God Save the Queen

“There’s no future, in England’s dreaming…”

“That look of distinction”. Image (c) VPOC

Ah, the Allegro: Worst car ever. All Aggro. These and other less flattering terms have been routinely flung like wet rags at BLMC’s 1973 compact saloon offering in the intervening decades since the car ceased production in 1984. But while ADO67 itself would over time become notorious, its more dignified Kingsbury derivation was the object of ridicule pretty much from the outset.

Introduced in September 1974, the Vanden Plas 1500’s debut was greeted not only with a gilded tureen of derision but a sizeable component of incredulity; not so much for what it was, but largely for the manner in which it had been executed. So, what in the name of all that was sacred and holy possessed Vanden Plas to Continue reading “God Save the Queen”

Under the Knife – Swings and Roundabouts

Largely unnecessary, possibly retrograde; the Focus got the Kinetic treatment in 2007.

2007 Focus v2.5 Image: The RAC

Claude Lobo returned full-time to Köln-Merkenich in 1997 to head Ford’s European design team, following a three-year stint as head of Ford’s advanced studio in Dearborn. By then, the blue oval’s European satellite seemed at something of a creative crossroads. Throughout the decade, Merkenich’s design quality had become decidedly uneven and in terms of direction, its previous stylistic assurance seemed lost.

Under Lobo’s direction, two highly significant Ford designs were enacted, the original 1996 Ka and the 1998 Ford Focus,[1] both spearheading a newfound confidence in form, graphics and style. Two years later, the Parisian retired, his replacement hailing from Ingolstadt. Chris Bird was part of the design team at Audi since 1985, contributing to the original A8 model, becoming Ingolstadt’s studio head under Peter Schreyer in 1995. Continue reading “Under the Knife – Swings and Roundabouts”

Searching for the Next Big Thing

We recall three vehicles from different European manufacturers, each trying to offer a new twist on the large executive/family car formula, but all failing comprehensively to break the stranglehold of the status quo.

2001 Renault Vel Satis (c) Haessliche Autos

It is the Holy Grail for automakers: coming up with a design that defines a whole new automotive genre. You reap the rich rewards of first-mover advantage while your rivals struggle to catch up. Sticking your corporate head above the parapet of automotive convention is not without risks, however. For every Nissan Qashqai there is a Suzuki X90, selling in tiny numbers before being canned, then hanging around like a bad smell to remind the public how foolish you were.

To compound your embarrassment, it will also Continue reading “Searching for the Next Big Thing”

Material Handler

The Goddess makes a triumphant return.

All Images (c) Citroenvie.com

Designers, akin to writers are seldom idle. Whereas us impoverished keyboard jockeys are tied to our workstations, the designer usually prefers to get stuck in, hands dirty and not simply bear witness to his (or her) thoughts, more help them bear fruition.

One such hands-on designer being Gérard Godfroy. Now aged 73, and living in Normandy, Godfroy views design as an emotional transmitter – why not share those feelings? He should Continue reading “Material Handler”

Under the Knife – No Advance

2004’s (B7) Audi A4 was a highly significant (re)design, if not entirely for the right reasons.

A distinct lack of Vorsprung. 2004 B7 series Audi A4. Image: dsf-my

The four rings of Ingolstadt were a long time in the ascendant, frequently taking one step forward and several backwards, before hitting a more assured stride. Indeed, according to former design director, Peter Schreyer, it was at one time considered an embarrassment to Continue reading “Under the Knife – No Advance”

Micropost: If Sacco had Prevailed?

We wonder if the 1991 Mercedes-Benz W140 might have fared better, both in stylistic terms and in the market, if Bruno Sacco had been allowed to realise his original vision for the car.

Bruno Sacco

One of the surprising nuggets I uncovered in my research on the W140 was that Bruno Sacco, Mercedes-Benz’s highly talented but modest and self-effacing Head of Styling, was an admirer of the Jaguar XJ saloon. Sacco very much liked its low and sleek lines. His original concept for a replacement for the W126 S-Class was a Germanic interpretation of that car. Unfortunately, his vision was corrupted by demands that the cabin should have generous headroom, even for two 190cm (6’3”) adults sitting one behind the other. This resulted in what most would adjudge to be an excessively tall glasshouse, making the car more suitable for monarchs and dictators on parade than fast and discreet point-to-point travel by captains of industry.

Sacco and exterior designer Oliver Boulay even tried to Continue reading “Micropost: If Sacco had Prevailed?”

Under the Knife – A Kiss of the Blade

The 2004 facelift of Alfa’s 147 was of the light-touch variety. We check for residual scarring.

