Geneva 2017 – L’Insolite: Mad Swiss Makes an Electric Ghoul Isetta

Van Helsing starter kit in hand, roving reporter, Robertas Parazitas comes face to face with another automotive revenant.

Image: Microlino

The Geneva Salon is still a place where rich men can show their dreams made metal. Jim Glickenhaus was there with his SCG003S hypercar. Not far away, Felix Eaton, Huddersfield’s answer to Glickenhaus, proudly launched his graceful Black Cuillin. More modest in size, but equally single-minded is the Microlino, the creation of Wim Oubouter.

Oubouter has something of a track record as a transport innovator, which suggests that this venture is more than vanity or capricious whimsy. Continue reading “Geneva 2017 – L’Insolite: Mad Swiss Makes an Electric Ghoul Isetta”

Theme : Brochures – Vauxhall Ampera

It is always chastening to see humanity’s schemes laid low. From the grand boasts that accompanied the launch of the Titanic to some of the pledges that Barack Obama was not able to fulfil; even with the best of intentions we sometimes underperform.

ampera-7

Earlier this month we looked at the first brochure for the 1998 Fiat Multipla. Brimming with optimism, or some have suggested hubris, the public generally avoided the enthusiasm of that car’s creators. And now we look at another ‘failure’, the Opel/Vauxhall Ampera. Introduced in early 2012, the Europeanised version of the Chevrolet Volt was on sale in the UK for little more than two years. Continue reading “Theme : Brochures – Vauxhall Ampera”

Vanity Of Vanities : Work In Progress

Following the post from a couple of weeks ago, expressing my desire for an enjoyable, yet slow, car I’ve been trying to flesh out what was, when I first suggested it, a rather nebulous idea.

slow-sports-top

At the same time, I’ve been getting my own low-level insight into the mindset of Ferdinand Piëch.  From what I know of him we have little in common, save a desire – realised in his case, unrealisable in mine – to see a rather silly car produced; one that no-one else in the world needs.  I started my doodlings thinking of simple things that could, perhaps, be built on top of a scrap 2CV platform. But Dr Piëch has inspired me that, like the Bugatti Veyron, second-best just won’t do. Continue reading “Vanity Of Vanities : Work In Progress”

Theme: Compromise – The Fiesta Mk.1 – Almost Revolutionary

Let us consider the conventional wisdom about the first generation Fiesta.

autocar-2-october-1976-koln-dom
Source: Autocar

It arrived some time after the revolutions in small car design which raged through Europe in the fifties and sixties, and continued to bear fruit into the early seventies.  It was thus a rationalised ‘best practice’ car, standing on the narrow but solid shoulders of at least four influential and successful rivals which arrived early enough in the 1970s to influence and inform Ford’s designers. Continue reading “Theme: Compromise – The Fiesta Mk.1 – Almost Revolutionary”

Theme: Compromise – Ford’s Valencia engine. A Curious Orange?

A missed opportunity or a masterpiece of compromise?  We look at the unassuming little engine that drove the Fiesta’s success.

car-march-1974
The cack-handed rendering is inexcusable given that that the magazine includes a close-to-production photo mischievously taken by an attendee at a customer clinic in Düsseldorf earlier in 1974.  Security was tightened considerably thereafter.

CAR March 1974 was confident in its prediction about the Fiesta’s engine; “it is a completely new water-cooled, in-line four with single overhead cam and Heron head. It will come in two sizes – a little over 900cc and 1090cc for the top of the range model.” As we now know, the “scoop report” could scarcely have been more wrong, but it is easy to understand the reasons for their conjecture. Continue reading “Theme: Compromise – Ford’s Valencia engine. A Curious Orange?”

Brave and Interesting – Steve Randle Interview Part Two

From Panhard to BMW’s i-Series, Steve Randle talks cars – and bikes. 

Steve Randle with his 1972 Citroen SM. Image: Steve Randle
Steve Randle with his 1972 Citroen SM. Image: Steve Randle

For a motor engineer constantly in pursuit of the next innovation, Steve Randle’s interest in older machinery proves a little disarming. These include a frankly enormous collection of road cycles.  “Bicycles are about as close to perfect as it gets, they’re such delightful, elegant things. You can get help for drugs and alcohol but for cycling, nothing can be done.”  Continue reading “Brave and Interesting – Steve Randle Interview Part Two”

Brave and Interesting – Steve Randle Interview Part One

Driven to Write meets an industry high flyer.

