We perambulate the Palexpo press days in the company of Auto-Didakt’s Christopher Butt. [Revised and updated with additional text and images – Friday 8. March 12.50 GMT]
At last year’s Geneva show, our man on the ground lauded Mazda’s Kai concept in lavish terms, suggesting that we would shortly see something very similar in production form. One year on and his claims we can see were not idle ones; the new 3 hatchback (and to a lesser extent, its saloon counterpart, cleaving faithfully to the concept. “It’s one helluva statement car,” our correspondent tells us – “everything the A-Class tries to be but isn’t.”
Hidden in the shadow of the Sports Utility Vehicle’s claims for world domination, another, hitherto almost extinct category of automobile has gained some new-found relevance.
Forty years ago, the car body shape of now, and presumably the future too, was the fastback. Aerodynamically efficient and avant-garde in its appearance, the fastback acted as the stylistic embodiment of the progressive values of the 1970s. It wasn’t some stuffy estate car (those were only really for craftsmen and catholic families anyway), yet almost as practical. It wasn’t a bourgeois saloon either, finally doing away with that silly remnant of the carriage age – the separate boot, without being, well, a craftsman’s car.
Toyota’s reputation for solid engineering is well-established. Their engines seem to be unburstable and the controls always smooth and light.
Such sensibleness applies to their ashtray designs too. This late 70s Carina two-door saloon is home to a very nice drawer-type ashtray which you can
easily reach while smoking and driving (in a relaxed and laid-back way). It’s positioned under the main body of the dashboard. Notice how all the important bits of the dashboard Continue reading “Our Fates Are As Unknowable As Sennacherib’s”
As the Mercedes’ SLK/SLC prepares to jog on, we consider the status of the niche model.
To all appearances, it seems the age of boundless niche-filling has passed. In some respects this is a development which can be viewed in a positive light, especially given the staggering proliferation that took place across many carmaker’s ranges – achieving little for their creators in most cases apart from squandering engineering resources and haemorrhaging money.
It’s been twenty three years since Mercedes-Benz debuted the SLK model, the first compact two-seater from Sindelfingen since the 190SL of 1954. Introduced at the Turin motor show in 1996, the R170 SLK shared aspects of floorpan, drivetrain and suspensions with the W202 C-Class saloon. Styled by Michael Mauer in 1992, under the supervision of Murat Günak, it was perhaps the final Mercedes-Benz design to Continue reading “Auf wiedersehen, Pet”
Somewhat lost amid Cadillac’s varied (and ongoing) revival efforts, this superb concept car proved that there’s still mileage in some traditional concepts and values.
There’s no better symbol for the American car industry’s post-oil crisis’ struggles to change and evolve than Cadillac.
For the past four decades at least, the former Standard Of The World has found it difficult to come to terms with changing demographics, markets and tastes. For too long, an increasingly outdated concept of luxury was upheld, before numerous attempts at bringing Cadillac up to date have largely failed for one reason or another. Only the ongoing success of the gargantuan Escalade SUV has prevented the marque from falling into utter oblivion. Continue reading “Denied: Cadillac Elmiraj (2013)”
To try and understand what exactly went wrong with the proud Alfa Romeo brand over the past 15 years, there is no better example than this ItalDesign concept car.
Admittedly, there is a production car by the name of Alfa Romeo Brera, of which 21,661 units were built between 2005 and 2010 at Pininfarina’s Grugliasco factory. It even shares some visual traits with the 2002 concept car of the same name. But little of its character.
For the Brera, as originally envisaged by Giorgetto Giugiaro, was a genuine halo car. Which isn’t as far-fetched a proposal as it may appear at first, for Alfa had commissioned quite a few of these over the decades: From the outdated-yet-pretty 33 Stradale, over the charming-but-ill-conceived Montreal to the bold-for-boldness’-sake SZ. Continue reading “Denied: Alfa Romeo Brera (2002)”
Forty years ago, Jaguar introduced the Series III XJ. Its combination of virtues cast deep and lasting shadows.
