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.
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 to Continue reading “Number Nine Dream”
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?”
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”
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”
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.
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, 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 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”
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”
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, 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”
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.
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”
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”
In the wake of BLMC’s 1968 marriage of convenience, Donald Stokes and his management team began piecing together a product strategy for the multifarious (and in some cases) overlapping marques that constituted the increasingly unwieldy British car giant. Amid this new order, the fate of MG would be subordinated to that of Triumph. And while some speculative MG designs were proposed, the reality was that Abingdon came virtually last in the BLMC Chairman’s priority list – the MGB remained a successful, profitable model line – a cheap nip and tuck and it was good for another couple of years.
The 31st staging of the Le Mans 24 Hour endurance race took place at the circuit de la Sarthe over the 15th and 16th of June 1963. It would be won by the Scuderia Ferrari entrant, a 250P, driven by an all-Italian pairing of Ludovico Scarfiotti and Lorenzo Bandini, marking not only the first time a mid-engined race machine had won the event, but also the largest winning margin in 36 years.
Le Mans was to prove something of a Ferrari benefit that year, with Maranello taking the first six places of a field, which through a combination of attrition, misfortune and tragedy was whittled down to 12 finishers. This final classified car was an MGB, a solo privateer entry, discretely backed by the works. But in this case, finishing at the rear of the field would be marked as a victory (in Abingdon at least).
The MG marque iconography was forged to a very large extent upon competition, and although by the early 1960s, BMC’s racing activities were primarily focussed upon the Mini Cooper, their well organised competition department was centred at MG’s Abingdon facility. Not that BMC did everything themselves; the Cooper Car Company, Broadspeed and Equipe Arden handling the Mini’s UK and overseas track career, while the Healey Motor Company prepared heavily modified Sprites in the International Sports Car classes.
The MGC was born under a bad sign, or to further the musical analogy, a bum note. On paper it ought to have been a winning combination. Take a proven, popular car and improve performance and desirability with a larger, more powerful engine. Yet largely due to BMC’s parsimony, MG was saddled with a car which was met by derision. Whether the car’s short production life and paltry production numbers was a direct consequence of apathy from buyer or manufacturer remains a matter of debate, but what is evident is that the MGC was considered something of an orphan, even before going on sale.
During the pre-war era, the MG marque enjoyed something of a performance image, being offered with large-capacity six cylinder engines and in certain cases, supercharging. However, post-1945, MGs had been confined to whatever small-capacity power units that could be wheedled from their Nuffield and latterly, BMC masters. Following the 1952 merger, which brought the British Motor Corporation into being, MG would end up playing second fiddle to Austin Healey, Leonard Lord’s favoured sports car marque.
Ten years ago, MG’s future looked something like this.
Since the desiccated remains of MG Rover was picked over by Nanjing Auto, later merged with Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation (SAIC), the resultant MG-badged products have left observers and MG marque aficionados somewhere on a spectrum between bemusement and outright horror. Taking ownership of a heritage brand always comes with a measure of responsibility – certainly if one hopes to Continue reading “Highly Volatile”
National Treasure is a term which gets bandied about rather a lot in the media nowadays, particularly amid the world of showbusiness. Normally bestowed on the basis of merit, but in some cases it is as much a matter of longevity, dogged persistence even. But regardless of rationale, most recipients tend to exhibit a common sense of virtue. It is therefore perhaps fair to suggest that all of the above traits have contributed to the MGB’s beatification in afterlife, a seemingly impregnable status close to the pinnacle of historic car national treasure-hood. For in the UK at least, a classic car event without at least one MGB in attendance really cannot authentically call itself a classic car event at all.
