Another future postponed. Today we look at an engine technology from the early 1990’s which, for a short time at least, looked like a certainty.
Where do ideas go to die? Are blueprints simply rolled up and secreted away, to be dusted off by historians in decades hence or are there engineers in a quiet workshop somewhere in Australia (or Toyota City) still burning with religious fervour for what now appears to have been something of a lost cause?
Founded by engineer, Ralph Sarich, the Orbital Engine Corporation was based in Perth and during the early 1990’s attracted the interest of a number of big name manufacturers for a clever reworking of the time-honoured but somewhat flawed two-stroke engine design. For a short period of time, it sounded tantalisingly like Continue reading “Stroke of Fortune”
Almost three years on from VW’s monumental lapse of judgement, the only thing that is clear amid the noxious murk is an overwhelming and potentially damaging lack of clarity.
Not simply a colossal failure and a swingeing indictment of VW’s corporate culture as espoused by the management style of former chairman, Ferdinand Piëch, the repercussions of VW’s 2015 betrayal are proving even wider and faster-accelerating than anyone might reasonably have anticipated.
An opportunity to ‘have a go’ in a friendly colleague’s new Tesla provided me with a first experience of driving an EV.
I fully realise that it’s not that remarkable to have driven one of Elon Musk’s finest, but it’s a landmark in my longish and ever-lengthening motoring life and so I feel driven to write one of my usual streams of consciousness about the experience and the car itself.
One of the guys in my team has a flat black 75D on order and Tesla has lent him a white car to bridge the gap whilst his is being built / delivered, which is a nice touch. Knowing how much of a car nerd I am, he popped in yesterday to offer me a quick go. It turned out I was not the first that day; given he leads an IT department, a load of tech nerds had got there before me. Interesting that, the Tesla appeals to both car and tech enthusiasts … Continue reading “Quick Drive: Tesla Model S 75D”
Continuing this month’s Ka-fest at DTW, we turn our thoughts to a South American curiosity. While Ford of Europe outsourced the difficult second Ka iteration to Fiat Automobiles S.p.A, Ford do Brasil did things rather differently.
The Brazilian Novo Ka went on sale in January 2008, nine months before the European replacement for the 12 year old original. The European car is not really a Ford at all, while the Brazilian car placed an ingeniously re-worked superstructure on its predecessor’s B platform, which originated with the 1989 Fiesta.
Not even two years since its European launch, Ford have got the magic markers out on the KA+. What can it all mean?
“The KA+ was introduced for customers in Europe as a spacious, well-equipped and value-for-money small car that offers excellent fuel-efficiency and fun-to-drive dynamics at an affordable price”. You have been reading the words of Ford’s press department before you write in to complain. A ‘Fiesta Minus’ with ‘milquetoast styling’ is what Driven to Write had to say on the matter in 2016.
As Ford readies its 2018 Euro-offerings, Driven to Write asks whether Henry’s Focus remains slightly askew?
In a Automotive News report this week, it was revealed that Ford will not unveil the new-generation Focus model at the Geneva show in March, electing to do so at a bespoke event the following month. The Ford spokesperson did not explain why this decision was taken (nor, it seems was the question asked) but it does suggest that Ford’s marketers believe they will Continue reading “Ford ReFocuses its Offer”
Suspending his disbelief, Driven to Write asks whether Citroen’s claims for their Advanced Comfort® programme are worth their weight in hydraulic fluid.
Last October, Citroën announced a heavily revised C4 Cactus, intended not only to boost the fortunes of the established (and fading) model, but also to replace the moribund C4 hatch. As we know, in so doing, Citroën abandoned the original car’s distinctive and pleasingly unaggressive style, reverting to a less polarising, yet also more generic look. More grown-up, as the gentlemen of the press might put it.
Ah 1967: The Summer of love. Sgt. Pepper. Twiggy. Bond.
But leaving popular culture aside, the mood music was more sombre. In the UK, land speed record holder, Donald Campbell died attempting to break the water record on Lake Coniston in his Bluebird K3 jetboat. While back on terra firma the advent of the Road Safety Act set a maximum permitted blood alcohol level, allowing breathalyser tests to be performed on drivers for the first time.
