The horse and horseless carriage are more connected than we give either credit for. In this second episode of the car’s youthful attraction, we have to step back to the US state of Missouri, 1930. One James Otto Hahs decided to create for his children a most wonderful Christmas gift, a mechanical horse ride. Inventive as he was, Hahs obtained some mohair and a cow’s tail from the local abattoir which he then fashioned over a hand-carved wooden buck, all connected to a mechanism within.
The Hahs children loved their horse ride, as did their friends. Realising its sales potential, he then set to work making a more production friendly and therefore commercially viable version with one key aspect in place – paying for the ride. Carving wood and using real hides was expensive and heavy. Hahs found a way of casting aluminium and using lighter materials for dressing. Teaming up with a distributor earned him 5% of the profits but it would take a score more years for the ride’s true impact – that of the shopping centre.
But when it comes to shifting vast quantities of cars, requiring little human intervention, there’s a company at the very top of the tree. Toyota and VW can claim to make ten million vehicles per year, Mattel’s Hot Wheels shift about the same per week. The name is purportedly to have emanated from the lips of Mattel founder and inventor, Elliot Handler upon observing a prototype whizz by. Considering models from rivals, Matchbox, to be unsatisfactory, Handler wanted not just to Continue reading “Toy Story – One”
Today we will set a modest challenge for you. It might not even be a challenge as inevitably someone will provide the right answer in seconds.
Still, here we go. I had a heck of a job even finding an example of the car to photograph during my three weeks in Dublin this August. Eventually, I saw just two of them, a metallic grey one in Dublin 4 and the one partially shown above, seen in Wexford. Unfortuately for me, at the time I saw the first one I could not Continue reading “Mystery Car”
I know what you’re thinking. This is a somewhat tenuous looking festive scene, more of an excuse for a gratuitous Fitz and Van illustration if honest. Still, there is sufficient quantities of the white stuff on display here to provide ample seasonal cover, so if you’re prepared to Continue reading “Season’s Greetings”
Monsieur Hulot is the creation of Jacques Tati, who in this 1971 film plays a car designer for Altra, a small Parisian manufacturer. Hulot is a tall, greying haired, bumbling yet loveable fool of advancing years. Dressed in a lightweight faded beige overcoat, grey slacks that are too short, revealing yellow socks with black hoops, Hulot’s character is defined by the ever-present furled umbrella on his arm, a never-lit pipe and battered trilby. His walk and general mannerisms are exaggerated, adding further comedic demeanour to the film’s storyline. Hulot rarely speaks and when he does his speech is almost imperceptible.
The film begins within the Renault factory; shots of panels being pressed (one wrinkled door pressing halting the process), tyres on overhead gantries, almost complete Renault 16s followed by a cinemascope of hundreds of completed cars. The film then cuts to the bustling, chaotic Altra atelier. The hapless workforce in paint splattered or filthy overalls aimlessly fuss about, not at all desperate it seems to Continue reading “Trafic”
During the 1970s, when the engineers at Daimler-Benz’s Sindelfingen nerve centre were in the driving seat, Mercedes could be relied upon to do things properly. For if their cars were mostly on the large side – often somewhat heavy-jowled – they were mostly fit for their purpose, whether intended for the commercial trades, for plutocratic conveyance, or simply chariots of the indulgent.
Research and development was key to the three pointed star’s pre-eminence. Mercedes engineers not only worked through what ever technical challenge they were attempting to overcome, but also considered all of the alternatives – frequently going so far as to Continue reading “Big Star”
Sometimes, ideas for DTW contributions can come out of nowhere. While looking up some comparison data for a totally unrelated (automotive) subject, one of the brochures I consulted was of the 1993 Lincoln Continental. 1993 happens to be the year that I visited the USA for the first time – a car brochure exchange partner that I had been sending parcels back and forth with for years had invited me, and the fact that I was welcome to stay at his place in Indianapolis markedly softened the financial impact of the relatively expensive flight.
Rover disinterred the MGB in 1992 to produce the RV8. It was something of an anachronism, but did what was expected of it.
