History Repeating: XJ40 Part 4

Phase Two – 1976-1980: Fortress Jaguar. With engineering the last beacon of resistance, XJ40 becomes its talisman.

prodline
Production lines at Browns Lane – image: Birmingham Mail

1975 saw the broken remains of Jaguar in lockdown. Bob Knight’s policy of civil disobedience stemmed the tide of assimilation to some extent, but BL’s operating committees were undeterred. Like most of the industry, they believed the collapse of luxury car sales in the post-oil shock era would be permanent. The prevailing view being that Jaguar were producing dinosaurs. Continue reading “History Repeating: XJ40 Part 4”

Theme : Engines – The 1970 Triumph Stag V8

Ah, the Triumph Stag V8, the stuff of classic car legends.

1970 Triumph Stag V8
1970 Triumph Stag V8

It’s all there for a long chat at the pub: dashed hopes, shoddy Midlands workmanship, the dark days of British Leyland’s decline. There’s even a bit of Italian in there, as Giovanni Michelotti styled the car. The bit we’re interested in is the V8 though.

This unit was conceived in the middle of the 60s in response to the growing demands of the UK market for more powerful engines as the motorway system expanded. Continue reading “Theme : Engines – The 1970 Triumph Stag V8”

What Might Have Been : 1991 Tatra MTX V8

Today we bring a slice of an alternative universe, one where Tatra automobiles did not cease production (that was 1999).

1991 Tatra MTX V8
1991 Tatra MTX V8

Today we bring a slice of an alternative universe, one where Tatra automobiles did not cease production (that was 1999). The car here is one of four Tatra MTX V8 sportscars built out of a planned 100. The car was shown as concept at the 1991 Prague motor show and 200 orders were taken by thrilled visitors. Unfortunately, a fire destroyed the production facilities and also destroyed Tatra’s chances of showing the West that Czech engineering was alive and well and able to take on the best. Continue reading “What Might Have Been : 1991 Tatra MTX V8”

Theme : Engines – GM’s General Purpose Nail

The Iron Duke engine: an American interpretation of a European staple.

Not an engine, an Astre
Not an engine, an Astre

The Americans have a different approach to engines than do Europeans. First, they hold the view that bigger is better which means that for many decades the smallest engines were usually 6-cylinder units. 8-cylinder units were considered standard. When the oil crises of the 70s struck, the main US manufacturers were not so experienced with the 4 cylinder devices that were needed to cope. Continue reading “Theme : Engines – GM’s General Purpose Nail”

Something Rotten in Denmark: 1991 Fiat Tipo 1.4 ie

Is this 1991 Tipo suspiciously underpriced?

1991 Fiat Tipo 1.4 ie
1991 Fiat Tipo 1.4 ie

It seems like only a bit of while ago that Fiat were offering the Tipo Mk1 (1988 to 1995). It is however, actually a really long time ago indeed. This car is actually quite old though it seems not to look it, to my eyes at least. When Fiat first offered the Tipo they made something of a big deal about the galvanization and general rust protection. Continue reading “Something Rotten in Denmark: 1991 Fiat Tipo 1.4 ie”

Theme : Facelifts – A Facelift Before the Funeral

A facelift is sometimes an indication that all is far from well with the car’s manufacturer.

1964 Humber Super Snipe
1964 Humber Super Snipe

In 1958 Humber cars introduced a new body style which was sold under the Hawk and Super Snipe labels. The Super Snipe was the more expensive of the two. For the last word in Humberness, there was the Humber Imperial which was the same as a Hawk and a Snipe in terms of the bodywork but which had “a vinyl roof, automatic transmission and hydrosteer power steering as standard… electrically adjustable rear shock absorber settings, a rear heater and optional West-of-England cloth-trimmed seats”. That West of England cloth was fitted by Thrupp and Maberley***. These details matter. Continue reading “Theme : Facelifts – A Facelift Before the Funeral”

History Repeating: XJ40 Part 3

Phase One – 1972-1975: Jaguar Year Zero. The Autumn of 1974 marked a point when the sky fell in at Jaguar. 

