Intimations of Alemania.
For a place where locals appear to think nothing of maintaining thirty-year-old cars as daily runners, the proliferation of German-manufactured cars in this part of Southern Spain amounts to less than one might reasonably imagine. Did German cars fail to chime with the Andalucían sensibility, or was it more a factor of up-front cost? Only a native could possibly cast any meaningful light upon this, so all I can offer you today is supposition, speculation and commentary. Plus a few photos…
No matter where one travels in the developed world, Volkswagen Golfs can be found; they are amongst the least remarkable automotive sightings imaginable. Yet here, Golfs were comparatively thin on the ground, and of those, most were of an older variety – the majority hailing from the third and fourth generations. (Latter-era examples were by contrast of the pullet’s teeth variety).
The Golf II was one of those inherently durable cars which go on and on, assuming one stays on top of the upkeep. Rust-free examples were plentiful on the streets, in various editions and levels of disarray. This one however, really stood out. Firstly, owing to its wholly unmolested state, its admirably sound condition, and the fact that it was a GTI. On this side of the world, it would have been classed as a cherished classic by now, squirreled away and certainly not parked at a giddy angle on a side-street corner.
The second-generation Golf is a curious looking car when viewed over this distance in time. On one hand it appears wholly familiar, yet at the same time, something of a caricature of the ItalDesign original. Looking at it now, it strikes me as odd that it resonated so well with the buying public. It really could have gone either way in 1983. I have only driven two examples of the Golf II in my time on earth: a diesel van and a 1.3 litre Golf C. Both brand new and both 3-door models. Equally slothful, yet both were oddly enjoyable. There was a lack of guile to them, and a solidity, which suggested a propensity to long life. I imagine the GTI was a nice car. Golfs aren’t nice anymore, are they?
Well, there had to be one, hadn’t there? The 190E is one of those great automotive survivors, and this mid-80s example was a prime example, being as largely unsullied by the passage of time as the Golf illustrated above. While I am a great admirer of the W201 series, I did for the first time detect a certain brittleness to its appearance – something the facelifted versions, with their ‘Sacco-Bretter’ lower body cladding seem to avoid entirely. But in either form, I never tire of looking at these cars. The geometry of its surfacing, the delicacy and balance of the volumes, the exquisite taper at the rear. There is such richness in detail. Masterful.
Mercedes’ of this era would prove to be common-enough sights over the period of my visit. Too gobsmacked to react in time, I encountered an Irish-registered (what were the chances?) 560 SEL on the move, an American-specification C126 in late evening traffic and a couple of very tidy looking R129s – again, in motion. No W123s, however.
The W202 on the other hand has not weathered well at all – neither in longevity, nor design integrity terms. Proving somewhat frangible – in Britain or Ireland at least – yet the kinder Spanish climate has allowed the first-generation C-Class to endure in number, (ditto W210s, to my anguished regret). I captured this one, largely because I thought it might make for an interesting visual contrast to the 190. I’ve always felt a marked ambivalence to the 202 C-Class, and recall being hugely disappointed by its appearance when I first saw it revealed. But Mercedes design always took a while to percolate into my system, so I felt I needed to give it time.
I think I’ve given it more than enough. I can see what Bruno Sacco’s design team were trying to achieve; to evolve the 190’s aesthetics and surfacing to a cleaner, softer look, but what they finished up with was slightly amorphous, and in the lamp unit detailing, somewhat casual. It lacked gravitas, a quality the W201 had in abundance. But in its favour, the proportions were good, the transitions handled well; there were no obvious howlers, à la E-Class, and yet, it all amounts to so little. The 201 is forever, the 202? More of a one-nighter, if even that.
And so, to Bavaria. Like the Mercedes above, the E36 is not a BMW I ever felt much affection or indeed admiration for. Not as an aesthetic object anyway. I hold to that; in my view the saloon is a dumpy looking thing and worse, it looks cheap. In marked contrast to our damp islands, these cars proliferate here to an extent, and unusually, in largely un-mucked-about form. This meant there was a sizeable pool of potential subjects for my camera phone, but this was the only example encountered which spoke to me at all.
