Savannah Postcard (5)

We are looking an E-body car, a twelfth generation Cadillac Eldorado.

With the benefit of hindsight and also seen at the time, the transformation of the 1986 Eldorado into the 1991 really must have been a socker. For almost twenty years the Eldorado sported a formal, near-vertical rear window. Then in 1991 Cadillac asked its customers to Continue reading “Savannah Postcard (5)”

Atomic Element 13

Placed Under Duress – an X1/9 like no other.

The Superlight now resides at the Volandia Museum near to Milan’s airport. Images found onXwebforums.com
The Superlight now resides at the Volandia Museum, near Milan’s airport. Image: Xwebforums.com

Cars are expensive for a reason. When shelling out the hard-earned one expects the thing to function, which calls for a punishing test regime to iron out defects. Nothing new there but almost forty years ago, plans were afoot to structurally place aluminium in a car almost at the end of its production life – introducing the Bertone built X1/9.

Wishing to demonstrate proof of concept, Canadian company Alcan[1] turned to Bertone to produce five replica models in what would appear to be a drive towards using the ever-abundant silvery grey material. However, your author could not Continue reading “Atomic Element 13”

Elemental Spirit Part 6: I Will Not Go Quietly

Emboldening the Spridget has become an industry.

British soul, Italian heart. Image: britishcarforum.com

The most prolific period for Spridget engine transplants was the 1970s. By then there was a good supply of second-hand Midgets and Sprites cheap enough for experimentation, and a far broader range of suitable engines. Fiat twin-cams were a popular choice, available cheaply from rotten or written-off 124s and 125s, and often with the added attraction of a five speed gearbox. In the USA and Australia, some Japanese engines found favour, including the twin rotor Mazda 12A. In Britain, the Ford Kent variants were the default choice, plentiful and easily fitted, with far more power than could be cheaply and reliably extracted from an A-series.

Creating these hybrids was not a task to be taken lightly, requiring mechanical knowledge, a variety of skills, a well-equipped workshop, and often an iron will and determination. Continue reading “Elemental Spirit Part 6: I Will Not Go Quietly”

Hercules’ Celestial Steed

A new star over Japan. 

Image: the author

Founded by Yataro Iwasaki in 1870, what was then named Mitsubishi Shokai would eventually grow into one of the largest and most diverse companies in Asia. Shipbuilding was the company’s initial field of business but, as time went by, diversification took place into activities such as mining of coal and precious metals, insurance, banking, aircraft production, real estate and, of course, automobiles.

The name Mitsubishi is made up of two words: ‘Mitsu’ meaning three in Japanese, and ‘Hishi’ which is a species of water chestnut. When these two words are combined, the ‘h’ of hishi is pronounced in Japanese as a ‘b’, hence Mitsubishi. The logo of the company was chosen by Yataro Iwasaki himself and combined the triple crest of the coat of arms belonging to the Tosa clan, Iwasaki’s ruler and employer before the Meiji restoration(1), and the Iwasaki family sign, which was three stacked diamond shapes. Continue reading “Hercules’ Celestial Steed”

Morte a Venezia

The Flavia’s final act. 

Image via tumblr

Described by the UK’s Guardian newspaper as “a slow, precise and beautiful film”, Italian filmmaker, Luchino Visconti’s 1971 adaptation of Thomas Mann’s 1912 novella, starring Dirk Bogarde and set in a ravishingly filmed Venice was a sombre meditation on art, beauty, creative attainment, age and desire. Critically acclaimed, Death in Venice would come to be viewed as an arthouse cinematic masterpiece.

Slow, precise and beautiful were adjectives that could at various times have been attributed to Lancia’s 1960s mid-range offerings – although the latter two were undoubtedly the more apt descriptors, especially once the power to weight aspect of the Flavia’s performance envelope was addressed towards the latter part of the decade. In its post-1967 Milleotto evolution, the Lancia berlina offered a refined, modernist, yet utterly Italian dissertation on elegance in motion, its seemingly unprepossessing style masking a highly considered technical and aesthetic package. Continue reading “Morte a Venezia”

Der Fünfer (Part One)

Half a century ago, BMW quietly launched its first 5 Series. The automotive world did not realise what a seminal car it would become.

Image: schlegelmilch.com

The trio of German so-called ‘premium’ automakers like to represent themselves as operating at the cutting edge of automotive engineering, technology and design. Hence, instead of using whimsical or ephemeral names for their cars, they instead identify them with scientific precision, using alphabetic and/or numerical model designations that are entirely logical in their construction and impossible to confuse(1).

