Direct Current

Two new battery electric cars. Two vastly different visual offers. Any real difference? 

Hyundai IONIQ 5. (c) Hyundai UK

Electrification brooks no resistance. Legislative mandates have made it so, and as successive national governments fall into step, the current is running in one direction only. Nevertheless, for those of us who Continue reading “Direct Current”

Dirty Great Volvos – One Last Dash

Completing the 780 Trilogy.

The Volvo Bertone 780 coupé was dying. When North American dealers were given one to sell, it could sit idling for months as most customers were looking for wagons or heading to rival badges with bigger engines – not choosing an unorthodox coupé, however intriguing. Lead times also proved challenging. A customer could be made waiting twelve months to Continue reading “Dirty Great Volvos – One Last Dash”

Selling the Passat by the Yard

Ten years ago, Volkswagen attempted to challenge the dominance of the Toyota Camry in the United States with a Passat developed specifically for that market. This is the story of the New Midsize Sedan.

2013 Volkswagen Passat NMS (c) topcarrating.com

For 22 of the past 23 years(1) and over five generations, the Toyota Camry has been the best-selling car in the United States. Over that time, a staggering total of over 9.6 million(2) Camrys were sold, an average of around 417,000 a year. It was a highly consistent seller too: the lowest annual sales total was 308,510 in 2011(3). The Camry successfully weathered the 2008-9 Global Financial Crisis and a simultaneous unintended acceleration controversy that turned out to be caused by ill-fitting floor mats.

If the enduring success of the Camry proves anything, it is that the vast majority of car buyers Continue reading “Selling the Passat by the Yard”

The Strathcarron Movement (Part Two)

Further thoughts from Lord Strathcarron.

Image via Pinterest

Despite his wealth and title, Lord Strathcarron left the RAF in 1947, aged 23 with no qualifications other than that licence allowing him to fly a plane. He swiftly found that Civvy Street rarely needed a fly-boy which meant turning to the dark side of the street – becoming a car salesman. Car Mart Ltd on the Euston Road was his initiation to the car dealing world and a mere stone’s-throw from Warren Street where he could Continue reading “The Strathcarron Movement (Part Two)”

En Garde! Part Two

The saga continues and grows ever stranger.

Image: Hotrodmagazine/ Fabwheelsdigest

The lesser-known RK Bodyworks, based in Albany, New York was commissioned by a certain Carl Szembrot to convert this 1952 Studebaker into a LeSabre-lookalike. The top of the three taillights adorning each fin was a blue directional signal, the middle one a red stop light and the bottom one a white reversing light. The bullet nose and trim from the Studebaker were cleverly re-used to Continue reading “En Garde! Part Two”

Mint Imperial

A new conception of executive luxury – 1966 vintage.

Humber Imperial. Image via ebay

The bookshelf has been meticulously rearranged, read and enjoyed of late. However, one among its number is sadly no more. In the recent fine weather, distanced from the world in a sunny back garden, but with a call of nature due to my drink problem (a pint of water every twenty minutes in this heat), I returned to find but one page left and the cover.

The Times Motoring Annual from 1966 was in a decrepit state, the stiff breeze discarding the remainder in various neighbouring gardens I suspect. Saddled with the remains, I felt duty bound to Continue reading “Mint Imperial”

Which Way Up?

We celebrate the tenth anniversary of the Volkswagen Up! and its siblings and wonder if the city car has a future.

(c) autoexpress

The 2011 Volkswagen Up! is Wolfsburg’s third generation city car. Unlike other models in its range, the smallest car received a different name for each iteration. This is explained, at least in part, by an apparent hiatus in product planning along the way, with the second-generation Fox being a stop-gap(1) import from Brazil.

Volkswagen’s first city car was the 1998 Lupo. It was introduced because the company realised that the increasing size and weight of its Polo B-segment supermini left room in its range for a smaller model. The original 1975 Polo, essentially a rebadged Audi 50, was a petite thing, with a wheelbase of 2,335mm (92”), overall length of just 3,510mm (138¼”) and kerb weight of just 685kgs (1,510lbs). By the time that the Lupo was launched, the Polo Mk3 was 72mm (3”) longer in wheelbase, 205mm (8”) longer overall and an extraordinary 236kg (520lbs.) heavier than the Mk1. Continue reading “Which Way Up?”

En Garde! Part One

Taking influence to unprecedented heights.

Image: GM/ Jalopyjournal

Like the Buick Y-job that went before it, the 1951 LeSabre concept car was a GM testbed for both technology and stylistic ideas. The low-slung roadster, bodied in aluminium and magnesium, was the first to have the panoramic windshield that would be a defining feature on virtually all American cars from the mid- to late fifties. Its overall look is best described as jet age on wheels.

