Voiture à Vivre [Part Six]

The everycar.

Image: Publicis Conseil – author’s collection

It may not have been the most commercially successful car of the 1970s, nor even the most technically significant. It did not win accolades for its ultimate handling capabilities or jaw dropping styling. Car of the decade may have been a title which eluded it, but none of the above should detract from the significance of the Renault 5 amid the automotive pantheon, nor Renault’s sound judgement in taking the car into production in such unadulterated form.

As an archetype of the art of product design, the Five was almost perfectly realised, certainly by the standards of its time. The practicality and robustness of its basic shape, the unmatched versatility offered by its hinging rear tailgate, combined with the subtle richness yet stark modernism of its detail design ensured its place as the first genuine hatchback supermini and the archetype for the modern B-segment motorcar. Such was its design integrity that Renault not only found themselves incapable, but unwilling to Continue reading “Voiture à Vivre [Part Six]”

Brother From Another Mother

An unofficial American take on the Citroën XM.

Like many European automakers, Citroën had a torrid time trying to establish a sustainable business in the US market during the second half of the twentieth century. It finally threw in the towel in 1972, but there remained a demand for cars bearing the double-chevron badge from a small hardcore band of marque enthusiasts.

To meet this demand, Dutchman André Pol and Malcolm K. Langman established CXautomotive, later renamed CXA, in the mid-1980s. Their plan was to import and modify Citroen’s CX model so that it would comply with US regulations, then distribute and sell the car nationwide. Bruised from its previous US experience and wary of potential ongoing liabilities, Citroën refused to Continue reading “Brother From Another Mother”

Maserati Grecale – The Passion of St. Giorgio

Stellantis, you are spoiling us!

Image: Maserati Media

In less than a couple of months we have witnessed the arrival of two new SUVs from the auto conglomerate’s revered Italian high-performance marques. We have, however, previously expressed reservations about the distinctly mass-market componentry underpinning the Alfa Romeo Tonale. As with the Alfa, this month’s debutant, the Maserati Grecale, represents a move downmarket for the marque, but the ingredients are rather more original and appetising this time around.

At its world premiere in the Alfa Romeo Museum, the Tonale featured two F1 racing drivers and brand CEO Jean-Philippe Imparato as presenter and host. In marked contrast, the Grecale had a duo of Italian actors in a film studio; Matilda de Angelis and Alessandro Borghi, with Maserati Design VP Klaus Busse[1] cast in the straight man role, an unwitting butt of jokes, in the manner of a two-metre tall Ernie Wise. It’s either rather charming or just excruciating, like an overplayed piece of drama school coursework: are these actors really so beguiled by this overtly boastful, but ultimately rather shallow machine? Continue reading “Maserati Grecale – The Passion of St. Giorgio”

Renault 5 GTL Review

This looks very much like an authentic period review of the 1976 Renault 5 GTL by revered motoring writer Archie Vicar.

1976 Renault 5 GTL: source

The text first appeared under the headline “Another New Renault” in The Amman Valley Chronicle and East Carmarthen News, June 5, 1976. The original photographs were by Douglas Land-Windermere. Due to the effects of xylophagic fungi, the original images could not be used.

This article was initially published on DTW in October 2018.

Renault, Renault, Renault. This firm does try hard and is to be commended for its efforts to keep up with trends sooner or later. That means they are once again on the “hatchback” bandwagon, or staying on the bandwagon in the case of the 5 tested here today. The 5 appeared on the market in 1972 and the firm is sticking with the formula of front-drive and a hinged opening panel on the rear of the car in place of a proper separate boot.

It remains to be seen if British buyers can Continue reading “Renault 5 GTL Review”

Making Sense of the Supercar

Ingolstadt does it differently.

Image: newcarnet

Running an errand recently facilitated a rare sighting for me: not one but two first-generation Audi R8s passed me by within seconds of each other. Notwithstanding the pouring rain, I paused to take the pair in, a silver example closely followed by one in black, both on 2008 plates. Hang on, I thought, has the R8 really been around for that long? Longer still, it turns out: launched in hot and dusty Nevada in 2006 following its Paris Salon unveiling, Audi’s everyday supercar has lost none of its sparkle over the intervening years.

Styled under the supervision of Italian design chief, Walter de Silva, the R8 cannot readily be pigeonholed as a conventionally beautiful mid-engined supercar. Instead, it is unorthodox, complex and, in front and rear three-quarter views, most definitely muscular and imposing. Continue reading “Making Sense of the Supercar”

One Beermat, a Coat and a Brass Key (Worn).

Words have an effect, according to an old saying.

Volvo 480 headlamp and bumper plus litter. Image: the author

Journalist Richard Bremner’s ‘Parting Shot’ article on the Volvo 480 in the September 1995 issue of Car magazine is worth another look. I am revisiting it following my sighting of this late example of the car when in Dublin recently. It’s not a car one sees often. Volvo made just shy of 80,000 of them during a nine-year production run, beginning in 1986. Whenever I observe a 480, I think of my first impressions of one I spotted outside the Shelbourne Hotel (good) and Bremner’s caustic words (less good).

The irritating fact is that Bremner’s flippant goodbye to the 480 cast an unwanted pall over what is really an interesting, appealing and notable bit of design work. Volvo considered the design good enough to remind customers they should Continue reading “One Beermat, a Coat and a Brass Key (Worn).”

