Subcompact and Substandard (Part One)

Fifty years ago, Ford and General Motors introduced their first subcompact models to challenge the rising tide of Japanese and European imports. One was underdeveloped and riddled with faults. The other would become an infamous cause célèbre for US safety campaigners.

(c) wheelsage

In the late 1960’s US auto makers were becoming concerned about the growing popularity of small Japanese and European imports. These tended to be basic and unsophisticated, but were also cheap, economical and reliable, particularly when compared to the alternative of a second-hand domestic model. Ford and GM needed to fight back, so set to work developing what would become known as subcompacts.

The Ford Pinto and Chevrolet Vega were launched within a day of each other in September 1970. Conceptually, they were identical: conventionally engineered front-engined RWD cars that would be available in saloon, hatchback and estate versions. The Vega was slightly larger, with a 3” (75mm) longer wheelbase, although rear seat space in both was occasional at best for adult passengers.

The development of the Vega was highly unusual in that it was controlled, not by Chevrolet, but by an independent team of fifty engineers led by Lloyd Reuss, who reported directly to GM President, Ed Cole. Reuss would himself go on to Continue reading “Subcompact and Substandard (Part One)”

Londinium Trio 1 – Maison du Bibendum

Today Andrew Miles takes us a virtual trip to the UK’s Capital, to celebrate one of its architectural (and automotive-related) gems. 

(c) Leo.co.uk.

Many moons have waxed and waned since this building’s walls housed typewriters chattering along with the clang of the wheel wrench and the heady aroma of rubber. These days (well at least before the virus that must not be mentioned) you’d more likely Continue reading “Londinium Trio 1 – Maison du Bibendum”

More Than Just a Tribute Act

The Mazda Tribute was launched twenty years ago. If you don’t remember it, you’re in the majority who overlooked the car when it was on sale, then quickly forgot about it. Time to remember.

All images courtesy of the author.

The Tribute was significant in that it was Mazda’s first tentative step into both SUVs and four-wheel drive*. It was co-developed with Ford, which held a 33.4% stake in Mazda at that time. The Ford version was called Escape in the US and Maverick in Europe. It was a mid-sized five-door transverse-engined front or four-wheel-drive SUV. The model was based on the Ford CD2 platform, which was itself a development of the Mazda GF platform that underpinned the 626/Capella saloon.

The Tribute was designed to Continue reading “More Than Just a Tribute Act”

Suspended Animation

Time for a suspension of disbelief.

(c) Peugeot.com and Ikonoto.com

Hydropneumatic. Whenever this word is mentioned among those with even a fleeting interest in cars, the word Citroën usually follows. And with good reason; this much praised suspension system was an indispensable factor in cementing the double chevron’s reputation for ride comfort and Avant Garde engineering.

It is a little known fact however that competitor Peugeot (in those days known, in contrast to Citroën, for conventional and proven engineering) would nearly Continue reading “Suspended Animation”

Still Stands Stanley’s Hat Stand In The Spruce Stand?

Around about now-ish (it was actually in September), forty years ago, an important chunk of the British motor industry was rationalised away: in 1980 Triumph’s Canley plant ceased making cars.

The very last Triumph Spitfire comes down the Number One track at Canley in August 1980, as production ceases. (c) Coventry Telegraph

Motor magazine, which itself eventually disappeared into Autocropley’s shadow reported (Sept. 6th, 1980) on how “Triumph production ends at Canley”. On the opposite page there stood an article entitled “Honda launches its Bounty”.

So, the factory closure article begins as follows: “Production of Triumph cars at BL-s ill-fated Canley factory on the outskirts of Coventry has ended. With it go the Triumph Spitfire and Dolomite which will be gradually phased out of the BL model range”. Meanwhile, on page 3, we read: “Announced in Japan last week was Honda’s new medium-sized four-door saloon, a version which will be built in Britain to Continue reading “Still Stands Stanley’s Hat Stand In The Spruce Stand?”

Non-Conformist (Part Two)

Concluding our brief overview of Citroën’s epochal GS.

Image: Citroen UK

In 1970, the European motor press voted the GS its car of the year. The award, Automobiles Citroën’s first ever European Car of the Year award, was formally presented in February 1971 to Pierre Bercot’s successor as Director General, Raymond Ravenel in the Hilton Hotel in Amsterdam.

Hailing 1971 as “the year of the GS”, Ravenel told assembled journalists and dignitaries, “The public was quick to Continue reading “Non-Conformist (Part Two)”

Non-Conformist (Part One)

The future arrived in 1970. It was called GS.

