Concluding our recollection of the Chrysler / Talbot Alpine and its saloon sibling, the Solara.
Renowned automotive writer Leonard (LJK) Setright took his monocle to the newly launched Simca 1307/8 in the December 1975 issue of Car Magazine. Setright observed that the engineering teams in both Whitley and Poissy seemed keen to take the lion’s share of credit for the new car. This was understandable, as the Alpine was “really rather a good machine, restoring Chrysler to a competitive place in what has been described as the ‘upper middle-class market’ in Europe.”
One could, however, sense a ‘but’ coming, and it duly arrived with regard to the engine, which Setright identified as the car’s “only major shortcoming”. This was mainly due to the volume of engine noise that permeated the cabin. The problem was exacerbated by unusually low levels of wind and road noise, thanks to the aerodynamic body design and the car’s separate front and rear rubber-mounted subframes. The latter helped achieve “fundamentally a very comfortable and absorbent ride.”Continue reading “The Nearly Car (Part Two)”
In the early years of the twentieth century, the emerging automobile industry in Europe created something of a gold-rush, with a multitude of prospectors throwing their hats into the ring in the hope of achieving fame and fortune. Barriers to entry were low: anyone with a well equipped workshop and decent engineering skills could try their hand at building a car, often with mixed fortunes, occasionally with hilarious mishaps.
Two such would-be automobile moguls were Parisian brothers Maurice and Georges Sizaire, who fancied their own roll of this particular dice. Elder brother Maurice had some design experience, but in buildings, not motorcars. Three years his junior, Georges was an apprentice turner but, like his brother Maurice and their family friend, Louis Naudin, his consuming passion was for cars and driving. Naudin worked for De Dion Bouton, one of the earliest French car manufacturers, so at least he had some relevant experience. Continue reading “Les Frères Sizaire”
Continuing our guided tour of the works of Brooks Stevens.
1954 Cadillac Die Valkyrie: snowplough, cow-catcher(1) and steam iron were just some of the likenesses offered by critics for the controversial frontal appearance of Brooks Stevens’ first design to be displayed at a European Motor Show. The last suggestion was particularly apposite in view of the Milwaukee designer’s successful ‘Steam-O-Matic’ iron of more than a decade earlier. The giant ‘V’ shaped front assembly was, according to Stevens, simply meant to emphasise the large V8 engine that provided the motive force for the car.
The Chrysler / Talbot Alpine was undone by the weakness of its maker.
There is a caricature concerning the behaviour of US corporations following their takeover of foreign companies that goes something like this:
Wealthy and expansionist BigCorp Inc. mounts a successful takeover of LittleCo PLC, paying a handsome premium over the net asset value for LittleCo’s intangible assets. These include its local market knowledge and experience about what sells and how to sell it. BigCorp then trashes that treasure by directing LittleCo to do things the American way, sweeping aside all resistance to change.
I’m sure there are instances where this has happened, but at least one US corporation seemed strangely reticent to impose its will on its newly acquired European subsidiaries. That corporation was Chrysler and the subsidiaries concerned were Rootes Group in the UK and Simca in France. Chrysler finally took full control of the former in 1967 and the latter in 1970. Not only was Chrysler apparently slow to Continue reading “The Nearly Car (Part One)”
The scientific approach to motor car design was one which was taken up with some enthusiasm in France during the post-war period, resulting not only in some of the more compelling examples of motive modernity, but the most significant of the modern era. The results of intellectual rigour and no small quantum of application, these cars were also imbued with another, more nebulous quality: a piquant and distinctive character. Certainly, it was a potent amalgamation of elements that in this instance created a car both of its time, yet also timeless. A car for living. A car for life.
Towards the end of the 1960s, amid Europe’s engineering centres and styling studios, a new evolution of car was being forged. With matters of powertrain layout and body format still to be definitively established, nobody was entirely sure what would emerge as the dominant strain. But while Mirafiori, Turin would in the fullness of time lay claim to the precise technical layout of the compact front wheel drive car, it was their Transalpine rivals at Boulogne-Billancourt who would go on to Continue reading “Voiture à Vivre [Part One]”
We look at three small eco-concept cars from the 1980s and see what became of them.
The last of the cars featured in this series is the BL Technologies ECV3. This is a classic BL tale of burgeoning promise turning to wracking frustration as funds dried up for the development of a new small car. As might be expected, it is also by some margin the most convoluted and protracted of the three stories.
