Atomic Element 13

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

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

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

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

Elemental Spirit Part 6: I Will Not Go Quietly

Emboldening the Spridget has become an industry.

British soul, Italian heart. Image: britishcarforum.com

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

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

Hercules’ Celestial Steed

A new star over Japan. 

Image: the author

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

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

Sketches of Andalucía [3]

It’s later than you think.

News broke this week that London’s Ultra Low Emission Zone is now certain to be extended outwards as far as the London Orbital Motorway (M25) which encircles the outer reaches of the metropolitan area, a decision which will be greeted with some dismay amongst certain (older) car owners amid the UK capital when it comes into force next August. And while most can probably agree in principle that a reduction in airborne pollutants is likely to benefit air quality, it will mean that swathes of perfectly serviceable older vehicles will be taken off the roads – or simply shunted out of London entirely.

Similar strictures would decimate the car pool in this part of the Costa del Sol, given what remains in daily use there, but I would posit that it’s only a matter of time before such matters eventually come to pass. But in the meantime, we at least get to Continue reading “Sketches of Andalucía [3]”

Elemental Spirit Part 5: Building the Perfect Beast

Drivin’ with your eyes closed. 

Image: spriteparts.com.au

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

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

The Prius is reborn. But does it matter?

Image: (c) global.toyota

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

Talk to the Hand

He who dares, not always wins.

Image: Pininfarina SpA

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

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

Compromise – The Paradox of Failure

As David Pye observed, every design is a failure.

Failure. Image: bringatrailer

Editor’s note: David Pye OBE (18 November 1914 – 1 January 1993), was Professor of Furniture Design at The Royal College of Art, from 1964 to 1974, in addition to being a respected wood turner and designer in his own right. He also wrote several notable volumes on design theory. This article was originally published as part of DTW’s Compromise theme in January 2017.

His argument rested on the idea that no design can optimise every aspect. The more complex the object the more likely this is to be the case. If we take a simple example of a knife, it’s a compromise because unavoidably the designer had to work within constraints of time and materials. The knife has to function but be affordable and attractive to enough people to Continue reading “Compromise – The Paradox of Failure”

Gems on the Assembly Line…

…and it was not one of the cars.

Image: classiccarstodayonline.com

At the dawn of its existence, painting an automobile was done in the same manner as one would apply a coat of paint to a horse-drawn carriage: by means of a brush and, in some cases, paint-rollers. Since cars were in those days built more or less in the same manner as their animal-powered predecessors, this was only to be expected.

The introduction of the moving assembly line by Ford in 1913 and the consequent rising demand for cars revealed the limitations of this method of application(1), but it would not be until 1924 that the first car to be spray-painted rolled off an assembly line, not at Ford, but at competitor GM with the Oakland model, a precursor to the later Pontiac. Continue reading “Gems on the Assembly Line…”

The Man Machine

Pressing concerns.

Image: Acharts.com

Designers reap the plaudits whilst manufacturers soak up the awards, but without the hidden practice of metal stamping, the car making process would remain firmly in the carriage days, accompanied by a dirge rather than a more symphonic assurance.

While the engineering technology was pioneered in the Victorian era, nowadays many groups and global corporations deal with the stamping of metal. Today, we look at two well established companies who shape metal for a variety of manufacturers, whose methods, size and ownership have changed far beyond their humble beginnings. One must add that from this layperson’s perspective, the process is not only fascinating, but quite musical.

Schuler, now a member of the Austrian Andritz Group, was established in 1839 by Louis Schuler and a single apprentice. Based in Göppingen, a town around 40 kilometres east of Stuttgart, his small firm began to produce fruit and cider presses. By 1852, he believed his company had taken on too many projects too quickly and rather hot-headedly took an axe to his existing machinery in order to Continue reading “The Man Machine”

M Too

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

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

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

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

Japan – Boxing Clever

Why is Japan so good at thinking inside the box?

1989 Nissan Chapeau image : conceptnissan.com
Chapeau, Nissan? Well, it’s a start, I guess. 1989 Nissan Chapeau image : conceptnissan.com

First published on April 27, 2016, this fine piece by the now-retired DTW co-founder, Sean Patrick formed part of the Japan Theme.

