Since their acquisition in 2007 by Tata Motor, JLR management’s brand-stewardship has been, how shall we say this: uneven. Not so when it comes to brand-Range Rover however, for there is no conceivable question now about its elevated position, close to the pinnacle of the luxury vehicle ziggurat. Of course this is no rags to riches fable; in metaphorical terms, more a muddy pair of Wellingtons to Church’s hand-tooled Oxfords style transition, given the use to which the average L405 series is habitually put. But it is likely that Anno-2021, the RR is probably a more convincing luxury conveyance than anyone’s private-hire Sonderklasse.
Perennial kicking-post, Austin Rover. Years after their slow-motion demise – still fresh in many motorists minds, an incorrigibly persistent bad taste joke. And the material just keeps on rolling; we all know how the story ends but remain enthralled as there’s often a fresh nail awaiting the coffin’s hammer.
But it’s not all bad. Austin Rover attempted a turnaround, a stoic final stand against the enemy by dropping in the parachute regiment. A cynic might have called this project Operation Market Garden, as in the rather doomed Allied attempt at hastening the end of the Second World War by capturing bridges at Arnhem and Nijmegen. Praise the wag who chose to keep the parachuting theme but with a modern twist – that of the (at the time) clandestine 22nd Special Air Service. Who Cares Wins, the fight to keep the customer happy. Step up to the green light and Continue reading “Send in the Paratroopers”
The automotive world had high hopes for Alfa Romeo’s late-’90s large executive saloon, but disappointment was not far away. We remember the Alfa 166.
The unveiling of the Alfa Romeo 156 at the Frankfurt motor show in September 1997 was cause for celebration amongst the Alfisti and, more generally, for all who love the automobile as an art form and expression of style. Following two decades of increasingly divisive and unhappy rectilinear designs, Alfa Romeo had produced a car of rare beauty. Its curvaceous, sculpted form received a hugely positive welcome, and sales started briskly.
Hurry! You do still want that classic Lada Niva, don’t you?
The name stems from those areas the car was built to traverse, Niva being Russian for corn (field.) Also described as a “Renault 5 on a Land Rover” body by its designers, the Lada Niva will crisscross fields no more from 2024 so firm up that ushanka and take a trip back to the Soviet Union in the early 1970s.
Tasked by the Kremlin in 1971 with creating a rugged, capable vehicle, one which the many poor farmers cast far and wide along the Russian Steppes could easily use and repair, the loser of this particular design competition was the the AZLK Moskvitch. Yet the first Autovaz prototypes (led by Vladimir Solovyev) known as Krokodil, were deemed “too utilitarian.” A new, more civilised design garnered the internal type number 2121 consisting of a hard top roof and doors to keep the weather out, along with unibody construction, car-like looks, a 1600 cc petrol engine and permanent four wheel drive.
Three years of heavy testing and comparisons against vehicles such as the Land and Range Rover (under Vadim Kotlyarov), in the Ural Mountains, Siberia and the Kazakh desert wastelands brought about the Niva, the first Autovaz to Continue reading “Production Ends 31/12/2023”
Heritage is a highly lucrative business model amid the upper echelons of the OEM motor industry. For carmakers with a history to plunder and a reputation to uphold, there are seemingly unlimited numbers of what are politely termed high net worth individuals with bank accounts fit to burst, seeking super-priced, super-exclusive, supercar nirvana. For those at the sharp end, cost, it does appear really is not an object, but execution is, heritage is, provenance certainly is and authenticity, not to mention bragging rights very definitely are.
Given the strictures, regulations and privations currently visited upon carmakers, finding new and profitable revenue streams has become the very stuff of life itself. Currently there appear to be two main prongs to this end of the market: The limited run series, (or one-off), which largely tend to Continue reading “Scribing a Line”
Although comfort-oriented big Citroëns such as the DS and CX would seem to be very suitable cars for the North American driving environment, the French manufacturer has never really been able to achieve any sustained or economically viable market penetration there. A too-thin dealer network, quality and durability levels unsuited to American driving conditions (in certain aspects), the idiosyncrasies inherent in their design concept and construction and a high price tag were the main impediments to their sales success.
