A Matter of SMantics

Separated by two decades, and a good deal of ideology, we trace the seemingly improbable; the similarities between Honda’s 1990 NSX and Citroën’s 1970 SM. 

(c) dyler-com

For a short period of time during the close of the 1980s, it did appear as though the Japanese auto industry were poised to, as the UK’s Car Magazine rather hysterically headlined in 1988, “tear the heart out the European industry.” The reality behind this seemingly overnight transformation was quite naturally, anything but; Japanese carmakers after all, have never been in the business of impulse.

By mid-decade, the land of the rising sun had learned about as much as they felt they needed from the established players and were confident enough of their abilities, particularly from a technical standpoint. Furthermore, it had dawned upon the leading Japanese carmakers that European and US lawmakers were unlikely to drop the punitive barriers to unfettered trade; not when the domestic producers were incapable of competing on quality, durability or increasingly, sophistication.

The only route for Japanese carmakers was to Continue reading “A Matter of SMantics”

New Frontier (Part Five)

My friends all drive Citroën’s… Oh Lord won’t you buy me a … Porsche? 

Image: lautomobileancienne

After all this, they have created an enormous car; I wanted a Porsche.” These are believed to be the words of none other than Citroën President, Pierre Bercot, spoken at the time to delegate-Maserati administrator, Guy Malleret. Quite some statement to have made; one which flies in the face of virtually every known document of the SM’s gestation. After all, the commonly held version of the SM’s creation saga is that Projet S was schemed almost entirely to Monsieur Bercot’s specification.

Jacques Fleury was the Citroën director responsible for factories, production and acquisitions. Amongst his responsibilities therefore was the Maserati factory in Modena and by consequence, the SM engine. According to his account, the prototype Maserati unit, having been tried in a DS saloon was deemed not only too powerful for the chassis, but that any resulting DS flagship model would have to Continue reading “New Frontier (Part Five)”

Bach To Life

It’s ‘bach, and still wrong. 

2021 Mercedes-Maybach S-Class. Image: cars.co.za

In 2002, Mercedes-Benz introduced a new star: Maybach, a hitherto dormant name awoken from deep slumber. Its bones were largely beyond reproach; based upon the decade-old W140 series S-Class, the final saloon programme to be conceived at Sindelfingen to a standard rather than a price, yet with this announcement one could nevertheless discern a strong sense of a carmaker not only stretching itself too thinly, but suffering from a lack of self-awareness.

Maybe they simply started out with bad directions, but when the wheels came off this particular wagen in 2013, few were surprised, given the execution. But other council prevailed at Baden-Wüttermberg; not entirely better, but certainly, one imagines, better remunerated. Far from allowing the small matter of a €1Bn loss to impede them, Daimler management elected to once more Continue reading “Bach To Life”

The Crowe Interpretation

Don’t like our new design? Whatever…

Actually, I’m afraid that it is. Image: bimmertoday.de

Ten years have elapsed since actor, Russell Crowe was carrying out his contractual media duties on BBC’s Radio 4 to promote Ridley Scott’s feature film adaptation of Robin Hood. The notoriously thin-skinned Australian leading man, when challenged by the broadcaster’s Arts Correspondent, Dominic Lawson about the somewhat wonky Yorkshire accent in his portrayal of the folk hero (which critics characterised as sounding more akin to Irish), replied with the following immortal line; “You’ve got dead ears mate. You’ve seriously got dead ears if you think that’s an Irish accent.

When Lawson then equivocated, suggesting there were perhaps, “Hints of …“, Crowe immediately countered with, “Bollocks! I’m a little dumbfounded you could possibly Continue reading “The Crowe Interpretation”

New Frontier (Part Four)

What prompted Citroën’s buyout of Maserati?

Maserati’s Viale Ciro Menotti works during the early 1960s. Image: norskmaseratiklubb.no

By 1967, Pierre Bercot had secured an engine supply deal with Maserati for Citroën’s forthcoming Projet S. Yet within a year, not only would he have taken over the Modenese atelier in its entirety, but inked a far more wide-ranging deal with Fiat Auto in Turin. But was the Citroën-Maserati takeover a symbiotic coming together, or simply Monsieur le President’s Victor Kiam[1] moment?

Having traditionally confined the lion’s share of their sales effort domestically and within Europe, the pull of the US market became too lucrative for Maserati to ignore. However, by the mid-’60s, the regulatory environment in the US was becoming more hostile, with increasingly stringent crash testing mandates and emissions regulations, which for such a tiny outfit would ladle enormous costs upon an already stretched enterprise. By mid-decade, Maserati’s owners were already seeking a means to Continue reading “New Frontier (Part Four)”

In Memoriam – Aldo Brovarone

We salute a departed master of form.