(c) citroenorigins

Bernardo Bertolucci’s 1970 Franco-Italian feature film, The Conformist is billed as a cinematic masterpiece. Set during the 1930s fascist-era Italy, its themes of politics, betrayal, and psycho-sexual guilt, framed within Vittorio Storaro’s lavish cinematography remain as provocative today as they were when first screened in cinemas half a century ago.

As the 1960s gave way, France had witnessed a stark moment of unease in the Spring of 1968 when the conformism of French society was violently challenged in the streets of Paris by a younger generation, determined to Continue reading “Non-Conformist (Part One)”

Fire Sale

If the Firenza was Vauxhall’s answer to the Capri, one has to wonder what the question was.

(c) classics.honestjohn

Coupés are fundamentally irrational vehicles. They typically offer less space and practicality than the saloons upon which they are based but are more expensive, ergo they must offer an element of style, performance and sex-appeal to justify their premium prices. Ford hit this nail squarely on the head on both sides of the Atlantic with the Mustang and Capri. Opel would do likewise with the Manta, and Vauxhall was keen to Continue reading “Fire Sale”

Introducing the Hard Line

The 2007 XJ facelift was tasteless as it was expedient. But there are things we can learn from it. 

2007 Jaguar X358 XJ. (c) automobilemag

Let us get one thing abundantly clear before we progress. Designing Jaguars is fiendishly difficult and if you doubt this for a moment, try it. Therefore anyone who makes a decent fist of the craft deserves credit rather than opprobrium. Having said that however, there are a few strictures a Jaguar designer ignores at his peril – the primary one being a matter of discernment.

There is a very simple process one can perform: I call it The Sir William Test. It’s quite simple really. When presented with a problem of a stylistic or creative nature, the Jaguar stylist should Continue reading “Introducing the Hard Line”

Classic Road Test: 1972 BMW 520

During his short stint as a motoring technical editor-at-large, legendary motoring correspondent Archie Vicar wrote for the Whitchurch Advertiser & Bugle. This appears to be a transcript of a review of the BMW 520 from September 1972 entitled “Another new car from BMW”.

1972 BMW “520” – Autocar

(Sept. 22, 1972. Original photos by Douglas Land-Windmanure (sic.). Due to abrasion and scuffing of the originals, stock photos have been used).

As Rolls-Royce like to say of their engines’ power output, English engineering is never less than adequate. If you want something safe and solid, Ford and Vauxhall have some quite good cars for you: the indomitable Granada 3000 and the fine Ventora; Triumph offer the notably louche and brash 2500 while Rover can sell you a 3500 with its innovative and rust-prone body engineering.

Not to mention BMC, of course, with their fine and ever-improving Wolseley range. Why would I Continue reading “Classic Road Test: 1972 BMW 520”

What’s in a Name? (Part Two)

Concluding our exploration of the often treacherous practice of automotive nomenclature.

Image: (c) DTW

Given the numerous problems and pratfalls we uncovered in Part One, it might seem simpler to avoid the bear-traps altogether and stick to safe and neutral numbers. These can be used to indicate the range hierarchy, such as BMW’s ultra-logical 1 to 8-Series model designations.

This works fine as long as the manufacturer is happy to Continue reading “What’s in a Name? (Part Two)”

A Matter of Consequence

The Millennial Mercedes C-Class is not a car that lives in the memory. It’s far too inconsequential for that.

(c) carpixel

Like all inversions, the decline of Mercedes-Benz didn’t occur overnight. Its slide was glacial at first, before gradually and inexorably picking up speed as gravity took hold. Gravity isn’t an adjective which immediately lends itself to the model line we are retrospectively appraising today – a car which can perhaps most charitably be described as inconsequential.

Because over the four generations the C-Class has established itself in the upmarket compact saloon category, the W203 series can safely Continue reading “A Matter of Consequence”

Modest Success

We reappraise a largely forgotten Porsche.

(c) wsupercars

When the first Porsche Boxster was launched in 1997, it was, aesthetically at least, something of a disappointment. The Boxster Concept, revealed at the 1993 Detroit Motor Show, was a sinuous and lithe design with an attractive and beautifully detailed interior. It was greeted with great enthusiasm by all who saw it. Here was a smaller, mid-engined roadster that would provide a more accessible route to Porsche ownership and complement the larger 911, while maintaining a clear distance in price and size between the two models.

In the intervening years, Porsche’s parlous financial condition forced the company to Continue reading “Modest Success”

Show and Tell – Part Three

In the third episode of Bruno Vijverman’s retrospective through motor show memory lane, we enter the mid-nineties 

All images (c) courtesy of the author.