Possibly the rarest of the breed, the Touring, I seem to recall, was a later addition to the range and to my eyes, by far the best resolved. The manner in which the glasshouse has been handled, where it appears to have been drawn rearwards, like a bowstring, is thrilling. Probably the best maintained of the E36s that came within my purview, the owner clearly appreciates their steed. And with good reason.
I run the risk of offending the sensibilities of an esteemed member of the editorial team in saying this, but in the cause of full disclosure I will admit to never having much cared for the appearance of the Opel Adam. It has always come across as being a little contrived and in particular, the spatial relationship between headlamps and grille was never one I could get along with – jarring every time. But every once in a while, and especially while on holiday, one simply has to let go of these little orthodoxies.
In the town, there was a little shop selling the most delicious ice-cream. In the evenings, queues would form. So rich, one only needed a small pot, despite the devil in one’s ear whispering; again, more, more! Their helado de pistacho was a thing of bliss, and this little Adam, in its bright and cheerful colour combination put me in mind of such simple joys. We all scream for ice cream. And from this vantage point, one doesn’t have to view Adam’s awkward visage while doing so.
‘Everything merges with the night’, as Brian Eno sang in 1975. And here, this Ford Mondeo was doing its utmost to achieve the former (I expect the latter was beyond it). A late-era facelift model, these cars are now vanishingly rare in any shape or form – certainly, it was the only example spotted during my stay. What is there to say about the first-generation Mondeo? A fine-driving car which started life as blandness on toast, before gaining almost as bipolar a facelift as the Scorpio that sat above it in the pricelists.
This was a dispiriting time to be a blue oval aficionado – or a designer at Köln-Merkenich for that matter. Fortunately, better heads would prevail. The Mondeo that followed was a styling masterpiece in comparison.
It doesn’t seem right to end on such a dreary note, so here is something a good deal more cheerful. Now, it had already become clear to me that surprises could lurk in every corner and down every side street, but nothing quite prepared me for this vision. Parked outside a rather exclusive looking coastal resort-cum-restaurant, the kind of place with valet parking, the beautiful set and malevolent-looking sentries, was this fall-at-its-feet gorgeous Mercedes 300 SL.
Resident in London a good thirty years and counting, one encounters just about everything eventually. I’ve even shared the road with a Gullwing or two in my time, but this was a first. Restored to perfection, it was one of the most heart-stoppingly beautiful cars I have ever seen in the wild. It isn’t difficult to understand why the 300 SL was the doyen of roadgoing supercars in its day. Who wouldn’t covet something as magnificently realised – then or now? Unfortunately, circumstances prevented me from doing it any real photographic justice. I just about nabbed this shot and… sashayed away.
30 thoughts on “Sketches of Andalucía ”
The Golf was really expensive; in the mid 80s a friend of my parents got one and with such luxuries as power steering, electric windows and aircon it was serious money. That Golf II maybe in daily use, but these are collectibles right now and good ones get good prices. It has been ages since I have seen an Opel Adam, which sold rather poorly. W-202 C class Mercedes were very popular and there’s a good number still around, mostly un keep bangers with terrible paint jobs. Same for 2nd and 3rd gen Mondeos, which were extremely popular back in the day
Good morning Eóin an thank you for another interesting collection from the Costa del Sol.
I think I understand what you mean regarding the slight ‘brittleness’ of the original W201. I think it is found in the treatment of the lower bodysides: the thin rubbing strip and, in particular, the way in which the rear bumper is truncated and does not wrap around the rear corners of the car (instead aligning with the ending edge of the tail lights). Also, the extremely short front overhang (highlighted by seeing daylight between the bumper and front wheel in your photo) combines to give the car a slightly unfinished look. I rather like its rational utilitarianism, but there’s no doubt the lower bodyside cladding on the facelifted version did make the car look more conventionally handsome.
The W202 is a flaccid lump by comparison, lacking any tension or athleticism. Those huge triangular tail lights are particularly ungainly. I thought it an ‘old man ‘s car’ when I first saw it.
The E36 Touring has, as you suggest, weathered the test of time better than other variants. I have nothing (positive!) to say about the Adam…
The Opel Adam had a lovely interior. I see it as car for people who want something friendly and cosy. It breaks a lot of my design rules and I still like it.