Frequently exercises in diminishing returns, facelifts tend to fall into the category of change for changes sake, or perhaps a last ditch effort to breathe life into a fading model line. Rare indeed is one which successfully transcends its originator. But if the original XJ saloon’s body styling was the inevitable culmination of a lifetime’s study by a master auteur, the Series III of 1979 proved by comparison to be something of a fortuitous accident.
In 1973 Jaguar introduced the second-series XJ, a modest revision of a highly successful model line – for at the time, no more was required. By then, work had already begun upon its ultimate replacement – the troubled XJ40 programme, then scheduled for release in Autumn 1977.
With no regard to the risk of either opprobrium or canine displeasure, we stop to appreciate a flawed rarity.
While it could never be considered an outright penance, Alfa Romeo ownership could nevertheless be classified as something more akin to a calling, much like medicine, the religious orders, or perhaps, care work. Certainly here at Ireland’s Southern tip, the Biscione tends to be regarded with dark suspicion and their owners with a mixture of pity, mystification and at times, outright horror. In previous, less secular times, some might even have Continue reading “Our Love to Admire”
The fate of Audi’s landmark TT sports car model had been put into question recently. Now the car maker from Ingolstadt responds to the hearsay – with a vengeance!
‘Mediocrity reacts – superiority acts’ is the introductory statement of the press release Audi have published to announce their TT-branded concept car, to be unveiled at the Geneva Motor Show next month.
The Ingolstadt brand’s TT model, whose first iteration stunned the automotive world back in 1998 with its bold Bauhaus-inspired looks, has become something of a marginal note in recent years, with many commentators suggesting time was up for a model line that has lost impact with each successive generation and is, above all else, part of an automotive niche that’s falling into oblivion anyway: the sports car. Continue reading “Geneva Motor Show 2019 Preview: Audi TT-TT”
It’s the end of a long week and you find us today in a somewhat reflective mood.
It was a daring gambit on the part of Jaguar’s styling hierarchy to overturn what had become a stagnant design aesthetic, but ten years on, the X351 series XJ has not lost its power to polarise opinion. Certainly, the passage of time has failed to leaven its more visually unsettling aspects – most of which, (as recently discussed on these pages) centre around the D-pillar area, where a good many visual strands converge in a not altogether harmonious fashion.
As Jaguar’s Wayne Burgess hefts his amp and packs his guitar case, we ask, is his departure part of a broader trend?
Something is afoot within the European motor industry and in particular, amidst the more creative end of the spectrum. What began as a slow drip is becoming a steady flow as more and more senior design staff depart from secure, well remunerated positions at established carmakers in favour of (for the most part), Chinese upstarts or indeed, start-ups.
From time to time, DTW fulfills its duty as the automotive website of record. That means occasionally running an item that, on the face of it, may not set so many pulses racing.
However, I would like to nonetheless make a small effort draw your attention to a car which is important because of and despite its ubiquity. It is relatively easy to write about the extreme and the intense. As a result the vast middle ground where life is lived is neglected. I actually once tried to keep a diary of ordinary experiences (I had more time on my hands in 2009) and noted the problem of seeming to lionise the mundane, merely by noting it.
Design, among many things, is about attempting to control how a product will be seen by the user. Control has limits.
The other day I had the opportunity to see a 1998-1994 Lincoln Continental roaming around the city. Unfortunately for Driven to Write’s readers I could not take a photo in time, so a stock photo will have to suffice. Until that point I had not seen one of these in motion. My impression of the car differed markedly from that based on photos like the image above.
Amid the blatant insecurity current betrayed by German car design, BMW dares to make a bold statement with the facelifted 7 series.
For quite some time, the German ‘premium’ car makers – and BMW in particular – have attracted criticism for brand dilution, creative brain drain and the overall loss of aesthetic values. One of the overriding points being made was a lack of bold, assured decision making – a lack of ‘vision’, if one chooses to describe it as such.
With the recent unveiling of the significantly overhauled BMW 7 series luxury saloon, the Bavarian brand now dramatically changes course, attacking the naysayers head-on. For what this Siebener unquestionably constitutes is a very bold statement indeed. Continue reading “Fur-Q”
There is a light festival taking place in Copenhagen right now. That’s a valuable reminder of lighting, among the most uncertain aspects of design.
