Driven, Written: 1996 Jaguar XJ6

Some might consider the 1994 reworking of the Jaguar XJ40 under Ford’s direction as a retrograde step, but the X300 was the best built Jaguar in years and is still a highly impressive car.

1996 Jaguar X300 XJ. Image: the author

An acquaintance of mine, Dennis, is a long-time Jaguar aficionado having owned a number of Browns Lane’s finest over the years. His impressive tally comprises Mk1 and Mk2 saloons, two XJ-S coupés, an XJ40 and a (previous) X300. After a period of abstinence, he took the plunge again in 2019 and bought the car you see here, a pristine 1996 XJ6 in metallic Solent Blue with a light grey leather interior.

First, a brief history. Ford purchased Jaguar for US $2.5 billion in 1990, ending its six years as an independent company. Under the leadership of Sir John Egan, Jaguar had in 1986 launched the technically ambitious XJ40 replacement for the venerable Series III XJ saloon. Egan had also cut Jaguar’s workforce by a third and improved productivity and build quality significantly during his tenure. Disentangled from the chaos and rancour of British Leyland, the external perception of the company had also improved markedly. Continue reading “Driven, Written: 1996 Jaguar XJ6”

Gardening Leave

Today we plough a different furrow.

A ram, but not as we know it, Jim: carsguide

Gardening and plucky optimism; British affairs if ever there were. From hoping the weather will turn to running a cheaper, underdog of a motor, this sceptred isle revels in such hopes, however forlorn. 

Starting life as the Proton Wira, which is Malay for Hero by the way, the Mitsubishi Lancer-derived platform gave life to an unpretentious pick-up that caused your author to gasp out loud as not one but three examples were viewed in extremely quick succession recently.

In the UK, Australian and Taiwanese markets, it wore the Jumbuck badge, elsewhere known as the Arena. On sale from 2002-07, the Shah Alam-manufactured pick-up had a market pretty much to itself. As other manufacturers’ furrows lay with larger platforms, diesel engines and distinctly un-British characteristics bordering the violent, Proton appeared quite happy to Continue reading “Gardening Leave”

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: Hit and Miss (and Hit again)

The Fiat 131 Mirafiori was facelifted twice during its decade-long lifespan. The first was highly effective, the second rather less so. That was not, however, the end of the story…

1974 Fiat Mirafiori Special. Image: fiat.com

The 1974 131 Mirafiori(1) was Fiat’s replacement for its 1966 124 model. It was offered in two and four-door saloon and five-door estate variants. Like its predecessor, the 131 was a resolutely conventional front-engined RWD design, with 1.3 and 1.6-litre OHV engines derived from those in the 124 and mounted longitudinally. Transmission was via a four-speed manual gearbox, with the option of a five-speed manual or three-speed automatic on the larger engined model.

The styling was neat and conservative, and the car grew modestly in wheelbase, length and width compared to the 124. One notable change was the abandonment of the 124’s pronounced shoulder line: the 131’s glasshouse was pushed out to be almost flush with the lower bodysides, to increase shoulder room and the feeling of interior space. The design had few stylistic flourishes. These were limited to a groove in the bodysides and indented longitudinal pressings in the bonnet and boot lid inboard of the wings. Continue reading “Under the Knife: Hit and Miss (and Hit again)”

Drop the Subject – (Part Three)

Raindrops keep falling – bringing our monopod history to a close. 

Not THAT Mustang. Image: Forums aaca

McCarty Mustang, 1948

Had he been able to actually get his new car enterprise off the ground, Ford Motor Company may have had to think of a different name for one of its most successful models. Roy McCarty worked at a Lincoln dealership but had bigger plans – to Continue reading “Drop the Subject – (Part Three)”

A Car Rolled Over Not Yet Matters

What’s the big IDEA?

Fiat Idea. carinpicture

Turinese ideas have flowed many a year, largely with a great deal of success – on paper at least – diminishing returns, alongside awkward timing often diverting the flow. Having the relative novelty of seeing a perfectly unkempt example in person recently and referencing Mr. Editor Doyle’s take on the Lancia version, we must Continue reading “A Car Rolled Over Not Yet Matters”

An Alfa Less Loved

The 2005 Alfa Romeo 159 had a tough act to follow in the delightful 156. We examine how it fared.

