Benchmarks come and then they go. Personal luxury coupes occupied the hottest sector of the American car market in the late ’70s and early ’80s. What were they?
Editor’s note: This piece originally appeared as part of the Benchmarks Theme on DTW in March 2015.
A personal luxury coupe is understood as a two door, four seat car with at least a V6 or ideally a V8. Whilst the advertising for these may have suggested sporting capability, the body-on-frame and bench seat reality spoke of cars whose main talent lay in getting quickly up to 65 mph and staying there from Baker, Ca. to Frederick, Md.
The image above is my idea of the archetype of this car. I don’t think Europe had equivalents of the PLC. Two-door Ford Granadas (such as the 1975 example owned by our stalwart contributor Myles Gorfe) don’t strike the same note. Whether with two doors or four they retain their Granada-ness (the Ghia fastback came a bit closer to the concept). The Opel Monza offered a sporty experience and isn’t formal enough. BMW’s 1976 633 CSi also promised and provided athletic capabilities. Perhaps Mercedes 450 SLC came closest of all as it was certainly luxurious, it had a V8 and the back seats were cramped for occasional use, despite the car’s length. Continue reading “Benchmarks – Personal Luxury Coupés”
In the build-up to 1980’s Motorfair, where the crucially important Austin Mini-Metro was to make its public debut, BL’s TV advertising was to put it mildly, of a decidedly patriotic nature. An array of doughty Metros standing sentinel on Dover’s white cliffs to repel Britain’s foreign invaders certainly got the message across, but in any conflict situation, real or imaginary, there is always collateral damage.
Because within a year of Metro’s triumphant debut, Britain’s homegrown supermini had dealt Allegro a fatal blow. Despite their differences in size and mission, such was the level of domestic enthusiasm for Britain’s ‘car to beat the world’ that by the end of 1981, Allegro sales, already in freefall, had almost halved. For the BL board, the evidence was unequivocal, and under Sir Michael Edwardes’ pragmatic leadership, it was elected to Continue reading “Running With Scissors [Part Ten]”
Continuing our tour through the illustrious history of the Lincoln Mark line, illustrated by the brochures that promoted each generation.
Concerns about air pollution and a fuel crisis being about a change in direction for the Mark line.
Mark 4 1972-1976
The larger, heavier but less powerful Mark 4, again based on the Ford Thunderbird, ushered in the (often clumsily executed) federally required ‘5mph’ bumpers(1), but also introduced the successful Designer Series. America and its roads were changing in the early seventies: the exciting muscle cars were all but gone and there was a shift towards luxury and convenience features as regulations effectively strangled the large V8s with anti-pollution devices. Those big blocks had never been designed with low fuel consumption or clean emissions in mind, so any expectation of stirring performance had now become futile. Continue reading “On Your Marks (Part Two)”
Would new models bolster Chevrolet’s tenuous foothold in the European automotive market?
Chevrolet’s 2005 relaunch in Europe was, to say the least, a rather understated affair, with a model range that was composed entirely of rebadged and very mildly facelifted Daewoo models from South Korea. Although the first new Chevrolet model for Europe, the Captiva crossover, had been unveiled at the Paris motor show in September 2004, it did not go on sale until early 2006. Nevertheless, European sales for 2005 came in at 211,737(2) units, representing a modest 1.87% increase over the previous year. This was respectable, but certainly not the step-change that General Motors might have hoped for following the rebranding.
