Editor’s note: A version of this piece was originally published in April 2016 as part of DTW’s Japan Theme.
From a purely commercial perspective, the Toyota motor company appears to have fared perfectly well without the benefit of image-building halo cars. While enthusiasts have been well served by innumerable performance versions of regular production models over the intervening decades, the Japanese car giant has largely eschewed outright exotics. Not so fast however. As long ago as 1965, crowds at the Tokyo motor show were captivated by the introduction a sleek and beautifully proportioned coupe from that most cautious of Japan’s burgeoning carmakers. Deliveries began two years later, but by the decade’s end, and after a mere 337 cars, the Mayfly Toyota 2000GT disappeared as quickly as it had emerged.
The story (as commonly told) begins in the early 1960s. German nobleman and designer, Graf Albrecht Goertz had forged a successful consultancy in the United States, having been involved in the design of a number of post-war BMW models, most notably the acclaimed 507 roadster. Commissioned by Nissan to design a two-seater coupe, he drew up a low-slung concept, a running prototype of which was subsequently built for Nissan by Yamaha. Nissan’s management elected to pass on this proposal, opting instead to adapt their in-house Fairlady model along slightly more mainstream lines, introducing it as the highly successful 240Z in 1970.
Despite opposition, Octav Botnar asserts his growing power and influence.
Datsun’s breakthrough model in the UK was the 1973 120Y Sunny. Like its predecessor, the 1200, the 120Y had a rigorously conventional, conservative and well-proven mechanical layout, but was clothed in a smooth contemporary bodystyle with an upswept side DLO(1) that would become a signature for this generation of Datsun models. The styling flourishes, such as the ornate grilles and wheel covers, were rather ersatz for some tastes (including this writer’s) but the model really struck a chord with UK buyers and helped Datsun Continue reading “The Bridgehead Falls (Part Two)”
With Hino’s ventures into the realms of car production hastily truncated, we now rewind to their more staple area of interest: the heavy commercials business.
Rudimentary as most vehicles were during the first two decades of the twentieth century, Hino produced their inaugural solid, reliable workhorse in 1917. The first Hino bus arrived some thirteen years later with another score passing before building Japan’s first trolleybus. Far from a delayed timetable, Hino ploughed on with purpose.
Once inside the comforting cradle of Toyota, Hino became the mirror to Toyota’s cars, their trucks providing plain, honest and reliable machines capable of heavy use and high mileages with minimal service. Over in Europe there were similitudes but tastes naturally showed through; nods toward comfort, adjustability, desirability, the States exacerbating this trend. Hino offered belt and braces trucks, engendering a loyal following.
Octav Botnar turned Datsun into the UK’s best selling automotive import, but it would all end badly for him.
The first Japanese car to be offered for sale in the UK was, surprisingly, not from one of that country’s leading automakers, but from Daihatsu, a minnow of the Japanese auto industry. That car was the Compagno, a diminutive but pretty(1) conventionally engineered small car, offered in saloon, estate and convertible forms from mid-1965. The lack of any name recognition and a steep list price(2) meant it had little chance of making an impact, and the importers managed to Continue reading “The Bridgehead Falls (Part One)”
From their origins as the Tokyo Gas Industry Company in 1910, another thirty two years would pass before the name Hino (Hee-no) Heavy Industry Company Limited began to develop and produce trucks and diesel engines. By the War’s end, their large marine engine production was halted but permission was granted by the ever watchful Allies to Continue reading “The Countess”
Returning to our brief review of the automotive afterlife, we pop across the channel to arrive in the United Kingdom. Bidding here is opened by the Austin Maestro (1982-1994) which ended its days in China as the Yema SQJ6450 in 2010, resulting in sixteen years of continued production in exile. Yema also sold the F12 until 2014 which did use the old Maestro/Montego platform but with a totally different body and interior. Continue reading “Stayin’ Alive (Part 2)”
The Derek Zoolander of CUV’s? We consider the Evoque.
