A rogue sporty Beetle, a not entirely successful Asian alliance and an aborted attempt at conquering the WRC crown: meet three Volkswagen oddities.
Mach 1: the word will produce a glint in the eye of muscle car aficionados, reminded as they are of manly Mustangs in lively hues powered by a good old fashioned big V8 burbling on premium leaded fuel instead of the watered down stuff that passes for gasoline nowadays.
There was however another Mach 1 which preceded the first so-badged Mustang by four years, and the vehicle first adorned with the moniker could almost not have been further removed from the Mustang in any knowable dimension; meet the Volkswagen Beetle Mach 1.
If you fail, try again. Of course, you might fail again.
Renault is rightly credited with producing the first European(1) MPV, the 1984 Espace. Whether or not the company was gifted with great foresight in doing so is a moot point, however. The Espace had been brought to Renault by Matra as an already completed design, one that had originally been commissioned by Chrysler Europe. After Peugeot-Citroën purchased Chrysler’s European operations in 1978, it struggled to rehabilitate the ailing business, hence it rejected the design as too niche and risky, forcing Matra to seek another partner.
To many, including UK residents, the M1 motorway was not Britain’s inaugural Special Road, that honour goes to what was enigmatically entitled the Preston Northerly Bypass, now part of the M59. While the UK began to contemplate 70mph limits and new styles of signage, the M1 of today’s piece is across the Atlantic, owning a longevity along with its own unique history – Woodward Avenue.
Many years before Detroit was even a township, native Americans had developed trading routes and trails, one of which was the Saginaw. By the early 19th century, that path had become a 120ft wide right-of-way for the now burgeoning city. The aftermath of a devastating fire saw a city layout redesign, somewhat mirroring Washington DC and labelled the ‘Paris of the West’. Continue reading “Detroit, Michigan 48226-3473”
Today, we take a brief hiatus from our analysis of Allegro and its commercial fate to return briefly to aspects of its style, and in particular, to the third ADO67 bodystyle to be offered.
Closely aping its predecessor, Allegro was introduced as a single format bob-tailed saloon – with two or four doors – and unlike its stablemate Marina, both Allegri employed the same silhouette and styling theme. Of the two saloons, the two-door might be considered the most cohesive, a factor which could be explained by its cleaner, less cluttered DLO treatment, which did away with the four-door’s rear quarterlight. In the photo appended below, one can appreciate this and just maybe, Continue reading “Allegro Con Spazio”
The power of the written word can be sometimes overstated, although this is not a position the gentlemen of the press generally care to acknowledge. Certainly, a poor review can hurt a new product, but it usually takes more than an unfavourable report to fatally damage its prospects, just as it takes more than one breathless review to create a hit. But for the historian attempting to Continue reading “Running With Scissors [Part Five]”
The first McLaren badged road-legal car built in series production wasn’t named F1.
Mrs. Muscat had a parking problem: it was not a case of a lack of available spaces at the Ford Motor Company offices where she worked, but the company’s strict ‘no foreign vehicles’ policy meant that she was not allowed to park her car, a R107 Mercedes-Benz SL, on the premises. Having to find a parking space within a reasonable distance each day was of course an inconvenience, but she loved her SL and its al fresco option for sunny days. Thus she asked her husband, Maltese born engineer Peter Muscat, to Continue reading “No Parking”
Continuing the story of the 1994 A8, the car that propelled Audi into the German premium car firmament.
After the very striking polished aluminium Audi Spaceframe Concept of 1993, the 1994 production A8, a car that majored on subtlety over ostentation, was bound to be something of an anti-climax, if only in visual terms. It was certainly not a car for those who wanted to flaunt their wealth and success. For those who looked at it more deeply, however, there was plenty to appreciate.
Car Magazine covered the A8 in an extensive eight-page feature published in the May 1994 issue of the magazine. Journalist Georg Kacher introduced it boldly as “a technical marvel, a marvellous car.” A source at Audi was quoted as saying that “the old V8 cost us a lot of money, but the new [A8] is going to lose us a small fortune.” In order to establish itself in the luxury saloon market, Audi expected to Continue reading “Light Fantastic (Part Two)”
You might be forgiven for not knowing their name, after all, it remains niche to those outside of their main field (or should that be quarry?), but their trucks have not only helped build mighty projects, they also tamed the deserts of Dakar. This is the story of Perlini.
