Country Club or Brand Values?

Today we muse upon the supposed relation between cars and their countries of origin.

1999 Dodge Neon. Image: zemotor

Many years ago, in a British car magazine, I read an interview with an American car company executive about his employer’s attempts to crack the European car market (this was back in the days of efforts like Chrysler’s Neon sub-brand) in which he waxed lyrical on the subject of typically American virtues such as spaciousness in cars. Given that, certainly at the time, my primary association with the concept American car was the TARDIS-in-reverse quality of a typical land-yacht cabin, it wasn’t a terribly convincing argument. Nor did the executive in question seem to Continue reading “Country Club or Brand Values?”

Roy’s Roads

In praise of William Roy – cartographer. 

Image: Gracesguide.co.uk

Many moons have passed since receiving that joyful package by post – my prize – my road atlas. A local newspaper held a competition whereby one had to successfully recognise parts of the UK motorway network as a black line on a map. From memory, the M1, the M5, the M62, the M3 and the one I believe won me the prize being the M55, Preston Northerly to Blackpool and Britain’s first stretch of motorway.

I distinctly remember coming home from work to Continue reading “Roy’s Roads”

Under the Knife – Shrink to Fit

Today we feature a car that, thanks to a clever facelift, was finally given the desirability to match its dynamic qualities.

1999 Porsche Boxster 986 (c) topcarrating.com

The original 1996 Porsche Boxster 986 had all the right mechanical ingredients for a terrific sports car, and so it proved to be. However, the styling was a disappointment, particularly after the excitement generated by the pert and beautifully detailed 1993 Boxster Concept, first shown at the US Auto Show in January of that year.

Porsche’s severe financial difficulties during the 1990s forced the company to Continue reading “Under the Knife – Shrink to Fit”

Bringing Home the Dacon

Flattery only goes so far…

Does my bum look big in this? Image: Bestcars/ Conceptcarz/ The author

For a brief moment after its introduction at the 1977 Geneva Motor Show, it seemed that Porsche’s 928 was THE car. Very much the antithesis of everything traditionally Porsche by being front engined and watercooled, the 928 was a bold move by the German manufacturer. The ingenious Weissach rear axle and the instrument binnacle that moved with the steering wheel as it was adjusted were testament of the amount of thought put into the intended, over time at least, 911 successor.

With a body composed of mostly rounded forms and compound curves the 928 also went against the stream of the vast majority of late seventies car designs. Being crowned 1978 European Car Of The Year; that title carrying considerably more marketable prestige compared to today, was icing on the cake, although the events would illustrate that the 928 would not Continue reading “Bringing Home the Dacon”

Moving Down, Scaling Up (Part One)

Two European automakers entered the small car market for the first time in the early 1960s. Both cars featured a similar rear-engined layout, but only one can be judged a success. 

Image: stubs.centreblog

The 1950s was a decade of recovery for the economies of European countries that had been devastated in the Second World War. Increasing affluence put car ownership within the reach of families for whom this was never previously feasible. Much of Europe’s road network, however, remained primitive and relatively unsuited to large and unwieldy cars. The 1956 Suez Crisis(1), although a relatively brief event, also heightened the importance of fuel economy to potential buyers.

West Germany had its distinctive bubble cars, but these were regarded with some distaste elsewhere in Europe, being seen as unacceptably small and crude. It was the somewhat larger 1955 Fiat 600 that achieved an optimal mix of comfort and economy in a small car and provided a template for other makers to Continue reading “Moving Down, Scaling Up (Part One)”

Micropost: The Suez Crisis in Brief

The fallout from the 1956 Suez Crisis was a significant factor in encouraging the growth in demand for small cars across Europe in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. Here is a brief summary of that historic event.

A container ship navigating the Suez Canal (c) splash 247.com

The 1956 Suez Crisis shattered the complacency that had prevailed in Europe since the end of the Second World War with regard to the security of Middle East oil supplies. With strong historic colonial ties to the region, Britain and France assumed that their interests could be protected via diplomatic ‘soft’ power and the perceived threat of military intervention in extremis. Continue reading “Micropost: The Suez Crisis in Brief”

Mule Variations

Toyota boxes clever.

