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)”

Virtue from Necessity (Part Two)

DTW continues the story of the Triumph Herald and its derivatives.

Triumph Vitesse. Image: storm.oldcarmanualproject

Following the December 1960 takeover by Leyland Motors and the successful relaunch of the Herald in April 1961, the newly formed Standard-Triumph division had the funds and confidence to Continue reading “Virtue from Necessity (Part Two)”

Virtue From Necessity (Part One)

The 1959 Triumph Herald was an innovative and pragmatic solution to a difficult problem. It was also surprisingly accomplished and deservedly successful. DTW tells its story.

1960 Triumph Herald Saloon (c) nationalmotormuseum.org.uk

In the latter half of the 1950s, the Standard-Triumph motor company was facing a potentially existential problem. The mainstay of its model range, the Standard Eight and Ten saloons, were ageing and in need of replacement. However, Fisher and Ludlow, the company’s body fabricators, had been taken over by BMC in 1953 and was under orders from BMC Chairman Leonard Lord to terminate the relationship with Standard-Triumph once existing contracts expired.

Even if Lord had not decided to Continue reading “Virtue From Necessity (Part One)”

Betting the Farm – and Winning

The investment programme behind the 1991 Volvo 850 was the most important in the Swedish automaker’s history. Not only did it deliver an excellent car, it had a fundamental impact on the company’s future direction.

1997 Volvo 850 Estate (c) autocar.co.uk

Despite its conservative appearance, which looked like a scaled-down and smoothed off 940, the 1991 Volvo 850 was the fruit of the Swedish manufacturer’s largest and most expensive ever investment in new models, so it needed to be good.

It was not, however, Volvo’s first foray into front-wheel-drive. That honour rests rather heavily on the 400 Series. First to launch was the 480 coupé in 1986, followed a year later by the 440 five-door hatchback and 460 four-door saloon. The 400 replaced the 300 Series, which Volvo had inherited as a largely completed design (the DAF 77) when it took over DAF’s car-making business in 1975.

The 400 was, to put it bluntly, not great. Continue reading “Betting the Farm – and Winning”

Born Survivor (Part Two)

DTW continues the story of AC Cars up to the present day.

AC 3000 ME. Image: old concept cars

In the early 1970’s AC began developing an ambitious new sports car, the 3000ME. This was a GRP bodied mid-engined two-seater. The initial design work had been undertaken by Peter Bohanna and Robin Staples. Their prototype, called Diablo, used the engine and transaxle from the Austin Maxi. Not having the resources to develop the prototype for production, they showed it to both AC and TVR. Derek Hurlock, who was then Chief Executive of AC, was sufficiently impressed to Continue reading “Born Survivor (Part Two)”

Born Survivor (Part One)

AC Cars is claimed to be the oldest motor manufacturer in Great Britain, having survived many near-death experiences over the past 120 years. DTW recounts its long and eventful history.

1903 Auto Carrier. Image: myntransportblog

The company now known as AC Cars was founded in West Norwood, South London in 1901 by engineer John Weller and his brothers, with the financial backing of John Portwine, a friend of the Wellers and a successful businessman who ran a chain of Butchers in London. The Weller brothers launched their first prototype car, a 20hp open tourer, at the 1903 London Motor Show at Crystal Palace.

Although well received, Portwine considered the car too expensive and instead encouraged development of a three-wheeled delivery vehicle, launched in 1904. This was called the Auto Carrier, from which the company’s name would henceforth be derived. It was a notable success, with customers including Boots the Chemist, Associated Newspapers and the Goodyear Tyre Company. A four-seater passenger version called the Sociable was also offered. It was even adapted by the British Army as a munitions carrier, with a machine-gun mounted up front.

Continue reading “Born Survivor (Part One)”

A Photo for Sunday: Peak Camry

Not exactly ubiquitous in the UK when in production, this 1997 Toyota Camry was a welcome surprise.

1997 Toyota Camry (c) the author

I have mentioned previously that my rural backwater, while having charms aplenty to commend it, is not exactly a car spotter’s paradise. There are plenty of shiny and expensive new cars around, but few one might describe as interesting, esoteric or left field.

I have also mentioned my habit of heading for the remotest corner of public car parks in the hope of minimising the risk of picking up a parking dent or scrape. Pulling into my local supermarket car park this morning, my usual space was occupied by this Toyota Camry, an XV20 model manufactured between 1996 and 2001. Although a best seller in the US, the Camry barely made a dent in the UK sales charts, so it was an unusual and welcome sight.

In my opinion, this generation Camry was one of the very best in design terms, with a smooth, linear and unfussy style that might owe more than a little to Peugeot’s 605 and 406 models. There is not a single detail of the design I would change, and Toyota’s 1999 facelift merely altered but did not improve the front and rear ends. It stands as a quiet rebuff to the excessively fussy and overwrought fashion that currently prevails in automotive design. Continue reading “A Photo for Sunday: Peak Camry”

Objects you Cannot Polish

The 2001 Citroën C5 was a spacious, comfortable and practical large car. It was also unforgivably frumpy looking. DTW tries to muster some enthusiasm to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of its birth.