Officine Meccaniche Construzioni Roberto Perlini was founded in 1957 taking four years to bring to market the rugged dump trucks the company’s fame would be founded upon. Spurred on by Italy’s economic postwar growth, Perlini had fabricated their one thousanth truck by 1970. The early eighties saw them Continue reading “Clay, Pee, Rocks, Tiger And Tuna”
And What Is Wrong With Putting the Engine in Front of the Wheels?
Editor’s note: This piece first appeared on DTW in June 2014.
Audi are in danger of becoming the Phil Collins of the petrolhead world, an act that even people who know little about music like to cite as being a bit off. Speaking as someone who can, hand on heart, swear that he has no murky Genesis related skeletons in his youthful musical vinyl rack and hopes he’ll never hear ‘Against All Odds’ on the radio again, I’d judge that Mr Collins is no worse than many, and better than scores.
Changing fashion means that he has just become a lazy symbol for bad comedians and the generally undiscerning to latch on to in order to suggest, quite undeservedly, their musical connoisseurship. Likewise Audi. In bars and on motoring websites everywhere, you will hear the drone of “overrated and overpriced …. style over content …. they’re all designed on a photocopier …. no driver involvement ….. they’ll never really be premier league until they Continue reading “Audi – Always the Pretender?”
Alpine, they of sporting Renault-based pedigree, was founded by Jean Rédélé in 1955, since then carving out a niche of elegant, rapid machinery. Having made a name for itself, not to mention an illustrious competition record with the seminal Alpine A110, its radical looking 1971 GT successor – the A310 – featured a wedge-shaped design inspired by de Tomaso’s Mangusta along with Ferrari’s Daytona and was something of a directional change for the Dieppe-based manufacturer.
This dainty dart weighing just 900Kgs, with a steel backbone and fibreglass bodywork might just squeeze four humans inside and gave the Nunelfer something to Continue reading “Chiselled”
In a now distant past, many car manufacturers located in the old world – as well as in emerging Japan – looked to the USA when it came to desirable features to adapt and styling to emulate. Several specific circumstances in areas of the globe outside America such as taxation laws, fuel prices, disposable income and available space on roads and in city centres resulted in the stateside amenities, and especially the styling, mostly to emerge elsewhere in reduced form.
To name just some, Peugeot’s 402, the Volvo PV444, Vauxhall’s Victor F and Cresta PA and the Japanese Prince Skyline all displayed a clear American influence in their appearance. Even Ferrari proved not immune to the trend, witness the finned 410 SuperAmerica.
Opel and Vauxhall especially – the European subsidiaries of GM – would find their styling direction in virtual lockstep with GM’s American brands for years, although the end-product would invariably not only Continue reading “Bonsai Buick”
At the fourth attempt, Audi finally produced a luxury saloon to challenge the Mercedes-Benz S-Class head-on.
Audi is now a fully-fledged member of the German premium triumvirate. Together with rivals BMW and Mercedes-Benz, it dominates the European market for such vehicles. However, its entry to this exclusive club was neither quick nor straightforward and its early attempts to join were met largely with indifference by the market.
The first car that Audi attempted to pitch above its traditional E-segment ceiling was the 1979 200 saloon. This was based on the 1976 C2-generation Audi 100 and was little more than a plushly trimmed version of that car, distinguished externally by slightly chintzy looking quad rectangular headlamps lifted from the US version of the 100(1) and a thick perimeter rubbing strip that ran along the lower bodysides and continued around the front and rear of the car above the bumpers. Continue reading “Light Fantastic (Part One)”
There are certain irrefutable qualities which help determine successful product design. Of these, appearance, while arguably the least important in absolute terms, is the most easily perceived, and clearly the most subjective, but it goes without saying that in the absence of a robust visual appeal, even the best wrought product will struggle. The Allegro’s appearance forms an essential component of its subsequent notoriety, but like most aspects of the car’s iconography, this aspect of ADO67 remains subject to varying levels of hysteria.
