White Elephant Or Red Herring?

Bruno Vijverman profiles Amsterdam’s Witkar.

The Witkar. Image: Hart Amsterdam.nl

The late sixties and early seventies: it seemed as if Amsterdam and this era were made for each other. Expansion of the mind by means of a wide range of stimulants, breaching of the traditional sexual mores, and challenging the establishment in general – all against a background of a nasty conflict in Southeast Asia and a looming end by atomic bomb.

The summer of love might have faded since its heyday in Haight-Ashbury but its spirit was still very much alive in the Dutch capital. However, like any other reasonably sized city that attracted new residents, new businesses and more tourism every year, Amsterdam could not Continue reading “White Elephant Or Red Herring?”

Fanfare for the Common Van (Part 5): Long at Last

We conclude our Transitory aria.

Image: Ford Netherlands

In 1974, Ford at last gave serious consideration to a Transit replacement, instigating “Project Triton” by employing a French consultancy to produce studies for a new van to go on sale towards the end of the decade. The timing was inauspicious, in the midst of a global oil crisis and industrial and political turmoil in the UK.

Within the narrower confines of Ford of Britain, development of the strategically important Cargo medium sized truck range was running behind programme and over budget. Integration of the German and British operations was proceeding rapidly with priority for all resources going to the Fiesta supermini, the most expensive project in the history of the Ford Motor Company.

As Transit demand remained strong, it was decided to Continue reading “Fanfare for the Common Van (Part 5): Long at Last”

Lost Legend (Part One)

Honda recently announced that its flagship saloon will not be replaced when the current model is discontinued in March 2022. We remember the Legend.

1988 Acura Legend Sedan and Coupé. Image: curbsideclassic.com

The Honda Motor Company as we know it today was incorporated in 1948 and built its first complete motorcycle in the following year. Its rise thereafter was meteoric: just fifteen years later, Honda had become the largest manufacturer of motorcycles in the World. The company’s ambitious founder, Soichiro Honda, then turned his attention to automobiles and launched the T360 pick-up truck and S500 convertible sports car in 1963.

Although the diminutive S500 and 1970 Z360 / Z600 microcar achieved some export sales, it was the 1972 Civic that marked Honda’s arrival in the mainstream global passenger car market. This was a neatly styled front-wheel-drive B-segment model produced in three and five-door hatchback, saloon and estate versions(1). Its arrival coincided with the 1973 Middle-East Oil Crisis, which caused a huge increase in demand for small and economical cars, especially in the US. The Civic quickly acquired a reputation for excellent engineering, build quality and reliability(2). Continue reading “Lost Legend (Part One)”

Death Of A Clown

The Exeo was an attempt at a D-segment offering on the cheap, but was the joke on SEAT?

Do you want to drive it into the pool darling, or shall I? Image: Autoevolution

Perhaps Erich Schmitt’s leylines and shakras had swirled his vision akin to adding milk to a caffeine drink. Internally known as the Bolero, the public knew the car as the Exeo (ex-ay-o) – a Latin derivation of exire meaning to Go Beyond. Herr Schmitt certainly did that.

Installed as Sociedad Espanola de Automobiles de Turismo president in 2006 under strict instructions from Ferdinand Piëch to Continue reading “Death Of A Clown”

A Smart Cut, or the Final Cut?

After decades of resolutely conventional if well executed D-segment offerings, Peugeot has tried something different with the latest 508. It deserves credit for doing so, but has the market recognised and rewarded its innovation?

2018 Peugeot 508  Image: ANE

For over a century, Peugeot has been the very essence of French conservative respectability. Its automobiles have, by and large, been well engineered, durable and reliable, with quietly elegant and unflashy styling. At the heart of its range has always been a medium / large saloon car, a natural and uncontroversial choice for middle-class professionals in France and beyond.

The post-WW2 series of such cars began with the Pininfarina styled 403 in 1955, a neat and contemporary looking RWD car with smooth ponton(1) styling. It was manufactured for over a decade in saloon, estate, coupé, van and pick-up versions and sold in excess of one million units. Continue reading “A Smart Cut, or the Final Cut?”

Ô souverain, ô juge, ô père

The President will see you now.