The XP50. Image: carsot.com.

If as it seems, Toyota wears the production crown, at least it’s modest and fits snugly. Naturally, there’s the occasional slip, leaving the odd jaunty angle but on the whole their kingdom is based upon more prosaic, unpretentious values, listening to their customer’s needs.

Much of the decadent West (and Japan) demands vehicles adorned with creature comforts and stratified social markers that depending on nameplate can cause snob levels to rise or fall accordingly. Add in design, a language those interested can weave akin to a boxer’s feet. Today’s subject however contains almost none of these qualities. If the Transit van and its ilk are the trade’s workhorse, then Toyota’s Probox is its beast of burden.

Imaginatively named using the combination of the words, Professional and er, box, this most versatile of vehicles has been a Aichi mainstay for practically twenty years. Simple reliable transport, unadorned by trinkets or jewels – besides it’s not technically a car – one can Continue reading “Mule Variations”

For A Few Pesos More

A Renault that came close to making it to market, and one that actually did. Some may prefer it to have been the other way round….

Image: Forocoches.com

IKA Renault 40: Argentina

When Varig flight 820 crashed just a few miles from its destination of Orly airport on 11 July 1973(1) causing 123 deaths and only 11 survivors, there naturally was widespread grief among the families and relatives involved. The air disaster also derailed a promising project by Renault Argentina owing to the fact that Yvon Lavaud, the president of IKA Renault, was among the victims.

In 1967, Renault became the majority shareholder of IKA (Industrias Kaiser Argentina). Lavaud was sent to Argentina to Continue reading “For A Few Pesos More”

Bulletproof, Baby

The art of protection.

Looks can be deceiving. Image: Motor1.com.

Well, you’ve made it. King of the hill, head honcho. Now to get the country sorted, getting to grips with the nitty gritty. But, you’ve made more enemies than friends getting here. Some of those policies have disgruntled the populace. Changing the whole economy didn’t help, nor banning Sunday morning lie-ins. And as for pulling out of the Tufty Club.

Fortunately, some bright spark in procurement realised you might Continue reading “Bulletproof, Baby”

Yeoman of the Guard

The Toyota Hilux: Never knowingly underestimated.

Image: carsguide

Should there exist the phenomenon of an average main battle tank, one is certainly looking at enormous metallic hulks weighing in excess of sixty tons costing millions of anyone’s currency to build. Naturally a secretive beast, tanks remain wieldy objects until disabled by either enemy action or breakdown when an infrastructure is necessary to facilitate their movements. However, if one is not financially replete or that infrastructure non-existent why not Continue reading “Yeoman of the Guard”

Born in the USA

The Euro-pick-up truck is unwell.

FORD Ranger. Image: What Car

Broadly speaking, we have a good deal to thank our American neighbours for in automotive terms, notwithstanding of course, the fact that some influences have been better received than others. Nevertheless, the automobile evolved more rapidly, and improved in ways we could scarcely have imagined largely due to US market forces. For instance, the modern styling studio was very much an American innovation, and it’s probably fair to say that nobody did more to Continue reading “Born in the USA”

Comfort Food

Catch a Crown Comfort while you still can.

Tokyo Taxi. Image (c) The Author

In what now seem like very distant times, procuring the services of a taxi in New York would inevitably see one on the vinyl-clad rear seat of either a big yellow Checker, later a Chevrolet Caprice Classic or Ford Crown Victoria, whereas in swinging London an Austin FX4 “black cab” or its similar looking successors.

Nowadays virtually all these once ubiquitous vehicles have been succeeded by more modern, cleaner, more efficient but at the same time also much less characterful replacements. The minor sense of occasion one experienced as a tourist has gone as well since Toyota Prii and such now Continue reading “Comfort Food”

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”

Saints Alive!

