Missing the Marque: 2005 Jeep Commander

The idea of a seven-seater Jeep model to compete with vehicles such as the 2002 Volvo XC90, 2002 Ford Explorer and 2004 Land-Rover Discovery 3 was a sound one. The execution, however, was disappointingly poor.

2005 Jeep Commander. Image: thecarconnection.com

The 2002 Volvo XC90 brought the benefit of viable accommodation for seven adults in a sophisticated large SUV. Other similar SUVs, like the 1999 BMW X5, were either strict five-seat vehicles or, like the 1998 Series 2 Land-Rover Discovery, had third-row seats that were only really suitable for children, or for adult passengers to Continue reading “Missing the Marque: 2005 Jeep Commander”

The Cult of the Souls

It never made production, but the Pontiac Banshee was a harbinger nonetheless. 

XP 833 Pontiac Banshee conept. motor authority

Chevrolet, 1966. Two million passenger cars sold. But for a two front attack, life might have been peachy. Enemy Number One – Henry’s Mustang. Enemy One A being rather closer to home, a GM (un) civil war focussing on the difficulties that family ties can induce.

In the egotistical, self centred world of the car executive, John DeLorean managed to Continue reading “The Cult of the Souls”

A Facelift Better Than the Car It Was Meant To Save

How Bill Porter turned the sow’s ear of the 1986 Buick Riviera into something so much better.

1989 Buick Riviera. Favcars

This article was first published as part of the DTW Facelifts Theme on July 02 2014.

In 1986, Buick sold a medium-sized two door coupé called the Somerset in the US market, built on the Oldsmobile-engineered N-body. In the way of GM’s demented renaming strategy, the Somerset tag was once a trim level of the Regal saloon but it escaped to become a separate line.[1] The Somerset only lived for three years – the public didn’t take to the name, apparently. The Somerset had a transverse, front-mounted 2.5 litre 4-cylinder or 3.0 V-6 engine driving the front wheels. The wheelbase was 103 inches (Americans don’t do metric).

In terms we’d understand on this side of the Atlantic, it addressed the market that Volvo does with the C30 or Audi with the A3. Or if you Continue reading “A Facelift Better Than the Car It Was Meant To Save”

One for the Road

The full-sized Buick’s valedictorian act.

Buick Roadmaster. Favcars

We can all recall the time honoured film storyline by rote: ageing sportsman/ criminal/ gunslinger[1], against better judgement, returns to the stump for one last payday. Inevitably, tragedy and (if the plotline allows) redemption ensues; at the very least, important life-lessons are learned. Today’s study cleaves to that most hackneyed of American movie narratives, because the 1991-96 Buick Roadmaster, while part of a long and illustrious line would ultimately Continue reading “One for the Road”

Sterling Devaluation (Part Two)

Concluding the story of Rover Group’s US Sterling misadventure. Why did it go so badly wrong?

Sterling in hatch and saloon form. Image: Favcars

A total of 14,171 cars found US buyers before the end of 1987, Sterling’s first year on sale in the US. This was a respectable number, if shy of the 20,000 to 23,000 sales that had been forecast by ARCONA. Even before the end of the year, however, reports were emerging about inconsistent build quality and poor reliability. There were many instances of faulty paintwork, poorly assembled interior trim and various electrical problems(1). Moreover, the quality of the dealerships was highly variable, many lacking the expertise(2) to deal effectively with issues that arose on the car.

The US Automobile magazine(3) ran a Sterling for a year and 24,500 miles to see how it would fare in the hands of a typical owner. The car had to Continue reading “Sterling Devaluation (Part Two)”

Recipe For Obscure Omelette

How will you have those eggs, mister?

1980 Buick Century Turbo. Image Curbside Classic

To the European autophile, American cars often lose their flavour should (or if) they land on soil at least three thousand miles from home. As a 1980s wet behind the ears teenager, all American cars were big, loud, had screeching tyres and could fly (dependent upon TV show) yet possessed an otherworldly draw for this spotty oik. 

