WHAP!…POW!…BIFF!…OOOF!

Today we tell the story of the Batmobile, the automotive hero of the 1966 children’s television series that was based on the comic book adventures of Batman and Robin.

The original 1965 Batmobile (c) 66batmania.com

DTW readers of more mature years will immediately recognise the apparently random selection of words in the title above. They are lifted from the opening credits of Batman, a 20th Century Fox children’s television programme that ran from 1966 to 1968 and made an indelible impression on one childish mind at least.

The hero of the programme was Bruce Wayne, a wealthy bachelor played by Adam West, who led a double life as Batman, protecting the good citizens of Gotham City from the dastardly deeds of a variety of colourful, if inept criminals including The Riddler, The Joker and The Penguin. At Batman’s side was Robin, a.k.a. Bruce Wayne’s young ward, Dick Grayson, played by Burt Ward, and their indefatigable and unflappable butler, Alfred Pennyworth, played by English actor Alan Napier. Continue reading “WHAP!…POW!…BIFF!…OOOF!”

Sochaux Goes Avant.

It all started here.

Factory shot of Peugeot 204 berline. Image: automacha

Since its foundation in 1810 as a maker of bicycles and kitchen equipment, there have been many incarnations of automobiles Peugeot, but perhaps the first truly modern car to bear the famous Lion of Belfort emblem was introduced in 1965, bearing the 204 name.

Initiated during the late 1950s, the 204 came about owing to a perceived gap in the market below the existing 403 model (soon to be supplanted by the larger-engined 404). By consequence, Sochaux management deemed it necessary for the company’s future viability to Continue reading “Sochaux Goes Avant.”

Under the Knife – Taking Care of the Pennies

A smart re-skin and an even smarter nip-and-tuck kept the 1972 Ford Granada at the top of its game for thirteen years.

1973 Ford Granada Ghia (c) aronline.co.uk

In the 1960’s and 70’s Ford of Europe was the master of value engineering, designing cars that were highly attractive to potential buyers, but engineered to be little if at all better than they strictly needed to be. The 1962 Ford Cortina Mk1 was just such a car. It was a simple, light and efficient design and it effectively killed off the cumbersome, complex and heavy 1961 Consul Classic after just two years on the market(1).

The Cortina’s winning formula was reprised in 1968 with the Escort, another light and efficient design that was simple to build and was tailored to appeal to a wide range of customers via an extensive range hierarchy comprising basic, luxury and sporting variants. Likewise, the 1969 Capri, which easily shrugged off the Cortina in a party frock jibes because it looked great and gave customers exactly what they wanted.

There were missteps too, notably the 1966 Mk4 Zephyr / Zodiac. The lower-line versions were fitted with a new V4 engine, but the designers wanted a long bonnet as they believed that this was a signifier of power and prestige. Harley F. Copp, an American Ford design engineer on secondment to Brentwood to Continue reading “Under the Knife – Taking Care of the Pennies”

Domo Arigato Zagato

Win on Sunday…

Alfa 155 TI.Z Image: H Nakayama

The Autech Stelvio and slightly less challengingly styled Autech Gavia were not the only specials for the Japanese domestic market produced by the Italian carrozzieri: meet the Alfa Romeo 155 TI.Z. Zagato’s aim appears to have been to Continue reading “Domo Arigato Zagato”

Henry Wiggin’s Contribution

“The industrial gas turbine that’s good enough to fly.”

Image: autospeed.com via revivaler.com

Unless you have personal involvement within the industry, Henry Wiggin is unlikely to register upon your radar, for his products are hidden, yet well known. But for a brief time some seventy years ago, the automotive world came knocking at his door; the first customer from nearby, Rover of Lode Lane, Solihull. Wiggin’s business was the carburising of steel – extremely hard and durable nickel plating for items that spin at both high speeds and temperatures – conditions typical gas turbines are routinely subjected to.

Based close to the banks of the Birmingham canal on a street bearing his name, Wiggin produced  Nimonic 90, an alloy consisting of nickel, chromium and cobalt, coating turbine wheels conducive to smaller applications. For Rover, this meant its JET 1 gas turbine programme could now live.

Consider at that time, Britain was still under wartime rationing, yet pushing engineering boundaries. In the smoky wake of Frank Whittle’s jet engined aircraft, Rover, followed by a select handful of other interested parties believed gas turbines to have a promising automotive future. This palpable excitement sadly failed, but today we can at least Continue reading “Henry Wiggin’s Contribution”

Classic Error

The 1961 Consul Classic and Capri were a rare market failure for Ford in Europe. We remember them on the 60th Anniversary of their launch.

(c) Ford.co.uk

Ever since the days of the Model T, Ford had developed an enviable reputation for delivering cars that were finely attuned to the perceived wants and needs of the automotive market. Moreover, the company was a master of what one might call value engineering, the art of designing cars wholly to satisfy the market whilst rarely challenging those expectations through new or radical innovations in format, engineering, equipment or styling.