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Cultural revolution. Even the leaping cat at the factory gates was removed. Image unknown

Government appointee, Sir Don Ryder’s report into BLMC’s collapse was published in April 1975 and its findings were greeted with horror at Browns Lane. Ryder recommended British Leyland should henceforth operate as a ‘single integrated car business’. As such, marque identities would be subsumed into centralised BL business units. Jaguar would cease to exist, with its two plants now managed by separate Leyland Car divisions. The effects of rationalisation would go to ludicrous extremes, but with the UK government picking up the bill, there was little room for sentimentality. Continue reading “History Repeating: XJ40 Part 3”

Facelifts – Winning the Battle, Losing the War

The 2004 facelifted S-Type had it all to do. Unfortunately for Jaguar, it came too late.

0298834-Jaguar-S-Type-4.2-V8-Sport-2004
(c) carpages

While the 2004 facelift to the Jaguar S-Type could never fully excise the visual scars left by its predecessor, it did re-present them in a more broadly palatable form. Given that the original 1998 X200 remains something of a stylistic horror show; the result of an amalgam of three individual styling prototypes unhappily stitched together by Jaguar stylists under a reactionary Ford management, just about anything would have served to Continue reading “Facelifts – Winning the Battle, Losing the War”

Theme : Facelifts – Bristol Cars and Facelifts as a Way of Life

For the very rich there are two modes of consumption.

1958 Bristol 406
1958 Bristol 406

One is to buy the latest thing and replace it as soon as something better comes along. The other mode is to buy something that lasts forever like a castle or a Bristol. The Filton-based firm was a small one and prided itself on the quality of its vehicles. And they are cars that last, being capable of almost indefinite service life, much like a castle, as it happens.

Continue reading “Theme : Facelifts – Bristol Cars and Facelifts as a Way of Life”

Unforgetting : 1981 Talbot Tagora

If you’ve ever wondered about this famously forgotten car, this is the place to find out why it has become a footnote in automotive history.

1981 Talbot Tagora
1981 Talbot Tagora

The Tagora doesn’t have much of an afterlife. It’s been out of production since 1983 and if anyone remembers it, they aren’t saying much about it. But what was the view of the car at the time of launch? Did it look like it was going to be the flop it turned out to be? I bought a copy of Autocar from 1981 to find out how this car was viewed by contemporary writers. Other magazines followed in the post. This (below) is how I digested the information for Wikipedia. Alas, it was removed shortly after it was published on the grounds that it was “not balanced”. I later revised the text with more “balance”and it seems to have survived. Here is what I wrote first: Continue reading “Unforgetting : 1981 Talbot Tagora”

History Repeating: XJ40 Part 2

Phase One – 1972-1975: A Question of Style. Jaguar knew how XJ40 should look, but BLMC management had other ideas.

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The apogee of the XJ-S inspired style – XJ40 October 1973 – image: ARonline

In October 1973, the complete XJ40 styling proposal was presented to BLMC’s Donald Stokes and John Barber. The car’s style had evolved noticeably over the intervening twelve months, but the XJ-S-inspired lineage remained. The differences lay in the height and shaping of the canopy, the daylight openings – which now featured a six-light treatment – and the addition of a lineal shoulder line. Overall, it presented a cohesive and not unattractive projection of Jaguar saloon style. Continue reading “History Repeating: XJ40 Part 2”

Theme : Facelifts – A Facelift Better Than the Car It Was Meant To Save

How Bill Porter turned the sow’s ear of the 1986 Buick Riviera into something so much better.

