Z-List or X-Factor?

The Citroen ZX celebrates its thirtieth birthday in 2021. Will anyone remember to send a card?

1991 Citroen ZX Aura. Image: motorstown.com

The 1978 Citroën Visa came as a pleasant surprise to those who expected the Double-Chevron’s highly distinctive identity to be crushed under the weight of Peugeot’s conservatism and financial rectitude. Although heavily based on the Peugeot 104, the Visa retained more than enough Citroën quirkiness to be accepted as a spiritual heir to cars such as the Ami and Dyane. Likewise, the 1982 BX and 1989 XM models were both unlikely to be mistaken as anything but Citroëns.

Citroën had lacked a mainstream C-segment competitor since the demise of the GSA in 1986. It had hoped that the Visa and BX ranges might be stretched to Continue reading “Z-List or X-Factor?”

Under the Knife – No Advance

2004’s (B7) Audi A4 was a highly significant (re)design, if not entirely for the right reasons.

A distinct lack of Vorsprung. 2004 B7 series Audi A4. Image: dsf-my

The four rings of Ingolstadt were a long time in the ascendant, frequently taking one step forward and several backwards, before hitting a more assured stride. Indeed, according to former design director, Peter Schreyer, it was at one time considered an embarrassment to Continue reading “Under the Knife – No Advance”

Best Bitter (3)

Third Pint (With Whisky Chaser): Still Bitter after all these years.

bitter
1987 Type 3 cabriolet.

Maintaining his interest in rally-inspired machines, another EB project was the Rallye GT. Observing there was a well of potential customers, not only younger but less well heeled than contemporary owners, his 1978 plan was also aimed at bringing financial stability. The Manta B offered up it’s floorpan and mechanicals for Eberhard Schultz, Gallion and Bitter to thrash out a design.

With its ideal front engine – rear wheel drive set up, Bitter planned to Continue reading “Best Bitter (3)”

Last of England

Jaguar’s compact post-Millennial contender misfired badly. We look back on the X-Type and consider its legacy.

Image: Sunday Times Driving

In car manufacture, there can be no success without failure, each new model an educated shot in the dark, each failure a reproach, all the more so should the product in question represent a new market sector for its maker. Moving downmarket carries greater risk, for the virtues to which customers have become familiar and value most must be offered in diminished form. Nor does development cost fall, any gains being rooted in volume and economies of scale. Furthermore, once a business has taken such a step, there really is no going back.

To some extent therefore, the X-Type irreparably damaged brand-Jaguar, the carmaker never quite recovering from the financial losses incurred by the X400 programme. The figures involved are sobering. According to a study carried out by corporate analysts, Sanford C Bernstein a number of years ago, Jaguar allegedly lost €4600 on every X-Type sold – an overall loss amounting to over €1.7 billion.

Widely viewed as Jaguar’s deadliest sin and the butt of derision amongst the more sensationalist automotive press, the story behind the X-Type’s less than charmed career is not only more complex than is often told, but deserves a less emotive, more nuanced telling. But beforehand we must first Continue reading “Last of England”

The Last of England

Jaguar’s compact post-Millennial contender misfired badly. We look back on the X-Type and reconsider its legacy.

Image: Sunday Times Driving

New Jag Generation.

In car manufacture, there can be no success without failure, each new model an educated shot in the dark, each failure a reproach, all the more so should the product in question represent a new market sector for its maker. Moving downmarket carries greater risk, for the virtues to which customers have become familiar and value most must be offered in diminished form. Nor does development cost fall, any gains being rooted in volume and economies of scale. Furthermore, once a business has taken such a step, there really is no going back.

To some extent therefore, the X-Type irreparably damaged brand-Jaguar, the carmaker never quite recovering from the financial losses incurred by the X400 programme. The figures involved are sobering. According to a study carried out by corporate analysts, Sanford C Bernstein a number of years ago, Jaguar allegedly lost €4600 on every X-Type sold – an overall loss amounting to over €1.7 billion.

Widely viewed as Jaguar’s deadliest sin and the butt of derision amongst the more sensationalist automotive press, the story behind the X-Type’s less than charmed career is not only more complex than is often told, but deserves a less emotive, more nuanced telling. But beforehand we must first Continue reading “The Last of England”

Der Zenit (Part Two)

Mercedes-Benz would never build another car like the 1991 W140 S-Class.

1994 Mercedes-Benz W140 S-class (post-facelift)

European automotive industry watchers, motoring journalists and the public were amazed that Mercedes-Benz could launch such a large and profligate flagship in the teeth of an economic recession and growing environmental concerns. Journalists’ preconceptions and reservations about the size of the W140 were, however, seriously challenged when they drove the new S-Class. While they had expected that it would be beautifully built from the highest quality materials and would Continue reading “Der Zenit (Part Two)”

Swiped Left

Amid high hopes, Argentina’s Zunder proved a damp squib.