Nissan President. Image: Topspeed

Having originally been known as the Kwaishinsha Motorcar Works and later by the acronym, DAT[1], the Nissan Motor Company has traded under its latterday identity since 1933. Introduced into Western markets under the Datsun nameplate; from 1981, this by then well-established brand name would no longer feature on the carmaker’s products.[2]

The fact that Nissan chose to make this sweeping change in spite of the sales success enjoyed by brand-Datsun across global markets can be viewed two ways; an attempt to create a unified, instantly recognisable brand name, à la Toyota, or alternatively, to allow the carmaker to Continue reading “Ô souverain, ô juge, ô père”

What Price the Surf?

Our Sheffield scribe is Transported.

Image: volkswagen-vans.co.uk

British localities often have words unknown to their neighbours; breadcake, tea cake and bap(1) can be all the same thing – or not depending where one lives. But taken collectively, it is always the bottom line that receives the most emphasis – how much? With travel restrictions now lifted, thoughts turn to holidays; dreams of the coast, sandy shores, alfresco dining and catching a crest with your board should you Continue reading “What Price the Surf?”

We Interrupt This Programme

Is that a gun in your pocket?

Image: Corrado Belli

The name of this vehicle has nothing to do with Auntie Beeb, being simply composed of the initials of Messrs. Beretta, Benelli and Castelbarco – all three of them distinctly Italian. The first two names will sound familiar as they are those of the arms maker and motorcycle manufacturer respectively; the third was a member of the Italian nobility.

Pietro Beretta had inherited the family company, founded in the 16th century, in 1903 but found his factories seized by the German army upon the allied invasion of Italy in 1943. When hostilities ended two years later there was understandably little demand for Beretta’s traditional offerings. Postwar Italy – its confidence, its infrastructure and its economy – had to be rebuilt and providing mobility for as many private individuals and businesses as possible was of course one of the vital aspects that needed to be addressed in order to Continue reading “We Interrupt This Programme”

Country Club or Brand Values?

Today we muse upon the supposed relation between cars and their countries of origin.

1999 Dodge Neon. Image: zemotor

Many years ago, in a British car magazine, I read an interview with an American car company executive about his employer’s attempts to crack the European car market (this was back in the days of efforts like Chrysler’s Neon sub-brand) in which he waxed lyrical on the subject of typically American virtues such as spaciousness in cars. Given that, certainly at the time, my primary association with the concept American car was the TARDIS-in-reverse quality of a typical land-yacht cabin, it wasn’t a terribly convincing argument. Nor did the executive in question seem to Continue reading “Country Club or Brand Values?”

Corde Sensible Pizzicato

Dr. Stellantis – we need 200ml of adrenaline through the EMP2 platform this minute, otherwise he’ll flatline…

2019 DS 9 Image: honestjohn.co.uk

Be still my Yorkshire heartbeat, there remain yearnings for French saloons chez-Miles. For this I blame visits to Le Mans in years past, observing cool-looking battered saloons on the payage or sleek C6s or 607s parked effortless and poorly on village corners. But hark! A contrivance recently reported at AutoCropley – news that Stellantis are to Continue reading “Corde Sensible Pizzicato”

Fanfare for the Common Van (Part 4) – New City, New Heart

The Transit hits its stride.

Image: Ford of Britain

Let us move on to 1972, a momentous year for the Transit in the UK and Europe. Despite a house move, British production reached a new high at just over 55,000 units. Genk managed 37,000. Rival manufacturers had yet to follow Bedford’s example with a serious Transit challenger, although British Leyland were, shall we say, working on it.[1] The Toyota Hi-Ace had recently arrived in the UK, finding favour with small businesses and motor-caravanners, but was not selling in the sort of numbers which would concern Ford.

From 1972 the British Transit had a new home. The former Briggs Motor Bodies facility at Swaythling, a northern suburb of Southampton, had produced Transit bodies from 1965. In a logical move, Ford invested £5 million to Continue reading “Fanfare for the Common Van (Part 4) – New City, New Heart”

So Glad they Bothered: 1983 Mazda 626

DTW looks back at a car which attracted a very favourable review from then-editor Cropley at Car magazine, yet would scarcely register in terms of annual sales.

