Elevation

The Height of Luxury.

Image: caradisiac

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[1], 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”

Try A-Coke-Ah (Part One)

Lee Iacocca – The Ford Years

Image: Ford Motor Company

Searching for a horse’s mouth account of that pioneering purveyor of horseless carriages, a recent read was the well known autobiography of the irrepressible, late and lamented Lido Anthony (Lee) Iacocca. (1924-2019) With the internet nowadays a deep-mine of information, such a move maybe described as unnecessary, but to this author at least, that misses the point.

For those of you who seek the inner nuances concerning his fathering of the Mustang, therein lies a smattering – just eighteen pages given over to that mother of all car launches, but since other aspects of his career overwhelmed such matters, we ought not Continue reading “Try A-Coke-Ah (Part One)”

Tyger, Tyger Burning Bright

Remembering GM Europe’s pretty but clawless felines.

1994 Opel Tigra. Image: Ultimate Car Guide

Over the past fifty years or so, the B-segment supermini has been a staple of the European automotive landscape, to the extent that it has, so far at least, managed largely to resist the onslaught of the crossover. In the early days, there was some experimentation with the precise mechanical layout, but most automakers quickly settled on what they realised was the optimum in terms of cost and packaging; a transverse four-cylinder engine with an end-on transaxle gearbox and unequal-length driveshafts to the front wheels, MacPherson strut front suspension with a torsion-beam axle at the rear, disc front and drum rear brakes, all wrapped up in a three and/or five-door hatchback body.

Many young people began their driving careers in a supermini, not least because they were so popular with driving schools, then widely available second-hand. They were cheap to buy and, crucially, relatively cheap to insure, even for a novice driver without the benefit of a no-claims discount and with a better than evens chance of having a bump in their first year on the road.

Given the ubiquity of the supermini and the resulting economies of scale for its component set, it is unsurprising that European manufacturers were keen to Continue reading “Tyger, Tyger Burning Bright”

Reserved

The fifth generation Fiesta of 2002 was model of restraint.

2002 Ford Fiesta five door. Image: elutstyr.no

Editor’s note: First published on 13th December 2016, this piece is being re-run today to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the 5th generation Fiesta’s introduction.

It was designed to please the public, men and women alike, with those big headlamp eyes, and that smiling radiator mouth.” Those were the words of designer, Chris Bird. The project started in 1998 and is one of the unalloyed Bird Fords. The project bore the code B256 and featured a new floor pan for three variants: the five-door, the three door and the Fusion. At this point Chris Bird had replaced Claude Lobo[1] as design director and wanted to put his mark on Ford.

Ford themselves seemed to be keen to Continue reading “Reserved”

Equus Celestial – Part Two

The star fades

SST Concept. Image: oldconceptcars.com

In the first few days of January 1998, Mitsubishi revealed their first ever American designed and fabricated vehicle at the Chicago motor show. With a styling theme described as Geo-Mechanical, this muscular looking brute showcased not only a study of future potential but also the trajectory Japanese/American market appeared then to be following. Solid in stance, the SST (Sophisticated Sports Touring) roadster bristled with confidence with its acid lemon colour scheme, side strakes, singular central exhaust and independent suspension. The engine remained the two litre and good for 210 bhp but the transmission had become automatic.

At the New York motor show three months later, the Tangerine Dream SST Spyder arrived allowing Dan Sims, chief designer at the Cypress, California R&D base to Continue reading “Equus Celestial – Part Two”

1968: A Question of Choice

Decisions, decisions.

Image: the author

Guiding his Oldsmobile carefully up the driveway to the garage of his house in the suburbs of a typical midwestern American town, Scott Hewitt had something planned for the evening. It was 1968, a year that would prove to be pivotal in world history as well as a bloody one. Presidential candidate Robert Kennedy would not see the end of the year alive, and neither would Martin Luther King.

The war in Vietnam escalated with the fierce Tet offensive, and the awful My Lai massacre would change many people’s minds about why and if the USA should have ever been involved in it in the first place. Violence and unrest were not limited to Southeast Asia- witness student riots in Paris, the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia and the ignition of ‘the troubles’ in Northern Ireland. Significant if less deadly pointers to Continue reading “1968: A Question of Choice”

Equus Celestial – Part One

Starring role.