In earlier times, the business of model nomenclature was much more straightforward. Smaller cars had smaller engines and vise-versa, so the engine capacity alone was often enough to distinguish between different models. When BMW introduced its ‘Neue Klasse’ mid-sized saloon in 1962, it was simply called the 1500. Larger-engined versions followed and these were duly called 1600, 1800 and 2000. However, when BMW introduced a range of smaller saloons using the same engines, they had to Continue reading “Der Fünfer (Part One)”

Savannah Postcard (4)

On my first morning, a Sunday, I crept out of my lodgings and strolled around the grid-system streets of old Savannah.

1995-2000 Mercury Mystique in Savannah, Georgia.

This postcard concerns what resembles an alternate-reality Ford Mondeo, the Mercury Mystique which Ford USA sold from 1995 to 2000. Why did it exist? It looks perhaps like a rejected Mondeo proposal. What it is, is evidence of increasing rationalisation of the global Ford product range. The Mondeo upon which Ford based the Mercury Mystique was intended to drag Ford’s mid-sized offering into the front-drive world where its main enemy, the GM Cavalier/Ascona, had been thriving for some time. Continue reading “Savannah Postcard (4)”

Elemental Spirit Part 5: Building the Perfect Beast

Drivin’ with your eyes closed. 

Image: spriteparts.com.au

From the moment the Austin-Healey Sprite met the world in Monte Carlo in May 1958, there was a widespread and urgent demand for much more power than the 42.5 bhp at 5000rpm delivered by its Healey-fettled 948cc A-series engine. Professional and amateur racing drivers, and road car owners who just wanted to Continue reading “Elemental Spirit Part 5: Building the Perfect Beast”

Swede Dreams are Made of These

A tale of some lesser-known Saabs.

Image: the author

Some will be of the opinion that ‘SAAB oddity’ is something of an oxymoron, in particular when it concerns the Swedish company prior to its acquisition (and homogenization) by General Motors. That may be so, but over the course of its existence, the Swedish marque produced and, in some cases, inspired its fair share of projects that were noteworthy and unusual, even by the company’s own sometimes eccentric standards. Today we will Continue reading “Swede Dreams are Made of These”

Missing the Marque: Renault Safrane

Renault replaces French style with Euro-blandness, with wholly predictable results.

Going incognito. Safrane Biturbo. Image: razaoautomovel.com

The 1965 Renault 16 was highly unusual for a large European car. Firstly, it was a hatchback when all of its contemporaries were three-box saloons. Secondly, it was front-wheel-drive when large saloons were mainly driven by their rear wheels. Thirdly, its styling was highly distinctive and didn’t observe any of the norms expected in such models. Ask me to Continue reading “Missing the Marque: Renault Safrane”

Savannah Postcard (3)

Truly one of the great and lovely names in the back catalogues of car history: Electra.

1985-1990 Buick Electra in Savannah, Georgia

General Motors has produced some very charming cars and they have also been incredibly bad custodians of their brand equity. Here is an example of a great name on a good car, relics of an abandoned market and an abandoned badge. More than 30 years after it ceased production, the Electra name still casts bright-blue light, and it made my afternoon when I saw this one while I was about to Continue reading “Savannah Postcard (3)”

Who Shall Go to the Ball and What Shall Go to the Ball?

The Prius is reborn. But does it matter?

Image: (c) global.toyota

Twenty-five years after the nameplate made its debut, “just in time for the 21st Century”, and six years since the introduction of its astonishing looking predecessor, Toyota have revealed a new generation of their hybrid trailblazer. Billed as the “Hybrid Reborn” by its maker, the 2023 Toyota Prius is set to Continue reading “Who Shall Go to the Ball and What Shall Go to the Ball?”

The Gest of Robin Hood

Prince of… supercars?

Horacio Pagani and his namesakes. Image: carthrottle.com

Gest (a hard G) is an old English word meaning acts, or deeds. While it’s unequivocal that Robin Hood lived in the fourteenth century – but a stone’s throw from my own abode – his character will forever be open to speculation. Was he a thief who gave his plunder to the poor (à la Hollywood), a vagabond cast out to live life alone in the forest, or a plain woodsman who like many Englishmen from that time was skilled with bow and arrow?

My personal thoughts are that Robin Hood was indeed skilled in the art of thievery, along with a flashing blade and the gentle twang of a bowstring[1], to fell boar or errant henchman. But a benevolent thief; head honcho with an understanding side, engendering a brotherly, welcoming mien, to Continue reading “The Gest of Robin Hood”

Welcome to the Machine – Part Seven

More than one way to behead a cat.

The XJ-S at its Geneva 1988 debut. Image: Car Magazine

Following the carmaker’s remarkable return from near-death only three years previously, America’s movers and shakers were once again buying Jaguars in number. “The word has got out on the cocktail circuit that the Jaguar is the car to have”, as Jaguar Inc Press Officer, Mike Cook told journalists in 1983. But the lack of an open-topped XJ-S model would soon become a genuine impediment to sales growth. From this point onwards, US requests for a convertible would become increasingly strident.

