Because They Could

Few unique car designs hail from Ireland. Fewer still as thorough as this. Bruno Vijverman investigates the story of the DAWB. 

DAWB 6. Image: David Heatley

As the name implies, the Ulster Transport Museum in Cultra, Northern Ireland harbours a variety of modes of transport. Trains, trams, airplanes, bicycles, motorcycles and of course cars are on display. Among the exhibited cars, one stands out as a unique showcase of what could be achieved when a determined cohort of men set out to make their dream car, and were not prepared to Continue reading “Because They Could”

Surrogate Twins

GM Europe had a reputation for building solid, reliable but resolutely uncharismatic cars. In an attempt to shake off its fusty image, the company turned to Lotus.

2001 Opel Speedster (c) autoevolution.com

The 2000 Opel Speedster and Vauxhall VX220 siblings owe their existence at least in part to one of the many financial crises that have regularly threatened to engulf Lotus Cars over the course of its lifetime. General Motors had owned Lotus outright from October 1986 to August 1993. It had inherited the front-engined Excel 2+2 and mid-engined Esprit, but recognised that both these ageing designs, while selling steadily in small numbers, had limited potential for growth. Instead, it decided to Continue reading “Surrogate Twins”

A Matter of SMantics

Separated by two decades, and a good deal of ideology, we trace the seemingly improbable; the similarities between Honda’s 1990 NSX and Citroën’s 1970 SM. 

(c) dyler-com

For a short period of time during the close of the 1980s, it did appear as though the Japanese auto industry were poised to, as the UK’s Car Magazine rather hysterically headlined in 1988, “tear the heart out the European industry.” The reality behind this seemingly overnight transformation was quite naturally, anything but; Japanese carmakers after all, have never been in the business of impulse.

By mid-decade, the land of the rising sun had learned about as much as they felt they needed from the established players and were confident enough of their abilities, particularly from a technical standpoint. Furthermore, it had dawned upon the leading Japanese carmakers that European and US lawmakers were unlikely to drop the punitive barriers to unfettered trade; not when the domestic producers were incapable of competing on quality, durability or increasingly, sophistication.

The only route for Japanese carmakers was to Continue reading “A Matter of SMantics”

Doisneau’s All Seeing Eye

A slice of contemporary automotive life through the lens of an artist.

citroen

Principally known in his later years, alongside better-known contemporary Henri Cartier-Bresson for his photojournalism work, Robert Doisneau captured on camera the working atmosphere of the Renault factory at Boulogne-Billancourt during their pre-war peak in the mid 1930’s. Drawn to the camera aged around sixteen, Doisneau was so shy he preferred to Continue reading “Doisneau’s All Seeing Eye”

Under the Knife – Breaking the Mould

Today DTW features a car that was given a new lease of life with an extensive and highly effective makeover.

1983 Ford Sierra Mk1 (c) aronline.co.uk

Ford regularly plays fast and loose with its mark numbers, often applying them to even quite modest facelifts of the outgoing model. However, in the case of the Sierra, the Mk2 designation was well deserved.

Ford launched the original Sierra in 1982 as a replacement for the conventional and conservative Cortina Mk5. The new model was a rear-wheel-drive car like its predecessor, but the aero body (believed to have originally been the work of Gert Hohenester working under the supervision of Design Director, Uwe Bahnsen at Merkenich) was dramatically different, with a hatchback instead of a conventional boot.

Ford had tried to Continue reading “Under the Knife – Breaking the Mould”

New Frontier (Part Five)

My friends all drive Citroën’s… Oh Lord won’t you buy me a … Porsche? 

Image: lautomobileancienne

After all this, they have created an enormous car; I wanted a Porsche.” These are believed to be the words of none other than Citroën President, Pierre Bercot, spoken at the time to delegate-Maserati administrator, Guy Malleret. Quite some statement to have made; one which flies in the face of virtually every known document of the SM’s gestation. After all, the commonly held version of the SM’s creation saga is that Projet S was schemed almost entirely to Monsieur Bercot’s specification.