The Allegro’s style garnered little overt press criticism at its introduction. This would not have been unusual behaviour from the home team – but in this instance the UK press may have been a little over-keen to Continue reading “Running With Scissors [Part Three]”
The versatile Renault 4 platform lent itself to many variations on a theme.
Over the years, la Régie Renault has followed Citroën’s lead on a few occasions in terms of car development; the Méhari for instance was quickly followed by the 4 (and later 6) Rodéo. As with the Méhari(1), quite a few similar variants based around the same theme would be offered, of which a selection will be presented here.
To be fair, Renault had introduced the Renault 4 Plein Air exactly one day before Citroën unveiled its Méhari, but it proved to be not very popular and was discontinued in 1970 after only about 600 were sold; by that time Citroën had already shifted almost 20,000 Méharis. Renault realised it would have to change its plan if it was to Continue reading “Rodeo-ite Roundup”
Which vehicle would you regard as the first modern crossover or, to use the American term, Crossover Utility Vehicle (CUV)? Automotive historians on both sides of the Atlantic might cite either the 1977 Matra-Simca Rancho or 1979 AMC Eagle, but the former was front-wheel-drive only(1) while the latter, although highly capable with its permanent 4WD, was simply a jacked-up AMC Concord. I think the title should rest with the 1994 Toyota RAV4, a purpose-designed model with front or four-wheel-drive. Honda followed up a year later with the CR-V(2) while Land-Rover entered the fray in 1997 with the Freelander.
Several shadows loomed large over Allegro: ADO16, its benighted imperator and a man called Paradise.
Sequels are often a tricky balancing act. Alter the recipe and the audience may reject it, reprise the original too closely and they are just as likely to feel short-changed.
The Allegro’s Sixties predecessor would prove a tough act to follow. Despite a lack of meaningful ongoing development, the ADO16 series remained Britain’s best-seller throughout the decade. With such lasting success, the pressure was on BLMC’s product planners and engineers to build upon this with ADO67, the 1100’s belated replacement.
Another instalment of lesser known Citroën varieties, one of which was confiscated by the authorities on drug charges.
Visa Lotus Rally car, 1982
Guy Verrier, in charge of Citroën’s competition acitivities, initiated project Genesis in 1981. Its objective was creating a specially prepared Visa to compete in the Group B Rallying category(1) starting with the 1985 season. Ultimately, the programme would lead to the four-wheel driven Visa Mille Pistes which achieved some respectable results during its career. On the way to the Mille Pistes however, several other proposals – some of them 4WD but others FWD or RWD – would be created and in some cases tested in actual rallying competition.
Perhaps the most unusual one was the Visa Lotus which, as the name implies, was a mixture of Paris and Hethel, with a dash of Billancourt: outwardly it was quite obviously inspired by the Renault 5 Turbo and also shared its mid-engined RWD configuration. Continue reading “Double Chevron Curiosities”
With global sales of over 1.2 million, the Volvo 700 series was a highly successful car for its maker. However, by the late 1980s, it was beginning to look quite dated. This was a particular issue for the saloon, with its always controversial rear window / D-pillar treatment, which was a throwback to an early 1980s American styling trope. Sales began to suffer, especially in the UK and German markets.
Replacing the 700 series with an all-new model wasn’t an option, however. Volvo was committed to a switch to front- (or four-) wheel-drive for all its model ranges and to this end was undertaking its largest ever investment programme, called Project Galaxy. Launched in 1978, Project Galaxy continued for over a decade and cost a total of 15 billion Swedish Kroner (US $2.5 billion), making it the most expensive Swedish private-sector investment to that date. The first fruit of the project was the 1986 400 series, followed by the 1991 800 series.
Not abominable – in fact really rather good. In praise of Yeti.
Editor’s note: This article first appeared on Driven to Write on 23 August 2019.