The Jaguar board realised that the expediently engineered XJ-S Cabriolet could only buy them a certain amount of time, but meanwhile something needed to be done to mollify potential US customers, for whom nothing but a full convertible would suffice and who would otherwise simply Continue reading “Welcome to the Machine – Part Seven”

Talk to the Hand

He who dares, not always wins.

Image: Pininfarina SpA

The revered Italian styling house of Pininfarina has designed, and in some cases also built, cars for a multitude of manufacturers spanning the globe. As far as French triumvirate of mass-market automakers is concerned, the decades long collaboration with Peugeot is, of course, well known. With Renault, however, the only styling work commissioned has been for the Argentinian IKA-Renault Torino and, with what could be argued is the most distinctively French of the trio – Citroën – the counter stands at zero.

A little over two decades ago, Pininfarina did, metaphorically speaking, ask for the hand of PSA’s ‘other daughter’ by presenting the Osée research prototype at the Geneva Motor Show in 2001. This was the first and so far only Citroën conceived and clothed by the Italian styling house. The word Osée is French for daring and, even ignoring its rather radical appearance, the moniker was certainly apt as the Osée was a mid-engined rear-wheel-drive sportscar, a specification unheard of for a Citroën. Continue reading “Talk to the Hand”

Fortune Doesn’t Always Favour the Brave

Innovative designs, and better built than one expected from Fiat.

Image: honestjohn.co.uk

Prior to the inexorable rise of the crossover, the C-segment hatchback was the bedrock of the European automotive market. Every mainstream automaker knew the vital importance of success in this class, the champion of which was the VW Golf. The Volkswagen Group prospered on the enduring success of this car, while other manufacturers strived to match its qualities and capture its appeal in their own offerings. Some slavishly tried to build near-replicas(1) of the German car, an effort lampooned by Volkswagen in its witty and memorable 2009 ‘Just Like a Golf’ television advertisement(2).

The success of the Golf was, however, something of a double-edged sword for its maker. So concerned was Volkswagen not to inadvertently kill the golden goose that it allowed the Golf to Continue reading “Fortune Doesn’t Always Favour the Brave”

Savannah Postcard (2)

The Century nameplate adhered to Buick’s mid-size cars from 1973 to 2005. In this postcard we look at the last two iterations.

Buick is a brand I think of as approximating to a combination of Rover, Lancia and Volvo but with a distinct veneer of the Ghia-character of European Fords. I hope that evokes the idea of the middle-market with comfort-orientated accoutrements. If we Continue reading “Savannah Postcard (2)”

SMS

Salmson – a brief history. 

Image: Bellina Classic Motors

Famous of course for being the spiritual home of Renault, but before Louis built his factory in Billancourt, an altogether different engineer set up shop here leading to some perhaps unexpected diversions. As with so many Victorian-era small time engineers, Émile Salmson (1858-1917) ran a workshop where he produced steam powered pumps for railway and military applications. Attracting the likeminded Georges Canton and Georg Unné, the company changed name to Émile Salmson & Cie, manufacturing pumps, magnetos and engines.

Further plans would include producing radial aero engines. Investment and excellent results found ES & C at the forefront of French aircraft engine production as the Great War began. At full capacity in Billancourt, some aero engine production migrated to Villeurbanne, near Lyon. This too would include an unsuccessful helicopter.

With hostilities over, priorities altered. Demand for aero engines fell, so typewriters and woodworking lathes would become the company’s mainstay, but the burgeoning private car business was seen as the way forward. Management realised the fastest route to Continue reading “SMS”

Welcome to the Machine – Part Six

Giving the XJ-S a brake.

Lynx Eventer. Image: Autoevolution

Nobody ever purchased a grand turismo motor car for its load-carrying capabilities, there being vehicles better suited to such tasks. But for a select few, such binary propositions exist only as orthodoxies to be upturned. It requires a certain mentality to envisage the recasting of something as indulgent as a 2+2 GT into an estate car. But in order to fill a vacuum, one must first Continue reading “Welcome to the Machine – Part Six”

E1 before i3

Two decades before BMW launched its first production EV, there was the E1 Concept.

Image: cartype.com

Energy Density and Specific Energy are the twin holy grails for any automaker wishing to bring a viable electric vehicle to market. These two units of measurement are often confused, even by people who really should know better(1). In simple terms, energy density is the amount of energy that can be stored in a given volume, whereas specific energy is the amount of energy that can be stored in a given mass. The S.I. unit for the former is joules per cubic metre and for the latter is joules per kilogramme. In the context of electric vehicles, the energy component is more usefully measured in kilowatt-hours, since the joule is a very small unit of energy(2).