Jacques Fleury was the Citroën director responsible for factories, production and acquisitions. Amongst his responsibilities therefore was the Maserati factory in Modena and by consequence, the SM engine. According to his account, the prototype Maserati unit, having been tried in a DS saloon was deemed not only too powerful for the chassis, but that any resulting DS flagship model would have to Continue reading “New Frontier (Part Five)”

In The Savage Pond Swims A Lone Prince

Turning the clock back to a millennial from Gothenburg. 

2000 Volvo S60. (c) The RAC

Twenty years have slipped by since Volvo entered the shark infested waters of the compact executive saloon market, leaving behind a broadly positive if somewhat small mark in that (now) ever-shallower pool. By the time Ford showed up with a very large cash bag ($6.45 billion) and placed the Swedish brand under their Premier Automotive Group umbrella in 1999, the S60 was all but ready for unveiling.

Commander in Chief was Volvo lifer Lars Erik Lundin, whose next project would be to Continue reading “In The Savage Pond Swims A Lone Prince”

Creativité, Rationalité, Pragmatisme

A trio of Citroën oddities in this take on that famous French creed – Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité.

1982 Citroen BX Coupé prototype

Seasoned Citroën fans are no doubt aware that Citroën toyed with the idea of a BX Coupé but never allowed it to reach the production stage; a full size mockup, looking somewhat like a mix of BX and Renault 11 3-door hatchback has survived and can be viewed at the Citroën Conservatoire.

There was however another, far more ambitious BX-derived Coupé in development for a time, also styled by carrozzeria Bertone. This project was initiated early in 1982, some months before the introduction of the BX hatchback at that year’s Paris Motor Show. Surviving documents reveal that this coupé was intended for a higher marketing segment and was also to Continue reading “Creativité, Rationalité, Pragmatisme”

Beautiful Vision – Evolution of the Jowett Javelin (Part 9)

Dweller on the Threshold – A Jupiter Miscellany. We continue our look at the Jowett Jupiter’s short but multi-faceted career.

Stabilimenti Farina Jupiter Image: Classics Magazine

The coachbuilt Jupiters 

In September 1950 Jowett announced British prices for the Javelin-Jupiter.  The factory bodied drophead coupe, although effectively unobtainable, was priced at £1087 (£850 before tax) and the rolling chassis was offered at £672 (£525 before tax). The blank canvas chassis was in fact a comprehensive kit, with a wiring loom, switches and instruments, and a set of grilles which coachbuilders were expected to use in a way which would Continue reading “Beautiful Vision – Evolution of the Jowett Javelin (Part 9)”

Act of Hubris

DTW recalls Daimler-Benz’s Maybach misadventure. 

Crosstown traffic: Maybach 62. Image: carsnb

As the New Millennium approached, Jürgen Schrempp, Daimler-Benz CEO appointee in May 1995, was a man on a mission. Schrempp believed that the company was something of a sleeping giant. While it was consistently successful and profitable, with products that were highly regarded, he believed there was much more that could be done to leverage the storied marque name and extract maximum value for shareholders.

Over the preceding decades, Mercedes-Benz had carefully nurtured a reputation for building thoughtfully designed and technically excellent vehicles that were market-leading in terms of quality, safety and durability. They were, by and large, cars that one chose with the head rather than the heart and were favoured by those who valued understatement and discretion over extravagance and notoriety.

The flagship S-Class was the perfect transport for senior politicians, bankers and captains of industry, allowing them to move unnoticed and in comfort, avoiding unwanted attention from opponents, competitors or inquisitive journalists. The sheer ubiquity of Mercedes-Benz’s most prestigious model in the business districts of major cities guaranteed the anonymity required to Continue reading “Act of Hubris”

Under the Knife – One to Seven

The 1971 Fiat 127 proved to be an extraordinarily popular and enduring design. DTW recalls its many iterations, some pleasing, others rather less so.