In product marketing terms, the concept of a compact luxury car, while appealing on paper, has largely proven a tough sell on the field of play. Buyers had an annoying habit of equating luxury with scale and visual heft, the perception being that smaller cars were cheaper cars. For strategic planners in the early years of the current century, such nostrums were increasingly being challenged in the face of evolving regulation and buying habits, but a nagging uncertainty remained – carmakers never having made a fortune by asking customers to Continue reading “Outdoor Couture”
Despite its considerable technical and dynamic advances over its dull-witted predecessor, the 1983 300ZX still had an outdated and frankly, rather naff image. It looked like the sort of car that Austin Powers, the 1960’s throwback and International Man of Mystery in the spoof comedy spy movie series might have driven, cheerfully referring to it as his Shagmobile. Nissan realised that it was now (past) time to reinvent the car and lend it a more contemporary mien.
The average shelf life of a newly introduced car before it is withdrawn and replaced by a new model has steadily shrunk over recent decades. Whether this is due to the exponential speed at which technology is now developing or simply marketing-driven is a matter of debate, but in a number of cases the cessation of production in its country of origin does not necessarily mean that the car’s production life is over, many car lines continuing to thrive elsewhere around the globe.
There are several well known cases but equally some that have continued their career in relative obscurity. The ubiquitous Volkswagen Beetle will probably jump to mind for many because it was in production for close to 70 years. However, if we Continue reading “Stayin’ Alive (Part 1)”
The major change to the 280ZX during its lifetime was the addition of a turbocharged version in 1981. This produced maximum power of 180bhp (134kW) and torque of 203 lb ft (275Nm). With a three-speed automatic transmission(1), the 280ZX Turbo achieved a 0 to 60mph (97km/h) time of 7.4 seconds and a maximum speed of 130mph (210km/h). The rear suspension was stiffened to improve stability, but the brakes, already marginal, were even more prone to Continue reading “Coming to America (Part Three)”
For such a wee car, the Suzuki Alto packs a musical punch.
Belgian, Adolfe Sax patented the saxophone back in 1864. A lifelong inventor, any influence upon the nascent motor industry he may have had is doubtful, shuffling off this mortal coil, penniless in 1894. Fast forward to 1909, when Michio Suzuki founded his Loom Manufacturing Works – another 28 years passing before becoming a motor manufacturer. Again, it’s somewhat unlikely that he himself (then aged 92) had any input in the naming or gestation of what became his eponymous company’s smash hit selling vehicle in 1979. But this little car was destined to Continue reading “Play, The Adolfe Way”
Uncovering some stillborn concepts of German origin, now largely obscured by the mists of time.
Steyr-Puch / BMW AM2, 1981
BMW’s 1999 X5 claim to fame is being the Bavarian car firm’s first SUV, but BMW passed on an opportunity to introduce one almost two decades earlier. In August of 1981 Steyr-Puch unveiled a 1:10 scale model of what was at that time an almost unknown quantity: what we now call a Sport Utility Vehicle. Steyr claimed they had developed a new type of passenger car – a multipurpose family vehicle with four-wheel drive, a car-like body with an elevated roofline, room for five to seven, and a moveable rear bench seat to Continue reading “Vier Bleierne Luftballons*”
The first significant change to the 240Z came in 1974 after five years on the market. The engine was enlarged to 2,565cc by lengthening its stroke. This increased its maximum power output to 165bhp (123kW). Unfortunately, US specification cars had to be fitted with new emissions control equipment that stifled the engine and actually reduced maximum power output to 139bhp (104kW) which was 12bhp (9kW) down on the original 240Z. Hence, the 0 to 60mph (97km/h) time deteriorated to over 10 seconds.
The revised model was renamed 260Z. Its chassis was stiffened, and a rear anti-roll bar fitted. Other suspension tweaks improved both ride quality and high-speed stability, reducing the 240Z’s tendency to Continue reading “Coming to America (Part Two)”
Following coolly on the heels of the first article in this occasional-to-the-point-of-random series, we look back at another rare but strangely appealing car which was imported in relatively low volumes into the UK, thanks to the quaint-sounding ‘gentlemen’s agreement’ with Japan.