Brovarone’s magnum opus. Prototype Dino 206 GT. Image: stylepark

In an ideal world, the deserving always rise to the top. In such a environment a young stylist might perhaps serve his time, building up a body of work before branching out on his own, culminating with his name atop the doorway of a stand-alone carrozziere. Instead, the name of Aldo Brovarone, who departed the surly bonds of earth in mid-October, remains (outside of enthusiast automotive circles at least) largely unheralded.

Life has never been fair, and despite Brovarone being one of the very best of his era, the reasons for his low-key passing owe as much to the nature of the man as they do to the depth of auto-design apprehension that existed amid the contemporary motoring media.

Should we therefore view Brovarone as simply another in a long line of stylistic talents who mortified their egos to Continue reading “In Memoriam – Aldo Brovarone”

New Frontier (Part Three)

Citroën didn’t have an engine worthy of their nascent 1970 flagship, but it wasn’t for the want of trying.

Image: The author

The highly unusual structure and operation of Citroën’s legendary Bureau d’Études may have created a number of technical masterpieces, but it equally resulted in a number of serious operational drawbacks; perhaps the most serious being the lack of a cohesive singularity of purpose. Not only did the nominal Rue de Théàtre headquarters lack an effective figurehead (notably so in Lefèbvre’s wake), but the bureau itself was apparently scattered across a number of locations around Paris, each very much in effect its own personal fiefdom.

Of these, perhaps the least regarded represented the double chevron’s longest standing and most glaring weakness – engine development. This department, led by Italian former Fiat racing engine designer, Walter Becchia, seemed a largely forgotten outpost; the last meaningful programme to Continue reading “New Frontier (Part Three)”

The Art of Saying Goodbye

Some words are harder to say than others.

It’s been emotional. (c) Ford Motor Company

So long, farewell, adieu: This week has seen a lot of fervid happenings in the land of the free / home of the brave, but one which perhaps got lost amid the signal and noise of that election was the official cessation of Lincoln Continental production – which has either already ceased or is scheduled to Continue reading “The Art of Saying Goodbye”

New Frontier (Part Two)

Just as Citroëns were not like other cars, Automobiles Citroën itself was unlike any other car company – especially in conceptual engineering terms. 

Image: racingcars-wikidot

It might be convenient from a narrative perspective to suggest that the SM came about as part of a carefully considered product plan, but that would be inaccurate and misleading. In fact, the model came into being almost by accident or at least osmosis; primarily at the behest of company president, Pierre Bercot, but at a more fundamental level in response to another man’s determination to prove a principle.

Few carmakers operated quite like Automobiles Citroën, not only during the tenure of the company’s eponymous founder and chief architect, but equally in the years that followed the carmaker’s initial cashflow crisis, collapse, and takeover by Michelin in 1934. Michelin had placed Pierre-Jules Boulanger as company President, under whom existed an environment which permitted Citroën engineers a great deal of freedom to Continue reading “New Frontier (Part Two)”

Oh Nicole!

File under (Renault: B-segment: Good – not great). At least the ad-campaign was memorable.

(c) autoevolution

Ask anyone about the 1990 Renault Clio and amongst those who remember it at all, most will cite the long-running UK advertising campaign, featuring the somewhat clichéd antics of comely young Nicole, getting the slip on her somewhat louche papa at their somewhat clichéd Provencal retreat. Meanwhile Papa, displaying equally duplicitous behaviour (all French men of course routinely have affairs), was fomenting assignations of his own.

Risible of course, but it played to cherished English preconceptions of French mores, and was instrumental in cementing brand-Clio in the minds of UK buyers. It worked too: the Clio proving a thirty year success story for the French carmaker, but the first-generation model, unlike its ad-campaign, was not what anyone would Continue reading “Oh Nicole!”

New Frontier (Part One)

Over a series of articles, we examine yesterday’s vision of the future – peak chevron, Sa Majesté – the incomparable Citroën SM.

(c) stubs-auto.fr

Observing events through a half-century old prism can make for a faulty tool; contemporary visions of the future appearing to modern eyes, slightly naïve and somewhat inaccurate. Not necessarily a consequence of inexperience or ill-thought execution – certainly not in this particular case – it is as likely to pivot around the manner in which socio-economic factors, and customer tastes evolve, to say nothing of the relentless march of time itself.

Has any carmaker done more to Continue reading “New Frontier (Part One)”

3 + 1 = 500

Fiat introduces a Quattroporte – well, sort of. 