The Mid-1980s downsized GM range would prove a step into the unknown for the US car giant, one which could be said to have been successful, at least in terms of raw sales numbers. But while the C-body Buick sedans proved popular with buyers, the E-bodied personal coupés would prove a far tougher sell. There was a good deal of trepidation amid the design leadership at Buick’s studio in GM’s Warren, Michigan Design Centre as the 1986 model year Riviera was made ready; doubts which would crystallise as the drastically downsized model failed to appeal to existing Riviera customers, who not only baulked at the style, but also its notable lack of road presence.
As soon as was deemed possible, Buick Design chief, Bill Porter (who had overseen the E-body design) supervised a revised styling scheme, based upon one which had originally been proposed featuring a sloping tail motif, the victim of engineering package requirements (in this case luggage capacity). With this heavily revised Riviera, the work of a team under Steve Pasteiner, the model’s fortunes were revived to some extent, but still failed to return to pre-downsized levels. Continue reading “Swiss Riv”
For some years now, there has been a modest but persistent sentiment amid the European motor industry’s think tanks that the current wave of CUV crossover popularity would eventually peak, there being a point after any new fashion takes hold of the public consciousness, long after the early adopters Continue reading “Better With Allure”
The Silvia series, if it can be described as such began at the Tokyo motor show in 1964, when an elegant Italianate coupé was shown, based upon the existing Fairlady platform (hence the rather stunted-looking wheelbase). Powered by a 1.6 litre four cylinder engine, it was no roadburner, but for the nascent Datsun car business, it was to prove something of a halo car, somewhat in the manner of Toyota’s perhaps even more comely, and technically more accomplished 2000 GT. With slightly over 500 built, they were vanishingly rare at the time, and remain so a good sixty years later. Continue reading “Silvan Song”
When Volkswagen successfully took control of the storied Škoda Auto business in 1991, it did so, like many larger, more powerful entities, primarily for its own betterment. So while any residual altruism on their part was largely incidental, to its credit, Wolfsburg did take a fairly enlightened approach to their acquisition. By then, the Czech carmaker was in need of considerable investment and redirection, for despite having left behind the dated automotive fare it served up to widespread derision for decades, it remained prey to the snide dismissals and cheap jokes, primarily from the motor-jock element of the journalistic cohort.
Rebuilding reputations has never been the job of a moment, but as the decade progressed and the engineers at Mladá Boleslav, working alongside a reinvigorated design team created a more credible range of cars, the joke really started to wear thin. Škoda (and its well-heeled German backer) was no longer prepared to Continue reading “Living Room”
For a car which would become their most commercially important product, the BMC motor business took a rather quixotic approach to ADO 16’s furtherance, with initial production being restricted to BMC’s Cowley plant where it was built (for almost a decade) alongside the car it had been intended to replace. But as potential customers hungrily clamoured for delivery, it would remain some considerable time before the carmaker found itself capable of balancing demand and supply.
It has been well documented that BMC sold the Mini at a price which allowed for little meaningful profit, yet it would appear that with ADO 16, they simply repeated the error, selling the 1100 on similarly tight margins, which given its technical superiority, its lack of genuine domestic rivals and the pent up demand for the car, appears almost wilfully irrational. And while later, more upmarket models may have aided profitability, there were too many of them and as explored previously, they were not a cost-effective means of resolving the issue.
Editor’s note: This piece was written and first published on DTW in August 2018. All images via the author.
While the remainder of Europe desiccates amidst the most protracted heatwave of recent times, here at that question mark of a landmass at the Atlantic’s cusp, a more habitual form of summer has returned: Leaden skies, horizontal mist and high humidity.
A true test of any successful product design is whether its popularity can be replicated outside of its country of origin, where tastes, loyalties and latent patriotism, for instance, tend to count for less. The immediate success of BMC’s 1100 within the home market was both justified and understandable, but not only would it prove popular elsewhere, it could be argued that ADO 16 would become as close to a world car that the organisation would create.
