Did They Really?

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

2002 Peugeot 307 c-pillar.

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

Stepping Down Before Stepping Out

How independent Hudson enjoyed one last hurrah before meeting an ignominious end.

Images: the author

Like any American automaker returning to the business of making cars in the years after the Second World War had ended, Hudson realised that the lucrative post-war sellers’ market would not last indefinitely. A prototype of what would ultimately become the famous ‘step-down’ Hudson had been readied as early as 1942, but America entering the war halted any meaningful further development and moreover, Hudson President A.E. Barit was unconvinced by the concept at the time, finding it too low-slung.

When automotive operations recommenced in the autumn of 1945, chief designer Frank Spring managed to convince his boss to Continue reading “Stepping Down Before Stepping Out”

Into the Vortex – Part Three

The vortex claims its sacrifice.

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

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

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

Breakthrough (Part Two)

Concluding the story of the seminal BMW E30-generation 3 Series.

Image: engineswapdepot.com

Sales of the new 3 Series, initially available in two-door saloon form only, started briskly around the end of 1982. Renowned automotive journalist Leonard (LJK) Setright drove the new 3 Series for the first time and reported his findings in the January 1983 issue of Car Magazine. Whilst largely agreeing with Georg Kacher’s assessment of the car, published in the previous month’s issue of the magazine, he took a more nuanced view of the handling issue.

Setright acknowledged that a base 318 fitted with the ZF three-speed auto was likely to Continue reading “Breakthrough (Part Two)”

Expectation Management

Patience is a virtue. Well, sometimes…

Image: supercars.net

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

However, one should also Continue reading “Expectation Management”

The Panther of Bavaria

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

1992 BMW 3-series E30.

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

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

Second Division

A tale of two Toni’s.

Image: ford.co.uk

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

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

Occupation H. Monster

A commercial break that outlasted the programme.

Image: Citroen Origins

While it’s undisputed that the Raymond Loewy-designed International Harvester Metro van remains an icon of American commercial vehicle vision, it remains precisely the latter to this author’s eyes, in that I’ve never seen one. Today’s encounter on the other hand, far from veiled, may best be seen from just behind the covers. Welcome to the beast that many find beautiful – the Citroën H van.

Similarities between the Yankee and that oh-so Gallic commercial vehicle are limited to their periods of production. The Metro boasted a firm quarter century before changing in no way for the better, whereas the French fancy managed thirty one at a glacial rate of change. But for the worse? Don a beret, spark up a Gauloise and swing those rear doors open wide to Continue reading “Occupation H. Monster”

Stateside Slip-ups

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

Image: the author

Cardin Cadillac Eldorado Evolution I

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

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

Into the Vortex – Part Two

The headwinds intensify.

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

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

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

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

Breakthrough (Part One)

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

Image: pocketrocketsales.co.uk

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

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

Back to Nature

Astra battles West Cork foliage. Foliage wins.

Astra fans of a delicate disposition should look away now. Image: Driven to Write
Astra fans of a delicate disposition really ought to look away now. Image: Driven to Write

Editor’s note [1]: This article originally appeared on DTW on Jan 4 2017. In light of yesterday’s piece, it seemed appropriate for it to make a reappearance…

As middle age steals upon me, I find that many things I still view as contemporary are in reality, decades old. Music, fashion, events – cars even. The subject of this photo is a case in point. Old enough to be dismissed as a banger, yet to my addled mind at least, still sufficiently contemporary for this scenario to appear out of the ordinary.

Yet the Opel Astra G was launched as long ago as 1998, marking a shift in style from the more curvaceous F model which preceded it. In retrospect it appeared to be an attempt by Rüsselsheim to Continue reading “Back to Nature”

The Evolution of A Star

We recall the 1998 G-Series Astra. 

2002 Opel Astra “G”

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

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

U.S. Air Force

There were times when General Motors led the charge.