Petrol has a specific energy(3) of around 12.5kWh/kg. Diesel is slightly lower at around 11.5kWh/kg. These numbers might appear meaningless in isolation, but compare them with the specific energy of a traditional lead-acid battery, which is a tiny 0.04kWh/kg and you can Continue reading “E1 before i3”

Birthday Present, Birthday Past

“The Magnification of Inspired Performance

Infiniti Essence. Image: automobilesreview.com

The Japanese luxury carmaker had something it wanted to make clear in its 2009 Geneva press release: “What Essence is not is merely an indulgent birthday present from Infiniti to itself“, it asserted, immediately planting the germ of doubt into those of a more cynically minded bent.

2009 marked Geneva’s 79th motor show. Infiniti was present that year, celebrating twenty years since its inception. To mark this auspicious milestone, they displayed Essence, a petrol/electric/hybrid concept GT coupé. Essence’s mission it appears was twofold. To showcase a new design ethos, forecasting a range of more exciting vehicles to wear the Infiniti badge, but also to generate excitement around the brand as it made a late entry into the European market.

Nissan’s upmarket sub-brand needed to make up for lost ground. Having made its US debut in 1989, it arrived concurrent with, yet somewhat on the tail of Toyota’s more impactful Lexus nameplate. Over the intervening two decades, while its Toyota City rival became an accepted member of the ‘prestige’ firmament, Infiniti, owing in part to Nissan’s US-centric focus, not to mention a somewhat half-baked commitment to product development, remained something of an also-ran.

Nissan, never as strong or well-resourced as Toyota, probably bit off more than it ought by attempting to go head-to-head with Lexus. By 2009, not only had it the carmaker been forced to Continue reading “Birthday Present, Birthday Past”

1974 Volvo 244: Review

“No mashed Swedes!” Archie Vicar on the Volvo 244 saloon.

Image: autoevolution

Auto Motorist, September 1974, pages 23-29. Photos by Ian Cambridgeshire. Owing to unexplained fermentation affecting processing of the original images, stock photography has been used. [Editor’s note: This transcript was first uploaded to DTW on 2 November 2013.]

The Swedish like eating tinned rotten fish. It’s an acquired taste, I am told by those with experience in such things. One is advised to open the tin can under water so as to contain the noxious aromas that would otherwise emanate. And one is also advised to drink plenty of schnapps to kill the taste. That’s really the only part of the whole palaver I can really see my way to agreeing with. I mention all of this by way of an introduction to Sweden’s other acquired taste, their Volvos.

And they have a new one on the way, the 244. It’s in the spirit of fellowship between our two great nations that I Continue reading “1974 Volvo 244: Review”

Livonia, There’s Something About You

Four feral felines from Buick. 

1953 Buick Wildcat I. Image: oldconceptcars

Buick have form when it comes to concept vehicles, especially since a certain Harley Earl began such pioneering strides with 1938’s seminal Y-Job, which helped to define the Tri-shield’s design credentials. In 1949, GM’s Autorama car show was held at the Astoria Hotel in New York to promote new concept designs to a public desperate to Continue reading “Livonia, There’s Something About You”

Show and Tell (Part Seven)

Concluding our recollection of a phenomenon now in danger of extinction: the traditional motor show.

Image: the author

Detroit 2000

Chrysler’s PT Cruiser was styled by Brian Nesbitt(1) with the assistance of Gilbert Clotaire Rapaille, a French medical anthropologist, which may well have been an automotive industry first. The reason for employing the services of Rapaille was to Continue reading “Show and Tell (Part Seven)”

Grand Horizons

A further lesson in design from Hyundai.

Image: (c) Hyundai.com

It has been stated with considerably greater authority[1] than mine that the current automotive design centre of gravity no longer resides in Europe, the US, nor indeed (as yet at least), China. Car design’s True North now points inexorably towards South Korea. Several factors have contributed to this enviable state of affairs, not least an influx of senior European design talent to the Hyundai group over recent decades, but the end results are entirely their own and can now Continue reading “Grand Horizons”

Elemental Spirit Part 4: The Sisyphus Game

The Spridget turned out to be a difficult product to replace. We look at a diverse selection of proposals developed through the 1960s.

Image: MG Cheshire Owners Club

Far from perfect, and never very advanced in its design or engineering, replacing the Spridget became one of several long-running displacement activities within BMC and pre-Edwardes BLMC, although in a far lower league than The New Mini, and ‘The Little Engine That Could’ (replace the A Series). All turned out to be as pointless and unproductive as parlour games, with the participants’ abundant creativity never rewarded with a tangible prize.