Generations of Ford owners were able to Continue reading “Classic Error”

Across The Pond – Part One. Motoring and The Motorist

Two contrasting views of motoring journalism from very different worlds.

The BBC has a long-standing history on matters motoring. Some will argue distinguished, others, more disjointed. Long before those hailing from the county of the red rose (Lancashire) took hold of Top Gear, before former Prince (now, Evil Lord) Clarkson and his entourage, before even William Woolard, Chris Goffey*, Noel Edmonds, Angela Rippon amongst others, the information supplied came over the airwaves on what folk knew then as the wireless.

Born in Wiltshire in 1911, Bill Hartley joined Daimler aged eighteen, working in their experimental and development department, later becoming London service manager until his resignation in 1950. Wishing to use that experience, Hartley sought to Continue reading “Across The Pond – Part One. Motoring and The Motorist”

A Poor Round

The jury may still be out on the Mk8, but most commentators would adjudge the 1991 Mk3 to be the poorest articulation of the qualities that made the Golf into an automotive phenomenon over the past five decades.

Tepid: 1991 VW Golf Mk3 GTI (c) volkswagen.com

The 1974 Volkswagen Golf Mk1 was a simply brilliant car. In retrospect, however, it appears to be something of an outlier in the eight-generation history of the model. When one thinks of Volkswagen’s C-segment stalwart, the characteristics that come immediately to mind are the high quality of its design, engineering(1) and build, its sober, timeless styling that eschews fads and fashion, good (but not outstanding) dynamics and most importantly, the quiet self-confidence, perhaps even bordering on smugness, it instils in its owners. Golf ownership says: “I could have spent more, but why would I?” 

Unburdened by any of this later baggage, the Golf Mk1 was more Italianate than Germanic in character, with its sharp Giugiaro styling, lightweight construction, and peppy and eager (if noisy) engines, to the extent that nobody would have been surprised if it had emerged as Fiat’s hatchback replacement for the 128(2). It also shared another less desirable Italian characteristic, a propensity to Continue reading “A Poor Round”

Pampas Troika

Not everything is what it seems at first glance: Citroën 2cv derivatives from the fertile South American lowlands.

IES America. Image: (c) Etienne Musslin

Founded in 1959, Citroën Argentina S.A. initially assembled vehicles with parts imported from France. The A-series Citroëns produced at the plant located in a southeast barrio of Buenos Aires named Barracas were mostly identical to their French sisters although the 602cc engined version was renamed 3cv, and featured a fifth door hatch which the European 2cv would only receive many years later.

The A-series models made in Barracas were the 2cv, the 3cv and 3cv in the fourgonette (van) version. Starting in 1964, Citroën Argentina began to manufacture the 425cc engine for the 2cv themselves. In 1969 production was expanded with the Ami 8, followed by the Méhari in 1974; production of the GS being contemplated but never materialised because of the large investment required.

As the end of the decade neared, the changed political and economic situation due to the national reorganisation process (known as proceso) under junta leader Jorge Videla made Citroën decide to Continue reading “Pampas Troika”

I Want To Make A Car

Small yet mighty.

Image: classiccarcatalogue.com

Those enigmatic words once spoken by Carl Borgward when asked about the enthusiastic, engineering-driven young fellow’s aspirations, when older. Whilst this technically minded and for a good while, financially successful man’s eponymous car building history is well documented, we deal today with yet another post-war side line to his empire; that of the car small in name but mighty in stature – the Goliath.

With his Bremen factories – appointed to the German war effort for various armaments – destroyed by Allied bombing, Borgward rose from those ashes with determination. More so after his two year incarceration by the Americans for assisting the enemy – not that he had much choice in the matter. Assessing that the population had little to no interest in anything ostentatious, he realised the opportunity to Continue reading “I Want To Make A Car”

An Uncharacteristic Misstep

A rare market failure for the Volkswagen Group, the 1988 Corrado was a victim of poor product planning rather than its own shortcomings.

1988 Volkswagen Corrado (c) classics.honestjohn.co.uk

Volkswagen’s product planning is the very epitome of Teutonic efficiency and timing. It is difficult to think of an instance when the launch of a new model was greeted with anything like surprise, never mind delight, such is their predictability.

Within the wider Volkswagen group, the other marques have occasionally surprised us with their debutantes: Škoda’s 2006 Roomster and 2009 Yeti arrived during an era of unprecedented and welcome creative freedom for the Czech marque. SEAT’s wholesale switch to monobox vehicles, heralded by the 2004 Altea and Toledo, was brave left-field thinking, if ultimately a dead-end in both creative and sales terms. Continue reading “An Uncharacteristic Misstep”

Best Thing Since Sliced Bread

The best bread never lasts.

