Chris Bangle has returned to car design, but isn’t back.
The most influential car designer of the past two decades has returned to the automotive realm. His message is more radical than ever – but his audience is an altogether different one than in the past. We needn’t listen to what he has to say, for we are not his audience anymore. Continue reading “In China They Eat Dogs”
Compiling a list of The 100 Prettiest Cars Of All Time sounds like a fairly straightforward task. Until you ask Chris Bangle to cast a vote…
AutoBild Klassik, one of the leading German publications in the field, is currently celebrating its 100th issue with a list naming the 100 most beautiful cars of all time. The jury tasked with naming the entries includes quite a few illustrious names, such as that of Peter Schreyer, Leonardo Fioravanti, Paolo Tumminelli, Simon Kidston, Gorden Wagener, Henrik Fisker and Laurens van den Acker, among others. One name that isn’t included though is that of the most significant car designer of the past twenty years, Christopher Edward Bangle. Continue reading “Thou Shalt Not Poke Fun”
Bentley’s Bentayga SUV turned out to be an instant smash sales success. Yet the car that was intended to preview it was not only met with fright – it also cost its chief designer his job.
Dirk van Braeckel’s career at Volkswagen had been one of sustained corporate ladder climbing. Having joined VAG’s Audi branch in 1984, he rose through the ranks at Ingolstadt, before being chosen to help re-launch the much-maligned Škoda brand. He did as he was asked with some aplomb, leading to a generation of Škodas that were not just competently styled, but, more importantly, conveyed a sense of thorough quality.
With hindsight, this first generation of VAG-engineered Octavia, Fabia and Superb models must be considered as conservative, competent, long-lasting pieces of design which stood the test of time without anyone really noticing. Continue reading “Dirk’s Demise vs Luc’s Lamento”
Volkswagen’s new flagship seems to be intent on making up for the lack of outright prestige with pretence and derivativeness – a cause that isn’t aided by its clunky moniker.
Tiguan, Up(!), T-Roc – VW’s recent crop of all-new model names certainly invites unkind comparisons. Renault can get away with a Twingo, nobody minded Opel’s Tigra, but Volkswagen appears to be better served by less
Volkswagen’s T-Roc compact recreational SUV is not some belated attempt at jumping on the bandwagon. It’s worse than that.
Despite decades of commentators claiming the opposite, being a designer at VW never was an easy job. One needs to be within spitting distance to current fashion, but still keep the technocratic aloofness that’s characterised the brand’s best products intact. Which is no mean feat under any circumstances. Continue reading “Getting Down With Da Kidz, Heide Style”
The newest generation of one of VW’s non-Golf evergreens stands for the greater malaise of the German car industry – and acute deficits chez Wolfsburg
To the untrained eye, this newest generation of Polo looks pretty much the same as its predecessor. Alas, this couldn’t be further from the truth.
Whereas the Polo V was a small stylistic gem, boasting subtle craftsmanship of the highest order, from its expert surfacing to the delicacy of its detailing, this new car’s styling achieves the feat of managing to Continue reading “Missing The Ball At Polo”
The classiest, most charming Mercedes-Benz S-class derivative in ages does not wear a three-pointed star. How poignant.
This is not a Mercedes-Benz S-class convertible sporting some new DetoxAmbience® specification, but the Carlsson Diospyros. Hiding behind that clumsy moniker – and the presumption that car customising inevitably leads to Mansory-like levels of gaucheness – is the most assured and tasteful version of the current S-class released so far. Continue reading “IAA: Lone Star”
Despite this particular group of people hardly being renowned connoisseurs of the finer things in life, manufacturers try their utmost to make the Frankfurt Motor Show a palatable experience for the press. Do they succeed?
The IAA press days are all about hustle and bustle. Most attendees have appointments to make or deadlines to meet, which – coupled with the distances that need to be covered at Messe Frankfurt, not to mention the above average levels of dehydration, (courtesy of the halls’ air conditioning) one is afflicted with – can render grabbing a bite to eat a difficult necessity. Continue reading “IAA 2017: A Culinary Perspective”
Few aftermarket items have been as influential as those lids that make any car look angry.
