Beyond Infiniti (Part Three)

We continue the story of Infiniti, Nissan’s troubled luxury brand, from 2010 to the present day and ponder its future.

2016 Infiniti Q30 (c) carmagazine.co.uk

Infiniti had spent its second decade rather more productively than its first and introduced models like the G35 compact premium saloon, coupé and convertible that were broadly class-competitive against their German rivals. However, sales growth still proved elusive. In 2010, Infiniti US sales were 103,411(1) vehicles, representing a 0.89% market share. In the same year, BMW and Mercedes-Benz were closely matched with US sales of 220,113 and 224,944 vehicles respectively, giving them market shares of 1.90% and 1.94%.

Infiniti’s Japanese nemesis, Lexus, edged ahead of the German duo with 229,329 sales, a market share of 1.98%. Even Acura outperformed Infiniti, with US sales of 133,596 vehicles, a market share of 1.15%. European sales for Infiniti in 2010 were an inconsequential 2,393 vehicles, representing a tiny 0.02% market share. Continue reading “Beyond Infiniti (Part Three)”

Beyond Infiniti (Part Two)

We continue the story of Infiniti, Nissan’s troubled luxury brand, as it enters its second decade.

2001 Infiniti Q45 (c) autoevolution.com

As the new millennium dawned, Infiniti found itself far adrift of its two Japanese rivals, Lexus and Acura, in the US luxury car market. This was largely a result of an unconvincing and substandard product line-up. The J20 compact executive, which should have been Infiniti’s volume seller, was a barely disguised Nissan Primera P11 and had comprehensively failed to attract buyers.

At the other end of its range, the Q45 was a bland and generic luxury saloon that was hugely outclassed by its competitors. The only bright spots in its range were the two mid-sized models, the I30 saloon and the QX4 SUV, both of which were little more than rebadged Nissans. Together, these two models accounted for 78% of the company’s sales in 2000.

Infiniti’s parent company, Nissan, was also in deep trouble. Facing a real prospect of bankruptcy, it had entered into an alliance with Renault in March 1999, with the intention of cutting costs by sharing development on new platforms and mechanical parts, while retaining their individual marque identities. There was little doubt as to which company was the senior partner: Renault purchased a 36.8% stake in Nissan, while the cash-strapped Japanese company could only promise to Continue reading “Beyond Infiniti (Part Two)”

Beyond Infiniti (Part One)

Nissan’s luxury brand is reportedly facing another reinvention as its long struggle for relevancy continues. We examine Infiniti’s chequered history and ponder its future.

1989 Infiniti Q45 (c) Nissan Heritage Collection

When Toyota launched its first Lexus LS400 in 1989, the automotive world was simply stunned by the ambition and audacity of the Japanese automaker. Previously best known for vehicles that were carefully designed, well-built and reliable, but largely uncharismatic, Toyota had created a luxury saloon that easily matched and, in a number of respects, surpassed the best that either Stuttgart or Munich could offer. It was good enough to Continue reading “Beyond Infiniti (Part One)”

Under the Knife – Shrink to Fit

Today we feature a car that, thanks to a clever facelift, was finally given the desirability to match its dynamic qualities.

1999 Porsche Boxster 986 (c) topcarrating.com

The original 1996 Porsche Boxster 986 had all the right mechanical ingredients for a terrific sports car, and so it proved to be. However, the styling was a disappointment, particularly after the excitement generated by the pert and beautifully detailed 1993 Boxster Concept, first shown at the US Auto Show in January of that year.

Porsche’s severe financial difficulties during the 1990s forced the company to Continue reading “Under the Knife – Shrink to Fit”

Moving Down, Scaling Up (Part Three)

The 1963 Hillman Imp was Rootes’ answer to BMC’s Mini, but a latecomer to the market and, ultimately, a commercial failure. We conclude its story.

1965 Hillman Imp Mk2 advertisement (c) somethingawful.com

Autocar magazine had been given early access to an Imp De Luxe for testing and published its road test just a day after launch. The price including tax was £532, a £24 premium over the standard version. The reviewer praised the new engine’s smoothness, quietness and willingness to rev. They noted that, despite an unusually high 10:1 compression ratio, it ran without any trace of ‘pinking’ or ‘run-on’ on Premium(1) grade petrol.

The recommended top speed of 70mph (113km/h) was easily exceeded, and a maximum of 83mph (134km/h) was recorded one-way. The 0 to 60mph (97km/h) time was measured at 23.7 seconds. Fuel consumption over the course of the road test was 38.1mpg (7.4 L/100km).

No coolant temperature gauge was fitted, and the reviewer had to Continue reading “Moving Down, Scaling Up (Part Three)”

Moving Down, Scaling Up (Part Two)

Continuing our recollection of cars developed in response to the demand for smaller and more economical models. Today we feature the Hillman Imp.

Image: motor-car.net

In the 1950’s, the cars produced by the Rootes Group were the very embodiment of middle-class respectability. Brothers William and Reginald Rootes, with the backing of the Prudential Assurance Company and Midland Bank, had assembled a stable of marques, including Hillman, Humber, Singer, Sunbeam and Talbot, all of which occupied the broad middle market.

There were some distinctions between them; Humber was the more upmarket brand, whilst Sunbeam models had a slightly sporting appeal, but the differences were marginal and largely historic. What Rootes emphatically did not possess was a small car brand, or expertise in that segment of the market.