It interests me, how certain things or events prove to be memorable, and not others. When these things or events were in the present, did I realise then that they would still figure strongly in my memory now? What is it that buries some things forever in the abyss of the mind, and yet somehow others, possibly more trivial stay for longer? Answer: Continue reading “So Glad They Bothered: 1984 Mitsubishi Galant”
The Datsun 240Z transformed Nissan’s image – especially in the US.
By the late 1960’s Datsun had been exporting to the US market for around a decade and had gained a reputation for offering cars that were meticulously built, well equipped and reliable, but were singularly unexciting, with slightly ersatz styling. Yakuta Katayama, who was president of Datsun’s US import company(1), was an ambitious and capable manager with a penchant for motorsport. It was Katayama who decided that the best way to change the US perception of Datsun was to produce a car that espoused the marque’s traditional virtues but was also fun to drive.
Katayama’s first such offering was the 1967 Datsun 510. Beneath its sober saloon styling was a 1.6 litre SOHC four-cylinder(2) engine producing 96bhp (72kW) and fully independent suspension employing MacPherson struts at the front and semi-trailing arms at the rear. The car weighed just 2,072 lbs (940kg) and was good for a 100mph (161km/h) top speed. It also handled sweetly and quickly became regarded as a ‘poor man’s BMW’ because of its similarity to Munich’s saloons.
It is tempting to characterise the 1960s as a period of wild hedonism, artistic abandon, sexual freedom and social progress, but in reality it was nothing of the kind. Not in Italy at least, still firmly under the heel of the Vatican, whose tentacles encroached into all areas of domestic life. Strict social and societal mores were observed. Matters of appearance remained of the utmost importance. Yes of course, in the ateliers of Milan, fashions were of a most flamboyant, provocative nature, but the garments one actually wore, even to the local tabaccheria, were well chosen, decorous – demure even.
This sensibility pervaded Italian life, product design included. Because even if the most prosaic piece of household equipment was designed to please (or at least satisfy) the eye, it was nonetheless a function-first device. So too the automobile. Throughout the ‘Sixties, the Italian aesthetic for the berlina was highly formalised, upright, rectilinear. Regardless of whether it hailed from Portello, Mirafiori or Borgo San Paolo, there was little for the unschooled eye to Continue reading “The Second Act”
The 1978 BMW M1 should have been simply a road-legal version of a racing car, but it was so much more rounded and accomplished than that.
More than any other mass-market(1) automobile manufacturer, BMW has built its reputation on producing dynamically accomplished cars, designed to appeal to keen drivers above all else. It is a moot point as to whether the vast majority of BMW drivers have the skills and talent to exploit such cars to their maximum potential, but many are surely flattered by the inference that they might Continue reading “Uncompromised, not Uncompromising”
A large chair does not make a king*, as the Korean carmaker discovered.
The brand name SsangYong is derived from Oriental legend and means Two Dragons. It stems from a fable about two dragons who longed to fly to heaven. In order to be able to embark on that journey however, they each required a magical gemstone – but they had only been given one to share between them. For a thousand years each insisted the other go first but to no avail. Moved by their altruism, a heavenly king sent down another magical gemstone so that at long last they could Continue reading “Please Be Seated”
Situated a thousand kilometres South East from Moscow on the banks of the historically troubled river Volga, lies an enormous industrial plant. Up to 650,000 vehicles wearing a handful of badges are built per year, the area having become known locally as the Motown of the East. But to understand the Autovaz plant, we must first Continue reading “Le Pas d’Acier”
Mention the name Ghia to anyone who is not a car enthusiast, and they are most likely to recall plushly trimmed Fords from the 1970s. That is rather a shame, because Carrozzeria Ghia & Gariglio, established in Turin in 1916, had a long and distinguished history, designing and building upmarket luxury and sporting cars. Ghia’s best known work is, however, a much more modest car based on humble underpinnings.
