Studebaker’s shoestring-budget foray in the compact market.
Development of the compact Studebaker Lark started in the spring of 1957. The South Bend, Indiana firm had created a stop-gap of sorts that year in the shape of the very austere Scotsman model, but it was obvious that this was just a severely decontented full-size car instead of the more compact vehicle envisioned to revive Studebaker’s fortunes by capturing a slice of an emerging new market segment. And a revival was desperately needed: like its rival, American Motors, Studebaker had entered into an ultimately fatal merger, in this case with the once-great luxury carmaker, Packard.
As work on the Lark started, Packard was as good as dead and its last models, which were little more than Studebakers in fancy dress, were only gathering dust on the showroom floor. For Studebaker itself, the situation was not much better as the company suffered its worst year since 1938 with fewer than 45,000 cars sold. Clearly, the new model, designed to tap into a rapidly growing market and generate much-needed profits, could not come a moment too soon, and that the Lark was ready to be introduced for the 1959 model year was a minor miracle. Continue reading “Independent Diptych (Part Two)”
When Volkswagen successfully took control of the storied Škoda Auto business in 1991, it did so, like many larger, more powerful entities, primarily for its own betterment. So while any residual altruism on their part was largely incidental, to its credit, Wolfsburg did take a fairly enlightened approach to their acquisition. By then, the Czech carmaker was in need of considerable investment and redirection, for despite having left behind the dated automotive fare it served up to widespread derision for decades, it remained prey to the snide dismissals and cheap jokes, primarily from the motor-jock element of the journalistic cohort.
Rebuilding reputations has never been the job of a moment, but as the decade progressed and the engineers at Mladá Boleslav, working alongside a reinvigorated design team created a more credible range of cars, the joke really started to wear thin. Škoda (and its well-heeled German backer) was no longer prepared to Continue reading “Living Room”
Filing the coffers is the name of the automotive game, be it through finance incentives, software investment or the plain shifting of tin. Of course, entrepreneurial spirit lies strong within the field – new avenues to pursue, lucrative boulevards to not only build but furnish, to the delights of old and potential customers alike. These can take many forms, especially when one combines celebrity and the historical record.
When one is a self-described (and wealthy) genius, allowances can curve toward the over exaggerated. Take the moustached dreamscape decorator, Salvador Dali. A marketers dream, then as now, the artist never drove a car, yet became absorbed by the American luxury only Cadillac could deliver.
Not obsessed with the motorcar per-se, for Dali, the looks of the car either dismayed or delighted – the technicalities were of no concern. Having had a great deal of success with the de Luxe, General Motors, on asking for Dali’s input, received his request to Continue reading “Avida Dollars”
Range Rover’s success over the past two decades in establishing itself as the pre-eminent manufacturer of luxury SUVs is truly remarkable, particularly when one considers JLR’s chequered and occasionally traumatic ownership history. British Leyland, BMW and Ford all attempted to impose their plans on the company, with decidedly mixed results. It was only in 2008, when JLR was acquired by Tata Motors, a subsidiary of the giant Indian industrial conglomerate, Tata Group, that the company finally enjoyed both the financial stability and management autonomy to Continue reading “A Gilded Cage?”
This article was originally published as part of DTW’s Cute theme in April 2014.
I’ve asked myself if I can think of a large car that is cute and, at present, can only think of one, but perhaps that is because this particular vehicle will always have a dominant place in my memories. In the late Seventies, I filled in for the European Motoring Correspondent on Soldier Of Fortune magazine when he was unavoidably detained for several months by the German security services. Apart from it being the introduction to my beloved Alvis Stalwart, when I tested one for the ‘Used and Bruised’ feature, that time also has more tender memories for me.
The tyres on everyday road going cars must endure many hazards, from the self (but more likely garage-induced) under or over-inflated pressures to sharp detritus. Heavy acceleration and braking all take their toll. But there’s only one substance that can enhance the look of a tyre – that’ll be mud.
My local environs is covered in the stuff. Washed off fields from endless rain, copiously blended with horse manure, along with the fleets of tractors passing by, the tarmac is more likely to be brown than black. ‘Tractor Splat’ can most commonly be found right on your line of enthusiastic attack for the next corner, leading to a fast moving steering wheel and raised systolic readings for those wearing a fitbit or similar. The farmer may Continue reading “Muddy Boots Welcome Here”
Clever innovation from the smaller American automakers.