No-one, not even the deep archives that DTW has become can Continue reading “Recipe For Obscure Omelette”

Holding Back the Years

The evolution of the Firebird.

Image: Fireszone.com/ Mecum.com

Time eventually catches up with everyone and everything; the best one can hope for is to age gracefully and this applies to people as much as it does to man-made designs, which with precious few exceptions reflect by their very nature the era in which they were created. As time moves on, there is only so much that can be done to Continue reading “Holding Back the Years”

Sterling Devaluation (Part One)

We recall Rover’s US misadventure with Sterling and ask why it all went so badly wrong for the second time in a decade.

1987 Sterling 825 publicity shot. Image: Motor Authority

The 1981 Project XX joint venture agreement between Honda and Austin Rover to develop a large luxury saloon appeared to open the way for the British company to return to the United States. It was no secret that Honda was designing its version of the car, the Legend, with the US market firmly in mind. The Japanese company wanted to move upmarket, to raise US transaction prices and profitability in case volume import quotas might be imposed by the US government to protect domestic automakers. If the Legend was explicitly designed to appeal to US customers, then why shouldn’t the British version, the Rover 800, do likewise?

The company’s previous attempt to return to the US market was in 1980 with the SD1 3500 model. Eleven hundred federalised versions of the car were shipped to America to Continue reading “Sterling Devaluation (Part One)”

Maris Otter and Goldings

It probably seemed a good idea after a few ales…

1988 Buick Reatta. Image: Hagerty Insurance Agency

Beer matters. Not the lagers (or pilsners for that matter) that conquered the world once refrigeration was commercially available but that quintessentially British phenomenon, real ale. Now gaining popularity in other parts of the thirst market, the myriad flavours a British pint of beer can offer remains a highly subjective experience. One’s tastebuds can be tingled by initial fruity overtones leading to complex biscuit hints leaving (perhaps) a sharp but far from unpleasant aftertaste. Its composition comprises of but four vital ingredients: malted barley, hops, water and yeast.

One influential variant of barley is the Marris Otter, found in many a pint; English grown for many years, imparting a sweet and flavoursome basis for the beer. Combining with (normally) Kent grown Golding Hops, which imbue earthy, spicy and honey influences may, with a decent brewer at the stills, create a thirst quenching, tasty, moreish drink. So what on Earth has an English pint got to do with a forgotten American two seater? Leave the driving for another day, open a bag of salted nuts and Continue reading “Maris Otter and Goldings”

A Photo for Sunday: Batman vs Superman

A blocked drain creates a chance photo-opportunity of two different takes on the large car theme.

Image: the author

Without going into uncomfortable contextual details, after an extended period suffering a downstairs loo that blocked all too frequently, the Robinson household called upon the services of one of those franchises of which the name is a play on their operatives’ usage of dynamically extendable rods. This required that the C6 be temporarily displaced from its habitual mooring on the drive to the small lay-by opposite the house. Having done so, on return from walking the dog, I found that someone had parked their Velar next to the Citroën and it gave me cause to stare a while at the sight before me.

I thought it would make an amusing Photo for Sunday. This is not something I’ve submitted before to DTW, partly because – as witnessed – I am a numpty at taking photographs, and also because I have no qualifications that justify my making of a cold, real world comparative design assessment between objects, inanimate or otherwise. So, forgive the shallowness of the following musings, and the fact that one half of the subject is once again my C6. Continue reading “A Photo for Sunday: Batman vs Superman”

Owning and Driving a 1998 Jeep Cherokee XJ

The author recalls his experience of the Jeep Cherokee XJ, an impulse and irrational purchase that turned out rather well.

Not ours, but identical, 1998 Jeep Cherokee Sport (c) rnrautoblog.com

My partner and I had the use of a Land-Rover Discovery as my perk company car for three years until 1999. It was a thoroughly useful device and we missed it after it went back, especially as our other vehicle was a 1997 Mercedes-Benz SLK 230K convertible, by no means the most practical (or reliable) of cars.

We decided to look for a second-hand SUV but, fearing the Discovery’s reputation for unreliability(1), we chose to Continue reading “Owning and Driving a 1998 Jeep Cherokee XJ”

Under the Knife – That Riviera Touch

Yesterday’s tomorrows – from the studios of Bill Mitchell.

