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”

The Doctor Is OUT

Buick’s black stallion.

Buick Grand National. Image: Car and Driver

Buick’s Regal: sweeping lines, restrained aggression, comfortable but hardly sporting – that being Pontiac’s purview. G-body-on frame, engineering that cut no mustard, but was never meant to. That the second generation Regal became a factory backed NASCAR winner, driven in the early 1980s by luminary Darrel Waltrip triggered a tangential change that, if not for a skunkworks plan, may well have fallen at the first hurdle.

When first shown, the car that was to become known as the Grand National, fell foul to top brass reaction. Ed Mertz and Dick Payne were livid at the thought of potentially sullying the Buick ethos. However, chief engineer Dave Sharpe, Mike Doble (Advanced Concepts), marketing boss Darwin Clark and impetus from then divisional manager, Lloyd Reuss, saw an opportunity to Continue reading “The Doctor Is OUT”

Modest Hero

Although not as instantly recognisable as the Wrangler, the 1983 Jeep Cherokee was a well-conceived and thoroughly engineered vehicle that served its maker well over three decades.

1985 Jeep Cherokee Limited (c) hemmings.com

Genericization is a rather ugly word, but it describes a phenomenon whereby a market-leading proprietary brand name becomes so dominant that it is used to describe a generic product. It can be a double-edged sword for manufacturers. On one hand, it recognises their market leadership but, conversely, it can lead to the loss of valuable trademark protection.

Cellophane, escalator, zipper and aspirin are all examples of formerly trademarked proprietary names that Continue reading “Modest Hero”

The Doyen has Departed – Graham Robson 1936 – 2021

With the death of Graham Robson on 5 August 2021, the world of automotive history has lost an extraordinary and prolific chronicler.

Graham Robson. Image: TR Register

Graham Robson was born and schooled in Skipton, a North Yorkshire market town. His family, middle-class but certainly not moneyed, had no connection with the motor industry other than his father’s interest in motorcycle racing. His interest in cars and engineering evolved from his early years, and the clever and motivated grammar-school boy was awarded a place at Lincoln College, Oxford, where he studied Engineering Science.

On graduation in 1957, the young Robson joined Jaguar as a graduate engineering trainee. Without doubt, Coventry shaped him, and in his free time from Jaguar, he was active in club rallying, making important contacts which led to co-driving opportunities with the Rootes factory team, and in 1961 a new job at Standard-Triumph, first as a development engineer, and in due course taking on the role of Competition Secretary.

Robson had a useful sideline in writing rally reports for Motoring News, and in 1965 he left Standard-Triumph to join Autocar’s Midlands office to Continue reading “The Doyen has Departed – Graham Robson 1936 – 2021”

The Tri-Shield’s Silken Road

The Buick Origin Story.

Image: GM/ Wieck Media Services

David Dunbar Buick was but two years old when the family emigrated from Arbroath, Scotland for a new life in Detroit, 1856. Upon leaving school he worked for and then later owned a plumbing goods company (The Alexander Manufacturing Company). With an inventive mind, David produced a lawn sprinkler alongside a vitreous enamel coating for cast iron baths. By the 1890’s, the internal combustion engine held more interest than ablutions – the company was sold.

Afforded both time and financial independence, Buick indulged. Incorporating the Buick Auto-Vim & Power Company in 1899, his market was agricultural engines. Very soon the automobile enveloped his life and swiftly draining his finances with just a single car made in 1902 under the new name, Buick Manufacturing Company. Ploughing what little cash he retained into developing an OHV engine, a loan of $5,000 was had from close friend Ben Briscoe in order to make the Buick Motor Company. 

Briscoe had doubts concerning Buick’s acumen; on hearing of a new automobile project in Flint, over a hundred miles from Detroit, he persuaded Buick to Continue reading “The Tri-Shield’s Silken Road”

Cats Will Fly

Dearborn 1967: product segmentation was strictly for the birds.