LeSabre also used the first application of GM’s 215 cubic inch (3.5 litre) aluminium V8 which would later find its way into a variety of cars, both in the USA and Europe – although in the LeSabre’s case the engine was supercharged and capable of running on both regular fuel and methanol. Harley Earl was known to Continue reading “En Garde! Part One”

(Gandini) Late Cretaceous

Amateur palaeontologist, Andrew Miles unearths a rare fossil. 

(c) Christopher Butt

79 to 75 million years ago (not that we’re counting), dinosaurs walked the Earth. Known as the Late Cretaceous period, one example to roam the area we now recognise as Canada was the Panoplosaurus or the “fully armoured lizard.” A herbivore growing to some seven metres in length; although vegetarian, that suit provided protection from the king himself, Tyrannosaurus Rex. A survivor of its time – akin to a car shown to the world, itself now a quinquagenarian.

1967, Montreal, Canada. The Universal Exposition is held over a six month period with millions of people witnessing the fruits of man’s labours alongside celebrating world nations days. In the pavilion named “Man The Producer,” the Expo’s stipulations called for the very pinnacle of automotive endeavour at that time. A request was made to Continue reading “(Gandini) Late Cretaceous”

No Love in the Morning (Part Two)

Isuzu’s passenger car business is long defunct. It is remembered mainly for two models, the Trooper SUV and Piazza Coupé.

1991 Isuzu Trooper Mk2 LWB (c) isuzumedia.co.uk

The Isuzu Trooper(1) was a mid-sized SUV that was produced in two generations from 1981 to 2002. The first generation model was sold for a decade from 1981 and was a simple and utilitarian body-on-frame design that came in a short-wheelbase 2,300mm (91”) three-door and a long-wheelbase 2,650mm (104”) five-door version. There was also a short-lived soft-top derivative of the three-door.

Petrol and diesel engine options were available from launch and both were progressively increased in capacity and power output. Petrol in-line fours in 1.9, 2.3 and 2.6 litre capacities and a 2.8 litre V6 were offered, while diesel engines were 2.2 or 2.8 litre in-line fours, either normally aspirated or turbocharged. Manually selected rear or four-wheel-drive was provided through four or five-speed manual gearboxes and from 1988, a four-speed automatic transmission.

The Trooper was designed primarily to Continue reading “No Love in the Morning (Part Two)”

The Strathcarron Movement (Part One)

A look back at a different kind of motoring from a different kind of motorist. 

Image: The author.

David William Anthony Blyth MacPherson was the urbane, charismatic and typically eccentric baron. Known for a commitment to road safety, yet somewhat ironically died in a road accident involving a refuse truck. Not only a peer of the realm, he was also a respected motoring journalist and successful businessman.

During his life, Lord Strathcarron waxed lyrical on motoring matters – mostly those from a bygone age. Equally at home astride a motorcycle as behind the wheel of a ’30s Alfa Romeo or a 1903 De Dion Bouton. A keen traveller, he could often be found in deepest mainland Europe, astride a bike with his wife riding pillion and the butler hastening at the rear with luggage in a three-wheeler, including a parrot in its cage.

Born in 1924, he inherited the lordship aged twelve, and being far more interested in drawing Delahayes and aeroplanes than Latin or mathematics, a lifelong passion firmly pinned to travelling by means of a motor was the result.

Motoring for Pleasure in 1963, sees the Lord of Banchor looking wistfully in the rear view mirror at a point in time when even he thinks the roads are chaotic. The opening chapter of his book is called Our Crowded Roads, where he recommends early starts, breakfast and lunch at one’s destination whilst getting home early. “With sufficient determination and enthusiasm one can Continue reading “The Strathcarron Movement (Part One)”

Winging It

Kindred spirits take wing.

All images: The Author

Today’s subjects have more in common than just gullwing doors. Both were American brands produced outside of the USA, both attempted to tackle the same market segment, both ended up with a purchase price much higher than initially promised, suffered manifold quality problems and delivered only lukewarm performance; both lasted only three years on the market and were created under a business financing model with at least a whiff of sharp practice, leaving foreign governments eventually holding the bag.

They even almost ended up with similar names: Bricklin named its sportscar “SV-1” (for Safety Vehicle), and the original prototype of the DeLorean was known internally as the “DSV-1” (for DeLorean Safety Vehicle).