Image: wildaboutcars

Sometimes it is necessary to go wildly overboard before one finds the precise quantum of sufficiency. Somewhat akin to party-going children having run amok; gorging on fizzy pop and cream buns, the American motor industry exited the 1950s with a decidedly queasy sense of untempered excess. A new decade would precipitate a fresh creative approach, and a wholesale shift from the baroque flights of jet-age fancy to a more sober, less mannered visual sensibility.

The 1960s would go on to Continue reading “Under the Knife – That Riviera Touch”

Style Council

Two giants of mid-20th century car design lay out their stall.

All images: Author’s collection

Both in oral and written communication the words Design and Styling are sometimes used as if they mean the same thing; this of course is not true. In broad terms styling is all about the visual qualities of a product, while design is more led by the functionality and consumer requirements. In the ideal fictitious case design leads to a product that is experienced as pleasing both in functionality as well as in aesthetics; for many, Dieter Rams for Braun or that of Jonathan Ive’s work for Apple fall within this treasured category. Continue reading “Style Council”

The Doctor Is OUT

Buick’s black stallion.

Buick Grand National. Image: Car and Driver

Buick’s Regal: sweeping lines, restrained aggression, comfortable but hardly sporting – that being Pontiac’s purview. G-body-on frame, engineering that cut no mustard, but was never meant to. That the second generation Regal became a factory backed NASCAR winner, driven in the early 1980s by luminary Darrel Waltrip triggered a tangential change that, if not for a skunkworks plan, may well have fallen at the first hurdle.

When first shown, the car that was to become known as the Grand National, fell foul to top brass reaction. Ed Mertz and Dick Payne were livid at the thought of potentially sullying the Buick ethos. However, chief engineer Dave Sharpe, Mike Doble (Advanced Concepts), marketing boss Darwin Clark and impetus from then divisional manager, Lloyd Reuss, saw an opportunity to Continue reading “The Doctor Is OUT”

Modest Hero

Although not as instantly recognisable as the Wrangler, the 1983 Jeep Cherokee was a well-conceived and thoroughly engineered vehicle that served its maker well over three decades.

1985 Jeep Cherokee Limited (c) hemmings.com

Genericization is a rather ugly word, but it describes a phenomenon whereby a market-leading proprietary brand name becomes so dominant that it is used to describe a generic product. It can be a double-edged sword for manufacturers. On one hand, it recognises their market leadership but, conversely, it can lead to the loss of valuable trademark protection.

Cellophane, escalator, zipper and aspirin are all examples of formerly trademarked proprietary names that Continue reading “Modest Hero”

The Doyen has Departed – Graham Robson 1936 – 2021

With the death of Graham Robson on 5 August 2021, the world of automotive history has lost an extraordinary and prolific chronicler.

Graham Robson. Image: TR Register

Graham Robson was born and schooled in Skipton, a North Yorkshire market town. His family, middle-class but certainly not moneyed, had no connection with the motor industry other than his father’s interest in motorcycle racing. His interest in cars and engineering evolved from his early years, and the clever and motivated grammar-school boy was awarded a place at Lincoln College, Oxford, where he studied Engineering Science.

On graduation in 1957, the young Robson joined Jaguar as a graduate engineering trainee. Without doubt, Coventry shaped him, and in his free time from Jaguar, he was active in club rallying, making important contacts which led to co-driving opportunities with the Rootes factory team, and in 1961 a new job at Standard-Triumph, first as a development engineer, and in due course taking on the role of Competition Secretary.

Robson had a useful sideline in writing rally reports for Motoring News, and in 1965 he left Standard-Triumph to join Autocar’s Midlands office to Continue reading “The Doyen has Departed – Graham Robson 1936 – 2021”

The Tri-Shield’s Silken Road

The Buick Origin Story.