1967 Mercury Cougar. Image: Motor Trend

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

Missing the Marque: Opel / Vauxhall Sintra

We recall Opel / Vauxhall’s first large MPV, once branded the worst car in Britain.

1997 Opel Sintra. Image: drivemag.com

In the automotive world, truly innovative design concepts do not come along that often, but 1984(1) saw the arrival of one such design in the US. The minivan was capacious and versatile, and offered an alternative to the large station wagons that had long been a fixture in the lives of suburban American families.

European manufacturers looked on with interest, but a degree of ambivalence, as the minivan grew rapidly in popularity in the US. Coincidentally, Renault had also introduced a similarly sized monobox vehicle in 1984, the Espace, but this was not initially considered to be a mainstream model. It was produced by Matra in small quantities as the potential market for such a vehicle was untested. Continue reading “Missing the Marque: Opel / Vauxhall Sintra”

Role Call

A woman’s place is in the… Design Studio.

Image: The author

Even now, well into the 21st century, the automotive industry and its related fields employ and attract more men than they do women, and the styling studios are no exception. There certainly has been a noticeable influx of women in the design departments over the past few decades: Anne Asensio, Marcy Fisher, Juliane Blasi and Michelle Christensen being a few latterday examples.

Wind back the clock some 90 years however and it was a different environment – and not just within the car industry. It took a determined and strong-willed woman to overcome the prejudice, condescendence, resistance and occasionally, outright hostility she would often confront if she dared enter an arena hitherto considered to be the sole domain of men.

Some of the women presented herein might appear a tad overdressed in period photographs, but it is important to Continue reading “Role Call”

Swedish Math

All too easily dismissed as somewhat of a crude hash-job, the 90 nevertheless sold well by SAAB standards and stayed true to traditional brand values.

All images from the author’s collection

In the eighties SAAB was still an independent manufacturer enjoying a relatively small yet very loyal customer base, but the lack of available finances for the development of new products was starting to hurt. Flirtations with Lancia in an effort to continue serving the lower price field after the discontinuation of the 96 with the Lancia A112 and SAAB-Lancia 600 proved unsuccessful; the cooperation in the Tipo 4 platform project did allow the Swedes to Continue reading “Swedish Math”

Missing the Marque: Ford EcoSport

A product designed for developing markets with mere adequacy as its guiding principle, the EcoSport was foisted upon Ford of Europe with wholly predictable results.

It has a letter from its mum, excusing it from heavy lifting duties… Image: carwow

In a former era, when cars were regarded by the vast majority as primarily a means of transport rather than a status symbol, Ford was highly successful in mobilising the masses reliably and (relatively) cheaply. That earned the company a reputation as something of a working-class hero.

This perception subsequently became a liability as increasing affluence made buyers Continue reading “Missing the Marque: Ford EcoSport”

Lost Legend (Part Two)

We continue the story of the Honda Legend, a car that will soon be consigned to history.

1990 Acura Legend sedan (second-generation). Image: hondanews.com

The second-generation Legend was launched in October 1990 in both saloon and coupé form. Surprisingly, given the relative youthfulness of the superseded model, the new car was not a reskin, but an all-new design which shared nothing with either it or its Rover 800 sibling.

The new Legend was a significantly larger car. The saloon’s wheelbase grew by a substantial 150mm (6”) to 2,910mm(1) (114½”), while overall length grew by 140mm (5½”) to 4,950mm (195”). The growth in size negated the possibility of a smaller, more tax efficient JDM version(2). The new model was now a more direct competitor for the BMW 7 Series and Jaguar XJ saloon.

The most significant mechanical revision was that the engine was now mounted longitudinally rather than transversely. Honda indicated that this layout was more conducive to achieving the best levels of mechanical refinement and minimising noise in the cabin. To Continue reading “Lost Legend (Part Two)”

A Mighty Wind [Part One]

Behold the Anti-Miura.

