Le roi est mort, vive le roi!

The proud, if patchy tradition of the French grand tourisme didn’t quite end with the Citroën SM. 

(c) Houtkamp.nl

The French relationship to automotive luxury is similar to how Germans deal with fine food. Just as those stemming from east of the river Rhine tend to be more willing to spend a fortune on engine lubricants, rather than extra virgin olive oil, their more occidental counterparts usually gain more pleasure from visiting a fine auberge on a regular basis than a car showroom or garage. How he or she gets to said auberge is a secondary concern, too.

Yet, just as there are Germans who care deeply about fine food (Fritz Eichbauer being a particularly striking example of this), the French aren’t totally immune to the charms of decadent motoring either, as the erstwhile success of proud names like Bugatti or Facel proved. It was only some time after the war, and due in large part to stringent domestic luxury taxation, that the French GT found itself on the wane. Continue reading “Le roi est mort, vive le roi!”

Weekend Reissue : Filigree and Shadow

A tale of the diamond and the chevron.

(C) wikipedia

As automotive aficionados, we accept and embrace the backstories which sit behind the cars we choose immortalise, yet as with most aspects of life, the people behind these vehicles are often themselves at least equally compelling when viewed from a narrative perspective.

Rivalries between carmakers frequently loom large over marque iconographies: General Motors versus Ford, Austin and Morris during the pre-war era in Britain, or indeed, BMW and Mercedes in more recent times. However, for a great many years, an equally compelling battle of wills was said to have played out in France between Louis Renault and André Citroen, with both carmakers seemingly hell-bent to Continue reading “Weekend Reissue : Filigree and Shadow”

Flirting With Distinction

We look back at the car that started the whole Distinctive Series debacle – was it really ten years ago?

So much going on to so little effect. (c) dieselstation

This is twice as much as what we aimed for, the DS line is a huge success,” Citroën’s Frederic Banzet told Automotive News in 2011. And for a time at least, it did appear as though Groupe PSA had pulled off a marketing masterstroke, with DS3 sales at one point accounting for a quarter of the volume for the entire C3 range.

It wasn’t as if the DS3 was necessarily a bad idea. The market for small upmarket  B-segment hatchbacks had been dominated by BMW’s MINI brand and certainly, there was a decent slice of that market to be had – with the right product. PSA’s difficulty was twofold: the lack of a competitive platform and more fundamentally its fundamental neglect of the Citroën name, which had been allowed, if not actively shoehorned into a low-transaction price, value-led cul-de-sac. Continue reading “Flirting With Distinction”

Goodyear? For Some (Part One)

We rarely notice them, but they’re the only things which keep us in contact with the road surface. In a new series for DTW, Andrew Miles gets up to his neck in the black stuff.

Charles Goodyear offers a rubber napkin. (c) Flickr.com.

Charles Goodyear died in debt. Frank Seiberling did no such thing. What links the two is a story of endeavour, brutality, aggressive tactics and a whole host of honest “Ites”. Oh, and a rather large balloon.

The tyres on all our road vehicles today are, in the main, synthetic rubber * Oil and various chemical compounds are brewed together in order to Continue reading “Goodyear? For Some (Part One)”

The Alfa Romeo Experimental Wankel Engine Programme

Tales from futures past: the Alfa Romeo engine you’ve never heard about.

Display parts leftover from the Alfa Romeo Wankel programme (picture from the Author)

During the entire Sixties decade, the rotary engine as conceptualized by the German inventor Felix Wankel and developed by NSU became something of the auto industry’s darling: compact, light, powerful yet smooth, and made of few moving parts, it looked like the future.

No car company wanted to Continue reading “The Alfa Romeo Experimental Wankel Engine Programme”

Summer Reissue : With All Due Acclaim

Triumph’s far-East hybrid-swansong receives the Longer Read treatment.