In the post-war period, many European auto manufacturers were switching to unitary construction, where the platform and bodyshell is constructed as a single unit. This typically brought benefits of lower weight and greater torsional rigidity. However, it created a problem for both independent design houses and coachbuilders, as there was no longer a separate chassis to build upon. Instead there was a body-in-white, which severely curtailed the freedom of the designers to Continue reading “People’s Coupé”
Perennial kicking-post, Austin Rover. Years after their slow-motion demise – still fresh in many motorists minds, an incorrigibly persistent bad taste joke. And the material just keeps on rolling; we all know how the story ends but remain enthralled as there’s often a fresh nail awaiting the coffin’s hammer.
But it’s not all bad. Austin Rover attempted a turnaround, a stoic final stand against the enemy by dropping in the parachute regiment. A cynic might have called this project Operation Market Garden, as in the rather doomed Allied attempt at hastening the end of the Second World War by capturing bridges at Arnhem and Nijmegen. Praise the wag who chose to keep the parachuting theme but with a modern twist – that of the (at the time) clandestine 22nd Special Air Service. Who Cares Wins, the fight to keep the customer happy. Step up to the green light and Continue reading “Send in the Paratroopers”
The automotive world had high hopes for Alfa Romeo’s late-’90s large executive saloon, but disappointment was not far away. We remember the Alfa 166.
The unveiling of the Alfa Romeo 156 at the Frankfurt motor show in September 1997 was cause for celebration amongst the Alfisti and, more generally, for all who love the automobile as an art form and expression of style. Following two decades of increasingly divisive and unhappy rectilinear designs, Alfa Romeo had produced a car of rare beauty. Its curvaceous, sculpted form received a hugely positive welcome, and sales started briskly.
Hurry! You do still want that classic Lada Niva, don’t you?
The name stems from those areas the car was built to traverse, Niva being Russian for corn (field.) Also described as a “Renault 5 on a Land Rover” body by its designers, the Lada Niva will crisscross fields no more from 2024 so firm up that ushanka and take a trip back to the Soviet Union in the early 1970s.
Tasked by the Kremlin in 1971 with creating a rugged, capable vehicle, one which the many poor farmers cast far and wide along the Russian Steppes could easily use and repair, the loser of this particular design competition was the the AZLK Moskvitch. Yet the first Autovaz prototypes (led by Vladimir Solovyev) known as Krokodil, were deemed “too utilitarian.” A new, more civilised design garnered the internal type number 2121 consisting of a hard top roof and doors to keep the weather out, along with unibody construction, car-like looks, a 1600 cc petrol engine and permanent four wheel drive.
Three years of heavy testing and comparisons against vehicles such as the Land and Range Rover (under Vadim Kotlyarov), in the Ural Mountains, Siberia and the Kazakh desert wastelands brought about the Niva, the first Autovaz to Continue reading “Production Ends 31/12/2023”
Although comfort-oriented big Citroëns such as the DS and CX would seem to be very suitable cars for the North American driving environment, the French manufacturer has never really been able to achieve any sustained or economically viable market penetration there. A too-thin dealer network, quality and durability levels unsuited to American driving conditions (in certain aspects), the idiosyncrasies inherent in their design concept and construction and a high price tag were the main impediments to their sales success.
Was the Alfa Romeo Arna one of the ‘worst cars ever’?
At the beginning of the 1980’s Alfa Romeo was in grave trouble. Its reputation had been marred by the problems that afflicted its C-segment Alfasud. Built at the behest of the Italian government in a new factory in Pomigliano d’Arco near Naples, it was riddled with faults, the most serious of which was its tendency to dissolve into ferrous oxide at an alarming rate.
By 1980, the Alfasud’s build quality had improved noticeably, but not so Alfa Romeo’s reputation. A replacement model, the 33, was in development and would be launched in 1983. The 33 would be a somewhat larger and more expensive car, growing by just 20mm (¾”) in wheelbase, but by a more substantial 185mm (7¼”) in overall length. This left room for a smaller and cheaper car to replace the entry-level Alfasud. It is a moot point as to whether or not Alfa Romeo actually needed such a car in its range, unless it was really determined to Continue reading “Trojan Mule?”