Whether it was Liz’s Jubilee, BL’s annus horriblis, the death of Elvis, the first space shuttle flight or the beginning of the Star Wars juggernaut, 1977 was a year of transitions. Even the music business reflected this, with Fleetwood Mac’s cocaine and divorce epic, Rumours topping the album charts while David Bowie (now off the white powder) offered the icy sheen of Low, a record which suggested a future (if not necessarily the future).
The waltz continues its overdue retrospective sweep through 1987.
By the mid-80’s the Japanese car companies were beginning to really give the European car business the willies, with the UK’s Car magazine bewailing their advent in luridly melodramatic terms. With Honda’s existing midliner being Accorded viable 3-Series rivalry status, Minato-Tokyo prepared a fresh salvo into the hearts and minds of their European rivals with this third generation Prelude.
I realise it’s an old and oft-discussed issue, but I have experienced VW shooting itself in the badge.
I was recently loaned a brand new VW Golf Estate for the day whilst my Octavia of similar form was in for its 10k oil-change. I have frequently read over the past few years how the differential between VW Group’s brands has blurred, but this is the first time I was presented with an opportunity to witness the phenomenon so directly. And, although I should not have been, I was a bit taken aback at the experience.
A (modest) commercial success, but ultimately a creative failure, the 2007 XF opened Jaguar up to a non-traditional audience, but in the final analysis, probably cast too many values on the fire.
By 2005, Ford’s ambitious growth strategy for Jaguar lay in tatters following a series of misguided creative decisions based on a discredited retro aesthetic. As Ford’s Premier Automotive Group began its slow dissolve, the storied luxury car maker’s consistent inability to Continue reading “The Death of Romance”
The 1957 Lotus Type 14 was uncommonly beautiful, brilliantly courageous but ultimately doomed.
“Who, if I cried out, would hear me among the angelic Orders? And even if one were to suddenly take me to its heart, I would vanish into its stronger existence. For beauty is nothing but the beginning of terror, that we are still able to bear, and we revere it so, because it calmly disdains to destroy us. Every angel is terrible.”René Karl Wilhelm Johann Josef Maria Rilke – First Elegy.
Anthony Colin Bruce Chapman was no angel, but a visionary, risk-taker, rascal, genius? He’s been called many of these things and indeed some of them may Continue reading “Terrible Angel”
I know very little about the history of European automotive engines. Were I to spend five months finding out about the topic, this is how I would organise the information…
First, I would outline the principles of petrol engine design: thermodynamics, fluid dynamics and on to cylinder count, cylinder arrangement, displacement, cam design and further on. But I can’t cover it all so I would define a period to cover, say 1955 to 1995 (which is the most interesting for me). Next I would try to Continue reading “Leaping Sideways Into the Morning”
A decade ago, Alfa Romeo wowed the faithful with the 8C Competizione, a car which ultimately amounted to less than the sum of its parts. But weren’t we here before?
The philosopher, Jorge Agustín Nicolás Ruiz de Santayana y Borrás once essayed the line, “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Following this logic, amnesia clearly runs as deeply within Alfa Romeo as blind optimism. The perennially crisis-ridden Italian car brand seems locked into a habitual cycle of hope and despair, with each new dawn promising that this time all will Continue reading “Anniversary Waltz 2017 : A History of Lessons”
Overshadowed by its more lionised ‘gullwing’ predecessor, the 1957 Mercedes-Benz 300 SL roadster was in many ways the superior car. DTW recalls a time when Daimler-Benz was a superior motor company.
Mercedes-Benz: A name that at one time symbolised a continuum stretching back to the dawn of motoring and an ethos that embodied the sternest, most rigourous engineering ideals with a relentless Swabian logic. By 1957, the Mercedes-Benz 300SL was the most modern, most eloquent exponent of these principles and perhaps the most technically accomplished car in production – this side of a Citroën’s homegrown goddess anyway. Continue reading “Celestial Being”
Austin’s Ford Zephyr and Vauxhall Velox rival of the mid-1950s is scarcely remembered now, but it turns out to be a something of a forgotten hero.
