New Frontier (Part One)

Over a series of articles, we examine yesterday’s vision of the future – peak chevron, Sa Majesté – the incomparable Citroën SM.

(c) stubs-auto.fr

Observing events through a half-century old prism can make for a faulty tool; contemporary visions of the future appearing to modern eyes, slightly naïve and somewhat inaccurate. Not necessarily a consequence of inexperience or ill-thought execution – certainly not in this particular case – it is as likely to pivot around the manner in which socio-economic factors, and customer tastes evolve, to say nothing of the relentless march of time itself.

Has any carmaker done more to Continue reading “New Frontier (Part One)”

The Labour and the Wounds Are Vain – Turin Motor Show 1970 Part 1

Fifty years from the day it opened, we look back at the 1970 Salone dell’Automobile di Torino.

Italdesign Porsche 914 Tapiro Image: viaretro.com

In late 1970 much of Europe was in the grip of a pandemic, but not one which hindered the annual motor show round which had started in neutral Amsterdam and closed in Turin with a high-art extravaganza where function took a distant third place after form and fashion.

The pandemic was not biological but ideological, manifesting itself in social, political and industrial turmoil, and acts of terrorism by far-left, far-right and nationalist elements. In Italy the phenomenon was given a name – Anni di piombo – ‘The Leaden Years’, and was to Continue reading “The Labour and the Wounds Are Vain – Turin Motor Show 1970 Part 1”

A Failure of Nerve

In 1966 Peugeot and Renault formulated an ambitious plan to take on the incumbents in the luxury car market. Sadly, both companies got cold feet and their dream went unrealised. DTW recounts the story of Projet H.

Image: Christopher Butt

With the successful launch of the 16 in 1965, Renault had a large five-door FWD hatchback to complement its (not so) small 4 model. The range would be augmented with the medium-sized 6 in 1968 and completed with the 5 supermini in 1972 . These hatchbacks sat alongside its rear-engined 8 and 10 saloons for more conservative customers.

However, the company lacked a large and prestigious car as a flagship for its range. Likewise Peugeot, where the largest model was the well-regarded 404 saloon, launched in 1960. Both manufacturers eyed Citröen with a degree of envy. The Double Chevron’s large DS model, although already a decade old, had been so advanced and futuristic at launch that it still looked handsome and prestigious.

It was a fitting ‘halo’ model for the marque, notwithstanding the idiosyncratic appearance of Citröen’s smaller cars. The DS was also the choice for official transport at the Elysée Palace, giving Citröen kudos that was jealously coveted by both Billancourt and Sochaux.

Both manufacturers were allegedly nervous about the market potential for a large and luxurious car bearing their marque names, so they agreed in April 1966 to Continue reading “A Failure of Nerve”

Dole It Out, Samuel

A big car for a big country. Introducing the very first Duesenberg. 

It’s a Duesie. (c) Hemmings.com

This is pure American history. It’s definitely the most significant vehicle now in the museum’s collection – even if it weren’t restored, it’d still be at the top of that list. It’s not just a car, it’s a family’s history and legacy.” Brendan Anderson. 

Using nothing but my imagination, the American car industry of the mid-teens to late 1920s conjures images of cityscapes swarming with Model Ts, Oldsmobiles, Buicks and the like in fast-paced black and white. Or, in glorious technicolour, causing rooster tails of dust on the plains, perhaps outrunning the law or maybe enjoying the thrill of newfound speed. Never once considering the idea of fruit and cars to be connected – other than a vehicle for moving the produce – it has come to light more recently that this fruit/ car intersection goes far deeper than peel.

Fred and August Duesenberg were highly regarded motor racers. With cash from victories and contracts connected with the Great War, they decided to Continue reading “Dole It Out, Samuel”

Lucky Seven

Four into five equals seven. A brief look back at a uniquely Iberian Cinq. 

(c) stubs-auto.fr

A mainstay of the European motoring scene from its inception in 1962, Renault’s rear-engined R8 saloon was also (it’s stated) assembled in the former Eastern bloc, North Africa, Laos, South America, Australia and New Zealand. The French state-run carbuilder ceased production at the Flins plant, outside Paris in 1973. Renault never directly replaced the 8 – well actually, that’s not entirely true.

The early 1970s witnessed a period of profound change and consolidation for many carmakers, who were keen not only to Continue reading “Lucky Seven”

Coupé à la Française

DTW recalls the 1971 Renault 15 and 17, La Régie’s distinctively French take on the sporting coupé.

Renault 15 & 17. (c) stubs-auto .fr

The 1969 Renault 12 saloon was an immediate hit for its manufacturer. It was praised by European motoring journalists for its styling, spacious and comfortable interior, and good performance and fuel economy. It was based on a new platform that placed the engine longitudinally ahead of the front axle and gearbox. On Renault’s existing FWD models, the 4, 6 and 16, the engine was positioned behind the gearbox, necessitating a distinctly unsporting high bonnet line and dashboard mounted gear lever.

