Oblongs Look Better Than Squares

Mister Earl comes under the DTW spotlight. 

Big car – big fellow. Motoringhistory.com

The idea of designing or styling cars is almost as old as the industry itself. Stemming from coach and carriage works, in the beginning the car was made and effectively styled by those same engineers whose only goal was a mechanically powered carriage. Short framed, high bodied creations, and rudimentary in weather protection, imbuing style was barely considered. Wealthy customers hired craftsmen to create a unique automobile – America had dozens of such custom builders but even with Henry’s Model T, mass production barely stirred the creative soul.

Alfred Pritchard Sloan Jr wrote a letter to the general manager of Buick, H.H. Bassett in 1926 expressing his interest in styling a car in order to sell more. Cadillac general manager, Lawrence Fisher concurred with Sloan’s and Basset’s ideas on appearance. On a trip of Cadillac dealers in California, Fisher was introduced to Don Lee who aside from flogging Cadillacs ran a custom workshop in Hollywood. Contained within were those craftsmen building film stars their dream cars. Fisher was impressed by not only the workmanship, but by the young fellow directing the designers – Harley J Earl.

Earl’s father ran a carriage works which Don Lee subsequently purchased. With a keen eye along with such ideas as clay modelling, which allowed for fenders to Continue reading “Oblongs Look Better Than Squares”

The Moon Under Water

A year with a Norse God. 

All images by the author.

If George Orwell wasn’t volunteering to fight in the Spanish civil war, he might just have been found causing literary chaos whilst craving a pint of stout in his perfect pub. A turbulent life ended aged just 46, Orwell spent many years inventing (and searching for) the Moon Under Water – his perfect, Londinium watering hole. 

In his (final) Saturday essay published in the Evening Standard, 9th February 1946, Orwell set out ten significant bullet points, eight of which he eventually found in one unnamed hostelry. In turn, this led to me thinking can similar attributes be used to Continue reading “The Moon Under Water”

Chavant and Di-NOC

An unsung car design essential under the microscope.

Get it while it’s… hard? Image: Fredaldous.co.uk

We’ve simply never found anything better.

Prosaic words in a modern world where the non-use of a computer or software could be deemed a disability – thank heavens then for a material still requiring skilled human hands to shape and form – clay. Used for eons, clay in the automotive industry requires chemical alterations. Natural clay requires baking to gain its strength and rigidity but which renders the product non-alterable. To allow for modelling complex curves or knife-sharp edges, natural clay contains added oils or waxes and in the early days a volume filler, (sulphur) to maintain its pliable attributes.

Delivered in blocks (or billets), once warmed through, the clay can then be applied to a rudimentary shaped wooden buck or wire armature in clumps, literally thrown on then hand kneaded to express a basic shape. Once air dried, this automotive modelling clay maintains its malleable state and allows the skilled human along with a variety of hands tools to Continue reading “Chavant and Di-NOC”

The Palace Of Versailles, Michigan

Where magic happened. 

GM Technical Center. architectmagazine

Philibert Le Roy is credited with turning a backwater shooting lodge into a chateau fit for a king. Then, through a succession of architects along with an army of builders, the Sun King’s dream of the most opulent palace was made real. From small beginnings to a lavish labyrinth, the Palace of Versailles has borne witness to history. 

Metaphorically and literally distanced from such overt flourishes lies an altogether different theatre of dreams. A place that too has borne change, seen careers grow to unprecedented heights, scarred many by its inner machinations and created millions of objects idolised the world over. Enter architect, Eero Saarinen (1910-61), creative inspiration for the somewhat bland sounding 1956 GM Technical Center in Warren, Michigan. 

Whereas Louis’ gaff had (amongst others) Salons to Abundance, Mars and Apollo (with a few added mirrors for good measure) the the GMTC had to Continue reading “The Palace Of Versailles, Michigan”

Reaching for the Stars

Is it a bird, a plane? Nope, it’s a Firebird. 

All three Firebirds. Road & Track

Ještêd, at 1,012 metres is only the 347th highest of the Czech Republic’s mountains yet is a coveted location. The reason being since 1973, at the summit resides an award winning single piece circular building, hyperboloid in shape, pointedly aiming another hundred metres toward the heavens. Partly hotel, but mainly transmitting TV signals, this striking edifice which took six years to construct came from the mind of Karel Hubáček, co-founder of SIAL, a Czech architectural studio. 

Melding elements of beauty with science fiction, a sense of playfulness with functionality, the tower serves the important function of searching further into the great unknown. And whilst Hubáček, surviving enforced wartime labour, concentrated his work upon buildings for humans, he might perhaps have been influenced by something equally futuristic, but on four wheels.

