Can’t Beat Visa, but Mauls R5

Following previous DTW incursions into Peugeot’s 104 series, we take a look at the T15 (or Samba, as it became better known).

Talbot Samba LS in gorgeous condition (Source: Car and Classic)

I was sorting through a pile of old motoring magazines I found on a shelf in our box room the other day, when I came across an article in the w/e 24th October 1981 issue of Autocar which was the launch piece for “Talbot’s new T15 small car, called Samba in Europe”. I had purchased that magazine (and the others in the pile) on ebay over eight years ago while researching a series on the Triumph Acclaim which appeared on this site some time ago.

The article holds a particular interest for me because a Samba was the first car I ever bought (I was 19). I’ll Continue reading “Can’t Beat Visa, but Mauls R5”

New Frontier – (Part Ten)

Press and punter have their say.

(c) citroen-sm-uk.com

Otherworldly, at least as celestial an apparition as Roland Barthes’ depiction of its DS 19 forebear, the appearance of the new Citroën poleaxed visitors at its debut. Because in the Spring of 1970, nothing spoke of the now quite like an SM, although the Pininfarina Modulo, also shown at that year’s Geneva salon potentially ran it a close second.

The motorshow also presented Citroën’s public relations with their first tangible opportunity to gauge the public’s reaction to the new Quai de Javel flagship, but more to the point, to elicit the impressions of those who might be minded to Continue reading “New Frontier – (Part Ten)”

Family Breadwinner (Part One)

Although eclipsed by the hugely successful 205, the 104 was a highly competent design that served Peugeot and its sister companies well for sixteen-years.

Peugeot 104. Image: autodata1

Mention Peugeot Supermini in the company of car enthusiasts of a certain maturity and their minds will immediately turn to the 1983 205, the delightfully attractive, practical and sweet-handling car that, for many, was the definitive 1980’s B-segment hatchback. In 1.6 and 1.9 GTi form, it was also the definitive hot hatch. What is not as readily recalled, however, is the success of its largely forgotten predecessor, the 1972 Peugeot 104 and its PSA siblings.

Prior to the launch of the 104, Peugeot design was the very epitome of sober conservatism, with understated but well-engineered saloons and estates, and attractive but unflashy coupés and convertibles. The company had ventured into transverse engines and front-wheel-drive with the 204 and 304 siblings, but their conservative exterior appearance belied the engineering innovation within. The 104 would be the company’s smallest model and the first two-box design that was not an estate, but what was becoming known as a Supermini.

Except that, like the Fiat 127 that preceded it by a year, it was not a true Supermini in that it had a conventional boot-lid instead of a hatchback(1). Peugeot was, allegedly, concerned about the impact a hatchback 104 might have on sales of the existing 204 estate, hence the decision to Continue reading “Family Breadwinner (Part One)”

F is for Failure

There’s little new in the world.

An artist’s render of the upper-level version of Projet F. (c) citroenet.org.uk

The news earlier this week that JLR cancelled its Jaguar XJ programme, believed to have been close to production-readiness was greeted with varying degrees of dismay by the commentator and enthusiast community. Many questioned the financial logic of taking such drastic action so late in the developmental programme, suggesting that such profligacy was madness.

Whether folly or expediency, it was certainly not unique, BLMC rather notably electing to cancel the Rover P8 programme at huge expense in 1971, for example. However, perhaps the most glaring and possibly the most financially damaging instance was that of Citroën, when in April 1967, President, Pierre Bercot took the decision to Continue reading “F is for Failure”

Niels van Roij – in Conversation

Today, we talk to freelance car designer and coachbuilder, Niels van Roij.

(c) nielsvanroij.com

Very graciously, automotive designer, Niels van Roij allowed me an hour of his time to indulge upon subjects such as tailor-made suits, music and of course, the modern coach-built motor car.

Like so many car enthusiasts, the passion begins at an early age. For this author, Matchbox cars and their exaggerated engine and tyre sounds. For Niels however, the pencil and paper called from around the age of four. His mother has kept some of these youthful outpourings though it’s doubtful his infant designs would have bearing on today’s products for reasons discussed later.

Andrew Miles: What the first car that made you Continue reading “Niels van Roij – in Conversation”

Making Good? (Part Two)

DTW continues the story of MG Motor and asks if things are finally coming good in Europe for the reborn marque.