BL Technology was the R&D arm of the state-owned British car maker. In 1980, it was led by renowned engineer Spen King and given a home at BL’s new testing facility at Gaydon in Warwickshire. BL Technology and its Gaydon site was basically a sand-box environment, enabling King and his colleagues to propose theories about the future design of cars, then turn these into working prototypes to Continue reading “Eighties Eco-Concept Marvels: Number 3 – BL Technologies ECV3”
When one thinks of 1960s British coupés based on humble saloon underpinnings, the Ford Capri immediately springs to mind. Ford’s masterful repackaging of the Cortina Mk2 into the car you always promised yourself was an instant hit. Who cared that the Capri was largely a triumph of style over substance when the style was so appealing?
Ford was not, however, the only British mainstream manufacturer to market a stylish coupé based on its workaday saloon. A year before the Capri was launched, Rootes Group unveiled the Sunbeam Rapier, a two-door fastback coupé based on the platform and mechanical underpinnings of the Arrow range of mid-size saloons and estates. Continue reading “Blunt Sword”
Much of what gets recorded is either data with no texture, or the exceptional. In between is where real life happens and it goes by undocumented. Today, an ordinary car on an ordinary street on an ordinary day.
The Suzuki Liana doesn’t strike one as …. well, it doesn’t strike one very much. So anonymous is the Liana that TopGear used on as for their ‘Star In A Reasonably Priced Car’ feature. The Liana is very much the kind of car I see littering my part of town, and I usually ignore them. But, when I saw this one, I decided I could not resist the voice that told me to Continue reading “Is that a Vourdoulakas in the Potting Shed?”
Goodness, it seems a long winter: early December snow followed by unseasonably mild conditions, yet the days are still too short, the daylight pallid and grey. One looks forward eagerly to spring, when the brightness and warmth of the sun lifts the mood and instils new energy and vitality: folk smile, appear more relaxed and less hurried to retreat indoors – and they change their cars. The swapping of cars can happen at any time, of course, and for wildly different reasons, but the auto trade eagerly anticipates the green shoots of spring for the new business it brings.
On a recent dash for urgent supplies of dried coriander(1), I witnessed a previously unseen and unseasonably early new shoot: where once resided an ignoble looking red Fiesta Mk3, that space had been well and truly filled by a product of Pym’s Lane, a white Bentley Continental GT. In the bright sunshine, one’s hat brim required tipping to Continue reading “Something Growing out of Season”
A guided tour through some of the notable works of Brooks Stevens.
1936 Zephyr Land Yacht: One of the earliest automotive creations of Brooks Stevens is this unusual trailer vehicle combination, the Zephyr Land Yacht. It was commissioned by thirty year-old millionaire playboy William Woods Plankinton Jr., heir to his father’s vast fortune. The tractor was based on an International Harvester chassis, while the trailer used a Curtis Aerocar as a starting point. The lucky occupants of the trailer wanted for nothing during their travels across the country: a complete kitchen, bathrooms with showers and hot and cold water plus sleeping accommodation for Plankinton, six guests and the butler were provided. Plankington was an avid hunter and fisherman, so ample storage for rifles and fishing rods was also incorporated into the design. Continue reading “The Milwaukee Magician (Part Two)”
Concluding our recollection of the cars that sealed Bentley’s renaissance.
Such was the demand for the new Continental R that Car Magazine would not get to road test it until January 1992, and then it was still a prototype rather than a production car that was supplied for the test. Reviewer Richard Bremner noted that the car, although roomy and beautifully trimmed, was a strict four-seater, with individual rear seats separated by a large centre console that bisected the cabin. Bremner bemoaned the lack of ventilation or seat adjustment for rear seat passengers. Front seat occupants had no such complaints, however, and sat in great luxury(1).
The Sultan of Brunei was a fan of the storied British marque.
In the closing decade of the last century, Bentley’s most important and valuable customer was His Majesty, Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah of Brunei. With a net worth estimated to be around $28 Billion, the Sultan is one of the World’s richest men. He has been absolute ruler of the tiny but very wealthy sultanate since succeeding his father, who abdicated in October 1967. Now 74 years old, the Sultan has been a controversial ruler and is responsible for much repressive legislation in Brunei. That is, of course, a subject for discussion and debate elsewhere.
The arrival of a new mass-market Alfa Romeo is always an important event, and the Tonale CUV arrives with heavy responsibilities upon its evocatively styled shoulders. Nearly three years have passed since the Tonale Concept showed its SZ-inspired face at the last Geneva Salon of the decade. I had been deeply impressed by Fiat’s Centoventi concept, unveiled at the same venue, but the Tonale seemed like a needless distraction; no certainty of production in the post-Marchionne paralysis, very little technical information other than that it would be electric, or at least electrified. The video presentation was fabulously impressive, the red show car rather less convincing. Continue reading “The Alfa Romeo Tonale – a Pass with Advisories”
A short series in which we look at three small eco-concept cars from the 1980s and see what became of them.
