Savannah Postcard (1)

A recent short visit to Savannah, Georgia afforded a chance to peruse the roadside vehicle population of the South.

Savannah, Georgia roadside last Monday morning.

Many people visit Savannah to enjoy its urban milieu: late Georgian and early Victorian architecture situated among lines of old, large trees draped with Spanish moss. I had a look at all that but also hoped to see a reasonable sampling of faces familiar mostly from photographs. I found some surprising juxtapositions and odd vignettes. It’s a place of contrasts. If you Continue reading “Savannah Postcard (1)”

Stateside Slip-ups

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

Image: the author

Cardin Cadillac Eldorado Evolution I

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

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

Try A-Coke-Ah (Part Two)

Iacocca – the Chrysler years.

Image: Time

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

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

1968: A Question of Choice

Decisions, decisions.

Image: the author

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

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

Equus Celestial – Part One

Starring role.

Image: Car Domain

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

Something Rotten in Denmark: Chrysler Stratus

Cab-Forward was the design buzz-word of the mid-’90s. It didn’t age well.

Chrysler Cirrus. In 1995 these cars had the power to thrill. Image: carfigures

This sideways view of the JA-Series was originally published on DTW in December 2014.

This car has two claims to our attention today. The first is that in the cold light of day, it is hard to believe this car and its almost identical stable-mates were once nominated on Car & Driver’s 10 best list. I was not aware of this at the time. The second reason I am drawn to it is because it was the first car I was ever paid to review[1]. I wrote 1,000 words and saw the editor chop out 200 of them, more or less killing the nuances of the text stone dead. I wanted to Continue reading “Something Rotten in Denmark: Chrysler Stratus”

Beyond Pantera

Exploring some less well known de Tomaso models.

Image: the author

Technically, it should be impossible to go beyond Pantera as the name derives from the ancient Greek word ‘Panthera’ meaning ‘all beasts’, both real and mythological. Still, Argentinian ex-racing driver Alejandro de Tomaso was involved in the creation of more vehicles than just the one with which he is most readily associated, and some of the others involved partnerships with some unlikely players in the automotive firmament. Continue reading “Beyond Pantera”

Hardly Noble, but not Inert Either

An American take on the small car.

Before the all-conquering SUV transformed the automotive landscape, America’s taste in automobiles was really quite conservative and the traditional three-box sedan in a variety of sizes was very much the norm. Americans didn’t really buy into the European fashion for hatchbacks, preferring station wagons or pick-up trucks for lugging loads around. Even younger buyers, whom one might have expected to be more receptive to new fashions, still wanted to drive around in a car just like mom or dad’s, only smaller and, ideally, more economical.

Bob Lutz, who had joined Chrysler in 1986 as Executive Vice President in charge of global product development, saw an opportunity to develop a new small car that would be specifically aimed at younger American drivers. It would take Chrysler’s contemporary styling tropes, which were cab-forward proportions and organic, curvaceous shapes, and adapt them to create a small car with a friendly, unthreatening face and a ‘fun’ personality that would Continue reading “Hardly Noble, but not Inert Either”

AUTOpsy: Dodge Avenger

Revisiting a mutt from Motor City. 

fullsizeoutput_14c6

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared on DTW in March 2018. All images courtesy of the author.

Was it ignorance? Negligence? Arrogance? The motive(s) may be up for debate, but there’s no arguing about the utter lack of lustre this 2007 vintage Dodge Avenger embodies. Nor that the utter cynicism of this product was the result of management decisions betraying one or all the above-mentioned traits. Naturally, by the time the Avenger was brought to market, most of the people who had made these decisions had departed for pastures new, considerably further afield than Auburn Hills.

After a most glorious turnaround performance abroad, former Chrysler CEO and self-styled Dr Zee, Dieter Zetsche, returned to the parent company in Stuttgart, where he immediately instigated the fire sale of the American car maker. His right-hand man, Wolfgang Ayerle/Bernhard, had already departed, but would eventually rejoin Zee at Stuttgart. Chrysler chief designer, Trevor Creed, was also about to Continue reading “AUTOpsy: Dodge Avenger”

A Diamond in the Dust

The 2005 Chrysler 300 was as good as it got for DaimlerChrysler.

