I Don’t Think You’re Ready for This Jelly

Sierra: brave or foolish?

Image: autoevolution

The Sierra came about on account of two intersecting imperatives. Head of Ford’s European operations, Bob Lutz had brought from BMW a sophisticated understanding of the semiotics of automotive desire; his avowed intention being to completely transform Ford’s image, especially in the West German market. This would dovetail with the determination of FoE’s Design VP, Uwe Bahnsen, to Continue reading “I Don’t Think You’re Ready for This Jelly”

Into the Vortex – Part Three

The vortex claims its sacrifice.

Double-sided full-size Toni styling model – 1979. Image: (c) Steve Saxty

Despite what Uwe Bahnsen later stated publicly, both he and his design team were placed squarely in the firing line as Sierra’s disappointing early sales figures were thrown in their faces, as Patrick le Quément recalls: “Design was the centre of acrimony, we had designed a car that started slowly in the UK, the cash-cow land of Ford in Europe. We entered very difficult times”.

Having taken something of a leap of faith with Sierra rather than their usual practice of exhaustive market research, Dearborn’s executives wanted someone’s head. Bahnsen would be a convenient choice and at a Star Chamber interrogation at Merkenich, chaired by Detroit Ford executive, Harold A. (Red) Poling[1], and witnessed by a horrified le Quément, they got their man. “The end of Uwe Bahnsen’s career was a tragedy and they almost managed to break him, but he left, dignified and became head of Art Center Europe in Switzerland”. Continue reading “Into the Vortex – Part Three”

Expectation Management

Patience is a virtue. Well, sometimes…

Image: supercars.net

Over the past two and half years or so, we have all experienced a harsh, if valuable lesson in the music of chance, in how unforeseen events can derail all best-laid plans and forecasts. Viewing matters though this chaotic prism, Maserati’s more or less decade-long deliberation over the future of its heartland GranTurismo offering appears almost wilfully indulgent.

However, one should also Continue reading “Expectation Management”

Second Division

A tale of two Toni’s.

Image: ford.co.uk

For the Sierra, the path to stylistic approval was lengthy and difficult. Given the Ford Motor Company’s scale and multi-national status, it was normal procedure to involve its myriad international styling studios to submit proposals for commercially significant models. We therefore know that innumerable rival proposals for the Toni programme were evaluated before the Merkenich scheme was green-lighted in 1979, but less known are what they were like.

For decades, Ford of Britain designed and engineered its UK model offerings. However, by the latter part of the 1960s, Dearborn management elected to bring these two entities together, eyeing reduced development costs and a more unified offering to the public. In 1967, an engineering and style centre was opened at Dunton Wayletts, near Basildon in Essex. Here, engineers and stylists would Continue reading “Second Division”

Into the Vortex – Part Two

The headwinds intensify.

The Merkenich team discussing strategy at a Toni design review. Right to left: Uwe Bahnsen, Friedl Wülfing (Studio Chief), Patrick le Quément, Ray Everts and Dietrich Tenner (Chief modeler). Image (c) Steve Saxty

Early 1979, and as Patrick le Quément wraps up his assignment at Ford UK’s Dunton research centre for the Ford Cargo truck programme, he receives a summons back to Merkenich from Chief Designer, Ray Everts. [With] “6 months before the Go With Two[1] decision, I was asked to dedicate all my energy to the Toni project, for the battle was far from being won, there was much to do, to convince, to improve!”

Part of what Bob Lutz would later characterise as le Quément’s “decisive role” in the Toni design programme was to help build up a detailed analysis of Ford’s design strategy with a view to providing Uwe Bahnsen with the precise data he required to convince the Detroit board of the necessity for radical change. Using analysis and experience from both Erika and Cargo programmes (the latter a revolutionary design in itself), Everts, le Quément and the team concluded that promoting aerodynamic efficiency was the route to take. “We felt we were ready to appeal to our Lords and Masters for, after all, aerodynamics was to be had for free (or so we thought at the time), but it also gave us the opportunity to invent a brand new formal language and take a divergent route from the Me Too approach”.

Part of Bahnsen’s role here was to Continue reading “Into the Vortex – Part Two”

Back to Nature

Astra battles West Cork foliage. Foliage wins.

Astra fans of a delicate disposition should look away now. Image: Driven to Write
Astra fans of a delicate disposition really ought to look away now. Image: Driven to Write

Editor’s note [1]: This article originally appeared on DTW on Jan 4 2017. In light of yesterday’s piece, it seemed appropriate for it to make a reappearance…

As middle age steals upon me, I find that many things I still view as contemporary are in reality, decades old. Music, fashion, events – cars even. The subject of this photo is a case in point. Old enough to be dismissed as a banger, yet to my addled mind at least, still sufficiently contemporary for this scenario to appear out of the ordinary.

Yet the Opel Astra G was launched as long ago as 1998, marking a shift in style from the more curvaceous F model which preceded it. In retrospect it appeared to be an attempt by Rüsselsheim to Continue reading “Back to Nature”

Into the Vortex – Part One

Defying Mittlemässigkeit.

Image: autophoto

In a three part series, Patrick le Quément speaks exclusively to DTW about the Ford Sierra’s troubled genesis.

