Under the Knife – Breaking the Mould

Today DTW features a car that was given a new lease of life with an extensive and highly effective makeover.

1983 Ford Sierra Mk1 (c) aronline.co.uk

Ford regularly plays fast and loose with its mark numbers, often applying them to even quite modest facelifts of the outgoing model. However, in the case of the Sierra, the Mk2 designation was well deserved.

Ford launched the original Sierra in 1982 as a replacement for the conventional and conservative Cortina Mk5. The new model was a rear-wheel-drive car like its predecessor, but the aero body (believed to have originally been the work of Gert Hohenester working under the supervision of Design Director, Uwe Bahnsen at Merkenich) was dramatically different, with a hatchback instead of a conventional boot.

Ford had tried to Continue reading “Under the Knife – Breaking the Mould”

Act of Hubris

DTW recalls Daimler-Benz’s Maybach misadventure. 

Crosstown traffic: Maybach 62. Image: carsnb

As the New Millennium approached, Jürgen Schrempp, Daimler-Benz CEO appointee in May 1995, was a man on a mission. Schrempp believed that the company was something of a sleeping giant. While it was consistently successful and profitable, with products that were highly regarded, he believed there was much more that could be done to leverage the storied marque name and extract maximum value for shareholders.

Over the preceding decades, Mercedes-Benz had carefully nurtured a reputation for building thoughtfully designed and technically excellent vehicles that were market-leading in terms of quality, safety and durability. They were, by and large, cars that one chose with the head rather than the heart and were favoured by those who valued understatement and discretion over extravagance and notoriety.

The flagship S-Class was the perfect transport for senior politicians, bankers and captains of industry, allowing them to move unnoticed and in comfort, avoiding unwanted attention from opponents, competitors or inquisitive journalists. The sheer ubiquity of Mercedes-Benz’s most prestigious model in the business districts of major cities guaranteed the anonymity required to Continue reading “Act of Hubris”

Under the Knife – One to Seven

The 1971 Fiat 127 proved to be an extraordinarily popular and enduring design. DTW recalls its many iterations, some pleasing, others rather less so.

1971 Fiat 127 (first series). (c) autoweek

The Fiat 127 was a supermini wholly in the modern idiom, with its transverse engine, end-on gearbox and a three-door hatchback bodystyle(1). It was not, however the world’s first such design: that title goes to the 1964 Autobianchi Primula. The Primula was, however, engineered by Fiat, which held an equal 33% share in the company alongside Pirelli and the Bianchi family. Fiat was able to Continue reading “Under the Knife – One to Seven”

Imparare ad Amare

The Ferrari Mondial is forty this year. Time to look back on the story of one of Maranello’s less illustrious creations.

1980 Mondial 8. (c) autoevolution

In my idle moments, I occasionally peruse Autotrader and do some fantasy shopping for the cheapest supercar I can find. When searching under Ferrari it was, until recently, a racing certainty that the model propping up the bottom end of the price range would be the Mondial, which celebrates its 40th birthday this year.

This was partly a result of its ubiquity. With 6,149 cars produced during its thirteen-year lifespan, it was one of Ferrari’s best-selling models. However, it was mainly down to the fact that the Mondial was never really loved by the marque’s aficionados, who regarded it as too compromised and soft to Continue reading “Imparare ad Amare”

Que Sera Sera

The Sera, one of Toyota’s more eccentric creations, is thirty this year. DTW remembers it and wonders what inspires the conservative Japanese automotive giant to go off-piste like this, as it has done regularly in the past.

1990 Toyota Sera (c) techeblog.com

For me, Toyota Motor Corporation has always been something of an enigma. Ostensibly, it is a deeply conservative and risk-averse company. For more than eighty years, it has meticulously and systematically developed its mainstream vehicles to align exactly with its customers’ evolving expectations. Whether you drive a Corolla, or are driven in a Century, you can be confident that the replacement model, when it arrives, will always be essentially similar and comfortably familiar, but just a little bit better.

Toyota has often been a late adopter of new technologies, such as front-wheel-drive*, happy to Continue reading “Que Sera Sera”

Under the Knife – Rediscovered

The 1998 Series II Discovery was a far more thorough and extensive facelift of the original than it might have appeared to be at first glance.

1989 Land-Rover Discovery (c) Iroac.com

The 1970 Range Rover could not have been more different in conception from the SUVs that carry that name today. It was designed to be more comfortable and civilised on road than the original Land Rover, which had changed little since its introduction in 1948, but was not intended to be anything other than a working vehicle.

Early Range Rovers were still resolutely utilitarian, with vinyl seats and rubber floor mats that could be hosed out after a day’s work on the farm. Its classic style is credited to David Bache, Head of Design at Rover. However, recognising its handsome functionalism, Bache actually made only detail changes to Continue reading “Under the Knife – Rediscovered”

A Deadly Misadventure

DTW recalls the alliance between Renault and American Motors Corporation that proved highly damaging to the French automaker and had fatal consequences.

1988 Eagle Premier(c) blog.consumerguide.com

American Motors Corporation (AMC) was long the plucky underdog of the US automotive industry, always struggling to compete on equal terms with the ‘Big Three’ of General Motors, Ford and Chrysler. AMC had itself been formed from the 1954 merger of Nash Kelvinator Corporation and the Hudson Car Company(1). This was a merger driven out of weakness rather than strength, as neither partner had the financial or technical resources to continue independently.

