Speed – VELOcity

In praise of the racing bicycle

smithfieldvelo
Image: Driven to Write

The sensation of speed is often as much a function of proximity as it is of exposure. The less there is between you and the road below, the more immersive the experience, as any Caterham owner will tell you as he attempts to draw your attention from the rain soaked, hand-tooled moccasins he knew he shouldn’t have worn. But really, if you want to experience speed at its most unadulterated, the racing bicycle stands supreme.

Continue reading “Speed – VELOcity”

History Repeating – The Tragedy of Jaguar’s XJ40

A new Jerusalem, or nothing but the same old story? In this series of articles, we examine XJ40’s turbulent conception and ask, was this the last Jaguar?

Jaguar XJ40_04 (1)
Image: Jaguar Heritage

Billed at launch as the Jag without tears; a high-tech culmination of an unprecedented level of proving in some of the world’s most hostile environments, XJ40 represented a new beginning for an embattled marque. As much the story of Jaguar’s dogged resistance as it is of the car itself, XJ40’s 22-year career encapsulates the most tumultuous period in the company’s history.

The tragedy of XJ40 is twin-pronged. Throughout this torrid decade, XJ40 became Jaguar’s talisman, the one hope a demoralised corps could cling to when there appeared to be no future. Central to this were efforts of successive engineering chiefs to maintain the marque’s identity, but success would come at bitter personal cost.

XJ40’s lengthy gestation meant the end result was viewed in some quarters as a disappointment, yet this belies the enormous efforts made to ensure XJ40 modernised, yet maintained marque traditions. The first truly modern Jaguar, the model was critically acclaimed upon release, but the car’s reputation was damaged by early build issues it never quite overcame.

Despite being the best-selling XJ series of all, XJ40 today remains something of an outlier within the official Jaguar narrative, only latterly being appreciated for its finer qualities and for its status as arguably the most ambitious and technically pure Jaguar ever.

It could also be said to mark the point when Jaguar’s stylists ceased to look forward, resulting in a nostalgic philosophy Ford’s interventionist management subsequently wrung dry with the XJ40 series’ ultimate successor – 2003’s X350 series.

In fact, parallels between XJ40 and its Ford-funded successor run deep. Both were intended to be technological flagships for both Jaguar and their parent. Both attempted to marry technical innovation with traditional styling. Both failed to stabilise the business and indirectly precipitated further changes of ownership.

“…It’s all just a little bit of history repeating…”, Shirley Bassey once purred over a Jaguar TV advert, and this lyric contains a truism, because for Jaguar the past refuses to stay buried for long.

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More on Jaguar

Sources / Credits / Further reading:
Project XJ40 – Philip Porter
XJ40- Evolution of the Species – Andrew Whyte
John Egan & The Will to Win – John Underwood
Norman Dewis – Developing the Legend – Paul Skilleter
Sir William Lyons The Authorised Biography – Philip Porter/Paul Skilleter
AROnline
Motor (11 Oct 1986)
Autocar (8 Oct/Oct 15 1986)
Car (November 1986/March 1986/Nov 1987)
Performance Car (November 1986)

High Concept – 1992 Ghia Focus

So many car design concepts intrigue and delight upon initial viewing but date as quickly. A notable exception to this truism sits below :

92ghia_ford_focus_09

The 1992 Ghia Focus. First displayed at that year’s Turin Motor show to rapturous acclaim, it was a compact barchetta style roadster, and it’s radical form language prefigured a new direction for Ford. Its influence however, would ultimately extend further beyond Ford’s Dearborn, Dunton, Merkenich and Turin studios.

Continue reading “High Concept – 1992 Ghia Focus”

A Question of Form

Has Centro Stile Fiat ever produced a design of lasting significance?

centro stile alfa romeo
Centro Stile Alfa Romeo (as was).

This is the question I found myself asking following a recent Driven to Write piece on Lorenzo Ramaciotti – (which I urge you to read). Because like many, I held firm to the view that Turin’s fabled carrozzerie were responsible for every design worthy of note. On the other hand, memory can sometimes prove a faulty co-driver, so I did what any self-respecting autophile would do at this point and revisited the Fiat group’s styling back catalogue in a quest for answers. So what I offer here is a list of significant Fiats of the last 50 years and who is believed responsible for their styling.  Continue reading “A Question of Form”

Theme : Badging – Emblem of Malaise

A badge can often tell you a lot more than what exactly it is you’re driving behind…

0811_05_z+1966_lancia_fulvia_coupe+badge_and_taillightThe badging on the rear of this first series Lancia Fulvia coupé is rather lovely. It resembles a signature and perfectly encapsulates Lancia’s quality ethos at the time. This wasn’t a cheap car and the badge told you this with elegance and eloquence.