All car designers set out to create beautiful objects, not simply for artistic reasons, but for commercial ones too. After all, a beautiful car is more than usually a successful one. But like success, beauty has many parents and midwives, whereas failure (and ugliness for that matter) is almost always an orphan.

Automotive design is a collaborative process, requiring no small measures of vision, craft, intelligence and determination, but in the final analysis, it requires a consensus; after all, no modern car design can be decided upon by a single individual. But with the cost of failure so high, the process can often appear as something more akin to an act of faith. Continue reading “Into the Vortex – Part One”

Number Nine Dream

Getting it right at precisely the wrong moment.

Saab biohybrid
2008 Saab 9X biohybrid. Image: Netcarshow

As the world’s auto press converged at Geneva in March 2008 for the annual motor show – blissfully unaware of what would unfold within the global financial markets that Autumn – it was all very much business as usual. For General Motors however, already fighting several fire-fronts at home (to say nothing of their perennial loss-making volume European arm), there were increasingly dissatisfied voices being raised with the performance of their upmarket Swedish satellite[1].

Relations with Saab AB had become strained, with senior GM management viewing the troubled marque as simply a problem child to be dispensed with. But while keen disagreements at senior board level over Saab’s future were still taking place, a striking concept was prepared for landing at Palexpo 2008, intended to demonstrate the mothership’s continued backing for the Trollhättan carmaker while its future was being decided.

With a good deal of Saab’s development being twinned with Opel’s Rüsselsheim engineering centre by then in an effort to curb costs, there was a belief that a smaller, C-segment Saab offering could broaden the marque’s appeal, especially in European markets where such cars still sold strongly. The 2008 concept did not however simply emerge out of the ether, it was in fact the apogee of a dialogue that had been initiated at the turn of Millennium[2] to Continue reading “Number Nine Dream”

A Niche Too Far?

Sometimes it pays to be brave. Sometimes. 

Image: motoimg

Editor’s note: A version of this piece was first published on 6 January 2014.

As the new Millennium approached, motor manufacturers, having established that engineering integrity would only take them so far in the quest for market leadership, would increasingly rely upon the spreadsheets and focus groups of their product planning departments. The key differentiator would henceforth be defined by one word: Segmentation. Departments sprang up in demographically significant hotspots such as Miami, London and Southern California, all tasked with seeking the elusive new market niche that enable them to Continue reading “A Niche Too Far?”

Cue Fanfare

Meet the new Grandmaster. 

Image: Mercedes-Benz-author’s collection.

They called it the match of the century, an East versus West showdown to elect a new Grandmaster, to be decided in the Icelandic capital of Reykjavik. Over a tense series of matches from July to August of 1972, Brooklyn-native, Bobby Fischer sensationally became not only the first American, but the first non-Russian to Continue reading “Cue Fanfare”

Taking a Stance

Reappraising the Granada. 

All images: Henry Ford & Son (author’s collection).

What we are looking at today are images from a period sales brochure for the second-generation Ford Granada. A brochure whose well-thumbed pages serve as mute testimony to your editor’s youthful aspiration;  notions, as we’d describe them round these parts. When a Ford Escort would Continue reading “Taking a Stance”

Isles of Wonder

Take me back to dear old Blighty…

Image: autoevolution

In July 2012, the London Olympic Games was officially opened with a spectacular opening ceremony created by a team under the curatorship of film director, Danny Boyle; a skilful weaving of a complex historical tale, combining creation myth, popular culture and a few pointed semi-political thrusts, not to mention no small measure of beauty, humour and outright whimsy to craft a compelling vision of a modern, pluralist Britain at peace with itself and its often troubled past[1].

At the time, there probably was not a more quintessentially British automobile extant than the Range Rover, with its unique blend of the time-honoured and the contemporary; with roots both of the land yet above it, despite more latterly forging a identity as a distinctly urban-centric creature. These qualities, while present from the outset, were both underlined and vulcanised by the 2002 L322 iteration, a car which despite its Anglo-German bloodline[2], maintained an insouciance, which successfully tempered its studied formality and ever-increasing mass. But by 2012, its successor was ready, and at that Autumn’s Paris motor show, an all new Range Rover[3] made its world debut.

Love it or loathe it, but the generational reinvention of the Range Rover remains not only a genuinely noteworthy automotive event, but from a purely creative and engineering perspective at least, one of the industry’s tougher gigs. Few cars have such a broad remit, carry such a hefty weight of historical baggage or are required to Continue reading “Isles of Wonder”

Home on the Range

Your Editor gets notions.

All images: ©Driven to Write

First published on 28th June 2017.

Above and Beyond: As advertising taglines go, this speaks to an essential truth in advertising. Because driving a Range Rover genuinely does suggest an altogether loftier plane, and it is this sense of elevation, otherwise the sole preserve of Rolls Royce owners, that is the car’s defining characteristic. Of course the corollary to splendid isolation is one not infrequently experienced by the privileged classes in wider society; a distancing from street level realities, something which can be observed in the manner some luxury SUV owners conduct themselves upon the roadway.