Image: Car Domain

Depending on one’s viewpoint, celestial eclipses can be viewed as either a beautiful or foreboding event. They are a covering shadow, something which could easily be applied as a metaphor for this Japanese born motor car, produced in the USA. A further metaphor: In 1764, an English race horse named Eclipse[1] hacked up (comfortably winning in racing parlance) 18 races in 17 months. Owing to his winning ways, competing racehorse owners would refuse to Continue reading “Equus Celestial – Part One”

Being There [Part Five]

What killed the MGB?

Image: Jaguar Rover triumph Ltd – Author’s collection

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[1].

But the pace of change would not be sufficient to doom the decidedly analogue MGB. A number of not wholly unrelated, but intractable elements would join forces to Continue reading “Being There [Part Five]”

There Are No Words…

…adequately to describe how awful this was (but I’ll give it a go anyway).

Image: journal.classiccars.com

From its very earliest days, the automobile was more than just a machine for personal transportation. It represented freedom, independence, individuality(1) and, of course, affluence. Automakers quickly realised that the wealthy could easily be persuaded to part with large amounts of money for a car that not only conveyed them in great comfort, but also conveyed clearly to others their social standing.

For some, Rolls-Royce stood at the pinnacle of the automotive hierarchy, with its superlative, hand-wrought quality and understated, refined elegance. For others, Mercedes-Benz was favoured for the excellence of its engineering. In the US, Cadillac proclaimed itself ‘The Standard of the World’ with at least some degree of justification before General Motors had done its worst to Continue reading “There Are No Words…”

Via Biturbo

Pierangelo’s moodboard.

Image: Favcars

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”

Where There’s a WiLL…

…there’s a way.

Image: the author

A beer brewer, a candymaker, a travel agent(1) and a car manufacturer get together for a meeting…

It may sound like the opening line of a joke, but the vehicle you see here was the product of a serious business initiative. Incidentally, other representatives from various sectors in the consumer products industry were also part of the think-tank that gave birth to the WiLL brand at the turn of the millennium; the electronics giant Panasonic, a cosmetics company named Kao, and Kokuyo, a manufacturer of office furniture and stationery products. The aim of the venture was to Continue reading “Where There’s a WiLL…”

Being There [Part Four]

The best of times, the worst of times.

Peak B: 1973 MGB roadster. Image: mgb1967.com

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.

Abingdon’s fears came to fruition in 1971, Stokes and his BLMC board electing to Continue reading “Being There [Part Four]”

Reluctant To Fall – The National

Remembering the Leyland National.

Leyland National. Image: keybuses.com

The pall of smoke hung closely to the clattering, diesel din. The gruff acceleration, occasionally squeaking, yet hollow sounding brake alongside the hiss of the air compressor; these, more than any roaring car engines were the sound of my childhood as we rode the buses, and one in particular, the Leyland National, fifty this year.

By nature, Coachbuilt meant craftspeople hand building the bodywork onto a supplied chassis and taking anything up 1,000 man hours to complete. The National was “designed like an aircraft, built like a car” and took around 300 man hours, the idea being to Continue reading “Reluctant To Fall – The National”

Maserati for the Masses (Part Three)

Concluding the story of the Biturbo and the models developed from it.

Image: weilinet

Apart from the coupé, saloon and Spyder variants, the Biturbo’s platform and mechanical package was the basis for an additional five closely related Maserati models. The first of these was the 228, unveiled in December 1984 for launch a year later as a 1986 model. This was a two-door coupé, but was based on the Biturbo saloon’s longer 2,600mm (102½”) wheelbase. The 228 was intended to be a grand touring coupé in the Maserati tradition and featured the first application of the enlarged 2.8-litre V6 twin-turbo engine. Although superficially similar in appearance, it shared no body panels with the Biturbo coupé, being both longer and wider than even the saloon.

The 228 was again designed in-house by Pierangelo Andreani. Overall length was 4,460mm (175½”) and width was 1,865mm (73½”), making it 60mm (2¼”) longer and 135mm (5¼”) wider than the Biturbo Saloon. The Biturbo’s geometric lines had been softened, with a gently upswept lower DLO line and more curvature in the bodysides. Continue reading “Maserati for the Masses (Part Three)”

Being There [Part Three]

Win on Sunday, sell on Monday…

Image: migioslot.blogspot.com

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.

