Swede Dreams are Made of These

A tale of some lesser-known Saabs.

Image: the author

Some will be of the opinion that ‘SAAB oddity’ is something of an oxymoron, in particular when it concerns the Swedish company prior to its acquisition (and homogenization) by General Motors. That may be so, but over the course of its existence, the Swedish marque produced and, in some cases, inspired its fair share of projects that were noteworthy and unusual, even by the company’s own sometimes eccentric standards. Today we will Continue reading “Swede Dreams are Made of These”

Talk to the Hand

He who dares, not always wins.

Image: Pininfarina SpA

The revered Italian styling house of Pininfarina has designed, and in some cases also built, cars for a multitude of manufacturers spanning the globe. As far as French triumvirate of mass-market automakers is concerned, the decades long collaboration with Peugeot is, of course, well known. With Renault, however, the only styling work commissioned has been for the Argentinian IKA-Renault Torino and, with what could be argued is the most distinctively French of the trio – Citroën – the counter stands at zero.

A little over two decades ago, Pininfarina did, metaphorically speaking, ask for the hand of PSA’s ‘other daughter’ by presenting the Osée research prototype at the Geneva Motor Show in 2001. This was the first and so far only Citroën conceived and clothed by the Italian styling house. The word Osée is French for daring and, even ignoring its rather radical appearance, the moniker was certainly apt as the Osée was a mid-engined rear-wheel-drive sportscar, a specification unheard of for a Citroën. Continue reading “Talk to the Hand”

Gems on the Assembly Line…

…and it was not one of the cars.

Image: classiccarstodayonline.com

At the dawn of its existence, painting an automobile was done in the same manner as one would apply a coat of paint to a horse-drawn carriage: by means of a brush and, in some cases, paint-rollers. Since cars were in those days built more or less in the same manner as their animal-powered predecessors, this was only to be expected.

The introduction of the moving assembly line by Ford in 1913 and the consequent rising demand for cars revealed the limitations of this method of application(1), but it would not be until 1924 that the first car to be spray-painted rolled off an assembly line, not at Ford, but at competitor GM with the Oakland model, a precursor to the later Pontiac. Continue reading “Gems on the Assembly Line…”

Show and Tell (Part Seven)

Concluding our recollection of a phenomenon now in danger of extinction: the traditional motor show.

Image: the author

Detroit 2000

Chrysler’s PT Cruiser was styled by Brian Nesbitt(1) with the assistance of Gilbert Clotaire Rapaille, a French medical anthropologist, which may well have been an automotive industry first. The reason for employing the services of Rapaille was to Continue reading “Show and Tell (Part Seven)”

Show and Tell (Part Six)

Blowing the dust off another set of rediscovered envelopes and their contents, rekindling some memories.

Image: the author

Paris 1990

Project 2758, as the Mercedes-Benz 500E was known internally at Porsche AG, who partly built the car, was a ‘Q-car’ in the vein of the BMW M5 but, this being Stuttgart, the 500E presented itself in an even more discreet way than Munich’s autobahnstormer.

The 5-litre, 32-valve M119 V8 propelled the 500E to an electronically limited maximum speed of 250km/h (155mph) although, without the limiter, its terminal velocity was known to have been quite a bit higher. The 500E was strictly a four-seater, which was not entirely by choice: the differential needed was so large that there was no room left for any suspension or even padding in the middle of the rear seat area. Continue reading “Show and Tell (Part Six)”

M Too

Born, raised and terminated during the Asian bubble economy- the story of Mazda’s shortlived design and performance skunkworks.

Images: ameblo.jp, architecturetokyo.wordpress.com and Mazda Motor Corporation

In Tokyo’s Setagaya ward stands a building that is hard to miss, thanks to its highly unusual appearance. Currently occupied by a funeral company, it originally served as the headquarters and showroom for M2, Mazda’s creator of limited-edition specials and prototypes. The eye-catching structure, designed by architect Kengo Kuma, is made out of reinforced concrete, although it is executed in such a way that it resembles masonry construction. A gigantic central Ionic column dominates the view and contains an atrium plus a glazed elevator shaft. Clearly, this was no ordinary showroom but then M2 was no ordinary outfit.

Established in 1990, M2 was no doubt partly inspired by competitor Nissan’s ‘Pike Factory’ success in selling uniquely styled limited editions such as the BE-1, PAO and S-Cargo. These were based on Nissan’s regular offerings and sold through the Cherry Stores network. Continue reading “M Too”

Show and Tell (Part Five)

Look and you shall find.

Ending an aesthetically dodgy episode during the eighties, the final facelift made the Spider regain most of its former prettiness. Image: the author

Some envelopes with car show photos that were elusive when the first four instalments of this series were being written in 2020 have now resurfaced.

