A Disproportionate Response

 The Cadillac that shrank in the wash. 

oldcarbrochures

It has been stated here many times before, but the art of product planning is often somewhat akin to an act of faith. Certainly, the job of the strategic planner during the latter part of the 1970s was anything but straightforward. This was a particularly acute problem for luxury carmakers; having already weathered dramatic market reorientation following two successive fuel crises, attempting to Continue reading “A Disproportionate Response”

Fort Pontchatrain, the Ducks and the Dutch Artists

What’s in an emblem?

Sunsetcadillacsarasota.com

Why should we let facts get in the way of a good story? History is written by the winners, some say. Henry Ford disregarded such matters, but stories have to begin somewhere, so let us head to America, 1701. The French had cornered parts of the new world, establishing settlements, later growing into towns. Fur trading was big business and its centrepiece was Fort Pontchatrain du-Détroit, the latter being the French word for strait. When the British showed up later, they immediately shortened the name to Detroit.

The town’s founding father was one Antone Laumet de la Mothe Cadillac, who according to history writers was either a soldier who had King Louis’ ear, along with his own heraldic majesty or had fabricated his own importance, to gain higher status. As town governor, he regularly popped over the border to Canada for skirmishes, before an eventual recall back to his homeland, obscurity and never to Continue reading “Fort Pontchatrain, the Ducks and the Dutch Artists”

A View With a Room

We recall a legendary name in American coachbuilding.

Unattributed image via Pinterest

Today’s Escalade SUV is routinely paraded as the new-millennial personification of the classic full-size Cadillac sedan, but with the sort of ground clearance and utility the Cadillacs of yesteryear could only dream about. During the roseate era of fins, dagmars and chrome plating, Cadillacs were not created with practicality foremost in mind – these were profound statements, potent symbols of attainment.

Throughout the 1950s, Cadillac sales were seemingly impervious to market vagaries or the state of the economy. While its brash appearance may not have been to everyone’s taste – even in more-is-more boomtime fifties America – the Cadillac was the domestic car the vast majority of the American public aspired to. Cadillac customers were also said to be the most brand-loyal; even in more difficult times, a new Cadillac on the suburban driveway clearly illustrated to peers and associates that everything was ‘just swell’.

But for some particularly well-heeled customers, even a sparkling new Caddy, in sedan, coupé or convertible form was not quite going to Continue reading “A View With a Room”

Oblongs Look Better Than Squares

Mister Earl comes under the DTW spotlight. 

Big car – big fellow. Motoringhistory.com

The idea of designing or styling cars is almost as old as the industry itself. Stemming from coach and carriage works, in the beginning the car was made and effectively styled by those same engineers whose only goal was a mechanically powered carriage. Short framed, high bodied creations, and rudimentary in weather protection, imbuing style was barely considered. Wealthy customers hired craftsmen to create a unique automobile – America had dozens of such custom builders but even with Henry’s Model T, mass production barely stirred the creative soul.

Alfred Pritchard Sloan Jr wrote a letter to the general manager of Buick, H.H. Bassett in 1926 expressing his interest in styling a car in order to sell more. Cadillac general manager, Lawrence Fisher concurred with Sloan’s and Basset’s ideas on appearance. On a trip of Cadillac dealers in California, Fisher was introduced to Don Lee who aside from flogging Cadillacs ran a custom workshop in Hollywood. Contained within were those craftsmen building film stars their dream cars. Fisher was impressed by not only the workmanship, but by the young fellow directing the designers – Harley J Earl.

Earl’s father ran a carriage works which Don Lee subsequently purchased. With a keen eye along with such ideas as clay modelling, which allowed for fenders to Continue reading “Oblongs Look Better Than Squares”

The Palace Of Versailles, Michigan

Where magic happened. 

GM Technical Center. architectmagazine

Philibert Le Roy is credited with turning a backwater shooting lodge into a chateau fit for a king. Then, through a succession of architects along with an army of builders, the Sun King’s dream of the most opulent palace was made real. From small beginnings to a lavish labyrinth, the Palace of Versailles has borne witness to history. 

Metaphorically and literally distanced from such overt flourishes lies an altogether different theatre of dreams. A place that too has borne change, seen careers grow to unprecedented heights, scarred many by its inner machinations and created millions of objects idolised the world over. Enter architect, Eero Saarinen (1910-61), creative inspiration for the somewhat bland sounding 1956 GM Technical Center in Warren, Michigan. 