Image: premierfinancialservices

On November 3 1971, the 53rd Salone del l’Automobile di Torino opened its doors. With exhibitors from 11 countries, including 64 carmakers and 15 coachbuilding firms, there was no shortage of interest, intrigue, new models or arresting concepts for the home contingent to whet their collective appetites over. Yet it was upon the premier trio of Modenese exotic car builders that most eyes were fixated, each showing dramatic mid-engined supercars on home soil for the very first time.

Ferrari’s prototype 365 GT4 BB made its public debut on the Pininfarina stand, whereas Bertone’s Countach prototype had already poleaxed all comers at Geneva that Spring. Meanwhile Maserati was showing the production-ready Bora, fresh too from its Palexpo premiere, but in case anyone felt inclined to Continue reading “A Mighty Wind [Part One]”

If A Thousand Clarinets

Creative design and solid engineering count for little when the regime looks in the opposite direction.

Agromobil. Image: autobible.euro.cz

When the (super)powers that be ask you to jump, you tend to ask how high – included in that equation is which way? Late 1950’s Czechoslovakia saw the Ministry of Agriculture ask their most prolific supplier of vehicles, AZNP, to solve the thorny issue of providing a vehicle that would be compact in dimensions, light on its feet, manoeuvrable and be capable of all terrain capabilities. Oh, and whilst you’re solving that conundrum, the army would like to Continue reading “If A Thousand Clarinets”

White Elephant Or Red Herring?

Bruno Vijverman profiles Amsterdam’s Witkar.

The Witkar. Image: Hart Amsterdam.nl

The late sixties and early seventies: it seemed as if Amsterdam and this era were made for each other. Expansion of the mind by means of a wide range of stimulants, breaching of the traditional sexual mores, and challenging the establishment in general – all against a background of a nasty conflict in Southeast Asia and a looming end by atomic bomb.

The summer of love might have faded since its heyday in Haight-Ashbury but its spirit was still very much alive in the Dutch capital. However, like any other reasonably sized city that attracted new residents, new businesses and more tourism every year, Amsterdam could not Continue reading “White Elephant Or Red Herring?”

Fanfare for the Common Van (Part 5): Long at Last

We conclude our Transitory aria.

Image: Ford Netherlands

In 1974, Ford at last gave serious consideration to a Transit replacement, instigating “Project Triton” by employing a French consultancy to produce studies for a new van to go on sale towards the end of the decade. The timing was inauspicious, in the midst of a global oil crisis and industrial and political turmoil in the UK.

Within the narrower confines of Ford of Britain, development of the strategically important Cargo medium sized truck range was running behind programme and over budget. Integration of the German and British operations was proceeding rapidly with priority for all resources going to the Fiesta supermini, the most expensive project in the history of the Ford Motor Company.

As Transit demand remained strong, it was decided to Continue reading “Fanfare for the Common Van (Part 5): Long at Last”

Lost Legend (Part One)

Honda recently announced that its flagship saloon will not be replaced when the current model is discontinued in March 2022. We remember the Legend.

1988 Acura Legend Sedan and Coupé. Image: curbsideclassic.com

The Honda Motor Company as we know it today was incorporated in 1948 and built its first complete motorcycle in the following year. Its rise thereafter was meteoric: just fifteen years later, Honda had become the largest manufacturer of motorcycles in the World. The company’s ambitious founder, Soichiro Honda, then turned his attention to automobiles and launched the T360 pick-up truck and S500 convertible sports car in 1963.

Although the diminutive S500 and 1970 Z360 / Z600 microcar achieved some export sales, it was the 1972 Civic that marked Honda’s arrival in the mainstream global passenger car market. This was a neatly styled front-wheel-drive B-segment model produced in three and five-door hatchback, saloon and estate versions(1). Its arrival coincided with the 1973 Middle-East Oil Crisis, which caused a huge increase in demand for small and economical cars, especially in the US. The Civic quickly acquired a reputation for excellent engineering, build quality and reliability(2). Continue reading “Lost Legend (Part One)”

Death Of A Clown

The Exeo was an attempt at a D-segment offering on the cheap, but was the joke on SEAT?