2004 Alfa Romeo 147. Image: bipedia.info via occasion-automobile.fr

It wasn’t possible to know it at the time, but the immediate pre and post-Millennium period would represent the final creative and commercial flowering of FIAT Auto (as then known), a statement which is particularly apt when it comes to matters surrounding the fabled Biscione of Milan.

Part of FIAT’s sprawling auto group since 1986 and in the wake of a somewhat chequered start in product terms, a cohesive and (from a purely design perspective at least) credible strategy had been formulated for Alfa Romeo; matters taking a decidedly more upbeat tone with the Enrico Fumia-helmed 1993 Spider and related GTV models. Continue reading “Under the Knife – A Kiss of the Blade”

Up, Up and Away

Would you like to ride in my beautiful… Lexus

Lexus SC. Image: The author.

Filling balloons with wet plaster, squeezing them into abstract shapes, photographing the amorphous images and projecting the slides on a wall may sound like the description of an LSD powered mind trip, but in this case it was a new and unprecedented way to design a car.

In 1987 Toyota started work on project F3, the planned successor to the then recently introduced Soarer Z20. Contrary to the previous Japanese domestic market-only model, the planned new car would also be marketed in North America under the upcoming Lexus brand. Since it was considered essential that the future car be a success in the North American market, the job was given to Calty Design Research – Toyota’s Californian design centre established in 1973.

Not leaving anything to chance however, Toyota instructed their in-house design team in Japan to Continue reading “Up, Up and Away”

Best Bitter

First Pint: The Bitter origin saga. 

All images (c) Bittercars.com

The world needs characters such as Erich Bitter. At 87, if the Westphalian runs on oil, he must have reserves aplenty, at least from wells of entrepreneurship and dogged determination. For without that close to wind, to blazes with millstones like finance and ruin, his dogged spirit and an array of automotive anomalies would never have been. Although that output may have been small in relative terms, his legacy (of which surprisingly large numbers survive) continues. Mind you, those seeking marriage or financial guidance might wish to Continue reading “Best Bitter”

Heroes and Villains: BMW Design (Part Two)

The author identifies what he regards as the best and worst of BMW design over the past six decades.

Yikes!  2001 BTW (E65) 7 Series (c) autoevolution.com

In part one I identified my BMW design heroes. Today, the villains take centre-stage. Get ready to hurl whatever comes to hand in their direction. Continue reading “Heroes and Villains: BMW Design (Part Two)”

Newsgrab

Reviewing the automotive week ending 7 May 2021.

“I see a little silhouette of car… Scaramouche Scaramouche, will you do the Škodango” The 2021 Škoda Octabia – or is that Corbia? Image: Drivespark

Say what you will about newly-forged Stellantis, but now that the reconstituted car giant has cleared its regulatory hurdles, it has hit the ground at a blistering pace – particularly on the new model front. Much of it of course being massively overdue, given the delays and re-organisation such a colossal enterprise necessarily entailed, and that is before we mention the malign effects of the pandemic, or the recent industry-wide shortage of micro-chips, the most recent frontier in the automotive industry procurement wars.

This week, as reported in Automotive News, CEO, Carlos Tavares told reporters from French publication, Le Point that it will no longer be necessary for Stellantis to Continue reading “Newsgrab”

Heroes and Villains: BMW Design (Part One)

The author identifies what he regards as the best and worst of BMW design over the past six decades.

1968 BMW (E3) ‘New Six’ 2500 (c) curbsideclassic

Over my lifetime, BMW has produced some truly outstanding automotive designs. That makes it all the more painful to acknowledge the company’s recent failures, which are becoming ever more egregious. First, however, let us Continue reading “Heroes and Villains: BMW Design (Part One)”

Dutch Treat

There were more strings to DAF’s bow than one might have imagined.

Image: The author,

Although small in stature, The Netherlands has given the world several notable innovations. The microscope, the orange coloured carrot, the stock market, the pendulum clock, total football, the anthem, the first modern world atlas, Bluetooth and WiFi, the artificial kidney and heart, not to mention cocoa powder.

But while the Gatso speed camera has been greeted with less cheer, the positives outweigh that negative by some margin. In the carmaking field however, the country’s track record has been less stellar. Even though luxury car maker Spijker was the first to introduce a car with six cylinders (and four wheel drive as well!) in 1903 with the 60HP, the company went bankrupt during the roaring twenties; and even if current CEO Victor Muller of the revived-since-1999 Spijker would have us Continue reading “Dutch Treat”

Creative Dissonance

Citroen reveals its big idea.

