Page Three

One man’s obsession with the third page. 

Image: Society of Automotive Historians via Deans Garage

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”

When Henry Met André – Part 1

André Citroën and Henry Ford: An unlikely pairing?

Image: Auction.fr

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”

One-Way Towns Of England

Remembering William Towns, master of the linear.

Image: ja.autodata.org

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”

The Shark That Swam Against the Tide

Sharky’s machine.

Covington El Tiburon. Image: Forocoches.com

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”

The Bridgehead Falls (Part Three)

Disagreements, divorce and downfall.

Quietly revolutionary: 1990 Nissan Primera. Image: drivemag.com

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)”

The Bridgehead Falls (Part Two)

Despite opposition, Octav Botnar asserts his growing power and influence.

Breakthrough: 1973 Datsun 120Y Sunny. Image: honestjohn.co.uk

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)”

The Bridgehead Falls (Part One)

Octav Botnar turned Datsun into the UK’s best selling automotive import, but it would all end badly for him.

Small beginnings: 1967 Datsun 1000. Image: Nissan Global

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)”

Drop the Subject – (Part Three)

Raindrops keep falling – bringing our monopod history to a close. 

Not THAT Mustang. Image: Forums aaca

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)”

Style Council

Two giants of mid-20th century car design lay out their stall.

All images: Author’s collection

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”

The Doyen has Departed – Graham Robson 1936 – 2021

With the death of Graham Robson on 5 August 2021, the world of automotive history has lost an extraordinary and prolific chronicler.

Graham Robson. Image: TR Register

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.

Robson had a useful sideline in writing rally reports for Motoring News, and in 1965 he left Standard-Triumph to join Autocar’s Midlands office to Continue reading “The Doyen has Departed – Graham Robson 1936 – 2021”

The Tri-Shield’s Silken Road

The Buick Origin Story.

Image: GM/ Wieck Media Services

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. 

Briscoe had doubts concerning Buick’s acumen; on hearing of a new automobile project in Flint, over a hundred miles from Detroit, he persuaded Buick to Continue reading “The Tri-Shield’s Silken Road”

Role Call

A woman’s place is in the… Design Studio.

Image: The author

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”

Lapis Volvit et Oblivione Delibitur *

We profile the father of the British motor industry.

Frederick Richard Simms. Image: gracesguide

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. 

In turn, this allowed FRS to Continue reading “Lapis Volvit et Oblivione Delibitur *”

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”

Material Handler

The Goddess makes a triumphant return.

All Images (c) Citroenvie.com

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”

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!”

Best Bitter

First Pint: The Bitter origin saga. 

All images (c) Bittercars.com

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

Across The Pond Part Two. The Story of Uncle Tom

The first modern motor journalist? In praise of Thomas Jay McCahill III.

Tom McCahill. Image: Simanaitissays.com

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.

Keen to use his new position to Continue reading “Across The Pond Part Two. The Story of Uncle Tom”

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”

Robert Opron – In Memoriam

By their works you will know them…

Citroën CX. Image: likewheels

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”

I Want To Make A Car

Small yet mighty.

Image: classiccarcatalogue.com

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

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

Best Thing Since Sliced Bread

The best bread never lasts.

Gutbrod Superior. Image: Motor-car.net

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”

The Strathcarron Movement (Part Two)

Further thoughts from Lord Strathcarron.

Image via Pinterest

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)”

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)”

Hero or Villain? (Part Three)

We conclude our account of the life and career of John Zachary DeLorean.

DeLorean and his ruination (c) cnet.com

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)”

Hero or Villain? (Part Two)

We continue the story of John Z DeLorean and remember the car that carried his name on the fortieth anniversary of its launch.

John Z DeLorean with his creation (c) carwalls.blogspot

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.

A consequence of the euphemistically-named troubles was that the already weak economies on both sides of the border struggled to Continue reading “Hero or Villain? (Part Two)”

Herra Conformateur

Another giant of motorsport leaves the stage.

Hannu Mikkola winning the 1983 Rallye de Portugal. Image: web-rally.blogspot.com

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”

Hero or Villain? (Part One)

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 Z DeLorean and his creation (c) Forbes Magazine

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.

