Small but Perfectly Formed

The 1991 Cinquecento was a great city car and, in design terms, a hard act to follow, as Fiat found out with its replacement.

1994 Fiat Cinquecento Sporting (c) fiat.com

Fiat in 2021 is a pale shadow of the once mighty automaker that dominated Italian industry for decades. Half a century ago, the company produced a full range of cars, from the diminutive rear-engined 126 to the handsome V6 engined 130 luxury saloon and coupé. That notwithstanding, Fiat was always best known and most highly regarded for its expertise and success in small cars.

The 1955 Fiat 600 and its smaller sibling, the 1957 500 model, successfully mobilised Italy in the post-war years. They were small, light, economical and robust cars that fitted perfectly into the historic streetscape of many Italian villages, towns and cities, with their narrow, winding streets. Both were notable for their longevity: the 600 remained in production until 1969. The 500 continued until 1975, selling alongside the 1972 126 which was, effectively, a rebodied 500. Continue reading “Small but Perfectly Formed”

The Welsh Sounding Car Company. From Germany

A much-derided, now defunct German carmaker comes under the spotlight. 

Image: Curbside Classic

A simple yet honest emblem: name, white and red stripes, triangle. Mathematically sound, an engineers friend, a car company that had two bites of the cherry only to be swallowed up due to that thorny old subject of filthy lucre. Some history: The Bremen based shipping company Norddeutscher Lloyd took the automotive plunge as it were in 1908, building electric powered vehicles under license. Petrol engines soon followed, as did a merger with Hansa in order to Continue reading “The Welsh Sounding Car Company. From Germany”

Fiat Takes A Swing At Golf… and Misses

The 2001 Fiat Stilo was an attempt to take on the Golf at its own game. It missed by a country mile. We recall Fiat’s millennial C-segment failure.

2003 Fiat Stilo three-door (c) Parkers.co.uk

Ever since its introduction in 1974 and over eight different generations, Volkswagen’s C-segment stalwart has been always readily identifiable. There have been variations in the quality of execution, but all retained enough distinctive DNA to make them unmistakably part of the lineage. This was about more than just appearance. It encompassed dynamic characteristics as well as the cars’ tactile and aural qualities.

This was exactly Volkswagen’s intention, to engender a sense of comfortable familiarity that made it easy for Golf owners to Continue reading “Fiat Takes A Swing At Golf… and Misses”

Nordstjärna (Part Three)

Desperate times. Desperate measures. 

Image: carthrottle

The early 1960s had been good years at Trollhättan. Saab sales had risen exponentially, the export performance of the 96 showed considerable promise, and its rally exploits further bolstered its appeal. But it was clear that to consolidate upon this success, a more modern, more adaptable Saab motorcar was required. In April 1964 management initiated Project Gudmund which would culminate in the 99 model, unveiled to the press in November 1967.

But meanwhile sales of the two-stroke 96 were stalling, and technical chief, Rolf Mellde recognised the need to act. Not that his engineers had exactly been warming their hands in the interim. Between 1960 and 1964, a number of four-stroke engines were evaluated in Saab bodyshells. Initially three powertrains were selected, a longitudinal 897 cc four cylinder Lloyd Arabella unit, a transversely mounted 848 cc BMC A-Series (à la Mini) and a 1089 cc V4 Lancia Appia unit.

Despite this however, Saab CEO, Tryggve Holm remained implacably wedded to the two-stroke concept, vetoing any move by Mellde to Continue reading “Nordstjärna (Part Three)”

Family Breadwinner (Part Two)

The Citroën Visa might have offended some Quai de Javel purists, but it still espoused enough of the marque’s unique character to be well regarded and fondly remembered.

1978 Visa Club. Image: parts-specs.nl

The 1976 Citroën LN was unambiguously a stop-gap car, engineered quickly and expediently to give beleaguered Citroën dealers something new to sell. But Peugeot realised that Citroën also needed a proper supermini-sized contender to replace the ageing Dyane and Ami, and again looked to the 104 platform, this time the five-door version. Prior to their takeover, Citroën had been working on its own replacement (initially in conjunction with Fiat), codenamed Model Y (1). The Peugeot takeover ended that programme however, and the project, renamed Model VD, would now Continue reading “Family Breadwinner (Part Two)”

When An Estate Car Just Won’t Do

Just Musk? Not in this instance.