Last night as I wandered around the vicinity of Christiansborg Castle, a bright green laser beam divided the sky. The beam stopped on the spire of St Nikolai’s church, a shimmering emerald hue, and it made me imagine Dr Evil demonstrating the power of his laser to destroy ancient buildings unless the Danes paid out one…million…kronor. I mention this because I very much want to Continue reading “Do Want Your Liver Back, Clever Man?”
In the 21st century, common knowledge dictates that a car brand has to please everyone in order to succeed. Thankfully however, Mazda appear to disagree with this assessment.
Mazda’s most recent concept cars don’t photograph well.
What may sound like a negligible statement has, in fact, significant subtext. For in this day and age, photos are everything. In terms of marketing, appearances have never been of greater importance. In the age of the internet, social media et al, the word has lost most of its value to the image. So when food is judged by its looks rather than taste, car makers could be forgiven for making their cars, and concept cars in particular, not so much eye as phone camera candy. Continue reading “Kodo Arrigato”
A group of high-profile designers have left BMW’s design studios over the past few years. Time to assess whose loss turned into whose gain.
This photo, taken in about 2006, depicts BMW Group design at the height of its creative powers. Unlike giants such as Ford, GM or VAG, BMW achieved the seemingly impossible in running each of the company’s core brands (BMW, Mini, Rolls-Royce) as a creatively self-sufficient unit. For that reason, a Mini didn’t come across like a de-contented BMW, nor did anybody mistake a Rolls-Royce for a tarted-up 7 series. Every BMW brand’s design possessed its own set of stylistic rules and values.
More than a decade later, none of the people depicted in the photo are in charge any more – apart of course from Adrian van Hooydonk, who’s been running BMW Group’s design fortunes for a decade this year.
The last two years of that reign have been somewhat overshadowed by an unprecedented creative drain though – unprecedented not just regarding BMW Group, but within the industry as a whole. With the Bavarians’ stylistic fortunes currently shrouded in controversy, it would appear to be the right time to Continue reading “Life After Munich”
As affairs go, it was short-lived. We bid adieu to the Twingo – from these shores at least.
Barely pausing for breath following the announcement of a mid-life revision to their entry-level Twingo, Renault subsequently announced that the refreshed model will henceforth be withdrawn from these islands. Citing the intention to simplify their offer, a Renault spokesperson told Autocar this week that the carmaker will refocus upon a new range of models and drivetrains over the coming year as part of Renault’s Drive The Future plan, which will include a new iteration of the top-selling Clio model.
But for all of its unquestionable sales success, it’s probably fair to say that the B-sector Clio has not truly entered the emotional consciousness of the buying public. A thoroughly competent and attractive proposition by all accounts, but a car which has evolved in such a manner that it is neither as compact, nimble, nor sufficiently easy to Continue reading “Such a Little Tear”
If there should be a parlour game to identify the most DTW car possible then this might be one an exemplar: Bertone’s Saab Novanta concept car.
Why is this a very DTW car? This is a concept car from the year 2002 and has a challenging appearance; it was good enough to deserve production but wasn’t produced; it was a proposal for an extinct and much-missed brand (Saab) and it originated from a now-dead coachbuilder, Bertone. Finally, you can’t help but Continue reading ““A Smoky Mizu please, Dr. Voss””
After leaving the collected minds of DTW hanging mid-air for a bit, I am going to reveal the mystery car of earlier in the week.
DGatewood got as close as anyone could be expected by proposing BMC 1100-1300 almost immediately. Thank you to all who offered their views on the subject. It was a much more interesting discussion than the mystery car deserved to generate.
Reasons why the car could be so readily identified from its rust brown underside are to do with the suspension system and, as I reckon, the peculiarly obvious and exposed exhaust system. It makes me think of an otherwise beautifully planned house that has a toilet and bathroom tacked on at the side because to incorporate it would ruin the arrangement of all the rest of the rooms.
Compact and comely, the Daihatsu Copen Coupé is something of a balm to the crossover contagion.