Image: Archivodeautos

A substantial percentage of the population of Argentina is of European origin- so much so that even today many Argentineans consider their country as in a way a separate one from the South American continent. Until the middle of the 20th century Argentina and its inhabitants were doing rather well economically, exporting cereals and meat worldwide. What was felt to be missing however was a domestic car make; several enterprising souls would try their luck at clearing this prestigious but tricky hurdle. The Bongiovanni brothers were among them.

As their surname suggests, Nilson and Eligio Bongiovanni were of Italian descent. After the second world war they ran a large and prosperous Chevrolet dealership in the city of Rio Cuarto, west of Buenos Aires. The implementation of protectionism measures by the government in 1952 threw a spanner in the works: among other things it meant the end of the import of foreign cars including of course, Chevrolets. This left the brothers with only repairs and maintenance as a source of income. This setback did however stimulate the Bongiovannis (both of them creative personalities with excellent engineering skills) to Continue reading “Swiped Left”

Best Bitter (2)

Second Pint: Bitter comes of age. 

Down but far from out, Bitter once again looked in Opel’s direction; the Diplomat having run its course, giving way to the Senator in 1978. Following two years planning and hefty external investment, the SC model was brought forth on the Senator platform. Assisting Bitter with production design were Opel stylists, Henry Haga and George Gallion; Bitter also enlisting Michelotti to assist with body detailing, while Pininfarina undertook wind tunnel tests. Quite what those at Cambiano made of the SC is unknown, especially considering this new upstart’s rather similar lines to Mr. Fioravanti’s contemporary Ferrari 365/400.

Initially offered with a 3 litre in-line six cylinder engine producing practically equal power and torque (180/182) the SC was treated to some tuning in 1983 by Mantzel who enlarged the GM unit to 3.9 litres and 210bhp. A no-cost option three speed automatic from GM was the preferred gearbox with a Getrag five speed manual only taken up by around forty customers. Top speeds approached 140 mph from the larger capacity engine.

Bitter had set up a new enterprise Bitter-Italia; and with the Baur build contract for the CD now ceased, Turin based OCRA was employed in their stead. Subcontracted to Continue reading “Best Bitter (2)”

Der Zenit (Part One)

The 1991 W140 S-Class was a technological tour de force, and possibly the finest car Mercedes-Benz ever made. Its arrival was also painfully mistimed. We remember the Uber-Benz on the thirtieth anniversary of its launch.

Mighty. Image: Australiancar.reviews

The arrival of a new Mercedes-Benz S-Class was always a seminal event for the automotive industry. It often heralded the introduction of new technology and safety features that would subsequently be adopted by other Mercedes-Benz models and, eventually, by its lesser competitors.

The 1959 W111 predecessor to the S-Class was the first car to feature a rigid passenger safety cell with front and rear crumple zones, to slow the deceleration that occurs in a high-speed impact and dissipate the kinetic energy released(1). In 1978, the W116 S-Class was the first car in the world to Continue reading “Der Zenit (Part One)”

Micropost: If Sacco had Prevailed?

We wonder if the 1991 Mercedes-Benz W140 might have fared better, both in stylistic terms and in the market, if Bruno Sacco had been allowed to realise his original vision for the car.

Bruno Sacco

One of the surprising nuggets I uncovered in my research on the W140 was that Bruno Sacco, Mercedes-Benz’s highly talented but modest and self-effacing Head of Styling, was an admirer of the Jaguar XJ saloon. Sacco very much liked its low and sleek lines. His original concept for a replacement for the W126 S-Class was a Germanic interpretation of that car. Unfortunately, his vision was corrupted by demands that the cabin should have generous headroom, even for two 190cm (6’3”) adults sitting one behind the other. This resulted in what most would adjudge to be an excessively tall glasshouse, making the car more suitable for monarchs and dictators on parade than fast and discreet point-to-point travel by captains of industry.

Sacco and exterior designer Oliver Boulay even tried to Continue reading “Micropost: If Sacco had Prevailed?”

Under the Knife – A Kiss of the Blade

The 2004 facelift of Alfa’s 147 was of the light-touch variety. We check for residual scarring.

2004 Alfa Romeo 147. Image: bipedia.info via occasion-automobile.fr

It wasn’t possible to know it at the time, but the immediate pre and post-Millennium period would represent the final creative and commercial flowering of FIAT Auto (as then known), a statement which is particularly apt when it comes to matters surrounding the fabled Biscione of Milan.

Part of FIAT’s sprawling auto group since 1986 and in the wake of a somewhat chequered start in product terms, a cohesive and (from a purely design perspective at least) credible strategy had been formulated for Alfa Romeo; matters taking a decidedly more upbeat tone with the Enrico Fumia-helmed 1993 Spider and related GTV models. Continue reading “Under the Knife – A Kiss of the Blade”

Up, Up and Away

Would you like to ride in my beautiful… Lexus

Lexus SC. Image: The author.