2021 Citroen C5 X. (c) uk-media.citroen.com

It ought to be obvious really; that incredibly fertile period of Citroën design overseen by the recently departed Robert Opron and presided over by CEO, Pierre Bercot was merely a blip; a marvellously inventive, optimistic and futuristic one, but a blip nonetheless. One where high speed travel in supreme comfort was to Continue reading “Creative Dissonance”

Domo Arigato Zagato

Win on Sunday…

Alfa 155 TI.Z Image: H Nakayama

The Autech Stelvio and slightly less challengingly styled Autech Gavia were not the only specials for the Japanese domestic market produced by the Italian carrozzieri: meet the Alfa Romeo 155 TI.Z. Zagato’s aim appears to have been to Continue reading “Domo Arigato Zagato”

A Longer Read: Six Decades of Separation

The author charts the evolution of BMW’s design over the past sixty years and laments the dismal state it is in today.

1962 BMW Neue Klasse 1500 Saloon (c) wheelsage.org

In the late 1950’s BMW was a company in deep financial trouble. It had been posting losses for a number of years as an increasingly affluent West German middle-class turned away from its motorcycles and Isetta bubble car but could not afford its 501 luxury saloon.

Moreover, the BMW 507 roadster, although beautiful, had proved financially ruinous for the company. Only 252 roadsters were produced over three years in production between 1956 and 1959. It was virtually hand-built and, even at a price of almost $10,000 (equivalent to $97,400 in 2021) in the US market for which it was primarily designed, BMW lost money on every single one sold. Consequently, the company posted a loss of DM15 million in 1959 and found itself on the verge of bankruptcy.

Daimler-Benz considered what would effectively have been a takeover of its troubled Bavarian rival. A proposal for a merger was tabled, but this was rejected by BMW’s shareholders. Instead, it was the Quandt family, whose wealth derived from a wide range of industrial holdings, that came to the rescue and recapitalised the company. A plan was formulated for a product-led reinvigoration of BMW. Continue reading “A Longer Read: Six Decades of Separation”

Under the knife – Bogey to Birdie

Today we feature a car that was the product of a highly effective facelift of its stodgy predecessor.

VW Golf Mk5 vs Mk6 (c) carscoops.com

The 1997 Golf Mk4 is widely acknowledged as a masterpiece of disciplined and rational design. Its svelte exterior was handsome and timeless, and a huge improvement over the flabby Mk3. The interior was a revelation, bringing a level of quality to the Golf that had not been seen before in C-segment cars. The Mk4 remained on the market for eight years, during which time it remained virtually untouched, Volkswagen sensibly realising that it was impossible to improve upon its near perfection.

When it came time to replace the Mk4, Volkswagen dropped the ball. The 2003 Golf Mk5, whilst not exactly ugly, looked rather corpulent, and much of the detailing was rather too fussy for a Golf. The Mk5 was partly a product of VW Group Chairman Ferdinand Piëch’s aggressive strategy to Continue reading “Under the knife – Bogey to Birdie”

Direct Current

Two new battery electric cars. Two vastly different visual offers. Any real difference? 

Hyundai IONIQ 5. (c) Hyundai UK

Electrification brooks no resistance. Legislative mandates have made it so, and as successive national governments fall into step, the current is running in one direction only. Nevertheless, for those of us who Continue reading “Direct Current”

En Garde! Part Two

The saga continues and grows ever stranger.

Image: Hotrodmagazine/ Fabwheelsdigest

The lesser-known RK Bodyworks, based in Albany, New York was commissioned by a certain Carl Szembrot to convert this 1952 Studebaker into a LeSabre-lookalike. The top of the three taillights adorning each fin was a blue directional signal, the middle one a red stop light and the bottom one a white reversing light. The bullet nose and trim from the Studebaker were cleverly re-used to Continue reading “En Garde! Part Two”

En Garde! Part One

Taking influence to unprecedented heights.

Image: GM/ Jalopyjournal

Like the Buick Y-job that went before it, the 1951 LeSabre concept car was a GM testbed for both technology and stylistic ideas. The low-slung roadster, bodied in aluminium and magnesium, was the first to have the panoramic windshield that would be a defining feature on virtually all American cars from the mid- to late fifties. Its overall look is best described as jet age on wheels.

LeSabre also used the first application of GM’s 215 cubic inch (3.5 litre) aluminium V8 which would later find its way into a variety of cars, both in the USA and Europe – although in the LeSabre’s case the engine was supercharged and capable of running on both regular fuel and methanol. Harley Earl was known to Continue reading “En Garde! Part One”

Illustrious Duo

The art of Fitz and Van.