Whereas Louis’ gaff had (amongst others) Salons to Abundance, Mars and Apollo (with a few added mirrors for good measure) the the GMTC had to Continue reading “The Palace Of Versailles, Michigan”

Reaching for the Stars

Is it a bird, a plane? Nope, it’s a Firebird. 

All three Firebirds. Road & Track

Ještêd, at 1,012 metres is only the 347th highest of the Czech Republic’s mountains yet is a coveted location. The reason being since 1973, at the summit resides an award winning single piece circular building, hyperboloid in shape, pointedly aiming another hundred metres toward the heavens. Partly hotel, but mainly transmitting TV signals, this striking edifice which took six years to construct came from the mind of Karel Hubáček, co-founder of SIAL, a Czech architectural studio. 

Melding elements of beauty with science fiction, a sense of playfulness with functionality, the tower serves the important function of searching further into the great unknown. And whilst Hubáček, surviving enforced wartime labour, concentrated his work upon buildings for humans, he might perhaps have been influenced by something equally futuristic, but on four wheels.

GM’s Firebird I concept stood for high performance. II being the futuristic family car, whereas III was GM’s own trip to the final frontier – an earthbound automobile with otherworldly ideals. Continue reading “Reaching for the Stars”

Dear Ed

Edward H. Mertz, doyen of the Tri-Shield.

Edward H. Mertz. Deansgarage.com

Over the years the hair may have lightened, thinned somewhat but his passion remained strong. Edward H. Mertz (1937-2020) took over Buick’s tiller in 1987, steering GM’s original brand for just over a decade. Helping usher in front wheel drive, wanting to make the right impression whilst reserving the typical, reservist, conservative Buick buyer, Mertz immersed himself into the role with a smile as confident as his policies, including better relations between the company and their dealers.

Mertz could be found in his office, alighting a tri-shield, the 19th hole or the affectionately named War Room where ideas and designs were thrashed out for his pre-recorded dealer-eyes-only Curbside Chats. Averaging every five weeks, he hosted sixty six episodes of around thirty minutes length (in total approximately a working week, 35 or so hours) all recorded to VCR tape and posted out to the three thousand stateside dealers. That, in itself is commitment.

Encouraging dealers to Continue reading “Dear Ed”

The Cult of the Souls

It never made production, but the Pontiac Banshee was a harbinger nonetheless. 

XP 833 Pontiac Banshee conept. motor authority

Chevrolet, 1966. Two million passenger cars sold. But for a two front attack, life might have been peachy. Enemy Number One – Henry’s Mustang. Enemy One A being rather closer to home, a GM (un) civil war focussing on the difficulties that family ties can induce.

In the egotistical, self centred world of the car executive, John DeLorean managed to Continue reading “The Cult of the Souls”

A Facelift Better Than the Car It Was Meant To Save

How Bill Porter turned the sow’s ear of the 1986 Buick Riviera into something so much better.

1989 Buick Riviera. Favcars

This article was first published as part of the DTW Facelifts Theme on July 02 2014.

In 1986, Buick sold a medium-sized two door coupé called the Somerset in the US market, built on the Oldsmobile-engineered N-body. In the way of GM’s demented renaming strategy, the Somerset tag was once a trim level of the Regal saloon but it escaped to become a separate line.[1] The Somerset only lived for three years – the public didn’t take to the name, apparently. The Somerset had a transverse, front-mounted 2.5 litre 4-cylinder or 3.0 V-6 engine driving the front wheels. The wheelbase was 103 inches (Americans don’t do metric).

In terms we’d understand on this side of the Atlantic, it addressed the market that Volvo does with the C30 or Audi with the A3. Or if you Continue reading “A Facelift Better Than the Car It Was Meant To Save”

One for the Road

The full-sized Buick’s valedictorian act.

Buick Roadmaster. Favcars

We can all recall the time honoured film storyline by rote: ageing sportsman/ criminal/ gunslinger[1], against better judgement, returns to the stump for one last payday. Inevitably, tragedy and (if the plotline allows) redemption ensues; at the very least, important life-lessons are learned. Today’s study cleaves to that most hackneyed of American movie narratives, because the 1991-96 Buick Roadmaster, while part of a long and illustrious line would ultimately Continue reading “One for the Road”

Recipe For Obscure Omelette

How will you have those eggs, mister?