It is probably fair to say that the SUV as we know it originated in the USA, but on this side of the Atlantic, the advent of the Range Rover marked the beginning of our love affair with the concept of a luxurious off-road-capable vehicle. Originally created as a car for affluent farmers, the Range Rover quickly became an adopted urbanite, where its tall stature and panoramic visibility made them surprisingly effective city dwellers. As Land Rover’s BL masters belatedly realised its market potential, it increasingly became a more overtly luxurious machine and once it was introduced into the US market in the late 1980’s, its original utilitarian remit was swept away entirely. Continue reading “Home on the Range”

Elevation

The Height of Luxury.

Image: caradisiac

Be it in art, commerce, cartography or simply behind the wheel of a large automobile, there has always been something to be said for an elevated position. Because in the motoring field (not to mention stream or bridleway), not only does stature have much to commend it, but on the thoroughfares and highways a loftier perch also serves to convey a distinct aura of superiority over the huddled masses below.

Despite Land Rover’s time-honoured marketing tag line[1], the modern Range Rover evokes images, less of the wild yonder so beloved of advertising creatives, but a distinctly more built-environment aesthetic. Certainly, when Gordon Bashford and Spen King defined the parameters for the 1970 original, the creation of a luxury car was furthest from their minds. Yet to a great extent, that is what the Range Rover evolved into, a matter which became solidified by its third and perhaps now definitive generation. Because regardless of where you might Continue reading “Elevation”

Being There [Part Five]

What killed the MGB?

Image: Jaguar Rover triumph Ltd – Author’s collection

In the summer of 1979, the UK airwaves were dominated by the synthesized sound of Gary Newman and Tubeway Army’s ‘Are Friends Electric’. A single inspired by a novel which dealt with the subject of artificial intelligence was hardly your usual chart-topping fare, but as the decade moved towards its conclusion, it was becoming apparent that more than just music was moving in an increasingly technologically-driven direction[1].

But the pace of change would not be sufficient to doom the decidedly analogue MGB. A number of not wholly unrelated, but intractable elements would join forces to Continue reading “Being There [Part Five]”

Drawn Out

Fitz and Van’s GM swansong.

Image: Author’s collection

Recognised as perhaps the most significant commercial automotive illustrators of the modern era, Art Fitzpatrick and Van Kaufman made their names from evocative, highly stylised, yet beautifully wrought promotional illustrations for General Motors in the United States, and for the Pontiac marque in particular. But in addition, this gifted duo would also define a mode of expression, one few have equalled without accusation of parody or copy.

Towards the latter portion of their career, with their services no longer required in Detroit, Fitz and Van were commissioned by GM’s European division to Continue reading “Drawn Out”

Via Biturbo

Pierangelo’s moodboard.

Image: Favcars

Editor’s note: A more condensed version of this article was originally published on May 6 2017.

The introduction of the Maserati Biturbo in the Autumn of 1981 came as something of a shock, both for marque aficionados and industry watchers alike; Maserati, une grande maison, as former Citroën President (and Maserati overseer), Pierre Bercot might have put it, was at the time more associated in the mind as purveyors of automotive exotica of the most rarefied variety, with a hitherto unsullied pedigree and bloodline second to none. Hence the advent of a compact sports saloon bearing the fabled Trident of Bologna appeared incongruent to some, a matter of profound embarrassment to others.

But there was little room for sentiment or much by way of respect for tradition in the mind of Alejandro de Tomaso as he moved heaven and earth during the late 1970s to first re-establish the Maserati business on a firmer commercial footing, while simultaneously, expunging every trace of double chevron influence from the Viale Ciro Menotti. A cultural revolution then, as much as it was a creative one. But today we must Continue reading “Via Biturbo”

Being There [Part Four]

The best of times, the worst of times.

Peak B: 1973 MGB roadster. Image: mgb1967.com

In the wake of BLMC’s 1968 marriage of convenience, Donald Stokes and his management team began piecing together a product strategy for the multifarious (and in some cases) overlapping marques that constituted the increasingly unwieldy British car giant. Amid this new order, the fate of MG would be subordinated to that of Triumph. And while some speculative MG designs were proposed, the reality was that Abingdon came virtually last in the BLMC Chairman’s priority list – the MGB remained a successful, profitable model line – a cheap nip and tuck and it was good for another couple of years.

Abingdon’s fears came to fruition in 1971, Stokes and his BLMC board electing to Continue reading “Being There [Part Four]”

Being There [Part Three]

Win on Sunday, sell on Monday…

Image: migioslot.blogspot.com

The 31st staging of the Le Mans 24 Hour endurance race took place at the circuit de la Sarthe over the 15th and 16th of June 1963. It would be won by the Scuderia Ferrari entrant, a 250P, driven by an all-Italian pairing of Ludovico Scarfiotti and Lorenzo Bandini, marking not only the first time a mid-engined race machine had won the event, but also the largest winning margin in 36 years.

Le Mans was to prove something of a Ferrari benefit that year, with Maranello taking the first six places of a field, which through a combination of attrition, misfortune and tragedy was whittled down to  12 finishers. This final classified car was an MGB, a solo privateer entry, discretely backed by the works. But in this case, finishing at the rear of the field would be marked as a victory (in Abingdon at least).