The product planner’s art has never been a particularly easy one, even less so when one is dealing with a brand portfolio the size and scope of that of the VW Group. Nevertheless, during the immediate post-millennium at least, the individual business units contained within the sprawling Grouping were allowed to Continue reading “The Wild Man of Kvasiny”
Urban-planned existences lived out under high-voltage power lines, the yellowed lighting of deserted subterranean underpasses. Dehydrated food – just add water – George and Mildred on the Radio Rentals telly. Modest hopes, unfulfilled ambitions and quiet despair, punctuated by mass unemployment, the three-day week and grinding industrial disputes. The Sixties ‘white heat of industry’ had sputtered – Seventies Britain appeared to be unravelling into a J.G Ballard-esque dystopia.
Lately, more light has been cast regarding the development of that still beloved creature, Škoda’s Yeti. Before the K-named cars were but a twinkle in Stefani’s eye, the Roomster’s replacement came in for plenty of conducted and rather surprising concepts with which we unravel, today.
Against the common manufacturer’s grain, Škoda allowed themselves a frisson of comedy. In the early years of the millennium, Thomas Ingenlath (now of Polestar, nee-Volvo and at the time, Škoda), donned mountain boots and coat, taking to the Palexpo stage to Continue reading “Abominably Refined”
Recalling two conceptually close but geographically distant relatives of the Volkswagen Type 181.
Country Buggy, Australia
In early 1964, Volkswagen Australasia Pty Ltd (or simply VWA) began development of a vehicle primarily intended for use by the Australian army that at the same time might also be offered to civilians. In order to be considered for military use in the demanding Australian environment, the vehicle had to be simple, tough, easy to service and have amphibious capability. The German managing director of VWA, Rudi Herzmer, already had previous experience in this field as he had been part of the engineering team that developed the Kübelwagen for the German army in World War 2. Initially christened Kurierwagen, a few prototypes were ready to undergo testing in 1965. Continue reading “Country File”
In the Spring of 1984, two years after the launch of the 760 GLE saloon, Volvo introduced its less luxurious sibling, the 740. Deliveries started later in the year, first in North America, then in Europe. The estate versions of both the 740 and 760 were launched in February 1985. They went on sale in North America in the summer, then in Europe in the autumn of that year. The market had by this time become used to the saloon’s angular looks, so the estate, shorn of the saloon’s controversial rear window, was generally regarded as rather smart, even handsome.
Oddly, for a company so concerned with safety, anti-lock braking was only available on the top of the range 760 GLE saloon, and not at all on the estate. Volvo’s explanation for this was that there was no room to Continue reading “Swedish Angle Iron (Part Two)”
During the Spring of 1960, Giorgetto Giugiaro was faced with something of a dilemma. Having accepted an offer to replace the recently departed Franco Scaglione as lead designer at Stile Bertone, the 22 year old artist and designer, formerly part of FIAT’s centro stile team was just settling into his new position when he received notification of his compulsory national service. Giugiaro had recently completed the designs for the Alfa Romeo 2600 Sprint and Gordon Keeble GT, Bertone’s studios were abuzz with activity and with a new commission for a compact Alfa Romeo GT, the young designer wanted to get on with work, not play soldiers.
Of course this troubling state of affairs also presented Nuccio Bertone with something of a headache. Obtaining Giugiaro’s services had proven something of a coup, but since military regulations seemingly forbade conscripts to Continue reading “Irresistible Bliss”
During the early years of the 1950’s, the American auto industry was blossoming into previously unknown avenues, at times ambitious and in certain cases, downright arresting. Springtime 1954 saw head of Lincoln’s pre-production studio, John Najjar sketch five concept cars, only one making it past the papyrus stage. Known internally as Mandalay, the sketch pupated into the XM Turnpike Cruiser, “a four passenger cross country car for tomorrow.” XM denoting eXperimental Mercury.
