What Might Have Been : 1991 Tatra MTX V8

Tatra made large rear engined automobiles. Yes, but this?

1991 Tatra MTX V8
1991 Tatra MTX V8

Today we bring a slice of an alternative universe, one where Tatra automobiles did not cease production (that was 1999). The car here is one of four Tatra MTX V8 sportscars built out of a planned 100. The car was shown as concept at the 1991 Prague motor show and 200 orders were taken by thrilled visitors. Unfortunately, a fire destroyed the production facilities and also destroyed Tatra’s chances of showing the West that Czech engineering was alive and well and able to Continue reading “What Might Have Been : 1991 Tatra MTX V8”

Theme : Engines – GM’s General Purpose Nail

The Iron Duke engine: an American interpretation of a European staple.

Not an engine, an Astre
Not an engine, an Astre

The Americans have a different approach to engines than do Europeans. First, they hold the view that bigger is better which means that for many decades the smallest engines were usually 6-cylinder units. 8-cylinder units were considered standard. When the oil crises of the 70s struck, the main US manufacturers were not so experienced with the 4 cylinder devices that were needed to cope. Continue reading “Theme : Engines – GM’s General Purpose Nail”

Something Rotten in Denmark: 1991 Fiat Tipo 1.4 ie

Is this 1991 Tipo suspiciously underpriced?

1991 Fiat Tipo 1.4 ie
1991 Fiat Tipo 1.4 ie

It seems like only a bit of while ago that Fiat were offering the Tipo Mk1 (1988 to 1995). It is however, actually a really long time ago indeed. This car is actually quite old though it seems not to look it, to my eyes at least. When Fiat first offered the Tipo they made something of a big deal about the galvanization and general rust protection. Continue reading “Something Rotten in Denmark: 1991 Fiat Tipo 1.4 ie”

Theme : Facelifts – A Facelift Before the Funeral

A facelift is sometimes an indication that all is far from well with the car’s manufacturer.

1964 Humber Super Snipe
1964 Humber Super Snipe

In 1958 Humber cars introduced a new body style which was sold under the Hawk and Super Snipe labels. The Super Snipe was the more expensive of the two. For the last word in Humberness, there was the Humber Imperial which was the same as a Hawk and a Snipe in terms of the bodywork but which had “a vinyl roof, automatic transmission and hydrosteer power steering as standard… electrically adjustable rear shock absorber settings, a rear heater and optional West-of-England cloth-trimmed seats”.

That West of England cloth was fitted by Thrupp and Maberley***. These details matter. So what was behind the belated facelift of Humber’s ageing flagship? Continue reading “Theme : Facelifts – A Facelift Before the Funeral”

2010 Chevrolet Epica 2.0 L6 Turbo diesel Review

BIG AND DUMB AND MUCH THE BETTER FOR IT. Driven To Write assesses an underdog.

2010 Chevrolet Epica
2010 Chevrolet Epica

Tinselly, crudely assembled and unattractive sums it up, but luckily that´s just the Chevrolet badge on the bootlid. The rest of the car surprised me by being vastly better than the reputation suggested. The Chevrolet Epica has ended its six year production run and perhaps its reputation needs a little burnishing. I´ll tell you why: there´s very little wrong with the Epica and a lot that´s right. Continue reading “2010 Chevrolet Epica 2.0 L6 Turbo diesel Review”

Theme : Facelifts – Does Your Car Pass the Facelift Test?

Could there be anything wrong with trying to design cars that can avoid an automotive face-lift?

2004 Toyota Avensis
2004 Toyota Avensis

When Simon came up with this topic we all immediately thought of the classic facelift disasters. Then there were the handful of acknowledged facelift successes; these have been touched upon by DTW at various points over the month.

We are also aware that some firms make a routine of “mid-cycle refreshes” as they are termed by those in the know. And this is probably to be deplored since facelifting a car means either a) the first attempt was not good enough or b) the company indulging in planned obsolescence. To which we can add c) the product actually is long-in the-tooth and it really needs some very obvious re-styling to distract from that fact. Continue reading “Theme : Facelifts – Does Your Car Pass the Facelift Test?”

