We Interrupt This Programme

Is that a gun in your pocket?

Image: Corrado Belli

The name of this vehicle has nothing to do with Auntie Beeb, being simply composed of the initials of Messrs. Beretta, Benelli and Castelbarco – all three of them distinctly Italian. The first two names will sound familiar as they are those of the arms maker and motorcycle manufacturer respectively; the third was a member of the Italian nobility.

Pietro Beretta had inherited the family company, founded in the 16th century, in 1903 but found his factories seized by the German army upon the allied invasion of Italy in 1943. When hostilities ended two years later there was understandably little demand for Beretta’s traditional offerings. Postwar Italy – its confidence, its infrastructure and its economy – had to be rebuilt and providing mobility for as many private individuals and businesses as possible was of course one of the vital aspects that needed to be addressed in order to Continue reading “We Interrupt This Programme”

Short Story (Part Two)

Keeping it brief.

Image: automobile

Audi Sport Quattro

The spectacular but dangerous Group B rally class produced some mythical, awe-inspiring cars during its short existence; the Audi Sport Quattro being one of them. Group B regulations required competitors to produce a minimum of 200 roadgoing versions of the car they entered, resulting in an elite group of highly sought after collector’s cars.

Obviously derived from the standard Audi Quattro, the short wheelbase Sport Quattro with its body partly made from Kevlar was not simply a cut-and-shut job. Opening the bonnet one found a 5-cylinder engine alright, but this was an all-aluminium version delivering a potent 306 hp out of a displacement of 2.1 litres: the sub-five seconds 0-62 dash it could propel the Sport Quattro to being highly impressive at the time. Continue reading “Short Story (Part Two)”

Short Story (Part One)

Brevity is an art.

Image: The Author/ Encyclautomobile fr/ Wouter Huisman

Although a much less common course of action compared to stretching a pre-existing vehicle, several car manufacturers have at times explored this avenue nevertheless. There can be several reasons for this; the main ones being motorsports competition requirements, creating a smaller and cheaper entry level variant, responding to customer requests or complaints, and unique geographical market circumstances.

The just for fun variants are left out of the equation here, those (however amusing in some cases), for the most part being one-off amateur concoctions and mobile billboards. Continue reading “Short Story (Part One)”

Bringing Home the Dacon

Flattery only goes so far…

Does my bum look big in this? Image: Bestcars/ Conceptcarz/ The author

For a brief moment after its introduction at the 1977 Geneva Motor Show, it seemed that Porsche’s 928 was THE car. Very much the antithesis of everything traditionally Porsche by being front engined and watercooled, the 928 was a bold move by the German manufacturer. The ingenious Weissach rear axle and the instrument binnacle that moved with the steering wheel as it was adjusted were testament of the amount of thought put into the intended, over time at least, 911 successor.

With a body composed of mostly rounded forms and compound curves the 928 also went against the stream of the vast majority of late seventies car designs. Being crowned 1978 European Car Of The Year; that title carrying considerably more marketable prestige compared to today, was icing on the cake, although the events would illustrate that the 928 would not Continue reading “Bringing Home the Dacon”

Slegs Vir Suid-Afrikaners*

The South African variants.

Image: BMW SA/ Drive-my.com

The main reasons for certain countries to develop (or have developed for them), unique variants of established car model lines can roughly be traced back to tax laws, vehicle or traffic legislation and domestic motorsports homologation requirements. BMW is a brand that has sired several bespoke cars only available in certain markets. Italian and Portuguese legislation resulted in the E30-series 320iS which was fitted with a 2-litre version of the M3 engine, avoiding the severe tax hike for engines with a displacement exceeding 1999cc.

BMW South Africa gave birth to an E23-series BMW 745i with a different and arguably better engine than the 3.2 litre turbocharged six with which it was originally equipped (because the turbocharger got in the way of right hand drive conversion), and homologation rules put cars such as the E30-series BMW 333i on public roads, again in South Africa, which turned out to be a fertile ground for deviant model versions. Today, let’s Continue reading “Slegs Vir Suid-Afrikaners*”

For A Few Pesos More

A Renault that came close to making it to market, and one that actually did. Some may prefer it to have been the other way round….