Chevrolet abandoned Daewoo’s unique marketing proposition of fixed price sales and outsourced servicing. Instead, it set about establishing a traditional dealer network, often paired with existing Opel or Vauxhall dealerships. How this was viewed by the dealerships concerned is open to speculation: did it provide potential for increased sales, or simply unwanted internal competition and added complexity and confusion? Continue reading “That’ll be the, er…Chevrolet? (Part Two)”
Allegro 3 arrived onto the market in Autumn 1979 and the BL marketing machine, amid the grinding of E-Series gears, stirred into life. “SuperVroom”, the promotional copy declared, and a nation held its breath. Or perhaps not. Amid the lexicon of advertising taglines, it was no exclamative for the ages. Indeed for most casual observers, it meant little and bore even less relation to the product being placed in front of them. But amid the siege mentality that permeated BL’s Bickenhill corporate fortress circa-1979, the marketing teams, much like their equivalents elsewhere in the organisation had to Continue reading “Vroom the Bell Tolls”
Idly perusing a non-car related website recently, the Pat Benatar tune in question popped into my head and refused to leave. The song was inspiration enough to look back at a time when power dressing, Miami Vice, blocky computer graphics along with a host of mediocre cars from the largest producers were prevalent. So dig out that shell suit and pop MTV on at full volume; today we peer into the Pontiac 6000.
The 1980s were not considered by many to be one of General Motors creative highs. After all, dishing up the same sauce with barely a badge flavoured difference was hardly a recipe to Continue reading “Love Is A Battlefield”
The Allegro’s honeymoon period had been relatively short lived, falling victim on one hand to British Leyland’s parlous labour-relations and a rapid deterioration in the public’s confidence in the vehicle on the other; the latter being consequent to well publicised issues of build and design. By mid-decade, it was apparent that the car was not selling anywhere near the volumes projected and nor was it likely to.
The relaunched 1975 Allegro 2 was therefore what many observers believed the car ought to have been from the outset. Attention had been paid to concerns raised by customers and the press; in particular with regards to the suspension, which was better damped, and improved rear seat accommodation, the result of a redesigned seat pan. A large number of other, mostly minor changes (the cosmetic ones certainly were) led to a more rounded, better realised product, if one which steadfastly remained in the shadow of better selling (mostly) imported rivals.
Just one of many indignities heaped upon the storied US marque by its abusive parent, General Motors.
Chevrolet is a truly iconic automotive name. The company was founded in 1911 by Swiss-born racing car driver and motor engineer Louis Chevrolet. His partners in the new venture were his brother, Arthur, and William C. Durant. The latter had been fired by General Motors in 1910, just two years after he had co-founded GM to be a holding company for The Buick Motor Company, which he owned, and the simultaneously acquired Olds Motor Works, manufacturer of Oldsmobile cars.
The US auto industry evolved very rapidly in the second decade of the 20th Century. Chevrolet fell out with Durant in 1914 and sold his share in the fledgling but already successful company. The automaker continued to thrive, to the extent that Durant was able to buy a controlling stake in General Motors in 1918, folding Chevrolet in as another division of the rapidly growing conglomerate.
The North American car buyer has never been entirely comfortable with the notion of good things in small packages. I generalise of course, but in automotive terms at least, attempts at creating a more compact telling of the automotive fable have not met with rapturous success.
Not that all foundered on purely ideological grounds – these attempts frequently proving a somewhat difficult stylistic pill for the consumer to swallow, having been weaned on considerably more expansive nostrums of automotive desire. But as cities became ever more congested and environmental concerns grew, US carmakers sought more inventive ways to Continue reading “Please Indulge Sensibly”
As a brand, modern day Chrysler has become something of an oddity. In the United States, they currently offer two vehicles, and once the soon to depart 300 shuffles off, a rather svelte mover of (mainly) families will (for the present at least) ply the Pentastar’s trade alone – the Chrysler Pacifica.
When the ADO16 1100 was introduced in 1962, it had few natural rivals, nothing comparable from a technological or conceptual basis at least – a matter which did much to enhance its appeal. A decade later, when Allegro landed as its successor (and not withstanding its relative qualities), the landscape had altered considerably. Front-wheel drive was becoming, if not quite yet the norm, certainly a good deal more common amongst the more progressively minded of Europe’s carmakers, if not the outposts of the American multinationals. Furthermore, BLMC’s European rivals were making rather a good fist of it.
If you suffer from metamfiezomaiophobia(1) you should look away now.