(c) topgear

As the year that wasn’t continues to limp towards an ever decreasing conclusion, and our plaintive requests to the authorities for a refund continues to fall upon deaf ears, the short-lived product offensive which briefly appeared to be taking place within the auto industry earlier in the Autumn appears to have sputtered and popped, rather like a badly misfiring internal combustion engine. Those infernal devices, which it seems are no longer to Continue reading “3 + 1 = 500”

Lucky Seven

Four into five equals seven. A brief look back at a uniquely Iberian Cinq. 

(c) stubs-auto.fr

A mainstay of the European motoring scene from its inception in 1962, Renault’s rear-engined R8 saloon was also (it’s stated) assembled in the former Eastern bloc, North Africa, Laos, South America, Australia and New Zealand. The French state-run carbuilder ceased production at the Flins plant, outside Paris in 1973. Renault never directly replaced the 8 – well actually, that’s not entirely true.

The early 1970s witnessed a period of profound change and consolidation for many carmakers, who were keen not only to Continue reading “Lucky Seven”

Keeping the Seat Warm

The 1984 Alfa 90 was to all intents and purposes something of a placeholder. But does it deserve a better epitaph?

Alfa 90. Image: viaretro

The early 1980s were difficult years for Alfa Romeo. Having abandoned its patrician pre-war roots for a more populist reimagining throughout the 1950s and ’60s, this once successful market realignment had started to unravel; partly due to its own failings as a business, both internally from a product, management and labour perspective, and also externally, owing to its close proximity in market terms to Lancia.

Unlike its Borgo San Paolo rival, who was by then reliant upon the financial support of the Fiat car giant, Alfa Romeo depended upon the largesse of the often reluctant Italian IRI state body for funding, while battling a depressed home market, ageing model lines and by consequence, little by way of genuinely new product.

What there was, fell very much into the make do and Continue reading “Keeping the Seat Warm”

Act of Defiance

Amid the Pandemic’s height, a reminder of a more resilient time.

All images: the author

There is a certain perverse satisfaction in driving what in automotive terms amounts to an old shoe. Banger, beater, clunker or jalopy – whatever term you prefer, once a car reaches a certain level of decrepitude, the keeper soon realises that not only is there no route back, but that they have been released – freed from the grinding tyranny of upkeep. It is now possible to Continue reading “Act of Defiance”

Talent Borrows

Did the Deauville’s somewhat over-familiar appearance ensure it would be the second rarest De Tomaso of all? We investigate.

de Tomaso Deauville. (c) classic-driver

The early 1970s (prior to 1974 at least) proved to be something of an Indian summer for the European exotic car businesses. Demand for exclusive hand-built GTs was brisk, both in Europe and especially in North America, and for those ateliers who lacked the wherewithal (or the inclination) to engineer their own power units, there was a ready supply of powerful and proven engines to be obtained and repurposed from the major OEMs in Detroit.

For specialist carmakers such as Bristol and Jensen Cars in the UK, Iso in Italy and Monteverdi in Switzerland, this would prove to be a godsend, until the oil taps were turned off at least. Another fledgling exotic carmaker was that of De Tomaso, headed by Argentinian businessman and ace deal-maker Alejandro de Tomaso. Having taken over the struggling carrozzeria Ghia concern in 1967, he approached Ford with a proposal to Continue reading “Talent Borrows”

Under the Knife – When You Should Just Let Things Be

When it comes to facelifts, it’s best to know when to stop. 

(c) autoevolution

Assuming one was in possession of the requisite grasp of Italian, it would have been fascinating to have sat in on the product planning meetings at Portello, when Alfa Romeo’s strategists were initially scoping the 1972 Alfetta saloon. Because, looking at it from the distance of close to half a century, it’s difficult to ascertain where this model was intended to fit into the existing model hierarchy. Sitting above the by then rather elderly 105-Series Giulia, but below the latter’s closely related 1750/2000 Berlina sibling, the Alfetta was an entirely new model, with the potential to Continue reading “Under the Knife – When You Should Just Let Things Be”

Am I Gonna Make It, Doc?

Well son, there’s good news and bad news… 

2021 XF. Image: autonxt

It has been a busy week at Gaydon, with Jaguar Land Rover’s PR machine being cranked into renewed operation following a brief hiatus. The news this week is what one might best describe as mixed. But since most news items these days are of the most demoralising variety, let us first Continue reading “Am I Gonna Make It, Doc?”

Beavering Away

Hard to believe now, but the 1968 Escort required an explanation. 

Image: silodrome

The 105E Anglia was not by any standards a bad car. In fact, it was rather a good one, especially by the reckoning of the time. It did however arrive at an inconvenient time. By this I mean a point when the tailfin was beginning its inexorable retreat into the history books, albeit one which would happen at considerably slower speed on this side of the Atlantic. Because not only did Europe arrive comparatively late to the tailfin party, it imbibed more sparingly and made its effects last longer; in same cases, well into the 1970s.