Boredom helped me to discover them. In the early seventies, I needed to find a way to keep myself entertained during our monthly weekend visits to my grandmother who lived in a small village in rural Belgium. As there was not much to do for me there and no children of my age to play with, I resorted to wandering around the house; that is where I at some point discovered stacks of old magazines in an old wardrobe closet. Among them were old TV guides and home decoration magazines but also issues of Readers Digest, LIFE and National Geographic.

Cars – and drawing them in particular – were my main point of interest and the plentiful car advertisements in those old magazines in my grandmother’s house provided an excellent source of inspiration. The ones that made the biggest impression on me were those of Pontiac in the magazines of American origin, and the Opel advertisements in the other more recent publications.

Those cars looked so fantastic – how on earth did they Continue reading “Illustrious Duo”

Pinned Together, Falling Apart

Do we get the stylistic leaders we deserve? 

“Nobody likes my shoes…” (c) Autocar

In recent weeks the design chiefs of the German car industry’s premier division reminded us exactly how they justify their retainers. This elite trio of Audi’s Marc Lichte, BMW’s Adrian van Hooydonk and Mercedes-Benz’s Gorden Wagener hold perhaps the most coveted and yet simultaneously least enviable jobs in the business, being at the very sharp-end of the changes rapidly encroaching upon all carmakers, but impacting the upper denizens in potentially even more profound a manner.

Earlier this week, we talked to a design commentator about the challenges facing carmakers; given the lack of vision which characterises the mainstream legacy motor car in the current environment. Viewed in this context, the manner in which these particular figures have deigned to Continue reading “Pinned Together, Falling Apart”

Depth of Field

Ready to take a trip? Today we discuss possible futures and automotive design with Design Field Trip’s editor, Christopher Butt. 

Design Field Trip’s creator and Editor, Christopher Butt. (c) DFT

Design was once characterised as “the dress of thought,” an elegant phrase and one at least as applicable to the automobile as any other form of styled product. Yet today, the dress which clothes our vehicles all too often suggests thoughts of a less edifying nature. But can anything be done to arrest this trend? Having recently launched his latest venture, Design Field Trip, we ask Hamburg-based design commentator, critic and writer, Christopher Butt, about his hopes to Continue reading “Depth of Field”

When An Estate Car Just Won’t Do

Just Musk? Not in this instance.

(c) nielsvanroij.com

Odd how certain phrases can cause strong emotions yet in a physical form, leave many cold. The shooting brake is just one such term. It derives from a time (circa 1890) when a British gentlemen required transport not only for himself but his Batman (butler/ driver) along with his fellow shooters, kit, caboodle and most necessary, dogs, in order to Continue reading “When An Estate Car Just Won’t Do”

F is for Failure

There’s little new in the world.

An artist’s render of the upper-level version of Projet F. (c) citroenet.org.uk

The news earlier this week that JLR cancelled its Jaguar XJ programme, believed to have been close to production-readiness was greeted with varying degrees of dismay by the commentator and enthusiast community. Many questioned the financial logic of taking such drastic action so late in the developmental programme, suggesting that such profligacy was madness.

Whether folly or expediency, it was certainly not unique, BLMC rather notably electing to cancel the Rover P8 programme at huge expense in 1971, for example. However, perhaps the most glaring and possibly the most financially damaging instance was that of Citroën, when in April 1967, President, Pierre Bercot took the decision to Continue reading “F is for Failure”

Niels van Roij – in Conversation

Today, we talk to freelance car designer and coachbuilder, Niels van Roij.

(c) nielsvanroij.com

Very graciously, automotive designer, Niels van Roij allowed me an hour of his time to indulge upon subjects such as tailor-made suits, music and of course, the modern coach-built motor car.

Like so many car enthusiasts, the passion begins at an early age. For this author, Matchbox cars and their exaggerated engine and tyre sounds. For Niels however, the pencil and paper called from around the age of four. His mother has kept some of these youthful outpourings though it’s doubtful his infant designs would have bearing on today’s products for reasons discussed later.

Andrew Miles: What the first car that made you Continue reading “Niels van Roij – in Conversation”

Light Fogging

Dirty Great Volvos: Part Two – the 780 ES.

Image: carpixel

The success of the Bertone and Volvo partnership bred goodwill, long term relationships being established between manufacturer and carrozzeria, which maintained their longevity, thirty-plus years from their labours – enough to tip the scales in favour of a second attempt.

