Lost Legend (Part One)

Honda recently announced that its flagship saloon will not be replaced when the current model is discontinued in March 2022. We remember the Legend.

1988 Acura Legend Sedan and Coupé. Image: curbsideclassic.com

The Honda Motor Company as we know it today was incorporated in 1948 and built its first complete motorcycle in the following year. Its rise thereafter was meteoric: just fifteen years later, Honda had become the largest manufacturer of motorcycles in the World. The company’s ambitious founder, Soichiro Honda, then turned his attention to automobiles and launched the T360 pick-up truck and S500 convertible sports car in 1963.

Although the diminutive S500 and 1970 Z360 / Z600 microcar achieved some export sales, it was the 1972 Civic that marked Honda’s arrival in the mainstream global passenger car market. This was a neatly styled front-wheel-drive B-segment model produced in three and five-door hatchback, saloon and estate versions(1). Its arrival coincided with the 1973 Middle-East Oil Crisis, which caused a huge increase in demand for small and economical cars, especially in the US. The Civic quickly acquired a reputation for excellent engineering, build quality and reliability(2). Continue reading “Lost Legend (Part One)”

Death Of A Clown

The Exeo was an attempt at a D-segment offering on the cheap, but was the joke on SEAT?

Do you want to drive it into the pool darling, or shall I? Image: Autoevolution

Perhaps Erich Schmitt’s leylines and shakras had swirled his vision akin to adding milk to a caffeine drink. Internally known as the Bolero, the public knew the car as the Exeo (ex-ay-o) – a Latin derivation of exire meaning to Go Beyond. Herr Schmitt certainly did that.

Installed as Sociedad Espanola de Automobiles de Turismo president in 2006 under strict instructions from Ferdinand Piëch to Continue reading “Death Of A Clown”

A Smart Cut, or the Final Cut?

After decades of resolutely conventional if well executed D-segment offerings, Peugeot has tried something different with the latest 508. It deserves credit for doing so, but has the market recognised and rewarded its innovation?

2018 Peugeot 508  Image: ANE

For over a century, Peugeot has been the very essence of French conservative respectability. Its automobiles have, by and large, been well engineered, durable and reliable, with quietly elegant and unflashy styling. At the heart of its range has always been a medium / large saloon car, a natural and uncontroversial choice for middle-class professionals in France and beyond.

The post-WW2 series of such cars began with the Pininfarina styled 403 in 1955, a neat and contemporary looking RWD car with smooth ponton(1) styling. It was manufactured for over a decade in saloon, estate, coupé, van and pick-up versions and sold in excess of one million units. Continue reading “A Smart Cut, or the Final Cut?”

Ô souverain, ô juge, ô père

The President will see you now.

Nissan President. Image: Topspeed

Having originally been known as the Kwaishinsha Motorcar Works and later by the acronym, DAT[1], the Nissan Motor Company has traded under its latterday identity since 1933. Introduced into Western markets under the Datsun nameplate; from 1981, this by then well-established brand name would no longer feature on the carmaker’s products.[2]

The fact that Nissan chose to make this sweeping change in spite of the sales success enjoyed by brand-Datsun across global markets can be viewed two ways; an attempt to create a unified, instantly recognisable brand name, à la Toyota, or alternatively, to allow the carmaker to Continue reading “Ô souverain, ô juge, ô père”

What Price the Surf?

Our Sheffield scribe is Transported.

Image: volkswagen-vans.co.uk

British localities often have words unknown to their neighbours; breadcake, tea cake and bap(1) can be all the same thing – or not depending where one lives. But taken collectively, it is always the bottom line that receives the most emphasis – how much? With travel restrictions now lifted, thoughts turn to holidays; dreams of the coast, sandy shores, alfresco dining and catching a crest with your board should you Continue reading “What Price the Surf?”

We Interrupt This Programme

Is that a gun in your pocket?

Image: Corrado Belli

The name of this vehicle has nothing to do with Auntie Beeb, being simply composed of the initials of Messrs. Beretta, Benelli and Castelbarco – all three of them distinctly Italian. The first two names will sound familiar as they are those of the arms maker and motorcycle manufacturer respectively; the third was a member of the Italian nobility.

Pietro Beretta had inherited the family company, founded in the 16th century, in 1903 but found his factories seized by the German army upon the allied invasion of Italy in 1943. When hostilities ended two years later there was understandably little demand for Beretta’s traditional offerings. Postwar Italy – its confidence, its infrastructure and its economy – had to be rebuilt and providing mobility for as many private individuals and businesses as possible was of course one of the vital aspects that needed to be addressed in order to Continue reading “We Interrupt This Programme”

Fanfare for the Common Van (Part 4) – New City, New Heart

The Transit hits its stride.