2006 Alfa Romeo 159. Image: pruebatucoche.es

The 1997 Alfa 156 was the first Alfa Romeo for many years that was greeted with near-universal praise for its styling. The company’s designers had spent the previous couple of decades playing with their geometry sets and producing rectilinear designs that were, to say the least, rather challenging in their appearance.

Under the styling leadership of Walter de Silva at Centro Stile Alfa Romeo, the designers of the 156 looked further back into the company’s past and produced a shape that was organic, lithe and sinuous, one that was regarded by many Alfisti as the most authentic expression of the marque’s qualities in years.

Those alluring looks did not come without some penalty, in this case limited accommodation for passengers and their luggage(1) and that old Alfa Romeo bugbear, poor reliability. Premature cambelt and tensioner failures were common on the Twin-Spark engines, forcing the company to Continue reading “An Alfa Less Loved”

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”

Confidence Might Be Z-Shaped but Knock-backs Wear Iron Marks

We take a brief dive into Volvo’s Italian coachbuilt past. 

Volvo GTZ Zagato. fijen.se

Turin based coachbuilder, Carrozeria Fissore had confidence aplenty. Founded in 1919 by the four brothers; Antonio, Bernardo, Giovanni, and Costanzo, the reins fell under Bernado’s control in 1936. Originally horse carriage experts then car repairers, by wartime the carrozzeria had moved on to manufacturing – mail cars, vans, even hearses after military service.

No prizes for guessing much of Fissore’s work lay within the Fiat purview. By the 1960s, Fissore may not have been the household name far outside the confines of their homeland but their reputation had grown. To the point that Motauto, the Italian import agent for Volvo believed the carrozzeria possessed the skills to Continue reading “Confidence Might Be Z-Shaped but Knock-backs Wear Iron Marks”

Drop the Subject – (Part Two)

Further precipitation. Continuing our examination of the streamlined monopod. 

Library.cshl.edu/ Greenprophet.com

Bridges Lightning Bug, 1936

Doctor Calvin Blackman Bridges (1889-1938) did not have the background one would expect of a car designer. He was a highly respected geneticist who had contributed the first paper ever to the journal, Genetics and had invented the binocular dissecting microscope.

Bridges built his car in his spare time, machining many parts himself on a lathe. Being rather safety-conscious by the standards of the time the doctor used an early plastic named Pyralin instead of glass for the windows, a forced air ventilation system to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning and a steel and asbestos firewall between engine and passenger compartment. Unusually the front suspension was constructed of a motorcycle fork on each side.

Bridges had this to say about his Lightning Bug: “My whole aim was to Continue reading “Drop the Subject – (Part Two)”

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”

Going South (Part Two)

The Alfasud lands to great acclaim. But trouble is just around the corner. 

1971 Alfasud N.  Image: estrepublicain.fr

The Alfasud was launched at the 1971 Turin motor show and was greeted with widespread praise. The compact mechanical package allowed for a low bonnet line and a spacious interior. Despite appearances, the Alfasud, like many contemporaries, was not a hatchback, but a four-door saloon with a conventional boot. The exposed boot hinges were just a minor visual flaw in what was a notably modern, attractive and aerodynamic design.

The front end featured integrated headlamp/indicator units framing a simple horizontal grille that contained the traditional Alfa Romeo shield. Eagle-eyed observers would Continue reading “Going South (Part Two)”

Going South (Part One)

More than merely a car, a state-sponsored project in political and social engineering. Celebrating the Alfa Romeo Alfasud on its 50th anniversary.

1971 Alfasud. Image: classicandsportscar.com

In the years that followed the end of the Second World War, successive Italian governments faced a seemingly intractable problem. Northern Italy had become increasingly urbanised, industrialised and prosperous, but the south remained largely a rural backwater. By 1950, income per capita in the south was roughly half that in the north, and the gap was widening. Much of the south’s agricultural land remained in the hands of large landowners and was poorly managed and often unproductive. Many unemployed young people simply migrated north, robbing the south of much of its potential labour force.

