Swede Dreams are Made of These

A tale of some lesser-known Saabs.

Image: the author

Some will be of the opinion that ‘SAAB oddity’ is something of an oxymoron, in particular when it concerns the Swedish company prior to its acquisition (and homogenization) by General Motors. That may be so, but over the course of its existence, the Swedish marque produced and, in some cases, inspired its fair share of projects that were noteworthy and unusual, even by the company’s own sometimes eccentric standards. Today we will Continue reading “Swede Dreams are Made of These”

Savannah Postcard (3)

Truly one of the great and lovely names in the back catalogues of car history: Electra.

1985-1990 Buick Electra in Savannah, Georgia

General Motors has produced some very charming cars and they have also been incredibly bad custodians of their brand equity. Here is an example of a great name on a good car, relics of an abandoned market and an abandoned badge. More than 30 years after it ceased production, the Electra name still casts bright-blue light, and it made my afternoon when I saw this one while I was about to Continue reading “Savannah Postcard (3)”

Welcome to the Machine – Part Six

More than one way to behead a cat.

The XJ-S at its Geneva 1988 debut. Image: Car Magazine

Following the carmaker’s remarkable return from near-death only three years previously, America’s movers and shakers were once again buying Jaguars in number. “The word has got out on the cocktail circuit that the Jaguar is the car to have”, as Jaguar Inc Press Officer, Mike Cook told journalists in 1983. But the lack of an open-topped XJ-S model would soon become a genuine impediment to sales growth. From this point onwards, US requests for a convertible would become increasingly strident.

The Jaguar board realised that the expediently engineered XJ-S Cabriolet could only buy them a certain amount of time, but meanwhile something needed to be done to mollify potential US customers, for whom nothing but a full convertible would suffice and who would otherwise simply Continue reading “Welcome to the Machine – Part Six”

Talk to the Hand

He who dares, not always wins.

Image: Pininfarina SpA

The revered Italian styling house of Pininfarina has designed, and in some cases also built, cars for a multitude of manufacturers spanning the globe. As far as French triumvirate of mass-market automakers is concerned, the decades long collaboration with Peugeot is, of course, well known. With Renault, however, the only styling work commissioned has been for the Argentinian IKA-Renault Torino and, with what could be argued is the most distinctively French of the trio – Citroën – the counter stands at zero.

A little over two decades ago, Pininfarina did, metaphorically speaking, ask for the hand of PSA’s ‘other daughter’ by presenting the Osée research prototype at the Geneva Motor Show in 2001. This was the first and so far only Citroën conceived and clothed by the Italian styling house. The word Osée is French for daring and, even ignoring its rather radical appearance, the moniker was certainly apt as the Osée was a mid-engined rear-wheel-drive sportscar, a specification unheard of for a Citroën. Continue reading “Talk to the Hand”

Birthday Present, Birthday Past

“The Magnification of Inspired Performance

Infiniti Essence. Image: automobilesreview.com

The Japanese luxury carmaker had something it wanted to make clear in its 2009 Geneva press release: “What Essence is not is merely an indulgent birthday present from Infiniti to itself“, it asserted, immediately planting the germ of doubt into those of a more cynically minded bent.

2009 marked Geneva’s 79th motor show. Infiniti was present that year, celebrating twenty years since its inception. To mark this auspicious milestone, they displayed Essence, a petrol/electric/hybrid concept GT coupé. Essence’s mission it appears was twofold. To showcase a new design ethos, forecasting a range of more exciting vehicles to wear the Infiniti badge, but also to generate excitement around the brand as it made a late entry into the European market.

Nissan’s upmarket sub-brand needed to make up for lost ground. Having made its US debut in 1989, it arrived concurrent with, yet somewhat on the tail of Toyota’s more impactful Lexus nameplate. Over the intervening two decades, while its Toyota City rival became an accepted member of the ‘prestige’ firmament, Infiniti, owing in part to Nissan’s US-centric focus, not to mention a somewhat half-baked commitment to product development, remained something of an also-ran.

Nissan, never as strong or well-resourced as Toyota, probably bit off more than it ought by attempting to go head-to-head with Lexus. By 2009, not only had it the carmaker been forced to Continue reading “Birthday Present, Birthday Past”

Livonia, There’s Something About You

Four feral felines from Buick. 

1953 Buick Wildcat I. Image: oldconceptcars

Buick have form when it comes to concept vehicles, especially since a certain Harley Earl began such pioneering strides with 1938’s seminal Y-Job, which helped to define the Tri-shield’s design credentials. In 1949, GM’s Autorama car show was held at the Astoria Hotel in New York to promote new concept designs to a public desperate to Continue reading “Livonia, There’s Something About You”

Grand Horizons

A further lesson in design from Hyundai.