By 1965, Giorgetto Giugiaro was already a name of significance amid Turin car design circles – and by the mid-point of the 1960s, there were no design circles more influential or significant than those within the Piedmontese capital. The year in question was a highly significant one for the 27-year old automotive designer, having departed Stile Bertone somewhat abruptly that November, leaving behind several partly completed designs for his successor to complete.
It did not matter, Giorgetto was moving on; first to carrozzeria Ghia where a position awaited him, but he had other, more elaborate plans. His stay at Ghia therefore was brief; a couple of commissions, a pair of designs for the de Tomaso concern, and more significantly, the Ghibli gran turismo for Maserati, making its debut as a prototipo at that November’s Turin motor show.
The 1975 Camargue proved conclusively that more is not necessarily better.
The rules of automotive design that apply to Rolls-Royce motor cars are quite different to those that apply to other, less rarefied marques. Because of their low production volumes and the longevity of their model cycles, they eschewed the fashionable and ephemeral in favour of timeless elegance, understatement and peerless quality. The 1965 Silver Shadow exemplified these qualities perfectly, and Rolls-Royce was rewarded by it becoming the company’s best-selling model in history.
The fine art of badge-engineering – Franco-Japanese style.
Just as Karl had given life to the patentwagen in 1886, the emergent car industry’s Frankenstein-like adoration brought ever newer machines to market. In turn, ideas became distilled, since begging borrowing or stealing ideas was easier than inventing something from scratch. Financial incentives greased wheels leading to similar, if not identical machines wearing different badges; nothing new under the sun.
Concurrently, French composer, Erik Satie experimented to form three pieces for piano, sharing a common structure and theme. Possibly evolved from the French version of the Greek phrase, gymnopaedia, an annual festival where young men would Continue reading “Trois Gymnopédies”
Even amongst the more rarefied universe of Portello’s competition cars, there are the outliers, the runts, the ugly sisters. Today, we briefly examine one of this less than happy breed.
Pretty, lovely, delicate. Three words that immediately spring to mind whenever one envisions an Alfa Romeo coupé of the ‘Sixties: Giulietta Coupé, Sprint Speciale, Sprint GT as well as the more rarefied sisters, the Giulia TZ 1 and 2 to name just a few. There does however exist a third Giulia TZ sister, but she was relegated to a dark corner and kept out of sight at AutoDelta for decades.
Ludovico Chizzola, AutoDelta’s co-founder, designed and built the Giulia TZ Prototipo Berlinetta (also known as the TZ 1.5) after a
request by Alfa Romeo to Continue reading “Secret Sister”
We recall the ill-fated 1987 revival of Bugatti and celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of the one car it produced, the extraordinary EB110 hypercar.
Bugatti is undoubtedly one of the most revered names in the automotive firmament. The company’s heyday was its first era, under the ownership of Ettore Bugatti, its eponymous founder. Bugatti was born in Milan in 1881, the son of a successful Art Nouveau furniture designer. Although he chose engineering as his profession, an innate understanding and appreciation of fine art was very much part of both his genetic inheritance and upbringing, with renowned sculptors, painters and architects in his extended family. This would manifest itself in a series of cars that were not only technically accomplished, but things of great beauty that are still held in the highest regard today. Continue reading “Sic Transit Gloria Mundi”
Some might consider the 1994 reworking of the Jaguar XJ40 under Ford’s direction as a retrograde step, but the X300 was the best built Jaguar in years and is still a highly impressive car.
An acquaintance of mine, Dennis, is a long-time Jaguar aficionado having owned a number of Browns Lane’s finest over the years. His impressive tally comprises Mk1 and Mk2 saloons, two XJ-S coupés, an XJ40 and a (previous) X300. After a period of abstinence, he took the plunge again in 2019 and bought the car you see here, a pristine 1996 XJ6 in metallic Solent Blue with a light grey leather interior.