Continue reading “Theme : Badging – Emblem of Malaise”

FCA – State of the Empire – Part Two

The second of a two part examination of FCA’s European operations and the feasibility of Sergio Marchionne’s four-year plan to revive them. Part two – There will be blood:

0094f_100mm_raised_soft_plastic_badgeSelling Ferrari
FCA’s presentation made a point of telling the financial and automotive worlds just how much Marchionne is prepared to accept for the sale of Ferrari, suggesting the fabled Marenello concern is for sale; despite firm denials from within FCA itself. Some might say that he would be insane to do so – the ‘Cavallino Rampante’ being probably the most valuable automotive brand in the universe right now.

But look at it another way. If we believe the hype, everybody wants to Continue reading “FCA – State of the Empire – Part Two”

FCA – State of the Empire – Part One

A two part examination of FCA’s European operations and the feasibility of Sergio Marchionne’s four-year plan to revive them.

A_Pantone_VersionNow that the captives have escaped, the presentations are complete and fruit and vegetables been thrown, perhaps it is germane to take a look behind the figures and statistics at the state of affairs facing Fiat Chrysler Automobiles in Europe as they painfully inch towards their eventual fate.

alfa romeo

Alfa Romeo’s revival
If Marchionne is to be believed, the world is breathlessly awaiting the revival of Alfa Romeo, and while he’s been trying to Continue reading “FCA – State of the Empire – Part One”

Sergio’s Latest Fantasy Franchise

Sergio unveils his elaborate masterplan for FCA’s future and it’s a staggering work of fiction. 

1_29
Dear lord, make it stop!

Last week Sergio Marchionne kept a selection of the world’s auto journalists captive for a ten hour marathon outlining his vision for the next five years at the newly merged FCA. Those who managed to sit through the numbing PowerPoint presentations, the staggering level of detail, the sheer grinding onslaught of facts, statistics, projections, flying unicorns and outright fantasies probably needed more than a few restorative shandies to steady their shattered nerves.

Continue reading “Sergio’s Latest Fantasy Franchise”

Reconvening the Committee

Arguably the most misunderstood Jaguar of all time, Driven to Write seeks once and for all to put the ‘committee design’ assertion to rest as we examine the defamation of the XJ-S.

Jaguar-XJS-Red-Strip-1280x960%5B3%5D
Image: The Telegraph

In September 1975 the newly nationalised British Leyland conglomerate celebrated the Jaguar XJ-S’ launch at Longbridge, the traditional home of its volume car division. A worse time to launch a 150-mph grand turismo is difficult to imagine, to say nothing of the chosen setting. The venue was a calculated statement of power, British Leyland ensuring Jaguar’s beleaguered management and workforce knew exactly who was in charge. Continue reading “Reconvening the Committee”

XJ-S: Reconvening the Committee (Part 5)

We convene the committee one final time and examine the defamation of the XJ-S.

Image via Jaguar Heritage
Image: Jaguar Heritage

Widely seen as the most outspoken and irreverent of the UK’s automotive titles, Car was the journal most automotive journalists and commentators looked to and emulated. It’s evident the ‘committee-design’ assertion emanated from this source, which illustrates that journalists are as prone to suggestion as anyone. The press subsequently appropriated this assertion which over time morphed into established fact. Car editor Mel Nichols made his views clear in October 1975, stating; Continue reading “XJ-S: Reconvening the Committee (Part 5)”

Theme : Badging – Written on the Body

Do car badges have intrinsic value? Driven to Write investigates.

alfa_159_ti__sportwagon

We all misread the obvious sometimes. Our world is frequently confusing, as are the brands and symbols that surround us. The car badge or emblem embodies a narrative – an entire marque history distilled into a small piece of moulded plastic.

In truth we don’t really see badges on cars – our eyes note them before storing them away as extraneous information. It is only when they are conspicuous by their absence that we Continue reading “Theme : Badging – Written on the Body”

Theme : Cute Car Hall of Fame – Innocenti 90/120L

Bertone gives Issigonis’ box on wheels some sharp-suited Italian style and demonstrates how cute doesn’t always mean curvy.

innocenticolourThe 1970’s can be seen as a bit of a lost decade when it comes to cute cars apart from this – the Innocenti 90/120L. Innocenti’s association with BMC began in 1960, producing cars like the Austin A40, 1100 and more notably, the Mini under licence for the Italian market. Innocenti’s versions of BMC models tended to be plusher; the subtle restyling undertaken often appearing better judged and executed than those of their UK counterparts.

Continue reading “Theme : Cute Car Hall of Fame – Innocenti 90/120L”

XJ-S: Reconvening the Committee (Part 4)

We take a more in-depth look at the Jaguar XJ-S’ styling. 

