Both Sides Now

The 1996 Alfa Romeo Nuvola would underline in eloquent fashion the power of the past.

Image: autodesignmagazine

Editor’s note: This article first appeared on DTW in December 2017.

History has always weighed heavily upon the Biscione of Milan. Few carmakers with such an illustrious past could remain immune to its siren call, although throughout the 1970s and ’80s its centro stile denizens seemed bent on ignoring it; bracing modernity being more the Alfa Romeo design leitmotif throughout this period.

During the pre-Millennial decade, Alfa Romeo’s stylistic output had become a combination of the sublime and, if not entirely ridiculous, at least unconvincing. On one hand we had the ageing, but still elegant Pininfarina-designed 164, the equally sharp-looking (in-house) 145, and the striking 916-series GTV / Spider, while on the other, there was the 146 and 155 saloons – more akin to the stark product design inflected Ermanno Cressoni era.

But change was in the offing, and with a new generation of Alfa Romeo saloons nearing completion, these designs would break with the angular aesthetic which had for so long been Arese’s visual calling card. Under Design Director, Walter de Silva’s purview, the Biscione would increasingly Continue reading “Both Sides Now”

Running With Scissors [Part Three]

Questions of style.

Image: carsot

There are certain irrefutable qualities which help determine successful product design. Of these, appearance, while arguably the least important in absolute terms, is the most easily perceived, and clearly the most subjective, but it goes without saying that in the absence of a robust visual appeal, even the best wrought product will struggle. The Allegro’s appearance forms an essential component of its subsequent notoriety, but like most aspects of the car’s iconography, this aspect of ADO67 remains subject to varying levels of hysteria.

The Allegro’s style garnered little overt press criticism[1] at its introduction. This would not have been unusual behaviour from the home team – but in this instance the UK press may have been a little over-keen to Continue reading “Running With Scissors [Part Three]”

Fresh Mint

Has Genesis shown us a fresh face in emission-free motoring?

Image: Genesis.com

Editor’s note: This piece first appeared on DTW in April 2019.

Since the advent of the automobile, cars and cities have co-existed in an uneasy truce, but as concerns over deteriorating air quality gain traction across the developed world, it seems increasingly likely that our urban streets are simply not big enough for both. So the mid-term future for the combustion-engined motor car, in an urban context at least, looks bleak. However, like most behavioural shifts, this seems unlikely to occur overnight, but already – as previously reported both here and elsewhere – urban legislatures are taking matters upon themselves by limiting or banning outright, vehicles which fail to Continue reading “Fresh Mint”

Running With Scissors [Part Two]

Several shadows loomed large over Allegro: ADO16, its benighted imperator and a man called Paradise.  

Image: aronline

Sequels are often a tricky balancing act. Alter the recipe and the audience may reject it, reprise the original too closely and they are just as likely to feel short-changed.

The Allegro’s Sixties predecessor would prove a tough act to follow. Despite a lack of meaningful ongoing development, the ADO16 series remained Britain’s best-seller throughout the decade. With such lasting success, the pressure was on BLMC’s product planners and engineers to build upon this with ADO67, the 1100’s belated replacement.

Logically, when scoping the successor to a top-selling product it is sound practice to Continue reading “Running With Scissors [Part Two]”

The Wild Man of Kvasiny

Not abominable – in fact really rather good. In praise of Yeti.

Image: maxabout.com

Editor’s note: This article first appeared on Driven to Write on 23 August 2019.

The product planner’s art has never been a particularly easy one, even less so when one is dealing with a brand portfolio the size and scope of that of the VW Group. Nevertheless, during the immediate post-millennium at least, the individual business units contained within the sprawling Grouping were allowed to Continue reading “The Wild Man of Kvasiny”

Running With Scissors [Part One]

Allegories of corporate failure.

Launch imagery was… atmospheric… Photo: gr8autophoto

Urban-planned existences lived out under high-voltage power lines, the yellowed lighting of bleak subterranean underpasses. Dehydrated food – just add water, George and Mildred on the Radio Rentals telly. Modest hopes, unfulfilled ambitions and quiet despair, punctuated by mass unemployment, the three-day week and grinding industrial disputes – not to mention the spectre of the IRA’s terrestrial bombing campaign and the rise of the National Front. Beneath the Spacehoppers and dayglo fabrics, Seventies Britain appeared to be unravelling. The Sixties ‘white heat of industry’ had sputtered amid a sense of nihilism and hopelessness.