Outré perhaps, even in the jet age, the design caught the attention of future Ford whiz-kid Francis ‘Jack’ Reith. Pushing the top brass for backing, an internal competition set the partnership of Najjar and Elwood Engel over that of Gene Bordinat and Don DeLaRossa. Both teams presented full size clay models (around 18 feet in length) knowing full well only one would be green lighted. Reith took an instant shine to the Najjar design, justifying tweaks and alterations, gaining approval that autumn. Continue reading “Najjar’s Butterfly Develops Seventy Years Late”
Like many of his contemporaries during the 1950s, Milt Brown, a young car-mad engineer living in California, admired the European high-end sportscars he frequently encountered in this affluent region of America, those that hailed from Italy and England in particular being the object of his interest and desire. At times, Brown harboured thoughts of creating a sportscar himself but past efforts by others had demonstrated that this was no easy feat to pull off succesfully.
A few domestic entrepreneurs had tried their hand at creating an American Gran Turismo but the likes of Cunningham and Nash-Healey, for example, were hampered by respectively a very high price-tag and insufficient performance. The exotic European imports mostly did not suffer from lack of speed but, except perhaps for Jaguar’s XKE, they were only available to those with very fat bank accounts. Moreover, obtaining adequate service and maintenance for these frequently fickle exotics could be a problem as well.
Is this really the progenitor of the modern sports saloon?
Editor’s note: This article originally appeared on Driven to Write in March 2015 as part of the Benchmarks theme.
In the early 1960s, the average British driver on an average income would have ended up with a leaf-sprung wheezer, comfortable maybe, but hard-pushed cruising above 70 on expanding and unrestricted motorways, a handful in a panic stop and an entertainment-free and potentially scare-laden prospect on corners.
Remembering the controversially styled Volvo 700 series.
The Volvo 100/200 series was an extraordinarily successful and enduring automobile. Careful nurturing and progressive development of the model enabled it to remain in production for over twenty-seven years, during which time it built up a loyal band of owners for whom no other car offered the same combination of practicality, durability and passive safety. Over its lifetime, a total of 4,125,325 cars found buyers, making it by far the most successful model in Volvo’s history.
By the late 1970’s however, Volvo realised that the architecture underpinning the 200 series was becoming somewhat outdated. Although launched in 1974, the 200 series was not an all-new model but a heavy makeover of the 1966 100 series. It was still more than acceptable for buyers who appreciated Volvo’s traditional strengths, but the company had ambitions to Continue reading “Swedish Angle Iron (Part One)”
Toyota make a bewildering number of cars, they really do. This one lives in Dublin, Ireland where I saw it in the summer of 2022.
Rather foolishly I did not get as far as recording the nameplate. The only evidence I have for this sighting are these three grainy photographs, of the sort used by crazed believers in pseudo-science to prove the existence of the Loch Ness animal. In order to find out what this was I had to first Continue reading “That Was a Real False Ringlet Flying Past”
A number of attempts were made to reimagine the styling of Jaguar’s XJ-S without Malcolm Sayer’s unloved rear sail fairings. Some would prove more successful than others, but none would solve the issue.
In one of the more curious ironies of the XJ-S’ long career, the decade which bookended 1979 to 1989 would witness both the model line’s nadir and its heyday. This unprecedented zero to hero transformation would surprise industry analysts, rival carmakers and not least of all, Jaguar themselves, but its sales resurgence would make two aspects clear.
A short history of BMC and its successor companies’ trouble with doors.
Car doors: we take them for granted. They are there simply to provide a means of entry to and egress from a cabin sealed off from the elements, to ensure the comfort and security of the vehicle’s occupants. In engineering terms, they are mainly pretty simple: two hinges at the front, a locating pin and lock at the rear, and a mechanism to move the glass up and down either manually or electrically(1). So far, so straightforward.
However, doors are of far greater importance than might be implied by their mere functionality. They define the side profile of the car and are integral to its overall design. While cars are routinely given facelifts to freshen up their appearance after a few years on the market, such facelifts are typically confined to the front (and, occasionally, rear) end. The centre section of the bodyshell usually(2) remains untouched. Hence, it is very important to Continue reading “An Open and Shut Case”
But when it comes to shifting vast quantities of cars, requiring little human intervention, there’s a company at the very top of the tree. Toyota and VW can claim to make ten million vehicles per year, Mattel’s Hot Wheels shift about the same per week. The name is purportedly to have emanated from the lips of Mattel founder and inventor, Elliot Handler upon observing a prototype whizz by. Considering models from rivals, Matchbox, to be unsatisfactory, Handler wanted not just to Continue reading “Toy Story – One”
During the 1970s, when the engineers at Daimler-Benz’s Sindelfingen nerve centre were in the driving seat, Mercedes could be relied upon to do things properly. For if their cars were mostly on the large side – often somewhat heavy-jowled – they were mostly fit for their purpose, whether intended for the commercial trades, for plutocratic conveyance, or simply chariots of the indulgent.