GM’s Firebird I concept stood for high performance. II being the futuristic family car, whereas III was GM’s own trip to the final frontier – an earthbound automobile with otherworldly ideals. Continue reading “Reaching for the Stars”

Dear Ed

Edward H. Mertz, doyen of the Tri-Shield.

Edward H. Mertz. Deansgarage.com

Over the years the hair may have lightened, thinned somewhat but his passion remained strong. Edward H. Mertz (1937-2020) took over Buick’s tiller in 1987, steering GM’s original brand for just over a decade. Helping usher in front wheel drive, wanting to make the right impression whilst reserving the typical, reservist, conservative Buick buyer, Mertz immersed himself into the role with a smile as confident as his policies, including better relations between the company and their dealers.

Mertz could be found in his office, alighting a tri-shield, the 19th hole or the affectionately named War Room where ideas and designs were thrashed out for his pre-recorded dealer-eyes-only Curbside Chats. Averaging every five weeks, he hosted sixty six episodes of around thirty minutes length (in total approximately a working week, 35 or so hours) all recorded to VCR tape and posted out to the three thousand stateside dealers. That, in itself is commitment.

Encouraging dealers to Continue reading “Dear Ed”

The Gamine

Dodging bullets, our resident Mr. Miles offers his thoughts on an underappreciated Pentastar. 

Jalopnik

I’m Fortunate enough to have a scenic commute to and from work, the route encompassing rolling hills and open moorland before plunging headlong into suburbia and masses of unwashed vehicles. Vicious in winter, the summer weather has allowed occasional non-use of wipers alongside higher external temperatures, accompanied by regular morning sightings of a car whose rarity increases daily. DTW’s Richard Herriott wrote about the Chrysler Crossfire six years ago. Inspired by his words and my daily flash past this black bolide, I wanted to Continue reading “The Gamine”

The Cult of the Souls

It never made production, but the Pontiac Banshee was a harbinger nonetheless. 

XP 833 Pontiac Banshee conept. motor authority

Chevrolet, 1966. Two million passenger cars sold. But for a two front attack, life might have been peachy. Enemy Number One – Henry’s Mustang. Enemy One A being rather closer to home, a GM (un) civil war focussing on the difficulties that family ties can induce.

In the egotistical, self centred world of the car executive, John DeLorean managed to Continue reading “The Cult of the Souls”

Recipe For Obscure Omelette

How will you have those eggs, mister?

1980 Buick Century Turbo. Image Curbside Classic

To the European autophile, American cars often lose their flavour should (or if) they land on soil at least three thousand miles from home. As a 1980s wet behind the ears teenager, all American cars were big, loud, had screeching tyres and could fly (dependent upon TV show) yet possessed an otherworldly draw for this spotty oik. 

No-one, not even the deep archives that DTW has become can Continue reading “Recipe For Obscure Omelette”

Maris Otter and Goldings

It probably seemed a good idea after a few ales…

1988 Buick Reatta. Image: Hagerty Insurance Agency

Beer matters. Not the lagers (or pilsners for that matter) that conquered the world once refrigeration was commercially available but that quintessentially British phenomenon, real ale. Now gaining popularity in other parts of the thirst market, the myriad flavours a British pint of beer can offer remains a highly subjective experience. One’s tastebuds can be tingled by initial fruity overtones leading to complex biscuit hints leaving (perhaps) a sharp but far from unpleasant aftertaste. Its composition comprises of but four vital ingredients: malted barley, hops, water and yeast.

One influential variant of barley is the Marris Otter, found in many a pint; English grown for many years, imparting a sweet and flavoursome basis for the beer. Combining with (normally) Kent grown Golding Hops, which imbue earthy, spicy and honey influences may, with a decent brewer at the stills, create a thirst quenching, tasty, moreish drink. So what on Earth has an English pint got to do with a forgotten American two seater? Leave the driving for another day, open a bag of salted nuts and Continue reading “Maris Otter and Goldings”

The Doctor Is OUT

Buick’s black stallion.

Buick Grand National. Image: Car and Driver

Buick’s Regal: sweeping lines, restrained aggression, comfortable but hardly sporting – that being Pontiac’s purview. G-body-on frame, engineering that cut no mustard, but was never meant to. That the second generation Regal became a factory backed NASCAR winner, driven in the early 1980s by luminary Darrel Waltrip triggered a tangential change that, if not for a skunkworks plan, may well have fallen at the first hurdle.

When first shown, the car that was to become known as the Grand National, fell foul to top brass reaction. Ed Mertz and Dick Payne were livid at the thought of potentially sullying the Buick ethos. However, chief engineer Dave Sharpe, Mike Doble (Advanced Concepts), marketing boss Darwin Clark and impetus from then divisional manager, Lloyd Reuss, saw an opportunity to Continue reading “The Doctor Is OUT”

The Tri-Shield’s Silken Road

The Buick Origin Story.

