If imitation really is the sincerest form of flattery, then Rover Group should have been mightily chuffed when Honda launched the CR-V in October 1995. The new soft-roader was uncannily similar to the Land Rover Freelander in conception, dimensions and even appearance. Those of you with a better memory than I will be quick to point out that the Freelander was not launched until October 1997, so how can the former possibly be an imitation of the latter?
Well, the story goes that during the characteristically tortuous and protracted development of the Land-Rover, which began in the late 1980s following the launch of the Discovery, Honda, as a 20% shareholder in Rover Group, had access to the company’s future model programme and immediately saw the potential of what would eventually become the Freelander(1). Because Honda was so much better focused and swifter in its development activities, the Japanese ‘Freelander’ beat its British counterpart to market by a full two years.
Would new models bolster Chevrolet’s tenuous foothold in the European automotive market?
Chevrolet’s 2005 relaunch in Europe was, to say the least, a rather understated affair, with a model range that was composed entirely of rebadged and very mildly facelifted Daewoo models from South Korea. Although the first new Chevrolet model for Europe, the Captiva crossover, had been unveiled at the Paris motor show in September 2004, it did not go on sale until early 2006. Nevertheless, European sales for 2005 came in at 211,737(2) units, representing a modest 1.87% increase over the previous year. This was respectable, but certainly not the step-change that General Motors might have hoped for following the rebranding.
Chevrolet abandoned Daewoo’s unique marketing proposition of fixed price sales and outsourced servicing. Instead, it set about establishing a traditional dealer network, often paired with existing Opel or Vauxhall dealerships. How this was viewed by the dealerships concerned is open to speculation: did it provide potential for increased sales, or simply unwanted internal competition and added complexity and confusion? Continue reading “That’ll be the, er…Chevrolet? (Part Two)”
Just one of many indignities heaped upon the storied US marque by its abusive parent, General Motors.
Chevrolet is a truly iconic automotive name. The company was founded in 1911 by Swiss-born racing car driver and motor engineer Louis Chevrolet. His partners in the new venture were his brother, Arthur, and William C. Durant. The latter had been fired by General Motors in 1910, just two years after he had co-founded GM to be a holding company for The Buick Motor Company, which he owned, and the simultaneously acquired Olds Motor Works, manufacturer of Oldsmobile cars.
The US auto industry evolved very rapidly in the second decade of the 20th Century. Chevrolet fell out with Durant in 1914 and sold his share in the fledgling but already successful company. The automaker continued to thrive, to the extent that Durant was able to buy a controlling stake in General Motors in 1918, folding Chevrolet in as another division of the rapidly growing conglomerate.
A developing markets car that was out of tune with European tastes.
The Volkswagen Group doesn’t do cheap and cheerful. Its four(1) mass-market brands all have a reputation for producing high quality(2) cars. One can reasonably argue that these brands are insufficiently well differentiated from each other in terms of quality of materials, build and equipment. Hence, Volkswagen has too much overlap between its brands so has not maximised its potential total market coverage.
The company must have watched on enviously as Renault resurrected the moribund Romanian Dacia marque and turned it into a highly successful budget brand, which is exactly what Volkswagen might have done with Škoda. That appeared to be the plan when the first wholly VW-era Škoda, the 1996 Octavia, was launched. This was a larger but cheaper and plainer take on the Golf. Subsequent models, however, became increasingly sophisticated, to the extent that there is little to Continue reading “Missing the Marque: Volkswagen Fox”
The 1996 Octavia should have set the template for all future Škoda models, but it didn’t turn out that way.
In a piece I recently penned on another Volkswagen Group model, I opined that the group’s four mass-market brands are insufficiently well differentiated from each other, so the scope of their market coverage in Europe is narrower than it should be and there is a greater than optimal overlap between brands and models, inevitably leading to some cannibalisation of sales. Ideally, their market positioning should be broadly as follows:
Audi: premium luxury and sporting.
Volkswagen: semi-premium, nominally classless, but certainly perceived as upmarket of mainstream rivals.
SEAT: youthful, stylish, fashion-conscious but not too avant-garde or left-field.
Škoda: budget, practical, strong value proposition, car as domestic appliance.
If you fail, try again. Of course, you might fail again.