The Austin Westminster story began with the launch of the A90 series in October 1954, nearly four years before the start of the momentous eleven month period in which Farina’s new styling ‘language’ for BMC was unveiled, layer by layer.
1997’s A6 saw Audi choosing bravery over stylistic torpidude. A lesson they could do well to re-learn.
By the early 1990s, Audi appeared to have run out of steam as the successes of the previous decade began to fade. Having lit up the automotive firmament with technological marvels such as the Ursprünglich Quattro coupe and the aero-influenced C3 100 / 200 series, the early ’90s saw the four rings of Ingolstadt comparatively becalmed.
If a car can embody the legacy of its creator, the 1967 Austin 3-Litre will forever be linked with the fall of BMC boss, George Harriman. Hubris or simply bad timing? Driven to Write investigates.
An unwitting metaphor for a car company which had fundamentally lost its way, the 1967 Austin 3-Litre was an unmitigated failure in both creative and commercial terms. Received at launch with an embarrassed silence from the UK press corps, shunned by the buying public and withdrawn from sale in 1971 with a mere 9,992 examples built, the 3-Litre, along with the Austin Maxi would prove to be the final nails in BMC’s coffinlid and all the evidence Donald Stokes and his Leyland cohorts needed to Continue reading “Harriman’s Folly”
Ford’s post-acquisition strategy for Jaguar was one of aggressive growth, but it came at some cost – particularly to their core model line.
Having taken a multi-billion dollar hit on the acquisition of Jaguar in 1989, Ford executives saw only one way out of the mess they have got themselves into. In order to gain the return on investment they craved, Jaguar would need to be transformed from a specialist 35-40,000 car a year business to one pushing out at least five times that number. To achieve this, they would need to Continue reading “Stretching a Metaphor”
Recently we have been debating Opel and Vauxhall. The general consensus is not that good for a brand fielding its best products since the last lot of good products…
…which, if you think about it, it is pretty much most of their cars with one very debatable model and one not debatable model. For reasons known only to Opel and Vauxhall’s marketing staff, Opel have been tarred with a Clarkson-shaped brush. Good old Sir Jeremy, now Lord, Clarkson, saw fit to damn the Vectra “B” because it wasn’t an Alfa Romeo, Porsche or BMW M3 but happened to suit the needs of regular motorists.
This slightly tatty motorcycle caught my attention recently. It’s a Moto Guzzi V-twin, labelled “Indian”.
For anyone who’s ever enjoyed looking at an engine and trying to find out which bit does what, such a device is a pleasure to behold. The V-2 is arranged longitudinally to the body, presumably for better balance and cooling. The engine rests in a tubular frame which is also clearly visible. Pretty much every important part is easy to find which means that you can Continue reading “Ambling Between the Walls”
With the motor industry abuzz with the prospect of electric propulsion, just how confident are we they’ve thought this one through?
Earlier in the week we considered the mainstream industry’s lack of leadership when it comes to the design of electric cars. But at the Frankfurt motor show this week, two industry leaders fleshed out some of the challenges they’re facing. Firstly Mercedes’ Dieter Zetsche pointed out to auto journalists the effect the push to electric is likely to have on profitability.
At first glance, this is a case of stating the blindingly obvious, but while the mighty Stuttgart Untertürkheim car giant can weather the loss of 50% of its potential profits, putting aside an alleged €4.0 billion to cover the likely revenue shortfall, it raises questions of how other less financially robust car businesses can possibly Continue reading “Danger, High Voltage”
Twin approaches to a modernised ur-Mini, but while one is shamelessly drenched in nostalgia, the other speaks of a possible future.
Nostalgia is big business. Take the music industry where bands reform to play their best-loved material, while record companies re-master and repackage classic albums. So if the running order gets messed with, original tracks deleted and a bunch of questionable out-takes (which didn’t make the original cut for good reason) are added, who cares? Completists, (mostly middle-aged men if we’re honest) will Continue reading “Remake, Remodel, Remaster, Recharge?”