1990 Buick Riviera
1990 Buick Riviera

In 1986 Buick in the US sold a medium-sized two door version of the Somerset, built on the N-body. In the way of GM’s demented renaming strategy, the Somerset tag was once a trim level of the Regal saloon but it escaped to Continue reading “Theme : Facelifts – A Facelift Better Than the Car It Was Meant To Save”

1986 Volvo 360 GLT Review

Pantomime Horses : Just how good is the 1986 Volvo 360 GLT?

1986 Volvo 360 GLT

by Roderick Darndon-Dramb. Photography by Bart Chappel. From “Autocarriage & Performance Drivercar”  (March 1986).

The advertising says this is the Volvo that thinks it’s a Porsche. Clearly Volvo wants us to see this car as the driver’s choice. The people at Volvo have lost their minds. The 360’s aerodynamics remain submerged below the bottom of the league. The exterior is reminiscent of the Seagram Building rather than an F-40 jet. This is not a Porker.

Continue reading “1986 Volvo 360 GLT Review”

History Repeating: XJ40 Part 1

Phase One – 1972-1975: A New Jag Generation. We examine the landscape within Jaguar as the initial XJ40 concept coalesced.

XJ6brochure
The definitive Jaguar? Image: Jaglovers

XJ40 underwent several distinct phases in its path to production, the first of which began with the 1968 launch of the XJ saloon, a car upon whose shoulders Jaguar would unknowingly place the next 18 years of its existence. The XJ was a superb car, its excellence the sum of several factors. The careful honing of proven hardware, a gifted development team, Jaguar’s V12 engine, and the appliance of stylistic genius. It would be the pinnacle of Sir William Lyons’ vision but as a new decade dawned, it was necessary to plan for its successor.

Continue reading “History Repeating: XJ40 Part 1”

Something Rotten In Denmark: 1986 Peugeot 505

Sold in large numbers and once part of the corporate car-park, the 505 is now a rarity. But here is one example that almost looks attractive. But looks deceive. 

1986 Peugeot 505

PSA launched the 505 in 1979 with the purpose of providing a product in their middle ranks to replace the venerable 504. What the ’05 succeeded in doing was killing off interest in the 604 which had been on sale and doing quite well since 1976. The 505 was very slightly smaller and about 30% cheaper than the 604 and lot easier on the eye; the main differences between the two cars were that the newcomer lacked the messy dashboard and thirsty V6.

The 505 range offered all the engines the 604 could and should have had. What Peugeot forgot to do was to Continue reading “Something Rotten In Denmark: 1986 Peugeot 505”

1965 Ford Taunus Versus 2005 Ford Mondeo

Design Footnote: somewhere inside Ford, someone nodded quietly to the firm’s past.

2005 Ford Mondeo
2005 Ford Mondeo

A few months back, while studying the parked cars in my area, I noticed that there was something deeper to the design of late-model Ford Mondeo Mk2s. Not very many cars have a solution that avoids both a horizontal and a vertical wraparound at the front end. The 2005 Mondeo has a design where the strongest line runs down the edge of the wing, down the lights and then goes horizontal under the valence, requiring a twist from forward to sideways mediated by a vertical descent. Continue reading “1965 Ford Taunus Versus 2005 Ford Mondeo”

History Repeating – The Tragedy of Jaguar’s XJ40

A new Jerusalem, or nothing but the same old story? In this series of articles, we examine XJ40’s turbulent conception and ask, was this the last Jaguar?

Jaguar XJ40_04 (1)
Image: Jaguar Heritage

Billed at launch as the Jag without tears; a high-tech culmination of an unprecedented level of proving in some of the world’s most hostile environments, XJ40 represented a new beginning for an embattled marque. As much the story of Jaguar’s dogged resistance as it is of the car itself, XJ40’s 22-year career encapsulates the most tumultuous period in the company’s history.

The tragedy of XJ40 is twin-pronged. Throughout this torrid decade, XJ40 became Jaguar’s talisman, the one hope a demoralised corps could cling to when there appeared to be no future. Central to this were efforts of successive engineering chiefs to maintain the marque’s identity, but success would come at bitter personal cost.