2018 MG ZS

The summer of 2016 must have been a worrying time for MG Motor and its UK dealers. The MG6 GT and Magnette had failed in the market and were discontinued, so the company was reduced to a single model, the MG3 hatchback. European sales of the MG3 were trickling along at around 250 a month, a level at which final assembly at Longbridge was not viable, so the model would in future Continue reading “Making Good? (Part Two)”

Knocking On Opportunity’s Door

A design masterpiece in retrospect.

All images: The author’s collection

The silence was deafening, broken only by the faint hum of the ventilation system in Ford Motor Company Vice President Robert S. McNamara’s office. “Bob, you can’t really do that, can you?” uttered general manager Ben D. Mills after a few uncomfortable seconds. “You bet I can do it” was McNamara’s terse response.

McNamara had just announced that based on Lincoln’s dismal financial projections (and it had never made a profit since its inception) he had decided to recommend that the brand be terminated. It was only after a long and heated discussion that Mills, chief engineer Harold McDonald and executive engineer Harold Johnsson managed to persuade McNamara to Continue reading “Knocking On Opportunity’s Door”

Sunk Cat Bias

JLR Reimagines Jaguar as a successful business. Good luck Thierry.

The only image officially shown of the axed ‘new’ XJ. (c) Autocar

“It’s not the despair… I can stand the despair. It’s the hope…” [1]

So it’s finally happened. After months of deliberation, and a good deal of wild-eyed speculation, Thierry Bolloré and his JLR board have announced their Reimagine plan for the JLR business. Described in some areas of the mainstream auto press as a Bombshell, the revelations which pertain to brand-Jaguar are in fact nothing of the sort. This shift has been telegraphed for the best part of two years now.

Reimagine has been devised, Bolloré told journalists, to emphasise “quality over volume”, a tacit recognition that not only were Sir Ralph Speth’s growth projections for the JLR business wrong, but in a new post-Covid, post Brexit environment, completely unattainable.[2] Speth’s aspirations to Continue reading “Sunk Cat Bias”

Making Good? (Part One)

Following its return in 2007, MG Motor was for years a marginal and faltering presence in the European auto market. DTW asks if the Chinese owned company is finally beginning to make a meaningful impact.

Small beginnings: 2007 MG TF 500LE (c) mg.co.uk

The final collapse of MG Rover in 2005 was an ugly, rancorous affair. It was also a long time coming. Since BMW disposed of its troublesome English Patient in 2000, selling it for a nominal £10(1) to the Phoenix Consortium, the company limped along with increasingly desperate attempts to reheat and repackage its ageing product line-up.

The most egregious of these was not the Rover Streetwise which, it could be argued, was simply ahead of its time, but the MG Express(2). Yes, MG Rover really did think (or was desperate to Continue reading “Making Good? (Part One)”

Nordstjärna (Part Two)

Saab takes off.

(c) saabworld

In the years immediately following the cessation of global hostilities, the pace of technological change accelerated massively. However, this rapid forward motion was particularly obvious in the aviation sector, especially following the advent of the gas turbine jet engine.

For Sweden, peacetime did not entail a loss of vigilance – far from it, with the threat now stemming from a resurgent Soviet Union, seeking to Continue reading “Nordstjärna (Part Two)”

Newsgrab

The week that has been – 14 February 2021.

The face of 2021 – Citroen C3 Aircross. Image: Autocar

As we enter the mid-point of February 2021 and for most of us, the interminable wait for any palpable sense of normalcy seems as distant a prospect as ever. Automotive news these days appears to arrive in bursts of optimism, before quickly dying down once more – somewhat akin to hopes for an even semi-productive year in prospect. Still, we must Continue reading “Newsgrab”

Failure to Launch

I think it’s gonna be a long, long time…

Image: DPA.com

Muammar Mohammed Abu Minyar Gaddafi: dictator and terrorist to many, hero and martyr to others. The late Libyan ruler has been associated with many things, most of them of the unpleasant variety. But few could imagine the self-proclaimed brother-leader as a car designer. Yet colonel Gaddafi really did order the development of Libya’s first car, and had a considerable say in its styling and design concept, with the lofty aim of producing the safest car in the world.