Image: (c) Hyundai.com

It has been stated with considerably greater authority[1] than mine that the current automotive design centre of gravity no longer resides in Europe, the US, nor indeed (as yet at least), China. Car design’s True North now points inexorably towards South Korea. Several factors have contributed to this enviable state of affairs, not least an influx of senior European design talent to the Hyundai group over recent decades, but the end results are entirely their own and can now Continue reading “Grand Horizons”

Elemental Spirit Part 4: The Sisyphus Game

The Spridget turned out to be a difficult product to replace. We look at a diverse selection of proposals developed through the 1960s.

Image: MG Cheshire Owners Club

Far from perfect, and never very advanced in its design or engineering, replacing the Spridget became one of several long-running displacement activities within BMC and pre-Edwardes BLMC, although in a far lower league than The New Mini, and ‘The Little Engine That Could’ (replace the A Series). All turned out to be as pointless and unproductive as parlour games, with the participants’ abundant creativity never rewarded with a tangible prize.

When Leonard Lord and Donald Healey first imagined the low-budget car which would become the Austin-Healey Sprite, they probably envisaged a production life of possibly 3-4 years before technology and fashion left it behind. Within MG a ‘New Midget based on Sputnik FWD’, was registered in the experimental department register as EX 220, four months before Sputnik (better known as the ADO15 Mini) went on sale in August 1959. The project was given a proper Longbridge code, ADO34, despite the strong disproval of Alec Issigonis[a], and progressed for some time with competing design teams from Abingdon and Longbridge. Continue reading “Elemental Spirit Part 4: The Sisyphus Game”

M Too

Born, raised and terminated during the Asian bubble economy- the story of Mazda’s shortlived design and performance skunkworks.

Images: ameblo.jp, architecturetokyo.wordpress.com and Mazda Motor Corporation

In Tokyo’s Setagaya ward stands a building that is hard to miss, thanks to its highly unusual appearance. Currently occupied by a funeral company, it originally served as the headquarters and showroom for M2, Mazda’s creator of limited-edition specials and prototypes. The eye-catching structure, designed by architect Kengo Kuma, is made out of reinforced concrete, although it is executed in such a way that it resembles masonry construction. A gigantic central Ionic column dominates the view and contains an atrium plus a glazed elevator shaft. Clearly, this was no ordinary showroom but then M2 was no ordinary outfit.

Established in 1990, M2 was no doubt partly inspired by competitor Nissan’s ‘Pike Factory’ success in selling uniquely styled limited editions such as the BE-1, PAO and S-Cargo. These were based on Nissan’s regular offerings and sold through the Cherry Stores network. Continue reading “M Too”

Sons of Pioneers

A visionary BMW? It doesn’t seem so long ago.

Into the sunset. Farewell i3. Image: (c) Media BMW

It has become customary nowadays to discuss the carmaking giant of Bayerische Motoren Werke AG in anguished tones, akin perhaps to the sort of concern one might feel towards a once-reliable friend in the throes of an unnerving and potentially damaging life-crisis. But it wasn’t always thus. A little over a decade ago, the German carmaker was at the forefront of automotive future-thinking and a genuine pathfinder towards zero emission mobility. Not only that, the cars with which BMW entered the EV market were as futurist in appearance as they were beneath their arresting skin panels.

The birth of the BMW i programme goes back to the latter portion of the post-millennial decade, a time of unfettered expansion for the Vierzylinder, not only in commercial and product terms but also in the visionary sense. During this fecund period, in a quiet corner of BMW’s FIZ engineering nerve centre, a radical and potentially transformative project was gaining impetus and momentum. Project i brought together a small group of electrical engineers, chemists and product strategists under the leadership of Ulrich Kranz, to Continue reading “Sons of Pioneers”

Sayer’s Moodboard

The Jaguar XJ-S came from outer space – or did it?

Image: XJ story

Editor’s note: This piece was originally published in November 2017.

A shape which to this day repels as much as it fascinates, the Jaguar XJ-S remains a car which divides opinion. While the reasons for repulsion are easy enough to discern, its fascination lies not only as a function of its striking shape, but also from a sense that its styling came about without precedent. But surely no car is developed entirely in a vacuum?

Driven to Write has covered the XJ-S’ stylistic development in some detail already, so you might consider it a little self-indulgent to Continue reading “Sayer’s Moodboard”

Whisper, don’t Shout

The author attempts to explain his violently opposed reactions to the design of the 2020 Rolls-Royce Ghost and 2022 BMW 7 Series.