Image: Forocoches.com

IKA Renault 40: Argentina

When Varig flight 820 crashed just a few miles from its destination of Orly airport on 11 July 1973(1) causing 123 deaths and only 11 survivors, there naturally was widespread grief among the families and relatives involved. The air disaster also derailed a promising project by Renault Argentina owing to the fact that Yvon Lavaud, the president of IKA Renault, was among the victims.

In 1967, Renault became the majority shareholder of IKA (Industrias Kaiser Argentina). Lavaud was sent to Argentina to Continue reading “For A Few Pesos More”

The South African Connection

A re-assessment of what really was the first BMW M road car.

BMW 530 MLE. Image: Stefan Kötze

BMW Motorsport GmbH, the Munich manufacturer’s sports division and the go-to specialists for creating the coveted M models, was established in 1972. In the public conscience the legendary M1 of 1978 has long been regarded as the first M vehicle, but the car presented in this article casts doubt upon that assumption. Two years earlier, what is now regarded as the first M car, although it did not actually Continue reading “The South African Connection”

Going Up

Introducing the MegaPanda…

Emelba Chato. Image: Esacademic.com

After the fall of Generalissimo Franco’s regime, Spain became free in more than one way; its market could now be opened to more products and brands produced outside of the country. This revitalization of the market stimulated the foundation of many new businesses, of which coachbuilder Emelba was one.

Commencing operations in 1978, Girona-based Emelba swiftly developed close ties to the national car maker SEAT and started producing the SEAT 127 Samba for them – the Spanish sister of the Fiat 127 Scout. At the time the market for small utility vehicles in Spain was dominated by Renault (4 F4 and F6) and Citroën (Acadiane). Oddly enough SEAT never brought its own version of the Fiat 127 Fiorino to market, instead Emelba built the SEAT 127 Poker: a 127 with a Fiorino-like rear section but executed rather more crudely.

The 127 Poker was still more a worklike van than people carrier, prompting Emelba to Continue reading “Going Up”

Comfort Food

Catch a Crown Comfort while you still can.

Tokyo Taxi. Image (c) The Author

In what now seem like very distant times, procuring the services of a taxi in New York would inevitably see one on the vinyl-clad rear seat of either a big yellow Checker, later a Chevrolet Caprice Classic or Ford Crown Victoria, whereas in swinging London an Austin FX4 “black cab” or its similar looking successors.

Nowadays virtually all these once ubiquitous vehicles have been succeeded by more modern, cleaner, more efficient but at the same time also much less characterful replacements. The minor sense of occasion one experienced as a tourist has gone as well since Toyota Prii and such now Continue reading “Comfort Food”

(Dis)missed Opportunity

Citroën suffocated France’s oldest carmaker in what seemed a needless fashion. Could it have ended differently?

Image: The author

At the official June 1963 presentation of what would be Panhard’s last new car introduction – the 24 – Jean-Pierre Peugeot was among the attendees. Having inspected the new car he took CEO, Jean Panhard aside and said to him: “How fortunate you are to have such talented designers – we’re forced to Continue reading “(Dis)missed Opportunity”

Swiped Left

Amid high hopes, Argentina’s Zunder proved a damp squib.

Image: Archivodeautos

A substantial percentage of the population of Argentina is of European origin- so much so that even today many Argentineans consider their country as in a way a separate one from the South American continent. Until the middle of the 20th century Argentina and its inhabitants were doing rather well economically, exporting cereals and meat worldwide. What was felt to be missing however was a domestic car make; several enterprising souls would try their luck at clearing this prestigious but tricky hurdle. The Bongiovanni brothers were among them.

As their surname suggests, Nilson and Eligio Bongiovanni were of Italian descent. After the second world war they ran a large and prosperous Chevrolet dealership in the city of Rio Cuarto, west of Buenos Aires. The implementation of protectionism measures by the government in 1952 threw a spanner in the works: among other things it meant the end of the import of foreign cars including of course, Chevrolets. This left the brothers with only repairs and maintenance as a source of income. This setback did however stimulate the Bongiovannis (both of them creative personalities with excellent engineering skills) to Continue reading “Swiped Left”

Up, Up and Away

Would you like to ride in my beautiful… Lexus

Lexus SC. Image: The author.

Filling balloons with wet plaster, squeezing them into abstract shapes, photographing the amorphous images and projecting the slides on a wall may sound like the description of an LSD powered mind trip, but in this case it was a new and unprecedented way to design a car.