Gutbrod Superior. Image: Motor-car.net

For a company that claims to have brought mass produced direct petrol injection to the engine world, few have heard or remember the short lived German firm of Gutbrod – the English translation being good bread. If Lloyd were a flash in the pan for their eleven years, Gutbrod was the mayfly – forty two months and gone.

Founded in Ludwigsburg 1926 by Wilhelm Gutbrod, their initial wares were motorcycles under the Standard brand name. Light agricultural machinery soon followed as did their first car – the rear engined Standard Superior. Expansion saw them Continue reading “Best Thing Since Sliced Bread”

Under the knife – Bogey to Birdie

Today we feature a car that was the product of a highly effective facelift of its stodgy predecessor.

VW Golf Mk5 vs Mk6 (c) carscoops.com

The 1997 Golf Mk4 is widely acknowledged as a masterpiece of disciplined and rational design. Its svelte exterior was handsome and timeless, and a huge improvement over the flabby Mk3. The interior was a revelation, bringing a level of quality to the Golf that had not been seen before in C-segment cars. The Mk4 remained on the market for eight years, during which time it remained virtually untouched, Volkswagen sensibly realising that it was impossible to improve upon its near perfection.

When it came time to replace the Mk4, Volkswagen dropped the ball. The 2003 Golf Mk5, whilst not exactly ugly, looked rather corpulent, and much of the detailing was rather too fussy for a Golf. The Mk5 was partly a product of VW Group Chairman Ferdinand Piëch’s aggressive strategy to Continue reading “Under the knife – Bogey to Birdie”

Dirty Great Volvos – One Last Dash

Completing the 780 Trilogy.

The Volvo Bertone 780 coupé was dying. When North American dealers were given one to sell, it could sit idling for months as most customers were looking for wagons or heading to rival badges with bigger engines – not choosing an unorthodox coupé, however intriguing. Lead times also proved challenging. A customer could be made waiting twelve months to Continue reading “Dirty Great Volvos – One Last Dash”

Selling the Passat by the Yard

Ten years ago, Volkswagen attempted to challenge the dominance of the Toyota Camry in the United States with a Passat developed specifically for that market. This is the story of the New Midsize Sedan.

2013 Volkswagen Passat NMS (c) topcarrating.com

For 22 of the past 23 years(1) and over five generations, the Toyota Camry has been the best-selling car in the United States. Over that time, a staggering total of over 9.6 million(2) Camrys were sold, an average of around 417,000 a year. It was a highly consistent seller too: the lowest annual sales total was 308,510 in 2011(3). The Camry successfully weathered the 2008-9 Global Financial Crisis and a simultaneous unintended acceleration controversy that turned out to be caused by ill-fitting floor mats.

If the enduring success of the Camry proves anything, it is that the vast majority of car buyers Continue reading “Selling the Passat by the Yard”

The Strathcarron Movement (Part Two)

Further thoughts from Lord Strathcarron.

Image via Pinterest

Despite his wealth and title, Lord Strathcarron left the RAF in 1947, aged 23 with no qualifications other than that licence allowing him to fly a plane. He swiftly found that Civvy Street rarely needed a fly-boy which meant turning to the dark side of the street – becoming a car salesman. Car Mart Ltd on the Euston Road was his initiation to the car dealing world and a mere stone’s-throw from Warren Street where he could Continue reading “The Strathcarron Movement (Part Two)”

En Garde! Part Two

The saga continues and grows ever stranger.

Image: Hotrodmagazine/ Fabwheelsdigest

The lesser-known RK Bodyworks, based in Albany, New York was commissioned by a certain Carl Szembrot to convert this 1952 Studebaker into a LeSabre-lookalike. The top of the three taillights adorning each fin was a blue directional signal, the middle one a red stop light and the bottom one a white reversing light. The bullet nose and trim from the Studebaker were cleverly re-used to Continue reading “En Garde! Part Two”

Mint Imperial

A new conception of executive luxury – 1966 vintage.

Humber Imperial. Image via ebay

The bookshelf has been meticulously rearranged, read and enjoyed of late. However, one among its number is sadly no more. In the recent fine weather, distanced from the world in a sunny back garden, but with a call of nature due to my drink problem (a pint of water every twenty minutes in this heat), I returned to find but one page left and the cover.

The Times Motoring Annual from 1966 was in a decrepit state, the stiff breeze discarding the remainder in various neighbouring gardens I suspect. Saddled with the remains, I felt duty bound to Continue reading “Mint Imperial”

Which Way Up?

We celebrate the tenth anniversary of the Volkswagen Up! and its siblings and wonder if the city car has a future.

(c) autoexpress

The 2011 Volkswagen Up! is Wolfsburg’s third generation city car. Unlike other models in its range, the smallest car received a different name for each iteration. This is explained, at least in part, by an apparent hiatus in product planning along the way, with the second-generation Fox being a stop-gap(1) import from Brazil.

