The Brightest Hour Is Just Before Twilight (2)

In the second part, we examine R8’s mid-career and consider the heart of the matter – the all-new K-Series power unit.

In mid-life, the proliferation continued with three wholly Rover developed variants codenamed Tracer (1992), Tomcat (1993), and Tex (1994), respectively a convertible, T-roofed coupe, and sporting estate car. Continue reading “The Brightest Hour Is Just Before Twilight (2)”

The Brightest Hour Is Just Before Twilight (1)

30 Years ago this week, the Rover Group launched perhaps its best realised product. We look back at the R8, née Rover 200-Series.

Image: Rover Group

In the late 1980s it really did seem that at last Rover Group had finally found its place.  Much of the credit was due to their new Japanese friends, but the rump of British Leyland was at last demonstrating a new found competence and confidence. However, agony would eventually follow the ecstasy of these heady days.

On 11 October 1989 Rover Group presented, with justifiable pride, the second-generation Rover 200 series, and with it the eagerly anticipated and all-new K-series engine. Every new Rover of the era had an equal and opposite Honda, and the 200’s was the Concerto, which had gone on sale in Japan in June 1998, only 16 months after Rover and Honda had signed the contract to build Project YY as a joint venture. Continue reading “The Brightest Hour Is Just Before Twilight (1)”

C21 Roman Chariots

Forgive the rash of smartphone holiday snaps, but a recent stay in Rome provided an opportunity to check out the local motor cars.

Urban Panda – far from extinct on the streets of Rome

Sadly, the biggest impression left on me by scanning the roads of Rome from the Borghese Gardens down to the Colosseum was what I did not see: not one of my beloved Cinquecenti. And, I don’t mean bright, Broom Yellow, Sportings, I mean none of any type or colour; not one! I am not sure what that says about that model – I saw examples of both its replacement (the Seicento) and antecedents (the 126 and the Nuova 500), but of the Cinq, ‘niente’!

Maybe they were all culled in a round of Government-sponsored ‘scrappage’? Continue reading “C21 Roman Chariots”

Every Day Is Judgement Day.

Continuing our meditation on the Austin Maxi and Fiat 128, some thoughts prompted by encounters with two survivors.

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The two cars pictured were photographed in the last 12 months. As well as being impressively original and looking as if they work for a living, they’re also examples of the last of their breeds.

The Maxi is one of the final ‘Maxi 2’ iteration, introduced to a largely indifferent world in August 1980, just 11 months from the end of production. The bright colour – ‘Snapdragon’ in BL parlance – suits it well. Far too many Maxis were specified in Russet Brown, Damask Red, or hearing-aid beige (formally known as “Champagne”), 1950s colours two decades on, in a time when BLMC’s Austin Morris colour pallet suddenly became positively vibrant. Tellingly, the archetypal Maxi customer avoided Bronze Yellow, Limeflower, or Blaze Red. Continue reading “Every Day Is Judgement Day.”

128 vs Maxi Part 4: The Racehorse and the Donkey

We return to our analysis of the 50-year old Austin and Fiat contemporaries with a look at their engines. One was the work of a revered racing engine designer, the other was cobbled together by two capable engineers in the backrooms of Longbridge under the thumb of an unsympathetic boss with his own peculiar agenda.

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On paper a conservative design, the Maxi’s E series engine turns out to be downright odd in its execution. It evolved from a 1300cc prototype with a belt-driven overhead camshaft, one of many experimental designs being developed in the West Works at Longbridge. Long-serving engine designers Eric Bareham and Bill Appleby were handed the task of reworking the inchoate power unit into an engine suitable for BMC’s new mid-range car.

More capacity was needed, so it was bored out to accommodate 3 inch pistons, leaving no space for waterways between bores or any further outward expansion. Issigonis vetoed belt drive for the camshaft in favour of a traditional single-roller chain, on the reasonable grounds that belt technology was new and unproven at the time. Continue reading “128 vs Maxi Part 4: The Racehorse and the Donkey”

Was That Leslie Crowther Over By The Bar?