They lived in a tough, working-class district of Detroit, but managed to Continue reading “Hero or Villain? (Part One)”

Depth of Field

Ready to take a trip? Today we discuss possible futures and automotive design with Design Field Trip’s editor, Christopher Butt. 

Design Field Trip’s creator and Editor, Christopher Butt. (c) DFT

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”

Niels van Roij – in Conversation

Today, we talk to freelance car designer and coachbuilder, Niels van Roij.

(c) nielsvanroij.com

Very graciously, automotive designer, Niels van Roij allowed me an hour of his time to indulge upon subjects such as tailor-made suits, music and of course, the modern coach-built motor car.

Like so many car enthusiasts, the passion begins at an early age. For this author, Matchbox cars and their exaggerated engine and tyre sounds. For Niels however, the pencil and paper called from around the age of four. His mother has kept some of these youthful outpourings though it’s doubtful his infant designs would have bearing on today’s products for reasons discussed later.

Andrew Miles: What the first car that made you Continue reading “Niels van Roij – in Conversation”

Failure to Launch

I think it’s gonna be a long, long time…

Image: DPA.com

Muammar Mohammed Abu Minyar Gaddafi: dictator and terrorist to many, hero and martyr to others. The late Libyan ruler has been associated with many things, most of them of the unpleasant variety. But few could imagine the self-proclaimed brother-leader as a car designer. Yet colonel Gaddafi really did order the development of Libya’s first car, and had a considerable say in its styling and design concept, with the lofty aim of producing the safest car in the world.

Colonel Gadaffi named the car Saroukh El-Jamahiriya or Libyan rocket (once a military man, always a military man) and it was unveiled at a special summit of the Organisation of African Unity in 1999, organised to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the revolution.

The car was described by the press officer at hand as an elegant sedan and that Gaddafi “had spent long hours thinking of ways to Continue reading “Failure to Launch”

In Memoriam : Jürgen Hubbert

As another motor industry luminary takes a final bow, we look back at the career of the man dubbed, Mr. Mercedes. 

Jürgen Hubbert and A-Klasse – 1997. (c) Automotive News

Jürgen Hubbert passed away last week at the age of 81. Best known for his tenure at the helm of Mercedes-Benz AG from 1997 to 2005, a period of considerable expansion and no small amount of tumult. Indeed, when one looks back at the Mercedes-Benz products of the time, one cannot but wonder what manner of legacy Hubbert leaves behind.

So let us Continue reading “In Memoriam : Jürgen Hubbert”

A Pillock In Charge

Andrew remembers a giant of the special stages.

Colin McRae’s Subaru 555 gets some air. (c) dukevideo

Time flies: A quarter century has passed since Colin McRae famously clutched the winning trophy for not only the event but the main prize, that of 1995 World Rally Champion. Hoisting the trophy aloft, navigator, Derek Ringer had to inform Colin he’d dropped the trophy lid, the pillock.

Whilst far from the Cheshire finishing line that particular day, McRae’s, co-driver, along with the other protagonists’ results and welfare were prominent in this rally enthusiast’s mind. For the more cynical, this was also the championship where Toyota were subsequently banned; it having come to light that they were using illegal turbo restrictors, but that as they say, is another story.

During the mid-’90s, regardless of the day’s itinerary, my search for rally information would be avid; the BBC’s Teletext service (wot no Internet?), next morning’s newspaper (rarely anything), the eternal wait for the highlights television show the following weekend and that week’s Autosport magazine, which I might Continue reading “A Pillock In Charge”

Old Red Wine

We mark the passing of a much respected British engineer.

Don Hayter (second from left) marks the completion of the half-millionth MGB at Abingdon. Image: Hemmings

Don Hayter, was born in Oxfordshire on 24th January 1926. His father, a retired policeman, took up a job delivering MG TF Midgets from Abingdon to the docks for export. Meanwhile his son had shown not only aptitude but a flair for technical drawing. Upon leaving Abingdon school, he took an apprenticeship with the Pressed Steel Company at Cowley working on aircraft such as the AVRO Lancaster during the war, progressing to bodywork panels for Jaguar’s XK120 and the ZA Magnette.

Don had taken up an offer from then Feltham-based Aston Martin Lagonda as a draftsman in the early fifties with a return to Oxfordshire when AML upped sticks to Continue reading “Old Red Wine”

LocoDiscoBox (16+)

What have you planned for the festive season?

