30 Years ago this week, the Rover Group launched perhaps its best realised product. We look back at the R8, née Rover 200-Series.
In the late 1980s it really did seem that at last Rover Group had finally found its place. Much of the credit was due to their new Japanese friends, but the rump of British Leyland was at last demonstrating a new found competence and confidence. However, agony would eventually follow the ecstasy of these heady days.
On 11 October 1989 Rover Group presented, with justifiable pride, the second-generation Rover 200 series, and with it the eagerly anticipated and all-new K-series engine. Every new Rover of the era had an equal and opposite Honda, and the 200’s was the Concerto, which had gone on sale in Japan in June 1998, only 16 months after Rover and Honda had signed the contract to build Project YY as a joint venture. Continue reading “The Brightest Hour Is Just Before Twilight (1)”
Sir Michael Edwardes has left us at the age of 88. It should be less of a shock given his advanced years, but the bold colonial boy called to rescue British Leyland at the age of 46 somehow seemed ever-youthful. We reflect on his five years in the hardest job in the motor industry, and his influence on the years which followed.
When Michael Edwardes was appointed Chief Executive of British Leyland in October 1977, on a three year secondment from his post at the head of Chloride Group, the company was an industrial disaster zone. Eight years from its formation, it was state-controlled, chronically loss-making and blighted by turbulent industrial relations and product quality failings which were the talk of the nation.
Edwardes was either an enlightened or desperation-led choice. From Southern African business aristocracy, and far from the core of the motor industry, he was an outsider taking on a task which had been beyond those born to the industry. Continue reading “Sir Michael Edwardes. 1930 – 2019”
Nearly four years have passed since neue Borgward presented the BX7 at the 2015 Frankfurt IAA. DTW’s Borgward-obsessive shares his impressions of one of the first Shanghai-built cars to arrive in the great lost carmaker’s home city.
The car is a left hand drive BX7 TS Limited Edition, not long arrived at Bremerhaven from Shanghai, but tested in south-east England. The first visual impression is how easily the car fits into the British carscape, registering in the visual continuum as just another big European SUV, not quite an Audi Q5 or XC 60 clone, but only by the grace of some well-executed details of its own. There’s nothing awkward or ham-fisted about the styling, but neither is there much that hints at the brand’s ancestry in a subtle or ingenious way. Continue reading “Have I come in at a bad time? The Borgward BX7 TS”
Continuing our meditation on the Austin Maxi and Fiat 128, some thoughts prompted by encounters with two survivors.
The two cars pictured were photographed in the last 12 months. As well as being impressively original and looking as if they work for a living, they’re also examples of the last of their breeds.
The Maxi is one of the final ‘Maxi 2’ iteration, introduced to a largely indifferent world in August 1980, just 11 months from the end of production. The bright colour – ‘Snapdragon’ in BL parlance – suits it well. Far too many Maxis were specified in Russet Brown, Damask Red, or hearing-aid beige (formally known as “Champagne”), 1950s colours two decades on, in a time when BLMC’s Austin Morris colour pallet suddenly became positively vibrant. Tellingly, the archetypal Maxi customer avoided Bronze Yellow, Limeflower, or Blaze Red. Continue reading “Every Day Is Judgement Day.”
We return to our analysis of the 50-year old Austin and Fiat contemporaries with a look at their engines. One was the work of a revered racing engine designer, the other was cobbled together by two capable engineers in the backrooms of Longbridge under the thumb of an unsympathetic boss with his own peculiar agenda.
On paper a conservative design, the Maxi’s E series engine turns out to be downright odd in its execution. It evolved from a 1300cc prototype with a belt-driven overhead camshaft, one of many experimental designs being developed in the West Works at Longbridge. Long-serving engine designers Eric Bareham and Bill Appleby were handed the task of reworking the inchoate power unit into an engine suitable for BMC’s new mid-range car.
More capacity was needed, so it was bored out to accommodate 3 inch pistons, leaving no space for waterways between bores or any further outward expansion. Issigonis vetoed belt drive for the camshaft in favour of a traditional single-roller chain, on the reasonable grounds that belt technology was new and unproven at the time. Continue reading “128 vs Maxi Part 4: The Racehorse and the Donkey”
We return to our two stars of the spring 1969 season with a look at the different approaches to chassis design adopted at Longbridge and Lingotto. One car defied convention, the other defined the new orthodoxy.