Do you want to drive it into the pool darling, or shall I? Image: Autoevolution

Perhaps Erich Schmitt’s leylines and shakras had swirled his vision akin to adding milk to a caffeine drink. Internally known as the Bolero, the public knew the car as the Exeo (ex-ay-o) – a Latin derivation of exire meaning to Go Beyond. Herr Schmitt certainly did that.

Installed as Sociedad Espanola de Automobiles de Turismo president in 2006 under strict instructions from Ferdinand Piëch to Continue reading “Death Of A Clown”

A Smart Cut, or the Final Cut?

After decades of resolutely conventional if well executed D-segment offerings, Peugeot has tried something different with the latest 508. It deserves credit for doing so, but has the market recognised and rewarded its innovation?

2018 Peugeot 508  Image: ANE

For over a century, Peugeot has been the very essence of French conservative respectability. Its automobiles have, by and large, been well engineered, durable and reliable, with quietly elegant and unflashy styling. At the heart of its range has always been a medium / large saloon car, a natural and uncontroversial choice for middle-class professionals in France and beyond.

The post-WW2 series of such cars began with the Pininfarina styled 403 in 1955, a neat and contemporary looking RWD car with smooth ponton(1) styling. It was manufactured for over a decade in saloon, estate, coupé, van and pick-up versions and sold in excess of one million units. Continue reading “A Smart Cut, or the Final Cut?”

Ô souverain, ô juge, ô père

The President will see you now.

Nissan President. Image: Topspeed

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

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

We Interrupt This Programme

Is that a gun in your pocket?

Image: Corrado Belli

The name of this vehicle has nothing to do with Auntie Beeb, being simply composed of the initials of Messrs. Beretta, Benelli and Castelbarco – all three of them distinctly Italian. The first two names will sound familiar as they are those of the arms maker and motorcycle manufacturer respectively; the third was a member of the Italian nobility.

Pietro Beretta had inherited the family company, founded in the 16th century, in 1903 but found his factories seized by the German army upon the allied invasion of Italy in 1943. When hostilities ended two years later there was understandably little demand for Beretta’s traditional offerings. Postwar Italy – its confidence, its infrastructure and its economy – had to be rebuilt and providing mobility for as many private individuals and businesses as possible was of course one of the vital aspects that needed to be addressed in order to Continue reading “We Interrupt This Programme”

Fanfare for the Common Van (Part 4) – New City, New Heart

The Transit hits its stride.

Image: Ford of Britain

Let us move on to 1972, a momentous year for the Transit in the UK and Europe. Despite a house move, British production reached a new high at just over 55,000 units. Genk managed 37,000. Rival manufacturers had yet to follow Bedford’s example with a serious Transit challenger, although British Leyland were, shall we say, working on it.[1] The Toyota Hi-Ace had recently arrived in the UK, finding favour with small businesses and motor-caravanners, but was not selling in the sort of numbers which would concern Ford.

From 1972 the British Transit had a new home. The former Briggs Motor Bodies facility at Swaythling, a northern suburb of Southampton, had produced Transit bodies from 1965. In a logical move, Ford invested £5 million to Continue reading “Fanfare for the Common Van (Part 4) – New City, New Heart”

So Glad they Bothered: 1983 Mazda 626

DTW looks back at a car which attracted a very favourable review from then-editor Cropley at Car magazine, yet would scarcely register in terms of annual sales.

1983 Mazda 626 Hatchback (GC) (source: Pinterest)

In 1983, I was 15 and already deep in car nerd-dom. I had a monthly order for Car magazine at my local newsagent (at which I had a part-time job every Sunday morning) and would genuinely get a tingle of excitement one week of every month in anticipation that it would be there as ordered when I rolled up for work.

The June 1983 edition is one I still Continue reading “So Glad they Bothered: 1983 Mazda 626”

Beyond Infiniti (Part Three)

We continue the story of Infiniti, Nissan’s troubled luxury brand, from 2010 to the present day and ponder its future.