Cat of a Different Colour (Part One)

Panther’s cars were always of high quality, if occasionally in questionable taste.

1972 Panther J72. Image: k500.com

As someone whose taste in houses and the objects that fill them resides firmly in the 18th and 19th Centuries, I’ve always had an ambivalent if not antipathetic attitude towards reproductions, which I tend to regard as antiques for people who don’t like old stuff. That said, I can fully appreciate the appeal of a motor vehicle with well executed retro styling concealing modern mechanical and electrical components(1). Such vehicles offer the best of both worlds: contemporary standards of reliability, efficiency and safety combined with the nostalgia for a simpler and more innocent time when motoring was a pleasure and not a crime against humanity.

Robert Jankel (1938 – 2005) was born in London into a family that owned a fashion business, Goldenfelds, so it was natural for him to Continue reading “Cat of a Different Colour (Part One)”

Voiture à Vivre [Part Five]

The 5 that really was a Supercar.

Image: lautomobileancienne

It is a truth universally acknowledged that no successful model line can attain true immortality without a competition pedigree, so it should surprise nobody that the Renault 5 gained one alongside its many other accolades. Motorsport had been a somewhat patchy activity within Billancourt in the run up to the 1970s, with the bulk of the heavy lifting being provided by outsiders like Gordini and Alpine[1].

In 1974, the Renault 5 became available in 85 bhp LS Kitée specification, a low-volume model for competition in the newly renamed Renault 5 Elf Cup. 150 were produced for the 1975 season of the race series which proved popular and competitive. Two years later, Dieppe’s technicians had completed their ministrations resulting in the Alpine A5, Renault’s official performance offering. This too would gain a competition career, being campaigned in the World Rally Championship’s Group 2 class, the A5s as fielded by Renault Sport developing 130 bhp. Early results from the 1977 Mille Pistes and San Remo rallies illustrated the promise of the Alpine 5, but the following year, a class victory by Jean Ragnotti in the Monte Carlo event[2] would mark the high point of the A5’s rally career.

Despite the occasional giant-killing performance, the standard R5 was never going to Continue reading “Voiture à Vivre [Part Five]”

Ashes to Ashes (Part 2)

Prying open a few more creaking doors, we conclude our trundle amongst the fallen.

1950 Plymouth. All images: The author

In 1948, Packard continued its longstanding leadership in the American luxury car arena. It remained the best-selling brand, with over 92,000 sales, compared to Cadillac’s tally of around 52,000. However, its dominance was coming to an end. That year’s bulbous restyling of a body that dated back to 1941 didn’t help matters and the car quickly earned the unflattering nickname ‘pregnant elephant’. From 1950 onwards, Cadillac took the lead and never looked back, while Packard withered and died before the end of the decade. Continue reading “Ashes to Ashes (Part 2)”

Poundshop Porsche

Škoda brightens up the dreary Soviet automotive landscape.

A cherished 1989 Škoda Rapid 136 Coupé. Image: skodaowners.org

Coupés and convertibles, by their very nature, are rather frivolous cars. They typically cost more(1) than their more practical saloon, hatchback or estate equivalents and offer less in the way of space and versatility. Their appeal lies in their (not always) more attractive styling(2) and, more subliminally, in what they imply about their owner. He (usually) is, apparently, a free spirit, not weighed down by familial responsibilities, and sufficiently affluent to afford such an automotive indulgence.

The post-WW2 Soviet Union was a serious place run by deadly serious people. Preoccupied with five-year plans and other weighty matters of state, they had little time for frivolity. Continue reading “Poundshop Porsche”

Not Alone is the Winter’s Chalice Replenished

A vanishingly rare version of an increasingly rare car falls under our Danish correspondent’s purview today. (First published on 1st May  2017)

All images: the author

Very clearly the work of a singular vision, that of Michel Boué, the Renault 5 impresses with the clarity of its concept. This example shows how it could be more than a basic conveyance. In this instance, we have here a really tidy, time-warp example with very little sign of tear or wear. We’ll get to the interior in a moment, with its comfortable sports seats and very inviting ambience. The 5 is a reduction of the essential themes of the Renault 4, using simple industrial design form language. The surfaces are minimal and the discipline of the radii is consistently applied. The lamps fit neatly into the surrounding surface and the features are aligned in an orderly fashion. Despite all this formal correctness, the car is quite cheerful and friendly. Continue reading “Not Alone is the Winter’s Chalice Replenished”

Das universelle Motor Gerät

A simple idea, a brilliant execution.

Image: mercedes-benz-trucks.com

During the Second World War, Albert Friedrich was head of aero engine design at Daimler-Benz, but also found time to research another project, unbeknown to his bosses.  Friedrich was interested in developing a versatile agricultural vehicle that combined the best features of a tractor and a truck. He described his then nameless concept as an “engine-powered, universally applicable machine for agriculture.” The vehicle would in due course become a valuable tool for many occupations far beyond its originally intended application.

Late 1945 saw Friedrich seeking permission from the occupying US Army to obtain a production licence. This was duly granted, so Friedrich and fellow engineer, Heinrich Rößler, a former colleague at Daimler-Benz, commissioned Eberhard & Söhne in Schwäbisch Gmünd, a city in the eastern part of the German state of Baden-Württemberg, to help them Continue reading “Das universelle Motor Gerät”

Adding Some Fleet to the Repmobile

A South African twist on hot Fords.