Raw facts first: The Fiat 128 uses MacPherson struts at the front, with coil springs and a transverse anti-roll bar, and a fully independent system at the rear, comprising a transverse leaf spring, struts, and a single wishbone per side. The Austin Maxi has Hydrolastic springing and interconnection, with upper and lower links in a parallelogram arrangement at the front, and fully trailing arms at the rear.
We continue our look at the spring 1969 debutants, contemplating heady matters of gestalt.
The rather Lancia Beta-like profile rendering from the early stages of BMC’s ADO14 project shows considerable promise. Too short in the nose, probably at Issigonis’ prompting, but otherwise elegant in spite of the ‘carry-over’ 1800 doors. So what went wrong along the road to BLMC’s five-door fiasco? Continue reading “128 vs Maxi Part 2 : Function over Form”
A little over 50 years ago, two of Europe’s leading automotive businesses introduced a pair of rather utilitarian cars to the world. One was hugely successful and influential, the other turned out to be a prophet with little honour in its own time.
In bombastic terms, there’s a ‘clash of giants’ story to be told. Issigonis v. Giacosa. BLMC v. Fiat SpA. Maxi v. 128. It’s not quite ‘rumble in the jungle’, but a comparison tells a lot about the way things were done at Lingotto and Longbridge.
In a curious coincidence, the Austin Maxi and Fiat 128 were the last cars developed by their lead designers which reached production, although Issigonis’ input to the Maxi project was sporadic and remote.
For one DTW reporter, there was only one star of the 2019 Geneva International Motor Show. We take stock of Fiat’s Concept Centoventi.
Still in mild shock at the most dramatic ECotY announcement in years, my Geneva companions and I took our customary evening promenade round the halls of Palexpo. The FCA stand promised little. We knew they had no new cars, but at least they turned up, unlike some, and Alfa and Fiat had heavily concealed concept cars to show the following morning.
Later in the evening we talked of what is to become of Fiat. Three of us, we have all had various Fiats in our lives and enjoyed the experience. Now the company seemed to be ever more marginalised in the increasingly Jeep-centric world of FCA in the Manley Era.
DTW takes a look at the advanced and stylish Jowett Javelin on the seventieth anniversary of the delivery of the first car, with some reflections on the machine and its creators.
The psalmist’s full three score years and ten have passed since the happy owner of Jowett Javelin serial number D8 PA 1 received his or her keys on 16th. April 1948. It is therefore appropriate to do a little scene-setting before considering the labour and sorrow which led to this remarkable car’s production, and followed it to the end of its days.
Fiat didn’t hold an official “Exhibitors Conference” on the first media day at this year’s Geneva Salon, but that didn’t prevent FCA’s CEO pronouncing on the future of Fiat’s European activities.
Sergio Marchionne declared that “for the 500, 500X and Panda it is worth pursuing, I am less in love with the Tipo, despite its sales success. We have to be careful how we distribute large amounts of capital. The Tipo is less encouraged, because that sector of the market is very crowded and not very profitable. It was a part of the market where Fiat traditionally was, but maybe we need to Continue reading “Geneva Fallout 2018 – The Things Bosses Say”
For Robertas Parazitas it’s been a strange Salon. Great for star-spotting and social interaction, but none of the new crop of premieres and concepts lit the flame of his desire, or the warm feeling that the future of motordom is going to be all right, after all.
It’s amazing what you’ll find washed up on beaches these days…
Is it only for me that the first two months of 2018 have flown by? On Monday it will be time to gather in the rather gloomy hall in the backlands of Palexpo to hear the results of European Car of the Year 2018, along with the grandees of the world’s automotive media, and a few captains of the motor industry feigning insouciance, in the face of the reality that a CotY win still has real sales and profits value.
Continuing this month’s Ka-fest at DTW, we turn our thoughts to a South American curiosity. While Ford of Europe outsourced the difficult second Ka iteration to Fiat Automobiles S.p.A, Ford do Brasil did things rather differently.