Northern Europe’s largest classic race takes place over this weekend, from 17th to the 19th. I sneaked into the race paddock to look around. For once, DTW has something like news, in the form of this sketch of my snooping around the race paddock yesterday evening.

The event is called Classic Race and attracts an impressive number of classics sports cars. I noticed Ford, Alfa Romeo, Triumph and BMW vehicles made up a disproportionate number of the participants. Of those, Escorts, 2002s and Giulias and GTVs dominated. As well gazing at some expensively prepared cars I also had a chance to Continue reading “Was That Leslie Crowther Over By The Bar?”

Vroom for Improvement

The Allegro 3’s ad budget was as limited as the facelift it represented.

(c) carter collectibles on twitter

It’s not what it looks like. It isn’t my intention to cast over-ripe foodstuffs in the unfortunate Allegro’s direction; after all, why add to the sum of opprobrium already flung its way? Indeed today’s subject for discussion is not really the Allegro itself, rather the manner in which BL’s marketing department elected to Continue reading “Vroom for Improvement”

Maxi Twist

Austin’s ill-starred 1969 confection still casts a max-sized shadow.

(c) wroom.com

History judges Austin’s ill-drawn hatchback pioneer harshly. Its orthodoxies tell us ADO14 was a terrible motor car; ungainly, ill-conceived, introduced with a litany of serious flaws, thereby failing to even approach its commercial aspirations. Its introduction was repeatedly delayed, with serious concern being expressed over its styling, driveability, power output, commercial viability and basic fitness for purpose.

For the second time since the two businesses were merged, Leyland’s Donald Stokes took the momentous decision to Continue reading “Maxi Twist”

Always Crashing in the Same Car

The Triumph TR7 Convertible embodied the BL charter in microcosm. 

(c) Car Magazine

If only this could have been the TR7 that was launched five years ago instead of the poorly-assembled and inadequately developed Speke-built versions that so quickly acquired a tarnished reputation.” [Howard Walker, Motor – August 30 1980.]

If only. Those two simple words perhaps most poignantly encapsulate the British Leyland charter. Because amid the egos, the politics, the industrial strife and lost hopes chiselled onto BL’s cenotaph, there were also well-conceived, rational motor cars which deserved a better fate. Continue reading “Always Crashing in the Same Car”

Wintry Shadows Creep As The Beams Fall Aslant

Today we have a small lesson in what amounts to a leafy cul-de-sac off a side-road in a dead-end of British motoring history.

1977 Rover 2600: source

For me the Rover SD1’s is a story starring the Buick-derived V8, a car known as the 3500 or 3500S. That’s the car that gets much of the press, it seems to me. That being the case, I have but a vague, passive knowledge about the 2300 and 2600,meaning if you asked me to Continue reading “Wintry Shadows Creep As The Beams Fall Aslant”

Period Road Test: 1975 Morris 2200 HL

In what might very well be a verbatim transcript of a period road test, legendary road-tester Archie Vicar takes a closer look at the 1975 Morris 2200 HL and considers its chances in the market of the time.

1975 Morris 2200: source

The article (“Another new car from Morris!”) first appeared in the Scottish Daily News (November 1, 1975). Douglas Land-Windermere is credited for the original photos. Due to sun damage, the original images have been replaced by stock photos.

As Morris settles into its third quarter century (founded in 1912) it is a distinct pleasure to see it marque (!) the occasion by the presentation of this fine car which will no doubt help take the venerable firm forward into the late 70s and thus also help it  Continue reading “Period Road Test: 1975 Morris 2200 HL”

Period Road Test: 1975 Wolseley 18-22

In what might very well be a verbatim transcript of a period road test, legendary road-tester Archie Vicar takes a closer look at the 1975 Wolseley 18-22 and considers its chances in the market of the time.

Unique Wolseley elegance: source

The article (“Another new car from Wolseley!”) first appeared in the Hemel-Hempstead Evening Post Echo (September 30, 1975). Douglas Land-Windermere is credited for the original photos. Due to termite-damage, the original images have been replaced by stock photos.