In a comment appended to a recent piece on DTW, a reader asked me to elaborate on why I thought that the Rolls-Royce Ghost works as a design, whereas the latest BMW 7 Series* simply doesn’t. It is a good question, and one I have been pondering. In what follows, I will attempt to explain my thoughts. As ever, I should begin with the caveat that, while there are well understood principles of good design, I have no formal training in that field. Hence, my observations are simply those of an enthusiastic amateur, no more or less valid than any others, so I am very happy to be challenged on anything that follows.

Cars like these, being large and expensive, should offer designers maximum freedom to Continue reading “Whisper, don’t Shout”

Japan – Boxing Clever

Why is Japan so good at thinking inside the box?

1989 Nissan Chapeau image : conceptnissan.com
Chapeau, Nissan? Well, it’s a start, I guess. 1989 Nissan Chapeau image : conceptnissan.com

First published on April 27, 2016, this fine piece by the now-retired DTW co-founder, Sean Patrick formed part of the Japan Theme.

An obvious introduction for an obvious concept. If you want to fit people shaped people into a car, the architecture that allows them the most room to sit in comfort is a box. An empty volume bounded by a series of flat rectangles. In the early days lots of cars were like this, now they are not. A common criticism of car design, used in the UK at least, is that a car is ‘boxy’.

This comment needs no expansion – the fact that the car resembles a box condemns it. Yet, of course, a box is the best shape if you want to Continue reading “Japan – Boxing Clever”

Boxed

This Cube was no square.

Image: netcarshow

The design mantra of longer, lower and wider was largely, if not exclusively an American construct, but was not something which survived exposure to congested European and Far Eastern city streets. It is therefore little surprise to observe that two of the most prolific car designing nations to have eschewed such architectural nostrums are Italy and Japan.

Shorter, taller and narrower as a philosophy was something that perhaps could be said to have (in the modern idiom at least) originated in Turin, but was taken up with some alacrity in cities as diverse as Hamamatsu, Ikeda, Shizuoka and Yokohama, since Japan’s cityscapes are at least as choked and traffic-ridden as those of its Latin counterparts.

The inherent limitations of such potentially restrictive silhouettes had the effect of giving rise to considerable creativity and in Japan at least, a playful sense of absurdist fun. Not entirely confined to Kei cars, the wider Japanese car industry, despite its often deadly serious nature, has been known to occasionally Continue reading “Boxed”

Did They Really?

What are we looking at here – is it possible to tell?

2002 Peugeot 307 c-pillar.

In all the excitement arising from recent Opel Astra articles here, we utterly overlooked the events of October 2001. Peugeot UK’s press fleet had a busy time with the launch of the “radical hatch” 307 (as Car called it). Today I will have a closer look at a car I really don’t think about. Rather than dig into its specification and features, I want to ask if we can see it as an example of design vagueness? There is nothing to hang on to, visually. How can we Continue reading “Did They Really?”

Into the Vortex – Part Three

The vortex claims its sacrifice.

Double-sided full-size Toni styling model – 1979. Image: (c) Steve Saxty

Despite what Uwe Bahnsen later stated publicly, both he and his design team were placed squarely in the firing line as Sierra’s disappointing early sales figures were thrown in their faces, as Patrick le Quément recalls: “Design was the centre of acrimony, we had designed a car that started slowly in the UK, the cash-cow land of Ford in Europe. We entered very difficult times”.

Having taken something of a leap of faith with Sierra rather than their usual practice of exhaustive market research, Dearborn’s executives wanted someone’s head. Bahnsen would be a convenient choice and at a Star Chamber interrogation at Merkenich, chaired by Detroit Ford executive, Harold A. (Red) Poling[1], and witnessed by a horrified le Quément, they got their man. “The end of Uwe Bahnsen’s career was a tragedy and they almost managed to break him, but he left, dignified and became head of Art Center Europe in Switzerland”. Continue reading “Into the Vortex – Part Three”

Expectation Management

Patience is a virtue. Well, sometimes…

Image: supercars.net

Over the past two and half years or so, we have all experienced a harsh, if valuable lesson in the music of chance, in how unforeseen events can derail all best-laid plans and forecasts. Viewing matters though this chaotic prism, Maserati’s more or less decade-long deliberation over the future of its heartland GranTurismo offering appears almost wilfully indulgent.

However, one should also Continue reading “Expectation Management”

The Panther of Bavaria

The hunt for quality: where does the perception of goodness reside in this car? 

1992 BMW 3-series E30.

Editor’s note: Since we are currently evaluating the E30 3 Series BMW, it seemed germane to re-run this piece by Richard Herriott, considering some of the finer points. First published on DTW – 21 May 2017.