Renault is rightly credited with producing the first European(1) MPV, the 1984 Espace. Whether or not the company was gifted with great foresight in doing so is a moot point, however. The Espace had been brought to Renault by Matra as an already completed design, one that had originally been commissioned by Chrysler Europe. After Peugeot-Citroën purchased Chrysler’s European operations in 1978, it struggled to rehabilitate the ailing business, hence it rejected the design as too niche and risky, forcing Matra to seek another partner.
Continuing the story of the 1994 A8, the car that propelled Audi into the German premium car firmament.
After the very striking polished aluminium Audi Spaceframe Concept of 1993, the 1994 production A8, a car that majored on subtlety over ostentation, was bound to be something of an anti-climax, if only in visual terms. It was certainly not a car for those who wanted to flaunt their wealth and success. For those who looked at it more deeply, however, there was plenty to appreciate.
Car Magazine covered the A8 in an extensive eight-page feature published in the May 1994 issue of the magazine. Journalist Georg Kacher introduced it boldly as “a technical marvel, a marvellous car.” A source at Audi was quoted as saying that “the old V8 cost us a lot of money, but the new [A8] is going to lose us a small fortune.” In order to establish itself in the luxury saloon market, Audi expected to Continue reading “Light Fantastic (Part Two)”
At the fourth attempt, Audi finally produced a luxury saloon to challenge the Mercedes-Benz S-Class head-on.
Audi is now a fully-fledged member of the German premium triumvirate. Together with rivals BMW and Mercedes-Benz, it dominates the European market for such vehicles. However, its entry to this exclusive club was neither quick nor straightforward and its early attempts to join were met largely with indifference by the market.
The first car that Audi attempted to pitch above its traditional E-segment ceiling was the 1979 200 saloon. This was based on the 1976 C2-generation Audi 100 and was little more than a plushly trimmed version of that car, distinguished externally by slightly chintzy looking quad rectangular headlamps lifted from the US version of the 100(1) and a thick perimeter rubbing strip that ran along the lower bodysides and continued around the front and rear of the car above the bumpers. Continue reading “Light Fantastic (Part One)”
Which vehicle would you regard as the first modern crossover or, to use the American term, Crossover Utility Vehicle (CUV)? Automotive historians on both sides of the Atlantic might cite either the 1977 Matra-Simca Rancho or 1979 AMC Eagle, but the former was front-wheel-drive only(1) while the latter, although highly capable with its permanent 4WD, was simply a jacked-up AMC Concord. I think the title should rest with the 1994 Toyota RAV4, a purpose-designed model with front or four-wheel-drive. Honda followed up a year later with the CR-V(2) while Land-Rover entered the fray in 1997 with the Freelander.
With global sales of over 1.2 million, the Volvo 700 series was a highly successful car for its maker. However, by the late 1980s, it was beginning to look quite dated. This was a particular issue for the saloon, with its always controversial rear window / D-pillar treatment, which was a throwback to an early 1980s American styling trope. Sales began to suffer, especially in the UK and German markets.
Replacing the 700 series with an all-new model wasn’t an option, however. Volvo was committed to a switch to front- (or four-) wheel-drive for all its model ranges and to this end was undertaking its largest ever investment programme, called Project Galaxy. Launched in 1978, Project Galaxy continued for over a decade and cost a total of 15 billion Swedish Kroner (US $2.5 billion), making it the most expensive Swedish private-sector investment to that date. The first fruit of the project was the 1986 400 series, followed by the 1991 800 series.
In the Spring of 1984, two years after the launch of the 760 GLE saloon, Volvo introduced its less luxurious sibling, the 740. Deliveries started later in the year, first in North America, then in Europe. The estate versions of both the 740 and 760 were launched in February 1985. They went on sale in North America in the summer, then in Europe in the autumn of that year. The market had by this time become used to the saloon’s angular looks, so the estate, shorn of the saloon’s controversial rear window, was generally regarded as rather smart, even handsome.
Oddly, for a company so concerned with safety, anti-lock braking was only available on the top of the range 760 GLE saloon, and not at all on the estate. Volvo’s explanation for this was that there was no room to Continue reading “Swedish Angle Iron (Part Two)”
Remembering the controversially styled Volvo 700 series.
The Volvo 100/200 series was an extraordinarily successful and enduring automobile. Careful nurturing and progressive development of the model enabled it to remain in production for over twenty-seven years, during which time it built up a loyal band of owners for whom no other car offered the same combination of practicality, durability and passive safety. Over its lifetime, a total of 4,125,325 cars found buyers, making it by far the most successful model in Volvo’s history.
