This article was originally published exclusively on Driven to Write in serialised form in the Spring of 2014.
In September 1975 the newly nationalised British Leyland conglomerate celebrated the Jaguar XJ-S’ launch at Longbridge, the traditional home of its volume car division. A worse time to launch a 150-mph grand turismo is difficult to imagine, to say nothing of the chosen setting. The chosen venue appeared to be a calculated statement of power, British Leyland ensuring Jaguar’s management and workforce knew exactly who was in charge.
Mistakes from which one can learn come in forms such as these.
About once a year I visit a relative in a very small village on the south fringe of the Black Forest. Every time I do, I see a different Lancia Kappa coupé. But they only made about 3000 of these cars and production ceased 14 years ago. I assume then that the region in which the car was seen has an unusual density of the vehicles. Continue reading “Another in a Long Line: Lancia Kappa Coupé (1997-2000)”
The Ford Ka, 1996 – 2009: one of the better and cuter designs of the last two decades.
The alternative Ford Ka concept followed the jelly-bean school of design that Ford had been exploring with the Taurus, Mondeo and the Puma. But in the internal design competition Ford Europe went for a radically different surface treatment of the same package and proportions. Continue reading “Theme : Cute Car Hall of Fame – 1996 Ford Ka”
Bertone gives Issigonis’ box on wheels some sharp-suited Italian style and demonstrates how cute doesn’t always mean curvy.
The 1970’s can be seen as a bit of a lost decade when it comes to cute cars apart from this – the Innocenti 90/120L. Innocenti’s association with BMC began in 1960, producing cars like the Austin A40, 1100 and more notably, the Mini under licence for the Italian market. Innocenti’s versions of BMC models tended to be plusher; the subtle restyling undertaken often appearing better judged and executed than those of their UK counterparts.
There are a great many conflicting facts and inconsistencies surrounding the deity Porsche’s successor to the 356 has turned into over the course of a few decades.
Above all else, there is the incontestable fact that its basic layout, the core of its engineering, is of the idiosyncratic kind.That in itself wouldn’t raise any eyebrows, but such eccentricity – despite oftentimes inviting critical acclaim, at least initially – usually excludes lasting success. That the 911 overcomes the usual reservations towards alien solutions may be due to two facts. Continue reading “Dial 911 For Cute”
Cute: It’s such a nebulous term. It can be an adjective, a noun or an adverb, and its meaning has shifted markedly since its origins in the 18th century. After all, one person’s pretty or dainty is another’s contrived and calculating. So which is it? But no matter you view the term, you simply can’t Continue reading “Theme: What’s Cute Got to Do with It?”
The new Formula 1 regulations have thrown up the usual complaints about the inelegance of modern racers. Despite my disinterest in The Circus, I actually find the new batch some of the more interesting looking racers of recent years though, of course, interesting is not beautiful.
Patrick Le Quement´s little wonder, the Twingo. A reference for anthropomorphic design.
Twenty one years later, the Renault Twingo still holds up as both a very decidedly un-threatening car and a solid bit of industrial design. Seldom are cuteness and aesthetic discipline united in such a successful way.
Has there ever been a more unselfconsciously cute car than the Frogeye Sprite? That grinning air intake, those amphibian headlights and pert form, to the dainty little tail-lights, the little Austin-Healey is about as friendly and cuddlesome as a miniature Schnauzer. Had Pixar created it, it really couldn’t have any more maddeningly lovable.
After “New Edge” came what exactly? And when? And why
For some considerable time I have been wondering about the legacy of Ford Europe’s design director, Chris Bird. What did he achieve and where is he now? First a short review of the received wisdom. Prior to taking up his position at Ford in 1999, Bird was at Audi (where he did the first A8) then renowned for its ice-cool design approach.
I’ve just spent a few days and 2,500 km driving around Eastern France. In that time, I saw two Citroën CXs, a Renault Dauphine, a Renault 12, a Simca 1100 and a Peugeot 504. And I also saw an Onze Legere Traction, but that was UK registered. Those staple cliches for the location director setting an episode of a popular UK TV series in France, the DS and the 2CV, were nowhere to be seen, save for a battered Snail sitting on the roof of a scrapyard. Of course a French person visiting the UK would notice the dearth of Morris Minors and Rover 2000s but, somehow, the homogeneity of the modern French industry is so much more depressing. Even a Peugeot 406 and a Renault 21 were almost cheering sights, being pretty Gallic compared with today’s eurocars.
The Lancia Delta nameplate deserved better than this.
The first Lancia Delta (1979 to 1994) was two things. It was an neatly uninteresting, Italdesign five door, front-drive car of little obvious merit. And later in life the same car was a high-performance sporting hatch. From 1993 to 1999 Lancia tried to cash in on the Lancia Delta name with this iteration, sold (if it sold at all) in three and five door guise. The second version was a badly considered blend of the predecessor so it had moderately sporting capability and almost, but not quite totally bland styling. Continue reading “Something Rotten in […] Denmark: Lancia Delta”
The Ascona C (1980-1988) has cast a long shadow over Opel. Is this the car that created the persistent impression of dullness that tarnishes the Opel badge?
Today’s inspiration is an Opel Ascona 2-door saloon, spotted in the north of Aarhus. The recent resurgence (maybe that’s only in my own mind) of Opel has made me reconsider where, precisely, it all went wrong for Adam Opel AG. Lying on my psychiatrist’s couch I turned over my impressions and images of Opel. Continue reading “The Long Shadows of the Past”
It might not look dangerous but this car wiped out the dinosaurs.
What is significant about this car is not merely that it exists at all but that it inspired an unheard-of level of loyalty with its customers. Just as it was becoming apparent that buying European was not a guarantee of quality, the Japanese makers were beginning their exploration of exportation.