(c) cosasdeautos

It is possible to argue that despite a track record of producing frequently ground-breaking, if sometimes ill-judged and inadequately realised car designs, the various iterative companies that eventually became the Austin Rover Group enjoyed greater commercial success (and profit) from producing vehicles of a more conservative technical composition.

Equally debatable is the notion that successful carmakers rarely fall prey to over-estimating the intelligence or discernment of their customer base, and certainly in BMC/BLMC/BL/ARG’s case, a case could be made that in doing just that, they were in fact acting against their own best interests. Continue reading “Summer Reissue : With All Due Acclaim”

Can You Handle This?

I don’t think you’re ready: Was the 2009 5-Series GT too ‘bootilicious’ for its own good?

(c) moibbk.com

Looking back at matters from the distance of a decade, it does appear that niche-filling was the post-millennial pastime du-jour for the automotive industry – at least for those cash-rich and expansionist prestige German carmakers who weren’t busily reinventing them. BMW were somewhat late to this particular party, albeit having introduced the vulgar and corpulent X6 SUV fastback in 2008, they hadn’t exactly been idle.

During the protracted run up to its 2009 introduction, the Bavarian carmaker made much of their forthcoming Progressive Activity Sedan, but when the covers came off the PAG concept, earlier that year, the reaction was let’s just say, somewhat tepid.

Like Mercedes’ 2006 R-Class, the 5-GT was aimed at buyers who wanted to Continue reading “Can You Handle This?”

The Forgotten Alfa

Among the cars that turn 40 this year, there is the most misunderstood and underappreciated Alfa Romeo ever: the Alfa 6. It’s about time to set the record straight on Arese’s failed “ammiraglia”.

“Series 1” Alfa Romeo Alfa 6 (picture from the Author)

Presented to the international press on the shores of Lake Como in the spring of 1979, the Alfa Romeo Alfa 6 (yes, that is its actual name) has been mostly forgotten by everyone bar the most hardened “Alfisti”. That shouldn’t come as a surprise, given that in period the Alfa 6 was mostly ignored by its target market.

Alfa Romeo planned to sell 10,000 Alfa 6 models each year, of which 7000 were expected to be absorbed by the Italian market. The company eventually managed to sell 12,000 over an entire production span of seven years! Continue reading “The Forgotten Alfa”

Summer Reissue : 75 into 190

Reflecting upon the 75’s younger, leerier brother.

MG-ZT. (c) autoevolution

The Rover 75 is one of those cars which will probably form the basis of reflection and examination for decades to come. On paper at least, perhaps the most comprehensively realised Rover Group product of all, yet it proved to be a flawed product, courtesy of its problematic K-Series power units and what transpired to be a somewhat quixotic marketing proposition.

But I have not gathered you together today in order to Continue reading “Summer Reissue : 75 into 190”

Summer Reissue : Joking Aside

The Yaris was one of Toyota’s better efforts. It still looks good today.

The Yaris was previewed by this 1997 Toyota Funtime concept. autowp.ru

Toyota signalled a stylistic change of heart at the 1997 Frankfurt motor show when they presented the Funtime concept, a cheerful looking five door hatchback marking a significant departure from the rather anonymous looking Starlet, which by then was being left behind by the increasingly sophisticated and considerably more modernist European opposition.

A more Euro-centric design both in conceptual and stylistic terms, it was introduced in production specification the following year at the Paris motor show. Intended to Continue reading “Summer Reissue : Joking Aside”

Best Of The Bez

Intended as the crowning glory of a newly-independent, never-more-glamorous Aston Martin, the One-77 turned out to symbolise something else entirely. 

photo (c) Bonhams

2007 must have been a year of triumph for Dr ing Ulrich Bez. Over the course of the previous seven years, the German engineer and Aston Martin managing director had turned an outdated, but well loved marque trading on past glories and an awful lot of goodwill into a serious prestige sports car brand. On top of that, he’d overseen the sale of the company from Ford to a consortium backed by Kuwaiti investors. Bez was now no mere executive henchman anymore. He was the true boss.