With pockets much less deep than those of the US ‘Big Three’ automakers, independent American manufacturers needed to be clever and creative to come up with new cars in response to an expanding market as the 1960s dawned. Studebaker’s solution was to use the mid-section of its existing full-size sedan that dated back to 1953 as a base, while American Motors resurrected a model, albeit with several updates applied to it, that it had discontinued years earlier.
For a car which would become their most commercially important product, the BMC motor business took a rather quixotic approach to ADO 16’s furtherance, with initial production being restricted to BMC’s Cowley plant where it was built (for almost a decade) alongside the car it had been intended to replace. But as potential customers hungrily clamoured for delivery, it would remain some considerable time before the carmaker found itself capable of balancing demand and supply.
It has been well documented that BMC sold the Mini at a price which allowed for little meaningful profit, yet it would appear that with ADO 16, they simply repeated the error, selling the 1100 on similarly tight margins, which given its technical superiority, its lack of genuine domestic rivals and the pent up demand for the car, appears almost wilfully irrational. And while later, more upmarket models may have aided profitability, there were too many of them and as explored previously, they were not a cost-effective means of resolving the issue.
Inspiration arrives in many forms. In today’s story, mystery, elements of sophistry and in this instance, anaglypta and food all play their respective parts as we peer into the entomology of a globally renowned car badge, yet one with an indeterminate history. Some believe that the badge is in fact a cross, stylised over generations, but the only genuine certainty is that Chevrolet’s badge is indeed a bow tie, although how this came to be is subject to one of four possible permutations.
The first of these suggests that company co-founder William Crapo Durant introduced the bow tie motif onto his cars in 1913, two years after the company’s inception. One simple but uncorroborated story involves the Swiss chap whose name went on to emblazon millions of vehicles over the intervening years – Louis Chevrolet. Possibly as an homage to the drapeu de la Suisse, it seems a blatantly obvious connection until one realises that Louis had left the company by 1915.
An altogether more elaborate reasoning stems from a story centred around a newspaper advertisement that Durant is said to have viewed in 1912, as related by Catherine Durant to interviewer Lawrence R. Gustin some years after her husband’s passing. On vacation in Hot Springs, Virginia, Durant noticed a bow tie emblem featured on another altogether different product – Coalettes, a refined solid fuel. Considering it to be suitable for his cars, he exclaimed to Catherine, Continue reading “Ain’t No Spin Here”
Over the past fifty years, the global automotive industry has witnessed an ongoing consolidation to the extent that it is now largely under the control of a handful of major players(1). The reasons for this are all economic: the costs associated with the design and manufacture of a new motor vehicle are now simply enormous, given the raft of fitness for purpose, safety and environmental regulations and legislation with which any new model must comply. Moreover, the product liability implications of putting into the hands of the public a machine that could be potentially deadly to themselves and others are truly terrifying. Only a lunatic and/or a genius(2) would now Continue reading “Folie Française”
Automotive design research can veer sharply between the obvious and the obscure.
What would a lay-person get from this recent bit of research? Its title is ‘Identifying sequence maps or locus to represent the genetic structure or genome standard of styling DNA in automotive design’. Ideally an academic article title is supposed to clearly state what the text deals with. That then makes the reader feel unstoppably compelled to put down whatever they are doing and just run to Continue reading “Take My Hand and Let’s Walk Down Church Hill”
Editor’s note: This piece was written and first published on DTW in August 2018. All images via the author.
While the remainder of Europe desiccates amidst the most protracted heatwave of recent times, here at that question mark of a landmass at the Atlantic’s cusp, a more habitual form of summer has returned: Leaden skies, horizontal mist and high humidity.
I bid you dear reader to recall the chastisement you once received from your parents, irate at the bomb site you’d made of the room as you built that model car, tank or plane. This usually plastic model kit required careful assembly, with precision and adjustments, where necessary. That missing, vital piece which caused untold distress, the carelessly applied glue which resulted in delays and rectification – the admiring glances over coming months of a job well done.
Assembling a modern motor vehicle is in essence little different to the description above. Components, sub-assemblies, fasteners, grommets; any typical car is made up of hundreds if not thousands of the things. The assembly plant merely has to Continue reading “Feeling Like a Spare Part”
An innovative but unapproved plan to build a flagship Citroën XM convertible.
After Citroën officially withdrew from the US market in 1972, an independent company called CX Automotive commenced unofficial imports of the CX model, much to Citroën’s annoyance. When the CX was replaced by the XM, the company, now renamed CXA, began imports of the new model and embarked on an ambitious plan to enhance the prestige of the XM by creating a convertible version via an innovative construction method devised in The Netherlands.