Rootes was also initially slow to Continue reading “Moving Down, Scaling Up (Part Two)”

Moving Down, Scaling Up (Part One)

Two European automakers entered the small car market for the first time in the early 1960s. Both cars featured a similar rear-engined layout, but only one can be judged a success. 

Image: stubs.centreblog

The 1950s was a decade of recovery for the economies of European countries that had been devastated in the Second World War. Increasing affluence put car ownership within the reach of families for whom this was never previously feasible. Much of Europe’s road network, however, remained primitive and relatively unsuited to large and unwieldy cars. The 1956 Suez Crisis(1), although a relatively brief event, also heightened the importance of fuel economy to potential buyers.

West Germany had its distinctive bubble cars, but these were regarded with some distaste elsewhere in Europe, being seen as unacceptably small and crude. It was the somewhat larger 1955 Fiat 600 that achieved an optimal mix of comfort and economy in a small car and provided a template for other makers to Continue reading “Moving Down, Scaling Up (Part One)”

Micropost: The Suez Crisis in Brief

The fallout from the 1956 Suez Crisis was a significant factor in encouraging the growth in demand for small cars across Europe in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. Here is a brief summary of that historic event.

A container ship navigating the Suez Canal (c) splash 247.com

The 1956 Suez Crisis shattered the complacency that had prevailed in Europe since the end of the Second World War with regard to the security of Middle East oil supplies. With strong historic colonial ties to the region, Britain and France assumed that their interests could be protected via diplomatic ‘soft’ power and the perceived threat of military intervention in extremis. Continue reading “Micropost: The Suez Crisis in Brief”

Quelle Quatrelle! (Part Two)

We conclude our sixtieth anniversary celebration of the Renault 4, France’s most successful car.

Image: lautomobileancienne

The Renault R4 was formally launched at the Paris Salon in October 1961(1) in base and L trim. The two versions were immediately distinguishable by the fact that the base model had no third light in the rear quarter panel, just a very wide C-pillar. The L version was priced at a premium of 400 francs (£29 or US $82) over the base model. Both shared the same Billancourt 747cc 26.5bhp (20kW) engine.

Also launched at the same time was the R3, which was similar to the base R4 but had a smaller 603cc 22.5bhp (16.8kW) version of the engine, which placed it in the cheaper 3CV taxation class. The R3 was targeted directly at the Citroën 2CV and undercut the entry price for the latter by 40 francs (£3 or US $8). Also unveiled was the Fourgonnette van version. This was identical to the R4 ahead of the B-pillars but had a large cube-shaped bespoke body aft of the pillars with a single, side-hinged rear door(2). Continue reading “Quelle Quatrelle! (Part Two)”

Quelle Quatrelle! (Part One)

The Renault 4 celebrates its sixtieth birthday. We salute a French automotive icon.

1961 Renault R4 Image: weilinet

Certain cars seem perfectly to encapsulate a vision of their country of origin. It is easy to imagine a gleaming black Mercedes-Benz S-Class carrying a German government minister or plutocrat along an Autobahn at great speed and in discreet, sybaritic luxury. Likewise, one can dream of a pastel-coloured Fiat Nuova 500 driven by a strikingly attractive olive-skinned young woman, nipping adroitly through the narrow twisting streets of a sun-baked Italian hillside village.

Less romantically, one can readily visualise a metallic grey Vauxhall Cavalier sitting at a steady 80mph in the outside lane of a British motorway under a leaden sky, its driver grimly contemplating another difficult meeting with his boss about his failure to Continue reading “Quelle Quatrelle! (Part One)”

The Future Started Here

From the most modest of beginnings, Audi has become an automotive titan. We remember where, and how quietly, it all began.

1966 Audi Super 90 (c) honestjohn.co.uk

If truth is the first casualty of war, then Audi was a close second in 1940. Having been subsumed seven years earlier into the Auto Union combine that also included the DKW, Horch and Wanderer marques, Audi’s presence in Germany withered away to an inconsequential 0.1% market share before the outbreak of hostilities.

Demand for its large if slightly idiosyncratic Front UW 225(1) saloon evaporated as a result of the economic privations of the 1930’s. Auto Union instead concentrated on small and economical two-stroke engined saloons carrying the DKW brand. The Front was succeeded in 1938 by a 3.3 litre six-cylinder RWD model, the 920, which was manufactured at the Horch plant and was an Audi in name only. The 920 was itself discontinued without a replacement in 1940.

When production resumed after the war, the company remained focused on building small cars under the Auto Union and DKW brands. Mercedes-Benz acquired a controlling stake in Auto Union in 1958, but failed to Continue reading “The Future Started Here”

Heroic Failure

A noble project to mobilise rural India safely, the Tata Nano was a failure. Today we examine the reasons why.

2009 Tata Nano (c) slideshare.net

The Tata Group is one of India’s oldest and largest industrial conglomerates. It encompasses a hugely diverse range of manufacturing and service companies, including steel, chemicals, consumer products, home appliances, energy, telecommunications, hotels, finance, investment and, since 1954, motor vehicles. Tata’s first domestically designed and built car was the 1998 Indica, a supermini-sized five-door hatchback that went on to Continue reading “Heroic Failure”

Phoenix Follies (Part Two)

Today, we feature the CityRover, a cynical and poorly executed attempt to plug a perceived gap in MG Rover’s model range.