Image: AeroMobil
The AeroMobil in prototype form. Image: AeroMobil

Speaking with engineer, Steve Randle these two words crop up a good deal, but if ‘brave and interesting’ describe the vehicles and engineering solutions that inspire him, it’s also a fairly accurate description of the man. With a career encompassing Jaguar, McLaren Cars – where he was responsible for the suspension, engine mounting system and dynamic package for the legendary F1 supercar – through to projects at his own engineering consultancy with clients as diverse as Bentley, JCB, Tata Motors, and the Ministry of Defence, Randle’s bushel has up to now been well hidden, to say nothing of the light therein. Continue reading “Brave and Interesting – Steve Randle Interview Part One”

Theme : Compromise – The Crucial Balance

As Mr Editor Kearne said in his introduction to this month’s theme, compromise is inevitable in the motor industry. The trick is knowing where to apply it and where to not.

Coherent : Peugeot 403
Coherent and Cohesive : Peugeot 403

Ask any industry accountant and they will tell you that making cars and making money aren’t natural bedfellows. Margins are often small, the customer base fickle and, with relatively long development and production runs, like an oil tanker, once committed you don’t change direction easily. Of course there are exceptions, companies who through a combination of prudence, intelligence, excellence or maybe just fashion, are able to make a healthy profit, year after year, and even swallow up a few of the lacklustre performers in one or more of the above categories whilst they do. Continue reading “Theme : Compromise – The Crucial Balance”

Paint News Digest

Driventowrite leaves no corner of the automotive world unexamined. Today we look a bit at paint, Mazda paint, Toyota paint, Opel paint…

Soul red crystal paint: source
Soul red crystal paint: source

Mazda presented their new colour in November, ending their press release with the memorable line: “colour is an element of form”.

Soul Red Crystal is a development of an existing Mazda colour,  Soul Red that “balances vibrant energy and vividness with clear depth and gloss.” So, it’s rich and shiny. Mazda estimate that it has 20 percent higher colour saturation and 50 percent more depth”. I don’t know how the depth is estimated. There is no insight here. There might be some here.

Continue reading “Paint News Digest”

The Carbon Black Arts

There’s an awful amount of ill-informed, arbitrary rubbish spouted about tyres. Here’s some more.

Dunlop SP Sport Aquajet - The Testosterone Belted Radial
Dunlop SP Sport Aquajet – The Testosterone Belted Radial

Tyres are made of rubber and are there to make the ride of your car soft. It’s the air that gives the cushion, so you need to keep them pumped up, but not too hard. They have grooves cut in them called tread that let the rain out and if the grooves aren’t deep enough the police can fine you – I think it’s 1 mm, or maybe 2. I know a garage that keeps some part-used tyres out the back with more than enough legal tread and they will sell them to you at a fair price including balancing, though you don’t really need that as long as you drive at sensible speeds. I wacked my front tyre on a sharp kerb the other day which took a bit of rubber off and you can see some of the canvas stuff underneath, but it isn’t losing air. Maybe they’re the ones with tubes. Anyway they should be OK til the next MOT. Continue reading “The Carbon Black Arts”

Theme: Places – Scene of the Accident

There are some places you simply don’t want to go.

Image: Motorauthority
Image: Motorauthority

In his transgressive 1973 novel, ‘Crash’, novelist JG Ballard explored a netherworld where a group of symphorophiliasts play out their fetishes of eroticism and death amid the carnage of motor accidents. But while most of us might find ourselves staring luridly against our better instincts at some roadside crumplezone, we recoil in dread from the blood and the bone. It could after all so easily be ourselves trapped and lifeless inside some shattered hatchback. Continue reading “Theme: Places – Scene of the Accident”

Goodbye MPVs and Other Opel Stuff

MPVs are so ’00s. Opel have announced the name of their new small CUV, the Crosslander which replaces the Meriva. Autocar said so too. As did BBC’s Top [Insert Name of Presenter here]

2016 Opel Meriva interior: source
2016 Opel Meriva interior: source

Opel used lot of design talent on the Meriva. It had a superb interior with some excellent colour and fabric options. The window line was unique in that it recognised the fact the kids in the back might want to see out. That’s user-centred design which I can only applaud. Those doors too. Continue reading “Goodbye MPVs and Other Opel Stuff”

Thirty Times ’40 – Jim Randle Interview Part Three

In part three, Jim Randle speaks candidly about what was possibly the XJ40’s most controversial aspect – its advanced electronics system.