Images: Dale Jackson and the author

It is an easily overlooked fact that, despite enjoying widespread publicity and -in two cases at least- being successful additions to their existing model range, the BMW 2002 Turbo, Porsche 911 Turbo and SAAB 99 Turbo were not the first roadgoing, commercially available turbocharged passenger cars(1). The USA beat even the first amongst this European trio -the BMW- by a decade and while neither of today’s two protagonists could ever be declared a true commercial success, they still deserve their place in the spotlight.

America was no stranger to forced induction: starting in the early thirties the likes of Graham, Duesenberg and Cord employed superchargers, as did Kaiser and Studebaker around two decades later. The turbocharger, however, was thus far an unapplied technique for carmakers, although the idea had already been patented in the early twentieth century(2) and turbocharged engines had seen use in airplanes during World War Two. Continue reading “U.S. Air Force”

Into the Vortex – Part One

Defying Mittlemässigkeit.

Image: autophoto

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

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

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

Ghosts of Saabs Unborn

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

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

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

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

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

Concepts: 2003 Lancia Granturismo Stilnovo

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

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

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

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

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

Unforced Errors

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

Image: Audi Design

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

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

Number Nine Dream

Getting it right at precisely the wrong moment.

Saab biohybrid
2008 Saab 9X biohybrid. Image: Netcarshow

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

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

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

Waku Waku?

Sadly not, just a perished rubber seal…

Image: The author.

Now that my company’s premises have finally moved (after 27 years of failed attempts…) memories swiftly return to the family run garage, directly across from the old plot. Dealing mainly in the average, everyday eurobox, pleasant surprises could often appear, sitting forlornly outside, awaiting attention.

The last such surprise before the move was no less than a Honda Stepwgn Spada – sadly not a misprint, but Honda’s way of saying Step Wagon. As for Spada, well, what were they imbibing in Hiroshima? Had swords been this slab-sided, the weapon would have an altogether different history. But drop your nomenclature concerns and Continue reading “Waku Waku?”

Join the Wankel Party

A bogged down revolution.

Do you feel lucky, шпана*? Image: denisovetz.ru

Apart from its compactness, free-revving nature and modest number of parts, the Wankel engine is of course known for its smoothness. This is not the first trait that comes to mind when one thinks of Russia but, on the other hand, no Wankel engine has ever been averse to enjoying a drink.

Although Russia was a bit of a latecomer when it comes to the Wankel engine, it was, for a period of roughly twenty-five years, quite seriously involved with the concept, resulting in close to forty different rotary engines being developed within that timespan. Development of the rotary engine started in 1974 at VAZ, better known in the West as manufacturers of the Fiat 124-based Lada saloon and Niva 4WD off-roader. Unlike NSU, Citroën, General Motors and Mazda, the Russians’ reason for developing rotary engines was of a somewhat sinister nature: they were initially designed to Continue reading “Join the Wankel Party”

Sierra Shock (Part Three)

The Sierra’s troubles mount, forcing a radical rethink.

Sierra XR4i. Image: definitely motoring

In the run up to the Sierra’s launch in September 1982, the external design had been previewed with the Probe concept, aimed at lessening the shock of the new. However, few observers believed Ford would put anything so radical into series production, a perception the automotive and general press did little to discourage. When Sierra arrived in the showrooms however, the stunned disbelief was palpable.

Additionally, there remained large stockpiles of unsold Cortinas, which required significant discounting to clear. This gave wavering customers an opt-out, which many gratefully accepted, delighted by the opportunity to Continue reading “Sierra Shock (Part Three)”

A Niche Too Far?

Sometimes it pays to be brave. Sometimes. 

Image: motoimg

Editor’s note: A version of this piece was first published on 6 January 2014.

As the new Millennium approached, motor manufacturers, having established that engineering integrity would only take them so far in the quest for market leadership, would increasingly rely upon the spreadsheets and focus groups of their product planning departments. The key differentiator would henceforth be defined by one word: Segmentation. Departments sprang up in demographically significant hotspots such as Miami, London and Southern California, all tasked with seeking the elusive new market niche that enable them to Continue reading “A Niche Too Far?”