All images: group.renault.com

What’s the first thing you think of when considering gearboxes? Have you parked in gear? Does the manual action satisfy your taste? Is that a dog-leg set up? Why won’t the automatic change when I want it to? Where’s my Lego set? That latter, more pertinent point being what led to Renault seeking out a new way of changing gears. Settle in, pop it into D and grab your Lego Technic manual.

Christmas 2010 and we find Renault’s Nicolas Fremau, Powertrains and Hybrid expert, ordering boxes of Denmark’s most prodigious export. Not for his son, either. Fremau hit on the idea that the plastic cogs along with connecting rods could form the potential of a real world use gearbox for use in the coming hybrid/ electrification vehicles. The holiday period allowed him to Continue reading “LocoDiscoBox (16+)”

Because They Could

Few unique car designs hail from Ireland. Fewer still as thorough as this. Bruno Vijverman investigates the story of the DAWB. 

DAWB 6. Image: David Heatley

As the name implies, the Ulster Transport Museum in Cultra, Northern Ireland harbours a variety of modes of transport. Trains, trams, airplanes, bicycles, motorcycles and of course cars are on display. Among the exhibited cars, one stands out as a unique showcase of what could be achieved when a determined cohort of men set out to make their dream car, and were not prepared to Continue reading “Because They Could”

Doisneau’s All Seeing Eye

A slice of contemporary automotive life through the lens of an artist.

citroen

Principally known in his later years, alongside better-known contemporary Henri Cartier-Bresson for his photojournalism work, Robert Doisneau captured on camera the working atmosphere of the Renault factory at Boulogne-Billancourt during their pre-war peak in the mid 1930’s. Drawn to the camera aged around sixteen, Doisneau was so shy he preferred to Continue reading “Doisneau’s All Seeing Eye”

In Memoriam – Aldo Brovarone

We salute a departed master of form.

Brovarone’s magnum opus. Prototype Dino 206 GT. Image: stylepark

In an ideal world, the deserving always rise to the top. In such a environment a young stylist might perhaps serve his time, building up a body of work before branching out on his own, culminating with his name atop the doorway of a stand-alone carrozziere. Instead, the name of Aldo Brovarone, who departed the surly bonds of earth in mid-October, remains (outside of enthusiast automotive circles at least) largely unheralded.

Life has never been fair, and despite Brovarone being one of the very best of his era, the reasons for his low-key passing owe as much to the nature of the man as they do to the depth of auto-design apprehension that existed amid the contemporary motoring media.

Should we therefore view Brovarone as simply another in a long line of stylistic talents who mortified their egos to Continue reading “In Memoriam – Aldo Brovarone”

Soul of the Chevron

Citroën cars were like no other, nor were Citroën’s engineers – least of all its greatest exponent. 

André Lefèbvre (c) Hemmings

Few carmakers operated quite like Automobiles Citroën, not only during the tenure of the company’s eponymous founder and chief architect, but equally in the years that followed the carmaker’s initial collapse and takeover by Michelin in 1934. Michelin had placed Pierre-Jules Boulanger as company President, under whom existed an environment which permitted Citroën engineers a great deal of freedom to Continue reading “Soul of the Chevron”

Dole It Out, Samuel

A big car for a big country. Introducing the very first Duesenberg. 

It’s a Duesie. (c) Hemmings.com

This is pure American history. It’s definitely the most significant vehicle now in the museum’s collection – even if it weren’t restored, it’d still be at the top of that list. It’s not just a car, it’s a family’s history and legacy.” Brendan Anderson. 

Using nothing but my imagination, the American car industry of the mid-teens to late 1920s conjures images of cityscapes swarming with Model Ts, Oldsmobiles, Buicks and the like in fast-paced black and white. Or, in glorious technicolour, causing rooster tails of dust on the plains, perhaps outrunning the law or maybe enjoying the thrill of newfound speed. Never once considering the idea of fruit and cars to be connected – other than a vehicle for moving the produce – it has come to light more recently that this fruit/ car intersection goes far deeper than peel.

Fred and August Duesenberg were highly regarded motor racers. With cash from victories and contracts connected with the Great War, they decided to Continue reading “Dole It Out, Samuel”

Handmade In Chile

We examine Škoda’s short-lived South American assembly operation. 