Image: GM/ Wieck Media Services

David Dunbar Buick was but two years old when the family emigrated from Arbroath, Scotland for a new life in Detroit, 1856. Upon leaving school he worked for and then later owned a plumbing goods company (The Alexander Manufacturing Company). With an inventive mind, David produced a lawn sprinkler alongside a vitreous enamel coating for cast iron baths. By the 1890’s, the internal combustion engine held more interest than ablutions – the company was sold.

Afforded both time and financial independence, Buick indulged. Incorporating the Buick Auto-Vim & Power Company in 1899, his market was agricultural engines. Very soon the automobile enveloped his life and swiftly draining his finances with just a single car made in 1902 under the new name, Buick Manufacturing Company. Ploughing what little cash he retained into developing an OHV engine, a loan of $5,000 was had from close friend Ben Briscoe in order to make the Buick Motor Company. 

Briscoe had doubts concerning Buick’s acumen; on hearing of a new automobile project in Flint, over a hundred miles from Detroit, he persuaded Buick to Continue reading “The Tri-Shield’s Silken Road”

The Doctor Is IN

Doc, I think it’s my heart. 

1996 Buick Park Avenue. Image: music directory

From day one to sometime in the late 20th century, the archetypal Buick customer was formed of doctors, architects – the professional classes. Not for me the first 1990 evocation of this particular model, nor indeed the (admittedly beautiful) 1989 Essence concept. The syringe laced with youthful elixir came with in late 1996 in second-generation form, before handing over to the Lucerne (but not before transforming into something less coherent) in 2005. The Buick Park Avenue (BPA) – a sublime sedan. 

DTW’s own Richard Herriott sang some general praise here whereas today’s critique ploughs distinctly narrower avenues. Bill Porter, the Park Avenue’s designer offers, “a measure of stateliness is conveyed by Park Avenue’s generous proportions.” Its a soft car in stance, looks and Dynaride set up, almost harmless for a metal object weighing in at 1700Kgs. Continue reading “The Doctor Is IN”

Migratory Species

Birdwatching – of a kind. The relevant authorities have been notified.

Stock photo – uncredited

Pity the poor swallow, flying several thousand miles from a baking African continent to settle on these shores for the summer – and the weather turns, even for our country, wintry. The marble sized hailstones play havoc with the birds’ food supply as little flies in such conditions. But these hardy souls return year on year to grace our skies with their aerial displays and high pitched screams, or perched atop a telegraph wire in comedic looking gatherings.

These are common visitors, observed from bucolic scenes to city landscapes. What of those lesser frequenting species, maybe sent off course or whose inner sat-nav has maybe blown a fuse?

Just as bird watchers (or twitchers) squeal with delight on hearing (emphasis on seeing) that something rare has come to town, we car enthusiasts are not so different. For recently, within yards of each other, your author found not one but two such examples of cars on no account previously heard of or seen. With trusty (and in this case metaphorical) binoculars, flask, bobble hat and recording device, one began to Continue reading “Migratory Species”

Patis Familiar Stellantis

Full Bora? We consider the new for 2021 MC20

Image: autoevolution

Butterflies arrive in many different guises – usually but not exclusively colourful – thumbnail to two large cupped hands in size, yet delicate, even when aggressive. Today, we cast our gaze upon one such farfalla, flying directly to some lucky devil you don’t know proudly carrying a new satin effect trident – the Maserati MC20.

According to lanky, charismatic German designer, Klaus Busse – in post for over five years now – their new supercar took twenty-four months to bring to fruition. A blend of technology and good old-fashioned honing skills brought about the car as a game of two halves.

The upper body being a product of initial fast sketches followed by in-depth projections and clay sculpting. Bereft of ugly wings or basking shark-aping openings is in part thanks to the exceptional attention to detail; over 2000 hours spent with chassis expert Dallara’s wind tunnel, combined with the ground-ward section of the car-attuned aerodynamics. The tub weighs less than 100Kgs: overall MC20 weighs just under 1500Kgs. 

Busse is at pains to Continue reading “Patis Familiar Stellantis”

If A Thousand Clarinets

Creative design and solid engineering count for little when the regime looks in the opposite direction.

Agromobil. Image: autobible.euro.cz

When the (super)powers that be ask you to jump, you tend to ask how high – included in that equation is which way? Late 1950’s Czechoslovakia saw the Ministry of Agriculture ask their most prolific supplier of vehicles, AZNP, to solve the thorny issue of providing a vehicle that would be compact in dimensions, light on its feet, manoeuvrable and be capable of all terrain capabilities. Oh, and whilst you’re solving that conundrum, the army would like to Continue reading “If A Thousand Clarinets”

Death Of A Clown

The Exeo was an attempt at a D-segment offering on the cheap, but was the joke on SEAT?