Having enjoyed some rallying successes with the MGA, and with BMC keeping close tabs on MG’s competition activities, General Manager, John Thornley was required to Continue reading “Being There [Part Three]”

Queen Without a Crown

The Brandt Reine 1950 remained an unrealised dream for its creator.

Image: Life Magazine

Of all the new car introductions at the 1948 Salon de L’Automobile de Paris, in those times held in the magnificent Grand Palais on the Champs-Élysées, the Citroën 2CV is the car that will likely be most readily and widely remembered. There were, of course, several other premieres amongst the hundreds of voitures exhibited, many of which are now long forgotten, even though some were arguably at least as unusual and radical as the 2CV.

The Brandt Reine 1950 certainly qualifies in this regard. Looking like an elongated Isetta, but five years before that tiny ‘bubble car’ would first appear on the streets, the Reine 1950 was unorthodox in almost every way imaginable. It was only possible to Continue reading “Queen Without a Crown”

Being There [Part Two]

A discord in C.

Strike a pose. MGC Roadster. Image: mgb1967

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[1] 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.

By the middle of the 1960s, the Austin Healey 3000 was not only reaching the end of its commercial viability, but BMC were chomping at the bit to Continue reading “Being There [Part Two]”

Maserati for the Masses (Part Two)

Continuing the story of the Biturbo and the models developed from it.

Image: maserati.com

The 1982 Maserati Biturbo was a fundamentally sound design, but a rushed development programme and hasty scaling up of production to meet strong initial demand had damaged its reputation for build quality and reliability.

In a later interview(1), Giorgio Manicardi, Maserati’s International Sales Manager, laid the blame for the Biturbo’s early quality and reliability issues firmly at Alejandro de Tomaso’s door. Manicardi had wanted to launch the Biturbo at a price of 22 million Lira, but it was de Tomaso who insisted on the sub-20 million Lira starting price. “As a result we lacked the [profit] margin to implement quality controls,” Manicardi contended. Moreover, de Tomaso allegedly maintained an iron grip on the project, to the extent that he rejected importers’ pleas for a cover to Continue reading “Maserati for the Masses (Part Two)”

Highly Volatile

Ten years ago, MG’s future looked something like this.

Image: Autocar

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”

They Came From The East (Riding)

The story of Armstrong Dampers.

Image: isaydingdong

New Year’s Day: Normally a time of headaches, compromised hand/eye co-ordination and the avoidance of anything remotely complicated. Perhaps using a shoe horn to ease into the day, but certainly no haste or sudden movements. Definitely not one for starting a business. But 117 years ago, twenty two year old Fullerton George Gordon Armstrong, who clearly hadn’t indulged in anything intoxicating the night before, did just that. With initial plans to build cars bearing his surname, his venture would eventually lead to a global empire which followed the path of many a British enterprise, with a dash of turmoil thrown in.

Whether aware of the Chinese proverb of the long walk beginning with the first step or not, Gordon had inculcated his younger self with an engineering apprenticeship, twelve months spent at sea as a marine engineer, chief mechanic, then proprietor at a larger, land-based garage. His opening gambit in the auto business would take place in a small rented workshop in Beverley, East Yorkshire, entitled The East Riding Garage & Engineering Works. On Whit Monday 1912, competing with his own 8hp car, Armstrong won both Scarborough speed trials and hill climb on the same day, but had to Continue reading “They Came From The East (Riding)”

Finding Qualified Joy in the Heart of Glanmire

Yet another car with pop-up headlamps.

Images of the X1/9: the author.

This one neatly predates the last car with pop-up headlamps on which I recently reported. Bertone took up the reins, making this car after Fiat handed it over in 1982. Production continued until 1989, which is the very same year Nissan decided to Continue reading “Finding Qualified Joy in the Heart of Glanmire”

The Ant and the Ox

Its makers openly cited the Africar as an inspiration for the Ox, but why not the Hormiga?