Image: Ford of Britain

Let us move on to 1972, a momentous year for the Transit in the UK and Europe. Despite a house move, British production reached a new high at just over 55,000 units. Genk managed 37,000. Rival manufacturers had yet to follow Bedford’s example with a serious Transit challenger, although British Leyland were, shall we say, working on it.[1] The Toyota Hi-Ace had recently arrived in the UK, finding favour with small businesses and motor-caravanners, but was not selling in the sort of numbers which would concern Ford.

From 1972 the British Transit had a new home. The former Briggs Motor Bodies facility at Swaythling, a northern suburb of Southampton, had produced Transit bodies from 1965. In a logical move, Ford invested £5 million to Continue reading “Fanfare for the Common Van (Part 4) – New City, New Heart”

So Glad they Bothered: 1983 Mazda 626

DTW looks back at a car which attracted a very favourable review from then-editor Cropley at Car magazine, yet would scarcely register in terms of annual sales.

1983 Mazda 626 Hatchback (GC) (source: Pinterest)

In 1983, I was 15 and already deep in car nerd-dom. I had a monthly order for Car magazine at my local newsagent (at which I had a part-time job every Sunday morning) and would genuinely get a tingle of excitement one week of every month in anticipation that it would be there as ordered when I rolled up for work.

The June 1983 edition is one I still Continue reading “So Glad they Bothered: 1983 Mazda 626”

Beyond Infiniti (Part Three)

We continue the story of Infiniti, Nissan’s troubled luxury brand, from 2010 to the present day and ponder its future.

2016 Infiniti Q30 (c) carmagazine.co.uk

Infiniti had spent its second decade rather more productively than its first and introduced models like the G35 compact premium saloon, coupé and convertible that were broadly class-competitive against their German rivals. However, sales growth still proved elusive. In 2010, Infiniti US sales were 103,411(1) vehicles, representing a 0.89% market share. In the same year, BMW and Mercedes-Benz were closely matched with US sales of 220,113 and 224,944 vehicles respectively, giving them market shares of 1.90% and 1.94%.

Infiniti’s Japanese nemesis, Lexus, edged ahead of the German duo with 229,329 sales, a market share of 1.98%. Even Acura outperformed Infiniti, with US sales of 133,596 vehicles, a market share of 1.15%. European sales for Infiniti in 2010 were an inconsequential 2,393 vehicles, representing a tiny 0.02% market share. Continue reading “Beyond Infiniti (Part Three)”

Beyond Infiniti (Part Two)

We continue the story of Infiniti, Nissan’s troubled luxury brand, as it enters its second decade.

2001 Infiniti Q45 (c) autoevolution.com

As the new millennium dawned, Infiniti found itself far adrift of its two Japanese rivals, Lexus and Acura, in the US luxury car market. This was largely a result of an unconvincing and substandard product line-up. The J20 compact executive, which should have been Infiniti’s volume seller, was a barely disguised Nissan Primera P11 and had comprehensively failed to attract buyers.

At the other end of its range, the Q45 was a bland and generic luxury saloon that was hugely outclassed by its competitors. The only bright spots in its range were the two mid-sized models, the I30 saloon and the QX4 SUV, both of which were little more than rebadged Nissans. Together, these two models accounted for 78% of the company’s sales in 2000.

Infiniti’s parent company, Nissan, was also in deep trouble. Facing a real prospect of bankruptcy, it had entered into an alliance with Renault in March 1999, with the intention of cutting costs by sharing development on new platforms and mechanical parts, while retaining their individual marque identities. There was little doubt as to which company was the senior partner: Renault purchased a 36.8% stake in Nissan, while the cash-strapped Japanese company could only promise to Continue reading “Beyond Infiniti (Part Two)”

The Marunouchi Park Soigné

Even heavy industry must have its more elegant moments.

Image: Japanese Nostalgic Car

When Mitsubishi first ordained their flagship they chose a name deemed most apt for their creation. The dictionary offers a definition of confident, dignified and refined: welcome to the stylish, yet formal environs of the Debonair.

Japan in the early 1960’s began riding the crest of an economic wave and Mitsubishi were keen on getting ahead in the larger car stakes. Feasibility studies concerning the contemporary Fiat 1800 ultimately led to them ploughing their own furrow. Should your optics mark this as an early Lincoln Continental facsimile, you might be forgiven. German born, former-GM designer, Hans Bretzner openly admitted to using Elwood Engel’s 1961 design as inspiration, subtly imbuing Japanese characteristics such as squared-off solidity, along with amounts of wheel arch entasis for that refined air. 

The car wowed the 1963 Tokyo motor show but the expectant public would Continue reading “The Marunouchi Park Soigné”

Beyond Infiniti (Part One)

Nissan’s luxury brand is reportedly facing another reinvention as its long struggle for relevancy continues. We examine Infiniti’s chequered history and ponder its future.