Research and development was key to the three pointed star’s pre-eminence. Mercedes engineers not only worked through what ever technical challenge they were attempting to overcome, but also considered all of the alternatives – frequently going so far as to Continue reading “Big Star”
Sometimes, ideas for DTW contributions can come out of nowhere. While looking up some comparison data for a totally unrelated (automotive) subject, one of the brochures I consulted was of the 1993 Lincoln Continental. 1993 happens to be the year that I visited the USA for the first time – a car brochure exchange partner that I had been sending parcels back and forth with for years had invited me, and the fact that I was welcome to stay at his place in Indianapolis markedly softened the financial impact of the relatively expensive flight.
Rover disinterred the MGB in 1992 to produce the RV8. It was something of an anachronism, but did what was expected of it.
The later chapters in the history of MG sports cars are well known to followers of DTW and do not make for happy reading. Starved of the resources needed to develop proper successors, MG was forced to limp along with only minimal modifications to both the Midget and MGB throughout the 1970s, the most notable being the rubber bumpers and raised ride height(1) introduced in 1974 that ruined both the appearance and handling(2) of the cars.
Both models struggled on in much diminished form until production finally ended in late 1980 with the closure of the MG Abingdon factory. Perversely, it was the commercial failure of the Triumph TR7 sports car that was cited as one reason the MGB had to go, because it was accused of cannibalising sales of the TR7(3). In any event, MG was reduced to Continue reading “No Rest for the Deceased”
The Autumn leaves were still carpeting the streets as the motor show stands were being dismantled at the Torino Esposizioni. November 1968 found Nuccio Bertone a worried man. Having grown his business substantially, not simply as a design consultancy but also as a contract manufacturer, Gruppo Bertone, like all satellites orbiting amid Italy’s car industry during this fecund period, was heavily reliant upon the patronage of the domestic OEM manufacturers, and in particular, the Jovian mass of FIAT SpA.
The source of Nuccio’s concern was the advent of Turin carmaker’s new for 1969 128 model. This technically advanced front-wheel drive saloon, enthusiastically received by press and buying public alike, would become a core model line, and spearhead FIAT Auto’s efforts to Continue reading “Small Wonder”
An unlikely but effective pairing that was sadly short-lived.
Had Carroll Shelby ignored Lee Iaccoca’s advice, he might have amassed even greater financial wealth. In the latter half of the 1960s, Shelby, the gritty Texan and former racecar driver, was approached by Toyota of America and offered the company’s distributorship for his home state. Shelby’s auto business was certainly in those days relatively small in scale and to represent a foreign carmaker with big plans would be no small undertaking. Consequently, Shelby thought it wise to consult his friend, Lee Iaccoca, to see what he thought of the idea. Iaccoca’s advice was to Continue reading “Shelby’s Oriental Fling”
Lovely to look at and not without merit, but the market was moving on.
If one could distil and bottle the very essence of French middle-class conservatism and respectability, the label on the bottle would undoubtedly read ‘Peugeot’. Over its long and illustrious history, the French automaker’s products were well-engineered, durable, rational and sensible above all else. Peugeot was not a company given to flights of fancy or wilful self-indulgence. Even its coupé models were characteristically understated and practical conveyances. All apart that is, from the car we are examining today.