1980 Buick Century Turbo. Image Curbside Classic

To the European autophile, American cars often lose their flavour should (or if) they land on soil at least three thousand miles from home. As a 1980s wet behind the ears teenager, all American cars were big, loud, had screeching tyres and could fly (dependent upon TV show) yet possessed an otherworldly draw for this spotty oik. 

No-one, not even the deep archives that DTW has become can Continue reading “Recipe For Obscure Omelette”

Holding Back the Years

The evolution of the Firebird.

Image: Fireszone.com/ Mecum.com

Time eventually catches up with everyone and everything; the best one can hope for is to age gracefully and this applies to people as much as it does to man-made designs, which with precious few exceptions reflect by their very nature the era in which they were created. As time moves on, there is only so much that can be done to Continue reading “Holding Back the Years”

Maris Otter and Goldings

It probably seemed a good idea after a few ales…

1988 Buick Reatta. Image: Hagerty Insurance Agency

Beer matters. Not the lagers (or pilsners for that matter) that conquered the world once refrigeration was commercially available but that quintessentially British phenomenon, real ale. Now gaining popularity in other parts of the thirst market, the myriad flavours a British pint of beer can offer remains a highly subjective experience. One’s tastebuds can be tingled by initial fruity overtones leading to complex biscuit hints leaving (perhaps) a sharp but far from unpleasant aftertaste. Its composition comprises of but four vital ingredients: malted barley, hops, water and yeast.

One influential variant of barley is the Marris Otter, found in many a pint; English grown for many years, imparting a sweet and flavoursome basis for the beer. Combining with (normally) Kent grown Golding Hops, which imbue earthy, spicy and honey influences may, with a decent brewer at the stills, create a thirst quenching, tasty, moreish drink. So what on Earth has an English pint got to do with a forgotten American two seater? Leave the driving for another day, open a bag of salted nuts and Continue reading “Maris Otter and Goldings”

Under the Knife – That Riviera Touch

Yesterday’s tomorrows – from the studios of Bill Mitchell.

Image: wildaboutcars

Sometimes it is necessary to go wildly overboard before one finds the precise quantum of sufficiency. Somewhat akin to party-going children having run amok; gorging on fizzy pop and cream buns, the American motor industry exited the 1950s with a decidedly queasy sense of untempered excess. A new decade would precipitate a fresh creative approach, and a wholesale shift from the baroque flights of jet-age fancy to a more sober, less mannered visual sensibility.

The 1960s would go on to Continue reading “Under the Knife – That Riviera Touch”

The Doctor Is OUT

Buick’s black stallion.

Buick Grand National. Image: Car and Driver

Buick’s Regal: sweeping lines, restrained aggression, comfortable but hardly sporting – that being Pontiac’s purview. G-body-on frame, engineering that cut no mustard, but was never meant to. That the second generation Regal became a factory backed NASCAR winner, driven in the early 1980s by luminary Darrel Waltrip triggered a tangential change that, if not for a skunkworks plan, may well have fallen at the first hurdle.

When first shown, the car that was to become known as the Grand National, fell foul to top brass reaction. Ed Mertz and Dick Payne were livid at the thought of potentially sullying the Buick ethos. However, chief engineer Dave Sharpe, Mike Doble (Advanced Concepts), marketing boss Darwin Clark and impetus from then divisional manager, Lloyd Reuss, saw an opportunity to Continue reading “The Doctor Is OUT”

The Tri-Shield’s Silken Road

The Buick Origin Story.

Image: GM/ Wieck Media Services

David Dunbar Buick was but two years old when the family emigrated from Arbroath, Scotland for a new life in Detroit, 1856. Upon leaving school he worked for and then later owned a plumbing goods company (The Alexander Manufacturing Company). With an inventive mind, David produced a lawn sprinkler alongside a vitreous enamel coating for cast iron baths. By the 1890’s, the internal combustion engine held more interest than ablutions – the company was sold.

Afforded both time and financial independence, Buick indulged. Incorporating the Buick Auto-Vim & Power Company in 1899, his market was agricultural engines. Very soon the automobile enveloped his life and swiftly draining his finances with just a single car made in 1902 under the new name, Buick Manufacturing Company. Ploughing what little cash he retained into developing an OHV engine, a loan of $5,000 was had from close friend Ben Briscoe in order to make the Buick Motor Company. 

Briscoe had doubts concerning Buick’s acumen; on hearing of a new automobile project in Flint, over a hundred miles from Detroit, he persuaded Buick to Continue reading “The Tri-Shield’s Silken Road”

Role Call

A woman’s place is in the… Design Studio.