Theme : Facelifts – Bristol Cars and Facelifts as a Way of Life

For the very rich there are two modes of consumption.

1958 Bristol 406
1958 Bristol 406

One is to buy the latest thing and replace it as soon as something better comes along. The other mode is to buy something that lasts forever like a castle or a Bristol. The Filton-based firm was a small one and prided itself on the quality of its vehicles. And they are cars that last, being capable of almost indefinite service life, much like a castle, as it happens.

Continue reading “Theme : Facelifts – Bristol Cars and Facelifts as a Way of Life”

Reflections On Chrome

Only a few puritans and some design dogmatists dislike chrome. However, a bit of tinsel would have made all the difference to emphasize the inherent goodness of some plain-Jane cars of recent years.

1960s Mercedes S-class

Chrome’s application on car exteriors is based on its capacity to resist corrosion, ease cleaning and increase surface hardness. It also has the pleasing ability to draw attention to the outlines of door frames, lamp housings and bumper pressings, among other features. Even at dusk, a chromed window frame shows up clearly and reveals the car’s character which would otherwise be hidden. Continue reading “Reflections On Chrome”

Unforgetting : 1980 Talbot Tagora

If you’ve ever wondered about this famously forgotten car, this is the place to find out why it has become a footnote in automotive history.

(c) stubs-auto.fr

The Tagora doesn’t have much of an afterlife. It’s been out of production since 1983 and if anyone remembers it, they aren’t saying much about it. But what was the view of the car at the time of launch? Did it look like it was going to be the flop it turned out to be?

I bought a copy of Autocar from 1981 to find out how this car was viewed by contemporary writers. Other magazines followed in the post. This (below) is how I Continue reading “Unforgetting : 1980 Talbot Tagora”

Critical Faculties: 2010 Ford Mondeo 2.0 TDCi

DTW has a spin in a 2010 Ford Mondeo 2.0 TDCi. If you’re thinking of getting a used one it’s probably going to be one of these.

2010 Ford Mondeo TDCi
2010 Ford Mondeo TDCi

The Ford Mondeo: what do we really know about this car? I had a test drive and can report how an informed but not expert enthusiast experienced it. Zetec trim adorned the vehicle and under the bonnet Ford had kindly installed their 2.0 litre TDCi engine. In many ways this car could be said to be the typical midranger and so is representative of the sort of Mondeo many people choose to live with for six or seven years of their lives. Continue reading “Critical Faculties: 2010 Ford Mondeo 2.0 TDCi”

Engineering As Marketing : 2010 Renault Megane Review

DTW tries on a little silver number from Renault.

2010 Renault Megane
2010 Renault Megane

The apparently irrelevant preamble

In all good faith, motoring writers tend to fixate on problems much as the princess fixated on the pea. For those of us interested in cars, that’s fine: we are also little picky princesses, to a man. Merely knowing that there is some small aspect of a vehicle that impedes its theoretical performance around Thruxton on a dry day is enough to earn a definitive seal of disapproval. That is even if the aspect is wholly unrelated to the intent of the vehicle in question.

Continue reading “Engineering As Marketing : 2010 Renault Megane Review”

Northward Bound

Driven to Write met three (of four) Germans outside a supermarket in Aarhus. They had travelled in a VW camping van with two Simson mopeds.

2014 Nordkapp with motor bikes

We don’t really do motorbikes at DTW and VW camping vans aren’t part of our repertoire either but here is a brief report on the trip of Markus, Judith, Ludwig and Victoria from the Bodensee in Germany to Nordkapp in Finnmark, Norway. I met them as they were eating a spot of lunch outside my local supermarket. They were travelling in a rather used series T3 VW camper van (1979 to 1992) and two Simson mopeds. Continue reading “Northward Bound”

The Truth About Cars On the Renault Espace in Brazil

This is a rather absorbing article from the good people at the Truth About Cars. It discusses the Renault Espace’s life in Brazil.