Sold in almost every continent, and assembled in fourteen distinct countries, the 1100/1300 it seems made friends everywhere, with perhaps one exception – a former British colony which would prove impervious to its charms. North America had already proven a difficult nut for BMC to crack throughout the 1950s, with efforts to Continue reading “Modern Family [Part Four]”
Editor’s note: A version of this piece was originally published on DTW in May 2018.
Don Henley’s 1984 Grammy-winning hit single, Boys of Summer was a meditation on reminiscence and regret. It plays on the slick US West Coast values of the lyricist’s Eagles heyday, deftly subverting its MOR rock sheen to underline more mature themes of ageing and loss. The track was not only a sizeable success in the US and elsewhere, but gained Henley a critical credibility he had perhaps hitherto lacked. After all, looking back to the past can be instructive, and in some cases, a virtual necessity. However, true folly lies with those who attempt to Continue reading “Boys of Summer”
Amongst the more striking aspects of BMC’s front-driven family of cars – if we set aside for a moment their technical courage – was the stark modernism of their design. Whether the Issigonis-inspired ADO series should be considered part of a design movement which would permeate the UK as the Sixties progressed – in architecture, product design, furnishing and in tentative forays amid the domestic automotive domain is perhaps a matter for more learned minds, but it nevertheless required a leap of imagination to Continue reading “Modern Family [Part Three]”
In 1962 BMC sprang a surprise with the 1100 – in one area in particular.
Even without its innovative interconnected hydrolastic suspension, the BMC 1100’s status in the automotive pantheon would have been beyond question. However, a good deal of its historical significance remains bound up with its adoption. While interconnected suspension designs were not an entirely unknown quantity by the late Fifties, it was the first production application of a fluid-based system in a compact, affordable (and no small matter this) British car.
The use of rubber (to say nothing of fluid) as a suspension medium was not something that Alec Issigonis seemed to favour at first, but he became convinced after sampling a Morris Minor which had been re-engineered with a prototype rubber suspension. Having discerned its potential, Issigonis, in conjunction with Alex Moulton developed an interconnected design employing rubber springs for the the stillborn Alvis TA/350 project, initiated in 1952. After this programme foundered and Alec was lured back to Continue reading “Modern Family [Part Two]”
During the run up to the 1997 UK election victory which swept them into power, Labour Party strategists identified a core median demographic to which they hoped to appeal, which they labelled, Mondeo Man. But had this election taken place some twenty years earlier, Labour’s archetype might have hailed, not from Genk, but Longbridge, because for most of the Sixties, Britain’s favourite car had been BMC’s 1100.
Having painfully emerged from post-war privation, a recovering Sixties Britain remained a hidebound and socially conservative nation. A matter which makes it all the more striking that a car marrying contemporary Italian style with a highly sophisticated technical specification should prove a bestseller. In many respects, the BMC 1100 seemed more akin to what was then termed a continental car than one hailing from the British midlands, the type of car more likely to have been viewed by Mondeo Man’s forebears as something akin to witchcraft.
As is frequently the case, what is given with one hand is taken away by another. By the late Sixties, the motorcar had become ever-more sophisticated, yet while speed and dynamic competence were on the ascendant, the unfettered enjoyment of high performance was already in retreat. Concerns too were growing over the automotive emissions and the affect they were seen to be having on air quality. Traffic congestion had become a grim fact of life, with motorists spending ever-increasing periods at a standstill. A shortlived period of unfettered freedom and self-expression was drawing to a close.
The more advanced students of Jaguar lore will by now have recognised that a good many of the most well-loved cars from Browns Lane were at best, incidental, if not wholly accidental in conception. Similarly, when it came to the subject of mid or late-life facelifts, not only were they predominantly of a reactive nature, but rare indeed was the aesthetic revision that amounted to a palpable improvement. But while it might be considered a little provocative to describe the Series 3 E-Type as being accidental, it would hardly be inaccurate to suggest that it was unplanned.