The Peugeot RCZ was first unveiled in June 2007 as the 308 RCZ Concept alongside Peugeot’s newly minted 308 production models. The RCZ was designed to be an image-builder for the mainstream C-segment hatchback and estate, and the 308 was a car that certainly needed some help as far as image was concerned – for it was an unfortunately flaccid and over-bodied looking thing, aesthetically inferior in every way to its better looking 307 predecessor. The RCZ was shown alongside the 308 at the latter’s formal launch at the Frankfurt Motor Show in September 2008. Critical reaction to the 308’s styling was mixed to say the least, but the RCZ received widespread acclaim. Continue reading “A Lovely Frock, but Late to the Party”
The author recalls his ownership of a far from perfect but still charming MG Midget.
Although I couldn’t have known it at the time, moving to London in the spring of 1986 would prove to be a major landmark in my life. I had spent the previous two years working in Belfast but for compelling reasons, both professional and personal, I decided that, at the tender age of 25, it was time for me to strike out on my own and see if I could make a life for myself in one of the world’s great cities.
My arrival in London was, to say the least, inauspicious. I pitched up in a hired Austin Montego estate car, packed to the gunwales with all my worldly possessions. A friend had kindly offered me lodgings while I arranged something more permanent. I had already secured a job, working for one of London’s blue-blooded merchant banks. Unlike my job in Belfast, this did not come with the benefit of a company car, so that was an immediate priority for me. Continue reading “Small, but a Big Personality”
In May 1974, the little sports car we all still called the Spridget reached its sixteenth birthday. Its presents were belated by a few months, not arriving until October, and were of the sort that a polite mid-teenager might outwardly welcome with smiling gratitude, while being internally aghast.
Its in-house rival – perhaps, in teenage-speak, its frenemy – gifted a new engine. Newness was a relative term in this case. The Triumph SC engine originated with the 1953 Standard 8, Standard-Triumph’s deservedly successful response to the Austin A30 and Morris Minor. Like the completely unrelated Austin A series, it had started out with a mere 803cc, but had the space to Continue reading “Elemental Spirit Part 7: Molestam Senectutem”
Weird wipers, helium gas gyroscope-operated early navigation systems and a horny knob: welcome to Japan.
For a westerner or gaijin, visiting a big city in Japan for the first time is at first a mildly confusing experience (as well as an often amusing one) filled with sensory delights in many senses of the word. Strolling outside the familiar surroundings of your internationally styled hotel, it doesn’t take long to discover that this is a different world; high tech and traditional values and customs go hand in hand, thereby creating a unique atmosphere.
Marque iconographies can be somewhat unhelpful at times. Being so one-dimensional, it often requires an effort of will in the observer to see outside of their often-rigid narratives. The mythology surrounding Ferrari for example has become so infused by images of crimson-red racing cars and strumpet-Berlinettas that it is possible to neglect the fact that the less strident grand turismo was an intrinsic part of Maranello’s arsenal, almost from the outset.
Indeed, such machines were once the Scuderia’s primary source of income, and the primary means by which the racing cars were funded. Nevertheless, the road-going Ferraris occupied only as much of Enzo Ferrari’s thinking as was strictly necessary. He had them built, his wealthy customers would purchase them at suitably eye-watering prices and that was that. The Commendatore condescended to Continue reading “Maranello Old Master.”
Concluding the story of the BMW E12-generation 5 Series.
The new 5 Series received a generally positive if not euphoric reception from the automotive press. With its 2-litre four-cylinder engine, it was not powerful enough, even in fuel-injected form, to exploit fully the capabilities of its chassis, and the engine itself was somewhat lacking in refinement when pushed hard.
BMW answered these criticisms in 1973 with the introduction of the 525. This was fitted with a straight-six SOHC engine with a capacity of 2,494cc which produced maximum power of 143bhp (107kW). Stiffened front springs and a thicker anti-roll bar were fitted to counter the extra weight of the engine. The 525 was fitted with disc brakes on all four wheels. Power steering and a limited-slip differential were now on the options list. Badging apart, the only external identifier for the new model was a subtly different bonnet: the 525 had a slightly raised centre section instead of the slightly indented section on the 520.