Image: The author

Even now, well into the 21st century, the automotive industry and its related fields employ and attract more men than they do women, and the styling studios are no exception. There certainly has been a noticeable influx of women in the design departments over the past few decades: Anne Asensio, Marcy Fisher, Juliane Blasi and Michelle Christensen being a few latterday examples.

Wind back the clock some 90 years however and it was a different environment – and not just within the car industry. It took a determined and strong-willed woman to overcome the prejudice, condescendence, resistance and occasionally, outright hostility she would often confront if she dared enter an arena hitherto considered to be the sole domain of men.

Some of the women presented herein might appear a tad overdressed in period photographs, but it is important to Continue reading “Role Call”

The Doctor Is IN

Doc, I think it’s my heart. 

1996 Buick Park Avenue. Image: music directory

From day one to sometime in the late 20th century, the archetypal Buick customer was formed of doctors, architects – the professional classes. Not for me the first 1990 evocation of this particular model, nor indeed the (admittedly beautiful) 1989 Essence concept. The syringe laced with youthful elixir came with in late 1996 in second-generation form, before handing over to the Lucerne (but not before transforming into something less coherent) in 2005. The Buick Park Avenue (BPA) – a sublime sedan. 

DTW’s own Richard Herriott sang some general praise here whereas today’s critique ploughs distinctly narrower avenues. Bill Porter, the Park Avenue’s designer offers, “a measure of stateliness is conveyed by Park Avenue’s generous proportions.” Its a soft car in stance, looks and Dynaride set up, almost harmless for a metal object weighing in at 1700Kgs. Continue reading “The Doctor Is IN”

En Garde! Part Two

The saga continues and grows ever stranger.

Image: Hotrodmagazine/ Fabwheelsdigest

The lesser-known RK Bodyworks, based in Albany, New York was commissioned by a certain Carl Szembrot to convert this 1952 Studebaker into a LeSabre-lookalike. The top of the three taillights adorning each fin was a blue directional signal, the middle one a red stop light and the bottom one a white reversing light. The bullet nose and trim from the Studebaker were cleverly re-used to Continue reading “En Garde! Part Two”

En Garde! Part One

Taking influence to unprecedented heights.

Image: GM/ Jalopyjournal

Like the Buick Y-job that went before it, the 1951 LeSabre concept car was a GM testbed for both technology and stylistic ideas. The low-slung roadster, bodied in aluminium and magnesium, was the first to have the panoramic windshield that would be a defining feature on virtually all American cars from the mid- to late fifties. Its overall look is best described as jet age on wheels.

LeSabre also used the first application of GM’s 215 cubic inch (3.5 litre) aluminium V8 which would later find its way into a variety of cars, both in the USA and Europe – although in the LeSabre’s case the engine was supercharged and capable of running on both regular fuel and methanol. Harley Earl was known to Continue reading “En Garde! Part One”

Illustrious Duo

The art of Fitz and Van.

Boredom helped me to discover them. In the early seventies, I needed to find a way to keep myself entertained during our monthly weekend visits to my grandmother who lived in a small village in rural Belgium. As there was not much to do for me there and no children of my age to play with, I resorted to wandering around the house; that is where I at some point discovered stacks of old magazines in an old wardrobe closet. Among them were old TV guides and home decoration magazines but also issues of Readers Digest, LIFE and National Geographic.

Cars – and drawing them in particular – were my main point of interest and the plentiful car advertisements in those old magazines in my grandmother’s house provided an excellent source of inspiration. The ones that made the biggest impression on me were those of Pontiac in the magazines of American origin, and the Opel advertisements in the other more recent publications.

Those cars looked so fantastic – how on earth did they Continue reading “Illustrious Duo”

Hero or Villain? (Part One)

We remember the life and career of one of the most polarising and controversial people ever to have worked in the automotive Industry, John Zachary DeLorean.

John Z DeLorean and his creation (c) Forbes Magazine

John DeLorean was born in Detroit, Michigan on 6th January 1925 to Zachary and Kathryn (née Pribak) DeLorean. Zachary was Romanian, born in the village of Sugág, which was in a region controlled by the Austro-Hungarian Empire, but is now part of modern-day Romania. He worked in a mill before emigrating to the United States at the age of twenty. After spells in Indiana and Montana, he moved to Detroit and joined the Ford Motor Company as a millwright.

It was in Detroit that he met his future wife. Kathryn was Hungarian and worked for Carboloy Products, a division of General Electric. Neither Zachary nor Kathryn had much formal education and took other casual work as they found it to support their family of four sons, of whom John was the eldest.