1971 Fiat 127 (first series). (c) autoweek

The Fiat 127 was a supermini wholly in the modern idiom, with its transverse engine, end-on gearbox and a three-door hatchback bodystyle(1). It was not, however the world’s first such design: that title goes to the 1964 Autobianchi Primula. The Primula was, however, engineered by Fiat, which held an equal 33% share in the company alongside Pirelli and the Bianchi family. Fiat was able to Continue reading “Under the Knife – One to Seven”

New Frontier (Part Four)

What prompted Citroën’s buyout of Maserati?

Maserati’s Viale Ciro Menotti works during the early 1960s. Image: norskmaseratiklubb.no

By 1967, Pierre Bercot had secured an engine supply deal with Maserati for Citroën’s forthcoming Projet S. Yet within a year, not only would he have taken over the Modenese atelier in its entirety, but inked a far more wide-ranging deal with Fiat Auto in Turin. But was the Citroën-Maserati takeover a symbiotic coming together, or simply Monsieur le President’s Victor Kiam[1] moment?

Having traditionally confined the lion’s share of their sales effort domestically and within Europe, the pull of the US market became too lucrative for Maserati to ignore. However, by the mid-’60s, the regulatory environment in the US was becoming more hostile, with increasingly stringent crash testing mandates and emissions regulations, which for such a tiny outfit would ladle enormous costs upon an already stretched enterprise. By mid-decade, Maserati’s owners were already seeking a means to Continue reading “New Frontier (Part Four)”

Beautiful Vision – Evolution of the Jowett Javelin (Part 8)

The Jupiter performed far better on the track than on the company’s balance sheets.

Jupiter R1 at Le Mans 1952 Image: drive-my

Had the Jowett-E.R.A. sports car alliance endured, Reg Korner’s frenzied work through the autumn and winter of 1949-50 may not have been necessary. In parallel with his Chief Engineer Dr. Ing. Robert Eberan-Eberhorst’s chassis development, E.R.A owner Leslie Johnson commissioned Seary and McCready, a small coachbuilder noted for high quality work, to develop an aerodynamic body with distinctly transalpine influences.

The design was presented to the media as the ‘E.R.A Javelin’ at Jowett’s London showroom on 27 September 1949, rising on a lift from the building’s undercroft with its paint scarcely dry. Motor Sport of November 1949 described the three seater coupe thus: “so trim, so refreshingly different did the car look, prompting thoughts of Simca, Cisitalia, F.I.A.T., that those privileged to Continue reading “Beautiful Vision – Evolution of the Jowett Javelin (Part 8)”

Heaven Sent

Ponycar à la Toyota City. 

1970 Toyota Celica ST. (c) stubs-auto.fr

Toyota chose the 1970 Tokyo motor show to reveal their own style of pony car to the world. Clearly influenced by significant occurrences with such cars as the Mustang, Firebird and Camaro over in the United States, not to mention a gentlemanly nod to the European Capri, Toyota (with assistance from Yamaha) contributed their own version of mass produced self-indulgent motoring.

Using a Latin derivative, coelica to suggest something celestial or heavenly (in Spanish) and given code name TA22, the Celica’s modus operandi was to Continue reading “Heaven Sent”

Imparare ad Amare

The Ferrari Mondial is forty this year. Time to look back on the story of one of Maranello’s less illustrious creations.

1980 Mondial 8. (c) autoevolution

In my idle moments, I occasionally peruse Autotrader and do some fantasy shopping for the cheapest supercar I can find. When searching under Ferrari it was, until recently, a racing certainty that the model propping up the bottom end of the price range would be the Mondial, which celebrates its 40th birthday this year.

This was partly a result of its ubiquity. With 6,149 cars produced during its thirteen-year lifespan, it was one of Ferrari’s best-selling models. However, it was mainly down to the fact that the Mondial was never really loved by the marque’s aficionados, who regarded it as too compromised and soft to Continue reading “Imparare ad Amare”

In Memoriam – Aldo Brovarone

We salute a departed master of form.

