Modern Family [Part Two]

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

Image: Veikl

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

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

Modern Family [Part One]

More than just a Midi-Mini

1962 Morris 1100. Image: Car Magazine

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

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

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

The Accidental E-Type [Part Two]

The E-Type outstays its welcome.

Image: jag-lovers

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

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

 The Accidental E-Type [Part One]

The E’s ‘pointless’ swansong.

Image: jag-lovers

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

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

History in Cars – Rituals and Symbols

The editor recalls his early forays into motoring.

Image: FIAT Publicity via the author.

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

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

Ciao Bambino! [Part Three]

From Bambino to Maluch.

Image: FCA Heritage

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

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

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

Ciao Bambino! [Part Two]

Defying the naysayers. 

Image: FCA Heritage

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

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

Arc de Triomphe

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

Citroën C-Triomphe. Image: carinpicture

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

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

Ciao Bambino! [Part One]

A matter of perspective.

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

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

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

A Luton Brougham

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

1976 Vauxhall VX Prestige prototype. Image: droopsnootgroup

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

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

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

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

Lightning Flash

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

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

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

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

Pushing the Envelope

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

Image: Autoevolution.com

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

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

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

Voiture à Vivre [Part Six]

The everycar.

Image: Publicis Conseil – author’s collection

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

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

Voiture à Vivre [Part Five]

The 5 that really was a Supercar.

Image: lautomobileancienne

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

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

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

Voiture à Vivre [Part Four]

My brilliant career.

Image: Publicis Conseil. Author’s collection

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

Voiture à Vivre [Part Three]

You Cannot Be Serious!

Le Advertising. Image: autoevolution

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

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

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

Voiture à Vivre [Part Two]

The Supercar cometh.

Image: renaultgroup.com

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

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

Voiture à Vivre [Part One]

Big science in a small package. 

Image: largus.fr

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

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

The Serpent’s Egg

One more spin on the carousel.

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

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

We Are About To Attempt A Crash Landing

‘Place your tray tables in the upright locked position…’

Image: e-engine.de

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.

Now before we Continue reading “We Are About To Attempt A Crash Landing”

She’s Electric

ZOE’s days may be numbered, but its EV pioneer status is assured.

Image: highwaynewspro.com

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[1], each destined to Continue reading “She’s Electric”

Raking the Embers [4] : How to Disappear Completely

The E65 changed BMW forever.

‘Everything in its right place….’ Image: autoevolution

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[1] was received by fans and critics with a mixture of shock, awe and a certain dismay. Many would not Continue reading “Raking the Embers [4] : How to Disappear Completely”

Welcome to 2022

Ready for another one?

Lancia Appia
Image: La Repubblica

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”

Season’s Greetings

Have yourselves a Mini little Christmas…

“Now look son, we really need to nip this Oedipus complex in the bud. Tell you what; give it a rest and you can have Rosebud back…” Image via Pinterest

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.

So, whether you Continue reading “Season’s Greetings”

Tomorrow’s World

A Seventies’ futurist landmark remembered. 

aston-martin-club.com

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”

Suspended State

The G-Series transformed Citroën’s Irish market fortunes – albeit not necessarily in the manner intended.

GS publicity shot. citroenet.org.uk

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”

Iced Gem

Hamamatsu does it again.

1997 Suzuki C2. diseno-art

From Turin to Tamworth, from Minato to Michigan and elsewhere besides, the mid-1990s sports car revival was in full swing. Leading the charge from an emotional and commercial-savvy perspective was Mazda, who just prior to the new decade had perhaps unwittingly created not just a durable global phenomenon, but as the passage of time would illustrate, the default (relatively) inexpensive 2-seat roadster – the MX-5 Miata.

Decades after Europe had started to Continue reading “Iced Gem”

Toyota’s First Supra-Car

Toyota City upstages Europe. 

wallpaperfx

Editor’s note: A version of this piece was originally published in April 2016 as part of DTW’s Japan Theme.

From a purely commercial perspective, the Toyota motor company appears to have fared perfectly well without the benefit of image-building halo cars. While enthusiasts have been well served by innumerable performance versions of regular production models over the intervening decades, the Japanese car giant has largely eschewed outright exotics. Not so fast however. As long ago as 1965, crowds at the Tokyo motor show were captivated by the introduction a sleek and beautifully proportioned coupe from that most cautious of Japan’s burgeoning carmakers. Deliveries began two years later, but by the decade’s end, and after a mere 337 cars, the Mayfly Toyota 2000 GT disappeared as quickly as it had emerged.