Cue Fanfare

Meet the new Grandmaster. 

Image: Mercedes-Benz-author’s collection.

They called it the match of the century, an East versus West showdown to elect a new Grandmaster, to be decided in the Icelandic capital of Reykjavik. Over a tense series of matches from July to August of 1972, Brooklyn-native, Bobby Fischer sensationally became not only the first American, but the first non-Russian to Continue reading “Cue Fanfare”

From the Neckar to the Nile and the Rio Negro

An NSU with Royal aspirations, and its first and only station wagon that came as far as an audition with NSU management in Neckarsulm.

Image via Pinterest/ Vaderetro.com.ar

The Ramses brand, named after the ancient Egyptian dynasty of kings was founded in 1958 by the Egypt Light Transportation Manufacturing Company (ELTRAMCO), in collaboration with the Egyptian government, NSU and Carrozzeria Bertone. Later, Vignale would also do some work for the Egyptian firm. Because Egypt did not have any experience in building cars, the German firm’s role was to Continue reading “From the Neckar to the Nile and the Rio Negro”

The Rocket Men Will See You Safe (In But Three Weeks)

Prepare for some exceptional acronyms 

No Skodas were harmed while writing this article. (Okay, that’s not strictly true…) Image: Skoda-storyboard.com

The German and Swedish car manufacturers have long tested the safety of their products, with even non-car enthusiasts applying the safe label to the solidity of a Mercedes or Volvo. But hidden behind the Iron Curtain fifty years ago, Škoda was also to participate in regular crash testing with an independent team bringing such action to light.

The ÚVMV (Ústav pro vŷzkum motorovŷch vozidel), the Czechoslovak Motor Vehicle Research Institute, were tasked with providing coherent and central research for engineering companies, not solely car manufacturers. Under leadership from ČAZ (Československých automobilových závodů), or Czechoslovak Auto Works General Division, the ÚVMV beginnings can be found at the end of the Second World War.

Soon after, a directive was procured to Continue reading “The Rocket Men Will See You Safe (In But Three Weeks)”

Sierra Shock (Part Two)

First impressions are very positive, but trouble lies ahead.

The UK automotive press were inordinately impressed by the apparent sophistication of the new Sierra. Car Magazine featured it on the cover of its October 1982 issue with the headline, “Sierra Shock! It really is a good car.” The magazine devoted a six-page feature to the Sierra including an analysis of the design by Steve Cropley, driving impressions from Mel Nichols and an interview with Bob Lutz, Ford Europe’s (former) chairman, who had recently been promoted and returned to Dearborn.

Cropley’s opening remarks set the tone for his piece: “If ever a car… deserved a complete break from the cloying, boring image of the ubiquitous Ford ‘nail’, this Sierra does. It is wholly different; wholly better.” He continued thus: “It is good enough to be compared with the new Audi 100, and to be mentioned in the same conversation as a Mercedes-Benz W123.(1) The eulogy continued: “Never again will a car maker be able to Continue reading “Sierra Shock (Part Two)”

Taking a Stance

Reappraising the Granada. 

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

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

“Carrigrua Is Another World, Darling… We’re Not Like Them.”

Here we take a murky look at a Subaru Forester in the middle of the Norwegian winter.

1997 Subaru Forester. Image: R. Herriott

In some ways, all the evils of the current car market can be traced back to this brilliant vehicle, the 1997 Subaru Forester. I don’t suppose Subaru even thought for a moment that their light, nimble and practical product would cause so many people to Continue reading ““Carrigrua Is Another World, Darling… We’re Not Like Them.””

A Postcard From Wales (via Trollhättan)

Our man in Sheffield innocently goes on holiday, gets Saabed for his trouble. 

All images: The author.

Holidays: Billed as the great getaway from it all, but even with the nine to five out the window, nerves can still get frazzled, just in different ways. Extra traffic and roadworks, snaking ice cream and café queues, soaring blood pressure under a relentlessly torrid sun, along with phrases I have no wish to hear – staycation being the current one to infuriate. Add to this, the plethora of grey utilities which, no matter how remotely one wanders, seem to permeate every car park, blocking the high streets.