Geneva 1994

Sharp eyes might recognise a youthful Jeremy Clarkson sitting behind the wheel of the Bentley Java concept below. This prototype for a more compact Bentley was designed in conjunction with (former ARG Design Chief) Roy Axe, and a small bespoke series in various body configurations (coupé, convertible, station wagon) was later built for the Sultan of Brunei.

When still a concept, Ford named its upcoming supermini ka: Some may Continue reading “Show and Tell – Part Three”

Anima Semplice

Giugiaro’s favourite. Popular too with over 4.5 Million owners, the Panda was as good as it was clever – but was it great?

(c) bestcarmag

The most significant designs carry within them an essential seam of honesty – call it a fitness for purpose, if you will. This was especially apparent at the more humble end of the automotive spectrum; cars like the Citroën 2CV and BMC Mini bear eloquent witness to a single-minded approach to a highly specific brief. And while some of the more notable utilitarian cars appear to have taken an almost anti-styling approach, they were for the most part, sweated over as much as anyone’s carrozzeria-honed exotic.

Fiat’s original Panda is a case in point – appearing to some eyes as being almost wilfully unfinessed upon its Geneva show debut in 1980, it was in fact not only the brainchild of some of the finest creative minds of its era, but probably the final product from a mainstream European carmaker to Continue reading “Anima Semplice”

An American In Red Square

Goodness, it’s May already. I started writing this in BC-19, that’s Before Covid-19 and planned it as a light-hearted retrospective on otherwise terrifying geopolitical matters. Well, how was I to know?

(c) Thetimes.co.uk

Leonid Brezhnev was astute in having cars offered as sweeteners for diplomatic (or otherwise) talks to occur. Thus, wildly differing guesses flit anywhere from fifty to five hundred cars being accrued by the former Soviet Leader.

With the Russian Bear (as always) rather keen on security, most of the information is speculative at best, we simply do not know what happened to the majority of those automotive gifts. Those we do however, have quite the  story to tell. Brezhnev preferred the foreign motor but would occasionally Continue reading “An American In Red Square”

Tears Are Not Enough

Daihatsu’s abortive 1991 MX-5 fighter. Could it have been a winner?

daihatsu X-021
1991 Daihatsu X-021. (c) carstyling.ru

It could be said that the arrival in 1989 of the Mazda MX5 was the catalyst, but in reality, it was part of a movement which had been building for some time. Ever since the compact, lightweight open two-seater had been relegated to the outliers of the specialist carmakers, the enthusiast press began agitating for a mainstream roadster revival.

Those leading manufacturers who had abandoned roadsters (or were soon about to) Continue reading “Tears Are Not Enough”

History Lesson

Failing to learn from experience only condemns you to repeat your errors.

(c) motorbase

By the mid-1970’s it was abundantly clear that the Chrysler 160/180/2-Litre was a flop. Launched in 1970 under a marque name with no resonance in Europe, the big Avenger was regarded with indifference by the market and sales were disappointing to the point of embarrassment. However, the large saloon segment in which the car sold was growing healthily, with cars like the Ford Granada, Audi 100 and Rover SD1 selling profitably in good numbers. Chrysler wanted a slice of the action, so plans for a successor were initiated.

The new model was developed under the C9 project code name. Like its predecessor, the C9 would be styled in Coventry and engineered and built in Poissy. Early sketches for the design showed a large, three-box saloon with smooth, unadorned flanks, a deep six-light glasshouse and low waistline.  Some fashionable aero elements were incorporated, such as partly enclosed rear wheels and a faired-in front end, with the number plate and headlamps covered by a Perspex panel, not unlike the Citroën SM. These details were intended to give the car the distinctive character that was lacking in its bland predecessor.

Chrysler’s US executives thought the initial design too radical for a conservative market sector (notwithstanding the Rover SD1’s popularity) and ordered it to Continue reading “History Lesson”

Contrasting Fortunes (Part Two)

We conclude the story of the Avenger and 160/180/2-Litre and their very different fates. 

(c) autocar

The C-Car programme that would ultimately become the Chrysler 160/180/2-Litre* ran in parallel with the B-Car Avenger, under the supervision of Rootes Design Director Roy Axe. The initial plan was to offer the C-Car in three variants; a base 1.8 litre Hillman version to replace the top-line Hunter models, a 2.0 litre version carrying the Sunbeam marque and a 2.5 litre version to replace the Humber Hawk. A stretched D-Car variant was also envisaged to Continue reading “Contrasting Fortunes (Part Two)”

Late Reprieve

The 9-4X arrived too late to save Saab. But could it have done so?

(c) motortrend

When General Motors acquired Saab, they were not taking control of a healthy, thriving carmaker. Saab was already losing money and furthermore, required massive investment. It’s clear that GM made many mistakes over its stewardship, but perhaps the most glaring of them was (and GM were by no means alone in this) a growth policy which placed speed and market presence over quality of execution.