Acknowledging this economic and social divide, the Italian government established the Cassa per il Mezzogiorno (Southern Development Fund) in 1950. Its initial purpose was to Continue reading “Going South (Part One)”

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”

Deserving Beta (Part Two)

Fate’s cold hand catches up with the Beta.

Lancia Beta Series II.  Image: autoemotodepoca

The Beta and its derivatives were developed progressively over its production life. A smaller 1,297cc 81bhp (60kW) engine replaced the 1,438cc entry-level unit in 1974, at which time power steering was offered on LHD models. In 1975, the 1,592cc engine was replaced by a slightly smaller capacity 1,585cc 99bhp (74kW) unit and the 1,756cc engine was supplanted by a 1,995cc 117bhp (88kW) powerplant. Electronic ignition was fitted from 1978 and automatic transmission became an option, making the Beta the first Lancia to Continue reading “Deserving Beta (Part Two)”

Drop the Subject – (Part One)

We break out the wool tufts for a two-part story documenting the early days of streamlining. 

1936 Arrowhead. Bob Cunningham

In the 1930s they were widely publicised as the shape of automotive things to come, the so-called raindrop-shaped streamliners. That raindrops are tadpole-shaped is a common misconception however; falling raindrops are perfectly round. Ball bearing and lead-shot manufacturers exploit this phenomenon of falling liquids: molten lead is dropped from a great height into a cooling liquid with perfect spheres as a result.

Some raindrop cars made it to the actual volume production phase; early Tatras, the Fiat 600 Multipla and of course the SAAB 92-96 being amongst the best known examples, but most efforts would fail to find investors or public interest and remained one-offs or extremely limited production at best. Nevertheless some of the endeavours, initiated by people as diverse as a geneticist, a rocket scientist and a carrot juice maker are worthy and interesting enough to Continue reading “Drop the Subject – (Part One)”

Deserving Beta (Part One)

The 1972 Beta heralded a brave new start under Fiat ownership for Lancia. We tell its story. 

Lancia Beta Berlina Series I.  Image: ruoteclassiche.quattroruote.it

Over six decades from its foundation in 1906, Lancia & C. had earned an enviable reputation for the excellence of its engineering and its finely crafted, innovative and desirable cars. Unfortunately, Vincenzo Lancia, his friend and business partner Claudio Fogolin, and Vincenzo’s son, Gianni, who took over the company when his father died suddenly in 1937, were far more talented engineers than they were businessmen. Consequently, Lancia always struggled to Continue reading “Deserving Beta (Part One)”

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”

Lexus CT 200h Redesign Exercise

The 2011 Lexus CT200h was an awkwardly proportioned and unhappy design. Could it have been better resolved?

2017 Lexus CT 200h. Image: carbuzz.com

My recent DTW piece on the Lexus CT 200h contained an analysis of its design and identified the rear door profile and C-pillar treatment as the primary cause of its awkward proportions and stance. In particular, the too-short rear door glass and badly drawn shut-line between the door and rear quarter panel are poorly resolved and jarring details.

Accepting that the three-part backlight was a necessary compromise for production, could the side profile still have been better resolved without losing the essential character of the design? Continue reading “Lexus CT 200h Redesign Exercise”

Fort Pontchatrain, the Ducks and the Dutch Artists

What’s in an emblem?

Sunsetcadillacsarasota.com

Why should we let facts get in the way of a good story? History is written by the winners, some say. Henry Ford disregarded such matters, but stories have to begin somewhere, so let us head to America, 1701. The French had cornered parts of the new world, establishing settlements, later growing into towns. Fur trading was big business and its centrepiece was Fort Pontchatrain du-Détroit, the latter being the French word for strait. When the British showed up later, they immediately shortened the name to Detroit.

The town’s founding father was one Antone Laumet de la Mothe Cadillac, who according to history writers was either a soldier who had King Louis’ ear, along with his own heraldic majesty or had fabricated his own importance, to gain higher status. As town governor, he regularly popped over the border to Canada for skirmishes, before an eventual recall back to his homeland, obscurity and never to Continue reading “Fort Pontchatrain, the Ducks and the Dutch Artists”

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”

Espace Invaders

The Matra-Renault Espace sired a number of imitators, but what about outright copies? Bruno Vijverman investigates.