1983 Mazda 626 Hatchback (GC) (source: Pinterest)

In 1983, I was 15 and already deep in car nerd-dom. I had a monthly order for Car magazine at my local newsagent (at which I had a part-time job every Sunday morning) and would genuinely get a tingle of excitement one week of every month in anticipation that it would be there as ordered when I rolled up for work.

The June 1983 edition is one I still Continue reading “So Glad they Bothered: 1983 Mazda 626”

Beyond Infiniti (Part Three)

We continue the story of Infiniti, Nissan’s troubled luxury brand, from 2010 to the present day and ponder its future.

2016 Infiniti Q30 (c) carmagazine.co.uk

Infiniti had spent its second decade rather more productively than its first and introduced models like the G35 compact premium saloon, coupé and convertible that were broadly class-competitive against their German rivals. However, sales growth still proved elusive. In 2010, Infiniti US sales were 103,411(1) vehicles, representing a 0.89% market share. In the same year, BMW and Mercedes-Benz were closely matched with US sales of 220,113 and 224,944 vehicles respectively, giving them market shares of 1.90% and 1.94%.

Infiniti’s Japanese nemesis, Lexus, edged ahead of the German duo with 229,329 sales, a market share of 1.98%. Even Acura outperformed Infiniti, with US sales of 133,596 vehicles, a market share of 1.15%. European sales for Infiniti in 2010 were an inconsequential 2,393 vehicles, representing a tiny 0.02% market share. Continue reading “Beyond Infiniti (Part Three)”

Lapis Volvit et Oblivione Delibitur *

We profile the father of the British motor industry.

Frederick Richard Simms. Image: gracesguide

Visionary. Pioneering. Complex. Three words amongst many that could be pinned to the suit lapels to those figures in history that brought about great, if not life enhancing change. Subsequently then filed under section Well and truly in the Past, cobweb covered and practically forgotten. One such figure in need of a Renaissance being Frederick Richard Simms (henceforth referred to by his initials). Born in Hamburg on the Glorious 12th 1863, to a Warwickshire, England based business family. Schooled in both Hamburg and later, London, FRS’ first notable business venture was marketing an overhead passenger cableway with a Blackpool associate named Stansfield.

That cableway was shown at the 1889 Bremen Exhibition, catching the eye of one Gottlieb Daimler. This led not only to a personal friendship with Daimler but FRS also becoming a director on the board of Canstatt based DMG. The cable car was swiftly parked. 

In turn, this allowed FRS to Continue reading “Lapis Volvit et Oblivione Delibitur *”

Short Story (Part Two)

Keeping it brief.

Image: automobile

Audi Sport Quattro

The spectacular but dangerous Group B rally class produced some mythical, awe-inspiring cars during its short existence; the Audi Sport Quattro being one of them. Group B regulations required competitors to produce a minimum of 200 roadgoing versions of the car they entered, resulting in an elite group of highly sought after collector’s cars.

Obviously derived from the standard Audi Quattro, the short wheelbase Sport Quattro with its body partly made from Kevlar was not simply a cut-and-shut job. Opening the bonnet one found a 5-cylinder engine alright, but this was an all-aluminium version delivering a potent 306 hp out of a displacement of 2.1 litres: the sub-five seconds 0-62 dash it could propel the Sport Quattro to being highly impressive at the time. Continue reading “Short Story (Part Two)”

Beyond Infiniti (Part Two)

We continue the story of Infiniti, Nissan’s troubled luxury brand, as it enters its second decade.

2001 Infiniti Q45 (c) autoevolution.com

As the new millennium dawned, Infiniti found itself far adrift of its two Japanese rivals, Lexus and Acura, in the US luxury car market. This was largely a result of an unconvincing and substandard product line-up. The J20 compact executive, which should have been Infiniti’s volume seller, was a barely disguised Nissan Primera P11 and had comprehensively failed to attract buyers.

At the other end of its range, the Q45 was a bland and generic luxury saloon that was hugely outclassed by its competitors. The only bright spots in its range were the two mid-sized models, the I30 saloon and the QX4 SUV, both of which were little more than rebadged Nissans. Together, these two models accounted for 78% of the company’s sales in 2000.