Image: parkers.co.uk

The 1998 merger of Daimler-Benz and Chrysler Corporation was the brainchild of Jürgen Schrempp, Daimler’s ambitious CEO. Schrempp was on a mission to drive up the profitability and shareholder value of the group, following the disastrous early-1990s acquisitions spree of his predecessor, Edzard Reuter. Reuter had tried to turn Daimler into a broad-based global technology conglomerate, but instead oversaw a collapse in profits and share price that precipitated his sacking in 1995.

Schrempp believed that there was enormous untapped potential in Daimler’s automotive division, Mercedes-Benz. He wanted to leverage this to achieve a step-change in sales and market share for the traditionally conservative and upmarket automaker. This could (and indeed would) be achieved organically by extending the company’s traditional range downwards into mainstream territory, but this would take time and Schrempp was a man in a hurry, driven at least as much by quarterly financial reports as long-term strategy. Continue reading “A Diamond in the Dust”

Don’t Try This at Home…or Abroad

Testing brand equity to destruction.

2008 VW Routan. Image: autonews.com

For almost half a century, Volkswagen has occupied a sweet spot in the global automotive market. It might be described as semi-premium, but that prosaic term hardly does justice to its achievement in developing and sustaining an image amongst the car buying public that places the marque consistently half a step higher than its mainstream competitors.

The brand equity, as marketing types would say, is of enormous value to the company. It has allowed Volkswagen to get away with producing some distinctly sub-standard products(1), ignore often middling scores in reliability and customer satisfaction surveys, and even recover relatively unscathed, in reputational if not financial terms, from the Dieselgate scandal that might have been an existential threat to other, less well regarded marques.

Occasionally, however, Volkswagen has pushed its luck too far and the market has pushed back hard. One such event was its attempt to Continue reading “Don’t Try This at Home…or Abroad”

Troubled Concoction

Remembering Chrysler’s misconceived transatlantic tie-up.

Image: The author / Chrysler Corp.

In the early eighties, long before both companies would find cover under the FCA and Stellantis corporate umbrellas, Chrysler and Maserati hatched plans for a luxury convertible to revive their tarnished prestige image. The two driving forces behind the venture were Lee Iacocca, the ex-Ford executive who had nursed Chrysler back from the dead a few years previously, and Alejandro de Tomaso, who at that time ran not only the sports car company that bore his name but also Maserati. He had taken the latter company over in 1976 with Italian government assistance after Citroën had bowed out. This would not, however, be Iacocca and de Tomaso’s first collaboration: in the early seventies the two had brought the De Tomaso Pantera to the USA(1).

In June 1984, both companies signed a contract to Continue reading “Troubled Concoction”

Ashes to Ashes (Part One)

Awaiting the inevitable.

Two 1965 or 1966 Ford Mustangs, a 1953 Cadillac and a 1963 Ford Thunderbird. All images: the author.

Apart from huge metropolises such as New York or Los Angeles, most of the United States’ land area is quite sparsely inhabited, with large areas of undeveloped land. A consequence of this abundance of space was the many salvage yards(1) where cars were simply parked at their presumed final resting place instead of being stacked on top of each other, disassembled, flattened or crushed.

While not necessarily the most environmentally-friendly storage method, salvage yards do provide an invaluable source of spare-parts for those restoring a piece of classic Detroit iron. For those with an interest in classic cars in general and who, like your author, appreciate the peculiar air of nostalgia and romance one feels while walking amongst discarded vehicles in varying stages of decay, these yards are also irresistible. In truth, I should probably use the past tense these days as the vast majority of these salvage yards have now disappeared due to ever more stringent environmental laws and policies that started to take effect, especially since the turn of the millennium. Continue reading “Ashes to Ashes (Part One)”

Chacun Voit Midi à Sa Porte*

A trio from the French quarter.

Amid the less frequently visited outposts within automotive history’s archives, intriguing and fascinating things can sometimes be found.