Volkswagen’s first city car was the 1998 Lupo. It was introduced because the company realised that the increasing size and weight of its Polo B-segment supermini left room in its range for a smaller model. The original 1975 Polo, essentially a rebadged Audi 50, was a petite thing, with a wheelbase of 2,335mm (92”), overall length of just 3,510mm (138¼”) and kerb weight of just 685kgs (1,510lbs). By the time that the Lupo was launched, the Polo Mk3 was 72mm (3”) longer in wheelbase, 205mm (8”) longer overall and an extraordinary 236kg (520lbs.) heavier than the Mk1. Continue reading “Which Way Up?”

En Garde! Part One

Taking influence to unprecedented heights.

Image: GM/ Jalopyjournal

Like the Buick Y-job that went before it, the 1951 LeSabre concept car was a GM testbed for both technology and stylistic ideas. The low-slung roadster, bodied in aluminium and magnesium, was the first to have the panoramic windshield that would be a defining feature on virtually all American cars from the mid- to late fifties. Its overall look is best described as jet age on wheels.

LeSabre also used the first application of GM’s 215 cubic inch (3.5 litre) aluminium V8 which would later find its way into a variety of cars, both in the USA and Europe – although in the LeSabre’s case the engine was supercharged and capable of running on both regular fuel and methanol. Harley Earl was known to Continue reading “En Garde! Part One”

(Gandini) Late Cretaceous

Amateur palaeontologist, Andrew Miles unearths a rare fossil. 

(c) Christopher Butt

79 to 75 million years ago (not that we’re counting), dinosaurs walked the Earth. Known as the Late Cretaceous period, one example to roam the area we now recognise as Canada was the Panoplosaurus or the “fully armoured lizard.” A herbivore growing to some seven metres in length; although vegetarian, that suit provided protection from the king himself, Tyrannosaurus Rex. A survivor of its time – akin to a car shown to the world, itself now a quinquagenarian.

1967, Montreal, Canada. The Universal Exposition is held over a six month period with millions of people witnessing the fruits of man’s labours alongside celebrating world nations days. In the pavilion named “Man The Producer,” the Expo’s stipulations called for the very pinnacle of automotive endeavour at that time. A request was made to Continue reading “(Gandini) Late Cretaceous”

No Love in the Morning (Part Two)

Isuzu’s passenger car business is long defunct. It is remembered mainly for two models, the Trooper SUV and Piazza Coupé.

1991 Isuzu Trooper Mk2 LWB (c) isuzumedia.co.uk

The Isuzu Trooper(1) was a mid-sized SUV that was produced in two generations from 1981 to 2002. The first generation model was sold for a decade from 1981 and was a simple and utilitarian body-on-frame design that came in a short-wheelbase 2,300mm (91”) three-door and a long-wheelbase 2,650mm (104”) five-door version. There was also a short-lived soft-top derivative of the three-door.

Petrol and diesel engine options were available from launch and both were progressively increased in capacity and power output. Petrol in-line fours in 1.9, 2.3 and 2.6 litre capacities and a 2.8 litre V6 were offered, while diesel engines were 2.2 or 2.8 litre in-line fours, either normally aspirated or turbocharged. Manually selected rear or four-wheel-drive was provided through four or five-speed manual gearboxes and from 1988, a four-speed automatic transmission.

The Trooper was designed primarily to Continue reading “No Love in the Morning (Part Two)”

The Strathcarron Movement (Part One)

A look back at a different kind of motoring from a different kind of motorist. 

Image: The author.

David William Anthony Blyth MacPherson was the urbane, charismatic and typically eccentric baron. Known for a commitment to road safety, yet somewhat ironically died in a road accident involving a refuse truck. Not only a peer of the realm, he was also a respected motoring journalist and successful businessman.

During his life, Lord Strathcarron waxed lyrical on motoring matters – mostly those from a bygone age. Equally at home astride a motorcycle as behind the wheel of a ’30s Alfa Romeo or a 1903 De Dion Bouton. A keen traveller, he could often be found in deepest mainland Europe, astride a bike with his wife riding pillion and the butler hastening at the rear with luggage in a three-wheeler, including a parrot in its cage.

Born in 1924, he inherited the lordship aged twelve, and being far more interested in drawing Delahayes and aeroplanes than Latin or mathematics, a lifelong passion firmly pinned to travelling by means of a motor was the result.

Motoring for Pleasure in 1963, sees the Lord of Banchor looking wistfully in the rear view mirror at a point in time when even he thinks the roads are chaotic. The opening chapter of his book is called Our Crowded Roads, where he recommends early starts, breakfast and lunch at one’s destination whilst getting home early. “With sufficient determination and enthusiasm one can Continue reading “The Strathcarron Movement (Part One)”

Winging It

Kindred spirits take wing.

All images: The Author

Today’s subjects have more in common than just gullwing doors. Both were American brands produced outside of the USA, both attempted to tackle the same market segment, both ended up with a purchase price much higher than initially promised, suffered manifold quality problems and delivered only lukewarm performance; both lasted only three years on the market and were created under a business financing model with at least a whiff of sharp practice, leaving foreign governments eventually holding the bag.