After having spent most of his career playing second fiddle (most notably to his direct superior at BMW, Wolfgang Reitzle, who’d also hired Bez to run Aston Martin during his brief stint in charge of Ford’s Premier Automotive Group), Bez had become the undisputed boss of not just any old business, but a company that had refused to Continue reading “Best Of The Bez”

Space Oddity

Audi’s A2 confounded the buying public and lost its maker billions, but it was a stellar achievement nonetheless. 

(c) bilmodel

Carmakers are for the most part, pathologically averse to matters of risk – and for good reason. The costs of failure can be ruinous. For instance, a cogent argument could be made that Fiat Auto never recovered from the commercial failure of their 2003 Stilo programme, precipitating a decline from which they have never recovered.

Not so Audi, nestled safely within the VW Group mothership, and for decades now, a significant profit centre within the vast German multi-brand automotive titan. Nevertheless, the luxury carmaker is no stranger to the bitter tang of failure, or its financial cost.

Twenty years ago Audi announced the A2, a revolutionary and futuristically styled monopod aimed at elevating the Ingolstadt carmaker’s perception as technological pioneers. Six years later, it was summarily axed, following losses which amounted to around €1.3 bn*, having failed to Continue reading “Space Oddity”

Bringing Home the Bacon

We’re pleased to welcome another reader turned author. Andrew Miles makes his DTW debut. 

The Hammel car. (c) Wikipedia.com

I love cars. I’m proud to say that they’ve dominated my forty eight years of life. From childhood memories of bashing up Matchbox (c) cars, gaining that hallowed piece of paper allowing me to drive on the queen’s highway and onto only recently discovering this site, it’s been quite a journey and one I’m hopeful of continuing for some time yet.

It is the way my car interest has diversified over time that continues my fascination and finds ever differing avenues to pursue. From motor racing in general to specific drivers. From specific brands such as Jaguar or Rolls Royce for example to focusing on but a handful and delving into their designers, methods, history. That final word is key. Continue reading “Bringing Home the Bacon”

Jim Randle 1938-2019

Today we remember former Jaguar technical director, Jim Randle in the words of the man who perhaps knew him best.

Jim Randle. (c) Steve Randle collection

My Dad, Engineer Jim Randle, died at home on the 6th July after a prolonged battle with cancer.

Jim served his apprenticeship at Rover, where the P6 2000TC was his first major project. He then moved to Jaguar, where he was swiftly promoted to Head of Vehicle Development. As a boy I often accompanied him to his office in the corner of the development shop at Browns Lane on a Saturday morning. Continue reading “Jim Randle 1938-2019”

Summer Reissue : Peak Bristol

The Bristoliste’s Bristol? The 411 turns 50.

Bristol 411 Series 5. Image: (c) bristolcars

The Bristol Motor car, from its 1948 inception has always proven to be a rarefied and somewhat piquant recipe. Because for every individual who admires and covets the earthbound products of Filton, there are those who find them ungainly, crude and overpriced. But even amongst the former group, there are Bristols and there are Bristols.

Like so many articles of faith, aficionados of the marque tend to Continue reading “Summer Reissue : Peak Bristol”

Denied: Porsche Boxster Concept

The Porsche Boxster we ultimately received in 1997 was quite unlike the Porsche Boxster we were promised in 1993. 

DSC_0367.jpeg
(c) Auto-Didakt

Porsche has become so synonymous with success over the past two decades, it’s easy to forget that the erstwhile sports car maker form Stuttgart Zuffenhausen was on the brink of bankruptcy more than once.

On one such occasion, in the early 1990s – amid a significant recession, on top of internal issues (such as poor productivity and ageing products) – the powers that be at Dr. Ing. h.c. F. Porsche AG decided that the then-current range of products overstretched the company’s resources and therefore wouldn’t be replaced like-for-like.