As Wolseley motors enters its fourth quarter century (founded in 1901) it is a distinct pleasure to see it mark the occasion by the presentation of this fine car which will no doubt help take the venerable marque forward into the late 70s and thus also help it  Continue reading “Period Road Test: 1975 Wolseley 18-22”

Micropost: a mystery car?

It’s a mystery to me anyway. It turned up when I was researching clay models.

Source

The associated images show lots of Austin vehicles and other prototypes. I suspect it’s a rejected design for the Maxi or Allegro. Presumably Driven to Write’s readers know more. As ever, it looks like a fabulous missed chance from Austin-Rover’s immense catalogue of missed chances.

“Brian Borchester-Brom, head of Canadian marketing rejected Project Foal because he hated the rear door handles and also did not see eye-to-eye with Len Lennington, head of advanced mid-sized vehicle planning and insisted on a 4-cylinder saloon with doors from the 1300….”

Songs of Praise

A holy mortifying shame

All images (c) Driven to Write

The sight of a Maestro parked outside a churchyard in a small English village might once have been as common as the prayer books the car’s putative churchwarden owner would distribute amongst the darkening pews, yet here in September of 2018, it strikes a rather more rarefied note.

It’s rather lazy of this writer to Continue reading “Songs of Praise”

Selling England by the Pound

In an anti-climax to the series on the Triumph Acclaim, we summarise the legendary LJKS’s first review of the car for Car Magazine.

Car November 1981
Oddly, Car failed to feature BL’s Triumphant Acclaim on the cover of its issue in which LJKS’s legendary review appeared (Source: Pinterest).

“It is a delightful car to drive, but it is so ugly that too few people will ever discover that. Or so I thought when I was fresh from trying the Acclaim, lamenting the need to fetch customers into the showroom and put them into the car and onto the road before they closed their minds to the purchase. If only they could Continue reading “Selling England by the Pound”

Ripples

The bland Triumph which owed everything to a low-key Honda led to the next collaborative effort which Car Magazine headlined as a ‘Bland Rover’. From such inauspicious beginnings came something of a revolution.

Project XX in launch guise. (c) Classicandperformancecar

“England Expects – but Austin Rover Struggles to Deliver”. Cover of Car Magazine in the issue which covered the launch and first drive of the Rover 800.

Looking back, the 800 could probably be acclaimed as a commercial success, in the UK at least, but its launch and early years were dogged by poor quality, bad reliability and uneven capabilities. It represented a faltering of the emerging track-record of BL-Honda cars in terms of reliability.

From the outside looking in, it is easy to Continue reading “Ripples”

Afterglow

The Acclaim did not live that long a life, but, in a quiet and unnoticed way typical of the car itself, its legacy can be considered to be enduring.

TA late
A late Triumph Acclaim – taken in the Heritage Motor Museum.

“NO OFFENCE. Reliability, something not always associated with BL products, was the most memorable characteristic of our LTT Triumph Acclaim, though the spritely Honda drivetrain also won it approval”. Title of Car’s Long Term Test article regarding an Acclaim HL which it ran over 28,000 miles in 18 months.

So, the Acclaim did achieve a reputation for reliability.

Ian Forster would have been delighted to Continue reading “Afterglow”

Cowley’s Japanese Boy

In this fourth part of our look at the Triumph Acclaim, we dwell on what at times seemed to be a bitter-sweet truth for BL; everyone knew the latest car from Cowley had a heart made in Tokyo.

Duran+Duran+1981
Ah, 1981, wasn’t it so … androgynous! It’s Duran Duran, for those too young or old to remember or care.

“We shouldn’t call this car British. When BL took over the standard of their cars went down. There’s no pride left in their work, only pride in opening their pay packets”; a quote in an article in Autocar from its survey of 200 members of the British public at the time of the launch of the Acclaim.

The best known and remembered aspect of the Triumph Acclaim was that it was originally designed, engineered and manufactured by Honda as the Ballade. Indeed practically every written reference to the Acclaim that can be researched from that time makes early, direct reference to the fact, for example: Continue reading “Cowley’s Japanese Boy”

Critical Acclaim?