Within the circle of those who habitually frequent these pages, the Italian architect and industrial designer Mario Bellini (born 1935) is most likely best known for his contribution to the facelifted Lancia Beta and the Trevi: the controversial ‘Swiss cheese’ dashboard was his brainchild. Bellini ventured into the automotive spectrum on a few other occasions as well, one of which resulted in today’s subject.
Bellini, who among other things designed lamps for Artemide, office furniture for Vitra, fountain pens, coffeemakers and Olivetti typewriters, emphasises that he always designs like an architect, regardless of the subject at hand. The cultural aspect of architectural design, organizing the world for better living, was always close to his heart. When invited by the New York Museum of Modern Art in 1972 to Continue reading “New Positions in Car Design”
A developing markets car that was out of tune with European tastes.
The Volkswagen Group doesn’t do cheap and cheerful. Its four(1) mass-market brands all have a reputation for producing high quality(2) cars. One can reasonably argue that these brands are insufficiently well differentiated from each other in terms of quality of materials, build and equipment. Hence, Volkswagen has too much overlap between its brands so has not maximised its potential total market coverage.
The company must have watched on enviously as Renault resurrected the moribund Romanian Dacia marque and turned it into a highly successful budget brand, which is exactly what Volkswagen might have done with Škoda. That appeared to be the plan when the first wholly VW-era Škoda, the 1996 Octavia, was launched. This was a larger but cheaper and plainer take on the Golf. Subsequent models, however, became increasingly sophisticated, to the extent that there is little to Continue reading “Missing the Marque: Volkswagen Fox”
The Allegro has never been a car synonymous with the notion of frivolity, not of the intentional variety at least. It was however, no stranger to satire or derision, not least its somewhat self-important looking flagship model. But while the Vanden Plas 1500 variant may have represented the zenith of Allegro’s upmarket ambitions, it was not the rarest of the breed. That plaudit rests with the most exotic of Allegri, the Crayford Convertible. Continue reading “Allegro Aperto”
The early 1970s was a volatile time in Britain. Hopes of lasting prosperity were dissolving amid galloping inflation, socio-political strife, ineffectual government interventions to prop up a stalling economy and a seething dissatisfaction amidst the toiling classes, fed up with being overpromised and repeatedly brought up short.
Throughout the previous decade, car manufacturing plants across the UK had become a hotbed of political foment, and those of the former British Motor Corporation were amongst the most restive – owing to an array of factors which included a myopic and at times, barely competent management and successive government policies, which had the (perhaps unintentional) effect of denying workers a reliable source of income.
The labour factor
Pay was a perennial issue, but so were working conditions, those within many British car plants being not too far evolved from the pre-war era. Neither plant, machinery nor working practices had been modernised, conditions were primitive and given the at best ambivalent attitude of management towards line workers, there was little incentive for them to Continue reading “Running With Scissors [Part Seven]”
Leaving the car keys on the kitchen counter for a change and boarding a train…
…but with a twist, in that the rail vehicles described here today are well and truly connected to the car business. In the course of the twentieth century, several car manufacturers and one important supplier thereof have entered the train manufacturing realm for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it was a case of simple survival after economic depression or war undermined their existing business, other times it was a way of promoting the virtues of a core product, or an attempt to Continue reading “All Aboard!”
The 1996 Octavia should have set the template for all future Škoda models, but it didn’t turn out that way.
In a piece I recently penned on another Volkswagen Group model, I opined that the group’s four mass-market brands are insufficiently well differentiated from each other, so the scope of their market coverage in Europe is narrower than it should be and there is a greater than optimal overlap between brands and models, inevitably leading to some cannibalisation of sales. Ideally, their market positioning should be broadly as follows:
Audi: premium luxury and sporting.
Volkswagen: semi-premium, nominally classless, but certainly perceived as upmarket of mainstream rivals.
SEAT: youthful, stylish, fashion-conscious but not too avant-garde or left-field.
Škoda: budget, practical, strong value proposition, car as domestic appliance.