Car Magazine published its first impressions of the 525 in October 1973 and these were very positive: “the sheer performance was predictable, but the smoothness, flexibility and sweetness of [the] package was more of a surprise. It will potter along at very low speeds in top, rarely needs anything lower than third once on the move and will storm to over 120mph with beguiling ease.” The reviewer went on to Continue reading “Der Fünfer (Part Two)”
Cars are expensive for a reason. When shelling out the hard-earned one expects the thing to function, which calls for a punishing test regime to iron out defects. Nothing new there but almost forty years ago, plans were afoot to structurally place aluminium in a car almost at the end of its production life – introducing the Bertone built X1/9.
Wishing to demonstrate proof of concept, Canadian company Alcan turned to Bertone to produce five replica models in what would appear to be a drive towards using the ever-abundant silvery grey material. However, your author could not Continue reading “Atomic Element 13”
The most prolific period for Spridget engine transplants was the 1970s. By then there was a good supply of second-hand Midgets and Sprites cheap enough for experimentation, and a far broader range of suitable engines. Fiat twin-cams were a popular choice, available cheaply from rotten or written-off 124s and 125s, and often with the added attraction of a five speed gearbox. In the USA and Australia, some Japanese engines found favour, including the twin rotor Mazda 12A. In Britain, the Ford Kent variants were the default choice, plentiful and easily fitted, with far more power than could be cheaply and reliably extracted from an A-series.
Founded by Yataro Iwasaki in 1870, what was then named Mitsubishi Shokai would eventually grow into one of the largest and most diverse companies in Asia. Shipbuilding was the company’s initial field of business but, as time went by, diversification took place into activities such as mining of coal and precious metals, insurance, banking, aircraft production, real estate and, of course, automobiles.
The name Mitsubishi is made up of two words: ‘Mitsu’ meaning three in Japanese, and ‘Hishi’ which is a species of water chestnut. When these two words are combined, the ‘h’ of hishi is pronounced in Japanese as a ‘b’, hence Mitsubishi. The logo of the company was chosen by Yataro Iwasaki himself and combined the triple crest of the coat of arms belonging to the Tosa clan, Iwasaki’s ruler and employer before the Meiji restoration(1), and the Iwasaki family sign, which was three stacked diamond shapes. Continue reading “Hercules’ Celestial Steed”
Described by the UK’s Guardian newspaper as “a slow, precise and beautiful film”, Italian filmmaker, Luchino Visconti’s 1971 adaptation of Thomas Mann’s 1912 novella, starring Dirk Bogarde and set in a ravishingly filmed Venice was a sombre meditation on art, beauty, creative attainment, age and desire. Critically acclaimed, Death in Venice would come to be viewed as an arthouse cinematic masterpiece.
Slow, precise and beautiful were adjectives that could at various times have been attributed to Lancia’s 1960s mid-range offerings – although the latter two were undoubtedly the more apt descriptors, especially once the power to weight aspect of the Flavia’s performance envelope was addressed towards the latter part of the decade. In its post-1967 Milleotto evolution, the Lancia berlina offered a refined, modernist, yet utterly Italian dissertation on elegance in motion, its seemingly unprepossessing style masking a highly considered technical and aesthetic package. Continue reading “Morte a Venezia”
Half a century ago, BMW quietly launched its first 5 Series. The automotive world did not realise what a seminal car it would become.
The trio of German so-called ‘premium’ automakers like to represent themselves as operating at the cutting edge of automotive engineering, technology and design. Hence, instead of using whimsical or ephemeral names for their cars, they instead identify them with scientific precision, using alphabetic and/or numerical model designations that are entirely logical in their construction and impossible to confuse(1).
In earlier times, the business of model nomenclature was much more straightforward. Smaller cars had smaller engines and vise-versa, so the engine capacity alone was often enough to distinguish between different models. When BMW introduced its ‘Neue Klasse’ mid-sized saloon in 1962, it was simply called the 1500. Larger-engined versions followed and these were duly called 1600, 1800 and 2000. However, when BMW introduced a range of smaller saloons using the same engines, they had to Continue reading “Der Fünfer (Part One)”
A dozen or more reasons prevent your author from driving more diverse vehicles, but determination and perseverance can warrant its own reward. Anyone can pop down to a dealership and sample something new to them, but on the other hand, the total number of places you can Continue reading “You Wait for Three Years and Then…”