While Sir William Lyons ran Jaguar in his benignly autocratic style, product planning was also somewhat reactive in nature, largely informed by the ever-shifting vagaries of the US market, a case in point being the Autumn 1968 refresh of the E-Type, the series 2. Beyond this, the intention was to Continue reading ” The Accidental E-Type [Part One]”
The editor recalls his early forays into motoring.
Editor’s note: This article was originally published on DTW on 29 September 2018. Owing to the poor quality of the originals, stock photos have been used.
The starting procedure: insert key into ignition slot. Twist key. Lift floor-mounted enrichment (choke) lever fully. Engage clutch. Lift spring-loaded, floor-mounted starter lever. Hold until engine fires. Ignore the intense vibration of the little twin-cylinder engine on its mountings as it settles into life. On no account Continue reading “History in Cars – Rituals and Symbols”
In the normal order of things, the cessation of Italian production by mid-decade should really have signalled the end for the Fiat 126. Outdated in concept, outclassed by an increasingly sophisticated and capable cohort of putative rivals in the budget car sector – not least Fiat’s own Panda model – its residual appeal largely a function of its cheapness, compact dimensions and miniscule running costs, the rationale for continuing appeared marginal at best.
Whether it had been FIAT Auto’s intention all along, or simply a happy confluence of factors, but the wholesale shift of 126 production to Tychy, not to mention the ongoing demand for the Maluch in its adopted Polish home, would facilitate the 126 remaining available to those amid Western European markets for whom nothing but a 126 would do.
“The environmental non-starter” was how Car magazine’s Ian Fraser defined the 126 in December 1972, having attended the press launch along with fellow scribe and Car Editor, Douglas Blain, in its home town of Turin. The thrust of their argument against the car seemed to pivot around the assertion that not only was the 126 “something of a throwback” in technical terms but also, in their estimation, that even Fiat themselves appeared unsure about as to its purpose in life.
The 2006 Citroën C-Triomphe didn’t quite live up to its billing.
Editor’s note: This article was first published in Driven to Write on 24 October 2017. Owing to the poor quality of the original images, stock photos have been used.
PSA announced this particular iteration of their C-segment contender in 2004, a car which replaced the unloved and visually unimpressive Xsara model line. The C4, believed to have been the styling work of Donato Coco and Bertrand Rapatel under the supervision of Jean-Pierre Ploué marked the beginning of a stylistic renaissance at Citroën’s Vélizy design centre. Au revoir to the creative torpidity which characterised the Jacques Calvet era, welcome back creativity. Theoretically at least. Continue reading “Arc de Triomphe”
“It’s not you or me, or Fiat who will decide whether the 126 is a good car. History will make that decision.” These words were spoken, no doubt through clenched teeth by FIAT’s UK representative to Car magazine journalist, Ian Fraser in the wake of the UK imprint’s assessment of the new for ’72 Fiat 126. The Italian carmaker’s displeasure at Fraser’s trenchant review can be gauged by its reaction – FIAT UK pulling their advertising and banning Car’s staff writers from forthcoming press junkets.
The issue, if you could call it that, was one of perception. By 1972 Fiat was viewed as a progressive manufacturer of some of Europe’s most up to date motor cars, with a reputation for fine engineering and superior dynamic characteristics. By contrast, the 126, in Car’s estimation at least, was dismissed as a throwback to the 1950s. But it should behove us to first Continue reading “Ciao Bambino! [Part One]”
A look back to Vauxhall’s mid-’70s upmarket ambitions.
Editor’s note: This article was originally published on DTW on 11 November 2017.
As automotive industry analysts ponder the fate of Opel / Vauxhall in the wake of the PSA takeover, one possible future being mapped out involves a shift upmarket. On the face of things, this appears about as likely as PSA getting a sudden rush of blood to the head and starting to take Citroën seriously, but as (im)possible futures go, it may not be entirely unthinkable.