Despite the inexorable decline and likely demise of the small sports car; victim to the kind of commercial logic that has seen crossovers and their ilk take over every sub-niche, there remains one market that is seemingly still immune from contagion. Japan’s Kei car scene.
Daihatsu’s diverting little Copen roadster requires little introduction given that Driven to Write has warmly spoken of its compact pleasures in the past. The first series Copen was officially discontinued in 2012, and since then, owing to Daihatsu’s regrettable withdrawal from the European market, Kei-car enthusiasts have been denied its current incarnation.
It’s a typical Audi, graced by a purity of design which somehow destroys any chances of passionate engagement**. Guten Tag, Herr Hundert.
The Audi 100 affirmed its maker’s commitment to design which tightly fused the requirements of engineering and the stringencies of high aesthetic standards. Despite all that focused effort expended on visual refinement, nobody loves these cars, do they? You can say the same about Renault’s equally well-considered 25 of 1983. The 1982 Opel Rekord got caught in the middle of the aero-rationalist phase and so shows traces of its 1977 sharp edges intermixed with a smoother frontal aspect. Unloved also. We are forced to Continue reading “Your Gaze Was Like A Solstice Beam Reaching My Darkened Heart”
An exhibition of landmark motor cars from a gilded age prompts us to ask: Is beauty enough?
During the 1950s, philosopher, Roland Barthes hailed the modern automobile as a visitor from the heavens. Some sixty years later, it seems we have returned the compliment, by propelling a Tesla motor vehicle out into the solar system. An audacious publicity stunt, a sign that we have lost our sense of wonderment for the motor car, or proof that our supposed mastery of the art has led us to believe we can Continue reading “Golden Years”
It seems unfair to keep you on tenterhooks so I have decided to reveal/confirm the identity of today’s mystery car.
It is, of course, a Lancia Fulvia saloon, produced from 1963 to 1976 which really is a very long time indeed. The Fulvia was still good when it ceased production but the market’s tastes had changed. While everyone adores the admittedly perky, perty and pretty Fulvia Coupé, and many like the odd Zagato derivatives, I hold a candle for the austere and formal saloon, attributed to Piero Castagnero at Lancia’s Centro Stile. This and a few other cars suggested to me that if you want to Continue reading “The Big Reveal/Confirmation”
When it came to translation a car design sketch into a tangible object, craftsmanship and even cultural background used to be of the utmost importance.
As described earlier on, the technique and style any car designer chooses to depict his ideas is highly informative.
Back in the golden era of the Italian carrozzieri, however, this did not matter as much, as most of the legendary Italian car designers didn’t much care for impressive illustrations. Viewing the sketches of the likes of Leonardo Fioravanti, Marcello Gandini or Aldo Brovarone from today’s perspective, their artistic qualities appear rather naïve, to put it mildly. Continue reading “Adding Dimensions (II)”
This fine concept from Maserati’s coachbuilt days illustrates how far from home the Tridente has drifted.
Maserati, at the height of their gilded age as an exclusive automotive atelier, produced a bewildering array of suave gran turismos and more overt sporting machinery, along with the occasional one-off for their more discerning clients. At the 1965 Salone di Torino, Carrozzeria Vignale, who carried out a sizeable proportion of Maserati’s styling duties displayed an elegant four-seater concept.
The car designer’s sketch, and how it is turned into a three-dimensional object, are no mere technicalities.
How a designer illustrates his work matters. For any sketch betrays not only one’s technical skills, but one’s sense of proportion, style and, indeed, taste. To compare and contrast illustrations by some of the great car designers of the past with their descendants is therefore rather instructive.
Not just due to changing techniques and technology, the way in which designers depict their designs has dramatically changed over the past six decades. Whereas those stylists who had to rely purely on their hands, eyes and a few templates to create an impression of what they had in mind used to Continue reading “Adding Dimensions (I)”
It’s time to get technical. Let’s use pictures more than words to understand the aesthetic character of an old friend.