An affectionate tribute to the Leyland Royal Tiger coach, once the king of the highway jungle.
Some enjoy vintage cars, some vintage commercial vehicles, others vintage aircraft. I have been fortunate enough to enjoy all three as I myself, a 1941 model, was attaining my own vintage status, yet one old warhorse still shines among many happy memories.
Browsing Dick Gilbert’s Classic Buses website, I jumped on the brakes upon seeing my old friend, Leyland Royal Tiger NCD 662. Dick himself had taken this photo in his younger days, and remembers the coach working out of Eastbourne. Continue reading “The Tale of a Tiger”
This is not so bad. And it’s cheap. It’s the Nissan 100 NX.
Editor’s note: This article first appeared on Driven to Write on 2 December 2015.
As with so many of these types of cars, they dissolve into obscurity and when you eventually chance upon them they look much better than you remember them. We have discussed in these pages design rationalism of the French and German types. In the Nissan 100 NX we see some more of this. The way the shutlines and panel gaps are set up is very disciplined indeed. Look at the way the bonnet shutline goes without interruption from one side of the window base to the other. Continue reading “Something Rotten In Denmark: 1993 Nissan 100 NX 1.6 SLX”
Lasting forty four years – 1926-70, Siata, originally the Societá Italiano Applicazioni Trasformazioni Automobilistiche, started out as engine tuners but would become manufacturers of lauded machinery, available postwar from the via Leonado da Vinci, Turin.
Nobody can truly escape their past, a statement that holds as true in the automotive domain as it does in the human one. Legacies, either from prior or existing BLMC products would become a leitmotif of Allegro’s dolorous story – a statement underlined by the issues surrounding its powertrain, which consisted of both the venerable A-Series engines and the more latterly developed E-Series units, inherited from the Maxi programme.
Allegro’s predecessor had been offered in 1098 and later on, in 1275 cc versions, the latter being something of a late addition to the range and one which proved popular with the buying public; improved performance having become a selling point with customers given the manner in which the UK’s motorway network had grown. It is likely that a further stretch in capacity would have gone down better still with more affluent buyers, but when a larger capacity engine did become available, it became earmarked for other purposes.
A rogue sporty Beetle, a not entirely successful Asian alliance and an aborted attempt at conquering the WRC crown: meet three Volkswagen oddities.
Mach 1: the word will produce a glint in the eye of muscle car aficionados, reminded as they are of manly Mustangs in lively hues powered by a good old fashioned big V8 burbling on premium leaded fuel instead of the watered down stuff that passes for gasoline nowadays.
There was however another Mach 1 which preceded the first so-badged Mustang by four years, and the vehicle first adorned with the moniker could almost not have been further removed from the Mustang in any knowable dimension; meet the Volkswagen Beetle Mach 1.
If you fail, try again. Of course, you might fail again.
Renault is rightly credited with producing the first European(1) MPV, the 1984 Espace. Whether or not the company was gifted with great foresight in doing so is a moot point, however. The Espace had been brought to Renault by Matra as an already completed design, one that had originally been commissioned by Chrysler Europe. After Peugeot-Citroën purchased Chrysler’s European operations in 1978, it struggled to rehabilitate the ailing business, hence it rejected the design as too niche and risky, forcing Matra to seek another partner.
To many, including UK residents, the M1 motorway was not Britain’s inaugural Special Road, that honour goes to what was enigmatically entitled the Preston Northerly Bypass, now part of the M59. While the UK began to contemplate 70mph limits and new styles of signage, the M1 of today’s piece is across the Atlantic, owning a longevity along with its own unique history – Woodward Avenue.
Many years before Detroit was even a township, native Americans had developed trading routes and trails, one of which was the Saginaw. By the early 19th century, that path had become a 120ft wide right-of-way for the now burgeoning city. The aftermath of a devastating fire saw a city layout redesign, somewhat mirroring Washington DC and labelled the ‘Paris of the West’. Continue reading “Detroit, Michigan 48226-3473”
Today, we take a brief hiatus from our analysis of Allegro and its commercial fate to return briefly to aspects of its style, and in particular, to the third ADO67 bodystyle to be offered.
