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”
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”
Was the Jaguar XJ-S really designed by committee, as some have suggested? We investigate.
The Jaguar XJ-S polarised opinion to an unprecedented degree at its 1975 introduction, initial incredulity giving way to open disdain as the car was swiftly written off as the conception of a car maker in decline. Almost immediately, the ‘designed by committee‘ sobriquet became the accepted throwaway dismissal, quickly becoming a well-worn justification for the car’s visual and commercial failings. Yet despite its troubled beginnings, the XJ-S went on to become one of the great automotive survivors. Additionally, it represents the final creative legacy of Malcolm Sayer, Jaguar’s brilliant aerodynamicist, whose work on the car was tragically cut short in 1970.
But is the design by committee label justified? To answer these questions, we must examine the factors that helped shape the most controversial sporting Jaguar ever. Please follow the link for the full article. Continue reading here.
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.