Images: autocosmos.com and oxgvt.com

The Ox, the Africar and the Hormiga were specifically conceived to help countries in the developing world with a poor quality road infrastructure achieve and hopefully reap the benefits of improved mobility at the lowest possible cost. It may come as a surprise to some (as it was to your author when he discovered the fact) to realise that the nearest Third World country to the UK is the Republic of Ireland(1) but none of these three vehicles has likely ever been driven on or off the Irish road network.

Philanthropist, former toy manufacturer and banker Sir Torquil Norman came up with the basic idea of the Ox and, together with Gordon Murray(2), developed the concept into fully functional prototypes under the GVT (Global Vehicle Trust) banner. Continue reading “The Ant and the Ox”

Being There [Part One]

Symphony in B.

Image: caradisiac

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.

This of course is not to say that even the rarest, most pristine (production) MGB is ever likely to make its owner Continue reading “Being There [Part One]”

Maserati for the Masses (Part One)

DTW marks the fortieth anniversary of the Biturbo, a car that sired a range of more affordable Maserati models.

Image: maserati.com

As seems befitting for an Italian company manufacturing sports cars, grand touring coupés and luxury saloons, Maserati S.p.A. has had a colourful and occasionally tumultuous history since its establishment in 1914. One brief period of relative calm began with the company’s takeover by Citroën in 1968. The deal was predicated on a joint-venture project whereby Maserati would design and build a new V6 engine for Citroën’s forthcoming flagship, the SM. Financed by French investment, Maserati introduced a new range of models, notably the 1971 V8-engined Bora, the company’s first mid-engined supercar, its smaller brother, the 1972 V6 Merak, and the stillborn SM-based 1974 Quattroporte II saloon.

Unfortunately, the Middle-East Oil Crisis of 1973 caused a collapse in demand for the sort of cars in which Maserati specialised. Citroën, struggling with its own mounting losses, put Maserati into receivership in May 1975. Political pressure to Continue reading “Maserati for the Masses (Part One)”

Swiss Riv

The final Riviera’s missing link?

1988 Buick Lucerne concept. Image: Deans Garage

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[1], 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[2].

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)[3]. 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”

Where There’s Muck, There’s Brass

 Exemplar 1: More Riviera-based goodness. 

Coggiola sketch for Exemplar 1. Image: neautomuseum.org

While the name of Sergio Coggiola might be known to the enthusiast, that of Mario Revelli de Beaumont may not. Roman born Revelli made his name submitting handsome designs to coachbuilders in the nineteen twenties and thirties with Rolls-Royce, Lancia then post-war, with Fiat. Coggiola on the other hand spent time under Pietro Frua at Ghia before setting up his eponymous carrozzeria in Orbassano, a district of Turin during 1966. Around that time, the two Italians collaborated, with the use of atomic element number 29: copper.

Bridgeport, Connecticut may not be the automotive centre of the universe but the Bridgeport Brass Company (henceforward referred to as the BBC) had plans to Continue reading “Where There’s Muck, There’s Brass”

Walter Schätzle – Resurrection Man

We recall the extraordinary career of Walter Schätzle, a former Borgward dealer whose dedication to the marque briefly made him West Germany’s smallest carmaker.

Image: Borgward Presseabteilung

The collapse of any large manufacturing business is a traumatic and far-reaching event. Lawyers quibble, accountants audit, suppliers stumble, vultures gather. When the collapse involves an automaker, loyal customers feel that their prized vehicles are like orphans and may find that their only support and solace is the dealer who sold and maintained their cars. Many of those dealers will have moved on to other franchises – they have to make a living – but some remain in the thrall of the defunct marque, with a dedication that far transcends vulgar commerce.

The collapse of Bremen-based Carl F W Borgward GmbH in 1961 shook the assuredness of Wirtschaftswunder West Germany, but the controversial story of that event is beyond the scope of this article. One former Borgward dealer, Walter Schätzle (1928-2021), not only went above and beyond expectations to Continue reading “Walter Schätzle – Resurrection Man”

Between Brooklodge and Riverstown

The fading embers of the commercial conflagration of Rover produced a few final sparks. Here is one.