By the late 1970’s however, Volvo realised that the architecture underpinning the 200 series was becoming somewhat outdated. Although launched in 1974, the 200 series was not an all-new model but a heavy makeover of the 1966 100 series. It was still more than acceptable for buyers who appreciated Volvo’s traditional strengths, but the company had ambitions to Continue reading “Swedish Angle Iron (Part One)”
A short history of BMC and its successor companies’ trouble with doors.
Car doors: we take them for granted. They are there simply to provide a means of entry to and egress from a cabin sealed off from the elements, to ensure the comfort and security of the vehicle’s occupants. In engineering terms, they are mainly pretty simple: two hinges at the front, a locating pin and lock at the rear, and a mechanism to move the glass up and down either manually or electrically(1). So far, so straightforward.
However, doors are of far greater importance than might be implied by their mere functionality. They define the side profile of the car and are integral to its overall design. While cars are routinely given facelifts to freshen up their appearance after a few years on the market, such facelifts are typically confined to the front (and, occasionally, rear) end. The centre section of the bodyshell usually(2) remains untouched. Hence, it is very important to Continue reading “An Open and Shut Case”
Rover disinterred the MGB in 1992 to produce the RV8. It was something of an anachronism, but did what was expected of it.
The later chapters in the history of MG sports cars are well known to followers of DTW and do not make for happy reading. Starved of the resources needed to develop proper successors, MG was forced to limp along with only minimal modifications to both the Midget and MGB throughout the 1970s, the most notable being the rubber bumpers and raised ride height(1) introduced in 1974 that ruined both the appearance and handling(2) of the cars.
Both models struggled on in much diminished form until production finally ended in late 1980 with the closure of the MG Abingdon factory. Perversely, it was the commercial failure of the Triumph TR7 sports car that was cited as one reason the MGB had to go, because it was accused of cannibalising sales of the TR7(3). In any event, MG was reduced to Continue reading “No Rest for the Deceased”
Lovely to look at and not without merit, but the market was moving on.
If one could distil and bottle the very essence of French middle-class conservatism and respectability, the label on the bottle would undoubtedly read ‘Peugeot’. Over its long and illustrious history, the French automaker’s products were well-engineered, durable, rational and sensible above all else. Peugeot was not a company given to flights of fancy or wilful self-indulgence. Even its coupé models were characteristically understated and practical conveyances. All apart that is, from the car we are examining today.
The Peugeot RCZ was first unveiled in June 2007 as the 308 RCZ Concept alongside Peugeot’s newly minted 308 production models. The RCZ was designed to be an image-builder for the mainstream C-segment hatchback and estate, and the 308 was a car that certainly needed some help as far as image was concerned – for it was an unfortunately flaccid and over-bodied looking thing, aesthetically inferior in every way to its better looking 307 predecessor. The RCZ was shown alongside the 308 at the latter’s formal launch at the Frankfurt Motor Show in September 2008. Critical reaction to the 308’s styling was mixed to say the least, but the RCZ received widespread acclaim. Continue reading “A Lovely Frock, but Late to the Party”
The author recalls his ownership of a far from perfect but still charming MG Midget.
Although I couldn’t have known it at the time, moving to London in the spring of 1986 would prove to be a major landmark in my life. I had spent the previous two years working in Belfast but for compelling reasons, both professional and personal, I decided that, at the tender age of 25, it was time for me to strike out on my own and see if I could make a life for myself in one of the world’s great cities.
My arrival in London was, to say the least, inauspicious. I pitched up in a hired Austin Montego estate car, packed to the gunwales with all my worldly possessions. A friend had kindly offered me lodgings while I arranged something more permanent. I had already secured a job, working for one of London’s blue-blooded merchant banks. Unlike my job in Belfast, this did not come with the benefit of a company car, so that was an immediate priority for me. Continue reading “Small, but a Big Personality”
Concluding the story of the BMW E12-generation 5 Series.
The new 5 Series received a generally positive if not euphoric reception from the automotive press. With its 2-litre four-cylinder engine, it was not powerful enough, even in fuel-injected form, to exploit fully the capabilities of its chassis, and the engine itself was somewhat lacking in refinement when pushed hard.