(c) nielsvanroij.com

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

Can’t Beat Visa, but Mauls R5

Following previous DTW incursions into Peugeot’s 104 series, we take a look at the T15 (or Samba, as it became better known).

Talbot Samba LS in gorgeous condition (Source: Car and Classic)

I was sorting through a pile of old motoring magazines I found on a shelf in our box room the other day, when I came across an article in the w/e 24th October 1981 issue of Autocar which was the launch piece for “Talbot’s new T15 small car, called Samba in Europe”. I had purchased that magazine (and the others in the pile) on ebay over eight years ago while researching a series on the Triumph Acclaim which appeared on this site some time ago.

The article holds a particular interest for me because a Samba was the first car I ever bought (I was 19). I’ll Continue reading “Can’t Beat Visa, but Mauls R5”

New Frontier – (Part Ten)

Press and punter have their say.

(c) citroen-sm-uk.com

Otherworldly, at least as celestial an apparition as Roland Barthes’ depiction of its DS 19 forebear, the appearance of the new Citroën poleaxed visitors at its debut. Because in the Spring of 1970, nothing spoke of the now quite like an SM, although the Pininfarina Modulo, also shown at that year’s Geneva salon potentially ran it a close second.

The motorshow also presented Citroën’s public relations with their first tangible opportunity to gauge the public’s reaction to the new Quai de Javel flagship, but more to the point, to elicit the impressions of those who might be minded to Continue reading “New Frontier – (Part Ten)”

Family Breadwinner (Part One)

Although eclipsed by the hugely successful 205, the 104 was a highly competent design that served Peugeot and its sister companies well for sixteen-years.

Peugeot 104. Image: autodata1

Mention Peugeot Supermini in the company of car enthusiasts of a certain maturity and their minds will immediately turn to the 1983 205, the delightfully attractive, practical and sweet-handling car that, for many, was the definitive 1980’s B-segment hatchback. In 1.6 and 1.9 GTi form, it was also the definitive hot hatch. What is not as readily recalled, however, is the success of its largely forgotten predecessor, the 1972 Peugeot 104 and its PSA siblings.

Prior to the launch of the 104, Peugeot design was the very epitome of sober conservatism, with understated but well-engineered saloons and estates, and attractive but unflashy coupés and convertibles. The company had ventured into transverse engines and front-wheel-drive with the 204 and 304 siblings, but their conservative exterior appearance belied the engineering innovation within. The 104 would be the company’s smallest model and the first two-box design that was not an estate, but what was becoming known as a Supermini.

Except that, like the Fiat 127 that preceded it by a year, it was not a true Supermini in that it had a conventional boot-lid instead of a hatchback(1). Peugeot was, allegedly, concerned about the impact a hatchback 104 might have on sales of the existing 204 estate, hence the decision to Continue reading “Family Breadwinner (Part One)”

F is for Failure

There’s little new in the world.

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

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

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

Making Good? (Part Two)

DTW continues the story of MG Motor and asks if things are finally coming good in Europe for the reborn marque.

2018 MG ZS

The summer of 2016 must have been a worrying time for MG Motor and its UK dealers. The MG6 GT and Magnette had failed in the market and were discontinued, so the company was reduced to a single model, the MG3 hatchback. European sales of the MG3 were trickling along at around 250 a month, a level at which final assembly at Longbridge was not viable, so the model would in future Continue reading “Making Good? (Part Two)”

Knocking On Opportunity’s Door

A design masterpiece in retrospect.

All images: The author’s collection

The silence was deafening, broken only by the faint hum of the ventilation system in Ford Motor Company Vice President Robert S. McNamara’s office. “Bob, you can’t really do that, can you?” uttered general manager Ben D. Mills after a few uncomfortable seconds. “You bet I can do it” was McNamara’s terse response.

McNamara had just announced that based on Lincoln’s dismal financial projections (and it had never made a profit since its inception) he had decided to recommend that the brand be terminated. It was only after a long and heated discussion that Mills, chief engineer Harold McDonald and executive engineer Harold Johnsson managed to persuade McNamara to Continue reading “Knocking On Opportunity’s Door”

Sunk Cat Bias

JLR Reimagines Jaguar as a successful business. Good luck Thierry.

The only image officially shown of the axed ‘new’ XJ. (c) Autocar

“It’s not the despair… I can stand the despair. It’s the hope…” [1]

So it’s finally happened. After months of deliberation, and a good deal of wild-eyed speculation, Thierry Bolloré and his JLR board have announced their Reimagine plan for the JLR business. Described in some areas of the mainstream auto press as a Bombshell, the revelations which pertain to brand-Jaguar are in fact nothing of the sort. This shift has been telegraphed for the best part of two years now.

