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”

The Milwaukee Magician (Part Three)

Continuing our guided tour of the works of Brooks Stevens.

Image: zeppelin70years.com

1954 Cadillac Die Valkyrie: snowplough, cow-catcher(1) and steam iron were just some of the likenesses offered by critics for the controversial frontal appearance of Brooks Stevens’ first design to be displayed at a European Motor Show. The last suggestion was particularly apposite in view of the Milwaukee designer’s successful ‘Steam-O-Matic’ iron of more than a decade earlier. The giant ‘V’ shaped front assembly was, according to Stevens, simply meant to emphasise the large V8 engine that provided the motive force for the car.

The Die Valkyrie was designed after Brooks Stevens became acquainted with Guy Storr, a French public relations specialist based in Monaco. Their meeting was timely as Stevens was eager to Continue reading “The Milwaukee Magician (Part Three)”

Eighties Eco-Concept Marvels: Number 3 – BL Technologies ECV3

We look at three small eco-concept cars from the 1980s and see what became of them.

BL Technologies ECV3. Can you imagine the shock of BL presenting this in 1982? (Source: AROnline)

The last of the cars featured in this series is the BL Technologies ECV3. This is a classic BL tale of burgeoning promise turning to wracking frustration as funds dried up for the development of a new small car. As might be expected, it is also by some margin the most convoluted and protracted of the three stories.

BL Technology was the R&D arm of the state-owned British car maker. In 1980, it was led by renowned engineer Spen King and given a home at BL’s new testing facility at Gaydon in Warwickshire. BL Technology and its Gaydon site was basically a sand-box environment, enabling King and his colleagues to propose theories about the future design of cars, then turn these into working prototypes to Continue reading “Eighties Eco-Concept Marvels: Number 3 – BL Technologies ECV3”

Is that a Vourdoulakas in the Potting Shed?

Celebrating the unexceptional.

Reasonably priced car in Aarhus, Denmark. Image: the author

Much of what gets recorded is either data with no texture, or the exceptional. In between is where real life happens and it goes by undocumented. Today, an ordinary car on an ordinary street on an ordinary day.

The Suzuki Liana doesn’t strike one as …. well, it doesn’t strike one very much. So anonymous is the Liana that Top Gear used on as for their ‘Star In A Reasonably Priced Car’ feature. The Liana is very much the kind of car I see littering my part of town, and I usually ignore them. But, when I saw this one, I decided I could not resist the voice that told me to Continue reading “Is that a Vourdoulakas in the Potting Shed?”

The Milwaukee Magician (Part Two)

A guided tour through some of the notable works of Brooks Stevens.

Image: the author

1936 Zephyr Land Yacht: One of the earliest automotive creations of Brooks Stevens is this unusual trailer vehicle combination, the Zephyr Land Yacht. It was commissioned by thirty year-old millionaire playboy William Woods Plankinton Jr., heir to his father’s vast fortune. The tractor was based on an International Harvester chassis, while the trailer used a Curtis Aerocar as a starting point. The lucky occupants of the trailer wanted for nothing during their travels across the country: a complete kitchen, bathrooms with showers and hot and cold water plus sleeping accommodation for Plankinton, six guests and the butler were provided. Plankington was an avid hunter and fisherman, so ample storage for rifles and fishing rods was also incorporated into the design. Continue reading “The Milwaukee Magician (Part Two)”

The Alfa Romeo Tonale – a Pass with Advisories

Alfa Romeo’s latest last chance has arrived.

Image: Stellantis Media

The arrival of a new mass-market Alfa Romeo is always an important event, and the Tonale CUV arrives with heavy responsibilities upon its evocatively styled shoulders. Nearly three years have passed since the Tonale Concept showed its SZ-inspired face at the last Geneva Salon of the decade. I had been deeply impressed by Fiat’s Centoventi concept, unveiled at the same venue, but the Tonale seemed like a needless distraction; no certainty of production in the post-Marchionne paralysis, very little technical information other than that it would be electric, or at least electrified. The video presentation was fabulously impressive, the red show car rather less convincing. Continue reading “The Alfa Romeo Tonale – a Pass with Advisories”

Eighties Eco-Concept Marvels: Number 2 – Renault VESTA

A short series in which we look at three small eco-concept cars from the 1980s and see what became of them.

Renault VESTA – look through the rear side window, and one can see that it is one of those styling mules where each side elevation has a differing design (Source: All Car Index)

Today, we turn our attention to Renault’s vision for a compact car designed to do 120mpg (2.35l/100km), the 1983 VESTA.

