Fastback To The Future

Hidden in the shadow of the Sports Utility Vehicle’s claims for world domination, another, hitherto almost extinct category of automobile has gained some new-found relevance. 

The other The Car Of The Future, photo (c) Avengers in Time

Forty years ago, the car body shape of now, and presumably the future too, was the fastback. Aerodynamically efficient and avant-garde in its appearance, the fastback acted as the stylistic embodiment of the progressive values of the 1970s. It wasn’t some stuffy estate car (those were only really for craftsmen and catholic families anyway), yet almost as practical. It wasn’t a bourgeois saloon either, finally doing away with that silly remnant of the carriage age – the separate boot, without being, well, a craftsman’s car.

The fastback’s reputation as a representative of progressive values was not so much due to it being Continue reading “Fastback To The Future”

Auf wiedersehen, Pet

As the Mercedes’ SLK/SLC prepares to jog on, we consider the status of the niche model.

mercedes slk
(c) mercedes-benz-passion.com

To all appearances, it seems the age of boundless niche-filling has passed. In some respects this is a development which can be viewed in a positive light, especially given the staggering proliferation that took place across many carmaker’s ranges – achieving little for their creators in most cases apart from squandering engineering resources and haemorrhaging money.

It’s been twenty three years since Mercedes-Benz debuted the SLK model, the first compact two-seater from Sindelfingen since the 190SL of 1954. Introduced at the Turin motor show in 1996, the R170 SLK shared aspects of floorpan, drivetrain and suspensions with the W202 C-Class saloon. Styled by Michael Mauer in 1992, under the supervision of Murat Günak, it was perhaps the final Mercedes-Benz design to Continue reading “Auf wiedersehen, Pet”

Saving Grace (Part Two)

Series III’s advent coincided with a number of technical innovations, but one in particular would come with a side-order of calamity. 

(c) Autocar

Despite the outwardly positive manner in which the Series III was presented to the motor press, there was no getting away from the political environment under which the car was developed. Jaguar was reeling under the dictates of the infamous Ryder Report, a series of post-nationalisation recommendations which as implemented, stripped Browns Lane of its leadership, its identity and ultimately its ability to Continue reading “Saving Grace (Part Two)”

Denied: Cadillac Elmiraj (2013)

Somewhat lost amid Cadillac’s varied (and ongoing) revival efforts, this superb concept car proved that there’s still mileage in some traditional concepts and values. 

CadillacElmirajConceptReveal02.jpg
Sheer look: Cadillac Elmiraj coupé, photo (c) Top Speed

There’s no better symbol for the American car industry’s post-oil crisis’ struggles to change and evolve than Cadillac.

For the past four decades at least, the former Standard Of The World has found it difficult to come to terms with changing demographics, markets and tastes. For too long, an increasingly outdated concept of luxury was upheld, before numerous attempts at bringing Cadillac up to date have largely failed for one reason or another. Only the ongoing success of the gargantuan Escalade SUV has prevented the marque from falling into utter oblivion. Continue reading “Denied: Cadillac Elmiraj (2013)”

Shadowing Beams In Winter Throw Paths Of Inky Black

We will conclude this small inspection of a modestly sized portion of a fraction of Europe’s motoring history by reviewing what the Daily Express said about Triumph and Rover cars in the late 60s.

Triumph-Standard factory: source

Every year the Daily Express published a guide to coincide with the annual London car show (which took place in London, England). Basil Cardew edited the guide. The book I am quoting shows an image of a fellow in a studio photograph who is actually wearing a hat. But let us Continue reading “Shadowing Beams In Winter Throw Paths Of Inky Black”

Denied: Alfa Romeo Brera (2002)

To try and understand what exactly went wrong with the proud Alfa Romeo brand over the past 15 years, there is no better example than this ItalDesign concept car. 

2002_alfa-romeo-brera-concept_03
Alfa Brera, as imagined by Giorgetto Giugiaro, photo (c) leblogauto.com

Admittedly, there is a production car by the name of Alfa Romeo Brera, of which 21,661 units were built between 2005 and 2010 at Pininfarina’s Grugliasco factory. It even shares some visual traits with the 2002 concept car of the same name. But little of its character.

For the Brera, as originally envisaged by Giorgetto Giugiaro, was a genuine halo car. Which isn’t as far-fetched a proposal as it may appear at first, for Alfa had commissioned quite a few of these over the decades: From the outdated-yet-pretty 33 Stradale, over the charming-but-ill-conceived Montreal to the bold-for-boldness’-sake SZ. Continue reading “Denied: Alfa Romeo Brera (2002)”

Saving Grace (Part One)

Forty years ago this week, Jaguar introduced the Series III XJ. Its combination of virtues cast deep and lasting shadows.

