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”
Forty years since the launch of the Rolls-Royce Silver Spirit and its siblings; time to reassess the marque’s least loved car.
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”
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.
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”
Concluding our retrospective on Spain’s automotive flag-carrier and the rare occasional flowering of its independent design talent.
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between 1982 and 1986 during which it introduced the MK1 Ibiza in 1984, a Supermini that was sold alongside the outdated 127-based Fura before replacing it in 1986.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)”
A retrospective on Spain’s automotive flag-carrier and the rare occasional flowering of its independent design talent.
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)”
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.
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!” 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.
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”
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.
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”
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.
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.
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.
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)”
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.
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.
If the Firenza was Vauxhall’s answer to the Capri, one has to wonder what the question was.
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”
Concluding our exploration of the often treacherous practice of automotive nomenclature.
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.
An exploration of the arcane and sometimes treacherous landscape of automotive nomenclature.
A DTW article on the venerable Ford Cortina raised in my mind the question of the enduring appeal of the name chosen for this model. Was it the association with the glamorous Italian ski resort, or simply that the word was phonetic and tripped off the tongue easily, that was behind Ford’s decision to append it to a fine if unglamorous family car? Probably a bit of both: Ford was already using Capri, another Italian tourist destination, for the coupé version of the Consul Classic.
When the first Porsche Boxster was launched in 1997, it was, aesthetically at least, something of a disappointment. The Boxster Concept, revealed at the 1993 Detroit Motor Show, was a sinuous and lithe design with an attractive and beautifully detailed interior. It was greeted with great enthusiasm by all who saw it. Here was a smaller, mid-engined roadster that would provide a more accessible route to Porsche ownership and complement the larger 911, while maintaining a clear distance in price and size between the two models.
The author reviews his four years with a 2015 Porsche Boxster.
In an ideal world, I would report that my current 981-generation Porsche Boxster, purchased in 2016, directly replaced a previous generation (987…don’t ask) model that I owned for six years and enjoyed tremendously. Unfortunately, I strayed and had a two-month torrid but unfulfilling affair with a Jaguar F-Type convertible before coming to my senses and returning to Zuffenhausen.
Failing to learn from experience only condemns you to repeat your errors.
By the mid-1970’s it was abundantly clear that the Chrysler 160/180/2-Litre was a flop. Launched in 1970 under a marque name with no resonance in Europe, the big Avenger was regarded with indifference by the market and sales were disappointing to the point of embarrassment. However, the large saloon segment in which the car sold was growing healthily, with cars like the Ford Granada, Audi 100 and Rover SD1 selling profitably in good numbers. Chrysler wanted a slice of the action, so plans for a successor were initiated.
The new model was developed under the C9 project code name. Like its predecessor, the C9 would be styled in Coventry and engineered and built in Poissy. Early sketches for the design showed a large, three-box saloon with smooth, unadorned flanks, a deep six-light glasshouse and low waistline. Some fashionable aero elements were incorporated, such as partly enclosed rear wheels and a faired-in front end, with the number plate and headlamps covered by a Perspex panel, not unlike the Citroën SM. These details were intended to give the car the distinctive character that was lacking in its bland predecessor.
Chrysler’s US executives thought the initial design too radical for a conservative market sector (notwithstanding the Rover SD1’s popularity) and ordered it to Continue reading “History Lesson”
We conclude the story of the Avenger and 160/180/2-Litre and their very different fates.
The C-Car programme that would ultimately become the Chrysler 160/180/2-Litre* ran in parallel with the B-Car Avenger, under the supervision of Rootes Design Director Roy Axe. The initial plan was to offer the C-Car in three variants; a base 1.8 litre Hillman version to replace the top-line Hunter models, a 2.0 litre version carrying the Sunbeam marque and a 2.5 litre version to replace the Humber Hawk. A stretched D-Car variant was also envisaged to Continue reading “Contrasting Fortunes (Part Two)”
The Avenger and 160/180/2-Litre were intended to carry Chrysler Europe successfully into the 1970’s and beyond. One succeeded, while the other was hobbled by indecision, poor management and Anglo-French rivalries.