Should one, for the purposes of shorthand or metaphor wish to Continue reading “Running With Scissors [Part One]”

Irresistible Bliss

Italy calls. Giorgetto answers.

Image: Museo Alfa Romeo

During the Spring of 1960, Giorgetto Giugiaro was faced with something of a dilemma. Having accepted an offer to replace the recently departed Franco Scaglione as lead designer at Stile Bertone, the 22 year old artist and designer[1], formerly part of FIAT’s centro stile team was just settling into his new position when he received notification of his compulsory national service. Giugiaro had recently completed the designs for the Alfa Romeo 2600 Sprint and Gordon Keeble GT, Bertone’s studios were abuzz with activity and with a new commission for a compact Alfa Romeo GT, the young designer wanted to get on with work, not play soldiers.

Of course this troubling state of affairs also presented Nuccio Bertone with something of a headache. Obtaining Giugiaro’s services had proven something of a coup, but since military regulations seemingly forbade conscripts to Continue reading “Irresistible Bliss”

Welcome to the Machine – Part Eight

No ifs, no buttresses.

Daimler-S prototype. Image: drive-my

A number of attempts were made to reimagine the styling of Jaguar’s XJ-S without Malcolm Sayer’s unloved rear sail fairings. Some would prove more successful than others, but none would solve the issue.

In one of the more curious ironies of the XJ-S’ long career, the decade which bookended 1979 to 1989 would witness both the model line’s nadir and its heyday. This unprecedented zero to hero transformation would surprise industry analysts, rival carmakers and not least of all, Jaguar themselves, but its sales resurgence would make two aspects clear.

Firstly, that Jaguar’s initial instinct to Continue reading “Welcome to the Machine – Part Eight”

2022 Review

There goes another. 

Image: auto.it

In a year when the term, permacrisis became embedded in common discourse –both as adjective and state of mind – those who believed the onset of 2022 would herald a return to relative stability and (relative) certainty were in for quite the disappointment. So as we bid farewell to another year, it’s time to cast back over some highlights of the Driven to Write year, one where reading the runes made as little sense as reading the (automotive) news, where forecasters flung their crystal balls aside in exasperation and most of us simply resigned ourselves to Continue reading “2022 Review”

Season’s Greetings

Yule find us on the piste today.

Image: formtrends

I know what you’re thinking. This is a somewhat tenuous looking festive scene, more of an excuse for a gratuitous Fitz and Van illustration if honest. Still, there is sufficient quantities of the white stuff on display here to provide ample seasonal cover, so if you’re prepared to Continue reading “Season’s Greetings”

Big Star

The Apex of full-sized Mercedes coupés.

Image: favcars

During the 1970s, when the engineers at Daimler-Benz’s Sindelfingen nerve centre were in the driving seat, Mercedes could be relied upon to do things properly. For if their cars were mostly on the large side – often somewhat heavy-jowled – they were mostly fit for their purpose, whether intended for the commercial trades, for plutocratic conveyance, or simply chariots of the indulgent.

Research and development was key to the three pointed star’s pre-eminence. Mercedes engineers not only worked through what ever technical challenge they were attempting to overcome, but also considered all of the alternatives – frequently going so far as to Continue reading “Big Star”

Midship Triptych

Three brochures for the X1/9 illustrate Fiat’s differing marketing approaches.

All images: Driven to Write
All images: Author’s collection.

Editor’s note: This piece was first published on Driven to Write on march 1st, 2017. 

Despite having an instantly recognisable house style, FIAT Auto’s 1970s brochures were often rather stark looking affairs. Studio shots, no background and just the facts. For an economy hatchback or suchlike, there was an element amount of logic to this approach, but for what many dubbed a Ferrari in miniature, it risked underselling what was at the time a unique proposition.