Croissants at dawn then…😁
Croissants it is. The first person to land a croissant squarely on the torso or arm wins. There is a chance that the duel is not completed as the croissants have been eaten beforehand.
The Adam is meant as a cheery and fun car and not a statement. I would not like to see some of its tropes on another brand. Another thing to like about it was the license it gave customers to play with colour. Lancia used to do that. So, I feel pretty warmly about it.
The picture of the E36 Touring brings me a smile to my face, as I owned a almost identical example (mine was a 328i). I´m really a sucker for E36s, and I bought mine with great enthusiasm. It turned out to be an endless money pit (you know, those “project cars”…) although at least it never let me stranded.
I think this is the prettiest of all Touring 3 Series, with very clean and airy lines. Just don´t expect to get a lot of luggage in that boot.
Incidentally, Richard: you asked for Freerk’s Japan pictures as well. I case you hadn’t seen it yet, he’s been posting a few rather nice ones under the Sketches of Andalucía  article.
The Mondeo 1 was an awful car in every aspect, blame on those guys voting it as the car of the year prefering the mondeo and not the Xantia.
The Mercedes 190 was built to last, a real Mercedes.
The W202 was that too, in most aspects, but they failed in terms of rust protection and too much Murat Günak design. I would choose the SLK W170, if i want to have a Mercedes of the 1990ies.
The Golf 2 is too boring, too bourgeois. My uncle had a VW Jetta 2, Heidebarock in its purest variation. Impossible to create a convincing GTI or a Convertible out of it. The only and now most important innovation Volkswagen did was to fill every Golf 2 with a bucket full of wax against rust. Still today visible on the tailgates.
Here in Germany it is hard to find a BMW E46 without tuning parts. An old lady in my street has a red BMW 318 with original wheelcaps since 20 years, a nice car.
If i would like to buy a german car from the nineties, i would prefer an Audi 80 B4.
Here is the typical sign of a Golf with liquid wax at the tailgate, nearly every Golf had this stripe.
Markus. Although I’d certainly not have challenged the Xantia’s right to the crown, had it been voted Car Of The Year, I don’t think you can objectively condemn the Mondeo for cheating it out of the title. Aesthetically, the Ford was hugely disappointing, but dynamically by no means so. Having owned both a Mondeo V6 and an Audi S6 from the mid 90s, entertaining as the Audi was, the Mondeo was a far better means of transport – just unfortunately not better made.
The Golf Mk.2 GTI wasn’t just “a nice car”, it was the only one in that generation which wasn’t deficient in equipment, power, and most particularly braking compared with competing hatchbacks.
The GTI came closest to modern expectations, with four wheel disc brakes, and trouble-free fuel injection and engine management. Even then the equipment level was mean in the extreme. Only the 16V got power steering as standard, but it also had an engine which had been designed with no expectation of unleaded petrol becoming mandatory across Europe. My 3-door 8V had but one option – key operated central locking which operated only on the passenger door, not the rear hatch. On the credit side, the trip computer was genuinely useful. I’d have happily exchanged the standard-for-UK sunroof for electric windows and proper remote control central locking.
VW’s greater shame was that the “luxury” Mk.2 Golfs – Carat, GLX – still had carburettor engines, unassisted steering, and feeble brakes, and it didn’t take too many options to move them into the GTI price bracket. As far as I am aware, VW never offered a luxury-level Golf with the GTI engine and brakes. A missed opportunity, but the company had no difficulty finding buyers for every Mk.2 Golf they could make.
At that time i drove a Peugeot 205 GTI, the real successor of the Golf GTI 1.
The Golf GTI 2 was no longer the car everybody wanted to have. That was the Honda CRX or the Peugeot 205 GTI.
The best version of the Golf 2 was the Golf Country. The worst was the Golf Rallye.
All my friends think I owned a Golf Mk2 GTI back in the early 90’s. In truth it was a dark blue 1991 Golf Mk2 Driver 3dr with a 1.8 litre carburettor fed engine, automatic choke, heavy unassisted steering and those feeble brakes.
It was a well built if basic motor car that drew admirable glances it probably didn’t deserve. It had a propensity for leaking in the passenger footwell, refusing to start in the cold and being an absolute handful to manoeuvre at low speed. It was also quite slow.