Renault Espace I 1984

“Originally conceived by Renault and its partner, Matra, the first Espace appeared in 1984 and was initially greeted with a combination of intrigue and scepticism – nothing like Espace had ever been seen before. Flying in the face of accepted wisdom, the Espace epitomised Renault’s desire to push the boundaries of conventional design and create a car which met the changing needs of a rapidly evolving society.” (Automobiles Review, 2009)

Theme : Facelifts – A Facelift Better Than the Car It Was Meant To Save

How Bill Porter turned the sow’s ear of the 1986 Buick Riviera into something so much better.

1990 Buick Riviera
1990 Buick Riviera

In 1986 Buick in the US sold a medium-sized two door version of the Somerset, built on the N-body. In the way of GM’s demented renaming strategy, the Somerset tag was once a trim level of the Regal saloon but it escaped to Continue reading “Theme : Facelifts – A Facelift Better Than the Car It Was Meant To Save”

Cars I Can’t Write About 4: The 2014 Lamborghini Aventador LP 700-R

I am unable to address the Lamborghini Aventador LP700-4.

2014 Lamborghini collage

I’d wanted to write that I could say nothing about Ferrari’s current range of cars. However, as a matter of fact I devoted a whole post to their website some months back. That said, there is nothing much about Ferrari’s actual cars that attracts me. The last time I saw a new one (I really don’t know which it was but it was red) I was as unmoved as if I had been shown a trough of diamonds being tipped in a lake.

Nonetheless, to be strict, I need to find a similar sort car to not talk about, one I haven’t even mentioned. The one in question is treated here. Continue reading “Cars I Can’t Write About 4: The 2014 Lamborghini Aventador LP 700-R”

Cars I Can’t Write About 3: 2014 VW Passat

Some cars are gob-stoppers. I can’t bring myself to do more than glance at them much less expend any breath. Here’s one: the 2014 VW Passat.

2014 Passat collage

So far I have picked a shopping trolley and a sportscar in my excursion through the list of cars I can’t write about. Keen observers of my output will say this is because I am an enthusiast for saloon cars. You can infer from this a low-self esteem if you like, or you can imply a liking for four-door cars from mainstream makers is an automotive version of a taste for “reader’s wives”. To deal with the second argument, I present the current VW Passat. Continue reading “Cars I Can’t Write About 3: 2014 VW Passat”

Cars I Can’t Write About 2: Porsche

Some cars defy one’s capacity to describe or discuss them except in the most general terms. Here’s another, a Porsche of some type.

2014 Porsche collage

There was a 1970s example of one of these things parked on the road today. They are very rare around my district. I chose to look at a Vectra parked one space ahead of it. I’ve always admired the 2002 model’s headlamp design. When I was in Germany at Easter I saw a rare high-spec 2002 saloon in green metallic that made me Continue reading “Cars I Can’t Write About 2: Porsche”

Cars I Can’t Write About 1: 1996-2002 Mazda Demio

Some cars defy one’s capacity to describe or discuss them except in the most general terms. One of them is the 1996 Mazda Demio.

1996 Mada demio

Here at DTW we spend a lot of time staring into the walls trying to fight off the ideas that spring up. The problem is that there are more ideas than time to do them justice. I’ve just blown three hours of my life penning a tract about Buicks and Opels. This was based on half a thought about the Opel Astra saloon that nobody cares about. How then can I Continue reading “Cars I Can’t Write About 1: 1996-2002 Mazda Demio”

Cross-Currents: From Tsingtao to Rüsselsheim to Michigan

How do we get from China to Warren, Michigan via Rüsselsheim? By Astra, of course.

2012 Buick Verano: engineered in Germany and the US and sold in China
2012 Buick Verano: engineered in Germany and the US and sold in China (in some form)

Why does Opel matter to GM? How about sales of 500,000 cars a year in China and continued survival of Buick in the US.