XJ40’s lengthy gestation meant the end result was viewed in some quarters as a disappointment, yet this belies the enormous efforts made to ensure XJ40 modernised, yet maintained marque traditions. The first truly modern Jaguar, the model was critically acclaimed upon release, but the car’s reputation became irreparably damaged by early build issues it never quite overcame.

Despite being the best-selling XJ series of all, XJ40 today remains something of an outlier within the official Jaguar narrative, only latterly being appreciated for its finer qualities and for its status as arguably the most ambitious and technically pure Jaguar saloon ever.

It could also be said to mark the point when Jaguar’s stylists ceased to look forward, resulting in a nostalgic philosophy Ford’s interventionist management subsequently wrung dry with the XJ40 series’ ultimate successor – 2003’s X350 series.

In fact, parallels between XJ40 and its Ford-funded successor run deep. Both were intended to be technological flagships for both Jaguar and their parent. Both attempted to marry technical innovation with traditional styling. Both failed to stabilise the business and indirectly precipitated further changes of ownership.

“…It’s all just a little bit of history repeating…”, Shirley Bassey once purred over a Jaguar TV advert, and this lyric contains a truism, because for Jaguar the past refuses to stay buried for long.

Continue reading

More on Jaguar

High Concept – 1992 Ghia Focus

So many car design concepts intrigue and delight upon initial viewing but date as quickly. A notable exception to this truism sits below :

92ghia_ford_focus_09

The 1992 Ghia Focus. First displayed at that year’s Turin Motor show to rapturous acclaim, it was a compact barchetta style roadster, and it’s radical form language prefigured a new direction for Ford. Its influence however, would ultimately extend further beyond Ford’s Dearborn, Dunton, Merkenich and Turin studios.

Continue reading “High Concept – 1992 Ghia Focus”

Something Rotten in Denmark : 1962 DKW Junior

You’ve come a long way, baby. So goes the cliche. How far then?

1962 DKW

Glostrup Cars in Denmark are selling this two-stroke body-on-frame fossil for just under €10,000. Introduced in 1959, the Juniors (renamed F11 or F12) were discontinued in 1965 when VW bought the firm, ending DKW’s post-war association with Mercedes*. These diminutive DKWs were built in Ingolstadt, at a new factory. The car’s run ended when it became clear that it was just not up to facing the competition presented by VW’s Beetle and Opel’s smaller cars (possibly the 1962 Kadett). Continue reading “Something Rotten in Denmark : 1962 DKW Junior”

Social Signifiers

Which cars are for today’s ophthalmologists, vets and professors of Medieval law? 

For Prof. Castiglione
For Prof. Castiglione

About three decades ago certain makers sold cars for easily identifiable groups in society. Saabs were for well-paid university lecturers. Citroen could appeal to the Francophile and arty middle-class man. Lancia sold to intellectuals and business men who probably saw their work as a vocation. Humber appealed to bank managers of the bigger branches. But today, these brands are gone or unrecognisable Continue reading “Social Signifiers”

Audi – Always the Pretender?

And What Is Wrong With Putting the Engine in Front of the Wheels?Auto Union Type C

Audi are in danger of becoming the Phil Collins of the petrolhead world, an act that even people who know little about music like to cite as being a bit off. Speaking as someone who can, hand on heart, swear that he has no murky Genesis related skeletons in his youthful musical vinyl rack and hopes he’ll never Continue reading “Audi – Always the Pretender?”

Transitions : Car Interiors as They Turned Plastic

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

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

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

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

Theme : Badging – Emblem of Malaise

A badge can often tell you a lot more than what exactly it is you’re driving behind…

0811_05_z+1966_lancia_fulvia_coupe+badge_and_taillightThe badging on the rear of this first series Lancia Fulvia coupé is rather lovely. It resembles a signature and perfectly encapsulates Lancia’s quality ethos at the time. This wasn’t a cheap car and the badge told you this with elegance and eloquence.