Reimagine has been devised, Bolloré told journalists, to emphasise “quality over volume”, a tacit recognition that not only were Sir Ralph Speth’s growth projections for the JLR business wrong, but in a new post-Covid, post Brexit environment, completely unattainable.[2] Speth’s aspirations to Continue reading “Sunk Cat Bias”

Making Good? (Part One)

Following its return in 2007, MG Motor was for years a marginal and faltering presence in the European auto market. DTW asks if the Chinese owned company is finally beginning to make a meaningful impact.

Small beginnings: 2007 MG TF 500LE (c) mg.co.uk

The final collapse of MG Rover in 2005 was an ugly, rancorous affair. It was also a long time coming. Since BMW disposed of its troublesome English Patient in 2000, selling it for a nominal £10(1) to the Phoenix Consortium, the company limped along with increasingly desperate attempts to reheat and repackage its ageing product line-up.

The most egregious of these was not the Rover Streetwise which, it could be argued, was simply ahead of its time, but the MG Express(2). Yes, MG Rover really did think (or was desperate to Continue reading “Making Good? (Part One)”

Nordstjärna (Part Two)

Saab takes off.

(c) saabworld

In the years immediately following the cessation of global hostilities, the pace of technological change accelerated massively. However, this rapid forward motion was particularly obvious in the aviation sector, especially following the advent of the gas turbine jet engine.

For Sweden, peacetime did not entail a loss of vigilance – far from it, with the threat now stemming from a resurgent Soviet Union, seeking to Continue reading “Nordstjärna (Part Two)”

Virtue from Necessity (Part Two)

DTW continues the story of the Triumph Herald and its derivatives.

Triumph Vitesse. Image: storm.oldcarmanualproject

Following the December 1960 takeover by Leyland Motors and the successful relaunch of the Herald in April 1961, the newly formed Standard-Triumph division had the funds and confidence to Continue reading “Virtue from Necessity (Part Two)”

Light Fogging

Dirty Great Volvos: Part Two – the 780 ES.

Image: carpixel

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

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

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

New Frontier – (Part Nine)

High drama amid the champagne flutes at Geneva.

Geneva 1970, the SM makes its debut. (c) sm.uk

Spring 1970, and for months now the prospect of a new high performance Citroën flagship has become something of an open secret amid the motor-press. A concerted proving programme by Citroën engineers has been completed, although the chosen name is something of a late in the day affair. Nevertheless, and regardless of what Monsieur le Président is said to have originally wanted, the SM is ready to take its bow.

A prerequisite of the 1968 PARDEVI alliance with FIAT Auto was the creation of a new Citroën SA holding company, a development which saw Pierre Bercot Continue reading “New Frontier – (Part Nine)”

Virtue From Necessity (Part One)

The 1959 Triumph Herald was an innovative and pragmatic solution to a difficult problem. It was also surprisingly accomplished and deservedly successful. DTW tells its story.

1960 Triumph Herald Saloon (c) nationalmotormuseum.org.uk

In the latter half of the 1950s, the Standard-Triumph motor company was facing a potentially existential problem. The mainstay of its model range, the Standard Eight and Ten saloons, were ageing and in need of replacement. However, Fisher and Ludlow, the company’s body fabricators, had been taken over by BMC in 1953 and was under orders from BMC Chairman Leonard Lord to terminate the relationship with Standard-Triumph once existing contracts expired.

Even if Lord had not decided to Continue reading “Virtue From Necessity (Part One)”

A Fortnight at the Opera

A dodgy alternator in the author’s Octavia provides the opportunity of an unexpectedly long exposure to Škoda’s Scala

Skoda Scala SE – side profile (Source: orangewheels.com)

I won’t say much more about how I came to be the temporary user of a metallic black Škoda Scala 1.5TSI DSG SE (I think – no badging), except to say that it’s now almost four weeks since I left our Octavia at the dealership in Letchworth to sort what initially seemed like a simple problem.  However, taking a lead from my own New Year’s intention to look more on the bright side of situations, and, indeed, turn them into opportunities (I know…), I thought I’d Continue reading “A Fortnight at the Opera”

Hope Is the Thing With Feathers

What do I know about animal husbandry anyway?