2003 CityRover (c) parkers.co.uk

In 2000, the newly independent MG Rover found itself without a contender in the sub-B city car segment. As the formerly BMW-owned Rover Group, it had continued to field a version of the long-running 1980 Austin Metro, subject of three major facelifts before being renamed Rover 100 in 1994.

Despite its antiquity, it remained popular, at least in the UK, where it was valued for its compact size and nimbleness. A disastrous Euro-NCAP crash test in 1997 however, where the 100 received a uniquely poor one-star rating for adult occupant safety, caused sales to collapse and the model was discontinued the following year. Continue reading “Phoenix Follies (Part Two)”

Phoenix Follies (Part One)

At a crucial moment, and to the detriment of their mainstream business, MG Rover’s management squandered time and money on frivolous distractions.

2004 MG Xpower SV-R (c) topspeed.com

It had all started so well, or so it appeared. It was May 2000 and, after months of uncertainty and worry, Rover Group, the UK’s last remaining indigenous volume car manufacturer, was independent again and back under British ownership. Phoenix Venture Holdings, a consortium of businessmen led by John Towers, had secured ownership of the bulk of Rover for a nominal fee of £10 and negotiated a generous ‘dowry’ of £500 million from BMW AG. The German automotive giant was just relieved to Continue reading “Phoenix Follies (Part One)”

Living with a Mercedes-Benz 190E

The author recalls his experience of Stuttgart’s first compact executive model.

Not mine, but almost identical (c) rjhcars.co.uk

The 1970’s was a dismal era for the UK as the economy struggled with economic shocks such as the 1974 Middle-East oil crisis, stubbornly high inflation, a bloated and inefficient public sector, declining industrial base and a restive, militant workforce. This culminated in a balance of payments and Sterling crisis in 1976 that forced the Labour government of Prime Minister James Callaghan to Continue reading “Living with a Mercedes-Benz 190E”

Third Time Lucky, but Second Time’s a Charm (Part Two)

Concluding our profile of the Mercedes-Benz W201 compact saloon.

Image: Autoevolution

Pilot production of the W201 began at Mercedes-Benz’s Sindelfingen plant in early 1982 in preparation for its launch on 8 December. Following an extensive modernisation programme, the company’s Bremen plant, which had previously produced commercial vehicles and the S123 estate car derivative of the W123, would also manufacture the new model from November 1983.

Critical and public reaction to the new compact Mercedes-Benz was hugely positive, with most reviewers praising the unprecedented level of engineering, build quality and safety features in a car of its class. The only significant criticisms were related to the paucity of standard equipment, limited rear legroom, and overly firm seats. Continue reading “Third Time Lucky, but Second Time’s a Charm (Part Two)”

Third Time Lucky, but Second Time’s a Charm (Part One)

Circumstances prevented Mercedes-Benz from entering the compact saloon market on two previous occasions, but the company nailed it with the hugely impressive 1982 W201.

Image: Autoevolution

The 1982 Mercedes-Benz W201, better known to most as the 190E, was the company’s first foray into what is now called the compact executive market. However, almost two decades earlier, Mercedes-Benz came close to launching a similarly positioned but more radically engineered front-wheel-drive model, codenamed the W118/119(1). This followed an earlier proposal for a conventional small saloon, the W122, which was approved for development in 1953, but cancelled in 1958.

The official reason for cancellation was that, in the same year, Mercedes-Benz acquired a controlling 87% stake in the Auto Union combine of the Audi, DKW, Horch and Wanderer brands(2). The company was concerned that a new, smaller Mercedes-Benz saloon would Continue reading “Third Time Lucky, but Second Time’s a Charm (Part One)”

Searching for the Next Big Thing

We recall three vehicles from different European manufacturers, each trying to offer a new twist on the large executive/family car formula, but all failing comprehensively to break the stranglehold of the status quo.

2001 Renault Vel Satis (c) Haessliche Autos

It is the Holy Grail for automakers: coming up with a design that defines a whole new automotive genre. You reap the rich rewards of first-mover advantage while your rivals struggle to catch up. Sticking your corporate head above the parapet of automotive convention is not without risks, however. For every Nissan Qashqai there is a Suzuki X90, selling in tiny numbers before being canned, then hanging around like a bad smell to remind the public how foolish you were.

To compound your embarrassment, it will also Continue reading “Searching for the Next Big Thing”

Z-List or X-Factor?

The Citroen ZX celebrates its thirtieth birthday in 2021. Will anyone remember to send a card?

1991 Citroen ZX Aura. Image: motorstown.com

The 1978 Citroën Visa came as a pleasant surprise to those who expected the Double-Chevron’s highly distinctive identity to be crushed under the weight of Peugeot’s conservatism and financial rectitude. Although heavily based on the Peugeot 104, the Visa retained more than enough Citroën quirkiness to be accepted as a spiritual heir to cars such as the Ami and Dyane. Likewise, the 1982 BX and 1989 XM models were both unlikely to be mistaken as anything but Citroëns.

Citroën had lacked a mainstream C-segment competitor since the demise of the GSA in 1986. It had hoped that the Visa and BX ranges might be stretched to Continue reading “Z-List or X-Factor?”

Der Zenit (Part Two)

Mercedes-Benz would never build another car like the 1991 W140 S-Class.