XJ sIII
Best until last? (c) jaglovers

Frequently exercises in diminishing returns, facelifts tend to fall into the category of change for changes sake, or perhaps a last ditch effort to breathe life into a fading model line. Rare indeed is one which successfully transcends its originator. But if the original XJ saloon’s body styling was the inevitable culmination of a lifetime’s study by a master auteur, the Series III of 1979 proved by comparison to be something of a fortuitous accident.

In 1973 Jaguar introduced the second-series XJ, a modest revision of a highly successful model line – for at the time, no more was required. By then, work had already begun upon its ultimate replacement – the troubled XJ40 programme, then scheduled for release in Autumn 1977.

But the tectonic plates that underpinned Browns Lane had become highly unstable – within a year their BLMC parent would Continue reading “Saving Grace (Part One)”

Simple Soul

We pay belated tribute to a diminutive giant.

(c) classicandsportscar

What can there possibly be left to say about the Citroën 2CV? Should we simply rehash its backstory, acknowledge its long commercial career, mention the cars it sired, and allude to its afterlife once production ceased? Surely this alone will not do. The problem with approaching cars which have attained the status of holy relics, is finding a means to Continue reading “Simple Soul”

O Wander Into My Dreams

Bob asked a question on Friday. The question is why the Fiat 130 V6 motor was not used in the Lancia Thema instead of the 90 degree PRV6.

1972 Fiat 130 saloon

I will quote the comment in full: “What were the limitations of the 60-degree Fiat 130 V6 that prevented it from being mounted in FWD applications like the Thema / Croma (and Gamma) compared to the 90-degree PRV V6, let alone from receiving further development like later versions of the related Fiat 128 SOHC 4-cylinder engines?”

Let us take as our text the wise word of Wikipedia as a starting point. The Fiat 130 engine had its roots in the what is called the “128 type A” motor, which seems to have been designed at about the same time.

That 128 engine was an in-line four with an iron block and aluminium cylinder hear with an SOHC; the camshaft was belt driven. (So – is that assertion true, that in in-line four can Continue reading “O Wander Into My Dreams”

Period Road Test: 1975 Morris 2200 HL

In what might very well be a verbatim transcript of a period road test, legendary road-tester Archie Vicar takes a closer look at the 1975 Morris 2200 HL and considers its chances in the market of the time.

1975 Morris 2200: source

The article (“Another new car from Morris!”) first appeared in the Scottish Daily News (November 1, 1975). Douglas Land-Windermere is credited for the original photos. Due to sun damage, the original images have been replaced by stock photos.

As Morris settles into its third quarter century (founded in 1912) it is a distinct pleasure to see it marque (!) the occasion by the presentation of this fine car which will no doubt help take the venerable firm forward into the late 70s and thus also help it  Continue reading “Period Road Test: 1975 Morris 2200 HL”

Period Road Test: 1975 Wolseley 18-22

In what might very well be a verbatim transcript of a period road test, legendary road-tester Archie Vicar takes a closer look at the 1975 Wolseley 18-22 and considers its chances in the market of the time.

Unique Wolseley elegance: source

The article (“Another new car from Wolseley!”) first appeared in the Hemel-Hempstead Evening Post Echo (September 30, 1975). Douglas Land-Windermere is credited for the original photos. Due to termite-damage, the original images have been replaced by stock photos.

As Wolseley motors enters its fourth quarter century (founded in 1901) it is a distinct pleasure to see it mark the occasion by the presentation of this fine car which will no doubt help take the venerable marque forward into the late 70s and thus also help it  Continue reading “Period Road Test: 1975 Wolseley 18-22”

Anniversary Waltz 1968 – 41 Century Girl

A good many dramatic situations begin with screaming”. Rounding out the Waltz for 2018.

(c) the-atomic-cafe

Tempting as it might be to dwell on the negatives, of which there were many; Vietnam, politically motivated assassinations, student riots, the polarisation of race relations, but 1968 wasn’t entirely the unremitting grimfest it might appear in retrospect.

Directed by Frenchman, Roger Vadim with a knowing screenplay by Terry Southern (Dr Strangelove, Easy Rider), and based on Jean-Claude Forest’s cult comic strip, 1968’s Barberella provided some light relief, melding science fiction, titillation, comedy and high camp on a scale perhaps never previously committed to celluloid. (Although 1980’s fevered Flash Gordon remake potentially runs it close). Continue reading “Anniversary Waltz 1968 – 41 Century Girl”

(Film) Review: The Borgward Affair

More than five decades after the incident, Borgward’s dramatic bankruptcy is retold in dramatic fashion. 