They lived in a tough, working-class district of Detroit, but managed to Continue reading “Hero or Villain? (Part One)”

Breaking Bad

The Pontiac Aztek… explain.

(c) autoevolution

If there is one car in the past two decades that has, above all others, defied rational explanation, it is surely the Pontiac Aztek. Launched in 2000, this vehicle, which can be described retrospectively as a mid-sized crossover, was met with gasps of amazement and incredulity by potential buyers, rival automakers and pretty much everybody else not directly involved in its development.

There was nothing much wrong with the concept of a crossover and, in some ways, the Aztek was ahead of its time, but why General Motors decided to Continue reading “Breaking Bad”

Getting Personal

Analysing three different takes on the personal luxury car of 1963.

All images: The author.

The personal luxury car is a uniquely American phenomenon; its closest cousin in concept would have been the European GT, but this transatlantic specimen was a larger, softer (but on a straight piece of road not necessarily slower) breed. There is a fairly general consensus that Ford was the first to Continue reading “Getting Personal”

(Not So) Background Distractions

Andrew Miles is watching the detectives. 

(c) Imcdb.org

Watching television was once a simple act. As youngsters, the choice was scant, yet memory suggests programs containing both interest and drama. With modern day 24 hour, on-demand supply, choices of what and when to be entertained with often raise anomalies when one is forced to observe a production that might not be one’s first choice.

Attempting to Continue reading “(Not So) Background Distractions”

The Italian Swallow

Andrew Miles recalls an Italian-American design highlight from the creative heyday of the Latin carrozzeiri.

All images (c) Carstyling.ru

The late and prolific Tom Tjaarda left behind an amazing legacy of work; take at look at Richard Herriott’s obituary to him from June 2017, but for me there is one unusual, yet standout design I knew nothing about. That is until Matteo Licatta and his Roadster-Life website introduced a conceptual one-off from the hand of Michigan born, but Italian based sculptor, the Rondine.

Pronounce it Ron-deen -ay and to these eyes, this car is as pretty as a peach, as distinctive as any Ferrari whilst offering a symphony of speed that only the Hirundinidae can deliver. For the Rondine is underneath a Chevrolet Corvette C2. And here’s an unusual twist; General Motors’ Bill Mitchell commissioning Pininfarina to give the bodywork a good scrub up and tailor a new suit which made its Paris Motor Show debut in 1963.

As if the Corvette requires any form of introduction, but the Rondine, with that sharp suit of fibreglass adds a divine lightness to the form. Whereas the Corvette might Continue reading “The Italian Swallow”

If the Hue Fits

A retrospective glance at Cadillac’s glory days.

All images – courtesy of the author.

Long-standing Driven to Write readers will undoubtedly be aware that the site once hosted a monthly theme. Amongst them, the DTW Brochures section has lain dormant for quite some time, so in an attempt to Continue reading “If the Hue Fits”

Subcompact and Substandard (Part One)

Fifty years ago, Ford and General Motors introduced their first subcompact models to challenge the rising tide of Japanese and European imports. One was underdeveloped and riddled with faults. The other would become an infamous cause célèbre for US safety campaigners.

(c) wheelsage

In the late 1960’s US auto makers were becoming concerned about the growing popularity of small Japanese and European imports. These tended to be basic and unsophisticated, but were also cheap, economical and reliable, particularly when compared to the alternative of a second-hand domestic model. Ford and GM needed to fight back, so set to work developing what would become known as subcompacts.

The Ford Pinto and Chevrolet Vega were launched within a day of each other in September 1970. Conceptually, they were identical: conventionally engineered front-engined RWD cars that would be available in saloon, hatchback and estate versions. The Vega was slightly larger, with a 3” (75mm) longer wheelbase, although rear seat space in both was occasional at best for adult passengers.

The development of the Vega was highly unusual in that it was controlled, not by Chevrolet, but by an independent team of fifty engineers led by Lloyd Reuss, who reported directly to GM President, Ed Cole. Reuss would himself go on to Continue reading “Subcompact and Substandard (Part One)”

Brisk Business in the Bakery

On the quiet streets of Skive I found this alien space ship, gently landed from the end of the 1960s.