With a market share of just 4%, AMC was still a fraction of the size of the Big Three, but there was a larger plan in play, devised jointly by George Mason, President of Nash-Kelvinator, and James Nance, President of the Packard Motor Car Company. Packard would Continue reading “A Deadly Misadventure”

Going Pear-Shaped

The Renault 14 had the potential to be a great success, but it did not turn out that way. DTW investigates.

(c) auto-forever

The 1976 Renault 14 was the end-product of an unusual and protracted development process. It began with a memorandum of understanding signed in April 1966 between Renault and Peugeot for the joint purchase of materials and co-development of mechanical parts that would be shared between the two manufacturers, to reduce costs for each.

Another more controversial aspect of the agreement was, allegedly, an understanding that each manufacturer would design models that did not directly compete with the other. The agreement was driven by the ambition of Pierre Dreyfus, CEO of Renault since 1955, to Continue reading “Going Pear-Shaped”

A Failure of Nerve

In 1966 Peugeot and Renault formulated an ambitious plan to take on the incumbents in the luxury car market. Sadly, both companies got cold feet and their dream went unrealised. DTW recounts the story of Projet H.

Image: Christopher Butt

With the successful launch of the 16 in 1965, Renault had a large five-door FWD hatchback to complement its (not so) small 4 model. The range would be augmented with the medium-sized 6 in 1968 and completed with the 5 supermini in 1972 . These hatchbacks sat alongside its rear-engined 8 and 10 saloons for more conservative customers.

However, the company lacked a large and prestigious car as a flagship for its range. Likewise Peugeot, where the largest model was the well-regarded 404 saloon, launched in 1960. Both manufacturers eyed Citröen with a degree of envy. The Double Chevron’s large DS model, although already a decade old, had been so advanced and futuristic at launch that it still looked handsome and prestigious.

It was a fitting ‘halo’ model for the marque, notwithstanding the idiosyncratic appearance of Citröen’s smaller cars. The DS was also the choice for official transport at the Elysée Palace, giving Citröen kudos that was jealously coveted by both Billancourt and Sochaux.

Both manufacturers were allegedly nervous about the market potential for a large and luxurious car bearing their marque names, so they agreed in April 1966 to Continue reading “A Failure of Nerve”

Coupé à la Française

DTW recalls the 1971 Renault 15 and 17, La Régie’s distinctively French take on the sporting coupé.

Renault 15 & 17. (c) stubs-auto .fr

The 1969 Renault 12 saloon was an immediate hit for its manufacturer. It was praised by European motoring journalists for its styling, spacious and comfortable interior, and good performance and fuel economy. It was based on a new platform that placed the engine longitudinally ahead of the front axle and gearbox. On Renault’s existing FWD models, the 4, 6 and 16, the engine was positioned behind the gearbox, necessitating a distinctly unsporting high bonnet line and dashboard mounted gear lever.

Renault had not offered a coupé in its range since the demise of the Dauphine-based Caravelle in 1968, and only 9,309 Caravelles had been sold in the last three years of its production. Moreover, the European coupé market had been transformed by the launch of the Ford Capri Mk1 in 1969 and Opel Manta A a year later. The new coupés were closely related to their mainstream saloon siblings, the Cortina Mk2 and Ascona A. More significantly, they were styled to look aggressively sporting, masculine rather than demure in character.

Renault decided that it could usefully Continue reading “Coupé à la Française”

One Last Push (Part Two)

DTW concludes its brief history of the post-WW2 rear-engined Renaults.

Renault 8 and 10 models. (c) lautomobileancienne

By 1960 the Renault Dauphine, while still popular, was beginning to look somewhat dated. The front-wheel-drive Renault 4 was at an advanced stage of development and would be launched in 1961. This would be the first of four identically formatted models, with engines mounted longitudinally behind the front axle, the gearbox placed in front, necessitating a gear lever mounted high on the dashboard, with the linkage passing over the engine.

The 4 would be followed by the large 16 in 1965, the mid-size 6 in 1968, and the supermini 5 in 1972. All would be hatchback designs with five doors, apart from the 5, which would initially be available only as a three-door.

Notwithstanding these plans, Renault still believed there was life in the rear-engined saloon layout and set about to Continue reading “One Last Push (Part Two)”

One Last Push (Part One)

Today DTW remembers Renault’s post-WW2 series of rear-engined cars.

1954 Renault 4CV Brochure (c) autoweek.com

The post-war worldwide success of the Volkswagen Beetle* encouraged manufacturers as diverse as Fiat, NSU, Renault, Rootes, Skoda, ZAZ and even General Motors to emulate its mechanical layout, with varying fortunes. In doing so, many appeared to miss the point that the Beetle was successful despite rather than because of its rear-engined layout.

A rear-engined design typically involves many compromises with regard to packaging for luggage space, engine accessibility and cooling, and handling and stability. The smaller the car, the less important these compromises are, but the layout becomes increasingly unviable as the design becomes larger and more powerful. Porsche spent the best part of sixty years engineering out the instability** caused by having a heavy weight mounted aft of the rear axle on the 911, while General Motors suffered huge reputational damage because of claims of dangerous instability made about the rear-engined Mk1 Chevrolet Corvair.