1989 Infiniti Q45 (c) Nissan Heritage Collection

When Toyota launched its first Lexus LS400 in 1989, the automotive world was simply stunned by the ambition and audacity of the Japanese automaker. Previously best known for vehicles that were carefully designed, well-built and reliable, but largely uncharismatic, Toyota had created a luxury saloon that easily matched and, in a number of respects, surpassed the best that either Stuttgart or Munich could offer. It was good enough to Continue reading “Beyond Infiniti (Part One)”

Fanfare for the Common Van – (Part 3)

The progress of the phenomenon

Image: Ford of Britain

By the beginning of 1968, one in three medium sized vans sold in the UK was a Transit, and Ford could easily have increased this number had there been more production capacity at Langley. In just over two years their share of the market sector had increased by 64% compared with that of the preceding Thames 400E. Ford’s description of their vehicle as a phenomenon was hard to dispute, also claiming that it had become “the most wanted vehicle in Europe”.

Ford’s success in the sector was won with hard work and inspired thinking. Their product had class-leading power and loadspace, seemingly infinite versatility, and a rugged build able to Continue reading “Fanfare for the Common Van – (Part 3)”

Under the Knife – Shrink to Fit

Today we feature a car that, thanks to a clever facelift, was finally given the desirability to match its dynamic qualities.

1999 Porsche Boxster 986 (c) topcarrating.com

The original 1996 Porsche Boxster 986 had all the right mechanical ingredients for a terrific sports car, and so it proved to be. However, the styling was a disappointment, particularly after the excitement generated by the pert and beautifully detailed 1993 Boxster Concept, first shown at the US Auto Show in January of that year.

Porsche’s severe financial difficulties during the 1990s forced the company to Continue reading “Under the Knife – Shrink to Fit”

King In A Catholic Style

The Scimitar’s messy ending.

Publicity shot for the Middlebridge Scimitar. Image: (c) middlebridge-scimitar.co.uk

Towards the end of 1986, Reliant had practically stalled GTE and C production. Financial constraints had led to the final thirty chassis languishing in Tamworth until two Nottinghamshire businessmen eyed a line continuing opportunity – just add a couple of million pounds Sterling. Coincidentally, a Japanese (self confessed Anglophile) fellow had his own wish – to create a British built, aluminium chassis sports car with Japanese mechanicals – with means. And within weeks, the Scimitar GTE not only had new owners but a new direction. Upwards.

Ex-Lucas employees Peter Boam and John McCauley had been wooing Reliant to the point that Tamworth would train the BM Industries production staff at their Lilac Grove, Beeston, Nottingham factory when they met with car enthusiast and collector, Kohji Nakauchi, owner of Milton Keynes based Middlebridge group of companies.

Thrilled at the idea of snapping up a readymade, British built sports car, Nakauchi barely hesitated, stumping up the £400,000 for manufacturing and tooling rights with an extra two million invested in infrastructure. Reliant bent over backwards to Continue reading “King In A Catholic Style”

Bringing Home the Dacon

Flattery only goes so far…

Does my bum look big in this? Image: Bestcars/ Conceptcarz/ The author

For a brief moment after its introduction at the 1977 Geneva Motor Show, it seemed that Porsche’s 928 was THE car. Very much the antithesis of everything traditionally Porsche by being front engined and watercooled, the 928 was a bold move by the German manufacturer. The ingenious Weissach rear axle and the instrument binnacle that moved with the steering wheel as it was adjusted were testament of the amount of thought put into the intended, over time at least, 911 successor.

With a body composed of mostly rounded forms and compound curves the 928 also went against the stream of the vast majority of late seventies car designs. Being crowned 1978 European Car Of The Year; that title carrying considerably more marketable prestige compared to today, was icing on the cake, although the events would illustrate that the 928 would not Continue reading “Bringing Home the Dacon”

Grace and Favour

We consider the Mercedes X-Class. No, not that one…

Mercedes CLA Progressive Line. Image: Mercedes-Benz

Much metaphorical ink has spilled forth on the pages of Driven to Write since its 2014 debut, a sizeable proportion of which has been flung in the direction of Sindelfingen’s current styling leadership. Not without justification either, for little of Mercedes-Benz’s stylistic output has risen above the level of banality for longer than we’d care to acknowledge.

Not everyone has been gripped with paroxysms of delirious pleasure over the broadly welcome shift in Mercedes’ Sensual Purity-themed styling away from the more striking forms and graphic elements of yore, with what some might discern as calmness equally being viewed as a lack of definition. Perhaps the most convincing case for that point of view lies with the current era A-Class. The W177 has been with us a number of years now, carving for itself a position in the European C-sector sales charts that might have given VW more to Continue reading “Grace and Favour”

Moving Down, Scaling Up (Part Three)

The 1963 Hillman Imp was Rootes’ answer to BMC’s Mini, but a latecomer to the market and, ultimately, a commercial failure. We conclude its story.