Do you want to drive it into the pool darling, or shall I? Image: Autoevolution

Perhaps Erich Schmitt’s leylines and shakras had swirled his vision akin to adding milk to a caffeine drink. Internally known as the Bolero, the public knew the car as the Exeo (ex-ay-o) – a Latin derivation of exire meaning to Go Beyond. Herr Schmitt certainly did that.

Installed as Sociedad Espanola de Automobiles de Turismo president in 2006 under strict instructions from Ferdinand Piëch to Continue reading “Death Of A Clown”

What Price the Surf?

Our Sheffield scribe is Transported.

Image: volkswagen-vans.co.uk

British localities often have words unknown to their neighbours; breadcake, tea cake and bap(1) can be all the same thing – or not depending where one lives. But taken collectively, it is always the bottom line that receives the most emphasis – how much? With travel restrictions now lifted, thoughts turn to holidays; dreams of the coast, sandy shores, alfresco dining and catching a crest with your board should you Continue reading “What Price the Surf?”

Corde Sensible Pizzicato

Dr. Stellantis – we need 200ml of adrenaline through the EMP2 platform this minute, otherwise he’ll flatline…

2019 DS 9 Image: honestjohn.co.uk

Be still my Yorkshire heartbeat, there remain yearnings for French saloons chez-Miles. For this I blame visits to Le Mans in years past, observing cool-looking battered saloons on the payage or sleek C6s or 607s parked effortless and poorly on village corners. But hark! A contrivance recently reported at AutoCropley – news that Stellantis are to Continue reading “Corde Sensible Pizzicato”

Lapis Volvit et Oblivione Delibitur *

We profile the father of the British motor industry.

Frederick Richard Simms. Image: gracesguide

Visionary. Pioneering. Complex. Three words amongst many that could be pinned to the suit lapels to those figures in history that brought about great, if not life enhancing change. Subsequently then filed under section Well and truly in the Past, cobweb covered and practically forgotten. One such figure in need of a Renaissance being Frederick Richard Simms (henceforth referred to by his initials). Born in Hamburg on the Glorious 12th 1863, to a Warwickshire, England based business family. Schooled in both Hamburg and later, London, FRS’ first notable business venture was marketing an overhead passenger cableway with a Blackpool associate named Stansfield.

That cableway was shown at the 1889 Bremen Exhibition, catching the eye of one Gottlieb Daimler. This led not only to a personal friendship with Daimler but FRS also becoming a director on the board of Canstatt based DMG. The cable car was swiftly parked. 

In turn, this allowed FRS to Continue reading “Lapis Volvit et Oblivione Delibitur *”

The Marunouchi Park Soigné

Even heavy industry must have its more elegant moments.

Image: Japanese Nostalgic Car

When Mitsubishi first ordained their flagship they chose a name deemed most apt for their creation. The dictionary offers a definition of confident, dignified and refined: welcome to the stylish, yet formal environs of the Debonair.

Japan in the early 1960’s began riding the crest of an economic wave and Mitsubishi were keen on getting ahead in the larger car stakes. Feasibility studies concerning the contemporary Fiat 1800 ultimately led to them ploughing their own furrow. Should your optics mark this as an early Lincoln Continental facsimile, you might be forgiven. German born, former-GM designer, Hans Bretzner openly admitted to using Elwood Engel’s 1961 design as inspiration, subtly imbuing Japanese characteristics such as squared-off solidity, along with amounts of wheel arch entasis for that refined air. 

The car wowed the 1963 Tokyo motor show but the expectant public would Continue reading “The Marunouchi Park Soigné”

Roy’s Roads

In praise of William Roy – cartographer. 

Image: Gracesguide.co.uk

Many moons have passed since receiving that joyful package by post – my prize – my road atlas. A local newspaper held a competition whereby one had to successfully recognise parts of the UK motorway network as a black line on a map. From memory, the M1, the M5, the M62, the M3 and the one I believe won me the prize being the M55, Preston Northerly to Blackpool and Britain’s first stretch of motorway.

I distinctly remember coming home from work to Continue reading “Roy’s Roads”

King In A Catholic Style

The Scimitar’s messy ending.

Publicity shot for the Middlebridge Scimitar. Image: (c) middlebridge-scimitar.co.uk

Towards the end of 1986, Reliant had practically stalled GTE and C production. Financial constraints had led to the final thirty chassis languishing in Tamworth until two Nottinghamshire businessmen eyed a line continuing opportunity – just add a couple of million pounds Sterling. Coincidentally, a Japanese (self confessed Anglophile) fellow had his own wish – to create a British built, aluminium chassis sports car with Japanese mechanicals – with means. And within weeks, the Scimitar GTE not only had new owners but a new direction. Upwards.

