Sketches of Andalucía [3]

It’s later than you think.

News broke this week that London’s Ultra Low Emission Zone is now certain to be extended outwards as far as the London Orbital Motorway (M25) which encircles the outer reaches of the metropolitan area, a decision which will be greeted with some dismay amongst certain (older) car owners amid the UK capital when it comes into force next August. And while most can probably agree in principle that a reduction in airborne pollutants is likely to benefit air quality, it will mean that swathes of perfectly serviceable older vehicles will be taken off the roads – or simply shunted out of London entirely.

Similar strictures would decimate the car pool in this part of the Costa del Sol, given what remains in daily use there, but I would posit that it’s only a matter of time before such matters eventually come to pass. But in the meantime, we at least get to enjoy a brief journey into the past, amidst the November sunshine, the balmy sea air, the cerveza and the (by now obligatory) ice cream.

Ah, the 205. Reader, I owned one – a vehicle I most acutely regret allowing to slip through my fingers. These were marvellous little cars, be it the diesel van (which I drove once and enjoyed immensely) or the entry-level 954 cc XE 3-door, also of my acquaintance, or the effervescent 1.9 GTi I owned for five years; all were infused with the same eagerness, precise controls, delicate manners and grace under pressure. Lightweight but not flimsy – slapdash, yet not shoddy, the 205 was an ’80s masterclass. Why wouldn’t they remain a viable transport of delight in this part of Southern Spain?

And so to the 205’s younger, less handsome and slightly more insubstantial brother. One with a marked inferiority complex and no doubt a burning frite upon its shoulder. It’s tempting to imagine the board meeting in Paris when the AX was signed off, Jacques Calvet and his minions at last content that the diminutive Citroen was not only cheaper than the all-conquering Sacré Numero from Sochaux, but a good deal less comely.

A good deal more frangible as well, if the press reports are to be believed, although a few survivors could be found dotted around the streets, which does say something. None in this condition however, which really was of the time-warp variety. Most likely a Spanish, or indeed local dealer special edition, (were any Citroëns of this era not special editions?) this five-door model (an AX 11 if memory serves) looked good for another 30 years – assuming the local authorities agree.

I don’t wish to be mean about the AX – I’m sure it was a charming car, but I could never quite shake the suspicion that it could have been a good deal nicer, had its PSA masters permitted it.

Monsieur le Quément’s masterpiece. Twingos, I found, were everywhere, much to my intense pleasure. There are few modern cars which elicit such immodest joy in my heart than this little Renault – maybe all the more for the fact that we in these damp and often troublesome lands to the West of the French coast were denied the pleasure – and when Renault relented with a second generation, it really wasn’t the same. At all.

It’s a shape and a style of car which, somewhat akin to the original Cinq, hasn’t dated a jot over the intervening years. This was probably the tidiest looking example which made it in front of my camera lens, but these cars were meant to be used and enjoyed, not cosseted.

I will return to the Twingo in greater detail in the new year.

This Renault 4, discovered in a less salubrious part of the town was clearly a much cared for example, if one still parked nose to tail down a narrow side street with the moderns. A late era GTL version, this one sported Clan badging, which perhaps denoted a special edition of some description. Perhaps someone can elaborate? Anyway, always a pleasing sight, if perhaps, dare I say, more to be enjoyed as a work tool than an aesthetic object.

I suspect its 2024 reboot will be none of those things.

One of the many surprises for me during this sojourn was the sheer number of Rovers sighted here. These 45s were by far the most populous, but my keen eye discerned a 600 and several 75s knocking about town as well. Clearly some anglophiles abound, although their patience must be wearing pretty thin these days, not least in terms of parts availability.

This 45 was a saloon, which at least had the benefit of a certain gravity to its appearance, wholly lacking in its five-door equivalent. That, I’m afraid is about as much as I can summon up on the subject. Sorry.

It’s always best to conclude on a more upbeat note, I feel, so while no high-water mark, this Jaguar XK8 appeared right at home amid the November sunlight. As has been pointed out in the past, Jaguars of this stripe do take on a slightly more glamourous character outside of their brooding UK homelands, and while I’m never particularly enthralled to encounter a contemporary X200 S-Type, even they appeared less haplessly awkward to the eye amid the Andalucían Autumnal glow.

Over the years, I’ve softened towards the XK. It remains by far the nicest of the so-called ‘Lawson Jags’, aided by good bones and a lack of visual noise (although that side rub-strip remains a sore point). There are certainly worse ways of traversing the Spanish coastline, but my personal choice in this field of endeavour would not go Coventry’s way.