Brovarone’s magnum opus. Prototype Dino 206 GT. Image: stylepark

In an ideal world, the deserving always rise to the top. In such a environment a young stylist might perhaps serve his time, building up a body of work before branching out on his own, culminating with his name atop the doorway of a stand-alone carrozziere. Instead, the name of Aldo Brovarone, who departed the surly bonds of earth in mid-October, remains (outside of enthusiast automotive circles at least) largely unheralded.

Life has never been fair, and despite Brovarone being one of the very best of his era, the reasons for his low-key passing owe as much to the nature of the man as they do to the depth of auto-design apprehension that existed amid the contemporary motoring media.

Should we therefore view Brovarone as simply another in a long line of stylistic talents who mortified their egos to Continue reading “In Memoriam – Aldo Brovarone”

From A Bench Front Seat (Part Two)

Concluding our brief examination of Riley’s ill-fated Pathfinder. 

Riley Pathfinder 1953-1957 classiccargarage

Let us now allow this Oxford flower to flourish a little, let the sunlight dance upon its flanks. One could choose black, maroon, green, blue or grey for exterior hues. Early 1956 models could be had with a factory duo tone effect, the roof having the second colour although a considerable amount of custom effects were available from the beginning. J. James & Co, a London Riley agent supplied Pathfinders finished with a contrasting colour to bonnet, roof and boot lid.

Riley cars are for the discerning motorist” and their own Magnificent Motoring tag lines were highly applicable, even to the troubled Pathfinder. John Bolster, the Autosport reporter and motor racing correspondent noted in 1955, “I have driven every Riley model produced in the last twenty five years and this RMH is the best to bear the name of Riley.Continue reading “From A Bench Front Seat (Part Two)”

Axis Denied

Peugeot versus Porsche: It wasn’t simply business, it was personal. 

(c) Veikl com

It will not be news to the majority amongst the DTW readership: the time when Porsche was forced to rename its 356 successor, the 901. French carmaker, Peugeot legally secured the rights to model names with a zero in the middle in 1929, when the 201 was introduced. Porsche yielded to threats of legal action from the lion of Belfort, chose 911 as the new model designation and the rest, as they say, is history. Or is it?

Because there is more to this than it would seem at first sight; the fact that other manufacturers such as BMW, Bristol and Ferrari marketed models with a zero in the middle for years without so much as a peep from Sochaux raises the question, why did Peugeot Continue reading “Axis Denied”

New Frontier (Part Three)

Citroën didn’t have an engine worthy of their nascent 1970 flagship, but it wasn’t for the want of trying.

Image: The author

The highly unusual structure and operation of Citroën’s legendary Bureau d’Études may have created a number of technical masterpieces, but it equally resulted in a number of serious operational drawbacks; perhaps the most serious being the lack of a cohesive singularity of purpose. Not only did the nominal Rue de Théàtre headquarters lack an effective figurehead (notably so in Lefèbvre’s wake), but the bureau itself was apparently scattered across a number of locations around Paris, each very much in effect its own personal fiefdom.

Of these, perhaps the least regarded represented the double chevron’s longest standing and most glaring weakness – engine development. This department, led by Italian former Fiat racing engine designer, Walter Becchia, seemed a largely forgotten outpost; the last meaningful programme to Continue reading “New Frontier (Part Three)”

Beautiful Vision – Evolution of the Jowett Javelin (Part 7)

We take a brief detour and look at the other Javelin, the glamorous Jupiter. 

Image: crowood

You’re part of the plan.

At the 1949 London Motor Show, Jowett exhibited a low-slung tubular steel chassis featuring the Javelin flat-four engine and a modified form of the saloon’s torsion-bar suspension. It was the culmination of months of frenzied activity by a distinguished Austrian designer and four other engineers at Five Lane Ends, in pursuit of a promising but haphazard joint venture between the Yorkshire car firm and the revived ERA (English Racing Automobiles) company.