I believe the ‘Driver’ model was a late model VAG stickers & stripes dealer special edition. This reality was revealed to me one day by the discovery of a factory sticker under the boot carpet that read Model: Golf CL. The one redeaming feature of my car was the standard GTI-spec quad front lights and grill. Although somebody stole the front VW badge. That was a thing for a while.
I spent a good deal of time and money making it look and perform like a GTI. No mean feat. The plastic GTI rear spoiler for instance (seemingly missing from the Spanish model above) was a GTI only part that was mounted through the actual tailgate glass.
I had VW specialist TSR in Bridgewater carry out their Webber carburettor conversion complete with manual choke and a Supersprint stainless steel exhaust system. Suddenly not only could I keep up with real Golf GTI’s it was actually quicker. Quite remarkable. God bless the Italians. Sounded great too. It also had new Eibach springs and Bilstein dampers so not to abandon the Germany theme completely.
I couldn’t afford to install a power assisted steering conversion although my brother did manage to upgrade the front brakes to those from a Golf GTI donor that was being scrapped. That GTI also donated it’s Recaro front seats, electric windows, doors cards, rear bench, tailgate and leather steering wheel. All very straightforward in the days before factory airbags, heated seats and multi canbus wiring.
The manual choke although old fashioned was far more effective and reliable in winter than the original Pierburg automatic system. This was the last car in memory that my father helped me fix in the driveway of our family home. I remember it well because it was a dry freezing cold day and he cut all his knuckles open. I stood there handing tools. Dad fixed the leak which turned out to be the heater matrix which got replaced with a new one. The only time I’ve ever seen a dashboard, HVAC system and interior removed from a car in their driveway. He also adjusted the rear wiper mechanism so the untidy looking Mk2 upright wiper lay neatly horizontally flat like a Mk3 Golf. Brilliant.
I found myself in London on a business trip one day and by sheer luck managed to find a set of mint second hand ‘Sebring’ alloy wheels for sale from a customer taken off his Mk2 Golf G60 Rallye. A model I have never seen in real life. He had upgraded to BBS 2-piece alloy wheels only for the G60 to be stolen from Richmond Hill.
Back home I fitted the four alloy wheels shod with smaller Michelin tyres, removed the rear ‘Driver’ badge with my sister’s hairdryer and dental floss, fitted a factory big bumper conversion (second hand from a same colour GL model), fitted genuine GTI half tinted rear lights (new from local VW dealer at eye watering cost), and installed a Sony Minidisc player (never seen one before or since) with upgraded amplifier, bee sting roof aerial, subwoofer & speakers.
It was a great car. I loved it. Everybody loved it. Great memories.
I loaned the Golf to my girlfriend at the time who to my horror traded it in for a new Peugeot 306 XSi after we broke up.
Thank you Eóin for showing us the real way to reduce one’s carbon footprint. Whatever the motivation for keeping their cars going for so long, the locals have set an example that deserves our applause.
Good to see an unmolested Mk2 Golf GTI, though it evokes uncomfortable memories. Our Mk2 was a pre-owned GTD – the original owner had ordered it in black with alloy wheels and all the extras; until you read the badge it looked for all the world like a GTI, therefore attracting the unwanted attention of every boy racer in the vicinity who wanted to engage in motoring combat with his XR2 or 3. A great shame as it detracted from appreciation of the Golf’s build-quality, durability, economy & reliability. I won’t admit to what replaced it…..
I know what you mean about the Adam (always a Vauxhall here) but it managed to evoke a positive response with younger buyers in my corner of North Derbyshire, attracted by the range of colours available, and a surprising number are regularly seen here still.
But of course the dream machine is the 300SL….. A couple of years ago I was permitted to sit in the driving seat of a gull-wing for a few minutes. Everything fell precisely to hand – perfection! In Ms Safka’s apt words, let’s dream together for the ride…..