18-08-31_affäreborgward_plakat
photo (c) Nordmedia

Carl F W Borgward is driving his wife in a Hansa 2400 saloon along a deserted stretch of b-road when he hears that the end for the company bearing his name has come over the radio. He immediately stops the car, gets outside and gasps for air, staring into nothingness.

This is the not particularly subtle introduction into Die Affäre Borgward (The Borgward Affair), a tv movie about the downfall of Germany’s then fourth largest car maker, which was first broadcasted in January 2019. The somewhat fragmented narrative is divided into story strands about Carl Borgward himself, Borgward’s Insolvenzverwalter, Dr Johannes Semler, the goings-on inside Bremen’s senate and, because no German tv movie can Continue reading “(Film) Review: The Borgward Affair”

Road Test Retrospective : Wolseley 15/60

The Farina-bodied BMC saloons would become ubiquitous Sixties fare. We examine an early verdict, courtesy of The Autocar.

All images (c) The Autocar

The very first of a new generation of Pininfarina-bodied medium saloons from BMC, Wolseley’s 15/60 model was introduced in December 1958 before going on sale in 1959. This new series would take BMC’s multi-marque strategy to previously unheard of heights (some might choose to invert that statement), with a succession of models quickly following, all sharing identical bodies and technical specifications, apart from minor changes to engine tune and detail styling. Widely derided as ‘badge-engineering’, it proved a commercial success for BMC, but one which ultimately came with a reputational cost.

The Autocar published its first road test of the 15/60 on 13 March 1959. The test car retailed at £991.7s, including purchase tax. Not (then) noted for sensationalism, The Autocar writer’s style was drier than a chilled glass of Tio Pepe, but with a little gentle sifting one can Continue reading “Road Test Retrospective : Wolseley 15/60”

Anniversary Waltz 1998 – In the Aeroplane Over the Sea

As we complete our retrospective of 1998, we ponder air and water.

(c) airliners.net

Not simply one the World’s busiest airports, but amongst the most challenging from a pilot’s perspective, Hong Kong’s Kai Tak airport had by the 1990s become something of a liability. Situated in the heavily built-up Kowloon district, the technically difficult approach over mountains and city skyscrapers not only looked and felt alarming, but the abrupt banked descent to the single runway in Victoria Harbour required both nerve and experience.

The World’s largest airport terminal building when it officially opened in 1998, the newly built Hong Kong International airport at Chek Lap Kok put paid to the hair-raising sight of 747’s skirting the tips of the Hong Kong skyline. Built on a reclaimed island in the South China Sea, flights into the Kowloon Peninsula became a good deal less dramatic and a whole lot more frequent.

A consequence of its lengthy connection with Mazda, Ford had for some time been attempting to Continue reading “Anniversary Waltz 1998 – In the Aeroplane Over the Sea”

Anniversary Waltz 1978 – This Year’s Model

Driven to Write forces down some Texas tea. 

(c) pinterest

A year which appeared to consist of little but tit-for-tat nuclear weapons tests by opposing cold war powers, that uniquely played host to three different Catholic pontiffs, where the Red Brigades kidnapped and murdered former Italian Prime Minister, Aldo Moro, and where Spain finally renounced the last vestiges of dictatorship by declaring a democracy, 1978 experienced its share of geopolitical turmoil. Continue reading “Anniversary Waltz 1978 – This Year’s Model”

Golden Years

An exhibition of landmark motor cars from a gilded age prompts us to ask: Is beauty enough?

(c) rp.online.de

During the 1950s, philosopher, Roland Barthes hailed the modern automobile as a visitor from the heavens. Some sixty years later, it seems we have returned the compliment, by propelling a Tesla motor vehicle out into the solar system. An audacious publicity stunt, a sign that we have lost our sense of wonderment for the motor car, or proof that our supposed mastery of the art has led us to believe we can Continue reading “Golden Years”

Wings of Desire

Driven to Write profiles the black sheep of Crewe.

(c) inews

Even the most aristocratic families have their outcasts. Whether it’s cousin Geoffrey the bounder, serial adulterer and spendthrift, or aunt Gertrude with the secret laudanum habit, a noble bloodline is no barometer of respectability.