In this third chapter, we find out more about the fruit of the Bounty, and review some of the prose written by esteemed journalists on the cuckoo Triumph.

1972_cars_triumph_dolomite_sprint
What came before – a very nice example of a 1972 Dolomite

“The Triumph Acclaim is a good replacement for the aging Dolomite.  It is fast, comfortable, economical, and should be very reliable. Providing that the self-imposed restrictions of Japanese imports remain, the car should produce a handsome return for BL, but if cars like the excellent four door Accord become readily available, will people be prepared to accept less Honda for about the same price?” AutoTEST, Autocar, w/e 24 October 1981 (BC – Before Cropley!).

A review of technical specifications reveals that there is little that is remarkable about the three box, four door, saloon that was launched as the Triumph Acclaim on the 7th of October 1981. It had a modern, 1,335cc, four cylinder engine with eight valves and a single overhead camshaft, driving the front wheels via a 5 speed all synchromesh gearbox. The chassis was a steel monocoque, with a suspension system of coil springs over independent MacPherson struts and an anti-roll bar at the front.

A few aspects and features did give brochure-drafters and motoring journalists something to Continue reading “Critical Acclaim?”

Waiting For the Miracle

Today we posit something of a counterfactual. What if Maestro had preceded Metro?

Madge and Maestro – Downing Street 1983. Image credit: (c) BBC

Picking over the bones of long dead car companies is one of the more futile pastimes one can engage in, but in the case of British Leyland, it’s irresistible. So many factors contributed to the British car giant’s demise however, that to single out one area is to grossly over-simplify the larger, more nuanced, and far more depressing picture.

A former Jaguar engineering director once told me that BL’s senior management were in his words, ‘not of the first order’ and given their respective track records, both during the latter stages of the BMH period, in the years leading up to BLMC’s collapse in 1974, and during the post-Ryder era, it’s difficult to Continue reading “Waiting For the Miracle”

Mutiny About The Bounty

In the first of a series of articles about a car already surprisingly well (or not so well) referenced in Driven to Write, S.V. Robinson discusses the political and industrial shenanigans that presaged the Triumph Acclaim, sired by Project Bounty.

A Taste of Paradise?  (Source: ebay.com)

“Would the Government be prepared to throw away this pioneering agreement between a British and a Japanese motor company, which might encourage wider moves to transplant the benefit of Japanese technology and efficiency to Britain?” Sir Michael Edwardes, ‘Back from the Brink’.

As a car, the Triumph Acclaim can claim little of note that is ground breaking. It is a car that, infamously, was not conceived as a Triumph. More subtly, by the time Acclaim came to be, Triumph itself was a brand without a range of cars, just a single model, built in Morris’s Cowley factory to design, engineering and production specifications developed in Tokyo.

Were it not for BL’s product planners’ persistent and ultimately futile attempt to Continue reading “Mutiny About The Bounty”

Mutiny About the Bounty

S.V. Robinson discusses the political and industrial shenanigans that presaged the Triumph Acclaim, sired by Project Bounty.

(c) Classicshonestjohn

“Would the Government be prepared to throw away this pioneering agreement between a British and a Japanese motor company, which might encourage wider moves to transplant the benefit of Japanese technology and efficiency to Britain?Sir Michael Edwardes, ‘Back from the Brink’.

As a car, the Triumph Acclaim can claim little of note that is ground breaking. It is a car that, infamously, was not conceived as a Triumph. More subtly, by the time Acclaim came to be, Triumph itself was a brand without a range of cars, just a single model, built in Morris’s Cowley factory to design, engineering and production specifications developed in Tokyo.

Were it not for BL’s product planners’ persistent and ultimately futile attempts to Continue reading “Mutiny About the Bounty”

DTW’s Top Twenty Three Great European Cars – Part 4

We continue this tour of the greatest European cars at number ten. The competition gets fiercer as we near the top.