First, a brief history. Ford purchased Jaguar for US $2.5 billion in 1990, ending its six years as an independent company. Under the leadership of Sir John Egan, Jaguar had in 1986 launched the technically ambitious XJ40 replacement for the venerable Series III XJ saloon. Egan had also cut Jaguar’s workforce by a third and improved productivity and build quality significantly during his tenure. Disentangled from the chaos and rancour of British Leyland, the external perception of the company had also improved markedly. Continue reading “Driven, Written: 1996 Jaguar XJ6”
Gardening and plucky optimism; British affairs if ever there were. From hoping the weather will turn to running a cheaper, underdog of a motor, this sceptred isle revels in such hopes, however forlorn.
Starting life as the Proton Wira, which is Malay for Hero by the way, the Mitsubishi Lancer-derived platform gave life to an unpretentious pick-up that caused your author to gasp out loud as not one but three examples were viewed in extremely quick succession recently.
In the UK, Australian and Taiwanese markets, it wore the Jumbuck badge, elsewhere known as the Arena. On sale from 2002-07, the Shah Alam-manufactured pick-up had a market pretty much to itself. As other manufacturers’ furrows lay with larger platforms, diesel engines and distinctly un-British characteristics bordering the violent, Proton appeared quite happy to Continue reading “Gardening Leave”
Landmark design, vanity project, or just simply a pretty face?
There was no sensible rationale for the Fiat 130 Coupé. The market didn’t ask for it. Fiat Auto’s bottom line would not be strengthened by its presence. There was no gaping hole in the product line-up that it would fill. So why did it come to exist? Why did the normally market-savvy Mirafiori behemoth go to the trouble and expense of creating a Fiat like no other – was it simply because they could?
The Fiat 131 Mirafiori was facelifted twice during its decade-long lifespan. The first was highly effective, the second rather less so. That was not, however, the end of the story…
The 1974 131 Mirafiori(1) was Fiat’s replacement for its 1966 124 model. It was offered in two and four-door saloon and five-door estate variants. Like its predecessor, the 131 was a resolutely conventional front-engined RWD design, with 1.3 and 1.6-litre OHV engines derived from those in the 124 and mounted longitudinally. Transmission was via a four-speed manual gearbox, with the option of a five-speed manual or three-speed automatic on the larger engined model.
The styling was neat and conservative, and the car grew modestly in wheelbase, length and width compared to the 124. One notable change was the abandonment of the 124’s pronounced shoulder line: the 131’s glasshouse was pushed out to be almost flush with the lower bodysides, to increase shoulder room and the feeling of interior space. The design had few stylistic flourishes. These were limited to a groove in the bodysides and indented longitudinal pressings in the bonnet and boot lid inboard of the wings. Continue reading “Under the Knife: Hit and Miss (and Hit again)”
Raindrops keep falling – bringing our monopod history to a close.
McCarty Mustang, 1948
Had he been able to actually get his new car enterprise off the ground, Ford Motor Company may have had to think of a different name for one of its most successful models. Roy McCarty worked at a Lincoln dealership but had bigger plans – to Continue reading “Drop the Subject – (Part Three)”
Turinese ideas have flowed many a year, largely with a great deal of success – on paper at least – diminishing returns, alongside awkward timing often diverting the flow. Having the relative novelty of seeing a perfectly unkempt example in person recently and referencing Mr. Editor Doyle’s take on the Lancia version, we must Continue reading “A Car Rolled Over Not Yet Matters”
The 2005 Alfa Romeo 159 had a tough act to follow in the delightful 156. We examine how it fared.
The 1997 Alfa 156 was the first Alfa Romeo for many years that was greeted with near-universal praise for its styling. The company’s designers had spent the previous couple of decades playing with their geometry sets and producing rectilinear designs that were, to say the least, rather challenging in their appearance.
Under the styling leadership of Walter de Silva at Centro Stile Alfa Romeo, the designers of the 156 looked further back into the company’s past and produced a shape that was organic, lithe and sinuous, one that was regarded by many Alfisti as the most authentic expression of the marque’s qualities in years.
Those alluring looks did not come without some penalty, in this case limited accommodation for passengers and their luggage(1) and that old Alfa Romeo bugbear, poor reliability. Premature cambelt and tensioner failures were common on the Twin-Spark engines, forcing the company to Continue reading “An Alfa Less Loved”
It has been said before, but bears repeating: no single European car designer has done more to shape the modern everyday motor car than Giorgetto Giugiaro, either during his time working for Bertone, Ghia or later for himself at ItalDesign.