Was the Alfa Romeo Arna one of the ‘worst cars ever’?
At the beginning of the 1980’s Alfa Romeo was in grave trouble. Its reputation had been marred by the problems that afflicted its C-segment Alfasud. Built at the behest of the Italian government in a new factory in Pomigliano d’Arco near Naples, it was riddled with faults, the most serious of which was its tendency to dissolve into ferrous oxide at an alarming rate.
By 1980, the Alfasud’s build quality had improved noticeably, but not so Alfa Romeo’s reputation. A replacement model, the 33, was in development and would be launched in 1983. The 33 would be a somewhat larger and more expensive car, growing by just 20mm (¾”) in wheelbase, but by a more substantial 185mm (7¼”) in overall length. This left room for a smaller and cheaper car to replace the entry-level Alfasud. It is a moot point as to whether or not Alfa Romeo actually needed such a car in its range, unless it was really determined to Continue reading “Trojan Mule?”
Outstanding: As an adjective, it’s one that’s prone to be overused, or maybe ill-employed; frequently used to describe something which is at best average. The 1993 Coupé Fiat (as it was designated by the marketers in Turin) was an above-average car, well regarded, possessed of the expected verve and swagger one had come to expect from a close coupled Italian. However, despite its undoubted appeal as a driving tool, the descriptor did not entirely apply. For while the Coupé Fiat was rather good, it did not raise the art of corner-carving, or apex skirting to any noticeable extent.
Where Fiat’s mid-’90s coupé offering did stand out however was in the visual realm. Because, it can be said without fear of contradiction, that at its debut, the Coupé Fiat looked like nothing else on the road. Part of the reason for that of course was the fact that it was, in stylistic terms wholly unoriginal. Now before you Continue reading “Sunday Service : Standing Out”
When George Lucas survived a serious automobile accident, his ambitions of becoming a professional racing driver ended. Fortunately, his ideas concerning movie making took an altogether less destructive route.
American Graffiti revolves around several characters on the cusp of life changing affirmations – leaving school, home, starting college or jobs – growing up. Gawky, inexperienced teenagers fighting with pent up emotions; some brim with confidence, others Continue reading “The Coming Of Age”
By 1965, Giorgetto Giugiaro was already a name of significance amid Turin car design circles – and by the mid-point of the 1960s, there were no design circles more influential or significant than those within the Piedmontese capital. The year in question was a highly significant one for the 27-year old automotive designer, having departed Stile Bertone somewhat abruptly that November, leaving behind several partly completed designs for his successor to complete.
It did not matter, Giorgetto was moving on; first to carrozzeria Ghia where a position awaited him, but he had other, more elaborate plans. His stay at Ghia therefore was brief; a couple of commissions, a pair of designs for the de Tomaso concern, and more significantly, the Ghibli gran turismo for Maserati, making its debut as a prototipo at that November’s Turin motor show.
The 1975 Camargue proved conclusively that more is not necessarily better.
The rules of automotive design that apply to Rolls-Royce motor cars are quite different to those that apply to other, less rarefied marques. Because of their low production volumes and the longevity of their model cycles, they eschewed the fashionable and ephemeral in favour of timeless elegance, understatement and peerless quality. The 1965 Silver Shadow exemplified these qualities perfectly, and Rolls-Royce was rewarded by it becoming the company’s best-selling model in history.
The fine art of badge-engineering – Franco-Japanese style.
Just as Karl had given life to the patentwagen in 1886, the emergent car industry’s Frankenstein-like adoration brought ever newer machines to market. In turn, ideas became distilled, since begging borrowing or stealing ideas was easier than inventing something from scratch. Financial incentives greased wheels leading to similar, if not identical machines wearing different badges; nothing new under the sun.
Concurrently, French composer, Erik Satie experimented to form three pieces for piano, sharing a common structure and theme. Possibly evolved from the French version of the Greek phrase, gymnopaedia, an annual festival where young men would Continue reading “Trois Gymnopédies”
Even amongst the more rarefied universe of Portello’s competition cars, there are the outliers, the runts, the ugly sisters. Today, we briefly examine one of this less than happy breed.