Perhaps nostalgia is something we should guard against as we get older, but as the hourglass reminds us of how little time is left, we find solace in reminding ourselves of where we’ve been and in certain cases, what took us there. Removing these cars from our streets might ultimately be for our betterment, but with them goes memory. And surely that is a pity.

Author: Eóin Doyle

Co-Founder. Editor. Content Provider.

31 thoughts on “Sketches of Andalucía [3]”

  1. Good morning, Eóin. The once ubiquitous 205 is getting a little thin on the ground in The Netherlands. There are about 5,000 registered. The AX only manages 600 registrations. I have never driven one, but I had a bit of soft spot for the AX. Still, I agree with you it could have been nicer.

    The first generation Twingo is the only older Renault I see around. I’m not a Renault fan, but I’ve always liked the Twingo. R4’s I hardly ever see, it doesn’t have the same fanbase as the 2CV.

    I haven’t seen a Rover 45 in an ages. No wonder, since there are less than 500 registered in The Netherlands. I do see an MG ZS (not the SUV) every now and then, which is even rarer, but that car is local. Now that I type this I wonder how Chris’s MG ZT is doing.

  2. I read a comment on the XK8. Someone was wondering why they only brought out an off-roader version with the tall suspension. All the ones I have seen all seem to sit about two inches/50mm too high- look at the space between the top of the wheel and the wheel arch, both front and rear. I wonder how it happened, the similarly platformed Aston Martin DB7 sits OK.

  3. „Clan“ was the actual model designation for the former Renault 4 GTL (= 1100cc) for the last (I think) 2 years of production. Note the former Renault 4 TL (= 900cc) was dubbed „Savane“ at the same time. Both were some sort of run-off special editions.

    1. Regarding the ’Clan’ moniker – one would have experted the interior to have tartan upholstery. It was indeed chequered, but there are tartan patterns that would have been more significant.

  4. Good morning Eóin and thanks for another interesting selection. The 205 is perfect, especially in five-door form (although others will undoubtedly prefer the three-door). It does make the AX look rather rudimentary and lacking in finesse. Regarding Rover, I recall that they were mystifingly popular in Majorca back in the 1990s. A bit of trivia: the second to last (and best) facelift of the Metro was badged ‘Rover 100’ in Europe, even though it was still ‘Metro’ in the British Isles.

    The XK has aged well, although I agree about the side rubbing strip. I would sooner do without it and risk the car park dings. I could never quite take to the rear bumper treatment either. Given how beautifully integrated the front bumper was, the rear looks like an afterthought. Time to get my crayons out…

    1. Daniel,

      The Metro was called the Rover 100 from the end of 1994 in the UK as well.

    2. Rover sold well in Spain in the ´90s, beggining with the R8 200 series. Before that, in the AR days, Metros/Maestros/Montegos/800 weren´t too popular here.
      People liked them because they looked upmarket but were still affordable. I think that in Italy it happened the same, the cars were stylish and refined and cost just a bit more than the usual Escort/Astra.
      Probably Rover´s image was a lot better here than in the UK.

  5. A pleasant dose of nostalgia here for a Sunday morning. The 205 is surely the best of the genre; I’ve only driven, never owned one. I once took an AX (3-door diesel) from a friend in part exchange for my Fiat Doblo, only expecting to use it for a couple of months. In fact it was such a dependable and likeable beast that it remained in daily use for nearly two years. Yes, it always felt as if something important might fall off or break, but it never did, and unlike a Mk2 Fiesta which I once suffered as a company car, it was always a comfortable drive. AX highly recommended, therefore.
    As for the Renault 4 – my father ran several, after a series of Hillman Imps, and thought they were the best car he ever had. I inherited the last, a Wexford-built GTL, and but for the infestation by tin-worm would be running it still. A brilliant device. Sorry I can’t whip up any enthusiasm for the Rovers or the XK8….

  6. The real star 205 spots in Spain would be the early examples with the Simca Poissy pushrod engine, and the giveaway bonnet bulge. There was a GTX with the 1.6 carburettor engine and a power output not far off the XU engined 1.6GTI.

    1. Early spanish 205s had the Poissy (well, we called them “Villaverde”, after the name of the Peugeot factory in Madrid where they were built) engine; this was phased out in 1988, when the new TU engines arrived.

      The GTX was a pseudo GTI, the Poissy 1.6 produced 94 bhp and was significantly cheaper than the (imported from France) GTI. Not bad at all, but it wasn´t the same…

  7. I loved my AX. It had faults, mostly relating to the quality of interior materials and shockingly poor noise isolation of the exhaust pipe under the car. However, it was a hoot to drive, had a superb gear change, comfy ride and an excellent pace/ efficiency balance mainly down to the nicely judged TU 1124cc engine and super-light weight. I always admired the 205, but the AX seemed more modern, more space efficient and was a damn sight cheaper to buy when new.