1965 Hillman Imp Mk2 advertisement (c) somethingawful.com

Autocar magazine had been given early access to an Imp De Luxe for testing and published its road test just a day after launch. The price including tax was £532, a £24 premium over the standard version. The reviewer praised the new engine’s smoothness, quietness and willingness to rev. They noted that, despite an unusually high 10:1 compression ratio, it ran without any trace of ‘pinking’ or ‘run-on’ on Premium(1) grade petrol.

The recommended top speed of 70mph (113km/h) was easily exceeded, and a maximum of 83mph (134km/h) was recorded one-way. The 0 to 60mph (97km/h) time was measured at 23.7 seconds. Fuel consumption over the course of the road test was 38.1mpg (7.4 L/100km).

No coolant temperature gauge was fitted, and the reviewer had to Continue reading “Moving Down, Scaling Up (Part Three)”

Ogling The Blade

The Scimitar GTE origin story. 

Image: honestjohn

Tragedy is sometimes a double-edged sword. Clearly, it comes with a keen sense of loss, but when it strikes, the human capacity to rise above the situation can be impressive. Firstly, as a means of honouring the departed. Second, not only to survive oneself, but to prosper.

David Ogle was head of the eponymous British design consultancy when he received an exciting commission in 1962. Boris Forter, a director at Helena Rubinstein cosmetics wished to Continue reading “Ogling The Blade”

Moving Down, Scaling Up (Part Two)

Continuing our recollection of cars developed in response to the demand for smaller and more economical models. Today we feature the Hillman Imp.

Image: motor-car.net

In the 1950’s, the cars produced by the Rootes Group were the very embodiment of middle-class respectability. Brothers William and Reginald Rootes, with the backing of the Prudential Assurance Company and Midland Bank, had assembled a stable of marques, including Hillman, Humber, Singer, Sunbeam and Talbot, all of which occupied the broad middle market.

There were some distinctions between them; Humber was the more upmarket brand, whilst Sunbeam models had a slightly sporting appeal, but the differences were marginal and largely historic. What Rootes emphatically did not possess was a small car brand, or expertise in that segment of the market.

Rootes was also initially slow to Continue reading “Moving Down, Scaling Up (Part Two)”

Slegs Vir Suid-Afrikaners*

The South African variants.

Image: BMW SA/ Drive-my.com

The main reasons for certain countries to develop (or have developed for them), unique variants of established car model lines can roughly be traced back to tax laws, vehicle or traffic legislation and domestic motorsports homologation requirements. BMW is a brand that has sired several bespoke cars only available in certain markets. Italian and Portuguese legislation resulted in the E30-series 320iS which was fitted with a 2-litre version of the M3 engine, avoiding the severe tax hike for engines with a displacement exceeding 1999cc.

BMW South Africa gave birth to an E23-series BMW 745i with a different and arguably better engine than the 3.2 litre turbocharged six with which it was originally equipped (because the turbocharger got in the way of right hand drive conversion), and homologation rules put cars such as the E30-series BMW 333i on public roads, again in South Africa, which turned out to be a fertile ground for deviant model versions. Today, let’s Continue reading “Slegs Vir Suid-Afrikaners*”

Thesis On Thesis

Saving Lancia – one Thesis at a time…

Image: Top Speed

Attraction is a difficult feeling to describe or give substance to, one man’s glass of Chateau Neuf de Pape is another’s Suzuki X-90. And while I’ve never been allowed into DTW Towers (for reasons that cannot legally be divulged), there is widely believed to exist amid its expansive halls an unbridled acceptance of most things wearing a particular shield badge.

It was through a search for Lancia that these eyes did land upon Driven To Write, a smattering of time ago. Realising the sheer depth upon all matters motoring but leaning heavily towards the FCA (now enigmatic Stellantis) subsumed manufacturer, I dived in – eyes wide – head first. No arm bands, either.

Lancia have had poems of love written about them. Journalists were once known to Continue reading “Thesis On Thesis”

Fanfare for the Common Van (Part 2) – Power and Glory

In the second part of our Transit story, we look at its unusual power units and the impact the van made on the British market following its October 1965 launch.

Image: Ford of Britain

Ruggedness and simplicity were at the heart of the Project Redcap’s engineering, but the engines used to power the Transit were strangely at odds with these design principles. The choice of power was a foregone conclusion – Ford’s European operations had been guided to meet their over-1600cc needs with a range of 60 degree V4 and V6 engines for use in passenger cars and light commercial vehicles.