Once the final 262C had trundled off the forecourt early in 1981, the new project coupé was planned under the P202 code number. Lengthy concept briefings took place in both countries over a period of three years, the Torinese producing some typically flamboyant early renders.

Imagine the reaction. Nuccio Bertone himself being informed the initial drawings were “too aggressive.” Paolo Caccamo, Bertone chairman states, “Three designs were drawn. One too similar to the 760, one too sporting, the final of the scissor designs a compromise that both parties were happy with. It may not be innovative but it is elegant.” A further development saw the Italians Continue reading “Light Fogging”

New Frontier – (Part Eight)

La Fluidité.

Image: autoevolution

While there may have been some disagreement as to the conceptual nature of Citroën’s 1970 flagship, the matter of its appearance seems to have been more assured. Certainly, there are comparatively few observers who could cogently argue that the SM’s styling was not a success – indeed it remains probably the car’s defining feature – still a futurist marvel, despite a half-century having elapsed since its introduction.

Within Citroën’s Bureau d’Études the Style Centre was hidden away in an unkempt and dingy section of the Rue de Théàtre facility. Overseen by longstanding Citroën design chief, Flaminio Bertoni, he alongside his small team of fellow designers and put upon artisans would Continue reading “New Frontier – (Part Eight)”

Best Indentations

Time to put down that chisel. 

Parking knocks come as standard. Image: MOTOR1

It’s probably sentimentality, but despite decades of disappointment I still maintain a vague attachment to what is by now only a platonic ideal of Automobiles Citroën. At least that’s the only reasonable rationale for why my interest is invariably piqued by the announcement of any freshly minted car bearing the double chevron. Equally without variance however is what I feel about what is routinely presented.

The newly fashioned Citroen C4 is only the very latest of a long and wobbly line of underwhelming visions from Vélizy; a car which replaces without doubt one of the dreariest vehicles ever to bear that fabled emblem, although in the latter case, it was probably the other way round – the emblem (just about) bearing the car.

This being so, it was either a case of overcompensation on the part of Citroen’s design team, or more likely a misguided directive to Continue reading “Best Indentations”

Rockstar Meets Dolphin

Two forms of US retro from the far East. 

Image: The author

Both the Japanese and the Chinese car industry have on several occasions been accused of copying successful examples of their established colleagues in the west. The former never really produced an exact facsimile (cars built under licence such as the Hino Renault 4cv excepted) but rather an amalgam of those styling and engineering details of the competition deemed most worthy to emulate; this practice endured into the eighties but since those times the Japanese have clearly found their own way and are in some cases even leading it.

Having embarked upon mass production of passenger cars much later, the Chinese have taken a much more unscrupulous approach almost from the start; China’s first passenger car, the DongFeng CA71 of 1958 was a virtual, and unauthorised, copy of the Simca Vedette. Several Chinese upstarts continued the practice from there, mostly undeterred by threats from the carmakers in question to Continue reading “Rockstar Meets Dolphin”

Boxing Day

Looking as if it has driven straight out of a Syd Mead rendering, the Brubaker Box’s base is as ubiquitous as it is humble.

Brubaker Box. Image: Retecool.com

Curtis Brubaker was a car designer who had studied auto design at the Pasadena Art Center College of Design. Working in GM’s advanced research group, in 1969 Brubaker left GM to establish his own design company in Los Angeles; still providing design consultancy work for GM but now also for Volvo, Ford and a few Japanese car manufacturers. He also formed part of the design team for the famous Learjet.

During a trip to nearby Newport Beach, Brubaker could not help but Continue reading “Boxing Day”

Staring At Screens

The curious unimportance of visibility in modern car design.

2021 Cadillac Escalade. Image: GM Authority

An oft-noted, yet insufficiently regretted, development in car design in the past 20-odd years has been the ever-rising waistline of the average automobile; a development that, combined with increasingly thick window pillars, has had a seriously negative impact on visibility out of the car (not to mention the effect on interior ambiance).

Looking around at the flanks of cars nowadays, one might be tempted to Continue reading “Staring At Screens”

Under the Knife – Breaking the Mould

Today DTW features a car that was given a new lease of life with an extensive and highly effective makeover.

1983 Ford Sierra Mk1 (c) aronline.co.uk

Ford regularly plays fast and loose with its mark numbers, often applying them to even quite modest facelifts of the outgoing model. However, in the case of the Sierra, the Mk2 designation was well deserved.

Ford launched the original Sierra in 1982 as a replacement for the conventional and conservative Cortina Mk5. The new model was a rear-wheel-drive car like its predecessor, but the aero body (believed to have originally been the work of Gert Hohenester working under the supervision of Design Director, Uwe Bahnsen at Merkenich) was dramatically different, with a hatchback instead of a conventional boot.