In 1987 Toyota started work on project F3, the planned successor to the then recently introduced Soarer Z20. Contrary to the previous Japanese domestic market-only model, the planned new car would also be marketed in North America under the upcoming Lexus brand. Since it was considered essential that the future car be a success in the North American market, the job was given to Calty Design Research – Toyota’s Californian design centre established in 1973.

Not leaving anything to chance however, Toyota instructed their in-house design team in Japan to Continue reading “Up, Up and Away”

The Little BMW That Could

The car that gave hope to BMW that independent, consistent success would materialise after a difficult post-war period.

All images by the author.

As the 1950s drew to a close, BMW was in deep trouble. Only the tiny Isetta bubble car, built under license from Iso was a modest money maker. An enormous chasm gaped between the Isetta and the large, expensive 2600 and 3200 models, modernised versions of the 501/ 502 and by that time past their best.

The exclusive 503 and 507 were impressive vehicles to be sure, and especially in the 507’s case, beautiful, but neither had been a commercial success. In an effort to Continue reading “The Little BMW That Could”

Dutch Treat

There were more strings to DAF’s bow than one might have imagined.

Image: The author,

Although small in stature, The Netherlands has given the world several notable innovations. The microscope, the orange coloured carrot, the stock market, the pendulum clock, total football, the anthem, the first modern world atlas, Bluetooth and WiFi, the artificial kidney and heart, not to mention cocoa powder.

But while the Gatso speed camera has been greeted with less cheer, the positives outweigh that negative by some margin. In the carmaking field however, the country’s track record has been less stellar. Even though luxury car maker Spijker was the first to introduce a car with six cylinders (and four wheel drive as well!) in 1903 with the 60HP, the company went bankrupt during the roaring twenties; and even if current CEO Victor Muller of the revived-since-1999 Spijker would have us Continue reading “Dutch Treat”

Variations on a Theme

Presenting three lesser known varieties of Citroën’s svelte autoroute express

Image via the author.

CX Haute Protection

When thinking about an armoured passenger car, the picture that comes to mind for most Europeans is likely a large black car with the famous three-pointed star on its bonnet and for those across the Atlantic, one bearing the Cadillac crest. However, in the long wheelbase CX Prestige, Citroën was of the opinion that they could Continue reading “Variations on a Theme”

Domo Arigato Zagato

Win on Sunday…

Alfa 155 TI.Z Image: H Nakayama

The Autech Stelvio and slightly less challengingly styled Autech Gavia were not the only specials for the Japanese domestic market produced by the Italian carrozzieri: meet the Alfa Romeo 155 TI.Z. Zagato’s aim appears to have been to Continue reading “Domo Arigato Zagato”

Pampas Troika

Not everything is what it seems at first glance: Citroën 2cv derivatives from the fertile South American lowlands.

IES America. Image: (c) Etienne Musslin

Founded in 1959, Citroën Argentina S.A. initially assembled vehicles with parts imported from France. The A-series Citroëns produced at the plant located in a southeast barrio of Buenos Aires named Barracas were mostly identical to their French sisters although the 602cc engined version was renamed 3cv, and featured a fifth door hatch which the European 2cv would only receive many years later.

The A-series models made in Barracas were the 2cv, the 3cv and 3cv in the fourgonette (van) version. Starting in 1964, Citroën Argentina began to manufacture the 425cc engine for the 2cv themselves. In 1969 production was expanded with the Ami 8, followed by the Méhari in 1974; production of the GS being contemplated but never materialised because of the large investment required.

As the end of the decade neared, the changed political and economic situation due to the national reorganisation process (known as proceso) under junta leader Jorge Videla made Citroën decide to Continue reading “Pampas Troika”

Michel’s Missing Bugatti

As dirty Harry Callahan once proclaimed: “A man’s got to know his limitations”.

All images: Author’s collection

The whereabouts of the prototypes are unknown: Malaysia, Germany and Italy are on the list of possibilities but so far none have surfaced – assuming they even still exist, that is. After the unsuccessful effort to revive the marque shortly after the second world war, it was until very recently assumed that Italian businessman Romano Artioli was next to attempt the task with Bugatti Automobili SpA between 1987 and 1995.

Although its specifications were undoubtedly impressive, the EB110 never really managed to establish a stable bridgehead for Artioli’s Bugatti upon which to expand further; the planned Ital Design EB112 four-door luxury car remained stillborn and the company declared bankrupt in September of 1995.