The Brazilian Novo Ka went on sale in January 2008, nine months before the European replacement for the 12 year old original. The European car is not really a Ford at all, while the Brazilian car placed an ingeniously re-worked superstructure on its predecessor’s B platform, which originated with the 1989 Fiesta.
What are we to make of the news that Opel will not be exhibiting at the Geneva Salon in March? The announcement came on 16 January, just over six weeks before the show opens to the world’s media.
The official justification from new owners Groupe PSA is that “If there is no new product, then the brands won’t be there”. The under-performing PSA premium brand DS will also not be represented at Palexpo; that’s a distraction I’ll not pursue further.
The corporate excuse is unconvincing. The Grandland X has only recently gone on sale, likewise the Insignia GSi, drearily named but interestingly specified.
1955 was a decisive year for the British Motor Corporation, as it set its product direction for the next decade. A certain gentleman of Graeco-German parentage was said to have played an important part in the process.
The person I refer to is not, as some might think, the confirmed bachelor from Smyrna, but the husband of Queen Elizabeth II.
It is unlikely that HRH The Duke of Edinburgh was aware of Alec Issigonis’ imminent return to BMC when he visited Longbridge on 8 December 1955, but the supposed interaction of Lord and the duke, and the repercussions thereof have become part of the daemonology of BMC.
Austin’s Ford Zephyr and Vauxhall Velox rival of the mid-1950s is scarcely remembered now, but it turns out to be a something of a forgotten hero.
The Austin Westminster story began with the launch of the A90 series in October 1954, nearly four years before the start of the momentous eleven month period in which Farina’s new styling ‘language’ for BMC was unveiled, layer by layer.
Robertas Parazitas reports on one of the stars of this year’s NEC Classic Motor show.
Grim commerce and ‘investment car’ mania now dominate the annual NEC Classic Motor show, but search hard, seek the wisdom of the crowds, and strangeness and delight is there to be found. In Hall 4, a Restoration Theatre had been setup. I sat for a while, hoping for a performance of one of Congreve or Wycherley’s lighter works, but all that was on offer was a video of two elderly men in a dingy workshop explaining the intricacies of panel beating in what I imagined to be a satire on Puritanism. Continue reading “Impossible Princess – Vanden Plas 1800”
Chinese-owned, Stuttgart-headquartered Borgward AG presented an all-electric Isabella concept at the Frankfurt IAA. Is it a hubristic Frankenstein fantasy, or a worthy bearer of the revered name?
Die Isabella ist tot, es lebe die Isabella. Ein gute idee is besser als tausend Bedenken.
(The Isabella is dead, long live the Isabella. A good idea is better than a thousand concerns.)
So said Dr. Jochen Schlüter, the fictional chairman of the living and thriving Borgward AG in Andreas B Berse’s 2006 contra-factual novel ‘Borgward Lebt’ on the occasion of the launch of the fourth generation Isabella at the Frankfurt IAA in September 1989. Continue reading “Diamond Dream, or Ruined Rhombus?”
In a couple of weeks, Suzuki will present the latest generation of their enduring and hard-working Jimny family. As we eagerly await the new arrival, we look at one of the odder twigs on the extended family tree.
The subject’s identity crisis is manifestly obvious. It’s sold as a Suzuki, yet there’s a Maruti badge in the centre of the grille. The Japanese masters were content to sell it to New Zealand farmers as one of their own, but it’s an Indian-built Maruti Gipsy, in 4WD, 1300cc petrol specification, and therefore based on the 1982 SJ410 in all its live-axled, leaf-sprung primitiveness. Continue reading “Far From the Mainstream: Suzuki Farmworker”
It all began with a casual conversation at a motor show, which touched on the Ro80 and its stylist, Claus Luthe. An acquaintance, with an extraordinary nose for the rarely trodden byways of automotive history said “You do know that Luthe probably didn’t design the Ro80?” I confessed I didn’t, but I was keen to know more.
“It’s in an old copy of CAR”, I was told. I asked if there was a possibility of a scanned copy of the article. “I’ll do better than that”, I was told; “I’ll send you the magazine”. Continue reading “A Question of Attribution”
General Motors – the name is a clue – are virtuosos in the art of the world car. This is not to say they haven’t played a few bum notes in their time.