The MG marque iconography was forged to a very large extent upon competition, and although by the early 1960s, BMC’s racing activities were primarily focussed upon the Mini Cooper, their well organised competition department was centred at MG’s Abingdon facility. Not that BMC did everything themselves; the Cooper Car Company, Broadspeed and Equipe Arden handling the Mini’s UK and overseas track career, while the Healey Motor Company prepared heavily modified Sprites in the International Sports Car classes.

Having enjoyed some rallying successes with the MGA, and with BMC keeping close tabs on MG’s competition activities, General Manager, John Thornley was required to Continue reading “Being There [Part Three]”

Being There [Part Two]

A discord in C.

Strike a pose. MGC Roadster. Image: mgb1967

The MGC was born under a bad sign, or to further the musical analogy, a bum note. On paper it ought to have been a winning combination. Take a proven, popular car and improve performance and desirability with a larger, more powerful engine. Yet largely due to BMC’s parsimony, MG was saddled with a car which was met by derision. Whether the car’s short production life and paltry production numbers was a direct consequence of apathy from buyer or manufacturer remains a matter of debate, but what is evident is that the MGC was considered something of an orphan, even before going on sale.

During the pre-war era, the MG marque enjoyed something of a performance image, being offered with large-capacity six cylinder engines[1] and in certain cases, supercharging. However, post-1945, MGs had been confined to whatever small-capacity power units that could be wheedled from their Nuffield and latterly, BMC masters. Following the 1952 merger, which brought the British Motor Corporation into being, MG would end up playing second fiddle to Austin Healey, Leonard Lord’s favoured sports car marque.

By the middle of the 1960s, the Austin Healey 3000 was not only reaching the end of its commercial viability, but BMC were chomping at the bit to Continue reading “Being There [Part Two]”

Highly Volatile

Ten years ago, MG’s future looked something like this.

Image: Autocar

Since the desiccated remains of MG Rover was picked over by Nanjing Auto, later merged with Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation (SAIC), the resultant MG-badged products have left observers and MG marque aficionados somewhere on a spectrum between bemusement and outright horror. Taking ownership of a heritage brand always comes with a measure of responsibility – certainly if one hopes to Continue reading “Highly Volatile”

Being There [Part One]

Symphony in B.

Image: caradisiac

National Treasure is a term which gets bandied about rather a lot in the media nowadays, particularly amid the world of showbusiness. Normally bestowed on the basis of merit, but in some cases it is as much a matter of longevity, dogged persistence even. But regardless of rationale, most recipients tend to exhibit a common sense of virtue. It is therefore perhaps fair to suggest that all of the above traits have contributed to the MGB’s beatification in afterlife, a seemingly impregnable status close to the pinnacle of historic car national treasure-hood. For in the UK at least, a classic car event without at least one MGB in attendance really cannot authentically call itself a classic car event at all.

This of course is not to say that even the rarest, most pristine (production) MGB is ever likely to make its owner Continue reading “Being There [Part One]”

Swiss Riv

The final Riviera’s missing link?

1988 Buick Lucerne concept. Image: Deans Garage

The Mid-1980s downsized GM range would prove a step into the unknown for the US car giant, one which could be said to have been successful, at least in terms of raw sales numbers. But while the C-body Buick sedans proved popular with buyers[1], the E-bodied personal coupés would prove a far tougher sell. There was a good deal of trepidation amid the design leadership at Buick’s studio in GM’s Warren, Michigan Design Centre as the 1986 model year Riviera was made ready; doubts which would crystallise as the drastically downsized model failed to appeal to existing Riviera customers, who not only baulked at the style, but also its notable lack of road presence[2].

As soon as was deemed possible, Buick Design chief, Bill Porter (who had overseen the E-body design) supervised a revised styling scheme, based upon one which had originally been proposed featuring a sloping tail motif, the victim of engineering package requirements (in this case luggage capacity)[3]. With this heavily revised Riviera, the work of a team under Steve Pasteiner, the model’s fortunes were revived to some extent, but still failed to return to pre-downsized levels. Continue reading “Swiss Riv”

Better With Allure

Crossovers: So over.

For some years now, there has been a modest but persistent sentiment amid the European motor industry’s think tanks that the current wave of CUV crossover popularity would eventually peak, there being a point after any new fashion takes hold of the public consciousness, long after the early adopters Continue reading “Better With Allure”

Silvan Song

The many faceted Nissan Silvia.

Image: TTAC

The Silvia series, if it can be described as such began at the Tokyo motor show in 1964, when an elegant Italianate coupé was shown, based upon the existing Fairlady platform (hence the rather stunted-looking wheelbase). Powered by a 1.6 litre four cylinder engine, it was no roadburner, but for the nascent Datsun car business, it was to prove something of a halo car, somewhat in the manner of Toyota’s perhaps even more comely, and technically more accomplished 2000 GT. With slightly over 500 built, they were vanishingly rare at the time, and remain so a good sixty years later. Continue reading “Silvan Song”

Living Room

 It’s a Škoda, Jakub, but not as we know it…

Image: Car Magazine

When Volkswagen successfully took control of the storied Škoda Auto business in 1991, it did so, like many larger, more powerful entities, primarily for its own betterment. So while any residual altruism on their part was largely incidental, to its credit, Wolfsburg did take a fairly enlightened approach to their acquisition. By then, the Czech carmaker was in need of considerable investment and redirection, for despite having left behind the dated automotive fare it served up to widespread derision for decades, it remained prey to the snide dismissals and cheap jokes, primarily from the motor-jock element of the journalistic cohort.