Geneva 1988:

Quite late into its life, the Jaguar XJ-S was finally offered as a true convertible(1). Although the conversion might at first glance seem to be relatively straightforward, no less than 108 new panels and 48 modified pressings were needed to make the car a production reality. Also required were reinforcements to the transmission tunnel, rear floor and both bulkheads. The car was available in V12 form only, making it the most expensive vehicle in Jaguar’s model range apart from the very limited production Daimler DS420. Continue reading “Show and Tell (Part Five)”

Wrong Number

The story of an Asian doppelganger coming to grief.

Image: soeyonogaleri.com

Economic booms entice businesses from many sectors to enter new markets with the aim of securing a slice of the potential money-pie, and car manufacturers are no exception. The Republic of Indonesia under President Suharto’s very pro-business ‘new order’ administration was enjoying just such an economic sweet-spot in the early 1990s, despite growing suspicions of widespread corruption. A country with a population of over 200 million people riding the wave of a steadily growing economy seduced none other than Porsche AG to Continue reading “Wrong Number”

Stepping Down Before Stepping Out

How independent Hudson enjoyed one last hurrah before meeting an ignominious end.

Images: the author

Like any American automaker returning to the business of making cars in the years after the Second World War had ended, Hudson realised that the lucrative post-war sellers’ market would not last indefinitely. A prototype of what would ultimately become the famous ‘step-down’ Hudson had been readied as early as 1942, but America entering the war halted any meaningful further development and moreover, Hudson President A.E. Barit was unconvinced by the concept at the time, finding it too low-slung.

When automotive operations recommenced in the autumn of 1945, chief designer Frank Spring managed to convince his boss to Continue reading “Stepping Down Before Stepping Out”

Stateside Slip-ups

America: land of unlimited possibilities. Of course, not all roads lead to success.

Image: the author

Cardin Cadillac Eldorado Evolution I

French couture designer Pierre Cardin* was no stranger to dabbling in the automotive sector: in 1972 and 1973 AMC offered a specially upholstered version of the Javelin with his name on it. Not only the seats but also the doors and headliner were treated to a very seventies motif in white, silver, purple and orange on a black base. The famous couturier developed higher ambitions than just car interior upholstery packages and founded Pierre Cardin Automotive in 1980, holding office in New York’s World Trade Center. The first – and, as it would transpire, last – product by Cardin’s automotive arm was presented in 1981: the Cardin Evolution I.

Developed in collaboration with Cadillac, the Evolution I was a restyled and very opulently equipped variant of the then current E-body Cadillac Eldorado. Contrary to previous projects, Pierre Cardin had not limited himself only to modifying the interior – the exterior appearance of the car was also quite different from its Eldorado base, although it is unclear whether the actual styling really was by Pierre Cardin Automotive, or that Cardin had simply agreed with a design proposal from a source within GM or Cadillac. Continue reading “Stateside Slip-ups”

U.S. Air Force

There were times when General Motors led the charge.

Images: Dale Jackson and the author

It is an easily overlooked fact that, despite enjoying widespread publicity and -in two cases at least- being successful additions to their existing model range, the BMW 2002 Turbo, Porsche 911 Turbo and SAAB 99 Turbo were not the first roadgoing, commercially available turbocharged passenger cars(1). The USA beat even the first amongst this European trio -the BMW- by a decade and while neither of today’s two protagonists could ever be declared a true commercial success, they still deserve their place in the spotlight.

America was no stranger to forced induction: starting in the early thirties the likes of Graham, Duesenberg and Cord employed superchargers, as did Kaiser and Studebaker around two decades later. The turbocharger, however, was thus far an unapplied technique for carmakers, although the idea had already been patented in the early twentieth century(2) and turbocharged engines had seen use in airplanes during World War Two. Continue reading “U.S. Air Force”

Join the Wankel Party

A bogged down revolution.

Do you feel lucky, шпана*? Image: denisovetz.ru

Apart from its compactness, free-revving nature and modest number of parts, the Wankel engine is of course known for its smoothness. This is not the first trait that comes to mind when one thinks of Russia but, on the other hand, no Wankel engine has ever been averse to enjoying a drink.

Although Russia was a bit of a latecomer when it comes to the Wankel engine, it was, for a period of roughly twenty-five years, quite seriously involved with the concept, resulting in close to forty different rotary engines being developed within that timespan. Development of the rotary engine started in 1974 at VAZ, better known in the West as manufacturers of the Fiat 124-based Lada saloon and Niva 4WD off-roader. Unlike NSU, Citroën, General Motors and Mazda, the Russians’ reason for developing rotary engines was of a somewhat sinister nature: they were initially designed to Continue reading “Join the Wankel Party”

From the Neckar to the Nile and the Rio Negro

An NSU with Royal aspirations, and its first and only station wagon that came as far as an audition with NSU management in Neckarsulm.