During WW2, Renault was controlled by the occupying German forces and was under orders to build only military and commercial vehicles in support of the Third Reich’s war effort. Renault’s Director of Design, Fernand Picard, anticipated that, after the war, France would need a small and economical car to Continue reading “One Last Push (Part One)”

Forgotten Hero

Overshadowed by both its predecessor and successor, the 1990 E36 generation BMW 3 Series celebrates its thirtieth birthday this year, but will anyone turn up for the party?

BMW E36 Saloon. (c) autoevolution

By the late 1980’s, the E30 generation 3-Series, although still popular and well liked, was beginning to look (and feel) distinctly old fashioned. The E30 had been in production since 1982 and was, stylistically, a careful update of the 1975 E21 original. The 1986 E32 7 Series and 1988 E34 5 Series had introduced a new and more dynamic style for BMW. It was time for the 3 Series to follow suit.

The E36 was launched in October 1990 in four-door saloon form, followed shortly by a two-door coupé version. The design was credited to Pinky Lai and Boyke Boyer. The coupé represented a break with 3 Series tradition for BMW: the E30 two-door was a saloon that shared its profile and most body panels with its four-door sibling, while the E21 was produced in two-door saloon* form only.

With the E36, the saloon and coupé shared no external body panels. The saloon’s doors were one-piece pressings incorporating window frames that covered the A-pillars and concealed the roof drip-rails. The coupé instead employed frameless door glasses. Even items one might expect to Continue reading “Forgotten Hero”

When Good Enough Just Wasn’t Enough

Once ubiquitous on our roads, the 1979 Kadett D / Astra Mk1, GM Europe’s first front-wheel-drive car, is long forgotten and sadly overlooked, even here at DTW. Belatedly, we celebrate its 40th birthday.

1979 Opel Kadett four-door and five-door (c) wheelsage.org

There was considerable ballyhoo when Ford unveiled its first FWD Escort in September 1980. Few now remember that Opel actually beat Ford by a whole year in the switch to FWD for its C-Segment stalwart, the Kadett. Moreover, the Kadett D became the Vauxhall Astra in March 1980, replacing the geriatric Viva.

It was not the first badge-engineered Vauxhall with no sheet-metal differences to its Opel sibling. That dubious honour goes to the 1978 Royale saloon and coupé, better known as the Opel Senator and Monza. That said, the Astra Mk1 did mark the end of Vauxhall’s design and engineering independence from its German cousin. In future all GM Europe siblings would Continue reading “When Good Enough Just Wasn’t Enough”

To the Guillotine!

The coupé-cabriolet, otherwise known as the hardtop convertible, is an endangered species. DTW will not be shedding many tears at its passing.

mercedes
1996 Mercedes R170 SLK. (c) mercedesfans.de

The 1996 Mercedes-Benz SLK roadster was a great concept, executed woefully. Despite having a multitude of dynamic, quality, reliability and durability-related shortcomings, the SLK was an enormously successful model that rewarded its maker’s cynicism handsomely.

These issues were not, of course, apparent to the many early customers who endured a nine-month waiting list to Continue reading “To the Guillotine!”

Under the Knife – One for the Record Books

The 1977 Opel Rekord E was a spacious, comfortable and practical car.  It was also somewhat plain and austere looking. A well-judged facelift changed it for the better.

1977 Opel Rekord E (c) autoevolution.com

The 1971 Opel Rekord D was a finely wrought and handsome design. Penned by Chuck Jordan, a GM ‘lifer’ and Opel’s Head of Design, it successfully melded GM’s transatlantic design influences with a clean, almost ascetic European reserve. The beauty was in its smooth, unadorned flanks, elegantly flared elliptical wheel arches, neatly integrated light clusters front and rear, and a total lack of superfluous ornamentation.

By comparison, its Vauxhall Victor FE cousin, released just three months later and sharing its platform and other components, was somewhat heavy-handed and certainly more brash and mid-Atlantic looking. This was tacitly acknowledged by Vauxhall in its advertising, where the FE was nicknamed ‘The Transcontinental’. Continue reading “Under the Knife – One for the Record Books”

Against all Odds (Part Two)

As part of Groupe Renault, Dacia has carved out a distinctive niche as a manufacturer of competent if unexceptional budget vehicles. Today we examine how this strategy has evolved over the past twenty years.

2018 Dacia Duster Mk2 (c) Dacia UK

In 1997 Renault Chairman and CEO Louis Schweitzer visited Russia to gain an understanding of the market and Renault’s prospects there. To his surprise, he established that the ancient Fiat 124-based Lada was market leader despite its antiquity. The prime reason for this was its bargain price, equivalent to US $6,000 when the cheapest Renault sold in Russia cost twice that.

Flying back to France, Schweitzer set down the requirements for the design of a basic but not minimal modern car which could be sold profitably worldwide at the Lada’s price of $6,000 (€5,000). His brief, written on an airline napkin, stated the basic tenets in three words: modern, reliable, affordable, with the codicil that “everything else is negotiable.”