The many vehicles of the Sainthood.

Roger Moore as The Saint. Image: odessasteps

The character of Simon Templar has smoothly transitioned his way from the printed page, to radio and finally the silver screen, both large and small. Created by British/ Chinese author and scriptwriter, Leslie Charteris, the devilishly handsome detective known as The Saint has always needed wheels – real or otherwise – something characterful, with a dash of the debonair.

First appearing in book form in the 1930s with Charteris employing artistic license to Continue reading “Saints Alive!”

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”

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”

The Machine That Changed The World

Twenty years ago a book revolutionised the auto-industry paradigm – for those who were paying attention at least.

Image: Simon and Schuster

First published in 1990, three enthusiastic researchers set about collating data related to how the motor industry operates, positing how to improve matters, espousing the principle of lean, over mass production. 

James P. Womack, Daniel T. Jones and Daniel Roos created the International Motor Vehicle Programme (IMVP) at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Not merely a database of who was building what and how many but a full in-depth analysis into the car making business. 

Funding for global research would be task number one. Limiting individual contributions to 5% of the $5M raised from global carmakers, component suppliers and governments, placing monies in just one account and openly inviting two-way correspondence guaranteed their independence whilst also nullifying any form of sponsored influence.

And their team went deep, from shop floor to boardroom, from Australian trade and industry to Volvo. Not wishing to Continue reading “The Machine That Changed The World”

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”

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!”

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”

Across The Pond – Part One. Motoring and The Motorist

Two contrasting views of motoring journalism from very different worlds.

The BBC has a long-standing history on matters motoring. Some will argue distinguished, others, more disjointed. Long before those hailing from the county of the red rose (Lancashire) took hold of Top Gear, before former Prince (now, Evil Lord) Clarkson and his entourage, before even William Woolard, Chris Goffey*, Noel Edmonds, Angela Rippon amongst others, the information supplied came over the airwaves on what folk knew then as the wireless.

Born in Wiltshire in 1911, Bill Hartley joined Daimler aged eighteen, working in their experimental and development department, later becoming London service manager until his resignation in 1950. Wishing to use that experience, Hartley sought to Continue reading “Across The Pond – Part One. Motoring and The Motorist”

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”

The Strathcarron Movement (Part One)

A look back at a different kind of motoring from a different kind of motorist. 

Image: The author.

David William Anthony Blyth MacPherson was the urbane, charismatic and typically eccentric baron. Known for a commitment to road safety, yet somewhat ironically died in a road accident involving a refuse truck. Not only a peer of the realm, he was also a respected motoring journalist and successful businessman.

During his life, Lord Strathcarron waxed lyrical on motoring matters – mostly those from a bygone age. Equally at home astride a motorcycle as behind the wheel of a ’30s Alfa Romeo or a 1903 De Dion Bouton. A keen traveller, he could often be found in deepest mainland Europe, astride a bike with his wife riding pillion and the butler hastening at the rear with luggage in a three-wheeler, including a parrot in its cage.

Born in 1924, he inherited the lordship aged twelve, and being far more interested in drawing Delahayes and aeroplanes than Latin or mathematics, a lifelong passion firmly pinned to travelling by means of a motor was the result.

Motoring for Pleasure in 1963, sees the Lord of Banchor looking wistfully in the rear view mirror at a point in time when even he thinks the roads are chaotic. The opening chapter of his book is called Our Crowded Roads, where he recommends early starts, breakfast and lunch at one’s destination whilst getting home early. “With sufficient determination and enthusiasm one can Continue reading “The Strathcarron Movement (Part One)”

Winging It

Kindred spirits take wing.

All images: The Author

Today’s subjects have more in common than just gullwing doors. Both were American brands produced outside of the USA, both attempted to tackle the same market segment, both ended up with a purchase price much higher than initially promised, suffered manifold quality problems and delivered only lukewarm performance; both lasted only three years on the market and were created under a business financing model with at least a whiff of sharp practice, leaving foreign governments eventually holding the bag.