Having spent vast sums of money acquiring European prestige car brands, General Motors, like their Dearborn rivals saw expansion as the favoured route to Continue reading “Late Reprieve”

Show and Tell…

Bruno Vijverman takes us on a guided tour through motor shows past. 

All images by the author

With current restrictions affecting millions of us worldwide, the change of circumstance has presented other opportunities – the rediscovery of the value of closer and more frequent interaction with our loved ones, as well as the time to make progress in sorting out and cleaning up the clutter one amasses over the years.

By consequence, I decided to delve into a large carton box with old photographs and negatives that has resided in a spare room for longer than I would care to admit. My aim was to Continue reading “Show and Tell…”

Contrasting Fortunes (Part One)

The Avenger and 160/180/2-Litre were intended to carry Chrysler Europe successfully into the 1970’s and beyond. One succeeded, while the other was hobbled by indecision, poor management and Anglo-French rivalries. 

autoenthusiastas via classic-car-catalogue

By the late 1960’s the Rootes Group’s range of cars was beginning to look rather threadbare. Its newest model, the Arrow series Minx and Hunter, introduced in 1966, was still relatively fresh and selling quite well, but was hampered by a limited engine range, which comprised a four-cylinder OHV unit in 1,500cc and 1,725cc capacities.

Attempts to Continue reading “Contrasting Fortunes (Part One)”

It’s A Lock In!

Settle down, you rabble. You’re in for a while. Get another Bog Myrtle in and pay attention, there’ll be questions later. 

(c) Pumpclipclocks.co.uk

[Editor’s note: This article was written prior to the current restrictions on gatherings and in no way advocates the practice of public house lock-ins – well, not in the current climate at least…]

Much like home door locks, car locks had been rudimentary for years. The 1970s witnessed a change in thinking (in a pretty vain attempt) to prevent rampant car theft. Years in the development stages, mainly in the USA, Wilmot-Breedon would become an integral cog of the British car industry, sadly suffering a similar fate.

Carl Louis Breedon enters proceedings around 1929 when the engineering firm Josiah Parkes & Son of Willenhall, Birmingham introduced the wafer tumbler lock to him. This used flat metal wafers that required the correct key in order for the lock to Continue reading “It’s A Lock In!”

Cat-tivated

The Editor makes no apologies.

(c) Jaguar Heritage

Those amongst you who know me will recognise my propensity to repeat myself, so if you have heard this before, well, the only solace I can offer is the assurance that there will be another (better) article tomorrow.

Growing up in an Irish backwater – (Cork was very parochial in the 1970s) – was a pretty meagre affair. Mostly I remember the rain. It was always raining. And while we weren’t badly off, there was little in reserve and even less by way of indulgence, frippery or delight. Belts were worn tightly. String was saved. Even the biscuits were of a distinctly penitential nature. Continue reading “Cat-tivated”

Faking It

(almost) Always a bad idea, when you’re in the automotive business.

Fiat Spider: (c) Worblaufen

Driven by opportunism, expediency or sheer desperation, motor manufacturers have often tried to pass off lightly reworked versions of competitors’ products as their own. It has rarely ended well.

The latest to have tried and failed at this game is Fiat, who announced in late 2019 that production of the Fiat 124 Spider for European markets was ending after just three years. There appears to be some confusion regarding the North American market, where the model is still listed on the Fiat.com website, but it is widely believed to be on its way out. Speaking to Autocar in August 2019, Fiat CEO Olivier François claimed that Fiat had “no legitimacy in this segment, from which Autocar inferred that the 124 Spider would not Continue reading “Faking It”

Class Act

Social mobility, across all-terrain.

Image via pinterest

Britain has always enjoyed a somewhat elastic relationship with both the land itself, and those who both own and administer it. Pivoting from forelock-tugging deference to bland indifference during the short years of relative social equality, the more recent austerity-era saw a shift back towards a renewed hunger for the certainties of the established social order – a matter which has been reflected to some extent with the rise of that automotive marker of social (and physical) superiority – the SUV.

Few vehicles personify landed gentry quite like the Range Rover. But to call the original version an SUV is really something of a misnomer. A car designed for the affluent farmer/landowner, hitherto forced to Continue reading “Class Act”

Irreconcilable Differences (Part Two)

Like so many ill-considered marriages, GM’s entanglement with Saab was destined to end badly.  We conclude the story of this unhappy union.

(c) autoevolution

Having taken full ownership of Saab Automobile AB in 2000, GM was free to continue its planned transformation of the company into a premium competitor to Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz. The existing 9-3 was looking dated, appearing little different to the New Generation 900 launched in 1994, and its five-door format was out of step with its intended competitors, the A4, 3 Series and C-Class.