1968 BMW 1600 GT: classicvirus.com

In this section Opel, Maserati, BMW and Austin do battle. And one other marque… Read on to find out how the great European cars of the late 20th century were rated.

I don’t think one can resist the urge to Continue reading “DTW’s Top Twenty Three Great European Cars – Part 4”

Put Forth The Fifth

In a post-script to today’s reprint of Archie Vicar’s review of the 1981 Triumph Acclaim, I present a few notes on Car magazine’s impressions of the 1980 Honda Ballade.

(c) wheelsage.com

Were it not for the Honda-BL deal, the introduction of the Honda Ballade would have passed almost unnoticed in Japan,” wrote Hattori Yoshi. “The Ballade is an unexceptional car: it offers nothing new to jaded Japanese motornoters who are used to new models being introduced just about as often as someone, somewhere is complaining about unfair Japanese imports”. 

Hattori explained that the Ballade differed from previous Hondas in that it was a product they felt customers wanted rather than needed; it also joined the lone vehicle in their then-new Verno dealer network – set up to sell the Prelude. Apparently cars in the Verno network were supposed to be a bit more upmarket than those in the Honda chain. Continue reading “Put Forth The Fifth”

Another “Triumph” for British Leyland

In what appears to be a verbatim transcript of a period review  motoring correspondent, Archie Vicar, drives the 1981 Triumph “Acclaim” saloon.

(c) ARonline

The article first appeared in The Executive Motorist, August 1981. Original photography by Griff Piddough. Due to water damage to the original material, stock photos have been used.

Many drivers will regard the Triumph Dolomite with much fondness. It was launched as the Toledo in 1965, which by my reckoning is now fifteen years ago, back when BL was known as BMC and Harold Wilson was prime minister. It is a tribute to this feisty little vehicle that only now has BL has reluctantly decided to put it out to pasture. We wish it a long and happy retirement!

To replace the Dolomite there comes a bold new design, one created in collaboration with the Honda motor company of Japan. Ringing the changes are modern front-wheel drive, a passenger door-mounted mirror and an all-alloy, twin carb overhead-cam 1.3 liter motor. Cleverly, the new car is called the “Acclaim” as it is this with which the car will certainly be greeted by one and all. Continue reading “Another “Triumph” for British Leyland”

Impossible Princess – Vanden Plas 1800

Robertas Parazitas reports on one of the stars of this year’s NEC Classic Motor show.

Source: C&SC

Grim commerce and ‘investment car’ mania now dominate the annual NEC Classic Motor show, but search hard, seek the wisdom of the crowds, and strangeness and delight is there to be found. In Hall 4, a Restoration Theatre had been setup. I sat for a while, hoping for a performance of one of Congreve or Wycherley’s lighter works, but all that was on offer was a video of two elderly men in a dingy workshop explaining the intricacies of panel beating in what I imagined to be a satire on Puritanism. Continue reading “Impossible Princess – Vanden Plas 1800”

Harriman’s Folly

If one car can embody the legacy of its creator, the 1967 Austin 3-Litre will forever be linked with the fall of BMC boss, George Harriman. Hubris or simply bad timing? 

Quadruple headlamps quickly replaced the more modern looking ovoid units fitted to the car at launch. Image: Oldtechnology.net

An unwitting metaphor for a car company which had fundamentally lost its way, the 1967 Austin 3-Litre was an unmitigated failure both in creative and commercial terms. Received at launch with an embarrassed silence from the UK press corps, shunned by the buying public and withdrawn from sale in 1971 with a mere 9,992 examples built, the 3-Litre, along with the Maxi would prove to be the final nails in BMC’s coffinlid and all the evidence Donald Stokes and his Leyland cohorts needed to Continue reading “Harriman’s Folly”

Something Rebadged in Denmark

A 1977 Wolseley 18-22. As named, this car had a mayfly-brief production run. Why is it labelled a 1977 though?