Image via Pinterest/ Vaderetro.com.ar

The Ramses brand, named after the ancient Egyptian dynasty of kings was founded in 1958 by the Egypt Light Transportation Manufacturing Company (ELTRAMCO), in collaboration with the Egyptian government, NSU and Carrozzeria Bertone. Later, Vignale would also do some work for the Egyptian firm. Because Egypt did not have any experience in building cars, the German firm’s role was to Continue reading “From the Neckar to the Nile and the Rio Negro”

Staying at the Ritz in Goodwood Park with my Princess

More eccentric delights from Japan.

Images: goodwoodpark.jp and mooku.s1007.xrea.com

When asked to name a small Japanese manufacturer famous for its modern day renditions of iconic (and mostly British) classic cars, the first answer given by those with some knowledge of the automotive world would likely be ‘Mitsuoka’. And they would be right, of course, but the majority might have trouble naming others that operate or have operated in the same market niche. Here are a few of the lesser known but no less amusing – or sacrilegious, depending on your viewpoint- manufacturers of such cars on the Japanese archipelago. Continue reading “Staying at the Ritz in Goodwood Park with my Princess”

The Cost of Complacency

An admirable philosophy that ultimately proved to be unsustainable.

Brochure images: the author

Unwillingness to compromise in any way on craftsmanship and quality may be a noble pursuit but, in a highly competitive business, it can ultimately prove to be one’s undoing. Founded in 1908, the Pierce-Arrow Motor Car Company produced automobiles that were unequivocally aimed at those of elevated social status and discriminating taste. Imposing in size and, in some cases, larger than life(1), they found favour amongst the chauffeur-driven elite to make a suitably impressive entrance at high society social functions.

When the highest authority in the United States commissioned the first official car for the White House in 1909, it seemed only natural that Pierce-Arrow should be chosen to Continue reading “The Cost of Complacency”

1968: A Question of Choice

Decisions, decisions.

Image: the author

Guiding his Oldsmobile carefully up the driveway to the garage of his house in the suburbs of a typical midwestern American town, Scott Hewitt had something planned for the evening. It was 1968, a year that would prove to be pivotal in world history as well as a bloody one. Presidential candidate Robert Kennedy would not see the end of the year alive, and neither would Martin Luther King.

The war in Vietnam escalated with the fierce Tet offensive, and the awful My Lai massacre would change many people’s minds about why and if the USA should have ever been involved in it in the first place. Violence and unrest were not limited to Southeast Asia- witness student riots in Paris, the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia and the ignition of ‘the troubles’ in Northern Ireland. Significant if less deadly pointers to Continue reading “1968: A Question of Choice”

Where There’s a WiLL…

…there’s a way.

Image: the author

A beer brewer, a candymaker, a travel agent(1) and a car manufacturer get together for a meeting…

It may sound like the opening line of a joke, but the vehicle you see here was the product of a serious business initiative. Incidentally, other representatives from various sectors in the consumer products industry were also part of the think-tank that gave birth to the WiLL brand at the turn of the millennium; the electronics giant Panasonic, a cosmetics company named Kao, and Kokuyo, a manufacturer of office furniture and stationery products. The aim of the venture was to Continue reading “Where There’s a WiLL…”

Queen Without a Crown

The Brandt Reine 1950 remained an unrealised dream for its creator.

Image: Life Magazine

Of all the new car introductions at the 1948 Salon de L’Automobile de Paris, in those times held in the magnificent Grand Palais on the Champs-Élysées, the Citroën 2CV is the car that will likely be most readily and widely remembered. There were, of course, several other premieres amongst the hundreds of voitures exhibited, many of which are now long forgotten, even though some were arguably at least as unusual and radical as the 2CV.

The Brandt Reine 1950 certainly qualifies in this regard. Looking like an elongated Isetta, but five years before that tiny ‘bubble car’ would first appear on the streets, the Reine 1950 was unorthodox in almost every way imaginable. It was only possible to Continue reading “Queen Without a Crown”

The Ant and the Ox

Its makers openly cited the Africar as an inspiration for the Ox, but why not the Hormiga?

Images: autocosmos.com and oxgvt.com

The Ox, the Africar and the Hormiga were specifically conceived to help countries in the developing world with a poor quality road infrastructure achieve and hopefully reap the benefits of improved mobility at the lowest possible cost. It may come as a surprise to some (as it was to your author when he discovered the fact) to realise that the nearest Third World country to the UK is the Republic of Ireland(1) but none of these three vehicles has likely ever been driven on or off the Irish road network.

Philanthropist, former toy manufacturer and banker Sir Torquil Norman came up with the basic idea of the Ox and, together with Gordon Murray(2), developed the concept into fully functional prototypes under the GVT (Global Vehicle Trust) banner. Continue reading “The Ant and the Ox”

Unsafe to View from Any Angle

And you thought those sixties and seventies experimental safety vehicles were ugly…

From the late nineteen-sixties until well into the seventies, a slew of safety-oriented concept cars from several automakers broke cover. Some of their notable unifying themes were large black rubber extensions front and rear, early variations of airbags in combination with heavily padded safety seats in various guises, with bodywork usually painted bright yellow or orange. Before that time, and preceding the publication of Ralph Nader’s influential book ‘Unsafe at Any Speed’, safety usually took a back seat to styling, comfort, cost and performance(1).

