Anniversary Waltz 2010 – The Wrath of Eyjafjallajökull

We round out the waltz with a look back on a detonating landmass. 

The 2010 eruption of Eyjafjallajökull in Iceland. (c) BBC

Given its situation in the midst of the North Atlantic, perched upon a massive faultline, it’s hardly surprising that Iceland is utterly defined by its landscape. The least densely populated country in Europe, it is perhaps best known for its geothermal and seismic activity, much of which falls into the category of visually dramatic but relatively harmless (from a safe distance). However, Iceland’s landmass is not to be trifled with. In 2010 the Nordic country made the front pages when the Eyjafjallajökull volcano erupted, spewing massive quantities of volcanic ash thousands of miles into the atmosphere.

As the giant ash cloud migrated across the Atlantic, air traffic across Europe became paralysed, with thousands of travellers stranded over the Easter period, when huge numbers of people would normally Continue reading “Anniversary Waltz 2010 – The Wrath of Eyjafjallajökull”

Anniversary Waltz 2000 – New Millennial MINI. 

Sputnik Falls, MINI rises.

“What do you mean ‘what dome’? And you call yourself a location scout?”  The 2000 Mini range. (c) thelastminis

It seemed for a time that it would simply go on indefinitely, but in 2000, after 41 years, time’s irresistible march finally caught up and Sputnik came home. The last years of Mini production saw it become something of a tribute act, with a bewildering array of special editions being offered, (mainly for Japanese consumption) culminating in the wide-tracked Cooper Sport 500, an example of which being the very last Mini built, leaving the Longbridge tracks on October 4th that year.

The advent of the new millennium was greeted with lurid fireworks along the Thames and thousands queuing to be underwhelmed by Mr. Mandelson’s Millennium Experience in Greenwich, but it wasn’t just Mini that sputtered and popped that year, so too the unhappy BMW-Rover alliance. Unravelling for some time, the Vierzylinder officially announced plans to Continue reading “Anniversary Waltz 2000 – New Millennial MINI. “

Anniversary Waltz 1990 – Rubbin’ is Racin’

High concept. Low expectations.

Cole Trickle aka Tom Cruise from 1990’s Days of Thunder. (c) Radio Times

There is believed to be a document secreted in a vault somewhere in the Hollywood hills that states the actual reason why it’s impossible to make a wholly credible motion picture about motor racing. Clearly, this parchment has never come to light. This of course has not prevented certain ambitious producers from making the attempt, and indeed some efforts have been rather better than others – not however, today’s featured celluloid gem.

Days of Thunder was created by the same executive producer and directing team (Don Simpson/ Jerry Brookheimer/ Tony Scott) that had brought Top Gun to the silver screens in 1986, reimagining both storyline and exposition to Continue reading “Anniversary Waltz 1990 – Rubbin’ is Racin’”

Anniversary Waltz 1980 – Born Under Punches

The name of this band is Talking Heads.

Image: 99designs.uk

In 1980, the Art Rock grouping of frontman David Byrne, Bassist Tina Weymouth, drummer Chris Frantz and guitarist Jerry Harrison released what would become their defining album. The four-piece, which played its first gig as Talking Heads in 1975 at New York’s CBGB venue had forged a reputation, first in the post-punk new-wave scene, but after they began to Continue reading “Anniversary Waltz 1980 – Born Under Punches”

Adieu 2020

A year in microcosm. 

A visual metaphor. Image: Freedom of Creation

There it goes. The year that wasn’t. Worst year ever. One which has at times felt something more akin to a grim combination of Groundhog Day and Flann O’Brien’s The Third Policeman. A painful year for most, a life changing one for many others. But still as they’d say round these parts, mad for road. But at this brief period of reflection before we wend further onward, there remains as much to Continue reading “Adieu 2020”

New Year’s Greetings

And about flippin’ time as well…

There have been times this year where I have questioned the relevance of continuing what at times appeared rather a frivolous and indulgent platform amid something as urgent and potentially lethal as the C-19 pandemic’s indifferent swathe through lives and livelihoods. In the end however, I think the correct decision was to Continue reading “New Year’s Greetings”

Anniversary Waltz 1970 – Help the Bombardier!

“They’re trying to kill me”, Yossarian told him calmly. “No one’s trying to kill you”, Clevinger cried. “Then why are they shooting at me?” Yossarian asked. “They’re shooting at everyone”, Clevinger answered. “They’re trying to kill everyone”. “And what difference does that make?”

Alan Arkin as Captain Yossarian in a still from Mike Nichols’ adaptation of Catch-22. Image: rob’s movie vault

History did not demand Yossarian’s premature demise, justice could be satisfied without it, progress did not hinge upon it, victory did not depend on it. That men would die was a matter of necessity; which men would die, though, was a matter of circumstance, and Yossarian was willing to be the victim of anything but circumstance.