Infiniti’s parent company, Nissan, was also in deep trouble. Facing a real prospect of bankruptcy, it had entered into an alliance with Renault in March 1999, with the intention of cutting costs by sharing development on new platforms and mechanical parts, while retaining their individual marque identities. There was little doubt as to which company was the senior partner: Renault purchased a 36.8% stake in Nissan, while the cash-strapped Japanese company could only promise to Continue reading “Beyond Infiniti (Part Two)”

Short Story (Part One)

Brevity is an art.

Image: The Author/ Encyclautomobile fr/ Wouter Huisman

Although a much less common course of action compared to stretching a pre-existing vehicle, several car manufacturers have at times explored this avenue nevertheless. There can be several reasons for this; the main ones being motorsports competition requirements, creating a smaller and cheaper entry level variant, responding to customer requests or complaints, and unique geographical market circumstances.

The just for fun variants are left out of the equation here, those (however amusing in some cases), for the most part being one-off amateur concoctions and mobile billboards. Continue reading “Short Story (Part One)”

The Marunouchi Park Soigné

Even heavy industry must have its more elegant moments.

Image: Japanese Nostalgic Car

When Mitsubishi first ordained their flagship they chose a name deemed most apt for their creation. The dictionary offers a definition of confident, dignified and refined: welcome to the stylish, yet formal environs of the Debonair.

Japan in the early 1960’s began riding the crest of an economic wave and Mitsubishi were keen on getting ahead in the larger car stakes. Feasibility studies concerning the contemporary Fiat 1800 ultimately led to them ploughing their own furrow. Should your optics mark this as an early Lincoln Continental facsimile, you might be forgiven. German born, former-GM designer, Hans Bretzner openly admitted to using Elwood Engel’s 1961 design as inspiration, subtly imbuing Japanese characteristics such as squared-off solidity, along with amounts of wheel arch entasis for that refined air. 

The car wowed the 1963 Tokyo motor show but the expectant public would Continue reading “The Marunouchi Park Soigné”

Beyond Infiniti (Part One)

Nissan’s luxury brand is reportedly facing another reinvention as its long struggle for relevancy continues. We examine Infiniti’s chequered history and ponder its future.

1989 Infiniti Q45 (c) Nissan Heritage Collection

When Toyota launched its first Lexus LS400 in 1989, the automotive world was simply stunned by the ambition and audacity of the Japanese automaker. Previously best known for vehicles that were carefully designed, well-built and reliable, but largely uncharismatic, Toyota had created a luxury saloon that easily matched and, in a number of respects, surpassed the best that either Stuttgart or Munich could offer. It was good enough to Continue reading “Beyond Infiniti (Part One)”

Fanfare for the Common Van – (Part 3)

The progress of the phenomenon

Image: Ford of Britain

By the beginning of 1968, one in three medium sized vans sold in the UK was a Transit, and Ford could easily have increased this number had there been more production capacity at Langley. In just over two years their share of the market sector had increased by 64% compared with that of the preceding Thames 400E. Ford’s description of their vehicle as a phenomenon was hard to dispute, also claiming that it had become “the most wanted vehicle in Europe”.

Ford’s success in the sector was won with hard work and inspired thinking. Their product had class-leading power and loadspace, seemingly infinite versatility, and a rugged build able to Continue reading “Fanfare for the Common Van – (Part 3)”

Roy’s Roads

In praise of William Roy – cartographer. 

Image: Gracesguide.co.uk

Many moons have passed since receiving that joyful package by post – my prize – my road atlas. A local newspaper held a competition whereby one had to successfully recognise parts of the UK motorway network as a black line on a map. From memory, the M1, the M5, the M62, the M3 and the one I believe won me the prize being the M55, Preston Northerly to Blackpool and Britain’s first stretch of motorway.

I distinctly remember coming home from work to Continue reading “Roy’s Roads”

Under the Knife – Shrink to Fit

Today we feature a car that, thanks to a clever facelift, was finally given the desirability to match its dynamic qualities.