They even almost ended up with similar names: Bricklin named its sportscar “SV-1” (for Safety Vehicle), and the original prototype of the DeLorean was known internally as the “DSV-1” (for DeLorean Safety Vehicle).

Malcolm Bricklin became wealthy by operating a nationwide franchise operation of do-it-yourself stores named Handyman. After this he ventured into the automotive field by becoming the American importer of Subaru in 1968; the Japanese company had only the tiny 360 to offer at the time but Bricklin became interested because it delivered excellent gas mileage and did not require federalizing in the USA because of its sub-1000 pound weight.

The Subaru 360 proved a difficult sell nevertheless. Bricklin later tried to Continue reading “Winging It”

New Frontier (Part Twelve)

America is waiting.

1972 SM in US market spec. Image Favcars

Unquestionably, a considerable measure of the SM’s commercial prospects rested upon its reception in the United States. Having envisaged selling the car in the US market from the outset, Pierre Bercot correctly viewed the American market as being pivotal to the business case of the SM – the projection being to sell 50% of production there.[1]

With the SM, Citroën seemed ready to Continue reading “New Frontier (Part Twelve)”

No Love in the Morning (Part One)

Isuzu is a world-renowned manufacturer of heavy trucks, buses and light commercial vehicles, but its passenger car business is long defunct. Its history is a complex tale of multiple alliances, one successful for a time, but all ending ultimately in failure.

1967 Isuzu Florian (c) favcars.com

Isuzu is the unlikely holder of one notable record, as manufacturer of the first passenger car built in Japan. That car was the Wolseley A9, produced from 1922 under a licencing agreement between the British firm and Ishikawajima Automotive Works, the company that would ultimately become Isuzu Motors.

Vehicle production was seriously disrupted during World War II but resumed in 1945. A contract to Continue reading “No Love in the Morning (Part One)”

Englishmen Abroad

A 1951 European Motor Show Review.

Image: The author

Seventy years have elapsed since The Motor, magazine both of note and of yore, printed year books (1949-57) to review the recent past whilst crystal balling the future. A 1952 edition happened my way recently, garnering a heady eight pages (from 220) with analysis garnered from the six European shows that year. Remember them?

Compiled by long standing journalists, Lawrence Pomeroy (son of the famed Vauxhall engineer) and Rodney Walkerley; could it be possible they had minions to accrue the information, rather than being sullied by waves of the great unwashed? Attracted more by figures than actual metal, “British cars are rare birds for 1951“, their words provide a very UK-centric view of matters motoring. Equally fascinating as they are frustrating, let us Continue reading “Englishmen Abroad”

Hero or Villain? (Part Three)

We conclude our account of the life and career of John Zachary DeLorean.

DeLorean and his ruination (c) cnet.com

The DeLorean Motor Company was, from January 1982, under the control of the receivers. Their job, in the first instance, is to see if a buyer can be found for the company. If none is forthcoming, they are required to dispose of the company’s assets in an orderly manner and raise as much money as possible to repay creditors in order of seniority, either fully or, more usually, in part (cents on the dollar). There is rarely anything left over for shareholders after this is done.

DeLorean’s biggest asset was its large inventory of unsold cars, which was increasing as production continued into the spring of 1982. Deep discounts offered on 1981 stock and exhortations to dealers to buy inventory failed meaningfully to improve the situation, and production at Dunmurry was halted in May 1982.

DMC filed for bankruptcy in October, although a skeleton staff completed around 100 partially built cars before the year end. Consolidated International, a US company based in Columbus, Ohio, acquired the remaining stock from the liquidators at a deep discount and attempted to Continue reading “Hero or Villain? (Part Three)”

Enigma Variations

Ambivalence towards Jaguar’s Sixties Supermodel is as old as the E-Type itself. 

1961 E-Type. Image: Sportscar Digest

The problem when approaching time-honoured and much-loved cultural touchstones is that as their mythology develops, layers of symbolism and exaggerated lore build up like barnacles upon the hull of a sunken craft until the object itself becomes obscure, indistinct; the legend eventually overtaking fact.

Certainly, the cult status of the Jaguar E-Type has morphed to that of venerable sainthood – its position as all-time investment-grade classic seemingly inviolate for the rest of time. So much so, that to Continue reading “Enigma Variations”

Nordstjärna (Part Four)

Allting var sak har sin tid

Image: favcars

The year of 1967 would be an auspicious one for for the Trollhättan-based carmaker. The start of the year witnessed the maiden flight of the aircraft division’s advanced new Viggen jet fighter aircraft,[1] while that Autumn, the first completely new Saab motor car since the marque’s inception would make its press debut. The 99 model (and its derivatives) would go on to Continue reading “Nordstjärna (Part Four)”

Forever Changes

Our Sheffield correspondent simply isn’t feeling the Love.