In its February 1984 edition, Car Magazine went into some detail about what it reported would become the new Renault ‘R3’ in an article, entitled ‘Towards 2000’. This edition of the magazine is memorable for having scoop photos of the Kadett E / Astra MkII on the front cover, the car brightly illuminated at night on the road, showing that GM Europe’s compact offering was going to Continue reading “Eighties Eco-Concept Marvels: Number 2 – Renault VESTA”

The Splendour of the Empire He Took With Him Away

Five short years. Not long for such a long car.

1991-1996 Chevrolet Caprice. All images: the author

It was launched 1991. By 1996, GM had given up on their RWD, body-on-frame sedans, a mere five summers later. The last North American market(1) Caprice served really as a stop-gap. Underneath the deceitfully aero-looking body lurked technology dating back to the Carter era. The engine and underbody could be largely swapped between the 1977 Caprice and the 1991 model.

That is not necessarily a criticism. It reflected the fact that the demands placed on big, comfy sedans simply had not changed that much. It also reflected the fact that more and more American drivers wanted to Continue reading “The Splendour of the Empire He Took With Him Away”

Roots and Wings – A Book Review

The life and work of automotive designer, Peter Schreyer.

Image: Gestalten

Is Roots and Wings a book for the Internet age? The plethora of online information concerning Peter Schreyer borders on the exorbitant, even obsessive, but when the heft and aroma of the paper, quality of the photography and fascinating subject matter combine to such good effect, the pleasure this book provides is sensory as much as intellectual. Engaged with the physicality of this book, one is inclined to take one’s time, allowing the narrative and images time to be absorbed and appreciated for their subtlety and nuance. One is left with the impression that Schreyer took the same time, effort and care over the book that he invested in his automotive designs. Hence, the book is bursting with flavour and added humour, some of which is intentional, some inadvertent. Continue reading “Roots and Wings – A Book Review”

The Milwaukee Magician (Part One)

Remembering the life and work of Brooks Stevens.

Image: mam.org

In the pantheon of industrial and automotive design and styling, he sometimes gets lost in the shuffle at roll call; Pininfarina, Loewy, Eames, Bertoni, Buehrig, Giugiaro, Earl, Lyons, Rams, Opron and Bertone are all present, and deservedly so. There is, however, one gentleman; tall, suave, impeccably dressed and exuding an effortless sense of good taste, that many people may have more trouble putting a name to.

This is somewhat surprising when one realises that this man not only designed important vehicles for several automakers, but also counted Harley-Davidson, Evinrude, the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad and a wide range of home appliance manufacturers amongst his clients. Moreover, he designed the first true SUV, was one of the founders of the Society of Industrial Designers, created with the famous Oscar Mayer ‘Weinermobile’ as well as the oval-mouthed peanut butter jar (to allow easier access to the bottom) and coined the infamous phrase ‘planned obsolescence’. Continue reading “The Milwaukee Magician (Part One)”

Eighties Eco-Concept Marvels: Number 1 – Citroën ECO 2000

A short series in which we look at three small eco-concept cars from the 1980s and see what became of them.

ECO 2000 in museum context (Source: Auto.cz)

I was an eighties teenager and consider that decade to have been influential on many aspects of the world today. After what seemed to me to have been the grim stagnation, complacency and listlessness of the seventies, the eighties saw the (sometimes painful and tragic) breaking of ties to the past and the search to replace them with future opportunities, especially in technological innovation.

Like myself at that time, I would argue it that was a decade which could be described as naïve, one in which political, economic, cultural and social ideals and principles still meant something. People who believed in those ideals and principles were prepared to Continue reading “Eighties Eco-Concept Marvels: Number 1 – Citroën ECO 2000”

A Golden Fleecing

Ninth-life expired?

Image: drivespark.com

My mood, like the weather, was drab. My eyes searched in vain for a hint of colour, something other than the pervasive and oppressive greyscale of an English January day, to lift the spirits and provide some inspiration. Jaded, yet ever hopeful, as Shank’s Pony took me hastily back to work to consume my lunch, there in my gaze lay a sorry sight. It was as lacking in vitality as your author at that moment, so one had to check twice to ascertain that the creature still lived. 

Approaching closer, one could feel the residual heat from the front grille – there was life but you’d be hard pressed to Continue reading “A Golden Fleecing”

Despicable Me – Parts 1,2,3 (And 4)

Thrills, chills and headaches. 

Mitsubishi Colt CZC. Image: convertiblecarmagazine

Car making CEOs are not generally known for their comedic skills. One expects variations of sobriety; suits, stoic faces, a modicum of good manners – even to the press. This is not a charity. Making money (and cars) is serious business. Anomalies do however occasionally surface. Maybe the planets line up in a certain order, a particularly cheeky Chateau Neuf de Pape loosens the guard, revealing the (not so) inner Dr. Nefario (with Gru peering over his shoulder) for a moment, allowing an otherwise unmined niche to Continue reading “Despicable Me – Parts 1,2,3 (And 4)”

Raking the Embers [4] : How to Disappear Completely

The E65 changed BMW forever.