Long serving Renault R&D manager Gérard Detourbet, was given the task of developing a car to meet Schweitzer’s brief. Led by Detourbet, engineering teams in France and Romania would first Continue reading “Against all Odds (Part Two)”

Against all Odds (Part One)

Before it became part of Groupe Renault, Dacia survived enormous political, social and economic upheavals to remain in business for over thirty years. Today we look back at its remarkable history.

The first Dacia 1100 being presented to Nicholae Ceauşescu (c) autoevolution.com

Although subsumed into the vast political monolith of the Soviet Union following the Second World War, the countries that were signatories to the Warsaw Pact tried to maintain at least a veneer of independence from their Soviet masters. In the vanguard of resistance was Romania. Nicholae Ceaușescu, who became the country’s leader in 1965, refused to participate in and openly criticised the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. Ceaușescu’s independence of mind initially won him widespread support at home and he leveraged this to Continue reading “Against all Odds (Part One)”

More Equal than Others (Part Two)

Concluding our retrospective on the vehicles that served the Soviet apparatus of state.

1953 GAZ ZIM-12 (c) likegarage.com

Beneath the imperious ZIS and ZIL limousines, sat the ZIM-12, manufactured by GAZ* between 1950 and 1960. This was a full-size saloon with pleasant styling influenced by contemporary American designs. It was powered by a 3.5 litre in-line six-cylinder engine producing a claimed 95bhp and weighed 1.9 tonnes. Unlike its successors, it was notionally available for private citizens to purchase but its price, at 2.5 times the cost of the GAZ Pobeda mid-size saloon, put it out of reach of all but the most prosperous.

There was no significant development of the ZIM-12 during its decade on sale, but it was hastily renamed GAZ-12 in 1957. The ‘M’ in ZIM was a tribute to Vyacheslav Mikhailovich Molotov, the USSR’s powerful Stalinist Foreign Minister. When Molotov lost a power struggle with Nikita Khrushchev in May 1957 and was deposed, his Continue reading “More Equal than Others (Part Two)”

Under the Knife – Don’t mention the War

During its thirteen-year lifespan, Fiat’s D-segment saloon went under the knife on four different occasions, with varying degrees of success.

Take one. (c) autoevolution

The Fiat 132 was launched in 1972 to replace the 125 Berlina. The latter, although a pleasant enough car, had always suffered somewhat from the inaccurate perception that it was little more than a Fiat 124 in a party frock. Both cars shared the same doors and passenger compartment but the 125 had longer front and rear ends and an 85mm (3.5”) longer wheelbase, courtesy of a platform carried over from its predecessor, the Fiat 1500. This allowed the rear seat to be pushed back slightly to liberate a little more legroom. Notwithstanding the similarity to its smaller sibling, the 125 achieved over 600,000 sales during its five year production life.

With the 132, Fiat wanted to Continue reading “Under the Knife – Don’t mention the War”

More Equal than Others (Part One)

DTW recalls the vehicles that served the apparatus of state in the former Soviet Union.

Leonid Brezhnev in a 1962 ZIL-111G Parade Car (c) rusmed-forever.ru

One of the many paradoxes of the Soviet Union was its tightly controlled and rigidly hierarchical society. The Bolsheviks who led the 1917 Russian Revolution dreamt of an egalitarian nirvana where ordinary workers would collectively govern the country through grassroots councils known as Soviets. No more would Russia be ruled by a hereditary monarchy, aristocracy and wealthy capitalist business leaders, all exploiting the proletariat. Instead, the new leaders would be servants of the people, appointed to execute their collective will.

Of course, it did not work out like that at all. As early as 1917, the Bolsheviks established a secret police force known as the Cheka, to root out enemies of the people: counter-revolutionaries who would seek to re-establish the old order, or even those who, while broadly supporting the new regime, might seek to Continue reading “More Equal than Others (Part One)”

Far-Sighted, or Visually Impaired?

The 2006 R-Class was a rare commercial failure for Mercedes-Benz. DTW asks if it was ahead of its time, or simply misconceived.

2006 Mercedes-Benz R-Class (c) honestjohn.co.uk

Over the past decade, the onslaught of SUV type vehicles has swept through the automotive market like a tsunami, pushing aside traditional formats such as the classic three-box saloon, estate and larger hatchback models. Even more recent innovations such as the monobox MPV have been rendered irrelevant by its irresistible rise. In the mainstream European market, anything larger than a B-segment vehicle now generally plays second fiddle to its SUV sibling, if it has not already been killed off by it. The premium marques’ larger saloons are still selling, albeit in reduced numbers as buyers Continue reading “Far-Sighted, or Visually Impaired?”

Castle on the Hill

A retrospective on the German Democratic Republic’s less well remembered automotive marque.

(c) die-besten.de

Those of us old enough to remember the tumultuous events surrounding the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989 and the subsequent collapse of the German Democratic Republic less than a year later will have recollections of a time that seemed to be filled with hope and opportunity. Striking TV images showed thousands of East Germans flooding into West Berlin through breaches in the wall, either on foot or in their Trabants. So frenzied was the rush, so great the anticipation and excitement that not even the sound of David Hasselhoff’s singing* could drive them back.

