Silvan Song

The many faceted Nissan Silvia.

Image: TTAC

The Silvia series, if it can be described as such began at the Tokyo motor show in 1964, when an elegant Italianate coupé was shown, based upon the existing Fairlady platform (hence the rather stunted-looking wheelbase). Powered by a 1.6 litre four cylinder engine, it was no roadburner, but for the nascent Datsun car business, it was to prove something of a halo car, somewhat in the manner of Toyota’s perhaps even more comely, and technically more accomplished 2000 GT. With slightly over 500 built, they were vanishingly rare at the time, and remain so a good sixty years later. Continue reading “Silvan Song”

Subterfuge at the Castle and Then On to Carberytown

An infrequently encountered gem from Japan.

1989-1993 Nissan 200 SX. All images via the author.

Four short years. That’s all the time Nissan gave this affordable sports car. I had the pleasing fortune to find one in the depths of eastern Cologne around Easter this year. Not far away from it I spotted an XM (Series II) but I found it very difficult to Continue reading “Subterfuge at the Castle and Then On to Carberytown”

Independent Diptych (Part Two)

Studebaker’s shoestring-budget foray in the compact market.

Images: Alf van Beem and jalopyjournal.com

Development of the compact Studebaker Lark started in the spring of 1957. The South Bend, Indiana firm had created a stop-gap of sorts that year in the shape of the very austere Scotsman model, but it was obvious that this was just a severely decontented full-size car instead of the more compact vehicle envisioned to revive Studebaker’s fortunes by capturing a slice of an emerging new market segment. And a revival was desperately needed: like its rival, American Motors, Studebaker had entered into an ultimately fatal merger, in this case with the once-great luxury carmaker, Packard.

As work on the Lark started, Packard was as good as dead and its last models, which were little more than Studebakers in fancy dress, were only gathering dust on the showroom floor. For Studebaker itself, the situation was not much better as the company suffered its worst year since 1938 with fewer than 45,000 cars sold. Clearly, the new model, designed to tap into a rapidly growing market and generate much-needed profits, could not come a moment too soon, and that the Lark was ready to be introduced for the 1959 model year was a minor miracle. Continue reading “Independent Diptych (Part Two)”

A Gilded Cage?

Is Land Rover overawed by its own success?

Spot the imposter. Images: Land Rover Media.

Range Rover’s success over the past two decades in establishing itself as the pre-eminent manufacturer of luxury SUVs is truly remarkable, particularly when one considers JLR’s chequered and occasionally traumatic ownership history. British Leyland, BMW and Ford all attempted to impose their plans on the company, with decidedly mixed results. It was only in 2008, when JLR was acquired by Tata Motors, a subsidiary of the giant Indian industrial conglomerate, Tata Group, that the company finally enjoyed both the financial stability and management autonomy to Continue reading “A Gilded Cage?”

Independent Diptych (Part One)

Clever innovation from the smaller American automakers.

Image: the author

With pockets much less deep than those of the US ‘Big Three’ automakers, independent American manufacturers needed to be clever and creative to come up with new cars in response to an expanding market as the 1960s dawned. Studebaker’s solution was to use the mid-section of its existing full-size sedan that dated back to 1953 as a base, while American Motors resurrected a model, albeit with several updates applied to it, that it had discontinued years earlier.

One notable advantage of this forced strategy was that it enabled both companies to Continue reading “Independent Diptych (Part One)”

Take My Hand and Let’s Walk Down Church Hill

Automotive design research can veer sharply between the obvious and the obscure.

A warm-coloured Ford C-Max seen recently in Nordrhein-Westfalen, Germany. All images: the author.

What would a lay-person get from this recent bit of research? Its title is ‘Identifying sequence maps or locus to represent the genetic structure or genome standard of styling DNA in automotive design’. Ideally an academic article title is supposed to clearly state what the text deals with. That then makes the reader feel unstoppably compelled to put down whatever they are doing and just run to Continue reading “Take My Hand and Let’s Walk Down Church Hill”

I Care About Lines

A soft day for a first sighting.

Editor’s note: This piece was written and first published on DTW in August 2018. All images via the author.

While the remainder of Europe desiccates amidst the most protracted heatwave of recent times, here at that question mark of a landmass at the Atlantic’s cusp, a more habitual form of summer has returned: Leaden skies, horizontal mist and high humidity.

But you didn’t come here to Continue reading “I Care About Lines”

Not Leading by Example

An innovative but unapproved plan to build a flagship Citroën XM convertible.

Image: Koninklijke Hoogovens

After Citroën officially withdrew from the US market in 1972, an independent company called CX Automotive commenced unofficial imports of the CX model, much to Citroën’s annoyance. When the CX was replaced by the XM, the company, now renamed CXA, began imports of the new model and embarked on an ambitious plan to enhance the prestige of the XM by creating a convertible version via an innovative construction method devised in The Netherlands.