Continue reading “Theme : Badging – Emblem of Malaise”

Reconvening the Committee

Arguably the most misunderstood Jaguar of all time, Driven to Write seeks once and for all to put the ‘committee design’ assertion to rest as we examine the defamation of the XJ-S.

Jaguar-XJS-Red-Strip-1280x960%5B3%5D
Image: The Telegraph

In September 1975 the newly nationalised British Leyland conglomerate celebrated the Jaguar XJ-S’ launch at Longbridge, the traditional home of its volume car division. A worse time to launch a 150-mph grand turismo is difficult to imagine, to say nothing of the chosen setting. The venue was a calculated statement of power, British Leyland ensuring Jaguar’s beleaguered management and workforce knew exactly who was in charge. Continue reading “Reconvening the Committee”

XJ-S: Reconvening the Committee (Part 5)

We convene the committee one final time and examine the defamation of the XJ-S.

Image via Jaguar Heritage
Image: Jaguar Heritage

Widely seen as the most outspoken and irreverent of the UK’s automotive titles, Car was the journal most automotive journalists and commentators looked to and emulated. It’s evident the ‘committee-design’ assertion emanated from this source, which illustrates that journalists are as prone to suggestion as anyone. The press subsequently appropriated this assertion which over time morphed into established fact. Car editor Mel Nichols made his views clear in October 1975, stating; Continue reading “XJ-S: Reconvening the Committee (Part 5)”

Another in a Long Line: Lancia Kappa Coupé (1997-2000)

Mistakes from which one can learn come in forms such as these.

Lancia Kappa seen in the Black Forest, Easter 2014

About once a year I visit a relative in a very small village on the south fringe of the Black Forest. Every time I do, I see a different Lancia Kappa coupé. But they only made about 3000 of these cars and production ceased 14 years ago. I assume then that the region in which the car was seen has an unusual density of the vehicles. Continue reading “Another in a Long Line: Lancia Kappa Coupé (1997-2000)”

Theme : Cute Car Hall of Fame – 1996 Ford Ka

The Ford Ka, 1996 – 2009: one of the better and cuter designs of the last two decades.

A golden wonder from 1996
A golden wonder from 1996

The alternative Ford Ka concept followed the jelly-bean school of design that Ford had been exploring with the Taurus, Mondeo and the Puma. But in the internal design competition Ford Europe went for a radically different surface treatment of the same package and proportions.  Continue reading “Theme : Cute Car Hall of Fame – 1996 Ford Ka”

Theme : Cute Car Hall of Fame – Innocenti 90/120L

Bertone gives Issigonis’ box on wheels some sharp-suited Italian style and demonstrates how cute doesn’t always mean curvy.

innocenticolourThe 1970’s can be seen as a bit of a lost decade when it comes to cute cars apart from this – the Innocenti 90/120L. Innocenti’s association with BMC began in 1960, producing cars like the Austin A40, 1100 and more notably, the Mini under licence for the Italian market. Innocenti’s versions of BMC models tended to be plusher; the subtle restyling undertaken often appearing better judged and executed than those of their UK counterparts.

Continue reading “Theme : Cute Car Hall of Fame – Innocenti 90/120L”

Dial 911 For Cute

There are a great many conflicting facts and inconsistencies surrounding the deity Porsche’s successor to the 356 has turned into over the course of a few decades. 

2012-Porsche-911-Carrera-S-front1

Above all else, there is the incontestable fact that its basic layout, the core of its engineering, is of the idiosyncratic kind. That in itself wouldn’t raise any eyebrows, but such eccentricity – despite oftentimes inviting critical acclaim, at least initially – usually excludes lasting success. That the 911 overcomes the usual reservations towards alien solutions may be due to two facts. Continue reading “Dial 911 For Cute”

XJ-S: Reconvening the Committee (Part 4)

We take a more in-depth look at the Jaguar XJ-S’ styling. 