The Trabant, with its Duroplast body made out of cotton waste and phenol resins and its smelly and polluting 500 cc twin-cylinder two-stroke, was emblematic of both the GDR and its industrial failure. There was, however, a less well known but rather more competent East German car for the masses, the Wartburg 353. Today, we Continue reading “Castle on the Hill”

Economy Drive (Part Two)

In Part One, we looked at two of the old stagers from the Soviet era. Today, we consider two from the next generation. 

Skoda Favorit. (c) autoevolution.com

By the time the Škoda Estelle and Lada Riva were withdrawn from the market, their engineering was over thirty years out of date and both were hopelessly uncompetitive, selling only on their bargain prices. The countries of the Eastern Bloc realised that they needed to Continue reading “Economy Drive (Part Two)”

Economy Drive (Part One)

DTW remembers the once fraught and risky business of buying a second-hand car and recalls an alternative course for the impecunious.

Skoda 105 L ‘Estelle’. (c) Sunday Times

Before the introduction of effective consumer protection legislation and manufacturer-backed Approved Pre-Owned schemes, buying a used car was often a tricky and less than pleasant business. Even relatively new cars could harbour hidden problems beneath their highly polished paintwork. Franchised dealers seemed rather embarrassed to have to Continue reading “Economy Drive (Part One)”

Under the Knife – Rounding Error

Today DTW recalls the 1994 Ford Scorpio Mk2, a car that defies any attempt at rational analysis or explanation.

Not ‘conventionally handsome’… (c) autoguru-katalog

When Ford launched the Scorpio* Mk1 in 1985, it did so in five-door hatchback form only. This surprised some observers, knowing the resistance that Ford had faced to the hatchback Sierra three years earlier from conservative buyers who preferred the saloon format. Even more surprising was the absence of an estate version, given the popularity of the Granada estate in both Mk1 and Mk2 forms.

Just as with the Sierra, a three-volume booted version was added to the range in December 1989. Estate buyers had to wait until January 1992 for the launch of that version, which coincided with a facelift of the whole range. The facelift was a competent if relatively minor overhaul, comprising a smoother front end with larger light units and smoked tail lights with a matching filler panel at the rear. The saloon forwent the hatchback’s concealed C and D-pillars for a more conventional six-light DLO and was a handsome and imposing design. It was also well equipped and remarkably comfortable over long distances, making it an excellent executive (hire) car.

Then something very strange happened: Continue reading “Under the Knife – Rounding Error”

The Man Who Broke BMC? (Part Four)

DTW completes its investigation into Sir Alec Issigonis’ career and legacy, and arrives at some conclusions.

Alec Issigonis, Technical Director of BMC in his office at Longbridge in 1959. (c) Wired

It is important to state from the outset that we make no insinuation that Sir Alec Issigonis was solely responsible for all the problems that beset BMC and, later, BL. The company’s failure was very much a collective one and there is plenty of blame to share around.

In the first instance, Leonard Lord, then Chairman of BMC employed Issigonis to replace Gerald Palmer, a talented and capable engineer with whom Lord fell out and summarily dismissed. Lord and BMC’s CEO, George Harriman, then promoted Issigonis to the post of Technical Director, a senior management position for which he demonstrably had none of the essential organisational, interpersonal or management skills.

This was extraordinarily ill-judged and the problems it created were exacerbated by Harriman’s excessively deferential attitude to BMC’s technical wunderkind after Lord retired and Harriman became Chairman and CEO of BMC.

A more astute leader might Continue reading “The Man Who Broke BMC? (Part Four)”

Disappointment at the Ambassador’s Reception

The 1982 Austin Ambassador was a poorly executed attempt to update the BL Princess and was met largely with indifference in the market. DTW examines why the Ambassador was such a flop.

(c) leylandprincess

The old axiom that “You never get a second chance to make a first impression” may be literally correct, but that does not stop people trying. The British Leyland 18-22 Series is a case in point. It was launched in February 1975 under three different BL marque names, Austin, Morris and Wolseley, each distinguished with its own bonnet and front grille treatment, but nothing else in the case of the Austin and Morris versions. The Wolseley had a light dusting of the more upmarket fixtures traditionally associated with the marque, including its rather twee illuminated grille badge.

The 18-22 Series was a quite stylish wedge-shaped four-door D-segment saloon, replacing the spacious but frumpy 1800/2200 LandCrab. It was designed under Harris Mann, Head of BL’s Longbridge design studio. Despite its profile, it did not have a hatchback, but a conventional boot. At the time it was launched, BL insisted that its research showed this was what the market wanted, but a more likely explanation is that BL didn’t want to Continue reading “Disappointment at the Ambassador’s Reception”

The Man Who Broke BMC? (Part Three)

The story continues: BMC struggles with the failure of the 1800 and Maxi, but Issigonis has moved on.

(c) curbside classic

The Austin Maxi was reluctantly launched by BLMC* in 1969 and was greeted with a similarly lukewarm reception to that given to the 1800. With its five-door layout, it was an eminently practical car, but it lacked any element of desirability and, as launched, was plagued with technical issues. Increasingly desperate, BLMC hurriedly cobbled together a conventional RWD saloon and launched it in 1971 as the Morris Marina. It sold well enough, on the back of conventionally attractive looks and simple, proven (if antiquated) mechanicals, but it was still very much in the shadow of the all-conquering Cortina from arch-rivals, Ford.