    1. That looks better, Daniel. However I am still thinking about an XK8 without a rear bumper. That idea probably wouldn’t pass legislation.

    2. I’ve just noticed how the disliked contrivance refers to the E-Type exhaust.

      However, on some examples the pipe and muffler routing seems to have been handled much more discreetly so it isn’t so prominent from the side view, which makes the reference more puzzling.

      I’d like to think better of Lawson than to imagine him thinking the reference was clever, but apparently somebody did. As there are at least three books purporting to tell the story of X100 (Graham Robson, John Blunsden, Philip Porter), this matter may have been covered, anyone?

    3. gooddog: I have never been sufficiently fascinated by the XK8 to go as far as purchasing a book on its history, but from my experience, Mr. Robson usually did his due diligence.

      My own perception of the rear bumper treatment was that it was shaped this way to cheat the eye; one is not supposed to ‘read’ the bumper, rather the upward taper of the rear bodywork, which indeed references that of the E-Type. I daresay it was also a cheaper solution than anything more integrated, no small matter at the time when Uncle Henry was counting the cents very carefully indeed.

      Having said that, your proposition is entirely plausible.

      The XK was largely the work of Fergus Pollock, with assistance from Keith Helfet. There is a nice story about how Lawson and his team skilfully manipulated the Ford bosses towards their design during a design review, when it was looking as though Ghia’s less comely proposal was going to win through. Once again, skulduggery and guile won the day.

    4. Thanks for your reply Eóin, which has led me to the following images:

      Dearborn proposal.

      Ghia proposal.

    5. The rear looks better, even if it doesn’t “quote the E-Type”.

      I don´t mind the side rubbing strip. At least they took the trouble to make it start in front of the door and run out behind the door.

      For me, the main problem with the XK8 is the position of the rear sidemarker. It’s not level with the one in front and it’s crooked. A really bad detail.

    6. Daniel, I appreciate your attempt, it reminds me that I can’t seem to find what I consider as your MS paint masterwork: the fanciful but fantastic four door XJS (Prince Jefri are you lurking?) Could you please post it again so I may save it to my hard drive?

    7. My guess would be that the Coventry team – maybe all the teams – cheated a little here, and gave their proposals wider sills than the production platform was going to allow. I’ve tried very hard to like this iteration of the XK8, but I can’t: like the E-type, it looks over-bodied to me because of the way the sills taper in towards the bottom. Even the knowledge that this references 40s/50s aircraft practice doesn’t temper my discomfort with it…

    8. I owned 3 versions of the 205 and a Citroen AX, they all were very good cars, modern and reliable with a lot of fun to drive, but different in their characters.

      The 205 was more like a better VW Golf Mk1 (without rust, but with a comfortable ride and a nice interior). Especially the XUD-Diesel was so much better than the Golf Diesel in every aspect. My 205 GTi had red floor carpets and a wonderful sunroof.

      The AX 11 was extremely brisk and frugal, but it was not the best allrounder. Loud with a cheap rattling cabin and the same poor door handles the Twingo has.

      The 205 and the Twingo never needed to be facelifted, the AX could not become more attractive by such methods. That is the difference between these two cars.

      A nice group test with both cars winning against the rest:

      Citroen AX 11RE - Fiat Uno 60 S - Ford Fiesta 1.1 LX - Mazda 121 1.3 LX - Metro 1.0 L - Nissan Micra GSX - Peugeot 205 XL - Renault 5 Campus Vauxhall Nova 1.2 L & Volkswagen Polo C Group Road Test 1989 (1)
    9. I have to echo Michael’s comments: the sills on the E-type and the XK8 let the cars down (in a different way, many modern Hondas have a similar problem, by the way – except the very latest iterations). The E-type, to me, is such a charismatic design that it “gets away with it” (or, like many Citroëns, turns what would otherwise be an esthetic flaw into a strength). The XK8 isn’t as charismatic, although I sort of like it in a “lumbering, likeably excentric British aristocrat” way.

      Markus: you’d be hard pressed to get that many cars of a single segment – especially the B segment – together these days, certainly without having to use a phrase like “get it while you can, because it looks like this’ll be the last generation”. On the other hand, it just forces you to cast a wider net to find something that will fulfill a certain brief.