2003-2005 Rover Streetwise. All Images: the author

The errant apostrophe serves as a hint about the state of affairs on the 34th floor at Rover Towers in Longbridge when this car hit the market. Let’s overlook the sub-editorial infelicity and see if we can Continue reading “Between Brooklodge and Riverstown”

Silver Car For Mr Mitchell (Part Two)

Boaty McBoat Tail

Buick Silver Arrow III. Image: Conceptcarz

An almost mythical aura surrounds the second of the Silver Arrow concepts, which is more than can be said of the car itself – now vanished without trace. Hype and overall interest for 1967 was considerably lower when compared to the first Silver Arrow; no chassis number, no documented dates, no confirmed photos, zilch.

After extensive research with limited resources[1], Silver Arrow II appears to have barely differed from a 1970 model year Riviera – the grille perhaps receiving the most noticeable change – 74 teeth opposed to only 60. The side chromed spear overlaid onto bodywork. An interior again in silver leather. Other small details differing from that of later production models include side view mirrors, the hub caps (not seen on any other Riviera) and the rear side reflectors. What is known as the Rocker Moulding[2], was also chromed. Continue reading “Silver Car For Mr Mitchell (Part Two)”

Unsafe to View from Any Angle

And you thought those sixties and seventies experimental safety vehicles were ugly…

From the late nineteen-sixties until well into the seventies, a slew of safety-oriented concept cars from several automakers broke cover. Some of their notable unifying themes were large black rubber extensions front and rear, early variations of airbags in combination with heavily padded safety seats in various guises, with bodywork usually painted bright yellow or orange. Before that time, and preceding the publication of Ralph Nader’s influential book ‘Unsafe at Any Speed’, safety usually took a back seat to styling, comfort, cost and performance(1).

Swedish manufacturers SAAB and Volvo were arguably the only ones at the time that could legitimately claim to have safety as one of their guiding principles. That said, ever since the first motor accident involving casualties occurred, carmakers were aware of the risks and, in various shapes and forms -as well as degrees of naiveté and effectiveness- many attempts to Continue reading “Unsafe to View from Any Angle”

Ordinary Joe in a Sharp Suit

Remembering Ford’s blue-collar big saloons of the early 1960s.

Image: classiccarsunder80.blogspot.com

If such a thing is possible, then its fair to say that America had a good Second World War. Provoked into action by the surprise Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbour on 7th December 1941 which caused the death of over 2,400 service personnel and civilians, America mobilised its vast industrial resources to produce military vehicles, ships, aircraft and armaments. Unemployment was virtually eliminated and the economy boomed during the war years.

When the war ended, Europe was bankrupt and its infrastructure shattered. Both winners and losers suffered equally from the privations of the years that followed. For many, life was little better than it had been during the war as the long struggle to Continue reading “Ordinary Joe in a Sharp Suit”

Silver Car For Mr. Mitchell (Part One)

Silver Arrows from Flint, Michigan.

Image: sloanlongway.org

In the realms of car design, chances must be taken. Regardless of the ever-building pressure generated from all quarters as to the next sure-fire sales wonder, calculated risk taking is part of the game. Such incontrovertible weights require shoulders of strength, astute vision, alongside the ego of a vain, mirror-devoted individual, obsessed with appearances. Praise be that a certain William Mitchell was in possession of all of the above qualities, along with a marked penchant for items of an argentine nature.

It seems as natural today as it did sixty years ago that prior to the October 4th 1962 Riviera reveal, Mitchell would wish to Continue reading “Silver Car For Mr. Mitchell (Part One)”

Vox Pop Riviera Americana

Riviera. A brief history. 

Image: oldcarbrochures

London in the late 1950’s could still fall victim to enveloping airborne elements. Long since relieved from wartime bombardment, the city’s endemic smog, while atmospheric (in either sense of the word) was hardly conducive to those of a compromised bronchial nature. But what transpired for a certain American one evening in the capital, would prove even more breath taking, prompting something of a three-decade exhalation.

Ford had upset the atmosphere in 1958 by introducing the second-generation Thunderbird, a hugely successful personal luxury car which forced the competition to Continue reading “Vox Pop Riviera Americana”

Beyond Pantera

Exploring some less well known de Tomaso models.

