Our final retrospective waltz in this series lands in 1957.
1957’s Sweet Smell of Success was an unusual film for its era, made by a director better known for lighthearted comedies, casting its two leads against type and portraying a seedy, rapacious twilight world behind the gloss of celebrity culture. In that respect, it was a very modern film, but it was one the public were not ready for, dying on its feet in cinemas.
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).
Generally I prefer to avoid memoirs of car ownership except en passant. I will try to do so here when having a small look at the afterlife of the 1984 Buick Century.
The reason I am in any way concerned with a car like this is that for a year and a half I owned such a vehicle, almost exactly like the one in the main photo. It differed only in that it had plate sized-rust patches on both front doors.
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.
It’s been a while since we did one of these, and while today’s candidate might appear a little tenuous at first sight, look beyond the scudetto and there are chevrons galore.
First shown at the 1983 Geneva motor show, the Delfino was an attempt by carrozzeria Bertone to update the classical luxury gran turismo after almost a decade of decline. Alfa Romeo’s relationship with Bertone was long-standing, but had entered a prolonged period of stasis, with Portello forging a closer relationship with Ital Design when they were not Continue reading “Cars That Could Have Been Citroëns – 1983 Bertone Delfino”
Continuing DTW’s meta retrospective, we dial the time machine back to 1997.
1997 was an eventful year (weren’t they all?) which in a series of reversals for establishment-Britain saw the Chinese regain control over Hong Kong, and the dominant Conservative party lose power domestically following an 18-year run. In Paris that autumn, Princess Diana died in a car accident, the Hale-Bopp comet had its initial sighting, and oh yes, the Titanic sank again.
In a series of articles, Driven to Write gives 2017 the meta treatment.
It’s normally customary at this time to reflect upon the just-departed year, its themes, its happenings and how these events might offer some guide to the coming one, but my DTW colleague-in-arms has already covered that. No, what I am offering today (and over the coming days) is to all intents and purposes a series of retrospectives on a series of retrospectives. Well after all it’s Driven to Write you’ve blundered upon, what exactly were you expecting?
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”
1955 was a decisive year for the British Motor Corporation, as it set its product direction for the next decade. A certain gentleman of Graeco-German parentage was said to have played an important part in the process.
The person I refer to is not, as some might think, the confirmed bachelor from Smyrna, but the husband of Queen Elizabeth II.
It is unlikely that HRH The Duke of Edinburgh was aware of Alec Issigonis’ imminent return to BMC when he visited Longbridge on 8 December 1955, but the supposed interaction of Lord and the duke, and the repercussions thereof have become part of the daemonology of BMC.
Commonly regarded as the most beautiful Alfa Romeo saloon shape of recent times, the Alfa 156’s svelte lines remain a credit to its designer. But questions remain as to its authorship.
Over the past sixty-odd years, Alfa Romeo berlinas and the notion of ravishing beauty were (for the most part) mutually exclusive. Now of course this doesn’t necessarily mean Arese wasn’t home to some very fine and finely wrought motorcars, but it’s difficult to avoid the view that the habitual centro stile fare hasn’t exactly been an art curator’s dream.
The 1992 Alfa 155 certainly wasn’t. Based on the Tipo-derived Type Three corporate platform, its tall, narrow-looking silhouette combined with skin surfacing endowed with an over-abundance of character lines, and clumsily placed shutlines was a clear evolution of its 75 predecessor, but hardly a car to Continue reading “Beauty Stab”
Three German cars, each of which share a birthdate and a complex web of gestational links, share one further distinction. Each helped put post-war Germany back on four wheels.
Sixty years ago, Europe was still reeling from the effects of World War Two. Germany was inching its way back to political credibility and prosperity thanks to the economic miracle and a little help from an American named Marshall. Mobility was very much the name of the game, with most domestic manufacturers focusing on simple, affordable cars for everyman.
Fiat tested the waters for their subsequent two-seater offering in 1993 with the Maggiore Scia – a concept car which genuinely deserved the term, ‘little boat’.
With the 1989 demise of the long-running X1/9 model, Fiat, for the first time in decades, lacked a two-seater roadster in its lineup; a state of affairs which wouldn’t have elicited much concern apart from the fact that such vehicles were making something of a popular comeback by then.
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”
I recently purchased a reprint of Car’s Car of the Year 1970 feature (printed for publicity purposes for the UK distributor of a certain car company from the March 1971 issue by George Pulman and Sons Ltd Bletchley Bucks). Almost (but not quite) as old as I am (what’s three years amongst friends?), it served to remind me what we are missing these days from motoring journalists.