Today, we turn our attention to Renault’s vision for a compact car designed to do 120mpg (2.35l/100km), the 1983 VESTA.
In its February 1984 edition, Car Magazine went into some detail about what it reported would become the new Renault ‘R3’ in an article, entitled ‘Towards 2000’. This edition of the magazine is memorable for having scoop photos of the Kadett E / Astra MkII on the front cover, the car brightly illuminated at night on the road, showing that GM Europe’s compact offering was going to Continue reading “Eighties Eco-Concept Marvels: Number 2 – Renault VESTA”
The 1991 Continental R Coupé was the first unique Bentley for over a quarter of a century.
The debut in 1965 of the Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow was a seminal event in the company’s long and occasionally turbulent history. With its unitary construction, it brought Rolls-Royce into the modern age. Its longevity and enduring sales success carried the company through some pretty lean times.
The Silver Shadow also caused the near extinction of the Bentley marque. The absence of a separate chassis on which distinctive coachbuilt models could readily be created reduced Bentley to a badge-engineered version of the Silver Shadow, dubbed T-Series and distinguished only by a different radiator grille. Over a fifteen-year production run, only 2,280 (7%) from a total of 32,337 cars produced carried the Bentley name.
It was launched 1991. By 1996, GM had given up on their RWD, body-on-frame sedans, a mere five summers later. The last North American market(1) Caprice served really as a stop-gap. Underneath the deceitfully aero-looking body lurked technology dating back to the Carter era. The engine and underbody could be largely swapped between the 1977 Caprice and the 1991 model.
The life and work of automotive designer, Peter Schreyer.
Is Roots and Wings a book for the Internet age? The plethora of online information concerning Peter Schreyer borders on the exorbitant, even obsessive, but when the heft and aroma of the paper, quality of the photography and fascinating subject matter combine to such good effect, the pleasure this book provides is sensory as much as intellectual. Engaged with the physicality of this book, one is inclined to take one’s time, allowing the narrative and images time to be absorbed and appreciated for their subtlety and nuance. One is left with the impression that Schreyer took the same time, effort and care over the book that he invested in his automotive designs. Hence, the book is bursting with flavour and added humour, some of which is intentional, some inadvertent. Continue reading “Roots and Wings – A Book Review”
In the pantheon of industrial and automotive design and styling, he sometimes gets lost in the shuffle at roll call; Pininfarina, Loewy, Eames, Bertoni, Buehrig, Giugiaro, Earl, Lyons, Rams, Opron and Bertone are all present, and deservedly so. There is, however, one gentleman; tall, suave, impeccably dressed and exuding an effortless sense of good taste, that many people may have more trouble putting a name to.
This is somewhat surprising when one realises that this man not only designed important vehicles for several automakers, but also counted Harley-Davidson, Evinrude, the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad and a wide range of home appliance manufacturers amongst his clients. Moreover, he designed the first true SUV, was one of the founders of the Society of Industrial Designers, created with the famous Oscar Mayer ‘Weinermobile’ as well as the oval-mouthed peanut butter jar (to allow easier access to the bottom) and coined the infamous phrase ‘planned obsolescence’. Continue reading “The Milwaukee Magician (Part One)”
General Motors’ military adventure was fated to end badly.
Now in control of the Hummer marque and its product planning and marketing, General Motors was keen to maximise the sales potential of its newly acquired off-road specialist. Its ambition was to rival and even displace Jeep as the leading US marque in this space. To do so, it needed a full range of models that were more suitable for on-road use than the uncompromising and unwieldy H1(1).
Hummer’s second model, the H2, was launched in 2002. It was based on a GMT800 series full-size truck and SUV platform and was powered by a 366 cu.in. (6.0-litre) V8 petrol engine, mated to a four-speed automatic transmission. The engine produced maximum power of 325bhp (242kW) and torque of 385 lb ft (522Nm). The H2’s off-road statistics were more modest than those of the H1, but still impressive. Continue reading “Spoils of War (Part Two)”
In the recent series on the Nissan Qashqai, I mentioned that the latest generation will have a third powertrain option that is so left-field it deserves its own chapter. We are told that the e-POWER version will arrive sometime in 2022 and that nothing comparable has previously been offered in a mass-produced vehicle sold in Europe. What makes it unique is that the powertrain has true petrol-electric drive, a series hybrid system with no mechanical gearbox and electric-only traction. The internal combustion engine drives a generator which charges a buffer battery. This in turn delivers power to the electric traction motor. Continue reading “I Can Explain Everything. Actually, No, I Can’t.”