A new 9-3 was developed in parallel with the Opel Vectra C, based on the new GM Epsilon platform. Both cars were launched at the Geneva Motor Show in March 2002. The 9-3 adopted a four-door Sport Saloon format. A convertible followed in 2004 but the arguably more important SportWagon estate didn’t Continue reading “Irreconcilable Differences (Part Two)”

Swiss Account

How does one enhance a styling landmark? 

Graber-bodied Rover 2000 TC. Image via pinterest

Carrosserie Hermann Graber came into being in the early 1920s, providing coachbuilt bodies for a wide range of mostly upmarket carmakers, amongst which were such illustrious names as Bugatti and Duesenberg; Graber quickly establishing an enviable reputation for elegance of line and craftmanship at his studios in Bern, Switzerland.

Having clothed a number of their chassis’ at customer request, Graber obtained the distribution rights for the British luxury carmaker, Alvis in 1953. One of these was a rakish and well proportioned two-door design, which so impressed Alvis management that a modified version was produced in the UK and became the Red Triangle’s sole offering between 1958 and the cessation of carmaking in 1967. Continue reading “Swiss Account”

A Step Back

In 1970 Triumph had a decade to live. Two cars combined that year to bookend its saloon swansong.

1970 Triumph Toledo (c) carsaddiction

It wasn’t apparent at the time, but 1970 marked the close of Triumph’s expansionist ambitions, and the beginning of its fall. Not that the fortunes of the carmaker prior to its undignified end under British Leyland had exactly been characterised by unbroken success – quite the contrary in fact. But for one short decade, the name of Triumph burned brightly before being snuffed out through a combination of self-harm and corporate politics.

Following their 1960 acquisition of the Standard-Triumph business, Leyland Motors invested heavily in the Triumph marque, rendering the Standard nameplate to the history books. Amongst the most significant fruits of this investment was seen in 1965 when the compact and technically sophisticated front-wheel drive 1300 (Ajax) saloon was introduced. Continue reading “A Step Back”

Diamond Life

Architects and motor cars have not always co-existed harmoniously. Today’s subject however, is something of an exception. 

(c) Motori corriere.it

Richard Buckminster Fuller’s foray into the automotive world with his Dymaxion car of 1933 is frequently brought forward when the discussion topic is raised about car concepts that were simply too far ahead of their time for their own good. The radical ideas and look of the Dymaxion were indeed in clear violation* of MAYA (Most Advanced Yet Acceptable) – the guiding design principle of well known contemporary, Raymond Loewy.

Two decades after Buckminster Fuller presented Dymaxion, another famed architect came up with a car design that was considered too far out at the time of its introduction: Gio Ponti. The Italian’s Linea Diamante dates from 1953 but its styling and interior concept were very much of another, future decade. Continue reading “Diamond Life”

Irreconcilable Differences (Part One)

Like so many ill-considered marriages, GM’s entanglement with Saab was destined to end badly. We look back over this unhappy union.

(c) petrolicious

Throughout the late 1980’s and 1990’s, GM looked on enviously as its arch-rival Ford carefully and methodically assembled the pieces of what would become its Premier Automotive Group* (PAG), a stable of European premium, sports and luxury car marques to which it would add its own Lincoln and Mercury brands.

Ford began by acquiring an interest in Aston Martin in 1987, then assuming full control in 1991. It purchased Jaguar in 1989, followed by Volvo’s car business a decade later. In 2000, Ford acquired Land-Rover from the wreckage of BMW’s failed ownership of Rover Group, which it folded into the newly formed PAG.

The latter acquisition was particularly painful for GM because, in March 1986, it had agreed the purchase of Land-Rover, then part of the nationalised British Leyland, from the UK government before a public outcry and political pressure forced Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to Continue reading “Irreconcilable Differences (Part One)”

Mother of Invention

Making a little go that bit further. 

(c) drivezing

Throughout the 1960s, US carmakers enjoyed unprecedented prosperity, with a buoyant domestic market, cheap, plentiful fuel and a customer base who had wholeheartedly bought into the concept of plenty – at a superficial level at least. Because beneath the giddy headline figures, sales of imported cars were giving the movers and shakers of Detroit serious pause.

The encroach of smaller, more fuel-efficient models, notably Volkswagen’s cult-car Beetle, prompted American carmakers to Continue reading “Mother of Invention”

Fontana a Tre Vie

Lancia’s idiosyncratic Beta Tre Volumi turns 40.

Image: Ran When Parked
Image: (c) Ran When Parked

This article first appeared on 3 February 2017.