Pointy

Pedestrian safety and low-speed crash regulations did away with this kind of design. Subsequently, General Motors’ own mismanagement and a radical shift in the car market gradually killed the brand attached to the car. If we want to Continue reading “Brisk Business in the Bakery”

Irreconcilable Differences (Part Two)

Like so many ill-considered marriages, GM’s entanglement with Saab was destined to end badly.  We conclude the story of this unhappy union.

(c) autoevolution

Having taken full ownership of Saab Automobile AB in 2000, GM was free to continue its planned transformation of the company into a premium competitor to Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz. The existing 9-3 was looking dated, appearing little different to the New Generation 900 launched in 1994, and its five-door format was out of step with its intended competitors, the A4, 3 Series and C-Class.

A new 9-3 was developed in parallel with the Opel Vectra C, based on the new GM Epsilon platform. Both cars were launched at the Geneva Motor Show in March 2002. The 9-3 adopted a four-door Sport Saloon format. A convertible followed in 2004 but the arguably more important SportWagon estate didn’t Continue reading “Irreconcilable Differences (Part Two)”

Irreconcilable Differences (Part One)

Like so many ill-considered marriages, GM’s entanglement with Saab was destined to end badly. We look back over this unhappy union.

(c) petrolicious

Throughout the late 1980’s and 1990’s, GM looked on enviously as its arch-rival Ford carefully and methodically assembled the pieces of what would become its Premier Automotive Group* (PAG), a stable of European premium, sports and luxury car marques to which it would add its own Lincoln and Mercury brands.

Ford began by acquiring an interest in Aston Martin in 1987, then assuming full control in 1991. It purchased Jaguar in 1989, followed by Volvo’s car business a decade later. In 2000, Ford acquired Land-Rover from the wreckage of BMW’s failed ownership of Rover Group, which it folded into the newly formed PAG.

The latter acquisition was particularly painful for GM because, in March 1986, it had agreed the purchase of Land-Rover, then part of the nationalised British Leyland, from the UK government before a public outcry and political pressure forced Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to Continue reading “Irreconcilable Differences (Part One)”

The Fate of Empires and Search For Survival (Part Five)

Daniel O’Callaghan’s digest of Bob Lutz’s 2011 book, ‘Car Guys vs Bean Counters’. In this concluding part, GM hits the buffers and goes cap in hand to the US Government.

(c) leblogauto

At the start of 2008, the outlook appeared quite promising for GM. Its more recent models had been well received and the company had won North American Car of the Year for 2007 and 2008 with the Saturn Aura and Chevrolet Malibu. The company had agreed with the UAW a new wage deal and a plan to move the worker healthcare liabilities off the GM balance sheet and into a new fund that GM would set up, but would Continue reading “The Fate of Empires and Search For Survival (Part Five)”

The Fate of Empires and Search For Survival (Part Four)

Daniel O’Callaghan continues his digest of Bob Lutz’s 2011 book, ‘Car Guys vs Bean Counters’, examining GM’s latterday approach to alternative propulsion.

1996 GM EV1. Image: oldcarbrochures

GM’s expansion to become a global company had largely been built on acquisitions: Opel and Vauxhall in Europe, Holden in Australia and Daewoo’s automotive business in South Korea. These companies continued to operate with a high degree of autonomy in product design and engineering. It was argued that this enabled the companies to Continue reading “The Fate of Empires and Search For Survival (Part Four)”

The Fate of Empires and Search For Survival (Part Three)

Daniel O’Callaghan continues his digest of Bob Lutz’s 2011 book, ‘Car Guys vs Bean Counters’, charting the decline of GM and Lutz’s decade-long struggle to rescue it.

2000 Chevrolet Malibu. (c) Edmunds

Even before officially starting work at GM on 1st September 2001, Lutz had the opportunity to preview GM’s forthcoming models. He attended the company’s August board meeting and met Wayne Cherry, GM’s Vice-President of Design, at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance event the same month. Cherry shared with him photos of models in different stages of development and Lutz was horrified by what he saw. 

Amazingly, Cherry admitted to feeling the same and explained that, despite his nominal position, he was subordinate to the Vehicle Line Executives (VLEs), who oversaw every aspect of each new model’s development. Their explicit priority was to Continue reading “The Fate of Empires and Search For Survival (Part Three)”

The Fate of Empires and Search For Survival (Part One)

An industry insider’s account of the decline of General Motors and his struggle to revive its fortunes.

(c) iveho.com

In the last quarter of the 20th Century, General Motors went from being one of the most highly respected and successful US corporations to the butt of stand-up comedians’ jokes. In his 2011 book, Car Guys vs Bean Counters, Robert A (Bob) Lutz charts the decline of the once great company and describes his decade-long struggle to rescue it. What follows is a digest of that book, supplemented with additional information where appropriate.