Pretty, lovely, delicate. Three words that immediately spring to mind whenever one envisions an Alfa Romeo coupé of the ‘Sixties: Giulietta Coupé, Sprint Speciale, Sprint GT as well as the more rarefied sisters, the Giulia TZ 1 and 2 to name just a few. There does however exist a third Giulia TZ sister, but she was relegated to a dark corner and kept out of sight at AutoDelta for decades.
Ludovico Chizzola, AutoDelta’s co-founder, designed and built the Giulia TZ Prototipo Berlinetta (also known as the TZ 1.5) after a
request by Alfa Romeo to Continue reading “Secret Sister”
We recall the ill-fated 1987 revival of Bugatti and celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of the one car it produced, the extraordinary EB110 hypercar.
Bugatti is undoubtedly one of the most revered names in the automotive firmament. The company’s heyday was its first era, under the ownership of Ettore Bugatti, its eponymous founder. Bugatti was born in Milan in 1881, the son of a successful Art Nouveau furniture designer. Although he chose engineering as his profession, an innate understanding and appreciation of fine art was very much part of both his genetic inheritance and upbringing, with renowned sculptors, painters and architects in his extended family. This would manifest itself in a series of cars that were not only technically accomplished, but things of great beauty that are still held in the highest regard today. Continue reading “Sic Transit Gloria Mundi”
Some might consider the 1994 reworking of the Jaguar XJ40 under Ford’s direction as a retrograde step, but the X300 was the best built Jaguar in years and is still a highly impressive car.
An acquaintance of mine, Dennis, is a long-time Jaguar aficionado having owned a number of Browns Lane’s finest over the years. His impressive tally comprises Mk1 and Mk2 saloons, two XJ-S coupés, an XJ40 and a (previous) X300. After a period of abstinence, he took the plunge again in 2019 and bought the car you see here, a pristine 1996 XJ6 in metallic Solent Blue with a light grey leather interior.
First, a brief history. Ford purchased Jaguar for US $2.5 billion in 1990, ending its six years as an independent company. Under the leadership of Sir John Egan, Jaguar had in 1986 launched the technically ambitious XJ40 replacement for the venerable Series III XJ saloon. Egan had also cut Jaguar’s workforce by a third and improved productivity and build quality significantly during his tenure. Disentangled from the chaos and rancour of British Leyland, the external perception of the company had also improved markedly. Continue reading “Driven, Written: 1996 Jaguar XJ6”
Gardening and plucky optimism; British affairs if ever there were. From hoping the weather will turn to running a cheaper, underdog of a motor, this sceptred isle revels in such hopes, however forlorn.
Starting life as the Proton Wira, which is Malay for Hero by the way, the Mitsubishi Lancer-derived platform gave life to an unpretentious pick-up that caused your author to gasp out loud as not one but three examples were viewed in extremely quick succession recently.
In the UK, Australian and Taiwanese markets, it wore the Jumbuck badge, elsewhere known as the Arena. On sale from 2002-07, the Shah Alam-manufactured pick-up had a market pretty much to itself. As other manufacturers’ furrows lay with larger platforms, diesel engines and distinctly un-British characteristics bordering the violent, Proton appeared quite happy to Continue reading “Gardening Leave”
Landmark design, vanity project, or just simply a pretty face?
There was no sensible rationale for the Fiat 130 Coupé. The market didn’t ask for it. Fiat Auto’s bottom line would not be strengthened by its presence. There was no gaping hole in the product line-up that it would fill. So why did it come to exist? Why did the normally market-savvy Mirafiori behemoth go to the trouble and expense of creating a Fiat like no other – was it simply because they could?
The Fiat 131 Mirafiori was facelifted twice during its decade-long lifespan. The first was highly effective, the second rather less so. That was not, however, the end of the story…
The 1974 131 Mirafiori(1) was Fiat’s replacement for its 1966 124 model. It was offered in two and four-door saloon and five-door estate variants. Like its predecessor, the 131 was a resolutely conventional front-engined RWD design, with 1.3 and 1.6-litre OHV engines derived from those in the 124 and mounted longitudinally. Transmission was via a four-speed manual gearbox, with the option of a five-speed manual or three-speed automatic on the larger engined model.