It’s too early to speculate how the Opel Insignia B will perform on its world tour, but its diverse audiences will demand versatility as well as capability. Launched proudly earlier this year in Switzerland, the Insigregaldore carries four badges; a lightning bolt, a mythical beast which appears to be self-conscious about underarm odour, three shields, and from February 2018, a lion. Continue reading “Two Lions, Four Continents, One Car”
Next month the Škoda Yeti, arguably the nicest VAG product of the last decade, and certainly one of the most individual, will be replaced by a lightly reworked Tiguateciaq, with the name of Karoq.
According to Škoda, “the name and its spelling originate from the language of the Alutiiq, an indigenous tribe who live on an island off the southern coast of Alaska. For the name of the new compact SUV, Škoda has drawn on the spelling of the Škoda Kodiaq and in doing so, has created a consistent nomenclature for the brand’s current and future SUV models.” I still think it’s rubbish as a name, but so is ‘Qashqai’, and it does awfully well. Continue reading “Extinction Alert – Yeti Falls Victim to Atonement-Led Rationalisation”
I sometimes think I’m fated to have encounters with unusual Alfas when I least expect to…
The 2600 duo in Friedrichstadt, the SZ in Dorridge, and the decaying Fadesa Romeo van on the road into Fornells spring immediately to mind.This Montreal was spotted on an unremarkable suburban street in Basel in March 2008. I imagine that the massive rise in classic car prices would make such encounters far less likely now. Continue reading “A photo for Sunday – Alfa Romeo Montreal”
As this month’s theme draws to a close, we give you something to ponder…
In 1963, Oscar Montabone was recalled from Chrysler-controlled Simca to manage Fiat’s Automobile Technical Office. His primary task was to develop Project 124, a putative 1100 replacement in direct competition with Dante Giacosa’s Project 123, which was not so much a defined car as a series of studies with various front engine/front wheel drive and rear engine/rear drive configurations based around a 1157cc three cylinder opposed-valve ohc engine. Continue reading “Theme: Simca – The Vibrations That Lived On”
The Simca 1300/1500 stepped elegantly into the Aronde’s shoes yet, despite good looks and strong sales, it never really escaped the rather ‘grey’ reputation bestowed by its casting as the universal anonymous saloon in Jacques Tati’s 1967 film “Playtime”.
The casual seeker after knowledge might too easily conclude that the mid-size Simca’s sole contribution to the advancement of the automotive art was the availability, in the estate cars only, of a Formica-faced boot floor which could double as a picnic table.
The reality is that it was a well-balanced product, both in engineering and style, for which Simca adopted ‘best’ practice, rather than joining the technological revolution which was sweeping through the car industry in the late fifties and early sixties, which saw even conservative businesses like BMC, GM, and Rootes trying to Continue reading “Theme: Simca – The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie”
Robertas Parazitas looks back on a memorable Geneva Salon, and can’t quite decide whether to praise the Cadillac Escala, or rant against the sustained assault on the English language.
The concept is not new, having had its premiere at Pebble Beach in August 2016. It is intriguing on several levels. The design language is a departure from the distinct vocabulary of present Cadillac offerings. Like the Pininfarina H600, the Escala could fit into a number of manufacturers’ ranges: Jaguar, Lexus, DS.
In the halls of Geneva, resurrection man Robertas Parazitas meets two more restless souls.
Death, it has been observed here before, has a revolving door in the automotive world. In recent years we have observed the return of Singer, Borgward and Alpine. (In the case of the first I can’t see much of the spirit of the plucky Coventry firm, but the workmanship puts the last Chamoises and Gazelles to shame) Continue reading “Geneva 2017 – Artega Scala Superelletra”
Van Helsing starter kit in hand, roving reporter, Robertas Parazitas comes face to face with another automotive revenant.
The Geneva Salon is still a place where rich men can show their dreams made metal. Jim Glickenhaus was there with his SCG003S hypercar. Not far away, Felix Eaton, Huddersfield’s answer to Glickenhaus, proudly launched his graceful Black Cuillin. More modest in size, but equally single-minded is the Microlino, the creation of Wim Oubouter.