One from the museum. (c) Škoda-storyboard.com

The country with the elongated coastline and rugged backbone consisting of the Andes mountain range is hardly renowned as a hot bed of car production. But true to form, Škoda found an infinitesimally small opening to make all but a handful of cars amidst the dusty plains of Chile, some fifty years ago.

Bohuslav Čtvrtečka, who shall from this point be named BC, began his working life at Škoda’s Kvasiny plant as a welder, progressing to head the welding shop in a little under ten years. Keen, knowledgeable and highly proficient in the construction of the then ten year old Octavia Estate, an offer was made to BC to Continue reading “Handmade In Chile”

Fifteen Years after LJKS

Fifteen years ago today LJK Setright departed this life at the age of 74. Bereft of his guide, one DTW writer looks at the years which followed, and considers how this extraordinary man might have viewed them.

Image: The author’s collection

Firstly, I will assume that the reader has some level of familiarity with Setright’s work. He was best known as a writer on automotive and engineering matters, but that scarcely defines him; polymath, autodidact, wordsmith, bebop clarinettist, classicist, libertarian, controversialist, modern-day Jehu, dandy, Ba’al teshuvah. I could go on…

His description of Frederick Lanchester: “The most accomplished gentleman ever wasted on the motor industry” could equally apply to Setright himself.

Even for those of us well into middle-age, the day in September 2005 when this other-worldly man proved to be as mortal as the rest of us seems long in the past, more so since Setright’s last column in CAR* appeared in February 1999**, and afterwards his output was sporadic and thinly spread. Throughout his time as a writer, Setright viewed the world with scant regard for the preoccupations and fashions of the day, and was never afraid to Continue reading “Fifteen Years after LJKS”

A Right Pair of Nymphs

Designer, Tom Tjaarda took two very different bites at the Lancia Flaminia during the 196os. Only one however is truly memorable. 

topcarrating
1969 Lancia Flaminia Marica: (c) topcarrating

During the Autumn of 1969, carrozzeria Ghia debuted the Marica concept at the Turin motor show, a styling study based upon the platform of the Lancia Flaminia, a car which had already ceased production. Not only that, but its maker had also gone bankrupt and was desperately seeking a benefactor.

Enter Alejandro de Tomaso, a phrase which would be uttered with increasing regularity within the Italian motor industry over the coming decade or so. Having purchased carrozzeria Ghia in 1967, he is alleged to have sanctioned the Marica study as a means of assisting Lancia’s bid to find a buyer – a statement which sounds suspiciously altruistic for such an automotive opportunist as he. But we are perhaps getting a little ahead of ourselves. Allow me to Continue reading “A Right Pair of Nymphs”

A Democrat Crushed By A Dictator

A brave attempt at autonomy snuffed out before its time. 

IBAP Democrata. (c) Lexicarbrasil.com

Large country though it is – the fifth largest in the world by area – the República Federativa do Brasil has never had a national car maker of any far-reaching market significance. Foreign makers had, and continue to have factories that produce cars in Brazil of course: Volkswagen, Alfa Romeo, Chrysler, Fiat and Ford to name the major ones, and also exiles such as DKW, Borgward, Kaiser and Willys who with varying degrees of success sought to prolong their activities in Brazil, after the feasibility of the business case in their home countries evaporated.

At the dawn of the 1960’s, Brazilian business tycoon Nelson Fernandes attempted to finally give his country its own car. Fernandes had become wealthy building country clubs and a large hospital through a fund-raising drive targeting affluent Brazilians. One of his funders (and friends) was Luis Carlos Fagundes, a director of Willys do Brasil. Together, they hatched plans to Continue reading “A Democrat Crushed By A Dictator”

Beautiful Vision – Evolution of the Jowett Javelin (Part 2)

As we (somewhat belatedly) rejoin Robertas Parazitas’ commemoration of the Jowett Javelin, the design begins to take shape.

Image: The author

1943 has just begun, Britain is at war. Jowett has an ambitious visionary as its Managing Director, and a 32 year old engineer with an impressive record of achievement has joined the company to lead its most important project. Would extraordinary circumstances produce an exceptional car?