Ford had tried to Continue reading “Under the Knife – Breaking the Mould”

In The Savage Pond Swims A Lone Prince

Turning the clock back to a millennial from Gothenburg. 

2000 Volvo S60. (c) The RAC

Twenty years have slipped by since Volvo entered the shark infested waters of the compact executive saloon market, leaving behind a broadly positive if somewhat small mark in that (now) ever-shallower pool. By the time Ford showed up with a very large cash bag ($6.45 billion) and placed the Swedish brand under their Premier Automotive Group umbrella in 1999, the S60 was all but ready for unveiling.

Commander in Chief was Volvo lifer Lars Erik Lundin, whose next project would be to Continue reading “In The Savage Pond Swims A Lone Prince”

In Memoriam – Aldo Brovarone

We salute a departed master of form.

Brovarone’s magnum opus. Prototype Dino 206 GT. Image: stylepark

In an ideal world, the deserving always rise to the top. In such a environment a young stylist might perhaps serve his time, building up a body of work before branching out on his own, culminating with his name atop the doorway of a stand-alone carrozziere. Instead, the name of Aldo Brovarone, who departed the surly bonds of earth in mid-October, remains (outside of enthusiast automotive circles at least) largely unheralded.

Life has never been fair, and despite Brovarone being one of the very best of his era, the reasons for his low-key passing owe as much to the nature of the man as they do to the depth of auto-design apprehension that existed amid the contemporary motoring media.

Should we therefore view Brovarone as simply another in a long line of stylistic talents who mortified their egos to Continue reading “In Memoriam – Aldo Brovarone”

Under the Knife – Rediscovered

The 1998 Series II Discovery was a far more thorough and extensive facelift of the original than it might have appeared to be at first glance.

1989 Land-Rover Discovery (c) Iroac.com

The 1970 Range Rover could not have been more different in conception from the SUVs that carry that name today. It was designed to be more comfortable and civilised on road than the original Land Rover, which had changed little since its introduction in 1948, but was not intended to be anything other than a working vehicle.

Early Range Rovers were still resolutely utilitarian, with vinyl seats and rubber floor mats that could be hosed out after a day’s work on the farm. Its classic style is credited to David Bache, Head of Design at Rover. However, recognising its handsome functionalism, Bache actually made only detail changes to Continue reading “Under the Knife – Rediscovered”

If Hopes Were Dupes, Fears May Be Liars. Turin Motor Show 1970 – Part 2

Stepping back fifty years, we return to the Salone dell’Automobile di Torino for a second day for a feast of stylistic flair and bright hopes for the future.

Tjaarda-Giacobbi Sinthesis Image: Hemmings

As with neutral Geneva in the spring, Piedmont-centric Turin was a showplace for the industry’s fringe performers. In Italy fantasists and dreamers exhibited beside perfectly worthy but little-known Carrozzieri. In 1970, the sideshows were still rich in interest, although my IPC Business Press Cicerone, Anthony Curtis gave them only a sideways glance.

The UK and Italy seemed to share similar ambitions at the peripheries of their automotive industries. In Britain, clubman racing car constructors nurtured ambitions to Continue reading “If Hopes Were Dupes, Fears May Be Liars. Turin Motor Show 1970 – Part 2”

Keeping the Seat Warm

The 1984 Alfa 90 was to all intents and purposes something of a placeholder. But does it deserve a better epitaph?

Alfa 90. Image: viaretro

The early 1980s were difficult years for Alfa Romeo. Having abandoned its patrician pre-war roots for a more populist reimagining throughout the 1950s and ’60s, this once successful market realignment had started to unravel; partly due to its own failings as a business, both internally from a product, management and labour perspective, and also externally, owing to its close proximity in market terms to Lancia.

Unlike its Borgo San Paolo rival, who was by then reliant upon the financial support of the Fiat car giant, Alfa Romeo depended upon the largesse of the often reluctant Italian IRI state body for funding, while battling a depressed home market, ageing model lines and by consequence, little by way of genuinely new product.

What there was, fell very much into the make do and Continue reading “Keeping the Seat Warm”

Talent Borrows

Did the Deauville’s somewhat over-familiar appearance ensure it would be the second rarest De Tomaso of all? We investigate.

de Tomaso Deauville. (c) classic-driver

The early 1970s (prior to 1974 at least) proved to be something of an Indian summer for the European exotic car businesses. Demand for exclusive hand-built GTs was brisk, both in Europe and especially in North America, and for those ateliers who lacked the wherewithal (or the inclination) to engineer their own power units, there was a ready supply of powerful and proven engines to be obtained and repurposed from the major OEMs in Detroit.