Or, putting it another way, getting the most out of your platform architecture. We count the branches of the Alfa Romeo 116-Series’ family tree.
Since its post-war reconstitution under semi-state ownership, Alfa Romeo was forced to cut its cloth in ever more inventive ways. Budgets were tight and new model programmes hard-won. Expensive unitary body architectures needed to be well and truly amortised, which led to production runs that in retrospect probably lasted too long. Continue reading “Six Degrees of 116”
We ask whether aerodynamics’ post-war, post-aviation beginnings have anything in common with tomorrow’s hydrogen-powered wonders.
First published by Eóin Doyle in January 2015.
Car manufacturers have historically enjoyed a somewhat patchy relationship with the concept of aerodynamic theory. During the post-war period only a handful of motor manufacturers paid more than lip service and of those, most had their origins in aircraft manufacture. Bristol and Saab, for example were both forced to diversify during post-war austerity when demand for their mainstay aircraft businesses collapsed in peacetime. Continue reading “Theme Of Themes : Aerodynamics – The Shape We’re In”
(First published by Simon A Kearne in January 2015)
The first cars were not fast enough for anyone to be particularly concerned about the amount of air that stood in the way of their progress. Therefore, although drivers soon learnt to hunch themselves over the wheel to reduce the passing air’s effect on themselves, it took longer to realise how important it might be to reduce their effect on the passing air.
In this final part, Steve Randle concludes his proposal for a latterday successor to the seminal Citroën DS.
Previously, we explored styling, power unit and drivetrain. Today, Steve Randle outlines his thoughts on body structure and vehicle dynamics.
Structure:“Aluminium and magnesium would dominate the vehicle. The recycling problem with composites – particularly thermosets – are a concern. While both Aluminium and magnesium alloys are expensive in the first instance, they are easy to recycle.”Continue reading “Idée Fixe ”
Getting to grips with brand-Jaguar’s new hatchback by not talking about it. The real story is beneath the skin anyway…
One thing we cannot quibble with is JLR’s ability to get the most out of their platforms. The current LR-MS (or whatever they’re calling it now) platform underpinning the new E-Pace is a prime example – maybe even a unique one given its convoluted ancestry – a matter possibly deserving its own episode of “Who Do You Think You Are.” Shared with the current Range Rover Evoque and Discovery Sport, it is in effect a heavily re-engineered variant of the Ford-EUCD platform, one which continues to Continue reading “Now Arriving On Platform E”
The new Audi starship has landed and while most commentators have chosen to fixate on its style, we’ve elected to crawl underneath, pretending to understand what we find there.
Audi’s new flagship saloon is a technological marvel, possibly the most advanced luxury car it is possible to pre-order for Autumn delivery right now – or at least until the next one comes along anyway. Not content busying themselves with a power race as fervid as that pursued by the Detroit big three fifty years ago, the German luxury brands are now shifting their battleground into hitherto unrealised realms of electronic wizardry and fearsome complexity. Continue reading “Adding Suspense – Audi A8”
In this second part, Steve Randle commences his treatise on how he would shape a credible modern-day successor to the original Citroën DS.
Steve Randle: “First and foremost, while this car would carry the history of its ancestors proudly, it must above all not be a ‘me too’ exercise. The questions have changed since the DS, and hence so too must the answers. An attempt to recreate the DS would be self-defeating by its own definition. We should pause to consider the vehicle from which Monsieur Macron will emerge before the waiting world. It most certainly is not a DS7 Crossback.”Continue reading “Idée Fixe ”
The idea of an authentic full-sized Citroën now appears entirely beyond imagination. But some of us still think otherwise. Thought experiment or idle fancy, we make no apology. Citroën matters.
Why Citroën matters is a question worth asking, although why it has ceased to matter; both in the minds of its PSA masters and more importantly still, the wider public is perhaps a better one. But how to make Citroën matter again is the question we are here today to address. Continue reading “Idée Fixe ”
Zuffenhausen recently celebrated production of the millionth 911. How the heck did that happen?