1999 Porsche Boxster 986 (c) topcarrating.com

The original 1996 Porsche Boxster 986 had all the right mechanical ingredients for a terrific sports car, and so it proved to be. However, the styling was a disappointment, particularly after the excitement generated by the pert and beautifully detailed 1993 Boxster Concept, first shown at the US Auto Show in January of that year.

Porsche’s severe financial difficulties during the 1990s forced the company to Continue reading “Under the Knife – Shrink to Fit”

King In A Catholic Style

The Scimitar’s messy ending.

Publicity shot for the Middlebridge Scimitar. Image: (c) middlebridge-scimitar.co.uk

Towards the end of 1986, Reliant had practically stalled GTE and C production. Financial constraints had led to the final thirty chassis languishing in Tamworth until two Nottinghamshire businessmen eyed a line continuing opportunity – just add a couple of million pounds Sterling. Coincidentally, a Japanese (self confessed Anglophile) fellow had his own wish – to create a British built, aluminium chassis sports car with Japanese mechanicals – with means. And within weeks, the Scimitar GTE not only had new owners but a new direction. Upwards.

Ex-Lucas employees Peter Boam and John McCauley had been wooing Reliant to the point that Tamworth would train the BM Industries production staff at their Lilac Grove, Beeston, Nottingham factory when they met with car enthusiast and collector, Kohji Nakauchi, owner of Milton Keynes based Middlebridge group of companies.

Thrilled at the idea of snapping up a readymade, British built sports car, Nakauchi barely hesitated, stumping up the £400,000 for manufacturing and tooling rights with an extra two million invested in infrastructure. Reliant bent over backwards to Continue reading “King In A Catholic Style”

Bringing Home the Dacon

Flattery only goes so far…

Does my bum look big in this? Image: Bestcars/ Conceptcarz/ The author

For a brief moment after its introduction at the 1977 Geneva Motor Show, it seemed that Porsche’s 928 was THE car. Very much the antithesis of everything traditionally Porsche by being front engined and watercooled, the 928 was a bold move by the German manufacturer. The ingenious Weissach rear axle and the instrument binnacle that moved with the steering wheel as it was adjusted were testament of the amount of thought put into the intended, over time at least, 911 successor.

With a body composed of mostly rounded forms and compound curves the 928 also went against the stream of the vast majority of late seventies car designs. Being crowned 1978 European Car Of The Year; that title carrying considerably more marketable prestige compared to today, was icing on the cake, although the events would illustrate that the 928 would not Continue reading “Bringing Home the Dacon”

Grace and Favour

We consider the Mercedes X-Class. No, not that one…

Mercedes CLA Progressive Line. Image: Mercedes-Benz

Much metaphorical ink has spilled forth on the pages of Driven to Write since its 2014 debut, a sizeable proportion of which has been flung in the direction of Sindelfingen’s current styling leadership. Not without justification either, for little of Mercedes-Benz’s stylistic output has risen above the level of banality for longer than we’d care to acknowledge.

Not everyone has been gripped with paroxysms of delirious pleasure over the broadly welcome shift in Mercedes’ Sensual Purity-themed styling away from the more striking forms and graphic elements of yore, with what some might discern as calmness equally being viewed as a lack of definition. Perhaps the most convincing case for that point of view lies with the current era A-Class. The W177 has been with us a number of years now, carving for itself a position in the European C-sector sales charts that might have given VW more to Continue reading “Grace and Favour”

Moving Down, Scaling Up (Part Three)

The 1963 Hillman Imp was Rootes’ answer to BMC’s Mini, but a latecomer to the market and, ultimately, a commercial failure. We conclude its story.

1965 Hillman Imp Mk2 advertisement (c) somethingawful.com

Autocar magazine had been given early access to an Imp De Luxe for testing and published its road test just a day after launch. The price including tax was £532, a £24 premium over the standard version. The reviewer praised the new engine’s smoothness, quietness and willingness to rev. They noted that, despite an unusually high 10:1 compression ratio, it ran without any trace of ‘pinking’ or ‘run-on’ on Premium(1) grade petrol.

The recommended top speed of 70mph (113km/h) was easily exceeded, and a maximum of 83mph (134km/h) was recorded one-way. The 0 to 60mph (97km/h) time was measured at 23.7 seconds. Fuel consumption over the course of the road test was 38.1mpg (7.4 L/100km).