The seeds of the idea were sown in 1985, when CXA approached French carrossier Chapron to Continue reading “Not Leading by Example”

Keeping it Real

Musings on the US automotive landscape.

Image: the author

I am writing this on our flight home from Chicago after spending ten most enjoyable days exploring the city and surrounding areas. Chicago is one of the great American cities and, with so much to see and experience, it is well worth a visit. Over the past thirty-something years, I have had the opportunity to travel to the US many times for both business and pleasure. One of my abiding fascinations is the country’s automotive landscape and how it has evolved over these decades.

When I first arrived on those shores in the late 1980s, the US car market was still dramatically different to its European equivalent, thrillingly so for a car-obsessive like me. Despite the downsizing precipitated by the 1973 fuel crisis, there were still plenty of US-manufactured ‘land yachts’ traversing the streets of the big cities and the country’s broad highways. American cars retained their highly distinctive style amongst a plethora of different marques, each with its own signature design features. Continue reading “Keeping it Real”

Viking Italianate

Norse legend via Turin.

Image: archivioprototipi.it

Love affairs can be fickle. Within the car industry, bed hopping is almost as natural as tightening nuts. The longevity of such associations is often a factor of money as much as talent, for matters of taste do not necessarily equate to success. As we have seen in a previous instalment, Volvo had given Fissore and Zagato short shrift, only to seek out one of their lesser-known rivals, Coggiola. Whether Gothenburg had been influenced by the carrozzerias’s previous Exemplar concept is unknown, but more likely it was their work with Trollhattan natives, Saab[1].

Unveiled at the 1971 Paris auto salon, the Volvo ESC, also known as the Viking was a fully engineered concept. Described as ‘the successor to the 1800′, a sobriquet that may have been wide of the mark, even if the original Pelle Petterson design was by then widely considered something of an obsolete Viking itself. Something of a show pony, Coggiola worked expressly on the bodywork and interior, leaving the oily bits untouched.

With a styling theme broadly similar to that of the GM-based Exemplar, Coggiola was asked to Continue reading “Viking Italianate”

A Census Taker Once Tried To Test Me

SEAT’s skunkworks sports car.

Image: forocoches.com

Sociedad Española de Automóviles de Turismo, more colloquially known as SEAT, was established in 1950 and for decades produced, with a few exceptions, virtual carbon copies of Italian Fiats until the partnership ended in 1982. In the period before Volkswagen acquired a majority shareholding in 1986, SEAT introduced the Giugiaro-styled compact Ibiza which, while still using many Fiat Ritmo elements in its underlying platform, is considered the Spanish firm’s first true post-Fiat product.

Before the Ibiza, however, there was the 1200/1430 Coupé, affectionately nicknamed the ‘Boca negra’ because of its distinctive black snout. This was a car mostly developed by SEAT and first seen in concept form at the 1970 Turin motorshow as the NSU Nergal prototype, styled by Aldo Sessano. It is much sought-after today by aficionados of the SEAT marque. Continue reading “A Census Taker Once Tried To Test Me”

Modern Family [Part Three]

Harriman’s Ladder.

Image via ebay

Amongst the more striking aspects of BMC’s front-driven family of cars – if we set aside for a moment their technical courage – was the stark modernism of their design. Whether the Issigonis-inspired ADO series should be considered part of a design movement which would permeate the UK as the Sixties progressed – in architecture, product design, furnishing and in tentative forays amid the domestic automotive domain is perhaps a matter for more learned minds, but it nevertheless required a leap of imagination to Continue reading “Modern Family [Part Three]”

Franco-Italian Design Rationalism II

PSA’s ’80s midliners in microcosm.

Image: citroenorigins.nl

Editor’s note: Today, we revisit the second part of a two-part meditation on rationalism in design, featuring the Peugeot 405 and Citroen BX. The original article was first published on DTW in April 2015.

I present here the Peugeot 405 and Citroen BX together with some highlighted lines marking out their main features. I have extended the lines to see how they Continue reading “Franco-Italian Design Rationalism II”

Last Picture Show

Millennial-era nostalgia from Uncle Henry.

2001 Ford Forty Nine. Image: supercars.net

America in the late 1940s was awash with post-war optimism, and one of the loudest fanfares would blow from the Ford Motor Company’s trumpet. Before its official launch in June 1948 at the Waldof-Astoria hotel in New York, the generated buzz was palpable – the ‘49 was here. Hailed as a dream car with simple lines, picture window visibility along with mid-ship ride, the 1949 Ford was not only a huge success, but slipped easily into the burgeoning craze of cruising and customisation. On sale a mere two years, this car replenished Dearborn’s black ink wells and some believe, saved the company’s hide.