Underestimate this pullet at your peril. Image: carscoops

There surely comes a point in proceedings where one simply has to bow to certain ineffable truths and admit to the error of one’s ways. For some years now I have been calling (futilely I might add) upon its maker to do the decent thing and euthanise the Lancia Ypsilon, in the earnest, if mistaken belief that it would be better for all concerned if the hapless Shield and Flag was allowed to Continue reading “Hope Is the Thing With Feathers”

Tre Kroner

Dirty Great Volvos: Part one – which deals with a mid-seventies international affair.

Volvo-Bertone 262C. (c) Volvo Cars

When Henry Ford II came to town, he got noticed. And when he showed up in Sweden with his entourage of executives to have a look-see at how they made cars in Gothenburg, he, along with his Yankee-Iron cavalcade, caused quite a stir, enough to inspire a new Volvo.

The Mk4 Lincoln Continental coupé was Henry’s weapon of choice – with that low roof, C-pillars you could Continue reading “Tre Kroner”

The Old Bird’s Case Of BDD

Our Under the Knife Series travels to the Americas.

(c) Todofalcon.com

Body Dysmorphic Disorder, or addiction to cosmetic surgery, is no laughing matter. Those afflicted by it, such as American socialite Jocelyn Wildenstein  are testament to the fact that one would be wise to Continue reading “The Old Bird’s Case Of BDD”

New Frontier – (Part Eight)

La Fluidité.

Image: autoevolution

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

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

Betting the Farm – and Winning

The investment programme behind the 1991 Volvo 850 was the most important in the Swedish automaker’s history. Not only did it deliver an excellent car, it had a fundamental impact on the company’s future direction.

1997 Volvo 850 Estate (c) autocar.co.uk

Despite its conservative appearance, which looked like a scaled-down and smoothed off 940, the 1991 Volvo 850 was the fruit of the Swedish manufacturer’s largest and most expensive ever investment in new models, so it needed to be good.

It was not, however, Volvo’s first foray into front-wheel-drive. That honour rests rather heavily on the 400 Series. First to launch was the 480 coupé in 1986, followed a year later by the 440 five-door hatchback and 460 four-door saloon. The 400 replaced the 300 Series, which Volvo had inherited as a largely completed design (the DAF 77) when it took over DAF’s car-making business in 1975.

The 400 was, to put it bluntly, not great. Continue reading “Betting the Farm – and Winning”

The Definition of Obsession? 10 years with a Citroën C6 (Part 4).

In this final part, I take stock of the experience of living with the C6 over the last decade.

Striking, and distinctive, if not lovely (source: author’s photo)

There is no getting away from the fact that the C6 has been less reliable and more expensive to maintain than it ought to have been. Most of the problems occurred between 60,000 and 100,000 miles, irritatingly after the warranty had expired. Whether it was the car’s weight overwhelming in particular the various suspension components is a matter of speculation, and one which was often vigorously contested on C6 Owner’s fora.[1]

On average, I estimate I have spent around £1,200 a year keeping the C6 in decent fettle, including a couple of visits to a bodyshop to sort out some corrosion spots, a bit of paint blooming on a wing (caused by a poor respray whilst the car’s paintwork was still under warranty), and the time when some scallywag (if that is the correct term) dropped a brick on the bonnet whilst it was parked in a street, leaving it there so that it – and the damage it had caused – could not be missed.

Give the car a nice wash and polish and it looks quite superb – Robert himself wondered if I’d Continue reading “The Definition of Obsession? 10 years with a Citroën C6 (Part 4).”

210 Auf der Autobahn

Why one of the least loved Mercedes might actually be one of the best.

All images: The author.

I used to think a good Mercedes is distinguished by the sound its doors make when closing. Nothing oozes solidity and confidence in a subtle, effortless way, like a good Mercedes Klonk. By this standard, my Mercedes E430 T is not the best Mercedes ever made.

But perhaps there is more to a Mercedes.

Doors aside, a good car should Continue reading “210 Auf der Autobahn”

Everything to the Front

Fessia and Issigonis. Great minds?

Image: automotodepoca

In 1960, outside of a few shall we say, niche carmakers (and Citroën of course), front-wheel drive was still viewed as a somewhat unproven concept. Therefore, when Lancia introduced the front-driven Flavia that year, there was bound to have been some surprise amid observers, and maybe too, an element of scepticism, especially amongst Lancistas of a more traditionalist stripe.[1]

It was after all, a significant technical pivot from Borgo san Paolo’s engineering orthodoxy, and one that was unlikely to have occurred had Lancia’s technical dial not shifted so dramatically by the appointment as engineering chief of Antonio Fessia. The good professor, technically gifted but single-minded in approach, was a staunch proponent of front-wheel drive and there can be little doubt that the Flavia was more attuned to his own ideals and orthodoxies than to Continue reading “Everything to the Front”

Would You ADAM and Eve It?

