Changing Perspectives

The passage of time is not always enough

Image: the author

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.

I would return the favour a few years later; being the same age and sharing at least one major interest, this was often repeated, and we never failed to have a good time. In more ways than one, the USA was a new experience for me. As far as the brochure collecting hobby was concerned, I was especially impressed by the fact that most dealerships were open seven days a week (at least the showrooms were, which was the only thing that mattered to us) and did not close their doors until 9PM. But I digress.

As I leafed through that 1993 Continental brochure, a beautiful two-page spread that caught my eye at the time depicted the then current Continental together with a model of 1963 vintage. Then as now, that 1963 Continental was deservedly a bona-fide design classic. A question arose in my mind however: the Engel Continental was a classic in 1993 and remains so in 2022. But would (I know this is technically a moot point as the Continental was discontinued in 2020) a current Lincoln Continental brochure portray a 2023 car alongside a 1993 Continental?

The brochure spread that lead to this article. All images: The author

That seems unlikely. I’d venture there’s a far greater chance the 1963 car would be called up for model duty once again. Nevertheless, another thought went through my mind was the perception of what makes a car a classic design – whether it is related to the age of the vehicle itself and its intrinsic styling merit but also to that of the person viewing it?

Would someone thirty years my junior consider the 1993 Continental a classic, yet its sixties predecessor simply too old (hat)? If you know the sixties’ Continental only from static displays in museums and look-but-don’t-touch classic car gatherings but have vivid memories of its nineties’ brethren wafting along – possibly even as a passenger or driver – I can see how the lack of any tangible, real world connection could result in a different opinion.

Expanding on this, let’s examine whether the same applies to a selection of other cars, using similar 1963-1993-2023 hardpoints as a template. Scouring the automotive spectrum has resulted in twenty-five trios. A few of these are, like the Lincoln example that sparked this idea, technically moot since the model, or in some cases even the brand itself, does not exist anymore.

There are four possible verdicts for each set: (1) Still works, (2) Will work for some, (3) Not bad but hardly in the same league, and (4) Does not work. I realise it may in some cases be difficult to choose between (2) and (3); if this is the case simply choose (2/3). To recap, the question posed is this: in each of these examples, the 1963 specimen absolutely possesses the star quality required for a suitable backdrop to the 1993 model. But would that same successor still cut the mustard for a joint appearance with its 2023 equivalent?

Over a 25-year timespan (1978-2003) Lincoln kept returning to the classic Continental Mark II.

I’m sure – and frankly expect as much – there will be virtually unanimous agreement on some candidates, but vehement disagreement with others. Whatever the results may be, they should hopefully provide some insight in what works for whom and why. Revealing your age when commenting may also show if the generation you are part of is a factor; I was born in 1965.

Please bear in mind that the following reflects my personal opinion and only serves to invite comments – be they agreements, corrections or rebuttals. As they say in automotive terms: YMMV[1].

Category 1

Image: Porsche AG and 4starclassics

Image: BMW AG and theparking.eu

 

To the ones that would still work very well indeed first. To be honest, I do not expect too many disagreements on these. Experienced sportscar manufacturers Porsche and Ferrari enjoy the luxury of a mostly well stocked back catalogue of appealing ancestors, while BMW’s disciplined adherence to certain sacrosanct styling elements[2] ensured that the E34 5 series was also an absolutely worthy candidate. Finally, Renault demonstrates that a car does not need to be expensive or exclusive to qualify – the original Twingo makes a statement as compelling as that of the classic Quatrelle.

Citroen and Fichasmotor.com

Teetering on the brink between 1 and 2 are two very dissimilar vehicles. Personally, I’d like to classify the Citroën XM as a (1) but logic (or is it sanity?) prevents me from doing so. It works for me, but I also know it just never was quite the car it should and could have been. Of course, it’s hard to match up to a car as seminal as the DS, if only the CX were still in production in 1993.

Image: Alphacoders.com

For me, the Bentley Continental R falls between the two stools of classic olde world handmade luxury, and the equally beautifully crafted but too often rather vulgar middle and far East oriented recent models. Just because of that, one might say it’s a perfect (1) but I’m not so sure, hence my (1/2) verdict.