Conceived to replace the popular Fiat 850 Sport Spider, the 1972 X1/9 would prove long lived. Claimed figures vary but at least 160,000 were produced over a 17-year lifespan. The story goes that faced with the likelihood of FIAT taking production of the 850 Spider’s replacement in-house, Nuccio Bertone pushed for a mid-engined concept, ensuring that his business would Continue reading “Midship Triptych”

Small Wonder

Alchemy, à la Turin.

Image: Road and Track

The Autumn leaves were still carpeting the streets as the motor show stands were being dismantled at the Torino Esposizioni. November 1968 found Nuccio Bertone a worried man. Having grown his business substantially, not simply as a design consultancy but also as a contract manufacturer, Gruppo Bertone, like all satellites orbiting amid Italy’s car industry during this fecund period, was heavily reliant upon the patronage of the domestic OEM manufacturers, and in particular, the Jovian mass of FIAT SpA.

The source of Nuccio’s concern was the advent of Turin carmaker’s new for 1969 128 model. This technically advanced front-wheel drive saloon, enthusiastically received by press and buying public alike, would become a core model line, and spearhead FIAT Auto’s efforts to Continue reading “Small Wonder”

Maranello Old Master.

The romantic’s Ferrari.

Image: (c) Ferrari.com

Marque iconographies can be somewhat unhelpful at times. Being so one-dimensional, it often requires an effort of will in the observer to see outside of their often-rigid narratives. The mythology surrounding Ferrari for example has become so infused by images of crimson-red racing cars and strumpet-Berlinettas that it is possible to neglect the fact that the less strident grand turismo was an intrinsic part of Maranello’s arsenal, almost from the outset.

Indeed, such machines were once the Scuderia’s primary source of income, and the primary means by which the racing cars were funded. Nevertheless, the road-going Ferraris occupied only as much of Enzo Ferrari’s thinking as was strictly necessary. He had them built, his wealthy customers would purchase them at suitably eye-watering prices and that was that. The Commendatore condescended to Continue reading “Maranello Old Master.”

Sketches of Andalucía [4]

No backward glances in this final sketch. 

Better from a distance. How much of a distance? Oh, the other side of the street would about do it… All images: The author

If the casual reader was to view the previous posts in this series as a barometer of the local vehicle population in this part of Southern Spain, they might be forgiven for believing that people here were trapped in some bizarre thirty-year time warp. In fact, modern machinery by far outweighs the old timers, as one might reasonably expect.

Those more familiar to the site will probably Continue reading “Sketches of Andalucía [4]”

Morte a Venezia

The Flavia’s final act. 

Image via tumblr

Described by the UK’s Guardian newspaper as “a slow, precise and beautiful film”, Italian filmmaker, Luchino Visconti’s 1971 adaptation of Thomas Mann’s 1912 novella, starring Dirk Bogarde and set in a ravishingly filmed Venice was a sombre meditation on art, beauty, creative attainment, age and desire. Critically acclaimed, Death in Venice would come to be viewed as an arthouse cinematic masterpiece.

Slow, precise and beautiful were adjectives that could at various times have been attributed to Lancia’s 1960s mid-range offerings – although the latter two were undoubtedly the more apt descriptors, especially once the power to weight aspect of the Flavia’s performance envelope was addressed towards the latter part of the decade. In its post-1967 Milleotto evolution, the Lancia berlina offered a refined, modernist, yet utterly Italian dissertation on elegance in motion, its seemingly unprepossessing style masking a highly considered technical and aesthetic package. Continue reading “Morte a Venezia”

Sketches of Andalucía [3]

It’s later than you think.

News broke this week that London’s Ultra Low Emission Zone is now certain to be extended outwards as far as the London Orbital Motorway (M25) which encircles the outer reaches of the metropolitan area, a decision which will be greeted with some dismay amongst certain (older) car owners amid the UK capital when it comes into force next August. And while most can probably agree in principle that a reduction in airborne pollutants is likely to benefit air quality, it will mean that swathes of perfectly serviceable older vehicles will be taken off the roads – or simply shunted out of London entirely.

Similar strictures would decimate the car pool in this part of the Costa del Sol, given what remains in daily use there, but I would posit that it’s only a matter of time before such matters eventually come to pass. But in the meantime, we at least get to Continue reading “Sketches of Andalucía [3]”

Sketches of Andalucía [2]

Intimations of Alemania.