Images: gumtree.co.za and carmonkey.co.za

The mildly derogatory term ‘Repmobile’ conjures up images of a medium-sized, medium-specification saloon or hatchback hammering along some endless motorway on a dreary weekday under leaden skies. The driver is a man sporting a shirt and tie, his suit jacket limply hanging from the coat hook behind his ear. Whether they be Vectras, Cortinas, Mondeos, Carinas or Sierras, for the motoring enthusiast, such cars represent a mostly barren field of interest. But far away and many years ago, Ford South Africa turned at least some of them into decidedly more stimulating steeds.

In Britain, Ireland and Continental Europe, the 2.3 litre V6 was as far as it went for the Cortina Mk5 and its Germanic twin, the Taunus TC3. Most sales reps would remain confined to the 1.6-litre four, although, if they exceeded their targets consistently and by a sufficient margin, a 2-litre version fitted with some extra trinkets might be their reward.

Ford South Africa, however, enjoyed a degree of independence from its parent company which sometimes resulted in the creation of interesting mutations. Continue reading “Adding Some Fleet to the Repmobile”

Keep On Holding On

A triumph of longevity, if little else.

1978 FSO Polonez. Image: autodata24.com

At the conclusion of the Second World War, Poland found itself on the wrong side of what would become known as the Iron Curtain. It became a vassal state within the USSR, with a nominally independent government, but one that, in practice, enjoyed little autonomy and was directly answerable to Moscow.

Fabryka Samochodów Osobowych (FSO) was an automaker established in Warsaw by the Polish government in 1948 to begin the process of re-mobilising the country after the destruction and devastation of the war. Its first car was the Warszawa, a licence-built version of the Russian GAZ M20 Pobeda. This was a dated if robust pre-war design and sold well, thanks mainly to a lack of alternatives.

FSO realised that, to Continue reading “Keep On Holding On”

Voiture à Vivre [Part Four]

My brilliant career.

Image: Publicis Conseil. Author’s collection

1975 was not a year to be recalled with much fondness across the global automotive industry, as the effects of Yom Kippur 1973 hit home. A number of carmakers would not survive the year, while others would undergo painful reinventions under dramatically altered circumstances. Renault, to some extent insulated by French Government stewardship, would undergo change too, Pierre Dreyfus, the CEO who had steadfastly guided them for two decades had elected to retire, nominating Bernard Vernier-Palliez in his stead. Prior to his departure, Dreyfus made another significant appointment, luring design-lead Robert Opron to Continue reading “Voiture à Vivre [Part Four]”

Open One Eye when you Sell, and Both Eyes when you Buy

Recalling General Motors’ Middle Eastern misadventures.

Image: gbodyforum.com

The title of this tale is a Middle Eastern proverb, somewhat similar to our adage ‘Buyer beware’, but it expands on this in the sense that it also cautions sellers to keep an eye on proceedings at all times. On two separate occasions involving different Middle East countries, General Motors found to its cost what can happen if this advice is not heeded, dragging it into controversy and a hostile environment when the political winds changed direction.

A trade dispute between Japan and Iraq was the improbable cause of trouble for GM Canada. In 1980, Toyota was the number-one selling car in Iraq, and had been for some years. That same year, the Japanese manufacturer initiated talks with Ford about a possible joint venture. The fact that Ford operated an important assembly plant in Israel, however, did not go down well with the Iraqis, who in consequence started looking for a different supplier for the country’s official cars and taxi cabs. Continue reading “Open One Eye when you Sell, and Both Eyes when you Buy”

Not Smart Enough (Part Three)

Where next for Daimler’s problem child?

2015 Smart Fortwo. Image: Auto&amp

The 2007 second-generation Smart Fortwo got off to a disappointing start as it was generally regarded as not enough of an advance over its predecessor, and too expensive. For a similar price, one could buy a four-seater supermini that might lack the Smart’s distinctive style but would be more practical and less compromised dynamically.

Smart had been developing an electric version of the Fortwo since 2006 and this model(1) was launched in 2009. It was initially fitted with a 14kWh lithium-ion battery pack supplied by Tesla and a 30kW(2) electric motor, which gave it an official NEDC range of 135km (84 miles). Around 2,300 Smart ED (Electric Drive) models were produced and made available to Continue reading “Not Smart Enough (Part Three)”

Your Sleepy Voice Tells Me It´s Late Where You Are

A pleasant encounter on the streets of Dublin.

1989 Lancia Thema – enduring excellence

You might feel that we have featured the Lancia Thema rather too often on the pages of Driven To Write, but I would contend that it makes up for the blizzard of articles on the Citroën DS, Corvette, E-Type and Beetle found elsewhere on the Internet. With that said, here’s another Thema.

I had to double-check the facts: the Lancia Thema first emerged in 1984, launched in October of that year.  Hence, it is something of a shock to realise the Thema’s 40th anniversary is almost upon us.  The message I draw from this is that core industrial design principles amount to an enduring and time-proof way to resolve a product. Continue reading “Your Sleepy Voice Tells Me It´s Late Where You Are”

Things Haven’t Worked Out As Expected

The author samples Volvo’s first EV-only model.

All images: The author

Thanks to the deep pockets of its parent company, Zhejiang Geely Holding Group, Volvo’s transformation from ICE to electric vehicles is moving ahead at pace. The strategy was devised by outgoing Chief Executive, Håkan Samuelsson, and will be picked up by his successor, Jim Rowan, who takes over this month (March 2022). The days of the fossil-fuelled Swedish car are most definitely numbered.