Autodeautos.com/ Renault

The Renault Espace opened up a whole new market segment when it was introduced in 1984 (across the Atlantic the Dodge Caravan and Plymouth Voyager did likewise) and as soon as its commercial viability was confirmed, competitors rushed to their drawing boards to join the party. Not long after, several competing brands would introduce their own take on the monospace theme. And although conceptually they obviously followed the trail cleared by Renault, within the styling constraints of the monospace concept they produced designs that remained reasonably faithful to each make’s family appearance.

Years later however two suspiciously similar vehicles would surface in both India and Brazil. Even though one of them only went on sale shortly before the original Espace would be replaced by a new generation model, Renault nevertheless successfully threatened legal action, while the other clone never really reached series production at all. Let’s Continue reading “Espace Invaders”

Oblongs Look Better Than Squares

Mister Earl comes under the DTW spotlight. 

Big car – big fellow. Motoringhistory.com

The idea of designing or styling cars is almost as old as the industry itself. Stemming from coach and carriage works, in the beginning the car was made and effectively styled by those same engineers whose only goal was a mechanically powered carriage. Short framed, high bodied creations, and rudimentary in weather protection, imbuing style was barely considered. Wealthy customers hired craftsmen to create a unique automobile – America had dozens of such custom builders but even with Henry’s Model T, mass production barely stirred the creative soul.

Alfred Pritchard Sloan Jr wrote a letter to the general manager of Buick, H.H. Bassett in 1926 expressing his interest in styling a car in order to sell more. Cadillac general manager, Lawrence Fisher concurred with Sloan’s and Basset’s ideas on appearance. On a trip of Cadillac dealers in California, Fisher was introduced to Don Lee who aside from flogging Cadillacs ran a custom workshop in Hollywood. Contained within were those craftsmen building film stars their dream cars. Fisher was impressed by not only the workmanship, but by the young fellow directing the designers – Harley J Earl.

Earl’s father ran a carriage works which Don Lee subsequently purchased. With a keen eye along with such ideas as clay modelling, which allowed for fenders to Continue reading “Oblongs Look Better Than Squares”

Missing the Marque: Lexus CT 200h

Launched a decade ago, the CT was an uncharacteristic misstep for its maker and a failure in the market.

2017 Lexus CT 200h. Image: caranddriver.com

In the first decade of the new millennium, Lexus would have looked on with interest and a degree of envy as the German premium trio successfully marched downwards into the C-segment. Even though the Audi A3, BMW 1-Series and Mercedes-Benz A-Class(1) were not significantly (if at all) better than the best of the mainstream models in this sector, the appeal of their prestigious badges was such that buyers were happy to pay up for the kudos of having one on their driveway.

Lexus was slow to Continue reading “Missing the Marque: Lexus CT 200h”

Three’s Company (Part Two)

We recall the Talbot-Matra Murena, successor to the successful Matra-Simca Bagheera, and chart Matra’s departure from the automotive business.

1981 Talbot-Matra Murena. Image: secret-classics.com

1978 saw the departure from Europe of Chrysler, the US automotive giant that was in considerable financial distress at that time. It offloaded its European assets (and very considerable debts) to the PSA Group(1) for a nominal US $1. In the preceding years, Chrysler had replaced the individual European marque names it had acquired with its own, which meant that PSA now had to find a new name for its acquisition.

It might have resurrected the recently deceased Simca and/or Hillman names but chose instead to dig deeper into its past and found Talbot. This marque name, which had been retired in 1958, had the advantage of being perceived as British in the UK and French in continental Europe, and so was revived in August 1979.

In its last year of production, the Matra-Simca Bagheera was rebranded Talbot-Matra. A replacement was in the final stages of development under the project code numbers M551 and M552(2) and would Continue reading “Three’s Company (Part Two)”

Chavant and Di-NOC

An unsung car design essential under the microscope.

Get it while it’s… hard? Image: Fredaldous.co.uk

We’ve simply never found anything better.

Prosaic words in a modern world where the non-use of a computer or software could be deemed a disability – thank heavens then for a material still requiring skilled human hands to shape and form – clay. Used for eons, clay in the automotive industry requires chemical alterations. Natural clay requires baking to gain its strength and rigidity but which renders the product non-alterable. To allow for modelling complex curves or knife-sharp edges, natural clay contains added oils or waxes and in the early days a volume filler, (sulphur) to maintain its pliable attributes.