Musicians are used to talking of notes, timbre and tone. Choreographers use dance notation. Designers have curves but unlike music and dance, designers’ raw material lacks an accepted, verbal way to describe it. Predominantly words like “expression” describe the degree to which shapes have a character. Words are given to the end-effect of the expression too but not really to the cause. Perhaps designers can Continue reading “Awake Me With Poetry, Sing To Me, Tell Me What To Feel About You”
Tracing the Peugeot 504’s kinked tail motif through the Pininfarina back catalogue.
In order to capitalise on the popularity of UK TV series, The Avengers, stars, Honor Blackman and Patrick Macnee were persuaded to record a novelty single celebrating not only the fashions adorning the somewhat distracting Ms. Blackman, but the broadening societal permissiveness of mid-Sixties Britain. And while it was a rather throwaway ditty which didn’t chart particularly well at the time, it did take on a second life several decades later.
These things take time – as with fashion, so with design. One of the more interesting aspects of recent discussions surrounding the styling of the 1968 Peugeot 504 was the notion that its rear aspect was regarded with a degree of ambivalence. Uncomfortable and strange were among the soubriquets employed on these pages, but further afield, and particularly in the US, the 504’s kinked tail was considered peculiar. In light of this, it might be germane to Continue reading “Kinky Boots”
In 1978, Pininfarina made one final pitch to gain Jaguar’s business. It didn’t succeed, but did it precipitate another, more tangled narrative web?
By around 1976 the automotive world had broadly coalesced around the belief that Jaguar’s XJ-S was, in stylistic terms a rather poor show from a carmaker renowned for being the business of beauty. It didn’t really matter that this particular set of shared assumptions had largely been formed by a UK and US press corps who had whipped themselves into a frenzy on the false premise that Jaguar would reprise the E-Type’s impact and ambition and by consequence required a scapegoat when reality proved somewhat different.
Blaming Jaguar was perhaps cathartic and while some argued the carmaker might have controlled the narrative a little better in the run up to the XJ-S’ announcement, in reality, the embattled residents of Browns Lane couldn’t Continue reading “Along Came a Spider”
As the Audi TT hits a significant historical milestone, it appears to be on the verge of taking an altogether different kind of hit.
It isn’t every birthday celebration that doubles as a wake, but the times are not what they were. Twenty years after Audi unveiled the production TT sports model, speculation is rife that the current iteration is likely to be its last – at least in the format we have come to know and love.
Indeed, this last component may form part of the problem, since the love affair has, it appears, run its natural course. Certainly, senior Ingolstadt management, when they can Continue reading “Death Disco”
Volkswagen’s upmarket Passat derivative – was it misunderstood or simply misconceived?
If one was to plot the course of Volkswagen’s design heritage in purely aesthetic terms (if indeed such a thing were possible), it would be represented on a somewhat undulating graph, and it could be argued with some conviction that overall, the troughs have tended to outweigh the peaks. But automotive design is a cyclical discipline and all styling studios must move with, or at least reflect the times. Continue reading “Song to the Siren”
In late 2018, it’s time for a bit of reluctant praise to the automotive realm’s popular overachiever, the Porsche 911.
Intellectuals detest Tom Cruise. The combination of decades-long success in mainstream blockbuster movies, ridiculously good looks, as well as penchants for sofa jumping and sinister cults has seen to that.
Be that as it may, there is also a different side to Mr Cruise Mapother. The side that gave one Stanley Kubrick two years of Mr Cruise’s life at arguably the peak of the latter’s career. The side that gave cineastes Frank T J Mackey. The side that causes a 50-year old to Continue reading “Der Spießer”
The third Mazda 3 had a curiously short life: six years only. No wonder it only seems like yesterday when it was introduced.
And now a new one is upon us, revealed at the LA Motor Show which is in LA this year. God bless them, Mazda have seen fit to grace the car with a comprehensible engine line-up of 1.5 and 2.0 litres plus a super-efficient diesel for those markets not scared witless by DERV. Mazda, like Honda, do still seem to be interested in engines and so the new diesel “uses multi-hole piezo injectors to Continue reading “Like Unto Being Two Souls In One Heart”
Retrofuturism didn’t necessarily arrive at Ford with J. Mays. It’s more likely to have started with a man named Callum. No, the other one…
As the Ford Motor Company grew its upmarket brand portfolio during the late 1980s, it became a matter of increasing importance to ensure each marque could carve out a coherent stylistic identity, one which not only honoured tradition, but that ensured no genetic traces were misplaced or appropriated.