Image: GM/ Wieck Media Services

David Dunbar Buick was but two years old when the family emigrated from Arbroath, Scotland for a new life in Detroit, 1856. Upon leaving school he worked for and then later owned a plumbing goods company (The Alexander Manufacturing Company). With an inventive mind, David produced a lawn sprinkler alongside a vitreous enamel coating for cast iron baths. By the 1890’s, the internal combustion engine held more interest than ablutions – the company was sold.

Afforded both time and financial independence, Buick indulged. Incorporating the Buick Auto-Vim & Power Company in 1899, his market was agricultural engines. Very soon the automobile enveloped his life and swiftly draining his finances with just a single car made in 1902 under the new name, Buick Manufacturing Company. Ploughing what little cash he retained into developing an OHV engine, a loan of $5,000 was had from close friend Ben Briscoe in order to make the Buick Motor Company. 

Briscoe had doubts concerning Buick’s acumen; on hearing of a new automobile project in Flint, over a hundred miles from Detroit, he persuaded Buick to Continue reading “The Tri-Shield’s Silken Road”

Cats Will Fly

Dearborn 1967: product segmentation was strictly for the birds.

1967 Mercury Cougar. Image: Motor Trend

The 1958 Thunderbird would prove to be a pivotal product for the Blue Oval. Not only did the Square Bird transform the fortunes of the model line, the ’58 T-Bird popularised the concept of the personal luxury car amongst the American car buying public, creating an entire sector it would subsequently bestride. Not only that, the second-generation Thunderbird illustrated to Dearborn management that it was possible to Continue reading “Cats Will Fly”

Missing the Marque: Opel / Vauxhall Sintra

We recall Opel / Vauxhall’s first large MPV, once branded the worst car in Britain.

1997 Opel Sintra. Image: drivemag.com

In the automotive world, truly innovative design concepts do not come along that often, but 1984(1) saw the arrival of one such design in the US. The minivan was capacious and versatile, and offered an alternative to the large station wagons that had long been a fixture in the lives of suburban American families.

European manufacturers looked on with interest, but a degree of ambivalence, as the minivan grew rapidly in popularity in the US. Coincidentally, Renault had also introduced a similarly sized monobox vehicle in 1984, the Espace, but this was not initially considered to be a mainstream model. It was produced by Matra in small quantities as the potential market for such a vehicle was untested. Continue reading “Missing the Marque: Opel / Vauxhall Sintra”

Role Call

A woman’s place is in the… Design Studio.

Image: The author

Even now, well into the 21st century, the automotive industry and its related fields employ and attract more men than they do women, and the styling studios are no exception. There certainly has been a noticeable influx of women in the design departments over the past few decades: Anne Asensio, Marcy Fisher, Juliane Blasi and Michelle Christensen being a few latterday examples.

Wind back the clock some 90 years however and it was a different environment – and not just within the car industry. It took a determined and strong-willed woman to overcome the prejudice, condescendence, resistance and occasionally, outright hostility she would often confront if she dared enter an arena hitherto considered to be the sole domain of men.

Some of the women presented herein might appear a tad overdressed in period photographs, but it is important to Continue reading “Role Call”

The Doctor Is IN

Doc, I think it’s my heart. 

1996 Buick Park Avenue. Image: music directory

From day one to sometime in the late 20th century, the archetypal Buick customer was formed of doctors, architects – the professional classes. Not for me the first 1990 evocation of this particular model, nor indeed the (admittedly beautiful) 1989 Essence concept. The syringe laced with youthful elixir came with in late 1996 in second-generation form, before handing over to the Lucerne (but not before transforming into something less coherent) in 2005. The Buick Park Avenue (BPA) – a sublime sedan. 

DTW’s own Richard Herriott sang some general praise here whereas today’s critique ploughs distinctly narrower avenues. Bill Porter, the Park Avenue’s designer offers, “a measure of stateliness is conveyed by Park Avenue’s generous proportions.” Its a soft car in stance, looks and Dynaride set up, almost harmless for a metal object weighing in at 1700Kgs. Continue reading “The Doctor Is IN”

Wheels (Revisited) – Wheely Good Retro Fun

Almost six years after the subject featured in one of DTW’s now legendary monthly themes, a chance sighting of a favourite alloy wheel design inspires a revisit.