Image: forum-miata
Image: forum-miata

The world fell in love with the E-Type, but what many fail to realise is that by the early ’70s, Jaguar’s sports car icon was virtually unmarketable, the curves everyone loved in 1961 now hopelessly out of fashion. Yet when Jaguar announced the XJ-S as lineal successor, traditionalists had apoplexy on the spot. But was it really that much of a departure?

Continue reading “XJ-S: Reconvening the Committee (Part 4)”

Theme: What’s Cute Got to Do with It?

Adventures in cute car culture…

Cartoon-cars-3
Image: clipart-library

The problem with ‘cute’ is that it’s such a nebulous term. It can be an adjective, a noun or an adverb, so its meaning has shifted markedly since its origins in the 18th century. After all, one person’s pretty or dainty is another’s contrived and calculating. So when it comes to cute, which is it? However you view the term, you simply can’t Continue reading “Theme: What’s Cute Got to Do with It?”

Theme : Cute Car Hall of Fame – Austin Healey Sprite

The cutest car ever?

Image credit: (c) carfromuk

Has there ever been a more unselfconsciously cute car than the Frogeye Sprite? That grinning air intake, those amphibian headlights and pert form, to the dainty little tail-lights, the little Austin-Healey is about as friendly and cuddlesome as a miniature Schnauzer. Had Pixar created it, it really couldn’t have any more maddeningly lovable.

Despite its manifold charms, somehow the little Frogeye manages to Continue reading “Theme : Cute Car Hall of Fame – Austin Healey Sprite”

Theme : Cute – Name That Mitsubishi

To celebrate Cute Month at DTW, we are offering Mitsubishi, FREE OF CHARGE, the attached name restructuring for their UK vehicle range.  

Mitsubishi copy

Our consultants have come up with names that celebrate the ever maximising lifestyles of  the 21st Century motorist whilst silently vocalising the informal outlook filtered through the standpoint of pertinent social media. Prices have been raised accordingly to reflect the added desirability these cute but cutting-edge names will surely engender.

 

Geneva 2014 – The View from the Sofa

2014_Geneva_Motor_Show_4Look, anyone and their dog can get on a plane and physically attend the Geneva Motor Show, but frankly that’s a little passé now. No, by far the more arduous, some might even say, daring approach is to stay at home, in pyjamas, eating toast and allowing someone else do all the legwork. Well that’s my justification anyway and no, you can’t have any more jam until you behave yourself.  Continue reading “Geneva 2014 – The View from the Sofa”

XJ-S: Reconvening the Committee (Part 3)

The XJ-S marked a entirely fresh direction for Jaguar style. We examine its birthpangs.

XJ27 takes shape in Jaguar's Styling studio - image via ARonline/Jaguar Cars
XJ27 takes shape in Jaguar’s Styling studio circa 1970. Image: ARonline

Early in 1969, work on XJ27 began in earnest. Due to BLMC’s straitened finances, funding was limited to utilising a modified version of the existing XJ saloon substructure and hardware component set. Structurally and mechanically then, there would be few surprises. Stylistically however, Sayer had something far more radical in mind.  Continue reading “XJ-S: Reconvening the Committee (Part 3)”

Decoding Audi’s TT Press Release…

…so you don’t have to.

audi-tt-2014-front-quarter-static


A wise man once said that you can prove anything with facts. He was right – you can. However, float above the narrow prism of the factual and reality becomes a more nebulous concept. For it is within this white space the automotive press-release copywriter dwells. A land of fairies and elves, where steaming troughs of hyperbole appear as tureens of nourishing broth.

Illustrating that despite the nature of the current motoring landscape, car manufacturers appear to Continue reading “Decoding Audi’s TT Press Release…”

Coupé de Grâce

The upper-middle class coupé is almost extinct. We trace its demise.

Volvo 780ES. Image: petrolblog
Bertone’s Volvo 780ES. Image: petrolblog

Large upper-middle class coupés only made commercial sense if they could be produced to appeal to both domestic and US audiences. Mercedes-Benz, BMW and the Japanese manufacturers alone seemed to understand this, ensuring they could export their offerings to the sector’s natural habitat. Success in automotive terms had traditionally been predicated on success in America and for that, a luxury coupé was highly desirable.  Continue reading “Coupé de Grâce”

Ripping Yarns

How is FCA’s bejumpered boss managing?

sergio-marchionneI don’t think I’m necessarily alone in finding Sergio Marchionne’s penchant for jumpers a little unsettling. Yes I concede it is lazy of me to expect an Italian captain of industry to cleave to national sartorial stereotype; why shouldn’t he buck the norm, even if the result is somewhat unedifying.