For specialist carmakers such as Bristol and Jensen Cars in the UK, Iso in Italy and Monteverdi in Switzerland, this would prove to be a godsend, until the oil taps were turned off at least. Another fledgling exotic carmaker was that of De Tomaso, headed by Argentinian businessman and ace deal-maker Alejandro de Tomaso. Having taken over the struggling carrozzeria Ghia concern in 1967, he approached Ford with a proposal to Continue reading “Talent Borrows”

Stuck In Neutral

How Billancourt was presented with an unexpected proposal for an ultra-basic car, not by the product committee, but from the mighty French labour union.

Renault Neutral proposal. (c) Conceptcarz com

The mid eighties were tough times for Renault. Georges Besse had become CEO in January 1985 and was confronted with an alarming financial situation: between 1984 and 1985 losses were spiralling – amounting to in the region of 10 billion Francs. Furthermore, the alliance in the USA with American Motors was costing enormous amounts of money, with little headway to show for in return. In an effort to Continue reading “Stuck In Neutral”

Under the Knife – When You Should Just Let Things Be

When it comes to facelifts, it’s best to know when to stop. 

(c) autoevolution

Assuming one was in possession of the requisite grasp of Italian, it would have been fascinating to have sat in on the product planning meetings at Portello, when Alfa Romeo’s strategists were initially scoping the 1972 Alfetta saloon. Because, looking at it from the distance of close to half a century, it’s difficult to ascertain where this model was intended to fit into the existing model hierarchy. Sitting above the by then rather elderly 105-Series Giulia, but below the latter’s closely related 1750/2000 Berlina sibling, the Alfetta was an entirely new model, with the potential to Continue reading “Under the Knife – When You Should Just Let Things Be”

To the Guillotine!

The coupé-cabriolet, otherwise known as the hardtop convertible, is an endangered species. DTW will not be shedding many tears at its passing.

mercedes
1996 Mercedes R170 SLK. (c) mercedesfans.de

The 1996 Mercedes-Benz SLK roadster was a great concept, executed woefully. Despite having a multitude of dynamic, quality, reliability and durability-related shortcomings, the SLK was an enormously successful model that rewarded its maker’s cynicism handsomely.

These issues were not, of course, apparent to the many early customers who endured a nine-month waiting list to Continue reading “To the Guillotine!”

Under the Knife – One for the Record Books

The 1977 Opel Rekord E was a spacious, comfortable and practical car.  It was also somewhat plain and austere looking. A well-judged facelift changed it for the better.

1977 Opel Rekord E (c) autoevolution.com

The 1971 Opel Rekord D was a finely wrought and handsome design. Penned by Chuck Jordan, a GM ‘lifer’ and Opel’s Head of Design, it successfully melded GM’s transatlantic design influences with a clean, almost ascetic European reserve. The beauty was in its smooth, unadorned flanks, elegantly flared elliptical wheel arches, neatly integrated light clusters front and rear, and a total lack of superfluous ornamentation.

By comparison, its Vauxhall Victor FE cousin, released just three months later and sharing its platform and other components, was somewhat heavy-handed and certainly more brash and mid-Atlantic looking. This was tacitly acknowledged by Vauxhall in its advertising, where the FE was nicknamed ‘The Transcontinental’. Continue reading “Under the Knife – One for the Record Books”

Curtain Call (Part 8)

Concluding our tour of some of the Eastern Bloc’s unrealised dreams

(c) Spoki.lv/ Autowp.ru

Moskvitch 2139 Arbat, 1989 and Istra, 1991

The rising popularity of the minivan during the eighties prompted Moskvitch to explore the possibilities of creating their own version, development starting in 1987. The result shown two years later was a seven seater named 2139 Arbat styled by Alexander Kulugin’s AZLK design team; the A- and B-pillar treatment by coincidence appearing somewhat similar to the more recent Skoda Roomster.

Featuring a sliding door on the passenger side, front seats that could Continue reading “Curtain Call (Part 8)”

Under the Knife – Racing Certainty

Despite being an all-conquering touring car champion, the Alfa Romeo 155 wasn’t the commercial or critical success its masters intended. But a subtle, if significant facelift salved its reputation.