Conceptually, there was much to like about the Maxi, but Donald Stokes, now chairman of BLMC, would not sanction any serious remedial work, a disastrous decision for a car that had much potential. For his part, Issigonis appeared indifferent and simply abandoned the Maxi to Continue reading “The Man Who Broke BMC? (Part Three)”

Definitely Not The Italian Job

To many observers, the Morris Ital marks the absolute nadir of the BL era. Today we celebrate the Ital’s fortieth birthday and reappraise this much maligned car.

(c) carandclassic

The story behind the Morris Ital is one of pure desperation on the part of its makers. Throughout the 1970’s BL wrestled with an outdated, incoherent, poorly built and often unreliable range of cars, terrible labour relations and an owner, the British Government, that was fast running out of patience with having to Continue reading “Definitely Not The Italian Job”

The Man Who Broke BMC? (Part Two)

We continue our examination of Sir Alec Issigonis’ BMC legacy.

ADO16 Press photo. (c) Autocar

While development of the Mini was progressing at Longbridge, the XC/9002 family car project, now carrying the ADO16 development code, was initiated. Issigonis envisaged ADO16 in very much the same austere style as the Mini, simply larger and with four doors. A prototype Big Mini was built at Longbridge and shipped to Cowley for further development.

Issigonis visited Cowley regularly, but was still a step removed from the detail development work overseen by Charles Griffin, who headed the ADO16 engineering ‘cell’, so he had much less opportunity to Continue reading “The Man Who Broke BMC? (Part Two)”

The Man Who Broke BMC? (Part One)

Did a brilliant but uncompromising engineer sow the seeds of BMC’s downfall?

Sir Alec Issigonis with the result of the XC9000 programme. (c) BMIHT

Sir Alec Issigonis was undoubtedly a brilliant and visionary engineer. He was also, allegedly, imperious and autocratic, and highly intolerant of what he perceived to be interference or compromise. Latterly, it has been suggested that BMC’s failure to manage Issigonis effectively and channel his engineering talents to produce motor vehicles that were both desirable and profitable was a significant factor in the company’s ultimate commercial failure. This is the hypothesis we will examine in this series of articles.

Issigonis was born in 1906 in the Greek port city of Smyrna, (now called Izmir and part of Turkey). Greek by birth, he also enjoyed British citizenship because of his father’s naturalization while studying in London in the closing years of the 19th Century. Following his father’s death, Issigonis and his mother moved to London in 1923, where he studied engineering. He initially worked as an engineer at Humber, in his spare time competing in motorsport. His first racing car was a supercharged Austin 7 Ulster with a heavily modified front suspension of his own design.

Issigonis’ success in racing brought him to the attention of the Austin Motor Company, and he was invited to Continue reading “The Man Who Broke BMC? (Part One)”

Flattening the Curve

Simplify and add… marketing.

(c) underconsideration.com

It might seem like a lifetime ago, but it was only last September when Volkswagen unveiled its new logo at the Frankfurt Motor Show. The logo was launched in conjunction with the ID.3 EV and was intended to herald a new era for the company, where the wholesale electrification of its model range would take centre stage. Unspoken, but undoubtedly the case, was the hope that it would Continue reading “Flattening the Curve”

Collateral Damage

How Ralph Nader killed Volkswagen’s first Phaeton.

(c) diariomotor

America had enjoyed a good Second World War from an economic perspective, and this set the stage for strong growth in the 1950’s. US GDP rose by 81% over the decade, while GDP per capita rose by 53%. Increasing affluence and a growing suburban population had supported strong auto sales, and US cars had grown larger and more ostentatious, reflecting the confidence of the era. 1959 marked the peak in the fashion for such cars, with their large tailfins and extravagant chrome laden exteriors.

There was, however, a growing appetite for smaller and more economical cars that the Big Three had largely neglected. These were often bought as second cars for wives or teenage children. This market was being satisfied by imports such as the Renault Dauphine and Volkswagen Beetle, and what would later become known as subcompact models from the smaller US manufacturers such as AMC, Nash and Studebaker, who hadn’t the financial or technical resources to Continue reading “Collateral Damage”

Reimagining a Legend

Volkswagen do Brasil used its creative independence to produce a car that, had it arrived a decade earlier, might have been a very credible replacement for the Beetle.

1973 Volkswagen Brasilia. (c) autowp.ru via wheelsage

The Volkswagen Beetle is one of the defining motor vehicles of the Twentieth Century. It remained in production for 65 years and a total of 21,529,464 were built. Although much changed over its lifetime, the distinctive profile remained largely the same, with its smoothly curved roof and bonnet, and separate front and rear wings connected by running boards. Anybody seeing a 1938 prototype parked next to a 2003 final year model would Continue reading “Reimagining a Legend”

Last Throw of the Dice

Volkswagen persevered longer than most manufacturers with the rear-engined, rear-wheel-drive layout. The 1968 Type 4 was its last hurrah.

(c) bestcarmag

In the mid-1960’s, there was still a wide variety of mechanical layouts to be found in passenger cars. The so-called conventional layout, with a longitudinally mounted front engine and gearbox linked by a propshaft and live axle to driven rear wheels, was still predominant, and the wholesale switch to front-wheel-drive by mainstream manufacturers would not happen for another decade. Continue reading “Last Throw of the Dice”

The Chinese Are Coming… Or Are They?