Filling balloons with wet plaster, squeezing them into abstract shapes, photographing the amorphous images and projecting the slides on a wall may sound like the description of an LSD powered mind trip, but in this case it was a new and unprecedented way to design a car.

In 1987 Toyota started work on project F3, the planned successor to the then recently introduced Soarer Z20. Contrary to the previous Japanese domestic market-only model, the planned new car would also be marketed in North America under the upcoming Lexus brand. Since it was considered essential that the future car be a success in the North American market, the job was given to Calty Design Research – Toyota’s Californian design centre established in 1973.

Not leaving anything to chance however, Toyota instructed their in-house design team in Japan to Continue reading “Up, Up and Away”

Confounding Conventional Wisdom

For the past two decades, one manufacturer has proved that there is still significant sales potential in Europe for large mainstream saloon and estate cars.

2001 Škoda Superb Mk1 (c) drive2.com

At the dawn of the new millennium, the market for large non-premium saloon cars in Europe seemed to be in terminal decline. The traditionally big-selling Ford Granada/Scorpio series had ended production in 1998. The Rover 800 and Renault Safrane followed suit in 1999 and 2000 respectively. Sales of the Opel/Vauxhall Omega were falling precipitously, from 74,753 (1) in 1997 to just 15,542 in 2003, its last full year on sale. Like the others, it would bow out without a replacement.

Peugeot attempted to Continue reading “Confounding Conventional Wisdom”

German Film Star

Part three: Concluding our close-up of the R107 Mercedes SL.

Three dimensional actor. Image: Autoevolution

Despite entering a world yet to experience the true meaning of the term, Oil-Shock, Mercedes-Benz’s 1971 newcomer did not find its way bestrewn with rose petals, as one might have envisaged with half a century’s hindsight to draw upon. The product of a great deal of regulatory hurdle-jumping, Sindelfingen’s engineers did themselves proud on the safety and technological side of the SL coin, even if stylistically, few seemed poleaxed in mute adoration. Which isn’t to suggest that it wasn’t well received. It was. However, it is possible to Continue reading “German Film Star”

Best Bitter

First Pint: The Bitter origin saga. 

All images (c) Bittercars.com

The world needs characters such as Erich Bitter. At 87, if the Westphalian runs on oil, he must have reserves aplenty, at least from wells of entrepreneurship and dogged determination. For without that close to wind, to blazes with millstones like finance and ruin, his dogged spirit and an array of automotive anomalies would never have been. Although that output may have been small in relative terms, his legacy (of which surprisingly large numbers survive) continues. Mind you, those seeking marriage or financial guidance might wish to Continue reading “Best Bitter”

Heroes and Villains: BMW Design (Part Two)

The author identifies what he regards as the best and worst of BMW design over the past six decades.

Yikes!  2001 BTW (E65) 7 Series (c) autoevolution.com

In part one I identified my BMW design heroes. Today, the villains take centre-stage. Get ready to hurl whatever comes to hand in their direction. Continue reading “Heroes and Villains: BMW Design (Part Two)”

Glorious Anachronism

Concept cars are often used to gauge public reaction to a new design direction before applying it to mainstream models. Not so the BMW Z07 concept, which became the Z8 Roadster.

2001 BMW Z8 Convertible (c) rwd-cars.de

By the mid 1990’s BMW had acquired an enviable reputation as a manufacturer of finely wrought and handsome drivers’ cars. The 1990 E36 3 Series and 1995 E39 5 Series were both rightly regarded as dynamically superior to their competitors from Audi or Mercedes-Benz, so possessed a more youthful appeal (to drivers of all ages). Plans were already well advanced for the 1997 E46 3-Series which, in design terms, would be a careful evolution of its predecessor.

For all this success, there was a concern within BMW that the company’s designs were perhaps too safe and evolutionary and might Continue reading “Glorious Anachronism”

German Film Star

Part Two: The matinée idol’s lesser-appreciated sibling.

Image: str2.ru

Like everybody else, Mercedes-Benz’s engineering teams had rather a lot to contend with by the late 1960s. Not simply developing the nascent W116 S-Class, the most ambitious and luxurious mainstream saloon yet to bear the three pointed star, or perfecting the advanced rotary-engined C111 prototype – in addition to ongoing developments for both conventional petrol and diesel powertrains, there was also a seemingly limitless tsunami of emissions and safety mandates emanating from the land of the free.

Facing large investments, and no small level of commercial risk associated with new model programmes, the Mercedes-Benz supervisory board are believed to have vetoed a proposal to Continue reading “German Film Star”

The Little BMW That Could

The car that gave hope to BMW that independent, consistent success would materialise after a difficult post-war period.

All images by the author.