Late ’80s Golf GTI 5-door. On factory-fit steelies. All images: The author

For a place where locals appear to think nothing of maintaining thirty-year-old cars as daily runners, the proliferation of German-manufactured cars in this part of Southern Spain amounts to less than one might reasonably imagine. Did German cars fail to chime with the Andalucían sensibility, or was it more a factor of up-front cost? Only a native could possibly Continue reading “Sketches of Andalucía [2]”

Sketches of Andalucía [1]

Italy, via Spain.

All images: The author

Occasionally, we get the opportunity to glimpse other possible lives. These are commonly known as holidays, although I prefer to imagine them as being more akin to dreamscapes. For the first time since before the Covid pandemic, I (very) recently found the opportunity to return to the Andalucían coast, and despite the lateness of the year, was mostly blessed by the weather deities.

As is now habitual, I spent a sizeable amount of time getting a feeling for the place, which involved a good deal of legwork – a happy consequence of which was that there was usually something notable (or simply unusual) lurking down a side street[1].

The Spanish do tend to Continue reading “Sketches of Andalucía [1]”

Who Shall Go to the Ball and What Shall Go to the Ball?

The Prius is reborn. But does it matter?

Image: (c) global.toyota

Twenty-five years after the nameplate made its debut, “just in time for the 21st Century”, and six years since the introduction of its astonishing looking predecessor, Toyota have revealed a new generation of their hybrid trailblazer. Billed as the “Hybrid Reborn” by its maker, the 2023 Toyota Prius is set to Continue reading “Who Shall Go to the Ball and What Shall Go to the Ball?”

Welcome to the Machine – Part Seven

More than one way to behead a cat.

The XJ-S at its Geneva 1988 debut. Image: Car Magazine

Following the carmaker’s remarkable return from near-death only three years previously, America’s movers and shakers were once again buying Jaguars in number. “The word has got out on the cocktail circuit that the Jaguar is the car to have”, as Jaguar Inc Press Officer, Mike Cook told journalists in 1983. But the lack of an open-topped XJ-S model would soon become a genuine impediment to sales growth. From this point onwards, US requests for a convertible would become increasingly strident.

The Jaguar board realised that the expediently engineered XJ-S Cabriolet could only buy them a certain amount of time, but meanwhile something needed to be done to mollify potential US customers, for whom nothing but a full convertible would suffice and who would otherwise simply Continue reading “Welcome to the Machine – Part Seven”

Punctuation Bingo!

Please gamble responsibly.

Image: The author

Best start with the facts. This is the cover composite from the November 2010 edition of Car magazine. It was, as we can discern, a busy month for the UK periodical. Big Georg Kacher was flown out to the United States (business class no doubt) for an exclusive ‘drive’ of Jaguar’s shapely CX-75 hybrid-supercar concept, while the fullest possible coverage was provided of the three conceptual offerings from the fevered imagination of Lotus’ then CEO, the much unmissed Dany Bahar.

Britskrieg ! screamed the headline, as stridently as a dive-bombing Stuka; a tortured and needless piece of bellicose verbiage which previously only the UK’s Red Top editors might have considered. Such language was not only rather inappropriate, but references such as an “all out sports car war” were really Infra Dignitatem for a once high-brow title such as the EMAP monthly. It would be interesting to Continue reading “Punctuation Bingo!”

Welcome to the Machine – Part Six

Giving the XJ-S a brake.

Lynx Eventer. Image: Autoevolution

Nobody ever purchased a grand turismo motor car for its load-carrying capabilities, there being vehicles better suited to such tasks. But for a select few, such binary propositions exist only as orthodoxies to be upturned. It requires a certain mentality to envisage the recasting of something as indulgent as a 2+2 GT into an estate car. But in order to fill a vacuum, one must first Continue reading “Welcome to the Machine – Part Six”

Birthday Present, Birthday Past

“The Magnification of Inspired Performance

Infiniti Essence. Image: automobilesreview.com

The Japanese luxury carmaker had something it wanted to make clear in its 2009 Geneva press release: “What Essence is not is merely an indulgent birthday present from Infiniti to itself“, it asserted, immediately planting the germ of doubt into those of a more cynically minded bent.

