All Aboard!

Leaving the car keys on the kitchen counter for a change and boarding a train…

Image: reddit.com

…but with a twist, in that the rail vehicles described here today are well and truly connected to the car business. In the course of the twentieth century, several car manufacturers and one important supplier thereof have entered the train manufacturing realm for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it was a case of simple survival after economic depression or war undermined their existing business, other times it was a way of promoting the virtues of a core product, or an attempt to Continue reading “All Aboard!”

It Should Have Been Simple

The 1996 Octavia should have set the template for all future Škoda models, but it didn’t turn out that way.

Image: auto-data.net

In a piece I recently penned on another Volkswagen Group model, I opined that the group’s four mass-market brands are insufficiently well differentiated from each other, so the scope of their market coverage in Europe is narrower than it should be and there is a greater than optimal overlap between brands and models, inevitably leading to some cannibalisation of sales. Ideally, their market positioning should be broadly as follows:

  • Audi: premium luxury and sporting.
  • Volkswagen: semi-premium, nominally classless, but certainly perceived as upmarket of mainstream rivals.
  • SEAT: youthful, stylish, fashion-conscious but not too avant-garde or left-field.
  • Škoda: budget, practical, strong value proposition, car as domestic appliance.

How might we Continue reading “It Should Have Been Simple”

The Tale of a Tiger

An affectionate tribute to the Leyland Royal Tiger coach, once the king of the highway jungle.

Leyland Royal Tiger. Image: Classic Buses

Some enjoy vintage cars, some vintage commercial vehicles, others vintage aircraft. I have been fortunate enough to enjoy all three as I myself, a 1941 model, was attaining my own vintage status, yet one old warhorse still shines among many happy memories.

Browsing Dick Gilbert’s Classic Buses website, I jumped on the brakes upon seeing my old friend, Leyland Royal Tiger NCD 662. Dick himself had taken this photo in his younger days, and remembers the coach working out of Eastbourne. Continue reading “The Tale of a Tiger”

Something Rotten In Denmark: 1993 Nissan 100 NX 1.6 SLX

This is not so bad. And it’s cheap. It’s the Nissan 100 NX.

1993 Nissan 100 NX 1,6 SLX
1993 Nissan 100 NX 1.6 SLX. All images: bilbasen.dk

Editor’s note: This article first appeared on Driven to Write on 2 December 2015.

As with so many of these types of cars, they dissolve into obscurity and when you eventually chance upon them they look much better than you remember them. We have discussed in these pages design rationalism of the French and German types. In the Nissan 100 NX we see some more of this. The way the shutlines and panel gaps are set up is very disciplined indeed. Look at the way the bonnet shutline goes without interruption from one side of the window base to the other. Continue reading “Something Rotten In Denmark: 1993 Nissan 100 NX 1.6 SLX”

Places – The Multi-Storey

Concrete Hell, or one of life’s small pleasures?

Editor’s note: This piece first appeared on DTW in December 2016 as part of the ‘Places’ theme.

When I was 17, a few months after passing my driving test, I took the family Fiat 124 up to London on my own. This was the first time I had driven in a city and I was both wary and excited. Various bits of that trip remain vivid. Although the M4 was opened by then, I came in on the A4 Great West Road so that I could pass the various factories at Brentford, including the Art Deco Firestone Factory.

I remembered these from the back seat during earlier trips with my parents, and they seemed an essential part of the romance of visiting London. After Hammersmith I joined Cromwell Road and found myself in the centre lane of quite fast moving traffic rising up a flyover on a left hand curve. This seemed a great challenge, but I held my nerve and learned Rule One of city driving – as long as there’s space ahead, just keep going, don’t Continue reading “Places – The Multi-Storey”

Turin Type Transformation

Abarth is not the only fruit

Image: ferrariexperts

Lasting forty four years – 1926-70, Siata, originally the Societá Italiano Applicazioni Trasformazioni Automobilistiche, started out as engine tuners but would become manufacturers of lauded machinery, available postwar from the via Leonado da Vinci, Turin.