Not everyone in the soothsaying universe seems to agree however, as a report in ANE yesterday suggests. Sanford C. Bernstein’s Max Warburton (We haven’t heard from him for a while.) suggesting PSA should “Dump the Vauxhall brand,” before going on to say, “Even the most jingoistic Brexiteers would rather buy a German car. There’s no room for a one-market brand in 2017.”
But leaving aside Warburton’s tough love analysis, can Vauxhall (a) survive, and (b) prosper in today’s increasingly febrile landscape? Taking matters further, could the Griffin (c) ever contemplate a move upmarket, given their current situation? While we ponder this, let us just for a moment Continue reading “A Luton Brougham”
Lost causes – missing links – exhuming Jaguar’s stillborn XJ21.
As descriptive metaphors go, bottled lightning requires little by way of explanation or exposition on the part of the writer. In 1961, Jaguar Cars successfully manged this seemingly impossible feat with the introduction of the E-Type, a car which itself would come to stand as metaphor for a now mythologised era of hedonism, permissiveness and social change. But in the Spring of ’61 all of that was for the future. Meanwhile, the manner in which the E-Type was received took Jaguar’s CEO somewhat by surprise.
Attending the E’s euphoric US debut in 1961, Sir William Lyons became painfully aware that while prospective customers were enraptured by the car, many simply couldn’t comfortably Continue reading “Lightning Flash”
The 1999 Mercedes CL redefined the term ‘back of an envelope’ design.
Editor’s note: This article was originally published on DTW on 14 June 2019.
Like most major carmakers, Mercedes-Benz, under the design leadership of Bruno Sacco at Stuttgart-Sindelfingen, assigned individual teams to specific product lines. However, Sacco also permitted all members of his styling team, irrespective of discipline, to submit proposals for evaluation whenever a new model was being considered.
These would be then whittled down to a shortlist, the favoured proposals being produced in quarter-scale form. A further evaluation would see these being reduced to a final shortlist of three proposals, which would be produced in 1 : 1 scale for final selection. This ensured that management had sufficient quantities of alternative styles to Continue reading “Pushing the Envelope”
It may not have been the most commercially successful car of the 1970s, nor even the most technically significant. It did not win accolades for its ultimate handling capabilities or jaw dropping styling. Car of the decade may have been a title which eluded it, but none of the above should detract from the significance of the Renault 5 amid the automotive pantheon, nor Renault’s sound judgement in taking the car into production in such unadulterated form.
As an archetype of the art of product design, the Five was almost perfectly realised, certainly by the standards of its time. The practicality and robustness of its basic shape, the unmatched versatility offered by its hinging rear tailgate, combined with the subtle richness yet stark modernism of its detail design ensured its place as the first genuine hatchback supermini and the archetype for the modern B-segment motorcar. Such was its design integrity that Renault not only found themselves incapable, but unwilling to Continue reading “Voiture à Vivre [Part Six]”
It is a truth universally acknowledged that no successful model line can attain true immortality without a competition pedigree, so it should surprise nobody that the Renault 5 gained one alongside its many other accolades. Motorsport had been a somewhat patchy activity within Billancourt in the run up to the 1970s, with the bulk of the heavy lifting being provided by outsiders like Gordini and Alpine.
In 1974, the Renault 5 became available in 85 bhp LS Kitée specification, a low-volume model for competition in the newly renamed Renault 5 Elf Cup. 150 were produced for the 1975 season of the race series which proved popular and competitive. Two years later, Dieppe’s technicians had completed their ministrations resulting in the Alpine A5, Renault’s official performance offering. This too would gain a competition career, being campaigned in the World Rally Championship’s Group 2 class, the A5s as fielded by Renault Sport developing 130 bhp. Early results from the 1977 Mille Pistes and San Remo rallies illustrated the promise of the Alpine 5, but the following year, a class victory by Jean Ragnotti in the Monte Carlo event would mark the high point of the A5’s rally career.