First, I refuse to mention the main subject of the feature, the car which won this prestigious award in 1970, on the basis that we get complaints that the manufacturer of said winning car receives far too much coverage on this site. Second, it’s the quality of the journalism which has bewitched me, much as it was the featured car which captured my attention to said publication in the first place. Third, I’ve given up on Citroën these days in any case (damn!).
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.
The XJ-S is a car which tends to crop up with some frequency on Driven to Write. Why this is so is perhaps debatable, (okay, it’s often my fault) but I suspect that its fascination is not only a function of its controversial shape, but also stems from a belief that its styling came about without precedent. But no car is developed entirely in a vacuum, or is it?
In 1987, Maranello went back to its roots, launching the precursor to today’s track-bound limited edition wonders. But in looking to the past, was F40 the modern Ferrari of all?
The Ferrari F40 is a car that brooks no ambivalence. Like the company’s founder and imperator, F40 is indifferent to the notion that you might find it vulgar, somewhat silly, a virtually unusable statement of machismo and status, because it’s all of those things and a great deal more besides. Because, perhaps more than anything, F40 remains the essence of Enzo. Continue reading “Two Fingered Salute”
Robertas Parazitas reports on one of the stars of this year’s NEC Classic Motor show.
Grim commerce and ‘investment car’ mania now dominate the annual NEC Classic Motor show, but search hard, seek the wisdom of the crowds, and strangeness and delight is there to be found. In Hall 4, a Restoration Theatre had been setup. I sat for a while, hoping for a performance of one of Congreve or Wycherley’s lighter works, but all that was on offer was a video of two elderly men in a dingy workshop explaining the intricacies of panel beating in what I imagined to be a satire on Puritanism. Continue reading “Impossible Princess – Vanden Plas 1800”
On the surface, Renault’s 1983 Gabbiano was simply an innocuous concept, but could it also stand as a metaphor for a decades-spanning rivalry?
Following former head of Citroën bureau d’études, Robert Opron’s move across Paris to head Renault’s styling studios in 1975, design responsibility appeared to remain an in-house arrangement. However over time, a decision was taken either by senior management or by Opron himself to Continue reading “Word on a Wing”
With Vauxhall’s future under PSA coming under renewed scrutiny, we look back to Luton’s mid-’70s upmarket ambitions.
As automotive industry analysts ponder the fate of Opel / Vauxhall in the wake of PSA’s takeover, one possible future mapped out involves a shift upmarket. On the face of things, this appears about as likely as PSA getting a sudden rush of blood to the head and starting to take Citroën seriously, but as (im)possible futures go, it may not be entirely unthinkable.
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”
Earlier in the day we had a close look at a bit of the Peugeot 605. What was missing?
The short answer: Peugeot’s design and production dodged the ugly groove that normally indicates a weld, right under the lamp. This means that a not inconsiderable amount of work had to be done to match the weld seam to the metal on either side of it. Audi avoided this by bringing the bootlid right down to the bumper. Mercedes didn’t. Continue reading “Fifty-one Times Maybe is Still Maybe”
The 1986 Eole was an exploration of what would happen if one truly applied aerodynamic theory to a Citroën CX Estate. The results were somewhat mixed.
Truly aerodynamic vehicles tend to be fairly uncompromising looking devices for the most part. Citroën’s Eole concept from 1986 certainly wasn’t conventionally handsome, but it contained a lot of thinking that would become more widely adopted. The work of UK car designer, Geoffrey Matthews at the PSA/Talbot facility at Whitley, Eole was sanctioned ostensibly to give Citroën something new to show at that year’s Geneva motor show; the AX model (also styled by Matthews) not being due to Continue reading “A Concept for Sunday – A Break With a Backstory”
With perhaps the shortest gestation of any production car, 1977’s Chrysler/Talbot Sunbeam personified the term, ‘rush job’ – and it showed. But one variant burned brightly, courtesy of Lotus.
In 1977, the TV ad-breaks were awash with the mellifluous tones of Petula Clark, exhorting us all to put a Chrysler Sunbeam in our lives. I was around 11 at the time, so there wasn’t much I could do to obey the Surrey songstress’ siren call but since we did have an Avenger parked outside, my level of interest in Linwood’s newest offering was perhaps keener that it might have otherwise have been.