The story (as commonly told) begins in the early 1960s. German nobleman and designer, Graf Albrecht Goertz[1] had forged a successful consultancy in the United States, having been involved in the design of a number of post-war BMW models, most notably the acclaimed 507 roadster. Commissioned by Nissan to assist in the design a two-seater coupe, he is said to have drawn up a low-slung concept, a running prototype of which was subsequently built for Nissan by Yamaha. Nissan’s management however opted to adapt their in-house Fairlady model along different lines, introducing it as the highly successful 240Z in 1970.

Undeterred, Yamaha pitched the concept to Toyota and to their surprise, they elected to Continue reading “Toyota’s First Supra-Car”

Outdoor Couture

The Derek Zoolander of CUV’s? We consider the Evoque.

Autocar

In product marketing terms, the concept of a compact luxury car, while appealing on paper, has largely proven a tough sell on the field of play. Buyers had an annoying habit of equating luxury with scale and visual heft, the perception being that smaller cars were cheaper cars. For strategic planners in the early years of the current century, such nostrums were increasingly being challenged in the face of evolving regulation and buying habits, but a nagging uncertainty remained – carmakers never having made a fortune by asking customers to Continue reading “Outdoor Couture”

The Second Act

Lancia hits the marque.

veiling.catawiki

It is tempting to characterise the 1960s as a period of wild hedonism, artistic abandon, sexual freedom and social progress, but in reality it was nothing of the kind. Not in Italy at least, still firmly under the heel of the Vatican, whose tentacles encroached into all areas of domestic life. Strict social and societal mores were observed. Matters of appearance remained of the utmost importance. Yes of course, in the ateliers of Milan, fashions were of a most flamboyant, provocative nature, but the garments one actually wore, even to the local tabaccheria, were well chosen, decorous – demure even.

This sensibility pervaded Italian life, product design included. Because even if the most prosaic piece of household equipment was designed to please (or at least satisfy) the eye, it was nonetheless a function-first device. So too the automobile. Throughout the ‘Sixties, the Italian aesthetic for the berlina was highly formalised, upright, rectilinear. Regardless of whether it hailed from Portello, Mirafiori or Borgo San Paolo, there was little for the unschooled eye to Continue reading “The Second Act”

Hark! What Sound in Yonder Window Breaks?

An old name makes a barely audible comeback.

Audi A8L Horch Founders Edition. 20mn.fr

There appears to be something rather half hearted and unmistakably anti-climatic surrounding recent product activity amid the traditional full-sized luxury saloon car. Last year, Mercedes introduced a new-generation S-Class and the automotive world yawned. In fairness, the renewal of the Mercedes flagship has long ceased to be a notable event and truth be told, the W223 bears hallmarks of even Sindelfingen’s ambivalence, now that the EQS EV bears its electrified North star.

So too at Ingolstadt, where Audi’s A8 has this week been in receipt of a refresh, aimed at seeing the model through to 2024 and its reputedly more ambitious replacement, heralded by the recent Grandsphere concept. Speaking of which, the current A8 itself was previewed in 2014 by the striking Prologue, an indulgent 2-door coupé (remember those?) whose muscular proportions were somewhat lost amid the transition to a production-ready four-door saloon.

The current A8 arrived in 2017 and has since settled down to Continue reading “Hark! What Sound in Yonder Window Breaks?”

Drawing Restraint

A new generation Range Rover is still an event. 

(c) media.landrover

Since their acquisition in 2007 by Tata Motor, JLR management’s brand-stewardship has been, how shall we say this: uneven. Not so when it comes to brand-Range Rover however, for there is no conceivable question now about its elevated position, close to the pinnacle of the luxury vehicle ziggurat. Of course this is no rags to riches fable; in metaphorical terms, more a muddy pair of Wellingtons to Church’s hand-tooled Oxfords style transition, given the use to which the average L405 series is habitually put. But it is likely that Anno-2021, the RR is probably a more convincing luxury conveyance than anyone’s private-hire Sonderklasse.

Yes, we are in another country from Charles Spencer King’s 1970 opus[1] and have been for some time now. Indeed, as we Continue reading “Drawing Restraint”

Scribing a Line

Sant ‘Agata Bolognese oversteps the mark. 