Fifty years later, at a time when the blue oval began to lose faith in the saloon shape, a concept almost made the company Continue reading “Last Picture Show”

Blackhawk Down

If you’re feeling sinister…

Image: Hemmings Auto News

One sure fire way of upsetting your customers is to halt production of an established favourite. Buick caused a national outcry when they axed the Grand National. When the Riviera was retired, the overtures were quieter perhaps but no less felt. GM rolled out concepts from time to time, and potential customers took notice until the realisation dawned that this was more a case of theatrics over genuine articles – another false dawn.

Are we perhaps being a little harsh here? Given the chance to design something from scratch, any designer worth their salt would Continue reading “Blackhawk Down”

Back to Front

Swimming against the tide of automotive history.

Over the past century or so, many mechanical configurations for the automobile have been devised, developed, engineered, tested and produced, although several failed to clear those demanding final two hurdles on their way to the showroom.

Front-wheel-drive, rear-wheel-drive, all-wheel-drive, even just one driven wheel: they have all been tried, some with more success than others. The same goes for the location of the powerplant: it can either go out front, in the middle or at the back(1), each option coming with its own set of pros and cons. Engine location and driven wheel combinations have resulted in seven more or less widely applied pairings(2), but there have also been some unusual and eccentric mixes: one definitely belonging in the latter category is the rear-engined, yet front-wheel-driven car. Continue reading “Back to Front”

It’s Such a Fine Line …

We consider two complicated entities – the Citroën DS and Pierre Bercot.

image : lignesauto.fr

For loyal enthusiasts, the sound of a hissy, lethargic A Series engine is essential to the holistic experience of the Morris Minor – none of the readily achieved Ford, Fiat, Rover, Toyota or other engine swaps could ever appeal. Likewise in the case of another car that did not receive the engine it was promised. For many Citroënistes, the wet-liner straight four, tracing its conceptual roots back to the early 1930s, is now part and parcel of the Citroën DS’s character, however much its uncultured sound rails against the rest of the car’s smoothness. But for others it is the one great disappointment, and mention is often made of the six-cylinder engine it should have had. But we ask the question, is the DS great, not despite its engine, but because of it?

Pierre Bercot was a complex man. An intellectual in the French tradition, after a doctorate in Law, he completed his education at the National School of Oriental Languages in Paris. With an impressive knowledge of Ancient Greek and an accomplished pianist, he wasn’t the average car industry boss. Joining Citroën under Pierre Jules Boulanger shortly before the War, he worked on lowering production costs of the nascent 2CV. Following Boulanger’s untimely death, in 1950 he took over the Voiture de Grande Diffusion project, encouraging engineer André Lefèbvre not to Continue reading “It’s Such a Fine Line …”

AUTOpsy: Dodge Avenger

Revisiting a mutt from Motor City. 

fullsizeoutput_14c6

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared on DTW in March 2018. All images courtesy of the author.

Was it ignorance? Negligence? Arrogance? The motive(s) may be up for debate, but there’s no arguing about the utter lack of lustre this 2007 vintage Dodge Avenger embodies. Nor that the utter cynicism of this product was the result of management decisions betraying one or all the above-mentioned traits. Naturally, by the time the Avenger was brought to market, most of the people who had made these decisions had departed for pastures new, considerably further afield than Auburn Hills.

After a most glorious turnaround performance abroad, former Chrysler CEO and self-styled Dr Zee, Dieter Zetsche, returned to the parent company in Stuttgart, where he immediately instigated the fire sale of the American car maker. His right-hand man, Wolfgang Ayerle/Bernhard, had already departed, but would eventually rejoin Zee at Stuttgart. Chrysler chief designer, Trevor Creed, was also about to Continue reading “AUTOpsy: Dodge Avenger”

South Bend Undead

The many afterlives of the Avanti.

All brochure images: Avanti / the author

As a Studebaker, the Avanti was short-lived and proved unable to prevent the venerable independent automaker’s demise not long after its launch. The death of Studebaker did not mean the end for the Avanti, however, not by a long shot.

In fact, even while Studebaker was still an active car manufacturer, albeit in Canada instead of South Bend, Indiana, as before, the first Avanti resuscitation was already underway. In July 1964, Nathan Altman and Leo Newman, two South Bend Studebaker dealers, signed an agreement with the company whereby they acquired the rights to the design, moulds and tooling for the Avanti as well as the rights to Continue reading “South Bend Undead”

Bold and Pure

The lesser-spotted 2022 Astra

Image: Autocar

The evergreen Astra: around these environs, you might be hard pressed to believe that seasons five, six and, to a lesser degree, seven have ceased production at all. Examples of each of these generations still ply their trade, from the local builder’s grubby estate car or faithful family holdall, to the noisome kerbside cruisers beloved of maxed-up youth. These and other variants remain daily sightings, their longevity a credit to the brand.