As the 1950s drew to a close, BMW was in deep trouble. Only the tiny Isetta bubble car, built under license from Iso was a modest money maker. An enormous chasm gaped between the Isetta and the large, expensive 2600 and 3200 models, modernised versions of the 501/ 502 and by that time past their best.

The exclusive 503 and 507 were impressive vehicles to be sure, and especially in the 507’s case, beautiful, but neither had been a commercial success. In an effort to Continue reading “The Little BMW That Could”

Look What the Tide Brought In – A Caledonian Curiosity

Ireland’s loss is Scotland’s gain. 

Image: R. Parazitas

It is early spring 2009, and Central Scotland is in the grip of an unexpected invasion. They came by the transporter load, unfamiliar little saloons and hatchbacks, unacknowledged by their Japanese maker. As I pounded the M8, M9, M90, and M74, I was briefly mystified – were they merely passing through, bound for another country? Nissan UK was glorying in a Qashqai-led purple patch – they had gambled the farm on an SUV for Focus / Astra money and hit the jackpot. What place was there for a nondescript and regressive basic transport tool?

If I’d been a keener reader of the nation’s red-top dailies, the mystery would have been solved sooner. Scotland’s largest car dealership chain had secured a job-lot of Nissan C11 Tiidas, originally intended for the Republic of Ireland, and now offered exclusively at tempting prices with an impressive equipment specification.

Had it been any other dealership, I’d have expected that a rap on the knuckles and a reminder of the terms of their franchise contract would have been delivered forthwith. In Arnold Clark’s case, I suspect complicity with Nissan to Continue reading “Look What the Tide Brought In – A Caledonian Curiosity”

Heroes and Villains: BMW Design (Part One)

The author identifies what he regards as the best and worst of BMW design over the past six decades.

1968 BMW (E3) ‘New Six’ 2500 (c) curbsideclassic

Over my lifetime, BMW has produced some truly outstanding automotive designs. That makes it all the more painful to acknowledge the company’s recent failures, which are becoming ever more egregious. First, however, let us Continue reading “Heroes and Villains: BMW Design (Part One)”

German Film Star

A car made for its times, Mercedes-Benz’s 107-series helped define them. We tell its story. 

Image: honest-john

“It’s a glamourous world”.

In the field of creative endeavour, matters of an unintended nature often have an inconvenient habit of altering initial intentions, and while in some cases this may be to the detriment of the finished product, more often the outcome emerges simply as different.

This being so, it certainly would not be wildly inaccurate to Continue reading “German Film Star”

German Film Star

Part one: “It’s a glamourous world”.

Image: honest-john

In the field of creative endeavour, matters of an unintended nature often have an inconvenient habit of altering initial intentions, and while in some cases this may be to the detriment of the finished product, more often the outcome emerges simply as different.

This being so, it certainly would not be wildly inaccurate to Continue reading “German Film Star”

Supermarket Sweep

Taking the retail road less travelled.

Image: Automobile-catalog

Hunter gatherers only had to find and fend for their food supplies. They didn’t have to circumnavigate the darker reaches of the supermarket car park, seeking out the lesser used spaces away from those inclined to fling open car doors. But silver linings to clouds, those outlying regions often contain spaces filled by esoteric choices and, mercifully bereft of those sporting or cross derived.

One such regular being a dove grey Hyundai Lantra of 1995 vintage. Only ever seen in the darker reaches of the underground car park, this second generation Korean rather blends into the concrete gloom. It was obvious that space was taken but a closer examination proved necessary in order to Continue reading “Supermarket Sweep”

Small Beginnings

Half a century ago, South Korea’s auto industry was in its infancy. We recall its inauspicious start and chart its early progress.

1975 Hyundai Pony (c) Hyundai Motor

With global sales(1) in 2020 of 6.52 million vehicles, Hyundai Motor is the world’s third largest auto manufacturer, behind Volkswagen Group with 9.31 million and Toyota with 8.90 million sales. Hyundai, which includes the Kia marque, overtook General Motors in 2019 and continues to move ahead of the troubled US giant, suffering less of a reversal in the Covid-affected 2020 market than either it or the two market leaders.

Fifty years ago, things were somewhat different. Hyundai was building just one Ford passenger car model under licence, while Kia was confined to building Mazda light commercial vehicles. Both manufacturers shared an ambition to Continue reading “Small Beginnings”

Dutch Treat

There were more strings to DAF’s bow than one might have imagined.

Image: The author,

Although small in stature, The Netherlands has given the world several notable innovations. The microscope, the orange coloured carrot, the stock market, the pendulum clock, total football, the anthem, the first modern world atlas, Bluetooth and WiFi, the artificial kidney and heart, not to mention cocoa powder.

But while the Gatso speed camera has been greeted with less cheer, the positives outweigh that negative by some margin. In the carmaking field however, the country’s track record has been less stellar. Even though luxury car maker Spijker was the first to introduce a car with six cylinders (and four wheel drive as well!) in 1903 with the 60HP, the company went bankrupt during the roaring twenties; and even if current CEO Victor Muller of the revived-since-1999 Spijker would have us Continue reading “Dutch Treat”

Collaborative Applause Part Two

The applause falls short.