Category 2

Image: Pinterest and Corvsport.com

For diehard Chevrolet Corvette aficionados, any historical Corvette (apart perhaps from the limp-wristed California only 305 cubic inch version of 1980) will do for an old versus new photoshoot. In this case it would have to be a C4 Corvette, which is a respectable representative of the breed although not with quite the historical clout the split window Sting Ray still possesses.

Image: Volvo

I remember the 850 as the first Volvo sedan of which I found the styling palatable. In hindsight it’s an interesting stylistic bridge between the resolutely square, bulky 1980s cars and the more organic designs that broke cover in the decade thereafter. Therefore, it works for me, but some may deem it not significant enough, and prefer to replace it with the classic 240 which is also eligible, since it was in its final year of production in 1993.

Image: The author and Ford

When the Ford Sierra was introduced, it was a daring aesthetic shock compared to the conservative Cortina/Taunus. By 1993 however, the Sierra’s best days were behind it and was copied and bettered by competitors in several aspects, so was it still a plausible candidate for a photoshoot at that point in its life?

Category 3

Image: Mercedes-Benz and Wallpaperup.com
Image: Brabus.com and Drive-my.com

Thoroughly engineered, impressive cars they may have been, but both Mercedes-Benz entrants – the W140 S600 and R129 SL – cannot in my opinion hold a candle to their grandparents of three decades before, although having said that, today I’d prefer either a W140 or R129 to any of the current Stuttgart fare.

Image: Thespeedjournal.com and One2car.com

Moving on to Browns Lane. A charming car it will always be, but the greying-at-the-temples late XJS falls slightly short on several fronts when parked next to a Series One E-Type – itself not perfect either but saved by those virtually unanimously loved lines.

It’s a pity that production of the series III Jaguar V12 ended in November 1992. If it had continued that would have been an easy (1) for me, but we must make do with the XJ40 instead. As with the XJS, it’s certainly a likeable car, but it’s just too compromised and clumsy in too many areas (not least of which some design and styling solutions) to score better than a (3).

Image: Duttongarage.co.uk and Pinterest

Instead of the MK X, an S Type or MKII could also have been shown and although the deficiencies of these cars notwithstanding, this wouldn’t have influenced my opinion.

Image: Pinterest and Idnes.cz

Fiat is a bit of an unusual case. I can envision the current 500 and its immediate predecessor figuring in some far away publicity effort, but the nineties Cinquecento has a much lower cuddlyness factor, let alone the original nuova 500.

Image: St Louis car museum and Balmoraluk.com

It had all the trimmings expected of it, but to my eyes the 1980-1997 Rolls-Royce Silver Spirit represents a somewhat flaccid period in terms of styling and image of the marque. The old Silver Cloud certainly wasn’t flat in any way, and neither is the current Phantom – which is not to say I’m a fan of either car.

Image: Classicdigest.com and Classiccarsforsale.co.uk

Lotus endured, or rather had to endure, a period where it was not in charge of its own destiny in terms of design and engineering choices which resulted in the stubby Isuzu engined, FWD Elan of the nineties. Considering the limitations under which it was conceived it was a good effort, but it has not made for a classic Lotus in my opinion.

Category 4

Image: The author and Autodata.net

Even the best slip up sometimes, and the third generation Volkswagen Golf is a good example. Slightly flabby styling, an unconvincing quality impression compared to previous (and later) generations and a disappointingly lukewarm GTI – although the VR6 would partly make up for that. Volkswagen would likely rather showcase the Golf IV in any old and new comparison publicity.

Image: Veikl.com and Maserati SpA

Moving on to the new Maserati GranTurismo / Folgore. That the 1963 Mistral deserves its spot on many a list of marque highlights is something I trust most will agree with, and it would not look out of place in a joint photoshoot with the latest model but move the clock forward three decades and the AM336 Ghibli appears before your viewfinder. In this author’s opinion, that Gandini-updated Biturbo is just not a satisfying car by Tridente standards and thus not worthy of a booking for the photographer’s studio in 2023.