Bob Lutz would, I’m sure, proudly describe himself as a Car Guy to his core. In this, his second book, Lutz describes his efforts to Continue reading “The Fate of Empires and Search For Survival (Part One)”

Satellite’s gone – Holden 1948-2020

The announcement of Holden’s retirement on February 17 should have come as no surprise, but the finality and totality of General Motors’ exit from Australia and New Zealand has made worldwide headlines.

Image: ANCAP

As of January 1 2021 GM will withdraw from the Australian and New Zealand markets, even as an importer. They will meet their statutory obligations on service and parts supports and recalls.

For more details, the official announcement can be found here: https://www.holden.com.au/announcement

It’s a rapid decline to oblivion, given that car production only ended at Elizabeth, South Australia in October 2017. However, the sales numbers tell it all; tenth place in the sales charts, 43,176 vehicles sold in Australia in 2019, a fall of 28.9% over the previous year.

Adding in the 11,245 New Zealand registrations, total 2019 sales come to 0.93 White Hens, to Continue reading “Satellite’s gone – Holden 1948-2020”

The Idea of North

An Italo-American curiosity receives a broad DTW brushstroke.

Ghia’s Thor concept, gets the late ’60s split screen treatment. (c) Coachbuild.com

Some cars emerge into the world fully formed, and regardless of where one lands upon their aesthetic merits, defy the facelifter’s scalpel, or indeed much in the way of subsequent enhancement. In stating this, I must add, I am not suggesting these cars were never the subject of facelifting exercises, more that perhaps they really ought not to have been.

Of the cars in question (and you can Continue reading “The Idea of North”

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)”

Unsightly Shutline Syndrome

Today, we’re pleased to introduce DTW reader, Bruno Vijverman, who poses a question which has been bothering him of late. 

Image: Author’s collection

Bill Mitchell considered the 1965 GM cars to be his best work. And he may very well have been correct: The already beautiful Buick Riviera’s styling was cleaned up with the hidden headlights it was always supposed to have, the Chevrolet Corvair was restyled in a faintly Italianate fashion, while the regular Chevrolets had a more dynamic and flowing look if compared to the somewhat boxy 1964 models.

The same could be said of the other full-size offerings from Oldsmobile, Buick and especially Pontiac. The GM flagship Cadillac was of course also fully restyled for 1965, and is generally regarded as a handsome, and in view of the era and fashion, relatively uncluttered and cleanly styled car.

I also like the 1965 Cadillac. Apart from one thing: the weird trajectory of the shutline between the front and the rear door on the four-door models. Since this caught my eye I cannot Continue reading “Unsightly Shutline Syndrome”

Beans Under Toast

We seem to be having an unplanned American car theme at present. Today we take a closer look at an example of the third generation Chevrolet Camaro, in rare convertible guise.

Chevrolet Camaro, third generation (1982-1992) in convertible form (1987)

I saw this one in what I consider to be its natural habitat, a vast suburban car park, surrounded by big box retail units and convenience food outlets. It fits right in, I think. And in so doing corresponds to my prejudices about a certain type of American-market American car.

You can’t accuse the Camaro of being over-styled or chrome-laden. This one has no brightwork and the surface treatment is extremely straightforward. If you Continue reading “Beans Under Toast”

Caddy Lack

Cadillac is in the midst of yet another revival. For real, this time. Honestly.

This definitely isn’t your daddy’s Cadillac. But what is it then? Photo (c) Jalopnik

Cadillac may never have been a noteworthy brand to Europeans on the basis of sales figures on the old continent. But that hasn’t prevented the erstwhile Standard Of The World from gaining fame (and some notoriety) on this side of the Atlantic, on the simple basis that Cadillac is one of the most storied, evocative brands of all time, anywhere. Continue reading “Caddy Lack”

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”

Denied: Cadillac Elmiraj (2013)

Somewhat lost amid Cadillac’s varied (and ongoing) revival efforts, this superb concept car proved that there’s still mileage in some traditional concepts and values. 

CadillacElmirajConceptReveal02.jpg
Sheer look: Cadillac Elmiraj coupé, photo (c) Top Speed

There’s no better symbol for the American car industry’s post-oil crisis’ struggles to change and evolve than Cadillac.