When Leonard Lord and Donald Healey first imagined the low-budget car which would become the Austin-Healey Sprite, they probably envisaged a production life of possibly 3-4 years before technology and fashion left it behind. Within MG a ‘New Midget based on Sputnik FWD’, was registered in the experimental department register as EX 220, four months before Sputnik (better known as the ADO15 Mini) went on sale in August 1959. The project was given a proper Longbridge code, ADO34, despite the strong disproval of Alec Issigonis[a], and progressed for some time with competing design teams from Abingdon and Longbridge. Continue reading “Elemental Spirit Part 4: The Sisyphus Game”

Swedish Iron (Part Three)

Concluding the story of Volvo’s long-running and successful 100/200 series.

Image: media.volvocars.com

After eight years and 1.25 million sales, the Volvo 100 series was heavily re-engineered and restyled to produce its successor. The budget for the research, development and updated production facilities for the new model was a relatively modest £60 million. The 200 series was launched in the autumn of 1974.

It retained the body of the 100 series from the A-pillar rearwards but was given a completely new front-end, inspired by the 1972 Volvo Experimental Safety Car. This was designed to improve passenger safety in a frontal collision and added a substantial 172mm (6¾”) to the overall length(1), which was now 4,823mm (189¾”) for the saloon and 4,844 mm (190¾”) for the estate. Unfortunately, the ‘shovel-nosed’ new front-end, again designed by Jan Wilsgaard, looked rather ungainly, and it unbalanced the proportions of the saloon(2) somewhat. Continue reading “Swedish Iron (Part Three)”

The Circus is Leaving Town

Farewell Fiesta.

Image: ar.motor1.com

When Ford began work on what would become the Bobcat programme in 1969, the small car market had not wholly coalesced around a single format. Even amid the developed nations of Europe, there was no real clarity, although there were vehicles in development, not least in France and Italy which would before long help change that.

The previous year, Ford of Europe had introduced the conventional rear-wheel-drive Escort as its entry level offering, a car which built upon the success of the UK-developed Anglia, offering similar virtues in a more updated, slightly larger, more refined package. However, apart from one or two high-tax markets, the Escort had moved above the Anglia’s one-litre entry point.

Escort’s (slight) shift upmarket was a wholly logical strategic decision at the time, one entirely in keeping with the blue oval’s growth plans. Customers were more affluent and had become more discerning and anyway, Ford did not Continue reading “The Circus is Leaving Town”

Show and Tell (Part Six)

Blowing the dust off another set of rediscovered envelopes and their contents, rekindling some memories.

Image: the author

Paris 1990

Project 2758, as the Mercedes-Benz 500E was known internally at Porsche AG, who partly built the car, was a ‘Q-car’ in the vein of the BMW M5 but, this being Stuttgart, the 500E presented itself in an even more discreet way than Munich’s autobahnstormer.

The 5-litre, 32-valve M119 V8 propelled the 500E to an electronically limited maximum speed of 250km/h (155mph) although, without the limiter, its terminal velocity was known to have been quite a bit higher. The 500E was strictly a four-seater, which was not entirely by choice: the differential needed was so large that there was no room left for any suspension or even padding in the middle of the rear seat area. Continue reading “Show and Tell (Part Six)”

Elemental Spirit Part 3: When Donald Met Donald

When two West Countrymen clash.

Image: British Leyland (Austin-Morris) Limited

In his biography My World of Cars, Donald Healey recalled a meeting with Sir Donald Stokes in the first few weeks of British Leyland’s existence:

“I was summoned to Donald Stokes’s office at the Standard works in Coventry, he told me he was going to discontinue MG, together with the payment of royalties to the names associated with what were BLMC cars. This included John Cooper and myself, together with Harry Weslake, and John Thornley (MG General Manager) too, was eventually to be retired. He explained that he didn’t need the help of all of us people to Continue reading “Elemental Spirit Part 3: When Donald Met Donald”

Welcome to the Machine – Part Five

Opening up the XJ-S. In sections.

Image: erwinxjs

Even amongst luxurious and indulgent grand turismos the Jaguar XJ-S stood apart, alongside its other more contentious attributes for its disproportionate length-to-cabin ratio. Despite generous exterior proportions, the XJ-S was avowedly a 2+2, with the rear seats of only the occasional variety. But if close-coupled coupés might be considered the preserve of the sybarite, its drophead coupé equivalent was by comparison entirely the chariot of the hedonist.

During the early 1970s, convertibles began to fall out of favour on both sides of the Atlantic. The reasons for this are complex, but a major factor influencing carmakers involved fears of draconian United States federal safety proposals which threatened to outlaw open-topped cars entirely, or at the very least render them unsaleable. In Europe on the other hand, as socio-political tensions began to turn violent, the Riviera-set elected to Continue reading “Welcome to the Machine – Part Five”

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)”

Swedish Iron (Part Two)

Continuing the story of Volvo’s long-running 100/200 series.