Moot

Finally, we arrive at the category that for some will re-ignite feelings of sadness and possibly even disgust at their ultimate destiny: the moot examples.

Image: SAAB and Classicdriver.com
Image: Volvo

Wouldn’t the last of the original SAAB 900s, had its maker survived, have made an excellent companion for a joint photoshoot with its 2023 successor? Alas, it was not meant to be. Volvo on the other hand is still very much alive courtesy of its Chinese owner Geely, although the attractive C30 has been dropped. Were there still a C30, its Dutch-designed and built 480 forebear would have been a suitable companion in the publicity effort.

Image: Autobella.it and Topclassico.com
Image: Italclassics.com and Carfolio.com

Neither Lancia and Alfa Romeo are currently in the best of health, and in hindsight the rot may have already set in thirty years ago. That might explain why neither the Lancia Thema nor the Alfa Romeo type 916 Spider possess anywhere near the star quality of their 1963 equivalents and why there are no current successors to either.

Image: GM and Hagerty.com

The Lincoln Continental has already been dealt with, but its GM compatriot, the Buick Riviera comes off just as underwhelmingly when jumping from 1963 to 1993. It’s a clear (4) for both, I’m afraid.

Image: Hagerty.com and Reezocar.com

Last but not least, Rover. Fresh on the roads in 1963 the modern, advanced P6 2000 was one of the late carmaker’s great cars. The 800, co-developed with Honda, could have been but was not – and the later facelifted versions lost the crisp, linear styling of the original for good measure.

I will be most interested to read your opinions.

[1] Your Mileage May Vary.

[2] Well, at least up to a few years ago.

Author: brrrruno

Car brochure collector, Thai food lover, not a morning person before my first cup of coffee

33 thoughts on “Changing Perspectives”

  1. Good morning, Bruno. What a great topic for today. I agree with almost all your opinions here, with probably one exception.

    The R129 is a probably the last proper Benz, but it has always looked utilitarian to me. I would put it in category 4, well maybe 3/4. BTW, I adore the W113 looks.

    I wonder if there’s a photo of the first generation Toyota Century in the brochure of the current iteration.

    BTW, I was born in 1974, but not into a ballroom.

  2. Hello brrrruno. You may not be aware that Lincoln is currently promoting its “Star” concept with an ad campaign that presents a number of historic highlights of the marque — I would guess selected by young people who did a quick bit of research rather than car lovers like us: a 1932 KB, a 1940 Zephyr (appallingly misspelled when the campaign launched, and not the original Continental one might have suggested), a 1956 Continental Mark II (good), a 1964 Continental (instead of the original 1961 model), a 1979 Town Car, and a 2021 Aviator. I see this ad campaign occasionally on the web edition of The New York Times and it probably runs on other sites as well. Clicking “learn more” brings a more elaborate set of web pages with additional selections of older Lincolns: https://www.lincoln.com/100-anniversary/

  3. For me the XM belongs in category (4).
    If there was a category (5) ‘it was clear that it would never work but they did it nevertheless’ then it would belong there.

  4. Good morning Bruno. What an interesting exercise. Here are my thoughts, for what they’re worth.

    I agree with all your verdicts in Category 1. The 911 in particular has been expertly curated over its many generations. The only exception was the flaccid looking 996 generation model (and its 986 Boxster equivalent) with the ‘fried egg’ headlamps. The successor 997 (and 987) generation marked a strong return to form.

    In Category 2, I would actually rate the Sierra as more significant than the slightly Chintzy looking Taunus, although it would be honours even had you chosen the Cortina Mk1 instead, when the pair would have been Category 1 for me. I know the Sierra was technically a dead-end, but it anticipated and influenced a whole generation of more organic and rounded cars that followed in the 1990s.

    In Category 3, I think you’re being a bit harsh on the W140 (Category 2 in my estimation) and especially the R129 (A beautiful car with real substance, Category 1 in my book). However, I acknowledge that my opinion might be coloured by the stylistic tat that followed both.

    With regard to the Mk X vs the XJ40, both are very far from Jaguar’s best work, the former being a bit of a whale, so neither is deserving of classic status.