Aftermarket adornments are usually about a quaint kind of ill-advised deception. Opel/Vauxhall Corsas with the kind of diffusor – made of fibreglass, rather than carbonfibre, of course – that’s supposed to keep a Pagani’s aerodynamics in check at 300 kph. Peugeot 206s with quad-exhausts usually reserved to American V8-powered muscle cars. Aftermarket is about imitation, pretensions, delusions. But there are a few exceptions to this rule, and none more poignant than the curious case of the ‘Evil Stare’. Continue reading “Theme: Aftermarket – The ‘Evil Stare’”
Despite being chronically unwilling to be associated with aftermarket tinkering, ALPINA actually represents the ideal of a specialised manufacturer finessing a mass product.
Alpina Burkard Bovensiepen GmbH + Co. KG is a peculiar company, and not just because the ALPINA part is officially written in capitals. Its signature decorative stripes, called Deko-Set, are also but a mere symptom of an underlying quaintness that is truly without equal in the automotive business. Continue reading “Theme: Aftermarket – ALPINA”
Despite arguably being the most gifted automotive engineer and manager of his generation, Prof Dr Wolfgang Reitzle would only ever enter the captain’s chair once he left the car industry for good.
It is one of automotive history’s more baffling paradoxes that a man of such undisputed talents as Wolfgang Reitzle never reached the post of chief executive at an automotive business. But as with a great many other high achievers, it actually was the same traits that had brought Reitzle so close to the apex that ultimately prevented him from arriving there.
In 1999, when retro was all the rage, BMW’s Z8 roadster did its best to exploit the sense of nostalgia that prevailed at the dawn of the new millennium. Surprisingly though, its sales brochure proves more creative.
In terms of prose and style, Porsche’s advertising certainly couldn’t keep up with the modernism of the company’s flagship GT. Yet the Swabian virtues persisted.
Given the amounts of thought, devotion and creativity that went into the creation of Porsche’s landmark 928 coupé, it comes as a bit of a surprise that the ’78 vintage brochure of the car isn’t terribly advanced in terms of layout or prose.
The overwhelming sense is one of pride and Swabian thoroughness, with just a hint of ’70s glamour and cosmopolitan flair added. Double pages are devoted to the 928’s being awarded ‘Car Of The Year’, obviously, as well as its design and engineering development process.
Pun-tastic name aside, the new monster from Ingolstadt mainly serves to expose the car industry’s ignorance towards the social properties of the automobile.
It’s difficult to determine where to start with the Audi Q8. How about the name? Yes, there may be a ton of planet-saving batteries hidden underneath its gargantuan sheetmetal somewhere, but still: just the car’s appearance and its onomatopoeic, mineral oil-related name set a rather strange tone.
Being the quintessential British stalwart car, the Jaguar XJ serves as a poignant illustration of what constituted ‘the good life’ through the ages.
Germany has the Golf and S-class, Britain’s got the Jaguar XJ. A car that has been part of the automotive landscape for decades, all the while being adapted (to differing levels to success) to changes in tastes and demographic.
When two of the most prominent car designers recently left their posts, each left a ‘legacy’ awkward SUV model behind. Coincidence?
Most commentators were astonished when Luc Donckerwolke, one of the most high-profile design directors at Volkswagen Group, decided to leave the German giant behind and join Hyundai’s nascent Genesis brand. Was it the allure of receiving the call of his former boss, Peter Schreyer, that made him leave his post as Bentley’s chief designer and depart for South Korea? Or was it simply a matter of giant paycheques changing hands?
Jaguar’s XJ6 saloon was a landmark car. Its marketing did it justice.
Collecting brochures is, in the grander scheme of things, a rather sad pastime. One goes to great lengths to get one’s hands onto something that was supposed to have, at best, a short-term effect and be forgotten immediately afterwards.