We take a brief dive into Volvo’s Italian coachbuilt past.
Turin based coachbuilder, Carrozeria Fissore had confidence aplenty. Founded in 1919 by the four brothers; Antonio, Bernardo, Giovanni, and Costanzo, the reins fell under Bernado’s control in 1936. Originally horse carriage experts then car repairers, by wartime the carrozzeria had moved on to manufacturing – mail cars, vans, even hearses after military service.
No prizes for guessing much of Fissore’s work lay within the Fiat purview. By the 1960s, Fissore may not have been the household name far outside the confines of their homeland but their reputation had grown. To the point that Motauto, the Italian import agent for Volvo believed the carrozzeria possessed the skills to Continue reading “Confidence Might Be Z-Shaped but Knock-backs Wear Iron Marks”
Further precipitation. Continuing our examination of the streamlined monopod.
Bridges Lightning Bug, 1936
Doctor Calvin Blackman Bridges (1889-1938) did not have the background one would expect of a car designer. He was a highly respected geneticist who had contributed the first paper ever to the journal, Genetics and had invented the binocular dissecting microscope.
Bridges built his car in his spare time, machining many parts himself on a lathe. Being rather safety-conscious by the standards of the time the doctor used an early plastic named Pyralin instead of glass for the windows, a forced air ventilation system to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning and a steel and asbestos firewall between engine and passenger compartment. Unusually the front suspension was constructed of a motorcycle fork on each side.
The 1971 Alfasud was a game-changing car, not only for what we would now call the C-segment, but for Alfa Romeo itself. Unfortunately, while the ‘Sud was to become the conceptual template for an entire generation of similarly sized (if not as technically ambitious) cars from rival manufacturers, it was something of a disaster for il Biscione. Not a brand-killer by any stretch, but nevertheless the case against the ‘Sud is not inconsiderable.
By re-orientating the carmaker’s centre of gravity to the crowded and heavily contested free-for-all of the compact C-segment the Alfa Sud programme placed the Milanese carmaker squarely in the gunsights of the mighty Fiat Auto group. It also had the effect of lowering Alfa Romeo’s average transaction prices, driving down its image as the builder of superior motor cars – a matter its subsequent reputation for slapdash build and premature corrosion would only serve to amplify.
By the early 1970s, the Italian economic miracle was unravelling in a spiral of politically-motivated industrial unrest and violence amid growing inequalities between affluence and economic stagnation. Terrorist atrocities, assassinations, strikes and stoppages became the daily news headlines as Italy’s position as posterchild for post-war reconstruction and prosperity faded.
The Alfasud lands to great acclaim. But trouble is just around the corner.
The Alfasud was launched at the 1971 Turin motor show and was greeted with widespread praise. The compact mechanical package allowed for a low bonnet line and a spacious interior. Despite appearances, the Alfasud, like many contemporaries, was not a hatchback, but a four-door saloon with a conventional boot. The exposed boot hinges were just a minor visual flaw in what was a notably modern, attractive and aerodynamic design.
The front end featured integrated headlamp/indicator units framing a simple horizontal grille that contained the traditional Alfa Romeo shield. Eagle-eyed observers would Continue reading “Going South (Part Two)”
More than merely a car, a state-sponsored project in political and social engineering. Celebrating the Alfa Romeo Alfasud on its 50th anniversary.
In the years that followed the end of the Second World War, successive Italian governments faced a seemingly intractable problem. Northern Italy had become increasingly urbanised, industrialised and prosperous, but the south remained largely a rural backwater. By 1950, income per capita in the south was roughly half that in the north, and the gap was widening. Much of the south’s agricultural land remained in the hands of large landowners and was poorly managed and often unproductive. Many unemployed young people simply migrated north, robbing the south of much of its potential labour force.