    10. The most accomplished homage to the E-type’s rear aspect, in my opinion, was this:

    11. Those line drawings are hard to believe. Ford et al. had scores of blokes with the pen skills to draw quick, nice and simple-ish shades sketches. Those kinds of line drawings are more like something from a UK company circa 1970.

  8. Happy to oblige, gooddog, and thank you for your kind words! Original first, followed by SWB and LWB versions of the alternate reality four-door coupé:

    1. Worryingly plausible. Might I suggest swapping the low-profiles for high profile tyres? It makes me think of a nicer-looking later Tatra.

    2. I do feel impelled to point out that the ‘original car’ here is not only on massive, non-original wheels, which unbalance the car and ruin the stance, but also appears to be the ‘hatchback’ conversion, which substituted the sail fairings for a lift-up tailgate.

      Which does lead me to the old saying… if I were you, I wouldn’t start from here…

  9. I think the 205 is actually getting better with age – the design sort of ‘flows’. An overwrought, two and a half tonne, SUV reinterpretation of it must surely be in the pipeline

    It might be the camera angle, but I mistook the Twingo, above, for something like a 2-door Espace when I first saw it.

  10. Rover was reasonably popular in the Netherlands as well, at the end. Honda’s quality injection did them a world of good, especially when both Honda and Rover versions of the first 200 were on the market. The Honda’s fine, but it doesn’t hold a candle to the Rover. I’ve always liked the latter 200/25 a lot too. Something of the second-gen Civic in that car. To me, anyway: we used to be driven around in a second-gen Civic, great car, if a little cramped.

    The 205. Perfection.

    Someone mentioned a few days back that DTW would probably have tried to airbrush the Mercedes 300SL to get rid of all the “superfluous” details. Not so the 205.

    I’ve driven and been driven in an AX, but I was seventeen at the time. Any car looks substantial at that age. I can’t remember too much about it other than “it’s a real car! And I’m at the wheel!” The Citroën Visa that my parents’ neigbours owned left a deeper impression with its satellite dashboard.

    I remember being surprised at the longevity of the Twingo. At first blush it seemed a gimmicky car, but it remained fresh and interesting throughout its considerable life span. A classic from a time when people thought classics didn’t happen anymore.

  11. I’m glad Tom mentioned the Rover 200 series. It was well-loved, both as 200/400 and as 25/45; especially after the facelifted 414 GSi came here. The 214 could have fared much better, though. As for the 216, its sales were abysmal, and I’ll explain why.

    A compact 1.6-liter car made little sense in Greece at the time: back then, cars with engines above 1.4 liters were still hit with heavy income taxes. So, people thought that engines with displacements of 1.6 liters and above were better suited to bigger cars.

    Also, around 1990, French, Italian, Japanese, and Korean (the sedan version of the Excel was particularly full of kit) manufacturers had already started offering pretty good equipment packages for their 1.4-liter cars. Even Renault, whose early 1.4-liter 19s were pretty austere w.r.t. their creature comforts, got the memo and got on the game.

    What did Biamax, Rover’s lamented Greek importer (and once builder of buses and coaches) do? They imported the 214, pre- and post-facelift, only in the rather basic Si trim level, which meant that the only “luxuries” you got as standard equipment were velour seats and a few strips of walnut burl, a polished metal handbrake release knob, and a rev counter. Power windows? Nope. Not even by special order. So, Biamax basically shot this model’s chances at achieving better sales in the groin with a Howitzer round.

    On the contrary, the four-door sedan version, the 414/416, was available in GSi form. Mind you, the 414 GSi sold quite well: all the 414s and 416 (and there were, in fact, far more 414s than 416s on Greek roads) I’ve ever seen were of GSi spec. Obviously, this was rather bizarre and never failed to make me wonder who made such ill-advised decisions and why he hadn’t been summarily sacked.

    Oh well. I suppose we should blame the Evil Lazy Commie Unionists™. As the prevailing and mainstream journalistic narrative about Greece’s industrial and commercial history would have us believe, they were so omnipotent and so hell-bent on destroying Biamax, that they influenced its management into decisions like this.

  12. I had an AX GTi, possibly one of the most foolish automotive purchases you could make in 1990s Australia.
    It was such a frustrating car – superb ride and handling, a clever and well packaged interior combined with traditional Citroen “reliability”.
    Did anyone mention the brakes had a tendency to fail spectacularly?
    My ownership experience came to an end when the brake system dropped its fluid and I ran up the back of a Falcon Ute, destroying the front end. The Falcon took a small ding on the spare tyre hatch.It took six months to get parts and I eventually scrapped it instead.
    I still miss it.

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