Malcolm Bricklin became wealthy by operating a nationwide franchise operation of do-it-yourself stores named Handyman. After this he ventured into the automotive field by becoming the American importer of Subaru in 1968; the Japanese company had only the tiny 360 to offer at the time but Bricklin became interested because it delivered excellent gas mileage and did not require federalizing in the USA because of its sub-1000 pound weight.

The Subaru 360 proved a difficult sell nevertheless. Bricklin later tried to Continue reading “Winging It”

New Frontier (Part Twelve)

America is waiting.

1972 SM in US market spec. Image Favcars

Unquestionably, a considerable measure of the SM’s commercial prospects rested upon its reception in the United States. Having envisaged selling the car in the US market from the outset, Pierre Bercot correctly viewed the American market as being pivotal to the business case of the SM – the projection being to sell 50% of production there.[1]

With the SM, Citroën seemed ready to Continue reading “New Frontier (Part Twelve)”

No Love in the Morning (Part One)

Isuzu is a world-renowned manufacturer of heavy trucks, buses and light commercial vehicles, but its passenger car business is long defunct. Its history is a complex tale of multiple alliances, one successful for a time, but all ending ultimately in failure.

1967 Isuzu Florian (c) favcars.com

Isuzu is the unlikely holder of one notable record, as manufacturer of the first passenger car built in Japan. That car was the Wolseley A9, produced from 1922 under a licencing agreement between the British firm and Ishikawajima Automotive Works, the company that would ultimately become Isuzu Motors.

Vehicle production was seriously disrupted during World War II but resumed in 1945. A contract to Continue reading “No Love in the Morning (Part One)”

Englishmen Abroad

A 1951 European Motor Show Review.

Image: The author

Seventy years have elapsed since The Motor, magazine both of note and of yore, printed year books (1949-57) to review the recent past whilst crystal balling the future. A 1952 edition happened my way recently, garnering a heady eight pages (from 220) with analysis garnered from the six European shows that year. Remember them?

Compiled by long standing journalists, Lawrence Pomeroy (son of the famed Vauxhall engineer) and Rodney Walkerley; could it be possible they had minions to accrue the information, rather than being sullied by waves of the great unwashed? Attracted more by figures than actual metal, “British cars are rare birds for 1951“, their words provide a very UK-centric view of matters motoring. Equally fascinating as they are frustrating, let us Continue reading “Englishmen Abroad”

Hero or Villain? (Part Three)

We conclude our account of the life and career of John Zachary DeLorean.

DeLorean and his ruination (c) cnet.com

The DeLorean Motor Company was, from January 1982, under the control of the receivers. Their job, in the first instance, is to see if a buyer can be found for the company. If none is forthcoming, they are required to dispose of the company’s assets in an orderly manner and raise as much money as possible to repay creditors in order of seniority, either fully or, more usually, in part (cents on the dollar). There is rarely anything left over for shareholders after this is done.

DeLorean’s biggest asset was its large inventory of unsold cars, which was increasing as production continued into the spring of 1982. Deep discounts offered on 1981 stock and exhortations to dealers to buy inventory failed meaningfully to improve the situation, and production at Dunmurry was halted in May 1982.

DMC filed for bankruptcy in October, although a skeleton staff completed around 100 partially built cars before the year end. Consolidated International, a US company based in Columbus, Ohio, acquired the remaining stock from the liquidators at a deep discount and attempted to Continue reading “Hero or Villain? (Part Three)”

Enigma Variations

Ambivalence towards Jaguar’s Sixties Supermodel is as old as the E-Type itself. 

1961 E-Type. Image: Sportscar Digest

The problem when approaching time-honoured and much-loved cultural touchstones is that as their mythology develops, layers of symbolism and exaggerated lore build up like barnacles upon the hull of a sunken craft until the object itself becomes obscure, indistinct; the legend eventually overtaking fact.

Certainly, the cult status of the Jaguar E-Type has morphed to that of venerable sainthood – its position as all-time investment-grade classic seemingly inviolate for the rest of time. So much so, that to Continue reading “Enigma Variations”

Nordstjärna (Part Four)

Allting var sak har sin tid

Image: favcars

The year of 1967 would be an auspicious one for for the Trollhättan-based carmaker. The start of the year witnessed the maiden flight of the aircraft division’s advanced new Viggen jet fighter aircraft,[1] while that Autumn, the first completely new Saab motor car since the marque’s inception would make its press debut. The 99 model (and its derivatives) would go on to Continue reading “Nordstjärna (Part Four)”

Forever Changes

Our Sheffield correspondent simply isn’t feeling the Love.