Image: the author

Technically, it should be impossible to go beyond Pantera as the name derives from the ancient Greek word ‘Panthera’ meaning ‘all beasts’, both real and mythological. Still, Argentinian ex-racing driver Alejandro de Tomaso was involved in the creation of more vehicles than just the one with which he is most readily associated, and some of the others involved partnerships with some unlikely players in the automotive firmament. Continue reading “Beyond Pantera”

An Abundance of Caution

Toyota’s switch to front-wheel-drive began very tentatively in 1978.

Image: iheartjapanesecars.blogspot.com

The Toyota Motor Corporation vies with Volkswagen Group as the world’s largest manufacturer of motor vehicles. Global sales in 2021 were just shy of 10.5 million vehicles, earning revenues of approximately US $250Bn. The underlying philosophy that has taken Toyota to this dominant position has been one of cautious, iterative product development over decades, always giving the customer exactly what they expect from the company; finely engineered and meticulously constructed vehicles that deliver a long and reliable service life.

As the automotive industry has evolved, Toyota has tended to demonstrate an abundance of caution, not wishing to Continue reading “An Abundance of Caution”

Silvan Song

The many faceted Nissan Silvia.

Image: TTAC

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”

Subterfuge at the Castle and Then On to Carberytown

An infrequently encountered gem from Japan.

1989-1993 Nissan 200 SX. All images via the author.

Four short years. That’s all the time Nissan gave this affordable sports car. I had the pleasing fortune to find one in the depths of eastern Cologne around Easter this year. Not far away from it I spotted an XM (Series II) but I found it very difficult to Continue reading “Subterfuge at the Castle and Then On to Carberytown”

Independent Diptych (Part Two)

Studebaker’s shoestring-budget foray in the compact market.

Images: Alf van Beem and jalopyjournal.com

Development of the compact Studebaker Lark started in the spring of 1957. The South Bend, Indiana firm had created a stop-gap of sorts that year in the shape of the very austere Scotsman model, but it was obvious that this was just a severely decontented full-size car instead of the more compact vehicle envisioned to revive Studebaker’s fortunes by capturing a slice of an emerging new market segment. And a revival was desperately needed: like its rival, American Motors, Studebaker had entered into an ultimately fatal merger, in this case with the once-great luxury carmaker, Packard.

As work on the Lark started, Packard was as good as dead and its last models, which were little more than Studebakers in fancy dress, were only gathering dust on the showroom floor. For Studebaker itself, the situation was not much better as the company suffered its worst year since 1938 with fewer than 45,000 cars sold. Clearly, the new model, designed to tap into a rapidly growing market and generate much-needed profits, could not come a moment too soon, and that the Lark was ready to be introduced for the 1959 model year was a minor miracle. Continue reading “Independent Diptych (Part Two)”

Living Room

 It’s a Škoda, Jakub, but not as we know it…

Image: Car Magazine

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”

How the Dreams Stopped

Twenty-two years of Citroën XM ownership comes to an end.

1990 Citroen XM SEi. All images: the author.

Two decades account for about two-thirds of my time on earth so far.  How began this span? In Billericay, Essex where an unseen driver, who suddenly wanted to Continue reading “How the Dreams Stopped”

Independent Diptych (Part One)

Clever innovation from the smaller American automakers.

Image: the author

With pockets much less deep than those of the US ‘Big Three’ automakers, independent American manufacturers needed to be clever and creative to come up with new cars in response to an expanding market as the 1960s dawned. Studebaker’s solution was to use the mid-section of its existing full-size sedan that dated back to 1953 as a base, while American Motors resurrected a model, albeit with several updates applied to it, that it had discontinued years earlier.

One notable advantage of this forced strategy was that it enabled both companies to Continue reading “Independent Diptych (Part One)”

Modern Family [Part Five]

Super Mini or simply a better Mini?

Morris 1300 GT. Image: Classic Car Catalogue

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[1]. 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[2].

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[3], 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.

Throughout its lifespan, BMC management appeared to take the 1100/1300 series’ success for granted, allowing themselves to Continue reading “Modern Family [Part Five]”

Folie Française

An Anglo-French automotive curiosity remembered.