But wherefore the latest incarnation? Astra achter was revealed to this fair land during the Summer of 2021, becoming available to download[1] (sorry), purchase from November, yet your North Western correspondent has yet to Continue reading “Bold and Pure”

From Today Until Tonight, Onward They March To Yesterday

The 1990 E31 shown here is an example of what was up to then a rare bird in the BMW cage.

All images: the author.

The E31, also known as the 8 Series, embodied everything BMW knew about making cars. Oddly, it didn’t really move many people, didn’t change the gameplay or influence anyone much. What it did do was to exist as an example of excess everything. It also trotted in a race in which the public had lost interest, the race to make the fastest, most technically accomplished production road car in the world. As it happened, BMW won that contest, zooming over the finish line ahead of the competition(1).

Mercedes-Benz’s much-vaunted W140 S-Class appeared a year later and it too was met with a chilly disdain. (Audi was still trying to Continue reading “From Today Until Tonight, Onward They March To Yesterday”

Swedish Cliffhangers

More lost prototypes from Volvo’s cutting room floor.

1952 Volvo Philip prototype. Image: Secret Classics

Measuring the strength of any influence can prove difficult. The film and TV industries revel in suspense, from those early monochrome Flash Gordon and Zorro weeklies to today’s greedy multi-franchised big-screen sequels. Leaving the audience wanting more invariably guarantees success, but do these eleventh hour on-screen nail-biting endings have much in common with those created within the car industry? More so than it might appear: that most conservative and safety-conscious of Swedish carmakers had several instances of the will they, won’t they?  cliffhanger, the first being named, of all things, Philip.

Whether Jan Wilsgaard was partial to Continue reading “Swedish Cliffhangers”

Billeted By The Waterfall

Buick tantalises, but disappoints.

2013 Buick Riviera Concept. Image: topspeed.com

For the new millennium, GM tasked its Holden operation in Australia with creating a new global platform, which would be named Zeta. Costing around AUD $1Bn, Zeta was engineered for longitudinal engine placement and RWD as standard, with the option for AWD. It was designed to be highly flexible and could accommodate over half a dozen body styles with variable wheelbase lengths, ride heights, roof lines and windscreen rakes. The suspension comprised MacPherson struts with dual-ball lower A-arms at the front and a four-link independent set-up at the rear. With full-blown production models still another two years away, GM took the decision to Continue reading “Billeted By The Waterfall”

The Flying Burrito, Brother

Denied, or swerved? We examine a lost Buick concept.

1999 Buick Cielo concept. Image: Consumer Guide Auto

The conglomeration of niches and target customers explored by car makers in the conceptual realm have for the most part enjoyed a better than average tendency towards termination on dead-end street. Concepts may showcase design flourishes or preview the latest in technology, but rarely see production reality – more often appearing as a feature flick here, or a garrulous gamut there. But as the millennium approached, and their once-proud Riviera model withered on the vine, Buick sought to Continue reading “The Flying Burrito, Brother”

2015 Citroen C4 Picasso Review

We took a Citroen C4 Picasso on a 186 mile trip. It does one thing better than an Opel Zafira. We’ll come to that later….

2015 Citroen C4 Picasso in diesel guise
2015 Citroen C4 Picasso in diesel guise

Editor’s note: To mark the recent announcement that Citroën are to discontinue the (now-named) Grand C4 Spacetourer this July, we mark its passing by revisiting this exhaustive DTW research report, first published on 22 September 2015.

Introduction

There’s so much wrong with this car. Ahead of you are 2,158 words, almost none of them complimentary.

More introduction

Launched in 2013, the C4 Picasso is a car that I am sure you have all seen on the school run. It has seven seats and an electrically powered tailgate. DTW took charge of a C4 Picasso with the express intention of seeing how it coped with three adults and two children. Normally I would structure a review like this along the lines of a general description, design, engineering, driving, comfort and conclusion. That general ordering assumes that all of those things are of equal value and you’d want to Continue reading “2015 Citroen C4 Picasso Review”

Under the Knife: Fiat 124 and 128 Coupés

Fiat has had a patchy history with facelifts. Here we have one hit, one miss and one meh.

1967 Fiat 124 Sport Coupé. Image: barons-auctions.com

Half a century ago, the European automotive landscape was considerably enriched by the presence of a variety of coupés from different mainstream manufacturers, all offering their own take on this style-led format with varying degrees of success from a design perspective. The best of these offered, for a relatively modest premium over the price of the saloon on which they were based, the opportunity to Continue reading “Under the Knife: Fiat 124 and 128 Coupés”

Their Eyes Met Through Glanmire’s Mist

It is only twenty years since the world’s press welcomed the Opel Vectra C. We consider it again today.

Opel Vectra C

The Vectra C made its public debut at the 2002 Geneva Salon. The styling continued the themes of the 1999 Opel Astra G and so managed to form the heart of a range of crisply styled Opels that included the 2003 Meriva (a jewel of a car) and the 2004 Tigra, concluding with the Zafira B of 2005.