Rebuilding reputations has never been the job of a moment, but as the decade progressed and the engineers at Mladá Boleslav, working alongside a reinvigorated design team created a more credible range of cars, the joke really started to wear thin. Škoda (and its well-heeled German backer) was no longer prepared to Continue reading “Living Room”

Modern Family [Part Five]

Super Mini or simply a better Mini?

Morris 1300 GT. Image: Classic Car Catalogue

For a car which would become their most commercially important product, the BMC motor business took a rather quixotic approach to ADO 16’s furtherance, with initial production being restricted to BMC’s Cowley plant where it was built (for almost a decade) alongside the car it had been intended to replace[1]. But as potential customers hungrily clamoured for delivery, it would remain some considerable time before the carmaker found itself capable of balancing demand and supply[2].

It has been well documented that BMC sold the Mini at a price which allowed for little meaningful profit, yet it would appear that with ADO 16, they simply repeated the error, selling the 1100 on similarly tight margins[3], which given its technical superiority, its lack of genuine domestic rivals and the pent up demand for the car, appears almost wilfully irrational. And while later, more upmarket models may have aided profitability, there were too many of them and as explored previously, they were not a cost-effective means of resolving the issue.

Throughout its lifespan, BMC management appeared to take the 1100/1300 series’ success for granted, allowing themselves to Continue reading “Modern Family [Part Five]”

I Care About Lines

A soft day for a first sighting.

Editor’s note: This piece was written and first published on DTW in August 2018. All images via the author.

While the remainder of Europe desiccates amidst the most protracted heatwave of recent times, here at that question mark of a landmass at the Atlantic’s cusp, a more habitual form of summer has returned: Leaden skies, horizontal mist and high humidity.

But you didn’t come here to Continue reading “I Care About Lines”

Modern Family [Part Four]

Taking on the world

Image: quattroruote

A true test of any successful product design is whether its popularity can be replicated outside of its country of origin, where tastes, loyalties and latent patriotism, for instance, tend to count for less. The immediate success of BMC’s 1100 within the home market was both justified and understandable, but not only would it prove popular elsewhere, it could be argued that ADO 16 would become as close to a world car that the organisation would create.

Sold in almost every continent, and assembled in fourteen distinct countries[1], the 1100/1300 it seems made friends everywhere, with perhaps one exception – a former British colony which would prove impervious to its charms. North America had already proven a difficult nut for BMC to crack throughout the 1950s, with efforts to Continue reading “Modern Family [Part Four]”

Boys of Summer

The past steadfastly remains a foreign country.

ford-thunderbird
Image: carsinvasion

Editor’s note: A version of this piece was originally published on DTW in May 2018.

Don Henley’s 1984 Grammy-winning hit single, Boys of Summer was a meditation on reminiscence and regret. It plays on the slick US West Coast values of the lyricist’s Eagles[1] heyday, deftly subverting its MOR rock sheen to underline more mature themes of ageing and loss. The track was not only a sizeable success in the US and elsewhere, but gained Henley a critical credibility he had perhaps hitherto lacked. After all, looking back to the past can be instructive, and in some cases, a virtual necessity. However, true folly lies with those who attempt to Continue reading “Boys of Summer”

Modern Family [Part Three]

Harriman’s Ladder.

Image via ebay

Amongst the more striking aspects of BMC’s front-driven family of cars – if we set aside for a moment their technical courage – was the stark modernism of their design. Whether the Issigonis-inspired ADO series should be considered part of a design movement which would permeate the UK as the Sixties progressed – in architecture, product design, furnishing and in tentative forays amid the domestic automotive domain is perhaps a matter for more learned minds, but it nevertheless required a leap of imagination to Continue reading “Modern Family [Part Three]”

Modern Family [Part Two]

In 1962 BMC sprang a surprise with the 1100 – in one area in particular. 

Image: Veikl

Even without its innovative interconnected hydrolastic suspension, the BMC 1100’s status in the automotive pantheon would have been beyond question. However, a good deal of its historical significance remains bound up with its adoption. While interconnected suspension designs were not an entirely unknown quantity by the late Fifties, it was the first production application of a fluid-based system in a compact, affordable (and no small matter this) British car.

The use of rubber (to say nothing of fluid) as a suspension medium was not something that Alec Issigonis seemed to favour at first[1], but he became convinced after sampling a Morris Minor which had been re-engineered with a prototype rubber suspension[2]. Having discerned its potential, Issigonis, in conjunction with Alex Moulton developed an interconnected design employing rubber springs for the the stillborn Alvis TA/350 project, initiated in 1952. After this programme foundered and Alec was lured back to Continue reading “Modern Family [Part Two]”

Modern Family [Part One]

More than just a Midi-Mini

1962 Morris 1100. Image: Car Magazine

During the run up to the 1997 UK election victory which swept them into power, Labour Party strategists identified a core median demographic to which they hoped to appeal, which they labelled, Mondeo Man[1]. But had this election taken place some twenty years earlier, Labour’s archetype might have hailed, not from Genk, but Longbridge, because for most of the Sixties, Britain’s favourite car had been BMC’s 1100.