Renault had not offered a coupé in its range since the demise of the Dauphine-based Caravelle in 1968, and only 9,309 Caravelles had been sold in the last three years of its production. Moreover, the European coupé market had been transformed by the launch of the Ford Capri Mk1 in 1969 and Opel Manta A a year later. The new coupés were closely related to their mainstream saloon siblings, the Cortina Mk2 and Ascona A. More significantly, they were styled to look aggressively sporting, masculine rather than demure in character.

Renault decided that it could usefully Continue reading “Coupé à la Française”

Keeping the Seat Warm

The 1984 Alfa 90 was to all intents and purposes something of a placeholder. But does it deserve a better epitaph?

Alfa 90. Image: viaretro

The early 1980s were difficult years for Alfa Romeo. Having abandoned its patrician pre-war roots for a more populist reimagining throughout the 1950s and ’60s, this once successful market realignment had started to unravel; partly due to its own failings as a business, both internally from a product, management and labour perspective, and also externally, owing to its close proximity in market terms to Lancia.

Unlike its Borgo San Paolo rival, who was by then reliant upon the financial support of the Fiat car giant, Alfa Romeo depended upon the largesse of the often reluctant Italian IRI state body for funding, while battling a depressed home market, ageing model lines and by consequence, little by way of genuinely new product.

What there was, fell very much into the make do and Continue reading “Keeping the Seat Warm”

Destined To Shine

Gilded lilies, like most things in life are relative. The Golden Angel Wing however, out-guilds most.

A regular Mercedes (Ponton) 220S. Image: wallpaperup

Like us poor scribes, the brains behind the processes of car making spend countless hours honing and perfecting, improving and re-checking to ascertain the best that is possible at a given moment in time. Midnight oil is a precious resource which, dependant on the individual, can prove somewhat finite, with unfortunate consequences lingering by.

Concerning cars, now factor in updates, facelifts, upgrades – call them what you will – they must be considered. The 1953 Mercedes-Benz W120 (or Ponton as it was better known) was a plain but honest, safe yet somewhat bland quality conveyance. Built primarily in Stuttgart, these one eighties (as they were badged) made impacts the world over. Continue reading “Destined To Shine”

One Last Push (Part Two)

DTW concludes its brief history of the post-WW2 rear-engined Renaults.

Renault 8 and 10 models. (c) lautomobileancienne

By 1960 the Renault Dauphine, while still popular, was beginning to look somewhat dated. The front-wheel-drive Renault 4 was at an advanced stage of development and would be launched in 1961. This would be the first of four identically formatted models, with engines mounted longitudinally behind the front axle, the gearbox placed in front, necessitating a gear lever mounted high on the dashboard, with the linkage passing over the engine.

The 4 would be followed by the large 16 in 1965, the mid-size 6 in 1968, and the supermini 5 in 1972. All would be hatchback designs with five doors, apart from the 5, which would initially be available only as a three-door.

Notwithstanding these plans, Renault still believed there was life in the rear-engined saloon layout and set about to Continue reading “One Last Push (Part Two)”

One Last Push (Part One)

Today DTW remembers Renault’s post-WW2 series of rear-engined cars.

1954 Renault 4CV Brochure (c) autoweek.com

The post-war worldwide success of the Volkswagen Beetle* encouraged manufacturers as diverse as Fiat, NSU, Renault, Rootes, Skoda, ZAZ and even General Motors to emulate its mechanical layout, with varying fortunes. In doing so, many appeared to miss the point that the Beetle was successful despite rather than because of its rear-engined layout.

A rear-engined design typically involves many compromises with regard to packaging for luggage space, engine accessibility and cooling, and handling and stability. The smaller the car, the less important these compromises are, but the layout becomes increasingly unviable as the design becomes larger and more powerful. Porsche spent the best part of sixty years engineering out the instability** caused by having a heavy weight mounted aft of the rear axle on the 911, while General Motors suffered huge reputational damage because of claims of dangerous instability made about the rear-engined Mk1 Chevrolet Corvair.

During WW2, Renault was controlled by the occupying German forces and was under orders to build only military and commercial vehicles in support of the Third Reich’s war effort. Renault’s Director of Design, Fernand Picard, anticipated that, after the war, France would need a small and economical car to Continue reading “One Last Push (Part One)”

Talent Borrows

Did the Deauville’s somewhat over-familiar appearance ensure it would be the second rarest De Tomaso of all? We investigate.

de Tomaso Deauville. (c) classic-driver

The early 1970s (prior to 1974 at least) proved to be something of an Indian summer for the European exotic car businesses. Demand for exclusive hand-built GTs was brisk, both in Europe and especially in North America, and for those ateliers who lacked the wherewithal (or the inclination) to engineer their own power units, there was a ready supply of powerful and proven engines to be obtained and repurposed from the major OEMs in Detroit.

For specialist carmakers such as Bristol and Jensen Cars in the UK, Iso in Italy and Monteverdi in Switzerland, this would prove to be a godsend, until the oil taps were turned off at least. Another fledgling exotic carmaker was that of De Tomaso, headed by Argentinian businessman and ace deal-maker Alejandro de Tomaso. Having taken over the struggling carrozzeria Ghia concern in 1967, he approached Ford with a proposal to Continue reading “Talent Borrows”

Forgotten Hero

Overshadowed by both its predecessor and successor, the 1990 E36 generation BMW 3 Series celebrates its thirtieth birthday this year, but will anyone turn up for the party?