1961 Jaguar E-Type Roadster. Image: classic driver

Hit singles – a notorious equation. From that first catalytic germ to the recording studio, everyone and everything balanced; flow without compromise. Who says what works? The adoring/ paying public. Upon that melody entering your ears, it becomes trapped in your psyche; if the song is good, into your heart and soul. The melody no longer the writer’s own, it is for us to worship, hum, love… and eventually abhor.

A hit single is something of a spark, whereas albums take nurturing, time and compromises a plenty. Both, if recorded with care will Continue reading “Forever Changes”

Hero or Villain? (Part Two)

We continue the story of John Z DeLorean and remember the car that carried his name on the fortieth anniversary of its launch.

John Z DeLorean with his creation (c) carwalls.blogspot

The 1970’s was a truly miserable decade for the whole of Ireland. A sectarian conflict that had simmered in Northern Ireland since the island was partitioned in 1921 had exploded into violence and bloodshed in 1968. This unrest continued throughout the following decade, with bombings, assassinations and other terrorist atrocities perpetrated by paramilitary groups on both sides of the political and religious divide.

A consequence of the euphemistically-named troubles was that the already weak economies on both sides of the border struggled to Continue reading “Hero or Villain? (Part Two)”

Illustrious Duo

The art of Fitz and Van.

Boredom helped me to discover them. In the early seventies, I needed to find a way to keep myself entertained during our monthly weekend visits to my grandmother who lived in a small village in rural Belgium. As there was not much to do for me there and no children of my age to play with, I resorted to wandering around the house; that is where I at some point discovered stacks of old magazines in an old wardrobe closet. Among them were old TV guides and home decoration magazines but also issues of Readers Digest, LIFE and National Geographic.

Cars – and drawing them in particular – were my main point of interest and the plentiful car advertisements in those old magazines in my grandmother’s house provided an excellent source of inspiration. The ones that made the biggest impression on me were those of Pontiac in the magazines of American origin, and the Opel advertisements in the other more recent publications.

Those cars looked so fantastic – how on earth did they Continue reading “Illustrious Duo”

New Frontier (Part Eleven)

Politics dominates at Quai André Citroën. 

Image: citroen-sm.uk

As early examples of the SM began to appear on Europe’s roads, the political fallout to its advent took another, even more high profile scalp with the June 1970 announcement of the impending retirement of Monsieur le Président, Pierre Bercot. And while it was characterised as a scheduled act, the timing was nonetheless, to say the least, interesting.

Because while it would appear that Bercot had won the day over his deputy and fierce critic’s opposition, it is equally possible that Claude Alain Sarre’s unilateral decision to Continue reading “New Frontier (Part Eleven)”

Herra Conformateur

Another giant of motorsport leaves the stage.

Hannu Mikkola winning the 1983 Rallye de Portugal. Image: web-rally.blogspot.com

Human heads (along with tastes) arrive in different shapes and sizes. A hat of one size could never truly fit all. Luckily, the French devised a device equally beautiful in both name and operation: the conformateur. Placing what on first sight appears to be an Edwardian torture implement upon one’s head, the levers Continue reading “Herra Conformateur”

Hero or Villain? (Part One)

We remember the life and career of one of the most polarising and controversial people ever to have worked in the automotive Industry, John Zachary DeLorean.

John Z DeLorean and his creation (c) Forbes Magazine

John DeLorean was born in Detroit, Michigan on 6th January 1925 to Zachary and Kathryn (née Pribak) DeLorean. Zachary was Romanian, born in the village of Sugág, which was in a region controlled by the Austro-Hungarian Empire, but is now part of modern-day Romania. He worked in a mill before emigrating to the United States at the age of twenty. After spells in Indiana and Montana, he moved to Detroit and joined the Ford Motor Company as a millwright.

It was in Detroit that he met his future wife. Kathryn was Hungarian and worked for Carboloy Products, a division of General Electric. Neither Zachary nor Kathryn had much formal education and took other casual work as they found it to support their family of four sons, of whom John was the eldest.

They lived in a tough, working-class district of Detroit, but managed to Continue reading “Hero or Villain? (Part One)”

At The Dark End Of The Street

Our North Western England correspondent, with only a torch for company, takes to the lesser populated byways, for your Sunday amusement.

Image: oldmags

Autocar remains the weekly go-to on matters motoring since its 1895 inception. Born alongside the British car industry, the periodical has witnessed multitudinous change with probably its most profound being the transition to digital. Although the weekly printed copy remains (£3.80 at all good news vendors), one can be updated many times a day via the website. Subjects diverse as Industry News, Car Reviews, Features, Technology News and Opinion, all available without a proper search engine.

Rather frustratingly, one cannot easily Continue reading “At The Dark End Of The Street”

Pinned Together, Falling Apart

Do we get the stylistic leaders we deserve? 