Swedish manufacturers SAAB and Volvo were arguably the only ones at the time that could legitimately claim to have safety as one of their guiding principles. That said, ever since the first motor accident involving casualties occurred, carmakers were aware of the risks and, in various shapes and forms -as well as degrees of naiveté and effectiveness- many attempts to Continue reading “Unsafe to View from Any Angle”

Beyond Pantera

Exploring some less well known de Tomaso models.

Image: the author

Technically, it should be impossible to go beyond Pantera as the name derives from the ancient Greek word ‘Panthera’ meaning ‘all beasts’, both real and mythological. Still, Argentinian ex-racing driver Alejandro de Tomaso was involved in the creation of more vehicles than just the one with which he is most readily associated, and some of the others involved partnerships with some unlikely players in the automotive firmament. Continue reading “Beyond Pantera”

Independent Diptych (Part Two)

Studebaker’s shoestring-budget foray in the compact market.

Images: Alf van Beem and jalopyjournal.com

Development of the compact Studebaker Lark started in the spring of 1957. The South Bend, Indiana firm had created a stop-gap of sorts that year in the shape of the very austere Scotsman model, but it was obvious that this was just a severely decontented full-size car instead of the more compact vehicle envisioned to revive Studebaker’s fortunes by capturing a slice of an emerging new market segment. And a revival was desperately needed: like its rival, American Motors, Studebaker had entered into an ultimately fatal merger, in this case with the once-great luxury carmaker, Packard.

As work on the Lark started, Packard was as good as dead and its last models, which were little more than Studebakers in fancy dress, were only gathering dust on the showroom floor. For Studebaker itself, the situation was not much better as the company suffered its worst year since 1938 with fewer than 45,000 cars sold. Clearly, the new model, designed to tap into a rapidly growing market and generate much-needed profits, could not come a moment too soon, and that the Lark was ready to be introduced for the 1959 model year was a minor miracle. Continue reading “Independent Diptych (Part Two)”

Independent Diptych (Part One)

Clever innovation from the smaller American automakers.

Image: the author

With pockets much less deep than those of the US ‘Big Three’ automakers, independent American manufacturers needed to be clever and creative to come up with new cars in response to an expanding market as the 1960s dawned. Studebaker’s solution was to use the mid-section of its existing full-size sedan that dated back to 1953 as a base, while American Motors resurrected a model, albeit with several updates applied to it, that it had discontinued years earlier.

One notable advantage of this forced strategy was that it enabled both companies to Continue reading “Independent Diptych (Part One)”

Not Leading by Example

An innovative but unapproved plan to build a flagship Citroën XM convertible.

Image: Koninklijke Hoogovens

After Citroën officially withdrew from the US market in 1972, an independent company called CX Automotive commenced unofficial imports of the CX model, much to Citroën’s annoyance. When the CX was replaced by the XM, the company, now renamed CXA, began imports of the new model and embarked on an ambitious plan to enhance the prestige of the XM by creating a convertible version via an innovative construction method devised in The Netherlands.

The seeds of the idea were sown in 1985, when CXA approached French carrossier Chapron to Continue reading “Not Leading by Example”

A Census Taker Once Tried To Test Me

SEAT’s skunkworks sports car.

Image: forocoches.com

Sociedad Española de Automóviles de Turismo, more colloquially known as SEAT, was established in 1950 and for decades produced, with a few exceptions, virtual carbon copies of Italian Fiats until the partnership ended in 1982. In the period before Volkswagen acquired a majority shareholding in 1986, SEAT introduced the Giugiaro-styled compact Ibiza which, while still using many Fiat Ritmo elements in its underlying platform, is considered the Spanish firm’s first true post-Fiat product.

Before the Ibiza, however, there was the 1200/1430 Coupé, affectionately nicknamed the ‘Boca negra’ because of its distinctive black snout. This was a car mostly developed by SEAT and first seen in concept form at the 1970 Turin motorshow as the NSU Nergal prototype, styled by Aldo Sessano. It is much sought-after today by aficionados of the SEAT marque. Continue reading “A Census Taker Once Tried To Test Me”

The Many Faces of Flour

The lesser-known Argentinian Farina variations.

Images: issuu.com and supermercedes.com.ar

The car you see before you here today is likely to be, for many at least, an unfamiliar member of the BMC Farina family, but it was a unique and interesting variation in its own right. Its story begins with one of Argentina’s greatest and most revered industrialists, an Italian immigrant named Torcuato di Tella (1892–1948), who had disembarked in Buenos Aires with his parents in 1895. At just eighteen years of age, di Tella developed and produced a dough-mixing machine which became very popular with bakeries across the country.