The later chapters in the history of MG sports cars are well known to followers of DTW and do not make for happy reading. Starved of the resources needed to develop proper successors, MG was forced to limp along with only minimal modifications to both the Midget and MGB throughout the 1970s, the most notable being the rubber bumpers and raised ride height(1) introduced in 1974 that ruined both the appearance and handling(2) of the cars.
Both models struggled on in much diminished form until production finally ended in late 1980 with the closure of the MG Abingdon factory. Perversely, it was the commercial failure of the Triumph TR7 sports car that was cited as one reason the MGB had to go, because it was accused of cannibalising sales of the TR7(3). In any event, MG was reduced to Continue reading “No Rest for the Deceased”
Three brochures for the X1/9 illustrate Fiat’s differing marketing approaches.
Editor’s note: This piece was first published on Driven to Write on march 1st, 2017.
Despite having an instantly recognisable house style, FIAT Auto’s 1970s brochures were often rather stark looking affairs. Studio shots, no background and just the facts. For an economy hatchback or suchlike, there was an element amount of logic to this approach, but for what many dubbed a Ferrari in miniature, it risked underselling what was at the time a unique proposition.
Conceived to replace the popular Fiat 850 Sport Spider, the 1972 X1/9 would prove long lived. Claimed figures vary but at least 160,000 were produced over a 17-year lifespan. The story goes that faced with the likelihood of FIAT taking production of the 850 Spider’s replacement in-house, Nuccio Bertone pushed for a mid-engined concept, ensuring that his business would Continue reading “Midship Triptych”
The subject of today’s text represents the very epitome of the overlooked combined with invisible. Perhaps that could be a bit unfair.
About 32 years ago the E100 iteration of the Corolla sprang into the world, the seventh generation of Toyota’s workhorse, butter-and-bread mainstay. It carried over a lot of the more angular predecessor, but in a more rounded and contemporary form. This allowed customers to Continue reading “A Holly Blue for Me and For You”
Opening a new coffee jar should be a pleasant experience
September 2022 saw the millionth electric powered vehicle registered in the UK. According to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), practically a quarter of a million leccies were registered in the same year. Consider that the overall year to date figures includes over 85,000 hybrids of one form or another, along with 91,000 petrol driven machines. Favourite of old, diesel, mustered just over 10,000 sales, a sign of the times when overall sales are expected to encroach on 1.4 million cars for the year.
The UK’s top spot has been a race between the Liverpudlian Vauxhall Corsa and Newcastle’s Qashqai – 29,000 units each with the bronze headed to the blue oval’s Puma, an increasingly popular sight, especially in lime green.
Mike Hawes, SMMT Chief Executive observed, “September has seen Britain’s millionth electric car reach the road, an important milestone in the shift to zero emission mobility. Battery electric vehicles make up but a small fraction of cars on the road, so we need to ensure every lever is pulled to Continue reading “Fika Off*”
The Autumn leaves were still carpeting the streets as the motor show stands were being dismantled at the Torino Esposizioni. November 1968 found Nuccio Bertone a worried man. Having grown his business substantially, not simply as a design consultancy but also as a contract manufacturer, Gruppo Bertone, like all satellites orbiting amid Italy’s car industry during this fecund period, was heavily reliant upon the patronage of the domestic OEM manufacturers, and in particular, the Jovian mass of FIAT SpA.
The source of Nuccio’s concern was the advent of Turin carmaker’s new for 1969 128 model. This technically advanced front-wheel drive saloon, enthusiastically received by press and buying public alike, would become a core model line, and spearhead FIAT Auto’s efforts to Continue reading “Small Wonder”
An unlikely but effective pairing that was sadly short-lived.
Had Carroll Shelby ignored Lee Iaccoca’s advice, he might have amassed even greater financial wealth. In the latter half of the 1960s, Shelby, the gritty Texan and former racecar driver, was approached by Toyota of America and offered the company’s distributorship for his home state. Shelby’s auto business was certainly in those days relatively small in scale and to represent a foreign carmaker with big plans would be no small undertaking. Consequently, Shelby thought it wise to consult his friend, Lee Iaccoca, to see what he thought of the idea. Iaccoca’s advice was to Continue reading “Shelby’s Oriental Fling”
In a recent piece on the Austin Healey ‘Fright’, DTW Author, Robertas Parazitas made an interesting observation. “In the post-war period, and long after, Britain was a nation of tweakers, tinkerers, fixers and improvers …. I would contend that it was a practical manifestation of the democratic intellect of the nation’s people, most particularly young working men who would enthusiastically Continue reading “Are You Sure You Know What You’re Doing?”