1994 Mercedes-Benz W140 S-class (post-facelift)

European automotive industry watchers, motoring journalists and the public were amazed that Mercedes-Benz could launch such a large and profligate flagship in the teeth of an economic recession and growing environmental concerns. Journalists’ preconceptions and reservations about the size of the W140 were, however, seriously challenged when they drove the new S-Class. While they had expected that it would be beautifully built from the highest quality materials and would Continue reading “Der Zenit (Part Two)”

Der Zenit (Part One)

The 1991 W140 S-Class was a technological tour de force, and possibly the finest car Mercedes-Benz ever made. Its arrival was also painfully mistimed. We remember the Uber-Benz on the thirtieth anniversary of its launch.

Mighty. Image: Australiancar.reviews

The arrival of a new Mercedes-Benz S-Class was always a seminal event for the automotive industry. It often heralded the introduction of new technology and safety features that would subsequently be adopted by other Mercedes-Benz models and, eventually, by its lesser competitors.

The 1959 W111 predecessor to the S-Class was the first car to feature a rigid passenger safety cell with front and rear crumple zones, to slow the deceleration that occurs in a high-speed impact and dissipate the kinetic energy released(1). In 1978, the W116 S-Class was the first car in the world to Continue reading “Der Zenit (Part One)”

Micropost: If Sacco had Prevailed?

We wonder if the 1991 Mercedes-Benz W140 might have fared better, both in stylistic terms and in the market, if Bruno Sacco had been allowed to realise his original vision for the car.

Bruno Sacco

One of the surprising nuggets I uncovered in my research on the W140 was that Bruno Sacco, Mercedes-Benz’s highly talented but modest and self-effacing Head of Styling, was an admirer of the Jaguar XJ saloon. Sacco very much liked its low and sleek lines. His original concept for a replacement for the W126 S-Class was a Germanic interpretation of that car. Unfortunately, his vision was corrupted by demands that the cabin should have generous headroom, even for two 190cm (6’3”) adults sitting one behind the other. This resulted in what most would adjudge to be an excessively tall glasshouse, making the car more suitable for monarchs and dictators on parade than fast and discreet point-to-point travel by captains of industry.

Sacco and exterior designer Oliver Boulay even tried to Continue reading “Micropost: If Sacco had Prevailed?”

Confounding Conventional Wisdom

For the past two decades, one manufacturer has proved that there is still significant sales potential in Europe for large mainstream saloon and estate cars.

2001 Škoda Superb Mk1 (c) drive2.com

At the dawn of the new millennium, the market for large non-premium saloon cars in Europe seemed to be in terminal decline. The traditionally big-selling Ford Granada/Scorpio series had ended production in 1998. The Rover 800 and Renault Safrane followed suit in 1999 and 2000 respectively. Sales of the Opel/Vauxhall Omega were falling precipitously, from 74,753 (1) in 1997 to just 15,542 in 2003, its last full year on sale. Like the others, it would bow out without a replacement.

Peugeot attempted to Continue reading “Confounding Conventional Wisdom”

Heroes and Villains: BMW Design (Part Two)

The author identifies what he regards as the best and worst of BMW design over the past six decades.

Yikes!  2001 BTW (E65) 7 Series (c) autoevolution.com

In part one I identified my BMW design heroes. Today, the villains take centre-stage. Get ready to hurl whatever comes to hand in their direction. Continue reading “Heroes and Villains: BMW Design (Part Two)”

Glorious Anachronism

Concept cars are often used to gauge public reaction to a new design direction before applying it to mainstream models. Not so the BMW Z07 concept, which became the Z8 Roadster.

2001 BMW Z8 Convertible (c) rwd-cars.de

By the mid 1990’s BMW had acquired an enviable reputation as a manufacturer of finely wrought and handsome drivers’ cars. The 1990 E36 3 Series and 1995 E39 5 Series were both rightly regarded as dynamically superior to their competitors from Audi or Mercedes-Benz, so possessed a more youthful appeal (to drivers of all ages). Plans were already well advanced for the 1997 E46 3-Series which, in design terms, would be a careful evolution of its predecessor.

For all this success, there was a concern within BMW that the company’s designs were perhaps too safe and evolutionary and might Continue reading “Glorious Anachronism”

Heroes and Villains: BMW Design (Part One)

The author identifies what he regards as the best and worst of BMW design over the past six decades.

1968 BMW (E3) ‘New Six’ 2500 (c) curbsideclassic

Over my lifetime, BMW has produced some truly outstanding automotive designs. That makes it all the more painful to acknowledge the company’s recent failures, which are becoming ever more egregious. First, however, let us Continue reading “Heroes and Villains: BMW Design (Part One)”

Small Beginnings

Half a century ago, South Korea’s auto industry was in its infancy. We recall its inauspicious start and chart its early progress.

1975 Hyundai Pony (c) Hyundai Motor

With global sales(1) in 2020 of 6.52 million vehicles, Hyundai Motor is the world’s third largest auto manufacturer, behind Volkswagen Group with 9.31 million and Toyota with 8.90 million sales. Hyundai, which includes the Kia marque, overtook General Motors in 2019 and continues to move ahead of the troubled US giant, suffering less of a reversal in the Covid-affected 2020 market than either it or the two market leaders.