Marsonetto

Until fairly recently the family business of Automobiles Marsonetto was still active as a concessionaire of Fiat, Alfa Romeo and Lancia in Villeurbanne on the outskirts of Lyon. Founder of the company, Mario Marsonetto was the son of an Italian mason but was more interested in automobiles than following in his father’s footsteps. By his early twenties he had successfully trained to become a coachbuilder, having gained valuable work experience by rebodying passenger cars – mainly Renaults and Citroëns – as well as trucks. Continue reading “Chacun Voit Midi à Sa Porte*”

The Gamine

Dodging bullets, our resident Mr. Miles offers his thoughts on an underappreciated Pentastar. 

Jalopnik

I’m Fortunate enough to have a scenic commute to and from work, the route encompassing rolling hills and open moorland before plunging headlong into suburbia and masses of unwashed vehicles. Vicious in winter, the summer weather has allowed occasional non-use of wipers alongside higher external temperatures, accompanied by regular morning sightings of a car whose rarity increases daily. DTW’s Richard Herriott wrote about the Chrysler Crossfire six years ago. Inspired by his words and my daily flash past this black bolide, I wanted to Continue reading “The Gamine”

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”

A Deadly Misadventure

DTW recalls the alliance between Renault and American Motors Corporation that proved highly damaging to the French automaker and had fatal consequences.

1988 Eagle Premier(c) blog.consumerguide.com

American Motors Corporation (AMC) was long the plucky underdog of the US automotive industry, always struggling to compete on equal terms with the ‘Big Three’ of General Motors, Ford and Chrysler. AMC had itself been formed from the 1954 merger of Nash Kelvinator Corporation and the Hudson Car Company(1). This was a merger driven out of weakness rather than strength, as neither partner had the financial or technical resources to continue independently.

With a market share of just 4%, AMC was still a fraction of the size of the Big Three, but there was a larger plan in play, devised jointly by George Mason, President of Nash-Kelvinator, and James Nance, President of the Packard Motor Car Company. Packard would Continue reading “A Deadly Misadventure”

Far-Sighted, or Visually Impaired?

The 2006 R-Class was a rare commercial failure for Mercedes-Benz. Ahead of its time, or simply misconceived?

2006 Mercedes-Benz R-Class (c) honestjohn.co.uk

Over the past decade, the onslaught of SUV type vehicles has swept through the automotive market like a tsunami, pushing aside traditional formats such as the classic three-box saloon, estate and larger hatchback models. Even more recent innovations such as the monobox MPV have been rendered irrelevant by its irresistible rise. In the mainstream European market, anything larger than a B-segment vehicle now generally plays second fiddle to its SUV sibling, if it has not already been killed off by it. The premium marques’ larger saloons are still selling, albeit in reduced numbers as buyers Continue reading “Far-Sighted, or Visually Impaired?”

Continental Congress (Part two)

Concluding our examination of the 1961 Lincoln Continental’s domestic design influence. 

(c) cargurus.com

1964  

The first major change for the Continental: to silence criticism of its comparatively somewhat stingy rear legroom once and for all, the wheelbase was increased by three inches (from 123 to 126 inches).

The overall appearance of the Continental was unchanged however. Other alterations were a slightly altered roofline/DLO and the replacement of the previously curved side glass with flat glazing. This was a cost-cutting decision which was not universally liked by the press as it was seen as a step backward. The buying public obviously could live with it because sales increased by 20% over the previous year. Continue reading “Continental Congress (Part two)”

I Found A Song For The One Who Visited My Planet

Alert regular visitors to the corner shop we call DTW will certainly recall our recent discussions of American cars sold in Europe.

Three American cars for Europeans

By way of a follow-up article for what will undoubtedly be a fine spring morning  I have been delving into the recent past (2006). This is to look at a few other American vehicles that made it to this side of the Atlantic. That’s just what you want to read as you tuck into your cornflakes and toast.   Before some of you jump up shouting “You must Continue reading “I Found A Song For The One Who Visited My Planet”

To The Azimuth, Flying On Our Moods

It will be hard to keep this post focused on ashtrays since the car taking centre stage today represents a new-for-me footnote in N. American automotive history: Imperial (by Chrysler)

The very top of the range: 1974 Imperial Le Baron coupe, detail.