Andalucía is a biggish land (almost as big as Portugal) so people, culture and economics can vary a lot. In my city (Sevilla) most old cars are in poor condition, their drivers treat them as mere transportation tools that don´t deserve a little care and attention. Predominant way of thinking is “it´s an old nail, so I´m going to spend as little as I can to keep it running and pass the ITV, and if it breaks down (even something relatively cheap to repair), I´ll throw it away and buy something new, paying 400 euros for the next 72 months”. Cheap loans (until now) and the lack of car culture promote that mindset.
But in other parts of Andalucia people thinks different and tends to keep their cars (and their economy free of debts!) and take care of them. Climate helps, of course, even near the coast, so rust isn´t a problem. As a result it´s possible to see 30+ year old cars running perfectly well.
In the late ´80s a Golf GTI was hot property and very expensive. Even a base Golf was expensive, so a good proportion of all Golfs II sold were GTI 8v/16v. Nowadays they command considerable prices.
It’s nice to imagine this 300SL, driven down from Stuttgart, then parked up against a gate, just like any modern. The term ‘hewn’ is overused in design criticism, but in the case of the Mercedes, not so, even as a roadster. As a child, I had a 1:43 model of the SL, and for some reason even that was far heavier than any of its fellows. Details such as the light units, overriders and wheelarch blisters, when viewed individually could almost seem heavy-handed, but viewed as a whole they are perfect. Or is that just familiarity? If this car arrived today, would we at DTW be hard at work on Photoshop, removing the blisters and straightening the overriders?
You mean you want to make your 300 SL look like this one-off made by AMG for a German industrial magnate?
Dave. I don’t want to make it look like that, what I meant was if you think about ‘improving’ designs too much, that is what they might look like. AMG are also supposed to have restomodded (?) another eleven 300SLs for The Sultan Of Brunei, but at least they left on the blisters.
It takes a certain arrogance (or hubris) to reimagine an acknowledged design classic like this. Cars become beloved and honoured (mostly) for good reasons. This “I could do better” thing leaves me on the shore. It never is. I’m particularly looking at you, Ian Callum and Frank Stephenson.
What people do with their own cars is their own business of course, but for the love of God, keep it to yourselves. That Gullwing shown above is a horror.
This particular gullwing was modified in 1973 and its base was a car from Argentina so badly worn that at that time it would have been thrown away (today it would be restored at all cost).
It had front and rear suspension and modified-by-AMG 4.5 litre V8 with automatic gearbox and air conditioning from a W116 450SE. The originally intended M100 AMG 6.8 would have needed a penthouse on the bonnet and was ruled out.
To make all this fit large clearances in the tube frame were necessary and when AMG wanted to put some tubes back in they found that Thyssen would supply the chrome molybdenum tubes only on batch sizes large enough to convert all existing SLs. In the end they discovered Maico made the frames of their moto cross bikes from the same tube and was willing to supply the necessary material to AMG.
Optical details are to the owner’s pecification and AMG refused all responsibility for them.
I am reminded again of what an ungainly looking contrivance the Mk2 Golf is. At least the example here doesn’t suffer from having the front quarter lights with the door mirrors set well back that the earlier examples did.
How mad is it that the side horizontal feature line that starts at the top of the headlamps ends at the bottom of the rear lamps.
I always found the contemporary Astra much more aesthetically appealing than this dumpy Golf.
Isn´t it a Kadett rather than an Astra at this stage of the Golf´s career. The Astra D ran from 1979 to 1984 and then the E ran from 1984; the Astra first appeared in 1991. Either way, yes, I agree the Kadett was a very pleasant and smooth little customer. The Golf by comparison is rather lumpen and bloated. Both are preferable to the Escort which at this stage was in its Comecon-inspired iteration.
To avoid confusion, the Vauxhall Astra launched in 1980….. Same as the Opel Kadett, except electrics not as good.
It was the Vauxhall Astra E (T-85) when I first saw it at the motor show in 1984.
I think the MK2 Golf has aged surprisingly well. I did not like its looks when it was released, but these days, I find its clean appearance quite nice. Maybe this is because it is such a familiar view, as there probably hasn’t been a street I wandered in the last forty years where no MK2 Golf was to be seen?