The Sunbeam was the result a neat piece of industrial blackmail on the part of Chrysler UK, the failing former Rootes car business, which under US management had merged with Simca but was struggling with a dated range of cars and a loss making production facility in Scotland making fewer of them than was economical. Faced with the plant’s closure, the UK government agreed to Continue reading “Norfolk Broad”
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”
Fiat received most of the credit, but the 1987 Alfa Romeo 164 was a genuine Alfa Romeo, despite what some might retrospectively suggest.
In 2014, then Alfa Romeo chief, Harald Wester illustrated the marque’s latterday decline with an image of the 164, stating that by making it front wheel drive, it had diluted the carmaker’s bloodline. But instead he demonstrated both an eloquent disdain for his forebears and a blind ignorance of history. Dismissing the 164, perhaps the most accomplished and rounded product the troubled Milanese car maker had produced since the 1960s, not only made Wester Continue reading “When the Poets Dreamed of Angels”
Visually speaking, the 2006 Citroën C-Triomphe didn’t quite live up to its name, which may explain why it remains something of an automotive unicorn today.
PSA announced this particular iteration of their C-segment contender in 2004, a car which replaced the unloved and visually underwhelming Xsara model line. This car, believed to have been the work of Donato Coco and Bertrand Rapatel under the supervision of Jean-Pierre Ploué marked the beginning of a renaissance at Citroën’s Vélizy styling centre. Adieu to the creative torpidity of the Blakeslee years, welcome back creativity. Theoretically at least. Continue reading “Arc de Triomphe”
“More and more than before!” In what appears to be a period review of the Peugeot 204 by legendary motoring critic, Archie Vicar, the car is assessed in the course of a drive in Portugal.
The article first appeared in the Neath Guardian, January 12, 1973. Douglas Land-Windernere (sic) is credited with the photography.
The French do like these peculiar little cars, the English less so: 130 a month is all Peugeot can sell around here compared to 1300 Renault 12s. One doesn’t have to look hard to see why this might be. The coachwork demands concentration to behold, the price is high and the interior is Spartan. But Peugeot want to Continue reading “1973 Peugeot 204 Road Test”
Ford’s pre-millennial coupé didn’t gestate in an Erlenmeyer flask, but it was something of an amalgam nonetheless. We take a look at the Puma’s moodboard.
The design theme for the 1997 Ford Puma bridged the blue oval’s early ’90s ovoid, organic design era and the ‘New Edge’ theme which arrived at the dawn of the millennium. But the roots of the Puma programme lie deeper. Continue reading “Barchetta to Bobcat”
Another in a series of lasts: The 1997 Ford Puma. We won’t see its like again.
The 1990s saw Ford’s European outpost embark upon a period of reflection; a polar realignment from the provision of lowest common denominator perambulatory devices to a respected and critically lauded manufacturer of class-leaders. This process began in earnest with the 1995 debut of the BE91-series Fiesta. While retaining the body structure and basic mechanicals of the critically unloved preceding model, a series of chassis and engine refinements in addition to a major external and internal restyle saw the Fiesta Continue reading “Bobcat by Another Name”
Driven to Write (with no thought to our own safety) addresses the big one.
It’s somewhat overdue. In every Jaguar aficionado’s lifetime one has to approach X200 and try, (now come on, stop giggling back there) really try to view it with something remotely akin to an objective gaze. Because for many of us, it’s the Sargasso Sea of Jaguars. The mad aunt in the attic, the great un-namable. But has sufficient time elapsed to Continue reading “What we Talk About When we Talk About The S-Type”
Unlike the car upon which it was based, the 1971 NSU RO80 by Pininfarina was not a landmark. But that doesn’t mean it was without influence.
Four years after the NSU RO80’s announcement, Pininfarina showed this, the carrozzeria’s take on Nekarsulm’s 1967 engineering and stylistic masterpice. But how does one advance upon a car that not only seemed to predict the future at its debut, but would actually come to embody it? Not like this, one might argue. Continue reading “Lost in Rotation”
As Steve fires up the NSU’s power unit, it quickly settles into its distinctive buzz-saw rotary whine. I ask him how often he uses it? “Not as often as I should – I have too many cars. I don’t use it in the winter, but this summer it’s done about 1500 miles.” Mileage incidentally, which includes a trip to the recent 50th anniversary commemorations in Suffolk, where over 30 Ro80s converged. Among the attendees was an owner from Stuttgart who Continue reading “Sons of the Silent Age – (2)”
Part one: Driven to Write meets (and briefly drives) one of its heroes.