The evergreen 911, incidentally the newest and best-selling model at the time, was to stay, but the 968 2+2 and 928 GT were to be axed. In their place, Porsche wanted to Continue reading “Denied: Porsche Boxster Concept”

Unsightly Shutline Syndrome

Today, we’re pleased to introduce DTW reader, Bruno Vijverman, who poses a question which has been bothering him of late. 

Image: Author’s collection

Bill Mitchell considered the 1965 GM cars to be his best work. And he may very well have been correct: The already beautiful Buick Riviera’s styling was cleaned up with the hidden headlights it was always supposed to have, the Chevrolet Corvair was restyled in a faintly Italianate fashion, while the regular Chevrolets had a more dynamic and flowing look if compared to the somewhat boxy 1964 models.

The same could be said of the other full-size offerings from Oldsmobile, Buick and especially Pontiac. The GM flagship Cadillac was of course also fully restyled for 1965, and is generally regarded as a handsome, and in view of the era and fashion, relatively uncluttered and cleanly styled car.

I also like the 1965 Cadillac. Apart from one thing: the weird trajectory of the shutline between the front and the rear door on the four-door models. Since this caught my eye I cannot Continue reading “Unsightly Shutline Syndrome”

Summer Reissue : Gear Change

A timely reminder of a fine but forgotten Honda concept leads your correspondent into a bout of fruitless hand-wringing.

2013 Honda Gear concept. (c) autos.ca

Before continuing, I am impelled to point out that I deserve no credit for highlighting this vehicle once more. It was fellow scribe, R. Herriott (currently en vacances) who first brought the Honda Gear to our attention during DTW’s formative months in 2014. I should also make clear that it is purely coincidental (if convenient) that this piece appears the same week that Honda invited journalists to sample its forthcoming electric-drive E model.

More on that in a moment. But first I invite you to Continue reading “Summer Reissue : Gear Change”

Il Designer Dimenticato

The secretive nature of a car designer’s job makes it very difficult to give credit where it’s due, to the point that actual authors of celebrated design icons often remain unknown, even among enthusiasts.

1948 Ferrari scale drawing: The signature of Federico Formenti is clearly visible (c. Petrolicious)
1948 Ferrari scale drawing: The signature of Federico Formenti is clearly visible (c. Petrolicious)

This sad, age-old state of affairs is particularly unfair in the case of Federico Formenti, quite possibly the greatest car designer you’ve never heard of. While the mention of the name “Carrozzeria Touring” is likely to send most car enthusiast’s minds fantasizing about graceful, elegant mid-20th Century cars, it’s far less likely said enthusiast will know that those timeless beauties were mostly designed by one man.

Continue reading “Il Designer Dimenticato”

Ode to Joy

A mad niche car or a CUV pathfinder? We examine the Honda HR-V.

Better as a 5-door? (c) autoevolution

Had we realised how the mainstream motor vehicle would evolve over the intervening time, we might have paid a little more attention to the announcement of Honda’s HR-V, an event which occurred all of twenty years ago. As it was however, the automotive press were content to file it with all the other amusing, if slightly lightweight offerings from the more whimsical side of the Japanese automotive juggernaut.

The HR-V, which rather un-memorably stood for High Rider vehicle was previewed in mildly conceptual form at the 1998 Geneva motor show as the even more memorably coined J-WJ, where the positive reception was said at the time to have stiffened Honda’s resolve to Continue reading “Ode to Joy”

The Fourth Letter

The relative conventionality of the Delta dismayed marque aficionados in 1979, but it would go on to embody marque values of both performance and commercial longevity far beyond its seemly narrow remit. 

(c) Weilinet

The old guard was falling away. After a decade on sale, Lancia’s entry level Fulvia Berlina ceased production in 1973. The patrician compact saloon had proven a modest commercial success in its native Italy over that period, appealing to those who had both the means and the discernment to appreciate a such a finely wrought and technically noteworthy vehicle.