“Nobody likes my shoes…” (c) Autocar

In recent weeks the design chiefs of the German car industry’s premier division reminded us exactly how they justify their retainers. This elite trio of Audi’s Marc Lichte, BMW’s Adrian van Hooydonk and Mercedes-Benz’s Gorden Wagener hold perhaps the most coveted and yet simultaneously least enviable jobs in the business, being at the very sharp-end of the changes rapidly encroaching upon all carmakers, but impacting the upper denizens in potentially even more profound a manner.

Earlier this week, we talked to a design commentator about the challenges facing carmakers; given the lack of vision which characterises the mainstream legacy motor car in the current environment. Viewed in this context, the manner in which these particular figures have deigned to Continue reading “Pinned Together, Falling Apart”

Small but Perfectly Formed

The 1991 Cinquecento was a great city car and, in design terms, a hard act to follow, as Fiat found out with its replacement.

1994 Fiat Cinquecento Sporting (c) fiat.com

Fiat in 2021 is a pale shadow of the once mighty automaker that dominated Italian industry for decades. Half a century ago, the company produced a full range of cars, from the diminutive rear-engined 126 to the handsome V6 engined 130 luxury saloon and coupé. That notwithstanding, Fiat was always best known and most highly regarded for its expertise and success in small cars.

The 1955 Fiat 600 and its smaller sibling, the 1957 500 model, successfully mobilised Italy in the post-war years. They were small, light, economical and robust cars that fitted perfectly into the historic streetscape of many Italian villages, towns and cities, with their narrow, winding streets. Both were notable for their longevity: the 600 remained in production until 1969. The 500 continued until 1975, selling alongside the 1972 126 which was, effectively, a rebodied 500. Continue reading “Small but Perfectly Formed”

The Welsh Sounding Car Company. From Germany

A much-derided, now defunct German carmaker comes under the spotlight. 

Image: Curbside Classic

A simple yet honest emblem: name, white and red stripes, triangle. Mathematically sound, an engineers friend, a car company that had two bites of the cherry only to be swallowed up due to that thorny old subject of filthy lucre. Some history: The Bremen based shipping company Norddeutscher Lloyd took the automotive plunge as it were in 1908, building electric powered vehicles under license. Petrol engines soon followed, as did a merger with Hansa in order to Continue reading “The Welsh Sounding Car Company. From Germany”

Depth of Field

Ready to take a trip? Today we discuss possible futures and automotive design with Design Field Trip’s editor, Christopher Butt. 

Design Field Trip’s creator and Editor, Christopher Butt. (c) DFT

Design was once characterised as “the dress of thought,” an elegant phrase and one at least as applicable to the automobile as any other form of styled product. Yet today, the dress which clothes our vehicles all too often suggests thoughts of a less edifying nature. But can anything be done to arrest this trend? Having recently launched his latest venture, Design Field Trip, we ask Hamburg-based design commentator, critic and writer, Christopher Butt, about his hopes to Continue reading “Depth of Field”

European Car of the Year 2021: Worthy, But a Worthy Winner?

Once again the Geneva Salon is a no-show, but in the depths of the empty halls of Palexpo, the 57th European Car of the Year announcement goes out to the world. Robertas Parazitas reports, from a virtual Grand-Saconnex. 

Image: ECotY
Image: ECotY

Last year’s hasty but not unexpected cancellation of the Geneva International Motor Show established the template for the virtual ECotY presentation. No free fizz, no famous faces, but it worked, so why change?

Swiss television presenter Mélanie Freymond opened the proceedings, introducing GIMS CEO Sandro Mesquita. He almost answers everyone’s inevitable question. Will there be a show in 2022? The answer is that negotiations with their partner are nearing conclusion and he is hopeful of some “good news” in the next few weeks. Continue reading “European Car of the Year 2021: Worthy, But a Worthy Winner?”

Fiat Takes A Swing At Golf… and Misses

The 2001 Fiat Stilo was an attempt to take on the Golf at its own game. It missed by a country mile. We recall Fiat’s millennial C-segment failure.

2003 Fiat Stilo three-door (c) Parkers.co.uk

Ever since its introduction in 1974 and over eight different generations, Volkswagen’s C-segment stalwart has been always readily identifiable. There have been variations in the quality of execution, but all retained enough distinctive DNA to make them unmistakably part of the lineage. This was about more than just appearance. It encompassed dynamic characteristics as well as the cars’ tactile and aural qualities.

This was exactly Volkswagen’s intention, to engender a sense of comfortable familiarity that made it easy for Golf owners to Continue reading “Fiat Takes A Swing At Golf… and Misses”