This is as much a truism at the House of Crewe as anywhere else, and while the halls of Pyms Lane may shimmer with any number of Wriaths, Clouds, Shadows or Spirits, within a secluded chamber in a little-visited wing of the facility lies the Seraph, brooding in gloomy seclusion. Continue reading “Wings of Desire”

Lord Nothing-Much* Smokes Another Cigarette

We are still rifling through the footnotes of 1998 and now the examination has produced the Saab 9-3.

1998 Saab 9-3: source

The back-story to this 1998-for-1999 car can be traced to 1994, the year the NG900 appeared as the headstone to Saab’s career as maker of indestructible doctors’, engineers’ and professors’ cars. In 1998 the 900 became the 9-3 and fitted under the 9-5 in Saab’s small range.

You are damned if you do and damned if you don’t Continue reading “Lord Nothing-Much* Smokes Another Cigarette”

Anniversary Waltz 1988 – A Groovy Kind of Love

Driven to Write loses an uneven struggle to frame a rather unremarkable automotive year.

Phil Collins – Buster 1988 (c) agreatmovieblog.wordpress.com

Be it economically, politically, or indeed the arts, 1988 proved to be a year of transition. And while the UK music charts were increasingly dominated by the burgeoning counter-culture of dance music, some older orders remained stubbornly implacable.

Following his first solo album release in 1981, actor and former Genesis percussionist and lead singer, Phil Collins had become one of the World’s biggest grossing recording artists, amassing in the region of 150 million album sales. A large proportion of these came on the back of tracks like his chart-topping (across six countries) 1988 release – a cover of the 1965 Mindbenders’ single, Groovy Kind of Love, taken from the soundtrack of Buster, a sepia-toned UK made biopic of ‘Great Train Robber’, Buster Edwards, in which he also starred. Continue reading “Anniversary Waltz 1988 – A Groovy Kind of Love”

I Would Wait For You Like The Patient Swans Of Inish Glora

In 1978 Audi withdrew from the lower end of the market when the daring and distinctive 50 ceased production. While it might have been a landmark for Audi, it was a molehill for everyone else.

Fancy some Golf?: Autoevolution.com

The 50 didn’t sell awfully well and Audi felt it ought to focus its efforts on larger cars. The penny dropped that premium car makers could offer smaller cars as the 90s wore on. BMW chopped up the 3-series to make the Compact (1993) and Mercedes got with the programme in 1997 with the A-class.

In between, Audi reworked the Golf platform so it could Continue reading “I Would Wait For You Like The Patient Swans Of Inish Glora”

Cat, Interrupted

The Jaguar creation myth owes everything to this Autumn 1948 debutante.

(c) pixels.com

In October 1948, a British industrialist stood nervously by as the assembled press and dignitaries gathered around the Jaguar stand at the Earls Court Motor show. On a plinth sat a metallic gold roadster of breathtaking simplicity and elegance of line. As the crowds gathered to swoon over the newly announced XK 120 Super Sports, Jaguar’s (as yet unknighted) William Lyons realised he might just have hit the big time.

Ah yes, creation myths. Usually a catalogue of unbridled success, but in Jaguar’s case, this was hardly the case. Because like most overnight successes, the XK 120’s was forged over some considerable time.

Creatives rarely enjoy being interrupted in their work. One easily loses one’s train of thought, the muse frequently escapes and it’s often difficult to Continue reading “Cat, Interrupted”

Anniversary Waltz 1958 – Going Down With All Hands

Reviewing 1958’s British offerings, DTW experiences a sinking feeling.

(c) collidecolumn

The RMS Titanic sank many times in the intervening years since it first slipped beneath the waves with terrible loss of life in April 1912, but perhaps its definitive cinematic retelling dates to the Roy Ward Baker directed A Night To Remember, starring Kenneth More. The most expensive British made film when it premiered in July 1958, it was notable for its historical accuracy and the fact that several first-hand survivors of the sinking were employed as advisors to the production.

But not simply a faithful telling of a fable about hubris and man’s incapacity to truly overcome his environment, it also served as a potent metaphor for Britain’s fading grasp of empire and diminishing global influence. Continue reading “Anniversary Waltz 1958 – Going Down With All Hands”

O Tempora O Mores

This fine concept from Maserati’s coachbuilt days illustrates how far from home the Tridente has drifted.

1968 Frua-bodied Maserati Mexico. (c) aonclassiccar.fr

Maserati, at the height of their gilded age as an exclusive automotive atelier, produced a bewildering array of suave gran turismos and more overt sporting machinery, along with the occasional one-off for their more discerning clients. At the 1965 Salone di Torino, Carrozzeria Vignale, who carried out a sizeable proportion of Maserati’s styling duties displayed an elegant four-seater concept.