Delivered in blocks (or billets), once warmed through, the clay can then be applied to a rudimentary shaped wooden buck or wire armature in clumps, literally thrown on then hand kneaded to express a basic shape. Once air dried, this automotive modelling clay maintains its malleable state and allows the skilled human along with a variety of hands tools to Continue reading “Chavant and Di-NOC”

It’s Not V, It’s U

The Bagheera’s highly unusual twin.

In the early 1970s Automobiles Matra enjoyed popularity as a manufacturer of relatively inexpensive light sportscars such as the Djet, 530 and Bagheera. The French firm’s racing arm – Equipe Matra Sports, founded in 1965 – likewise had swiftly built up an impressive palmares in motorsports. Matra won the 1969 Formula One Championship with the MS80 driven by Jackie Stewart and with the MS670 emerged the overall victor at the gruelling 24h Le Mans endurance race three years in a row starting in 1972.

These impressive results stimulated Matra to Continue reading “It’s Not V, It’s U”

Strict Tempo – Part 2. The Unassailable Matador

Image: ndr.de

Bostelbek’s resourceful and determined Kleinlaster manufacturer reached the mid-1950s in a state of existential crisis, with their promising Matador range in desperate need of a suitably powerful, efficient, and dependable engine. The smaller Wiking truck was selling satisfactorily, but the Land Rover joint venture had no future, and the once-staple Hanseat Dreirad was a vehicle type soon to Continue reading “Strict Tempo – Part 2. The Unassailable Matador”

Three’s Company (Part One)

The Matra-Simca Bagheera combined supercar-apeing looks and robust if rather prosaic mechanicals to produce a practical, everyday sports car.

1973 Matra-Simca Bagheera Series 1. Image: hemmings.com

Mention the name Matra-Simca to a car enthusiast of mature years and their mind will almost certainly turn to the 1977 Rancho, a modestly successful vehicle that was decades ahead of its time. The Rancho was based on the FWD Simca 1100 but had a bespoke fibreglass body aft of the B-pillars, with a raised roof and a large split tailgate. It also had a raised ride height, plastic wheel arch extensions and other faux off-road addenda. It was, in effect, a crossover, long before that term was coined.

There is, however, an earlier and less well-known vehicle that carried the Matra-Simca name. This is the 1973 Bagheera, a sports coupé, the most unusual feature of which was its three-abreast seating arrangement.

Matra(1) was a French industrial engineering conglomerate that was established in 1945. Its activities included aviation, satellite and defence technology. Following the acquisition of Automobiles René Bonnet in 1963, it also became a car manufacturer, albeit on a modest scale: it inherited Bonnet’s small two-seater mid-engined sports car, the Djet. This was succeeded in 1967 by the somewhat larger Matra 530, still mid-engined, but now with 2+2 accommodation. The latter was only produced in small numbers because Matra simply did not Continue reading “Three’s Company (Part One)”

The Palace Of Versailles, Michigan

Where magic happened. 

GM Technical Center. architectmagazine

Philibert Le Roy is credited with turning a backwater shooting lodge into a chateau fit for a king. Then, through a succession of architects along with an army of builders, the Sun King’s dream of the most opulent palace was made real. From small beginnings to a lavish labyrinth, the Palace of Versailles has borne witness to history. 

Metaphorically and literally distanced from such overt flourishes lies an altogether different theatre of dreams. A place that too has borne change, seen careers grow to unprecedented heights, scarred many by its inner machinations and created millions of objects idolised the world over. Enter architect, Eero Saarinen (1910-61), creative inspiration for the somewhat bland sounding 1956 GM Technical Center in Warren, Michigan. 