I have driven numerous of them in my time, from a super-stripper 55PS three door CL, to Carats and fully loaded GTi 16Vs. All were utterly rational, solid and reliable, nice and satisfying drives. Of the numerous owners I knew (and know), nobody ever regretted the acquisition, which I think says it all. While probably lacking in emotional appeal, the MK2 Golf always struck me as „the 100% car“. It can do any job. No one would, reasonably, ever need anything in a car that the MK2 Golf does not offer.
The 190 is a lovely car. I’m not sure about ‘brittle’ but it did always have this air of “this bodywork is loosely placed on the undercarriage”. Not at all in a way that suggests that it’s flimsy, but the innards and ‘outards’ of the 190 seem seperately defined entities. Its successor is akin to current Mercedes design: so unfussy that it barely registers.
I always thought the E36 was a nice way to modernise the 3 series. It set the template for a few moderately attractive iterations, and quite a few other compact sports saloons aimed at the same buyer.
Next to the Giugiaro original, the Mk2 doesn’t stand a chance for me.
That Adam looks delightful in those colours. Otherwise I think it’s a moderately nice design, not great, not terrible. What I liked most about it was that Opel tried to cash in on the same trend as the Mini and the nuova nuova 500 without going all retro. I found that refreshing, but unfortunately few potential buyers did.
The 300 SL… not much can be said that hasn’t already been said. What an encounter I especially like the fact that they built a transporter out of it:
Hi Tom. Yes the Golf Mk2 was a bit of a dullard in style terms after Giugiaro’s pretty and pert (but frangible) original, but it was a much more durable car, and still good to drive, unlike the porky and flaccid Mk3
I just came across a Mk2; in good nick, steel wheels, only a slightly lowered suspension. It looked nice, especially compared to many overwrought more modern designs.
“Only a native could possibly cast any meaningful light upon this”
Im an an Spanish native.
In Spain “german” means “good”, so german cars command a premium, both in price and in social steem.
As the Opel brand launch motto said “Tecnología alemana a su alcance”:
Opel was (in 1982) german technology, so it had to be good…right?
Some spaniards like me have abandoned the “german = good” mindset and converted to the Japanese Church of durable cars…but the majority of spaniards still think that a german car is “more car”.
Spain ‘s western neighbours felt more or less the same way, the only difference being that we had access to japanese brands since the 60’s.
But trying to enlight the more ir less hidden question on this post, already discussed with Alexander before – why do we on the south seem to buy / have bought less german cars than the northern europeans, especially last century?
Several possible answers were discussed before, só I only Will add a couple more that came to my mind in between :
Spain and Portugal only entered the UE, then EEC, in 1986. Before that, the free european market was a distant reality. So, I guess things like maximum numbers of cars allowed to be imported (contingents, around here) were stricktly negotiated with every foreign country – on the rational basis of that long forgotten reality, the currency rates of each country. Só, German made cars were more expensive
Deutch Marks were more valuable / costly than French Francs or Italian Liras – and our commercial balance had to be protected.
In the end of the century, those of us who adopted the Euro felt the following : Northern europe cars, mostly german, got cheaper (sometimes cheaper than 10 years before) and everything we produced on the South got harder to sell abroad. That may help to explain Fiat’s colapse or Italy’s stagnation since around 20 years ago. And why german branded car sales exploded on southern countries since then.
It also explains, up to a certain degree, why southern europe economies are in dire straits since then, while northern ones keep growing
“At that time I drove a Peugeot 205 GTI, the real successor of the Golf GTI 1.
The Golf GTI 2 was no longer the car everybody wanted to have. That was the Honda CRX or the Peugeot 205 GTI.”
Markus – I had the 205 before the Golf, and wasn’t sorry to see the back of it when the two year lease came to an end. At the time my driving workload was mostly 300-400km motorway journeys and my nerves and hearing were fried by the noise and vibration. The Peugeot was also too “nervous” for that sort of use. I’m sure it would have been pleasurable in the sort of ideal driving roads which appear in helicopter photographs in Boring Boring CAR – that said, when I ventured into remote parts of Scotland, Wales, and Cornwall in the 205, it always felt far too willing to change ends.
The Golf was a good compromise car, usefully faster than most things on the road, but a more relaxed motorway companion. That said, my needs at the time would have been better met by a Sierra or Cavalier. Or a 190E, but that was the stuff of dreams in these days.