It’s very much a car of its time. The Vectra C shares some of the clean surfacing and crisply defined edges that also feature on the admirable 2000 Ford Mondeo, but the closeness of the launches would indicate that this was a coincidence. Continue reading “Their Eyes Met Through Glanmire’s Mist”

X Marks the Spot

Flattery, both sincere and otherwise.

Image: muquiranas.com

Copied even before it was launched, and manufactured in modified form with a fibreglass body in Brasil until well into the current century, Fiat’s compact mid-engined targa-topped coupé inspired imitators both before and after its long career.

The Fiat X1/9 as launched at the 1972 Turin Motor Show was a productionised and consequently less radical evolution of the 1969 Autobianchi Runabout concept by Bertone, credited to Marcello Gandini. At the previous year’s Turin show, however, a vehicle that looked extremely similar to the planned but as yet unveiled Fiat was on display. To add insult to injury, the little yellow sportscar was parked almost within touching distance of Bertone’s majestic stand. What on Earth had happened?

Picking up the telephone in his studio, Tom Tjaarda barely had  time to Continue reading “X Marks the Spot”

Life in Monochrome

Understanding the 1985 Fiat Croma.

Image: Automoto.it

Platform sharing, the practice of developing superficially unique vehicles for different marques within an automotive group based on a common architecture, is so widespread today, so obviously logical and cost-effective, that to do otherwise would seem perverse. Back in October 1978, however, a ground-breaking deal was signed between Fiat-owned Lancia and Saab to develop a common platform upon which each maker would build its own large D-segment contender. Lancia chief Sergio Camuffo led the programme from the Italian side. The platform would be called the Type Four and feature a transverse-engined front-wheel-drive layout. Alfa Romeo would later(1) sign up to become a partner in the project.

The attraction of the deal to Continue reading “Life in Monochrome”

Shift Happens

A tale of ambition and overreach.

Image: Monamicitroen.blog

“At the age of six I wanted to be a cook. At seven I wanted to be Napoleon. And my ambition has been growing steadily ever since.”

Salvador Dalì

André Citroën, the French industrial giant, may not have possessed a level of ambition quite as extreme as that claimed by the controversial Spanish artist, but few amongst his peers in the automobile industry could match his boundless energy and determination to lead the way, often eschewing received wisdom and conventional thinking in the process. These attributes brought him fame and fortune, but would also eventually prove to be his undoing.

A salient example of the double-edged sword of Citroën’s ambition and overreach was the Traction Avant of 1934. It was a revolutionary, highly modern and accomplished design in almost every possible way. Citroën’s original plan was for the Traction to be equipped with a newly designed fully automatic transmission, the brainchild of a prolific Brazilian inventor. Continue reading “Shift Happens”

Coup d’État

An act of defiance against Dearborn created an exceptionally pretty Ford.

Image: newsdanciennes.com

Established during the Great War by the head of Ford of Britain, Percival Perry, Société Française des Automobiles Ford was Dearborn’s Gallic outpost, producing  Ford models T, A, Y and B as the twentieth century progressed. It would, however, prove to be a rather wilful and independently-minded offspring, resistant to the dictates of its parent company. In 1934, Maurice Dollfus, who had been appointed head of the company four years earlier, sought a means to expand its operations. An introduction to an Alsatian chap by the name of Emile Mathis led to the creation of Matford SA, based in Strasbourg, a joint-venture company in which ownership was split 60:40 in Dearborn’s favour.

Relations across the pond soured in the late 1930s, with Dearborn seeking to Continue reading “Coup d’État”

A Luton Brougham

A look back to Vauxhall’s mid-’70s upmarket ambitions.

1976 Vauxhall VX Prestige prototype. Image: droopsnootgroup

Editor’s note: This article was originally published on DTW on 11 November 2017.

As automotive industry analysts ponder the fate of Opel / Vauxhall in the wake of the PSA takeover, one possible future being mapped out involves a shift upmarket. On the face of things, this appears about as likely as PSA getting a sudden rush of blood to the head and starting to take Citroën seriously, but as (im)possible futures go, it may not be entirely unthinkable.

Not everyone in the soothsaying universe seems to agree however, as a report in ANE yesterday suggests. Sanford C. Bernstein’s Max Warburton (We haven’t heard from him for a while.) suggesting PSA should “Dump the Vauxhall brand,” before going on to say, “Even the most jingoistic Brexiteers would rather buy a German car. There’s no room for a one-market brand in 2017.”

But leaving aside Warburton’s tough love analysis, can Vauxhall (a) survive, and (b) prosper in today’s increasingly febrile landscape? Taking matters further, could the Griffin (c) ever contemplate a move upmarket, given their current situation? While we ponder this, let us just for a moment Continue reading “A Luton Brougham”

Simplify, Then Add Lightness

Trying to understand the Lotus Eletre.