Fifty years ago, things were somewhat different. Hyundai was building just one Ford passenger car model under licence, while Kia was confined to building Mazda light commercial vehicles. Both manufacturers shared an ambition to Continue reading “Small Beginnings”

Variomatic for the People

Today we recall DAF’s sixteen years as a manufacturer of small passenger cars alongside the heavy trucks for which the Dutch company is famous.

1960 DAF 600 (c) reddit.com

Mention the name DAF to those interested in matters automotive and their mind will immediately turn to the heavy trucks that are a familiar sight as they carry freight across the length and breadth of the European road network. Based in Eindhoven, the Netherlands, DAF Trucks is a subsidiary of the US manufacturer, Paccar Inc, which acquired the Dutch company in 1996. Paccar’s US truck brands include Kenworth and Peterbilt. It also owns UK truck maker, Leyland, which it acquired in 1998. Paccar is one of the world’s leading manufacturers of medium and heavy trucks.

Some readers may Continue reading “Variomatic for the People”

Ford Rediscovers its Mojo (Part Two)

Concluding the story of the original Ford Mondeo and how it confounded the expectations of those who drove it.

1994 Ford Mondeo 2.5 V6 Ghia (c) carsnip.com

The launch of a new Ford was always big news in the UK, so it fell to BBC Top Gear motoring journalist Jeremy Clarkson to pronounce upon the Mondeo. Clarkson tested the car in 1.8 litre manual four-door saloon form shortly after its launch in March 1993. He was underwhelmed by the car’s appearance but impressed by both the interior design and quality of finish.

However, he criticised the cabin space, which he described as merely “adequate”, and noted a shortage of headroom in models fitted with a sunroof. Clarkson remarked favourably upon the car’s “vast” boot, which could Continue reading “Ford Rediscovers its Mojo (Part Two)”

Ford Rediscovers its Mojo (Part One)

The Ford Mondeo will soon be consigned to automotive history. Today we recall the 1993 original and how it confounded the expectations of those who drove it.

Understated: 1993 Ford Mondeo five-door (c) honestjohn.co.uk

Ford recently surprised nobody(1) by announcing that the Mondeo will be discontinued without a direct replacement in March 2022. The D-segment saloon, hatchback and estate has fallen victim to a fatal cocktail of countervailing forces that reduced European sales to just 21,222(2) in 2020. This is a far cry from the model’s heyday in the 1990’s when annual sales exceeded 300,000 units. Its North American equivalent, the Fusion, was discontinued in July 2020.

The Mondeo was initially hit by the encroachment of smaller premium models, which could be had for similar monthly leasing payments to the mainstream Ford, thanks to their stronger residuals. Company car drivers and personal contract purchasers, who comprised the vast majority of Mondeo customers, were happy to Continue reading “Ford Rediscovers its Mojo (Part One)”

WHAP!…POW!…BIFF!…OOOF!

Today we tell the story of the Batmobile, the automotive hero of the 1966 children’s television series that was based on the comic book adventures of Batman and Robin.

The original 1965 Batmobile (c) 66batmania.com

DTW readers of more mature years will immediately recognise the apparently random selection of words in the title above. They are lifted from the opening credits of Batman, a 20th Century Fox children’s television programme that ran from 1966 to 1968 and made an indelible impression on one childish mind at least.

The hero of the programme was Bruce Wayne, a wealthy bachelor played by Adam West, who led a double life as Batman, protecting the good citizens of Gotham City from the dastardly deeds of a variety of colourful, if inept criminals including The Riddler, The Joker and The Penguin. At Batman’s side was Robin, a.k.a. Bruce Wayne’s young ward, Dick Grayson, played by Burt Ward, and their indefatigable and unflappable butler, Alfred Pennyworth, played by English actor Alan Napier. Continue reading “WHAP!…POW!…BIFF!…OOOF!”

Under the Knife – Taking Care of the Pennies

A smart re-skin and an even smarter nip-and-tuck kept the 1972 Ford Granada at the top of its game for thirteen years.

1973 Ford Granada Ghia (c) aronline.co.uk

In the 1960’s and 70’s Ford of Europe was the master of value engineering, designing cars that were highly attractive to potential buyers, but engineered to be little if at all better than they strictly needed to be. The 1962 Ford Cortina Mk1 was just such a car. It was a simple, light and efficient design and it effectively killed off the cumbersome, complex and heavy 1961 Consul Classic after just two years on the market(1).

The Cortina’s winning formula was reprised in 1968 with the Escort, another light and efficient design that was simple to build and was tailored to appeal to a wide range of customers via an extensive range hierarchy comprising basic, luxury and sporting variants. Likewise, the 1969 Capri, which easily shrugged off the Cortina in a party frock jibes because it looked great and gave customers exactly what they wanted.

There were missteps too, notably the 1966 Mk4 Zephyr / Zodiac. The lower-line versions were fitted with a new V4 engine, but the designers wanted a long bonnet as they believed that this was a signifier of power and prestige. Harley F. Copp, an American Ford design engineer on secondment to Brentwood to Continue reading “Under the Knife – Taking Care of the Pennies”

Classic Error

The 1961 Consul Classic and Capri were a rare market failure for Ford in Europe. We remember them on the 60th Anniversary of their launch.

(c) Ford.co.uk

Ever since the days of the Model T, Ford had developed an enviable reputation for delivering cars that were finely attuned to the perceived wants and needs of the automotive market. Moreover, the company was a master of what one might call value engineering, the art of designing cars wholly to satisfy the market whilst rarely challenging those expectations through new or radical innovations in format, engineering, equipment or styling.