If you think idiosyncratic coachbuilder Zagato is a peculiar kind of company, prepare yourself for the multi-facetted oddness of Rayton Fissore
As there are so many uncertainties about this particularly unusual automotive enterprise, let’s start with the verified facts. This company actually did exist. And while this may seem like a given, this very fact needs to be established, as so much about this business remains shrouded in mystery. Continue reading “Bevy of Strangeness: Rayton Fissore”
People who love both cars and films love car movies, right? It’s not quite as simple as that, though.
A life without films and cars would be a terrifying prospect to me. I’d have to spend whatever spare time I’ve got cooking and eating, both of which are pastimes with inherent limits in terms of the worthiness of their pursuit. Continue reading “Theme: Film – Undriven”
There may be more famous examples of car casting – yet no other automobile has ever played as poignant a role, in the real world as in the movie realm, as a black Mercedes 450SL.
The name of the man we actually need to thank/blame for the 1980s as we know them isn’t Ronald Reagan, but Ferdinando Scarfiotti.
Even without grotesquely overstating the cultural importance of the movies, few would argue about the value placed on style and glamour during the decade that gave us the power breakfast, braces and big hair/shoulder pads/mobile phones.
Jaguar used to be renowned for their warm and inviting cabins. No longer.
Jaguar’s current stream of new models is testament to the enormous sums being spent on reinvigorating the brand – unfortunately, the new car’s interiors make every effort to appear as though they were lowest on the list of priorities. A new family of combustion engines doesn’t come cheap. Neither does an all-new aluminium platform. But is that enough to explain quite why the cabins of Jaguar’s new-from-scratch XE, XF and F-pace models are so blatantly disappointing? Continue reading “Entering the Plastic Age”
Far from being the worst offspring of the late Sacco/Peter Pfeiffer era at Mercedes-Benz, the CL-coupé (C215) still exhibits a very poignant reminder of what went wrong at Untertürkheim during this particular period of time.Its proportions are actually very pleasing indeed (unlike those of its immediate predecessor), yet the CL is utterly let down by its detailing. Continue reading “Mind the Gap!”
Today, golden sneakers have taken over from monk-strap brogues.
Back in the olden days, my younger self used to indulge in the stiff upper lip, olde worlde charms of Knightsbridge’s crusty kind of wealth. As a young, car obsessed German boy, the illustrious parts of London used to be some kind of automotive mecca: Bentleys and Royces galore, not to mention vintage exotica (at a time when old cars were considered just that in Germany). There was a certain nonchalance even to that aloof chap that parked his Ferrari 456 halfway across a zebra crossing, just because that happened to be right in front of the café where he intended to have his breakfast. Not to mention all those gentlemen in double-breasted pinstriped suits, who always seemed to embody some kind of aristocratic calm. Continue reading “Knightsbridge, 2016”
It’s another round of musical chairs at the Italo-American car maker, with particularly resonant changes being brought to the company’s sartorial department.
In yet another surprising move, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) CEO, Sergio Marchionne, has promoted Wichita-born Tripp Hardcrotch as Chief Knitwear Officer. Mr Hardcrotch will be in charge of organising clothing supply for all global subsidiaries, as well as devising a new sartorial structure for the company.
Driven to Write concludes its meditation on the definitive latter-day Mercedes, the W126 S-Class.
Viewed with disinterest, it is surprisingly easy to come to this conclusion when judging the W126. Visually, it is far from stunning. Its vertical affinity, horizontal homogeneity-influenced styling (or rather: design) means it could easily be shrugged off as “just some Mercedes”. In terms of engineering, its focus on safety, solidity and efficiency also means it has never been at the forefront of performance data bragging contests, due to the lack of a V12 engine or an engine of almost ridiculous capacity at the top of the range. The W126 asks either for a conservative stance in the traditional sense of the word or an understanding of subtleties to be appreciated. Continue reading “First Of Its Kind/Last Of Its Kind: The Mercedes W126 – Part Four”
As the eighties progressed and those who could preferred to flaunt it, the W126 began to fall out of favour and, for the very first time, began to feel threatened.