Image: forum-miata
Image: forum-miata

The world fell in love with the E-Type, but what many fail to realise is that by the early ’70s, Jaguar’s sports car icon was virtually unmarketable, the curves everyone loved in 1961 now hopelessly out of fashion. Yet when Jaguar announced the XJ-S as lineal successor, traditionalists had apoplexy on the spot. But was it really that much of a departure?

Continue reading “XJ-S: Reconvening the Committee (Part 4)”

Theme: What’s Cute Got to Do with It?

Adventures in cute car culture…

Cartoon-cars-3
Image: clipart-library

The problem with ‘cute’ is that it’s such a nebulous term. It can be an adjective, a noun or an adverb, so its meaning has shifted markedly since its origins in the 18th century. After all, one person’s pretty or dainty is another’s contrived and calculating. So when it comes to cute, which is it? However you view the term, you simply can’t Continue reading “Theme: What’s Cute Got to Do with It?”

Theme : Cute Car Hall of Fame – Formula Cute

When One was Fun

Porsche 718

The new Formula 1 regulations have thrown up the usual complaints about the inelegance of modern racers. Despite my disinterest in The Circus, I actually find the new batch some of the more interesting looking racers of recent years though, of course, interesting is not beautiful.

Continue reading “Theme : Cute Car Hall of Fame – Formula Cute”

Theme : Cute Car Hall of Fame – 1993 Renault Twingo

Patrick Le Quement´s little wonder, the Twingo. A reference for anthropomorphic design.

1993 Renault Twingo exterior
Twenty one years later, the Renault Twingo still holds up as both a very decidedly un-threatening car and a solid bit of industrial design. Seldom are cuteness and aesthetic discipline united in such a successful way.

Continue reading “Theme : Cute Car Hall of Fame – 1993 Renault Twingo”

Theme : Cute Car Hall of Fame – Austin Healey Sprite

The cutest car ever?

Image credit: (c) carfromuk

Has there ever been a more unselfconsciously cute car than the Frogeye Sprite? That grinning air intake, those amphibian headlights and pert form, to the dainty little tail-lights, the little Austin-Healey is about as friendly and cuddlesome as a miniature Schnauzer. Had Pixar created it, it really couldn’t have any more maddeningly lovable.

Despite its manifold charms, somehow the little Frogeye manages to Continue reading “Theme : Cute Car Hall of Fame – Austin Healey Sprite”

Industrial Design Archaeology: New Edge to Kinetic Design

After “New Edge” came what exactly? And when? And why

2004 Ford Focus blue

For some considerable time I have been wondering about the legacy of Ford Europe’s design director, Chris Bird. What did he achieve and where is he now? First a short review of the received wisdom. Prior to taking up his position at Ford in 1999, Bird was at Audi (where he did the first A8) then renowned for its ice-cool design approach. Continue reading “Industrial Design Archaeology: New Edge to Kinetic Design”

The Three Brothers – Part Deux

panhard24b2I’ve just spent a few days and 2,500 km driving around Eastern France. In that time, I saw two Citroën CXs, a Renault Dauphine, a Renault 12, a Simca 1100 and a Peugeot 504. And I also saw an Onze Legere Traction, but that was UK registered. Those staple cliches for the location director setting an episode of a popular UK TV series in France, the DS and the 2CV, were nowhere to be seen, save for a battered Snail sitting on the roof of a scrapyard. Of course a French person visiting the UK would notice the dearth of Morris Minors and Rover 2000s but, somehow, the homogeneity of the modern French industry is so much more depressing. Even a Peugeot 406 and a Renault 21 were almost cheering sights, being pretty Gallic compared with today’s eurocars.

Continue reading “The Three Brothers – Part Deux”

Something Rotten in […] Denmark: Lancia Delta

The Lancia Delta nameplate deserved better than this.