But while its mechanical specification left little to be desired, the level of complexity it incorporated would not square with that of Lancia’s new owners, who were masters of cost-control. Furthermore, its uncompromisingly rectilinear three-volume style had become widely viewed as outdated.

While legions of Lancisti will most likely Continue reading “The Fourth Letter”

Summer Reissue – Daily Grind

The last traditional Peugeot saloon marks its 40th anniversary this year. We look back at the 505.

(c) autoevolution

The final flowering of a fine tradition, the 1979 Peugeot 505 marked the last generation of rear-wheel drive saloons to emerge from Sochaux. A late ’70s update of the popular and durable 504 model, the 505 cleaved so closely to its predecessor’s conceptual template those of a more cynical mien could scarcely Continue reading “Summer Reissue – Daily Grind”

Leap of Faith

It was brave, it was a failure and its fate was etched in Jaguar’s past. 

(c) barrettjaguar.com

Acts of creative reinvention are rarely acknowledged at the time of committal, being far more likely to be misunderstood and derided by those whose expectations were, for a variety of reasons subverted or otherwise denied. Brave or foolish? There is a fine line which separates both polarities, because inevitably, whenever these adjectives are appended to matters of a creative nature, it tends to be connected to its failure.

The X351-series Jaguar was a brave design, attempting to break from the creative straitjacket the over-familiar, and overworked XJ silhouette had evolved into. But now, a decade on from its Summer 2009 debut, and with the curtain soon to fall upon its production career, we can Continue reading “Leap of Faith”

Denied: Lancia Kayak (1995)

More than two decades ago, two proud nameplates in the process of losing their lustre joined forces to create a splendid concept car perfectly in tune with its time. 

1995_bertone_lancia_lancia_kayak_01
Tasteful pensioner’s car, photo (c) carstyling.ru

During the mid-’90s, car buyers and enthusiasts were in an unashamedly romantic mood. Roadsters and coupés were the kind of niche models devised not just to polish a marque’s image, but to actually sell and earn money. Peugeot’s splendid (Pininfarina-designed and built) 406 Coupé being a particularly resonant example of this phenomenon.

In those days, Lancia not only offered a full range of models, but the marque’s image hadn’t been tainted quite beyond repair either. The recently launched Kappa executive saloon and second-generation Delta hatchback may have constituted the first steps of Fiat Auto CEO, Paolo Cantarella’s ambition to Continue reading “Denied: Lancia Kayak (1995)”

Ventiquattroporte

The history of Maserati’s Quattroporte model line is as intriguing as it is diverse. 

(c) hiclasscar

To most people with an interest in automobiles, the Maserati Quattroporte needs no explanation. The moniker itself may be even older than that of the Mercedes S-class, yet longevity serves, at best, as half an explanation for the strength of the Quattroporte nameplate. Particularly as, in time honoured Italian fashion, there’s little continuity and wildly varying flair to Maserati’s successive four-door super saloons. Yet ‘a Quattroporte’ always remained a statement car. For one reason or another.

Continue reading “Ventiquattroporte”

The Road to Dalmatia

The Driven to Write’s predilection for all things Lancia is known and quantified. Today’s offering however is unquestionably topshelf material. 

(c) Servizo Stampa Lancia

Amid the many series-production outliers the fabled Torinese shield and flag emblem has adorned over many decades, the Flavia Sport from carrozzeria Zagato is perhaps the most visually outré and certainly amongst the most scarce, with only 629 built in total.

First introduced in prototype form in 1962, it was the final and most exotic flowering of the coachbuilt Flavia line, following the 1960 in-house berlina, the Vignale-bodied convertible and Pininfarina’s four-seater coupé – all of whom bore some passing resemblance to one another. But not only did the Flavia Sport Continue reading “The Road to Dalmatia”

Porte de Javel

Another stylistic dud from the pen of Marcello Gandini, the technically advanced 1974 Maserati Quattroporte expired at birth. We chart its brief life.