Generations of Ford owners were able to Continue reading “Classic Error”

A Longer Read: Six Decades of Separation

The author charts the evolution of BMW’s design over the past sixty years and laments the dismal state it is in today.

1962 BMW Neue Klasse 1500 Saloon (c) wheelsage.org

In the late 1950’s BMW was a company in deep financial trouble. It had been posting losses for a number of years as an increasingly affluent West German middle-class turned away from its motorcycles and Isetta bubble car but could not afford its 501 luxury saloon.

Moreover, the BMW 507 roadster, although beautiful, had proved financially ruinous for the company. Only 252 roadsters were produced over three years in production between 1956 and 1959. It was virtually hand-built and, even at a price of almost $10,000 (equivalent to $97,400 in 2021) in the US market for which it was primarily designed, BMW lost money on every single one sold. Consequently, the company posted a loss of DM15 million in 1959 and found itself on the verge of bankruptcy.

Daimler-Benz considered what would effectively have been a takeover of its troubled Bavarian rival. A proposal for a merger was tabled, but this was rejected by BMW’s shareholders. Instead, it was the Quandt family, whose wealth derived from a wide range of industrial holdings, that came to the rescue and recapitalised the company. A plan was formulated for a product-led reinvigoration of BMW. Continue reading “A Longer Read: Six Decades of Separation”

A Poor Round

The jury may still be out on the Mk8, but most commentators would adjudge the 1991 Mk3 to be the poorest articulation of the qualities that made the Golf into an automotive phenomenon over the past five decades.

Tepid: 1991 VW Golf Mk3 GTI (c) volkswagen.com

The 1974 Volkswagen Golf Mk1 was a simply brilliant car. In retrospect, however, it appears to be something of an outlier in the eight-generation history of the model. When one thinks of Volkswagen’s C-segment stalwart, the characteristics that come immediately to mind are the high quality of its design, engineering(1) and build, its sober, timeless styling that eschews fads and fashion, good (but not outstanding) dynamics and most importantly, the quiet self-confidence, perhaps even bordering on smugness, it instils in its owners. Golf ownership says: “I could have spent more, but why would I?” 

Unburdened by any of this later baggage, the Golf Mk1 was more Italianate than Germanic in character, with its sharp Giugiaro styling, lightweight construction, and peppy and eager (if noisy) engines, to the extent that nobody would have been surprised if it had emerged as Fiat’s hatchback replacement for the 128(2). It also shared another less desirable Italian characteristic, a propensity to Continue reading “A Poor Round”

An Uncharacteristic Misstep

A rare market failure for the Volkswagen Group, the 1988 Corrado was a victim of poor product planning rather than its own shortcomings.

1988 Volkswagen Corrado (c) classics.honestjohn.co.uk

Volkswagen’s product planning is the very epitome of Teutonic efficiency and timing. It is difficult to think of an instance when the launch of a new model was greeted with anything like surprise, never mind delight, such is their predictability.

Within the wider Volkswagen group, the other marques have occasionally surprised us with their debutantes: Škoda’s 2006 Roomster and 2009 Yeti arrived during an era of unprecedented and welcome creative freedom for the Czech marque. SEAT’s wholesale switch to monobox vehicles, heralded by the 2004 Altea and Toledo, was brave left-field thinking, if ultimately a dead-end in both creative and sales terms. Continue reading “An Uncharacteristic Misstep”

Under the knife – Bogey to Birdie

Today we feature a car that was the product of a highly effective facelift of its stodgy predecessor.

VW Golf Mk5 vs Mk6 (c) carscoops.com

The 1997 Golf Mk4 is widely acknowledged as a masterpiece of disciplined and rational design. Its svelte exterior was handsome and timeless, and a huge improvement over the flabby Mk3. The interior was a revelation, bringing a level of quality to the Golf that had not been seen before in C-segment cars. The Mk4 remained on the market for eight years, during which time it remained virtually untouched, Volkswagen sensibly realising that it was impossible to improve upon its near perfection.

When it came time to replace the Mk4, Volkswagen dropped the ball. The 2003 Golf Mk5, whilst not exactly ugly, looked rather corpulent, and much of the detailing was rather too fussy for a Golf. The Mk5 was partly a product of VW Group Chairman Ferdinand Piëch’s aggressive strategy to Continue reading “Under the knife – Bogey to Birdie”

Selling the Passat by the Yard

Ten years ago, Volkswagen attempted to challenge the dominance of the Toyota Camry in the United States with a Passat developed specifically for that market. This is the story of the New Midsize Sedan.

2013 Volkswagen Passat NMS (c) topcarrating.com

For 22 of the past 23 years(1) and over five generations, the Toyota Camry has been the best-selling car in the United States. Over that time, a staggering total of over 9.6 million(2) Camrys were sold, an average of around 417,000 a year. It was a highly consistent seller too: the lowest annual sales total was 308,510 in 2011(3). The Camry successfully weathered the 2008-9 Global Financial Crisis and a simultaneous unintended acceleration controversy that turned out to be caused by ill-fitting floor mats.

If the enduring success of the Camry proves anything, it is that the vast majority of car buyers Continue reading “Selling the Passat by the Yard”

Which Way Up?