Closely aping its predecessor, Allegro was introduced as a single format bob-tailed saloon – with two or four doors – and unlike its stablemate Marina, both Allegri employed the same silhouette and styling theme. Of the two saloons, the two-door might be considered the most cohesive, a factor which could be explained by its cleaner, less cluttered DLO treatment, which did away with the four-door’s rear quarterlight. In the photo appended below, one can appreciate this and just maybe, Continue reading “Allegro Con Spazio”
The power of the written word can be sometimes overstated, although this is not a position the gentlemen of the press generally care to acknowledge. Certainly, a poor review can hurt a new product, but it usually takes more than an unfavourable report to fatally damage its prospects, just as it takes more than one breathless review to create a hit. But for the historian attempting to Continue reading “Running With Scissors [Part Five]”
The first McLaren badged road-legal car built in series production wasn’t named F1.
Mrs. Muscat had a parking problem: it was not a case of a lack of available spaces at the Ford Motor Company offices where she worked, but the company’s strict ‘no foreign vehicles’ policy meant that she was not allowed to park her car, a R107 Mercedes-Benz SL, on the premises. Having to find a parking space within a reasonable distance each day was of course an inconvenience, but she loved her SL and its al fresco option for sunny days. Thus she asked her husband, Maltese born engineer Peter Muscat, to Continue reading “No Parking”
Continuing the story of the 1994 A8, the car that propelled Audi into the German premium car firmament.
After the very striking polished aluminium Audi Spaceframe Concept of 1993, the 1994 production A8, a car that majored on subtlety over ostentation, was bound to be something of an anti-climax, if only in visual terms. It was certainly not a car for those who wanted to flaunt their wealth and success. For those who looked at it more deeply, however, there was plenty to appreciate.
Car Magazine covered the A8 in an extensive eight-page feature published in the May 1994 issue of the magazine. Journalist Georg Kacher introduced it boldly as “a technical marvel, a marvellous car.” A source at Audi was quoted as saying that “the old V8 cost us a lot of money, but the new [A8] is going to lose us a small fortune.” In order to establish itself in the luxury saloon market, Audi expected to Continue reading “Light Fantastic (Part Two)”
You might be forgiven for not knowing their name, after all, it remains niche to those outside of their main field (or should that be quarry?), but their trucks have not only helped build mighty projects, they also tamed the deserts of Dakar. This is the story of Perlini.
Officine Meccaniche Construzioni Roberto Perlini was founded in 1957 taking four years to bring to market the rugged dump trucks the company’s fame would be founded upon. Spurred on by Italy’s economic postwar growth, Perlini had fabricated their one thousanth truck by 1970. The early eighties saw them Continue reading “Clay, Pee, Rocks, Tiger And Tuna”
And What Is Wrong With Putting the Engine in Front of the Wheels?
Editor’s note: This piece first appeared on DTW in June 2014.
Audi are in danger of becoming the Phil Collins of the petrolhead world, an act that even people who know little about music like to cite as being a bit off. Speaking as someone who can, hand on heart, swear that he has no murky Genesis related skeletons in his youthful musical vinyl rack and hopes he’ll never hear ‘Against All Odds’ on the radio again, I’d judge that Mr Collins is no worse than many, and better than scores.
Changing fashion means that he has just become a lazy symbol for bad comedians and the generally undiscerning to latch on to in order to suggest, quite undeservedly, their musical connoisseurship. Likewise Audi. In bars and on motoring websites everywhere, you will hear the drone of “overrated and overpriced …. style over content …. they’re all designed on a photocopier …. no driver involvement ….. they’ll never really be premier league until they Continue reading “Audi – Always the Pretender?”