This understated design was seemingly so well received, that Maserati commissioned Vignale to Continue reading “O Tempora O Mores”

Saying Goodbye on Stroget

Dear goodness. This is a poignant reminder of the days when Alfa Romeo was a full-service car company: the convertible Alfa Romeo GTV or Spider.

1998 Alfa Romeo Spider: source

In 1998 Alfa Romeo had the 146, the 147, the 156 (as saloon and estate), the GTV and Spider duo and the 166 saloon. All of them were pretty decent cars and all of them offered something other brands didn’t have.

If we Continue reading “Saying Goodbye on Stroget”

Adding Dimensions (I)

The car designer’s sketch, and how it is turned into a three-dimensional object, are no mere technicalities. 

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VW/Porsche Tapiro, styled and sketched by Giorgetto Giugiaro, photo (c) seriouswheels.com

How a designer illustrates his work matters. For any sketch betrays not only one’s technical skills, but one’s sense of proportion, style and, indeed, taste. To compare and contrast illustrations by some of the great car designers of the past with their descendants is therefore rather instructive.

Not just due to changing techniques and technology, the way in which designers depict their designs has dramatically changed over the past six decades. Whereas those stylists who had to rely purely on their hands, eyes and a few templates to create an impression of what they had in mind used to Continue reading “Adding Dimensions (I)”

Anniversary Waltz 2008 – Higgs Boson Blues

As 2018 leaches away, we begin our annual run-down of cars we couldn’t write about this year, beginning with 2008.

Phantom Menace. (c) Autocar

The largest machine ever built, the Large Hadron Collider at CERN was created with the modest aim of testing particle physics theory and possibly uncovering the secrets of existence itself. Situated 175 meters underground, with a circumference of 17 miles, the LHC was completed and inaugurated ten years ago. And while some critics expressed concern that it would Continue reading “Anniversary Waltz 2008 – Higgs Boson Blues”

You Can Only Really Break Your Heart Once

Subaru Legacy: good, practical, reliable, not very expensive, not as popular as they should be. What gives?

1998 Subaru Legacy: source

Although made in Japan by a Japanese company, the Subaru Legacy has experienced moments of popularity around the world (I mean the EU and N USA) now and again: episodic, sporadic. It’s not really unwanted and not massively in demand but appeals to a group of customers unevenly distributed. If only Subaru could imagine a way to Continue reading “You Can Only Really Break Your Heart Once”

Love’s Easy Tears

The 2008 Lotus Evora exemplifies the adage that subtlety rarely succeeds.

(c) autoevolution

Stepping outside of one’s accepted position is rarely rewarded, either in life, love, art or car design. For Lotus, revered by generations of enthusiasts for producing cars of often fragile genius, their occasional attempts at marrying dynamic prowess with a dash of practicality have by and large backfired. The 2008 Evora attempted to combine both. Misunderstood by aficionados and (some) members of the press, the car split opinion in 2008. It still does.

When Lotus ceased production of the aged Esprit in 2004, not only had the basic car been in production for 28 years, but its demise left a gap at the top of Lotus’ model range. At the opposite end, the pretty and gimlet-sharp Elise (and its derivatives) had proven a critical and commercial success, and Lotus, having become part of the Proton Group were in the process of persuading former CEO, Mike Kimberley to Continue reading “Love’s Easy Tears”

In Between Dawn and Daybreak

Today we take another look at the world of 1998, or at least one small part of it to do with car reviews. We end up considering the problem of judgements.

classics.honestjohn
1998 Alfa Romeo 166: source

I should put my cards on the baize here and say I don’t remember reading this review, from Car magazine 1998 so I am digesting it for the first time tonight (it took two hours to read carefully). Isn’t that odd? This article has sat around for two decades before I noticed it the other night How did I miss it?  In the late 90s I would keep a close eye out for Car in the newsagent shop and would devote a good evening to reading it more or less entirely along with a nice cigar or a few bad ones.

After than initial inspection the magazine would float around the kitchen or sitting room to dip into when, say, I had to Continue reading “In Between Dawn and Daybreak”

Kinky Boots

Tracing the Peugeot 504’s kinked tail motif through the Pininfarina back catalogue.

Maximum kink? Peugeot 504

In order to capitalise on the popularity of UK TV series, The Avengers, stars, Honor Blackman and Patrick Macnee were persuaded to record a novelty single celebrating not only the fashions adorning the somewhat distracting Ms. Blackman, but the broadening societal permissiveness of mid-Sixties Britain. And while it was a rather throwaway ditty which didn’t chart particularly well at the time, it did take on a second life several decades later.