Front elevation. Can you guess what it is yet? Image: Lotus Cars Media

Even I have come to accept that sports car marques can barely survive, and certainly not thrive, without having an SUV or crossover in their portfolio. Indeed, it seems that even developing a saloon car is not worth the R&D these days, given the news that Mazda will not be replacing the Mazda6, although its new FR platform, RWD, straight-sixes and all, looks tailor made for that job.

Not that I am trying to Continue reading “Simplify, Then Add Lightness”

Keeping Up Appearances

A tale of two half-sisters.

Opel Rekord D. Image: best-selling carsblog

US multinational corporations are often caricatured as having a heavy-handed We Know Best approach to managing their overseas businesses. In the automotive industry, however, the opposite appears to have been the case, at least historically. Over the course of the twentieth century, Ford, General Motors and Chrysler all built up substantial European operations, either through acquisition or organic growth. Not only did these corporations allow their European businesses to operate with a high degree of autonomy from Detroit, they were also markedly reluctant to Continue reading “Keeping Up Appearances”

How Many Melodies there are to Forget.

Oh, dear. It’s another Suzuki article. 

Suzuki Ignis Mk2. All images: the author

How can I introduce this cheeky, useful, honest and endearing car without alienating readers who prefer uncouth, useless, dishonest and off-putting cars? This time it’s the Mk2 Ignis, which I considered to be quite horrible when I first happened to see one many years ago, but which I now consider quite attractive. What changed? Obviously my own opinions and values shifted and I came to see the inherent worth of a car that made credible efforts to Continue reading “How Many Melodies there are to Forget.”

Spice of Life

The Opel Kadett B was resolutely unexceptional, except in one respect.

Opel Kadett B Kiemencoupé. Image: Favcars

The development of flexible modular platforms and standardised component sets has enabled automakers to spin off a wide variety of models from the same basic architecture. This allows them economically to target market niches where projected sales would make unique stand-alone models entirely unviable. For example, the Cupra Formentor would probably not have been signed off for production if it were not for the existence of volume sellers such as the Škoda Karoq, with which it shares a great deal under the skin.

In similar vein, Opel / Vauxhall’s Stellantis-era models are based on existing Peugeot / Citroën architectures, which has allowed them to be developed for production in a remarkably short time. Whether this widespread commonality is conducive to providing genuine choice for drivers is a moot point, but it is certainly here to stay and is likely to Continue reading “Spice of Life”

Lightning Flash

Lost causes – missing links – exhuming Jaguar’s stillborn XJ21.

1967 E-Type 2+2. Image: Classic & Sportscar

As descriptive metaphors go, bottled lightning requires little by way of explanation or exposition on the part of the writer. In 1961, Jaguar Cars successfully manged this seemingly impossible feat with the introduction of the E-Type, a car which itself would come to stand as metaphor for a now mythologised era of hedonism, permissiveness and social change. But in the Spring of ’61 all of that was for the future. Meanwhile, the manner in which the E-Type was received took Jaguar’s CEO somewhat by surprise.

Attending the E’s euphoric US debut in 1961, Sir William Lyons became painfully aware that while prospective customers were enraptured by the car, many simply couldn’t comfortably Continue reading “Lightning Flash”

Pushing the Envelope

The 1999 Mercedes CL redefined the term ‘back of an envelope’ design.

Image: Autoevolution.com

Editor’s note: This article was originally published on DTW on 14 June 2019.

Like most major carmakers, Mercedes-Benz, under the design leadership of Bruno Sacco at Stuttgart-Sindelfingen, assigned individual teams to specific product lines. However, Sacco also permitted all members of his styling team, irrespective of discipline, to submit proposals for evaluation whenever a new model was being considered.

These would be then whittled down to a shortlist, the favoured proposals being produced in quarter-scale form. A further evaluation would see these being reduced to a final shortlist of three proposals, which would be produced in 1 : 1 scale for final selection. This ensured that management had sufficient quantities of alternative styles to Continue reading “Pushing the Envelope”

Mazda’s BMW

Mazda’s latest pitch for premium status.

New Mazda CX-60 (Source: Car Magazine)

Most long-established readers of this noble site will know that I am a bit of a Mazda fanboy. A few years ago, I wrote a series of long-term tests regarding my Mazda3 Fastback, and more recently I did a retrospective on the 1983 Mazda 626. I have admired the company’s innovation over the years, its independent spirit and, most recently, its ‘Kodo’ design language. Oh, and I still think that Soul Red Crystal is the still most beautiful paint colour on any mass-production car.