    The 500 vs Cinquecento would be a Category 2 pairing, with the latter having a simple charm of its own.

    No arguments about your Category 4 pairings, apart from perhaps the Elam, although a FWD lotus cannot be regarded as a classic, even if it was rather pretty.

    As regards the moot pairings, the Saab 99/900 is every bit as classic and enduring a design as the 93/96, so Category 1 for me.

    1. Daniel, Your post confirms that is worth to read to comments before placing new, as there will be two almost same otherwise. I agree with Your points, especially where You defend R129 and W140. If this roadster, probably much better expression of tour de force attitude as it was packaged in more decent manners than limousine, is not worthy to hold the candle, I do not know, what else should be. The car looked modern in its time and still looks great today, was technically advanced even ten years later, drives superbly by all means and was made to stay for ages. Then in all aspects it stands tall against W113, here bit more, here bit less, but overall seriously convincing. From time to time, I just wonder, if that lack of expressed passion for this model in the community does not come from simple envy – as it is so good objectively, and it is three pointed star, what others simply are not, that almost nobody else have a chance. Something like great looking, but also well educated, decently mannered and funny girl is for other girls, if You know what I mean. So, I find its place in category 1 (other girls will excuse, as there is nothing impolite in this honesty).

    2. Then, W140, but rather V140 as W stands for short wheelbase, which really is not a one to go for with this model, is, what it was meant to be probably – one, which has brought W100 technical domination and imposant presence to regular S-Class, what counts especially with V12. Objectively, there is not so much to criticise aside that lower payload (as mechanical odometer and rear antennas helping with parking were both replaced not so long after by better resolved and better working solutions than those of rival offerings, not mentioning the xenon lights, which were really enlightening the road, not just lighting). But by what it takes ground to its own compared to W100, respectively its M100 V8, is that M120 V12 (which is also a bit fun to admire, as it looks pressed into the engine bay, even with the car titanic dimensions). Be well aware of how desperate is that V12 from BMW, not even to mention the living fossil V12 from Jaguar, this is really hard to beat. There is just so much technical finesse reflecting enormous development capacities, so much power, yet restricted with upcoming emission norms in mind (we will leave that fuel mixture enrchment affair aside now; and let´s do not forget the fun of idea to have a more than 7 litre engine from AMG, Brabus, Lorinser and Renntech) and both supported by admirable robustess and longevity (we will leave those eco-cables insulation issues aside, as these are just engine accessories and were fixed properly). If to somebody, this car could be compared to that self-confident guy, who is, quite unfortunatelly for others, so good, that he does not have to take care about opinions of anybody else about him (what, I guess, was kind of a posture wanted to be expressed by its customers at the time). While guys space is all about comparing each other and challenge with others, the reason, why this car is hated, at least partially without doubts, in my opinion, is the simple fact there is not much space for challenge left – You already feel defeated before the match starts (what was also part of the posture appreciated by some of the customers at the time, I assume). Sure, with this attitude, it does not could suit everybody (and it did not suited then, that is sure), but it does not mean it is overall a lesser car (even compared to W100). So I agree with You, that its place is in category 2 (guys will not excuse, probably, but they keep the respect).

  5. Nissan Z car would be a 1, but to the detriment of the current model. How could the Nissan we know today compete with the confidence and technical excellence of 90s-peak Japan?

  6. Fascinating. I wonder how a 2023 vs 1993 comparison might shape up, where such comparison is possible in view of the current automotive landscape.

    Perhaps I’m not of sound mind as I’m inclined to regard the 1993 Golf much more favourably than its 2022/3 equivalent.

  7. A fine distraction when I should be doing other things – thanks, Bruno! Can’t really disagree with your groupings (of course the Saab pair should be group 1) but the Rovers sent me off at a slight tangent. Pair the final 75 (before they messed about with the grille) with the P4 75 (1952 grille, not the cyclops) and you have probably the only retro-look that actually works – and IMHO group 1. Should I get my coat….?

  8. What a fantastically interesting article. Random thoughts:

    Would the Golf have been in so low a category if it were the Mk 2 (available 2 years earlier) or the Mk 4 (5 years later)? I think you allude to this, but generational aberrations will have a big impact on this kind of study.