BMW answered these criticisms in 1973 with the introduction of the 525. This was fitted with a straight-six SOHC engine with a capacity of 2,494cc which produced maximum power of 143bhp (107kW). Stiffened front springs and a thicker anti-roll bar were fitted to counter the extra weight of the engine. The 525 was fitted with disc brakes on all four wheels. Power steering and a limited-slip differential were now on the options list. Badging apart, the only external identifier for the new model was a subtly different bonnet: the 525 had a slightly raised centre section instead of the slightly indented section on the 520.
Car Magazine published its first impressions of the 525 in October 1973 and these were very positive: “the sheer performance was predictable, but the smoothness, flexibility and sweetness of [the] package was more of a surprise. It will potter along at very low speeds in top, rarely needs anything lower than third once on the move and will storm to over 120mph with beguiling ease.” The reviewer went on to Continue reading “Der Fünfer (Part Two)”
Half a century ago, BMW quietly launched its first 5 Series. The automotive world did not realise what a seminal car it would become.
The trio of German so-called ‘premium’ automakers like to represent themselves as operating at the cutting edge of automotive engineering, technology and design. Hence, instead of using whimsical or ephemeral names for their cars, they instead identify them with scientific precision, using alphabetic and/or numerical model designations that are entirely logical in their construction and impossible to confuse(1).
In earlier times, the business of model nomenclature was much more straightforward. Smaller cars had smaller engines and vise-versa, so the engine capacity alone was often enough to distinguish between different models. When BMW introduced its ‘Neue Klasse’ mid-sized saloon in 1962, it was simply called the 1500. Larger-engined versions followed and these were duly called 1600, 1800 and 2000. However, when BMW introduced a range of smaller saloons using the same engines, they had to Continue reading “Der Fünfer (Part One)”
Renault replaces French style with Euro-blandness, with wholly predictable results.
The 1965 Renault 16 was highly unusual for a large European car. Firstly, it was a hatchback when all of its contemporaries were three-box saloons. Secondly, it was front-wheel-drive when large saloons were mainly driven by their rear wheels. Thirdly, its styling was highly distinctive and didn’t observe any of the norms expected in such models. Ask me to Continue reading “Missing the Marque: Renault Safrane”
Innovative designs, and better built than one expected from Fiat.
Prior to the inexorable rise of the crossover, the C-segment hatchback was the bedrock of the European automotive market. Every mainstream automaker knew the vital importance of success in this class, the champion of which was the VW Golf. The Volkswagen Group prospered on the enduring success of this car, while other manufacturers strived to match its qualities and capture its appeal in their own offerings. Some slavishly tried to build near-replicas(1) of the German car, an effort lampooned by Volkswagen in its witty and memorable 2009 ‘Just Like a Golf’ television advertisement(2).
Two decades before BMW launched its first production EV, there was the E1 Concept.
Energy Density and Specific Energy are the twin holy grails for any automaker wishing to bring a viable electric vehicle to market. These two units of measurement are often confused, even by people who really should know better(1). In simple terms, energy density is the amount of energy that can be stored in a given volume, whereas specific energy is the amount of energy that can be stored in a given mass. The S.I. unit for the former is joules per cubic metre and for the latter is joules per kilogramme. In the context of electric vehicles, the energy component is more usefully measured in kilowatt-hours, since the joule is a very small unit of energy(2).
Petrol has a specific energy(3) of around 12.5kWh/kg. Diesel is slightly lower at around 11.5kWh/kg. These numbers might appear meaningless in isolation, but compare them with the specific energy of a traditional lead-acid battery, which is a tiny 0.04kWh/kg and you can Continue reading “E1 before i3”
Concluding the story of Volvo’s long-running and successful 100/200 series.
After eight years and 1.25 million sales, the Volvo 100 series was heavily re-engineered and restyled to produce its successor. The budget for the research, development and updated production facilities for the new model was a relatively modest £60 million. The 200 series was launched in the autumn of 1974.
It retained the body of the 100 series from the A-pillar rearwards but was given a completely new front-end, inspired by the 1972 Volvo Experimental Safety Car. This was designed to improve passenger safety in a frontal collision and added a substantial 172mm (6¾”) to the overall length(1), which was now 4,823mm (189¾”) for the saloon and 4,844 mm (190¾”) for the estate. Unfortunately, the ‘shovel-nosed’ new front-end, again designed by Jan Wilsgaard, looked rather ungainly, and it unbalanced the proportions of the saloon(2) somewhat. Continue reading “Swedish Iron (Part Three)”
Continuing the story of Volvo’s long-running 100/200 series.