Image: Veikl

In July 1968, Volvo unveiled its new range-topping 164 saloon, based on the 144. As the model designation implies, the 164 featured a six-cylinder engine, making it the first Volvo for twenty years so powered. The new B30 engine was simply an six-cylinder version of the B20 inline-four and shared many common parts. It had a capacity of 2,979cc and, fitted with twin Zenith-Stromberg carburettors, it produced maximum power of 145bhp (108kW).

The engine was mated to a four-speed manual gearbox or three-speed Borg-Warner automatic transmission. An overdrive, which operated on top gear only, was an option with the manual gearbox. From the A-pillar rearwards, the 164’s body was identical to that of the 144. However, the longer engine required a 96mm (3¾”) extension in the wheelbase to 2,700mm (106¼”) while the overall length grew by 63mm (2½”) to 4,651mm (183”).

Volvo took the opportunity to Continue reading “Swedish Iron (Part Two)”

Star Fighter

Cadillac dares. Greatly.

Image: Autoevolution

In 1910, former US President, Theodore Roosevelt gave a speech at the Paris Sorbonne entitled, ‘Citizenship in a Republic’, a rousing panegyric[1] in which he lauded the protagonist, the man in the arena, rather than the spectator or the critic. It was the figure of action who mattered, he posited, the man who dared. In the century since it was given, this oft-cited piece of oratory has resonated and inspired generations[2].

At the 2016 Pebble Beach auto show, Cadillac displayed Escala, one of a long line of high-end Cadillac concept cars destined to founder upon the jagged rocks of GM’s timorous caution. The Escala was an elegant fastback sedan, one which elicited an element of critical handwringing owing to its hatchback format, a curious style decision given the US car buyer’s long-held distaste for such layouts.

Certainly, Cadillac themselves appeared to acknowledge that they had some convincing to do, and since every concept nowadays must have a catchy PR slogan to underpin it, the one appended to Escala urged one and all to Continue reading “Star Fighter”

Kenosha Kid

The immortal ‘Frogeye’ Sprite was a quintessentially British design, but could its roots have lain further West?

Image: amklassiek.nl

Editor’s note: This article was originally published in July 2018.

The compact two-seat sportscar wasn’t necessarily a British invention, but for a period during the twentieth century, the UK was perhaps its prime exponent. Hardly surprising, given Britain’s traditionally serpentine network of narrow undulating roads and a taxation regime which dictated lower capacity, longer-stroke engines of limited outright power.

But the British are an inventive people and soon found ways to Continue reading “Kenosha Kid”

Training Day

To Daventry, Nimrod, and don’t spare the DERV.

Volvo’s Daventry Training Centre. All images: The Author

My Volvo S90 would be the perfect town and commuter car if not for the fact he runs on diesel. Both derrière and back are supported supremely but the engine and that particulate filter prefer the motorway dash to the monotonous urban grind. Having had little opportunity to head out anywhere other than the supermarket and workplace for seemingly an age, the opportunity to Continue reading “Training Day”

M Too

Born, raised and terminated during the Asian bubble economy- the story of Mazda’s shortlived design and performance skunkworks.

Images: ameblo.jp, architecturetokyo.wordpress.com and Mazda Motor Corporation

In Tokyo’s Setagaya ward stands a building that is hard to miss, thanks to its highly unusual appearance. Currently occupied by a funeral company, it originally served as the headquarters and showroom for M2, Mazda’s creator of limited-edition specials and prototypes. The eye-catching structure, designed by architect Kengo Kuma, is made out of reinforced concrete, although it is executed in such a way that it resembles masonry construction. A gigantic central Ionic column dominates the view and contains an atrium plus a glazed elevator shaft. Clearly, this was no ordinary showroom but then M2 was no ordinary outfit.

Established in 1990, M2 was no doubt partly inspired by competitor Nissan’s ‘Pike Factory’ success in selling uniquely styled limited editions such as the BE-1, PAO and S-Cargo. These were based on Nissan’s regular offerings and sold through the Cherry Stores network. Continue reading “M Too”

Elemental Spirit Part 2: Metamorphosis

The Second Face, and a short-lived dupoly.

Image: the Austin Motor Company

The final years of the 1950s were a time of advancement and renewal for the automobile industry. Fashions changed rapidly as American influence waned, and the European carmakers forged their own visual identities. Model replacement cycles were short, and consumers gravitated to whatever was new and progressive. The Austin-Healey Sprite’s designers never expected the expedient Frogeye design to have a long life, and not long after its launch, the designers at Donald Healey Motor Company in Warwick were working on a facelift, scheduled for production in 1961.

Even before this date, BMC’s Italian licensees had shocked their British supplier and delighted the world with their own version of the little Austin-Healey, presented at the 1960 Turin Motor Show in November 1960. Continue reading “Elemental Spirit Part 2: Metamorphosis”

Sons of Pioneers

A visionary BMW? It doesn’t seem so long ago.