    I would put the R129 Merc SL in a higher category, as I would also do if the W201 or W124 were part of the comparison. The W140 S-Class was however a rare miss from Sacco’s team. Their 80’s output was sublime, but are they seen as less “special” because they have become so normalised, so ubiquitous and (subtly) influential?

    The way different generations see older products is fascinating. I was born in 1982 but I think the sheer weight of 1950s-1980s culture and design as I was growing up colours the way I see things. I think that postwar period is maybe given more weight by my generation, as the first time certain aesthetics had been explored within particular industries (car design, graphic design, music etc) before retro culture (and revisiting this postwar period) became more prevalent after slowly growing through the 70s/80s/90s. However when my 6 year old son saw an (unremarkable, to me) late 90s W210 Merc E-Class driving along, he exclaimed “look at that old Mercedes!”. Perhaps his generation’s views won’t be as coloured as mine by a sense of “the long 20th century”. Which is probably a good thing for moving culture forward.

    One last thought… which cars of today will be seen as worthy classics in 2053?

    1. Morris Marinas, Oxfords and Maxis, Mk1 Escorts and early Beetles are now seen as ‘classics’, so my guess is ‘ Anything that has survived’.
      I still can’t understand why so many quite ordinary cars of the same era, like Mk1, 2, and 3 Cortinas, or MGBs are worth more than Rover P6s.

  9. What an interesting topic, Brrrruno! I’m not sure I understand the 1 to 4 rating criteria, so I’ll just mention two thoughts that I’ve had for years now and that sprung to mind after I read the article:

    1. I think the great divide here is plastic, as in plastic bumpers and interior. To me it’s hard to call a plastic-bumper car a classic, even if there are many out there with well over 40 years of existence. Rather than “classic”, I’d call them “vintage”. That’s why it’s hard to picture an imaginary 2023 Lincoln brochure featuring a 1993 Continental.

    2. It scares me to realize how fast time flies when I think about my favorite 1990s cars being 30 years old already. Another thought: when I was a teenager we had a 1984, 20th anniversary Ford Mustang at home. Now a 20 year old Mustang would be a 2002 model. Hardly old in my book.

  10. Great game this. I think the XM is about right, as I have seen it used in recent Citroën brochures. But, would they really try to draw a lineage between the C5 X and the XM? Surely the XM would only serve to highlight how far the new car has fallen from the DS’s tree.

    The Cinquecento, much as I am a fan, does not provide the connection FIAT wants to it’s latest generation 500 (the somewhat underwhelming EV), it will always default to the Nuova 500 on which its design is based.

    Renault is about to go all retro too with its 5 and 4 EVs (both concepts are cause for concern), so the 1993 equivalents won’t be fit for purpose either soon, which will put the delectable Twingo into category 4.

    The Sierra is a 4 in my book, especially of that vintage. An early example (too old now) might stack up.

    1. As Fiat’s rivals begin are now using 70s/80s cars for retro inspiration (Renault with the 5, Hyundai with the Pony), in a decade’s time might we see the 50s/60s 500/Mini “look” go out of fashion? If, as rumoured, the new “Panda” (or whatever it is named) draws heavily from the 1980 car, perhaps we could see cars harking back to the Uno and, eventually, the ’91 Cinquecento?

  11. Hi Bruno.

    Interesting article, though unfortunate that you chose to limit it to an exact year, instead of to a decade, which would have given you greater scope for fair comparisons. You acknowledge this yourself, with the demise of the Jaguar XJ12 Series Three being 1992. I’m going to concentrate on the cars I have either owned or wanted, as I have more knowledge/interest in those marques. I’ll start with Jaguar, as I’ve owned more of them than any other car, and they are my favourites really, even though I’ve always had a passionate desire for a Bentley too.

    Taking the XJ40 comparison with the Mark X, as an example, it would have been far fairer to compare the 1968 Series One XJ with the 1995 X300 XJ. Even keeping to your temporal constrictions though, I think it a little unfair that you used the square headlight version of the XJ40. The more traditional 4 headlight version looked much nearer the mark.