The Anglia’s appearance was also a somewhat inconvenient one for rivals, BMC, who were themselves releasing an inexpensive small car into the marketplace the same year, leading potential customers to Continue reading “Beavering Away”

Anastasis

We examine the death and afterlife of the Triumph Stag.

Image: wallpaperup

Some cars are easier to write about than others. Failures in particular exert a stronger grip upon the imagination, better lending themselves to narrative. However, despite falling into the latter category, the Triumph Stag is a car which almost defies classification. Because, while there is little doubt about its status as both commercial failure and potential ownership nightmare, its story has been told and retold so many times that one struggles to Continue reading “Anastasis”

This is the Time and this is the Record of the Time

Car advertisements offer a snapshot of a different time. Welcome to a vision of Italy – mid-’70s style.

Image: Author’s collection

Today’s visual meditation rests upon that perennial DTW favourite, featuring press ads for two of the more indulgent offerings from Lancia’s abundant Beta family. These were expensively shot advertisements featuring high production values, and targeted at a discerning audience. During the 1970s, (before it all unravelled for them) Lancia’s UK importers spent a sizeable portion of their ad budget with publishers, Conde Nast, between full-page colour ads like these, and multi-page spreads made in conjunction with a fashion house(s) of choice.

The product planning meetings for the Beta programme must have been interesting. Given the breath-taking scope of what they eventually went with, one has to Continue reading “This is the Time and this is the Record of the Time”

Under the Knife – Racing Certainty

Despite being an all-conquering touring car champion, the Alfa Romeo 155 wasn’t the commercial or critical success its masters intended. But a subtle, if significant facelift salved its reputation.

1992 Alfa Romeo 155. Image: pistonudos

Despite its long-in-the-tooth underpinnings and carryover passenger compartment, the Alfa Romeo 75 became a relatively successful and well-regarded sporting saloon until its commercial demise in 1992. The ultimate evolution of the 116-series which made its production debut with the 1972 Alfetta, the 75 excised many (if not all) of the earlier models’ inherent design flaws – most notably a lengthy, tortuous and unwieldy gear linkage owing to its rear transaxle layout.

In 1986, Fiat Auto acquired the Alfa Romeo business from the state-owned body who had been administering it in ever-decreasing circles, and with a successor to the 75 by then a priority, the 167-series 155 model was hastily developed, entering production in 1992 at the former Alfa Sud plant at Pomigliano d’Arco in Campania. Continue reading “Under the Knife – Racing Certainty”

Welcome to the Machine (Part One)

How does one follow up a classic?

jaguar xjs
Image: Practical Classics

In the Spring of 1973, English progressive rock band Pink Floyd released Dark Side of the Moon, their eighth studio LP and their most ambitious to date. With tracks which flowed seamlessly, replete with cinematic sound effects, soul choirs, disembodied voices and a song-set which dealt with issues of success, the march of time and mental illness, the conceptual double album became one of best selling, most critically acclaimed and best loved progressive rock LPs of the 20th century – still cited as an all-time classic.

Two years later, the band released their follow-up. Wish you Were Here continued many of the themes explored in the earlier recording, but in more developed form. Predominantly a tribute to founder-member Syd Barrett, who had had become estranged from the band following a mental breakdown in 1968, possibly related to drug use. Less acclaimed than Dark Side, it has for many years languished in its shadow, only latterly being hailed in its own right.

Officially introduced two days prior to the Floyd’s 1975 opus, Jaguar’s XJ-S was also a reprise of a much-loved original. In a similar manner, fans of sporting Jaguars, not to mention the gentlemen of the press were beside themselves in anticipation of how Browns Lane would Continue reading “Welcome to the Machine (Part One)”

Mezza Berlina

Fiat’s mid-Sixties compact saloon range was as convoluted as anything BMC could have contrived. Today we examine the 125 series. 

1967 Fiat 125 berlina. (c) wheelsage

Looking back through a dusty prism at Fiat Auto’s fifty-year old product planning decisions is unlikely to be fruitful – more likely to result in no more but a set of dubious assumptions and erroneous conclusions. Bearing this in mind and treading wearily by consequence, I propose we Continue reading “Mezza Berlina”

Blues for Ceaușescu

Quai de Javel’s final act, or simply its slightly underpolished Craiovian cousin? We examine the Oltcit. 

Oltcit Club. (c) autobible.euro.cz

Given its geographical location, it probably wasn’t all that surprising that once-independent Romania would end up as part of Russia’s collection of Warsaw Pact satellites once the post world war II dust settled.

By the early 1970s, Romania’s communist government was led by Nicolae Ceaușescu. Outwardly an internationalist, acting with considerable independence from Moscow, the Romanian leader seemed intent on building up the country’s soft power, influence and economic strength on the international stage. However, for those inside the country, he was simply another self-obsessed, exploitative and repressive dictator.