Image

The first Lancia Delta (1979 to 1994) was two things. It was an neatly uninteresting, Italdesign five door, front-drive car of little obvious merit. And later in life the same car was a high-performance sporting hatch. From 1993 to 1999 Lancia tried to cash in on the Lancia Delta name with this iteration, sold (if it sold at all) in three and five door guise. The second version was a badly considered blend of the predecessor so it had moderately sporting capability and almost, but not quite totally bland styling. Continue reading “Something Rotten in […] Denmark: Lancia Delta”

XJ-S: Reconvening the Committee (Part 3)

The XJ-S marked a entirely fresh direction for Jaguar style. We examine its birthpangs.

XJ27 takes shape in Jaguar's Styling studio - image via ARonline/Jaguar Cars
XJ27 takes shape in Jaguar’s Styling studio circa 1970. Image: ARonline

Early in 1969, work on XJ27 began in earnest. Due to BLMC’s straitened finances, funding was limited to utilising a modified version of the existing XJ saloon substructure and hardware component set. Structurally and mechanically then, there would be few surprises. Stylistically however, Sayer had something far more radical in mind.  Continue reading “XJ-S: Reconvening the Committee (Part 3)”

The Long Shadows of the Past

The Ascona C (1980-1988) has cast a long shadow over Opel. Is this the car that created the persistent impression of dullness that tarnishes the Opel badge?

1983 Opel Ascona

Today’s inspiration is an Opel Ascona 2-door saloon, spotted in the north of Aarhus. The recent resurgence (maybe that’s only in my own mind) of Opel has made me reconsider where, precisely, it all went wrong for Adam Opel AG. Lying on my psychiatrist’s couch I turned over my impressions and images of Opel. Continue reading “The Long Shadows of the Past”

Something Rotten […] in Denmark: 1973 Datsun 100A

It might not look dangerous but this car wiped out the dinosaurs.

1975 Datsun 100-A
What is significant about this car is not merely that it exists at all but that it inspired an unheard-of level of loyalty with its customers. Just as it was becoming apparent that buying European was not a guarantee of quality, the Japanese makers were beginning their exploration of exportation.

Continue reading “Something Rotten […] in Denmark: 1973 Datsun 100A”

Coupé de Grâce

The upper-middle class coupé is almost extinct. We trace its demise.

Volvo 780ES. Image: petrolblog
Bertone’s Volvo 780ES. Image: petrolblog

Large upper-middle class coupés only made commercial sense if they could be produced to appeal to both domestic and US audiences. Mercedes-Benz, BMW and the Japanese manufacturers alone seemed to understand this, ensuring they could export their offerings to the sector’s natural habitat. Success in automotive terms had traditionally been predicated on success in America and for that, a luxury coupé was highly desirable.  Continue reading “Coupé de Grâce”

Something Rotten in […] Denmark: The Baby Bentley

The quality of the interior has held up better than the quality of the concept of the Rover 827.

Image

Given the depredations of the Danish climate and the fact this car was assembled in the UK, today’s discovery, a Rover 827 coupe, has held up rather well. Goodness, the leather interior is even developing a patina which I used think was only possible on cars made before I was born. Continue reading “Something Rotten in […] Denmark: The Baby Bentley”

XJ-S: Reconvening the Committee (Part 2)

Two figures defined XJ-S’ aesthetics: we examine their methods.

jaguar xjs back end
Driven to Write is unable to locate the source of this image

Sir William Lyons not only founded Jaguar Cars but personally supervised all matters of styling. His approach involved working (alongside skilled technicians) from full-sized wooden and metal styling ‘bucks’ which once reviewed in natural light he would have modified until he arrived at a conclusion he was satisfied with. Continue reading “XJ-S: Reconvening the Committee (Part 2)”

Director! Memories of a Different Industry

Jensen Cars in the late 1960s

Town Without Pity 2

The only new car launch I have attended was in 1969. It took place in Harrods, and all I knew was that it was to be a Jensen. Jensen had introduced their Interceptor and FF three years previously, so I wondered what this could be. A four door version? A mid-engined sportster? A convertible? I was intrigued.