Having been the proud owner of one of Gothenburg’s finest for the past eighteen months or so, I recently received an invitation to attend a (nationwide) event at my local Volvo dealership in order to sample the new C40 Recharge. This is the first Volvo to be powered solely by electricity, and it comes in a new shape as well, the currently uber-fashionable crossover-coupé. Continue reading “Things Haven’t Worked Out As Expected”

The Milwaukee Magician (Part Five)

Concluding our guided tour through the works of Brooks Stevens.

Image: stlouiscarmuseum.com

1964 Excalibur SS: Studebaker needed something special to display at the 1964 New York Motor Show. The cars that had been displayed at the Chicago event earlier in the year were pretty underwhelming, being mainly colour and trim variations on the regular production vehicles. Byers Burlingame, successor to Sherwood Egbert, who had been forced to resign as CEO of Studebaker for health reasons, discussed the matter with Brooks Stevens over the telephone.

Stevens later recalled that he asked Burlingame to ship a Lark Daytona chassis to him. When Burlingame asked what he intended to do with it, Stevens replied crisply that he was “going to build a contemporary classic.” When Burlingame asked “What in the hell is that?” Stevens had to think a few seconds, as the idea was new to him also, and finally replied: “Well, it’s a new old car.” Burlingame just hung up the phone, but the chassis was duly sent over.

Even though his designs in various fields were mostly quite avant garde, Stevens was also a lifelong fan of the great classic cars. His idea, unique at the time but subsequently copied by many others, was to Continue reading “The Milwaukee Magician (Part Five)”

Not Smart Enough (Part Two)

Smart’s struggles continue.

Faking it: 2005 Smart For four. Image: honestjohn.co.uk

By the turn of the millennium, the Smart City Coupé was established in the market and selling steadily, but Smart was far from being financially viable. Daimler urgently needed additional Smart models to broaden its market coverage.

A plan was formulated to develop a roadster and coupé on an extended version of the City Coupé’s platform, but that would be another niche offering and unlikely to sell in numbers that would significantly improve the company’s finances. What Smart really needed was a larger and more versatile four-seater city car. BMW’s successful relaunch of MINI in 2000 may well have influenced Daimler’s thinking in this regard.

With neither the time nor inclination to Continue reading “Not Smart Enough (Part Two)”

Voiture à Vivre [Part Three]

You Cannot Be Serious!

Le Advertising. Image: autoevolution

The North American market has always been tough, unyielding and, for a great many European carmakers, impenetrable. Lucrative for those who could find a way in, success however has always required an unswerving commitment and very deep pockets, characteristics which were in short supply at Bologne-Billancourt. Renault had made some tentative explorations into the US during the early 1950s, but it wasn’t until the advent of the Dauphine model towards the latter end of the decade that the French carmaker would put its shoulder to the metaphorical wheel.

While low-powered, potentially evil-handling European imports were by no means unfamiliar to US audiences by this time, the ones which America had taken to their collective hearts were not only considerably more robustly wrought at Wolfsburg, but were vastly better represented by a large and widespread support network.

Yet despite these apparent shortcomings, the Dauphine made significant headway, outselling Volkswagen in 1959[1]. But despite Renault Inc’s best efforts, the Dauphine’s reputation did not survive contact with US soil – a combination of a chronic lack of material quality, durability and a propensity to spontaneously dissolve into crumbs of ferrous oxide saw matters come to an inglorious halt. Indeed, so poor did the Dauphine’s US reputation become that when its replacement was introduced, early advertising billed it as a car for those who swore never again to Continue reading “Voiture à Vivre [Part Three]”

So Glad they Bothered vs. Why Did they Bother?

We debate substance versus style.

Basic Dacia Jogger in UN White (Source: Byri)

On the 9th February 2022, first drive reviews of two quite different yet similarly priced new models featured on the home page of a certain influential car magazine’s website and caused something of a debate chez DTW. One of them gives me cause to believe that there is again room in the market for an honest car that offers fantastic value to potential buyers. The other is a disappointing replacement of an existing city car that just makes me wonder why they bothered?

Let’s start with the positive: all hail the Dacia Jogger. OK, so the name is daft, but then so was Roomster, the moniker given to the car of which the Jogger reminds me so much. Sadly, Škoda has long abandoned this corner of the market, and with it has gone its most distinctive and playful of designs, which must also include the Yeti. Both of these Ingenlath-influenced cars are firm favourites for most, if not all, on this site. Continue reading “So Glad they Bothered vs. Why Did they Bother?”

Not Smart Enough (Part One)

Smart had a difficult birth that foreshadowed a long struggle for viability.

1998 Smart City Coupé. Image: autobild.de

In the early 1980s, the traditional Swiss watchmaking industry was in turmoil because of an onslaught of cheap and highly accurate quartz digital watches manufactured in the Far East. This forced the two largest Swiss watchmakers, ASUAG and SSIH(1), both of which were insolvent, into a defensive merger in 1983, forming what would become the Swatch Group after a takeover of the original Swatch company, founded in the same year by Ernst Thomke, Elmar Mock and Jacques Müller.