Some years before Artioli acquired Bugatti however, Michel Bugatti – Ettore Bugatti’s youngest son from his second marriage to Geneviève Marguerite Delcuze – initiated an ambitious project to Continue reading “Michel’s Missing Bugatti”

En Garde! Part Two

The saga continues and grows ever stranger.

Image: Hotrodmagazine/ Fabwheelsdigest

The lesser-known RK Bodyworks, based in Albany, New York was commissioned by a certain Carl Szembrot to convert this 1952 Studebaker into a LeSabre-lookalike. The top of the three taillights adorning each fin was a blue directional signal, the middle one a red stop light and the bottom one a white reversing light. The bullet nose and trim from the Studebaker were cleverly re-used to Continue reading “En Garde! Part Two”

En Garde! Part One

Taking influence to unprecedented heights.

Image: GM/ Jalopyjournal

Like the Buick Y-job that went before it, the 1951 LeSabre concept car was a GM testbed for both technology and stylistic ideas. The low-slung roadster, bodied in aluminium and magnesium, was the first to have the panoramic windshield that would be a defining feature on virtually all American cars from the mid- to late fifties. Its overall look is best described as jet age on wheels.

LeSabre also used the first application of GM’s 215 cubic inch (3.5 litre) aluminium V8 which would later find its way into a variety of cars, both in the USA and Europe – although in the LeSabre’s case the engine was supercharged and capable of running on both regular fuel and methanol. Harley Earl was known to Continue reading “En Garde! Part One”

Winging It

Kindred spirits take wing.

All images: The Author

Today’s subjects have more in common than just gullwing doors. Both were American brands produced outside of the USA, both attempted to tackle the same market segment, both ended up with a purchase price much higher than initially promised, suffered manifold quality problems and delivered only lukewarm performance; both lasted only three years on the market and were created under a business financing model with at least a whiff of sharp practice, leaving foreign governments eventually holding the bag.

They even almost ended up with similar names: Bricklin named its sportscar “SV-1” (for Safety Vehicle), and the original prototype of the DeLorean was known internally as the “DSV-1” (for DeLorean Safety Vehicle).

Malcolm Bricklin became wealthy by operating a nationwide franchise operation of do-it-yourself stores named Handyman. After this he ventured into the automotive field by becoming the American importer of Subaru in 1968; the Japanese company had only the tiny 360 to offer at the time but Bricklin became interested because it delivered excellent gas mileage and did not require federalizing in the USA because of its sub-1000 pound weight.

The Subaru 360 proved a difficult sell nevertheless. Bricklin later tried to Continue reading “Winging It”

Illustrious Duo

The art of Fitz and Van.

Boredom helped me to discover them. In the early seventies, I needed to find a way to keep myself entertained during our monthly weekend visits to my grandmother who lived in a small village in rural Belgium. As there was not much to do for me there and no children of my age to play with, I resorted to wandering around the house; that is where I at some point discovered stacks of old magazines in an old wardrobe closet. Among them were old TV guides and home decoration magazines but also issues of Readers Digest, LIFE and National Geographic.

Cars – and drawing them in particular – were my main point of interest and the plentiful car advertisements in those old magazines in my grandmother’s house provided an excellent source of inspiration. The ones that made the biggest impression on me were those of Pontiac in the magazines of American origin, and the Opel advertisements in the other more recent publications.

Those cars looked so fantastic – how on earth did they Continue reading “Illustrious Duo”

Strip Club

Sorry gentlemen, no lucite heels and garterbelts here, just painted metal and blanked out switches.

Image: Balconistasa com

There can be a quiet sort of dignity in an austere car. Shorn of distracting embellishments, the observer has an excellent opportunity to judge the essential purity – or lack thereof – of the design in question. But there are limits to how far a manufacturer can Continue reading “Strip Club”

Knocking On Opportunity’s Door

A design masterpiece in retrospect.

All images: The author’s collection

The silence was deafening, broken only by the faint hum of the ventilation system in Ford Motor Company Vice President Robert S. McNamara’s office. “Bob, you can’t really do that, can you?” uttered general manager Ben D. Mills after a few uncomfortable seconds. “You bet I can do it” was McNamara’s terse response.