Into the sunset. Farewell i3. Image: (c) Media BMW

It has become customary nowadays to discuss the carmaking giant of Bayerische Motoren Werke AG in anguished tones, akin perhaps to the sort of concern one might feel towards a once-reliable friend in the throes of an unnerving and potentially damaging life-crisis. But it wasn’t always thus. A little over a decade ago, the German carmaker was at the forefront of automotive future-thinking and a genuine pathfinder towards zero emission mobility. Not only that, the cars with which BMW entered the EV market were as futurist in appearance as they were beneath their arresting skin panels.

The birth of the BMW i programme goes back to the latter portion of the post-millennial decade, a time of unfettered expansion for the Vierzylinder, not only in commercial and product terms but also in the visionary sense. During this fecund period, in a quiet corner of BMW’s FIZ engineering nerve centre, a radical and potentially transformative project was gaining impetus and momentum. Project i brought together a small group of electrical engineers, chemists and product strategists under the leadership of Ulrich Kranz, to Continue reading “Sons of Pioneers”

Swedish Iron (Part One)

Remembering Volvo’s long-running and highly successful 100/200 series.

Image: autoevolution.com

One of the near-constants of the automotive industry is the model replacement cycle. It typically works like this: a new model is introduced, given a facelift (for better or worse) after, say, four years, then is replaced by an all-new model after a further four years. Of course, ‘all-new’ is a term used pretty casually by automakers. Often, beneath the shiny new bodywork, many carry-over parts will be found.

A number of factors conspire to enforce this cycle. Ever tighter active and passive safety standards and regulations need to be incorporated. Likewise, developments in technology, both for the vehicle itself and the machinery used to build it, will, in the best of circumstances, allow the redesigned vehicle to Continue reading “Swedish Iron (Part One)”

Sayer’s Moodboard

The Jaguar XJ-S came from outer space – or did it?

Image: XJ story

Editor’s note: This piece was originally published in November 2017.

A shape which to this day repels as much as it fascinates, the Jaguar XJ-S remains a car which divides opinion. While the reasons for repulsion are easy enough to discern, its fascination lies not only as a function of its striking shape, but also from a sense that its styling came about without precedent. But surely no car is developed entirely in a vacuum?

Driven to Write has covered the XJ-S’ stylistic development in some detail already, so you might consider it a little self-indulgent to Continue reading “Sayer’s Moodboard”

Something Rotten – Fiat Tempra

Time waits for no Fiat.

A Fiat Tempra amid gentler surroundings. Image: Motortudo

Editor’s Note: This piece was originally published on DTW in August 2016.

Remember the Chrysler K-car? It helped save Chrysler until the next crisis. The Fiat Tipo played a similar role, at least in underpinning a lot of models. This is one of them. Another Fiat, a 125 behind glass, made me stop at the location. When I stopped looking at that I wandered further. In the otherwise empty lot nearby this Tempra crouched. It looked good from afar, but it’s far from good. Although the body had galvanising, rust is biting the doors and the handles are seized. It’s not for sale anymore and evidently wasn’t worth taking to the dealer’s new location 10 km away.

As ever, the interior is in decent condition so anyone wanting stock with which to Continue reading “Something Rotten – Fiat Tempra”

Elemental Spirit Part 1: A Power Partnership

From Sprite to Midget – profiling BMC’s diminutive sportsters.

Image: The Austin Motor Company

Who would have imagined that the joyful, cartoonish little sports car introduced to the motoring media at Monaco on 20 May 1958, two days after the Grand Prix, was born out of the anguish and self-doubt of the most powerful man in the British automobile industry?

Leonard Percy Lord (1896-1967) was a brilliant production engineer whose breadth of ability led him to rapid promotion at Morris Motors, and then, after crossing sides, a fast-track path to Chairmanship of Austin in the early post-WW2 years. He had a consistent ability to Continue reading “Elemental Spirit Part 1: A Power Partnership”

Welcome to the Machine – Part Four

Supercat leaps back to life. 

Image (c) Auto-Didakt

If ‘efficiency’ is the watchword for the 1980s, what hope is there for the Jaguar XJ-S?” Opening their October 1980 test report of Jaguar’s embattled grand turismo coupé, UK magazine, Motor got right to nub of the matter. Because at the time, the auguries were ominous.

That Spring, Jaguar itself had come within squeaking distance of closure. With production having slumped to levels not seen since the 1950s[1]; convulsed by a bruising walk-out of production-line workers, a full-blown crisis at the Castle Bromwich paint plant, and high drama at boardroom level, the carmaker (if indeed it could still be described as such) was clinging by a thread.