Colonel Gadaffi named the car Saroukh El-Jamahiriya or Libyan rocket (once a military man, always a military man) and it was unveiled at a special summit of the Organisation of African Unity in 1999, organised to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the revolution.

The car was described by the press officer at hand as an elegant sedan and that Gaddafi “had spent long hours thinking of ways to Continue reading “Failure to Launch”

Virtue from Necessity (Part Two)

DTW continues the story of the Triumph Herald and its derivatives.

Triumph Vitesse. Image: storm.oldcarmanualproject

Following the December 1960 takeover by Leyland Motors and the successful relaunch of the Herald in April 1961, the newly formed Standard-Triumph division had the funds and confidence to Continue reading “Virtue from Necessity (Part Two)”

Light Fogging

Dirty Great Volvos: Part Two – the 780 ES.

Image: carpixel

The success of the Bertone and Volvo partnership bred goodwill, long term relationships being established between manufacturer and carrozzeria, which maintained their longevity, thirty-plus years from their labours – enough to tip the scales in favour of a second attempt.

Once the final 262C had trundled off the forecourt early in 1981, the new project coupé was planned under the P202 code number. Lengthy concept briefings took place in both countries over a period of three years, the Torinese producing some typically flamboyant early renders.

Imagine the reaction. Nuccio Bertone himself being informed the initial drawings were “too aggressive.” Paolo Caccamo, Bertone chairman states, “Three designs were drawn. One too similar to the 760, one too sporting, the final of the scissor designs a compromise that both parties were happy with. It may not be innovative but it is elegant.” A further development saw the Italians Continue reading “Light Fogging”

New Frontier – (Part Nine)

High drama amid the champagne flutes at Geneva.

Geneva 1970, the SM makes its debut. (c) sm.uk

Spring 1970, and for months now the prospect of a new high performance Citroën flagship has become something of an open secret amid the motor-press. A concerted proving programme by Citroën engineers has been completed, although the chosen name is something of a late in the day affair. Nevertheless, and regardless of what Monsieur le Président is said to have originally wanted, the SM is ready to take its bow.

A prerequisite of the 1968 PARDEVI alliance with FIAT Auto was the creation of a new Citroën SA holding company, a development which saw Pierre Bercot Continue reading “New Frontier – (Part Nine)”

Virtue From Necessity (Part One)

The 1959 Triumph Herald was an innovative and pragmatic solution to a difficult problem. It was also surprisingly accomplished and deservedly successful. DTW tells its story.

1960 Triumph Herald Saloon (c) nationalmotormuseum.org.uk

In the latter half of the 1950s, the Standard-Triumph motor company was facing a potentially existential problem. The mainstay of its model range, the Standard Eight and Ten saloons, were ageing and in need of replacement. However, Fisher and Ludlow, the company’s body fabricators, had been taken over by BMC in 1953 and was under orders from BMC Chairman Leonard Lord to terminate the relationship with Standard-Triumph once existing contracts expired.

Even if Lord had not decided to Continue reading “Virtue From Necessity (Part One)”

A Fortnight at the Opera

A dodgy alternator in the author’s Octavia provides the opportunity of an unexpectedly long exposure to Škoda’s Scala

Skoda Scala SE – side profile (Source: orangewheels.com)

I won’t say much more about how I came to be the temporary user of a metallic black Škoda Scala 1.5TSI DSG SE (I think – no badging), except to say that it’s now almost four weeks since I left our Octavia at the dealership in Letchworth to sort what initially seemed like a simple problem.  However, taking a lead from my own New Year’s intention to look more on the bright side of situations, and, indeed, turn them into opportunities (I know…), I thought I’d Continue reading “A Fortnight at the Opera”

Hope Is the Thing With Feathers

What do I know about animal husbandry anyway?

Underestimate this pullet at your peril. Image: carscoops

There surely comes a point in proceedings where one simply has to bow to certain ineffable truths and admit to the error of one’s ways. For some years now I have been calling (futilely I might add) upon its maker to do the decent thing and euthanise the Lancia Ypsilon, in the earnest, if mistaken belief that it would be better for all concerned if the hapless Shield and Flag was allowed to Continue reading “Hope Is the Thing With Feathers”

Tre Kroner

Dirty Great Volvos: Part one – which deals with a mid-seventies international affair.