No coolant temperature gauge was fitted, and the reviewer had to Continue reading “Moving Down, Scaling Up (Part Three)”

Ogling The Blade

The Scimitar GTE origin story. 

Image: honestjohn

Tragedy is sometimes a double-edged sword. Clearly, it comes with a keen sense of loss, but when it strikes, the human capacity to rise above the situation can be impressive. Firstly, as a means of honouring the departed. Second, not only to survive oneself, but to prosper.

David Ogle was head of the eponymous British design consultancy when he received an exciting commission in 1962. Boris Forter, a director at Helena Rubinstein cosmetics wished to Continue reading “Ogling The Blade”

Double Take

Mondeo in Focus. 

Separated by a decade, this pair of blue oval offerings made for an interesting contrast as I walked past on my way into town the other day. Neither the second generation Mondeo nor the saloon version of the third generation Focus[1] are uncommon sights in this part of our moist and verdant isle, but seeing them together, parked tail to tail in this manner lent an element of fascination which might otherwise have eluded them.

The Mondeo, a tidy-looking pre-facelift car is a local fixture, clearly well looked after and is a saloon; a bodystyle which this writer would unscientifically suggest proved more popular than the five-door hatch, which was favoured on the other side of the Irish Sea. I would also posit the view that the three volume Mondeo of this ilk was a very nicely resolved design, and a measure more pleasing to that of the (still handsome) hatch.

The Focus may also be a local for I know; these cars simply do not Continue reading “Double Take”

Moving Down, Scaling Up (Part Two)

Continuing our recollection of cars developed in response to the demand for smaller and more economical models. Today we feature the Hillman Imp.

Image: motor-car.net

In the 1950’s, the cars produced by the Rootes Group were the very embodiment of middle-class respectability. Brothers William and Reginald Rootes, with the backing of the Prudential Assurance Company and Midland Bank, had assembled a stable of marques, including Hillman, Humber, Singer, Sunbeam and Talbot, all of which occupied the broad middle market.

There were some distinctions between them; Humber was the more upmarket brand, whilst Sunbeam models had a slightly sporting appeal, but the differences were marginal and largely historic. What Rootes emphatically did not possess was a small car brand, or expertise in that segment of the market.

Rootes was also initially slow to Continue reading “Moving Down, Scaling Up (Part Two)”

Slegs Vir Suid-Afrikaners*

The South African variants.

Image: BMW SA/ Drive-my.com

The main reasons for certain countries to develop (or have developed for them), unique variants of established car model lines can roughly be traced back to tax laws, vehicle or traffic legislation and domestic motorsports homologation requirements. BMW is a brand that has sired several bespoke cars only available in certain markets. Italian and Portuguese legislation resulted in the E30-series 320iS which was fitted with a 2-litre version of the M3 engine, avoiding the severe tax hike for engines with a displacement exceeding 1999cc.

BMW South Africa gave birth to an E23-series BMW 745i with a different and arguably better engine than the 3.2 litre turbocharged six with which it was originally equipped (because the turbocharger got in the way of right hand drive conversion), and homologation rules put cars such as the E30-series BMW 333i on public roads, again in South Africa, which turned out to be a fertile ground for deviant model versions. Today, let’s Continue reading “Slegs Vir Suid-Afrikaners*”

Thesis On Thesis

Saving Lancia – one Thesis at a time…

Image: Top Speed

Attraction is a difficult feeling to describe or give substance to, one man’s glass of Chateau Neuf de Pape is another’s Suzuki X-90. And while I’ve never been allowed into DTW Towers (for reasons that cannot legally be divulged), there is widely believed to exist amid its expansive halls an unbridled acceptance of most things wearing a particular shield badge.

It was through a search for Lancia that these eyes did land upon Driven To Write, a smattering of time ago. Realising the sheer depth upon all matters motoring but leaning heavily towards the FCA (now enigmatic Stellantis) subsumed manufacturer, I dived in – eyes wide – head first. No arm bands, either.

Lancia have had poems of love written about them. Journalists were once known to Continue reading “Thesis On Thesis”