Ex-Lucas employees Peter Boam and John McCauley had been wooing Reliant to the point that Tamworth would train the BM Industries production staff at their Lilac Grove, Beeston, Nottingham factory when they met with car enthusiast and collector, Kohji Nakauchi, owner of Milton Keynes based Middlebridge group of companies.

Thrilled at the idea of snapping up a readymade, British built sports car, Nakauchi barely hesitated, stumping up the £400,000 for manufacturing and tooling rights with an extra two million invested in infrastructure. Reliant bent over backwards to Continue reading “King In A Catholic Style”

Ogling The Blade

The Scimitar GTE origin story. 

Image: honestjohn

Tragedy is sometimes a double-edged sword. Clearly, it comes with a keen sense of loss, but when it strikes, the human capacity to rise above the situation can be impressive. Firstly, as a means of honouring the departed. Second, not only to survive oneself, but to prosper.

David Ogle was head of the eponymous British design consultancy when he received an exciting commission in 1962. Boris Forter, a director at Helena Rubinstein cosmetics wished to Continue reading “Ogling The Blade”

Thesis On Thesis

Saving Lancia – one Thesis at a time…

Image: Top Speed

Attraction is a difficult feeling to describe or give substance to, one man’s glass of Chateau Neuf de Pape is another’s Suzuki X-90. And while I’ve never been allowed into DTW Towers (for reasons that cannot legally be divulged), there is widely believed to exist amid its expansive halls an unbridled acceptance of most things wearing a particular shield badge.

It was through a search for Lancia that these eyes did land upon Driven To Write, a smattering of time ago. Realising the sheer depth upon all matters motoring but leaning heavily towards the FCA (now enigmatic Stellantis) subsumed manufacturer, I dived in – eyes wide – head first. No arm bands, either.

Lancia have had poems of love written about them. Journalists were once known to Continue reading “Thesis On Thesis”

Mule Variations

Toyota boxes clever.

The XP50. Image: carsot.com.

If as it seems, Toyota wears the production crown, at least it’s modest and fits snugly. Naturally, there’s the occasional slip, leaving the odd jaunty angle but on the whole their kingdom is based upon more prosaic, unpretentious values, listening to their customer’s needs.

Much of the decadent West (and Japan) demands vehicles adorned with creature comforts and stratified social markers that depending on nameplate can cause snob levels to rise or fall accordingly. Add in design, a language those interested can weave akin to a boxer’s feet. Today’s subject however contains almost none of these qualities. If the Transit van and its ilk are the trade’s workhorse, then Toyota’s Probox is its beast of burden.

Imaginatively named using the combination of the words, Professional and er, box, this most versatile of vehicles has been a Aichi mainstay for practically twenty years. Simple reliable transport, unadorned by trinkets or jewels – besides it’s not technically a car – one can Continue reading “Mule Variations”

Sun(beam) Up At 424

The dawning of a new car. 

1977 Chrysler Sunbeam. Image: avengers-in-time

John Riccardo, Chrysler chairman Diary entry October 29 1975: Hold press conference regarding corporation’s loss of £116M in the first nine months. Inform UK government Chrysler can be a gift or closed down – their choice. Rescue package of £55M from HMG plus £12M from US parent snatched up. Use wisely!

December 1975 was crunch time for Chrysler UK. Now propped up mainly by government money, a new small car was a must to Continue reading “Sun(beam) Up At 424”

Bulletproof, Baby

The art of protection.

Looks can be deceiving. Image: Motor1.com.

Well, you’ve made it. King of the hill, head honcho. Now to get the country sorted, getting to grips with the nitty gritty. But, you’ve made more enemies than friends getting here. Some of those policies have disgruntled the populace. Changing the whole economy didn’t help, nor banning Sunday morning lie-ins. And as for pulling out of the Tufty Club.

Fortunately, some bright spark in procurement realised you might Continue reading “Bulletproof, Baby”

Yeoman of the Guard

The Toyota Hilux: Never knowingly underestimated.

Image: carsguide

Should there exist the phenomenon of an average main battle tank, one is certainly looking at enormous metallic hulks weighing in excess of sixty tons costing millions of anyone’s currency to build. Naturally a secretive beast, tanks remain wieldy objects until disabled by either enemy action or breakdown when an infrastructure is necessary to facilitate their movements. However, if one is not financially replete or that infrastructure non-existent why not Continue reading “Yeoman of the Guard”

From A to B

A fly on the dashboard documentary series from the early ’90s captivates your Northern England correspondent this week.

Image: youtube

My excuse for neither seeing nor remembering this program when first shown is due to the fact I was probably out driving most nights after work. Needlessly, I might add, but so full of enigmatic memories; cutting ones driving teeth, investing the simplest form of driving enjoyment, simply because you can. Continue reading “From A to B”

Understanding the Welsh Air. And Yoghurt.

Lucid dreams. 