    It’s amazing how much difference a small detail can make. Heaven knows why they made the square headlight version, but I suspect that Jaguar, along with Rolls-Royce, were both influenced by American designs of the period, with America being a big market for both Rolls-Royce and Jaguar.

    Although I probably wouldn’t buy another XJ40 now, because it’s so 1980s, and because of what came after it, in the 1990s & 2000s, it’s still a rating 2 for me, and I know plenty of people who it still works for, both in the ratings parlance, and in terms of reliability, as they were very well-engineered. I’ve had two of them – a 3.6L & a 4.0L – a 4 headlight and a square headlight respectively. No prizes for guessing which one I preferred the look of!

    All that being said, Jaguar themselves seem to have agreed with you, such that the revised X300 XJ for 1995 did hit the spot stylistically, and if we have to keep to a ***3 formula for the year, then the X350 XJ for 2003 was every bit as superb an incarnation as the Mark X, or better, the original Series One XJ, which was itself a stylistic improvement over the Mark X. Such a pity the X350 XJ only lasted until 2009. N.B. I include the face-lifted X358 in the X350 range.

    For me, both the X300 and the X350 XJ models would be rating 1, to the point where my immediately previous car was an X300 Sovereign 3.2L straight-six from 1995, and my current car, which I plan to keep for as long as is humanly possible, is an X350 XJ6 3.0L V6 from 2004.

    Indeed, I’ll rate the X350 XJ as 1#, where the # is for being the best of the affordable & usable classic cars, as it’s reasonable to purchase, reasonable to maintain & repair, very reliable, has just enough modern accoutrements to be a practical everyday car, along with a luxuriant interior, not to mention incredibly comfortable, and is of course stunningly beautiful, both outside & inside. In short, it’s a lovely place to be, and it turns heads too.

    By the way, in my view, the modern S-Type would have made the mark, versus the original S-Type. I’ve had one of these, and it was a fabulous car, not to mention very stylish, even sexy, as my girlfriend put it. Rating 1 for me.

    If only the cars produced by Jaguar since the S-Type & X350 XJ had any of the style that those models had, but sadly they haven’t, with the exception of the F-Type & XK models. The last XJ – the X351 – might make it as a future classic, as the interior is fantastic, and it’s certainly a very well-engineered car, but if it does, it won’t be for an XJ family look, as the departure was absolute. However controversial the looks of the XJ40 were, at least it had that.

    As for the XJS, I’ve actually not had one of these, but I would say that the open-top version with the 4 headlight treatment, has to be the best-looking model, as indeed the open-top E-Type looked far better than its hard-top version, and the open-top XJS also stacks up better against the open-top E-Type, than when comparing the hard-top versions. I think the open-top XJS was around in 1993, but I could be wrong about the exact year. Rating 1 for the open-top; rating 2 for the hard-top.

    For Rover, although the 800 was actually a good car, especially the 2.7L V6 version, and it did look good, at least for the fashions of the day, I do tend to agree with you on it, but I also think that the later 75 did make the grade stylistically. I can’t quite make my mind up on rating the 800. It’s certainly no less than a 3, but also no more than a 2, so I’ll rate it 2/3. I say this, having had three 827 SLi models, so I did like them! The 75 on the other hand, which I actually never owned, rates as a 1 for me.

    Lastly, I personally think that the 1991 to 2003 Bentley Continental R was one of the finest cars they ever made, and just as beautiful as the 1963 S3 Continental. Rating 1* for me, where the * is for being very possibly the best car of all time – assuming that money is no object of course – and naturally I’m only speaking of the kind of cars that appeal to me.

    On all the rest, I agree with your assessments, especially on cars that interest me, such as the Ferraris, but even on the ones I have little or no interest in, such as the Fiat 500s. Your article has been really thought-provoking for me, as you can probably tell, from the amount I’ve just realised that I’ve written! Many thanks.

    Marcus.

  12. The retro styling game rarely ends well. The Fiat 500 is one of the better examples but most fail miserably. For me, the only winner was Rover – try pairing the final 75 (as launched, not with the final nasty cheap facelift) with the P4 75 (1952 rille, not cyclops).