Giorgio Ambrosino started out as an amateur racing driver, but before long developed an ambition to Continue reading “Turin Type Transformation”

Running With Scissors [Part Six]

Expediency starts with an E.

Image: classiccarcatalogue

Nobody can truly escape their past, a statement that holds as true in the automotive domain as it does in the human one. Legacies, either from prior or existing BLMC products would become a leitmotif of Allegro’s dolorous story – a statement underlined by the issues surrounding its powertrain, which consisted of both the venerable A-Series engines and the more latterly developed E-Series units, inherited from the Maxi programme.

Allegro’s predecessor had been offered in 1098 and later on, in 1275 cc versions, the latter being something of a late addition to the range and one which proved popular with the buying public; improved performance having become a selling point with customers given the manner in which the UK’s motorway network had grown. It is likely that a further stretch in capacity would have gone down better still with more affluent buyers, but when a larger capacity engine did become available, it became earmarked for other purposes[1].

The powertrain factor

The E-Series engine family had never been intended for ADO16. It came about primarily because former BMC Chairman, Sir George Harriman didn’t Continue reading “Running With Scissors [Part Six]”

Wolfsburg Wanderings

A rogue sporty Beetle, a not entirely successful Asian alliance and an aborted attempt at conquering the WRC crown: meet three Volkswagen oddities.

Images: Mike Walravens and vau.max.de

Mach 1: the word will produce a glint in the eye of muscle car aficionados, reminded as they are of manly Mustangs in lively hues powered by a good old fashioned big V8 burbling on premium leaded fuel instead of the watered down stuff that passes for gasoline nowadays.

There was however another Mach 1 which preceded the first so-badged Mustang by four years, and the vehicle first adorned with the moniker could almost not have been further removed from the Mustang in any knowable dimension; meet the Volkswagen Beetle Mach 1.

The Volkswagen distributor for Belgium since 1948, D’Ieteren Frères S.A., wanted to Continue reading “Wolfsburg Wanderings”

Missing the Marque: Renault Koleos

If you fail, try again. Of course, you might fail again.

Image: honestjohn.co.uk

Renault is rightly credited with producing the first European(1) MPV, the 1984 Espace. Whether or not the company was gifted with great foresight in doing so is a moot point, however. The Espace had been brought to Renault by Matra as an already completed design, one that had originally been commissioned by Chrysler Europe. After Peugeot-Citroën purchased Chrysler’s European operations in 1978, it struggled to rehabilitate the ailing business, hence it rejected the design as too niche and risky, forcing Matra to seek another partner.

In any event, the Espace was successful and this encouraged Renault to Continue reading “Missing the Marque: Renault Koleos”

Detroit, Michigan 48226-3473

Taking the M1 can lead you to interesting places.

Early 20th century. Image: Wttw.com

To many, including UK residents, the M1 motorway was not Britain’s inaugural Special Road, that honour goes to what was enigmatically entitled the Preston Northerly Bypass, now part of the M59. While the UK began to contemplate 70mph limits and new styles of signage, the M1 of today’s piece is across the Atlantic, owning a longevity along with its own unique history – Woodward Avenue.

Many years before Detroit was even a township, native Americans had developed trading routes and trails, one of which was the Saginaw. By the early 19th century, that path had become a 120ft wide right-of-way for the now burgeoning city. The aftermath of a devastating fire saw a city layout redesign, somewhat mirroring Washington DC and labelled the ‘Paris of the West’. Continue reading “Detroit, Michigan 48226-3473”

Allegro Con Spazio

Making a case for Allegro’s load-lugger.

Allegro Estate. Image: classiccarcatalogue

Today, we take a brief hiatus from our analysis of Allegro and its commercial fate to return briefly to aspects of its style, and in particular, to the third ADO67 bodystyle to be offered.