Swatch had been launched with a business plan to fight back against the digital invasion and regain control of the market in everyday watches. The plan was simple but brilliant: to turn the wristwatch into a relatively cheap fashion item that would be produced in a wide range of colours and styles, thereby expanding the market enormously by enticing customers to Continue reading “Not Smart Enough (Part One)”

Lady in Waiting

Honda meets 1970s modernism.

Image: autonxt.net

Founded in 1966, Carrozzeria Coggiola is located in the Turinese suburb of Orbassano, then also home to Giovanni Michelotti’s styling bureau. Coggiola is not nearly as well known to the general public as storied names such as Bertone, Pininfarina or Ital Design because, apart from cars like the SAAB Sonett III, not many Coggiola designs ever became available in showrooms. This small carrozzeria instead specialised in manufacturing bespoke cars for private clients. It was also employed by mainstream manufacturers to build prototypes and one-off concept cars, for example, the pyramidal 1980 Citroën Karin and 1988 Renault Mégane concept. Continue reading “Lady in Waiting”

Blit Spirit

An alien presence in rural Yorkshire.

Image: jpdjapan.com

Our typical Sunday morning walk involves a drive long enough to warm the vitals through, but short enough to get back home quickly, should the capricious Yorkshire weather intervene. We drive through farmland and on to a pretty village where, if it weren’t for the hourly strike of the church clock, time might have stood still for decades.

The automotive  population of the village usually comprises the inevitable assortment of SUVs, so mundane and commonplace as not to warrant a second glance. Today, however, an arresting sight met my eyes in the riverside parking area, an alien presence that had crossed both time and space to land in this rural idyll. The object of my fixation was a Toyota Blit. Continue reading “Blit Spirit”

The Milwaukee Magician (Part Four)

Continuing our guided tour of the works of Brooks Stevens.

Image: cartype.com

1962 and 1964 Studebaker Lark facelifts: In 1956, Studebaker parted ways with Raymond Loewy, the designer responsible (in name at least) for the creation of most of the Indiana company’s cars of the preceding decades. The reason was not so much dissatisfaction with Loewy’s services, but a lack of money: Studebaker’s sales were in the doldrums and the company simply could not afford him anymore. Styling responsibilities would henceforth lie with its in-house design team, led by Randall Faurot and Duncan McRae.

The compact Lark(1) was McRae and his colleagues’ first design. They ingeniously re-used the rather dated central body section of the company’s existing large Champion model, which had been introduced in 1953. Initially, the Lark sold very well and was wholly responsible for saving Studebaker from bankruptcy, at least for the time being. Sherwood Egbert became CEO of the troubled company at the end of 1960. Having previously worked for the McCulloch company, Egbert had already met Brooks Stevens on a few occasions, so it was to the Milwaukee designer that Egbert would turn to Continue reading “The Milwaukee Magician (Part Four)”

Eighties Eco-Concept Marvels: Epilogue – Endgame?

Where next for the Eco-car?


Citroen Ami (Source: Automotive News Europe)

Having enjoyed researching and writing about our three eighties eco-concept marvels, what thoughts now come to mind about the current state of the small car market? After all, the future as predicted by the ECO 2000, for example, has long since passed.

The car as we know it is, without doubt, experiencing something of a fin de siècle. Personally, I have felt a growing sense that car design and development has plateaued, become complacent and intellectually flabby, with form increasingly disconnected from function. I have also realised that this is reflected in my writings for DTW, which recently has been focused very much on the past rather than today or the future.

So, much as I enjoyed writing this short series, it has left me a little flat in terms of thoughts about the status quo and the future. Cue a stream of consciousness … Continue reading “Eighties Eco-Concept Marvels: Epilogue – Endgame?”

Voiture à Vivre [Part Two]

The Supercar cometh.

Image: renaultgroup.com

Unlike other major European markets, France did not particularly enjoy a love affair with the two-door bodystyle and by consequence, for sound commercial reasons, few mainstream French carmakers saw fit to offer one throughout the 1950s and 60s[1]. It was therefore not at all surprising that Renault CEO, Pierre Dreyfus and his marketing heads were initially dubious about the sales prospects for the new Renault 5’s two-door-with-a-tailgate style. The level of commercial risk was, not to exaggerate matters, enormous.

Misgivings were not only expressed within Billancourt itself however, Renault’s dealer representatives vehemently agitated against the two-door body style when the Cinq was previewed to them prior to launch. In fact, they wrote it off entirely, baldly stating that only commercial operators would Continue reading “Voiture à Vivre [Part Two]”

In the Full Current of Human Life: European Car of the Year 2022

A coming of age in Geneva.

Image: archyewsy

Now in its 59th year, the earnestly intentioned but often derided European Car of the Year contest has been a hostage to fortune over the past three years. This time pestilence has yet again denied the media attendance at the live announcement on the eve of the Geneva Salon, but minds have been far more concentrated on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, rightly described by the ECotY organisation as “this terrible war.”

In a darkened arena in Geneva, ECotY president Frank Janssen stated his organisation’s response to the invasion: no Russian flag on display at the presentation and the two Russian jurors’ votes would be excluded from the count. I’m sure Vadim Ovsiankin and Sergey Znaemsky are decent fellows, but needs must in these times. Their votes won’t count this year, but they retain their jury places. Continue reading “In the Full Current of Human Life: European Car of the Year 2022”

The Nearly Car (Part Two)

Concluding our recollection of the Chrysler / Talbot Alpine and its saloon sibling, the Solara.