The Lancia Trevi is an unusual car, not simply because it was and remains an intriguing one to behold. For one thing it may well be the only car that began life as a fastback saloon (with a separate boot compartment), and ended it as a three-volume version. There have been innumerable saloon from hatchback conversions (and vice-versa), but a saloon from a saloon?

It’s clear that the Trevi was a stopgap. By right, Lancia should have readied an all-new replacement by then, but that failed to materialise. Of course lengthy production runs were by no means unusual either for Lancia or within the sprawling Fiat Auto grouping they had become an unwilling hostage to. Couple this with a crisis both of confidence and managerial competence which afflicted the entire Fiat Auto group in the wake of the 1973 oil embargo, to say nothing of Fiat’s inability to Continue reading “Fontana a Tre Vie”

A Promise Fulfilled (Part Two)

Concluding our retrospective on a car that went from cynical marketing exercise to icon for a generation of drivers.

Capri II (c) speeddoctor

The Mk2 Capri was launched in February 1974. In the immediate aftermath of the Oil Crisis and quadrupling of OPEC oil prices, Ford seemed to have suffered some loss of nerve and decided to make the new model rather more practical and less overtly sporting than the Mk1. The bonnet was shorter, the interior enlarged, with a hatchback and folding rear seats instead of a separate boot. The emphasis seemed to have changed to Continue reading “A Promise Fulfilled (Part Two)”

A Promise Fulfilled (Part One)

A retrospective on a car that went from cynical marketing exercise to icon for a generation of drivers.

(c) avengers-in-time

That Ford chose to produce the Capri was as logical as night following day.  The US Ford Mustang, launched five years earlier and, like the Capri, based largely on a humble sedan (the Falcon), had been a huge sales success. Ford had expected to shift around 100,000 Mustangs annually, but 400,000 were sold in its first year and a further 600,000 in its second year of production.  Little wonder that, on seeing these numbers, Ford Europe decided to Continue reading “A Promise Fulfilled (Part One)”

The Aurelian Way

The Lancista’s Lancia turns 70. 

1950 Lancia Aurelia B10 -(c) carstylecritic

If one was to carry out a poll amongst Lanciaphiles as to the quintessential model in the storied marque’s history, there is likely to be a certain amount of heated debate. While some might cleave to the innovative and undoubtedly influential Lambda of 1922, it’s probably more likely the Aurelia would garner the majority vote.

Borgo San Paolo’s 1950 entrant was Lancia’s first genuinely new product of the post-hostility period, replacing the emblematic Aprilia, which ceased production the previous year; the latter model itself a ground breaker in design terms mating fully independent suspension, a narrow-angle V4 engine and pillarless construction within an aerodynamically streamlined, stressed bodyshell.

The Aurelia was intended as a larger, more refined car, aimed at the affluent owner-driver. Italy was for the most part impoverished and war-torn from years of conflict by the close of the 1940s, with large swathes of the population who could only dream of car ownership, but there remained a base of professionals, wealthy industrialists and titled nobility who could Continue reading “The Aurelian Way”

Boulevard of Broken Dreams

Spain may not be famous for coachbuilders the way their colleagues to the North and on the opposite side of the Mediterranean are, but that is not to say there were none.

Dodge Serra (c) Autopista es

Pedro Serra Vidal (1926-2017) was born into the automobile business. His father owned a large automotive workshop and coachbuilding business in Barcelona, where the young Serra Vidal learned the trade and gathered the necessary experience.

His talent quickly became obvious and he would go on to Continue reading “Boulevard of Broken Dreams”

The Fate of Empires and Search For Survival (Part Five)

Daniel O’Callaghan’s digest of Bob Lutz’s 2011 book, ‘Car Guys vs Bean Counters’. In this concluding part, GM hits the buffers and goes cap in hand to the US Government.

(c) leblogauto

At the start of 2008, the outlook appeared quite promising for GM. Its more recent models had been well received and the company had won North American Car of the Year for 2007 and 2008 with the Saturn Aura and Chevrolet Malibu. The company had agreed with the UAW a new wage deal and a plan to move the worker healthcare liabilities off the GM balance sheet and into a new fund that GM would set up, but would Continue reading “The Fate of Empires and Search For Survival (Part Five)”

Icing the Cherry

50 years old this year, the Datsun 100A takes a bow.

(c) zonedatsun.fr

Here on the pages of Driven to Write, we have spent a good deal of the recent past discussing aspects of the Toyota marque and its associated brands. Not so however with regard to its once great rival and commercial antagonist, Nissan.