In the late 70s the science journalist James Burke had an engaging series of programmes called Connections. It traced the links, innovations and the important contingencies that led from the distant past to the technology that we take for granted around us, such as plastic, for example. Behind the invention of this material lay the story of how the 17th Century Dutch preferred not to Continue reading “Cross-Currents: From Tsingtao to Rüsselsheim to Michigan”

1986 Volvo 360 GLT Review

Pantomime Horses : Just how good is the 1986 Volvo 360 GLT?

1986 Volvo 360 GLT

by Roderick Darndon-Dramb. Photography by Bart Chappel. From “Autocarriage & Performance Drivercar”  (March 1986).

The advertising says this is the Volvo that thinks it’s a Porsche. Clearly Volvo wants us to see this car as the driver’s choice. The people at Volvo have lost their minds. The 360’s aerodynamics remain submerged below the bottom of the league. The exterior is reminiscent of the Seagram Building rather than an F-40 jet. This is not a Porker.

Continue reading “1986 Volvo 360 GLT Review”

Death Has A Revolving Door 3: 2014 Daihatsu Copen

Daihatsu’s Japanese production declines for the first time in 8 months…

2014 Daihatsu Copen concept

…but production overseas increased to compensate. And generally sales are down overall. Daihatsu gave up on Europe a few years back so the news that the Copen sportscar is to be revived may not do so very much to improve the sales picture. Still, it’s nice to imagine. What sort of a range does the Copen fit into?

There is the Terios hatchback in five and seven seater guise, the Sirion hatchback and the Gran Max van which also comes as a pick-up. That make the Copen something of an outsider in a range of very practical vehicles, but it is still at least as small as the others. Continue reading “Death Has A Revolving Door 3: 2014 Daihatsu Copen”

Something Rotten In Denmark: 1986 Peugeot 505

Sold in large numbers and once part of the corporate car-park, the 505 is now a rarity. But here is one example that almost looks attractive. But looks deceive. 

1986 Peugeot 505

PSA launched the 505 in 1979 with the purpose of providing a product in their middle ranks to replace the venerable 504. What the ’05 succeeded in doing was killing off interest in the 604 which had been on sale and doing quite well since 1976. The 505 was very slightly smaller and about 30% cheaper than the 604 and lot easier on the eye; the main differences between the two cars were that the newcomer lacked the messy dashboard and thirsty V6.

The 505 range offered all the engines the 604 could and should have had. What Peugeot forgot to do was to Continue reading “Something Rotten In Denmark: 1986 Peugeot 505”

1965 Ford Taunus Versus 2005 Ford Mondeo

Design Footnote: somewhere inside Ford, someone nodded quietly to the firm’s past.

2005 Ford Mondeo
2005 Ford Mondeo

A few months back, while studying the parked cars in my area, I noticed that there was something deeper to the design of late-model Ford Mondeo Mk2s. Not very many cars have a solution that avoids both a horizontal and a vertical wraparound at the front end. The 2005 Mondeo has a design where the strongest line runs down the edge of the wing, down the lights and then goes horizontal under the valence, requiring a twist from forward to sideways mediated by a vertical descent. Continue reading “1965 Ford Taunus Versus 2005 Ford Mondeo”

Theme : Speed – Quantity and Quality Thereof

How much fun do you really get out of driving like you stole it?

1990 peugeot-205-

Speed is a measurable quantity. One of the characteristics of the modern age is the increasing dominance of quantity over quality. I see the two as dependent parameters, as necessary as the left and right wing of a jet. In the spirit of the times motoring journalism in recent years has tended to Continue reading “Theme : Speed – Quantity and Quality Thereof”

Something Rotten in Denmark : 1962 DKW Junior

You’ve come a long way, baby. So goes the cliche. How far then?

1962 DKW

Glostrup Cars in Denmark are selling this two-stroke body-on-frame fossil for just under €10,000. Introduced in 1959, the Juniors (renamed F11 or F12) were discontinued in 1965 when VW bought the firm, ending DKW’s post-war association with Mercedes*. These diminutive DKWs were built in Ingolstadt, at a new factory. The car’s run ended when it became clear that it was just not up to facing the competition presented by VW’s Beetle and Opel’s smaller cars (possibly the 1962 Kadett). Continue reading “Something Rotten in Denmark : 1962 DKW Junior”

Social Signifiers

Which cars are for today’s ophthalmologists, vets and professors of Medieval law? 