2009 marked Geneva’s 79th motor show. Infiniti was present that year, celebrating twenty years since its inception. To mark this auspicious milestone, they displayed Essence, a petrol/electric/hybrid concept GT coupé. Essence’s mission it appears was twofold. To showcase a new design ethos, forecasting a range of more exciting vehicles to wear the Infiniti badge, but also to generate excitement around the brand as it made a late entry into the European market.

Nissan’s upmarket sub-brand needed to make up for lost ground. Having made its US debut in 1989, it arrived concurrent with, yet somewhat on the tail of Toyota’s more impactful Lexus nameplate. Over the intervening two decades, while its Toyota City rival became an accepted member of the ‘prestige’ firmament, Infiniti, owing in part to Nissan’s US-centric focus, not to mention a somewhat half-baked commitment to product development, remained something of an also-ran.

Nissan, never as strong or well-resourced as Toyota, probably bit off more than it ought by attempting to go head-to-head with Lexus. By 2009, not only had it the carmaker been forced to Continue reading “Birthday Present, Birthday Past”

Grand Horizons

A further lesson in design from Hyundai.

Image: (c) Hyundai.com

It has been stated with considerably greater authority[1] than mine that the current automotive design centre of gravity no longer resides in Europe, the US, nor indeed (as yet at least), China. Car design’s True North now points inexorably towards South Korea. Several factors have contributed to this enviable state of affairs, not least an influx of senior European design talent to the Hyundai group over recent decades, but the end results are entirely their own and can now Continue reading “Grand Horizons”

The Circus is Leaving Town

Farewell Fiesta.

Image: ar.motor1.com

When Ford began work on what would become the Bobcat programme in 1969, the small car market had not wholly coalesced around a single format. Even amid the developed nations of Europe, there was no real clarity, although there were vehicles in development, not least in France and Italy which would before long help change that.

The previous year, Ford of Europe had introduced the conventional rear-wheel-drive Escort as its entry level offering, a car which built upon the success of the UK-developed Anglia, offering similar virtues in a more updated, slightly larger, more refined package. However, apart from one or two high-tax markets, the Escort had moved above the Anglia’s one-litre entry point.

Escort’s (slight) shift upmarket was a wholly logical strategic decision at the time, one entirely in keeping with the blue oval’s growth plans. Customers were more affluent and had become more discerning and anyway, Ford did not Continue reading “The Circus is Leaving Town”

Welcome to the Machine – Part Five

Opening up the XJ-S. In sections.

Image: erwinxjs

Even amongst luxurious and indulgent grand turismos the Jaguar XJ-S stood apart, alongside its other more contentious attributes for its disproportionate length-to-cabin ratio. Despite generous exterior proportions, the XJ-S was avowedly a 2+2, with the rear seats of only the occasional variety. But if close-coupled coupés might be considered the preserve of the sybarite, its drophead coupé equivalent was by comparison entirely the chariot of the hedonist.

During the early 1970s, convertibles began to fall out of favour on both sides of the Atlantic. The reasons for this are complex, but a major factor influencing carmakers involved fears of draconian United States federal safety proposals which threatened to outlaw open-topped cars entirely, or at the very least render them unsaleable. In Europe on the other hand, as socio-political tensions began to turn violent, the Riviera-set elected to Continue reading “Welcome to the Machine – Part Five”

Star Fighter

Cadillac dares. Greatly.

Image: Autoevolution

In 1910, former US President, Theodore Roosevelt gave a speech at the Paris Sorbonne entitled, ‘Citizenship in a Republic’, a rousing panegyric[1] in which he lauded the protagonist, the man in the arena, rather than the spectator or the critic. It was the figure of action who mattered, he posited, the man who dared. In the century since it was given, this oft-cited piece of oratory has resonated and inspired generations[2].

At the 2016 Pebble Beach auto show, Cadillac displayed Escala, one of a long line of high-end Cadillac concept cars destined to founder upon the jagged rocks of GM’s timorous caution. The Escala was an elegant fastback sedan, one which elicited an element of critical handwringing owing to its hatchback format, a curious style decision given the US car buyer’s long-held distaste for such layouts.