Whereas Louis’ gaff had (amongst others) Salons to Abundance, Mars and Apollo (with a few added mirrors for good measure) the the GMTC had to Continue reading “The Palace Of Versailles, Michigan”

Southern Belles

Turin via Buenos Aires

Gramho.com /Vaderetro.com.ar

During the 1960s, Fiat basked in the glory of good times – the Turinese giant had a firm grip on the domestic market and elsewhere in Europe enjoyed considerable popularity. North America was proving to be trickier than expected, but in South
America, Fiat achieved good sales figures. A pleasant and often eye-pleasing by-product of Fiat’s booming business was the appearance of many special-bodied coupé and convertible variants usually designed and built by Italian coachbuilders like Pininfarina, Moretti, Bertone and Vignale to name a few. Continue reading “Southern Belles”

Strict Tempo – Part 1. On a Quiet Street in Neuwiedenthal

A chance sighting in a Hamburg suburb prompts a DTW writer to contemplate the life and times of one of Germany’s lesser known automotive dynasties.

Tempo showroom on Ballindamm, Hamburg Image: ndr.de

For me, this story starts on a quiet street in a south-western suburb of Hamburg almost exactly two years ago, although the times we have lived through since make the experience feel far more distant. I had based myself in an apartment in west Harburg, close to the A7 autobahn, and on my first morning, set out further west in search of breakfast, and found myself on a street called Tempoweg, close to the Neuwiedenthal S-Bahn station.

The name triggered my memory. I knew that Tempo was a Hamburg-based vehicle manufacturer, and had occasionally encountered their rather quirky products at Oldtimer events. On that day I was bound for Kiel, to Continue reading “Strict Tempo – Part 1. On a Quiet Street in Neuwiedenthal”

Reaching for the Stars

Is it a bird, a plane? Nope, it’s a Firebird. 

All three Firebirds. Road & Track

Ještêd, at 1,012 metres is only the 347th highest of the Czech Republic’s mountains yet is a coveted location. The reason being since 1973, at the summit resides an award winning single piece circular building, hyperboloid in shape, pointedly aiming another hundred metres toward the heavens. Partly hotel, but mainly transmitting TV signals, this striking edifice which took six years to construct came from the mind of Karel Hubáček, co-founder of SIAL, a Czech architectural studio. 

Melding elements of beauty with science fiction, a sense of playfulness with functionality, the tower serves the important function of searching further into the great unknown. And whilst Hubáček, surviving enforced wartime labour, concentrated his work upon buildings for humans, he might perhaps have been influenced by something equally futuristic, but on four wheels.

GM’s Firebird I concept stood for high performance. II being the futuristic family car, whereas III was GM’s own trip to the final frontier – an earthbound automobile with otherworldly ideals. Continue reading “Reaching for the Stars”

French Polo

The 1981 Volkswagen Polo Mk2 hatchback was more French than Germanic in character with its functionality-led design.

VW Polo and Polo Classic. Image: polodriver.com

The original 1974 Polo was not a Volkswagen at all, but a repurposed Audi 50. Designed in Ingolstadt with some input from Bertone, the 50 was a pert and pretty supermini, intended as the ideal second car for an Audi-driving household. Volkswagen upended Audi’s plans by requisitioning the design for itself as a junior sibling to the Golf.

This was an expedient move for Volkswagen, but it stymied any prospect the 50 had of establishing itself as the first premium supermini, selling on style and badge-appeal rather than practicality. The Polo was obviously identical to the 50 and undercut it on price, hence the baby Audi remained in production for only four years.

When Volkswagen set about designing a replacement Polo in 1977, it decided to Continue reading “French Polo”

Dear Ed

Edward H. Mertz, doyen of the Tri-Shield.

Edward H. Mertz. Deansgarage.com

Over the years the hair may have lightened, thinned somewhat but his passion remained strong. Edward H. Mertz (1937-2020) took over Buick’s tiller in 1987, steering GM’s original brand for just over a decade. Helping usher in front wheel drive, wanting to make the right impression whilst reserving the typical, reservist, conservative Buick buyer, Mertz immersed himself into the role with a smile as confident as his policies, including better relations between the company and their dealers.

Mertz could be found in his office, alighting a tri-shield, the 19th hole or the affectionately named War Room where ideas and designs were thrashed out for his pre-recorded dealer-eyes-only Curbside Chats. Averaging every five weeks, he hosted sixty six episodes of around thirty minutes length (in total approximately a working week, 35 or so hours) all recorded to VCR tape and posted out to the three thousand stateside dealers. That, in itself is commitment.