These things take time – as with fashion, so with design. One of the more interesting aspects of recent discussions surrounding the styling of the 1968 Peugeot 504 was the notion that its rear aspect was regarded with a degree of ambivalence. Uncomfortable and strange were among the soubriquets employed on these pages, but further afield, and particularly in the US, the 504’s kinked tail was considered peculiar. In light of this, it might be germane to Continue reading “Kinky Boots”

Could Tiresias Have Foreseen This?

In 1998 the Lexus brand had only reached its ninth birthday. Up until 1998 it had two cars on sale in the Euromarket, the LS400 saloon and the GS300. With the LS200, Lexus extended its range into BMW 3-series territory. Was it a Good Thing?

1998 Lexus IS200: source

While consistency can be a bit tedious in the arts, in business it is generally a positive attribute. In some ways, Lexus had consistency nailed down. All their cars have been screwed together by black-belt, Olympic level robots and technicians.

The LS400 itself had already become a legend for quality. Intended to be the world’s best car until the next one came along, a case can be made that it is still the world’s best car when all measurable parameters have been balanced. In a more shallow way, Lexus did not manage consistency, not the kind valued by people who value consistency for its own sake and are utterly unwilling to Continue reading “Could Tiresias Have Foreseen This?”

Children of the Revolution

The ‘Sixty-Eighters’ rocked France, yet one of its more illustrious offspring would become a bastion of more conformist values.

In a curiously prescient article for Le Monde in March 1968, journalist, Pierre Viansson-Ponté made the assertion that France was suffering from the dangerous affliction of ‘boredom’. During a period which French economist, Jean Fourastié coined as Les Trentes Glorieuses, the country settled into a period of political stability and economic prosperity, transitioning from a predominantly agricultural economy to a largely industrial one.

Rural France had decanted into the cities and its universities were brimming with the young and sexually frustrated, expected to behave in a similar fashion to that of their socially conformist parents. But students from Paris’ Université Nanterre, emboldened perhaps from a diet rich in Satre, Brel, and Dylan would no longer Continue reading “Children of the Revolution”

Settling Back Into The Deep, Familiar Ruts Of Despair

December 1998: what was being reviewed in those sunny, happy times?

1998 Suzuki Jimny 1.3: source

As luck would arrange it, dear old Car magazine took it upon itself to review the Suzuki Jimny 1.3 JLX as well as the Skoda Octavia estate and the Alfa Romeo 166 2.0 (is really 20 years since the last big Alfa appeared on the scene?). The Jimny is the most germane review subject as the new one has only been launched. Having read the reviews, I think the UK press has been more circumspect about their comments this time around, saying that the Jimny is for off-roading and not biased to the road so, yes, it does a very fine job of that former task. By the end it had become a legend.

In 1998 the critiques did not take account of the Jimny’s (shout it) off-roading focus. Roger Bell, normally a voice of sanity, got this one wrong on behalf of Car. He began the review as follows: “Suzuki’s almost legendary ability to Continue reading “Settling Back Into The Deep, Familiar Ruts Of Despair”

Parliamentary Privilege

Rover’s 1958 3-Litre was a class act, but it was a class in the grasp of profound change.

(c) datch.fr

On the 30th of April 1958, Royal assent was given to an act of parliament which changed the constitution of the upper house (the House of Lords) from being a male-only chamber, composed exclusively of hereditary peers. The Life Peerages Act led to a significant modernisation of parliament, lending the Lords a degree of legitimacy it had hitherto lacked, while better reflecting a changing UK society. Continue reading “Parliamentary Privilege”

In The End It Ends In Tears That Mark The End

It’s high time to quench the thirst for all things Citroen that I know smoulders among the denizens of this little corner of the World Wide Web.

And Jaguar comes into the story too, so that’s another little need satiated. If I push it I can also mention Lancia*. First we’ll start with the source. My reading today is Autocar & Motor January 30 1990 Vol. 187 No 5 (4901). A delightful little snippet about A&M is that in those days a certain Mr James May acted as the chief sub-editor.

And Jesse Crosse served as the technical consultant; now there’s a journalist whose work I always like to read because he has a knack for explaining things with concision and clarity.  With those preliminaries out of the way we can now
Continue reading “In The End It Ends In Tears That Mark The End”

Along Came a Spider

In 1978, Pininfarina made one final pitch to gain Jaguar’s business. It didn’t succeed, but did it precipitate another, more tangled narrative web?