For Prof. Castiglione
For Prof. Castiglione (c) lautomobile.aci.it

About three decades ago certain makers sold cars for easily identifiable groups in society. Saabs were for well-paid university lecturers. Citroen could appeal to the Francophile and arty middle-class man. Lancia sold to intellectuals and business men who probably saw their work as a vocation. Humber appealed to bank managers of the bigger branches. But today, these brands are gone or unrecognisable

I was trying to Continue reading “Social Signifiers”

1961 Fiat 2300 S Coupe : A Short Film

While reading about the Humber Super Snipe and its competitors I stumbled across this.

Fiat 2300S Coupe

It’s a very nicely filmed piece about a Fiat 2300S and its owner, Pierantonio Micciarelli. I have to say that the man’s elegant dress sense made me yearn to be Italian. They do know how to choose their threads. But beyond that, this (for me) forgotten coupé is superbly presented and discussed with considerable fluency by the lucky fellow who is its custodian. This is another of those cars that evokes dusk drives around the Cap Ferrat.

 

Death Has a Revolving Door 2 : MG Revive Sportscar Revival Plans

If you should tire of Alfa Romeo’s latest new plans, Morris Garages (MG) have perhaps a more credible alternative set of ambitions reported today, a new roadster.

2014 MG Icon concept: they are not building this
2012 MG Icon concept: they are not building this

Coincidental to my recent posting on returns from the grave, MG has announced a plan to revive its MG roadsters, with a view to returning to the US market. Edmunds’ journalist Richard Bremner reported that SAIC, owners of MG, have revealed this much without any supporting illustrations of the mooted car**.  Continue reading “Death Has a Revolving Door 2 : MG Revive Sportscar Revival Plans”

Transitions : Car Interiors as They Turned Plastic

This thread looks at a period of transition as injection moulding, safety legislation and changing taste in colours acted to markedly alter how car interiors looked. The late 70s was the period when the dashboard became seen as an integrated whole rather than a set of items screwed to a bulkhead. Of course, Citroen´s SM got there in 1971 but did it without injection moulding on the scale possible in 1981.

In this article I examine the change-over from metal and glass to all-plastic interiors that occurred in the mid 70s.

1971 Morris Marina interior. Spacious and simple.
1971 Morris Marina interior. Spacious and simple.

This thread looks at a period of transition as injection moulding, safety legislation and changing taste in colours acted to markedly alter how car interiors looked. The late 70s was the period when the dashboard became seen as an integrated whole rather than a set of items screwed to a bulkhead. Of course, Citroen’s SM got there in 1971 but did it without injection moulding on the scale possible in 1981. Continue reading “Transitions : Car Interiors as They Turned Plastic”

Death Has a Revolving Door

Driven To Write has some news for anyone who has been reading the UK motoring press.

1979 Saab 900

Far from being “an undiscovered bourne from whom no traveller returns” (copyright W. Shakespeare 1599-1602), it appears death is a place car brands can pop over to and come back from much like an obscure place with an out-of-the-way airport served by Ryanair. I think Saab is dead but it might not be. Or it might be. It died spiritually under GM, it died again physically, was reborn under Spyker but soon expired. National Electric Vehicles revived the firm in 2012.

Continue reading “Death Has a Revolving Door”

Theme : Badging – False Economies 2

Where not to save money

01c
I’ll begin this badge-themed item with a nod to Eoin’s sterling work on the future of FCA. Can I ask people to note the rather cheap ugliness of the FCA logo? The letters seem not to be aligned. But more relevant is the flaked badge of an Alfa Romeo 156, a rich metaphor if ever one was needed.

Continue reading “Theme : Badging – False Economies 2”

2002 Lancia Thesis 3.0 V6 Review

Lovely and wrong: Richard Herriott assesses Lancia’s former flagship.