The current Mazda3 is somewhat divisive, mainly due to the arguably over-generously proportioned rear pillar on the 5-door hatch. However, the sophisticated surfacing, restrained detailing and beautifully assembled and finished interior really do rival or even exceed the design standards of premium marques such as BMW, Audi, Mercedes-Benz and Lexus. I don’t recall Mazda claiming full-blown ‘premium’ aspirations for the current 3, but much about the car is giving a vigorous nod in that direction. Continue reading “Mazda’s BMW”

Making Sense of the Supercar

Ingolstadt does it differently.

Image: newcarnet

Running an errand recently facilitated a rare sighting for me: not one but two first-generation Audi R8s passed me by within seconds of each other. Notwithstanding the pouring rain, I paused to take the pair in, a silver example closely followed by one in black, both on 2008 plates. Hang on, I thought, has the R8 really been around for that long? Longer still, it turns out: launched in hot and dusty Nevada in 2006 following its Paris Salon unveiling, Audi’s everyday supercar has lost none of its sparkle over the intervening years.

Styled under the supervision of Italian design chief, Walter de Silva, the R8 cannot readily be pigeonholed as a conventionally beautiful mid-engined supercar. Instead, it is unorthodox, complex and, in front and rear three-quarter views, most definitely muscular and imposing. Continue reading “Making Sense of the Supercar”

Ashes to Ashes (Part 2)

Prying open a few more creaking doors, we conclude our trundle amongst the fallen.

1950 Plymouth. All images: The author

In 1948, Packard continued its longstanding leadership in the American luxury car arena. It remained the best-selling brand, with over 92,000 sales, compared to Cadillac’s tally of around 52,000. However, its dominance was coming to an end. That year’s bulbous restyling of a body that dated back to 1941 didn’t help matters and the car quickly earned the unflattering nickname ‘pregnant elephant’. From 1950 onwards, Cadillac took the lead and never looked back, while Packard withered and died before the end of the decade. Continue reading “Ashes to Ashes (Part 2)”

Not Alone is the Winter’s Chalice Replenished

A vanishingly rare version of an increasingly rare car falls under our Danish correspondent’s purview today. (First published on 1st May  2017)

All images: the author

Very clearly the work of a singular vision, that of Michel Boué, the Renault 5 impresses with the clarity of its concept. This example shows how it could be more than a basic conveyance. In this instance, we have here a really tidy, time-warp example with very little sign of tear or wear. We’ll get to the interior in a moment, with its comfortable sports seats and very inviting ambience. The 5 is a reduction of the essential themes of the Renault 4, using simple industrial design form language. The surfaces are minimal and the discipline of the radii is consistently applied. The lamps fit neatly into the surrounding surface and the features are aligned in an orderly fashion. Despite all this formal correctness, the car is quite cheerful and friendly. Continue reading “Not Alone is the Winter’s Chalice Replenished”

Your Sleepy Voice Tells Me It´s Late Where You Are

A pleasant encounter on the streets of Dublin.

1989 Lancia Thema – enduring excellence

You might feel that we have featured the Lancia Thema rather too often on the pages of Driven To Write, but I would contend that it makes up for the blizzard of articles on the Citroën DS, Corvette, E-Type and Beetle found elsewhere on the Internet. With that said, here’s another Thema.

I had to double-check the facts: the Lancia Thema first emerged in 1984, launched in October of that year.  Hence, it is something of a shock to realise the Thema’s 40th anniversary is almost upon us.  The message I draw from this is that core industrial design principles amount to an enduring and time-proof way to resolve a product. Continue reading “Your Sleepy Voice Tells Me It´s Late Where You Are”

Things Haven’t Worked Out As Expected

The author samples Volvo’s first EV-only model.

All images: The author

Thanks to the deep pockets of its parent company, Zhejiang Geely Holding Group, Volvo’s transformation from ICE to electric vehicles is moving ahead at pace. The strategy was devised by outgoing Chief Executive, Håkan Samuelsson, and will be picked up by his successor, Jim Rowan, who takes over this month (March 2022). The days of the fossil-fuelled Swedish car are most definitely numbered.

Having been the proud owner of one of Gothenburg’s finest for the past eighteen months or so, I recently received an invitation to attend a (nationwide) event at my local Volvo dealership in order to sample the new C40 Recharge. This is the first Volvo to be powered solely by electricity, and it comes in a new shape as well, the currently uber-fashionable crossover-coupé. Continue reading “Things Haven’t Worked Out As Expected”

The Milwaukee Magician (Part Five)

Concluding our guided tour through the works of Brooks Stevens.

Image: stlouiscarmuseum.com

1964 Excalibur SS: Studebaker needed something special to display at the 1964 New York Motor Show. The cars that had been displayed at the Chicago event earlier in the year were pretty underwhelming, being mainly colour and trim variations on the regular production vehicles. Byers Burlingame, successor to Sherwood Egbert, who had been forced to resign as CEO of Studebaker for health reasons, discussed the matter with Brooks Stevens over the telephone.