Lucid Air. Image: yankodesign

We aim to make not only the best electric car but also the best car in the world.” This may sound somewhat boastful but the chap expressing these words has quite the curriculum vitae to back it up.

Peter Rawlinson began life in South Wales, raised and schooled in the Vale of Glamorgan, later graduating in Engineering at Imperial College, London. Jaguar employed his young talent, where he reached the heights of Principal Engineer before quitting to assist Lotus. During his stint at Hethel, Rawlinson managed to Continue reading “Understanding the Welsh Air. And Yoghurt.”

Compact Class

The Opel Kadett E story.

Opel Kadett GSi/ Vauxhall Astra GTE. Image: cargurus

1984: On the world stage, Ronald Reagan is re-elected as US President, whereas in India, Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi is assassinated. Apple present their first Macintosh computer, Band Aid has the UK’s Christmas No 1, while a car designed in Germany goes on to Continue reading “Compact Class”

The Brakeman

Let’s slow things down for Sunday.

I’ve driven under this bridge many times in my home town. The bridge remains but the slogan, lost. Sheffieldhistory.co.uk

Ever since cavemen realised the wheel was more conducive to transportation, reducing vehicular speeds safely has been a problem, to say the least. Fine to get motion rolling but just how do you make that cart or wagon slow down and stop, preferably before the impending river/edge/group of people?

Boughs from trees, old boots, metal, bricks, rocks – all of the above have at one time or another been employed to Continue reading “The Brakeman”

Material Handler

The Goddess makes a triumphant return.

All Images (c) Citroenvie.com

Designers, akin to writers are seldom idle. Whereas us impoverished keyboard jockeys are tied to our workstations, the designer usually prefers to get stuck in, hands dirty and not simply bear witness to his (or her) thoughts, more help them bear fruition.

One such hands-on designer being Gérard Godfroy. Now aged 73, and living in Normandy, Godfroy views design as an emotional transmitter – why not share those feelings? He should Continue reading “Material Handler”

Best Bitter (3)

Third Pint (With Whisky Chaser): Still Bitter after all these years.

bitter
1987 Type 3 cabriolet.

Maintaining his interest in rally-inspired machines, another EB project was the Rallye GT. Observing there was a well of potential customers, not only younger but less well heeled than contemporary owners, his 1978 plan was also aimed at bringing financial stability. The Manta B offered up it’s floorpan and mechanicals for Eberhard Schultz, Gallion and Bitter to thrash out a design.

With its ideal front engine – rear wheel drive set up, Bitter planned to Continue reading “Best Bitter (3)”

Best Bitter (2)

Second Pint: Bitter comes of age. 

Down but far from out, Bitter once again looked in Opel’s direction; the Diplomat having run its course, giving way to the Senator in 1978. Following two years planning and hefty external investment, the SC model was brought forth on the Senator platform. Assisting Bitter with production design were Opel stylists, Henry Haga and George Gallion; Bitter also enlisting Michelotti to assist with body detailing, while Pininfarina undertook wind tunnel tests. Quite what those at Cambiano made of the SC is unknown, especially considering this new upstart’s rather similar lines to Mr. Fioravanti’s contemporary Ferrari 365/400.

Initially offered with a 3 litre in-line six cylinder engine producing practically equal power and torque (180/182) the SC was treated to some tuning in 1983 by Mantzel who enlarged the GM unit to 3.9 litres and 210bhp. A no-cost option three speed automatic from GM was the preferred gearbox with a Getrag five speed manual only taken up by around forty customers. Top speeds approached 140 mph from the larger capacity engine.

Bitter had set up a new enterprise Bitter-Italia; and with the Baur build contract for the CD now ceased, Turin based OCRA was employed in their stead. Subcontracted to Continue reading “Best Bitter (2)”

Saints Alive!

The many vehicles of the Sainthood.

Roger Moore as The Saint. Image: odessasteps

The character of Simon Templar has smoothly transitioned his way from the printed page, to radio and finally the silver screen, both large and small. Created by British/ Chinese author and scriptwriter, Leslie Charteris, the devilishly handsome detective known as The Saint has always needed wheels – real or otherwise – something characterful, with a dash of the debonair.

First appearing in book form in the 1930s with Charteris employing artistic license to Continue reading “Saints Alive!”

Best Bitter

First Pint: The Bitter origin saga. 

All images (c) Bittercars.com

The world needs characters such as Erich Bitter. At 87, if the Westphalian runs on oil, he must have reserves aplenty, at least from wells of entrepreneurship and dogged determination. For without that close to wind, to blazes with millstones like finance and ruin, his dogged spirit and an array of automotive anomalies would never have been. Although that output may have been small in relative terms, his legacy (of which surprisingly large numbers survive) continues. Mind you, those seeking marriage or financial guidance might wish to Continue reading “Best Bitter”

Formula Toast

The appliance of… well what exactly?