Before long, di Tella had extended his range of products to include gasoline pumps, refrigerators, washing machines and other household appliances, but S.I.A.M., the name of the manufacturing company he established in 1911, paid tribute to the product started it all: it is an acronym for ‘Sección Industrial Amasadoras Mecánicas’ or, in English, ‘Bread Making Machine Industries’. Continue reading “The Many Faces of Flour”

Back to Front

Swimming against the tide of automotive history.

Over the past century or so, many mechanical configurations for the automobile have been devised, developed, engineered, tested and produced, although several failed to clear those demanding final two hurdles on their way to the showroom.

Front-wheel-drive, rear-wheel-drive, all-wheel-drive, even just one driven wheel: they have all been tried, some with more success than others. The same goes for the location of the powerplant: it can either go out front, in the middle or at the back(1), each option coming with its own set of pros and cons. Engine location and driven wheel combinations have resulted in seven more or less widely applied pairings(2), but there have also been some unusual and eccentric mixes: one definitely belonging in the latter category is the rear-engined, yet front-wheel-driven car. Continue reading “Back to Front”

South Bend Undead

The many afterlives of the Avanti.

All brochure images: Avanti / the author

As a Studebaker, the Avanti was short-lived and proved unable to prevent the venerable independent automaker’s demise not long after its launch. The death of Studebaker did not mean the end for the Avanti, however, not by a long shot.

In fact, even while Studebaker was still an active car manufacturer, albeit in Canada instead of South Bend, Indiana, as before, the first Avanti resuscitation was already underway. In July 1964, Nathan Altman and Leo Newman, two South Bend Studebaker dealers, signed an agreement with the company whereby they acquired the rights to the design, moulds and tooling for the Avanti as well as the rights to Continue reading “South Bend Undead”

Con Velocità Extra Per Favore

Alfa Romeo’s GTV given more muscle.

For power-hungry clients desiring a ‘maximum’ Tipo 116 GTV, the 2000 and later 2.5-litre GTV6 were, with the exception of the rare Autodelta turbocharged version, the limit. However, if you happened to live in South Africa, the USA or Germany, there were other exciting options, one of which also involved Autodelta. Continue reading “Con Velocità Extra Per Favore”

Spirited Away

More curiosities from Japan.

Image: author’s collection

Japan is a country where traditional values are held in high regard, yet outright wackiness at times abounds, where the business-suited salaryman shares a seat on the subway with a flamboyantly made up cosplay girl dressed in a frilly maid costume and nobody bats an eyelid. Hence, it is an environment where even normally conservative manufacturers are not afraid to Continue reading “Spirited Away”

X Marks the Spot

Flattery, both sincere and otherwise.

Image: muquiranas.com

Copied even before it was launched, and manufactured in modified form with a fibreglass body in Brasil until well into the current century, Fiat’s compact mid-engined targa-topped coupé inspired imitators both before and after its long career.

The Fiat X1/9 as launched at the 1972 Turin Motor Show was a productionised and consequently less radical evolution of the 1969 Autobianchi Runabout concept by Bertone, credited to Marcello Gandini. At the previous year’s Turin show, however, a vehicle that looked extremely similar to the planned but as yet unveiled Fiat was on display. To add insult to injury, the little yellow sportscar was parked almost within touching distance of Bertone’s majestic stand. What on Earth had happened?

Picking up the telephone in his studio, Tom Tjaarda barely had  time to Continue reading “X Marks the Spot”

Shift Happens

A tale of ambition and overreach.

Image: Monamicitroen.blog

“At the age of six I wanted to be a cook. At seven I wanted to be Napoleon. And my ambition has been growing steadily ever since.”

Salvador Dalì

André Citroën, the French industrial giant, may not have possessed a level of ambition quite as extreme as that claimed by the controversial Spanish artist, but few amongst his peers in the automobile industry could match his boundless energy and determination to lead the way, often eschewing received wisdom and conventional thinking in the process. These attributes brought him fame and fortune, but would also eventually prove to be his undoing.

A salient example of the double-edged sword of Citroën’s ambition and overreach was the Traction Avant of 1934. It was a revolutionary, highly modern and accomplished design in almost every possible way. Citroën’s original plan was for the Traction to be equipped with a newly designed fully automatic transmission, the brainchild of a prolific Brazilian inventor. Continue reading “Shift Happens”

Troubled Concoction

Remembering Chrysler’s misconceived transatlantic tie-up.

Image: The author / Chrysler Corp.

In the early eighties, long before both companies would find cover under the FCA and Stellantis corporate umbrellas, Chrysler and Maserati hatched plans for a luxury convertible to revive their tarnished prestige image. The two driving forces behind the venture were Lee Iacocca, the ex-Ford executive who had nursed Chrysler back from the dead a few years previously, and Alejandro de Tomaso, who at that time ran not only the sports car company that bore his name but also Maserati. He had taken the latter company over in 1976 with Italian government assistance after Citroën had bowed out. This would not, however, be Iacocca and de Tomaso’s first collaboration: in the early seventies the two had brought the De Tomaso Pantera to the USA(1).