‘Everything in its right place….’ Image: autoevolution

In October 2000, UK rock band, Radiohead released their fourth studio album, the much-awaited follow up to their acclaimed and large-selling 1997 release, OK Computer. But the Gloucestershire five-piece, having foreseen a future trapped upon the stadium rock treadmill instead took a leap into leftfield and recorded a soundscape as haunting as it was alienating. Kid A[1] was received by fans and critics with a mixture of shock, awe and a certain dismay. Many would not Continue reading “Raking the Embers [4] : How to Disappear Completely”

Raking the Embers [3] : Details, Details, Details

Why the facelift failed to fix the BMW E65-generation 7 Series’ most egregious faults.

2003 BMW E65 7 Series. Image: carpixel.net

Someone much more literate in such matters than me once used the terms lumper and splitter in connection with automotive design. I find these terms useful and try to be a holistic lumper, but often find myself unduly irritated by what I perceive to be flaws in the detail execution, hence I am an inveterate splitter. This is why Adrian van Hooydonk’s(1) 2001 Siebener has always irritated me to an irrational degree, and why I feel the facelift did little to address its many flaws.

In the photos below, the blue car is the pre-facelift model, the grey is the facelifted version(2).

The most egregious of these flaws are to be found in the area of the rear door, rear quarter panel and C-pillar. The horizontal bodyside crease in the door skin appears to come to a dead stop when it reaches the door’s trailing-edge shut-line. It has to do so to avoid interfering with the curvature of the rear wheel arch. Actually, if you Continue reading “Raking the Embers [3] : Details, Details, Details”

Eyes Wide Shut

A brief, incomplete and highly subjective history of pop-up and hidden headlamps.

Where it all started: 1936 Cord 810. Image: classicandsportscar.com

Ever since the Cord 810 caused a sensation at the New York Motor Show in November 1935 with its staggeringly sleek and futuristic looks, pop-up headlamps have been subliminally associated with high performance, aerodynamic efficiency(1) and technical sophistication. It matters not that many of the cars on which they subsequently featured, for example the 1985 Honda Accord and 1989 Mazda 323F, were otherwise pretty humdrum devices.

Returning to the Cord, its pop-up headlamps were modified landing lights taken from a Stinson light airplane. They had to Continue reading “Eyes Wide Shut”

Christmas Fantasies, Shattered Dreams

I should be so lucky

Aston Martin Vantage Zagato. Image: Auto Express

From an early age my Christmas wish list contained an Aston Martin. Scale models, obviously – my family were not financial wizards. As time moved on and lascivious tastes deepened, the marque remained a written talisman alongside a diminutive Australian singer from a soap opera – neither sadly entering my world – I cannot have been good that year.

Other childhood plans also became dashed on the floor of reality. I would never Continue reading “Christmas Fantasies, Shattered Dreams”

One-Way Towns Of England

Remembering William Towns, master of the linear.

Image: ja.autodata.org

When designing with straight lines, in essence we have but three angles to play with. Those less than ninety degrees are acute. Above ninety but below one hundred and eighty become obtuse, whilst those exceeding what aficionados of darts call a ton-eighty are deemed reflex. Car designers being flesh and blood (even human, sometimes) curve such values at their will – or not. Human traits often blend those named angles but not in today’s case. This is the story of William Towns (1936-1993) the straight-laced, French curve-avoiding, oft overlooked automotive designer.

Beginning his automotive design career aged eighteen with Rootes Motors, Towns’ early efforts were centred on the less glamorous and more mundane aspects of design work, on items such as seats and door handles. Through time and perseverance, Towns contributed to the Rootes Arrow project, a.k.a. the Hillman Hunter, before an opportunity in 1963 led him to Continue reading “One-Way Towns Of England”

The Shark That Swam Against the Tide

Sharky’s machine.

Covington El Tiburon. Image: Forocoches.com

With few exceptions, the American performance car of the sixties was a pretty straightforward beast: a traditional, proven suspension and platform layout, big V8 up front, fat tires and all of it dressed in an imposing body often painted in some of the more vivid colours of the spectrum, with decals and striping to emphasise the point. Simple, effective and to most eyes handsome as well as desirable: why do it any different way?

There were of course alternatives of European origin such as MG, Alfa Romeo and Porsche, but those appealed to a different kind of customer – often one who had experience with them while serving abroad in the military after WW2. Continue reading “The Shark That Swam Against the Tide”