Lamborghini LPI 800-4 ‘Countach’. drivesection

Heritage is a highly lucrative business model amid the upper echelons of the OEM motor industry. For carmakers with a history to plunder and a reputation to uphold, there are seemingly unlimited numbers of what are politely termed high net worth individuals with bank accounts fit to burst, seeking super-priced, super-exclusive, supercar nirvana. For those at the sharp end, cost, it does appear really is not an object, but execution is, heritage is, provenance certainly is and authenticity, not to mention bragging rights very definitely are.

Given the strictures, regulations and privations currently visited upon carmakers, finding new and profitable revenue streams has become the very stuff of life itself. Currently there appear to be two main prongs to this end of the market: The limited run series, (or one-off), which largely tend to Continue reading “Scribing a Line”

Sunday Service : Standing Out

Some things simply take time.

Despite appearances, not everything is monochrome in West Cork. Image: The author.

Outstanding: As an adjective, it’s one that’s prone to be overused, or maybe ill-employed; frequently used to describe something which is at best average. The 1993 Coupé Fiat (as it was designated by the marketers in Turin) was an above-average car, well regarded, possessed of the expected verve and swagger one had come to expect from a close coupled Italian. However, despite its undoubted appeal as a driving tool, the descriptor did not entirely apply. For while the Coupé Fiat was rather good, it did not raise the art of corner-carving, or apex skirting to any noticeable extent.

Where Fiat’s mid-’90s coupé offering did stand out however was in the visual realm. Because, it can be said without fear of contradiction, that at its debut, the Coupé Fiat looked like nothing else on the road. Part of the reason for that of course was the fact that it was, in stylistic terms wholly unoriginal. Now before you Continue reading “Sunday Service : Standing Out”

A Mighty Wind – [Part Two]

Getting in shape.

Influx.

By 1965, Giorgetto Giugiaro was already a name of significance amid Turin car design circles – and by the mid-point of the 1960s, there were no design circles more influential or significant than those within the Piedmontese capital. The year in question was a highly significant one for the 27-year old automotive designer, having departed Stile Bertone somewhat abruptly that November, leaving behind several partly completed designs for his successor to complete.

It did not matter, Giorgetto was moving on; first to carrozzeria Ghia where a position awaited him, but he had other, more elaborate plans. His stay at Ghia therefore was brief; a couple of commissions, a pair of designs for the de Tomaso concern[1], and more significantly, the Ghibli gran turismo for Maserati, making its debut as a prototipo at that November’s Turin motor show.

By the end of 1966, he was gone, this time to Continue reading “A Mighty Wind – [Part Two]”

Vanity Fair

Landmark design, vanity project, or just simply a pretty face? 

1971 Fiat 130 Coupé. autoevolution

There was no sensible rationale for the Fiat 130 Coupé. The market didn’t ask for it. Fiat Auto’s bottom line would not be strengthened by its presence. There was no gaping hole in the product line-up that it would fill. So why did it come to exist? Why did the normally market-savvy Mirafiori behemoth go to the trouble and expense of creating a Fiat like no other[1] – was it simply because they could?

To attempt to understand this anomaly, one must first Continue reading “Vanity Fair”

Under the Knife – Southern Belle

The rise and fall of the Alfasud Sprint. 

Alfasud Sprint. favcars

It has been said before, but bears repeating: no single European car designer has done more to shape the modern everyday motor car than Giorgetto Giugiaro, either during his time working for Bertone, Ghia or later for himself at ItalDesign.

The design for the 1971 Alfasud berlina was not only formative for the design consultancy founded by him and Aldo Mantovani in 1968, but something of a transitional one for the designer, who would later Continue reading “Under the Knife – Southern Belle”

A Farmer in the City

Alfasud reflections. 

The author’s 1979 Alfasud 1.2 Super. Image: Paul Doyle©

The 1971 Alfasud was a game-changing car, not only for what we would now call the C-segment, but for Alfa Romeo itself. Unfortunately, while the ‘Sud was to become the conceptual template for an entire generation of similarly sized (if not as technically ambitious) cars from rival manufacturers, it was something of a disaster for il Biscione. Not a brand-killer by any stretch, but nevertheless the case against the ‘Sud is not inconsiderable.

By re-orientating the carmaker’s centre of gravity to the crowded and heavily contested free-for-all of the compact C-segment the Alfa Sud programme placed the Milanese carmaker squarely in the gunsights of the mighty Fiat Auto group. It also had the effect of lowering Alfa Romeo’s average transaction prices, driving down its image as the builder of superior motor cars – a matter its subsequent reputation for slapdash build and premature corrosion would only serve to amplify.[1]

By the early 1970s, the Italian economic miracle was unravelling in a spiral of politically-motivated industrial unrest and violence amid growing inequalities between affluence and economic stagnation. Terrorist atrocities, assassinations, strikes and stoppages became the daily news headlines as Italy’s position as posterchild for post-war reconstruction and prosperity faded.