FIAT 500 Anniversario Vintage Alloy Wheel (source: author’s photo)

Alloy wheels. Like air conditioning and electric rear windows, these were once the preserve of the most expensive model ranges, trim-levels, or, the cost-options list. These days you’ve got to be looking very hard in the lowest price reaches of the car listings in What Car? to find a model without them as standard.

As such, given that I instinctively look at every single car that comes within the range of my spectacle-enhanced eyesight, it’s a notably rare occurrence for an alloy wheel design to catch my eye these days. So, when I do, it shines out and begs for my attention.

Exhibit ‘A’ is a photo I took of the alloy wheel on a used FIAT 500 Anniversario which just happens to Continue reading “Wheels (Revisited) – Wheely Good Retro Fun”

Own-Brand Cassoulet

Volkswagen Group’s mass-market brands are losing their individual identities under the dead hand of corporate conformity.

They don’t make them like this anymore: 2009 Škoda Yeti. Image: autocentrum

The automotive colossus that is the Volkswagen Group includes four mass-market brands that might be rather simplistically defined as follows, in descending hierarchical order:

Audi: premium sporting
Volkswagen: semi-premium luxury
SEAT: mainstream sporting
Škoda: mainstream value

I am conscious that such a bald statement might elicit howls of protest from those who Continue reading “Own-Brand Cassoulet”

Migratory Species

Birdwatching – of a kind. The relevant authorities have been notified.

Stock photo – uncredited

Pity the poor swallow, flying several thousand miles from a baking African continent to settle on these shores for the summer – and the weather turns, even for our country, wintry. The marble sized hailstones play havoc with the birds’ food supply as little flies in such conditions. But these hardy souls return year on year to grace our skies with their aerial displays and high pitched screams, or perched atop a telegraph wire in comedic looking gatherings.

These are common visitors, observed from bucolic scenes to city landscapes. What of those lesser frequenting species, maybe sent off course or whose inner sat-nav has maybe blown a fuse?

Just as bird watchers (or twitchers) squeal with delight on hearing (emphasis on seeing) that something rare has come to town, we car enthusiasts are not so different. For recently, within yards of each other, your author found not one but two such examples of cars on no account previously heard of or seen. With trusty (and in this case metaphorical) binoculars, flask, bobble hat and recording device, one began to Continue reading “Migratory Species”

Swedish Math

All too easily dismissed as somewhat of a crude hash-job, the 90 nevertheless sold well by SAAB standards and stayed true to traditional brand values.

All images from the author’s collection

In the eighties SAAB was still an independent manufacturer enjoying a relatively small yet very loyal customer base, but the lack of available finances for the development of new products was starting to hurt. Flirtations with Lancia in an effort to continue serving the lower price field after the discontinuation of the 96 with the Lancia A112 and SAAB-Lancia 600 proved unsuccessful; the cooperation in the Tipo 4 platform project did allow the Swedes to Continue reading “Swedish Math”

Missing the Marque: Ford EcoSport

A product designed for developing markets with mere adequacy as its guiding principle, the EcoSport was foisted upon Ford of Europe with wholly predictable results.

It has a letter from its mum, excusing it from heavy lifting duties… Image: carwow

In a former era, when cars were regarded by the vast majority as primarily a means of transport rather than a status symbol, Ford was highly successful in mobilising the masses reliably and (relatively) cheaply. That earned the company a reputation as something of a working-class hero.

This perception subsequently became a liability as increasing affluence made buyers Continue reading “Missing the Marque: Ford EcoSport”

Patis Familiar Stellantis

Full Bora? We consider the new for 2021 MC20

Image: autoevolution

Butterflies arrive in many different guises – usually but not exclusively colourful – thumbnail to two large cupped hands in size, yet delicate, even when aggressive. Today, we cast our gaze upon one such farfalla, flying directly to some lucky devil you don’t know proudly carrying a new satin effect trident – the Maserati MC20.