Volvo-Bertone 262C. (c) Volvo Cars

When Henry Ford II came to town, he got noticed. And when he showed up in Sweden with his entourage of executives to have a look-see at how they made cars in Gothenburg, he, along with his Yankee-Iron cavalcade, caused quite a stir, enough to inspire a new Volvo.

The Mk4 Lincoln Continental coupé was Henry’s weapon of choice – with that low roof, C-pillars you could Continue reading “Tre Kroner”

The Old Bird’s Case Of BDD

Our Under the Knife Series travels to the Americas.

(c) Todofalcon.com

Body Dysmorphic Disorder, or addiction to cosmetic surgery, is no laughing matter. Those afflicted by it, such as American socialite Jocelyn Wildenstein  are testament to the fact that one would be wise to Continue reading “The Old Bird’s Case Of BDD”

New Frontier – (Part Eight)

La Fluidité.

Image: autoevolution

While there may have been some disagreement as to the conceptual nature of Citroën’s 1970 flagship, the matter of its appearance seems to have been more assured. Certainly, there are comparatively few observers who could cogently argue that the SM’s styling was not a success – indeed it remains probably the car’s defining feature – still a futurist marvel, despite a half-century having elapsed since its introduction.

Within Citroën’s Bureau d’Études the Style Centre was hidden away in an unkempt and dingy section of the Rue de Théàtre facility. Overseen by longstanding Citroën design chief, Flaminio Bertoni, he alongside his small team of fellow designers and put upon artisans would Continue reading “New Frontier – (Part Eight)”

Betting the Farm – and Winning

The investment programme behind the 1991 Volvo 850 was the most important in the Swedish automaker’s history. Not only did it deliver an excellent car, it had a fundamental impact on the company’s future direction.

1997 Volvo 850 Estate (c) autocar.co.uk

Despite its conservative appearance, which looked like a scaled-down and smoothed off 940, the 1991 Volvo 850 was the fruit of the Swedish manufacturer’s largest and most expensive ever investment in new models, so it needed to be good.

It was not, however, Volvo’s first foray into front-wheel-drive. That honour rests rather heavily on the 400 Series. First to launch was the 480 coupé in 1986, followed a year later by the 440 five-door hatchback and 460 four-door saloon. The 400 replaced the 300 Series, which Volvo had inherited as a largely completed design (the DAF 77) when it took over DAF’s car-making business in 1975.

The 400 was, to put it bluntly, not great. Continue reading “Betting the Farm – and Winning”

The Definition of Obsession? 10 years with a Citroën C6 (Part 4).

In this final part, I take stock of the experience of living with the C6 over the last decade.

Striking, and distinctive, if not lovely (source: author’s photo)

There is no getting away from the fact that the C6 has been less reliable and more expensive to maintain than it ought to have been. Most of the problems occurred between 60,000 and 100,000 miles, irritatingly after the warranty had expired. Whether it was the car’s weight overwhelming in particular the various suspension components is a matter of speculation, and one which was often vigorously contested on C6 Owner’s fora.[1]

On average, I estimate I have spent around £1,200 a year keeping the C6 in decent fettle, including a couple of visits to a bodyshop to sort out some corrosion spots, a bit of paint blooming on a wing (caused by a poor respray whilst the car’s paintwork was still under warranty), and the time when some scallywag (if that is the correct term) dropped a brick on the bonnet whilst it was parked in a street, leaving it there so that it – and the damage it had caused – could not be missed.

Give the car a nice wash and polish and it looks quite superb – Robert himself wondered if I’d Continue reading “The Definition of Obsession? 10 years with a Citroën C6 (Part 4).”

210 Auf der Autobahn

Why one of the least loved Mercedes might actually be one of the best.

All images: The author.

I used to think a good Mercedes is distinguished by the sound its doors make when closing. Nothing oozes solidity and confidence in a subtle, effortless way, like a good Mercedes Klonk. By this standard, my Mercedes E430 T is not the best Mercedes ever made.

But perhaps there is more to a Mercedes.

Doors aside, a good car should Continue reading “210 Auf der Autobahn”