This nihilistic mindset was echoed by striking line workers at Browns Lane, who had become convinced that BL management were determined to Continue reading “Welcome to the Machine – Part Four”

Whisper, don’t Shout

The author attempts to explain his violently opposed reactions to the design of the 2020 Rolls-Royce Ghost and 2022 BMW 7 Series.

In a comment appended to a recent piece on DTW, a reader asked me to elaborate on why I thought that the Rolls-Royce Ghost works as a design, whereas the latest BMW 7 Series* simply doesn’t. It is a good question, and one I have been pondering. In what follows, I will attempt to explain my thoughts. As ever, I should begin with the caveat that, while there are well understood principles of good design, I have no formal training in that field. Hence, my observations are simply those of an enthusiastic amateur, no more or less valid than any others, so I am very happy to be challenged on anything that follows.

Cars like these, being large and expensive, should offer designers maximum freedom to Continue reading “Whisper, don’t Shout”

Dial 911 For Cute

The cute-car hotline is now open. 

2012-Porsche-911-Carrera-S-front1
Image: Autoevolution

Editor’s note: This article, originally part of DTW’s Cute Theme, was first published in April 2014.

There are a great many conflicting facts and inconsistencies that surround both Porsche’s successor to the 356, and what it has turned into over the course of several decades. Above all, there is the incontestable fact that its basic layout, the core of its engineering, is now of the most idiosyncratic kind. That in itself would not raise many eyebrows, but such eccentricity – despite oftentimes inviting critical acclaim, at least initially – usually excludes lasting success. That the Porsche 911 overcomes the usual reservations towards alien solutions may be due to two facts.

First, that it is a linear descendant of the Volkswagen Beetle, a car that despite having since been proven to be antediluvian, is still very much present in motorists’ consciousness. Second, that it has been constantly updated, employing the most conservative of treatments. These two factors, in conjunction with a great many less significant others, are among the main contributors to the 911’s sustained success. Continue reading “Dial 911 For Cute”

That’ll Be a Glass of Dewar’s For the Gentleman, Then

Sometimes one tiny detail defines a car for you. In this case, it’s tiny pedals.

In 1991 the Peugeot 106 appeared on the European market, part of a two-pronged …. you know all this[1]. What I would prefer to do is to Continue reading “That’ll Be a Glass of Dewar’s For the Gentleman, Then”

The Presidential Lion

Monsieur Peugeot goes to Paris.

President Macron’s official Peugeot 5008. Image: (c) Media.Stellantis

Once elected president of France, there are innumerable decisions requiring your attention, including that most tricky one regarding which national brand to have ferry your presidential self around. Over the years, some have taken the double chevron route, others the lair of Robert Peugeot. Today’s episode takes up the grinds from those pepper millers and looks back at over a century of leonine presidential chariots.

Alexandre Millerand became the republic’s third president on 23rd September 1920, choosing a Type 156 Peugeot the following year as his presidential vehicle. Wielding a six-cylinder 5954 cc sleeve valve engine, this behemoth measured 4800 mm on a 3670 mm wheelbase. Peugeot’s original Sochaux-made vehicle, only around 180 of these sold from 1920-23 – a most egalitarian Presidential choice. A front-engined, rear wheel drive beast, that mill mustered all of 25 bhp and a top speed of 96 Kmh, ideal for more leisurely engagements.

Over fifty years would pass before another president would Continue reading “The Presidential Lion”

Wrong Number

The story of an Asian doppelganger coming to grief.

Image: soeyonogaleri.com

Economic booms entice businesses from many sectors to enter new markets with the aim of securing a slice of the potential money-pie, and car manufacturers are no exception. The Republic of Indonesia under President Suharto’s very pro-business ‘new order’ administration was enjoying just such an economic sweet-spot in the early 1990s, despite growing suspicions of widespread corruption. A country with a population of over 200 million people riding the wave of a steadily growing economy seduced none other than Porsche AG to Continue reading “Wrong Number”

Boxed

This Cube was no square.

Image: netcarshow

The design mantra of longer, lower and wider was largely, if not exclusively an American construct, but was not something which survived exposure to congested European and Far Eastern city streets. It is therefore little surprise to observe that two of the most prolific car designing nations to have eschewed such architectural nostrums are Italy and Japan.

Shorter, taller and narrower as a philosophy was something that perhaps could be said to have (in the modern idiom at least) originated in Turin, but was taken up with some alacrity in cities as diverse as Hamamatsu, Ikeda, Shizuoka and Yokohama, since Japan’s cityscapes are at least as choked and traffic-ridden as those of its Latin counterparts.

The inherent limitations of such potentially restrictive silhouettes had the effect of giving rise to considerable creativity and in Japan at least, a playful sense of absurdist fun. Not entirely confined to Kei cars, the wider Japanese car industry, despite its often deadly serious nature, has been known to occasionally Continue reading “Boxed”