Its much-vaunted motor industry too was struggling to Continue reading “A Farmer in the City”

Beta Living Through Chemistry

 Beta musings.

As first shown. ruoteclassisiche.quattroruote.it

“To create an unfavourable impression, it is not necessary that certain things be true, but that they have been said. The imagination is of so delicate a texture that even words wound it”. [William Hazlitt (1778-1830) – Writer, critic, philosopher]

With a now unassailable position within the annals of infamy; derided and patronised by legions of uninformed writers and journalists, has sufficient time elapsed to speak dispassionately about the Lancia Beta? It’s difficult to be certain, but the point of today’s exercise is to Continue reading “Beta Living Through Chemistry”

A Disproportionate Response

 The Cadillac that shrank in the wash. 

oldcarbrochures

It has been stated here many times before, but the art of product planning is often somewhat akin to an act of faith. Certainly, the job of the strategic planner during the latter part of the 1970s was anything but straightforward. This was a particularly acute problem for luxury carmakers; having already weathered dramatic market reorientation following two successive fuel crises, attempting to Continue reading “A Disproportionate Response”

A View With a Room

We recall a legendary name in American coachbuilding.

Unattributed image via Pinterest

Today’s Escalade SUV is routinely paraded as the new-millennial personification of the classic full-size Cadillac sedan, but with the sort of ground clearance and utility the Cadillacs of yesteryear could only dream about. During the roseate era of fins, dagmars and chrome plating, Cadillacs were not created with practicality foremost in mind – these were profound statements, potent symbols of attainment.

Throughout the 1950s, Cadillac sales were seemingly impervious to market vagaries or the state of the economy. While its brash appearance may not have been to everyone’s taste – even in more-is-more boomtime fifties America – the Cadillac was the domestic car the vast majority of the American public aspired to. Cadillac customers were also said to be the most brand-loyal; even in more difficult times, a new Cadillac on the suburban driveway clearly illustrated to peers and associates that everything was ‘just swell’.

But for some particularly well-heeled customers, even a sparkling new Caddy, in sedan, coupé or convertible form was not quite going to Continue reading “A View With a Room”

A Photo for Sunday – No Defence

A right pair of Landies.

The Author.

Everybody in the enthusiast community has an opinion on the Land Rover Defender – be it the old stager lately retired, or its more contested replacement from 2019. Like most opinions in today’s febrile media environment, these are as fiercely held as they are emphatically expressed.

At this point therefore I feel compelled to make an admission: I don’t much care for the original Land Rover. I do understand the rudiments of its appeal and acknowledge its unquestionable position in the pantheon, but I am becoming a little tired of being metaphorically beaten over the brow about how marvellous they are. Because, no matter how often I am pinned to a stout object and guided towards the path of righteousness by a defender of the faith, I simply cannot Continue reading “A Photo for Sunday – No Defence”

Newsgrab

A highly selective, subjective (and lengthy) IAA-themed grab for the week ending 12/09/2021.

Audi Grandsphere. hum3d

The first indoor European motorshow since the onset of SARS CoV-2 is not something to be taken lightly, but neither is it of direct consequence to those of us who routinely fail to attend them. It’s not that I was ever particularly averse – in fact I rather enjoy perusing the putative, spectating over the speculative and free-associating over the fantastical, but the events themselves always seemed to have fallen at an inconvenient time. For the past 18 months or so this has been largely academic, but once again my coverage of a major motor event must by necessity be of a remote nature.

Impartial, in-person coverage is of course what anyone with a modicum of discernment would ideally Continue reading “Newsgrab”

Convergent Visions

Pacer begets Porsche – Porsche begets Pacer. Which is it?

solemone.de

Editor’s note: This is an expanded and amended version of an article first published on DTW on 28 January 2016.

The 1975 AMC Pacer is a car that seems to have become a four wheeled punchline to some joke or other for almost half a century. Derided and satirised in both print and in celluloid, it’s been a staple in every worst and ugliest-car-ever list. After all, it’s easy to kick an underdog.

The cash-strapped American Motors Corporation was attempting  something really rather daring in 1975 – to Continue reading “Convergent Visions”

One for the Road

The full-sized Buick’s valedictorian act.