Recently the opportunity afforded itself for me to take a lot of photos of a car Clarkson called an over-priced Escort, a chance to hunt for quality. What did I find? Continue reading “The Panther of Bavaria”

Second Division

A tale of two Toni’s.

Image: ford.co.uk

For the Sierra, the path to stylistic approval was lengthy and difficult. Given the Ford Motor Company’s scale and multi-national status, it was normal procedure to involve its myriad international styling studios to submit proposals for commercially significant models. We therefore know that innumerable rival proposals for the Toni programme were evaluated before the Merkenich scheme was green-lighted in 1979, but less known are what they were like.

For decades, Ford of Britain designed and engineered its UK model offerings. However, by the latter part of the 1960s, Dearborn management elected to bring these two entities together, eyeing reduced development costs and a more unified offering to the public. In 1967, an engineering and style centre was opened at Dunton Wayletts, near Basildon in Essex. Here, engineers and stylists would Continue reading “Second Division”

Stateside Slip-ups

America: land of unlimited possibilities. Of course, not all roads lead to success.

Image: the author

Cardin Cadillac Eldorado Evolution I

French couture designer Pierre Cardin* was no stranger to dabbling in the automotive sector: in 1972 and 1973 AMC offered a specially upholstered version of the Javelin with his name on it. Not only the seats but also the doors and headliner were treated to a very seventies motif in white, silver, purple and orange on a black base. The famous couturier developed higher ambitions than just car interior upholstery packages and founded Pierre Cardin Automotive in 1980, holding office in New York’s World Trade Center. The first – and, as it would transpire, last – product by Cardin’s automotive arm was presented in 1981: the Cardin Evolution I.

Developed in collaboration with Cadillac, the Evolution I was a restyled and very opulently equipped variant of the then current E-body Cadillac Eldorado. Contrary to previous projects, Pierre Cardin had not limited himself only to modifying the interior – the exterior appearance of the car was also quite different from its Eldorado base, although it is unclear whether the actual styling really was by Pierre Cardin Automotive, or that Cardin had simply agreed with a design proposal from a source within GM or Cadillac. Continue reading “Stateside Slip-ups”

Into the Vortex – Part Two

The headwinds intensify.

The Merkenich team discussing strategy at a Toni design review. Right to left: Uwe Bahnsen, Friedl Wülfing (Studio Chief), Patrick le Quément, Ray Everts and Dietrich Tenner (Chief modeler). Image (c) Steve Saxty

Early 1979, and as Patrick le Quément wraps up his assignment at Ford UK’s Dunton research centre for the Ford Cargo truck programme, he receives a summons back to Merkenich from Chief Designer, Ray Everts. [With] “6 months before the Go With Two[1] decision, I was asked to dedicate all my energy to the Toni project, for the battle was far from being won, there was much to do, to convince, to improve!”

Part of what Bob Lutz would later characterise as le Quément’s “decisive role” in the Toni design programme was to help build up a detailed analysis of Ford’s design strategy with a view to providing Uwe Bahnsen with the precise data he required to convince the Detroit board of the necessity for radical change. Using analysis and experience from both Erika and Cargo programmes (the latter a revolutionary design in itself), Everts, le Quément and the team concluded that promoting aerodynamic efficiency was the route to take. “We felt we were ready to appeal to our Lords and Masters for, after all, aerodynamics was to be had for free (or so we thought at the time), but it also gave us the opportunity to invent a brand new formal language and take a divergent route from the Me Too approach”.

Part of Bahnsen’s role here was to Continue reading “Into the Vortex – Part Two”

Breakthrough (Part One)

Forty years ago, BMW launched a car that would help to propel the company into the automotive stratosphere.

Image: autoevolution.com

Automotive historians often identify two models as seminal in the history of the storied Bavarian automaker. The first is the BMW 700, a modest car that quite literally saved the company from bankruptcy after it plunged to a huge DM 15 million loss in 1959, mainly thanks to its misadventure with the beautiful but financially ruinous 507 roadster.

Launched in the same year, the 700 was a small rear-engined model available in two-door saloon, coupé and convertible variants. Styled by Giovanni Michelotti, it was an attractive and contemporary looking car that was well received and sold strongly from the off, bringing desperately needed income and stability to the company. The 700’s success encouraged the Quandt family to Continue reading “Breakthrough (Part One)”

The Evolution of A Star

We recall the 1998 G-Series Astra. 