The testament of ADAM.

(c) Motor Trend

Choice, the holy grail of sales. Only sometimes too much is just that and those sales either fail to materialise or the product simply confuses potential purchasers. The story of the Vauxhall/ Opel ADAM bears witness to this.

In the early part of the twenty first century, the small urbane hatchback had quite the following, dominated by the Anglo-German MINI and Italy’s Fiat 500. Opel believed an opening in this hegemony could be prized, not only to take sales but also to revolutionise modes of customisation – targeting an increasingly younger (or maybe younger at heart) audience, employing capital letters to draw even more attention.

Michigan born designer Darren Luke, who had only just left college to join GM, was flown to Rüsselsheim to Continue reading “Would You ADAM and Eve It?”

Driven/Written: VW Golf 1.0 TSI (2020)

Covering over 2000 kilometres in a week should be sufficient to determine whether the new Golf is swansong to a past era or herald to a new dawn.

All Images: The author

Covid-Christmas was bound to be special. Even without any cases among our relatives, my partner and I did our utmost to plan 2020’s challenging festive season diligently. As usual, we were willing to travel to (limited numbers of) relatives at the other end of the country, but only if all relevant parties felt safe about it.

My better half’s 99-year-old grandmother made it clear that she’d rather take the risk than remain by herself (a state that had caused her to lose her ability to speak for a period during the first lockdown). Other family members organised themselves in such a way that certain branches would be able to Continue reading “Driven/Written: VW Golf 1.0 TSI (2020)”

Born Survivor (Part Two)

DTW continues the story of AC Cars up to the present day.

AC 3000 ME. Image: old concept cars

In the early 1970’s AC began developing an ambitious new sports car, the 3000ME. This was a GRP bodied mid-engined two-seater. The initial design work had been undertaken by Peter Bohanna and Robin Staples. Their prototype, called Diablo, used the engine and transaxle from the Austin Maxi. Not having the resources to develop the prototype for production, they showed it to both AC and TVR. Derek Hurlock, who was then Chief Executive of AC, was sufficiently impressed to Continue reading “Born Survivor (Part Two)”

The Definition of Obsession? 10 Years With A Citroën C6. (Part 3)

In this episode, a catalogue of parts failures almost culminates in the final curtain for the our correspondent’s C6… that was now over five years ago.

Distinctive? Yes. Beautiful? Not really. (Source – Author’s photo).

The suspension has been the main area of issues with the C6. Drop-links at the rear, bearings at the front, lower wishbones at the front, stub-axles as well as the two struts have all been replaced. In addition, the car has had a total of four new ABS sensors over time, which, when they go on the blink, cause havoc with the electronic handbrake and the SatNav as well as the ABS system itself.

Another sensor which controlled the fore-aft levelling of the car also ceased to function, meaning that, when I returned to the parked car, the front was jacked up, the rear on its bump-stops – the nose pointing skywards at about 40°. Finally, an emergency replacement of a tyre led to a split hydraulic fluid tank as the technician did not Continue reading “The Definition of Obsession? 10 Years With A Citroën C6. (Part 3)”

Academic Revolution

A totally new kind of Lancia.

Image: Klassik-Auto

From a six-decade perspective, it is difficult to gain a sense of where the carmaking firm of Automobili Lancia & Compagni was once positioned in the marketplace, or indeed an accurate breakdown of a typical Lancia owner. Hailing from the fringes of nobility to the more recent emerging middle classes, they tended to be affluent, cultured individuals who prized the finer things, but were not inclined to make a statement of it. Despite appreciating tradition and craftsmanship, they were not averse to bracing modernity either. But more to the point, they were prepared to Continue reading “Academic Revolution”

Best Indentations

Time to put down that chisel. 

Parking knocks come as standard. Image: MOTOR1

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

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

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

Computer Says No

Technological breakdowns – there’s one Born every minute.