Image: Auto-didakt.com
Image: ©Auto-didakt.com

It’s been suggested in the past that Jaguar were over-ambitious in attempting to introduce electronic controls into XJ40 when this technology was still in its infancy, but Jim Randle points out a key precedent. Preparing XJ-S prototypes in the early 1970’s, he produced a carburettor and an electronically controlled version for comparison purposes, making the following discovery. Continue reading “Thirty Times ’40 – Jim Randle Interview Part Three”

Thirty Times ’40 – Jim Randle Interview Part One

To mark the 30th anniversary of XJ40’s launch, we speak exclusively to former Jaguar Engineering Director, Jim Randle.

Image: taketotheroad.co.uk
Image: taketotheroad.co.uk

If the XJ40-series’ legacy represents a series of lasts, then chief amongst them is that it remains arguably the final mainstream British series production car to embody the single-minded vision of one man. Because if a car could embody the personality and mentality of its creator, then XJ40 is Jim Randle, whose stamp is all over its conceptual and engineering design. Recently we spoke exclusively with the father of the ’40 to re-evaluate the last purebred Jaguar saloon.  Continue reading “Thirty Times ’40 – Jim Randle Interview Part One”

Theme: Bodies – Protecting Them

As well as providing the location for the suspension system and being sufficiently durable, a car body needs to protect the bodies of the occupants. And to look alright.

1972 Volvo Experimental Safety Car: source
1972 Volvo Experimental Safety Car: source

If we compare the smooth bodies of contemporary vehicles with early attempts at safety engineering you notice how safety was first ‘added on’ by means of obviously larger bumpers and also by the use of safety padding inside the car. Volvo took this approach as did the GM ESV (1972) and Fiat with the ESV (1973). GM did also provide for passive safety by removing the A-pillars and fitting airbags.
Continue reading “Theme: Bodies – Protecting Them”

Theme: Bodies – Hydroforming

We briefly review a method that improves rigidity, helps achieve the goal of a lighter car and also simplifies production. Which car have you sat in that uses this method?

2001 Ford Mondeo: conceptcarz.com
2001 Ford Mondeo: conceptcarz.com

The car body must meet two contradictory requirements: lightness and strength. Lightness abets performance and improves agility: less car to turn. It also usually helps keep the cost down. At the same time, a car must not fall apart while standing still or while in motion. And if the car should hit something it needs to protect the occupants. Usually you may have lightness or robustness but not both.

Continue reading “Theme: Bodies – Hydroforming”

Throwbacks: Examples and Non-Examples

What do the Triumph Toledo, the Ford Taunus and the Rover 75 have in common?

1972 Triumph 1500: source
1972 Triumph 1500: source

For a very long time the general trend in automotive drivetrain layouts has been to move from rear-wheel drive to front-wheel drive. It started in earnest in the 60’s with smaller cars from mainstream manufacturers though of course the pioneers were specialists, Citroen and Lancia. Thus a trickle of front-wheel drive superminis exploited the packaging efficiency of front-wheel drive and showed the way forward. Then the Golf/Kadett/Escort class yielded as follows: 1974 for the Golf, 1979 for the Kadett and 1980 for the Escort. Things took a little longer to Continue reading “Throwbacks: Examples and Non-Examples”

DTW Summer Reissue – Engines: The Road Less Travelled

You can make 4-cylinder engines bigger but what about making a smaller 6?

1990 Alfa Romeo 2.0 V6. Image courtesy of Wikipedia
1990 Alfa Romeo 2.0 V6. Image courtesy of Wikipedia

We have considered two approaches to bridging the 2.0 to 2.5 litre capacity gap, the enlarged 4-cylinder engines, and the 5-cylinder concept. And while the first is relatively common and the second shall we say not unusual, there is one other method of adding power and prestige to a smaller engine. That route is the road less travelled, 2-litre V6s.

The first small capacity V6 I could think of turned out to be a 1.8 litre V6 used in the Mazda MX-3, a car whose appearance I never got to grips with. In this small feature “two” is the magic number, so the 1.5 litre V6s used in racing will also be overlooked – also because I am not at all interested in motor sport. I am allergic to nylon padded jackets. Continue reading “DTW Summer Reissue – Engines: The Road Less Travelled”

DTW Summer Reissue: Throbby, Thrummy Quints

So who uses five cylinder engines and why? Do they have a future? DTW asks these questions today. Read on to accumulate wisdom on this subject.