An obvious introduction for an obvious concept. If you want to fit people shaped people into a car, the architecture that allows them the most room to sit in comfort is a box. An empty volume bounded by a series of flat rectangles. In the early days lots of cars were like this, now they are not. A common criticism of car design, used in the UK at least, is that a car is ‘boxy’.

This comment needs no expansion – the fact that the car resembles a box condemns it. Yet, of course, a box is the best shape if you want to Continue reading “Japan – Boxing Clever”

Dial 911 For Cute

The cute-car hotline is now open. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Presidential Lion

Monsieur Peugeot goes to Paris.

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

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

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

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

Stepping Down Before Stepping Out

How independent Hudson enjoyed one last hurrah before meeting an ignominious end.

Images: the author

Like any American automaker returning to the business of making cars in the years after the Second World War had ended, Hudson realised that the lucrative post-war sellers’ market would not last indefinitely. A prototype of what would ultimately become the famous ‘step-down’ Hudson had been readied as early as 1942, but America entering the war halted any meaningful further development and moreover, Hudson President A.E. Barit was unconvinced by the concept at the time, finding it too low-slung.

When automotive operations recommenced in the autumn of 1945, chief designer Frank Spring managed to convince his boss to Continue reading “Stepping Down Before Stepping Out”

Expectation Management

Patience is a virtue. Well, sometimes…

Image: supercars.net

Over the past two and half years or so, we have all experienced a harsh, if valuable lesson in the music of chance, in how unforeseen events can derail all best-laid plans and forecasts. Viewing matters though this chaotic prism, Maserati’s more or less decade-long deliberation over the future of its heartland GranTurismo offering appears almost wilfully indulgent.

However, one should also Continue reading “Expectation Management”

Concepts: 2003 Lancia Granturismo Stilnovo

The 2003 Lancia Granturismo Stilnovo concept illustrated that size and proportion matters. 

Still credible. 2003 Lancia Stilnovo. Image: media.stellantis

Editor’s note: As a companion to this week’s Saab concept retrospective, we turn to a near-contemporary from Turin. This piece was first published on 4th October 2014 as part of the Concepts theme.

One of the last Lancias had a five year gestation from concept car to production. In this case there were two concepts, a real one and a pre-production model. One of them was not helpful.

Lancia showed the Lancia Granturismo Stilnovo at the 2003 Barcelona motor show as a genuine kite-flying concept car, one of quite a few quite credible studies they showed around this time. Three years later these ideas were translated into the production ready Lancia Delta HPE concept which was first revealed at the 2006 Venice International Film Festival. This then took a remarkable two years to Continue reading “Concepts: 2003 Lancia Granturismo Stilnovo”

Unforced Errors

The author wonders why some automotive designs end up being not as good as they should or could have been.

Image: Audi Design

In the field of automotive design, there is always a degree of tension between the designers and the body engineers charged with making their designs a reality. Many designs, when first revealed as concepts, are loaded with details that might look beautiful, but are difficult or impossible to incorporate into the body engineering for viable and economic series production. That, and the need to comply with the raft of motor vehicle legislation and regulations, is why production cars are often a disappointment, typically described as ‘watered down’ from the concept.

If the designer is unconstrained, then the result is, for example, the bonnet of the Jaguar E-Type. While undoubtedly beautiful, it was a nightmare to fabricate from many separate pieces of steel, laboriously welded together then lead-loaded and smoothed off to Continue reading “Unforced Errors”

Number Nine Dream

Getting it right at precisely the wrong moment.

Saab biohybrid
2008 Saab 9X biohybrid. Image: Netcarshow

As the world’s auto press converged at Geneva in March 2008 for the annual motor show – blissfully unaware of what would unfold within the global financial markets that Autumn – it was all very much business as usual. For General Motors however, already fighting several fire-fronts at home (to say nothing of their perennial loss-making volume European arm), there were increasingly dissatisfied voices being raised with the performance of their upmarket Swedish satellite[1].

Relations with Saab AB had become strained, with senior GM management viewing the troubled marque as simply a problem child to be dispensed with. But while keen disagreements at senior board level over Saab’s future were still taking place, a striking concept was prepared for landing at Palexpo 2008, intended to demonstrate the mothership’s continued backing for the Trollhättan carmaker while its future was being decided.