(c) car-revs-daily

By around 1976 the automotive world had broadly coalesced around the belief that Jaguar’s XJ-S was, in stylistic terms a rather poor show from a carmaker renowned for being the business of beauty. It didn’t really matter that this particular set of shared assumptions had largely been formed by a UK and US press corps who had whipped themselves into a frenzy on the false premise that Jaguar would reprise the E-Type’s impact and ambition and by consequence required a scapegoat when reality proved somewhat different.

Blaming Jaguar was perhaps cathartic and while some argued the carmaker might have controlled the narrative a little better in the run up to the XJ-S’ announcement, in reality, the embattled residents of Browns Lane couldn’t Continue reading “Along Came a Spider”

Death Disco

As the Audi TT hits a significant historical milestone, it appears to be on the verge of taking an altogether different kind of hit. 

(c) audiphile

It isn’t every birthday celebration that doubles as a wake, but the times are not what they were. Twenty years after Audi unveiled the production TT sports model, speculation is rife that the current iteration is likely to be its last – at least in the format we have come to know and love.

Indeed, this last component may form part of the problem, since the love affair has, it appears, run its natural course. Certainly, senior Ingolstadt management, when they can Continue reading “Death Disco”

Song to the Siren

Volkswagen’s upmarket Passat derivative – was it misunderstood or simply misconceived? 

(c) privatefleet

If one was to plot the course of Volkswagen’s design heritage in purely aesthetic terms (if indeed such a thing were possible), it would be represented on a somewhat undulating graph, and it could be argued with some conviction that overall, the troughs have tended to outweigh the peaks. But automotive design is a cyclical discipline and all styling studios must move with, or at least reflect the times. Continue reading “Song to the Siren”

The Mystery Of Other People And Me A Mystery Too

By December 24th, 2006 the Blackpool-based, sportcar-making, Russian-owned-firm TVR had entered administration. In February 2007, Evo (“the thrill of driving”) magazine reported proposals for a 200 mph supercar.

2007 TVR Typhoon: source

The article is still on-line (dated Jan 2007) with the same text as appeared in the published magazine. “Reports of TVR’s death have been greatly exaggerated,” began the article. That phrase is such a clichée I’d never even examined it until now, which shows the danger of hackneyed phrases.  Death is all-or-nothing and so can’t be exaggerated any more than one can be slightly pregnant. Deaths being exaggerated is thus a kind of lame joke.

I suppose this particular reported car was a form of phantom pregnancy because it didn’t Continue reading “The Mystery Of Other People And Me A Mystery Too”

L’anima di Tridente

Maserati’s cornerstone product also happens to be its oldest, and by some margin. Where now for the GranTurismo?

(c) car and driver

Prior to his untimely demise, former FCA helmsman, Sergio Marchionne was frequently characterised as a heartless technocrat entirely lacking in marque fealty. It was a narrative he did little to disavow and while the truth may not have been quite as cut and dried as his many detractors alleged, there can be little doubt that he was a gimlet-sharp pragmatist who would employ all tools at his disposal to Continue reading “L’anima di Tridente”

Rotary Survivor

Driven to Write profiles a refugee who made it in the new World.

1978 Mazda Rx-7. (c) flickr

During the early 1970s, it appeared as though Toyo Kogyo’s Mazda division had stolen something of a march on the auto industry. Alongside Germany’s NSU, Mazda invested heavily into wankel engine development and while Neckersulm’s all-in commitment saw them Continue reading “Rotary Survivor”

Logical Imperative

The 1978 Saab 900 could be dismissed as merely an evolution of an older model, but it became far more than that. It became the ur-Saab.

(c) wheelsAge

The car has become an indispensable part of our everyday life. We need it so that society will not grind to a halt and so that people will serve society efficiently. looking ahead a little further, will the car continue to be as essential in our everyday lives as today?

Yes – provided that: We Continue reading “Logical Imperative”

Style Council

The Jaguar S-Type was intended to spearhead Ford’s growth plans for the leaping cat. That didn’t quite work out as planned.

(c) driving.ca

Now is the winter of our discontent: In November 2004, Ford appointee, Joe Greenwell faced a panel of hostile UK parliamentarians at the Trade and Industry select committee in Whitehall, seeking explanations for his parent company’s decision to Continue reading “Style Council”

Neo Class

A class in retrofuturism from 1989. Driven to Write dons a black polo neck to pronounce upon Nissan’s Neo-X concept.