Alpine, they of sporting Renault-based pedigree, was founded by Jean Rédélé in 1955, since then carving out a niche of elegant, rapid machinery. Having made a name for itself, not to mention an illustrious competition record with the seminal Alpine A110, its radical looking 1971 GT successor – the A310 – featured a wedge-shaped design inspired by de Tomaso’s Mangusta along with Ferrari’s Daytona and was something of a directional change for the Dieppe-based manufacturer.
This dainty dart weighing just 900Kgs, with a steel backbone and fibreglass bodywork might just squeeze four humans inside and gave the Nunelfer something to Continue reading “Chiselled”
In a now distant past, many car manufacturers located in the old world – as well as in emerging Japan – looked to the USA when it came to desirable features to adapt and styling to emulate. Several specific circumstances in areas of the globe outside America such as taxation laws, fuel prices, disposable income and available space on roads and in city centres resulted in the stateside amenities, and especially the styling, mostly to emerge elsewhere in reduced form.
To name just some, Peugeot’s 402, the Volvo PV444, Vauxhall’s Victor F and Cresta PA and the Japanese Prince Skyline all displayed a clear American influence in their appearance. Even Ferrari proved not immune to the trend, witness the finned 410 SuperAmerica.
Opel and Vauxhall especially – the European subsidiaries of GM – would find their styling direction in virtual lockstep with GM’s American brands for years, although the end-product would invariably not only Continue reading “Bonsai Buick”
At the fourth attempt, Audi finally produced a luxury saloon to challenge the Mercedes-Benz S-Class head-on.
Audi is now a fully-fledged member of the German premium triumvirate. Together with rivals BMW and Mercedes-Benz, it dominates the European market for such vehicles. However, its entry to this exclusive club was neither quick nor straightforward and its early attempts to join were met largely with indifference by the market.
The first car that Audi attempted to pitch above its traditional E-segment ceiling was the 1979 200 saloon. This was based on the 1976 C2-generation Audi 100 and was little more than a plushly trimmed version of that car, distinguished externally by slightly chintzy looking quad rectangular headlamps lifted from the US version of the 100(1) and a thick perimeter rubbing strip that ran along the lower bodysides and continued around the front and rear of the car above the bumpers. Continue reading “Light Fantastic (Part One)”
There are certain irrefutable qualities which help determine successful product design. Of these, appearance, while arguably the least important in absolute terms, is the most easily perceived, and clearly the most subjective, but it goes without saying that in the absence of a robust visual appeal, even the best wrought product will struggle. The Allegro’s appearance forms an essential component of its subsequent notoriety, but like most aspects of the car’s iconography, this aspect of ADO67 remains subject to varying levels of hysteria.
The Allegro’s style garnered little overt press criticism at its introduction. This would not have been unusual behaviour from the home team – but in this instance the UK press may have been a little over-keen to Continue reading “Running With Scissors [Part Three]”
The versatile Renault 4 platform lent itself to many variations on a theme.
Over the years, la Régie Renault has followed Citroën’s lead on a few occasions in terms of car development; the Méhari for instance was quickly followed by the 4 (and later 6) Rodéo. As with the Méhari(1), quite a few similar variants based around the same theme would be offered, of which a selection will be presented here.
To be fair, Renault had introduced the Renault 4 Plein Air exactly one day before Citroën unveiled its Méhari, but it proved to be not very popular and was discontinued in 1970 after only about 600 were sold; by that time Citroën had already shifted almost 20,000 Méharis. Renault realised it would have to change its plan if it was to Continue reading “Rodeo-ite Roundup”
Which vehicle would you regard as the first modern crossover or, to use the American term, Crossover Utility Vehicle (CUV)? Automotive historians on both sides of the Atlantic might cite either the 1977 Matra-Simca Rancho or 1979 AMC Eagle, but the former was front-wheel-drive only(1) while the latter, although highly capable with its permanent 4WD, was simply a jacked-up AMC Concord. I think the title should rest with the 1994 Toyota RAV4, a purpose-designed model with front or four-wheel-drive. Honda followed up a year later with the CR-V(2) while Land-Rover entered the fray in 1997 with the Freelander.