1961 Jaguar E-Type Roadster. Image: classic driver

Hit singles – a notorious equation. From that first catalytic germ to the recording studio, everyone and everything balanced; flow without compromise. Who says what works? The adoring/ paying public. Upon that melody entering your ears, it becomes trapped in your psyche; if the song is good, into your heart and soul. The melody no longer the writer’s own, it is for us to worship, hum, love… and eventually abhor.

A hit single is something of a spark, whereas albums take nurturing, time and compromises a plenty. Both, if recorded with care will Continue reading “Forever Changes”

Hero or Villain? (Part Two)

We continue the story of John Z DeLorean and remember the car that carried his name on the fortieth anniversary of its launch.

John Z DeLorean with his creation (c) carwalls.blogspot

The 1970’s was a truly miserable decade for the whole of Ireland. A sectarian conflict that had simmered in Northern Ireland since the island was partitioned in 1921 had exploded into violence and bloodshed in 1968. This unrest continued throughout the following decade, with bombings, assassinations and other terrorist atrocities perpetrated by paramilitary groups on both sides of the political and religious divide.

A consequence of the euphemistically-named troubles was that the already weak economies on both sides of the border struggled to Continue reading “Hero or Villain? (Part Two)”

Illustrious Duo

The art of Fitz and Van.

Boredom helped me to discover them. In the early seventies, I needed to find a way to keep myself entertained during our monthly weekend visits to my grandmother who lived in a small village in rural Belgium. As there was not much to do for me there and no children of my age to play with, I resorted to wandering around the house; that is where I at some point discovered stacks of old magazines in an old wardrobe closet. Among them were old TV guides and home decoration magazines but also issues of Readers Digest, LIFE and National Geographic.

Cars – and drawing them in particular – were my main point of interest and the plentiful car advertisements in those old magazines in my grandmother’s house provided an excellent source of inspiration. The ones that made the biggest impression on me were those of Pontiac in the magazines of American origin, and the Opel advertisements in the other more recent publications.

Those cars looked so fantastic – how on earth did they Continue reading “Illustrious Duo”

New Frontier (Part Eleven)

Politics dominates at Quai André Citroën. 

Image: citroen-sm.uk

As early examples of the SM began to appear on Europe’s roads, the political fallout to its advent took another, even more high profile scalp with the June 1970 announcement of the impending retirement of Monsieur le Président, Pierre Bercot. And while it was characterised as a scheduled act, the timing was nonetheless, to say the least, interesting.

Because while it would appear that Bercot had won the day over his deputy and fierce critic’s opposition, it is equally possible that Claude Alain Sarre’s unilateral decision to Continue reading “New Frontier (Part Eleven)”

Herra Conformateur

Another giant of motorsport leaves the stage.

Hannu Mikkola winning the 1983 Rallye de Portugal. Image: web-rally.blogspot.com

Human heads (along with tastes) arrive in different shapes and sizes. A hat of one size could never truly fit all. Luckily, the French devised a device equally beautiful in both name and operation: the conformateur. Placing what on first sight appears to be an Edwardian torture implement upon one’s head, the levers Continue reading “Herra Conformateur”

Hero or Villain? (Part One)

We remember the life and career of one of the most polarising and controversial people ever to have worked in the automotive Industry, John Zachary DeLorean.

John Z DeLorean and his creation (c) Forbes Magazine

John DeLorean was born in Detroit, Michigan on 6th January 1925 to Zachary and Kathryn (née Pribak) DeLorean. Zachary was Romanian, born in the village of Sugág, which was in a region controlled by the Austro-Hungarian Empire, but is now part of modern-day Romania. He worked in a mill before emigrating to the United States at the age of twenty. After spells in Indiana and Montana, he moved to Detroit and joined the Ford Motor Company as a millwright.

It was in Detroit that he met his future wife. Kathryn was Hungarian and worked for Carboloy Products, a division of General Electric. Neither Zachary nor Kathryn had much formal education and took other casual work as they found it to support their family of four sons, of whom John was the eldest.

They lived in a tough, working-class district of Detroit, but managed to Continue reading “Hero or Villain? (Part One)”

Small but Perfectly Formed

The 1991 Cinquecento was a great city car and, in design terms, a hard act to follow, as Fiat found out with its replacement.

1994 Fiat Cinquecento Sporting (c) fiat.com

Fiat in 2021 is a pale shadow of the once mighty automaker that dominated Italian industry for decades. Half a century ago, the company produced a full range of cars, from the diminutive rear-engined 126 to the handsome V6 engined 130 luxury saloon and coupé. That notwithstanding, Fiat was always best known and most highly regarded for its expertise and success in small cars.