1986 Rover 800. Image: cargurus

Honda’s Legend was brought to market late in 1985, stealing some of ARG’s thunder. Mark Snowdon, Managing Director of Product Development countered this move with an acceptance that Honda were a little faster to button everything up; “late stage modifications, we have a wider model range and we have different ways of launching cars to our Japanese colleagues.” A foil which did little to mask his chagrin. One of those late stage modifications being the M16 engines, which were not fully ready. 800s at launch instead making do with the Honda 2.5 litre engine. The M16 became available later in the year.

Neither car had been a secret. No camouflage wraps or exclusive spy shots in the mid-80’s. Five (or so) long years had passed from Sked’s reconnoitre in Frankfurt to British launch date (10th July 1986), two days after the company rebranded to Rover Group PLC. Whatever their name, the current financial and political situation was far from rosy. Sales were up but losses remained huge, in the tens of millions.

One contributory factor must be the 800’s launch package; Rover paid return airfare where Swiss roads were subjected to a 3,500 complement of journalists, Chief Constables and fleet managers (and wives supposedly) for a weekend jolly. Northumberland was similarly invaded by British MPs and hundreds more foreign journalists, all eager to Continue reading “Collaborative Applause Part Two”

Variomatic for the People

Today we recall DAF’s sixteen years as a manufacturer of small passenger cars alongside the heavy trucks for which the Dutch company is famous.

1960 DAF 600 (c) reddit.com

Mention the name DAF to those interested in matters automotive and their mind will immediately turn to the heavy trucks that are a familiar sight as they carry freight across the length and breadth of the European road network. Based in Eindhoven, the Netherlands, DAF Trucks is a subsidiary of the US manufacturer, Paccar Inc, which acquired the Dutch company in 1996. Paccar’s US truck brands include Kenworth and Peterbilt. It also owns UK truck maker, Leyland, which it acquired in 1998. Paccar is one of the world’s leading manufacturers of medium and heavy trucks.

Some readers may Continue reading “Variomatic for the People”

Welcome to the Machine (Part Three)

The XJ-S’ troubled early years. 

Image: carsot

While its commercial renaissance throughout the 1980s and into the early years of the following decade are indisputable, XJ-S critics routinely point to the first five years of its career as graphic illustration of Jaguar’s error in abandoning a much loved, tried and true format.

The XJ-S’ early years were undoubtedly difficult. Launched into a post oil-shock world, where 12 mpg would butter increasingly fewer people’s parsnips, yet presenting a visual envelope which substituted the E-Type’s easily assimilated aesthetics for something far more complex and discordant, the Seventies Jaguar flagship would prove a cerebral, rather than emotional choice. It was also a far pricier one than of yore, with an asking price more than double that of the last of line E-Types – but in mitigation, it was a far more sophisticated, more capable product.

The XJ-S was also introduced into a particularly febrile political landscape which saw Jaguar’s management (such as they were) engaged in a desperate battle for survival within a carmaking giant which not only had become fundamentally ungovernable, but by 1977, beyond rescue. As British Leyland’s flagship, the XJ-S, which was by no means a well wrought car during this lamentable period, crystallised the national carmaker’s uncanny ability to Continue reading “Welcome to the Machine (Part Three)”

Ford Rediscovers its Mojo (Part Two)

Concluding the story of the original Ford Mondeo and how it confounded the expectations of those who drove it.

1994 Ford Mondeo 2.5 V6 Ghia (c) carsnip.com

The launch of a new Ford was always big news in the UK, so it fell to BBC Top Gear motoring journalist Jeremy Clarkson to pronounce upon the Mondeo. Clarkson tested the car in 1.8 litre manual four-door saloon form shortly after its launch in March 1993. He was underwhelmed by the car’s appearance but impressed by both the interior design and quality of finish.

However, he criticised the cabin space, which he described as merely “adequate”, and noted a shortage of headroom in models fitted with a sunroof. Clarkson remarked favourably upon the car’s “vast” boot, which could Continue reading “Ford Rediscovers its Mojo (Part Two)”

Variations on a Theme

Presenting three lesser known varieties of Citroën’s svelte autoroute express

Image via the author.

CX Haute Protection

When thinking about an armoured passenger car, the picture that comes to mind for most Europeans is likely a large black car with the famous three-pointed star on its bonnet and for those across the Atlantic, one bearing the Cadillac crest. However, in the long wheelbase CX Prestige, Citroën was of the opinion that they could Continue reading “Variations on a Theme”

Collaborative Applause – Part One

Rover’s baked Alaska.