The decision is possibly understandable given the popularity of V8 engines in the USA, but the V-configuration made a far weaker case with half the number of cylinders. Despite this, Ford’s European satellites were producing two different V4s by the end of 1965, with German production exclusively using the V-configuration, while the largest capacity(1) British in-line four was the 1500cc version of the versatile, stretchable and tuneable ohv engine first seen in the 1959 Anglia 105E, with V4s covering the 1.7 to 2.0 litre range. Continue reading “Fanfare for the Common Van (Part 2) – Power and Glory”

Hope You Guessed My Name.

Car or exclamation mark?

Image: (c) lamborghini.com

The Ancient Chinese once espoused the philosophical concept of Yin and yang, two opposing, yet mutually dependant lifeforces. This notion of interdependent duality was embraced across many cultures and philosophies over intervening millennia, but would come to be represented in late 20th Century Italy, not only by the rivalry between exotic ateliers, Ferrari and Lamborghini, but also by the complementary, yet determined efforts of the two leading Torinese coachbuilding houses to Continue reading “Hope You Guessed My Name.”

Moving Down, Scaling Up (Part One)

Two European automakers entered the small car market for the first time in the early 1960s. Both cars featured a similar rear-engined layout, but only one can be judged a success. 

Image: stubs.centreblog

The 1950s was a decade of recovery for the economies of European countries that had been devastated in the Second World War. Increasing affluence put car ownership within the reach of families for whom this was never previously feasible. Much of Europe’s road network, however, remained primitive and relatively unsuited to large and unwieldy cars. The 1956 Suez Crisis(1), although a relatively brief event, also heightened the importance of fuel economy to potential buyers.

West Germany had its distinctive bubble cars, but these were regarded with some distaste elsewhere in Europe, being seen as unacceptably small and crude. It was the somewhat larger 1955 Fiat 600 that achieved an optimal mix of comfort and economy in a small car and provided a template for other makers to Continue reading “Moving Down, Scaling Up (Part One)”

Mule Variations

Toyota boxes clever.

The XP50. Image: carsot.com.

If as it seems, Toyota wears the production crown, at least it’s modest and fits snugly. Naturally, there’s the occasional slip, leaving the odd jaunty angle but on the whole their kingdom is based upon more prosaic, unpretentious values, listening to their customer’s needs.

Much of the decadent West (and Japan) demands vehicles adorned with creature comforts and stratified social markers that depending on nameplate can cause snob levels to rise or fall accordingly. Add in design, a language those interested can weave akin to a boxer’s feet. Today’s subject however contains almost none of these qualities. If the Transit van and its ilk are the trade’s workhorse, then Toyota’s Probox is its beast of burden.

Imaginatively named using the combination of the words, Professional and er, box, this most versatile of vehicles has been a Aichi mainstay for practically twenty years. Simple reliable transport, unadorned by trinkets or jewels – besides it’s not technically a car – one can Continue reading “Mule Variations”

Quelle Quatrelle! (Part Two)

We conclude our sixtieth anniversary celebration of the Renault 4, France’s most successful car.

Image: lautomobileancienne

The Renault R4 was formally launched at the Paris Salon in October 1961(1) in base and L trim. The two versions were immediately distinguishable by the fact that the base model had no third light in the rear quarter panel, just a very wide C-pillar. The L version was priced at a premium of 400 francs (£29 or US $82) over the base model. Both shared the same Billancourt 747cc 26.5bhp (20kW) engine.

Also launched at the same time was the R3, which was similar to the base R4 but had a smaller 603cc 22.5bhp (16.8kW) version of the engine, which placed it in the cheaper 3CV taxation class. The R3 was targeted directly at the Citroën 2CV and undercut the entry price for the latter by 40 francs (£3 or US $8). Also unveiled was the Fourgonnette van version. This was identical to the R4 ahead of the B-pillars but had a large cube-shaped bespoke body aft of the pillars with a single, side-hinged rear door(2). Continue reading “Quelle Quatrelle! (Part Two)”

For A Few Pesos More

A Renault that came close to making it to market, and one that actually did. Some may prefer it to have been the other way round….

Image: Forocoches.com

IKA Renault 40: Argentina

When Varig flight 820 crashed just a few miles from its destination of Orly airport on 11 July 1973(1) causing 123 deaths and only 11 survivors, there naturally was widespread grief among the families and relatives involved. The air disaster also derailed a promising project by Renault Argentina owing to the fact that Yvon Lavaud, the president of IKA Renault, was among the victims.

In 1967, Renault became the majority shareholder of IKA (Industrias Kaiser Argentina). Lavaud was sent to Argentina to Continue reading “For A Few Pesos More”

Sun(beam) Up At 424

The dawning of a new car. 

1977 Chrysler Sunbeam. Image: avengers-in-time

John Riccardo, Chrysler chairman Diary entry October 29 1975: Hold press conference regarding corporation’s loss of £116M in the first nine months. Inform UK government Chrysler can be a gift or closed down – their choice. Rescue package of £55M from HMG plus £12M from US parent snatched up. Use wisely!