Chinese automakers have long been expected to make a concerted assault on overseas markets but, so far at least, have failed to do so in any meaningful way. DTW wonders why.

Coming to Europe? Geeley’s Lynk & Co Model 01 (c) Car

The recent (July 2020) decision by the UK government to ban Huawei, the Chinese telecoms giant, from long-term participation in the national rollout of 5G mobile has profound implications for Anglo-Chinese trade relations. In a post-Brexit world, China had been cited as a potentially major trading partner for the newly independent UK, free to make its own bilateral trade deals. Such hopes now look increasingly forlorn.

The government’s decision has undoubtedly been influenced by pressure from the Trump presidency in the escalating trade war between the US and China, but genuine concerns about Huawei’s independence from the Chinese government, President Xi’s increasingly autocratic rule, the Covid-19 pandemic and the suppression of legitimate protest in Hong Kong have all led to a deepening suspicion about China’s political ambitions, benign or otherwise, as a major economic superpower.

The rapidly growing prevalence of the Internet of Things means that a wide range of Internet connected appliances, including automobiles, presents a security risk essentially the same as that feared from Huawei’s telecoms equipment. But while it may sound highly implausible that your Smart TV might Continue reading “The Chinese Are Coming… Or Are They?”

The Best of Times, The Worst of Times

The Corniche paradox. 

Rolls Royce Corniche. (c) momentcar

The mid-1960’s were exciting times for Rolls-Royce. As development of the Silver Shadow progressed, the company shared the blueprints and specifications for its new saloon model with Mulliner Park Ward. The London based coachbuilder had a long history of producing bespoke models on Rolls-Royce chassis. Now that Rolls-Royce was moving to unitary construction, this would no longer be so straightforward, but Mulliner was keen to continue its traditional business. A plan was agreed whereby the coachbuilder would Continue reading “The Best of Times, The Worst of Times”

Acceptable in the 80’s

Forty years since the launch of the Rolls-Royce Silver Spirit and its siblings; time to reassess the marque’s least loved car.

1980 RR Silver Spirit/ Spur. (c) cars addiction

The late 1970’s was a challenging time for Rolls-Royce Motors. The company had been floated off in 1973 at the insistence of the British Government which, two years earlier, had rescued its parent company, the eponymous aero engine manufacturer, from bankruptcy and wanted it now to Continue reading “Acceptable in the 80’s”

Wide of the Marque

If the recent demise of the Bentley Mulsanne proves anything, it is that engineering expertise and bespoke craftsmanship alone do not make an ultimate luxury car.

(c) topspeed

As lapses in the exercise of due diligence go, the 1998 acquisition of Rolls-Royce Motors by the Volkswagen Group takes some beating. The maker of Rolls-Royce and Bentley cars had been hived off from the eponymous aero engine manufacturer in 1973, following its rescue and nationalisation by the UK government two years earlier. Rolls-Royce Motors was then purchased by UK engineering group Vickers in 1980.

Vickers’ core business was in defence and marine engineering and its new trophy asset became more of a liability as the costs of keeping pace at the pinnacle of automotive engineering grew ever greater. During the late 1990’s BMW supplied engines and other technology to Rolls-Royce Motors. When Vickers put the company on the block, the Bavarians appeared to Continue reading “Wide of the Marque”

Espíritu Independiente (Part Two)

Concluding our retrospective on Spain’s automotive flag-carrier and the rare occasional flowering of its independent design talent.

(c) autogaleria.hu

SEAT enjoyed a period of independence between 1982 and 1986 during which it introduced the MK1 Ibiza in 1984, a Supermini that was sold alongside the outdated 127-based Fura before replacing it in 1986. A four-door saloon version, the Málaga, followed a year later in 1985. The Ibiza and Málaga were the closest SEAT ever came to Continue reading “Espíritu Independiente (Part Two)”

Espíritu Independiente (Part One)

A retrospective on Spain’s automotive flag-carrier and the rare occasional flowering of its independent design talent.

(c) favcars

In the late 1940’s Spain was an economic wasteland. The bloody 1936 to 1939 Spanish Civil War, immediately followed by the privations of World War II, had left the country impoverished and largely without an industrial base. The government of General Franco was desperate to improve the welfare of its people and reduce their reliance on subsistence level agriculture and fishing.

One key element of this plan would be the development of an indigenous automobile industry. European manufacturers, still rebuilding their post-war domestic capacity and markets, were largely uninterested in expansion into Spain, but the government realised it had neither the capital nor the technical expertise to build the industry from scratch. Instead, it courted both Fiat and Volkswagen, offering shares in a new auto company and royalty payments in return for permission, not just to assemble but to Continue reading “Espíritu Independiente (Part One)”

Hope vs Experience

The Daewoo Espero was launched thirty years ago and was the company’s first unique model. We look back at a car not without merit, but out of time.

(c) autoevolution

Here at DTW we have an irrational fondness for plucky underdogs that some might say borders on the perverse. Just as with famous celebrities, their appeal to us is only heightened by an untimely and premature demise. Daewoo is one such marque, but has not yet secured its own place in the DTW archives and is mentioned as an aside in only ten out of more than three thousand contributions. Today it’s time to Continue reading “Hope vs Experience”

Ford Builds A Passat

“Ford builds a Passat!” was a typical reaction when the Mondeo Mk3 was unveiled in October 2000. Beneath its conservative Germanic skin was a well-engineered, competent and capable car.