While Charles Calcott Reilly had found his engineer, the brief for his task was far from set. The design which evolved defined the aspirations of Calcott Reilly and Palmer – a compact but spacious saloon, was described by its designer as a utility car. The target price was £500, coincidentally Gerald Palmer’s starting salary when he joined Jowett in 1942. Exportability was a priority; despite the company’s characterisation as Yorkshire’s national vehicle, in the pre-war period, Jowetts were exported to at least 60 countries. Continue reading “Beautiful Vision – Evolution of the Jowett Javelin (Part 2)”

An American In Red Square

Goodness, it’s May already. I started writing this in BC-19, that’s Before Covid-19 and planned it as a light-hearted retrospective on otherwise terrifying geopolitical matters. Well, how was I to know?

(c) Thetimes.co.uk

Leonid Brezhnev was astute in having cars offered as sweeteners for diplomatic (or otherwise) talks to occur. Thus, wildly differing guesses flit anywhere from fifty to five hundred cars being accrued by the former Soviet Leader.

With the Russian Bear (as always) rather keen on security, most of the information is speculative at best, we simply do not know what happened to the majority of those automotive gifts. Those we do however, have quite the  story to tell. Brezhnev preferred the foreign motor but would occasionally Continue reading “An American In Red Square”

Diamond Life

Architects and motor cars have not always co-existed harmoniously. Today’s subject however, is something of an exception. 

(c) Motori corriere.it

Richard Buckminster Fuller’s foray into the automotive world with his Dymaxion car of 1933 is frequently brought forward when the discussion topic is raised about car concepts that were simply too far ahead of their time for their own good. The radical ideas and look of the Dymaxion were indeed in clear violation* of MAYA (Most Advanced Yet Acceptable) – the guiding design principle of well known contemporary, Raymond Loewy.

Two decades after Buckminster Fuller presented Dymaxion, another famed architect came up with a car design that was considered too far out at the time of its introduction: Gio Ponti. The Italian’s Linea Diamante dates from 1953 but its styling and interior concept were very much of another, future decade. Continue reading “Diamond Life”

Der Lebensretter

Thousands of motorists owe their lives to one man’s quest to design safer motor cars. We pay tribute to a engineering pioneer. 

Béla Barényi. (c) Mercedes-Benz

The Mercedes-Benz legend was built on principles of engineering excellence; its reputation founded upon the work of legendary engineers, names which include Fritz Nallinger, Josef Müller and Rudolph Uhlenhaut. However, there is another name – one to whom every motorist ought perhaps to say a silent prayer of thanks – that of Béla Viktor Karl Barényi, engineer, inventor, known to some as the lifesaver. Over a lengthy career, primarily at Mercedes-Benz, his innovations led to more than 2500 patents, some of which have gone on to save countless thousands of lives.

Born in Hirtenberg near Vienna in March 1907 to one of Austria’s wealthiest families, Béla Barényi grew up amid the dawn of the motor car. Automobiles were a part of his life from an early age, his family owning an Austro-Daimler, which he is said to have adored. But fate and geopolitics would change his life dramatically, the combination of the Great War (in which his father was killed) and the ensuing depression which saw his family’s fortune dwindle, meant he was forced to Continue reading “Der Lebensretter”

The Fate of Empires and Search For Survival (Part Two)

Daniel O’Callaghan continues his digest of Bob Lutz’s 2011 book, ‘Car Guys vs Bean Counters’, which charts the decline of General Motors and Lutz’s decade-long struggle to rescue it.

(c) consumer guide auto

In an effort to understand better what gave the Japanese manufacturers such an edge in terms of quality and reliability, GM established a joint-venture with Toyota in 1984, the quaintly named New United Motorcar Manufacturing Inc. (NUMMI) to Continue reading “The Fate of Empires and Search For Survival (Part Two)”

Always Crashing in the Same Car

“Deep assignments run through all our lives. There are no coincidences.”

J.G. Ballard’s Crashed Cars exhibition, 1970. Photo (c) Wesley/Keystone/Getty Images

The car crash is the most dramatic event we are likely to experience in our entire lives apart from our own deaths.” J.G. Ballard

As any automotive marketer will be at pains to remind you, there is nothing sexy about safety, because as we’re repeatedly told, the customer simply doesn’t want to know. This being so, it’s relatively unsurprising that few carmakers have made their fortune or reputation by reminding buyers of the mortal risks they run every time they Continue reading “Always Crashing in the Same Car”