Closely aping its predecessor, Allegro was introduced as a single format  bob-tailed saloon – with two or four doors – and unlike its stablemate Marina, both Allegri employed the same silhouette and styling theme[1]. Of the two saloons, the two-door might be considered the most cohesive, a factor which could be explained by its cleaner, less cluttered DLO treatment, which did away with the four-door’s rear quarterlight. In the photo appended below, one can appreciate this and just maybe, Continue reading “Allegro Con Spazio”

As Orange Tip Flutters To Garlic Mustard

It’s high time I turned your attention to some design details: K is for Kia.

All images: The author

For this post I will be trying to persuade you to Continue reading “As Orange Tip Flutters To Garlic Mustard”

Running With Scissors [Part Five]

The pen is mightier…

Image: automobile.wiki

The power of the written word can be sometimes overstated, although this is not a position the gentlemen of the press generally care to acknowledge. Certainly, a poor review can hurt a new product, but it usually takes more than an unfavourable report to fatally damage its prospects, just as it takes more than one breathless review to create a hit. But for the historian attempting to Continue reading “Running With Scissors [Part Five]”

Meet Me In The City

Oh, Carol!

Autozam Carol. Image: betweentheaxles

Upon a recent return to the old workplace, my peripheral vision was piqued by a small blue craft as I journeyed past the garage opposite. Office tasks completed in well under an hour, I sauntered across the road to inspect this gem a little closer. An Autozam Carol – goodness!

For the uninitiated (myself at first, included), in the 1990s, Mazda were not only cash rich but ambitious enough to launch five sub-brands: Xedos, Eunos, Efini, Amati and Autozam. Many of this parish will already Continue reading “Meet Me In The City”

No Parking

The first McLaren badged road-legal car built in series production wasn’t named F1.

Image: pacificclassics.com

Mrs. Muscat had a parking problem: it was not a case of a lack of available spaces at the Ford Motor Company offices where she worked, but the company’s strict ‘no foreign vehicles’ policy meant that she was not allowed to park her car, a R107 Mercedes-Benz SL, on the premises. Having to find a parking space within a reasonable distance each day was of course an inconvenience, but she loved her SL and its al fresco option for sunny days. Thus she asked her husband, Maltese born engineer Peter Muscat, to Continue reading “No Parking”

Light Fantastic (Part Two)

Continuing the story of the 1994 A8, the car that propelled Audi into the German premium car firmament.

Image: bestcarmagz.net

After the very striking polished aluminium Audi Spaceframe Concept of 1993, the 1994 production A8, a car that majored on subtlety over ostentation, was bound to be something of an anti-climax, if only in visual terms. It was certainly not a car for those who wanted to flaunt their wealth and success. For those who looked at it more deeply, however, there was plenty to appreciate.

Car Magazine covered the A8 in an extensive eight-page feature published in the May 1994 issue of the magazine. Journalist Georg Kacher introduced it boldly as “a technical marvel, a marvellous car.” A source at Audi was quoted as saying that “the old V8 cost us a lot of money, but the new [A8] is going to lose us a small fortune.” In order to establish itself in the luxury saloon market, Audi expected to Continue reading “Light Fantastic (Part Two)”

Clay, Pee, Rocks, Tiger And Tuna

Just Deserts

Image: perlinidumpers.it

You might be forgiven for not knowing their name, after all, it remains niche to those outside of their main field (or should that be quarry?), but their trucks have not only helped build mighty projects, they also tamed the deserts of Dakar. This is the story of Perlini.

Officine Meccaniche Construzioni Roberto Perlini was founded in 1957 taking four years to bring to market the rugged dump trucks the company’s fame would be founded upon. Spurred on by Italy’s economic postwar growth, Perlini had fabricated their one thousanth truck by 1970. The early eighties saw them Continue reading “Clay, Pee, Rocks, Tiger And Tuna”

Audi – Always the Pretender?