Image: telegraph.co.uk

Renowned automotive writer Leonard (LJK) Setright took his monocle to the newly launched Simca 1307/8 in the December 1975 issue of Car Magazine. Setright observed that the engineering teams in both Whitley and Poissy seemed keen to take the lion’s share of credit for the new car. This was understandable, as the Alpine was “really rather a good machine, restoring Chrysler to a competitive place in what has been described as the ‘upper middle-class market’ in Europe.”

One could, however, sense a ‘but’ coming, and it duly arrived with regard to the engine, which Setright identified as the car’s “only major shortcoming”. This was mainly due to the volume of engine noise that permeated the cabin. The problem was exacerbated by unusually low levels of wind and road noise, thanks to the aerodynamic body design and the car’s separate front and rear rubber-mounted subframes. The latter helped achieve “fundamentally a very comfortable and absorbent ride.” Continue reading “The Nearly Car (Part Two)”

Just When I Feel I Can’t Dance Anymore, Love Comes to Play

How is it that I have a lot of time for the Cadillac Fleetwood Talisman, but find I have rather less time for its modern-day equivalent?

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I suppose it is because the Cadillac Fleetwood Talisman could be said to be a real Cadillac whereas the Maybach is conspicuously uncertain as to its identity. Is that such a problem? Ford’s Vignale is a bit uncertain and yet I like those cars a great deal. Something else is at issue here. The Mercedes-Maybach featured today makes me think that, if I wanted to Continue reading “Just When I Feel I Can’t Dance Anymore, Love Comes to Play”

The Milwaukee Magician (Part Three)

Continuing our guided tour of the works of Brooks Stevens.

Image: zeppelin70years.com

1954 Cadillac Die Valkyrie: snowplough, cow-catcher(1) and steam iron were just some of the likenesses offered by critics for the controversial frontal appearance of Brooks Stevens’ first design to be displayed at a European Motor Show. The last suggestion was particularly apposite in view of the Milwaukee designer’s successful ‘Steam-O-Matic’ iron of more than a decade earlier. The giant ‘V’ shaped front assembly was, according to Stevens, simply meant to emphasise the large V8 engine that provided the motive force for the car.

The Die Valkyrie was designed after Brooks Stevens became acquainted with Guy Storr, a French public relations specialist based in Monaco. Their meeting was timely as Stevens was eager to Continue reading “The Milwaukee Magician (Part Three)”

The Nearly Car (Part One)

The Chrysler / Talbot Alpine was undone by the weakness of its maker.

Image: Chrysler Europe

There is a caricature concerning the behaviour of US corporations following their takeover of foreign companies that goes something like this:

Wealthy and expansionist BigCorp Inc. mounts a successful takeover of LittleCo PLC, paying a handsome premium over the net asset value for LittleCo’s intangible assets. These include its local market knowledge and experience about what sells and how to sell it. BigCorp then trashes that treasure by directing LittleCo to do things the American way, sweeping aside all resistance to change.

I’m sure there are instances where this has happened, but at least one US corporation seemed strangely reticent to impose its will on its newly acquired European subsidiaries. That corporation was Chrysler and the subsidiaries concerned were Rootes Group in the UK and Simca in France. Chrysler finally took full control of the former in 1967 and the latter in 1970. Not only was Chrysler apparently slow to Continue reading “The Nearly Car (Part One)”

Voiture à Vivre [Part One]

Big science in a small package. 

Image: largus.fr

The scientific approach to motor car design was one which was taken up with some enthusiasm in France during the post-war period, resulting not only in some of the more compelling examples of motive modernity, but the most significant of the modern era. The results of intellectual rigour and no small quantum of application, these cars were also imbued with another, more nebulous quality: a piquant and distinctive character. Certainly, it was a potent amalgamation of elements that in this instance created a car both of its time, yet also timeless. A car for living. A car for life.

Towards the end of the 1960s, amid Europe’s engineering centres and styling studios, a new evolution of car was being forged. With matters of powertrain layout and body format still to be definitively established, nobody was entirely sure what would emerge as the dominant strain. But while Mirafiori, Turin would in the fullness of time lay claim to the precise technical layout of the compact front wheel drive car[1], it was their Transalpine rivals at Boulogne-Billancourt who would go on to Continue reading “Voiture à Vivre [Part One]”

Eighties Eco-Concept Marvels: Number 3 – BL Technologies ECV3

We look at three small eco-concept cars from the 1980s and see what became of them.

BL Technologies ECV3. Can you imagine the shock of BL presenting this in 1982? (Source: AROnline)

The last of the cars featured in this series is the BL Technologies ECV3. This is a classic BL tale of burgeoning promise turning to wracking frustration as funds dried up for the development of a new small car. As might be expected, it is also by some margin the most convoluted and protracted of the three stories.

BL Technology was the R&D arm of the state-owned British car maker. In 1980, it was led by renowned engineer Spen King and given a home at BL’s new testing facility at Gaydon in Warwickshire. BL Technology and its Gaydon site was basically a sand-box environment, enabling King and his colleagues to propose theories about the future design of cars, then turn these into working prototypes to Continue reading “Eighties Eco-Concept Marvels: Number 3 – BL Technologies ECV3”

Blunt Sword

Not without merit, but vanquished by the Capri.