By the late 1960’s the Rootes Group’s range of cars was beginning to look rather threadbare. Its newest model, the Arrow series Minx and Hunter, introduced in 1966, was still relatively fresh and selling quite well, but was hampered by a limited engine range, which comprised a four-cylinder OHV unit in 1,500cc and 1,725cc capacities.
(almost) Always a bad idea, when you’re in the automotive business.
Driven by opportunism, expediency or sheer desperation, motor manufacturers have often tried to pass off lightly reworked versions of competitors’ products as their own. It has rarely ended well.
The latest to have tried and failed at this game is Fiat, who announced in late 2019 that production of the Fiat 124 Spider for European markets was ending after just three years. There appears to be some confusion regarding the North American market, where the model is still listed on the Fiat.com website, but it is widely believed to be on its way out. Speaking to Autocar in August 2019, Fiat CEO Olivier François claimed that Fiat had “no legitimacy” in this segment, from which Autocar inferred that the 124 Spider would not Continue reading “Faking It”
Like so many ill-considered marriages, GM’s entanglement with Saab was destined to end badly. We conclude the story of this unhappy union.
Having taken full ownership of Saab Automobile AB in 2000, GM was free to continue its planned transformation of the company into a premium competitor to Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz. The existing 9-3 was looking dated, appearing little different to the New Generation 900 launched in 1994, and its five-door format was out of step with its intended competitors, the A4, 3 Series and C-Class.
A new 9-3 was developed in parallel with the Opel Vectra C, based on the new GM Epsilon platform. Both cars were launched at the Geneva Motor Show in March 2002. The 9-3 adopted a four-door Sport Saloon format. A convertible followed in 2004 but the arguably more important SportWagon estate didn’t Continue reading “Irreconcilable Differences (Part Two)”
Like so many ill-considered marriages, GM’s entanglement with Saab was destined to end badly. We look back over this unhappy union.
Throughout the late 1980’s and 1990’s, GM looked on enviously as its arch-rival Ford carefully and methodically assembled the pieces of what would become its Premier Automotive Group* (PAG), a stable of European premium, sports and luxury car marques to which it would add its own Lincoln and Mercury brands.
Ford began by acquiring an interest in Aston Martin in 1987, then assuming full control in 1991. It purchased Jaguar in 1989, followed by Volvo’s car business a decade later. In 2000, Ford acquired Land-Rover from the wreckage of BMW’s failed ownership of Rover Group, which it folded into the newly formed PAG.
The latter acquisition was particularly painful for GM because, in March 1986, it had agreed the purchase of Land-Rover, then part of the nationalised British Leyland, from the UK government before a public outcry and political pressure forced Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to Continue reading “Irreconcilable Differences (Part One)”
The rural East Anglian market town my partner and I call home has many fine qualities, but it is emphatically not a nirvana for car spotters. Suffolk and Norfolk people have mainly conservative tastes in matters automotive and even our most affluent neighbours tend to Continue reading “A Photo for Sunday: 1986 Porsche 928 S2”
Concluding our retrospective on a car that went from cynical marketing exercise to icon for a generation of drivers.
The Mk2 Capri was launched in February 1974. In the immediate aftermath of the Oil Crisis and quadrupling of OPEC oil prices, Ford seemed to have suffered some loss of nerve and decided to make the new model rather more practical and less overtly sporting than the Mk1. The bonnet was shorter, the interior enlarged, with a hatchback and folding rear seats instead of a separate boot. The emphasis seemed to have changed to Continue reading “A Promise Fulfilled (Part Two)”
A retrospective on a car that went from cynical marketing exercise to icon for a generation of drivers.