Having painfully emerged from post-war privation, a recovering Sixties Britain remained a hidebound and socially conservative nation. A matter which makes it all the more striking that a car marrying contemporary Italian style with a highly sophisticated technical specification should prove a bestseller. In many respects, the BMC 1100 seemed more akin to what was then termed a continental car than one hailing from the British midlands, the type of car more likely to have been viewed by Mondeo Man’s forebears as something akin to witchcraft.

Perhaps then it should surprise nobody that it would take the profound influence of that foreign chap[2] to Continue reading “Modern Family [Part One]”

The Accidental E-Type [Part Two]

The E-Type outstays its welcome.

Image: jag-lovers

As is frequently the case, what is given with one hand is taken away by another. By the late Sixties, the motorcar had become ever-more sophisticated, yet while speed and dynamic competence were on the ascendant, the unfettered enjoyment of high performance was already in retreat. Concerns too were growing over the automotive emissions and the affect they were seen to be having on air quality. Traffic congestion had become a grim fact of life, with motorists spending ever-increasing periods at a standstill. A shortlived period of unfettered freedom and self-expression was drawing to a close.

By the Series 3’s 1971 debut, a growing market for indulgent GTs had witnessed two new entrants which would in their respective ways, Continue reading “The Accidental E-Type [Part Two]”

 The Accidental E-Type [Part One]

The E’s ‘pointless’ swansong.

Image: jag-lovers

The more advanced students of Jaguar lore will by now have recognised that a good many of the most well-loved cars from Browns Lane were at best, incidental, if not wholly accidental in conception. Similarly, when it came to the subject of mid or late-life facelifts, not only were they predominantly of a reactive nature, but rare indeed was the aesthetic revision that amounted to a palpable improvement. But while it might be considered a little provocative to describe the Series 3 E-Type as being accidental, it would hardly be inaccurate to suggest that it was unplanned.

While Sir William Lyons ran Jaguar in his benignly autocratic style, product planning was also somewhat reactive in nature, largely informed by the ever-shifting vagaries of the US market, a case in point being the Autumn 1968 refresh of the E-Type, the series 2. Beyond this, the intention was to Continue reading ” The Accidental E-Type [Part One]”

History in Cars – Rituals and Symbols

The editor recalls his early forays into motoring.

Image: FIAT Publicity via the author.

Editor’s note: This article was originally published on DTW on 29 September 2018. Owing to the poor quality of the originals, stock photos have been used.

The starting procedure: insert key into ignition slot. Twist key. Lift floor-mounted enrichment (choke) lever fully[1]. Engage clutch. Lift spring-loaded, floor-mounted starter lever. Hold until engine fires. Ignore the intense vibration of the little twin-cylinder engine on its mountings as it settles into life. On no account Continue reading “History in Cars – Rituals and Symbols”

Ciao Bambino! [Part Three]

From Bambino to Maluch.

Image: FCA Heritage

In the normal order of things, the cessation of Italian production by mid-decade should really have signalled the end for the Fiat 126. Outdated in concept, outclassed by an increasingly sophisticated and capable cohort of putative rivals in the budget car sector – not least Fiat’s own Panda model – its residual appeal largely a function of its cheapness, compact dimensions and miniscule running costs, the rationale for continuing appeared marginal at best.

Whether it had been FIAT Auto’s intention all along, or simply a happy confluence of factors, but the wholesale shift of 126 production to Tychy, not to mention the ongoing demand for the Maluch[1] in its adopted Polish home, would facilitate the 126 remaining available to those amid Western European markets[2] for whom nothing but a 126 would do[3].

This state of affairs prompted FIAT to Continue reading “Ciao Bambino! [Part Three]”

Ciao Bambino! [Part Two]

Defying the naysayers. 

Image: FCA Heritage

The environmental non-starter” was how Car magazine’s Ian Fraser defined the 126 in December 1972, having attended the press launch along with fellow scribe and Car Editor, Douglas Blain, in its home town of Turin[1]. The thrust of their argument against the car seemed to pivot around the assertion that not only was the 126 “something of a throwback” in technical terms but also, in their estimation, that even Fiat themselves appeared unsure about as to its purpose in life.

This would hardly be the first time that the iconoclastic UK monthly took against a car largely on the basis that it failed to Continue reading “Ciao Bambino! [Part Two]”

Arc de Triomphe

The 2006 Citroën C-Triomphe didn’t quite live up to its billing.

Citroën C-Triomphe. Image: carinpicture

Editor’s note: This article was first published in Driven to Write on 24 October 2017. Owing to the poor quality of the original images, stock photos have been used.

PSA announced this particular iteration of their C-segment contender in 2004, a car which replaced the unloved and visually unimpressive Xsara model line. The C4, believed to have been the styling work of Donato Coco and Bertrand Rapatel under the supervision of Jean-Pierre Ploué marked the beginning of a stylistic renaissance at Citroën’s Vélizy design centre. Au revoir to the creative torpidity which characterised the Jacques Calvet era, welcome back creativity. Theoretically at least. Continue reading “Arc de Triomphe”

Ciao Bambino! [Part One]

A matter of perspective.