December 1975 was crunch time for Chrysler UK. Now propped up mainly by government money, a new small car was a must to Continue reading “Sun(beam) Up At 424”

Quelle Quatrelle! (Part One)

The Renault 4 celebrates its sixtieth birthday. We salute a French automotive icon.

1961 Renault R4 Image: weilinet

Certain cars seem perfectly to encapsulate a vision of their country of origin. It is easy to imagine a gleaming black Mercedes-Benz S-Class carrying a German government minister or plutocrat along an Autobahn at great speed and in discreet, sybaritic luxury. Likewise, one can dream of a pastel-coloured Fiat Nuova 500 driven by a strikingly attractive olive-skinned young woman, nipping adroitly through the narrow twisting streets of a sun-baked Italian hillside village.

Less romantically, one can readily visualise a metallic grey Vauxhall Cavalier sitting at a steady 80mph in the outside lane of a British motorway under a leaden sky, its driver grimly contemplating another difficult meeting with his boss about his failure to Continue reading “Quelle Quatrelle! (Part One)”

Fanfare for the Common Van – Part 1

We look at Ford’s most enduring European product, the clever and versatile van which not only became an instant best-seller, but shaped the future of Ford’s operations across the entire continent.

Image: Ford of Britain

Henry Ford II’s whole life had been turbulent, and he never shied from aggressive intervention. Hank the Deuce had been President and CEO of the Ford Motor Company from 1945, and by the late 1950s was becoming increasingly troubled by the fragmented nature of the firm’s European operations. Viewed from Dearborn, the absurdity and inefficiency of two factories less than 500 kilometres apart designing and producing separate, unrelated ranges of vehicles with few, if any parts in common could no longer be sustained.

Through the 1950s the situation was accepted as both operations delivered worthwhile profits, but the 1960s had scarcely begun before the opportunity to Continue reading “Fanfare for the Common Van – Part 1”

A Friend In Need

The Ami 6 was as expedient as it was successful. This is its story.

Image: (c) L’Aventure Citroën

It is probably reasonably accurate to suggest that while Automobiles Citroën was confident about the prospects of its radical 1955 DS19, the initial impact, and subsequent retail demand must have taken them aback somewhat. The Goddess of course was a relatively expensive, upmarket car, well outside of what the average French motorist could afford; the gap between the rustic 2CV, which primarily appealed to rural customers and the DS19 would therefore remain chasm-like.

Despite attempts at offering the big Citroën in decontented form, it was clear that a smaller, more affordable car was an urgent requirement.[1] But not simply lacking a 7-8 CV contender, Quai de Javel also found itself without a viable rival to Renault’s popular 845 cc Dauphine.

When work on Études Projet M began in 1957, early thinking was allegedly for an entirely stand-alone model; Panhard’s 850 cc horizontally-opposed twin being considered as a possible powerplant. However, perhaps for reasons of speed to market, or a desire not to step on Panhard’s toes, it was decided to Continue reading “A Friend In Need”

The Future Started Here

From the most modest of beginnings, Audi has become an automotive titan. We remember where, and how quietly, it all began.

1966 Audi Super 90 (c) honestjohn.co.uk

If truth is the first casualty of war, then Audi was a close second in 1940. Having been subsumed seven years earlier into the Auto Union combine that also included the DKW, Horch and Wanderer marques, Audi’s presence in Germany withered away to an inconsequential 0.1% market share before the outbreak of hostilities.

Demand for its large if slightly idiosyncratic Front UW 225(1) saloon evaporated as a result of the economic privations of the 1930’s. Auto Union instead concentrated on small and economical two-stroke engined saloons carrying the DKW brand. The Front was succeeded in 1938 by a 3.3 litre six-cylinder RWD model, the 920, which was manufactured at the Horch plant and was an Audi in name only. The 920 was itself discontinued without a replacement in 1940.

When production resumed after the war, the company remained focused on building small cars under the Auto Union and DKW brands. Mercedes-Benz acquired a controlling stake in Auto Union in 1958, but failed to Continue reading “The Future Started Here”

The South African Connection

A re-assessment of what really was the first BMW M road car.

BMW 530 MLE. Image: Stefan Kötze

BMW Motorsport GmbH, the Munich manufacturer’s sports division and the go-to specialists for creating the coveted M models, was established in 1972. In the public conscience the legendary M1 of 1978 has long been regarded as the first M vehicle, but the car presented in this article casts doubt upon that assumption. Two years earlier, what is now regarded as the first M car, although it did not actually Continue reading “The South African Connection”

History in Cars – An Echo, a Stain

Age and entropy catches up with the 304. 