McNamara had just announced that based on Lincoln’s dismal financial projections (and it had never made a profit since its inception) he had decided to recommend that the brand be terminated. It was only after a long and heated discussion that Mills, chief engineer Harold McDonald and executive engineer Harold Johnsson managed to persuade McNamara to Continue reading “Knocking On Opportunity’s Door”

Failure to Launch

I think it’s gonna be a long, long time…

Image: DPA.com

Muammar Mohammed Abu Minyar Gaddafi: dictator and terrorist to many, hero and martyr to others. The late Libyan ruler has been associated with many things, most of them of the unpleasant variety. But few could imagine the self-proclaimed brother-leader as a car designer. Yet colonel Gaddafi really did order the development of Libya’s first car, and had a considerable say in its styling and design concept, with the lofty aim of producing the safest car in the world.

Colonel Gadaffi named the car Saroukh El-Jamahiriya or Libyan rocket (once a military man, always a military man) and it was unveiled at a special summit of the Organisation of African Unity in 1999, organised to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the revolution.

The car was described by the press officer at hand as an elegant sedan and that Gaddafi “had spent long hours thinking of ways to Continue reading “Failure to Launch”

The Old Bird’s Case Of BDD

Our Under the Knife Series travels to the Americas.

(c) Todofalcon.com

Body Dysmorphic Disorder, or addiction to cosmetic surgery, is no laughing matter. Those afflicted by it, such as American socialite Jocelyn Wildenstein  are testament to the fact that one would be wise to Continue reading “The Old Bird’s Case Of BDD”

Computer Says No

Technological breakdowns – there’s one Born every minute.

All Images: Author’s collection

This cringeworthy yet humorous phrase uttered regularly by the character Carol Breer in the TV show, Little Britain reminds us of the fact that while computers may have given us countless advantages and convenience in every field you can imagine, when they malfunction or are not programmed correctly they can cause immense frustration. Computerisation in cars can be a source of aggravation too, as today’s subject shows, although an iffy digital onboard diagnostics system was not the only thing impeding the Volvo 480’s market chances.

The genesis of the 480 was 1978, when an internal Volvo project named Galaxy was initiated. By the early eighties the main stylistic direction was established and unexpectedly neither the design by Volvo chief stylist Jan Wilsgaard nor the proposal by Bertone was chosen to Continue reading “Computer Says No”

Rockstar Meets Dolphin

Two forms of US retro from the far East. 

Image: The author

Both the Japanese and the Chinese car industry have on several occasions been accused of copying successful examples of their established colleagues in the west. The former never really produced an exact facsimile (cars built under licence such as the Hino Renault 4cv excepted) but rather an amalgam of those styling and engineering details of the competition deemed most worthy to emulate; this practice endured into the eighties but since those times the Japanese have clearly found their own way and are in some cases even leading it.

Having embarked upon mass production of passenger cars much later, the Chinese have taken a much more unscrupulous approach almost from the start; China’s first passenger car, the DongFeng CA71 of 1958 was a virtual, and unauthorised, copy of the Simca Vedette. Several Chinese upstarts continued the practice from there, mostly undeterred by threats from the carmakers in question to Continue reading “Rockstar Meets Dolphin”

Boxing Day

Looking as if it has driven straight out of a Syd Mead rendering, the Brubaker Box’s base is as ubiquitous as it is humble.

Brubaker Box. Image: Retecool.com

Curtis Brubaker was a car designer who had studied auto design at the Pasadena Art Center College of Design. Working in GM’s advanced research group, in 1969 Brubaker left GM to establish his own design company in Los Angeles; still providing design consultancy work for GM but now also for Volvo, Ford and a few Japanese car manufacturers. He also formed part of the design team for the famous Learjet.

During a trip to nearby Newport Beach, Brubaker could not help but Continue reading “Boxing Day”

Big Things

Some cars are bigger than others. 

Image: Author’s collection

On the occasion of the current Fiat 500’s introduction at the Frankfurt Motor Show in 2007, nobody could miss the enormous 500 replica that dominated the FIAT display; it was an impressive showpiece and even included a huge ignition key. Both the front and rear wheel could slide away to allow actual 500’s to be driven in and out. The giant 500 was certainly a bold, eye-catching idea, but Fiat was not the first to Continue reading “Big Things”

Badge Budge

A corporate identifier can speak a thousand words – especially in court. 