As part of Ceaușescu’s plan to Continue reading “Blues for Ceaușescu”

Tour de Enyaq

Making almost as brief an appearance at this year’s Tour as its stricken race director, Škoda gets its newest electric offering some valuable airtime.

(c) Skoda-Storyboard

Among the more familiar sights on each stage of the Tour de France is the presence of the race director’s red car (the colour is velvet red in case you’re wondering). This vehicle, in which the illustrious annual cycle race’s leading light holds court, (often with invited dignitaries aboard) leads the riders from the start line of whatever town or city has hosted that day’s stage, through the neutralised zone (where riders are not permitted to Continue reading “Tour de Enyaq”

Bohemian Rhapsody

Like the 1975 Queen single, the Tatra 613 was big, bold and went on for a bit. But was it a stylistic pathfinder, or simply the end of a noble line? We investigate.

Tatra 613. Image: motor1

Kopřivnice is a medium sized town in the Moravian-Silesian region of Czechia and has been home for many years to the predominantly commercial vehicle maker, Tatra. Amongst the earliest auto manufacturers, the company was formed in 1850, but became a carmaker under the name of Nesselsdorfer Wagenbau-Fabriksgesellschaft in 1897, adopting the Tatra nameplate in 1919.

We tend to Continue reading “Bohemian Rhapsody”

Death At One’s Elbow

It’s the circle of life folks…

Ferrari GTC4 Lusso. (c) automobile

There is, as perhaps you’ll notice, something of a ‘births and deaths’ feeling to our weekend proceedings. Yesterday we reviewed of some of the more significant new arrivals, while today, we don black armbands in doleful anticipation and bid a socially distanced adieu to three storied model lines, soon to Continue reading “Death At One’s Elbow”

Sense and Sensuality

Modern luxury collides with post-opulence. 

W223 S-Class. Image: gtspirit

With summer now officially over, and perhaps more in the spirit of hope than confidence, OEM carmakers are gradually returning to the business of product. This week amid the sudden outpouring of new announcements, previously squeezed and distorted through the narrow pipette of PR drip-feed, we are presented with two super-luxury land-yachts from differing echelons of wealth, privilege and position. Let us first Continue reading “Sense and Sensuality”

A Song For Erika

‘Simple is efficient’ the adline stated. But Ford’s 1980 Escort really was all about design. 

1980 Ford Escort Ghia. (c) curbsideclassic

Throughout the 1970s, the Ford Motor Company’s European satellite produced cars that were precisely what large swathes of the market not only wanted, but actively aspired to. This highly lucrative recipe was a combination of tried and trusted conventional engineering, slick marketing, a gimlet-eyed focus on product strategy and well judged, contemporary style.

First introduced in 1968, the big-selling Escort model was successfully rebodied in 1975. However, by the latter part of the decade, it had fallen behind, stylistically, but particularly on the technical side. With most of Ford’s rivals moving inexorably towards the front-wheel drive, hatchback layout, the blue oval needed to Continue reading “A Song For Erika”

2020 Vision.

We’ll have no shouting here…

Are you sure this is Cork? All images:  CB

Despite life returning to a semblance of normality around these parts over recent months, the sighting of 2020-registered cars remain something of a novelty. Of course cars have been registered – some having even been sold – but in a country where new car sales had already been in state of contraction before the pandemic swept all before it, the current situation facing the Irish retail sales trade must be sobering indeed.

One of the more superficial downsides to this is that sightings of new models, while normally a relatively frequent prospect, have been sporadic at best. Amongst the more recent arrivals to these shores is Opel’s current generation Corsa (none of your Vauxhalls in these parts), but to be honest, and in contrast to the (closely-related) Peugeot 208 which preceded it to market, it has been a comparatively rare sight.

During my twice-daily dog walking duties I Continue reading “2020 Vision.”

Sir Alec ‘Nose Best

Widely derided as a travesty of Issigonis’ original, but was the 1969 Clubman intended to be something more?

‘Honey, the Rover won’t start again – be a love and run me down to the station…’  Author’s collection

The Mini was wasn’t really styled as such – its body style simply a clothing for the technical package set out by its creators, with only the barest concession to style. Surprisingly, it worked, the car’s appearance proving relatively timeless, endearing and well proportioned. The problem was, it didn’t really lend itself to facelifting. By 1967, the Mini had yet to become legendary, to say nothing of iconic. It was just another product which had been on the marketplace for some time and would soon require more than the rather perfunctory nip and tuck it had just received.

Appointed head of the BMC car division in 1966, PSF chief, Joe Edwards quickly put into action a plan to Continue reading “Sir Alec ‘Nose Best”

Unfinished Sympathy

Sir Alec Issigonis’ great lost masterpiece, or last will and testament?