By early 1949, it was becoming clear that the Javelin was not meeting sales expectations in the USA. Ordinarily, this would have not been a concern, with production of around 6000 per year, and plenty of interest from the home market and from Jowett’s traditional sales territories in Europe and the former British colonies and dominions. However, the UK’s trade strategy was asymmetrical. The US dollar was the post WW2 world’s paramount currency, and British manufacturers who could bring in hard currency would Continue reading “Beautiful Vision – Evolution of the Jowett Javelin (Part 7)”

Que Sera Sera

The Sera, one of Toyota’s more eccentric creations, is thirty this year. DTW remembers it and wonders what inspires the conservative Japanese automotive giant to go off-piste like this, as it has done regularly in the past.

1990 Toyota Sera (c) techeblog.com

For me, Toyota Motor Corporation has always been something of an enigma. Ostensibly, it is a deeply conservative and risk-averse company. For more than eighty years, it has meticulously and systematically developed its mainstream vehicles to align exactly with its customers’ evolving expectations. Whether you drive a Corolla, or are driven in a Century, you can be confident that the replacement model, when it arrives, will always be essentially similar and comfortably familiar, but just a little bit better.

Toyota has often been a late adopter of new technologies, such as front-wheel-drive*, happy to Continue reading “Que Sera Sera”

From A Bench Front Seat (Part One)

The 1953 RMH Pathfinder was Riley’s last in-house designed car. Andrew Miles profiles its short and troubled history. 

1953 Riley Pathfinder. (c) bestcarmag

Let the customer do the development work was perhaps never written down, uttered even, but in all too many cases, is what actually occurred. From these unhappy beginnings did the Riley Pathfinder oh-so briefly shine from that hallmark of British engineering, BMC. For just shy of fourteen hundred pounds (and those indecipherable to me, shillings and pence), you got quite the voiture de grande tourisme as designer, auto architect (and outside of DTW devotees) perennial underdog, Gerald Palmer believed his creation to be.

The fact that only 5,152 Riley Pathfinders were built and that worldwide, roughly 250 survive (in wildly different conditions) makes it a rare jewel indeed when (infrequently) seen. Throw in those beguiling hub caps and my knees weaken. Hand on heart, this is my epitome of a Blue Diamond that given an alternative start could, and should have, gone on to be a world beater. The Pathfinder makes me want to Continue reading “From A Bench Front Seat (Part One)”

Under the Knife – Rediscovered

The 1998 Series II Discovery was a far more thorough and extensive facelift of the original than it might have appeared to be at first glance.

1989 Land-Rover Discovery (c) Iroac.com

The 1970 Range Rover could not have been more different in conception from the SUVs that carry that name today. It was designed to be more comfortable and civilised on road than the original Land Rover, which had changed little since its introduction in 1948, but was not intended to be anything other than a working vehicle.

Early Range Rovers were still resolutely utilitarian, with vinyl seats and rubber floor mats that could be hosed out after a day’s work on the farm. Its classic style is credited to David Bache, Head of Design at Rover. However, recognising its handsome functionalism, Bache actually made only detail changes to Continue reading “Under the Knife – Rediscovered”

New Frontier (Part Two)

Just as Citroëns were not like other cars, Automobiles Citroën itself was unlike any other car company – especially in conceptual engineering terms. 

Image: racingcars-wikidot

It might be convenient from a narrative perspective to suggest that the SM came about as part of a carefully considered product plan, but that would be inaccurate and misleading. In fact, the model came into being almost by accident or at least osmosis; primarily at the behest of company president, Pierre Bercot, but at a more fundamental level in response to another man’s determination to prove a principle.

Few carmakers operated quite like Automobiles Citroën, not only during the tenure of the company’s eponymous founder and chief architect, but equally in the years that followed the carmaker’s initial cashflow crisis, collapse, and takeover by Michelin in 1934. Michelin had placed Pierre-Jules Boulanger as company President, under whom existed an environment which permitted Citroën engineers a great deal of freedom to Continue reading “New Frontier (Part Two)”

A Deadly Misadventure

DTW recalls the alliance between Renault and American Motors Corporation that proved highly damaging to the French automaker and had fatal consequences.