2002_1_Lancia Thesis profile

When the Thesis was launched in 2002, Lancia wanted a flagship to re-position the brand as a maker of convincing luxury cars, an Italian Mercedes if you like. The Thesis’ predecessor, the Kappa, had been less successful than the Thema, despite receiving plaudits for its refinement, packaging and capable chassis. The Thesis was supposed to recover ground lost during the Kappa’s production run and also to re-affirm the company´s tradition of top-drawer refinement and visual elegance. Continue reading “2002 Lancia Thesis 3.0 V6 Review”

2014 Ford Focus 1.6 CDTi Econetic Review

After discussing the dead centre of the car market, we take a visit there: the Ford Focus 1.6 CDTi Econetic.

2012 Ford Focus rear 1

This is the third generation Focus that I have tried. The Mk1 is a landmark and indeed a benchmark for many. It casts a long shadow over its successors. The Mk2 added refinement at the expense of driver enjoyment. Compared to the Mk1, the successor felt like being in a fat suit. So, what is the Mk 3 like now I have finally gotten behind the wheel? The main impressions are described below. Continue reading “2014 Ford Focus 1.6 CDTi Econetic Review”

Window Shopping For A Ferrari

What’s it like to wander around the on-line show room of Ferrari?

aaa_Ferarri page 1

Recently I´ve felt curious about the customer experience for prospective Ferrari owners. You don’t need to be out of your pyjamas to visit Ferrari’s website so I thought I’d see what happened and what I’d feel like if I did a little virtual tyre kicking. What I found is described below. Continue reading “Window Shopping For A Ferrari”

Theme : Badging – False Economy

What a badge can say.

2005 Ford Galaxy

In line with the theme of the month I will post this eloquent symbol of excessive cost-cutting. The badge symbolises the company. If the firm can´t spend enough so its symbol endures, you have to wonder about their commitment to the rest of the car. Of course, the likelihood is that this is just an unforeseen consequence of a minor change in paint formula. However, many people will feel that this says as much about this brand as needs to be said. For brand managers, this sort of thing is the worst PR, worse even than the message sent out by curling window rubbers and blisters of rust on the rear wheel arch lip. I can only remember seeing one other badge so badly weathered in so short a time, and that was the badge on Alfa Romeo´s 156. 

If All the World Were Paper and All the Sea Were Ink…

What if the Golf wasn’t the average car?

It is always useful to consider a counterfactual. For example, by asking what would have happened if Franz Ferdinand had survived his assassination attempt, we ask about how avoidable the first World War was. Another counterfactual might be to ask what if REM had disbanded after their drummer Bill Berry retired? That is to ask what was the importance of Bill Berry to the band. The answer to that second question is easier than the first. REM should have disbanded. Berry’s drumming was as integral as Michael Stipe’s vocals. Continue reading “If All the World Were Paper and All the Sea Were Ink…”

Another in a Long Line: Lancia Kappa Coupé (1997-2000)

Mistakes from which one can learn come in forms such as these.

Lancia Kappa seen in the Black Forest, Easter 2014

About once a year I visit a relative in a very small village on the south fringe of the Black Forest. Every time I do, I see a different Lancia Kappa coupé. But they only made about 3000 of these cars and production ceased 14 years ago. I assume then that the region in which the car was seen has an unusual density of the vehicles. Continue reading “Another in a Long Line: Lancia Kappa Coupé (1997-2000)”

Theme : Cute Car Hall of Fame – 1996 Ford Ka

The Ford Ka, 1996 – 2009: one of the better and cuter designs of the last two decades.

A golden wonder from 1996
A golden wonder from 1996

The alternative Ford Ka concept followed the jelly-bean school of design that Ford had been exploring with the Taurus, Mondeo and the Puma. But in the internal design competition Ford Europe went for a radically different surface treatment of the same package and proportions.  Continue reading “Theme : Cute Car Hall of Fame – 1996 Ford Ka”

Theme : Cute Car Hall of Fame – 1993 Renault Twingo

Patrick Le Quement´s little wonder, the Twingo. A reference for anthropomorphic design.