All Images: Author’s collection

This cringeworthy yet humorous phrase uttered regularly by the character Carol Breer in the TV show, Little Britain reminds us of the fact that while computers may have given us countless advantages and convenience in every field you can imagine, when they malfunction or are not programmed correctly they can cause immense frustration. Computerisation in cars can be a source of aggravation too, as today’s subject shows, although an iffy digital onboard diagnostics system was not the only thing impeding the Volvo 480’s market chances.

The genesis of the 480 was 1978, when an internal Volvo project named Galaxy was initiated. By the early eighties the main stylistic direction was established and unexpectedly neither the design by Volvo chief stylist Jan Wilsgaard nor the proposal by Bertone was chosen to Continue reading “Computer Says No”

Born Survivor (Part One)

AC Cars is claimed to be the oldest motor manufacturer in Great Britain, having survived many near-death experiences over the past 120 years. DTW recounts its long and eventful history.

1903 Auto Carrier. Image: myntransportblog

The company now known as AC Cars was founded in West Norwood, South London in 1901 by engineer John Weller and his brothers, with the financial backing of John Portwine, a friend of the Wellers and a successful businessman who ran a chain of Butchers in London. The Weller brothers launched their first prototype car, a 20hp open tourer, at the 1903 London Motor Show at Crystal Palace.

Although well received, Portwine considered the car too expensive and instead encouraged development of a three-wheeled delivery vehicle, launched in 1904. This was called the Auto Carrier, from which the company’s name would henceforth be derived. It was a notable success, with customers including Boots the Chemist, Associated Newspapers and the Goodyear Tyre Company. A four-seater passenger version called the Sociable was also offered. It was even adapted by the British Army as a munitions carrier, with a machine-gun mounted up front.

Continue reading “Born Survivor (Part One)”

The Red Dot Adds Anxiety

Mazda jolts into electric life. We take a helicopter view.

Mazda MX-30. Image: green car guide

Mazda think differently. They once took a rotary engine to Le Mans and won the race. They reinvented the small British sports car, firmly trouncing anything wearing an octagonal badge or hailing from Hethel. They made a sporting car, placing that high pitched, wailing engine into bodywork with funny rear doors – discussed almost as often as the rotary – and sold respectable amounts.

Today, toeing the line is in order; bigger, taller vehicles from the Hiroshima based manufacturer (but styled in Germany) have taken a tangent by listening, studying and evaluating what (some) folk aspire to. One cannot see the competition breaking sweat over this Mazda eXperiment-30 but for those who switch on more, an opportunity to Continue reading “The Red Dot Adds Anxiety”

In Memoriam : Jürgen Hubbert

As another motor industry luminary takes a final bow, we look back at the career of the man dubbed, Mr. Mercedes. 

Jürgen Hubbert and A-Klasse – 1997. (c) Automotive News

Jürgen Hubbert passed away last week at the age of 81. Best known for his tenure at the helm of Mercedes-Benz AG from 1997 to 2005, a period of considerable expansion and no small amount of tumult. Indeed, when one looks back at the Mercedes-Benz products of the time, one cannot but wonder what manner of legacy Hubbert leaves behind.

So let us Continue reading “In Memoriam : Jürgen Hubbert”

Big Cat Hunting (Part 3)

Chris Ward’s cat develops a limp. 

All images: The author

Ponk-ponk-ponk-ponk-ponk-ponk. The electric glovebox release rapid-fired, a tiny machine gun waging war on my sanity. This time, instead of slamming it shut, I left the lid lolling open like a yokel’s mouth.

Yet the tiny machine gun in the dashboard kept firing. Ponk. Ponk-ponk-ponk-ponk-ponk-ponk.

The Jaguar XF had been in my ownership for all of two months when the fault first manifested. Initially the glovebox would refuse to Continue reading “Big Cat Hunting (Part 3)”

New Frontier (Part Seven)

Every car, no matter how well wrought has an Achilles heel. 

1970 Citroen SM. Image: daunatclassique

Like most aspects of historical record, the story behind the development of Maserati’s 2760 cc V6 engine for the SM is dependent upon whose account one believes, but its bespoke basis has by now been largely placed beyond doubt.

A primary stipulation from Quai Andre Citroën was for a compact and lightweight unit, physically no larger than their own in-line four. With the 114-series V6, the architectural layout chosen by Maserati technical director, Giulio Alfieri allowed these strictures to be met. However, this brought forth a number of structural and operational compromises – one in particular proving something of an expensive error.