Stevens later recalled that he asked Burlingame to ship a Lark Daytona chassis to him. When Burlingame asked what he intended to do with it, Stevens replied crisply that he was “going to build a contemporary classic.” When Burlingame asked “What in the hell is that?” Stevens had to think a few seconds, as the idea was new to him also, and finally replied: “Well, it’s a new old car.” Burlingame just hung up the phone, but the chassis was duly sent over.

Even though his designs in various fields were mostly quite avant garde, Stevens was also a lifelong fan of the great classic cars. His idea, unique at the time but subsequently copied by many others, was to Continue reading “The Milwaukee Magician (Part Five)”

So Glad they Bothered vs. Why Did they Bother?

We debate substance versus style.

Basic Dacia Jogger in UN White (Source: Byri)

On the 9th February 2022, first drive reviews of two quite different yet similarly priced new models featured on the home page of a certain influential car magazine’s website and caused something of a debate chez DTW. One of them gives me cause to believe that there is again room in the market for an honest car that offers fantastic value to potential buyers. The other is a disappointing replacement of an existing city car that just makes me wonder why they bothered?

Let’s start with the positive: all hail the Dacia Jogger. OK, so the name is daft, but then so was Roomster, the moniker given to the car of which the Jogger reminds me so much. Sadly, Škoda has long abandoned this corner of the market, and with it has gone its most distinctive and playful of designs, which must also include the Yeti. Both of these Ingenlath-influenced cars are firm favourites for most, if not all, on this site. Continue reading “So Glad they Bothered vs. Why Did they Bother?”

Lady in Waiting

Honda meets 1970s modernism.

Image: autonxt.net

Founded in 1966, Carrozzeria Coggiola is located in the Turinese suburb of Orbassano, then also home to Giovanni Michelotti’s styling bureau. Coggiola is not nearly as well known to the general public as storied names such as Bertone, Pininfarina or Ital Design because, apart from cars like the SAAB Sonett III, not many Coggiola designs ever became available in showrooms. This small carrozzeria instead specialised in manufacturing bespoke cars for private clients. It was also employed by mainstream manufacturers to build prototypes and one-off concept cars, for example, the pyramidal 1980 Citroën Karin and 1988 Renault Mégane concept. Continue reading “Lady in Waiting”

The Milwaukee Magician (Part Four)

Continuing our guided tour of the works of Brooks Stevens.

Image: cartype.com

1962 and 1964 Studebaker Lark facelifts: In 1956, Studebaker parted ways with Raymond Loewy, the designer responsible (in name at least) for the creation of most of the Indiana company’s cars of the preceding decades. The reason was not so much dissatisfaction with Loewy’s services, but a lack of money: Studebaker’s sales were in the doldrums and the company simply could not afford him anymore. Styling responsibilities would henceforth lie with its in-house design team, led by Randall Faurot and Duncan McRae.

The compact Lark(1) was McRae and his colleagues’ first design. They ingeniously re-used the rather dated central body section of the company’s existing large Champion model, which had been introduced in 1953. Initially, the Lark sold very well and was wholly responsible for saving Studebaker from bankruptcy, at least for the time being. Sherwood Egbert became CEO of the troubled company at the end of 1960. Having previously worked for the McCulloch company, Egbert had already met Brooks Stevens on a few occasions, so it was to the Milwaukee designer that Egbert would turn to Continue reading “The Milwaukee Magician (Part Four)”

Eighties Eco-Concept Marvels: Epilogue – Endgame?

Where next for the Eco-car?


Citroen Ami (Source: Automotive News Europe)

Having enjoyed researching and writing about our three eighties eco-concept marvels, what thoughts now come to mind about the current state of the small car market? After all, the future as predicted by the ECO 2000, for example, has long since passed.

The car as we know it is, without doubt, experiencing something of a fin de siècle. Personally, I have felt a growing sense that car design and development has plateaued, become complacent and intellectually flabby, with form increasingly disconnected from function. I have also realised that this is reflected in my writings for DTW, which recently has been focused very much on the past rather than today or the future.

So, much as I enjoyed writing this short series, it has left me a little flat in terms of thoughts about the status quo and the future. Cue a stream of consciousness … Continue reading “Eighties Eco-Concept Marvels: Epilogue – Endgame?”

Just When I Feel I Can’t Dance Anymore, Love Comes to Play

How is it that I have a lot of time for the Cadillac Fleetwood Talisman, but find I have rather less time for its modern-day equivalent?

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I suppose it is because the Cadillac Fleetwood Talisman could be said to be a real Cadillac whereas the Maybach is conspicuously uncertain as to its identity. Is that such a problem? Ford’s Vignale is a bit uncertain and yet I like those cars a great deal. Something else is at issue here. The Mercedes-Maybach featured today makes me think that, if I wanted to Continue reading “Just When I Feel I Can’t Dance Anymore, Love Comes to Play”