Complicating matters during this period was the fact that Aston Martin had been gifted an Ian Callum-penned version of Jaguar’s cancelled XJ41 two-seater, which would eventually Continue reading “Antique Roadshow”
A flying trip to Barcelona held an unexpected and pleasant surprise.
I had the pleasure of a taxi ride from Barcelona Airport to the CCIB conference centre on the seafront. The driver was very capable, making smooth but very pacey progress, but what really impressed me was the vehicle.
A class in retrofuturism from 1989. Driven to Write dons a black polo neck to pronounce upon Nissan’s Neo-X concept.
During the late 1980s, Japanese car design appeared to be going through something of a purple patch. By way of illustration, the 1989 Tokyo motor show marked the introduction of three fine Nissan concepts – the Primera-X, (not to be confused with the 1990 production car it prefigured), the ‘Pike Factory’ Figaro concept, but also the subject of today’s retrospective – Nissan’s take on a full-sized saloon for the 1990s.
Today DTW turns didactic and we have a short history lesson about wheel cut-outs on the bodyside. Though we covered this a little in 2015 I thought I might elaborate.
The wheel cut-out is where all the sculptural activity of the body side has to meet a much more rigidly controlled boundary. To think of its form, imagine cutting a circular hole in a vertical plane. Then tilt the plane slightly so it leans away from the centre line. The next step is to Continue reading “Smoke and Rob Roy Fridays: Orbiting Heaven”
The previous generation of Mercedes’ E-class was supposed to mark a return to the marque’s traditional values. Instead, it turned a great many of them into damaged goods.
Willkommen zu Hause. Die E-Klasse. Upon its market introduction in 2009, the newest Mercedes-Benz E-class was ‘welcomed home’. Attentive observers may ask when and why the E-class had left in the first place – an answer to which would require a return to the decade most people of Stuttgart Sindelfingen and Untertürkheim would like to forget : The 1990s.
The E-class for the ’90s, unveiled in the middle of that decade, was of course the W210 generation, which has since gained notoriety for issues of rust, profit-optimised engineering and styling that has aged as gracefully as the materials the Benz was made of. Continue reading “The Car That Killed Sobriety”
A 1951 art exhibition would change the way we viewed the automobile forever.
Since the Museum of Modern Art (MoMa) was founded in 1929, it has been a leading proponent of contemporary and modernist art, encompassing not only what is commonly known as fine arts, but architecture, product design, photography, film, installations and electronic media.
Perhaps the most influential host to the conversation around latter-day aesthetics, its current location, designed by architects, Philip Goodwin and Edward Stone in 1939 on New York’s West 53rd street has staged some of the most celebrated and controversial art exhibitions of the 20th century.
An Oldsmobile Cutlass Salon, Cadillac Eldorado, a 1991 Buick Roadmaster, a Chevrolet Nova, some Mustangs, an El Camino. Those were a few of the older cars I saw on a recent trip to Sweden. Most exciting was this Opel Ascona 1.6 C automatic (1981-1984)…
The 1978 Midas and its talented creator appear largely forgotten. Neither really ought to be.
Even amongst those who breathe petrol vapour for pleasure, Harold Dermott is not a household name. And this is a pity, for he is intrinsically linked to two of Britain’s cleverest and most dynamically accomplished enthusiast cars. That they represent polar opposites upon the affordability spectrum is largely irrelevant – both are equally rare sights today.
But while one is rightly celebrated as arguably the pinnacle of road-car development, the 1978 Midas remains a neglected automotive footnote – a matter which not only belies the craft and ingenuity of its design and construction, but also speaks volumes as to how the automotive world values its innovators and outliers.
Having graduated with a BSc in mechanical engineering, Harold Dermott joined BL in the early ’70s, working on engine development for Jaguar. However, following the notorious Ryder Report, prospects looked bleak for a young, ambitious engineer, and having departed the embattled carmaker, he obtained the rights to Continue reading “Little Wonder”