With a good deal of Saab’s development being twinned with Opel’s Rüsselsheim engineering centre by then in an effort to curb costs, there was a belief that a smaller, C-segment Saab offering could broaden the marque’s appeal, especially in European markets where such cars still sold strongly. The 2008 concept did not however simply emerge out of the ether, it was in fact the apogee of a dialogue that had been initiated at the turn of Millennium[2] to Continue reading “Number Nine Dream”

Waku Waku?

Sadly not, just a perished rubber seal…

Image: The author.

Now that my company’s premises have finally moved (after 27 years of failed attempts…) memories swiftly return to the family run garage, directly across from the old plot. Dealing mainly in the average, everyday eurobox, pleasant surprises could often appear, sitting forlornly outside, awaiting attention.

The last such surprise before the move was no less than a Honda Stepwgn Spada – sadly not a misprint, but Honda’s way of saying Step Wagon. As for Spada, well, what were they imbibing in Hiroshima? Had swords been this slab-sided, the weapon would have an altogether different history. But drop your nomenclature concerns and Continue reading “Waku Waku?”

Not For Sale: Car Museums

A sermon about why car museums are to be avoided if you like old cars.

Ford Sierra Laser. Image source: The Truth About Cars

Originally published on 31st January 2014, the editor has selected to re-issue this piece, partially because it carries a fine profile shot of a Ford Sierra (making it vaguely topical) but primarily because it is an amusing, well crafted article – even if the author’s principle argument is somewhat debatable.

Every car museum I have visited in the last 2.25 decades has been a disappointment. Cars are inherently space-consuming selfish monsters and even when they are caught, killed and pinned to plinths this quality does not diminish. They need plenty of room, alive or dead. Alive, the car needs sufficient space for portly passengers to open the doors and affect egress without having to close the door behind them, at a minimum. And dead, in a museum without sufficient space, the car can’t be assessed properly. You need to stand back, fold your arms (essential) and try to Continue reading “Not For Sale: Car Museums”

From the Neckar to the Nile and the Rio Negro

An NSU with Royal aspirations, and its first and only station wagon that came as far as an audition with NSU management in Neckarsulm.

Image via Pinterest/ Vaderetro.com.ar

The Ramses brand, named after the ancient Egyptian dynasty of kings was founded in 1958 by the Egypt Light Transportation Manufacturing Company (ELTRAMCO), in collaboration with the Egyptian government, NSU and Carrozzeria Bertone. Later, Vignale would also do some work for the Egyptian firm. Because Egypt did not have any experience in building cars, the German firm’s role was to Continue reading “From the Neckar to the Nile and the Rio Negro”

Staying at the Ritz in Goodwood Park with my Princess

More eccentric delights from Japan.

Images: goodwoodpark.jp and mooku.s1007.xrea.com

When asked to name a small Japanese manufacturer famous for its modern day renditions of iconic (and mostly British) classic cars, the first answer given by those with some knowledge of the automotive world would likely be ‘Mitsuoka’. And they would be right, of course, but the majority might have trouble naming others that operate or have operated in the same market niche. Here are a few of the lesser known but no less amusing – or sacrilegious, depending on your viewpoint- manufacturers of such cars on the Japanese archipelago. Continue reading “Staying at the Ritz in Goodwood Park with my Princess”

Home on the Range

Your Editor gets notions.

All images: ©Driven to Write

First published on 28th June 2017.

Above and Beyond: As advertising taglines go, this speaks to an essential truth in advertising. Because driving a Range Rover genuinely does suggest an altogether loftier plane, and it is this sense of elevation, otherwise the sole preserve of Rolls Royce owners, that is the car’s defining characteristic. Of course the corollary to splendid isolation is one not infrequently experienced by the privileged classes in wider society; a distancing from street level realities, something which can be observed in the manner some luxury SUV owners conduct themselves upon the roadway.

It is probably fair to say that the SUV as we know it originated in the USA, but on this side of the Atlantic, the advent of the Range Rover marked the beginning of our love affair with the concept of a luxurious off-road-capable vehicle. Originally created as a car for affluent farmers, the Range Rover quickly became an adopted urbanite, where its tall stature and panoramic visibility made them surprisingly effective city dwellers. As Land Rover’s BL masters belatedly realised its market potential, it increasingly became a more overtly luxurious machine and once it was introduced into the US market in the late 1980’s, its original utilitarian remit was swept away entirely. Continue reading “Home on the Range”

Try A-Coke-Ah (Part Two)

Iacocca – the Chrysler years.