The 1955 Fiat 600 and its smaller sibling, the 1957 500 model, successfully mobilised Italy in the post-war years. They were small, light, economical and robust cars that fitted perfectly into the historic streetscape of many Italian villages, towns and cities, with their narrow, winding streets. Both were notable for their longevity: the 600 remained in production until 1969. The 500 continued until 1975, selling alongside the 1972 126 which was, effectively, a rebodied 500. Continue reading “Small but Perfectly Formed”

The Welsh Sounding Car Company. From Germany

A much-derided, now defunct German carmaker comes under the spotlight. 

Image: Curbside Classic

A simple yet honest emblem: name, white and red stripes, triangle. Mathematically sound, an engineers friend, a car company that had two bites of the cherry only to be swallowed up due to that thorny old subject of filthy lucre. Some history: The Bremen based shipping company Norddeutscher Lloyd took the automotive plunge as it were in 1908, building electric powered vehicles under license. Petrol engines soon followed, as did a merger with Hansa in order to Continue reading “The Welsh Sounding Car Company. From Germany”

Fiat Takes A Swing At Golf… and Misses

The 2001 Fiat Stilo was an attempt to take on the Golf at its own game. It missed by a country mile. We recall Fiat’s millennial C-segment failure.

2003 Fiat Stilo three-door (c) Parkers.co.uk

Ever since its introduction in 1974 and over eight different generations, Volkswagen’s C-segment stalwart has been always readily identifiable. There have been variations in the quality of execution, but all retained enough distinctive DNA to make them unmistakably part of the lineage. This was about more than just appearance. It encompassed dynamic characteristics as well as the cars’ tactile and aural qualities.

This was exactly Volkswagen’s intention, to engender a sense of comfortable familiarity that made it easy for Golf owners to Continue reading “Fiat Takes A Swing At Golf… and Misses”

Nordstjärna (Part Three)

Desperate times. Desperate measures. 

Image: carthrottle

The early 1960s had been good years at Trollhättan. Saab sales had risen exponentially, the export performance of the 96 showed considerable promise, and its rally exploits further bolstered its appeal. But it was clear that to consolidate upon this success, a more modern, more adaptable Saab motorcar was required. In April 1964 management initiated Project Gudmund which would culminate in the 99 model, unveiled to the press in November 1967.

But meanwhile sales of the two-stroke 96 were stalling, and technical chief, Rolf Mellde recognised the need to act. Not that his engineers had exactly been warming their hands in the interim. Between 1960 and 1964, a number of four-stroke engines were evaluated in Saab bodyshells. Initially three powertrains were selected, a longitudinal 897 cc four cylinder Lloyd Arabella unit, a transversely mounted 848 cc BMC A-Series (à la Mini) and a 1089 cc V4 Lancia Appia unit.

Despite this however, Saab CEO, Tryggve Holm remained implacably wedded to the two-stroke concept, vetoing any move by Mellde to Continue reading “Nordstjärna (Part Three)”

Strip Club

Sorry gentlemen, no lucite heels and garterbelts here, just painted metal and blanked out switches.

Image: Balconistasa com

There can be a quiet sort of dignity in an austere car. Shorn of distracting embellishments, the observer has an excellent opportunity to judge the essential purity – or lack thereof – of the design in question. But there are limits to how far a manufacturer can Continue reading “Strip Club”

Family Breadwinner (Part Two)

The Citroën Visa might have offended some Quai de Javel purists, but it still espoused enough of the marque’s unique character to be well regarded and fondly remembered.

1978 Visa Club. Image: parts-specs.nl

The 1976 Citroën LN was unambiguously a stop-gap car, engineered quickly and expediently to give beleaguered Citroën dealers something new to sell. But Peugeot realised that Citroën also needed a proper supermini-sized contender to replace the ageing Dyane and Ami, and again looked to the 104 platform, this time the five-door version. Prior to their takeover, Citroën had been working on its own replacement (initially in conjunction with Fiat), codenamed Model Y (1). The Peugeot takeover ended that programme however, and the project, renamed Model VD, would now Continue reading “Family Breadwinner (Part Two)”

Can’t Beat Visa, but Mauls R5

Following previous DTW incursions into Peugeot’s 104 series, we take a look at the T15 (or Samba, as it became better known).

Talbot Samba LS in gorgeous condition (Source: Car and Classic)

I was sorting through a pile of old motoring magazines I found on a shelf in our box room the other day, when I came across an article in the w/e 24th October 1981 issue of Autocar which was the launch piece for “Talbot’s new T15 small car, called Samba in Europe”. I had purchased that magazine (and the others in the pile) on ebay over eight years ago while researching a series on the Triumph Acclaim which appeared on this site some time ago.

The article holds a particular interest for me because a Samba was the first car I ever bought (I was 19). I’ll Continue reading “Can’t Beat Visa, but Mauls R5”

New Frontier – (Part Ten)

Press and punter have their say.

(c) citroen-sm-uk.com

Otherworldly, at least as celestial an apparition as Roland Barthes’ depiction of its DS 19 forebear, the appearance of the new Citroën poleaxed visitors at its debut. Because in the Spring of 1970, nothing spoke of the now quite like an SM, although the Pininfarina Modulo, also shown at that year’s Geneva salon potentially ran it a close second.