BMW E36 Saloon. (c) autoevolution

By the late 1980’s, the E30 generation 3-Series, although still popular and well liked, was beginning to look (and feel) distinctly old fashioned. The E30 had been in production since 1982 and was, stylistically, a careful update of the 1975 E21 original. The 1986 E32 7 Series and 1988 E34 5 Series had introduced a new and more dynamic style for BMW. It was time for the 3 Series to follow suit.

The E36 was launched in October 1990 in four-door saloon form, followed shortly by a two-door coupé version. The design was credited to Pinky Lai and Boyke Boyer. The coupé represented a break with 3 Series tradition for BMW: the E30 two-door was a saloon that shared its profile and most body panels with its four-door sibling, while the E21 was produced in two-door saloon* form only.

With the E36, the saloon and coupé shared no external body panels. The saloon’s doors were one-piece pressings incorporating window frames that covered the A-pillars and concealed the roof drip-rails. The coupé instead employed frameless door glasses. Even items one might expect to Continue reading “Forgotten Hero”

Stuck In Neutral

How Billancourt was presented with an unexpected proposal for an ultra-basic car, not by the product committee, but from the mighty French labour union.

Renault Neutral proposal. (c) Conceptcarz com

The mid eighties were tough times for Renault. Georges Besse had become CEO in January 1985 and was confronted with an alarming financial situation: between 1984 and 1985 losses were spiralling – amounting to in the region of 10 billion Francs. Furthermore, the alliance in the USA with American Motors was costing enormous amounts of money, with little headway to show for in return. In an effort to Continue reading “Stuck In Neutral”

Under the Knife – When You Should Just Let Things Be

When it comes to facelifts, it’s best to know when to stop. 

(c) autoevolution

Assuming one was in possession of the requisite grasp of Italian, it would have been fascinating to have sat in on the product planning meetings at Portello, when Alfa Romeo’s strategists were initially scoping the 1972 Alfetta saloon. Because, looking at it from the distance of close to half a century, it’s difficult to ascertain where this model was intended to fit into the existing model hierarchy. Sitting above the by then rather elderly 105-Series Giulia, but below the latter’s closely related 1750/2000 Berlina sibling, the Alfetta was an entirely new model, with the potential to Continue reading “Under the Knife – When You Should Just Let Things Be”

When Good Enough Just Wasn’t Enough

Once ubiquitous on our roads, the 1979 Kadett D / Astra Mk1, GM Europe’s first front-wheel-drive car, is long forgotten and sadly overlooked, even here at DTW. Belatedly, we celebrate its 40th birthday.

1979 Opel Kadett four-door and five-door (c) wheelsage.org

There was considerable ballyhoo when Ford unveiled its first FWD Escort in September 1980. Few now remember that Opel actually beat Ford by a whole year in the switch to FWD for its C-Segment stalwart, the Kadett. Moreover, the Kadett D became the Vauxhall Astra in March 1980, replacing the geriatric Viva.

It was not the first badge-engineered Vauxhall with no sheet-metal differences to its Opel sibling. That dubious honour goes to the 1978 Royale saloon and coupé, better known as the Opel Senator and Monza. That said, the Astra Mk1 did mark the end of Vauxhall’s design and engineering independence from its German cousin. In future all GM Europe siblings would Continue reading “When Good Enough Just Wasn’t Enough”

To the Guillotine!

The coupé-cabriolet, otherwise known as the hardtop convertible, is an endangered species. DTW will not be shedding many tears at its passing.

mercedes
1996 Mercedes R170 SLK. (c) mercedesfans.de

The 1996 Mercedes-Benz SLK roadster was a great concept, executed woefully. Despite having a multitude of dynamic, quality, reliability and durability-related shortcomings, the SLK was an enormously successful model that rewarded its maker’s cynicism handsomely.

These issues were not, of course, apparent to the many early customers who endured a nine-month waiting list to Continue reading “To the Guillotine!”

Getting Personal

Analysing three different takes on the personal luxury car of 1963.

All images: The author.

The personal luxury car is a uniquely American phenomenon; its closest cousin in concept would have been the European GT, but this transatlantic specimen was a larger, softer (but on a straight piece of road not necessarily slower) breed. There is a fairly general consensus that Ford was the first to Continue reading “Getting Personal”

Beavering Away

Hard to believe now, but the 1968 Escort required an explanation. 

Image: silodrome

The 105E Anglia was not by any standards a bad car. In fact, it was rather a good one, especially by the reckoning of the time. It did however arrive at an inconvenient time. By this I mean a point when the tailfin was beginning its inexorable retreat into the history books, albeit one which would happen at considerably slower speed on this side of the Atlantic. Because not only did Europe arrive comparatively late to the tailfin party, it imbibed more sparingly and made its effects last longer; in same cases, well into the 1970s.

The Anglia’s appearance was also a somewhat inconvenient one for rivals, BMC, who were themselves releasing an inexpensive small car into the marketplace the same year, leading potential customers to Continue reading “Beavering Away”

Under the Knife – One for the Record Books

The 1977 Opel Rekord E was a spacious, comfortable and practical car.  It was also somewhat plain and austere looking. A well-judged facelift changed it for the better.