Fine tailoring might be what we expect, but in Marchionne’s case the knitwear appears a little too studied, just a tiny bit artful. The cosy jumpers appear to Continue reading “Ripping Yarns”

XJ-S: Reconvening the Committee (Part 2)

Two figures defined XJ-S’ aesthetics: we examine their methods.

jaguar xjs back end
Driven to Write is unable to locate the source of this image

Sir William Lyons not only founded Jaguar Cars but personally supervised all matters of styling. His approach involved working (alongside skilled technicians) from full-sized wooden and metal styling ‘bucks’ which once reviewed in natural light he would have modified until he arrived at a conclusion he was satisfied with. Continue reading “XJ-S: Reconvening the Committee (Part 2)”

Theme: Headlamps – The View Ahead

We’re not still sticking lights on the front of our cars, are we? Time for some fresh thinking perhaps.

2010-RDX-Racedesign-Peugeot-207-Headlight-1024x768
Image: RDX-Racedesign

Modern life isn’t necessarily rubbish, but on balance, it is somewhat disappointing. Not just the gnawing pointlessness of so much of it, but the nagging sense that the brave new world we were promised back in the 70s has decisively failed to materialise. Because laying aside for a moment the jet-scooters, orgasmatrons and robotised dogs we were all expecting to enjoy, there remain aspects of the motor car which really should have met the rendezvous with the eternal.

Take headlamps for example. After more than a hundred years of almost constant automotive development, surely we could have Continue reading “Theme: Headlamps – The View Ahead”

What Lies Beneath?

What is the future for Car Manufacturing?

Car BadgesThere have always been cases of re-skins creating ‘different’ vehicles; and indeed VW Group have become masters at doing this in-house. But between independent brands this has usually been discreet and car companies have remained proud of their ability to manufacture the oily bits, as in the example of the Vauxhall salesman who once vehemently denied to me that the diesel in an Omega was manufactured by BMW. You might have thought he’d Continue reading “What Lies Beneath?”

The Vision Thing

Reassessing Chris Bangle’s Bayerische Motoren Werke Legacy.

Chris Bangle. Image credit: Innovation Management

Only a handful of individuals shape what we drive and by consequence, what populates our streets and driveways. Our current notions of automotive style were formed during the 1950s in the styling studios of Detroit and within the Italian carrozzieri, who fired imaginations and rendered dreams in hand-beaten alloy. For decades these designers and artisans were largely faceless men but during the 1980’s, the car designer emerged from obscurity and into the consciousness of the auto-literate.

But within another decade the reign of the Italian styling houses had reached its apogee and with carmakers moving to Continue reading “The Vision Thing”

XJ-S: Reconvening the Committee

Part one:  Arguably the most misunderstood Jaguar of all time, Driven to Write seeks once and for all to put the ‘committee design’ assertion to rest as we assess the stylistic genesis of the 1975 XJ-S.

Jaguar-XJS-Red-Strip-1280x960%5B3%5D
Image: The Telegraph

In September 1975 the newly nationalised British Leyland conglomerate celebrated the Jaguar XJ-S’ launch at Longbridge, the traditional home of its volume car division. A worse time to launch a 150-mph grand turismo is difficult to imagine, to say nothing of the chosen setting. The venue was a calculated statement of power, British Leyland ensuring Jaguar’s beleaguered management and workforce knew exactly who was in charge. Continue reading “XJ-S: Reconvening the Committee”

A Niche Too Far?

Sometimes it pays to be brave, sometimes it doesn’t. Better luck next time, Renault.

Initiale-ParísBy the final decade of the 20th century, motor manufacturers, having established that engineering integrity would only take them so far in the quest for market leadership, began to realise that the answer to their prayers lay within the spreadsheets and focus groups of the product planning departments. In a mature market, largely populated by feckless new money garnered from illusory internet start-ups and awash with cheap credit, the differentiator between the automotive carnivores and their prey would be defined by one word: Segmentation. Entire departments sprang up in such demographically significant hotspots as Miami, London and Southern California, all tasked with seeking that elusive niche that would give the parent company a jump on their rivals.

Continue reading “A Niche Too Far?”

Sir Basil Milford-Vestibule – A Life Unstitched

KnittingPatternSimon A Kearne’s long awaited biography of Sir Basil Milford-Vestibule is well overdue. Keenly awaited by enthusiasts of engineering and knitting alike, this comprehensive overview of an almost-legendary engineering genius and his lifetime’s work as chief engineer of The Empire Motor Company.

Kearne, (who requires little introduction), was granted unprecedented access to the Milford-Vestibule archive and through painstaking research, has crafted a biography as maddeningly eccentric as the subject himself; a book, one can’t help feeling, Sir Basil would have berated publicly but secretly adored.  Continue reading “Sir Basil Milford-Vestibule – A Life Unstitched”