That Ford chose to produce the Capri was as logical as night following day. The US Ford Mustang, launched five years earlier and, like the Capri, based largely on a humble sedan (the Falcon), had been a huge sales success. Ford had expected to shift around 100,000 Mustangs annually, but 400,000 were sold in its first year and a further 600,000 in its second year of production. Little wonder that, on seeing these numbers, Ford Europe decided to Continue reading “A Promise Fulfilled (Part One)”
Daniel O’Callaghan’s digest of Bob Lutz’s 2011 book, ‘Car Guys vs Bean Counters’. In this concluding part, GM hits the buffers and goes cap in hand to the US Government.
At the start of 2008, the outlook appeared quite promising for GM. Its more recent models had been well received and the company had won North American Car of the Year for 2007 and 2008 with the Saturn Aura and Chevrolet Malibu. The company had agreed with the UAW a new wage deal and a plan to move the worker healthcare liabilities off the GM balance sheet and into a new fund that GM would set up, but would Continue reading “The Fate of Empires and Search For Survival (Part Five)”
From humble and unlikely beginnings, the Audi Quattro would permanently redefine its maker’s image. Daniel O’Callaghan looks back on the development and influence of this seminal model in the company’s history.
The Audi Quattro owes its existence to the German Army’s urgent need in the late-1970’s to replace its aged DKW Munga four-wheel-drive light utility vehicles with a more modern successor. The Munga had ceased production in 1968 and its outdated two-stroke engined design was overdue for replacement. Its intended successor was the Europa Jeep, a joint-venture project involving a number of European governments that had been in development for a decade before finally collapsing acrimoniously in 1979.
Anticipating this outcome, the German Army instead invited domestic automobile manufacturers to design a replacement for the Munga. Volkswagen passed the project to Audi, who had access to the Munga’s technology and patents via the Auto Union partnership, so was able quickly to Continue reading “Game Changer”
Daniel O’Callaghan continues his digest of Bob Lutz’s 2011 book, ‘Car Guys vs Bean Counters’, examining GM’s latterday approach to alternative propulsion.
GM’s expansion to become a global company had largely been built on acquisitions: Opel and Vauxhall in Europe, Holden in Australia and Daewoo’s automotive business in South Korea. These companies continued to operate with a high degree of autonomy in product design and engineering. It was argued that this enabled the companies to Continue reading “The Fate of Empires and Search For Survival (Part Four)”
Some crashes have potentially disastrous consequences, and not just for flesh, blood, glass and metal.
The first-generation Mercedes-Benz (W168) A-Class was one of the most radical, bold and innovative designs in the company’s history. It was not only the company’s first transverse-engined FWD production car, but featured an innovative sandwich double-floor structure and an unusually tall but short body that was designed to provide greater than C-Segment passenger accommodation within a footprint no larger than that of a B-Segment supermini. The engine and transmission were engineered in such a way that, in the event of a heavy frontal impact, they would Continue reading “Roll of Shame”
Daniel O’Callaghan continues his digest of Bob Lutz’s 2011 book, ‘Car Guys vs Bean Counters’, charting the decline of GM and Lutz’s decade-long struggle to rescue it.
Even before officially starting work at GM on 1st September 2001, Lutz had the opportunity to preview GM’s forthcoming models. He attended the company’s August board meeting and met Wayne Cherry, GM’s Vice-President of Design, at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance event the same month. Cherry shared with him photos of models in different stages of development and Lutz was horrified by what he saw.
Not all motor crashes end badly. How the R129 Mercedes-Benz SL was tested to destruction and passed with honours.
In a recent piece on the R129 generation Mercedes-Benz SL, reference was made to a dramatic incident that occurred at the car’s launch event at the Estoril racing circuit on the Portuguese Riviera. Car Magazine’s Ian Fraser was present at the launch and the following is taken from his account, published in the August 1989 edition of the magazine.
When Fraser arrived at the Estoril circuit, there was little evidence of the dramatic incident that had taken place earlier, apart from some tell-tale gouges in the surface of the tarmac. The Mercedes-Benz 500SL involved in the incident had been hidden from public view in a pit lock-up garage. The two journalists who were driver and passenger in the car had retreated to the bar for a stiff drink to calm their shredded nerves, the driver crying uncontrollably for a couple of hours. Continue reading “Roll of Honour”
An industry insider’s account of the decline of General Motors and his struggle to revive its fortunes.