Image: Newsdanciennes

Recently, Citroën has taken Volvo-affiliated Polestar to court in France claiming that the new manufacturer’s logo is not only too similar to the famous double chevron, but also the more recent DS logo – and in their home country at least, Citroën has been successful, as the judge ruled partly in favour of the French car manufacturer.

The court stated that while potential customers of either brand were unlikely to confuse the two it did rule that it was probable that Polestar could Continue reading “Badge Budge”

The Eloquence of Life

“He who has not seen the road, at dawn, between its two rows of trees, all fresh, all alive, does not know what hope is.”

All images: The author

This phrase, translated from French by Georges Bernanos is but one of several accompanying the evocative images in the beautiful and highly sought-after Citroën DS Décapotable brochure. These poem fragments are also virtually the only words to be found in the booklet, which represented a hitherto unseen and fresh way of publicizing a car, thanks to the combined creative genius of artistic manager Robert Delpire and photographer William Klein.

The DS, convertible or otherwise, was of course not just any car (and Citroën not just any carmaker) so the fact that the stars aligned so perfectly to Continue reading “The Eloquence of Life”

Because They Could

Few unique car designs hail from Ireland. Fewer still as thorough as this. Bruno Vijverman investigates the story of the DAWB. 

DAWB 6. Image: David Heatley

As the name implies, the Ulster Transport Museum in Cultra, Northern Ireland harbours a variety of modes of transport. Trains, trams, airplanes, bicycles, motorcycles and of course cars are on display. Among the exhibited cars, one stands out as a unique showcase of what could be achieved when a determined cohort of men set out to make their dream car, and were not prepared to Continue reading “Because They Could”

Creativité, Rationalité, Pragmatisme

A trio of Citroën oddities in this take on that famous French creed – Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité.

1982 Citroen BX Coupé prototype

Seasoned Citroën fans are no doubt aware that Citroën toyed with the idea of a BX Coupé but never allowed it to reach the production stage; a full size mockup, looking somewhat like a mix of BX and Renault 11 3-door hatchback has survived and can be viewed at the Citroën Conservatoire.

There was however another, far more ambitious BX-derived Coupé in development for a time, also styled by carrozzeria Bertone. This project was initiated early in 1982, some months before the introduction of the BX hatchback at that year’s Paris Motor Show. Surviving documents reveal that this coupé was intended for a higher marketing segment and was also to Continue reading “Creativité, Rationalité, Pragmatisme”

Axis Denied

Peugeot versus Porsche: It wasn’t simply business, it was personal. 

(c) Veikl com

It will not be news to the majority amongst the DTW readership: the time when Porsche was forced to rename its 356 successor, the 901. French carmaker, Peugeot legally secured the rights to model names with a zero in the middle in 1929, when the 201 was introduced. Porsche yielded to threats of legal action from the lion of Belfort, chose 911 as the new model designation and the rest, as they say, is history. Or is it?

Because there is more to this than it would seem at first sight; the fact that other manufacturers such as BMW, Bristol and Ferrari marketed models with a zero in the middle for years without so much as a peep from Sochaux raises the question, why did Peugeot Continue reading “Axis Denied”

Joyeux Anniversaire, Majesté

As Citroën’s Grand Tourisme with the Italian heart celebrates its fiftieth birthday this year, we peruse the few brochures printed during its brief tenure at the summit of the French firm’s hierarchy.

All Images: The author.

The ambitious SM of 1970 took the Citroën brand into a hitherto unexplored market segment. Instead of Peugeot, Rover, Renault and Lancia – to name a few – now it entered an arena occupied by names such as Jaguar, Mercedes-Benz, Jensen and BMW. Still, the initial reception was overwhelmingly favourable – the SM placing third in that year’s European Car of the Year contest (the GS won that year), and voted Motor Trend Car of the Year in the American market in 1972.

The vast majority of road tests worldwide resulted in positive to rave reviews, in most cases accompanied by a few provisos concerning the SM’s comparatively leisurely acceleration and the very direct DIRAVI power steering with variable assistance – although it was usually stated that most drivers would not want to Continue reading “Joyeux Anniversaire, Majesté”

Nomen Est Omen

We return to the minefield of automotive nomenclature. Mind where you step. 