Following my return to the UK, I briefly toyed with the idea of a permanent repatriation to the old country, but London exerts a powerful gravitational pull and before long I was back into a new career in a new side of town. Now domiciled in suburban East London, I was closer to my tame Peugeot specialist, and with the 304 now back on the road (it had survived storage without mishap), we resumed our largely comfortable association.

The 304 had always been predominantly weekend fare, my daily commute into Central London being the task of either public transport or my own two-wheeled efforts. This, I convinced myself was justification for running an older car; not required for daily drudgery, I could Continue reading “History in Cars – An Echo, a Stain”

Yeoman of the Guard

The Toyota Hilux: Never knowingly underestimated.

Image: carsguide

Should there exist the phenomenon of an average main battle tank, one is certainly looking at enormous metallic hulks weighing in excess of sixty tons costing millions of anyone’s currency to build. Naturally a secretive beast, tanks remain wieldy objects until disabled by either enemy action or breakdown when an infrastructure is necessary to facilitate their movements. However, if one is not financially replete or that infrastructure non-existent why not Continue reading “Yeoman of the Guard”

Heroic Failure

A noble project to mobilise rural India safely, the Tata Nano was a failure. Today we examine the reasons why.

2009 Tata Nano (c) slideshare.net

The Tata Group is one of India’s oldest and largest industrial conglomerates. It encompasses a hugely diverse range of manufacturing and service companies, including steel, chemicals, consumer products, home appliances, energy, telecommunications, hotels, finance, investment and, since 1954, motor vehicles. Tata’s first domestically designed and built car was the 1998 Indica, a supermini-sized five-door hatchback that went on to Continue reading “Heroic Failure”

Phoenix Follies (Part Two)

Today, we feature the CityRover, a cynical and poorly executed attempt to plug a perceived gap in MG Rover’s model range.

2003 CityRover (c) parkers.co.uk

In 2000, the newly independent MG Rover found itself without a contender in the sub-B city car segment. As the formerly BMW-owned Rover Group, it had continued to field a version of the long-running 1980 Austin Metro, subject of three major facelifts before being renamed Rover 100 in 1994.

Despite its antiquity, it remained popular, at least in the UK, where it was valued for its compact size and nimbleness. A disastrous Euro-NCAP crash test in 1997 however, where the 100 received a uniquely poor one-star rating for adult occupant safety, caused sales to collapse and the model was discontinued the following year. Continue reading “Phoenix Follies (Part Two)”

Going Up

Introducing the MegaPanda…

Emelba Chato. Image: Esacademic.com

After the fall of Generalissimo Franco’s regime, Spain became free in more than one way; its market could now be opened to more products and brands produced outside of the country. This revitalization of the market stimulated the foundation of many new businesses, of which coachbuilder Emelba was one.

Commencing operations in 1978, Girona-based Emelba swiftly developed close ties to the national car maker SEAT and started producing the SEAT 127 Samba for them – the Spanish sister of the Fiat 127 Scout. At the time the market for small utility vehicles in Spain was dominated by Renault (4 F4 and F6) and Citroën (Acadiane). Oddly enough SEAT never brought its own version of the Fiat 127 Fiorino to market, instead Emelba built the SEAT 127 Poker: a 127 with a Fiorino-like rear section but executed rather more crudely.

The 127 Poker was still more a worklike van than people carrier, prompting Emelba to Continue reading “Going Up”

History in Cars – Brand New, You’re Retro.

Life with a Peugeot 304S – part two. 

Image (c) The author

Domestic bliss with my newly acquired, more comely automotive companion from Sochaux was initially tempered by the fact that there were other, less savoury matters to attend to, like disposing of the now good as landfill Fiat. A number of phone calls ensued before a man turned up with a flatbed, lifted the hapless 127 aboard, and twenty quid better off, Mirafiori’s errant son departed for the eternal. Of all the cars I’ve owned, I have never smoked one as morbidly close to the filter.

Meanwhile, the 304 continued to beguile, every journey an event, every destination a succession of benevolent glance-backs; could this Maize Yellow vision of loveliness actually Continue reading “History in Cars – Brand New, You’re Retro.”

Phoenix Follies (Part One)

At a crucial moment, and to the detriment of their mainstream business, MG Rover’s management squandered time and money on frivolous distractions.

2004 MG Xpower SV-R (c) topspeed.com

It had all started so well, or so it appeared. It was May 2000 and, after months of uncertainty and worry, Rover Group, the UK’s last remaining indigenous volume car manufacturer, was independent again and back under British ownership. Phoenix Venture Holdings, a consortium of businessmen led by John Towers, had secured ownership of the bulk of Rover for a nominal fee of £10 and negotiated a generous ‘dowry’ of £500 million from BMW AG. The German automotive giant was just relieved to Continue reading “Phoenix Follies (Part One)”

Understanding the Welsh Air. And Yoghurt.