Image: Time

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

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

The Cost of Complacency

An admirable philosophy that ultimately proved to be unsustainable.

Brochure images: the author

Unwillingness to compromise in any way on craftsmanship and quality may be a noble pursuit but, in a highly competitive business, it can ultimately prove to be one’s undoing. Founded in 1908, the Pierce-Arrow Motor Car Company produced automobiles that were unequivocally aimed at those of elevated social status and discriminating taste. Imposing in size and, in some cases, larger than life(1), they found favour amongst the chauffeur-driven elite to make a suitably impressive entrance at high society social functions.

When the highest authority in the United States commissioned the first official car for the White House in 1909, it seemed only natural that Pierce-Arrow should be chosen to Continue reading “The Cost of Complacency”

Try A-Coke-Ah (Part One)

Lee Iacocca – The Ford Years

Image: Ford Motor Company

Searching for a horse’s mouth account of that pioneering purveyor of horseless carriages, a recent read was the well known autobiography of the irrepressible, late and lamented Lido Anthony (Lee) Iacocca. (1924-2019) With the internet nowadays a deep-mine of information, such a move maybe described as unnecessary, but to this author at least, that misses the point.

For those of you who seek the inner nuances concerning his fathering of the Mustang, therein lies a smattering – just eighteen pages given over to that mother of all car launches, but since other aspects of his career overwhelmed such matters, we ought not Continue reading “Try A-Coke-Ah (Part One)”

1968: A Question of Choice

Decisions, decisions.

Image: the author

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

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

Being There [Part Three]

Win on Sunday, sell on Monday…

Image: migioslot.blogspot.com

The 31st staging of the Le Mans 24 Hour endurance race took place at the circuit de la Sarthe over the 15th and 16th of June 1963. It would be won by the Scuderia Ferrari entrant, a 250P, driven by an all-Italian pairing of Ludovico Scarfiotti and Lorenzo Bandini, marking not only the first time a mid-engined race machine had won the event, but also the largest winning margin in 36 years.

Le Mans was to prove something of a Ferrari benefit that year, with Maranello taking the first six places of a field, which through a combination of attrition, misfortune and tragedy was whittled down to  12 finishers. This final classified car was an MGB, a solo privateer entry, discretely backed by the works. But in this case, finishing at the rear of the field would be marked as a victory (in Abingdon at least).

The MG marque iconography was forged to a very large extent upon competition, and although by the early 1960s, BMC’s racing activities were primarily focussed upon the Mini Cooper, their well organised competition department was centred at MG’s Abingdon facility. Not that BMC did everything themselves; the Cooper Car Company, Broadspeed and Equipe Arden handling the Mini’s UK and overseas track career, while the Healey Motor Company prepared heavily modified Sprites in the International Sports Car classes.

Having enjoyed some rallying successes with the MGA, and with BMC keeping close tabs on MG’s competition activities, General Manager, John Thornley was required to Continue reading “Being There [Part Three]”

Highly Volatile

Ten years ago, MG’s future looked something like this.

Image: Autocar

Since the desiccated remains of MG Rover was picked over by Nanjing Auto, later merged with Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation (SAIC), the resultant MG-badged products have left observers and MG marque aficionados somewhere on a spectrum between bemusement and outright horror. Taking ownership of a heritage brand always comes with a measure of responsibility – certainly if one hopes to Continue reading “Highly Volatile”

They Came From The East (Riding)

The story of Armstrong Dampers.

Image: isaydingdong

New Year’s Day: Normally a time of headaches, compromised hand/eye co-ordination and the avoidance of anything remotely complicated. Perhaps using a shoe horn to ease into the day, but certainly no haste or sudden movements. Definitely not one for starting a business. But 117 years ago, twenty two year old Fullerton George Gordon Armstrong, who clearly hadn’t indulged in anything intoxicating the night before, did just that. With initial plans to build cars bearing his surname, his venture would eventually lead to a global empire which followed the path of many a British enterprise, with a dash of turmoil thrown in.