Highly infectious. (c) Tata Corporation

The process of naming a new car can be surprisingly complex and drawn-out, and even then certain pitfalls are sometimes overlooked, causing delays, unplanned expenditure and in a few cases, embarrassment and retraction. These pitfalls can be largely be categorized in lingual miscues (mostly of the sexual or scatological variety), historically insensitive names, legal copyright infringements, or simple bad luck.*

To start with that latter category: Tata Motors introduced a new small car in 2016 named Zica. Unfortunately for the Indian manufacturer, the introduction coincided with the outbreak of the fearsome Zika virus in South America; the Zica hastily renamed Tiago. All press photos had to be redone, previously built Zicas had to Continue reading “Nomen Est Omen”

Stuck In Neutral

How Billancourt was presented with an unexpected proposal for an ultra-basic car, not by the product committee, but from the mighty French labour union.

Renault Neutral proposal. (c) Conceptcarz com

The mid eighties were tough times for Renault. Georges Besse had become CEO in January 1985 and was confronted with an alarming financial situation: between 1984 and 1985 losses were spiralling – amounting to in the region of 10 billion Francs. Furthermore, the alliance in the USA with American Motors was costing enormous amounts of money, with little headway to show for in return. In an effort to Continue reading “Stuck In Neutral”

Getting Personal

Analysing three different takes on the personal luxury car of 1963.

All images: The author.

The personal luxury car is a uniquely American phenomenon; its closest cousin in concept would have been the European GT, but this transatlantic specimen was a larger, softer (but on a straight piece of road not necessarily slower) breed. There is a fairly general consensus that Ford was the first to Continue reading “Getting Personal”

Curtain Call (Part 8)

Concluding our tour of some of the Eastern Bloc’s unrealised dreams

(c) Spoki.lv/ Autowp.ru

Moskvitch 2139 Arbat, 1989 and Istra, 1991

The rising popularity of the minivan during the eighties prompted Moskvitch to explore the possibilities of creating their own version, development starting in 1987. The result shown two years later was a seven seater named 2139 Arbat styled by Alexander Kulugin’s AZLK design team; the A- and B-pillar treatment by coincidence appearing somewhat similar to the more recent Skoda Roomster.

Featuring a sliding door on the passenger side, front seats that could Continue reading “Curtain Call (Part 8)”

Curtain Call (Part 7)

A penultimate look back at unrequited automotive dreams from the former USSR and its COMECON satellites.

FSO Ogar. Image: Auto Swiat.pl

FSO Ogar, 1977

This four-seater Sports Coupé concept based on Polski-Fiat 125P mechanicals was styled by Cézary Nawrot. The rear end bears a faint
resemblance to the Alfa Romeo Junior Zagato, while the bumpers appear Volvo-esque, but otherwise the look seems quite original, if not exactly
beautiful to most eyes. The body was constructed from a laminate combination of epoxy resin and fiberglass.

An intriguing aspect of the Ogar is that the large bumpers and prominent sidemarker lights were fitted in order to Continue reading “Curtain Call (Part 7)”

Curtain Call (Part 6)

A further peek through the iron curtain, courtesy of Bruno Vijverman, taking in the GDR, Czechoslovakia, Poland and mother Russia herself. 

Trabant P610. (c) trabantegyegy.uw/ hupommerngreif.de

Trabant P610 1974

Powered by an 1100cc Škoda engine, this was yet another failed attempt, started early in 1974- to replace the old P601. Four P610 prototypes were made, of which at least one has survived. In November 1979 the SED
(Socialist Unity party of Germany) ordered Trabant manufacturer, VEB Sachsenring Automobilwerke to Continue reading “Curtain Call (Part 6)”

Curtain Call (Part 5)

Uncovering more unrealised projects of the former USSR and its influence sphere.

Bosmal Beskid. (c) Dziennik.pl

Bosmal/FSM Beskid 106 – 1983

The Polish Bosmal research centre worked together with FSM on a few projects, one of which was the Beskid 106 – named after a mountain range in the Carpathaians. An up to date proposal for a successor to the license-built rear-engined FSM/ Fiat 126 was needed and Bosmal did not disappoint; styled by Krzysztof Meissner, the Beskid 106 presented in the spring of 1983 was more than contemporary.

Its drag coefficient of 0.29 was excellent, and the front-engined and front-wheel drive Beskid offered five person space within dimensions that were not much greater than those of the 126; seven inches longer, while its axles were twelve inches further apart. It did use the same 594cc two-cylinder engine, although a larger 703cc version was fitted to later versions. Development was halted in the late eighties, the most cited reason being that Fiat was going to Continue reading “Curtain Call (Part 5)”

So You Think You Can Race?