A commonly espoused orthodoxy warns us that close proximity to our idols can only lead to disappointment. Some go further, suggesting that the renunciation of hero worship is the mark of a mature mind. This being the case, I can categorically claim not to have attained it. But surely it is preferable to Continue reading “Sons of the Silent Age”
Today we explore alternative realities – one where perhaps Rover didn’t necessarily take the fork in the road marked ‘SD1’. What would that have looked like?
Counterfactuals are for the most part, exercises in futility, or at best, wishful thinking. When it comes to the products of what used to be British Leyland, added layers of poignancy come as standard. Few cars embody this like the Rover SD1 series; a car of enormous visual promise, fatally undermined by Continue reading “Altered Images”
Quiet and unassuming by day, the 262C saw the distinctly suburban 200-Series loosen its tie and show a slightly darker side to its personality.
Loved by owners, derided by the UK motoring press, the 200-series Volvo seemed even by mid-Seventies standards, something of an anachronism. Its upright and uncompromising appearance made few concessions to fashion, majoring on values of practicality, durability, comfort and occupant safety. Not that this prevented it from becoming a firm favourite and the model that Continue reading “Something Wicked This Way Comes”
A commercial hit for Mercedes-Benz at launch, but Father Time has not been kind to the 1997 CLK.
We didn’t know it at the time, but when Mercedes-Benz ceased production of the C124 coupé line in 1996, its terminus would be more than a stylistic one. If not quite the final example of the legendary ‘Vertical Affinity, Horizontal Homogeneity’ design ethos overseen by Bruno Sacco, the C124 would prove to be the last mid-sized Mercedes coupe built upon its saloon counterpart’s platform for another two generations. Continue reading “Fleeting Star”
One model has defined Volvo’s rebirth, but its backer deserves some of the credit as well.
It’s customary for a new car line to hit its sales-stride within the second full year of production, before plateauing and gradually ebbing downwards. This fall is normally arrested by a mid-term facelift, before once again, the graph pitches inexorably Southwards as the model is run out and ultimately replaced. While I wouldn’t necessarily Continue reading “Henry’s Bequest”
We conclude our 50th anniversary ruminations on Ferrari’s Dino by tracing its stylistic forebears.
In December 1964 the press convened at Modena’s Hotel Real-Fini, where Enzo Ferrari would conduct his annual sermon on the mount. As the gathered press corps waited breathlessly as the ‘Pope of the North’ held forth regarding the Scuderia’s programme for coming season, the commendatore dropped a surprise, telling journalists Ferrari’s race engineers were advanced on a new ‘168 Dino GT’ to be campaigned the following season.
The car with which Alfredo Ferrari’s name would become synonymous did not carry the famous Cavallino Rampante emblem, but is arguably the most significant (and beautiful) Ferrari of all.
Enzo Ferrari preferred to be addressed as ‘ingegnere’, which was something of an irony, given his somewhat reactionary views on the subject. A staunch traditionalist, his principles were firmly rooted in the pre-war era; pivoting around the notion of a powerful, high revving power unit combined with a driver of sufficient bravery and skill to overcome the inevitable chassis-related deficiencies. Continue reading “In the Name of the Son – 1967 Dino 206 GT”
It all began with a casual conversation at a motor show, which touched on the Ro80 and its stylist, Claus Luthe. An acquaintance, with an extraordinary nose for the rarely trodden byways of automotive history said “You do know that Luthe probably didn’t design the Ro80?” I confessed I didn’t, but I was keen to know more.
“It’s in an old copy of CAR”, I was told. I asked if there was a possibility of a scanned copy of the article. “I’ll do better than that”, I was told; “I’ll send you the magazine”. Continue reading “A Question of Attribution”
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”
Disappointingly uneven, despite occasional flashes of brilliance, the 1977 Giulietta personifies Alfa Romeo’s 1970’s wilderness years.
The much-loved 105-Series Giulia was the model line that put Alfa Romeo back on a World stage. This compact sporting saloon was a concentrated blend of Portello engineering knowhow wrapped in a highly aerodynamic, if superficially four-square package. Belying it’s ‘boxy’ appearance however, the 105 drove beautifully becoming a firm favourite from its 1962 inception until its ultimate demise 15-years on.
Daihatsu’s concept cars have been many, varied and in a good many cases, quite bonkers. Which is not to denigrate either them or the company which inspired them. Ideas they had aplenty, the real shame was that owing as much to their straitened circumstances as a lack of corporate nerve (perhaps), much of the invention and wildly creative thinking never particularly manifested itself in production form. Continue reading “‘Harmony With Nature’ – 2006 Daihatsu D-Compact X-Over”