Image: Motorbox

Alejandro Agag is clearly a well connected sort of chap. It was he who had the bright spark of introducing electrically powered racing cars to the world with the advent of Formula E. Yes, there were teething problems as one could reasonably expect with something so technically unproven. The set up took time, Dallara were chosen for chassis, Williams sorting out the sparks, Hewland the cogs.

In that first season, Formula E needed two cars per driver; the battery simply could not Continue reading “Formula Toast”

The Machine That Changed The World

Twenty years ago a book revolutionised the auto-industry paradigm – for those who were paying attention at least.

Image: Simon and Schuster

First published in 1990, three enthusiastic researchers set about collating data related to how the motor industry operates, positing how to improve matters, espousing the principle of lean, over mass production. 

James P. Womack, Daniel T. Jones and Daniel Roos created the International Motor Vehicle Programme (IMVP) at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Not merely a database of who was building what and how many but a full in-depth analysis into the car making business. 

Funding for global research would be task number one. Limiting individual contributions to 5% of the $5M raised from global carmakers, component suppliers and governments, placing monies in just one account and openly inviting two-way correspondence guaranteed their independence whilst also nullifying any form of sponsored influence.

And their team went deep, from shop floor to boardroom, from Australian trade and industry to Volvo. Not wishing to Continue reading “The Machine That Changed The World”

Supermarket Sweep

Taking the retail road less travelled.

Image: Automobile-catalog

Hunter gatherers only had to find and fend for their food supplies. They didn’t have to circumnavigate the darker reaches of the supermarket car park, seeking out the lesser used spaces away from those inclined to fling open car doors. But silver linings to clouds, those outlying regions often contain spaces filled by esoteric choices and, mercifully bereft of those sporting or cross derived.

One such regular being a dove grey Hyundai Lantra of 1995 vintage. Only ever seen in the darker reaches of the underground car park, this second generation Korean rather blends into the concrete gloom. It was obvious that space was taken but a closer examination proved necessary in order to Continue reading “Supermarket Sweep”

Collaborative Applause Part Two

The applause falls short.

1986 Rover 800. Image: cargurus

Honda’s Legend was brought to market late in 1985, stealing some of ARG’s thunder. Mark Snowdon, Managing Director of Product Development countered this move with an acceptance that Honda were a little faster to button everything up; “late stage modifications, we have a wider model range and we have different ways of launching cars to our Japanese colleagues.” A foil which did little to mask his chagrin. One of those late stage modifications being the M16 engines, which were not fully ready. 800s at launch instead making do with the Honda 2.5 litre engine. The M16 became available later in the year.

Neither car had been a secret. No camouflage wraps or exclusive spy shots in the mid-80’s. Five (or so) long years had passed from Sked’s reconnoitre in Frankfurt to British launch date (10th July 1986), two days after the company rebranded to Rover Group PLC. Whatever their name, the current financial and political situation was far from rosy. Sales were up but losses remained huge, in the tens of millions.

One contributory factor must be the 800’s launch package; Rover paid return airfare where Swiss roads were subjected to a 3,500 complement of journalists, Chief Constables and fleet managers (and wives supposedly) for a weekend jolly. Northumberland was similarly invaded by British MPs and hundreds more foreign journalists, all eager to Continue reading “Collaborative Applause Part Two”

OCD plc

A collector speaks.

Image: Batucars

Mocking the afflicted is pointless when practically everyone suffers in one form or another. Collecting after all is part of what it is to be human. Possibly derived from our early hunter-gatherer instincts or maybe we’re just aping magpies – drawn by the shiny, fascinated by the interrelation? Far from being self conscious, my collections are varied; for instance, twelve Citroën books, genres of CD’s, scale model cars.

When you scratch below the surface or try to intuit the meaning, most of it is pointless. But it’s my pointless and over the years they have given me great pleasure. To enhance or alter a mood, my cd collection can rise to the occasion. Should my eyes wish to Continue reading “OCD plc”

Collaborative Applause – Part One

Rover’s baked Alaska.

1986 Rover 800. Image: rover-club.fr

Pity the poor car designer forty years hence. A CAD drove a Jaguar. Engines powered cars, not searches, whilst rivals were (almost) willing to explain their plans. Such was the case when BL chief designer, Gordon Sked moseyed through the 1981 Frankfurt motor show – to gain an understanding of what the opposition were up to.

Realising curves, swoops and sophisticated electronics had become de rigueur, he reported to his Canley masters that BL had to change tack if they wanted to Continue reading “Collaborative Applause – Part One”

Across The Pond Part Two. The Story of Uncle Tom

The first modern motor journalist? In praise of Thomas Jay McCahill III.