Lovely to look at and not without merit, but the market was moving on.
If one could distil and bottle the very essence of French middle-class conservatism and respectability, the label on the bottle would undoubtedly read ‘Peugeot’. Over its long and illustrious history, the French automaker’s products were well-engineered, durable, rational and sensible above all else. Peugeot was not a company given to flights of fancy or wilful self-indulgence. Even its coupé models were characteristically understated and practical conveyances. All apart that is, from the car we are examining today.
The Peugeot RCZ was first unveiled in June 2007 as the 308 RCZ Concept alongside Peugeot’s newly minted 308 production models. The RCZ was designed to be an image-builder for the mainstream C-segment hatchback and estate, and the 308 was a car that certainly needed some help as far as image was concerned – for it was an unfortunately flaccid and over-bodied looking thing, aesthetically inferior in every way to its better looking 307 predecessor. The RCZ was shown alongside the 308 at the latter’s formal launch at the Frankfurt Motor Show in September 2008. Critical reaction to the 308’s styling was mixed to say the least, but the RCZ received widespread acclaim. Continue reading “A Lovely Frock, but Late to the Party”
From Motor Enthusiast, October 1976. Photos by Edward Blayliss. Owing to the excessive lens flare of the original photography, stock images have instead been used.
Editor’s note: This period review was originally published on DTW in November 2013.
It’s quite peculiar to review a car that already exists. As the only motoring writer in Britain who has been permitted to officially test drive Bristol’s new four-seater, the 603, I can reveal Ferrari’s 400 GT (an evolution of the previous 365 GT4 2+2) is the same car but worse. Far be it for me to criticise the long, hard lunches put in by Mr Ferrari’s assistants, but the 400 GT is a rather poor show. And Bristol’s car, despite its slightly brash Chrysler lump, trumps the 400 GT in every major respect.
The author recalls his ownership of a far from perfect but still charming MG Midget.
Although I couldn’t have known it at the time, moving to London in the spring of 1986 would prove to be a major landmark in my life. I had spent the previous two years working in Belfast but for compelling reasons, both professional and personal, I decided that, at the tender age of 25, it was time for me to strike out on my own and see if I could make a life for myself in one of the world’s great cities.
My arrival in London was, to say the least, inauspicious. I pitched up in a hired Austin Montego estate car, packed to the gunwales with all my worldly possessions. A friend had kindly offered me lodgings while I arranged something more permanent. I had already secured a job, working for one of London’s blue-blooded merchant banks. Unlike my job in Belfast, this did not come with the benefit of a company car, so that was an immediate priority for me. Continue reading “Small, but a Big Personality”
Best get this beast out the room, sharpish. A mere four years ago, Renault’s international plans were expectantly grand. A car was co-developed, launched and expected to sell in large quantities within the French car maker’s then second largest market, Russia. As part of the Renault Drive the Future plan, Arkana was all set to bolster figures in that region alone by some half a million units. Plants in both the capital and at Togliatti geared up for a 2019 Russian release, with the rest of the world to follow soon after.
In May 1974, the little sports car we all still called the Spridget reached its sixteenth birthday. Its presents were belated by a few months, not arriving until October, and were of the sort that a polite mid-teenager might outwardly welcome with smiling gratitude, while being internally aghast.
Its in-house rival – perhaps, in teenage-speak, its frenemy – gifted a new engine. Newness was a relative term in this case. The Triumph SC engine originated with the 1953 Standard 8, Standard-Triumph’s deservedly successful response to the Austin A30 and Morris Minor. Like the completely unrelated Austin A series, it had started out with a mere 803cc, but had the space to Continue reading “Elemental Spirit Part 7: Molestam Senectutem”
Weird wipers, helium gas gyroscope-operated early navigation systems and a horny knob: welcome to Japan.