The nature of the market during the late 1970s and early ‘80s played a crucial role in the unique process that lead to the W126’s creation. It is, for example, very hard to believe today’s clientele would accept a flagship modell with significantly reduced output figures compared with its predecessor – yet after a decade of fears of fuel shortages, even the most wealthy and conspicuously consuming of customers were willing to accept a certain amount of modesty.
The words may be different, but the tune is the same.
Despite a great many statements to the contrary, the message sent out by VAG management is still one steeped in technocratic arrogance. With the press already on the Volkswagen big guns’ heels, Matthias Müller et al will now have to face their second most powerful opponent: the mighty work council. VAG is a special company, not just because it accommodates such a vast number of car brands (12) or because of the number of people it employs (almost 600.000). Continue reading “Müllering VAG (Part 2): Too Big To Fail?”
Conceived under a period of intense socio-political turmoil, the W126-Series S-Class proved tailor-made for the early 1980’s landscape.
The W126 was met with great acclaim when it was first unveiled in late 1979 and well into 1980. Auto, Motor & Sport, Germany’s major automotive publication, devoted a number of issues to the new ‘Best Car In The World’. In September 1979, Clauspeter Becker summed up the W126’s conceptual formulation thus: Bekenntnis zur Größe – which could be read as both a “commitment to size” or a “commitment to greatness”. This boastful title was however immediately followed by a paragraph explaining that development of the new S-Class had been dictated by tomorrow’s energy situation. Continue reading “First Of Its Kind/Last Of Its Kind: Mercedes W126 – Part Two”
Close your eyes and imagine a car designer who actually has something to say. Who doesn’t just repeat the marketing fluff as dictated by his employer’s PR people. Who understands that there’s a world beyond the automotive, and, simultaneously, a world the car, inadvertently or not, helps to shape. The man this is referring to is none other than one Christopher Edward Bangle. Continue reading “Eternal Flame Surfacing”
It’s time for yet another SUV. And yet another object lesson in why either the modern automobile or myself has lost the plot.
This time, it’s Maserati’s turn to ‘go Sports Utility’. Which isn’t so terrible in itself – after all it’s a clear case of ‘join ’em in the chorus or die singing your own melody’, but the resultant car, dubbed Levante, is as disappointing as it is dull.
I’ve had the pleasure of seeing the car in the metal (and in quite dimly-lit circumstances) at its unveiling at a local prestige car dealership, which made for an interesting study on the people the Levante has been designed for. Continue reading “Smelling The Wind Of Change”
The car that would come to be defined as the quintessential S-class actually was a deeply conservative vanguard of modern engineering. However, its legacy was not to last.
A black wreckage with blown-off bonnet and deflated tyres, lying across a cordoned-off street. This is how most Germans of a certain generation remember the Mercedes W126, the S-class model of the 1980s.
In the autumn of 1989, Alfred Herrhausen, chairman of Deutsche Bank, as well as head of Daimler-Benz AG’s supervisory board, was killed on his way to work by the blast of a roadside bomb. Herrhausen had been one of the most influential economic leaders of West Germany, and certainly the most charismatic among them. A proponent of challenging concepts, he advocated the need for global corporate expansion, as well as debt relief for Third World countries. Continue reading “First Of Its Kind/Last Of Its Kind: The Mercedes W126 – Part One”
It isn’t unusual for a fashion designer to sprinkle a bit of his fairy dust onto the humble products of car manufacturers. What is more unusual is for a fashion designer to create a bespoke car for himself. Which is exactly what Karl Lagerfeld did – twice.
Franco-German fashion icon, Karl Lagerfeld, is about as illustrious and flamboyant a homo sapiens as can be. That he chose neither a Rolls-Royce, nor a Mercedes 600 covered in mother of pearl, nor a carriage made of solid ivory, but the moderately sporting, restrained shape of BMW’s second and third generations of Seven series saloons as his personal means of transportation can therefore be described as a decision that is as surprising and idiosyncratic as the man himself. Continue reading “Theme: Special – Karl Lagerfeld’s Salo(o)ns”
Cleared for takeoff: Driven to Write examines a special edition with lofty pretentions.