1974 Maserati Quattroporte II. (c) carstyling.ru

When the Maserati Quattroporte was introduced in 1963 it became the first Modenese four door super-berlina, offering well-heeled customers the space and practicality of a sedan with the dynamism and vivid performance of a grand turismo. In 1969 however, production of the model ceased, with close to 800 built – a commercial success by Casa del Tridente standards.

A significant cultural shift was taking place at Viale Ciro Menotti by this time – Automobiles Citroën having acquired control of the Modenese carmaker the previous year. With work quickly progressing on a new sub-3.0 litre V6 engine for the double chevron’s forthcoming grand turismo, Maserati engineering chief, Ing. Giulio Alfieri seemingly took a long hard look at Quai de Javel technology, in particular Citroën’s decision to Continue reading “Porte de Javel”

Learning Japanese

Forming the subject of our Sunday deliberations this week takes the form of a Japanese lesson with Toyota’s Carina II (or should that be Corona?) 

1988 Toyota Carina II: DTW

On one hand this last of line survivor lends a somewhat poignant reminder to how our streets and towns used to look. On the other however, it illustrates a curious anomaly in Japanese carmaking. Because unpicking Toyota’s naming logic is something akin to obtaining a working knowledge of Oriental algebra.

The car we in Britain and Ireland remember as the Carina was in fact offered in some markets as a Corona, and in others as a Celica Camry. The Carina as we first came to know and broadly ignore is believed to Continue reading “Learning Japanese”

Darwin’s Estate

What happens when a subspecies falls prey to evolutionary overspecialisation? The 2008 Ford Flex is what happens.

Post-facelift Flex (c) cargurus

When J. Mays took over from Jack Telnack as Dearborn’s styling supremo in 1997, his avowed aim was to re-emphasise Ford’s homegrown product identity, appointing former Volvo design chief, Peter Horbury in 2004 as Executive Director for design with responsibility for FoMoCo’s cache of US brands.

By mid-decade, it had already become apparent that the US market was losing its appetite for minivans, but Ford, like most of its domestic rivals lacked the market foresight to Continue reading “Darwin’s Estate”

Every Day Is Judgement Day.

Continuing our meditation on the Austin Maxi and Fiat 128, some thoughts prompted by encounters with two survivors.

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The two cars pictured were photographed in the last 12 months. As well as being impressively original and looking as if they work for a living, they’re also examples of the last of their breeds.

The Maxi is one of the final ‘Maxi 2’ iteration, introduced to a largely indifferent world in August 1980, just 11 months from the end of production. The bright colour – ‘Snapdragon’ in BL parlance – suits it well. Far too many Maxis were specified in Russet Brown, Damask Red, or hearing-aid beige (formally known as “Champagne”), 1950s colours two decades on, in a time when BLMC’s Austin Morris colour pallet suddenly became positively vibrant. Tellingly, the archetypal Maxi customer avoided Bronze Yellow, Limeflower, or Blaze Red. Continue reading “Every Day Is Judgement Day.”

Just Like The December Coronation

We’re back at the anniversary game again for this Saturday morning. Is it really forty years since the Opel Kapitan, Admiral and Diplomat cars first appeared (in their “B” incarnations)? No, it´s fifty.

KAD-B-Baureihe: source.  Look at those wheels.

I must confess that this anniversary did not leap into my conciousness unaided. The people at Oldtimer Markt did the classic-car world the service of putting the 1969 K-A-D cars on the front cover of the current edition of magazine. I am sure you all knew the cars were from around the late 60s. But did you know they they staggered on until 1977? That was the same year you could buy a Citroen CX, a Ford Grannie Mk 1, a Peugeot 604, a Lancia Gamma, Rover SD1 (if you were a sucker for pain) or a Mercedes W-123.  Only an actual Cadillac could Continue reading “Just Like The December Coronation”

On My Horsey

Everybody needs a hobby. 