For a westerner or gaijin, visiting a big city in Japan for the first time is at first a mildly confusing experience (as well as an often amusing one) filled with sensory delights in many senses of the word. Strolling outside the familiar surroundings of your internationally styled hotel, it doesn’t take long to discover that this is a different world; high tech and traditional values and customs go hand in hand, thereby creating a unique atmosphere.
Marque iconographies can be somewhat unhelpful at times. Being so one-dimensional, it often requires an effort of will in the observer to see outside of their often-rigid narratives. The mythology surrounding Ferrari for example has become so infused by images of crimson-red racing cars and strumpet-Berlinettas that it is possible to neglect the fact that the less strident grand turismo was an intrinsic part of Maranello’s arsenal, almost from the outset.
Indeed, such machines were once the Scuderia’s primary source of income, and the primary means by which the racing cars were funded. Nevertheless, the road-going Ferraris occupied only as much of Enzo Ferrari’s thinking as was strictly necessary. He had them built, his wealthy customers would purchase them at suitably eye-watering prices and that was that. The Commendatore condescended to Continue reading “Maranello Old Master.”
Concluding the story of the BMW E12-generation 5 Series.
The new 5 Series received a generally positive if not euphoric reception from the automotive press. With its 2-litre four-cylinder engine, it was not powerful enough, even in fuel-injected form, to exploit fully the capabilities of its chassis, and the engine itself was somewhat lacking in refinement when pushed hard.
BMW answered these criticisms in 1973 with the introduction of the 525. This was fitted with a straight-six SOHC engine with a capacity of 2,494cc which produced maximum power of 143bhp (107kW). Stiffened front springs and a thicker anti-roll bar were fitted to counter the extra weight of the engine. The 525 was fitted with disc brakes on all four wheels. Power steering and a limited-slip differential were now on the options list. Badging apart, the only external identifier for the new model was a subtly different bonnet: the 525 had a slightly raised centre section instead of the slightly indented section on the 520.
Car Magazine published its first impressions of the 525 in October 1973 and these were very positive: “the sheer performance was predictable, but the smoothness, flexibility and sweetness of [the] package was more of a surprise. It will potter along at very low speeds in top, rarely needs anything lower than third once on the move and will storm to over 120mph with beguiling ease.” The reviewer went on to Continue reading “Der Fünfer (Part Two)”
We are looking an E-body car, a twelfth generation Cadillac Eldorado.
With the benefit of hindsight and also seen at the time, the transformation of the 1986 Eldorado into the 1991 really must have been a socker. For almost twenty years the Eldorado sported a formal, near-vertical rear window. Then in 1991 Cadillac asked its customers to Continue reading “Savannah Postcard (5)”
If the casual reader was to view the previous posts in this series as a barometer of the local vehicle population in this part of Southern Spain, they might be forgiven for believing that people here were trapped in some bizarre thirty-year time warp. In fact, modern machinery by far outweighs the old timers, as one might reasonably expect.
Cars are expensive for a reason. When shelling out the hard-earned one expects the thing to function, which calls for a punishing test regime to iron out defects. Nothing new there but almost forty years ago, plans were afoot to structurally place aluminium in a car almost at the end of its production life – introducing the Bertone built X1/9.
Wishing to demonstrate proof of concept, Canadian company Alcan turned to Bertone to produce five replica models in what would appear to be a drive towards using the ever-abundant silvery grey material. However, your author could not Continue reading “Atomic Element 13”
The most prolific period for Spridget engine transplants was the 1970s. By then there was a good supply of second-hand Midgets and Sprites cheap enough for experimentation, and a far broader range of suitable engines. Fiat twin-cams were a popular choice, available cheaply from rotten or written-off 124s and 125s, and often with the added attraction of a five speed gearbox. In the USA and Australia, some Japanese engines found favour, including the twin rotor Mazda 12A. In Britain, the Ford Kent variants were the default choice, plentiful and easily fitted, with far more power than could be cheaply and reliably extracted from an A-series.