Small, or far away? Image: FIAT Auto via the author.

It’s not you or me, or Fiat who will decide whether the 126 is a good car. History will make that decision.” These words were spoken, no doubt through clenched teeth by FIAT’s UK representative to Car magazine journalist, Ian Fraser in the wake of the UK imprint’s assessment of the new for ’72 Fiat 126. The Italian carmaker’s displeasure at Fraser’s trenchant review can be gauged by its reaction – FIAT UK pulling their advertising and banning Car’s staff writers from forthcoming press junkets.

The issue, if you could call it that, was one of perception. By 1972 Fiat was viewed as a progressive manufacturer of some of Europe’s most up to date motor cars, with a reputation for fine engineering and superior dynamic characteristics. By contrast, the 126, in Car’s estimation at least, was dismissed as a throwback to the 1950s. But it should behove us to first Continue reading “Ciao Bambino! [Part One]”

A Luton Brougham

A look back to Vauxhall’s mid-’70s upmarket ambitions.

1976 Vauxhall VX Prestige prototype. Image: droopsnootgroup

Editor’s note: This article was originally published on DTW on 11 November 2017.

As automotive industry analysts ponder the fate of Opel / Vauxhall in the wake of the PSA takeover, one possible future being mapped out involves a shift upmarket. On the face of things, this appears about as likely as PSA getting a sudden rush of blood to the head and starting to take Citroën seriously, but as (im)possible futures go, it may not be entirely unthinkable.

Not everyone in the soothsaying universe seems to agree however, as a report in ANE yesterday suggests. Sanford C. Bernstein’s Max Warburton (We haven’t heard from him for a while.) suggesting PSA should “Dump the Vauxhall brand,” before going on to say, “Even the most jingoistic Brexiteers would rather buy a German car. There’s no room for a one-market brand in 2017.”

But leaving aside Warburton’s tough love analysis, can Vauxhall (a) survive, and (b) prosper in today’s increasingly febrile landscape? Taking matters further, could the Griffin (c) ever contemplate a move upmarket, given their current situation? While we ponder this, let us just for a moment Continue reading “A Luton Brougham”

Lightning Flash

Lost causes – missing links – exhuming Jaguar’s stillborn XJ21.

1967 E-Type 2+2. Image: Classic & Sportscar

As descriptive metaphors go, bottled lightning requires little by way of explanation or exposition on the part of the writer. In 1961, Jaguar Cars successfully manged this seemingly impossible feat with the introduction of the E-Type, a car which itself would come to stand as metaphor for a now mythologised era of hedonism, permissiveness and social change. But in the Spring of ’61 all of that was for the future. Meanwhile, the manner in which the E-Type was received took Jaguar’s CEO somewhat by surprise.

Attending the E’s euphoric US debut in 1961, Sir William Lyons became painfully aware that while prospective customers were enraptured by the car, many simply couldn’t comfortably Continue reading “Lightning Flash”

Pushing the Envelope

The 1999 Mercedes CL redefined the term ‘back of an envelope’ design.

Image: Autoevolution.com

Editor’s note: This article was originally published on DTW on 14 June 2019.

Like most major carmakers, Mercedes-Benz, under the design leadership of Bruno Sacco at Stuttgart-Sindelfingen, assigned individual teams to specific product lines. However, Sacco also permitted all members of his styling team, irrespective of discipline, to submit proposals for evaluation whenever a new model was being considered.

These would be then whittled down to a shortlist, the favoured proposals being produced in quarter-scale form. A further evaluation would see these being reduced to a final shortlist of three proposals, which would be produced in 1 : 1 scale for final selection. This ensured that management had sufficient quantities of alternative styles to Continue reading “Pushing the Envelope”

Voiture à Vivre [Part Six]

The everycar.

Image: Publicis Conseil – author’s collection

It may not have been the most commercially successful car of the 1970s, nor even the most technically significant. It did not win accolades for its ultimate handling capabilities or jaw dropping styling. Car of the decade may have been a title which eluded it, but none of the above should detract from the significance of the Renault 5 amid the automotive pantheon, nor Renault’s sound judgement in taking the car into production in such unadulterated form.

As an archetype of the art of product design, the Five was almost perfectly realised, certainly by the standards of its time. The practicality and robustness of its basic shape, the unmatched versatility offered by its hinging rear tailgate, combined with the subtle richness yet stark modernism of its detail design ensured its place as the first genuine hatchback supermini and the archetype for the modern B-segment motorcar. Such was its design integrity that Renault not only found themselves incapable, but unwilling to Continue reading “Voiture à Vivre [Part Six]”

Voiture à Vivre [Part Five]

The 5 that really was a Supercar.

Image: lautomobileancienne

It is a truth universally acknowledged that no successful model line can attain true immortality without a competition pedigree, so it should surprise nobody that the Renault 5 gained one alongside its many other accolades. Motorsport had been a somewhat patchy activity within Billancourt in the run up to the 1970s, with the bulk of the heavy lifting being provided by outsiders like Gordini and Alpine[1].