The only surviving fully engineered 9X prototype. (c) Daily Telegraph

During 1967, Sir Alec Issigonis approached his BMH* superiors, asking to be temporarily relieved of day to day duties so that he could devote himself to a new vehicle project, one intended to directly replace the Mini. Remarkably, his request was granted, particularly since this was no sanctioned model programme, merely a speculative one.

There are opposing rationales as to why Chairman, Sir George Harriman and Chief Executive, Joe Edwards agreed to Continue reading “Unfinished Sympathy”

Strike a Pose

Getting the Mini message across – 1970’s style.

Image: the author

You can have anything you want in life if you dress for it.” Edith Head

The Mini received its third and most significant technical and bodyshell-related change in the Autumn of 1969. The Mark III Mini – and it was now simply that (with no marque-related branding whatsoever), lost the hydrolastic suspension fitted to it as a running revision in 1964, not to mention its more upmarket variants, in an effort to reduce costs (the Clubman was a separate model), but gained internal door hinges and winding windows, much to the disgust of the car’s now sidelined spiritus rector.

It would also be its last. All subsequent changes to the Mini (1980 A+ revisions notwithstanding), would be of the purely cosmetic variety. Such as in 1977, BL’s annus horriblis, and the year in which the Mini gained a matt black grille, larger rear lamp units, which included reversing lights, and cheerful striped fabric upholstery – on the Mini 1000 model at least. Stripes too were applied below the side windows. 850 versions however remained somewhat more austere, although the subsequent 1979 Mini City 850 would Continue reading “Strike a Pose”

A Right Pair of Nymphs

Designer, Tom Tjaarda took two very different bites at the Lancia Flaminia during the 196os. Only one however is truly memorable. 

topcarrating
1969 Lancia Flaminia Marica: (c) topcarrating

During the Autumn of 1969, carrozzeria Ghia debuted the Marica concept at the Turin motor show, a styling study based upon the platform of the Lancia Flaminia, a car which had already ceased production. Not only that, but its maker had also gone bankrupt and was desperately seeking a benefactor.

Enter Alejandro de Tomaso, a phrase which would be uttered with increasing regularity within the Italian motor industry over the coming decade or so. Having purchased carrozzeria Ghia in 1967, he is alleged to have sanctioned the Marica study as a means of assisting Lancia’s bid to find a buyer – a statement which sounds suspiciously altruistic for such an automotive opportunist as he. But we are perhaps getting a little ahead of ourselves. Allow me to Continue reading “A Right Pair of Nymphs”

Evolution of the Crustacean

A Greek fable of a horse which was transformed into a crab. 

‘Those doors’ – conspicuous here by their absence. (c) hemmings

The public don’t know what they want – it is our job to tell them…” Sir Alec Issigonis.

Even as Britain entered the 1960s, product planning remained something of an alien concept to its native carmakers, the majority of whom viewed such matters as being the sort of recondite nonsense invented in the United States, and best left there. So too, in the eyes of BMC’s benighted Technical Director was the art of automotive styling, which which he famously once stated “tends to date a car.

It’s a timeworn nostrum that any creative endeavour is only as good as the brief which underpins it, and in the case of ADO17 (or XC9001), brought to market in 1964 as the Austin 1800, the brief appears to have been a somewhat confused one. Was the car to have been a direct replacement for the ‘Farina’ A60 series, or a larger, more overt statement car? That seemed to depend upon who one spoke to.

It appears extraordinary in retrospect that key decisions surrounding a model programme as important as ADO 17 were taken by those so poorly-equipped to Continue reading “Evolution of the Crustacean”

Under the Knife – A Late Reprieve

2007’s X-Type facelift illustrated how one can do more with less.

(c) cargurus

Few cars are created with an unlimited budget – after all, such a bounteous situation is no guarantee of an inspired result. On the other hand, budgetary restrictions are rarely a recipe for a successful product either. Certainly, when Jaguar’s 2001 X-Type was being scoped during the latter part of the 1990s, the Ford-controlled British luxury carmaker wasn’t exactly awash with cash, even if by then they were at least making money rather than haemorrhaging it as they had been, only a few years earlier.

X400 (as the X-Type was termed at Jaguar) formed the core of the blue oval’s growth strategy for the leaping cat, aimed at catapulting the marque into the big league with annual sales in excess of 200,000 cars. A hugely ambitious programme, which also encompassed the refitting of the otherwise defunct Ford Halewood plant in Merseyside; this latter aspect ladling such costs upon the programme that anything less than total success would be viewed as failure.