2002 Opel Astra “G”

Every major manufacturer faces the challenge of scheduled replacements for designs that are already incredibly well-suited to their market. One day, Opel had to replace the 1992 Astra F. With a new iteration, the aim is usually to keep all the good bits, strengthen the appeal and do something different that is at least as good, if not better. The risk of getting it wrong, of playing it too safe is balanced by the opposing risk of a design that is too bold.

Either risk means customers Continue reading “The Evolution of A Star”

Into the Vortex – Part One

Defying Mittlemässigkeit.

Image: autophoto

In a three part series, Patrick le Quément speaks exclusively to DTW about the Ford Sierra’s troubled genesis.

All car designers set out to create beautiful objects, not simply for artistic reasons, but for commercial ones too. After all, a beautiful car is more than usually a successful one. But like success, beauty has many parents and midwives, whereas failure (and ugliness for that matter) is almost always an orphan.

Automotive design is a collaborative process, requiring no small measures of vision, craft, intelligence and determination, but in the final analysis, it requires a consensus; after all, no modern car design can be decided upon by a single individual. But with the cost of failure so high, the process can often appear as something more akin to an act of faith. Continue reading “Into the Vortex – Part One”

Ghosts of Saabs Unborn

Bouquet of lilies in hand, we ponder what might have been.

saab_9_x_biohybrid_13
The Future Of Saab (that was not to be), Image: thetorquereport.com

Editor’s note: Following the retrospective pieces earlier this week on ‘lost’ design concepts from both Saab and Lancia, we revisit this fine piece by our erstwhile Hamburg design correspondent, first published on DTW in February 2016.

The demise and desecration of that most idiosyncratic Swedish brand may well be the source of an endless stream of stories. Yet more interesting however is a less well-publicised aspect of the period when Saab was already taking its last breath: the cars that were not to be.

The very fact that Saab was a deeply mismanaged business would appear to be indisputable. And yet, at the very end of its existence, that other Swedish brand seemed to have developed a hitherto dormant will to Continue reading “Ghosts of Saabs Unborn”

Concepts: 2003 Lancia Granturismo Stilnovo

The 2003 Lancia Granturismo Stilnovo concept illustrated that size and proportion matters. 

Still credible. 2003 Lancia Stilnovo. Image: media.stellantis

Editor’s note: As a companion to this week’s Saab concept retrospective, we turn to a near-contemporary from Turin. This piece was first published on 4th October 2014 as part of the Concepts theme.

One of the last Lancias had a five year gestation from concept car to production. In this case there were two concepts, a real one and a pre-production model. One of them was not helpful.

Lancia showed the Lancia Granturismo Stilnovo at the 2003 Barcelona motor show as a genuine kite-flying concept car, one of quite a few quite credible studies they showed around this time. Three years later these ideas were translated into the production ready Lancia Delta HPE concept which was first revealed at the 2006 Venice International Film Festival. This then took a remarkable two years to Continue reading “Concepts: 2003 Lancia Granturismo Stilnovo”

Unforced Errors

The author wonders why some automotive designs end up being not as good as they should or could have been.

Image: Audi Design

In the field of automotive design, there is always a degree of tension between the designers and the body engineers charged with making their designs a reality. Many designs, when first revealed as concepts, are loaded with details that might look beautiful, but are difficult or impossible to incorporate into the body engineering for viable and economic series production. That, and the need to comply with the raft of motor vehicle legislation and regulations, is why production cars are often a disappointment, typically described as ‘watered down’ from the concept.

If the designer is unconstrained, then the result is, for example, the bonnet of the Jaguar E-Type. While undoubtedly beautiful, it was a nightmare to fabricate from many separate pieces of steel, laboriously welded together then lead-loaded and smoothed off to Continue reading “Unforced Errors”

Number Nine Dream

Getting it right at precisely the wrong moment.

Saab biohybrid
2008 Saab 9X biohybrid. Image: Netcarshow

As the world’s auto press converged at Geneva in March 2008 for the annual motor show – blissfully unaware of what would unfold within the global financial markets that Autumn – it was all very much business as usual. For General Motors however, already fighting several fire-fronts at home (to say nothing of their perennial loss-making volume European arm), there were increasingly dissatisfied voices being raised with the performance of their upmarket Swedish satellite[1].

Relations with Saab AB had become strained, with senior GM management viewing the troubled marque as simply a problem child to be dispensed with. But while keen disagreements at senior board level over Saab’s future were still taking place, a striking concept was prepared for landing at Palexpo 2008, intended to demonstrate the mothership’s continued backing for the Trollhättan carmaker while its future was being decided.