Joseph Heller’s 1961 novel, Catch-22 characterised the blind terror, numbing futility, banality and sheer mindlessness of war through the eyes and experiences of a US Air Force bombardier who becomes grimly determined to Continue reading “Anniversary Waltz 1970 – Help the Bombardier!”

Anniversary Waltz 1960 – Here Come the Big Jets

Faster is not always better. 

Convair 880 at take off. Image: Airliners.net

There remains some debate as to when the Jet Age truly began, but to put it in aviation parlance, 1960 is generally held as being the point of v-max, this being the speed above which take-off must be attempted. The kerosene-fuelled era of widespread commercial air travel was unsurprisingly synonymous with the United States, even if Britain’s De Havilland largely pioneered the commercial jet airliner with its elegant if doomed 1952 Comet. All-comers however would be overwhelmed by the irresistible rise of the Boeing 707 and McDonald Douglas DC8, soon to Continue reading “Anniversary Waltz 1960 – Here Come the Big Jets”

Season’s Greetings

It’s happened again.

seasons greetings

It’s that most special time: one where we find ourselves asking, where the loving hell the year went, why am I wearing a paper crown on my head, and why isn’t there any sherry left in this bottle? Even more to the point, what exactly is Gorden Wagener doing in my kitchen, and what will it take for him to leave? So many questions…

Some of you might Continue reading “Season’s Greetings”

Anniversary Waltz 1950 : Do Not Try To Understand, Just believe

Keeping death at bay.

Jean Marais in a still from Jean Cocteau’s Orphée from 1950. Image: Taste of Cinema

Death travels in a Rolls Royce landaulet accompanied by a pair of leather-clad motorcycle outriders. The portal between the living world and the afterlife is fluid and open. Reflections come fraught with risk. Death herself; beautiful, irresistible in her terrible inevitability is nonetheless prey to similar failings as us mortals. Reality pivots amid clever reverse projections and rippling looking glasses – Jean Cocteau’s visionary 1950 movie Orphée retells the myth of Orpheus and his journey into the underworld, set amid the landscape of post-war France.

The aftermath of hostilities was a desperate time across Europe; the old ways could no longer continue, given how the continent had been altered by war. For Alfa Romeo it marked something of an existential crisis. The coachbuilt cars they previously specialised in were no longer relevant, and with Portello being forced to Continue reading “Anniversary Waltz 1950 : Do Not Try To Understand, Just believe”

Insight in Hindsight

Honda’s 2010 CR-Z was not without precedent. Quite the contrary.

(c) autoevolution

Of all the mainstream Japanese carmakers, Honda have perhaps the longest track record of going about things their own way. Yes, one can point to someone like Subaru and suggest an element of stand-alone behaviour, but while Fuji Heavy Industries has for the most part cleaved doggedly to one central idea, one never quite knows what Honda is likely to get up to next.

Take the 2010 Honda CR-Z: A compact 2+2 hybrid coupé was not the epicentre of automotive orthodoxy ten years ago, the intention being to create something of a halo model to help nudge customers towards Honda’s more prosaic range of Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) petrol-combustion hybrid drive models. But not only was the drivetrain shared with the concurrent Civic Hybrid and stand-alone Prius-baiting Insight model, so too was the platform, in this case with a sizeable chunk excised from the centre section.[1]

The CR-Z also arrived with a palpably strong sense of déjà-Vu, insofar as more observant Honda watchers were likely to Continue reading “Insight in Hindsight”

Welcome to the Machine (Part Two)

The shock of the new manifested itself in more ways than style alone.

Image: Jaguar Cars via the marquis

When Jaguar introduced the XJ-S in the autumn of 1975, the shock many observers felt was not only visual, but also conceptual. The first car of its kind to be produced by the Coventry specialist carmaker, it was perhaps closer in format to that of an American Personal Luxury Coupé than anything Jaguar had produced up to that point.

Sir William Lyons, Jaguar Chairman and the man to Continue reading “Welcome to the Machine (Part Two)”

New Frontier (Part Six)

We dive beneath the skin.

Image: influx

Irrespective of whether Citroën’s Bureau d’Études was acting in concert or as alleged, in a contrary and fragmentary fashion, there were a number of engineering imperatives which for them would prove sacrosanct. The first of these and perhaps foremost was the mode through which drive forces would be transmitted.