The upper-middle class coupé is almost extinct. We trace its demise.
Large upper-middle class coupés only made commercial sense if they could be produced to appeal to both domestic and US audiences. Mercedes-Benz, BMW and the Japanese manufacturers alone seemed to understand this, ensuring they could export their offerings to the sector’s natural habitat. Success in automotive terms had traditionally been predicated on success in America and for that, a luxury coupé was highly desirable. Continue reading “Coupé de Grâce”
The quality of the interior has held up better than the quality of the concept of the Rover 827.
Given the depredations of the Danish climate and the fact this car was assembled in the UK, today’s discovery, a Rover 827 coupe, has held up rather well. Goodness, the leather interior is even developing a patina which I used think was only possible on cars made before I was born. Continue reading “Something Rotten in […] Denmark: The Baby Bentley”
The only new car launch I have attended was in 1969. It took place in Harrods, and all I knew was that it was to be a Jensen. Jensen had introduced their Interceptor and FF three years previously, so I wondered what this could be. A four door version? A mid-engined sportster? A convertible? I was intrigued.
In the event, my anticipation was ill-placed. The launch was for the Jensen Director. This was an Interceptor, finished in a fetching blue, with an interior created under the direction of top yacht designer, Jon Bannenberg. A car whose emphasis is on catering to business people might seem a bit odd today, since practically anything on wheels seems to try to give the idea that the driver has a rich and varied leisure life, to which their work is inevitably secondary. You might drive 1,000 km to that meeting in Munich, but only so that you can drop in to the ‘Ring on the way back. Back then business was more exotic. The Bristol was ‘The Businessman’s Express’. Top Fords were ‘Executive’. The idea of pounding along the M1, dictating letters, was sexy – you were building tomorrow. Continue reading “Director! Memories of a Different Industry”
A sermon about why car museums are to be avoided if you like old cars.
Every car museum I have visited in the last 2.25 decades has been a disappointment. Cars are inherently space-consuming selfish monsters and even when they are caught, killed and pinned to plinths this quality does not diminish. They need plenty of room, alive or dead.
Reassessing Chris Bangle’s Bayerische Motoren Werke Legacy.
Only a handful of individuals shape what we drive and by consequence, what populates our streets and driveways. Our current notions of automotive style were formed during the 1950s in the styling studios of Detroit and within the Italian carrozzieri, who fired imaginations and rendered dreams in hand-beaten alloy. For decades these designers and artisans were largely faceless men but during the 1980’s, the car designer emerged from obscurity and into the consciousness of the auto-literate.
I visited here in 2011, just after it had re-opened following a complete restoration.
It is a large and impressive museum, mixing the informative (exposed engines and bare chassis) with the glib (new Fiat 500s bursting through kitchen walls). But you need to get them in and presentation is important, especially if you are accompanied, as I was, by someone who does not find cars at all exciting. Continue reading “Museo Nazionale dell’Automobile Torino”
The Jaguar XJ-S. Controversial. Reviled. Defamed. But was it a committee design, as some have suggested? We investigate.
1975 was a tumultuous year in the UK. Petrol rationing was in force, and a 50-mph speed limit blanketed the roads. A three-day week had been enacted to save energy and the very social fabric of British life appeared to be breaking down. There was an ugly whiff of cordite in the air, with spiralling labour disputes, battle lines drawn on football terraces, and the horror of the IRA bombing campaign. Amidst these upheavals, the delayed launch of what would become the most controversial car to Continue reading “Reconvening the Committee”
The in-line eight cylinder petrol engine has receded into history. It has powered some of the great cars – the Alfa 8Cs, the Mercedes 300SLR, the Duesenberg SJ and the Bugatti Type 35, but its last appearance in a production car was in the early 1950s, in the finely named Packard Patrician.
The reasons for its disappearance are pretty obvious. It is not the greatest packaging solution and, with all those stresses and temperature variations laid out in a long line, it presents a whole series of engineering problems. Why bother when a V configuration is easier? For anything that has to be made to a budget, that is probably a reasonable attitude to take but, for some of us, the engine has a hugely exotic attraction, highlighted by its very impracticality.
My French teacher at grammar school, Mr Roberts, had a small collection of Austin 7s from the 1920s, which he alternated using as transport to work. I think that he considered me a bit of a prat (history might have vindicated him on some levels, certainly) and, sensing this, I reciprocated with contempt for his collection of little, old and, at the time, very cheap cars. In hindsight, I might have had a more rewarding time discussing the niceties of the Ulster, Ruby, etc with him and he might have decided that I had some redeeming features. I deeply regret my glib teenage contempt, though it was entirely my loss. He was right, I was wrong.
There was a nice feature on the Voisin C7 Lumineuse in The Automobile (publisher Mr Doug Blain – late of CAR) a couple of months ago.
It was a very boxy car, so much so that it even came with extra boxes attached. Distinctive, for a car of that era, and contributing to the name, was a full width rear window, and Voisin apparently had to work hard to get people to accept the need for decent all round visibility. He’d have the same problem again today. With a few notable exceptions, I don’t spend much time admiring Vintage machinery, but I rather like this.
Although the C7 is one of Voisin’s more conservative designs, particularly technically, Gabriel Voisin, as much as Andre Citroen, could be seen as the godfather of the classic Citroen. Andre Lefebvre, the engineer behind the Traction Avant, 2CV and DS, worked for Voisin both as an engineer and a competition driver throughout the 1920s, and developed his innovative and uncompromising approach under Gabriel Voisin’s leadership. Compared with its contemporaries, the unfussy nature of the C7 might also be seen in the Traction.