1986 Rover 800. Image: rover-club.fr

Pity the poor car designer forty years hence. A CAD drove a Jaguar. Engines powered cars, not searches, whilst rivals were (almost) willing to explain their plans. Such was the case when BL chief designer, Gordon Sked moseyed through the 1981 Frankfurt motor show – to gain an understanding of what the opposition were up to.

Realising curves, swoops and sophisticated electronics had become de rigueur, he reported to his Canley masters that BL had to change tack if they wanted to Continue reading “Collaborative Applause – Part One”

Ford Rediscovers its Mojo (Part One)

The Ford Mondeo will soon be consigned to automotive history. Today we recall the 1993 original and how it confounded the expectations of those who drove it.

Understated: 1993 Ford Mondeo five-door (c) honestjohn.co.uk

Ford recently surprised nobody(1) by announcing that the Mondeo will be discontinued without a direct replacement in March 2022. The D-segment saloon, hatchback and estate has fallen victim to a fatal cocktail of countervailing forces that reduced European sales to just 21,222(2) in 2020. This is a far cry from the model’s heyday in the 1990’s when annual sales exceeded 300,000 units. Its North American equivalent, the Fusion, was discontinued in July 2020.

The Mondeo was initially hit by the encroachment of smaller premium models, which could be had for similar monthly leasing payments to the mainstream Ford, thanks to their stronger residuals. Company car drivers and personal contract purchasers, who comprised the vast majority of Mondeo customers, were happy to Continue reading “Ford Rediscovers its Mojo (Part One)”

Creative Dissonance

Citroen reveals its big idea.

2021 Citroen C5 X. (c) uk-media.citroen.com

It ought to be obvious really; that incredibly fertile period of Citroën design overseen by the recently departed Robert Opron and presided over by CEO, Pierre Bercot was merely a blip; a marvellously inventive, optimistic and futuristic one, but a blip nonetheless. One where high speed travel in supreme comfort was to Continue reading “Creative Dissonance”

WHAP!…POW!…BIFF!…OOOF!

Today we tell the story of the Batmobile, the automotive hero of the 1966 children’s television series that was based on the comic book adventures of Batman and Robin.

The original 1965 Batmobile (c) 66batmania.com

DTW readers of more mature years will immediately recognise the apparently random selection of words in the title above. They are lifted from the opening credits of Batman, a 20th Century Fox children’s television programme that ran from 1966 to 1968 and made an indelible impression on one childish mind at least.

The hero of the programme was Bruce Wayne, a wealthy bachelor played by Adam West, who led a double life as Batman, protecting the good citizens of Gotham City from the dastardly deeds of a variety of colourful, if inept criminals including The Riddler, The Joker and The Penguin. At Batman’s side was Robin, a.k.a. Bruce Wayne’s young ward, Dick Grayson, played by Burt Ward, and their indefatigable and unflappable butler, Alfred Pennyworth, played by English actor Alan Napier. Continue reading “WHAP!…POW!…BIFF!…OOOF!”

Sochaux Goes Avant.

It all started here.

Factory shot of Peugeot 204 berline. Image: automacha

Since its foundation in 1810 as a maker of bicycles and kitchen equipment, there have been many incarnations of automobiles Peugeot, but perhaps the first truly modern car to bear the famous Lion of Belfort emblem was introduced in 1965, bearing the 204 name.

Initiated during the late 1950s, the 204 came about owing to a perceived gap in the market below the existing 403 model (soon to be supplanted by the larger-engined 404). By consequence, Sochaux management deemed it necessary for the company’s future viability to Continue reading “Sochaux Goes Avant.”

Under the Knife – Taking Care of the Pennies

A smart re-skin and an even smarter nip-and-tuck kept the 1972 Ford Granada at the top of its game for thirteen years.

1973 Ford Granada Ghia (c) aronline.co.uk

In the 1960’s and 70’s Ford of Europe was the master of value engineering, designing cars that were highly attractive to potential buyers, but engineered to be little if at all better than they strictly needed to be. The 1962 Ford Cortina Mk1 was just such a car. It was a simple, light and efficient design and it effectively killed off the cumbersome, complex and heavy 1961 Consul Classic after just two years on the market(1).

The Cortina’s winning formula was reprised in 1968 with the Escort, another light and efficient design that was simple to build and was tailored to appeal to a wide range of customers via an extensive range hierarchy comprising basic, luxury and sporting variants. Likewise, the 1969 Capri, which easily shrugged off the Cortina in a party frock jibes because it looked great and gave customers exactly what they wanted.

There were missteps too, notably the 1966 Mk4 Zephyr / Zodiac. The lower-line versions were fitted with a new V4 engine, but the designers wanted a long bonnet as they believed that this was a signifier of power and prestige. Harley F. Copp, an American Ford design engineer on secondment to Brentwood to Continue reading “Under the Knife – Taking Care of the Pennies”

Domo Arigato Zagato

Win on Sunday…

Alfa 155 TI.Z Image: H Nakayama

The Autech Stelvio and slightly less challengingly styled Autech Gavia were not the only specials for the Japanese domestic market produced by the Italian carrozzieri: meet the Alfa Romeo 155 TI.Z. Zagato’s aim appears to have been to Continue reading “Domo Arigato Zagato”

Classic Error

The 1961 Consul Classic and Capri were a rare market failure for Ford in Europe. We remember them on the 60th Anniversary of their launch.

