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”
Driven to Write has a thing about brightwork. We also have a thing about quality.
The 1990 Lexus LS400 famously had nitrogen-filled tyres because mere air caused a resonance. Despite the car’s astonishingly careful conception, these aren’t much loved and few are they now in number. It’s successor (above) is a crouton in the same soup bowl.
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 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 ”
After sighting a few dark and tatty examples I saw this conveniently clean and pale W-201 yesterday. Where’s quality hiding?
I asked this of a BMW 3-series (E-30) recently. Both came out the same year, 1982 (as did the Ford Sierra). So, presumably the cars gestated at the same time and without a large likelihood of designers and clay modellers migrating between studios. First let’s take a close look to find Ms. Quality… Continue reading “Can’t, and Will Anyway”
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”
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.
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”
Driventowrite leaves no corner of the automotive world unexamined. Today we look a bit at paint, Mazda paint, Toyota paint, Opel paint…
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.
There’s an awful amount of ill-informed, arbitrary rubbish spouted about tyres. Here’s some more.
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 till the next MOT.Continue reading “The Carbon Black Arts”
There are some places you simply don’t want to go.
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”
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”
In part three, Jim Randle speaks candidly about what was possibly the XJ40’s most controversial aspect – its advanced electronics system.
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”
To mark the 30th anniversary of XJ40’s launch, we speak exclusively to former Jaguar Engineering Director, Jim Randle.
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 Driven to Write spoke exclusively with the father of the ’40 to re-evaluate the final purebred Jaguar saloon. Continue reading “Thirty Times ’40 – Jim Randle Interview : Part One”
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.
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”
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?
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.
What do the Triumph Toledo, the Ford Taunus and the Rover 75 have in common?
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”
You can make 4-cylinder engines bigger but what about making a smaller 6?
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”
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.
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”
In a recently unearthed transcription, Simon A. Kearne matches wits with engineering legend, Sir Basil Milford-Vestible.
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.
Cars start decaying the moment they are built. Some manage to accumulate character while most don’t. What do you do?
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”
An interesting report shows how plastics can contribute to improving vehicle efficiency.
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”
Originally carpenters made horsedrawn carriages with wooden bodies. They carried this technology over to the horseless carriage.
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”
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.
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”
What do the 1982 Ford Sierra, 1985 Mercury Sable and 1988 BMW Z1 have in common? Xenoy.
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””
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.
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?”
The car that would come to be defined as the quintessential S-class was in fact, a deeply conservative vanguard of modern engineering. However, its legacy would not last.
A blackened wreck with a blown-off bonnet and deflated tyres lying across a cordoned-off street. This is how most Germans of a certain generation remember the Mercedes W126, the S-class model of the 1980s.
In the autumn of 1989, Alfred Herrhausen, chairman of Deutsche Bank, as well as head of Daimler-Benz AG’s supervisory board, was killed on his way to work by the blast of a roadside bomb. Herrhausen had been one of the most influential economic leaders of West Germany, and certainly the most charismatic among them. A proponent of challenging concepts, he advocated the need for global corporate expansion, as well as debt relief for Third World countries. Continue reading “First of Its Kind : Last of Its Kind”