Racing CXs in the desert. What could possibly go wrong?

(c) Monamicitroen

Frequently, one can witness famous people on TV performing acts of a nature for which they profoundly lack the talent, relevant image or physical capability. A programme such as Dancing with the stars (or its local equivalent) is an example, as are those occasions where politicians, in a bid to appear ‘with it’, allow themselves be tempted to Continue reading “So You Think You Can Race?”

Curtain Call – (Part 4)

More Soviet-era conceptual shenanigans, courtesy of Bruno Vijverman. 

Wartburg 313. (c) Stadtarchiv Eisenach

Wartburg 313-2, 1960

This little known sporty prototype in the Renault Floride vein was publicised with a photo in East German newspapers but never shown to the public at any motor show. Standing at just 50 inches tall it was quite a stylistic departure from the 311 and 313/1 models on the road
at the time.

The 313-2 was more modern under the skin as well- it had a monocoque body and coil springs on all four wheels. Powering the 313-2 was the same three-cylinder two stroke however, although here it was fitted with two carburettors increasing the output to 60hp. Continue reading “Curtain Call – (Part 4)”

Curtain Call (Part 3)

DTW’s Eastern Bloc party of stillborn concepts and prototypes continues.

FSO Warszawa Ghia and Syrena Sport. (c) Autokult.pl /Auto Swiat.pl

FSO Warszawa Ghia, 1957

In search of a suitable replacement for the dated GAZ/Warszawa M20, FSO enlisted Ghia of Italy to deliver a proposal. Designed under Sergio Sartorelli at a cost of US $62,000, this Warszawa Ghia was the result. Looking somewhat like a shortened Lancia Flaminia, the car had a pleasing and up to date look. FSO sent the car to its research and development centre to be stored until further notice. Apparently no action was ever taken to Continue reading “Curtain Call (Part 3)”

Curtain Call (Part 2)

Comecon in and enjoy part two of Bruno Vijverman’s trawl through the former USSR’s automotive waifs and strays. 

Moskvitch 1974 C1. (c) Wroom.ru/ Autodata1 com

Moskvitch C1, 1975

AZLK, or Avtomobilny Zavod imeni Leninskogo Komsomola – which translates as Lenin-communist Youth Union – sold its vehicles under the more palatable brand name Moskvitch (Moscovite). In February of 1975 the C1 prototype was readied in response to a demand for a successor to the dated 412 model. Under its SAAB-esque skin, the work of chief designer Yuri Tkachenko, still beat the 412’s 85hp four; the hump stamped into the driver’s side of the bonnet accounted for by the engine’s height. Sharp eyes may spot the Opel Ascona B headlights. Still, the C1 looked modern- sporting even.

The bad news however was that the C1’s underpinnings were carried over from the car it was intended to replace. One would expect to Continue reading “Curtain Call (Part 2)”

Curtain Call (Part 1)

You don’t know how lucky you are…. Commonly believed to have been an automotive wasteland, but in fact a hotbed of innovation and inventiveness – Bruno Vijverman goes back to the USSR.

Moskvitch C1. (c) Forocoches.com

From establishment until its dissolution at the end of 1991 the USSR, with its highly centralized government and economy, kept its subjects in check under a stifling regime of five-year plans (pyatiletka) and widespread collectivisation. Stray too much – or too often – from your allocated path within the one-party state system and you risked intimidation, re-education, arrest or worse.

Such an environment of course was hardly conducive to creativity or self-deployment; at first sight this would also seem to be reflected in the vehicles that the (relatively) lucky few were allowed to own, assuming they could Continue reading “Curtain Call (Part 1)”

Earl’s Take On Nature

The Artistry of the 1920s has been widely and lovingly depicted, but colour has been more notable by its absence. Although not entirely. 

All images: The author.

The human mind sometimes works in mysterious ways. Because until relatively recently the fact that photography and film originating from the late 19th and early 20th century was black and white, subconsciously the idea that the world presented in those pictures was one bereft of colour often took hold in our brains, even though we of course knew better in our hearts.

The rediscovery of the amazing body of work by French philanthropist Albert Kahn and his colour photographs using experimental autochrome plates – the oldest ones dating back to 1909 – has done a lot to Continue reading “Earl’s Take On Nature”