1975 was not a year to be recalled with much fondness across the global automotive industry, as the effects of Yom Kippur 1973 hit home. A number of carmakers would not survive the year, while others would undergo painful reinventions under dramatically altered circumstances. Renault, to some extent insulated by French Government stewardship, would undergo change too, Pierre Dreyfus, the CEO who had steadfastly guided them for two decades had elected to retire, nominating Bernard Vernier-Palliez in his stead. Prior to his departure, Dreyfus made another significant appointment, luring design-lead Robert Opron to Continue reading “Voiture à Vivre [Part Four]”
The North American market has always been tough, unyielding and, for a great many European carmakers, impenetrable. Lucrative for those who could find a way in, success however has always required an unswerving commitment and very deep pockets, characteristics which were in short supply at Bologne-Billancourt. Renault had made some tentative explorations into the US during the early 1950s, but it wasn’t until the advent of the Dauphine model towards the latter end of the decade that the French carmaker would put its shoulder to the metaphorical wheel.
While low-powered, potentially evil-handling European imports were by no means unfamiliar to US audiences by this time, the ones which America had taken to their collective hearts were not only considerably more robustly wrought at Wolfsburg, but were vastly better represented by a large and widespread support network.
Yet despite these apparent shortcomings, the Dauphine made significant headway, outselling Volkswagen in 1959. But despite Renault Inc’s best efforts, the Dauphine’s reputation did not survive contact with US soil – a combination of a chronic lack of material quality, durability and a propensity to spontaneously dissolve into crumbs of ferrous oxide saw matters come to an inglorious halt. Indeed, so poor did the Dauphine’s US reputation become that when its replacement was introduced, early advertising billed it as a car for those who swore never again to Continue reading “Voiture à Vivre [Part Three]”
Unlike other major European markets, France did not particularly enjoy a love affair with the two-door bodystyle and by consequence, for sound commercial reasons, few mainstream French carmakers saw fit to offer one throughout the 1950s and 60s. It was therefore not at all surprising that Renault CEO, Pierre Dreyfus and his marketing heads were initially dubious about the sales prospects for the new Renault 5’s two-door-with-a-tailgate style. The level of commercial risk was, not to exaggerate matters, enormous.
Misgivings were not only expressed within Billancourt itself however, Renault’s dealer representatives vehemently agitated against the two-door body style when the Cinq was previewed to them prior to launch. In fact, they wrote it off entirely, baldly stating that only commercial operators would Continue reading “Voiture à Vivre [Part Two]”
The scientific approach to motor car design was one which was taken up with some enthusiasm in France during the post-war period, resulting not only in some of the more compelling examples of motive modernity, but the most significant of the modern era. The results of intellectual rigour and no small quantum of application, these cars were also imbued with another, more nebulous quality: a piquant and distinctive character. Certainly, it was a potent amalgamation of elements that in this instance created a car both of its time, yet also timeless. A car for living. A car for life.
Towards the end of the 1960s, amid Europe’s engineering centres and styling studios, a new evolution of car was being forged. With matters of powertrain layout and body format still to be definitively established, nobody was entirely sure what would emerge as the dominant strain. But while Mirafiori, Turin would in the fullness of time lay claim to the precise technical layout of the compact front wheel drive car, it was their Transalpine rivals at Boulogne-Billancourt who would go on to Continue reading “Voiture à Vivre [Part One]”
In a few weeks time, Alfa Romeo will reveal to the world a car which will unite the massed ranks of automotive press in labelling it ‘make or break‘. Like Alfa Romeo’s reincarnation plans over the years, the tally of make or break Alfa Romeos has been depressingly numerous, but what unites them is a single stark characteristic: none has delivered upon its promise. The latest of these dates from 2015, when the current Giulia was announced, but given that crushing disappointment is a feeling all too familiar to those who admire the Milanese car brand and wish it success, the betting appears to be only for the brave.