1977 Opel Rekord E (c) autoevolution.com

The 1971 Opel Rekord D was a finely wrought and handsome design. Penned by Chuck Jordan, a GM ‘lifer’ and Opel’s Head of Design, it successfully melded GM’s transatlantic design influences with a clean, almost ascetic European reserve. The beauty was in its smooth, unadorned flanks, elegantly flared elliptical wheel arches, neatly integrated light clusters front and rear, and a total lack of superfluous ornamentation.

By comparison, its Vauxhall Victor FE cousin, released just three months later and sharing its platform and other components, was somewhat heavy-handed and certainly more brash and mid-Atlantic looking. This was tacitly acknowledged by Vauxhall in its advertising, where the FE was nicknamed ‘The Transcontinental’. Continue reading “Under the Knife – One for the Record Books”

Anastasis

We examine the death and afterlife of the Triumph Stag.

Image: wallpaperup

Some cars are easier to write about than others. Failures in particular exert a stronger grip upon the imagination, better lending themselves to narrative. However, despite falling into the latter category, the Triumph Stag is a car which almost defies classification. Because, while there is little doubt about its status as both commercial failure and potential ownership nightmare, its story has been told and retold so many times that one struggles to Continue reading “Anastasis”

Kiwi? Czech!

From Bradford via Mlada Boleslav to Middle Earth – DTW takes a circuitous (if scenic) narrative route. 

All images (c) Škoda Storyboard.com

The story of an expatriate entrepreneur from Blighty by the name of Arthur Turner, who created an Aoterean automotive empire from a milk delivery business is an unlikely one, but stranger things have probably happened in the Land of the Long White Cloud. Free from governmental import license fees, the Jowett Bradford van delivering that milk proved the spark that lit the Turner flame. Soon enough, the Javelin landed on Kiwi soil, along with Turner’s new facilities to make them there, sadly just as the Bradford firm hit the skids.

Turner sought out a deal with Heinrich Nordhoff who insisted VW could Continue reading “Kiwi? Czech!”

Curtain Call (Part 8)

Concluding our tour of some of the Eastern Bloc’s unrealised dreams

(c) Spoki.lv/ Autowp.ru

Moskvitch 2139 Arbat, 1989 and Istra, 1991

The rising popularity of the minivan during the eighties prompted Moskvitch to explore the possibilities of creating their own version, development starting in 1987. The result shown two years later was a seven seater named 2139 Arbat styled by Alexander Kulugin’s AZLK design team; the A- and B-pillar treatment by coincidence appearing somewhat similar to the more recent Skoda Roomster.

Featuring a sliding door on the passenger side, front seats that could Continue reading “Curtain Call (Part 8)”

Against all Odds (Part Two)

As part of Groupe Renault, Dacia has carved out a distinctive niche as a manufacturer of competent if unexceptional budget vehicles. Today we examine how this strategy has evolved over the past twenty years.

2018 Dacia Duster Mk2 (c) Dacia UK

In 1997 Renault Chairman and CEO Louis Schweitzer visited Russia to gain an understanding of the market and Renault’s prospects there. To his surprise, he established that the ancient Fiat 124-based Lada was market leader despite its antiquity. The prime reason for this was its bargain price, equivalent to US $6,000 when the cheapest Renault sold in Russia cost twice that.

Flying back to France, Schweitzer set down the requirements for the design of a basic but not minimal modern car which could be sold profitably worldwide at the Lada’s price of $6,000 (€5,000). His brief, written on an airline napkin, stated the basic tenets in three words: modern, reliable, affordable, with the codicil that “everything else is negotiable.”

Long serving Renault R&D manager Gérard Detourbet, was given the task of developing a car to meet Schweitzer’s brief. Led by Detourbet, engineering teams in France and Romania would first Continue reading “Against all Odds (Part Two)”

Under the Knife – Racing Certainty

Despite being an all-conquering touring car champion, the Alfa Romeo 155 wasn’t the commercial or critical success its masters intended. But a subtle, if significant facelift salved its reputation.

1992 Alfa Romeo 155. Image: pistonudos

Despite its long-in-the-tooth underpinnings and carryover passenger compartment, the Alfa Romeo 75 became a relatively successful and well-regarded sporting saloon until its commercial demise in 1992. The ultimate evolution of the 116-series which made its production debut with the 1972 Alfetta, the 75 excised many (if not all) of the earlier models’ inherent design flaws – most notably a lengthy, tortuous and unwieldy gear linkage owing to its rear transaxle layout.

In 1986, Fiat Auto acquired the Alfa Romeo business from the state-owned body who had been administering it in ever-decreasing circles, and with a successor to the 75 by then a priority, the 167-series 155 model was hastily developed, entering production in 1992 at the former Alfa Sud plant at Pomigliano d’Arco in Campania. Continue reading “Under the Knife – Racing Certainty”

Against all Odds (Part One)

Before it became part of Groupe Renault, Dacia survived enormous political, social and economic upheavals to remain in business for over thirty years. Today we look back at its remarkable history.