We celebrate the tenth anniversary of the Volkswagen Up! and its siblings and wonder if the city car has a future.

(c) autoexpress

The 2011 Volkswagen Up! is Wolfsburg’s third generation city car. Unlike other models in its range, the smallest car received a different name for each iteration. This is explained, at least in part, by an apparent hiatus in product planning along the way, with the second-generation Fox being a stop-gap(1) import from Brazil.

Volkswagen’s first city car was the 1998 Lupo. It was introduced because the company realised that the increasing size and weight of its Polo B-segment supermini left room in its range for a smaller model. The original 1975 Polo, essentially a rebadged Audi 50, was a petite thing, with a wheelbase of 2,335mm (92”), overall length of just 3,510mm (138¼”) and kerb weight of just 685kgs (1,510lbs). By the time that the Lupo was launched, the Polo Mk3 was 72mm (3”) longer in wheelbase, 205mm (8”) longer overall and an extraordinary 236kg (520lbs.) heavier than the Mk1. Continue reading “Which Way Up?”

No Love in the Morning (Part Two)

Isuzu’s passenger car business is long defunct. It is remembered mainly for two models, the Trooper SUV and Piazza Coupé.

1991 Isuzu Trooper Mk2 LWB (c) isuzumedia.co.uk

The Isuzu Trooper(1) was a mid-sized SUV that was produced in two generations from 1981 to 2002. The first generation model was sold for a decade from 1981 and was a simple and utilitarian body-on-frame design that came in a short-wheelbase 2,300mm (91”) three-door and a long-wheelbase 2,650mm (104”) five-door version. There was also a short-lived soft-top derivative of the three-door.

Petrol and diesel engine options were available from launch and both were progressively increased in capacity and power output. Petrol in-line fours in 1.9, 2.3 and 2.6 litre capacities and a 2.8 litre V6 were offered, while diesel engines were 2.2 or 2.8 litre in-line fours, either normally aspirated or turbocharged. Manually selected rear or four-wheel-drive was provided through four or five-speed manual gearboxes and from 1988, a four-speed automatic transmission.

The Trooper was designed primarily to Continue reading “No Love in the Morning (Part Two)”

No Love in the Morning (Part One)

Isuzu is a world-renowned manufacturer of heavy trucks, buses and light commercial vehicles, but its passenger car business is long defunct. Its history is a complex tale of multiple alliances, one successful for a time, but all ending ultimately in failure.

1967 Isuzu Florian (c) favcars.com

Isuzu is the unlikely holder of one notable record, as manufacturer of the first passenger car built in Japan. That car was the Wolseley A9, produced from 1922 under a licencing agreement between the British firm and Ishikawajima Automotive Works, the company that would ultimately become Isuzu Motors.

Vehicle production was seriously disrupted during World War II but resumed in 1945. A contract to Continue reading “No Love in the Morning (Part One)”

Hero or Villain? (Part Three)

We conclude our account of the life and career of John Zachary DeLorean.

DeLorean and his ruination (c) cnet.com

The DeLorean Motor Company was, from January 1982, under the control of the receivers. Their job, in the first instance, is to see if a buyer can be found for the company. If none is forthcoming, they are required to dispose of the company’s assets in an orderly manner and raise as much money as possible to repay creditors in order of seniority, either fully or, more usually, in part (cents on the dollar). There is rarely anything left over for shareholders after this is done.

DeLorean’s biggest asset was its large inventory of unsold cars, which was increasing as production continued into the spring of 1982. Deep discounts offered on 1981 stock and exhortations to dealers to buy inventory failed meaningfully to improve the situation, and production at Dunmurry was halted in May 1982.

DMC filed for bankruptcy in October, although a skeleton staff completed around 100 partially built cars before the year end. Consolidated International, a US company based in Columbus, Ohio, acquired the remaining stock from the liquidators at a deep discount and attempted to Continue reading “Hero or Villain? (Part Three)”

Hero or Villain? (Part Two)

We continue the story of John Z DeLorean and remember the car that carried his name on the fortieth anniversary of its launch.

John Z DeLorean with his creation (c) carwalls.blogspot

The 1970’s was a truly miserable decade for the whole of Ireland. A sectarian conflict that had simmered in Northern Ireland since the island was partitioned in 1921 had exploded into violence and bloodshed in 1968. This unrest continued throughout the following decade, with bombings, assassinations and other terrorist atrocities perpetrated by paramilitary groups on both sides of the political and religious divide.

A consequence of the euphemistically-named troubles was that the already weak economies on both sides of the border struggled to Continue reading “Hero or Villain? (Part Two)”

Hero or Villain? (Part One)

We remember the life and career of one of the most polarising and controversial people ever to have worked in the automotive Industry, John Zachary DeLorean.

John Z DeLorean and his creation (c) Forbes Magazine

John DeLorean was born in Detroit, Michigan on 6th January 1925 to Zachary and Kathryn (née Pribak) DeLorean. Zachary was Romanian, born in the village of Sugág, which was in a region controlled by the Austro-Hungarian Empire, but is now part of modern-day Romania. He worked in a mill before emigrating to the United States at the age of twenty. After spells in Indiana and Montana, he moved to Detroit and joined the Ford Motor Company as a millwright.

It was in Detroit that he met his future wife. Kathryn was Hungarian and worked for Carboloy Products, a division of General Electric. Neither Zachary nor Kathryn had much formal education and took other casual work as they found it to support their family of four sons, of whom John was the eldest.