Enamoured more with the mountainous and coastal beauty of Northern Wales’ Llyn Peninsula than perambulating amidst the more populated areas, it was difficult to Continue reading “A Postcard From Wales (via Trollhättan)”

Staying at the Ritz in Goodwood Park with my Princess

More eccentric delights from Japan.

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

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

Isles of Wonder

Take me back to dear old Blighty…

Image: autoevolution

In July 2012, the London Olympic Games was officially opened with a spectacular opening ceremony created by a team under the curatorship of film director, Danny Boyle; a skilful weaving of a complex historical tale, combining creation myth, popular culture and a few pointed semi-political thrusts, not to mention no small measure of beauty, humour and outright whimsy to craft a compelling vision of a modern, pluralist Britain at peace with itself and its often troubled past[1].

At the time, there probably was not a more quintessentially British automobile extant than the Range Rover, with its unique blend of the time-honoured and the contemporary; with roots both of the land yet above it, despite more latterly forging a identity as a distinctly urban-centric creature. These qualities, while present from the outset, were both underlined and vulcanised by the 2002 L322 iteration, a car which despite its Anglo-German bloodline[2], maintained an insouciance, which successfully tempered its studied formality and ever-increasing mass. But by 2012, its successor was ready, and at that Autumn’s Paris motor show, an all new Range Rover[3] made its world debut.

Love it or loathe it, but the generational reinvention of the Range Rover remains not only a genuinely noteworthy automotive event, but from a purely creative and engineering perspective at least, one of the industry’s tougher gigs. Few cars have such a broad remit, carry such a hefty weight of historical baggage or are required to Continue reading “Isles of Wonder”

Sierra Shock (Part One)

Ford of Europe bets its future on a car that appears truly radical.

Image: favcars

Exactly forty years ago, the European automotive landscape was upended by a new car that looked like nothing we had seen before. Even more surprising was that it came from Ford, that most conservative of automakers, which had made its fortune from producing cars that were… just as expected. Ford was emphatically not in the business of challenging its customers’ expectations, but meeting them head-on.

The company’s ultra-cautious approach to product development had created generations of cars that were only modestly and iteratively updated from their predecessors. This suited both conservative private buyers and cost-conscious fleet operators, for whom reliability and low running costs were by far and away the most important factors for them to Continue reading “Sierra Shock (Part One)”

Home on the Range

Your Editor gets notions.

All images: ©Driven to Write

First published on 28th June 2017.

Above and Beyond: As advertising taglines go, this speaks to an essential truth in advertising. Because driving a Range Rover genuinely does suggest an altogether loftier plane, and it is this sense of elevation, otherwise the sole preserve of Rolls Royce owners, that is the car’s defining characteristic. Of course the corollary to splendid isolation is one not infrequently experienced by the privileged classes in wider society; a distancing from street level realities, something which can be observed in the manner some luxury SUV owners conduct themselves upon the roadway.

It is probably fair to say that the SUV as we know it originated in the USA, but on this side of the Atlantic, the advent of the Range Rover marked the beginning of our love affair with the concept of a luxurious off-road-capable vehicle. Originally created as a car for affluent farmers, the Range Rover quickly became an adopted urbanite, where its tall stature and panoramic visibility made them surprisingly effective city dwellers. As Land Rover’s BL masters belatedly realised its market potential, it increasingly became a more overtly luxurious machine and once it was introduced into the US market in the late 1980’s, its original utilitarian remit was swept away entirely. Continue reading “Home on the Range”

Try A-Coke-Ah (Part Two)

Iacocca – the Chrysler years.

Image: Time

Reeling from his part-expected firing by Henry Ford, Iacocca was almost immediately offered roles in companies across the globe. One being as a global consultant for Renault, which he turned down, citing a desire for a more hands on role. He also envisaged what he termed Global Motors, a collaboration between Chrysler’s engineering prowess, Volkswagen’s scale and dealer saturation, along with Mitsubishi’s technologies.