The first Dacia 1100 being presented to Nicholae Ceauşescu (c) autoevolution.com

Although subsumed into the vast political monolith of the Soviet Union following the Second World War, the countries that were signatories to the Warsaw Pact tried to maintain at least a veneer of independence from their Soviet masters. In the vanguard of resistance was Romania. Nicholae Ceaușescu, who became the country’s leader in 1965, refused to participate in and openly criticised the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. Ceaușescu’s independence of mind initially won him widespread support at home and he leveraged this to Continue reading “Against all Odds (Part One)”

Welcome to the Machine (Part One)

How does one follow up a classic?

jaguar xjs
Image: Practical Classics

In the Spring of 1973, English progressive rock band Pink Floyd released Dark Side of the Moon, their eighth studio LP and their most ambitious to date. With tracks which flowed seamlessly, replete with cinematic sound effects, soul choirs, disembodied voices and a song-set which dealt with issues of success, the march of time and mental illness, the conceptual double album became one of best selling, most critically acclaimed and best loved progressive rock LPs of the 20th century – still cited as an all-time classic.

Two years later, the band released their follow-up. Wish you Were Here continued many of the themes explored in the earlier recording, but in more developed form. Predominantly a tribute to founder-member Syd Barrett, who had had become estranged from the band following a mental breakdown in 1968, possibly related to drug use. Less acclaimed than Dark Side, it has for many years languished in its shadow, only latterly being hailed in its own right.

Officially introduced two days prior to the Floyd’s 1975 opus, Jaguar’s XJ-S was also a reprise of a much-loved original. In a similar manner, fans of sporting Jaguars, not to mention the gentlemen of the press were beside themselves in anticipation of how Browns Lane would Continue reading “Welcome to the Machine (Part One)”

Handmade In Chile

We examine Škoda’s short-lived South American assembly operation. 

One from the museum. (c) Škoda-storyboard.com

The country with the elongated coastline and rugged backbone consisting of the Andes mountain range is hardly renowned as a hot bed of car production. But true to form, Škoda found an infinitesimally small opening to make all but a handful of cars amidst the dusty plains of Chile, some fifty years ago.

Bohuslav Čtvrtečka, who shall from this point be named BC, began his working life at Škoda’s Kvasiny plant as a welder, progressing to head the welding shop in a little under ten years. Keen, knowledgeable and highly proficient in the construction of the then ten year old Octavia Estate, an offer was made to BC to Continue reading “Handmade In Chile”

More Equal than Others (Part Two)

Concluding our retrospective on the vehicles that served the Soviet apparatus of state.

1953 GAZ ZIM-12 (c) likegarage.com

Beneath the imperious ZIS and ZIL limousines, sat the ZIM-12, manufactured by GAZ* between 1950 and 1960. This was a full-size saloon with pleasant styling influenced by contemporary American designs. It was powered by a 3.5 litre in-line six-cylinder engine producing a claimed 95bhp and weighed 1.9 tonnes. Unlike its successors, it was notionally available for private citizens to purchase but its price, at 2.5 times the cost of the GAZ Pobeda mid-size saloon, put it out of reach of all but the most prosperous.

There was no significant development of the ZIM-12 during its decade on sale, but it was hastily renamed GAZ-12 in 1957. The ‘M’ in ZIM was a tribute to Vyacheslav Mikhailovich Molotov, the USSR’s powerful Stalinist Foreign Minister. When Molotov lost a power struggle with Nikita Khrushchev in May 1957 and was deposed, his Continue reading “More Equal than Others (Part Two)”

Curtain Call (Part 7)

A penultimate look back at unrequited automotive dreams from the former USSR and its COMECON satellites.

FSO Ogar. Image: Auto Swiat.pl

FSO Ogar, 1977

This four-seater Sports Coupé concept based on Polski-Fiat 125P mechanicals was styled by Cézary Nawrot. The rear end bears a faint
resemblance to the Alfa Romeo Junior Zagato, while the bumpers appear Volvo-esque, but otherwise the look seems quite original, if not exactly
beautiful to most eyes. The body was constructed from a laminate combination of epoxy resin and fiberglass.

An intriguing aspect of the Ogar is that the large bumpers and prominent sidemarker lights were fitted in order to Continue reading “Curtain Call (Part 7)”

Mezza Berlina

Fiat’s mid-Sixties compact saloon range was as convoluted as anything BMC could have contrived. Today we examine the 125 series. 

1967 Fiat 125 berlina. (c) wheelsage

Looking back through a dusty prism at Fiat Auto’s fifty-year old product planning decisions is unlikely to be fruitful – more likely to result in no more but a set of dubious assumptions and erroneous conclusions. Bearing this in mind and treading wearily by consequence, I propose we Continue reading “Mezza Berlina”

Under the Knife – Don’t mention the War

During its thirteen-year lifespan, Fiat’s D-segment saloon went under the knife on four different occasions, with varying degrees of success.