Because, by the looks of things, the Giulia is on the ropes. Now, as we all know, saloons of all stripes are in retreat, even those of a more specialised, rear-wheel drive, sporting bent. Customers, we are reliably informed no longer Continue reading “The Serpent’s Egg”
‘Place your tray tables in the upright locked position…’
Steve Cropley is seemingly a worried man. The veteran auto-journalist wrung his hands this week over the lack of meaningful intelligence emerging from Thierry Bolloré’s JLR boardroom over the future direction of the serially-troubled Jaguar brand. Almost a year has passed, he stated since the French CEO announced the Re-Imagine plan for the car business, which is attempting to emerge from a series of crises: political, pandemical and of its own making.
ZOE’s days may be numbered, but its EV pioneer status is assured.
A decade ago, two quite different, yet in their own way, equally significant electric cars would go on sale. While the Tesla Model S would come to define the latterday electric car as a tech-laden, super-computer on wheels, another – less significant from a purely historical context perhaps – would go on to become the best selling European battery electric car ever, a position it retains.
The 2009 Frankfurt motor show witnessed something of a bombshell from Groupe Renault, the carmaker displaying four fully electric concept cars, each destined to Continue reading “She’s Electric”
In October 2000, UK rock band, Radiohead released their fourth studio album, the much-awaited follow up to their acclaimed and large-selling 1997 release, OK Computer. But the Gloucestershire five-piece, having foreseen a future trapped upon the stadium rock treadmill instead took a leap into leftfield and recorded a soundscape as haunting as it was alienating. Kid A was received by fans and critics with a mixture of shock, awe and a certain dismay. Many would not Continue reading “Raking the Embers  : How to Disappear Completely”
When Driven to Write was initiated in 2014, it was with a combination of blind faith, optimism and a certain naivety. Now, almost eight years on, we appear to have established a solid niche amid the outer margins of automotive discourse; well removed from the mainstream, but nonetheless, a distinct and distinctive part of the conversation.
2021 has been another intensely difficult year for us all, so much being lost amid a seemingly endless (if mostly necessary) series of restrictions and privations. Yet, we have demonstrated our resilience; our overwhelming capacity to Continue reading “Welcome to 2022”
Well, here we are again – another winter of long shadows and dashed hopes. Amid what appears to be the worst festive movie sequel ever, we reach a brief pause in the narrative. A time to make sense of the past twelve months, to marshal our gains and to reflect upon our losses – at least until the storyline sweeps us off our feet and into the immense unknowable once more.
Editor’s note: A version of this piece was originally published on DTW in September 2016.
Marking its debut the year Concorde entered commercial service, the 1976 Aston Martin Lagonda, like the Aerospatiale/BAC supersonic airliner it vaguely resembled, would ultimately embody a future which failed to take flight.
There was no means of placing any form of veneer upon the situation facing Aston Martin in 1975, the Newport Pagnell-based specialist carmaker was facing ruin; falling prey, like so many of their UK and European equivalents to a perfect storm comprised of the spiralling costs of adhering to ever-tightening American safety and emissions regulations, and the stark market contraction stemming from the 1973 oil crisis. Rescued from bankruptcy by an Anglo-American consortium, the Lagonda programme was aimed, not only at providing embattled Aston Martin dealers with something new to offer, but also to help Continue reading “Tomorrow’s World”
The G-Series transformed Citroën’s Irish market fortunes – albeit not necessarily in the manner intended.
The Citroën GS was a vitally important motor car for the French automaker, marking its first serious post-war offering in the medium (C-segment) class, placing the double chevron into the very heart of the volume car market. Overwhelmingly voted Car of the Year for 1970, the technically and stylistically advanced G-series appeared set for pan-European sales success.
The GS would also prove a defining model for Citroën’s ambitions in the Republic of Ireland, albeit not for reasons Quai de Javel would necessarily care to be reminded of. But before examining this unfortunate episode, let us first Continue reading “Suspended State”