Acknowledging this economic and social divide, the Italian government established the Cassa per il Mezzogiorno (Southern Development Fund) in 1950. Its initial purpose was to Continue reading “Going South (Part One)”
“To create an unfavourable impression, it is not necessary that certain things be true, but that they have been said. The imagination is of so delicate a texture that even words wound it”. [William Hazlitt (1778-1830) – Writer, critic, philosopher]
With a now unassailable position within the annals of infamy; derided and patronised by legions of uninformed writers and journalists, has sufficient time elapsed to speak dispassionately about the Lancia Beta? It’s difficult to be certain, but the point of today’s exercise is to Continue reading “Beta Living Through Chemistry”
The Beta and its derivatives were developed progressively over its production life. A smaller 1,297cc 81bhp (60kW) engine replaced the 1,438cc entry-level unit in 1974, at which time power steering was offered on LHD models. In 1975, the 1,592cc engine was replaced by a slightly smaller capacity 1,585cc 99bhp (74kW) unit and the 1,756cc engine was supplanted by a 1,995cc 117bhp (88kW) powerplant. Electronic ignition was fitted from 1978 and automatic transmission became an option, making the Beta the first Lancia to Continue reading “Deserving Beta (Part Two)”
We break out the wool tufts for a two-part story documenting the early days of streamlining.
In the 1930s they were widely publicised as the shape of automotive things to come, the so-called raindrop-shaped streamliners. That raindrops are tadpole-shaped is a common misconception however; falling raindrops are perfectly round. Ball bearing and lead-shot manufacturers exploit this phenomenon of falling liquids: molten lead is dropped from a great height into a cooling liquid with perfect spheres as a result.
Some raindrop cars made it to the actual volume production phase; early Tatras, the Fiat 600 Multipla and of course the SAAB 92-96 being amongst the best known examples, but most efforts would fail to find investors or public interest and remained one-offs or extremely limited production at best. Nevertheless some of the endeavours, initiated by people as diverse as a geneticist, a rocket scientist and a carrot juice maker are worthy and interesting enough to Continue reading “Drop the Subject – (Part One)”
The 1972 Beta heralded a brave new start under Fiat ownership for Lancia. We tell its story.
Over six decades from its foundation in 1906, Lancia & C. had earned an enviable reputation for the excellence of its engineering and its finely crafted, innovative and desirable cars. Unfortunately, Vincenzo Lancia, his friend and business partner Claudio Fogolin, and Vincenzo’s son, Gianni, who took over the company when his father died suddenly in 1937, were far more talented engineers than they were businessmen. Consequently, Lancia always struggled to Continue reading “Deserving Beta (Part One)”
It has been stated here many times before, but the art of product planning is often somewhat akin to an act of faith. Certainly, the job of the strategic planner during the latter part of the 1970s was anything but straightforward. This was a particularly acute problem for luxury carmakers; having already weathered dramatic market reorientation following two successive fuel crises, attempting to Continue reading “A Disproportionate Response”
The 2011 Lexus CT200h was an awkwardly proportioned and unhappy design. Could it have been better resolved?
My recent DTW piece on the Lexus CT 200h contained an analysis of its design and identified the rear door profile and C-pillar treatment as the primary cause of its awkward proportions and stance. In particular, the too-short rear door glass and badly drawn shut-line between the door and rear quarter panel are poorly resolved and jarring details.
Why should we let facts get in the way of a good story? History is written by the winners, some say. Henry Ford disregarded such matters, but stories have to begin somewhere, so let us head to America, 1701. The French had cornered parts of the new world, establishing settlements, later growing into towns. Fur trading was big business and its centrepiece was Fort Pontchatrain du-Détroit, the latter being the French word for strait. When the British showed up later, they immediately shortened the name to Detroit.
The town’s founding father was one Antone Laumet de la Mothe Cadillac, who according to history writers was either a soldier who had King Louis’ ear, along with his own heraldic majesty or had fabricated his own importance, to gain higher status. As town governor, he regularly popped over the border to Canada for skirmishes, before an eventual recall back to his homeland, obscurity and never to Continue reading “Fort Pontchatrain, the Ducks and the Dutch Artists”