With a good deal of Saab’s development being twinned with Opel’s Rüsselsheim engineering centre by then in an effort to curb costs, there was a belief that a smaller, C-segment Saab offering could broaden the marque’s appeal, especially in European markets where such cars still sold strongly. The 2008 concept did not however simply emerge out of the ether, it was in fact the apogee of a dialogue that had been initiated at the turn of Millennium[2] to Continue reading “Number Nine Dream”

Taking a Stance

Reappraising the Granada. 

All images: Henry Ford & Son (author’s collection).

What we are looking at today are images from a period sales brochure for the second-generation Ford Granada. A brochure whose well-thumbed pages serve as mute testimony to your editor’s youthful aspiration;  notions, as we’d describe them round these parts. When a Ford Escort would Continue reading “Taking a Stance”

Staying at the Ritz in Goodwood Park with my Princess

More eccentric delights from Japan.

Images: goodwoodpark.jp and mooku.s1007.xrea.com

When asked to name a small Japanese manufacturer famous for its modern day renditions of iconic (and mostly British) classic cars, the first answer given by those with some knowledge of the automotive world would likely be ‘Mitsuoka’. And they would be right, of course, but the majority might have trouble naming others that operate or have operated in the same market niche. Here are a few of the lesser known but no less amusing – or sacrilegious, depending on your viewpoint- manufacturers of such cars on the Japanese archipelago. Continue reading “Staying at the Ritz in Goodwood Park with my Princess”

Unforgotten: the Renault Mégane II

Twenty years on, DTW recalls the shock factor of the mundanely named but highly distinctive Renault Mégane II.

Mégane II three-door, rear 3/4 view, giving full view of the DLO cutting into the rear pillar. Image: Drive Mag

I have had in mind to write something about the Mégane II for a while now, but other distractions have prevented me from doing so. Then, in starting to do some research on the subject, I came across ‘The Surge’ series on Christopher Butt’s irresistible ‘Design Field Trip’. As a result, I nearly didn’t bother writing this piece, because Christopher and Patrick le Quément (no less!) have put together the definitive articles on the boldest C-segment hatchback design since the Golf. However, I decided to carry on so that, if nothing else, this piece can act as a signpost to that series of articles.

The Mégane II went on sale in October 2002, replacing the successful original range of cars of that name. For a car required to sell in high volumes at relatively modest margins to Continue reading “Unforgotten: the Renault Mégane II”

Tyger, Tyger Burning Bright

Remembering GM Europe’s pretty but clawless felines.

1994 Opel Tigra. Image: Ultimate Car Guide

Over the past fifty years or so, the B-segment supermini has been a staple of the European automotive landscape, to the extent that it has, so far at least, managed largely to resist the onslaught of the crossover. In the early days, there was some experimentation with the precise mechanical layout, but most automakers quickly settled on what they realised was the optimum in terms of cost and packaging; a transverse four-cylinder engine with an end-on transaxle gearbox and unequal-length driveshafts to the front wheels, MacPherson strut front suspension with a torsion-beam axle at the rear, disc front and drum rear brakes, all wrapped up in a three and/or five-door hatchback body.

Many young people began their driving careers in a supermini, not least because they were so popular with driving schools, then widely available second-hand. They were cheap to buy and, crucially, relatively cheap to insure, even for a novice driver without the benefit of a no-claims discount and with a better than evens chance of having a bump in their first year on the road.

Given the ubiquity of the supermini and the resulting economies of scale for its component set, it is unsurprising that European manufacturers were keen to Continue reading “Tyger, Tyger Burning Bright”

Reserved

The fifth generation Fiesta of 2002 was model of restraint.

2002 Ford Fiesta five door. Image: elutstyr.no

Editor’s note: First published on 13th December 2016, this piece is being re-run today to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the 5th generation Fiesta’s introduction.

It was designed to please the public, men and women alike, with those big headlamp eyes, and that smiling radiator mouth.” Those were the words of designer, Chris Bird. The project started in 1998 and is one of the unalloyed Bird Fords. The project bore the code B256 and featured a new floor pan for three variants: the five-door, the three door and the Fusion. At this point Chris Bird had replaced Claude Lobo[1] as design director and wanted to put his mark on Ford.

Ford themselves seemed to be keen to Continue reading “Reserved”

There Are No Words…

…adequately to describe how awful this was (but I’ll give it a go anyway).

Image: journal.classiccars.com

From its very earliest days, the automobile was more than just a machine for personal transportation. It represented freedom, independence, individuality(1) and, of course, affluence. Automakers quickly realised that the wealthy could easily be persuaded to part with large amounts of money for a car that not only conveyed them in great comfort, but also conveyed clearly to others their social standing.