Upon its introduction to European (and US) shores, Nissan cars were sold under the Datsun brand name, for reasons which aren’t entirely clear, but probably pertain to marketing considerations. For Datsun, then an almost entirely unknown brand, their breakthrough motor car arrived in the envelope of the 100A Cherry, a compact front-wheel-drive supermini.

It’s probably fair to Continue reading “Icing the Cherry”

Game Changer

From humble and unlikely beginnings, the Audi Quattro would permanently redefine its maker’s image. Daniel O’Callaghan looks back on the development and influence of this seminal model in the company’s history.

1980 Audi Quattro. (c) weilinet

The Audi Quattro owes its existence to the German Army’s urgent need in the late-1970’s to replace its aged DKW Munga four-wheel-drive light utility vehicles with a more modern successor. The Munga had ceased production in 1968 and its outdated two-stroke engined design was overdue for replacement. Its intended successor was the Europa Jeep, a joint-venture project involving a number of European governments that had been in development for a decade before finally collapsing acrimoniously in 1979.

Anticipating this outcome, the German Army instead invited domestic automobile manufacturers to design a replacement for the Munga.  Volkswagen passed the project to Audi, who had access to the Munga’s technology and patents via the Auto Union partnership, so was able quickly to Continue reading “Game Changer”

The Fate of Empires and Search For Survival (Part Four)

Daniel O’Callaghan continues his digest of Bob Lutz’s 2011 book, ‘Car Guys vs Bean Counters’, examining GM’s latterday approach to alternative propulsion.

1996 GM EV1. Image: oldcarbrochures

GM’s expansion to become a global company had largely been built on acquisitions: Opel and Vauxhall in Europe, Holden in Australia and Daewoo’s automotive business in South Korea. These companies continued to operate with a high degree of autonomy in product design and engineering. It was argued that this enabled the companies to Continue reading “The Fate of Empires and Search For Survival (Part Four)”

Roll of Shame

Some crashes have potentially disastrous consequences, and not just for flesh, blood, glass and metal.

Flippin’ Elk, it’s a roll-over! (c) motorpasión.com

The first-generation Mercedes-Benz (W168) A-Class was one of the most radical, bold and innovative designs in the company’s history. It was not only the company’s first transverse-engined FWD production car, but featured an innovative sandwich double-floor structure and an unusually tall but short body that was designed to provide greater than C-Segment passenger accommodation within a footprint no larger than that of a B-Segment supermini. The engine and transmission were engineered in such a way that, in the event of a heavy frontal impact, they would Continue reading “Roll of Shame”

Der Lebensretter

Thousands of motorists owe their lives to one man’s quest to design safer motor cars. We pay tribute to a engineering pioneer. 

Béla Barényi. (c) Mercedes-Benz

The Mercedes-Benz legend was built on principles of engineering excellence; its reputation founded upon the work of legendary engineers, names which include Fritz Nallinger, Josef Müller and Rudolph Uhlenhaut. However, there is another name – one to whom every motorist ought perhaps to say a silent prayer of thanks – that of Béla Viktor Karl Barényi, engineer, inventor, known to some as the lifesaver. Over a lengthy career, primarily at Mercedes-Benz, his innovations led to more than 2500 patents, some of which have gone on to save countless thousands of lives.

Born in Hirtenberg near Vienna in March 1907 to one of Austria’s wealthiest families, Béla Barényi grew up amid the dawn of the motor car. Automobiles were a part of his life from an early age, his family owning an Austro-Daimler, which he is said to have adored. But fate and geopolitics would change his life dramatically, the combination of the Great War (in which his father was killed) and the ensuing depression which saw his family’s fortune dwindle, meant he was forced to Continue reading “Der Lebensretter”

The Fate of Empires and Search For Survival (Part Three)

Daniel O’Callaghan continues his digest of Bob Lutz’s 2011 book, ‘Car Guys vs Bean Counters’, charting the decline of GM and Lutz’s decade-long struggle to rescue it.

2000 Chevrolet Malibu. (c) Edmunds

Even before officially starting work at GM on 1st September 2001, Lutz had the opportunity to preview GM’s forthcoming models. He attended the company’s August board meeting and met Wayne Cherry, GM’s Vice-President of Design, at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance event the same month. Cherry shared with him photos of models in different stages of development and Lutz was horrified by what he saw. 

Amazingly, Cherry admitted to feeling the same and explained that, despite his nominal position, he was subordinate to the Vehicle Line Executives (VLEs), who oversaw every aspect of each new model’s development. Their explicit priority was to Continue reading “The Fate of Empires and Search For Survival (Part Three)”

A Question Of Space

The Art of the garage. From the BBC.