With so much riding upon it, X400 had to Continue reading “Under the Knife – A Late Reprieve”

Death to the Mondeo

It’s now only a matter of time before Ford’s largest European car offering loses its uneven struggle against customer apathy. 

(c) caradvice

It’s all change at the blue oval, as our dear, departed Archie Vicar might have put it. The Ford Motor Company, it seems, has been rather busy of late, not simply rearranging the deckchairs by putting an end to car production in the United States, or announcing the breathlessly anticipated body-on-frame Bronco offroader, but shuffling the deck on the bridge to boot. Iceberg? What iceberg?

The dance of the two Jim’s has kept blue-oval watchers amused for months now; the word at ground level being that (former CEO) Jim (Hackett) hasn’t really lived up to expectations, but that (new CEO) Jim (Farley) is either (a) absolutely and without doubt the chap to steady the ship, or (b) the diametric opposite of the above. It really depends on who you Continue reading “Death to the Mondeo”

Sighting and Seeing

A Laguna Coupé ought to be both a rare and welcome sighting. But it doesn’t do to look too closely. 

Image: the author

The Renault Laguna, especially in its third and final iteration was a popular car in Ireland. Not popular in Passat or Avensis terms, but sold in quite respectable numbers nonetheless, notwithstanding Irish motorists’ long-standing distrust of the larger offerings from our esteemed French neighbours.

This was all the more surprising really, given the frightful reputation its immediate predecessor earned over its lifespan – riddled as it was by electronic gremlins which cost the carmaker dear, both in market share and in warranty costs. But then, Renault’s Irish importers were (perhaps through grim necessity) somewhat generous when it came to sales incentives. Continue reading “Sighting and Seeing”

New Broome

The 1970 X6 Austin Kimberley and Tasman ushered in a fresh start for British Leyland’s Antipodean outpost. But it would prove a short-lived one.

Even prior to becoming part of the British Leyland conglomerate, the BMC motor company was not renowned for making astute product decisions. Certainly, from the point when the ADO 17 (Landcrab) series was introduced, little or nothing to emerge from Longbridge was entirely fit for its intended purpose. ADO 17 entered the UK market in late 1964 as the Austin 1800 (its identical Morris equivalent arrived a bewildering two years later) and was met with a decidedly lukewarm reception from the domestic market, who were not clamouring to Continue reading “New Broome”

Under the Knife – If the Wind Changes, You’ll Stay Like That

Concluding our micro-theme on Volkswagen, while continuing another one.

VW do Brasil’s 1984 Santana 2-door. (c) autogaleria.hu

There is (or ought to be) a rule which states that the longer a car remains in production, the less effective facelifting exercises become – in purely aesthetic terms at least. You will have noticed that Volkswagen (of Wolfsburg) has been in receipt of no small quantum of derisive commentary upon DTW’s pages of late, most of which was largely justified. By contrast, VW do Brasil has been portrayed as the more astute, more ingenious, and more commercially adept of the pair.

This was certainly the case when the mothership remained in hand-wringing mode as to the product-related course it should take in a post-Käfer landscape. But it does appear that as their German counterparts finally got a grip on both itself and its product, the Brazilians appeared to Continue reading “Under the Knife – If the Wind Changes, You’ll Stay Like That”

Wolfsburg Samba

Volkswagen do Brasil – Wolfsburg’s younger, nimbler and more ingenious Latin cousin repeatedly showed up its more torpid German counterpart. Here’s another example.  

1968 Volkswagen 1.600. (c) autoarkiv.dk

Volkswagen’s Heinz Heinrich Nordhoff has repeatedly and justifiably been criticised over the years for his tardiness in sanctioning a replacement to the eternal and best-selling Beetle, before sales collapsed by the tail-end of the 1960s. It was not for the want of trying however, and as far back as 1955, with the Käfer selling in still-increasing quantities, Nordhoff, realising its success alone would not sustain VW indefinitely, put in train a series of Beetle-based prototypes – some to sit alongside, others to Continue reading “Wolfsburg Samba”

A Question of Scale

Some things simply don’t enlarge well. 

(c) autoclassiques

Success can often be a less clarifying state than failure. Enzo Ferrari famously asserted that he learned more from the fabled Scuderia’s many reversals on the racetrack than its more celebrated victories. Of course, one would never intentionally Continue reading “A Question of Scale”

Nocturama

As regular readers roll their eyes skywards in exasperation, we return to a familiar theme, but in a somewhat untimely setting.

(c) The Author

As some of you know all too well, DTW’s editor has something of a habit of repeating himself – almost as much as the subject of today’s nocturnal meditation. The more astute amongst you, by the way will have discerned that these photographs were not taken all that recently, which I will admit to – they were in fact snapped in early December, when the world was young(er) and life was, well, a little simpler.