Take one. (c) autoevolution

The Fiat 132 was launched in 1972 to replace the 125 Berlina. The latter, although a pleasant enough car, had always suffered somewhat from the inaccurate perception that it was little more than a Fiat 124 in a party frock. Both cars shared the same doors and passenger compartment but the 125 had longer front and rear ends and an 85mm (3.5”) longer wheelbase, courtesy of a platform carried over from its predecessor, the Fiat 1500. This allowed the rear seat to be pushed back slightly to liberate a little more legroom. Notwithstanding the similarity to its smaller sibling, the 125 achieved over 600,000 sales during its five year production life.

With the 132, Fiat wanted to Continue reading “Under the Knife – Don’t mention the War”

Blues for Ceaușescu

Quai de Javel’s final act, or simply its slightly underpolished Craiovian cousin? We examine the Oltcit. 

Oltcit Club. (c) autobible.euro.cz

Given its geographical location, it probably wasn’t all that surprising that once-independent Romania would end up as part of Russia’s collection of Warsaw Pact satellites once the post world war II dust settled.

By the early 1970s, Romania’s communist government was led by Nicolae Ceaușescu. Outwardly an internationalist, acting with considerable independence from Moscow, the Romanian leader seemed intent on building up the country’s soft power, influence and economic strength on the international stage. However, for those inside the country, he was simply another self-obsessed, exploitative and repressive dictator.

As part of Ceaușescu’s plan to Continue reading “Blues for Ceaușescu”

More Equal than Others (Part One)

DTW recalls the vehicles that served the apparatus of state in the former Soviet Union.

Leonid Brezhnev in a 1962 ZIL-111G Parade Car (c) rusmed-forever.ru

One of the many paradoxes of the Soviet Union was its tightly controlled and rigidly hierarchical society. The Bolsheviks who led the 1917 Russian Revolution dreamt of an egalitarian nirvana where ordinary workers would collectively govern the country through grassroots councils known as Soviets. No more would Russia be ruled by a hereditary monarchy, aristocracy and wealthy capitalist business leaders, all exploiting the proletariat. Instead, the new leaders would be servants of the people, appointed to execute their collective will.

Of course, it did not work out like that at all. As early as 1917, the Bolsheviks established a secret police force known as the Cheka, to root out enemies of the people: counter-revolutionaries who would seek to re-establish the old order, or even those who, while broadly supporting the new regime, might seek to Continue reading “More Equal than Others (Part One)”

Beautiful Vision – Evolution of the Jowett Javelin (Part 6)

To the bright side of the road – The Jowett Javelin meets the world

Image: Jowett Car Company

In little more than a year, the Javelin emerged as a production debutante and established itself as one of the brightest stars of a reawakening British motor industry. Charles Callcott Reilly, Jowett’s swashbuckling joint Managing Director, had made an extraordinary effort to Continue reading “Beautiful Vision – Evolution of the Jowett Javelin (Part 6)”

Curtain Call (Part 6)

A further peek through the iron curtain, courtesy of Bruno Vijverman, taking in the GDR, Czechoslovakia, Poland and mother Russia herself. 

Trabant P610. (c) trabantegyegy.uw/ hupommerngreif.de

Trabant P610 1974

Powered by an 1100cc Škoda engine, this was yet another failed attempt, started early in 1974- to replace the old P601. Four P610 prototypes were made, of which at least one has survived. In November 1979 the SED
(Socialist Unity party of Germany) ordered Trabant manufacturer, VEB Sachsenring Automobilwerke to Continue reading “Curtain Call (Part 6)”

Far-Sighted, or Visually Impaired?

The 2006 R-Class was a rare commercial failure for Mercedes-Benz. DTW asks if it was ahead of its time, or simply misconceived.

2006 Mercedes-Benz R-Class (c) honestjohn.co.uk

Over the past decade, the onslaught of SUV type vehicles has swept through the automotive market like a tsunami, pushing aside traditional formats such as the classic three-box saloon, estate and larger hatchback models. Even more recent innovations such as the monobox MPV have been rendered irrelevant by its irresistible rise. In the mainstream European market, anything larger than a B-segment vehicle now generally plays second fiddle to its SUV sibling, if it has not already been killed off by it. The premium marques’ larger saloons are still selling, albeit in reduced numbers as buyers Continue reading “Far-Sighted, or Visually Impaired?”

From Behind The Curtain Into The French Sunshine

Le Mans 1950 was a year for plucky outsiders, few more so however than this Iron Curtain entrant.

1950 Skoda Tudor at Le Mans. (c) theclassictimes

The Circuit de la Sarthe has been a Mecca for speed and endurance since 1923. History records the many who have attempted to conquer the 24 heures du Mans; from those dusty, wide boulevards of old to today’s billiard table smooth tarmac, and rightly lauds those victorious few.

But not every entrant can Continue reading “From Behind The Curtain Into The French Sunshine”

Bohemian Rhapsody

Like the 1975 Queen single, the Tatra 613 was big, bold and went on for a bit. But was it a stylistic pathfinder, or simply the end of a noble line? We investigate.

Tatra 613. Image: motor1

Kopřivnice is a medium sized town in the Moravian-Silesian region of Czechia and has been home for many years to the predominantly commercial vehicle maker, Tatra. Amongst the earliest auto manufacturers, the company was formed in 1850, but became a carmaker under the name of Nesselsdorfer Wagenbau-Fabriksgesellschaft in 1897, adopting the Tatra nameplate in 1919.