Typically, special editions of mass market cars are the domain of clothing or sports equipment brands. Usually, they consist of not much more than a particular colour/trim combination and a set of logo stickers. But there is one special edition from the 1990s that was so much more than that. Continue reading “Theme: Special – Ford Ka Lufthansa Edition”
Bouquet of lilies in hand, Driven to Write ponders what might have been.
The demise and desecration of the idiosyncratic Swedish brand may be the source of an endless stream of stories. Yet more interesting is a less well-publicised aspect of the period when Saab was already taking its last breath: the cars that were not to be.
The very fact that Saab was a deeply mismanaged business would appear to be indisputable. And yet, at the very end of its existence, that other Swedish brand seemed to have developed a hitherto dormant will to survive. Continue reading “Ghosts Of Saabs Unborn”
As a car stylist, you’re only as good as your last design. Oh dear…
Once upon a time, there was a dashing Dane who, it appeared, could do no wrong when it came to creating sleek, elegant, timeless shapes for sophisticated sports cars. A mere decade later, little of this reputation remains intact – which also taints his past body of work. I am writing this as someone who used to hold the talents of this particular designer in high regard. Despite my lack of enthusiasm for retro design, I registered an attention to detail in the BMW Z8 he helped pen that outweighed my reservations regarding the very concept of that BMW 507 pastiche. Continue reading “Theme: Glamour/Disappointment – The Rise And Fall Of Henrik Fisker”
The combination of Italy, twelve cylinders and pleasant company should not leave much space for prosaic considerations, such as reliability or fuel economy. But worries have the habit of finding their way, regardless.
It’d been a rather testing day, with little sleep and an unusual amount of stress, right at the end of a particularly challenging summer. The back is aching, the tired mind is dulled on one hand and feverishly edgy on the other. The three issues at the forefront of any immediate consideration are: a welcoming bed, the board computer’s average MPG calculations and the engine temperature gauge. As the night is relatively cool and the Autobahn relatively clear, the engine temperature is thankfully showing no signs of panic – yet. The average MPG, on the other hand, remains somewhat disconcertingly high. And that bed, well, that’s still some 300 kilometres further south. Continue reading “Romance: Southwards, by Jaguar”
The troubles and subsequent changes at Volkswagen AG have led to an unforeseen departure.
Walter de’ Silva, overall head of the entire group’s stylistic development and one of the most powerful men in this line of business, has chosen take early retirement, merely a few weeks after having become appointed president of Italdesign, Audi’s semi-independent design branch. Continue reading “Müllering VAG (Part 1): Walter de’ Silva Retires”
Few car manufacturers are as closely associated with their styling director as Jaguar is.
Ian Callum, the current incumbent, is acting as both the premier brand ambassador, as well as in his main capacity of aesthetic pontiff. But even the prominent Scot will have to hand over reigns eventually. The question is: to whom? Car designers have turned into their respective brand’s figureheads over the past decade or so. Gone are the days of tie-wearing boffins who tinkering away their days in draughty studios, hardly ever to see the light of day, not to mention the limelight. Today, for better or worse, designers have become the speakers of their employers. Continue reading “Lyons, Sayer, Lawson, Callum… And Then?”
What with all the kerfuffle regarding Ferdinand Piech’s stepping down from his post as leader of VAG’s board of directors this summer, it went by almost unnoticed that an era was ending at BMW, too.
Norbert Reithofer is not what one would call ‘showy’. He’s gifted with neither the shock-frosting stare of a Piech nor the gunslinging attitude of a Bob Lutz. Reithofer’s hint of a Bavarian accent and non-boisterous delivery were the most noteworthy elements of his public appearances.
So far, so unexceptional. In keeping with BMW traditions, the end of Reithofer’s tenure also wasn’t accompanied by bells and whistles – it’s as though the office of ‘A’, which is what the CEO of BMW is traditionally being referred to internally, is merely being rented out to another tenant (former head of production, Harald Krüger, to be precise). Continue reading “‘A’ Departure”
Once upon a time, there was a belief that the ideal way to complement the shape of a wheel was… by adding circles. That time was the Eighties.