(c) Ford.co.uk

Ever since the days of the Model T, Ford had developed an enviable reputation for delivering cars that were finely attuned to the perceived wants and needs of the automotive market. Moreover, the company was a master of what one might call value engineering, the art of designing cars wholly to satisfy the market whilst rarely challenging those expectations through new or radical innovations in format, engineering, equipment or styling.

Generations of Ford owners were able to Continue reading “Classic Error”

A Longer Read: Six Decades of Separation

The author charts the evolution of BMW’s design over the past sixty years and laments the dismal state it is in today.

1962 BMW Neue Klasse 1500 Saloon (c) wheelsage.org

In the late 1950’s BMW was a company in deep financial trouble. It had been posting losses for a number of years as an increasingly affluent West German middle-class turned away from its motorcycles and Isetta bubble car but could not afford its 501 luxury saloon.

Moreover, the BMW 507 roadster, although beautiful, had proved financially ruinous for the company. Only 252 roadsters were produced over three years in production between 1956 and 1959. It was virtually hand-built and, even at a price of almost $10,000 (equivalent to $97,400 in 2021) in the US market for which it was primarily designed, BMW lost money on every single one sold. Consequently, the company posted a loss of DM15 million in 1959 and found itself on the verge of bankruptcy.

Daimler-Benz considered what would effectively have been a takeover of its troubled Bavarian rival. A proposal for a merger was tabled, but this was rejected by BMW’s shareholders. Instead, it was the Quandt family, whose wealth derived from a wide range of industrial holdings, that came to the rescue and recapitalised the company. A plan was formulated for a product-led reinvigoration of BMW. Continue reading “A Longer Read: Six Decades of Separation”

A Poor Round

The jury may still be out on the Mk8, but most commentators would adjudge the 1991 Mk3 to be the poorest articulation of the qualities that made the Golf into an automotive phenomenon over the past five decades.

Tepid: 1991 VW Golf Mk3 GTI (c) volkswagen.com

The 1974 Volkswagen Golf Mk1 was a simply brilliant car. In retrospect, however, it appears to be something of an outlier in the eight-generation history of the model. When one thinks of Volkswagen’s C-segment stalwart, the characteristics that come immediately to mind are the high quality of its design, engineering(1) and build, its sober, timeless styling that eschews fads and fashion, good (but not outstanding) dynamics and most importantly, the quiet self-confidence, perhaps even bordering on smugness, it instils in its owners. Golf ownership says: “I could have spent more, but why would I?” 

Unburdened by any of this later baggage, the Golf Mk1 was more Italianate than Germanic in character, with its sharp Giugiaro styling, lightweight construction, and peppy and eager (if noisy) engines, to the extent that nobody would have been surprised if it had emerged as Fiat’s hatchback replacement for the 128(2). It also shared another less desirable Italian characteristic, a propensity to Continue reading “A Poor Round”

Pampas Troika

Not everything is what it seems at first glance: Citroën 2cv derivatives from the fertile South American lowlands.

IES America. Image: (c) Etienne Musslin

Founded in 1959, Citroën Argentina S.A. initially assembled vehicles with parts imported from France. The A-series Citroëns produced at the plant located in a southeast barrio of Buenos Aires named Barracas were mostly identical to their French sisters although the 602cc engined version was renamed 3cv, and featured a fifth door hatch which the European 2cv would only receive many years later.

The A-series models made in Barracas were the 2cv, the 3cv and 3cv in the fourgonette (van) version. Starting in 1964, Citroën Argentina began to manufacture the 425cc engine for the 2cv themselves. In 1969 production was expanded with the Ami 8, followed by the Méhari in 1974; production of the GS being contemplated but never materialised because of the large investment required.

As the end of the decade neared, the changed political and economic situation due to the national reorganisation process (known as proceso) under junta leader Jorge Videla made Citroën decide to Continue reading “Pampas Troika”

I Want To Make A Car

Small yet mighty.

Image: classiccarcatalogue.com

Those enigmatic words once spoken by Carl Borgward when asked about the enthusiastic, engineering-driven young fellow’s aspirations, when older. Whilst this technically minded and for a good while, financially successful man’s eponymous car building history is well documented, we deal today with yet another post-war side line to his empire; that of the car small in name but mighty in stature – the Goliath.