2001 Citroen C5. (c) autoevolution

The early 21st Century was a lean time for Citroën design. The company’s glory days of the DS, SM and GS were a distant memory. The sensible men in grey suits at Peugeot, which had owned Citroën since 1975, had repositioned the company as a purveyor of automotive white goods; sensible value-for-money appliances like the 1996 Saxo and 1997 Xsara, whose most attractive features were the deep discounts and cheap finance deals used to Continue reading “Objects you Cannot Polish”

Disappointing Sequel (Part Two)

Concluding our latterday examination of DS Automobiles, we draw some conclusions.

Image: auto55

The 2015 relaunch of DS Automobiles as a separate stand-alone marque necessitated a facelift for the existing DS3, DS4 and DS5 models. The Citroën badging and logo was replaced with a new, stylised DS badge, while the distinctive Double-Chevron front grille was replaced by a rather generic hexagonal item. The stylised DS initials appeared twice on the front end of the facelifted cars, in large size within the grille and on a smaller square badge on the painted panel above. At the rear, DS also appeared twice; stylised in the centre of the tailgate and offset to the right in a plain script suffixed with the model number.

Did the abundance of badges indicate a degree of unease about DS’s name recognition, and its prospects as a stand-alone marque? This badging led to a certain confusion as to the names of the relaunched models; for example, was it DS DS3 or simply DS 3? The official DS website indicates that the latter is correct.

In any event, the relaunch had no apparent impact on DS sales, which continued to Continue reading “Disappointing Sequel (Part Two)”

Disappointing Sequel (Part One)

DTW assesses the progress and current state of DS Automobiles after a decade on the market.

DS Automobiles latest opus. Image: dailyrevs

The launch of the Citroën DS 19 in 1955 was unarguably one of the seminal events in the history of the automobile. In its conception, design and engineering, the DS was at least a decade ahead of any competitor and left observers slack-jawed in amazement at Citroën’s audacity in bringing such a revolutionary car to market.

The DS 19 was first and foremost an engineering-led design. Its hydropneumatic self-levelling suspension gave it a peerless combination of superb ride quality and sharp handling. Its dramatically streamlined and aerodynamic body was highly functional, allowing it to Continue reading “Disappointing Sequel (Part One)”

A Leaf Short of Lucky

DTW recalls a well-intentioned but misguided and ultimately doomed attempt to establish a motor manufacturer in the Republic of Ireland.

1959 Shamrock Advertisement (c) independent.ie

Ireland in the 1950’s was still an impoverished agricultural economy with little industry and systemically high unemployment. The country had fought a guerrilla war of independence against British forces between 1919 and 1921. This was brought to an end by the Anglo-Irish Treaty of December 1921, which partitioned the country and enabled the establishment of the 26 county Irish Free State a year later.

However, the country then became embroiled in a year-long bitter and bloody civil war between the provisional government that supported the treaty and those who regarded it as a betrayal of the principal of nationhood declared in the 1916 Easter Rising.

The bulk of Ireland’s former heavy industry had been located around Belfast and was lost in partition. Subsidies and protective tariffs had limited success in establishing new industries during the 1920’s and 1930’s and the economy’s growth was poor. Although officially neutral in the Second World War, Ireland suffered from the ongoing privations the war caused throughout Europe. Waves of migration to Britain and the US in search of work left the country further weakened with an ageing population. Continue reading “A Leaf Short of Lucky”

Past Forward

Misunderstood and derided by many, the Chrysler PT Cruiser was a brave if misconceived attempt to bring something different to the automotive landscape.

(c) honestjohn

The PT Cruiser should have been a Plymouth, had that failing marque not been put out of its misery by Daimler-Chrysler in 2001 following the 1998 Merger of Equals of the US and German automakers. Chrysler’s traditional entry-level brand had fallen into a serious decline in the last decade of the 20th Century. Its limited range largely comprised badge-engineered variants of other Chrysler group products, including the Voyager and Grand Voyager minivans, and the Neon compact and Breeze mid-size saloons, all of which were comfortably outsold by their Chrysler or Dodge branded stablemates.

The only distinctive and unique model marketed under the Plymouth brand was the Prowler, a wildly styled retro two-seater convertible harking back to the 1930’s hot rod era. This was very much a niche offering and only 11,702 were sold over a five-year period from 1997 to 2002. However, its undoubted appeal led Chrysler product planners to Continue reading “Past Forward”

The DTW Bumper Holiday Quiz (Part One)

Because there are only so many times you can watch Gone With The Wind or Frozen without losing the will to live, DTW instead offers you an opportunity to test out your knowledge of all things automotive. Good luck and no Googling!