We tend to Continue reading “Bohemian Rhapsody”

Castle on the Hill

A retrospective on the German Democratic Republic’s less well remembered automotive marque.

(c) die-besten.de

Those of us old enough to remember the tumultuous events surrounding the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989 and the subsequent collapse of the German Democratic Republic less than a year later will have recollections of a time that seemed to be filled with hope and opportunity. Striking TV images showed thousands of East Germans flooding into West Berlin through breaches in the wall, either on foot or in their Trabants. So frenzied was the rush, so great the anticipation and excitement that not even the sound of David Hasselhoff’s singing* could drive them back.

The Trabant, with its Duroplast body made out of cotton waste and phenol resins and its smelly and polluting 500 cc twin-cylinder two-stroke, was emblematic of both the GDR and its industrial failure. There was, however, a less well known but rather more competent East German car for the masses, the Wartburg 353. Today, we Continue reading “Castle on the Hill”

Curtain Call (Part 5)

Uncovering more unrealised projects of the former USSR and its influence sphere.

Bosmal Beskid. (c) Dziennik.pl

Bosmal/FSM Beskid 106 – 1983

The Polish Bosmal research centre worked together with FSM on a few projects, one of which was the Beskid 106 – named after a mountain range in the Carpathaians. An up to date proposal for a successor to the license-built rear-engined FSM/ Fiat 126 was needed and Bosmal did not disappoint; styled by Krzysztof Meissner, the Beskid 106 presented in the spring of 1983 was more than contemporary.

Its drag coefficient of 0.29 was excellent, and the front-engined and front-wheel drive Beskid offered five person space within dimensions that were not much greater than those of the 126; seven inches longer, while its axles were twelve inches further apart. It did use the same 594cc two-cylinder engine, although a larger 703cc version was fitted to later versions. Development was halted in the late eighties, the most cited reason being that Fiat was going to Continue reading “Curtain Call (Part 5)”

Fifteen Years after LJKS

Fifteen years ago today LJK Setright departed this life at the age of 74. Bereft of his guide, one DTW writer looks at the years which followed, and considers how this extraordinary man might have viewed them.

Image: The author’s collection

Firstly, I will assume that the reader has some level of familiarity with Setright’s work. He was best known as a writer on automotive and engineering matters, but that scarcely defines him; polymath, autodidact, wordsmith, bebop clarinettist, classicist, libertarian, controversialist, modern-day Jehu, dandy, Ba’al teshuvah. I could go on…

His description of Frederick Lanchester: “The most accomplished gentleman ever wasted on the motor industry” could equally apply to Setright himself.

Even for those of us well into middle-age, the day in September 2005 when this other-worldly man proved to be as mortal as the rest of us seems long in the past, more so since Setright’s last column in CAR* appeared in February 1999**, and afterwards his output was sporadic and thinly spread. Throughout his time as a writer, Setright viewed the world with scant regard for the preoccupations and fashions of the day, and was never afraid to Continue reading “Fifteen Years after LJKS”

Economy Drive (Part Two)

In Part One, we looked at two of the old stagers from the Soviet era. Today, we consider two from the next generation. 

Skoda Favorit. (c) autoevolution.com

By the time the Škoda Estelle and Lada Riva were withdrawn from the market, their engineering was over thirty years out of date and both were hopelessly uncompetitive, selling only on their bargain prices. The countries of the Eastern Bloc realised that they needed to Continue reading “Economy Drive (Part Two)”

A Song For Erika

‘Simple is efficient’ the adline stated. But Ford’s 1980 Escort really was all about design. 

1980 Ford Escort Ghia. (c) curbsideclassic

Throughout the 1970s, the Ford Motor Company’s European satellite produced cars that were precisely what large swathes of the market not only wanted, but actively aspired to. This highly lucrative recipe was a combination of tried and trusted conventional engineering, slick marketing, a gimlet-eyed focus on product strategy and well judged, contemporary style.

First introduced in 1968, the big-selling Escort model was successfully rebodied in 1975. However, by the latter part of the decade, it had fallen behind, stylistically, but particularly on the technical side. With most of Ford’s rivals moving inexorably towards the front-wheel drive, hatchback layout, the blue oval needed to Continue reading “A Song For Erika”

Economy Drive (Part One)

DTW remembers the once fraught and risky business of buying a second-hand car and recalls an alternative course for the impecunious.

Skoda 105 L ‘Estelle’. (c) Sunday Times

Before the introduction of effective consumer protection legislation and manufacturer-backed Approved Pre-Owned schemes, buying a used car was often a tricky and less than pleasant business. Even relatively new cars could harbour hidden problems beneath their highly polished paintwork. Franchised dealers seemed rather embarrassed to have to Continue reading “Economy Drive (Part One)”

Sir Alec ‘Nose Best

Widely derided as a travesty of Issigonis’ original, but was the 1969 Clubman intended to be something more?