(c) old concept cars

During the late 1980s, Japanese car design appeared to be going through something of a purple patch. By way of illustration, the 1989 Tokyo motor show marked the introduction of three fine Nissan concepts – the Primera-X, (not to be confused with the 1990 production car it prefigured), the ‘Pike Factory’ Figaro concept, but also the subject of today’s retrospective – Nissan’s take on a full-sized saloon for the 1990s.

Three years earlier, Nissan had shown the highly acclaimed Cue-X concept, a superbly accomplished Euro-centric take on luxury saloon style which anticipated their Infiniti premium brand. However, while clearly intended to Continue reading “Neo Class”

A Different Shade of Beige

Best known as Germany’s Taxi of choice, the Mercedes /8 has languished under the shadow of more celebrated siblings. Time for a fare hearing.

(c) gdtm

Prior to 1970, all licenced taxis within the Federal Republic of West Germany were painted black. They also for the most part consisted of the products of Stuttgart-Untertürkheim. During the wirtschaftswunder era, the diesel-powered Mercedes came to embody virtues of solid dependability, frugality and long-life, as endorsed by the huge, largely trouble-free mileages these vehicles amassed in the public hire trade.

When Mercedes-Benz launched what were termed the ‘new generation’ cars in 1968, perhaps unsurprisingly, the values they espoused were of a familiar, conservative nature. Yet in its own way, the /8 (or Strich Acht – a term employed to denote the model year), was itself something of a revolutionary. Continue reading “A Different Shade of Beige”

The Car That Killed Sobriety

The previous generation of Mercedes’ E-class was supposed to mark a return to the marque’s traditional values. Instead, it turned a great many of them into damaged goods. 

E350 CDI Elegance (W212) 2008
Round is out, photo (c) Daimler AG

Willkommen zu Hause. Die E-Klasse. Upon its market introduction in 2009, the newest Mercedes-Benz E-class was ‘welcomed home’. Attentive observers may ask when and why the E-class had left in the first place – an answer to which would require a return to the decade most people of Stuttgart Sindelfingen and Untertürkheim would like to forget : The 1990s.

The E-class for the ’90s, unveiled in the middle of that decade, was of course the W210 generation, which has since gained notoriety for issues of rust, profit-optimised engineering and styling that has aged as gracefully as the materials the Benz was made of. Continue reading “The Car That Killed Sobriety”

Through These Architect’s Eyes

A 1951 art exhibition would change the way we viewed the automobile forever.

(c) MoMa

Since the Museum of Modern Art (MoMa) was founded in 1929, it has been a leading proponent of contemporary and modernist art, encompassing not only what is commonly known as fine arts, but architecture, product design, photography, film, installations and electronic media.

Perhaps the most influential host to the conversation around latter-day aesthetics, its current location, designed by architects, Philip Goodwin and Edward Stone in 1939 on New York’s West 53rd street has staged some of the most celebrated and controversial art exhibitions of the 20th century.

In 1951, the motor industry was still struggling not only to Continue reading “Through These Architect’s Eyes”

Little Wonder

The 1978 Midas and its talented creator appear largely forgotten. Neither really ought to be.

1978 Midas. (c) bright-cars

Even amongst those who breathe petrol vapour for pleasure, Harold Dermott is not a household name. And this is a pity, for he is intrinsically linked to two of Britain’s cleverest and most dynamically accomplished enthusiast cars. That they represent polar opposites upon the affordability spectrum is largely irrelevant – both are equally rare sights today.

But while one is rightly celebrated as arguably the pinnacle of road-car development, the 1978 Midas remains a neglected automotive footnote – a matter which not only belies the craft and ingenuity of its design and construction, but also speaks volumes as to how the automotive world values its innovators and outliers.

Having graduated with a BSc in mechanical engineering, Harold Dermott joined BL in the early ’70s, working on engine development for Jaguar. However, following the notorious Ryder Report, prospects looked bleak for a young, ambitious engineer, and having departed the embattled carmaker, he obtained the rights to Continue reading “Little Wonder”

The Quintessence : (Part Nine)

The XJ6 was and always will remain the quintessence of Jaguar. 

© Jaguar Heritage

“All I try to do is make nice cars…” (Sir William Lyons)

Throughout its history Jaguar have produced faster, more visually arresting, more technically dense cars; indeed, more commercially successful cars (and with over 400,000 units built over three distinct series the XJ was successful), but it’s debatable whether they ever produced as complete a car. A forward looking design which transcended its convoluted gestation, last-minute revisions and troubled career to become something which far outweighed the sum of its parts.

It’s difficult to Continue reading “The Quintessence : (Part Nine)”