1976 Audi 100: five-cylinders available
1976 Audi 100: five-cylinders available.

One might be tempted to think of five cylinder engines as being something of a novelty, if they are not a rarity. However, before Audi and Mercedes in the 1970s, Ford experimented with the concept in the 1930s and 1940s but never put anything into production. The heyday of the five has been from the end of the 70’s until a few years ago. Not a bad run. The window of opportunity for the five-cylinder now seems to be closing. What opened it?
Continue reading “DTW Summer Reissue: Throbby, Thrummy Quints”

Sir Basil Milford-Vestibule. An Interview

In a recently unearthed transcription, Simon A. Kearne matches wits with engineering legend, Sir Basil Milford-Vestible. 

Image: fab50s
Image: fab50s

It has been long assumed that Sir Basil Milford-Vestible never gave interviews, but a moth-eaten copy of The Journal of Automotive Progress – Spring 1959 number recently came to light in Simon’s attic. In a World exclusive, the mercurial engineering genius gossips about rivals, takes issue with aero and heaps vitriol on the double chevron.

Continue reading “Sir Basil Milford-Vestibule. An Interview”

Theme: Material – Decay

Cars start decaying the moment they are built. Some manage to accumulate character while most don’t. What do you do?

Rust.
Rust.

One response is obsessive polishing and maintenance. The other is stoic acceptance. For many the response is to oscillate in between the two, starting with careful stewardship of the new possession. Why do people fight physics? And why is it that cars don’t last longer? Continue reading “Theme: Material – Decay”

Theme: Material – Plastics

An interesting report shows how plastics can contribute to improving vehicle efficiency. 

2015 BMW i3: www.bmwedison.com
2015 BMW i3: http://www.bmwedison.

By one estimate, 10% of the average weight of a vehicle needs to be removed to reach future EPA fuel economy standards. One way to do this is to make increased use of plastic. These can improve aerodynamics and also make the cars easier to produce and more durable. The use of fibre-reinforced composites means that less metal can be used for the body-in-white. Plastics can also be used in the drivetrain and electrical system. Continue reading “Theme: Material – Plastics”

Theme: Materials – Body Building

Originally carpenters made horsedrawn carriages with wooden bodies. They carried this technology over to the horseless carriage. 

Aluminium and wood and leather- Bristol's materials of choice
Aluminium and wood and leather- Bristol’s materials of choice

Then it became clear that for large scale production, a saw, hammer and some nails would not be up to the task. Design involves choosing a balance between what the material needs to do and how it can be formed. The appearance emerges from this compromise – the required look can drive material selection and vice versa. Often the balance is not even something at the forefront of the designer’s mind if they are working out of habit or tradition. Continue reading “Theme: Materials – Body Building”

Gamma: Signs and Portents – Part Eleven

The option of an automatic transmission did little to mitigate the Gamma’s reputation as a disaster on wheels. If anything, it appears to have added to it.

Image: Autobild.de
Image: Autobild.de

One option missing from the Gamma’s specification at launch was an automatic transmission, not a fatal handicap in the domestic market where manuals proliferated, but rather more so in the UK, where a sizeable proportion of luxury saloons were specified as self-shifters. But in fact, Lancia had foreseen this necessity and in conjunction with UK supplier Automotive Products, engineered a four-speed automatic transmission specifically for the model. Continue reading “Gamma: Signs and Portents – Part Eleven”

Theme: Materials – General Electric “Xenoy”

What do the 1982 Ford Sierra, 1985 Mercury Sable and 1988 BMW Z1 have in common? Xenoy.

1988 BMW Z1: source
1988 BMW Z1: source

The difference is the extent and application of its use on the BMW. While Ford and Mercury made use of Xenoy on the bumpers, the Bavarian firm used it on the sliding doors, the wings and the rocker panels. The rocker panels are huge on this car so that’s a lot of plastic. Continue reading “Theme: Materials – General Electric “Xenoy””

Theme : Values – So Where Are The Drag Queens Now?

A good, quantifiable value is a good selling point. It’s an even better selling point if few people know what it actually means, so they can’t really challenge it or compare it.

1982 Audi 100 - image : drive-my.com
1982 Audi 100 – image : drive-my.com

If you follow Formula 1 these days, you will hear a lot, an awful lot, about ‘aero’. Assuming the drivers don’t all have a fixation on the bubbly, chocolate snack, we can assume this means that the aerodynamics of the overpriced racing cars are very important. They are important for road cars too but, oddly, nowadays manufacturers don’t make a big deal of it in their marketing, leaving you to guess from the often excessively racetrack mimicked shapes of splitters, spoilers and diffusers we see on so many cars. Continue reading “Theme : Values – So Where Are The Drag Queens Now?”