For some, Rolls-Royce stood at the pinnacle of the automotive hierarchy, with its superlative, hand-wrought quality and understated, refined elegance. For others, Mercedes-Benz was favoured for the excellence of its engineering. In the US, Cadillac proclaimed itself ‘The Standard of the World’ with at least some degree of justification before General Motors had done its worst to Continue reading “There Are No Words…”

Via Biturbo

Pierangelo’s moodboard.

Image: Favcars

Editor’s note: A more condensed version of this article was originally published on May 6 2017.

The introduction of the Maserati Biturbo in the Autumn of 1981 came as something of a shock, both for marque aficionados and industry watchers alike; Maserati, une grande maison, as former Citroën President (and Maserati overseer), Pierre Bercot might have put it, was at the time more associated in the mind as purveyors of automotive exotica of the most rarefied variety, with a hitherto unsullied pedigree and bloodline second to none. Hence the advent of a compact sports saloon bearing the fabled Trident of Bologna appeared incongruent to some, a matter of profound embarrassment to others.

But there was little room for sentiment or much by way of respect for tradition in the mind of Alejandro de Tomaso as he moved heaven and earth during the late 1970s to first re-establish the Maserati business on a firmer commercial footing, while simultaneously, expunging every trace of double chevron influence from the Viale Ciro Menotti. A cultural revolution then, as much as it was a creative one. But today we must Continue reading “Via Biturbo”

Where There’s a WiLL…

…there’s a way.

Image: the author

A beer brewer, a candymaker, a travel agent(1) and a car manufacturer get together for a meeting…

It may sound like the opening line of a joke, but the vehicle you see here was the product of a serious business initiative. Incidentally, other representatives from various sectors in the consumer products industry were also part of the think-tank that gave birth to the WiLL brand at the turn of the millennium; the electronics giant Panasonic, a cosmetics company named Kao, and Kokuyo, a manufacturer of office furniture and stationery products. The aim of the venture was to Continue reading “Where There’s a WiLL…”

Queen Without a Crown

The Brandt Reine 1950 remained an unrealised dream for its creator.

Image: Life Magazine

Of all the new car introductions at the 1948 Salon de L’Automobile de Paris, in those times held in the magnificent Grand Palais on the Champs-Élysées, the Citroën 2CV is the car that will likely be most readily and widely remembered. There were, of course, several other premieres amongst the hundreds of voitures exhibited, many of which are now long forgotten, even though some were arguably at least as unusual and radical as the 2CV.

The Brandt Reine 1950 certainly qualifies in this regard. Looking like an elongated Isetta, but five years before that tiny ‘bubble car’ would first appear on the streets, the Reine 1950 was unorthodox in almost every way imaginable. It was only possible to Continue reading “Queen Without a Crown”

2/1 F – Giovanni The Bomb

Horsing around.

Image: breakinglatest.news

In a world already awash with noise, the fabled prancing horse of Maranello has seemingly been directly connected to a mains-wired megaphone, a matter which you may or may not believe went practically unnoticed to these ears (and eyes) until fairly recently. But to make up for this deficiency, it has reached my attention that the Ferrari online store has lately been selling £600 Ferrari-branded trainers guilefully entitled Rosso Lamina Liquida, which we are reliably informed come “with a bold look that echoes the appearance of the Ferrari bodywork“. Marvellous.

It should not therefore surprise you, dear reader to Continue reading “2/1 F – Giovanni The Bomb”

Highly Volatile

Ten years ago, MG’s future looked something like this.

Image: Autocar

Since the desiccated remains of MG Rover was picked over by Nanjing Auto, later merged with Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation (SAIC), the resultant MG-badged products have left observers and MG marque aficionados somewhere on a spectrum between bemusement and outright horror. Taking ownership of a heritage brand always comes with a measure of responsibility – certainly if one hopes to Continue reading “Highly Volatile”

Swiss Riv

The final Riviera’s missing link?

1988 Buick Lucerne concept. Image: Deans Garage

The Mid-1980s downsized GM range would prove a step into the unknown for the US car giant, one which could be said to have been successful, at least in terms of raw sales numbers. But while the C-body Buick sedans proved popular with buyers[1], the E-bodied personal coupés would prove a far tougher sell. There was a good deal of trepidation amid the design leadership at Buick’s studio in GM’s Warren, Michigan Design Centre as the 1986 model year Riviera was made ready; doubts which would crystallise as the drastically downsized model failed to appeal to existing Riviera customers, who not only baulked at the style, but also its notable lack of road presence[2].