The styling was neat and conservative, and the car grew modestly in wheelbase, length and width compared to the 124. One notable change was the abandonment of the 124’s pronounced shoulder line: the 131’s glasshouse was pushed out to be almost flush with the lower bodysides, to increase shoulder room and the feeling of interior space. The design had few stylistic flourishes. These were limited to a groove in the bodysides and indented longitudinal pressings in the bonnet and boot lid inboard of the wings. Continue reading “Under the Knife: Hit and Miss (and Hit again)”
Raindrops keep falling – bringing our monopod history to a close.
McCarty Mustang, 1948
Had he been able to actually get his new car enterprise off the ground, Ford Motor Company may have had to think of a different name for one of its most successful models. Roy McCarty worked at a Lincoln dealership but had bigger plans – to Continue reading “Drop the Subject – (Part Three)”
Turinese ideas have flowed many a year, largely with a great deal of success – on paper at least – diminishing returns, alongside awkward timing often diverting the flow. Having the relative novelty of seeing a perfectly unkempt example in person recently and referencing Mr. Editor Doyle’s take on the Lancia version, we must Continue reading “A Car Rolled Over Not Yet Matters”
The 2005 Alfa Romeo 159 had a tough act to follow in the delightful 156. We examine how it fared.
The 1997 Alfa 156 was the first Alfa Romeo for many years that was greeted with near-universal praise for its styling. The company’s designers had spent the previous couple of decades playing with their geometry sets and producing rectilinear designs that were, to say the least, rather challenging in their appearance.
Under the styling leadership of Walter de Silva at Centro Stile Alfa Romeo, the designers of the 156 looked further back into the company’s past and produced a shape that was organic, lithe and sinuous, one that was regarded by many Alfisti as the most authentic expression of the marque’s qualities in years.
Those alluring looks did not come without some penalty, in this case limited accommodation for passengers and their luggage(1) and that old Alfa Romeo bugbear, poor reliability. Premature cambelt and tensioner failures were common on the Twin-Spark engines, forcing the company to Continue reading “An Alfa Less Loved”
It has been said before, but bears repeating: no single European car designer has done more to shape the modern everyday motor car than Giorgetto Giugiaro, either during his time working for Bertone, Ghia or later for himself at ItalDesign.
We take a brief dive into Volvo’s Italian coachbuilt past.
Turin based coachbuilder, Carrozeria Fissore had confidence aplenty. Founded in 1919 by the four brothers; Antonio, Bernardo, Giovanni, and Costanzo, the reins fell under Bernado’s control in 1936. Originally horse carriage experts then car repairers, by wartime the carrozzeria had moved on to manufacturing – mail cars, vans, even hearses after military service.
No prizes for guessing much of Fissore’s work lay within the Fiat purview. By the 1960s, Fissore may not have been the household name far outside the confines of their homeland but their reputation had grown. To the point that Motauto, the Italian import agent for Volvo believed the carrozzeria possessed the skills to Continue reading “Confidence Might Be Z-Shaped but Knock-backs Wear Iron Marks”
Further precipitation. Continuing our examination of the streamlined monopod.
Bridges Lightning Bug, 1936
Doctor Calvin Blackman Bridges (1889-1938) did not have the background one would expect of a car designer. He was a highly respected geneticist who had contributed the first paper ever to the journal, Genetics and had invented the binocular dissecting microscope.
Bridges built his car in his spare time, machining many parts himself on a lathe. Being rather safety-conscious by the standards of the time the doctor used an early plastic named Pyralin instead of glass for the windows, a forced air ventilation system to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning and a steel and asbestos firewall between engine and passenger compartment. Unusually the front suspension was constructed of a motorcycle fork on each side.
The 1971 Alfasud was a game-changing car, not only for what we would now call the C-segment, but for Alfa Romeo itself. Unfortunately, while the ‘Sud was to become the conceptual template for an entire generation of similarly sized (if not as technically ambitious) cars from rival manufacturers, it was something of a disaster for il Biscione. Not a brand-killer by any stretch, but nevertheless the case against the ‘Sud is not inconsiderable.