‘Honey, the Rover won’t start again – be a love and run me down to the station…’  Author’s collection

The Mini was wasn’t really styled as such – its body style simply a clothing for the technical package set out by its creators, with only the barest concession to style. Surprisingly, it worked, the car’s appearance proving relatively timeless, endearing and well proportioned. The problem was, it didn’t really lend itself to facelifting. By 1967, the Mini had yet to become legendary, to say nothing of iconic. It was just another product which had been on the marketplace for some time and would soon require more than the rather perfunctory nip and tuck it had just received.

Appointed head of the BMC car division in 1966, PSF chief, Joe Edwards quickly put into action a plan to Continue reading “Sir Alec ‘Nose Best”

Under the Knife – Rounding Error

Today DTW recalls the 1994 Ford Scorpio Mk2, a car that defies any attempt at rational analysis or explanation.

Not ‘conventionally handsome’… (c) autoguru-katalog

When Ford launched the Scorpio* Mk1 in 1985, it did so in five-door hatchback form only. This surprised some observers, knowing the resistance that Ford had faced to the hatchback Sierra three years earlier from conservative buyers who preferred the saloon format. Even more surprising was the absence of an estate version, given the popularity of the Granada estate in both Mk1 and Mk2 forms.

Just as with the Sierra, a three-volume booted version was added to the range in December 1989. Estate buyers had to wait until January 1992 for the launch of that version, which coincided with a facelift of the whole range. The facelift was a competent if relatively minor overhaul, comprising a smoother front end with larger light units and smoked tail lights with a matching filler panel at the rear. The saloon forwent the hatchback’s concealed C and D-pillars for a more conventional six-light DLO and was a handsome and imposing design. It was also well equipped and remarkably comfortable over long distances, making it an excellent executive (hire) car.

Then something very strange happened: Continue reading “Under the Knife – Rounding Error”

Unfinished Sympathy

Sir Alec Issigonis’ great lost masterpiece, or last will and testament?

The only surviving fully engineered 9X prototype. (c) Daily Telegraph

During 1967, Sir Alec Issigonis approached his BMH* superiors, asking to be temporarily relieved of day to day duties so that he could devote himself to a new vehicle project, one intended to directly replace the Mini. Remarkably, his request was granted, particularly since this was no sanctioned model programme, merely a speculative one.

There are opposing rationales as to why Chairman, Sir George Harriman and Chief Executive, Joe Edwards agreed to Continue reading “Unfinished Sympathy”

Curtain Call – (Part 4)

More Soviet-era conceptual shenanigans, courtesy of Bruno Vijverman. 

Wartburg 313. (c) Stadtarchiv Eisenach

Wartburg 313-2, 1960

This little known sporty prototype in the Renault Floride vein was publicised with a photo in East German newspapers but never shown to the public at any motor show. Standing at just 50 inches tall it was quite a stylistic departure from the 311 and 313/1 models on the road
at the time.

The 313-2 was more modern under the skin as well- it had a monocoque body and coil springs on all four wheels. Powering the 313-2 was the same three-cylinder two stroke however, although here it was fitted with two carburettors increasing the output to 60hp. Continue reading “Curtain Call – (Part 4)”

The Man Who Broke BMC? (Part Four)

DTW completes its investigation into Sir Alec Issigonis’ career and legacy, and arrives at some conclusions.

Alec Issigonis, Technical Director of BMC in his office at Longbridge in 1959. (c) Wired

It is important to state from the outset that we make no insinuation that Sir Alec Issigonis was solely responsible for all the problems that beset BMC and, later, BL. The company’s failure was very much a collective one and there is plenty of blame to share around.

In the first instance, Leonard Lord, then Chairman of BMC employed Issigonis to replace Gerald Palmer, a talented and capable engineer with whom Lord fell out and summarily dismissed. Lord and BMC’s CEO, George Harriman, then promoted Issigonis to the post of Technical Director, a senior management position for which he demonstrably had none of the essential organisational, interpersonal or management skills.

This was extraordinarily ill-judged and the problems it created were exacerbated by Harriman’s excessively deferential attitude to BMC’s technical wunderkind after Lord retired and Harriman became Chairman and CEO of BMC.

A more astute leader might Continue reading “The Man Who Broke BMC? (Part Four)”

A Right Pair of Nymphs

Designer, Tom Tjaarda took two very different bites at the Lancia Flaminia during the 196os. Only one however is truly memorable. 

topcarrating
1969 Lancia Flaminia Marica: (c) topcarrating

During the Autumn of 1969, carrozzeria Ghia debuted the Marica concept at the Turin motor show, a styling study based upon the platform of the Lancia Flaminia, a car which had already ceased production. Not only that, but its maker had also gone bankrupt and was desperately seeking a benefactor.

Enter Alejandro de Tomaso, a phrase which would be uttered with increasing regularity within the Italian motor industry over the coming decade or so. Having purchased carrozzeria Ghia in 1967, he is alleged to have sanctioned the Marica study as a means of assisting Lancia’s bid to find a buyer – a statement which sounds suspiciously altruistic for such an automotive opportunist as he. But we are perhaps getting a little ahead of ourselves. Allow me to Continue reading “A Right Pair of Nymphs”