It’s back to E-Z Biler in Them, Denmark. It’s back to 1974, the year from which this car comes, a time when drinking, smoking and consuming huge amounts of petrol all very suddenly became less and less desirable in relation to motoring.

Since this car was probably conceived just before the first oil crisis, it’s in many ways a fantastic representative of the peak of the post-war period mentality, with its innocent (or ignorant) unfettered consumption. With money flowing so freely, the incentive to chase it by offering wilder and wilder flights of consumer fancy was huge. And irresistible. That is the only way to Continue reading “To The Azimuth, Flying On Our Moods”

A Viper For Sunday

Nought to sixty in under 5 seconds, courtesy of a V10. No door handles. What do people do with cars like this in Denmark, I have to ask?

1992-2002 Dodge Viper

I really don’t know. What I do know is that cars such as this are where there is overlap between the mainstream mass manufacturers and the fringe enterprises (covered since July 2016 with forensic thoroughness in the celebrated Far From The Mainstream series). The difference is that large-scale manufacturers can call on the expertise of seasoned car designers and costly, advanced specialist manufacturing processes.

Absolutely everyone who wants a car like this to will surely Continue reading “A Viper For Sunday”

AUTOpsy: Dodge Avenger

The best and brightest Daimler-Benz managers showing the Americans how to take the product side of the business was this. Seriously ?

fullsizeoutput_14c6

Was it ignorance? Negligence? Arrogance? The motive(s) may be up for debate, but there’s no arguing about the utter lack of lustre this 2007 vintage Dodge Avenger embodies. Nor that the utter cynicism of this product was the result of management decisions betraying one or all the above-mentioned traits. Naturally, by the time the Avenger was brought to market, most of the people who had made these decisions had departed for pastures new, considerably further afield than Auburn Hills.

After a most glorious turnaround performance abroad, former Chrysler CEO and self-styled Dr Zee, Dieter Zetsche, had returned to the parent company in Stuttgart, where he immediately instigated the fire sale of the American car maker. His right-hand man, Wolfgang Ayerle/Bernhard, had already left, but would eventually rejoin Zee at Stuttgart. Chrysler chief designer, Trevor Creed, was about to Continue reading “AUTOpsy: Dodge Avenger”

Bull Market

Flushed with the spoils of acquisition, Chrysler underlined their Bolognese connection in 1987 with this highly prescient concept.

1987 Chrysler Portofino Concept. Image: promotor.ro

Thirty years ago to the month, the Chrysler Motor Corporation (as was) purchased Italian supercar manufacturer, Nouva Automobili F. Lamborghini. Acquisitions by US automakers were in full swing by the late 1980’s, with GM having taken control of Group Lotus the previous year in addition to Chrysler’s 15.6% stake in Allessandro de Tomaso’s Maserati business. At the 1987 Frankfurt motor show, the Pentastar proudly displayed this, the Portofino concept. Continue reading “Bull Market”

Slowly Spun Cerulean and Azure in the Rays

Another bang from the past, this: the much-lauded but penultimately and then ultimately rather awful Chrysler Stratus

Tom Gale thought this car the bee´s legs.

Whenever I get a chance I take random bike rides or walks around Basel. For many Anglo-Saxons it’s an unknown city, perhaps one that causes confusion as it reminds them of silly toff first names or green leafed herbs used in pesto. Perhaps it suggests a certain degree of Mittel-European obscurity. To some Switzerland is a bit obscure and Basel is a part of that, making it extra exotic. Continue reading “Slowly Spun Cerulean and Azure in the Rays”

World Cars 1984 (3): Chrysler Executive and Cadillac Cimarron

In the third of a short series, I will remind readers  of what was on sale in 1984, courtesy of the much missed “World Car Guide”.