In June 1984, both companies signed a contract to Continue reading “Troubled Concoction”

Aborted Take-Off

India’s cancelled project to build a people’s car of its own.

Image: team-bhp.com

In different circumstances, Hyderabad could have been the birthplace of India’s first indigenously designed and manufactured car. In the early 1950s, Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), a company unrelated to the well known Indian car manufacturer, Hindustan Motors, started work on a rugged and simple people’s car for India. In the end, it was not to be and the country instead went down the route of producing tried and tested foreign designs under licence.

The company, which was originally named Hindustan Aircraft Limited, was incorporated in 1940. In cooperation with the American Intercontinental Aircraft Company, HAL started its business by manufacturing under licence the Harlow PC-5 trainer, the Curtiss Hawk fighter and the Vultee bomber. HAL also designed and developed its own aircraft, starting with the 1951 HT-2 trainer. Over 150 of these were manufactured and supplied to the Indian Air Force and other customers. Continue reading “Aborted Take-Off”

Brother From Another Mother

An unofficial American take on the Citroën XM.

Like many European automakers, Citroën had a torrid time trying to establish a sustainable business in the US market during the second half of the twentieth century. It finally threw in the towel in 1972, but there remained a demand for cars bearing the double-chevron badge from a small hardcore band of marque enthusiasts.

To meet this demand, Dutchman André Pol and Malcolm K. Langman established CXautomotive, later renamed CXA, in the mid-1980s. Their plan was to import and modify Citroen’s CX model so that it would comply with US regulations, then distribute and sell the car nationwide. Bruised from its previous US experience and wary of potential ongoing liabilities, Citroën refused to Continue reading “Brother From Another Mother”

Ashes to Ashes (Part 2)

Prying open a few more creaking doors, we conclude our trundle amongst the fallen.

1950 Plymouth. All images: The author

In 1948, Packard continued its longstanding leadership in the American luxury car arena. It remained the best-selling brand, with over 92,000 sales, compared to Cadillac’s tally of around 52,000. However, its dominance was coming to an end. That year’s bulbous restyling of a body that dated back to 1941 didn’t help matters and the car quickly earned the unflattering nickname ‘pregnant elephant’. From 1950 onwards, Cadillac took the lead and never looked back, while Packard withered and died before the end of the decade. Continue reading “Ashes to Ashes (Part 2)”

Adding Some Fleet to the Repmobile

A South African twist on hot Fords.

Images: gumtree.co.za and carmonkey.co.za

The mildly derogatory term ‘Repmobile’ conjures up images of a medium-sized, medium-specification saloon or hatchback hammering along some endless motorway on a dreary weekday under leaden skies. The driver is a man sporting a shirt and tie, his suit jacket limply hanging from the coat hook behind his ear. Whether they be Vectras, Cortinas, Mondeos, Carinas or Sierras, for the motoring enthusiast, such cars represent a mostly barren field of interest. But far away and many years ago, Ford South Africa turned at least some of them into decidedly more stimulating steeds.

In Britain, Ireland and Continental Europe, the 2.3 litre V6 was as far as it went for the Cortina Mk5 and its Germanic twin, the Taunus TC3. Most sales reps would remain confined to the 1.6-litre four, although, if they exceeded their targets consistently and by a sufficient margin, a 2-litre version fitted with some extra trinkets might be their reward.

Ford South Africa, however, enjoyed a degree of independence from its parent company which sometimes resulted in the creation of interesting mutations. Continue reading “Adding Some Fleet to the Repmobile”

Open One Eye when you Sell, and Both Eyes when you Buy

Recalling General Motors’ Middle Eastern misadventures.

Image: gbodyforum.com

The title of this tale is a Middle Eastern proverb, somewhat similar to our adage ‘Buyer beware’, but it expands on this in the sense that it also cautions sellers to keep an eye on proceedings at all times. On two separate occasions involving different Middle East countries, General Motors found to its cost what can happen if this advice is not heeded, dragging it into controversy and a hostile environment when the political winds changed direction.

A trade dispute between Japan and Iraq was the improbable cause of trouble for GM Canada. In 1980, Toyota was the number-one selling car in Iraq, and had been for some years. That same year, the Japanese manufacturer initiated talks with Ford about a possible joint venture. The fact that Ford operated an important assembly plant in Israel, however, did not go down well with the Iraqis, who in consequence started looking for a different supplier for the country’s official cars and taxi cabs. Continue reading “Open One Eye when you Sell, and Both Eyes when you Buy”

The Milwaukee Magician (Part Five)

Concluding our guided tour through the works of Brooks Stevens.

Image: stlouiscarmuseum.com

1964 Excalibur SS: Studebaker needed something special to display at the 1964 New York Motor Show. The cars that had been displayed at the Chicago event earlier in the year were pretty underwhelming, being mainly colour and trim variations on the regular production vehicles. Byers Burlingame, successor to Sherwood Egbert, who had been forced to resign as CEO of Studebaker for health reasons, discussed the matter with Brooks Stevens over the telephone.