1993 Renault Twingo exterior
Twenty one years later, the Renault Twingo still holds up as both a very decidedly un-threatening car and a solid bit of industrial design. Seldom are cuteness and aesthetic discipline united in such a successful way.

Continue reading “Theme : Cute Car Hall of Fame – 1993 Renault Twingo”

What are Alfa Romeo Selling? Just Wondered.

Alfa Romeo’s fight-back continues for its third straight decade.

1979 Alfa Romeo Six: foundations for future success? Image: autowp.ru

The image (below) is a screen shot of Alfa Romeo UK’s website. Notice that there is a rather glaring gap to the right. They do actually sell (or try to sell) three cars but only show two. I wondered why this might be. Are they so strapped for cash that they don’t have the resources to insert the third car into the image? Or is there another “third car” coming soon to Continue reading “What are Alfa Romeo Selling? Just Wondered.”

Idle Thoughts: ボディカラー

A good question relates to the state of Mitsubishi in the UK car market. I am asking it today.

1984 Mitsubishi Colt turbo

1984 Mitsubishi Colt: sold out

What do Mitsubishi sell today? Though the Lancer and Colt are still listed in Mitsubishi UK’s website, they are described as sold out. The remaining range consists of an electric car, a sub-B hatch called the Mirage, several flavours of sport utility vehicles and the very specialised Evolution X FQ-440 MR. This oddity fits into the range as well as an adult “toy” in a shop selling golfing equipment. Continue reading “Idle Thoughts: ボディカラー”

Industrial Design Archaeology: New Edge to Kinetic Design

After “New Edge” came what exactly? And when? And why

2007 Ford Mondeo. Image: racem.org

For some considerable time I have been wondering about the legacy of Ford Europe’s design director, Chris Bird. What did he achieve and where is he now? First a short review of the received wisdom. Prior to taking up his position at Ford in 1999, Bird was at Audi (where he did the first A8) then renowned for its ice-cool design approach.

At the same time, Ford was enjoying considerable critical and commercial success with the design and engineering of its New Edge cars, the Focus and Ka*. The simple story is that Ford wanted to Continue reading “Industrial Design Archaeology: New Edge to Kinetic Design”

Internal Correspondence 3

I decided to avoid that hungry tramping around that one typically endures when looking for food in a foreign town. Thus the Brasserie Lipp became my “cantine” and I just took a taxi there every evening.

Image

2014 Biofore concept car interior: an important Geneva show car

Dear Simon:

Nice to have you back. I met Eoin (briefly) at the Geneva show. He was very busy and I didn´t want to disturb him. For my part, it was a successful show and I really feel as if I´ve covered the most important vehicles plus the little black and white job above. Great to see Eoin mopping up the details. The Hotel des Bergues was even better than expected (did you get the fax with the bill?) and the room service sublime. Continue reading “Internal Correspondence 3”

Something Rotten in […] Denmark: Lancia Delta

The Lancia Delta nameplate deserved better than this.

Image

The first Lancia Delta (1979 to 1994) was two things. It was an neatly uninteresting, Italdesign five door, front-drive car of little obvious merit. And later in life the same car was a high-performance sporting hatch. From 1993 to 1999 Lancia tried to cash in on the Lancia Delta name with this iteration, sold (if it sold at all) in three and five door guise. The second version was a badly considered blend of the predecessor so it had moderately sporting capability and almost, but not quite totally bland styling. Continue reading “Something Rotten in […] Denmark: Lancia Delta”

After the Great Leap Forward

Qoros are not selling on looks and they are not selling on price. What then?

2014 Qoros side view

The 2014 Geneva expo had among its new car launches the Qoros 3 hatch, a variant of the Qoros 3 saloon. Founded in 2007, Qoros’ first car was presented at Geneva last year. This time around they have chopped some length off the car to woo customers in a lower price range.