For the past four decades at least, the former Standard Of The World has found it difficult to come to terms with changing demographics, markets and tastes. For too long, an increasingly outdated concept of luxury was upheld, before numerous attempts at bringing Cadillac up to date have largely failed for one reason or another. Only the ongoing success of the gargantuan Escalade SUV has prevented the marque from falling into utter oblivion. Continue reading “Denied: Cadillac Elmiraj (2013)”

The Majestic Emotions Of A Withered Soul

Design, among many things, is about attempting to control how a product will be seen by the user. Control has limits.

1991 Lincoln Continental: (c) Zombdrive

The other day I had the opportunity to see a 1998-1994 Lincoln Continental roaming around the city. Unfortunately for Driven to Write’s readers I could not take a photo in time, so a stock photo will have to suffice. Until that point I had not seen one of these in motion. My impression of the car differed markedly from that based on photos like the image above.

The experience led me to Continue reading “The Majestic Emotions Of A Withered Soul”

Adding Dimensions (II)

When it came to translation a car design sketch into a tangible object, craftsmanship and even cultural background used to be of the utmost importance. 

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Photo (c) Pinterest

As described earlier on, the technique and style any car designer chooses to depict his ideas is highly informative. 

Back in the golden era of the Italian carrozzieri, however, this did not matter as much, as most of the legendary Italian car designers didn’t much care for impressive illustrations. Viewing the sketches of the likes of Leonardo Fioravanti, Marcello Gandini or Aldo Brovarone from today’s perspective, their artistic qualities appear rather naïve, to put it mildly. Continue reading “Adding Dimensions (II)”

Is There A Way Forward Through The Frozen Glass?

October the 6th 2018 seems like such a long time ago, doesn’t it?  On that day I posted a small item about the end of the line for ICE engines.

Perfect lead-in curvature

Today automotive News posted an item headlined “VW says next generation of cars with combustion engines will be the last”. The next sentence is “Volkswagen Group expects the era of the combustion car to fade away after it rolls out its next-generation gasoline and diesel cars beginning in 2026.” Hey sister, that’s 8 years away. Bloomberg has much the same story, by the way.

In my October 6th article I wrote “A car launched in 2018 might be replaced in 2025 leaving a short product cycle to recoup investments. That makes the period around now the last point at which it will be worth bothering to engineer for ICE engines.” I did not expect that. It means that VW will Continue reading “Is There A Way Forward Through The Frozen Glass?”

The Man Who Listened Quite Carefully To Things

The standard of the world. That’s what they called Cadillac. Details like this ashtray console in the rear passenger door would be the kind of thing supporting the idea of Cadillac’s general excellence…

ashtray closed

You could land a helicopter on that surface. It has its own cigar lighter and is also home to the electric window control. Apart from that it’s made out of metal too: some pieces are cast and some are stamped. The effect is to make one wish to Continue reading “The Man Who Listened Quite Carefully To Things”

Bang! Bang! Click.

The following is a counterfactual version of a news-story published recently at Automotive News. Chery plans to tackle the European market, they say. They are moving in as General Motors abandoned the market entirely as it was all simply too much trouble for them.

2018 Buick Regal saloon: GM N America

To understand the weirdness of GM’s decision, try reading the ANE story with “GM” in place of Chery. Here is how it now reads:

“Detroit, MI – American automaker General Motors (GM) has selected Germany to be the base of its coming move into Europe. GM says it is America’s largest car exporter. The company is determined to Continue reading “Bang! Bang! Click.”

We Will Certainly Be At Your Wedding, Brian

A single black and white photo of a 1982-1992 F-body Chevrolet Camaro or Pontiac Firebird, seen in my district. But what does it portend?

I could bemoan the proportions. That´s pointless. Maybe a potted model history? No, thanks. The photo could lead us down a rabbit hole regarding General Motors’ body nomenclature. Considering the depth, breadth and sheer squiggliness of that byzantine horror, I am not sure if I can force myself to Continue reading “We Will Certainly Be At Your Wedding, Brian”

By the calm Kłodnica, a Waterfall Runs Dry

Image source: Vauxhall Press Room

We take a moment to reflect on the short career of the Opel Cascada, a glamorous under-achiever, conceived in the most parlous of times for its maker.

Its names were once legion, but the Cascada is no more. Production ended at Gliwice not long into 2018, but Vauxhall and Opel Ireland have only gone public on the matter in the last week. All over Europe, Opel’s national sales operations are Continue reading “By the calm Kłodnica, a Waterfall Runs Dry”