By re-orientating the carmaker’s centre of gravity to the crowded and heavily contested free-for-all of the compact C-segment the Alfa Sud programme placed the Milanese carmaker squarely in the gunsights of the mighty Fiat Auto group. It also had the effect of lowering Alfa Romeo’s average transaction prices, driving down its image as the builder of superior motor cars – a matter its subsequent reputation for slapdash build and premature corrosion would only serve to amplify.
By the early 1970s, the Italian economic miracle was unravelling in a spiral of politically-motivated industrial unrest and violence amid growing inequalities between affluence and economic stagnation. Terrorist atrocities, assassinations, strikes and stoppages became the daily news headlines as Italy’s position as posterchild for post-war reconstruction and prosperity faded.
The Alfasud lands to great acclaim. But trouble is just around the corner.
The Alfasud was launched at the 1971 Turin motor show and was greeted with widespread praise. The compact mechanical package allowed for a low bonnet line and a spacious interior. Despite appearances, the Alfasud, like many contemporaries, was not a hatchback, but a four-door saloon with a conventional boot. The exposed boot hinges were just a minor visual flaw in what was a notably modern, attractive and aerodynamic design.
The front end featured integrated headlamp/indicator units framing a simple horizontal grille that contained the traditional Alfa Romeo shield. Eagle-eyed observers would Continue reading “Going South (Part Two)”
An irregular current blows through the neighbourhood.
Maserati: the very name evokes charisma, although broad Yorkshire tones tend to offer a less divine-sounding Mazz-Uratty. The model names themselves convey equally evocative overtones; even a dusty, dry wind from North Africa manages to cleave enigmatic inflections – Ghibli.
Not the poster boy from the 1960s however – today we pore over the modern, everyday Ghibli – the tipo M157, revealed to the world in Shanghai 2013. Produced in the former Bertone manufacturing plant of Grugliasco, close to Turin, life for the new Ghibli began under FCA’s Centro Stile direction, Marco Tencone seemingly responsible for overseeing those dashingly good looks.
More than merely a car, a state-sponsored project in political and social engineering. Celebrating the Alfa Romeo Alfasud on its 50th anniversary.
In the years that followed the end of the Second World War, successive Italian governments faced a seemingly intractable problem. Northern Italy had become increasingly urbanised, industrialised and prosperous, but the south remained largely a rural backwater. By 1950, income per capita in the south was roughly half that in the north, and the gap was widening. Much of the south’s agricultural land remained in the hands of large landowners and was poorly managed and often unproductive. Many unemployed young people simply migrated north, robbing the south of much of its potential labour force.
Acknowledging this economic and social divide, the Italian government established the Cassa per il Mezzogiorno (Southern Development Fund) in 1950. Its initial purpose was to Continue reading “Going South (Part One)”
The Pet Shop Boys considered them hell, Chevrolet named a vehicle after them eighty years ago. The award winning band Arcade Fire devoted an entire album towards them in 2010. According to lead singer, Win Butler, the album “is neither a love letter to, nor an indictment of, the suburbs – it’s a letter from the suburbs.” The Canadian band’s genre has proved difficult to pin down; journalists having dubbed them indie or art rock – one amongst them resorting to baroque pop. Today, let’s Continue reading “The Sprawl”
Imagining a brighter alternative future for the Beta, and for Lancia.
In an alternative reality, the Beta berlina would not have suffered the structural corrosion problems that proved catastrophic to Lancia’s reputation and prospects. Instead, it would have evolved into a full range of models in its own right.
“To create an unfavourable impression, it is not necessary that certain things be true, but that they have been said. The imagination is of so delicate a texture that even words wound it”. [William Hazlitt (1778-1830) – Writer, critic, philosopher]
With a now unassailable position within the annals of infamy; derided and patronised by legions of uninformed writers and journalists, has sufficient time elapsed to speak dispassionately about the Lancia Beta? It’s difficult to be certain, but the point of today’s exercise is to Continue reading “Beta Living Through Chemistry”