Owing to the 90° included angle between cylinder banks, such engines were prone to uneven firing intervals and a lack of smoothness at certain engine speeds. The fitment of engine-driven contra-rotating balance shafts would have alleviated this, but was ruled out on cost and weight grounds. It was therefore decided to Continue reading “New Frontier (Part Seven)”

A Photo for Sunday: Peak Camry

Not exactly ubiquitous in the UK when in production, this 1997 Toyota Camry was a welcome surprise.

1997 Toyota Camry (c) the author

I have mentioned previously that my rural backwater, while having charms aplenty to commend it, is not exactly a car spotter’s paradise. There are plenty of shiny and expensive new cars around, but few one might describe as interesting, esoteric or left field.

I have also mentioned my habit of heading for the remotest corner of public car parks in the hope of minimising the risk of picking up a parking dent or scrape. Pulling into my local supermarket car park this morning, my usual space was occupied by this Toyota Camry, an XV20 model manufactured between 1996 and 2001. Although a best seller in the US, the Camry barely made a dent in the UK sales charts, so it was an unusual and welcome sight.

In my opinion, this generation Camry was one of the very best in design terms, with a smooth, linear and unfussy style that might owe more than a little to Peugeot’s 605 and 406 models. There is not a single detail of the design I would change, and Toyota’s 1999 facelift merely altered but did not improve the front and rear ends. It stands as a quiet rebuff to the excessively fussy and overwrought fashion that currently prevails in automotive design. Continue reading “A Photo for Sunday: Peak Camry”

Objects you Cannot Polish

The 2001 Citroën C5 was a spacious, comfortable and practical large car. It was also unforgivably frumpy looking. DTW tries to muster some enthusiasm to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of its birth.

2001 Citroen C5. (c) autoevolution

The early 21st Century was a lean time for Citroën design. The company’s glory days of the DS, SM and GS were a distant memory. The sensible men in grey suits at Peugeot, which had owned Citroën since 1975, had repositioned the company as a purveyor of automotive white goods; sensible value-for-money appliances like the 1996 Saxo and 1997 Xsara, whose most attractive features were the deep discounts and cheap finance deals used to Continue reading “Objects you Cannot Polish”

The Definition of Obsession? 10 years with a Citroën C6 (part 2)

In this episode of one man’s near life-sentence with a large Citroën, he describes some of the more stressful experiences of C6 ownership.

OK, from this photo, I can see why people think it might be a shade of black, not brown (source: the author)

The day I collected the C6 probably should have scared me off… but it didn’t, somehow. I picked it up on a Saturday morning, very early as agreed so that I would not be in the way of the sales guys getting stuck into the punters on their peak sales day. I stopped off on the way home to collect my son from football training. Naturally, he was curious to experience the C6’s trick suspension, so, whilst still in the car park, I started the engine, let it settle and then pressed the button to raise the suspension.

No cigars for guessing what happened next. The car rose to its top setting… and there it stuck. It being new to me, and having heard and read so much about the complexity/ potential unreliability of the oleopneumatic system, all confidence in the car fled from my body and soul, like a bad bout of psychological diarrhoea.

I limped the car to my nearest dealer (yes – the one which also sold and serviced my previous Legacy) and left it with them to Continue reading “The Definition of Obsession? 10 years with a Citroën C6 (part 2)”

A Pillock In Charge

Andrew remembers a giant of the special stages.

Colin McRae’s Subaru 555 gets some air. (c) dukevideo

Time flies: A quarter century has passed since Colin McRae famously clutched the winning trophy for not only the event but the main prize, that of 1995 World Rally Champion. Hoisting the trophy aloft, navigator, Derek Ringer had to inform Colin he’d dropped the trophy lid, the pillock.

Whilst far from the Cheshire finishing line that particular day, McRae’s, co-driver, along with the other protagonists’ results and welfare were prominent in this rally enthusiast’s mind. For the more cynical, this was also the championship where Toyota were subsequently banned; it having come to light that they were using illegal turbo restrictors, but that as they say, is another story.

During the mid-’90s, regardless of the day’s itinerary, my search for rally information would be avid; the BBC’s Teletext service (wot no Internet?), next morning’s newspaper (rarely anything), the eternal wait for the highlights television show the following weekend and that week’s Autosport magazine, which I might Continue reading “A Pillock In Charge”

Disappointing Sequel (Part Two)

Concluding our latterday examination of DS Automobiles, we draw some conclusions.