In the last quarter of the 20th Century, General Motors went from being one of the most highly respected and successful US corporations to the butt of stand-up comedians’ jokes. In his 2011 book, Car Guys vs Bean Counters, Robert A (Bob) Lutz charts the decline of the once great company and describes his decade-long struggle to rescue it. What follows is a digest of that book, supplemented with additional information where appropriate.
Daniel O’Callaghan concludes his running report on his partner’s 2014 MINI with an assessment of its dynamics, its ergonomics and his conclusions.
The driving experience and refinement is where the third-generation new MINI really distinguishes itself positively from its fun but flawed predecessors. It has a nice turn of speed, 0-62mph in 7.8 seconds, which is 0.1 seconds quicker than the manual, and a claimed (but untested!) top speed of 130mph.
The torque-converter automatic gearbox is very smooth, kicks down readily and has a manual override if wanted, which we’ve never used. This gearbox has now been superseded by a dual-clutch unit. The three-cylinder 1.5 litre turbocharged engine pulls strongly and has a nice, gruff engine note. Continue reading “Our MINI Adventure (Part Two)”
In my recent review of MINI over twenty years of BMW ownership, I declared an interest in the shape of a MINI Cooper three-door Hatch, jointly owned with my partner, Murray, who is its main driver. I promised a long-term report on the car, and here it is.
We had owned a 2005 Skoda Fabia for nine years and 55k miles from new, which had served us very well as a runabout and carry-all. We wanted to replace it with something more fun and engaging to drive. It had to be an automatic, as Murray learned to drive in the USA and his UK licence still carries that restriction.
Concluding our retrospective on the difficult birth and growing pains of BMW’s precocious but troubled child.
In Part One we covered the evolution of MINI from its birth in 2000 to 2013. Today we continue the story, examine the company’s current state and imagine its future in the years ahead.
Late 2013 saw the launch of the F56 generation Hatch. Unlike its predecessors, this one was all BMW’s own work, hence the BMW, rather than Rover, model code. It is based on the BMW UKL1 platform, a larger derivative of which, the UKL2, now underpins MINI’s Clubman and Countryman as well as all BMW’s own smaller front and four-wheel drive models. The F56 MINI grew significantly in an effort to Continue reading “BMW’s MINI Misadventure (Part Two)”
A retrospective on the difficult birth and growing pains of BMW’s precocious but troubled child.
This year marks the twentieth anniversary of the launch of the first BMW-era MINI, so it’s an appropriate time to look back over the company’s highs and lows, and to imagine how it might evolve in years to come.
A not-so-serious look at the dark art of automotive one-upmanship.
Buying a new car these days is an exhausting process. Manufacturers, in their quest to fill every imaginable (and some unimaginable) micro-niches, now offer ranges that are truly bewildering in their breadth. Your first task is to trawl through the 38 different models and bodystyles (Mercedes’ current UK tally) and choose the one that best suits your needs and pocket.
Have the car rental Gods smiled upon our Canary Island correspondent?
When we make our annual January pilgrimage to Tenerife, I still enjoy a moment of childish excitement as we approach the airport car hire desk, wondering what prize the ‘or similar’ lottery will award us on this occasion. Usually it’s disappointingly familiar VW Group fare such as a Polo or Ibiza, but this time it was the exotically titled Citroën C-Elysée, a name so graceful and poetic that you have to Continue reading ““I Dreamed I Moved Among The Elysian Fields””
We welcome stalwart reader and commenter, Daniel O’ Callaghan to the ranks of DTW guest-writers with a latter-day review of the combatative former BL Chairman’s 1983 memoir.
This book tells the story of the author’s five years as Executive Chairman of BL (formerly British Leyland). Sir Michael Edwardes joined the 99% state owned company in November 1977 at the invitation of the Labour government of James Callaghan. The book charts the many crises faced by the company as it struggled to Continue reading “Back From The Brink – A Review”