Micropost: Syd Mead’s 1977 Artwork for Yokohama

DTW has considered the work of Fitz and Van. Now it’s time to compare it to Syd Mead’s artwork.

1977 Yokohama advert by Syd Mead: Motor Trend, May 1977.
1977 Yokohama advert by Syd Mead: Motor Trend, May 1977.

Whereas Fitz and Van tended to offer a rosy picture of today, Syd Mead looked forward. In this image we are invited to imagine that the pilot of the advanced military (?) plane in the background has driven in a very futuristic sports car to get to work. It’s the future so he is wearing a silvery jump suit. Continue reading “Micropost: Syd Mead’s 1977 Artwork for Yokohama”

Two Wheels Good. Three Wheels Better?

DTW Looks at Bikes for Non-Bikers

What if you're not actually rebelling against anything, Johnny?
What if you’re not actually rebelling against anything at all, Johnny?

DTW likes to present itself as a dogma-free zone and, in general, we think that this is so. We cover four wheels without prejudice of value or social status. But once we step outside that, things change. When I was at school, with youth’s preference for factions, it seemed to be that you were either a car person or a motorbike person. I suppose there were people who were neither, but contempt or, at best, pity for them was the only thing that united car and bike lobbies. I was firmly in the car camp, and remained there until my late twenties, when I discovered bikes as well. But many car folk really have no interest in bikes, which makes writing about bikes on these pages a minority pastime. Continue reading “Two Wheels Good. Three Wheels Better?”

Transitions : Car Interiors as They Turned Plastic

This thread looks at a period of transition as injection moulding, safety legislation and changing taste in colours acted to markedly alter how car interiors looked. The late 70s was the period when the dashboard became seen as an integrated whole rather than a set of items screwed to a bulkhead. Of course, Citroen´s SM got there in 1971 but did it without injection moulding on the scale possible in 1981.

In this article I examine the change-over from metal and glass to all-plastic interiors that occurred in the mid 70s.

1971 Morris Marina interior. Spacious and simple.
1971 Morris Marina interior. Spacious and simple.

This thread looks at a period of transition as injection moulding, safety legislation and changing taste in colours acted to markedly alter how car interiors looked. The late 70s was the period when the dashboard became seen as an integrated whole rather than a set of items screwed to a bulkhead. Of course, Citroen´s SM got there in 1971 but did it without injection moulding on the scale possible in 1981. Continue reading “Transitions : Car Interiors as They Turned Plastic”

Theme: Headlamps – The View Ahead

We’re not still sticking lights on the front of our cars, are we? Time for some fresh thinking perhaps.

2010-RDX-Racedesign-Peugeot-207-Headlight-1024x768
Image: RDX-Racedesign

Modern life isn’t necessarily rubbish, but on balance, it is somewhat disappointing. Not just the gnawing pointlessness of so much of it, but the nagging sense that the brave new world we were promised back in the 70’s has decisively failed to materialise. Because laying aside for a moment the jet-scooters, orgasmatrons and robotised dogs we were all expecting to enjoy, there remain aspects of the motor car which really should have met the rendezvous with the eternal. Take headlamps for example. After more than a hundred years of almost almost constant automotive development, surely we could have come up with something better by now?

Continue reading “Theme: Headlamps – The View Ahead”

What Lies Beneath?

What is the future for Car Manufacturing?

Car BadgesThere have always been cases of re-skins creating ‘different’ vehicles; and indeed VW Group have become masters at doing this in-house. But between independent brands this has usually been discreet and car companies have remained proud of their ability to manufacture the oily bits, as in the example of the Vauxhall salesman who once vehemently denied to me that the diesel in an Omega was manufactured by BMW. You might have thought he’d use that fact as a selling point – but then he’d probably also have denied that the rest of the car was made by Opel. However, this can’t last.

Continue reading “What Lies Beneath?”

Straight Eight – The Dilettante’s Viewpoint

The in-line eight cylinder petrol engine has receded into history. It has powered some of the great cars – the Alfa 8Cs, the Mercedes 300SLR, the Duesenberg SJ and the Bugatti Type 35, but its last appearance in a production car was in the early 1950s, in the finely named Packard Patrician.

The reasons for its disappearance are pretty obvious. It is not the greatest packaging solution and, with all those stresses and temperature variations laid out in a long line, it presents a whole series of engineering problems. Why bother when a V configuration is easier? For anything that has to be made to a budget, that is probably a reasonable attitude to take but, for some of us, the engine has a hugely exotic attraction, highlighted by its very impracticality.

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Continue reading “Straight Eight – The Dilettante’s Viewpoint”