Image: Gloucestershire Police Archives.

We will Continue reading “The DTW Bumper Holiday Quiz (Part One)”

End of the Line, End of an Era

DTW marks the last of the traditional American body-on-frame sedans.

1995 Ford Crown Victoria (c) favcars.com

The Ford Crown Victoria and its Mercury and Lincoln siblings were the last in a long line of traditional body-on-frame full-size rear-wheel-drive sedans that were for decades a defining feature of the American automotive landscape. They were simply engineered, but tough and reliable cars that were perfectly suited to the wide variety of private, commercial and institutional roles in which they served.

Today we will Continue reading “End of the Line, End of an Era”

Accessorize!

DTW celebrates an endangered species.

A veritable treasure-trove (c) checkpointautostores.com

Around forty years ago, when I was eighteen and the proud owner of both a newly minted driving licence and my first car, they were to be found on high streets and in shopping centres across the country. I’m referring to car accessory shops, those wonderlands of shiny treasures, not to be confused with their dour and distant cousin, the motor factors.

Motor factors were austere, gloomy and slightly intimidating places where almost nothing was on display. The merchandise was instead piled high on tightly packed aisles of steel shelving at the back of the store, guarded by a slightly grumpy guy who stood behind a chipped black Formica counter.

Continue reading “Accessorize!”

A Long Goodbye

Mitsubishi Motors is a fading presence in the European automotive landscape and could soon be consigned to history. DTW remembers better times for the marque and surveys its current state.

A shrinking presence: 2015 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV: (c) mitsubishi-motors.com

Since the turn of the millennium, Mitsubishi Motors’ European sales have been in slow, if erratic, long-term decline. The high point was reached in 1999, when Mitsubishi sold a total of 205,009(1) vehicles and achieved a market share of 1.34%. In 2019, the comparative figures were 144,670 and 0.92%. The decline would have been more precipitous had it not been for the L200 pick-up truck, which has since 1978 been the bedrock of the company’s sales, and the 2012 Outlander PHEV, which carved a distinctive niche for itself as the first plug-in hybrid SUV.

Over the past two decades, the company has been rocked by two major scandals. The first broke in 2004, when it was revealed that Mitsubishi had been covering up vehicle defects including failing clutches and brakes and leaking fuel lines, refusing to issue recalls for these systemic problems. The company was forced to recall and rectify over 160,000 vehicles, forcing Mitsubishi group companies to Continue reading “A Long Goodbye”

Going for a Drive

The author regrets an increasing antipathy towards a pleasure that was very much a part of his earlier life experience and remained so until recently. There are, however, grounds for hope and optimism.

(c) boundless.co.uk

I have been driving for over forty years. In that time, the automotive landscape has changed in ways that were simply unimaginable when, as the proud owner of a newly minted driving licence, I took to the road in my first car, a second-hand VW Beetle.

Owning a car gave you freedom to Continue reading “Going for a Drive”

Breaking Bad

The Pontiac Aztek… explain.

(c) autoevolution

If there is one car in the past two decades that has, above all others, defied rational explanation, it is surely the Pontiac Aztek. Launched in 2000, this vehicle, which can be described retrospectively as a mid-sized crossover, was met with gasps of amazement and incredulity by potential buyers, rival automakers and pretty much everybody else not directly involved in its development.

There was nothing much wrong with the concept of a crossover and, in some ways, the Aztek was ahead of its time, but why General Motors decided to Continue reading “Breaking Bad”

Marginal Motoring

DTW’s Daniel O’Callaghan remembers the once fraught and risky business of buying a second-hand car.

Used Car Lot (c) loopjamaica.com

Before the introduction of effective consumer protection legislation and manufacturer backed Approved Pre-Owned schemes, buying a used car was often a fraught business. At the bottom end of the market, the stereotypical used car dealer operated out of a Portakabin plonked in the corner of a pot-holed lot in the dingier parts of our towns and cities. The recently (and soon to be again) vacant lot was decorated with gaudy flags and bunting to distract visitors from the cheerless and grim surroundings. The salesman was a matey and overly familiar geezer, superficially affable, but with an unsettling hint of menace should you Continue reading “Marginal Motoring”

Surrogate Twins

GM Europe had a reputation for building solid, reliable but resolutely uncharismatic cars. In an attempt to shake off its fusty image, the company turned to Lotus.

2001 Opel Speedster (c) autoevolution.com

The 2000 Opel Speedster and Vauxhall VX220 siblings owe their existence at least in part to one of the many financial crises that have regularly threatened to engulf Lotus Cars over the course of its lifetime. General Motors had owned Lotus outright from October 1986 to August 1993. It had inherited the front-engined Excel 2+2 and mid-engined Esprit, but recognised that both these ageing designs, while selling steadily in small numbers, had limited potential for growth. Instead, it decided to Continue reading “Surrogate Twins”

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?”