As soon as was deemed possible, Buick Design chief, Bill Porter (who had overseen the E-body design) supervised a revised styling scheme, based upon one which had originally been proposed featuring a sloping tail motif, the victim of engineering package requirements (in this case luggage capacity)[3]. With this heavily revised Riviera, the work of a team under Steve Pasteiner, the model’s fortunes were revived to some extent, but still failed to return to pre-downsized levels. Continue reading “Swiss Riv”

Where There’s Muck, There’s Brass

 Exemplar 1: More Riviera-based goodness. 

Coggiola sketch for Exemplar 1. Image: neautomuseum.org

While the name of Sergio Coggiola might be known to the enthusiast, that of Mario Revelli de Beaumont may not. Roman born Revelli made his name submitting handsome designs to coachbuilders in the nineteen twenties and thirties with Rolls-Royce, Lancia then post-war, with Fiat. Coggiola on the other hand spent time under Pietro Frua at Ghia before setting up his eponymous carrozzeria in Orbassano, a district of Turin during 1966. Around that time, the two Italians collaborated, with the use of atomic element number 29: copper.

Bridgeport, Connecticut may not be the automotive centre of the universe but the Bridgeport Brass Company (henceforward referred to as the BBC) had plans to Continue reading “Where There’s Muck, There’s Brass”

Silver Car For Mr Mitchell (Part Two)

Boaty McBoat Tail

Buick Silver Arrow III. Image: Conceptcarz

An almost mythical aura surrounds the second of the Silver Arrow concepts, which is more than can be said of the car itself – now vanished without trace. Hype and overall interest for 1967 was considerably lower when compared to the first Silver Arrow; no chassis number, no documented dates, no confirmed photos, zilch.

After extensive research with limited resources[1], Silver Arrow II appears to have barely differed from a 1970 model year Riviera – the grille perhaps receiving the most noticeable change – 74 teeth opposed to only 60. The side chromed spear overlaid onto bodywork. An interior again in silver leather. Other small details differing from that of later production models include side view mirrors, the hub caps (not seen on any other Riviera) and the rear side reflectors. What is known as the Rocker Moulding[2], was also chromed. Continue reading “Silver Car For Mr Mitchell (Part Two)”

Unsafe to View from Any Angle

And you thought those sixties and seventies experimental safety vehicles were ugly…

From the late nineteen-sixties until well into the seventies, a slew of safety-oriented concept cars from several automakers broke cover. Some of their notable unifying themes were large black rubber extensions front and rear, early variations of airbags in combination with heavily padded safety seats in various guises, with bodywork usually painted bright yellow or orange. Before that time, and preceding the publication of Ralph Nader’s influential book ‘Unsafe at Any Speed’, safety usually took a back seat to styling, comfort, cost and performance(1).

Swedish manufacturers SAAB and Volvo were arguably the only ones at the time that could legitimately claim to have safety as one of their guiding principles. That said, ever since the first motor accident involving casualties occurred, carmakers were aware of the risks and, in various shapes and forms -as well as degrees of naiveté and effectiveness- many attempts to Continue reading “Unsafe to View from Any Angle”

Something Rotten in Denmark: Chrysler Stratus

Cab-Forward was the design buzz-word of the mid-’90s. It didn’t age well.

Chrysler Cirrus. In 1995 these cars had the power to thrill. Image: carfigures

This sideways view of the JA-Series was originally published on DTW in December 2014.

This car has two claims to our attention today. The first is that in the cold light of day, it is hard to believe this car and its almost identical stable-mates were once nominated on Car & Driver’s 10 best list. I was not aware of this at the time. The second reason I am drawn to it is because it was the first car I was ever paid to review[1]. I wrote 1,000 words and saw the editor chop out 200 of them, more or less killing the nuances of the text stone dead. I wanted to Continue reading “Something Rotten in Denmark: Chrysler Stratus”

Silver Car For Mr. Mitchell (Part One)

Silver Arrows from Flint, Michigan.

Image: sloanlongway.org

In the realms of car design, chances must be taken. Regardless of the ever-building pressure generated from all quarters as to the next sure-fire sales wonder, calculated risk taking is part of the game. Such incontrovertible weights require shoulders of strength, astute vision, alongside the ego of a vain, mirror-devoted individual, obsessed with appearances. Praise be that a certain William Mitchell was in possession of all of the above qualities, along with a marked penchant for items of an argentine nature.

It seems as natural today as it did sixty years ago that prior to the October 4th 1962 Riviera reveal, Mitchell would wish to Continue reading “Silver Car For Mr. Mitchell (Part One)”

Better With Allure

Crossovers: So over.

For some years now, there has been a modest but persistent sentiment amid the European motor industry’s think tanks that the current wave of CUV crossover popularity would eventually peak, there being a point after any new fashion takes hold of the public consciousness, long after the early adopters Continue reading “Better With Allure”

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?”