Sunbeam Rapier Fastback. Image: viaretro.com

When one thinks of 1960s British coupés based on humble saloon underpinnings, the Ford Capri immediately springs to mind. Ford’s masterful repackaging of the Cortina Mk2 into the car you always promised yourself was an instant hit. Who cared that the Capri was largely a triumph of style over substance when the style was so appealing?

Ford was not, however, the only British mainstream manufacturer to market a stylish coupé based on its workaday saloon. A year before the Capri was launched, Rootes Group unveiled the Sunbeam Rapier, a two-door fastback coupé based on the platform and mechanical underpinnings of the Arrow range of mid-size saloons and estates. Continue reading “Blunt Sword”

Is that a Vourdoulakas in the Potting Shed?

Celebrating the unexceptional.

Reasonably priced car in Aarhus, Denmark. Image: the author

Much of what gets recorded is either data with no texture, or the exceptional. In between is where real life happens and it goes by undocumented. Today, an ordinary car on an ordinary street on an ordinary day.

The Suzuki Liana doesn’t strike one as …. well, it doesn’t strike one very much. So anonymous is the Liana that Top Gear used on as for their ‘Star In A Reasonably Priced Car’ feature. The Liana is very much the kind of car I see littering my part of town, and I usually ignore them. But, when I saw this one, I decided I could not resist the voice that told me to Continue reading “Is that a Vourdoulakas in the Potting Shed?”

Something Growing out of Season

An early spring arrival in Sheffield:

All Images: autotrader.co.uk

Goodness, it seems a long winter: early December snow followed by unseasonably mild conditions, yet the days are still too short, the daylight pallid and grey. One looks forward eagerly to spring, when the brightness and warmth of the sun lifts the mood and instils new energy and vitality: folk smile, appear more relaxed and less hurried to retreat indoors – and they change their cars. The swapping of cars can happen at any time, of course, and for wildly different reasons, but the auto trade eagerly anticipates the green shoots of spring for the new business it brings.

On a recent dash for urgent supplies of dried coriander(1), I witnessed a previously unseen and unseasonably early new shoot: where once resided an ignoble looking red Fiesta Mk3, that space had been well and truly filled by a product of Pym’s Lane, a white Bentley Continental GT. In the bright sunshine, one’s hat brim required tipping to Continue reading “Something Growing out of Season”

The Milwaukee Magician (Part Two)

A guided tour through some of the notable works of Brooks Stevens.

Image: the author

1936 Zephyr Land Yacht: One of the earliest automotive creations of Brooks Stevens is this unusual trailer vehicle combination, the Zephyr Land Yacht. It was commissioned by thirty year-old millionaire playboy William Woods Plankinton Jr., heir to his father’s vast fortune. The tractor was based on an International Harvester chassis, while the trailer used a Curtis Aerocar as a starting point. The lucky occupants of the trailer wanted for nothing during their travels across the country: a complete kitchen, bathrooms with showers and hot and cold water plus sleeping accommodation for Plankinton, six guests and the butler were provided. Plankington was an avid hunter and fisherman, so ample storage for rifles and fishing rods was also incorporated into the design. Continue reading “The Milwaukee Magician (Part Two)”

The Reawakening of Bentley (Part Two)

Concluding our recollection of the cars that sealed Bentley’s renaissance.

1998 Bentley Azure. Image: bentleymotors.com

Such was the demand for the new Continental R that Car Magazine would not get to road test it until January 1992, and then it was still a prototype rather than a production car that was supplied for the test. Reviewer Richard Bremner noted that the car, although roomy and beautifully trimmed, was a strict four-seater, with individual rear seats separated by a large centre console that bisected the cabin. Bremner bemoaned the lack of ventilation or seat adjustment for rear seat passengers. Front seat occupants had no such complaints, however, and sat in great luxury(1).

Unlike the Turbo R, the automatic transmission lever was floor-mounted and linked to Continue reading “The Reawakening of Bentley (Part Two)”

Micropost: The Brunei Bentleys

The Sultan of Brunei was a fan of the storied British marque.

Bentley B3. Image: drivetribe.com

In the closing decade of the last century, Bentley’s most important and valuable customer was His Majesty, Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah of Brunei. With a net worth estimated to be around $28 Billion, the Sultan is one of the World’s richest men. He has been absolute ruler of the tiny but very wealthy sultanate since succeeding his father, who abdicated in October 1967. Now 74 years old, the Sultan has been a controversial ruler and is responsible for much repressive legislation in Brunei. That is, of course, a subject for discussion and debate elsewhere.

Today, we Continue reading “Micropost: The Brunei Bentleys”

The Alfa Romeo Tonale – a Pass with Advisories

Alfa Romeo’s latest last chance has arrived.

Image: Stellantis Media

The arrival of a new mass-market Alfa Romeo is always an important event, and the Tonale CUV arrives with heavy responsibilities upon its evocatively styled shoulders. Nearly three years have passed since the Tonale Concept showed its SZ-inspired face at the last Geneva Salon of the decade. I had been deeply impressed by Fiat’s Centoventi concept, unveiled at the same venue, but the Tonale seemed like a needless distraction; no certainty of production in the post-Marchionne paralysis, very little technical information other than that it would be electric, or at least electrified. The video presentation was fabulously impressive, the red show car rather less convincing. Continue reading “The Alfa Romeo Tonale – a Pass with Advisories”

Eighties Eco-Concept Marvels: Number 2 – Renault VESTA

A short series in which we look at three small eco-concept cars from the 1980s and see what became of them.