They lived in a tough, working-class district of Detroit, but managed to Continue reading “Hero or Villain? (Part One)”

Small but Perfectly Formed

The 1991 Cinquecento was a great city car and, in design terms, a hard act to follow, as Fiat found out with its replacement.

1994 Fiat Cinquecento Sporting (c) fiat.com

Fiat in 2021 is a pale shadow of the once mighty automaker that dominated Italian industry for decades. Half a century ago, the company produced a full range of cars, from the diminutive rear-engined 126 to the handsome V6 engined 130 luxury saloon and coupé. That notwithstanding, Fiat was always best known and most highly regarded for its expertise and success in small cars.

The 1955 Fiat 600 and its smaller sibling, the 1957 500 model, successfully mobilised Italy in the post-war years. They were small, light, economical and robust cars that fitted perfectly into the historic streetscape of many Italian villages, towns and cities, with their narrow, winding streets. Both were notable for their longevity: the 600 remained in production until 1969. The 500 continued until 1975, selling alongside the 1972 126 which was, effectively, a rebodied 500. Continue reading “Small but Perfectly Formed”

Fiat Takes A Swing At Golf… and Misses

The 2001 Fiat Stilo was an attempt to take on the Golf at its own game. It missed by a country mile. We recall Fiat’s millennial C-segment failure.

2003 Fiat Stilo three-door (c) Parkers.co.uk

Ever since its introduction in 1974 and over eight different generations, Volkswagen’s C-segment stalwart has been always readily identifiable. There have been variations in the quality of execution, but all retained enough distinctive DNA to make them unmistakably part of the lineage. This was about more than just appearance. It encompassed dynamic characteristics as well as the cars’ tactile and aural qualities.

This was exactly Volkswagen’s intention, to engender a sense of comfortable familiarity that made it easy for Golf owners to Continue reading “Fiat Takes A Swing At Golf… and Misses”

Family Breadwinner (Part Two)

The Citroën Visa might have offended some Quai de Javel purists, but it still espoused enough of the marque’s unique character to be well regarded and fondly remembered.

1978 Visa Club. Image: parts-specs.nl

The 1976 Citroën LN was unambiguously a stop-gap car, engineered quickly and expediently to give beleaguered Citroën dealers something new to sell. But Peugeot realised that Citroën also needed a proper supermini-sized contender to replace the ageing Dyane and Ami, and again looked to the 104 platform, this time the five-door version. Prior to their takeover, Citroën had been working on its own replacement (initially in conjunction with Fiat), codenamed Model Y (1). The Peugeot takeover ended that programme however, and the project, renamed Model VD, would now Continue reading “Family Breadwinner (Part Two)”

Family Breadwinner (Part One)

Although eclipsed by the hugely successful 205, the 104 was a highly competent design that served Peugeot and its sister companies well for sixteen-years.

Peugeot 104. Image: autodata1

Mention Peugeot Supermini in the company of car enthusiasts of a certain maturity and their minds will immediately turn to the 1983 205, the delightfully attractive, practical and sweet-handling car that, for many, was the definitive 1980’s B-segment hatchback. In 1.6 and 1.9 GTi form, it was also the definitive hot hatch. What is not as readily recalled, however, is the success of its largely forgotten predecessor, the 1972 Peugeot 104 and its PSA siblings.

Prior to the launch of the 104, Peugeot design was the very epitome of sober conservatism, with understated but well-engineered saloons and estates, and attractive but unflashy coupés and convertibles. The company had ventured into transverse engines and front-wheel-drive with the 204 and 304 siblings, but their conservative exterior appearance belied the engineering innovation within. The 104 would be the company’s smallest model and the first two-box design that was not an estate, but what was becoming known as a Supermini.

Except that, like the Fiat 127 that preceded it by a year, it was not a true Supermini in that it had a conventional boot-lid instead of a hatchback(1). Peugeot was, allegedly, concerned about the impact a hatchback 104 might have on sales of the existing 204 estate, hence the decision to Continue reading “Family Breadwinner (Part One)”

Making Good? (Part Two)

DTW continues the story of MG Motor and asks if things are finally coming good in Europe for the reborn marque.

2018 MG ZS

The summer of 2016 must have been a worrying time for MG Motor and its UK dealers. The MG6 GT and Magnette had failed in the market and were discontinued, so the company was reduced to a single model, the MG3 hatchback. European sales of the MG3 were trickling along at around 250 a month, a level at which final assembly at Longbridge was not viable, so the model would in future Continue reading “Making Good? (Part Two)”

Making Good? (Part One)

Following its return in 2007, MG Motor was for years a marginal and faltering presence in the European auto market. DTW asks if the Chinese owned company is finally beginning to make a meaningful impact.

Small beginnings: 2007 MG TF 500LE (c) mg.co.uk

The final collapse of MG Rover in 2005 was an ugly, rancorous affair. It was also a long time coming. Since BMW disposed of its troublesome English Patient in 2000, selling it for a nominal £10(1) to the Phoenix Consortium, the company limped along with increasingly desperate attempts to reheat and repackage its ageing product line-up.

The most egregious of these was not the Rover Streetwise which, it could be argued, was simply ahead of its time, but the MG Express(2). Yes, MG Rover really did think (or was desperate to Continue reading “Making Good? (Part One)”