In July 1968, Volvo unveiled its new range-topping 164 saloon, based on the 144. As the model designation implies, the 164 featured a six-cylinder engine, making it the first Volvo for twenty years so powered. The new B30 engine was simply an six-cylinder version of the B20 inline-four and shared many common parts. It had a capacity of 2,979cc and, fitted with twin Zenith-Stromberg carburettors, it produced maximum power of 145bhp (108kW).
The engine was mated to a four-speed manual gearbox or three-speed Borg-Warner automatic transmission. An overdrive, which operated on top gear only, was an option with the manual gearbox. From the A-pillar rearwards, the 164’s body was identical to that of the 144. However, the longer engine required a 96mm (3¾”) extension in the wheelbase to 2,700mm (106¼”) while the overall length grew by 63mm (2½”) to 4,651mm (183”).
Remembering Volvo’s long-running and highly successful 100/200 series.
One of the near-constants of the automotive industry is the model replacement cycle. It typically works like this: a new model is introduced, given a facelift (for better or worse) after, say, four years, then is replaced by an all-new model after a further four years. Of course, ‘all-new’ is a term used pretty casually by automakers. Often, beneath the shiny new bodywork, many carry-over parts will be found.
A number of factors conspire to enforce this cycle. Ever tighter active and passive safety standards and regulations need to be incorporated. Likewise, developments in technology, both for the vehicle itself and the machinery used to build it, will, in the best of circumstances, allow the redesigned vehicle to Continue reading “Swedish Iron (Part One)”
The author attempts to explain his violently opposed reactions to the design of the 2020 Rolls-Royce Ghost and 2022 BMW 7 Series.
In a comment appended to a recent piece on DTW, a reader asked me to elaborate on why I thought that the Rolls-Royce Ghost works as a design, whereas the latest BMW 7 Series* simply doesn’t. It is a good question, and one I have been pondering. In what follows, I will attempt to explain my thoughts. As ever, I should begin with the caveat that, while there are well understood principles of good design, I have no formal training in that field. Hence, my observations are simply those of an enthusiastic amateur, no more or less valid than any others, so I am very happy to be challenged on anything that follows.
The author recalls his experiences with two of Munich’s finest.
My partner and I had the good fortune to run as company cars two E30-generation 3 Series models for six years during the 1990s. The first was a 1990 320i convertible, which was followed in 1993 by a 325i convertible. The 320i replaced a 1988 Mercedes-Benz 190E, about which I have previously written here. I would have liked to maintain my allegiance to Stuttgart, but my partner and I wanted a convertible and the C124 was too large, with an image that suggested middle-aged Miami orthodontist rather too strongly for our tastes and ages at that time. Continue reading “Living with the BMW E30-Generation 3 Series”
Concluding the story of the seminal BMW E30-generation 3 Series.
Sales of the new 3 Series, initially available in two-door saloon form only, started briskly around the end of 1982. Renowned automotive journalist Leonard (LJK) Setright drove the new 3 Series for the first time and reported his findings in the January 1983 issue of Car Magazine. Whilst largely agreeing with Georg Kacher’s assessment of the car, published in the previous month’s issue of the magazine, he took a more nuanced view of the handling issue.
Forty years ago, BMW launched a car that would help to propel the company into the automotive stratosphere.
Automotive historians often identify two models as seminal in the history of the storied Bavarian automaker. The first is the BMW 700, a modest car that quite literally saved the company from bankruptcy after it plunged to a huge DM 15 million loss in 1959, mainly thanks to its misadventure with the beautiful but financially ruinous 507 roadster.
Launched in the same year, the 700 was a small rear-engined model available in two-door saloon, coupé and convertible variants. Styled by Giovanni Michelotti, it was an attractive and contemporary looking car that was well received and sold strongly from the off, bringing desperately needed income and stability to the company. The 700’s success encouraged the Quandt family to Continue reading “Breakthrough (Part One)”
The author bemoans the arbitrary manner in which a complex rulebook and extraneous events determine the outcome of so many Formula 1 races.
I have been a fan of Formula 1 for as long as I can remember. I can recall both the highs and lows of the sport over many years. The former includes Lewis Hamilton’s magnificent first World Championship in 2008 when, driving a McLaren, he took the championship from Filipe Massa by a single point when he overtook Timo Glock on the last corner of the season finale in Brazil to finish fifth. At just 23 years old, he became the youngest ever World Champion in just his second season in the sport.