The company is a joint venture between Israel Corporation and Chery Automotive; for a while the firm was called Chery Quantum Automotive but a new product demanded a new name, hence the change. Whilst you may have heard of Chery, you might not Continue reading “After the Great Leap Forward”

Specifications May Vary

Like finding empty spaces in a tray of chocolates, but worse

Image

In a perfect world there would be no such thing as a switch blank. You’d have enough money to buy the car with every conceivable feature fitted. Or, if you wanted a simpler, lighter car, that version would have a console and switch panel designed for that exact level of trim. If there were four switches required for the four functions, there would not be a fifth and sixth hole stoppered with an unmarked plastic plug.

Ideally, the designers would arrange the buttons so that there was no evidence of anything being omitted. For the manufacturer this might mean designing and tooling a large number of variant parts. But in a perfect world, you wouldn’t mind paying that little bit extra. What we find in reality is that manufacturers need to make hard-headed decisions. On the one hand they want the possibility of fitting as large a number of functions as possible but also they want to have, on the other hand, the possibility of selling the car for the lowest price possible.

A circle must be squared. The resultant squircle is the existence of glaringly obvious non-functioning buttons and blanked-off switch holes around the dashboard. They say to the owner: you were too cheap to opt for the rear-view mirror demisting function. You did not have the wherewithal to afford the heated rear armrest or the electrically-actuated glove-box closing feature.

1997 Volvo 850 centre console1997 Volvo 850 centre console

The other puzzle is the existence of switch blanks on quite expensive motor cars. My research indicates that the highest ranging prestige brands from continental Europe are among the worst offenders. There are Porsche Panamera’s with switch blanks. Conceivably even Porsche can’t fit everything as standard despite their high prices but their customers are not so price insensitive to be able to pay for custom trim, designed for the number of buttons for that trim level and no more and no less.

Looking backwards, it was drawn to my attention that the rear doors of the Peugeot 604 had grommets where the manual window winders were to have been placed despite electric windows being standard on the car in W. Europe. You’d think the entirety of W. Europe was large enough a market to warrant  a grommet-less door card.

Anyone who has ever peered inside a Mercedes W124 will find a wealth of switch blanks, none of which quite fit the panel they sit on. Is this phenomenon still with us? It has been a while since I looked at an E-class interior. I must suppose that as more and more functionS migrate to touch-screen interfaces, the days of the switch blank are numbered.

1995 Tacoma 2
Deleted option: remote control for rear ashtray?

Also Starring : Sideshows at the 2014 Geneva Salon

Some of the less well-known faces at Geneva 2014

2014 XLV front

The Geneva motor show is usually the place for the major manufacturers to display their latest models and concept cars. I decided to see what was being presented by less well-known firms, some of which are tiny and new and some of which are massive but not much in the public eye. And there’s Giugiaro, now a wholly-owned subsidiary of VAG and, I would guess, eventually to share the same fate as Ghia, Ford’s one-time laboratory for innovation. Continue reading “Also Starring : Sideshows at the 2014 Geneva Salon”

The Long Shadows of the Past

The Ascona C (1980-1988) has cast a long shadow over Opel. Is this the car that created the persistent impression of dullness that tarnishes the Opel badge?

1983 Opel Ascona

Today’s inspiration is an Opel Ascona 2-door saloon, spotted in the north of Aarhus. The recent resurgence (maybe that’s only in my own mind) of Opel has made me reconsider where, precisely, it all went wrong for Adam Opel AG. Lying on my psychiatrist’s couch I turned over my impressions and images of Opel. Continue reading “The Long Shadows of the Past”

Something Rotten in Denmark : Datsun 100A

It might not look dangerous but this car wiped out the dinosaurs.

1975 Datsun 100-A
What is significant about this car is not merely that it exists at all but that it inspired an unheard-of level of loyalty with its customers. Just as it was becoming apparent that buying European was not a guarantee of quality, the Japanese makers were beginning their exploration of exportation.

Continue reading “Something Rotten in Denmark : Datsun 100A”

Beyond the Motoring Mainstream

Some recent developments in the Chinese light-vehicle market

2010 Gonow Minivan
If you have a few extra hours to spend at Stansted because flight FU 436 has been indefinitely delayed and you find Departure Gate 199 is becoming your home from home, you might be tempted to Continue reading “Beyond the Motoring Mainstream”