Tom McCahill. Image: Simanaitissays.com

Part of every dollar goes into the redesigning and styling pot, in an attempt to make your current car look doggy, outdated. It’s a successful trick that closely borders fraud.” These words from possibly the last known living descendant of the Scottish highwayman, Rob Roy. And if, as Henry Ford proclaimed that history is bunk, the story of this particular fellow could as easily be a work of fiction.

Thomas Jay McCahill III was once America’s foremost automotive journalist with a character as large as his substantial six foot two, 250 pound frame. The grandson of a wealthy lawyer, he graduated from Yale with a Fine Arts degree (possibly English, his story changed over time) and was surrounded by the automobile – his father had Mercedes-Benz dealerships.

Taking on two garages of his own, the Depression excised the McCahill wealth, leaving him destitute in New York. That city’s Times newspaper carried an ad for an Automotive Editor at Popular Science with a remit firmly stating: simple technical review, no brand names. McCahill’s sarcastic leanings, mentioning those taboo brands got him the sack only to be hired the very same day as a freelance writer with rival magazine, Mechanix Illustrated.

Keen to use his new position to Continue reading “Across The Pond Part Two. The Story of Uncle Tom”

Henry Wiggin’s Contribution

“The industrial gas turbine that’s good enough to fly.”

Image: autospeed.com via revivaler.com

Unless you have personal involvement within the industry, Henry Wiggin is unlikely to register upon your radar, for his products are hidden, yet well known. But for a brief time some seventy years ago, the automotive world came knocking at his door; the first customer from nearby, Rover of Lode Lane, Solihull. Wiggin’s business was the carburising of steel – extremely hard and durable nickel plating for items that spin at both high speeds and temperatures – conditions typical gas turbines are routinely subjected to.

Based close to the banks of the Birmingham canal on a street bearing his name, Wiggin produced  Nimonic 90, an alloy consisting of nickel, chromium and cobalt, coating turbine wheels conducive to smaller applications. For Rover, this meant its JET 1 gas turbine programme could now live.

Consider at that time, Britain was still under wartime rationing, yet pushing engineering boundaries. In the smoky wake of Frank Whittle’s jet engined aircraft, Rover, followed by a select handful of other interested parties believed gas turbines to have a promising automotive future. This palpable excitement sadly failed, but today we can at least Continue reading “Henry Wiggin’s Contribution”

Across The Pond – Part One. Motoring and The Motorist

Two contrasting views of motoring journalism from very different worlds.

The BBC has a long-standing history on matters motoring. Some will argue distinguished, others, more disjointed. Long before those hailing from the county of the red rose (Lancashire) took hold of Top Gear, before former Prince (now, Evil Lord) Clarkson and his entourage, before even William Woolard, Chris Goffey*, Noel Edmonds, Angela Rippon amongst others, the information supplied came over the airwaves on what folk knew then as the wireless.

Born in Wiltshire in 1911, Bill Hartley joined Daimler aged eighteen, working in their experimental and development department, later becoming London service manager until his resignation in 1950. Wishing to use that experience, Hartley sought to Continue reading “Across The Pond – Part One. Motoring and The Motorist”

I Want To Make A Car

Small yet mighty.

Image: classiccarcatalogue.com

Those enigmatic words once spoken by Carl Borgward when asked about the enthusiastic, engineering-driven young fellow’s aspirations, when older. Whilst this technically minded and for a good while, financially successful man’s eponymous car building history is well documented, we deal today with yet another post-war side line to his empire; that of the car small in name but mighty in stature – the Goliath.

With his Bremen factories – appointed to the German war effort for various armaments – destroyed by Allied bombing, Borgward rose from those ashes with determination. More so after his two year incarceration by the Americans for assisting the enemy – not that he had much choice in the matter. Assessing that the population had little to no interest in anything ostentatious, he realised the opportunity to Continue reading “I Want To Make A Car”

Best Thing Since Sliced Bread

The best bread never lasts.

Gutbrod Superior. Image: Motor-car.net

For a company that claims to have brought mass produced direct petrol injection to the engine world, few have heard or remember the short lived German firm of Gutbrod – the English translation being good bread. If Lloyd were a flash in the pan for their eleven years, Gutbrod was the mayfly – forty two months and gone.

Founded in Ludwigsburg 1926 by Wilhelm Gutbrod, their initial wares were motorcycles under the Standard brand name. Light agricultural machinery soon followed as did their first car – the rear engined Standard Superior. Expansion saw them Continue reading “Best Thing Since Sliced Bread”

Dirty Great Volvos – One Last Dash

Completing the 780 Trilogy.

The Volvo Bertone 780 coupé was dying. When North American dealers were given one to sell, it could sit idling for months as most customers were looking for wagons or heading to rival badges with bigger engines – not choosing an unorthodox coupé, however intriguing. Lead times also proved challenging. A customer could be made waiting twelve months to Continue reading “Dirty Great Volvos – One Last Dash”