Image: auto55

The 2015 relaunch of DS Automobiles as a separate stand-alone marque necessitated a facelift for the existing DS3, DS4 and DS5 models. The Citroën badging and logo was replaced with a new, stylised DS badge, while the distinctive Double-Chevron front grille was replaced by a rather generic hexagonal item. The stylised DS initials appeared twice on the front end of the facelifted cars, in large size within the grille and on a smaller square badge on the painted panel above. At the rear, DS also appeared twice; stylised in the centre of the tailgate and offset to the right in a plain script suffixed with the model number.

Did the abundance of badges indicate a degree of unease about DS’s name recognition, and its prospects as a stand-alone marque? This badging led to a certain confusion as to the names of the relaunched models; for example, was it DS DS3 or simply DS 3? The official DS website indicates that the latter is correct.

In any event, the relaunch had no apparent impact on DS sales, which continued to Continue reading “Disappointing Sequel (Part Two)”

Disappointing Sequel (Part One)

DTW assesses the progress and current state of DS Automobiles after a decade on the market.

DS Automobiles latest opus. Image: dailyrevs

The launch of the Citroën DS 19 in 1955 was unarguably one of the seminal events in the history of the automobile. In its conception, design and engineering, the DS was at least a decade ahead of any competitor and left observers slack-jawed in amazement at Citroën’s audacity in bringing such a revolutionary car to market.

The DS 19 was first and foremost an engineering-led design. Its hydropneumatic self-levelling suspension gave it a peerless combination of superb ride quality and sharp handling. Its dramatically streamlined and aerodynamic body was highly functional, allowing it to Continue reading “Disappointing Sequel (Part One)”

The Definition of Obsession? 10 years with a Citroën C6 (part 1)

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair…

In case you were thinking … the ‘plate was a Christmas present from my family (source – author’s photo)

On deciding that I would put something on record to mark a decade of C6 ownership via this most informative and thoughtful of automotive websites, the above quote involuntarily entered my mind and won’t now take its leave.

Maybe it’s because it reflects the roller-coaster ride of the experience? Maybe it’s because the quote also relates to the French Revolution in as much as the C6 was Citroën’s final attempt to Continue reading “The Definition of Obsession? 10 years with a Citroën C6 (part 1)”

Old Red Wine

We mark the passing of a much respected British engineer.

Don Hayter (second from left) marks the completion of the half-millionth MGB at Abingdon. Image: Hemmings

Don Hayter, was born in Oxfordshire on 24th January 1926. His father, a retired policeman, took up a job delivering MG TF Midgets from Abingdon to the docks for export. Meanwhile his son had shown not only aptitude but a flair for technical drawing. Upon leaving Abingdon school, he took an apprenticeship with the Pressed Steel Company at Cowley working on aircraft such as the AVRO Lancaster during the war, progressing to bodywork panels for Jaguar’s XK120 and the ZA Magnette.

Don had taken up an offer from then Feltham-based Aston Martin Lagonda as a draftsman in the early fifties with a return to Oxfordshire when AML upped sticks to Continue reading “Old Red Wine”

Past Forward

Misunderstood and derided by many, the Chrysler PT Cruiser was a brave if misconceived attempt to bring something different to the automotive landscape.

(c) honestjohn

The PT Cruiser should have been a Plymouth, had that failing marque not been put out of its misery by Daimler-Chrysler in 2001 following the 1998 Merger of Equals of the US and German automakers. Chrysler’s traditional entry-level brand had fallen into a serious decline in the last decade of the 20th Century. Its limited range largely comprised badge-engineered variants of other Chrysler group products, including the Voyager and Grand Voyager minivans, and the Neon compact and Breeze mid-size saloons, all of which were comfortably outsold by their Chrysler or Dodge branded stablemates.

The only distinctive and unique model marketed under the Plymouth brand was the Prowler, a wildly styled retro two-seater convertible harking back to the 1930’s hot rod era. This was very much a niche offering and only 11,702 were sold over a five-year period from 1997 to 2002. However, its undoubted appeal led Chrysler product planners to Continue reading “Past Forward”

Big Things

Some cars are bigger than others. 

Image: Author’s collection

On the occasion of the current Fiat 500’s introduction at the Frankfurt Motor Show in 2007, nobody could miss the enormous 500 replica that dominated the FIAT display; it was an impressive showpiece and even included a huge ignition key. Both the front and rear wheel could slide away to allow actual 500’s to be driven in and out. The giant 500 was certainly a bold, eye-catching idea, but Fiat was not the first to Continue reading “Big Things”