A short series in which we look at three small eco-concept cars from the 1980s and see what became of them.
I was an eighties teenager and consider that decade to have been influential on many aspects of the world today. After what seemed to me to have been the grim stagnation, complacency and listlessness of the seventies, the eighties saw the (sometimes painful and tragic) breaking of ties to the past and the search to replace them with future opportunities, especially in technological innovation.
Hummer would become a lightning rod for political and cultural divisions in 21st Century America.
The 1991 Gulf War was the global reality television event of the twentieth century(1). In response to Saddam Hussein’s August 1990 invasion of Kuwait and seizure of the small and poorly defended emirate’s oil fields, a US-led coalition of 35 countries began a counter-offensive on 17th January 1991. Operation Desert Storm began with an arial and naval bombardment, followed by a ground assault beginning on 24th February. In four days, it was all over. Saddam’s forces had been routed and the emirate, rather the worse for wear after the conflict, was returned to its rulers.
For overseas audiences, there was a strange air of unreality about the war. Such was the level of confidence in a swift and decisive victory that certain coalition military operations were scheduled to Continue reading “Spoils of War (Part One)”
“If things don’t change, they’ll stop as they are” is a traditional North Yorkshire saying for stating the bleeding obvious. But change is irresistible and inevitable, especially when it involves cityscapes or modes of transportation.
The picture above is of the South Street Kitchen, a particularly attractive section of the Park Hill Flats complex. A little background: originally built between 1957 and 1961 as a brave new concept in urban living, Park Hill’s concrete superstructure was constructed on former cholera-ridden slums. Initially heralded as an architectural triumph, the buildings suffered vandalism and neglect for many years before finally blossoming into a colourful Sheffield living space after a major redevelopment.Continue reading “Sheffield Steel”
Apart from huge metropolises such as New York or Los Angeles, most of the United States’ land area is quite sparsely inhabited, with large areas of undeveloped land. A consequence of this abundance of space was the many salvage yards(1) where cars were simply parked at their presumed final resting place instead of being stacked on top of each other, disassembled, flattened or crushed.
While not necessarily the most environmentally-friendly storage method, salvage yards do provide an invaluable source of spare-parts for those restoring a piece of classic Detroit iron. For those with an interest in classic cars in general and who, like your author, appreciate the peculiar air of nostalgia and romance one feels while walking amongst discarded vehicles in varying stages of decay, these yards are also irresistible. In truth, I should probably use the past tense these days as the vast majority of these salvage yards have now disappeared due to ever more stringent environmental laws and policies that started to take effect, especially since the turn of the millennium. Continue reading “Ashes to Ashes (Part One)”
Ferdinand Karl Piëch(1) was a man of towering ambition, both personally and for Volkswagen Group, the automaker he led as Chairman of the Executive Board from 1993 to 2002 and Chairman of the Supervisory Board from 2002 to 2015. The grandson of Ferdinand Porsche, Piëch was automotive royalty and began his career at the eponymous sports car company before moving to Audi in 1972(2). He ascended to the helm of that company and was credited with turning Audi from a slightly quirky left-field manufacturer into a direct competitor to BMW and Mercedes-Benz, an achievement that deservedly earned him the leadership of the Volkswagen Group.
My mood, like the weather, was drab. My eyes searched in vain for a hint of colour, something other than the pervasive and oppressive greyscale of an English January day, to lift the spirits and provide some inspiration. Jaded, yet ever hopeful, as Shank’s Pony took me hastily back to work to consume my lunch, there in my gaze lay a sorry sight. It was as lacking in vitality as your author at that moment, so one had to check twice to ascertain that the creature still lived.
Conceived and designed in the United States, introduced in France by Ford but rebadged Simca soon afterwards before eventually ending its days in South America, the second-generation Ford/Simca Vedette had a meandering career trajectory.
In the summer of 1954, Simca took over SAF(1) Ford France and thereby gained ownership of its large Poissy manufacturing plant as well as the complete Ford France dealership network. The Blue Oval’s French operation had not achieved the success originally envisioned, causing Ford instead to Continue reading “Parlez-vous Franglais?”
It was greeted with euphoria, but the excitement quickly faded.
The arrival of the Jaguar E-Type in 1961 was a true landmark in automotive history. Its extraordinary styling, lightweight construction, towering performance(1) and relatively affordable price made it unique, to the extent that it might have come from another planet rather than the English West Midlands. Enzo Ferrari described it as “the most beautiful car ever made” and, even sixty years later, it is still revered.