1988 Eagle Premier(c) blog.consumerguide.com

American Motors Corporation (AMC) was long the plucky underdog of the US automotive industry, always struggling to compete on equal terms with the ‘Big Three’ of General Motors, Ford and Chrysler. AMC had itself been formed from the 1954 merger of Nash Kelvinator Corporation and the Hudson Car Company(1). This was a merger driven out of weakness rather than strength, as neither partner had the financial or technical resources to continue independently.

With a market share of just 4%, AMC was still a fraction of the size of the Big Three, but there was a larger plan in play, devised jointly by George Mason, President of Nash-Kelvinator, and James Nance, President of the Packard Motor Car Company. Packard would Continue reading “A Deadly Misadventure”

If Hopes Were Dupes, Fears May Be Liars. Turin Motor Show 1970 – Part 2

Stepping back fifty years, we return to the Salone dell’Automobile di Torino for a second day for a feast of stylistic flair and bright hopes for the future.

Tjaarda-Giacobbi Sinthesis Image: Hemmings

As with neutral Geneva in the spring, Piedmont-centric Turin was a showplace for the industry’s fringe performers. In Italy fantasists and dreamers exhibited beside perfectly worthy but little-known Carrozzieri. In 1970, the sideshows were still rich in interest, although my IPC Business Press Cicerone, Anthony Curtis gave them only a sideways glance.

The UK and Italy seemed to share similar ambitions at the peripheries of their automotive industries. In Britain, clubman racing car constructors nurtured ambitions to Continue reading “If Hopes Were Dupes, Fears May Be Liars. Turin Motor Show 1970 – Part 2”

Oh Nicole!

File under (Renault: B-segment: Good – not great). At least the ad-campaign was memorable.

(c) autoevolution

Ask anyone about the 1990 Renault Clio and amongst those who remember it at all, most will cite the long-running UK advertising campaign, featuring the somewhat clichéd antics of comely young Nicole, getting the slip on her somewhat louche papa at their somewhat clichéd Provencal retreat. Meanwhile Papa, displaying equally duplicitous behaviour (all French men of course routinely have affairs), was fomenting assignations of his own.

Risible of course, but it played to cherished English preconceptions of French mores, and was instrumental in cementing brand-Clio in the minds of UK buyers. It worked too: the Clio proving a thirty year success story for the French carmaker, but the first-generation model, unlike its ad-campaign, was not what anyone would Continue reading “Oh Nicole!”

Joyeux Anniversaire, Majesté

As Citroën’s Grand Tourisme with the Italian heart celebrates its fiftieth birthday this year, we peruse the few brochures printed during its brief tenure at the summit of the French firm’s hierarchy.

All Images: The author.

The ambitious SM of 1970 took the Citroën brand into a hitherto unexplored market segment. Instead of Peugeot, Rover, Renault and Lancia – to name a few – now it entered an arena occupied by names such as Jaguar, Mercedes-Benz, Jensen and BMW. Still, the initial reception was overwhelmingly favourable – the SM placing third in that year’s European Car of the Year contest (the GS won that year), and voted Motor Trend Car of the Year in the American market in 1972.

The vast majority of road tests worldwide resulted in positive to rave reviews, in most cases accompanied by a few provisos concerning the SM’s comparatively leisurely acceleration and the very direct DIRAVI power steering with variable assistance – although it was usually stated that most drivers would not want to Continue reading “Joyeux Anniversaire, Majesté”

Going Pear-Shaped

The Renault 14 had the potential to be a great success, but it did not turn out that way. DTW investigates.

(c) auto-forever

The 1976 Renault 14 was the end-product of an unusual and protracted development process. It began with a memorandum of understanding signed in April 1966 between Renault and Peugeot for the joint purchase of materials and co-development of mechanical parts that would be shared between the two manufacturers, to reduce costs for each.

Another more controversial aspect of the agreement was, allegedly, an understanding that each manufacturer would design models that did not directly compete with the other. The agreement was driven by the ambition of Pierre Dreyfus, CEO of Renault since 1955, to Continue reading “Going Pear-Shaped”

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!”