The motorshow also presented Citroën’s public relations with their first tangible opportunity to gauge the public’s reaction to the new Quai de Javel flagship, but more to the point, to elicit the impressions of those who might be minded to Continue reading “New Frontier – (Part Ten)”

Family Breadwinner (Part One)

Although eclipsed by the hugely successful 205, the 104 was a highly competent design that served Peugeot and its sister companies well for sixteen-years.

Peugeot 104. Image: autodata1

Mention Peugeot Supermini in the company of car enthusiasts of a certain maturity and their minds will immediately turn to the 1983 205, the delightfully attractive, practical and sweet-handling car that, for many, was the definitive 1980’s B-segment hatchback. In 1.6 and 1.9 GTi form, it was also the definitive hot hatch. What is not as readily recalled, however, is the success of its largely forgotten predecessor, the 1972 Peugeot 104 and its PSA siblings.

Prior to the launch of the 104, Peugeot design was the very epitome of sober conservatism, with understated but well-engineered saloons and estates, and attractive but unflashy coupés and convertibles. The company had ventured into transverse engines and front-wheel-drive with the 204 and 304 siblings, but their conservative exterior appearance belied the engineering innovation within. The 104 would be the company’s smallest model and the first two-box design that was not an estate, but what was becoming known as a Supermini.

Except that, like the Fiat 127 that preceded it by a year, it was not a true Supermini in that it had a conventional boot-lid instead of a hatchback(1). Peugeot was, allegedly, concerned about the impact a hatchback 104 might have on sales of the existing 204 estate, hence the decision to Continue reading “Family Breadwinner (Part One)”

F is for Failure

There’s little new in the world.

An artist’s render of the upper-level version of Projet F. (c) citroenet.org.uk

The news earlier this week that JLR cancelled its Jaguar XJ programme, believed to have been close to production-readiness was greeted with varying degrees of dismay by the commentator and enthusiast community. Many questioned the financial logic of taking such drastic action so late in the developmental programme, suggesting that such profligacy was madness.

Whether folly or expediency, it was certainly not unique, BLMC rather notably electing to cancel the Rover P8 programme at huge expense in 1971, for example. However, perhaps the most glaring and possibly the most financially damaging instance was that of Citroën, when in April 1967, President, Pierre Bercot took the decision to Continue reading “F is for Failure”

Making Good? (Part Two)

DTW continues the story of MG Motor and asks if things are finally coming good in Europe for the reborn marque.

2018 MG ZS

The summer of 2016 must have been a worrying time for MG Motor and its UK dealers. The MG6 GT and Magnette had failed in the market and were discontinued, so the company was reduced to a single model, the MG3 hatchback. European sales of the MG3 were trickling along at around 250 a month, a level at which final assembly at Longbridge was not viable, so the model would in future Continue reading “Making Good? (Part Two)”

Knocking On Opportunity’s Door

A design masterpiece in retrospect.

All images: The author’s collection

The silence was deafening, broken only by the faint hum of the ventilation system in Ford Motor Company Vice President Robert S. McNamara’s office. “Bob, you can’t really do that, can you?” uttered general manager Ben D. Mills after a few uncomfortable seconds. “You bet I can do it” was McNamara’s terse response.

McNamara had just announced that based on Lincoln’s dismal financial projections (and it had never made a profit since its inception) he had decided to recommend that the brand be terminated. It was only after a long and heated discussion that Mills, chief engineer Harold McDonald and executive engineer Harold Johnsson managed to persuade McNamara to Continue reading “Knocking On Opportunity’s Door”

Making Good? (Part One)

Following its return in 2007, MG Motor was for years a marginal and faltering presence in the European auto market. DTW asks if the Chinese owned company is finally beginning to make a meaningful impact.

Small beginnings: 2007 MG TF 500LE (c) mg.co.uk

The final collapse of MG Rover in 2005 was an ugly, rancorous affair. It was also a long time coming. Since BMW disposed of its troublesome English Patient in 2000, selling it for a nominal £10(1) to the Phoenix Consortium, the company limped along with increasingly desperate attempts to reheat and repackage its ageing product line-up.

The most egregious of these was not the Rover Streetwise which, it could be argued, was simply ahead of its time, but the MG Express(2). Yes, MG Rover really did think (or was desperate to Continue reading “Making Good? (Part One)”

Nordstjärna (Part Two)

Saab takes off.

(c) saabworld

In the years immediately following the cessation of global hostilities, the pace of technological change accelerated massively. However, this rapid forward motion was particularly obvious in the aviation sector, especially following the advent of the gas turbine jet engine.

For Sweden, peacetime did not entail a loss of vigilance – far from it, with the threat now stemming from a resurgent Soviet Union, seeking to Continue reading “Nordstjärna (Part Two)”