2016 Infiniti Q30 (c) carmagazine.co.uk

Infiniti had spent its second decade rather more productively than its first and introduced models like the G35 compact premium saloon, coupé and convertible that were broadly class-competitive against their German rivals. However, sales growth still proved elusive. In 2010, Infiniti US sales were 103,411(1) vehicles, representing a 0.89% market share. In the same year, BMW and Mercedes-Benz were closely matched with US sales of 220,113 and 224,944 vehicles respectively, giving them market shares of 1.90% and 1.94%.

Infiniti’s Japanese nemesis, Lexus, edged ahead of the German duo with 229,329 sales, a market share of 1.98%. Even Acura outperformed Infiniti, with US sales of 133,596 vehicles, a market share of 1.15%. European sales for Infiniti in 2010 were an inconsequential 2,393 vehicles, representing a tiny 0.02% market share. Continue reading “Beyond Infiniti (Part Three)”

Lapis Volvit et Oblivione Delibitur *

We profile the father of the British motor industry.

Frederick Richard Simms. Image: gracesguide

Visionary. Pioneering. Complex. Three words amongst many that could be pinned to the suit lapels to those figures in history that brought about great, if not life enhancing change. Subsequently then filed under section Well and truly in the Past, cobweb covered and practically forgotten. One such figure in need of a Renaissance being Frederick Richard Simms (henceforth referred to by his initials). Born in Hamburg on the Glorious 12th 1863, to a Warwickshire, England based business family. Schooled in both Hamburg and later, London, FRS’ first notable business venture was marketing an overhead passenger cableway with a Blackpool associate named Stansfield.

That cableway was shown at the 1889 Bremen Exhibition, catching the eye of one Gottlieb Daimler. This led not only to a personal friendship with Daimler but FRS also becoming a director on the board of Canstatt based DMG. The cable car was swiftly parked. 

In turn, this allowed FRS to Continue reading “Lapis Volvit et Oblivione Delibitur *”

Short Story (Part Two)

Keeping it brief.

Image: automobile

Audi Sport Quattro

The spectacular but dangerous Group B rally class produced some mythical, awe-inspiring cars during its short existence; the Audi Sport Quattro being one of them. Group B regulations required competitors to produce a minimum of 200 roadgoing versions of the car they entered, resulting in an elite group of highly sought after collector’s cars.

Obviously derived from the standard Audi Quattro, the short wheelbase Sport Quattro with its body partly made from Kevlar was not simply a cut-and-shut job. Opening the bonnet one found a 5-cylinder engine alright, but this was an all-aluminium version delivering a potent 306 hp out of a displacement of 2.1 litres: the sub-five seconds 0-62 dash it could propel the Sport Quattro to being highly impressive at the time. Continue reading “Short Story (Part Two)”

Beyond Infiniti (Part Two)

We continue the story of Infiniti, Nissan’s troubled luxury brand, as it enters its second decade.

2001 Infiniti Q45 (c) autoevolution.com

As the new millennium dawned, Infiniti found itself far adrift of its two Japanese rivals, Lexus and Acura, in the US luxury car market. This was largely a result of an unconvincing and substandard product line-up. The J20 compact executive, which should have been Infiniti’s volume seller, was a barely disguised Nissan Primera P11 and had comprehensively failed to attract buyers.

At the other end of its range, the Q45 was a bland and generic luxury saloon that was hugely outclassed by its competitors. The only bright spots in its range were the two mid-sized models, the I30 saloon and the QX4 SUV, both of which were little more than rebadged Nissans. Together, these two models accounted for 78% of the company’s sales in 2000.

Infiniti’s parent company, Nissan, was also in deep trouble. Facing a real prospect of bankruptcy, it had entered into an alliance with Renault in March 1999, with the intention of cutting costs by sharing development on new platforms and mechanical parts, while retaining their individual marque identities. There was little doubt as to which company was the senior partner: Renault purchased a 36.8% stake in Nissan, while the cash-strapped Japanese company could only promise to Continue reading “Beyond Infiniti (Part Two)”