Not so much Geneva bites, more nibbles from a show which wasn’t short of substantial fare.
There was a Vauxhall at Geneva!
And rightly so. The one-nation marque, which few people outside the UK even realise exists, outdid Jeep, MINI, Jaguar Land Rover, Mazda, Honda, Suzuki and Mitsubishi for sales across the entire EU zone in 2016. Continue reading “Geneva 2017 – l’Insolite Part 1”
Big but not necessarily better, Ford’s late 60’s Zephyr brochure lays out its stall.
The cover is bereft of the expected seductive image of the car it describes. There is only blackness, a small head-and-shoulders photo of a well-groomed, confident looking individual and the title, “Motoring for the 15,000 a year man”. 15,000 miles that is, not Pounds Sterling, but the implication is there. Even £5000 per annum would have been a top-rank salary in 1970, when this brochure rolled off the presses of Alabaster, Passmore and Sons Ltd in Maidstone. Continue reading “Theme: Brochures – Ford Zephyr Mk.4”
The 1964 brochure describes it as “A golden milestone”, but BMC’s Rolls-Royce powered luxury flagship had a curious history and turned out to be a white elephant and an embarrassment to the reputations of both companies.
My copy of the brochure is rather dusty and faded, but is a splendid thing, printed on heavy, high quality paper, with a stiff card cover. There are thirteen fine hand-painted illustrations – not one photograph in sight – and fulsome letters from the managing directors of the new car’s proud parents, Sir George Harriman of BMC, and Dr. Fred Llewellyn Smith, of Rolls-Royce’s Motor Car Division. Continue reading “Theme: Brochures – Vanden Plas Princess 4 Litre R”
It’s mid-February and the ACEA numbers for 2016 still have ‘provisional’ status.
My interest here is in the brands which fell short of 100,000 registrations last year across the EU and EFTA countries. The audit is something of a blunt instrument. The supercar and ultra-premium marques do not even feature. Bentley, Lamborghini and Bugatti are counted in the 4,561 “other VW Group” registrations. Likewise FCA’s 8,211 others comprise mainly Dodge and Maserati. And yet, the 2,589 Chevrolets registered get their own billing. Continue reading “Industry Bites: The Five-Figure Club”
A 46 year old brochure prompts some thoughts on – arguably – the most idiosyncratic Comecon car to cross the Iron Curtain.
It is neither big, nor French, nor Italian, and had an embarrassingly prolific production of over 1.2 million, but the Wartburg 353 is deservedly a DTW favourite.
The price list accompanying the brochure is from April 1971. The £749 asked for the Knight (the name was only used for the British market) deluxe saloon was £26 more than a Mini 1000. A four door Viva deluxe was £883, the equivalent Avenger was £20 dearer. More off-beat choices were the Morris Minor 1000 4 door at £775, the Skoda S110L at £775 (The Octavia wagon was still available at £710), and the new 1500cc overhead camshaft Moskvich 412 matching the Knight exactly for price. Continue reading “Theme: Brochures – 1971 Wartburg Knight”
In three weeks’ time (6 March) the cream of the world’s automotive media, and some rather anxious captains of the motor industry will crowd into a stuffy hall in Geneva to hear the results of European Car of the Year 2017. It’s much like the Eurovision Song Contest, but far more camp and partisan. Continue reading “Weighed in the Balance – ECOTY prospects”
From the Parazitas collection, a journey into a gentler time.
It is quite possible that I have never seen a Simca 1200S, nor its tamer 1962 predecessor the 1000 Coupe, in real life, but this English language brochure from around 1970 is testament to its existence. Checking a November 1970 issue of Motor confirms that it was indeed offered in the UK at a hefty £1595. Just £1398 would have bought you a Capri 3000GT. The Simca’s more natural rivals, the Alfa Romeo Guilia 1300GT, and Lancia Fulvia Coupé Rallye S are listed at £1848 and £1871 respectively. Continue reading “Theme: Brochures – “Of the Same Noble Breed as the Fabulous Cheetah””