Whether aware of the Chinese proverb of the long walk beginning with the first step or not, Gordon had inculcated his younger self with an engineering apprenticeship, twelve months spent at sea as a marine engineer, chief mechanic, then proprietor at a larger, land-based garage. His opening gambit in the auto business would take place in a small rented workshop in Beverley, East Yorkshire, entitled The East Riding Garage & Engineering Works. On Whit Monday 1912, competing with his own 8hp car, Armstrong won both Scarborough speed trials and hill climb on the same day, but had to Continue reading “They Came From The East (Riding)”

Swiss Riv

The final Riviera’s missing link?

1988 Buick Lucerne concept. Image: Deans Garage

The Mid-1980s downsized GM range would prove a step into the unknown for the US car giant, one which could be said to have been successful, at least in terms of raw sales numbers. But while the C-body Buick sedans proved popular with buyers[1], the E-bodied personal coupés would prove a far tougher sell. There was a good deal of trepidation amid the design leadership at Buick’s studio in GM’s Warren, Michigan Design Centre as the 1986 model year Riviera was made ready; doubts which would crystallise as the drastically downsized model failed to appeal to existing Riviera customers, who not only baulked at the style, but also its notable lack of road presence[2].

As soon as was deemed possible, Buick Design chief, Bill Porter (who had overseen the E-body design) supervised a revised styling scheme, based upon one which had originally been proposed featuring a sloping tail motif, the victim of engineering package requirements (in this case luggage capacity)[3]. With this heavily revised Riviera, the work of a team under Steve Pasteiner, the model’s fortunes were revived to some extent, but still failed to return to pre-downsized levels. Continue reading “Swiss Riv”

Where There’s Muck, There’s Brass

 Exemplar 1: More Riviera-based goodness. 

Coggiola sketch for Exemplar 1. Image: neautomuseum.org

While the name of Sergio Coggiola might be known to the enthusiast, that of Mario Revelli de Beaumont may not. Roman born Revelli made his name submitting handsome designs to coachbuilders in the nineteen twenties and thirties with Rolls-Royce, Lancia then post-war, with Fiat. Coggiola on the other hand spent time under Pietro Frua at Ghia before setting up his eponymous carrozzeria in Orbassano, a district of Turin during 1966. Around that time, the two Italians collaborated, with the use of atomic element number 29: copper.

Bridgeport, Connecticut may not be the automotive centre of the universe but the Bridgeport Brass Company (henceforward referred to as the BBC) had plans to Continue reading “Where There’s Muck, There’s Brass”

Unsafe to View from Any Angle

And you thought those sixties and seventies experimental safety vehicles were ugly…

From the late nineteen-sixties until well into the seventies, a slew of safety-oriented concept cars from several automakers broke cover. Some of their notable unifying themes were large black rubber extensions front and rear, early variations of airbags in combination with heavily padded safety seats in various guises, with bodywork usually painted bright yellow or orange. Before that time, and preceding the publication of Ralph Nader’s influential book ‘Unsafe at Any Speed’, safety usually took a back seat to styling, comfort, cost and performance(1).

Swedish manufacturers SAAB and Volvo were arguably the only ones at the time that could legitimately claim to have safety as one of their guiding principles. That said, ever since the first motor accident involving casualties occurred, carmakers were aware of the risks and, in various shapes and forms -as well as degrees of naiveté and effectiveness- many attempts to Continue reading “Unsafe to View from Any Angle”

X-Ray

Examining the Skeleton of the modern motor car.

Volvo S90 body in white. Image: Volvo.media.com.

Call me a Luddite, hurl vitriol to my face, shake your head in disbelief, but one thing cannot be denied. Since strolling onto this site as a wet behind the ears enthusiast, the act of reading, researching and writing about cars has improved my level of knowledge to that of a rounded enthusiast. Few can ever learn everything, but the journey is often more interesting than the destination. And as the saying goes, if beauty is only skin deep, here, the inner beauty of the car is allowed, encouraged even, to shrine through. 

Formula One was something of a catalyst, showing the way with their tyre temperature thermal cameras, often making for more excitement than the race itself. Witnessing those temperatures rise and fall drew me like seagulls to tractor’s rear amid a freshly ploughed field, dazzled as those pale blues and burning reds danced a Celsius Cabriole, if you will.