Encouraging dealers to Continue reading “Dear Ed”

Missing the Marque: 2006 Jeep Compass

Another good idea poorly executed by Jeep – did the Compass simply start out with bad directions?

Boss-eyed? 2006 Jeep Compass. Image: autoevolution.com

By the mid-2000’s it was becoming clear that the market for SUV-type vehicles was changing. The vast majority of buyers liked the looks and versatility of such vehicles, but never put their off-road abilities to the test on anything more challenging than a high kerb in the supermarket car park. Good ground clearance and steep approach and departure angles were largely irrelevant to such customers. What buyers really wanted was to Continue reading “Missing the Marque: 2006 Jeep Compass”

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”

Bisogna Navigare Quando il Vento e Propizio*

A trio of Italian oddities. 

Author’s image.

Alfa Spider Niki Lauda Special Edition

Double F1 world champion Niki Lauda switched from Ferrari to Brabham-Alfa Romeo for the 1978 season, and this highly publicised move was of course a prime publicity opportunity for Alfa’s marketing department. Although Lauda’s results in 1978 were certainly not bad (two victories and five podium appearances) the great expectations of bringing the Alfa Romeo name back to the top were never met: Lauda did not even Continue reading “Bisogna Navigare Quando il Vento e Propizio*”

Missing the Marque: 2005 Jeep Commander

The idea of a seven-seater Jeep model to compete with vehicles such as the 2002 Volvo XC90, 2002 Ford Explorer and 2004 Land-Rover Discovery 3 was a sound one. The execution, however, was disappointingly poor.

2005 Jeep Commander. Image: thecarconnection.com

The 2002 Volvo XC90 brought the benefit of viable accommodation for seven adults in a sophisticated large SUV. Other similar SUVs, like the 1999 BMW X5, were either strict five-seat vehicles or, like the 1998 Series 2 Land-Rover Discovery, had third-row seats that were only really suitable for children, or for adult passengers to Continue reading “Missing the Marque: 2005 Jeep Commander”

The Cult of the Souls

It never made production, but the Pontiac Banshee was a harbinger nonetheless. 

XP 833 Pontiac Banshee conept. motor authority

Chevrolet, 1966. Two million passenger cars sold. But for a two front attack, life might have been peachy. Enemy Number One – Henry’s Mustang. Enemy One A being rather closer to home, a GM (un) civil war focussing on the difficulties that family ties can induce.

In the egotistical, self centred world of the car executive, John DeLorean managed to Continue reading “The Cult of the Souls”

A Facelift Better Than the Car It Was Meant To Save

How Bill Porter turned the sow’s ear of the 1986 Buick Riviera into something so much better.

1989 Buick Riviera. Favcars

This article was first published as part of the DTW Facelifts Theme on July 02 2014.

In 1986, Buick sold a medium-sized two door coupé called the Somerset in the US market, built on the Oldsmobile-engineered N-body. In the way of GM’s demented renaming strategy, the Somerset tag was once a trim level of the Regal saloon but it escaped to become a separate line.[1] The Somerset only lived for three years – the public didn’t take to the name, apparently. The Somerset had a transverse, front-mounted 2.5 litre 4-cylinder or 3.0 V-6 engine driving the front wheels. The wheelbase was 103 inches (Americans don’t do metric).

In terms we’d understand on this side of the Atlantic, it addressed the market that Volvo does with the C30 or Audi with the A3. Or if you Continue reading “A Facelift Better Than the Car It Was Meant To Save”

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”

Sterling Devaluation (Part Two)

Concluding the story of Rover Group’s US Sterling misadventure. Why did it go so badly wrong?

Sterling in hatch and saloon form. Image: Favcars

A total of 14,171 cars found US buyers before the end of 1987, Sterling’s first year on sale in the US. This was a respectable number, if shy of the 20,000 to 23,000 sales that had been forecast by ARCONA. Even before the end of the year, however, reports were emerging about inconsistent build quality and poor reliability. There were many instances of faulty paintwork, poorly assembled interior trim and various electrical problems(1). Moreover, the quality of the dealerships was highly variable, many lacking the expertise(2) to deal effectively with issues that arose on the car.