(c) The Car Connection
2000 Ford Mondeo (c) The Car Connection

The 1993 Ford Mondeo Mk1 was a transformational car for its maker. Its predecessor, the Sierra, for all its futuristic aero looks, was resolutely conventional and exemplified Ford’s tradition of producing (no more than) adequately engineered and carefully costed cars that sold on showroom appeal, value for money and low running costs. If one wanted to Continue reading “Ford Builds A Passat”

American Pioneer

Mention hybrid vehicles and one immediately thinks of Toyota and the 1997 Prius, the first commercially successful passenger car of this type. There are, however, earlier examples and today we look at an unlikely pioneer, Briggs & Stratton.

(c) hegarty.com

Outside the US, the name Briggs & Stratton is most often associated with lawnmower engines of modest capacities and power outputs. This understates considerably the size and global reach of the company. Founded in 1908, Briggs & Stratton is the world’s largest manufacturer of small-capacity internal combustion engines for agricultural, industrial, marine and recreational applications.

Headquartered in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the company manufactures around ten million engines annually in plants located in North and South America, Europe and Australia, and sells in over 100 countries worldwide.

In the late 1970’s, following the fuel crisis earlier in that decade, Briggs & Stratton began thinking about the viability of hybrid power. It recognised that most road vehicles of that era were highly inefficient: their large capacity internal combustion engines were required to produce enough power and torque to accelerate them up to the speed limit on highways but, thereafter, only a fraction of the power output was required to Continue reading “American Pioneer”

Subcompact and Substandard (Part Two)

We conclude our retrospective on the US Big Two’s somewhat compromised 1970 subcompact offerings, focusing today on the Ford Pinto and examining the controversy that engulfed it.

(c) paintref

The Chevrolet Vega was an ambitious clean-sheet design, but Ford took a rather more pragmatic approach to the Pinto. In 1968, Ford President Lee Iacocca set targets of a sub-2,000 lbs weight, a sub-$2,000 entry price and an accelerated development time of just 25 months for the new subcompact.

To meet this challenge, the development team looked to Continue reading “Subcompact and Substandard (Part Two)”

Subcompact and Substandard (Part One)

Fifty years ago, Ford and General Motors introduced their first subcompact models to challenge the rising tide of Japanese and European imports. One was underdeveloped and riddled with faults. The other would become an infamous cause célèbre for US safety campaigners.

(c) wheelsage

In the late 1960’s US auto makers were becoming concerned about the growing popularity of small Japanese and European imports. These tended to be basic and unsophisticated, but were also cheap, economical and reliable, particularly when compared to the alternative of a second-hand domestic model. Ford and GM needed to fight back, so set to work developing what would become known as subcompacts.

The Ford Pinto and Chevrolet Vega were launched within a day of each other in September 1970. Conceptually, they were identical: conventionally engineered front-engined RWD cars that would be available in saloon, hatchback and estate versions. The Vega was slightly larger, with a 3” (75mm) longer wheelbase, although rear seat space in both was occasional at best for adult passengers.

The development of the Vega was highly unusual in that it was controlled, not by Chevrolet, but by an independent team of fifty engineers led by Lloyd Reuss, who reported directly to GM President, Ed Cole. Reuss would himself go on to Continue reading “Subcompact and Substandard (Part One)”

More Than Just a Tribute Act

The Mazda Tribute was launched twenty years ago. If you don’t remember it, you’re in the majority who overlooked the car when it was on sale, then quickly forgot about it. Time to remember.

All images courtesy of the author.

The Tribute was significant in that it was Mazda’s first tentative step into both SUVs and four-wheel drive*. It was co-developed with Ford, which held a 33.4% stake in Mazda at that time. The Ford version was called Escape in the US and Maverick in Europe. It was a mid-sized five-door transverse-engined front or four-wheel-drive SUV. The model was based on the Ford CD2 platform, which was itself a development of the Mazda GF platform that underpinned the 626/Capella saloon.

The Tribute was designed to Continue reading “More Than Just a Tribute Act”

Fire Sale

If the Firenza was Vauxhall’s answer to the Capri, one has to wonder what the question was.

(c) classics.honestjohn

Coupés are fundamentally irrational vehicles. They typically offer less space and practicality than the saloons upon which they are based but are more expensive, ergo they must offer an element of style, performance and sex-appeal to justify their premium prices. Ford hit this nail squarely on the head on both sides of the Atlantic with the Mustang and Capri. Opel would do likewise with the Manta, and Vauxhall was keen to Continue reading “Fire Sale”

What’s in a Name? (Part Two)

Concluding our exploration of the often treacherous practice of automotive nomenclature.

Image: (c) DTW

Given the numerous problems and pratfalls we uncovered in Part One, it might seem simpler to avoid the bear-traps altogether and stick to safe and neutral numbers. These can be used to indicate the range hierarchy, such as BMW’s ultra-logical 1 to 8-Series model designations.

This works fine as long as the manufacturer is happy to Continue reading “What’s in a Name? (Part Two)”