In 1974, the Renault 5 became available in 85 bhp LS Kitée specification, a low-volume model for competition in the newly renamed Renault 5 Elf Cup. 150 were produced for the 1975 season of the race series which proved popular and competitive. Two years later, Dieppe’s technicians had completed their ministrations resulting in the Alpine A5, Renault’s official performance offering. This too would gain a competition career, being campaigned in the World Rally Championship’s Group 2 class, the A5s as fielded by Renault Sport developing 130 bhp. Early results from the 1977 Mille Pistes and San Remo rallies illustrated the promise of the Alpine 5, but the following year, a class victory by Jean Ragnotti in the Monte Carlo event[2] would mark the high point of the A5’s rally career.

Despite the occasional giant-killing performance, the standard R5 was never going to Continue reading “Voiture à Vivre [Part Five]”

Voiture à Vivre [Part Four]

My brilliant career.

Image: Publicis Conseil. Author’s collection

1975 was not a year to be recalled with much fondness across the global automotive industry, as the effects of Yom Kippur 1973 hit home. A number of carmakers would not survive the year, while others would undergo painful reinventions under dramatically altered circumstances. Renault, to some extent insulated by French Government stewardship, would undergo change too, Pierre Dreyfus, the CEO who had steadfastly guided them for two decades had elected to retire, nominating Bernard Vernier-Palliez in his stead. Prior to his departure, Dreyfus made another significant appointment, luring design-lead Robert Opron to Continue reading “Voiture à Vivre [Part Four]”

Voiture à Vivre [Part Three]

You Cannot Be Serious!

Le Advertising. Image: autoevolution

The North American market has always been tough, unyielding and, for a great many European carmakers, impenetrable. Lucrative for those who could find a way in, success however has always required an unswerving commitment and very deep pockets, characteristics which were in short supply at Bologne-Billancourt. Renault had made some tentative explorations into the US during the early 1950s, but it wasn’t until the advent of the Dauphine model towards the latter end of the decade that the French carmaker would put its shoulder to the metaphorical wheel.

While low-powered, potentially evil-handling European imports were by no means unfamiliar to US audiences by this time, the ones which America had taken to their collective hearts were not only considerably more robustly wrought at Wolfsburg, but were vastly better represented by a large and widespread support network.

Yet despite these apparent shortcomings, the Dauphine made significant headway, outselling Volkswagen in 1959[1]. But despite Renault Inc’s best efforts, the Dauphine’s reputation did not survive contact with US soil – a combination of a chronic lack of material quality, durability and a propensity to spontaneously dissolve into crumbs of ferrous oxide saw matters come to an inglorious halt. Indeed, so poor did the Dauphine’s US reputation become that when its replacement was introduced, early advertising billed it as a car for those who swore never again to Continue reading “Voiture à Vivre [Part Three]”

Voiture à Vivre [Part Two]

The Supercar cometh.

Image: renaultgroup.com

Unlike other major European markets, France did not particularly enjoy a love affair with the two-door bodystyle and by consequence, for sound commercial reasons, few mainstream French carmakers saw fit to offer one throughout the 1950s and 60s[1]. It was therefore not at all surprising that Renault CEO, Pierre Dreyfus and his marketing heads were initially dubious about the sales prospects for the new Renault 5’s two-door-with-a-tailgate style. The level of commercial risk was, not to exaggerate matters, enormous.

Misgivings were not only expressed within Billancourt itself however, Renault’s dealer representatives vehemently agitated against the two-door body style when the Cinq was previewed to them prior to launch. In fact, they wrote it off entirely, baldly stating that only commercial operators would Continue reading “Voiture à Vivre [Part Two]”

Voiture à Vivre [Part One]

Big science in a small package. 

Image: largus.fr

The scientific approach to motor car design was one which was taken up with some enthusiasm in France during the post-war period, resulting not only in some of the more compelling examples of motive modernity, but the most significant of the modern era. The results of intellectual rigour and no small quantum of application, these cars were also imbued with another, more nebulous quality: a piquant and distinctive character. Certainly, it was a potent amalgamation of elements that in this instance created a car both of its time, yet also timeless. A car for living. A car for life.

Towards the end of the 1960s, amid Europe’s engineering centres and styling studios, a new evolution of car was being forged. With matters of powertrain layout and body format still to be definitively established, nobody was entirely sure what would emerge as the dominant strain. But while Mirafiori, Turin would in the fullness of time lay claim to the precise technical layout of the compact front wheel drive car[1], it was their Transalpine rivals at Boulogne-Billancourt who would go on to Continue reading “Voiture à Vivre [Part One]”

The Serpent’s Egg

One more spin on the carousel.

In a few weeks time, Alfa Romeo will reveal to the world a car which will unite the massed ranks of automotive press in labelling it ‘make or break‘. Like Alfa Romeo’s reincarnation plans over the years, the tally of make or break Alfa Romeos has been depressingly numerous, but what unites them is a single stark characteristic: none has delivered upon its promise. The latest of these dates from 2015, when the current Giulia was announced, but given that crushing disappointment is a feeling all too familiar to those who admire the Milanese car brand and wish it success, the betting appears to be only for the brave.

Because, by the looks of things, the Giulia is on the ropes. Now, as we all know, saloons of all stripes are in retreat[1], even those of a more specialised, rear-wheel drive, sporting bent. Customers, we are reliably informed no longer Continue reading “The Serpent’s Egg”