Let’s allow this one sink in for a moment. A million 911s. It’s a staggering achievement for a car that should never have lived as long, much less become the default ‘usable performance car’, given an inherently unbalanced mechanical layout considered retrograde even by mid-Sixties standards. Thought: could it have been a reaction to the original 911’s propensity to Continue reading “Theme: Porsche – Cheaper by the Million”
Two of the most distinctive cars of their time; bitter rivals, yet with much in common. Driven to Write counts the ways.
They couldn’t have looked more different, yet the fates of the Porsche 928 and Jaguar XJ-S were intrinsically bound. One seemed more like a car from the Cinzano era, the other from the future, yet both shared a purpose, appealed to the same customer base and lived out similar career paths – misunderstood and derided by those who didn’t expect their preconceived notions to be so roundly challenged.
Even the top-of-the-range AR Giulia has no rear centre armrest.
This is the Quadrifoglio version with a 6-cylinder engine and Brembos all around. An absent rear centre arm-rest is a characteristic of cars from two classss down costing a quarter of the Alfa’s asking price.
The 1993 Vision A and ’94 Studie A were everything the ensuing A-Class failed to be. A genuine Mercedes in miniature.
One doesn’t get to the size and scope of Mercedes-Benz by being incautious, even if at times, an element of risk is sometimes both prudent and necessary. For example, the W201 programme saw the German car giant risk a move downmarket, albeit one taken only after a great deal of consideration and iterative trial. That programme, instigated during the dark days of the post oil-shock 1970’s, wouldn’t see series production as the 190-series until 1982. Continue reading “Loss of Vision – 1994 Mercedes-Benz Studie A”
Despite being chronically unwilling to be associated with aftermarket tinkering, ALPINA actually represents the ideal of a specialised manufacturer finessing a mass product.
Alpina Burkard Bovensiepen GmbH + Co. KG is a peculiar company, and not just because the ALPINA part is officially written in capitals. Its signature decorative stripes, called Deko-Set, are also but a mere symptom of an underlying quaintness that is truly without equal in the automotive business. Continue reading “Theme: Aftermarket – ALPINA”
Some time back I harvested a set of detailed photos of a Mercedes W-123. It wasn’t until recently I had a chance to take a corresponding set of its replacement. Alas the correspondence is not complete. Some details are paired for comparison and the rest are dumped in a ragbag of two slideshows. The conclusion is that in replacing the W-123 Mercedes merely wanted to Continue reading “The Two Mares From the Wild Fellow’s Forest”
Does the Golf have ten engines because VW believes it leads to increased sales (twice as many as the next most popular car)?
Or does such huge sales volume mean VW can pamper its clientele like no clientele has been pampered before? To answer this I needed to crunch some numbers. Statistical research of the most basic kind is very dull indeed. It does reveal some interesting things in return however. Such work is the reverse of golf, I think, which sport some say is fun to do but which is clearly boring to look at. In that spirit (“ah, look, the tassles are flying”) I decided to get stuck in and see what it takes to be in the top ten, engineswise. There was no point in hand-waving. Some maths had to be involved.
As this month’s theme draws to a close, we give you something to ponder…
In 1963, Oscar Montabone was recalled from Chrysler-controlled Simca to manage Fiat’s Automobile Technical Office. His primary task was to develop Project 124, a putative 1100 replacement in direct competition with Dante Giacosa’s Project 123, which was not so much a defined car as a series of studies with various front engine/front wheel drive and rear engine/rear drive configurations based around a 1157cc three cylinder opposed-valve ohc engine. Continue reading “Theme: Simca – The Vibrations That Lived On”
Van Helsing starter kit in hand, roving reporter, Robertas Parazitas comes face to face with another automotive revenant.
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.
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.
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”
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”
Let us consider the conventional wisdom about the first generation Fiesta.
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”
A missed opportunity or a masterpiece of compromise? We look at the unassuming little engine that drove the Fiesta’s success.
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?”
From Panhard toBMW’s i-Series, Steve Randle talks cars – and bikes.
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”
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”