1992 Alfa Romeo 155. Image: pistonudos

Despite its long-in-the-tooth underpinnings and carryover passenger compartment, the Alfa Romeo 75 became a relatively successful and well-regarded sporting saloon until its commercial demise in 1992. The ultimate evolution of the 116-series which made its production debut with the 1972 Alfetta, the 75 excised many (if not all) of the earlier models’ inherent design flaws – most notably a lengthy, tortuous and unwieldy gear linkage owing to its rear transaxle layout.

In 1986, Fiat Auto acquired the Alfa Romeo business from the state-owned body who had been administering it in ever-decreasing circles, and with a successor to the 75 by then a priority, the 167-series 155 model was hastily developed, entering production in 1992 at the former Alfa Sud plant at Pomigliano d’Arco in Campania. Continue reading “Under the Knife – Racing Certainty”

Under the Knife – Don’t mention the War

During its thirteen-year lifespan, Fiat’s D-segment saloon went under the knife on four different occasions, with varying degrees of success.

Take one. (c) autoevolution

The Fiat 132 was launched in 1972 to replace the 125 Berlina. The latter, although a pleasant enough car, had always suffered somewhat from the inaccurate perception that it was little more than a Fiat 124 in a party frock. Both cars shared the same doors and passenger compartment but the 125 had longer front and rear ends and an 85mm (3.5”) longer wheelbase, courtesy of a platform carried over from its predecessor, the Fiat 1500. This allowed the rear seat to be pushed back slightly to liberate a little more legroom. Notwithstanding the similarity to its smaller sibling, the 125 achieved over 600,000 sales during its five year production life.

With the 132, Fiat wanted to Continue reading “Under the Knife – Don’t mention the War”

Bohemian Rhapsody

Like the 1975 Queen single, the Tatra 613 was big, bold and went on for a bit. But was it a stylistic pathfinder, or simply the end of a noble line? We investigate.

Tatra 613. Image: motor1

Kopřivnice is a medium sized town in the Moravian-Silesian region of Czechia and has been home for many years to the predominantly commercial vehicle maker, Tatra. Amongst the earliest auto manufacturers, the company was formed in 1850, but became a carmaker under the name of Nesselsdorfer Wagenbau-Fabriksgesellschaft in 1897, adopting the Tatra nameplate in 1919.

We tend to Continue reading “Bohemian Rhapsody”

Sense and Sensuality

Modern luxury collides with post-opulence. 

W223 S-Class. Image: gtspirit

With summer now officially over, and perhaps more in the spirit of hope than confidence, OEM carmakers are gradually returning to the business of product. This week amid the sudden outpouring of new announcements, previously squeezed and distorted through the narrow pipette of PR drip-feed, we are presented with two super-luxury land-yachts from differing echelons of wealth, privilege and position. Let us first Continue reading “Sense and Sensuality”

2020 Vision.

We’ll have no shouting here…

Are you sure this is Cork? All images:  CB

Despite life returning to a semblance of normality around these parts over recent months, the sighting of 2020-registered cars remain something of a novelty. Of course cars have been registered – some having even been sold – but in a country where new car sales had already been in state of contraction before the pandemic swept all before it, the current situation facing the Irish retail sales trade must be sobering indeed.

One of the more superficial downsides to this is that sightings of new models, while normally a relatively frequent prospect, have been sporadic at best. Amongst the more recent arrivals to these shores is Opel’s current generation Corsa (none of your Vauxhalls in these parts), but to be honest, and in contrast to the (closely-related) Peugeot 208 which preceded it to market, it has been a comparatively rare sight.

During my twice-daily dog walking duties I Continue reading “2020 Vision.”

Under the Knife – Rounding Error

Today DTW recalls the 1994 Ford Scorpio Mk2, a car that defies any attempt at rational analysis or explanation.

Not ‘conventionally handsome’… (c) autoguru-katalog

When Ford launched the Scorpio* Mk1 in 1985, it did so in five-door hatchback form only. This surprised some observers, knowing the resistance that Ford had faced to the hatchback Sierra three years earlier from conservative buyers who preferred the saloon format. Even more surprising was the absence of an estate version, given the popularity of the Granada estate in both Mk1 and Mk2 forms.

Just as with the Sierra, a three-volume booted version was added to the range in December 1989. Estate buyers had to wait until January 1992 for the launch of that version, which coincided with a facelift of the whole range. The facelift was a competent if relatively minor overhaul, comprising a smoother front end with larger light units and smoked tail lights with a matching filler panel at the rear. The saloon forwent the hatchback’s concealed C and D-pillars for a more conventional six-light DLO and was a handsome and imposing design. It was also well equipped and remarkably comfortable over long distances, making it an excellent executive (hire) car.

Then something very strange happened: Continue reading “Under the Knife – Rounding Error”