The author wonders why some automotive designs end up being not as good as they should or could have been.
In the field of automotive design, there is always a degree of tension between the designers and the body engineers charged with making their designs a reality. Many designs, when first revealed as concepts, are loaded with details that might look beautiful, but are difficult or impossible to incorporate into the body engineering for viable and economic series production. That, and the need to comply with the raft of motor vehicle legislation and regulations, is why production cars are often a disappointment, typically described as ‘watered down’ from the concept.
If the designer is unconstrained, then the result is, for example, the bonnet of the Jaguar E-Type. While undoubtedly beautiful, it was a nightmare to fabricate from many separate pieces of steel, laboriously welded together then lead-loaded and smoothed off to Continue reading “Unforced Errors”
The Sierra’s troubles mount, forcing a radical rethink.
In the run up to the Sierra’s launch in September 1982, the external design had been previewed with the Probe concept, aimed at lessening the shock of the new. However, few observers believed Ford would put anything so radical into series production, a perception the automotive and general press did little to discourage. When Sierra arrived in the showrooms however, the stunned disbelief was palpable.
Additionally, there remained large stockpiles of unsold Cortinas, which required significant discounting to clear. This gave wavering customers an opt-out, which many gratefully accepted, delighted by the opportunity to Continue reading “Sierra Shock (Part Three)”
First impressions are very positive, but trouble lies ahead.
The UK automotive press were inordinately impressed by the apparent sophistication of the new Sierra. Car Magazine featured it on the cover of its October 1982 issue with the headline, “Sierra Shock! It really is a good car.” The magazine devoted a six-page feature to the Sierra including an analysis of the design by Steve Cropley, driving impressions from Mel Nichols and an interview with Bob Lutz, Ford Europe’s (former) chairman, who had recently been promoted and returned to Dearborn.
Cropley’s opening remarks set the tone for his piece: “If ever a car… deserved a complete break from the cloying, boring image of the ubiquitous Ford ‘nail’, this Sierra does. It is wholly different; wholly better.” He continued thus: “It is good enough to be compared with the new Audi 100, and to be mentioned in the same conversation as a Mercedes-Benz W123.(1)“ The eulogy continued: “Never again will a car maker be able to Continue reading “Sierra Shock (Part Two)”
Ford of Europe bets its future on a car that appears truly radical.
Exactly forty years ago, the European automotive landscape was upended by a new car that looked like nothing we had seen before. Even more surprising was that it came from Ford, that most conservative of automakers, which had made its fortune from producing cars that were… just as expected. Ford was emphatically not in the business of challenging its customers’ expectations, but meeting them head-on.
The company’s ultra-cautious approach to product development had created generations of cars that were only modestly and iteratively updated from their predecessors. This suited both conservative private buyers and cost-conscious fleet operators, for whom reliability and low running costs were by far and away the most important factors for them to Continue reading “Sierra Shock (Part One)”
Remembering GM Europe’s pretty but clawless felines.
Over the past fifty years or so, the B-segment supermini has been a staple of the European automotive landscape, to the extent that it has, so far at least, managed largely to resist the onslaught of the crossover. In the early days, there was some experimentation with the precise mechanical layout, but most automakers quickly settled on what they realised was the optimum in terms of cost and packaging; a transverse four-cylinder engine with an end-on transaxle gearbox and unequal-length driveshafts to the front wheels, MacPherson strut front suspension with a torsion-beam axle at the rear, disc front and drum rear brakes, all wrapped up in a three and/or five-door hatchback body.
Many young people began their driving careers in a supermini, not least because they were so popular with driving schools, then widely available second-hand. They were cheap to buy and, crucially, relatively cheap to insure, even for a novice driver without the benefit of a no-claims discount and with a better than evens chance of having a bump in their first year on the road.
…adequately to describe how awful this was (but I’ll give it a go anyway).
From its very earliest days, the automobile was more than just a machine for personal transportation. It represented freedom, independence, individuality(1) and, of course, affluence. Automakers quickly realised that the wealthy could easily be persuaded to part with large amounts of money for a car that not only conveyed them in great comfort, but also conveyed clearly to others their social standing.