They even almost ended up with similar names: Bricklin named its sportscar “SV-1” (for Safety Vehicle), and the original prototype of the DeLorean was known internally as the “DSV-1” (for DeLorean Safety Vehicle).

Malcolm Bricklin became wealthy by operating a nationwide franchise operation of do-it-yourself stores named Handyman. After this he ventured into the automotive field by becoming the American importer of Subaru in 1968; the Japanese company had only the tiny 360 to offer at the time but Bricklin became interested because it delivered excellent gas mileage and did not require federalizing in the USA because of its sub-1000 pound weight.

The Subaru 360 proved a difficult sell nevertheless. Bricklin later tried to Continue reading “Winging It”

Knocking On Opportunity’s Door

A design masterpiece in retrospect.

All images: The author’s collection

The silence was deafening, broken only by the faint hum of the ventilation system in Ford Motor Company Vice President Robert S. McNamara’s office. “Bob, you can’t really do that, can you?” uttered general manager Ben D. Mills after a few uncomfortable seconds. “You bet I can do it” was McNamara’s terse response.

McNamara had just announced that based on Lincoln’s dismal financial projections (and it had never made a profit since its inception) he had decided to recommend that the brand be terminated. It was only after a long and heated discussion that Mills, chief engineer Harold McDonald and executive engineer Harold Johnsson managed to persuade McNamara to Continue reading “Knocking On Opportunity’s Door”

The Old Bird’s Case Of BDD

Our Under the Knife Series travels to the Americas.

(c) Todofalcon.com

Body Dysmorphic Disorder, or addiction to cosmetic surgery, is no laughing matter. Those afflicted by it, such as American socialite Jocelyn Wildenstein  are testament to the fact that one would be wise to Continue reading “The Old Bird’s Case Of BDD”

Computer Says No

Technological breakdowns – there’s one Born every minute.

All Images: Author’s collection

This cringeworthy yet humorous phrase uttered regularly by the character Carol Breer in the TV show, Little Britain reminds us of the fact that while computers may have given us countless advantages and convenience in every field you can imagine, when they malfunction or are not programmed correctly they can cause immense frustration. Computerisation in cars can be a source of aggravation too, as today’s subject shows, although an iffy digital onboard diagnostics system was not the only thing impeding the Volvo 480’s market chances.

The genesis of the 480 was 1978, when an internal Volvo project named Galaxy was initiated. By the early eighties the main stylistic direction was established and unexpectedly neither the design by Volvo chief stylist Jan Wilsgaard nor the proposal by Bertone was chosen to Continue reading “Computer Says No”

Accessorize!

DTW celebrates an endangered species.

A veritable treasure-trove (c) checkpointautostores.com

Around forty years ago, when I was eighteen and the proud owner of both a newly minted driving licence and my first car, they were to be found on high streets and in shopping centres across the country. I’m referring to car accessory shops, those wonderlands of shiny treasures, not to be confused with their dour and distant cousin, the motor factors.

Motor factors were austere, gloomy and slightly intimidating places where almost nothing was on display. The merchandise was instead piled high on tightly packed aisles of steel shelving at the back of the store, guarded by a slightly grumpy guy who stood behind a chipped black Formica counter.

Continue reading “Accessorize!”

The Eloquence of Life

“He who has not seen the road, at dawn, between its two rows of trees, all fresh, all alive, does not know what hope is.”

All images: The author

This phrase, translated from French by Georges Bernanos is but one of several accompanying the evocative images in the beautiful and highly sought-after Citroën DS Décapotable brochure. These poem fragments are also virtually the only words to be found in the booklet, which represented a hitherto unseen and fresh way of publicizing a car, thanks to the combined creative genius of artistic manager Robert Delpire and photographer William Klein.

The DS, convertible or otherwise, was of course not just any car (and Citroën not just any carmaker) so the fact that the stars aligned so perfectly to Continue reading “The Eloquence of Life”

Marginal Motoring

DTW’s Daniel O’Callaghan remembers the once fraught and risky business of buying a second-hand car.

Used Car Lot (c) loopjamaica.com

Before the introduction of effective consumer protection legislation and manufacturer backed Approved Pre-Owned schemes, buying a used car was often a fraught business. At the bottom end of the market, the stereotypical used car dealer operated out of a Portakabin plonked in the corner of a pot-holed lot in the dingier parts of our towns and cities. The recently (and soon to be again) vacant lot was decorated with gaudy flags and bunting to distract visitors from the cheerless and grim surroundings. The salesman was a matey and overly familiar geezer, superficially affable, but with an unsettling hint of menace should you Continue reading “Marginal Motoring”

Under the Knife – Breaking the Mould

Today DTW features a car that was given a new lease of life with an extensive and highly effective makeover.

1983 Ford Sierra Mk1 (c) aronline.co.uk

Ford regularly plays fast and loose with its mark numbers, often applying them to even quite modest facelifts of the outgoing model. However, in the case of the Sierra, the Mk2 designation was well deserved.

Ford launched the original Sierra in 1982 as a replacement for the conventional and conservative Cortina Mk5. The new model was a rear-wheel-drive car like its predecessor, but the aero body (believed to have originally been the work of Gert Hohenester working under the supervision of Design Director, Uwe Bahnsen at Merkenich) was dramatically different, with a hatchback instead of a conventional boot.

Ford had tried to Continue reading “Under the Knife – Breaking the Mould”

Under the Knife – One to Seven

The 1971 Fiat 127 proved to be an extraordinarily popular and enduring design. DTW recalls its many iterations, some pleasing, others rather less so.

1971 Fiat 127 (first series). (c) autoweek

The Fiat 127 was a supermini wholly in the modern idiom, with its transverse engine, end-on gearbox and a three-door hatchback bodystyle(1). It was not, however the world’s first such design: that title goes to the 1964 Autobianchi Primula. The Primula was, however, engineered by Fiat, which held an equal 33% share in the company alongside Pirelli and the Bianchi family. Fiat was able to Continue reading “Under the Knife – One to Seven”

Heaven Sent

Ponycar à la Toyota City. 

1970 Toyota Celica ST. (c) stubs-auto.fr

Toyota chose the 1970 Tokyo motor show to reveal their own style of pony car to the world. Clearly influenced by significant occurrences with such cars as the Mustang, Firebird and Camaro over in the United States, not to mention a gentlemanly nod to the European Capri, Toyota (with assistance from Yamaha) contributed their own version of mass produced self-indulgent motoring.

Using a Latin derivative, coelica to suggest something celestial or heavenly (in Spanish) and given code name TA22, the Celica’s modus operandi was to Continue reading “Heaven Sent”

Under the Knife – Rediscovered

The 1998 Series II Discovery was a far more thorough and extensive facelift of the original than it might have appeared to be at first glance.

1989 Land-Rover Discovery (c) Iroac.com

The 1970 Range Rover could not have been more different in conception from the SUVs that carry that name today. It was designed to be more comfortable and civilised on road than the original Land Rover, which had changed little since its introduction in 1948, but was not intended to be anything other than a working vehicle.

Early Range Rovers were still resolutely utilitarian, with vinyl seats and rubber floor mats that could be hosed out after a day’s work on the farm. Its classic style is credited to David Bache, Head of Design at Rover. However, recognising its handsome functionalism, Bache actually made only detail changes to Continue reading “Under the Knife – Rediscovered”

Joyeux Anniversaire, Majesté

As Citroën’s Grand Tourisme with the Italian heart celebrates its fiftieth birthday this year, we peruse the few brochures printed during its brief tenure at the summit of the French firm’s hierarchy.

All Images: The author.

The ambitious SM of 1970 took the Citroën brand into a hitherto unexplored market segment. Instead of Peugeot, Rover, Renault and Lancia – to name a few – now it entered an arena occupied by names such as Jaguar, Mercedes-Benz, Jensen and BMW. Still, the initial reception was overwhelmingly favourable – the SM placing third in that year’s European Car of the Year contest (the GS won that year), and voted Motor Trend Car of the Year in the American market in 1972.

The vast majority of road tests worldwide resulted in positive to rave reviews, in most cases accompanied by a few provisos concerning the SM’s comparatively leisurely acceleration and the very direct DIRAVI power steering with variable assistance – although it was usually stated that most drivers would not want to Continue reading “Joyeux Anniversaire, Majesté”

Nomen Est Omen

We return to the minefield of automotive nomenclature. Mind where you step. 

Highly infectious. (c) Tata Corporation

The process of naming a new car can be surprisingly complex and drawn-out, and even then certain pitfalls are sometimes overlooked, causing delays, unplanned expenditure and in a few cases, embarrassment and retraction. These pitfalls can be largely be categorized in lingual miscues (mostly of the sexual or scatological variety), historically insensitive names, legal copyright infringements, or simple bad luck.*

To start with that latter category: Tata Motors introduced a new small car in 2016 named Zica. Unfortunately for the Indian manufacturer, the introduction coincided with the outbreak of the fearsome Zika virus in South America; the Zica hastily renamed Tiago. All press photos had to be redone, previously built Zicas had to Continue reading “Nomen Est Omen”

Under the Knife – When You Should Just Let Things Be

When it comes to facelifts, it’s best to know when to stop. 

(c) autoevolution

Assuming one was in possession of the requisite grasp of Italian, it would have been fascinating to have sat in on the product planning meetings at Portello, when Alfa Romeo’s strategists were initially scoping the 1972 Alfetta saloon. Because, looking at it from the distance of close to half a century, it’s difficult to ascertain where this model was intended to fit into the existing model hierarchy. Sitting above the by then rather elderly 105-Series Giulia, but below the latter’s closely related 1750/2000 Berlina sibling, the Alfetta was an entirely new model, with the potential to Continue reading “Under the Knife – When You Should Just Let Things Be”

Getting Personal

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

All images: The author.

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

Under the Knife – Racing Certainty

Despite being an all-conquering touring car champion, the Alfa Romeo 155 wasn’t the commercial or critical success its masters intended. But a subtle, if significant facelift salved its reputation.

1992 Alfa Romeo 155. Image: pistonudos

Despite its long-in-the-tooth underpinnings and carryover passenger compartment, the Alfa Romeo 75 became a relatively successful and well-regarded sporting saloon until its commercial demise in 1992. The ultimate evolution of the 116-series which made its production debut with the 1972 Alfetta, the 75 excised many (if not all) of the earlier models’ inherent design flaws – most notably a lengthy, tortuous and unwieldy gear linkage owing to its rear transaxle layout.

In 1986, Fiat Auto acquired the Alfa Romeo business from the state-owned body who had been administering it in ever-decreasing circles, and with a successor to the 75 by then a priority, the 167-series 155 model was hastily developed, entering production in 1992 at the former Alfa Sud plant at Pomigliano d’Arco in Campania. Continue reading “Under the Knife – Racing Certainty”

Under the Knife – Don’t mention the War

During its thirteen-year lifespan, Fiat’s D-segment saloon went under the knife on four different occasions, with varying degrees of success.

Take one. (c) autoevolution

The Fiat 132 was launched in 1972 to replace the 125 Berlina. The latter, although a pleasant enough car, had always suffered somewhat from the inaccurate perception that it was little more than a Fiat 124 in a party frock. Both cars shared the same doors and passenger compartment but the 125 had longer front and rear ends and an 85mm (3.5”) longer wheelbase, courtesy of a platform carried over from its predecessor, the Fiat 1500. This allowed the rear seat to be pushed back slightly to liberate a little more legroom. Notwithstanding the similarity to its smaller sibling, the 125 achieved over 600,000 sales during its five year production life.

With the 132, Fiat wanted to Continue reading “Under the Knife – Don’t mention the War”

Under the Knife – Rounding Error

Today DTW recalls the 1994 Ford Scorpio Mk2, a car that defies any attempt at rational analysis or explanation.

Not ‘conventionally handsome’… (c) autoguru-katalog

When Ford launched the Scorpio* Mk1 in 1985, it did so in five-door hatchback form only. This surprised some observers, knowing the resistance that Ford had faced to the hatchback Sierra three years earlier from conservative buyers who preferred the saloon format. Even more surprising was the absence of an estate version, given the popularity of the Granada estate in both Mk1 and Mk2 forms.

Just as with the Sierra, a three-volume booted version was added to the range in December 1989. Estate buyers had to wait until January 1992 for the launch of that version, which coincided with a facelift of the whole range. The facelift was a competent if relatively minor overhaul, comprising a smoother front end with larger light units and smoked tail lights with a matching filler panel at the rear. The saloon forwent the hatchback’s concealed C and D-pillars for a more conventional six-light DLO and was a handsome and imposing design. It was also well equipped and remarkably comfortable over long distances, making it an excellent executive (hire) car.

Then something very strange happened: Continue reading “Under the Knife – Rounding Error”

Curtain Call (Part 3)

DTW’s Eastern Bloc party of stillborn concepts and prototypes continues.

FSO Warszawa Ghia and Syrena Sport. (c) Autokult.pl /Auto Swiat.pl

FSO Warszawa Ghia, 1957

In search of a suitable replacement for the dated GAZ/Warszawa M20, FSO enlisted Ghia of Italy to deliver a proposal. Designed under Sergio Sartorelli at a cost of US $62,000, this Warszawa Ghia was the result. Looking somewhat like a shortened Lancia Flaminia, the car had a pleasing and up to date look. FSO sent the car to its research and development centre to be stored until further notice. Apparently no action was ever taken to Continue reading “Curtain Call (Part 3)”

(Not So) Background Distractions

Andrew Miles is watching the detectives. 

(c) Imcdb.org

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

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

Under the Knife – A Late Reprieve

2007’s X-Type facelift illustrated how one can do more with less.

(c) cargurus

Few cars are created with an unlimited budget – after all, such a bounteous situation is no guarantee of an inspired result. On the other hand, budgetary restrictions are rarely a recipe for a successful product either. Certainly, when Jaguar’s 2001 X-Type was being scoped during the latter part of the 1990s, the Ford-controlled British luxury carmaker wasn’t exactly awash with cash, even if by then they were at least making money rather than haemorrhaging it as they had been, only a few years earlier.

X400 (as the X-Type was termed at Jaguar) formed the core of the blue oval’s growth strategy for the leaping cat, aimed at catapulting the marque into the big league with annual sales in excess of 200,000 cars. A hugely ambitious programme, which also encompassed the refitting of the otherwise defunct Ford Halewood plant in Merseyside; this latter aspect ladling such costs upon the programme that anything less than total success would be viewed as failure.

With so much riding upon it, X400 had to Continue reading “Under the Knife – A Late Reprieve”

It’s Squirrel, Actually.

Sounds odd, doesn’t it? And so it should! Who would’ve thought the thuggish American grey squirrel could do some good?

“Don’t sneeze”. (c) Images.complex.com.

Artwork has been around since man first walked the earth, from those basic but enigmatic cave paintings through innumerable differing themes, spheres and periods. Prior to the automobile entering the scene, the largest canvas one could expect to become embellished by a more detailed approach might have been a carriage, steam engine, a wagon or the mighty locomotive. With these large expanses to adorn, you could really personalise, promote your product.

JJ Deal of Janesville, Michigan was the producer of fine wagons, carriages and buggies powered by natural horsepower. From 1845 Deal swiftly gained a reputation for building not only quality products but also a highly detailed paint finish. Deal’s Chief Striper was a fellow named Andrew Mack. A perfectionist, Mack was never completely satisfied with the quality or performance of his paints and brushes whilst working at Deal, seeking better products and methods in which to Continue reading “It’s Squirrel, Actually.”

Earl’s Take On Nature

The Artistry of the 1920s has been widely and lovingly depicted, but colour has been more notable by its absence. Although not entirely. 

All images: The author.

The human mind sometimes works in mysterious ways. Because until relatively recently the fact that photography and film originating from the late 19th and early 20th century was black and white, subconsciously the idea that the world presented in those pictures was one bereft of colour often took hold in our brains, even though we of course knew better in our hearts.

The rediscovery of the amazing body of work by French philanthropist Albert Kahn and his colour photographs using experimental autochrome plates – the oldest ones dating back to 1909 – has done a lot to Continue reading “Earl’s Take On Nature”

Under the Knife – If the Wind Changes, You’ll Stay Like That

Concluding our micro-theme on Volkswagen, while continuing another one.

VW do Brasil’s 1984 Santana 2-door. (c) autogaleria.hu

There is (or ought to be) a rule which states that the longer a car remains in production, the less effective facelifting exercises become – in purely aesthetic terms at least. You will have noticed that Volkswagen (of Wolfsburg) has been in receipt of no small quantum of derisive commentary upon DTW’s pages of late, most of which was largely justified. By contrast, VW do Brasil has been portrayed as the more astute, more ingenious, and more commercially adept of the pair.

This was certainly the case when the mothership remained in hand-wringing mode as to the product-related course it should take in a post-Käfer landscape. But it does appear that as their German counterparts finally got a grip on both itself and its product, the Brazilians appeared to Continue reading “Under the Knife – If the Wind Changes, You’ll Stay Like That”

Wolfsburg Samba

Volkswagen do Brasil – Wolfsburg’s younger, nimbler and more ingenious Latin cousin repeatedly showed up its more torpid German counterpart. Here’s another example.  

1968 Volkswagen 1.600. (c) autoarkiv.dk

Volkswagen’s Heinz Heinrich Nordhoff has repeatedly and justifiably been criticised over the years for his tardiness in sanctioning a replacement to the eternal and best-selling Beetle, before sales collapsed by the tail-end of the 1960s. It was not for the want of trying however, and as far back as 1955, with the Käfer selling in still-increasing quantities, Nordhoff, realising its success alone would not sustain VW indefinitely, put in train a series of Beetle-based prototypes – some to sit alongside, others to Continue reading “Wolfsburg Samba”

Reimagining a Legend

Volkswagen do Brasil used its creative independence to produce a car that, had it arrived a decade earlier, might have been a very credible replacement for the Beetle.

1973 Volkswagen Brasilia. (c) autowp.ru via wheelsage

The Volkswagen Beetle is one of the defining motor vehicles of the Twentieth Century. It remained in production for 65 years and a total of 21,529,464 were built. Although much changed over its lifetime, the distinctive profile remained largely the same, with its smoothly curved roof and bonnet, and separate front and rear wings connected by running boards. Anybody seeing a 1938 prototype parked next to a 2003 final year model would Continue reading “Reimagining a Legend”

Under the Knife – Call Me Indecisive

Jaguar never quite settled on the 2005 XK’s styling. 

2005 Jaguar XK (c) autoevolution

For a marque with such a rich stylistic heritage, Jaguar’s relationship with the automotive facelift has been a decidedly patchy one. Even during the creative heyday of Sir William Lyons, the second bite of the visual cherry (so to speak) often left a slightly bitter aftertaste.

Given the timelines, and the circumstances surrounding his appointment, it is perhaps a little unfortunate that the first Jaguar production design Ian Callum would oversee would be a replacement for the long-running and by the turn of Millennium, increasingly dated (X100) XK model. This GT, hastily concocted in the unseemly aftermath of Ford’s hostile takeover married the two-decade old XJS platform with a (then) new, more voluptuous body style. Continue reading “Under the Knife – Call Me Indecisive”