The US Automobile magazine(3) ran a Sterling for a year and 24,500 miles to see how it would fare in the hands of a typical owner. The car had to Continue reading “Sterling Devaluation (Part Two)”

Recipe For Obscure Omelette

How will you have those eggs, mister?

1980 Buick Century Turbo. Image Curbside Classic

To the European autophile, American cars often lose their flavour should (or if) they land on soil at least three thousand miles from home. As a 1980s wet behind the ears teenager, all American cars were big, loud, had screeching tyres and could fly (dependent upon TV show) yet possessed an otherworldly draw for this spotty oik. 

No-one, not even the deep archives that DTW has become can Continue reading “Recipe For Obscure Omelette”

Holding Back the Years

The evolution of the Firebird.

Image: Fireszone.com/ Mecum.com

Time eventually catches up with everyone and everything; the best one can hope for is to age gracefully and this applies to people as much as it does to man-made designs, which with precious few exceptions reflect by their very nature the era in which they were created. As time moves on, there is only so much that can be done to Continue reading “Holding Back the Years”

Sterling Devaluation (Part One)

We recall Rover’s US misadventure with Sterling and ask why it all went so badly wrong for the second time in a decade.

1987 Sterling 825 publicity shot. Image: Motor Authority

The 1981 Project XX joint venture agreement between Honda and Austin Rover to develop a large luxury saloon appeared to open the way for the British company to return to the United States. It was no secret that Honda was designing its version of the car, the Legend, with the US market firmly in mind. The Japanese company wanted to move upmarket, to raise US transaction prices and profitability in case volume import quotas might be imposed by the US government to protect domestic automakers. If the Legend was explicitly designed to appeal to US customers, then why shouldn’t the British version, the Rover 800, do likewise?

The company’s previous attempt to return to the US market was in 1980 with the SD1 3500 model. Eleven hundred federalised versions of the car were shipped to America to Continue reading “Sterling Devaluation (Part One)”

Maris Otter and Goldings

It probably seemed a good idea after a few ales…

1988 Buick Reatta. Image: Hagerty Insurance Agency

Beer matters. Not the lagers (or pilsners for that matter) that conquered the world once refrigeration was commercially available but that quintessentially British phenomenon, real ale. Now gaining popularity in other parts of the thirst market, the myriad flavours a British pint of beer can offer remains a highly subjective experience. One’s tastebuds can be tingled by initial fruity overtones leading to complex biscuit hints leaving (perhaps) a sharp but far from unpleasant aftertaste. Its composition comprises of but four vital ingredients: malted barley, hops, water and yeast.

One influential variant of barley is the Marris Otter, found in many a pint; English grown for many years, imparting a sweet and flavoursome basis for the beer. Combining with (normally) Kent grown Golding Hops, which imbue earthy, spicy and honey influences may, with a decent brewer at the stills, create a thirst quenching, tasty, moreish drink. So what on Earth has an English pint got to do with a forgotten American two seater? Leave the driving for another day, open a bag of salted nuts and Continue reading “Maris Otter and Goldings”

Owning and Driving a 1998 Jeep Cherokee XJ

The author recalls his experience of the Jeep Cherokee XJ, an impulse and irrational purchase that turned out rather well.

Not ours, but identical, 1998 Jeep Cherokee Sport (c) rnrautoblog.com

My partner and I had the use of a Land-Rover Discovery as my perk company car for three years until 1999. It was a thoroughly useful device and we missed it after it went back, especially as our other vehicle was a 1997 Mercedes-Benz SLK 230K convertible, by no means the most practical (or reliable) of cars.

We decided to look for a second-hand SUV but, fearing the Discovery’s reputation for unreliability(1), we chose to Continue reading “Owning and Driving a 1998 Jeep Cherokee XJ”

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”

Style Council

Two giants of mid-20th century car design lay out their stall.

All images: Author’s collection

Both in oral and written communication the words Design and Styling are sometimes used as if they mean the same thing; this of course is not true. In broad terms styling is all about the visual qualities of a product, while design is more led by the functionality and consumer requirements. In the ideal fictitious case design leads to a product that is experienced as pleasing both in functionality as well as in aesthetics; for many, Dieter Rams for Braun or that of Jonathan Ive’s work for Apple fall within this treasured category. Continue reading “Style Council”