Iacocca even had finance plans in hand and seemed openly confident of attracting, if not these car manufacturers, then others such as Honda, Fiat, Nissan or Renault to create a global car superpower to Continue reading “Try A-Coke-Ah (Part Two)”

The Cost of Complacency

An admirable philosophy that ultimately proved to be unsustainable.

Brochure images: the author

Unwillingness to compromise in any way on craftsmanship and quality may be a noble pursuit but, in a highly competitive business, it can ultimately prove to be one’s undoing. Founded in 1908, the Pierce-Arrow Motor Car Company produced automobiles that were unequivocally aimed at those of elevated social status and discriminating taste. Imposing in size and, in some cases, larger than life(1), they found favour amongst the chauffeur-driven elite to make a suitably impressive entrance at high society social functions.

When the highest authority in the United States commissioned the first official car for the White House in 1909, it seemed only natural that Pierce-Arrow should be chosen to Continue reading “The Cost of Complacency”

Elevation

The Height of Luxury.

Image: caradisiac

Be it in art, commerce, cartography or simply behind the wheel of a large automobile, there has always been something to be said for an elevated position. Because in the motoring field (not to mention stream or bridleway), not only does stature have much to commend it, but on the thoroughfares and highways a loftier perch also serves to convey a distinct aura of superiority over the huddled masses below.

Despite Land Rover’s time-honoured marketing tag line[1], the modern Range Rover evokes images, less of the wild yonder so beloved of advertising creatives, but a distinctly more built-environment aesthetic. Certainly, when Gordon Bashford and Spen King defined the parameters for the 1970 original, the creation of a luxury car was furthest from their minds. Yet to a great extent, that is what the Range Rover evolved into, a matter which became solidified by its third and perhaps now definitive generation. Because regardless of where you might Continue reading “Elevation”

Try A-Coke-Ah (Part One)

Lee Iacocca – The Ford Years

Image: Ford Motor Company

Searching for a horse’s mouth account of that pioneering purveyor of horseless carriages, a recent read was the well known autobiography of the irrepressible, late and lamented Lido Anthony (Lee) Iacocca. (1924-2019) With the internet nowadays a deep-mine of information, such a move maybe described as unnecessary, but to this author at least, that misses the point.

For those of you who seek the inner nuances concerning his fathering of the Mustang, therein lies a smattering – just eighteen pages given over to that mother of all car launches, but since other aspects of his career overwhelmed such matters, we ought not Continue reading “Try A-Coke-Ah (Part One)”

Unforgotten: the Renault Mégane II

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

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

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

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

Tyger, Tyger Burning Bright

Remembering GM Europe’s pretty but clawless felines.

1994 Opel Tigra. Image: Ultimate Car Guide

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

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

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

Reserved

The fifth generation Fiesta of 2002 was model of restraint.

2002 Ford Fiesta five door. Image: elutstyr.no

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

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

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

Equus Celestial – Part Two

The star fades

SST Concept. Image: oldconceptcars.com

In the first few days of January 1998, Mitsubishi revealed their first ever American designed and fabricated vehicle at the Chicago motor show. With a styling theme described as Geo-Mechanical, this muscular looking brute showcased not only a study of future potential but also the trajectory Japanese/American market appeared then to be following. Solid in stance, the SST (Sophisticated Sports Touring) roadster bristled with confidence with its acid lemon colour scheme, side strakes, singular central exhaust and independent suspension. The engine remained the two litre and good for 210 bhp but the transmission had become automatic.

At the New York motor show three months later, the Tangerine Dream SST Spyder arrived allowing Dan Sims, chief designer at the Cypress, California R&D base to Continue reading “Equus Celestial – Part Two”

1968: A Question of Choice

Decisions, decisions.

Image: the author

Guiding his Oldsmobile carefully up the driveway to the garage of his house in the suburbs of a typical midwestern American town, Scott Hewitt had something planned for the evening. It was 1968, a year that would prove to be pivotal in world history as well as a bloody one. Presidential candidate Robert Kennedy would not see the end of the year alive, and neither would Martin Luther King.