Renault VESTA – look through the rear side window, and one can see that it is one of those styling mules where each side elevation has a differing design (Source: All Car Index)

Today, we turn our attention to Renault’s vision for a compact car designed to do 120mpg (2.35l/100km), the 1983 VESTA.

In its February 1984 edition, Car Magazine went into some detail about what it reported would become the new Renault ‘R3’ in an article, entitled ‘Towards 2000’. This edition of the magazine is memorable for having scoop photos of the Kadett E / Astra MkII on the front cover, the car brightly illuminated at night on the road, showing that GM Europe’s compact offering was going to Continue reading “Eighties Eco-Concept Marvels: Number 2 – Renault VESTA”

The Reawakening of Bentley (Part One)

The 1991 Continental R Coupé was the first unique Bentley for over a quarter of a century. 

2002 Bentley Continental R. Image: cars-specs.com

The debut in 1965 of the Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow was a seminal event in the company’s long and occasionally turbulent history. With its unitary construction, it brought Rolls-Royce into the modern age. Its longevity and enduring sales success carried the company through some pretty lean times.

The Silver Shadow also caused the near extinction of the Bentley marque. The absence of a separate chassis on which distinctive coachbuilt models could readily be created reduced Bentley to a badge-engineered version of the Silver Shadow, dubbed T-Series and distinguished only by a different radiator grille. Over a fifteen-year production run, only 2,280 (7%) from a total of 32,337 cars produced carried the Bentley name.

When the Silver Shadow model was rebodied in 1980 to Continue reading “The Reawakening of Bentley (Part One)”

The Splendour of the Empire He Took With Him Away

Five short years. Not long for such a long car.

1991-1996 Chevrolet Caprice. All images: the author

It was launched 1991. By 1996, GM had given up on their RWD, body-on-frame sedans, a mere five summers later. The last North American market(1) Caprice served really as a stop-gap. Underneath the deceitfully aero-looking body lurked technology dating back to the Carter era. The engine and underbody could be largely swapped between the 1977 Caprice and the 1991 model.

That is not necessarily a criticism. It reflected the fact that the demands placed on big, comfy sedans simply had not changed that much. It also reflected the fact that more and more American drivers wanted to Continue reading “The Splendour of the Empire He Took With Him Away”

Roots and Wings – A Book Review

The life and work of automotive designer, Peter Schreyer.

Image: Gestalten

Is Roots and Wings a book for the Internet age? The plethora of online information concerning Peter Schreyer borders on the exorbitant, even obsessive, but when the heft and aroma of the paper, quality of the photography and fascinating subject matter combine to such good effect, the pleasure this book provides is sensory as much as intellectual. Engaged with the physicality of this book, one is inclined to take one’s time, allowing the narrative and images time to be absorbed and appreciated for their subtlety and nuance. One is left with the impression that Schreyer took the same time, effort and care over the book that he invested in his automotive designs. Hence, the book is bursting with flavour and added humour, some of which is intentional, some inadvertent. Continue reading “Roots and Wings – A Book Review”

Spoils of War (Part Two)

General Motors’ military adventure was fated to end badly.

L to R: Hummer H3, H2 and H1. Image: medium.com

Now in control of the Hummer marque and its product planning and marketing, General Motors was keen to maximise the sales potential of its newly acquired off-road specialist. Its ambition was to rival and even displace Jeep as the leading US marque in this space. To do so, it needed a full range of models that were more suitable for on-road use than the  uncompromising and unwieldy H1(1).

Hummer’s second model, the H2, was launched in 2002. It was based on a GMT800 series full-size truck and SUV platform and was powered by a 366 cu.in. (6.0-litre) V8 petrol engine, mated to a four-speed automatic transmission. The engine produced maximum power of 325bhp (242kW) and torque of 385 lb ft (522Nm). The H2’s off-road statistics were more modest than those of the H1, but still impressive. Continue reading “Spoils of War (Part Two)”

I Can Explain Everything. Actually, No, I Can’t.

Achieving the impossible?

Image: Mag-Cars

In the recent series on the Nissan Qashqai, I mentioned that the latest generation will have a third powertrain option that is so left-field it deserves its own chapter. We are told that the e-POWER version will arrive sometime in 2022 and that nothing comparable has previously been offered in a mass-produced vehicle sold in Europe. What makes it unique is that the powertrain has true petrol-electric drive, a series hybrid system with no mechanical gearbox and electric-only traction. The internal combustion engine drives a generator which charges a buffer battery. This in turn delivers power to the electric traction motor. Continue reading “I Can Explain Everything. Actually, No, I Can’t.”

Eighties Eco-Concept Marvels: Number 1 – Citroën ECO 2000

A short series in which we look at three small eco-concept cars from the 1980s and see what became of them.

ECO 2000 in museum context (Source: Auto.cz)

I was an eighties teenager and consider that decade to have been influential on many aspects of the world today. After what seemed to me to have been the grim stagnation, complacency and listlessness of the seventies, the eighties saw the (sometimes painful and tragic) breaking of ties to the past and the search to replace them with future opportunities, especially in technological innovation.

Like myself at that time, I would argue it that was a decade which could be described as naïve, one in which political, economic, cultural and social ideals and principles still meant something. People who believed in those ideals and principles were prepared to Continue reading “Eighties Eco-Concept Marvels: Number 1 – Citroën ECO 2000”