For some, Rolls-Royce stood at the pinnacle of the automotive hierarchy, with its superlative, hand-wrought quality and understated, refined elegance. For others, Mercedes-Benz was favoured for the excellence of its engineering. In the US, Cadillac proclaimed itself ‘The Standard of the World’ with at least some degree of justification before General Motors had done its worst to Continue reading “There Are No Words…”
Concluding the story of the Biturbo and the models developed from it.
Apart from the coupé, saloon and Spyder variants, the Biturbo’s platform and mechanical package was the basis for an additional five closely related Maserati models. The first of these was the 228, unveiled in December 1984 for launch a year later as a 1986 model. This was a two-door coupé, but was based on the Biturbo saloon’s longer 2,600mm (102½”) wheelbase. The 228 was intended to be a grand touring coupé in the Maserati tradition and featured the first application of the enlarged 2.8-litre V6 twin-turbo engine. Although superficially similar in appearance, it shared no body panels with the Biturbo coupé, being both longer and wider than even the saloon.
The 228 was again designed in-house by Pierangelo Andreani. Overall length was 4,460mm (175½”) and width was 1,865mm (73½”), making it 60mm (2¼”) longer and 135mm (5¼”) wider than the Biturbo Saloon. The Biturbo’s geometric lines had been softened, with a gently upswept lower DLO line and more curvature in the bodysides. Continue reading “Maserati for the Masses (Part Three)”
Continuing the story of the Biturbo and the models developed from it.
The 1982 Maserati Biturbo was a fundamentally sound design, but a rushed development programme and hasty scaling up of production to meet strong initial demand had damaged its reputation for build quality and reliability.
In a later interview(1), Giorgio Manicardi, Maserati’s International Sales Manager, laid the blame for the Biturbo’s early quality and reliability issues firmly at Alejandro de Tomaso’s door. Manicardi had wanted to launch the Biturbo at a price of 22 million Lira, but it was de Tomaso who insisted on the sub-20 million Lira starting price. “As a result we lacked the [profit] margin to implement quality controls,” Manicardi contended. Moreover, de Tomaso allegedly maintained an iron grip on the project, to the extent that he rejected importers’ pleas for a cover to Continue reading “Maserati for the Masses (Part Two)”
DTW marks the fortieth anniversary of the Biturbo, a car that sired a range of more affordable Maserati models.
As seems befitting for an Italian company manufacturing sports cars, grand touring coupés and luxury saloons, Maserati S.p.A. has had a colourful and occasionally tumultuous history since its establishment in 1914. One brief period of relative calm began with the company’s takeover by Citroën in 1968. The deal was predicated on a joint-venture project whereby Maserati would design and build a new V6 engine for Citroën’s forthcoming flagship, the SM. Financed by French investment, Maserati introduced a new range of models, notably the 1971 V8-engined Bora, the company’s first mid-engined supercar, its smaller brother, the 1972 V6 Merak, and the stillborn SM-based 1974 Quattroporte II saloon.
Unfortunately, the Middle-East Oil Crisis of 1973 caused a collapse in demand for the sort of cars in which Maserati specialised. Citroën, struggling with its own mounting losses, put Maserati into receivership in May 1975. Political pressure to Continue reading “Maserati for the Masses (Part One)”
Remembering Ford’s blue-collar big saloons of the early 1960s.
If such a thing is possible, then its fair to say that America had a good Second World War. Provoked into action by the surprise Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbour on 7th December 1941 which caused the death of over 2,400 service personnel and civilians, America mobilised its vast industrial resources to produce military vehicles, ships, aircraft and armaments. Unemployment was virtually eliminated and the economy boomed during the war years.
When the war ended, Europe was bankrupt and its infrastructure shattered. Both winners and losers suffered equally from the privations of the years that followed. For many, life was little better than it had been during the war as the long struggle to Continue reading “Ordinary Joe in a Sharp Suit”
Toyota’s switch to front-wheel-drive began very tentatively in 1978.
The Toyota Motor Corporation vies with Volkswagen Group as the world’s largest manufacturer of motor vehicles. Global sales in 2021 were just shy of 10.5 million vehicles, earning revenues of approximately US $250Bn. The underlying philosophy that has taken Toyota to this dominant position has been one of cautious, iterative product development over decades, always giving the customer exactly what they expect from the company; finely engineered and meticulously constructed vehicles that deliver a long and reliable service life.