A true test of any successful product design is whether its popularity can be replicated outside of its country of origin, where tastes, loyalties and latent patriotism, for instance, tend to count for less. The immediate success of BMC’s 1100 within the home market was both justified and understandable, but not only would it prove popular elsewhere, it could be argued that ADO 16 would become as close to a world car that the organisation would create.
Sold in almost every continent, and assembled in fourteen distinct countries, the 1100/1300 it seems made friends everywhere, with perhaps one exception – a former British colony which would prove impervious to its charms. North America had already proven a difficult nut for BMC to crack throughout the 1950s, with efforts to Continue reading “Modern Family [Part Four]”
Having enjoyed the sinuous ribbon of tarmac known to all and sundry as the Nurburgring from both front seats of such esoteric machinery as a 5-litre TVR Chimaera, an 1983 Audi Quattro, a Mazda RX-8 and a Porsche 911SC from 1987, you might think your author qualifies to wax lyrical about the Green Hell, as Jackie Stewart famously termed the place. Think again. These events were spaced out over a period of several years and no matter how many YouTube videos one peruses, once the helmet’s on and the barrier rises (€25 per lap Monday to Thursday – €30 Friday to Sunday, when open to the public), most of the experience degenerates into a frenzied blur. As competent as one might feel behind the wheel, I never troubled Timo Bernhard’s 5:19.5 lap in 2018.
I am writing this on our flight home from Chicago after spending ten most enjoyable days exploring the city and surrounding areas. Chicago is one of the great American cities and, with so much to see and experience, it is well worth a visit. Over the past thirty-something years, I have had the opportunity to travel to the US many times for both business and pleasure. One of my abiding fascinations is the country’s automotive landscape and how it has evolved over these decades.
When I first arrived on those shores in the late 1980s, the US car market was still dramatically different to its European equivalent, thrillingly so for a car-obsessive like me. Despite the downsizing precipitated by the 1973 fuel crisis, there were still plenty of US-manufactured ‘land yachts’ traversing the streets of the big cities and the country’s broad highways. American cars retained their highly distinctive style amongst a plethora of different marques, each with its own signature design features. Continue reading “Keeping it Real”
Editor’s note: A version of this piece was originally published on DTW in May 2018.
Don Henley’s 1984 Grammy-winning hit single, Boys of Summer was a meditation on reminiscence and regret. It plays on the slick US West Coast values of the lyricist’s Eagles heyday, deftly subverting its MOR rock sheen to underline more mature themes of ageing and loss. The track was not only a sizeable success in the US and elsewhere, but gained Henley a critical credibility he had perhaps hitherto lacked. After all, looking back to the past can be instructive, and in some cases, a virtual necessity. However, true folly lies with those who attempt to Continue reading “Boys of Summer”
Love affairs can be fickle. Within the car industry, bed hopping is almost as natural as tightening nuts. The longevity of such associations is often a factor of money as much as talent, for matters of taste do not necessarily equate to success. As we have seen in a previous instalment, Volvo had given Fissore and Zagato short shrift, only to seek out one of their lesser-known rivals, Coggiola. Whether Gothenburg had been influenced by the carrozzerias’s previous Exemplar concept is unknown, but more likely it was their work with Trollhattan natives, Saab.
Unveiled at the 1971 Paris auto salon, the Volvo ESC, also known as the Viking was a fully engineered concept. Described as ‘the successor to the 1800′, a sobriquet that may have been wide of the mark, even if the original Pelle Petterson design was by then widely considered something of an obsolete Viking itself. Something of a show pony, Coggiola worked expressly on the bodywork and interior, leaving the oily bits untouched.
Sociedad Española de Automóviles de Turismo, more colloquially known as SEAT, was established in 1950 and for decades produced, with a few exceptions, virtual carbon copies of Italian Fiats until the partnership ended in 1982. In the period before Volkswagen acquired a majority shareholding in 1986, SEAT introduced the Giugiaro-styled compact Ibiza which, while still using many Fiat Ritmo elements in its underlying platform, is considered the Spanish firm’s first true post-Fiat product.