1975 Wolseley 18-22 (registeded in 1977): source
1975 Wolseley 18-22 (registered in 1977): source

Something quite like it could be purchased until 1982 (sold as an Austin Princess and Austin Princess 2 until 1981). And something quite like that appeared in showrooms from 1982 to 1984, the Austin Ambassador. They re-tooled the body and engineered a hatchback for 24 months of sales. That’s another story, British Leyland has plenty of those. Continue reading “Something Rebadged in Denmark”

Theme: Materials – Triplex 10-20 Glassback

Not by any account the first all-glass hatch, the 1978 Triplex 10-20 Glassback however brought glazing technology into the modern era. 

1978 Ogle-Triplex 10-20 Glassback concept. Image: banovsky.com
1978 Ogle-Triplex 10-20 Glassback concept. Image: banovsky.com

BLMC’s AD071 Princess cleaved faithfully not only to Harris Mann’s original concept, but also to Donald Stokes’ vision for advanced engineering and ‘durable‘ styling in addition to time-worn BL tropes of skewed commercial ambition. Hailed (initially at least) as a visual success, the Wedge as it became known, never gained sufficient traction with the buying public; its styling proving divisive and with reliability woes poleaxing its reputation. Continue reading “Theme: Materials – Triplex 10-20 Glassback”

Theme: Special – 1988 MG Maestro Turbo

“Special” might not be a term that many would use in its positive sense to describe a Maestro of any kind, but I think this one deserves a mention as part of this month’s thematic celebration.

1989 MG Maestro: source
1989 MG Maestro: source

I like to think that this was a car marketed with a twinkle in the eye of those involved. It was as if they knew that the public and journalists in particular would scoff at the very notion of it, and so they just added a little wry smile to the way that it was presented to the market. Continue reading “Theme: Special – 1988 MG Maestro Turbo”

A photo for Sunday: 1971-1979 Morris Marina 1.3 Super Coupe

Most of these photos for Sunday are taken outside my front door, somewhere along my street.

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It’s not that I don’t go anywhere else. I do but I seldom, if ever, see an unusual or interesting car to photograph. I even stop into look at old garages to see if there are rusting treasures hidden from plain view. There aren’t. All the interesting cars in Denmark are either on my street or in a suburb of Copenhagen. This specimen appeared last week. The car is a Morris Marina 1.3 coupe.
Continue reading “A photo for Sunday: 1971-1979 Morris Marina 1.3 Super Coupe”

Spyshots 1978: How the New Mini Emerged Into Daylight

“New Leyland small car spied”, writes Archie Vicar, in the 1978 edition of Contemporary Driving News Magazine. This transcript of what appears to be a commentary on the much-discussed new ‘Mini’ shows Vicar’s analytical journalism at its best.

1978 LC8 spyshot
1978 LC8 spyshot

“Spy photographers have caught the replacement for the much-loved but geriatric, cramped and unreliable Mini on test. The planned car is an advance on the very modern ADO88 design which the engineers at Leyland have been working on since the early 70s. The wheelbase is now longer than ADO88 in response to developments in the market since the project’s inception just after the second World War. Continue reading “Spyshots 1978: How the New Mini Emerged Into Daylight”

1969 Austin Maxi: Road Test

Something old, something new! Archibald Vicar, Dip. Eng. tries the latest sensation from BMC, the Austin “Maxi.”

(c) auto classiques

From “Today’s Driver” February 1969. Photography by Patrick Lamperay. Due to the poor quality of the original source, stock photos have been used.

There it was, an Austin Maxi, Leyland’s latest motor car. And we were in Dublin, Eire, to test it. It was eight o’clock in the morning and photographer, Lamperey, and I were at British Leyland’s small factory in the middle of what was once the Empire’s second city. While I ought to have been taking in the generalities of the Maxi’s technicalities I was more cognisant of my rather delicate physical state, that of a rotten hangover.

Said hangover was largely as a result of my failed attempt to anaesthetise myself during the festival of mal de mer that was the ferry from Holyhead to Dublin. The duty-free Guinness was at least remarkably cheap so the experience was merely disagreeable and not costly. I was also able to Continue reading “1969 Austin Maxi: Road Test”