Range Rover’s success over the past two decades in establishing itself as the pre-eminent manufacturer of luxury SUVs is truly remarkable, particularly when one considers JLR’s chequered and occasionally traumatic ownership history. British Leyland, BMW and Ford all attempted to impose their plans on the company, with decidedly mixed results. It was only in 2008, when JLR was acquired by Tata Motors, a subsidiary of the giant Indian industrial conglomerate, Tata Group, that the company finally enjoyed both the financial stability and management autonomy to Continue reading “A Gilded Cage?”
Over the past fifty years, the global automotive industry has witnessed an ongoing consolidation to the extent that it is now largely under the control of a handful of major players(1). The reasons for this are all economic: the costs associated with the design and manufacture of a new motor vehicle are now simply enormous, given the raft of fitness for purpose, safety and environmental regulations and legislation with which any new model must comply. Moreover, the product liability implications of putting into the hands of the public a machine that could be potentially deadly to themselves and others are truly terrifying. Only a lunatic and/or a genius(2) would now Continue reading “Folie Française”
I am writing this on our flight home from Chicago after spending ten most enjoyable days exploring the city and surrounding areas. Chicago is one of the great American cities and, with so much to see and experience, it is well worth a visit. Over the past thirty-something years, I have had the opportunity to travel to the US many times for both business and pleasure. One of my abiding fascinations is the country’s automotive landscape and how it has evolved over these decades.
When I first arrived on those shores in the late 1980s, the US car market was still dramatically different to its European equivalent, thrillingly so for a car-obsessive like me. Despite the downsizing precipitated by the 1973 fuel crisis, there were still plenty of US-manufactured ‘land yachts’ traversing the streets of the big cities and the country’s broad highways. American cars retained their highly distinctive style amongst a plethora of different marques, each with its own signature design features. Continue reading “Keeping it Real”
Following a successful launch, the BX sold strongly, although there were some early build quality issues that were overcome during the first year of production. A year after launch, the BX range was augmented with the addition of a Break estate version. Production of the estate was outsourced to the French coachbuilding firm Heuliez.
Unusually, the estate retained the hatchback version’s rear passenger doors. This was problematic in that the hatch featured a roofline that fell noticeably towards the rear of the car, and the rear door window frames followed suit. However, in order to maximise load capacity, the estate, although only a little taller overall, was instead given a horizontal roofline. The solution was slightly makeshift: the estate’s additional rear side windows were mounted higher than the rear door windows, with long horizontal air vents below them. The mismatch was partly disguised by satin black trim and paint surrounding the DLO on all but the base versions, where it was readily apparent. Continue reading “Boxing Clever (Part Two)”
Confounding the cynics, the 1982 BX was a proper Citroën.
The 1976 takeover(1) of the bankrupt Citroën company by Peugeot S.A. caused consternation amongst diehard fans of the products of the Quai de Javel. Since the days of the Traction Avant, Citroën had been fêted as a manufacturer of technically advanced and highly innovative cars, noted in particular for the superlative ride quality delivered by their unique Hydropneumatic suspension system. Would Peugeot, noted for its technical conservatism and financial rectitude, be respectful of this tradition, or discard it in favour of cars that were Citroën in name only?
The first(2) post-takeover all-new Citroën was the 1978 Visa. While heavily based on the Puegeot 104, the Visa at least looked sufficiently different(3) and had enough quirky details to be accepted as a proper Citroën in the mould of cars such as the Ami and Dyane. However, Citroën’s small cars were historically relatively simple in technical terms, so the bigger test of Peugeot’s commitment was yet to Continue reading “Boxing Clever (Part One)”
Before the all-conquering SUV transformed the automotive landscape, America’s taste in automobiles was really quite conservative and the traditional three-box sedan in a variety of sizes was very much the norm. Americans didn’t really buy into the European fashion for hatchbacks, preferring station wagons or pick-up trucks for lugging loads around. Even younger buyers, whom one might have expected to be more receptive to new fashions, still wanted to drive around in a car just like mom or dad’s, only smaller and, ideally, more economical.
Bob Lutz, who had joined Chrysler in 1986 as Executive Vice President in charge of global product development, saw an opportunity to develop a new small car that would be specifically aimed at younger American drivers. It would take Chrysler’s contemporary styling tropes, which were cab-forward proportions and organic, curvaceous shapes, and adapt them to create a small car with a friendly, unthreatening face and a ‘fun’ personality that would Continue reading “Hardly Noble, but not Inert Either”