Several shadows loomed large over Allegro: ADO16, its benighted imperator and a man called Paradise.
Sequels are often a tricky balancing act. Alter the recipe and the audience may reject it, reprise the original too closely and they are just as likely to feel short-changed.
The Allegro’s Sixties predecessor would prove a tough act to follow. Despite a lack of meaningful ongoing development, the ADO16 series remained Britain’s best-seller throughout the decade. With such lasting success, the pressure was on BLMC’s product planners and engineers to build upon this with ADO67, the 1100’s belated replacement.
Another instalment of lesser known Citroën varieties, one of which was confiscated by the authorities on drug charges.
Visa Lotus Rally car, 1982
Guy Verrier, in charge of Citroën’s competition acitivities, initiated project Genesis in 1981. Its objective was creating a specially prepared Visa to compete in the Group B Rallying category(1) starting with the 1985 season. Ultimately, the programme would lead to the four-wheel driven Visa Mille Pistes which achieved some respectable results during its career. On the way to the Mille Pistes however, several other proposals – some of them 4WD but others FWD or RWD – would be created and in some cases tested in actual rallying competition.
Perhaps the most unusual one was the Visa Lotus which, as the name implies, was a mixture of Paris and Hethel, with a dash of Billancourt: outwardly it was quite obviously inspired by the Renault 5 Turbo and also shared its mid-engined RWD configuration. Continue reading “Double Chevron Curiosities”
With global sales of over 1.2 million, the Volvo 700 series was a highly successful car for its maker. However, by the late 1980s, it was beginning to look quite dated. This was a particular issue for the saloon, with its always controversial rear window / D-pillar treatment, which was a throwback to an early 1980s American styling trope. Sales began to suffer, especially in the UK and German markets.
Replacing the 700 series with an all-new model wasn’t an option, however. Volvo was committed to a switch to front- (or four-) wheel-drive for all its model ranges and to this end was undertaking its largest ever investment programme, called Project Galaxy. Launched in 1978, Project Galaxy continued for over a decade and cost a total of 15 billion Swedish Kroner (US $2.5 billion), making it the most expensive Swedish private-sector investment to that date. The first fruit of the project was the 1986 400 series, followed by the 1991 800 series.
Not abominable – in fact really rather good. In praise of Yeti.
Editor’s note: This article first appeared on Driven to Write on 23 August 2019.
The product planner’s art has never been a particularly easy one, even less so when one is dealing with a brand portfolio the size and scope of that of the VW Group. Nevertheless, during the immediate post-millennium at least, the individual business units contained within the sprawling Grouping were allowed to Continue reading “The Wild Man of Kvasiny”
Urban-planned existences lived out under high-voltage power lines, the yellowed lighting of deserted subterranean underpasses. Dehydrated food – just add water – George and Mildred on the Radio Rentals telly. Modest hopes, unfulfilled ambitions and quiet despair, punctuated by mass unemployment, the three-day week and grinding industrial disputes. The Sixties ‘white heat of industry’ had sputtered – Seventies Britain appeared to be unravelling into a J.G Ballard-esque dystopia.
Lately, more light has been cast regarding the development of that still beloved creature, Škoda’s Yeti. Before the K-named cars were but a twinkle in Stefani’s eye, the Roomster’s replacement came in for plenty of conducted and rather surprising concepts with which we unravel, today.
Against the common manufacturer’s grain, Škoda allowed themselves a frisson of comedy. In the early years of the millennium, Thomas Ingenlath (now of Polestar, nee-Volvo and at the time, Škoda), donned mountain boots and coat, taking to the Palexpo stage to Continue reading “Abominably Refined”
Recalling two conceptually close but geographically distant relatives of the Volkswagen Type 181.