Lucid dreams. 

Lucid Air. Image: yankodesign

We aim to make not only the best electric car but also the best car in the world.” This may sound somewhat boastful but the chap expressing these words has quite the curriculum vitae to back it up.

Peter Rawlinson began life in South Wales, raised and schooled in the Vale of Glamorgan, later graduating in Engineering at Imperial College, London. Jaguar employed his young talent, where he reached the heights of Principal Engineer before quitting to assist Lotus. During his stint at Hethel, Rawlinson managed to Continue reading “Understanding the Welsh Air. And Yoghurt.”

Living with a Mercedes-Benz 190E

The author recalls his experience of Stuttgart’s first compact executive model.

Not mine, but almost identical (c) rjhcars.co.uk

The 1970’s was a dismal era for the UK as the economy struggled with economic shocks such as the 1974 Middle-East oil crisis, stubbornly high inflation, a bloated and inefficient public sector, declining industrial base and a restive, militant workforce. This culminated in a balance of payments and Sterling crisis in 1976 that forced the Labour government of Prime Minister James Callaghan to Continue reading “Living with a Mercedes-Benz 190E”

God Save the Queen

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

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

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

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

Third Time Lucky, but Second Time’s a Charm (Part Two)

Concluding our profile of the Mercedes-Benz W201 compact saloon.

Image: Autoevolution

Pilot production of the W201 began at Mercedes-Benz’s Sindelfingen plant in early 1982 in preparation for its launch on 8 December. Following an extensive modernisation programme, the company’s Bremen plant, which had previously produced commercial vehicles and the S123 estate car derivative of the W123, would also manufacture the new model from November 1983.

Critical and public reaction to the new compact Mercedes-Benz was hugely positive, with most reviewers praising the unprecedented level of engineering, build quality and safety features in a car of its class. The only significant criticisms were related to the paucity of standard equipment, limited rear legroom, and overly firm seats. Continue reading “Third Time Lucky, but Second Time’s a Charm (Part Two)”

Comfort Food

Catch a Crown Comfort while you still can.

Tokyo Taxi. Image (c) The Author

In what now seem like very distant times, procuring the services of a taxi in New York would inevitably see one on the vinyl-clad rear seat of either a big yellow Checker, later a Chevrolet Caprice Classic or Ford Crown Victoria, whereas in swinging London an Austin FX4 “black cab” or its similar looking successors.

Nowadays virtually all these once ubiquitous vehicles have been succeeded by more modern, cleaner, more efficient but at the same time also much less characterful replacements. The minor sense of occasion one experienced as a tourist has gone as well since Toyota Prii and such now Continue reading “Comfort Food”

Compact Class

The Opel Kadett E story.

Opel Kadett GSi/ Vauxhall Astra GTE. Image: cargurus

1984: On the world stage, Ronald Reagan is re-elected as US President, whereas in India, Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi is assassinated. Apple present their first Macintosh computer, Band Aid has the UK’s Christmas No 1, while a car designed in Germany goes on to Continue reading “Compact Class”

Third Time Lucky, but Second Time’s a Charm (Part One)

Circumstances prevented Mercedes-Benz from entering the compact saloon market on two previous occasions, but the company nailed it with the hugely impressive 1982 W201.

Image: Autoevolution

The 1982 Mercedes-Benz W201, better known to most as the 190E, was the company’s first foray into what is now called the compact executive market. However, almost two decades earlier, Mercedes-Benz came close to launching a similarly positioned but more radically engineered front-wheel-drive model, codenamed the W118/119(1). This followed an earlier proposal for a conventional small saloon, the W122, which was approved for development in 1953, but cancelled in 1958.

The official reason for cancellation was that, in the same year, Mercedes-Benz acquired a controlling 87% stake in the Auto Union combine of the Audi, DKW, Horch and Wanderer brands(2). The company was concerned that a new, smaller Mercedes-Benz saloon would Continue reading “Third Time Lucky, but Second Time’s a Charm (Part One)”

Last of England [3]

Understanding the X-Type.

Does X stand for expedience? Image: Autocentrum.pl

Given the unprecedented levels of investment, and the expectations of both maker and benefactor, the X-Type had a good deal of heavy lifting to do. Its eventual failure not only cost Jaguar dearly, it set the carmaker back to such an extent that it never truly recovered. X-type was commissioned with one overarching mission, to more than double Jaguar’s sales volumes, transforming the carmaker as a serious player in the luxury car market, especially in the US, where these cars had historically sold in large quantities. But the X400 misfired, falling well short of projections, and as it would transpire, fiscal break-even. How so?

A moment, if you will. Lest the following reads as a full-throated orgy of blue oval bashing, we should first Continue reading “Last of England [3]”

Under the Knife – Swings and Roundabouts

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

2007 Focus v2.5 Image: The RAC

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

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