With his Bremen factories – appointed to the German war effort for various armaments – destroyed by Allied bombing, Borgward rose from those ashes with determination. More so after his two year incarceration by the Americans for assisting the enemy – not that he had much choice in the matter. Assessing that the population had little to no interest in anything ostentatious, he realised the opportunity to Continue reading “I Want To Make A Car”

An Uncharacteristic Misstep

A rare market failure for the Volkswagen Group, the 1988 Corrado was a victim of poor product planning rather than its own shortcomings.

1988 Volkswagen Corrado (c) classics.honestjohn.co.uk

Volkswagen’s product planning is the very epitome of Teutonic efficiency and timing. It is difficult to think of an instance when the launch of a new model was greeted with anything like surprise, never mind delight, such is their predictability.

Within the wider Volkswagen group, the other marques have occasionally surprised us with their debutantes: Škoda’s 2006 Roomster and 2009 Yeti arrived during an era of unprecedented and welcome creative freedom for the Czech marque. SEAT’s wholesale switch to monobox vehicles, heralded by the 2004 Altea and Toledo, was brave left-field thinking, if ultimately a dead-end in both creative and sales terms. Continue reading “An Uncharacteristic Misstep”

Chicken Jazz

In the final episode from six months of making the best of bad luck with cars (overshadowed by other events, of course), our correspondent reflects on his brief experience of the Mk3 Honda Jazz.

Jazz Mk3 – looks nicer in sherbet bon-bon yellow than LG white (source: Auto Express.

2020 will hold a particular memory for me (as well as the obvious): it brought with it a series of unfortunate events regarding the Robinson fleet. Unusually, this did not involve sir’s C6, but the FIAT 500 and the Škoda Octavia (twice).

The positive side was the opportunity to drive cars never sampled before. I’ve already covered the delights of Škoda’s Scala, which was with us for an extended period whilst the Octavia had its alternator sorted. On this occasion, I offer you another motoring benchmark; the Honda Jazz Mk3.

At this point, were this a You Tube video, you’d probably have pressed pause and found something else to Continue reading “Chicken Jazz”

Under the knife – Bogey to Birdie

Today we feature a car that was the product of a highly effective facelift of its stodgy predecessor.

VW Golf Mk5 vs Mk6 (c) carscoops.com

The 1997 Golf Mk4 is widely acknowledged as a masterpiece of disciplined and rational design. Its svelte exterior was handsome and timeless, and a huge improvement over the flabby Mk3. The interior was a revelation, bringing a level of quality to the Golf that had not been seen before in C-segment cars. The Mk4 remained on the market for eight years, during which time it remained virtually untouched, Volkswagen sensibly realising that it was impossible to improve upon its near perfection.

When it came time to replace the Mk4, Volkswagen dropped the ball. The 2003 Golf Mk5, whilst not exactly ugly, looked rather corpulent, and much of the detailing was rather too fussy for a Golf. The Mk5 was partly a product of VW Group Chairman Ferdinand Piëch’s aggressive strategy to Continue reading “Under the knife – Bogey to Birdie”

Dirty Great Volvos – One Last Dash

Completing the 780 Trilogy.

The Volvo Bertone 780 coupé was dying. When North American dealers were given one to sell, it could sit idling for months as most customers were looking for wagons or heading to rival badges with bigger engines – not choosing an unorthodox coupé, however intriguing. Lead times also proved challenging. A customer could be made waiting twelve months to Continue reading “Dirty Great Volvos – One Last Dash”

Selling the Passat by the Yard

Ten years ago, Volkswagen attempted to challenge the dominance of the Toyota Camry in the United States with a Passat developed specifically for that market. This is the story of the New Midsize Sedan.

2013 Volkswagen Passat NMS (c) topcarrating.com

For 22 of the past 23 years(1) and over five generations, the Toyota Camry has been the best-selling car in the United States. Over that time, a staggering total of over 9.6 million(2) Camrys were sold, an average of around 417,000 a year. It was a highly consistent seller too: the lowest annual sales total was 308,510 in 2011(3). The Camry successfully weathered the 2008-9 Global Financial Crisis and a simultaneous unintended acceleration controversy that turned out to be caused by ill-fitting floor mats.

If the enduring success of the Camry proves anything, it is that the vast majority of car buyers Continue reading “Selling the Passat by the Yard”

En Garde! Part Two

The saga continues and grows ever stranger.

Image: Hotrodmagazine/ Fabwheelsdigest

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

Mint Imperial

A new conception of executive luxury – 1966 vintage.

Humber Imperial. Image via ebay

The bookshelf has been meticulously rearranged, read and enjoyed of late. However, one among its number is sadly no more. In the recent fine weather, distanced from the world in a sunny back garden, but with a call of nature due to my drink problem (a pint of water every twenty minutes in this heat), I returned to find but one page left and the cover.

The Times Motoring Annual from 1966 was in a decrepit state, the stiff breeze discarding the remainder in various neighbouring gardens I suspect. Saddled with the remains, I felt duty bound to Continue reading “Mint Imperial”