(c) Jonathan Rudd via BBC

Time nor tide waiteth for no man, so the saying goes. One example of this being the BBC. Initiated in 1922 with only a handful of board members, one being First World War pilot Cecil Lewis whose book Sagittarius Rising is an exemplary account of the war in the air. As readable as it is terrifying, it’s a (then) young mans story told amidst horrendous circumstances. I digress.

Once upon a time the BBC was referred to as Auntie Beeb, for the corporation inspired warmth with the added sense of being impartial yet caring. And gave us Morecombe & Wise. But time and the internet has had huge implications on the Beeb’s persona and some of that friendliness has been lost. Trying not to drown in recent political, environmental and medical travails however, my eyes spied something of relevance: Garages.

The BBC website hosts a weekly themed photographic gallery – usually an excuse to Continue reading “A Question Of Space”

Roll of Honour

Not all motor crashes end badly. How the R129 Mercedes-Benz SL was tested to destruction and passed with honours.

(c) Car Magazine

In a recent piece on the R129 generation Mercedes-Benz SL, reference was made to a dramatic incident that occurred at the car’s launch event at the Estoril racing circuit on the Portuguese Riviera. Car Magazine’s Ian Fraser was present at the launch and the following is taken from his account, published in the August 1989 edition of the magazine.

When Fraser arrived at the Estoril circuit, there was little evidence of the dramatic incident that had taken place earlier, apart from some tell-tale gouges in the surface of the tarmac. The Mercedes-Benz 500SL involved in the incident had been hidden from public view in a pit lock-up garage. The two journalists who were driver and passenger in the car had retreated to the bar for a stiff drink to calm their shredded nerves, the driver crying uncontrollably for a couple of hours. Continue reading “Roll of Honour”

Maranello Model Mystery

An interest in automotive design history can result in a fair bit of detective work, and occasionally, a surprise ending.

Ferrari 412i. (c) autoevolution

For three years, all the money in the world wouldn’t buy you a brand new Ferrari Gran Turismo. It may appear almost impossible to imagine from today’s perspective, but Maranello’s premier car maker wasn’t always the money printing machine it is nowadays, which would historically entail the odd glitch and hiccup in terms of production planning.

It was for this reason that certain models would outstay their welcome on a somewhat regular basis. But not offering a mainstay product for several years appeared very odd indeed, even before Ferrari evolved from being the maker of enthusiast’s cars to the status of luxury goods purveyors.

From 1989, when production of the long-serving 412i four-seater model finally ceased, until 1992, the year the 456 GT successor was unveiled, anyone looking for a Ferrari that could accommodate not just driver plus wife/mistress, but also the dog and/or kids, would need to go for the unloved Mondial. If this kind of customer was hellbent on a V12 engine under the bonnet, he’d have to Continue reading “Maranello Model Mystery”

The Persian Bodyswappers

Novels such as ‘Vice Versa’ and ‘Freaky Friday’ have inspired a long list of films about body swapping, but in the rare cases the automobile industry has resorted to the practice, it hasn’t exactly resulted in any award-winning performances.

(c) Pedal.ir/Flickr/Gomotors.net/Pakwheels.com

Since the Ayatollahs assumed power, Iran’s relationship with Western nations has been complicated. This has not stopped the country from developing a thriving automobile industry however – after oil and gas it is the third in economic importance – and to achieve licensing deals with a number of major car manufacturers such as Peugeot, Citroën, Renault, Nissan, KIA, Chevrolet and Cadillac. In some cases, this has lead to results that can only be described as bizarre. Continue reading “The Persian Bodyswappers”

The Fate of Empires and Search For Survival (Part Two)

Daniel O’Callaghan continues his digest of Bob Lutz’s 2011 book, ‘Car Guys vs Bean Counters’, which charts the decline of General Motors and Lutz’s decade-long struggle to rescue it.

(c) consumer guide auto

In an effort to understand better what gave the Japanese manufacturers such an edge in terms of quality and reliability, GM established a joint-venture with Toyota in 1984, the quaintly named New United Motorcar Manufacturing Inc. (NUMMI) to Continue reading “The Fate of Empires and Search For Survival (Part Two)”

Always Crashing in the Same Car

“Deep assignments run through all our lives. There are no coincidences.”

J.G. Ballard’s Crashed Cars exhibition, 1970. Photo (c) Wesley/Keystone/Getty Images

The car crash is the most dramatic event we are likely to experience in our entire lives apart from our own deaths.” J.G. Ballard

As any automotive marketer will be at pains to remind you, there is nothing sexy about safety, because as we’re repeatedly told, the customer simply doesn’t want to know. This being so, it’s relatively unsurprising that few carmakers have made their fortune or reputation by reminding buyers of the mortal risks they run every time they Continue reading “Always Crashing in the Same Car”