Obviously we see but the tyre, only the sensors (and cameras) can permit such internal vision. Having these secrets revealed has made me Continue reading “X-Ray”

Living Room

 It’s a Škoda, Jakub, but not as we know it…

Image: Car Magazine

When Volkswagen successfully took control of the storied Škoda Auto business in 1991, it did so, like many larger, more powerful entities, primarily for its own betterment. So while any residual altruism on their part was largely incidental, to its credit, Wolfsburg did take a fairly enlightened approach to their acquisition. By then, the Czech carmaker was in need of considerable investment and redirection, for despite having left behind the dated automotive fare it served up to widespread derision for decades, it remained prey to the snide dismissals and cheap jokes, primarily from the motor-jock element of the journalistic cohort.

Rebuilding reputations has never been the job of a moment, but as the decade progressed and the engineers at Mladá Boleslav, working alongside a reinvigorated design team created a more credible range of cars, the joke really started to wear thin. Škoda (and its well-heeled German backer) was no longer prepared to Continue reading “Living Room”

Cute Car Hall of Fame – FAB 1

Mr. Kearne reveals his softer side.

Fab 1 Crop
Image: IMCDb

This article was originally published as part of DTW’s Cute theme in April 2014.

I’ve asked myself if I can think of a large car that is cute and, at present, can only think of one, but perhaps that is because this particular vehicle will always have a dominant place in my memories. In the late Seventies, I filled in for the European Motoring Correspondent on Soldier Of Fortune magazine when he was unavoidably detained for several months by the German security services. Apart from it being the introduction to my beloved Alvis Stalwart, when I tested one for the ‘Used and Bruised’ feature, that time also has more tender memories for me.

Today I Continue reading “Cute Car Hall of Fame – FAB 1”

Muddy Boots Welcome Here

Our Sheffield correspondent likes it dirty. 

Image: The Editor

The tyres on everyday road going cars must endure many hazards, from the self (but more likely garage-induced) under or over-inflated pressures to sharp detritus. Heavy acceleration and braking all take their toll. But there’s only one substance that can enhance the look of a tyre – that’ll be mud.

My local environs is covered in the stuff. Washed off fields from endless rain, copiously blended with horse manure, along with the fleets of tractors passing by, the tarmac is more likely to be brown than black. ‘Tractor Splat’ can most commonly be found right on your line of enthusiastic attack for the next corner, leading to a fast moving steering wheel and raised systolic readings for those wearing a fitbit or similar. The farmer may Continue reading “Muddy Boots Welcome Here”

The Many Faces of Flour

The lesser-known Argentinian Farina variations.

Images: issuu.com and supermercedes.com.ar

The car you see before you here today is likely to be, for many at least, an unfamiliar member of the BMC Farina family, but it was a unique and interesting variation in its own right. Its story begins with one of Argentina’s greatest and most revered industrialists, an Italian immigrant named Torcuato di Tella (1892–1948), who had disembarked in Buenos Aires with his parents in 1895. At just eighteen years of age, di Tella developed and produced a dough-mixing machine which became very popular with bakeries across the country.

Before long, di Tella had extended his range of products to include gasoline pumps, refrigerators, washing machines and other household appliances, but S.I.A.M., the name of the manufacturing company he established in 1911, paid tribute to the product started it all: it is an acronym for ‘Sección Industrial Amasadoras Mecánicas’ or, in English, ‘Bread Making Machine Industries’. Continue reading “The Many Faces of Flour”

The Hurricane is as Tame as the Kitten

Toyota once took turbines very seriously indeed. We look back at Aichi’s efforts.

1987 Toyota GTV. Image: oldconceptcars.com

Automotive technologies have a natural tendency to evolve. With Rover of Solihull firmly closing the door on gas turbines by the mid-1960s, we open an eastward-facing door, to see how Toyota took up the baton.

First mooted in 1965, sixty months of intense development took place at an undisclosed cost. The results brought forth a two-shaft gas turbine, intended for a bus chassis. A further five years of research entailed, the outcome being a car based turbine, the flagship Century being the chosen home for such a noble power unit. With its V8 removed, the gas turbine was not mechanically connected to the drivetrain. Instead, those ultra high revolutions charged a bank of batteries, in turn feeding motors to both front wheels – the gas turbine hybrid[1].