Country Buggy, Australia
In early 1964, Volkswagen Australasia Pty Ltd (or simply VWA) began development of a vehicle primarily intended for use by the Australian army that at the same time might also be offered to civilians. In order to be considered for military use in the demanding Australian environment, the vehicle had to be simple, tough, easy to service and have amphibious capability. The German managing director of VWA, Rudi Herzmer, already had previous experience in this field as he had been part of the engineering team that developed the Kübelwagen for the German army in World War 2. Initially christened Kurierwagen, a few prototypes were ready to undergo testing in 1965. Continue reading “Country File”
In the Spring of 1984, two years after the launch of the 760 GLE saloon, Volvo introduced its less luxurious sibling, the 740. Deliveries started later in the year, first in North America, then in Europe. The estate versions of both the 740 and 760 were launched in February 1985. They went on sale in North America in the summer, then in Europe in the autumn of that year. The market had by this time become used to the saloon’s angular looks, so the estate, shorn of the saloon’s controversial rear window, was generally regarded as rather smart, even handsome.
Oddly, for a company so concerned with safety, anti-lock braking was only available on the top of the range 760 GLE saloon, and not at all on the estate. Volvo’s explanation for this was that there was no room to Continue reading “Swedish Angle Iron (Part Two)”
During the Spring of 1960, Giorgetto Giugiaro was faced with something of a dilemma. Having accepted an offer to replace the recently departed Franco Scaglione as lead designer at Stile Bertone, the 22 year old artist and designer, formerly part of FIAT’s centro stile team was just settling into his new position when he received notification of his compulsory national service. Giugiaro had recently completed the designs for the Alfa Romeo 2600 Sprint and Gordon Keeble GT, Bertone’s studios were abuzz with activity and with a new commission for a compact Alfa Romeo GT, the young designer wanted to get on with work, not play soldiers.
Of course this troubling state of affairs also presented Nuccio Bertone with something of a headache. Obtaining Giugiaro’s services had proven something of a coup, but since military regulations seemingly forbade conscripts to Continue reading “Irresistible Bliss”
During the early years of the 1950’s, the American auto industry was blossoming into previously unknown avenues, at times ambitious and in certain cases, downright arresting. Springtime 1954 saw head of Lincoln’s pre-production studio, John Najjar sketch five concept cars, only one making it past the papyrus stage. Known internally as Mandalay, the sketch pupated into the XM Turnpike Cruiser, “a four passenger cross country car for tomorrow.” XM denoting eXperimental Mercury.
Outré perhaps, even in the jet age, the design caught the attention of future Ford whiz-kid Francis ‘Jack’ Reith. Pushing the top brass for backing, an internal competition set the partnership of Najjar and Elwood Engel over that of Gene Bordinat and Don DeLaRossa. Both teams presented full size clay models (around 18 feet in length) knowing full well only one would be green lighted. Reith took an instant shine to the Najjar design, justifying tweaks and alterations, gaining approval that autumn. Continue reading “Najjar’s Butterfly Develops Seventy Years Late”
Like many of his contemporaries during the 1950s, Milt Brown, a young car-mad engineer living in California, admired the European high-end sportscars he frequently encountered in this affluent region of America, those that hailed from Italy and England in particular being the object of his interest and desire. At times, Brown harboured thoughts of creating a sportscar himself but past efforts by others had demonstrated that this was no easy feat to pull off succesfully.
A few domestic entrepreneurs had tried their hand at creating an American Gran Turismo but the likes of Cunningham and Nash-Healey, for example, were hampered by respectively a very high price-tag and insufficient performance. The exotic European imports mostly did not suffer from lack of speed but, except perhaps for Jaguar’s XKE, they were only available to those with very fat bank accounts. Moreover, obtaining adequate service and maintenance for these frequently fickle exotics could be a problem as well.
Is this really the progenitor of the modern sports saloon?
Editor’s note: This article originally appeared on Driven to Write in March 2015 as part of the Benchmarks theme.
In the early 1960s, the average British driver on an average income would have ended up with a leaf-sprung wheezer, comfortable maybe, but hard-pushed cruising above 70 on expanding and unrestricted motorways, a handful in a panic stop and an entertainment-free and potentially scare-laden prospect on corners.