Buick Roadmaster. Favcars

We can all recall the time honoured film storyline by rote: ageing sportsman/ criminal/ gunslinger[1], against better judgement, returns to the stump for one last payday. Inevitably, tragedy and (if the plotline allows) redemption ensues; at the very least, important life-lessons are learned. Today’s study cleaves to that most hackneyed of American movie narratives, because the 1991-96 Buick Roadmaster, while part of a long and illustrious line would ultimately Continue reading “One for the Road”

Under the Knife – That Riviera Touch

Yesterday’s tomorrows – from the studios of Bill Mitchell.

Image: wildaboutcars

Sometimes it is necessary to go wildly overboard before one finds the precise quantum of sufficiency. Somewhat akin to party-going children having run amok; gorging on fizzy pop and cream buns, the American motor industry exited the 1950s with a decidedly queasy sense of untempered excess. A new decade would precipitate a fresh creative approach, and a wholesale shift from the baroque flights of jet-age fancy to a more sober, less mannered visual sensibility.

The 1960s would go on to Continue reading “Under the Knife – That Riviera Touch”

Cats Will Fly

Dearborn 1967: product segmentation was strictly for the birds.

1967 Mercury Cougar. Image: Motor Trend

The 1958 Thunderbird would prove to be a pivotal product for the Blue Oval. Not only did the Square Bird transform the fortunes of the model line, the ’58 T-Bird popularised the concept of the personal luxury car amongst the American car buying public, creating an entire sector it would subsequently bestride. Not only that, the second-generation Thunderbird illustrated to Dearborn management that it was possible to Continue reading “Cats Will Fly”

A Mighty Wind [Part One]

Behold the Anti-Miura.

Image: premierfinancialservices

What has Emilia-Romagna ever done for us?

Composed of nine distinct provinces, Emilia-Romagna is an area steeped in millennia of military conquest and political upheaval – steeped too in religion, art, architecture, cuisine and craft – latterly of the industrial variety. Dominated by its capital, Bologna, the region might not justifiably lay claim to being the epicentre of the Italian motor industry (that honour falls to neighbouring Piedmont), but nevertheless, the Emilian province of Modena would become ground zero that uniquely Italian of late 1960s automotive confections – the Supercar.

Exotic cars were as much an Emilian speciality as Tortellini in Brodo. The primary reason for the former stemmed from the creations of the Maserati brothers, who formed their carmaking atelier in 1915. In the post-war era, the area of Modena, would not just become home to Maserati, but also Scuderia Ferrari, while the environs of Bologna would later house the more disruptive entrants, De Tomaso and Lamborghini.

By the close of the 1960s, something of an arms race had gripped the area within the Po Basin. Lamborghini was not first in the field[1], but its 1966 Miura was the most dramatic, both in technical density and quite obviously, style. After the Miura made its debut, no exotic Italian carmaker who wished to maintain credibility at least, could Continue reading “A Mighty Wind [Part One]”

Ô souverain, ô juge, ô père

The President will see you now.

Nissan President. Image: Topspeed

Having originally been known as the Kwaishinsha Motorcar Works and later by the acronym, DAT[1], the Nissan Motor Company has traded under its latterday identity since 1933. Introduced into Western markets under the Datsun nameplate; from 1981, this by then well-established brand name would no longer feature on the carmaker’s products.[2]

The fact that Nissan chose to make this sweeping change in spite of the sales success enjoyed by brand-Datsun across global markets can be viewed two ways; an attempt to create a unified, instantly recognisable brand name, à la Toyota, or alternatively, to allow the carmaker to Continue reading “Ô souverain, ô juge, ô père”

Grace and Favour

We consider the Mercedes X-Class. No, not that one…

Mercedes CLA Progressive Line. Image: Mercedes-Benz

Much metaphorical ink has spilled forth on the pages of Driven to Write since its 2014 debut, a sizeable proportion of which has been flung in the direction of Sindelfingen’s current styling leadership. Not without justification either, for little of Mercedes-Benz’s stylistic output has risen above the level of banality for longer than we’d care to acknowledge.

Not everyone has been gripped with paroxysms of delirious pleasure over the broadly welcome shift in Mercedes’ Sensual Purity-themed styling away from the more striking forms and graphic elements of yore, with what some might discern as calmness equally being viewed as a lack of definition. Perhaps the most convincing case for that point of view lies with the current era A-Class. The W177 has been with us a number of years now, carving for itself a position in the European C-sector sales charts that might have given VW more to Continue reading “Grace and Favour”