What I really don’t want to do today is Continue reading “Nocturama”

Orphaned, Abandoned, Unsung

When is a Volkswagen not a Volkswagen? When it’s an NSU. The K70’s fate forms a salutary tale. 

All images – author’s collection.

There is an argument to be made that the Volkswagen motor company has thrived upon existential crises. Certainly they have experienced no shortage of them over their lengthy and mostly successful history. Having survived and prospered in the wake of the first of these in 1945, by the latter years of the 1960s, the Wolfsburg carmaker once again was faced with a serious reversal of fortune, with demand for the emblematic Beetle faltering, and little clear idea of how to Continue reading “Orphaned, Abandoned, Unsung”

Under the Knife – Call Me Indecisive

Jaguar never quite settled on the 2005 XK’s styling. 

2005 Jaguar XK (c) autoevolution

For a marque with such a rich stylistic heritage, Jaguar’s relationship with the automotive facelift has been a decidedly patchy one. Even during the creative heyday of Sir William Lyons, the second bite of the visual cherry (so to speak) often left a slightly bitter aftertaste.

Given the timelines, and the circumstances surrounding his appointment, it is perhaps a little unfortunate that the first Jaguar production design Ian Callum would oversee would be a replacement for the long-running and by the turn of Millennium, increasingly dated (X100) XK model. This GT, hastily concocted in the unseemly aftermath of Ford’s hostile takeover married the two-decade old XJS platform with a (then) new, more voluptuous body style. Continue reading “Under the Knife – Call Me Indecisive”

A Photo For Sunday – Atmosphere

Lighting is everything. As is setting…

Amsterdam. Photo published in 1977, courtesy of Vogue magazine.

It has just stopped raining. The light is delicious. The street glows in the reflected gloaming, as a vehicle’s taillights cast their radiant wake in the  damplight. It’s an album cover shot – shades of Ziggy Stardust or perhaps an Edward Hopper painting.

The combination of the banal and the everyday; the ubiquitous and socially upright Peugeot 504 berline, silhouetted against the decadent pull of the strip bars and empty promises of the wider Amsterdam nightscape is, to 21st century eyes at least, a striking visual metaphor. Continue reading “A Photo For Sunday – Atmosphere”

Four Lessons from History

Pininfarina and Mercedes – it wasn’t all bad. Just good – in parts.

1956 Mercedes-Benz 300SC by Pininfarina. (c) heacockclassic

There are certain carmakers and design consultancies who despite all positive signs to the contrary, never quite gelled creatively. Certainly, in places where the incumbent design heritage is sufficiently strong and embedded, there are few if any instances of a coachbuilder or styling house crafting a superior design to that created in-house. Mercedes-Benz during its patrician heyday and carrozzeria Pinin Farina (during its own) are cases in point, especially so if you Continue reading “Four Lessons from History”

Landfall

Channelling an older, more illustrious vehicle, Ineos Automotive have shown first images of their upcoming Grenadier. Haven’t we seen you somewhere before?

(c) Autocar

“And did those feet in ancient time walk upon England’s mountain green?”

Classy yet classless. Both of the land, yet above it, the Land Rover Defender, within these islands at least, inhabits its own unique orbit. It’s a name which elicits certain qualities – of no-nonsense, robust self sufficiency, of capable and practical professionals, like country vets, tree surgeons, utility providers, coastguards. That’s certainly the image its makers chose to project, speaking to fond notions of national identity, everyday heroism, practicality and fundamental decency which have been enduring traits of that increasingly peculiar country collectively called Britain.

In production for the best part of 70 years, although it has in fact been refashioned many times, the Landie, over its lengthy and productive life has become a potent symbol of something inviolate, unchangeable – like Dover’s White Cliffs. So much so that in today’s febrile shared-media landscape, vehicles like the original Defender are fetishised – raised aloft and hailed as archetypes – images of authenticity amid a world increasingly laced with fakery and contrivance. Continue reading “Landfall”

Cambiare la Moda

The mid-point of the 1960s truly represented peak-coupé. It was all downhill from here. 

(c) junglekey.fr

Anyone with a shred of understanding for the art of automotive design will readily acknowledge the difficulty of dealing with a limited palette. When it comes to small footprints, the problem is acute, given the architectural strictures imposed. Anyone therefore confronted with Fiat’s 1964 850 berlina would probably have been rather dubious about the carmaker’s ability to craft a comely GT variant from such humble and let’s be fair, unprepossessing underpinnings.

Notwithstanding the above, it’s relatively inconceivable that the resident Torinese carrozzieri, well adept at crafting silk purses from base material, didn’t at least throw their putative hats into the ring in the wake of the 850’s announcement, but it appears that Fiat was determined to Continue reading “Cambiare la Moda”