Image: ranwhenparked.net

Over the past fifty years, the global automotive industry has witnessed an ongoing consolidation to the extent that it is now largely under the control of a handful of major players(1). The reasons for this are all economic: the costs associated with the design and manufacture of a new motor vehicle are now simply enormous, given the raft of fitness for purpose, safety and environmental regulations and legislation with which any new model must comply. Moreover, the product liability implications of putting into the hands of the public a machine that could be potentially deadly to themselves and others are truly terrifying. Only a lunatic and/or a genius(2) would now Continue reading “Folie Française”

Not Leading by Example

An innovative but unapproved plan to build a flagship Citroën XM convertible.

Image: Koninklijke Hoogovens

After Citroën officially withdrew from the US market in 1972, an independent company called CX Automotive commenced unofficial imports of the CX model, much to Citroën’s annoyance. When the CX was replaced by the XM, the company, now renamed CXA, began imports of the new model and embarked on an ambitious plan to enhance the prestige of the XM by creating a convertible version via an innovative construction method devised in The Netherlands.

The seeds of the idea were sown in 1985, when CXA approached French carrossier Chapron to Continue reading “Not Leading by Example”

Modern Family [Part Four]

Taking on the world

Image: quattroruote

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[1], 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]”

Boys of Summer

The past steadfastly remains a foreign country.

ford-thunderbird
Image: carsinvasion

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[1] 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”

Viking Italianate

Norse legend via Turin.

Image: archivioprototipi.it

Love affairs can be fickle. Within the car industry, bed hopping is almost as natural as tightening nuts. The longevity of such associations is often a factor of money as much as talent, for matters of taste do not necessarily equate to success. As we have seen in a previous instalment, Volvo had given Fissore and Zagato short shrift, only to seek out one of their lesser-known rivals, Coggiola. Whether Gothenburg had been influenced by the carrozzerias’s previous Exemplar concept is unknown, but more likely it was their work with Trollhattan natives, Saab[1].

Unveiled at the 1971 Paris auto salon, the Volvo ESC, also known as the Viking was a fully engineered concept. Described as ‘the successor to the 1800′, a sobriquet that may have been wide of the mark, even if the original Pelle Petterson design was by then widely considered something of an obsolete Viking itself. Something of a show pony, Coggiola worked expressly on the bodywork and interior, leaving the oily bits untouched.

With a styling theme broadly similar to that of the GM-based Exemplar, Coggiola was asked to Continue reading “Viking Italianate”

A Census Taker Once Tried To Test Me

SEAT’s skunkworks sports car.

Image: forocoches.com

Sociedad Española de Automóviles de Turismo, more colloquially known as SEAT, was established in 1950 and for decades produced, with a few exceptions, virtual carbon copies of Italian Fiats until the partnership ended in 1982. In the period before Volkswagen acquired a majority shareholding in 1986, SEAT introduced the Giugiaro-styled compact Ibiza which, while still using many Fiat Ritmo elements in its underlying platform, is considered the Spanish firm’s first true post-Fiat product.

Before the Ibiza, however, there was the 1200/1430 Coupé, affectionately nicknamed the ‘Boca negra’ because of its distinctive black snout. This was a car mostly developed by SEAT and first seen in concept form at the 1970 Turin motorshow as the NSU Nergal prototype, styled by Aldo Sessano. It is much sought-after today by aficionados of the SEAT marque. Continue reading “A Census Taker Once Tried To Test Me”

Modern Family [Part Three]

Harriman’s Ladder.

Image via ebay

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]”

Boxing Clever (Part Two)

Concluding the story of the 1982 Citroën BX.

Image: motorpassion.com

Following a successful launch, the BX sold strongly, although there were some early build quality issues that were overcome during the first year of production. A year after launch, the BX range was augmented with the addition of a Break estate version. Production of the estate was outsourced to the French coachbuilding firm Heuliez.

Unusually, the estate retained the hatchback version’s rear passenger doors. This was problematic in that the hatch featured a roofline that fell noticeably towards the rear of the car, and the rear door window frames followed suit. However, in order to maximise load capacity, the estate, although only a little taller overall, was instead given a horizontal roofline. The solution was slightly makeshift: the estate’s additional rear side windows were mounted higher than the rear door windows, with long horizontal air vents below them. The mismatch was partly disguised by satin black trim and paint surrounding the DLO on all but the base versions, where it was readily apparent. Continue reading “Boxing Clever (Part Two)”