Horses for courses. Pre-facelift B9-series A4. (c) Motortrend

To the casual viewer, it’s probably fair to say that the DTW offices are a rather sparse affair, lacking as they do much in the way of space, comfort or ambience – especially since our Editor-At-Large accidentally set the place alight a few months back. However, there is one item which not only survived the conflagration, but remains hard-won and much fought over. The Driven to Write hobby horse.

Earlier in the week, one of our readers appeared to take exception to our coverage of the newly refreshed Audi A4. I assume the individual in question perceived an element of prejudice on our part, a certain doing-down of the Teutonic big-three, or perhaps a labouring of a point previously made. But in the absence of clarification, one cannot be certain.

I’m perhaps not the best-placed individual to Continue reading “On My Horsey”

Tin Machine, Tin Machine, Take Me Anywhere

It has been thirty years since the Citroen launched the XM, on this day in 1989. On sale for 11 years and out of production for nearly twice as long, that makes it a real antique, doesn’t it.

1990 Citroen XM V6

(There are now people around who may never have seen an XM in motion, anyone born after 1999, I suppose.)

It is something of a pleasant coincidence (for me) that the self-titled album by Tin Machine came out just one day before Citroen announced the CX´s replacement. If Tin Machine was David Bowie’s way of getting back to what he most wanted to do, the XM presented another step towards watering down Citroenisme.

In the long game of a professional musician at Bowie’s level, Tin Machine was a necessary experiment, a form of throwing paint around and casting off unwanted rules. It was a step toward something else. For Citroen, the XM was claimed to Continue reading “Tin Machine, Tin Machine, Take Me Anywhere”

What’s It Going To Be Then, Eh?

Unusually for the company, BMW’s large coupés have traditionally been rather fickle creatures. 

BMW 3.0 CS, photo (c) mazda3revolution.com

The success of the German car industry is founded upon consistency and evolution. BMW is no exception, as exemplified by its core 3 and 5 series models, which have rarely deviated from the proven and tested formulae.
While other BMW models haven’t been as consistent and successful what with the 7 series never quite recovering from the after effects of the very disruptive E65 generation, it’s the brand’s large coupés that have been by far the most systematically unsteady. Continue reading “What’s It Going To Be Then, Eh?”

128 vs Maxi Part 4: The Racehorse and the Donkey

We return to our analysis of the 50-year old Austin and Fiat contemporaries with a look at their engines. One was the work of a revered racing engine designer, the other was cobbled together by two capable engineers in the backrooms of Longbridge under the thumb of an unsympathetic boss with his own peculiar agenda.

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On paper a conservative design, the Maxi’s E series engine turns out to be downright odd in its execution. It evolved from a 1300cc prototype with a belt-driven overhead camshaft, one of many experimental designs being developed in the West Works at Longbridge. Long-serving engine designers Eric Bareham and Bill Appleby were handed the task of reworking the inchoate power unit into an engine suitable for BMC’s new mid-range car.

More capacity was needed, so it was bored out to accommodate 3 inch pistons, leaving no space for waterways between bores or any further outward expansion. Issigonis vetoed belt drive for the camshaft in favour of a traditional single-roller chain, on the reasonable grounds that belt technology was new and unproven at the time. Continue reading “128 vs Maxi Part 4: The Racehorse and the Donkey”

128 vs Maxi Part 3 : Spring Song

We return to our two stars of the spring 1969 season with a look at the different approaches to chassis design adopted at Longbridge and Lingotto.  One car defied convention, the other defined the new orthodoxy.

Image: BMC

Raw facts first:  The Fiat 128 uses MacPherson struts at the front, with coil springs and a transverse anti-roll bar, and a fully independent system at the rear, comprising a transverse leaf spring, struts, and a single wishbone per side. The Austin Maxi has Hydrolastic springing and interconnection, with upper and lower links in a parallelogram arrangement at the front, and fully trailing arms at the rear.