    Good game, Bruno.

    1. JTC: Another way of looking at this is that you are simply conjoining. Radiator : Grille – Rille. Grammatical pedants, look away now…

    1. It’s very simple. The XM’s design ethos is the inverse of that of the DS’ or CX’.
      DS and CX were designed from inside out and stylistic solutions often reflected engineering decisions. DS’ frameless door windows made from extra thin glass, GRP roof, single spoke steering wheel – all there to reduce weight and to bring down the centre of gravity. Both DS and CX are designed with a short and light rear to take weight off the trailing arm suspension that is a less than ideal solution for a large and heavy car and in both cases works because the weight is up front.

      The XM is the exact opposite. It is a collection of useless and often ugly design gimmicks that have no actual purpose and often simply are an expression of bad engineering like the numerous glass panels, the black plastic scuttle panel and above all the rear spoiler. By applying design gimmicks they tried to hide the lack of thoroughness on the engineering side. ‘Let’s use struts up front (which are not really compatible with hydro pneumatic suspension at all), compensate for them by a troublesome Hydractive solution and make a kink in the beltline in the hope nobody will notice the crap’.

    2. Dave: In fairness to Citroen engineers, it wasn’t as if they chose to adopt strut suspension, for instance. Platforms and a good deal of hardware were PSA-specific, having to be adopted to suit. If the XM was flawed (and it certainly had its problems early on), I’m relatively confident the engineers at Vélizy were doing their best against a centime-pinching PSA management who viewed the double chevron as a problem rather than an asset.

    3. Dave, I’m trying to figure out why hydro pneumatic suspension isn’t really compatible with McPherson struts. My knowledge on the subject is a little rusty and I can’t figure out why this is, but I would like to know. Thanks in advance.

    4. The weakest points of the hydro pneumatic system are stiction and roll.
      The piston in the hydraulic cylinder needs lots of force to start its movement – that’s why absorption of very small bumps is not the hyro pneumatic’s strongest point and it has a tendency to get stuck under lateral forces. In the CX this was solved by mounting the hydraulic cylinders at half the upper wishbone’s length, using lever principles to unstick the piston. The systems also works by pumping relatively small volumes of LHM. In a CX the hydraulic cylinder also is free from lateral forces because wheel movement is controlled by wishbones.

      In a strut there’s no lever to unstick the piston. The piston takes the full wheel movement.
      Stiction forces of the hydraulic piston are fully transferred to the wheel, preventing it from moving freely. Since the hydraulic cylinder is used as the strut it has the task to control movement of the wheel, taking lateral forces that make the system stick and wear out .

      Only now, fifty years after the end of production, major hydraulic components like cylinders, height correctors or brake valves of DSs are reaching their wear limits (which is a real problem because these parts can’t be overhauled and nobody outside the Citroen factory is able to reproduce them with the required precision. Some fearless specialists re-match used parts to create usable items with new tolerance pairings).
      Suspension spheres in a DS or CX last forever.
      In any strut-equipped Citroen the spheres are consumables and the hydraulic cylinders wear out, sometimes very quickly like in BXs with heavy engines like turbo diesels.

      Softly sprung hydropneumatic older Citroens have a tendency to heavily roll in corners (Pauli Toivonen’s Monte winning DS provided impressive pictures of that).
      This is counteracted by a double wishbone suspension with a relatively high geometric roll centre like in the CX which in turn gives the car a tendency to topple over in cornering, which in turn is countered by making the CX very low and providing it with the lowest possible centre of gravity. At the time of the CX the only car with a lower centre of gravity was the Testarossa…
      The XM has a strut suspension with a low roll centre, leading to increased body roll. It also is much taller than the CX and has a much higher centre of gravity (all that glass and a bulky engine). To compensate you’d either fit very stiff anti roll bars or you invent Hydractive as a solution to a self-inflicted problem.

    5. Thanks, Dave, much appreciated. Your answer raises one question. Regarding the Testarossa, I always heard the complaint that the center of gravity wasn’t all that low, because the flat 12 was placed on top of the gearbox. If I’m not mistaken, Ferrari redesigned it for the 512TR.