And What Is Wrong With Putting the Engine in Front of the Wheels?

Auto Union Type C
CMC Model Cars

Editor’s note: This piece first appeared on DTW in June 2014.

Audi are in danger of becoming the Phil Collins of the petrolhead world, an act that even people who know little about music like to cite as being a bit off. Speaking as someone who can, hand on heart, swear that he has no murky Genesis related skeletons in his youthful musical vinyl rack and hopes he’ll never hear ‘Against All Odds’ on the radio again, I’d judge that Mr Collins is no worse than many, and better than scores.

Changing fashion means that he has just become a lazy symbol for bad comedians and the generally undiscerning to latch on to in order to suggest, quite undeservedly, their musical connoisseurship. Likewise Audi. In bars and on motoring websites everywhere, you will hear the drone of “overrated and overpriced …. style over content …. they’re all designed on a photocopier …. no driver involvement ….. they’ll never really be premier league until they Continue reading “Audi – Always the Pretender?”

Savannah Photoessay

Today’s offering is a walk along 500 metres of West Hall Street, turn left somewhere and then left again. This post is more about images than words, note.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I found it a little overwhelming to take in such a large amount of visual information while I was trying to Continue reading “Savannah Photoessay”

Running With Scissors [Part Four]

Hydragas was Allegro’s big innovation. But was it the right one?

Image: classiccarcatalogue

The Moulton factor

While scoping the successor to any best-selling product, there is always something of a tension between the urge to innovate and the desire to Continue reading “Running With Scissors [Part Four]”

Chiselled

Not by steel but water.

Image: wallup.net

Alpine, they of sporting Renault-based pedigree, was founded by Jean Rédélé in 1955, since then carving out a niche of elegant, rapid machinery. Having made a name for itself, not to mention an illustrious competition record with the seminal Alpine A110, its radical looking 1971 GT successor – the A310 – featured a wedge-shaped design inspired by de Tomaso’s Mangusta along with Ferrari’s Daytona and was something of a directional change for the Dieppe-based manufacturer.

This dainty dart weighing just 900Kgs, with a steel backbone and fibreglass bodywork might just squeeze four humans inside and gave the Nunelfer something to Continue reading “Chiselled”

Bonsai Buick

Shrink-fitting the American dream to size.

Image: the author

In a now distant past, many car manufacturers located in the old world – as well as in emerging Japan – looked to the USA when it came to desirable features to adapt and styling to emulate. Several specific circumstances in areas of the globe outside America such as taxation laws, fuel prices, disposable income and available space on roads and in city centres resulted in the stateside amenities, and especially the styling, mostly to emerge elsewhere in reduced form.

To name just some, Peugeot’s 402, the Volvo PV444, Vauxhall’s Victor F and Cresta PA and the Japanese Prince Skyline all displayed a clear American influence in their appearance. Even Ferrari proved not immune to the trend, witness the finned 410 SuperAmerica.

Opel and Vauxhall especially – the European subsidiaries of GM – would find their styling direction in virtual lockstep with GM’s American brands for years, although the end-product would invariably not only Continue reading “Bonsai Buick”

Light Fantastic (Part One)

At the fourth attempt, Audi finally produced a luxury saloon to challenge the Mercedes-Benz S-Class head-on.

Image: honestjohn.co.uk

Audi is now a fully-fledged member of the German premium triumvirate. Together with rivals BMW and Mercedes-Benz, it dominates the European market for such vehicles. However, its entry to this exclusive club was neither quick nor straightforward and its early attempts to join were met largely with indifference by the market.

The first car that Audi attempted to pitch above its traditional E-segment ceiling was the 1979 200 saloon. This was based on the 1976 C2-generation Audi 100 and was little more than a plushly trimmed version of that car, distinguished externally by slightly chintzy looking quad rectangular headlamps lifted from the US version of the 100(1) and a thick perimeter rubbing strip that ran along the lower bodysides and continued around the front and rear of the car above the bumpers. Continue reading “Light Fantastic (Part One)”

Bloody Massive Warehouse

Not only size matters

Image: Motor Trader

Our new office lies in my city’s industrial heartland. Next door makes false limbs. Two doors up they sell oil, and at the end, hand tools are made, or at least stored. The environs are full of engineering workshops of vastly different sizes. The circulating aroma is a heady blend of refuse (the incinerator is close by) and something akin to leaving the iron on too long. But there are glimpses of beauty. The River Don, in all its khaki splendour now attracts fish for both human and feathered creatures to enjoy; witnessing the electric blue flash of a Kingfisher gladdens this author’s heart.

Fear not dear reader, DTW is not about to Continue reading “Bloody Massive Warehouse”

Both Sides Now

The 1996 Alfa Romeo Nuvola would underline in eloquent fashion the power of the past.

Image: autodesignmagazine

Editor’s note: This article first appeared on DTW in December 2017.

History has always weighed heavily upon the Biscione of Milan. Few carmakers with such an illustrious past could remain immune to its siren call, although throughout the 1970s and ’80s its centro stile denizens seemed bent on ignoring it; bracing modernity being more the Alfa Romeo design leitmotif throughout this period.

During the pre-Millennial decade, Alfa Romeo’s stylistic output had become a combination of the sublime and, if not entirely ridiculous, at least unconvincing. On one hand we had the ageing, but still elegant Pininfarina-designed 164, the equally sharp-looking (in-house) 145, and the striking 916-series GTV / Spider, while on the other, there was the 146 and 155 saloons – more akin to the stark product design inflected Ermanno Cressoni era.

But change was in the offing, and with a new generation of Alfa Romeo saloons nearing completion, these designs would break with the angular aesthetic which had for so long been Arese’s visual calling card. Under Design Director, Walter de Silva’s purview, the Biscione would increasingly Continue reading “Both Sides Now”

Montain Green-Veined Whites – Everywhere.

Here we’re back in Dublin for a look at some vintage Toyota goodness.

All images: The author

The last items of my personal possessions to linger in my childhood home are a stack of Autocar & Motor/Autocar magazines, from the period 1989 to about 1997, the last year of childhood and the early years of adulthood. This is a period when one is getting use to how the world is, to what constitutes normal. For most of human history it was likely that you could Continue reading “Montain Green-Veined Whites – Everywhere.”

Me L’ero Persa

Bella Macchina

Image: classiccarcatalogue

How could such a design exist without my prior knowledge? I almost felt anger, frustration certainly; emotions usually tethered to unassuming teenagers surfaced upon first setting eyes on such a machine. To exist and spin its intricate web so enigmatically, after so many years we can only dream as to what may have been had circumstances played out more beneficially. 

At a time when the United States unveiled the Mercury Turnpike Cruiser and Britain, the Riley Pathfinder, the industry as a whole was in the midst of unleashing a plethora of postwar conformity. Alfa Romeo were undisputed Formula One kings but financial matters began to alter their gaze. The Biscione needed to Continue reading “Me L’ero Persa”

Running With Scissors [Part Three]

Questions of style.

Image: carsot

There are certain irrefutable qualities which help determine successful product design. Of these, appearance, while arguably the least important in absolute terms, is the most easily perceived, and clearly the most subjective, but it goes without saying that in the absence of a robust visual appeal, even the best wrought product will struggle. The Allegro’s appearance forms an essential component of its subsequent notoriety, but like most aspects of the car’s iconography, this aspect of ADO67 remains subject to varying levels of hysteria.

The Allegro’s style garnered little overt press criticism[1] at its introduction. This would not have been unusual behaviour from the home team – but in this instance the UK press may have been a little over-keen to Continue reading “Running With Scissors [Part Three]”