Stevens later recalled that he asked Burlingame to ship a Lark Daytona chassis to him. When Burlingame asked what he intended to do with it, Stevens replied crisply that he was “going to build a contemporary classic.” When Burlingame asked “What in the hell is that?” Stevens had to think a few seconds, as the idea was new to him also, and finally replied: “Well, it’s a new old car.” Burlingame just hung up the phone, but the chassis was duly sent over.

Even though his designs in various fields were mostly quite avant garde, Stevens was also a lifelong fan of the great classic cars. His idea, unique at the time but subsequently copied by many others, was to Continue reading “The Milwaukee Magician (Part Five)”

Lady in Waiting

Honda meets 1970s modernism.

Image: autonxt.net

Founded in 1966, Carrozzeria Coggiola is located in the Turinese suburb of Orbassano, then also home to Giovanni Michelotti’s styling bureau. Coggiola is not nearly as well known to the general public as storied names such as Bertone, Pininfarina or Ital Design because, apart from cars like the SAAB Sonett III, not many Coggiola designs ever became available in showrooms. This small carrozzeria instead specialised in manufacturing bespoke cars for private clients. It was also employed by mainstream manufacturers to build prototypes and one-off concept cars, for example, the pyramidal 1980 Citroën Karin and 1988 Renault Mégane concept. Continue reading “Lady in Waiting”

The Milwaukee Magician (Part Four)

Continuing our guided tour of the works of Brooks Stevens.

Image: cartype.com

1962 and 1964 Studebaker Lark facelifts: In 1956, Studebaker parted ways with Raymond Loewy, the designer responsible (in name at least) for the creation of most of the Indiana company’s cars of the preceding decades. The reason was not so much dissatisfaction with Loewy’s services, but a lack of money: Studebaker’s sales were in the doldrums and the company simply could not afford him anymore. Styling responsibilities would henceforth lie with its in-house design team, led by Randall Faurot and Duncan McRae.

The compact Lark(1) was McRae and his colleagues’ first design. They ingeniously re-used the rather dated central body section of the company’s existing large Champion model, which had been introduced in 1953. Initially, the Lark sold very well and was wholly responsible for saving Studebaker from bankruptcy, at least for the time being. Sherwood Egbert became CEO of the troubled company at the end of 1960. Having previously worked for the McCulloch company, Egbert had already met Brooks Stevens on a few occasions, so it was to the Milwaukee designer that Egbert would turn to Continue reading “The Milwaukee Magician (Part Four)”

The Milwaukee Magician (Part Three)

Continuing our guided tour of the works of Brooks Stevens.

Image: zeppelin70years.com

1954 Cadillac Die Valkyrie: snowplough, cow-catcher(1) and steam iron were just some of the likenesses offered by critics for the controversial frontal appearance of Brooks Stevens’ first design to be displayed at a European Motor Show. The last suggestion was particularly apposite in view of the Milwaukee designer’s successful ‘Steam-O-Matic’ iron of more than a decade earlier. The giant ‘V’ shaped front assembly was, according to Stevens, simply meant to emphasise the large V8 engine that provided the motive force for the car.

The Die Valkyrie was designed after Brooks Stevens became acquainted with Guy Storr, a French public relations specialist based in Monaco. Their meeting was timely as Stevens was eager to Continue reading “The Milwaukee Magician (Part Three)”

The Milwaukee Magician (Part Two)

A guided tour through some of the notable works of Brooks Stevens.

Image: the author

1936 Zephyr Land Yacht: One of the earliest automotive creations of Brooks Stevens is this unusual trailer vehicle combination, the Zephyr Land Yacht. It was commissioned by thirty year-old millionaire playboy William Woods Plankinton Jr., heir to his father’s vast fortune. The tractor was based on an International Harvester chassis, while the trailer used a Curtis Aerocar as a starting point. The lucky occupants of the trailer wanted for nothing during their travels across the country: a complete kitchen, bathrooms with showers and hot and cold water plus sleeping accommodation for Plankinton, six guests and the butler were provided. Plankington was an avid hunter and fisherman, so ample storage for rifles and fishing rods was also incorporated into the design. Continue reading “The Milwaukee Magician (Part Two)”

The Milwaukee Magician (Part One)

Remembering the life and work of Brooks Stevens.

Image: mam.org

In the pantheon of industrial and automotive design and styling, he sometimes gets lost in the shuffle at roll call; Pininfarina, Loewy, Eames, Bertoni, Buehrig, Giugiaro, Earl, Lyons, Rams, Opron and Bertone are all present, and deservedly so. There is, however, one gentleman; tall, suave, impeccably dressed and exuding an effortless sense of good taste, that many people may have more trouble putting a name to.