The war in Vietnam escalated with the fierce Tet offensive, and the awful My Lai massacre would change many people’s minds about why and if the USA should have ever been involved in it in the first place. Violence and unrest were not limited to Southeast Asia- witness student riots in Paris, the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia and the ignition of ‘the troubles’ in Northern Ireland. Significant if less deadly pointers to Continue reading “1968: A Question of Choice”

Equus Celestial – Part One

Starring role.

Image: Car Domain

Depending on one’s viewpoint, celestial eclipses can be viewed as either a beautiful or foreboding event. They are a covering shadow, something which could easily be applied as a metaphor for this Japanese born motor car, produced in the USA. A further metaphor: In 1764, an English race horse named Eclipse[1] hacked up (comfortably winning in racing parlance) 18 races in 17 months. Owing to his winning ways, competing racehorse owners would refuse to Continue reading “Equus Celestial – Part One”

Being There [Part Five]

What killed the MGB?

Image: Jaguar Rover triumph Ltd – Author’s collection

In the summer of 1979, the UK airwaves were dominated by the synthesized sound of Gary Newman and Tubeway Army’s ‘Are Friends Electric’. A single inspired by a novel which dealt with the subject of artificial intelligence was hardly your usual chart-topping fare, but as the decade moved towards its conclusion, it was becoming apparent that more than just music was moving in an increasingly technologically-driven direction[1].

But the pace of change would not be sufficient to doom the decidedly analogue MGB. A number of not wholly unrelated, but intractable elements would join forces to Continue reading “Being There [Part Five]”

Flawed Fleet

At home with the Robinson family garage.

Robinson fleet with the C6 hogging the limelight like the diva she is. Image: the author

It’s been a while since I contributed anything to DTW other than a few comments pegged onto others’ well-researched and insightful offerings. A rather thorny operational issue at the company I work for has meant that I’ve been somewhat distracted, but I would like to keep my hand in, so I offer some musings on our family’s current ‘garage’ of cars, all of which have previously featured in one form or other on these pages.

In our household, the hard work is done by our diesel (sorry) Škoda Octavia estate, the running around town and learning is the preserve of the FIAT 500 and the twice weekly, 90-mile round-trip schlep to the office is usually the domain of the Citroën C6. The Škoda is now over five years old, the FIAT is over six, and Citroën has been registered for almost thirteen years (although it was built fourteen years ago, according to records).

You might be surprised to Continue reading “Flawed Fleet”

There Are No Words…

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

Image: journal.classiccars.com

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

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

Drawn Out

Fitz and Van’s GM swansong.

Image: Author’s collection

Recognised as perhaps the most significant commercial automotive illustrators of the modern era, Art Fitzpatrick and Van Kaufman made their names from evocative, highly stylised, yet beautifully wrought promotional illustrations for General Motors in the United States, and for the Pontiac marque in particular. But in addition, this gifted duo would also define a mode of expression, one few have equalled without accusation of parody or copy.

Towards the latter portion of their career, with their services no longer required in Detroit, Fitz and Van were commissioned by GM’s European division to Continue reading “Drawn Out”

Bus de Combat

Peugeot 504 pick-up into Landtrek

It’s a good deal tidier and its not blue, but otherwise… Image: carsaddiction

Upon leaving school back in the (very) late eighties, finding gainful employment wasn’t much of a priority at all, rather something we were forced to achieve by parental coercion. Aged seventeen, being told for the umpteenth time that money doesn’t grow on trees, and that it’s time to begin contributing, not just to home finances but to society as a whole was to be frank, boring. Work journeys necessitated the use of public transport for a while, but then my mate, Michael found a welding job, which came with a vehicle; a Peugeot 504 pick up in pale blue, quickly labelled, ‘The Battle Bus’. Better still, Michael’s boss allowed him to Continue reading “Bus de Combat”

Via Biturbo

Pierangelo’s moodboard.

Image: Favcars

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

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

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