  13. Can I add a bit of reverse thinking in this very thought provoking article?
    What about going 30 years before 1963? That is 1933 or even 10 years before, that would be 1953.
    I see some of these older cars for sale and they speak nothing to me.
    Something happened with car design in the ’60s that really changed everything, but I don’t know exactly what.
    I was born in 1975.

  14. The casual observer might imagine that BLMC brand Morris was doing something similar to the 1993 Lincoln brochure with this September 1970 range guide:

    But no – the Minor (1948) and Oxford (1959) were still very much available. At least it addresses the problem of whether the new cars were better than their predecessors – just sell both.

    Even in September 1967 it didn’t look quite right:

    Incidentally, the Marina / Ital was in production for 13 years, beating the ‘Farina’ Oxford Series V/VI by almost exactly a year.

    1. Hi Robertas. That advertisement speaks volumes about what was going wrong at BMC even then. Such a haphazard and incoherent range.

    2. The September 1970 brochure has three pictures of the Oxford, only one of the ADO17 1800.

      Also two car-less landscapes. What’s the message?

  15. Bruno – a very thought-provoking article, as ever.

    Up until the ‘60s, there was a trend to show vintage models with the latest one, to demonstrate progress made. That changed when nostalgia kicked-in and manufacturers wanted to revisit old victories (perhaps unwisely).

    Some manufacturers (e.g. Volkswagen and Volvo) have taken to showing the latest model in a range with all of its predecessors, which I think is a rather nice way of showing the customer what they’re buying in to and the manufacturer’s continuity of purpose.

    I wonder if this happens with other products – I can’t think of many.

    https://www.flickriver.com/photos/triggerscarstuff/3485665143/

  16. If the Duett is counted as the last survivor of the PV544 family, the top four were all in production in 1969.

  17. Great idea, Bruno! I was born in 1975 and agree with most of your assessments, except for some details. The 850 was a seminal car for Volvo, pretty much saving the company and as such, might be considered a 1, but 2 might work as well. Being from my vintage, I remember the considerable impact it made. Suddenly boys my age were talking about Volvo. Every Volvo since, pretty much until the Geely takeover, has adopted a similar layout. The styling evolved considerably, but the ‘street cred’ (if you’ll excuse the colloquialism) of any current Volvo owes pretty much everything to the 850, particularly a certain model oft spotted in custard-yellow . Still, that might well be a generational perspective.

    I also think the Cinquecento might deserve to be higher up. I like that car immensely, so I’m biased, but I do think it’s a great example of early ‘nineties Italian design at its best. Functional and rational, if a little too conventional under the skin to make much of a splash. I rather think the Cinque is a little underrated. The second generation Panda was pretty much the last Fiat to be utilitarian and stylish at the same time, the way only Italian cars managed quite so well (sorry, Mini). A completely random association I have is of news footage of people fleeing a volcano eruption. They managed to look stylish whilst running for dear life and were thus readily identifiable as Italians. Fiat’s management technique has always struck me to be similar.

    I’m not keen on the W140 S class, more so on the R129 SL, but I think they fulfilled their briefs well, were designed and engineered according to rigorous principles and more or less fit their eras. I like the R129 better than its predecessor, certainly. In a curious parallel to the Cinquecento, I think it’s a good example of well thought out design of that time period. I also think they were well regarded in their time (or at least made a big enough impact in the case of the W140). What speaks against the W140 for me is that it could be considered the beginning of the shock, awe and disgust era that’s culminating now in BMW’s and Merc’s (amongst others) SUVs. The car as a face tattoo and golden grille (the kind that goes on the teeth).

    I do agree with Daniel that the Sierra was probably more seminal than the Taunus, but it was at the end of its life by then. Its splash was ten years old already, so it probably goes where you put it.

    One big difference is that the technical layout of cars had been pretty much perfected by 1993, as opposed to 1963. Only now are things moving again, technically. It’s a lot harder to create something “seminal” in a mature product category. Look at iPhones. The fact that the 850 was also a technical innovation said more about Volvo’s state of affairs.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: