Mercedes 300SL, BMW 507, Porsche 356 Speedster: if someone were instrumental in the creation of just one of these cars, their legacy would be assured in the annals of automotive history. Max Hoffman was an essential driving force behind all three, and more besides.
Maximilien Edwin Hoffmann (his actual name — the second ‘n’ in his surname would be dropped later) was born in Vienna in 1904. His father owned a bicycle factory, lighting the fuse of his son’s love to go fast with anything on wheels, and young Max became an enthusiastic amateur bicycle racer. Soon, however, he craved more speed and switched to motorcycles, then to what would become his greatest love, motor cars.
While still enjoying the occasional outing as an amateur competitor in motor racing, Max Hoffmann established a car import company in the 1930s, Hoffmann & Huppert. The company represented revered marques such as Rolls-Royce, Bentley, Alfa Romeo, Talbot, Delahaye and Volvo. It was there and then that Max Hoffmann discovered his true calling: he proved to be an excellent salesman, as well as persuasive influence on the car manufacturers his company represented. Continue reading “Maximum Impact”
It was somewhere mid-pandemic, and the book shelves had been exhausted. The situation could only be remedied with the delivery of a book called Shenanigans. Written by Arnold O’Byrne and with the sub-heading ‘Lifting the hood on General Motors’, it is the lively memoir of a Dublin native whose career in the motor industry began in 1966 as a senior financial clerk at Vauxhall’s Luton plant, to his retirement as Opel Ireland’s Managing Director at the turn of the millennium.
According to O’Byrne’s period characterisation of Luton, it was “not a pretty place.” The Bedfordshire town was home to a large Irish population at the time, many of whom worked either on building the new M1 motorway or in nearby factories, Vauxhall Motors being a major employer. O’Byrne’s account is littered with stories of him dealing with fiery senior staff, bullies and corporate ladder climbers – some better than others. His first encounter saw him about to Continue reading “Opel: Ireland’s No.1 Supporter”
As a brand, modern day Chrysler has become something of an oddity. In the United States, they currently offer two vehicles, and once the soon to depart 300 shuffles off, a rather svelte mover of (mainly) families will (for the present at least) ply the Pentastar’s trade alone – the Chrysler Pacifica.
An affectionate tribute to the Leyland Royal Tiger coach, once the king of the highway jungle.
Some enjoy vintage cars, some vintage commercial vehicles, others vintage aircraft. I have been fortunate enough to enjoy all three as I myself, a 1941 model, was attaining my own vintage status, yet one old warhorse still shines among many happy memories.
Browsing Dick Gilbert’s Classic Buses website, I jumped on the brakes upon seeing my old friend, Leyland Royal Tiger NCD 662. Dick himself had taken this photo in his younger days, and remembers the coach working out of Eastbourne. Continue reading “The Tale of a Tiger”
Gest (a hard G) is an old English word meaning acts, or deeds. While it’s unequivocal that Robin Hood lived in the fourteenth century – but a stone’s throw from my own abode – his character will forever be open to speculation. Was he a thief who gave his plunder to the poor (à la Hollywood), a vagabond cast out to live life alone in the forest, or a plain woodsman who like many Englishmen from that time was skilled with bow and arrow?
My personal thoughts are that Robin Hood was indeed skilled in the art of thievery, along with a flashing blade and the gentle twang of a bowstring, to fell boar or errant henchman. But a benevolent thief; head honcho with an understanding side, engendering a brotherly, welcoming mien, to Continue reading “The Gest of Robin Hood”
Famous of course for being the spiritual home of Renault, but before Louis built his factory in Billancourt, an altogether different engineer set up shop here leading to some perhaps unexpected diversions. As with so many Victorian-era small time engineers, Émile Salmson (1858-1917) ran a workshop where he produced steam powered pumps for railway and military applications. Attracting the likeminded Georges Canton and Georg Unné, the company changed name to Émile Salmson & Cie, manufacturing pumps, magnetos and engines.
Further plans would include producing radial aero engines. Investment and excellent results found ES & C at the forefront of French aircraft engine production as the Great War began. At full capacity in Billancourt, some aero engine production migrated to Villeurbanne, near Lyon. This too would include an unsuccessful helicopter.
With hostilities over, priorities altered. Demand for aero engines fell, so typewriters and woodworking lathes would become the company’s mainstay, but the burgeoning private car business was seen as the way forward. Management realised the fastest route to Continue reading “SMS”
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)”
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)”
We recall the extraordinary career of Walter Schätzle, a former Borgward dealer whose dedication to the marque briefly made him West Germany’s smallest carmaker.
The collapse of any large manufacturing business is a traumatic and far-reaching event. Lawyers quibble, accountants audit, suppliers stumble, vultures gather. When the collapse involves an automaker, loyal customers feel that their prized vehicles are like orphans and may find that their only support and solace is the dealer who sold and maintained their cars. Many of those dealers will have moved on to other franchises – they have to make a living – but some remain in the thrall of the defunct marque, with a dedication that far transcends vulgar commerce.
The collapse of Bremen-based Carl F W Borgward GmbH in 1961 shook the assuredness of Wirtschaftswunder West Germany, but the controversial story of that event is beyond the scope of this article. One former Borgward dealer, Walter Schätzle (1928-2021), not only went above and beyond expectations to Continue reading “Walter Schätzle – Resurrection Man”
We consider two complicated entities – the Citroën DS and Pierre Bercot.
For loyal enthusiasts, the sound of a hissy, lethargic A Series engine is essential to the holistic experience of the Morris Minor – none of the readily achieved Ford, Fiat, Rover, Toyota or other engine swaps could ever appeal. Likewise in the case of another car that did not receive the engine it was promised. For many Citroënistes, the wet-liner straight four, tracing its conceptual roots back to the early 1930s, is now part and parcel of the Citroën DS’s character, however much its uncultured sound rails against the rest of the car’s smoothness. But for others it is the one great disappointment, and mention is often made of the six-cylinder engine it should have had. But we ask the question, is the DS great, not despite its engine, but because of it?
Pierre Bercot was a complex man. An intellectual in the French tradition, after a doctorate in Law, he completed his education at the National School of Oriental Languages in Paris. With an impressive knowledge of Ancient Greek and an accomplished pianist, he wasn’t the average car industry boss. Joining Citroën under Pierre Jules Boulanger shortly before the War, he worked on lowering production costs of the nascent 2CV. Following Boulanger’s untimely death, in 1950 he took over the Voiture de Grande Diffusion project, encouraging engineer André Lefèbvre not to Continue reading “It’s Such a Fine Line …”
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 old adage of racing improving the breed was taken to another level when engineer, designer and talented race car pilot Zora Arkus-Duntov took up the development of the 1959 CERV – the first Chevrolet Experimental Racing Vehicle.
A Belgian-born naturalised US citizen, Arkus-Duntov is rightly regarded as the Father of the Corvette. Beguiled by Harley Earl’s beautiful styling but disappointed by the Corvette’s indifferent performance and handling, Arkus-Duntov wrote to Chevrolet Chief Engineer Ed Cole, offering his services to Continue reading “Improving the Breed”
Paying tribute to visionary engineer and supercar designer Bob Henderson, who died in February aged 89.
“If you accept, as I do, that the internal combustion engine will be with us for some time yet, in either reciprocating or rotary form, then it is sensible to assume that even after all of this time it can still be developed further. In my view it is only in the wide field of pressure or forced induction that any worthwhile steps can be taken, as all others will be mere hair-splitting improvements to meet the long overdue pollution regulations. These are already showing signs of producing less power for more weight, a situation which must get worse.”
“The only long term saviour will be the blown engine which can double or treble the power output for only 10-20% increase in weight, and since cost and complexity could be less than the much-vaunted fuel injection systems, which only marginally improve efficiency, this is obviously the way to go.”Continue reading “The Seer of Loch Gilp : Bob Henderson 1932-2022”
There is little doubt that the model for which Panther is best if perhaps unfairly remembered today is the extraordinary and quite ridiculous Six. This monster of a car was developed in complete secrecy and unveiled at the London Earls Court Motorfair in October 1977 to an incredulous and astonished audience. The name refers to the number of road wheels it featured, four 13” steered wheels at the front and two 16” driven wheels at the rear. It was powered by a 500 cu.in. (8.2-litre) V8 engine from the Cadillac Eldorado, mounted over the rear wheels(1) and connected to a three-speed automatic transmission. The engine’s maximum power output had been boosted to a claimed but never proven 600bhp (447kW) by installing twin turbochargers.
Panther’s next offering would represent quite a departure from its large and expensive J72 roadster and De Ville limousine models. The 1973 Middle-East Oil Crisis saw an unprecedented spike in fuel prices and ignited a demand for luxury cars that were small and relatively economical(1). Robert Jankel identified the Triumph Dolomite as a suitable basis for such a car. The Dolomite was a well-regarded conventionally engineered three-box saloon which was already quite tastefully furnished, but Jankel believed he could push a redesigned version much further upmarket.
Panther’s cars were always of high quality, if occasionally in questionable taste.
As someone whose taste in houses and the objects that fill them resides firmly in the 18th and 19th Centuries, I’ve always had an ambivalent if not antipathetic attitude towards reproductions, which I tend to regard as antiques for people who don’t like old stuff. That said, I can fully appreciate the appeal of a motor vehicle with well executed retro styling concealing modern mechanical and electrical components(1). Such vehicles offer the best of both worlds: contemporary standards of reliability, efficiency and safety combined with the nostalgia for a simpler and more innocent time when motoring was a pleasure and not a crime against humanity.
Concluding our guided tour through the works of Brooks Stevens.
1964 Excalibur SS: Studebaker needed something special to display at the 1964 New York Motor Show. The cars that had been displayed at the Chicago event earlier in the year were pretty underwhelming, being mainly colour and trim variations on the regular production vehicles. Byers Burlingame, successor to Sherwood Egbert, who had been forced to resign as CEO of Studebaker for health reasons, discussed the matter with Brooks Stevens over the telephone.
Stevens later recalled that he asked Burlingame to ship a Lark Daytona chassis to him. When Burlingame asked what he intended to do with it, Stevens replied crisply that he was “going to build a contemporary classic.” When Burlingame asked “What in the hell is that?” Stevens had to think a few seconds, as the idea was new to him also, and finally replied: “Well, it’s a new old car.” Burlingame just hung up the phone, but the chassis was duly sent over.
Continuing our guided tour of the works of Brooks Stevens.
1962 and 1964 Studebaker Lark facelifts: In 1956, Studebaker parted ways with Raymond Loewy, the designer responsible (in name at least) for the creation of most of the Indiana company’s cars of the preceding decades. The reason was not so much dissatisfaction with Loewy’s services, but a lack of money: Studebaker’s sales were in the doldrums and the company simply could not afford him anymore. Styling responsibilities would henceforth lie with its in-house design team, led by Randall Faurot and Duncan McRae.
The compact Lark(1) was McRae and his colleagues’ first design. They ingeniously re-used the rather dated central body section of the company’s existing large Champion model, which had been introduced in 1953. Initially, the Lark sold very well and was wholly responsible for saving Studebaker from bankruptcy, at least for the time being. Sherwood Egbert became CEO of the troubled company at the end of 1960. Having previously worked for the McCulloch company, Egbert had already met Brooks Stevens on a few occasions, so it was to the Milwaukee designer that Egbert would turn to Continue reading “The Milwaukee Magician (Part Four)”
In the early years of the twentieth century, the emerging automobile industry in Europe created something of a gold-rush, with a multitude of prospectors throwing their hats into the ring in the hope of achieving fame and fortune. Barriers to entry were low: anyone with a well equipped workshop and decent engineering skills could try their hand at building a car, often with mixed fortunes, occasionally with hilarious mishaps.
Two such would-be automobile moguls were Parisian brothers Maurice and Georges Sizaire, who fancied their own roll of this particular dice. Elder brother Maurice had some design experience, but in buildings, not motorcars. Three years his junior, Georges was an apprentice turner but, like his brother Maurice and their family friend, Louis Naudin, his consuming passion was for cars and driving. Naudin worked for De Dion Bouton, one of the earliest French car manufacturers, so at least he had some relevant experience. Continue reading “Les Frères Sizaire”
Continuing our guided tour of the works of Brooks Stevens.
1954 Cadillac Die Valkyrie: snowplough, cow-catcher(1) and steam iron were just some of the likenesses offered by critics for the controversial frontal appearance of Brooks Stevens’ first design to be displayed at a European Motor Show. The last suggestion was particularly apposite in view of the Milwaukee designer’s successful ‘Steam-O-Matic’ iron of more than a decade earlier. The giant ‘V’ shaped front assembly was, according to Stevens, simply meant to emphasise the large V8 engine that provided the motive force for the car.
In the pantheon of industrial and automotive design and styling, he sometimes gets lost in the shuffle at roll call; Pininfarina, Loewy, Eames, Bertoni, Buehrig, Giugiaro, Earl, Lyons, Rams, Opron and Bertone are all present, and deservedly so. There is, however, one gentleman; tall, suave, impeccably dressed and exuding an effortless sense of good taste, that many people may have more trouble putting a name to.
This is somewhat surprising when one realises that this man not only designed important vehicles for several automakers, but also counted Harley-Davidson, Evinrude, the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad and a wide range of home appliance manufacturers amongst his clients. Moreover, he designed the first true SUV, was one of the founders of the Society of Industrial Designers, created with the famous Oscar Mayer ‘Weinermobile’ as well as the oval-mouthed peanut butter jar (to allow easier access to the bottom) and coined the infamous phrase ‘planned obsolescence’. Continue reading “The Milwaukee Magician (Part One)”
The mention of page three to anyone under the age of thirty five probably elicits nothing more than a numerical continuation from the front page. For older folk amid these isles however, the phenomenon was frequently known to turn grown men into quivering heaps. In newspapers commonly known as rags, (tabloids to you and I) the oft-ignored headline (often dubious in nature) would be bypassed in haste in order to allow that day’s young lady briefly describe her tastes whilst baring her upper torso. Workshop banter would ensue.
There being little new under the sun, advertising has been a staple throughout the car industry’s history. And while some would pay happily for front page status, others towards the rear and the rest somewhere in between, one manufacturer chose one magazine and more to the point, one page in particular to Continue reading “Page Three”
André Citroën and Henry Ford: An unlikely pairing?
The often innovative cars his Quai de Javel factory on the banks of the river Seine produced were noteworthy, as was his unmatched knack of thinking of new and audacious forms of publicity, but André Citroën always kept an eye open for new ideas and methods initiated by other manufacturers as well; notably those from the land of the free and the home of the brave. Over the course of two decades Citroën would Continue reading “When Henry Met André – Part 1”
When designing with straight lines, in essence we have but three angles to play with. Those less than ninety degrees are acute. Above ninety but below one hundred and eighty become obtuse, whilst those exceeding what aficionados of darts call a ton-eighty are deemed reflex. Car designers being flesh and blood (even human, sometimes) curve such values at their will – or not. Human traits often blend those named angles but not in today’s case. This is the story of William Towns (1936-1993) the straight-laced, French curve-avoiding, oft overlooked automotive designer.
Beginning his automotive design career aged eighteen with Rootes Motors, Towns’ early efforts were centred on the less glamorous and more mundane aspects of design work, on items such as seats and door handles. Through time and perseverance, Towns contributed to the Rootes Arrow project, a.k.a. the Hillman Hunter, before an opportunity in 1963 led him to Continue reading “One-Way Towns Of England”
With few exceptions, the American performance car of the sixties was a pretty straightforward beast: a traditional, proven suspension and platform layout, big V8 up front, fat tires and all of it dressed in an imposing body often painted in some of the more vivid colours of the spectrum, with decals and striping to emphasise the point. Simple, effective and to most eyes handsome as well as desirable: why do it any different way?
There were of course alternatives of European origin such as MG, Alfa Romeo and Porsche, but those appealed to a different kind of customer – often one who had experience with them while serving abroad in the military after WW2. Continue reading “The Shark That Swam Against the Tide”
Nissan did not like having so little control over its increasingly significant UK business and found Botnar’s forceful style of negotiation distasteful. In 1990 the Japanese company offered to buy Botnar out, or at least take a stake in Nissan UK, but Botnar demurred, determined to retain full control over the franchise. To this end, he refused to renew contracts with the independent dealers that had been key to the company’s early sales growth and began replacing them with his own dealerships.
These dealerships, owned by a Nissan UK subsidiary company, the Automotive Finance Group, were large and aggressively managed, with onerous sales targets. Botnar showed little patience with any dealership manager who failed to Continue reading “The Bridgehead Falls (Part Three)”
Despite opposition, Octav Botnar asserts his growing power and influence.
Datsun’s breakthrough model in the UK was the 1973 120Y Sunny. Like its predecessor, the 1200, the 120Y had a rigorously conventional, conservative and well-proven mechanical layout, but was clothed in a smooth contemporary bodystyle with an upswept side DLO(1) that would become a signature for this generation of Datsun models. The styling flourishes, such as the ornate grilles and wheel covers, were rather ersatz for some tastes (including this writer’s) but the model really struck a chord with UK buyers and helped Datsun Continue reading “The Bridgehead Falls (Part Two)”
Octav Botnar turned Datsun into the UK’s best selling automotive import, but it would all end badly for him.
The first Japanese car to be offered for sale in the UK was, surprisingly, not from one of that country’s leading automakers, but from Daihatsu, a minnow of the Japanese auto industry. That car was the Compagno, a diminutive but pretty(1) conventionally engineered small car, offered in saloon, estate and convertible forms from mid-1965. The lack of any name recognition and a steep list price(2) meant it had little chance of making an impact, and the importers managed to Continue reading “The Bridgehead Falls (Part One)”
Raindrops keep falling – bringing our monopod history to a close.
McCarty Mustang, 1948
Had he been able to actually get his new car enterprise off the ground, Ford Motor Company may have had to think of a different name for one of its most successful models. Roy McCarty worked at a Lincoln dealership but had bigger plans – to Continue reading “Drop the Subject – (Part Three)”
Two giants of mid-20th century car design lay out their stall.
Both in oral and written communication the words Design and Styling are sometimes used as if they mean the same thing; this of course is not true. In broad terms styling is all about the visual qualities of a product, while design is more led by the functionality and consumer requirements. In the ideal fictitious case design leads to a product that is experienced as pleasing both in functionality as well as in aesthetics; for many, Dieter Rams for Braun or that of Jonathan Ive’s work for Apple fall within this treasured category. Continue reading “Style Council”
With the death of Graham Robson on 5 August 2021, the world of automotive history has lost an extraordinary and prolific chronicler.
Graham Robson was born and schooled in Skipton, a North Yorkshire market town. His family, middle-class but certainly not moneyed, had no connection with the motor industry other than his father’s interest in motorcycle racing. His interest in cars and engineering evolved from his early years, and the clever and motivated grammar-school boy was awarded a place at Lincoln College, Oxford, where he studied Engineering Science.
On graduation in 1957, the young Robson joined Jaguar as a graduate engineering trainee. Without doubt, Coventry shaped him, and in his free time from Jaguar, he was active in club rallying, making important contacts which led to co-driving opportunities with the Rootes factory team, and in 1961 a new job at Standard-Triumph, first as a development engineer, and in due course taking on the role of Competition Secretary.
David Dunbar Buick was but two years old when the family emigrated from Arbroath, Scotland for a new life in Detroit, 1856. Upon leaving school he worked for and then later owned a plumbing goods company (The Alexander Manufacturing Company). With an inventive mind, David produced a lawn sprinkler alongside a vitreous enamel coating for cast iron baths. By the 1890’s, the internal combustion engine held more interest than ablutions – the company was sold.
Afforded both time and financial independence, Buick indulged. Incorporating the Buick Auto-Vim & Power Company in 1899, his market was agricultural engines. Very soon the automobile enveloped his life and swiftly draining his finances with just a single car made in 1902 under the new name, Buick Manufacturing Company. Ploughing what little cash he retained into developing an OHV engine, a loan of $5,000 was had from close friend Ben Briscoe in order to make the Buick Motor Company.
Even now, well into the 21st century, the automotive industry and its related fields employ and attract more men than they do women, and the styling studios are no exception. There certainly has been a noticeable influx of women in the design departments over the past few decades: Anne Asensio, Marcy Fisher, Juliane Blasi and Michelle Christensen being a few latterday examples.
Wind back the clock some 90 years however and it was a different environment – and not just within the car industry. It took a determined and strong-willed woman to overcome the prejudice, condescendence, resistance and occasionally, outright hostility she would often confront if she dared enter an arena hitherto considered to be the sole domain of men.
Some of the women presented herein might appear a tad overdressed in period photographs, but it is important to Continue reading “Role Call”
We profile the father of the British motor industry.
Visionary. Pioneering. Complex. Three words amongst many that could be pinned to the suit lapels to those figures in history that brought about great, if not life enhancing change. Subsequently then filed under section Well and truly in the Past, cobweb covered and practically forgotten. One such figure in need of a Renaissance being Frederick Richard Simms (henceforth referred to by his initials). Born in Hamburg on the Glorious 12th 1863, to a Warwickshire, England based business family. Schooled in both Hamburg and later, London, FRS’ first notable business venture was marketing an overhead passenger cableway with a Blackpool associate named Stansfield.
That cableway was shown at the 1889 Bremen Exhibition, catching the eye of one Gottlieb Daimler. This led not only to a personal friendship with Daimler but FRS also becoming a director on the board of Canstatt based DMG. The cable car was swiftly parked.
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.
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”
Designers, akin to writers are seldom idle. Whereas us impoverished keyboard jockeys are tied to our workstations, the designer usually prefers to get stuck in, hands dirty and not simply bear witness to his (or her) thoughts, more help them bear fruition.
One such hands-on designer being Gérard Godfroy. Now aged 73, and living in Normandy, Godfroy views design as an emotional transmitter – why not share those feelings? He should Continue reading “Material Handler”
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.
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”
The first modern motor journalist? In praise of Thomas Jay McCahill III.
“Part of every dollar goes into the redesigning and styling pot, in an attempt to make your current car look doggy, outdated. It’s a successful trick that closely borders fraud.” These words from possibly the last known living descendant of the Scottish highwayman, Rob Roy. And if, as Henry Ford proclaimed that history is bunk, the story of this particular fellow could as easily be a work of fiction.
Thomas Jay McCahill III was once America’s foremost automotive journalist with a character as large as his substantial six foot two, 250 pound frame. The grandson of a wealthy lawyer, he graduated from Yale with a Fine Arts degree (possibly English, his story changed over time) and was surrounded by the automobile – his father had Mercedes-Benz dealerships.
Taking on two garages of his own, the Depression excised the McCahill wealth, leaving him destitute in New York. That city’s Times newspaper carried an ad for an Automotive Editor at Popular Science with a remit firmly stating: simple technical review, no brand names. McCahill’s sarcastic leanings, mentioning those taboo brands got him the sack only to be hired the very same day as a freelance writer with rival magazine, Mechanix Illustrated.
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.
On the 29th March, automotive designer, architect and artist, Robert Opron departed this life, aged 89. According to an obituary published on the Citroenvie website, while he was believed to have been in failing health, the cause of death was officially attributed to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.
Opron’s career was by most accounts illustrious – having enjoyed an early stint at Simca (1958 – 1960), it would encompass lead design roles at both Citroën (1962 – 1974) and Renault (1975 – 1984), in addition to some fruitful later work as a freelancer for centro stile FIAT in the late 1980s/ early 1990s. However, his legacy, especially at the latter two more storied French carmakers, was abruptly truncated – in the former case by his flat refusal to Continue reading “Robert Opron – In Memoriam”
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”
For a company that claims to have brought mass produced direct petrol injection to the engine world, few have heard or remember the short lived German firm of Gutbrod – the English translation being good bread. If Lloyd were a flash in the pan for their eleven years, Gutbrod was the mayfly – forty two months and gone.
Founded in Ludwigsburg 1926 by Wilhelm Gutbrod, their initial wares were motorcycles under the Standard brand name. Light agricultural machinery soon followed as did their first car – the rear engined Standard Superior. Expansion saw them Continue reading “Best Thing Since Sliced Bread”
Despite his wealth and title, Lord Strathcarron left the RAF in 1947, aged 23 with no qualifications other than that licence allowing him to fly a plane. He swiftly found that Civvy Street rarely needed a fly-boy which meant turning to the dark side of the street – becoming a car salesman. Car Mart Ltd on the Euston Road was his initiation to the car dealing world and a mere stone’s-throw from Warren Street where he could Continue reading “The Strathcarron Movement (Part Two)”
A look back at a different kind of motoring from a different kind of motorist.
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)”
We conclude our account of the life and career of John Zachary DeLorean.
The DeLorean Motor Company was, from January 1982, under the control of the receivers. Their job, in the first instance, is to see if a buyer can be found for the company. If none is forthcoming, they are required to dispose of the company’s assets in an orderly manner and raise as much money as possible to repay creditors in order of seniority, either fully or, more usually, in part (cents on the dollar). There is rarely anything left over for shareholders after this is done.
DeLorean’s biggest asset was its large inventory of unsold cars, which was increasing as production continued into the spring of 1982. Deep discounts offered on 1981 stock and exhortations to dealers to buy inventory failed meaningfully to improve the situation, and production at Dunmurry was halted in May 1982.
DMC filed for bankruptcy in October, although a skeleton staff completed around 100 partially built cars before the year end. Consolidated International, a US company based in Columbus, Ohio, acquired the remaining stock from the liquidators at a deep discount and attempted to Continue reading “Hero or Villain? (Part Three)”
We continue the story of John Z DeLorean and remember the car that carried his name on the fortieth anniversary of its launch.
The 1970’s was a truly miserable decade for the whole of Ireland. A sectarian conflict that had simmered in Northern Ireland since the island was partitioned in 1921 had exploded into violence and bloodshed in 1968. This unrest continued throughout the following decade, with bombings, assassinations and other terrorist atrocities perpetrated by paramilitary groups on both sides of the political and religious divide.
Human heads (along with tastes) arrive in different shapes and sizes. A hat of one size could never truly fit all. Luckily, the French devised a device equally beautiful in both name and operation: the conformateur. Placing what on first sight appears to be an Edwardian torture implement upon one’s head, the levers Continue reading “Herra Conformateur”
We remember the life and career of one of the most polarising and controversial people ever to have worked in the automotive Industry, John Zachary DeLorean.
John DeLorean was born in Detroit, Michigan on 6th January 1925 to Zachary and Kathryn (née Pribak) DeLorean. Zachary was Romanian, born in the village of Sugág, which was in a region controlled by the Austro-Hungarian Empire, but is now part of modern-day Romania. He worked in a mill before emigrating to the United States at the age of twenty. After spells in Indiana and Montana, he moved to Detroit and joined the Ford Motor Company as a millwright.
It was in Detroit that he met his future wife. Kathryn was Hungarian and worked for Carboloy Products, a division of General Electric. Neither Zachary nor Kathryn had much formal education and took other casual work as they found it to support their family of four sons, of whom John was the eldest.
Ready to take a trip? Today we discuss possible futures and automotive design with Design Field Trip’s editor, Christopher Butt.
Design was once characterised as “the dress of thought,” an elegant phrase and one at least as applicable to the automobile as any other form of styled product. Yet today, the dress which clothes our vehicles all too often suggests thoughts of a less edifying nature. But can anything be done to arrest this trend? Having recently launched his latest venture, Design Field Trip, we ask Hamburg-based design commentator, critic and writer, Christopher Butt, about his hopes to Continue reading “Depth of Field”