The second and if anything, just as much a prerequisite would be the use of Citroën’s centralised engine-driven, high-pressure hydraulics for damping, steering, braking, levelling and attitude control. This highly innovative and technically ambitious oleo-pneumatic system was developed by Paul Magès and first employed for the rear suspension of the 1954 15 h model, prior to it being rolled out in fully fledged form in 1955’s DS 19.

Assisting Magès on Projet S was Hubert Alléra, who had amongst his other palmarès, designed the hydraulically actuated gearchange for the DS. Suspension-wise, the SM didn’t depart radically from existing practice, in fact a great deal of DS thinking (and hardware) was almost literally carried over; largely for cost reasons, but also because in the opinion of Jacques Né, not only were they strong enough to Continue reading “New Frontier (Part Six)”

Original Sin

Ten years on, are we ready to forgive yet?

(c) autoblog

In most creative spheres, there are only so many ideas to go around. Easier then to blend and repackage the pre-existing, a familiar gambit amid the mainstream arts, and especially so in film. We’re all familiar with the putative movie pitch: “It’s Love Actually meets Inception, but, the twist is, everyone’s really a werewolf“, and so forth. After all, why go to the trouble of being original, when its easier to reimagine someone else’s idea.

To many observers the Nissan Juke came across in a similarly contrived manner when it debuted in 2010. A confection of wholly contrary styling features more or less co-existing in an uneasy truce, it was not what anyone would Continue reading “Original Sin”

French Polish

DTW makes the case for the Peugeot 404.

Image: Author’s Collection

Regardless of whether one is discussing art, cuisine, kitchen appliances, or indeed motor cars, definitives are tricky things to quantify. In the field of automobiles, applying such measures to specific marques comes fraught with even more difficulty, but this doesn’t necessarily mean that one ought not Continue reading “French Polish”

A Matter of SMantics

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

(c) dyler-com

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

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

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

New Frontier (Part Five)

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

Image: lautomobileancienne

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

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

Bach To Life

It’s ‘bach, and still wrong. 

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

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

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

The Crowe Interpretation

Don’t like our new design? Whatever…

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

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

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

New Frontier (Part Four)

What prompted Citroën’s buyout of Maserati?

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

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

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

In Memoriam – Aldo Brovarone

We salute a departed master of form.

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

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

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

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

New Frontier (Part Three)

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

Image: The author

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

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

The Art of Saying Goodbye

Some words are harder to say than others.

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

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

New Frontier (Part Two)

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

Image: racingcars-wikidot

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

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

Oh Nicole!

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

(c) autoevolution

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

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

New Frontier (Part One)

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

(c) stubs-auto.fr

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

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

3 + 1 = 500

Fiat introduces a Quattroporte – well, sort of. 

(c) topgear

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

Lucky Seven

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

(c) stubs-auto.fr

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

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

Keeping the Seat Warm

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

Alfa 90. Image: viaretro

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

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

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

Act of Defiance

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

All images: the author

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

Talent Borrows

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

de Tomaso Deauville. (c) classic-driver

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

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

Under the Knife – When You Should Just Let Things Be

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

(c) autoevolution

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

Am I Gonna Make It, Doc?

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

2021 XF. Image: autonxt

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

Beavering Away

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

Image: silodrome

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

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

Anastasis

We examine the death and afterlife of the Triumph Stag.

Image: wallpaperup

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

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

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

Image: Author’s collection

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

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

Under the Knife – Racing Certainty

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

1992 Alfa Romeo 155. Image: pistonudos

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

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

Welcome to the Machine (Part One)

How does one follow up a classic?

jaguar xjs
Image: Practical Classics

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

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

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

Mezza Berlina

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

1967 Fiat 125 berlina. (c) wheelsage

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

Blues for Ceaușescu

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

Oltcit Club. (c) autobible.euro.cz

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

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

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

Tour de Enyaq

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

(c) Skoda-Storyboard

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

Bohemian Rhapsody

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

Tatra 613. Image: motor1

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

We tend to Continue reading “Bohemian Rhapsody”

Death At One’s Elbow

It’s the circle of life folks…

Ferrari GTC4 Lusso. (c) automobile

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

Sense and Sensuality

Modern luxury collides with post-opulence. 

W223 S-Class. Image: gtspirit

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

A Song For Erika

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

1980 Ford Escort Ghia. (c) curbsideclassic

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

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

2020 Vision.

We’ll have no shouting here…

Are you sure this is Cork? All images:  CB

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

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

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

Sir Alec ‘Nose Best

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

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

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

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

Unfinished Sympathy

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

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

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

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

Strike a Pose

Getting the Mini message across – 1970’s style.

Image: the author

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

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

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

A Right Pair of Nymphs

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

topcarrating
1969 Lancia Flaminia Marica: (c) topcarrating

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

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