This is somewhat surprising when one realises that this man not only designed important vehicles for several automakers, but also counted Harley-Davidson, Evinrude, the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad and a wide range of home appliance manufacturers amongst his clients. Moreover, he designed the first true SUV, was one of the founders of the Society of Industrial Designers, created with the famous Oscar Mayer ‘Weinermobile’ as well as the oval-mouthed peanut butter jar (to allow easier access to the bottom) and coined the infamous phrase ‘planned obsolescence’. Continue reading “The Milwaukee Magician (Part One)”

Ashes to Ashes (Part One)

Awaiting the inevitable.

Two 1965 or 1966 Ford Mustangs, a 1953 Cadillac and a 1963 Ford Thunderbird. All images: the author.

Apart from huge metropolises such as New York or Los Angeles, most of the United States’ land area is quite sparsely inhabited, with large areas of undeveloped land. A consequence of this abundance of space was the many salvage yards(1) where cars were simply parked at their presumed final resting place instead of being stacked on top of each other, disassembled, flattened or crushed.

While not necessarily the most environmentally-friendly storage method, salvage yards do provide an invaluable source of spare-parts for those restoring a piece of classic Detroit iron. For those with an interest in classic cars in general and who, like your author, appreciate the peculiar air of nostalgia and romance one feels while walking amongst discarded vehicles in varying stages of decay, these yards are also irresistible. In truth, I should probably use the past tense these days as the vast majority of these salvage yards have now disappeared due to ever more stringent environmental laws and policies that started to take effect, especially since the turn of the millennium. Continue reading “Ashes to Ashes (Part One)”

Parlez-vous Franglais?

A transatlantic crossing, and a return trip.

All images: the author

Conceived and designed in the United States, introduced in France by Ford but rebadged Simca soon afterwards before eventually ending its days in South America, the second-generation Ford/Simca Vedette had a meandering career trajectory.

In the summer of 1954, Simca took over SAF(1) Ford France and thereby gained ownership of its large Poissy manufacturing plant as well as the complete Ford France dealership network. The Blue Oval’s French operation had not achieved the success originally envisioned, causing Ford instead to Continue reading “Parlez-vous Franglais?”

Chacun Voit Midi à Sa Porte*

A trio from the French quarter.

Amid the less frequently visited outposts within automotive history’s archives, intriguing and fascinating things can sometimes be found.

Marsonetto

Until fairly recently the family business of Automobiles Marsonetto was still active as a concessionaire of Fiat, Alfa Romeo and Lancia in Villeurbanne on the outskirts of Lyon. Founder of the company, Mario Marsonetto was the son of an Italian mason but was more interested in automobiles than following in his father’s footsteps. By his early twenties he had successfully trained to become a coachbuilder, having gained valuable work experience by rebodying passenger cars – mainly Renaults and Citroëns – as well as trucks. Continue reading “Chacun Voit Midi à Sa Porte*”

Blowing Up the Mould

No more Mr. Stingray. 

All images: Author’s collection

As the Corvette became a more serious proposition after the commercially successful but softer by the year C3 Stingray, its publicity material followed suit…

When introduced for the 1968 model year, the voluptuous Corvette Stingray did not meet with the universal praise from the press that GM had hoped for. Of course, the C3 had big shoes to fill after its much loved predecessor, but embarrassing initial quality glitches as well as a perceived of loss of focus as far as the sportscar aspect was concerned did not help its plight either.

The buying public thought otherwise however, and as the seventies unfolded sales of the C3 actually went up year-on-year culminating in its best sales performance (for this particular model) in 1979. Nevertheless, those responsible for all things Corvette within Chevrolet division decided to Continue reading “Blowing Up the Mould”

When Henry Met André – Part 2

Scribing one’s name across the firmament.

Citroën’s famous publicity exploits. Image: Deseret.com/ Lepoint.fr

The roaring twenties was a favourable decade for Citroën; not only did his cars gain a reputation for reliability, economy of operation and modernity, but the carmaker also was one of the first in the field to appreciate and apply the power of publicity on a grand scale. And we do mean grand. During the 1922 Paris motor show he hired an aeroplane to fly over the city and write his company name in the sky – over three miles long – the first time this was ever done.

A few years later, the Eiffel tower would become the world’s largest lighted commercial display by means of 250,000 light bulbs; upon his final descent to the airport of Le Bourget after his 33-hour solo flight, Charles Lindbergh used the lighted Eiffel tower as a guiding beacon. Seizing the publicity opportunity, Citroën invited the aeronautic pioneer to Javel where the entire workforce as well as the domestic press greeted the first man to Continue reading “When Henry Met André – Part 2”

New Year Cracker

A few more things to chew on, and they’re low on calories.

Dinner is served. Image: foodies.pk

Before DTW service returns to normal, one final festive brain teaser. Step away from those biscuits…

[1] What car model name started life as the name of a four door version of an existing coupé (which frankly did not resemble said coupé much at all) before it became a model name in itself three years later?

Continue reading “New Year Cracker”