The Century tests were reasonably positive but Toyota’s engineers quite naturally wanted to Continue reading “The Hurricane is as Tame as the Kitten”

South Bend Undead

The many afterlives of the Avanti.

All brochure images: Avanti / the author

As a Studebaker, the Avanti was short-lived and proved unable to prevent the venerable independent automaker’s demise not long after its launch. The death of Studebaker did not mean the end for the Avanti, however, not by a long shot.

In fact, even while Studebaker was still an active car manufacturer, albeit in Canada instead of South Bend, Indiana, as before, the first Avanti resuscitation was already underway. In July 1964, Nathan Altman and Leo Newman, two South Bend Studebaker dealers, signed an agreement with the company whereby they acquired the rights to the design, moulds and tooling for the Avanti as well as the rights to Continue reading “South Bend Undead”

Lights are Darker, Darks Lighter

Frank Wootton – illustrator, artist. 

A Frank Wootton advertising illustration for Rootes. Image: Motoringart

Widely hailed as the finest aviation artist of all time, Frank Wootton OBE (1911-1998) is equally well known and regarded for his artistic work in both equestrian and landscape fields. But his skills could be said to have been honed, be they in pencil, oils or in charcoal, during the earlier portion of his career, drawing and painting motor cars.

A Hampshire native, Wootton attended the Eastbourne School of Art, being subsequently awarded a gold medal and a £25 travel scholarship, which he used to tour Germany for a season painting murals. London called and led to a position as a commercial artist in the Grafton Studio. During the mid-1930s, Wootton’s employer pitched for Ford of Dagenham’s promotional business. The carmaker was seeking high quality, American-style illustrations, but most importantly, in colour. Just about to Continue reading “Lights are Darker, Darks Lighter”

 The Accidental E-Type [Part One]

The E’s ‘pointless’ swansong.

Image: jag-lovers

The more advanced students of Jaguar lore will by now have recognised that a good many of the most well-loved cars from Browns Lane were at best, incidental, if not wholly accidental in conception. Similarly, when it came to the subject of mid or late-life facelifts, not only were they predominantly of a reactive nature, but rare indeed was the aesthetic revision that amounted to a palpable improvement. But while it might be considered a little provocative to describe the Series 3 E-Type as being accidental, it would hardly be inaccurate to suggest that it was unplanned.

While Sir William Lyons ran Jaguar in his benignly autocratic style, product planning was also somewhat reactive in nature, largely informed by the ever-shifting vagaries of the US market, a case in point being the Autumn 1968 refresh of the E-Type, the series 2. Beyond this, the intention was to Continue reading ” The Accidental E-Type [Part One]”

Spirited Away

More curiosities from Japan.

Image: author’s collection

Japan is a country where traditional values are held in high regard, yet outright wackiness at times abounds, where the business-suited salaryman shares a seat on the subway with a flamboyantly made up cosplay girl dressed in a frilly maid costume and nobody bats an eyelid. Hence, it is an environment where even normally conservative manufacturers are not afraid to Continue reading “Spirited Away”

John Harris Insists You Try

It’s Grin up North…

All images: The author.

Car trials are practically as old as the motorcar itself. Take a vintage automobile and point it in the direction of a steep hill. Throw in muddy, rutted tracks and/or forest areas. Combine this with unpredictable British weather and you have the makings of a most rewarding, if rather sodden day out.

The Setting: A former limestone quarry in the heart of the picturesque Derbyshire dales. Now verdant and a haven for walkers and bike riders, its industrial heritage has become well hidden unless you Continue reading “John Harris Insists You Try”

Troubled Concoction

Remembering Chrysler’s misconceived transatlantic tie-up.

Image: The author / Chrysler Corp.

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

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

Twenty-Two Minutes of Fame

Making a performance out of buying a used car.

Image: Discovery Communications

Back in the day, buying a second-hand car used to involve quite a bit of exercise, trudging around from dealer to dealer trying to weigh up the alternatives on offer and, most importantly, to avoid being sold a pup. Recently, a number of online (only) dealers have sprung up, offering the time-poor and/ or the really-cannot-be-bothered the opportunity to Continue reading “Twenty-Two Minutes of Fame”

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”

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?”