1984 Chrysler Executive: source
1984 Chrysler Executive: source

In this little delve into the World Car Guide I’ll take two attempts to dress mutton up as something finer. The Chrysler Executive and Cadillac Cimarron saw two companies desperately or cynically trying to pass off low-end platforms as much finer vehicles. The Cimarron is famously awful and there might still be a retired executive alive who looks into the mirror every day and sees the face of the man who signed off Cadillac’s least good car. Continue reading “World Cars 1984 (3): Chrysler Executive and Cadillac Cimarron”

Over the Transom: The Last Gasp of the Shutlines Theme

The Chrysler 300M front end needed serious revision. As it stood it was crudely executed. This diagram shows an alternative schematic break up of the front wing, headlamp and bumper.

It´s schematic. The actual refinement of this would take some considerable time.
It’s schematic. The actual refinement of this would take some considerable time.

In essence, the graphics asked questions the engineering department could not deal with and the actual solution defeated the graphics. It is tempting to say the graphics were not really feasible. Continue reading “Over the Transom: The Last Gasp of the Shutlines Theme”

Unforgetting: 2003-2007 Chrysler Crossfire

One of these cars flashed past me today, prompting this small item. Now that I come to think of it, there was one parked on my road a few years back. It was the Chrysler Crossfire (2003-2007).

2003 Chrysler Crossfire. In 2003 it cost £1000 more than the faster Nissan 350Z: yakmee.com
2003 Chrysler Crossfire. In 2003 it cost £1000 more than the faster Nissan 350Z: yakmee.com

We all have small car moments, don’t we? For reasons unclear, our synapses fizz and fuse a little harder when we see a car and forever more the image, time, feeling and moment are irremovably etched on our memories. It’s a wholly random process, note. Some of my car moments involve worthless heaps of mediocrity.

The Chrysler Crossfire is taking up some of my limited and diminishing RAM with a set of memories related to Continue reading “Unforgetting: 2003-2007 Chrysler Crossfire”

Unforgetting: 2007 Dodge Caliber

Or Calibre, if you are writing using British English.

2007 Dodge Calibre interior. Image: Edmunds.com
2007 Dodge Calibre interior. Image: Edmunds.com

I only remembered this one because I saw an example other day. I didn’t know what it was so I thought it must be one of those Chrysler things. Or Dodge things. Or maybe a Plymouth. Whatever. There was a time when American car interiors were cherishably bad. They might have been a bit careless but they had a humour and brio to them. The Calibre’s is simply bad and dispiriting but is a great example of when simple (good) becomes banal (not good). All the great simple designs have a twist or an inflection or a grace note. This set of straight lines (above) is Continue reading “Unforgetting: 2007 Dodge Caliber”

Something Rotten in Denmark: Chrysler Stratus

All the bad qualities of American cars, Japanese cars and European cars rolled into one unappetising shape. In 1995 these cars had the power to thrill.

How to sell a car´s charms
How to sell a car´s charms

This car has two claims to our attention today. The first is that in the cold light of day, it is hard to believe this car and its almost identical stable-mates were once nominated on Car & Driver’s 10 best list. I wasn’t aware of this at the time. The second reason I’m drawn to it is because it was the first car I was ever paid to review*. I wrote 1000 words and saw the editor chop out 200 of them, more or less killing the nuances of the text stone dead. I wanted to Continue reading “Something Rotten in Denmark: Chrysler Stratus”

Something Rotten in Denmark: 1991 Chrysler LeBaron 3.0 V6

After a bit of a dry spell, Something Rotten in Denmark has this rather over-valued money pit to present, a 1991 Chrysler LeBaron 3.0 V6.

1991 Chrysler LeBaron 3.0 V6
Rust: 1991 Chrysler LeBaron 3.0 V6

Much like the Rover 620 from last week we are shown a photo of the dark side of the car. You can make out the brightwork and the general top heaviness of the car but there are other things not so visible. For example the extensive rusting around the wheel arches shown below. You can be sure that it will cost a lot more than the 25,000 kr asked for to put this right. You can be sure the floorpan is equally rotted, if not worse. Continue reading “Something Rotten in Denmark: 1991 Chrysler LeBaron 3.0 V6”