Certainly, Cadillac themselves appeared to acknowledge that they had some convincing to do, and since every concept nowadays must have a catchy PR slogan to underpin it, the one appended to Escala urged one and all to Continue reading “Star Fighter”

Kenosha Kid

The immortal ‘Frogeye’ Sprite was a quintessentially British design, but could its roots have lain further West?

Image: amklassiek.nl

Editor’s note: This article was originally published in July 2018.

The compact two-seat sportscar wasn’t necessarily a British invention, but for a period during the twentieth century, the UK was perhaps its prime exponent. Hardly surprising, given Britain’s traditionally serpentine network of narrow undulating roads and a taxation regime which dictated lower capacity, longer-stroke engines of limited outright power.

But the British are an inventive people and soon found ways to Continue reading “Kenosha Kid”

Sons of Pioneers

A visionary BMW? It doesn’t seem so long ago.

Into the sunset. Farewell i3. Image: (c) Media BMW

It has become customary nowadays to discuss the carmaking giant of Bayerische Motoren Werke AG in anguished tones, akin perhaps to the sort of concern one might feel towards a once-reliable friend in the throes of an unnerving and potentially damaging life-crisis. But it wasn’t always thus. A little over a decade ago, the German carmaker was at the forefront of automotive future-thinking and a genuine pathfinder towards zero emission mobility. Not only that, the cars with which BMW entered the EV market were as futurist in appearance as they were beneath their arresting skin panels.

The birth of the BMW i programme goes back to the latter portion of the post-millennial decade, a time of unfettered expansion for the Vierzylinder, not only in commercial and product terms but also in the visionary sense. During this fecund period, in a quiet corner of BMW’s FIZ engineering nerve centre, a radical and potentially transformative project was gaining impetus and momentum. Project i brought together a small group of electrical engineers, chemists and product strategists under the leadership of Ulrich Kranz, to Continue reading “Sons of Pioneers”

Sayer’s Moodboard

The Jaguar XJ-S came from outer space – or did it?

Image: XJ story

Editor’s note: This piece was originally published in November 2017.

A shape which to this day repels as much as it fascinates, the Jaguar XJ-S remains a car which divides opinion. While the reasons for repulsion are easy enough to discern, its fascination lies not only as a function of its striking shape, but also from a sense that its styling came about without precedent. But surely no car is developed entirely in a vacuum?

Driven to Write has covered the XJ-S’ stylistic development in some detail already, so you might consider it a little self-indulgent to Continue reading “Sayer’s Moodboard”

Welcome to the Machine – Part Four

Supercat leaps back to life. 

Image (c) Auto-Didakt

If ‘efficiency’ is the watchword for the 1980s, what hope is there for the Jaguar XJ-S?” Opening their October 1980 test report of Jaguar’s embattled grand turismo coupé, UK magazine, Motor got right to nub of the matter. Because at the time, the auguries were ominous.

That Spring, Jaguar itself had come within squeaking distance of closure. With production having slumped to levels not seen since the 1950s[1]; convulsed by a bruising walk-out of production-line workers, a full-blown crisis at the Castle Bromwich paint plant, and high drama at boardroom level, the carmaker (if indeed it could still be described as such) was clinging by a thread.

This nihilistic mindset was echoed by striking line workers at Browns Lane, who had become convinced that BL management were determined to Continue reading “Welcome to the Machine – Part Four”

Boxed

This Cube was no square.

Image: netcarshow

The design mantra of longer, lower and wider was largely, if not exclusively an American construct, but was not something which survived exposure to congested European and Far Eastern city streets. It is therefore little surprise to observe that two of the most prolific car designing nations to have eschewed such architectural nostrums are Italy and Japan.

Shorter, taller and narrower as a philosophy was something that perhaps could be said to have (in the modern idiom at least) originated in Turin, but was taken up with some alacrity in cities as diverse as Hamamatsu, Ikeda, Shizuoka and Yokohama, since Japan’s cityscapes are at least as choked and traffic-ridden as those of its Latin counterparts.

The inherent limitations of such potentially restrictive silhouettes had the effect of giving rise to considerable creativity and in Japan at least, a playful sense of absurdist fun. Not entirely confined to Kei cars, the wider Japanese car industry, despite its often deadly serious nature, has been known to occasionally Continue reading “Boxed”

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”