In the event, my anticipation was ill-placed. The launch was for the Jensen Director. This was an Interceptor, finished in a fetching blue, with an interior created under the direction of top yacht designer, Jon Bannenberg.  A car whose emphasis is on catering to business people might seem a bit odd today, since practically anything on wheels seems to try to give the idea that the driver has a rich and varied leisure life, to which their work is inevitably secondary. You might drive 1,000 km to that meeting in Munich, but only so that you can drop in to the ‘Ring on the way back. Back then business was more exotic. The Bristol was ‘The Businessman’s Express’. Top Fords were ‘Executive’. The idea of pounding along the M1, dictating letters, was sexy – you were building tomorrow. Continue reading “Director! Memories of a Different Industry”

Not For Sale: Car Museums

A sermon about why car museums are to be avoided if you like old cars.

Image source: The Truth About Cars

Every car museum I have visited in the last 2.25 decades has been a disappointment. Cars are inherently space-consuming selfish monsters and even when they are caught, killed and pinned to plinths this quality does not diminish. They need plenty of room, alive or dead.

Alive, the car needs sufficient space for portly passengers to Continue reading “Not For Sale: Car Museums”

The Vision Thing

Reassessing Chris Bangle’s Bayerische Motoren Werke Legacy.

Chris Bangle. Image credit: Innovation Management

Only a handful of individuals shape what we drive and by consequence, what populates our streets and driveways. Our current notions of automotive style were formed during the 1950s in the styling studios of Detroit and within the Italian carrozzieri, who fired imaginations and rendered dreams in hand-beaten alloy. For decades these designers and artisans were largely faceless men but during the 1980’s, the car designer emerged from obscurity and into the consciousness of the auto-literate.

But within another decade the reign of the Italian styling houses had reached its apogee and with carmakers moving to Continue reading “The Vision Thing”

Museo Nazionale dell’Automobile Torino

I visited here in 2011, just after it had re-opened following a complete restoration. 

It is a large and impressive museum, mixing the informative (exposed engines and bare chassis) with the glib (new Fiat 500s bursting through kitchen walls). But you need to get them in and presentation is important, especially if you are accompanied, as I was, by someone who does not find cars at all exciting. Continue reading “Museo Nazionale dell’Automobile Torino”

XJ-S: Reconvening the Committee

Part one:  Arguably the most misunderstood Jaguar of all time, Driven to Write seeks once and for all to put the ‘committee design’ assertion to rest as we assess the stylistic genesis of the 1975 XJ-S.

Jaguar-XJS-Red-Strip-1280x960%5B3%5D
Image: The Telegraph

In September 1975 the newly nationalised British Leyland conglomerate celebrated the Jaguar XJ-S’ launch at Longbridge, the traditional home of its volume car division. A worse time to launch a 150-mph grand turismo is difficult to imagine, to say nothing of the chosen setting. The venue was a calculated statement of power, British Leyland ensuring Jaguar’s beleaguered management and workforce knew exactly who was in charge. Continue reading “XJ-S: Reconvening the Committee”

Straight Eight – The Dilettante’s Viewpoint

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

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

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

Seven Degrees of Separation

Seven Degrees

My French teacher at grammar school, Mr Roberts, had a small collection of Austin 7s from the 1920s, which he alternated using as transport to work. I think that he considered me a bit of a prat (history might have vindicated him on some levels, certainly) and, sensing this, I reciprocated with contempt for his collection of little, old and, at the time, very cheap cars. In hindsight, I might have had a more rewarding time discussing the niceties of the Ulster, Ruby, etc with him and he might have decided that I had some redeeming features. I deeply regret my glib teenage contempt, though it was entirely my loss. He was right, I was wrong.

Continue reading “Seven Degrees of Separation”