Perception is a fickle beast. Take Jaguar’s XJ saloon: an undisputed classic to most, yet, as far as its image is concerned, the devil is in the details. In the UK, its elegant silhouette cannot quite strip off the odour of Pub Owner’s Favourite. In Germany, on the other hand, Jaguar still suffers from being perceived as a much more elitist brand than its actual pricing suggests. Which is why running a classic XJ is viewed as an enterprise closer to owning a Rolls-Royce than a relatively run-of-the-mill S-class, in terms of the financial commitment necessary. But that only half explains why an XJ is considered the exclusive domain of silver haired golfing enthusiasts on these shores. Continue reading “Theme: Wheels – Going In Circles”
Almost three decades ago, a couple of cheapskate film producers believed they could whisk the quintessential American superhero to Buckinghamshire and people wouldn’t notice. Now Daimler AG is following their example.
Back in the late 1970s, Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus were the undisputed moguls of Israeli cinema, thanks mainly to the success of their Lemon Popsicle series of raunchy comedies. By the early 1980s, they wanted to enter the big leagues, which meant entering the US market, big time. Golan/Globus invested serious amounts of money in order Continue reading “Superman In Milton Keynes”
Now that even modest compact cars can be equipped with stitched leather look for almost every surface imaginable, the upper echelons have to up the cow skin ante – to, in some cases, dubious effect.
The recent troubles at Aston Martin have almost overshadowed an event that has become a bit of a rarity in recent times: the unveiling of a rather attractive car coming from Gaydon. The automobile in question, the Lagonda Taraf, is – despite its lavish grille – the most restrained and, it could be argued, tasteful design coming from Gaydon’s most prestigious car maker.
The Taraf’s surfacing is uncluttered, its detailing not overwhelming and the overall proportions are spot-on. An unexpected, yet welcome surprise, one might conclude – before setting sights on the Lagonda’s interior. Continue reading “Hideous Hides”
Having looked at the issues besetting the mighty Volkswagen AG (VAG) recently in Part 1 – which can be read here – we can now try and shed some light on the depth of the problems and likely solutions.
Today, the problem is that these cars are all on the verge of being replaced (or have already been replaced, in the Golf VI’s case). The new range taking their place will, even once the glitches related to MQB have been ironed out, not be as lucrative, with profit margins shrinking by as much as two thirds, compared with the Bernhard-era models. This should make future subsidising of models such as the Amarok pick-up (which is said to have a profit margin of -25%) with the Tiguan II’s yields considerably more difficult.Continue reading “Teutonic Displacement: Volkswagen Konzern (Part 2)”
Not just since Luca di Montezemolo’s dismissal have arguments about the merits and demerits of FCA CEO, Sergio Marchionne’s style of conducting business been rather heated. And now we are being presented with a particularly poignant case in point.
Signore Marchionne undoubtedly knows his stuff when it comes to numbers and figures like few others in the business. Which is why nobody was surprised when he – somewhat proudly, it has to be said – explained that the series production Alfa Romeo 4C’s extremely ungainly headlights were his very own responsibility, as their decidedly cheap appearance helped lowering production costs by a few millions. Car buyers, he seemed to believe, don’t really care about details, even particularly blatant ones. Continue reading “Reasoning à la Marchionne”
This post actually involves neither Ricardo Montalbán nor Benedict Cumberbatch.
Instead, this is about a video presenting one of the few genuinely decadent motor cars on sale today, the Rolls-Royce Wraith. Unlike certain motion picture formats concerning the automobile, this little film isn’t about a tarred-and-feathered Rolls-Royce that has to cross the Gobi desert before the egg on its motor block has been fried to a crisp. It simply tries to understand the appeal of the car in its most likely habitat. And appeal it does, in a sense I personally find somewhat perplexing in this day and age of oversaturation. Continue reading “The Wraith Of Khan”