Before the Ibiza, however, there was the 1200/1430 Coupé, affectionately nicknamed the ‘Boca negra’ because of its distinctive black snout. This was a car mostly developed by SEAT and first seen in concept form at the 1970 Turin motorshow as the NSU Nergal prototype, styled by Aldo Sessano. It is much sought-after today by aficionados of the SEAT marque. Continue reading “A Census Taker Once Tried To Test Me”
Amongst the more striking aspects of BMC’s front-driven family of cars – if we set aside for a moment their technical courage – was the stark modernism of their design. Whether the Issigonis-inspired ADO series should be considered part of a design movement which would permeate the UK as the Sixties progressed – in architecture, product design, furnishing and in tentative forays amid the domestic automotive domain is perhaps a matter for more learned minds, but it nevertheless required a leap of imagination to Continue reading “Modern Family [Part Three]”
Softness: increasingly difficult to find in this harsh world. Interiors can cosset but can an entire car be defined as soft? Practically 2.3 tonnes of metal, glass, plastics and leather suggests otherwise, but Dearborn’s luxury arm begs to differ. Lincoln, until recently home to stately sedans have chosen to park that genre for vehicles of a physically larger nature – taking a more tender route – if one which only those in the US and selected regions can sample.
In an ever-competitive luxury marketplace, the new for 2022 Aviator sees Lincoln up the ante in a most restful manner. Aviator can be optioned with air glide suspension where the car bows to greet the driver or assist with loading – the area lit by what the maker dubs a welcome mat, along with headlights that greet your appearance. For such a well mannered and relaxing-natured car, should it surprise that the interior contains 28 speakers? If only perhaps to Continue reading “Livin’ It Up”
Following a successful launch, the BX sold strongly, although there were some early build quality issues that were overcome during the first year of production. A year after launch, the BX range was augmented with the addition of a Break estate version. Production of the estate was outsourced to the French coachbuilding firm Heuliez.
Unusually, the estate retained the hatchback version’s rear passenger doors. This was problematic in that the hatch featured a roofline that fell noticeably towards the rear of the car, and the rear door window frames followed suit. However, in order to maximise load capacity, the estate, although only a little taller overall, was instead given a horizontal roofline. The solution was slightly makeshift: the estate’s additional rear side windows were mounted higher than the rear door windows, with long horizontal air vents below them. The mismatch was partly disguised by satin black trim and paint surrounding the DLO on all but the base versions, where it was readily apparent. Continue reading “Boxing Clever (Part Two)”
Editor’s note: Today, we revisit the second part of a two-part meditation on rationalism in design, featuring the Peugeot 405 and Citroen BX. The original article was first published on DTW in April 2015.
America in the late 1940s was awash with post-war optimism, and one of the loudest fanfares would blow from the Ford Motor Company’s trumpet. Before its official launch in June 1948 at the Waldof-Astoria hotel in New York, the generated buzz was palpable – the ‘49 was here. Hailed as a dream car with simple lines, picture window visibility along with mid-ship ride, the 1949 Ford was not only a huge success, but slipped easily into the burgeoning craze of cruising and customisation. On sale a mere two years, this car replenished Dearborn’s black ink wells and some believe, saved the company’s hide.
In 1962 BMC sprang a surprise with the 1100 – in one area in particular.
Even without its innovative interconnected hydrolastic suspension, the BMC 1100’s status in the automotive pantheon would have been beyond question. However, a good deal of its historical significance remains bound up with its adoption. While interconnected suspension designs were not an entirely unknown quantity by the late Fifties, it was the first production application of a fluid-based system in a compact, affordable (and no small matter this) British car.
The use of rubber (to say nothing of fluid) as a suspension medium was not something that Alec Issigonis seemed to favour at first, but he became convinced after sampling a Morris Minor which had been re-engineered with a prototype rubber suspension. Having discerned its potential, Issigonis, in conjunction with Alex Moulton developed an interconnected design employing rubber springs for the the stillborn Alvis TA/350 project, initiated in 1952. After this programme foundered and Alec was lured back to Continue reading “Modern Family [Part Two]”
The car you see before you here today is likely to be, for many at least, an unfamiliar member of the BMC Farina family, but it was a unique and interesting variation in its own right. Its story begins with one of Argentina’s greatest and most revered industrialists, an Italian immigrant named Torcuato di Tella (1892–1948), who had disembarked in Buenos Aires with his parents in 1895. At just eighteen years of age, di Tella developed and produced a dough-mixing machine which became very popular with bakeries across the country.
Before long, di Tella had extended his range of products to include gasoline pumps, refrigerators, washing machines and other household appliances, but S.I.A.M., the name of the manufacturing company he established in 1911, paid tribute to the product started it all: it is an acronym for ‘Sección Industrial Amasadoras Mecánicas’ or, in English, ‘Bread Making Machine Industries’. Continue reading “The Many Faces of Flour”