According to lanky, charismatic German designer, Klaus Busse – in post for over five years now – their new supercar took twenty-four months to bring to fruition. A blend of technology and good old-fashioned honing skills brought about the car as a game of two halves.

The upper body being a product of initial fast sketches followed by in-depth projections and clay sculpting. Bereft of ugly wings or basking shark-aping openings is in part thanks to the exceptional attention to detail; over 2000 hours spent with chassis expert Dallara’s wind tunnel, combined with the ground-ward section of the car-attuned aerodynamics. The tub weighs less than 100Kgs: overall MC20 weighs just under 1500Kgs. 

Busse is at pains to Continue reading “Patis Familiar Stellantis”

Rover 75: Long(ish) Term Test

Almost a year with a Rover 75 2.5 litre V6.

All images by the author.

I have, on a number of previous occasions, regaled readers of with tales of my odd obsession with Rover’s last (chance) saloon and a number of you were kind enough to express interest in an update regarding my second example of the breed; a 2002-registered (though built in 2001) 2.5 V6 Sterling, known as Connoisseur in the UK market. This car was purchased almost a year ago and has been in regular use as my sole form of motorised transport since then.

My beautifully blue Rover was blessed with two apparently-careful previous owners, who had not neglected its maintenance, and had, for its very nearly 20 years of age, a low kilometerage, to which I have added a good eleven thousand or so. Said car is also one of the most over-specified conveyances I have ever encountered – its original owner having ordered the topmost trim level, added a dark blue personal line leather interior (a lovely thing to have on the 75) and then ticked every other cost-option box on the order form for good measure. Continue reading “Rover 75: Long(ish) Term Test”

Lost Legend (Part Two)

We continue the story of the Honda Legend, a car that will soon be consigned to history.

1990 Acura Legend sedan (second-generation). Image: hondanews.com

The second-generation Legend was launched in October 1990 in both saloon and coupé form. Surprisingly, given the relative youthfulness of the superseded model, the new car was not a reskin, but an all-new design which shared nothing with either it or its Rover 800 sibling.

The new Legend was a significantly larger car. The saloon’s wheelbase grew by a substantial 150mm (6”) to 2,910mm(1) (114½”), while overall length grew by 140mm (5½”) to 4,950mm (195”). The growth in size negated the possibility of a smaller, more tax efficient JDM version(2). The new model was now a more direct competitor for the BMW 7 Series and Jaguar XJ saloon.

The most significant mechanical revision was that the engine was now mounted longitudinally rather than transversely. Honda indicated that this layout was more conducive to achieving the best levels of mechanical refinement and minimising noise in the cabin. To Continue reading “Lost Legend (Part Two)”

A Mighty Wind [Part One]

Behold the Anti-Miura.

Image: premierfinancialservices

On November 3 1971, the 53rd Salone del l’Automobile di Torino opened its doors. With exhibitors from 11 countries, including 64 carmakers and 15 coachbuilding firms, there was no shortage of interest, intrigue, new models or arresting concepts for the home contingent to whet their collective appetites over. Yet it was upon the premier trio of Modenese exotic car builders that most eyes were fixated, each showing dramatic mid-engined supercars on home soil for the very first time.

Ferrari’s prototype 365 GT4 BB made its public debut on the Pininfarina stand, whereas Bertone’s Countach prototype had already poleaxed all comers at Geneva that Spring. Meanwhile Maserati was showing the production-ready Bora, fresh too from its Palexpo premiere, but in case anyone felt inclined to Continue reading “A Mighty Wind [Part One]”

If A Thousand Clarinets

Creative design and solid engineering count for little when the regime looks in the opposite direction.

Agromobil. Image: autobible.euro.cz

When the (super)powers that be ask you to jump, you tend to ask how high – included in that equation is which way? Late 1950’s Czechoslovakia saw the Ministry of Agriculture ask their most prolific supplier of vehicles, AZNP, to solve the thorny issue of providing a vehicle that would be compact in dimensions, light on its feet, manoeuvrable and be capable of all terrain capabilities. Oh, and whilst you’re solving that conundrum, the army would like to Continue reading “If A Thousand Clarinets”