That disregards the detail, which is significant in the understanding of the designers’ mindsets. Continue reading “128 vs Maxi Part 3 : Spring Song”

Welsh Invader

Unicorns do exist. I ran into one yesterday. Unusually, it bore a dragon upon its nose.

DTW

Car manufacture is difficult, expensive and potentially ruinous, so if you’re going to embark upon it as a career, it’s probably best to carry out the exercise within proximity to others engaged in similar activity, for the purposes of logistics, not to mention access to the requisite know-how. But not everybody cleaves to the safety of numbers.

It’s tempting for the writer to stoop to cliché when one speaks of the harp-shaped hills and valleys of Wales, but moreso is the habitual expressions of surprise, tinged with latent snobbery uttered by auto journalists at the mere notion of a Welsh car manufacturer. The very idea. But why not there, as anywhere else?

Probably the only carmaker to Continue reading “Welsh Invader”

128 vs Maxi Part 2 : Function over Form

We continue our look at the spring 1969 debutants, contemplating heady matters of gestalt

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The rather Lancia Beta-like profile rendering from the early stages of BMC’s ADO14 project shows considerable promise. Too short in the nose, probably at Issigonis’ prompting, but otherwise elegant in spite of the ‘carry-over’ 1800 doors. So what went wrong along the road to BLMC’s five-door fiasco? Continue reading “128 vs Maxi Part 2 : Function over Form”

Gran Illusion

Farewell Gran, I didn’t even know you were gone.

(c) BMW

As a younger man, I used to marvel at the enthusiasm with which my more elderly relatives would pounce upon the obituary section of their local newspapers. At the time it seemed a rather morbid pasttime to seek out those amongst one’s number who had most recently entered the spiritual realm, but as I’ve entered middle age and become a little more empathetic, (not to mention closer to time’s scythe), I’ve realised that this habit stems more from a not unreasonable concern that a neighbour or acquaintance might Continue reading “Gran Illusion”

128 v. Maxi Part 1 : Last Tango of the Titans

A little over 50 years ago, two of Europe’s leading automotive businesses introduced a pair of rather utilitarian cars to the world. One was hugely successful and influential, the other turned out to be a prophet with little honour in its own time.

In bombastic terms, there’s a ‘clash of giants’ story to be told. Issigonis v. Giacosa. BLMC v. Fiat SpA. Maxi v. 128. It’s not quite ‘rumble in the jungle’, but a comparison tells a lot about the way things were done at Lingotto and Longbridge.

In a curious coincidence, the Austin Maxi and Fiat 128 were the last cars developed by their lead designers which reached production, although Issigonis’ input to the Maxi project was sporadic and remote.

In Dante Giacosa’s words, “On 3rd January 1970, the chequered flag signalled my arrival at the finish of my career”. He had reached the age of 65, and resigned in compliance with company rules. Continue reading “128 v. Maxi Part 1 : Last Tango of the Titans”

Saving Grace – Part Seven

Some words from the gentlemen of the (mostly) UK press. 

(c) Company Car

With Series III a reality, if a somewhat limited one, the UK automotive press wasted little time getting to grips with a series of well-prepared press cars. Car magazine’s Mel Nichols was let loose in an XJ12 in March ’79, observing, “[T]he Jaguar is so controlled, so full of poise… It didn’t take too many miles on winding country roads to convince me all over again that nothing offers such ride comfort with such dynamic ability.

Later that year, coinciding with the introduction of Mercedes-Benz’s sector-defining W126 S-Class, Nichols ranged another XJ12 from Jaguar’s press fleet against the overwhelming superiority of Stuttgart-Untertürkheim’s flagship. No rational person on earth would Continue reading “Saving Grace – Part Seven”

Way To Blue

A thirty year-old concept from Ghia comes of age. Perhaps?

(c) old concept cars

It has been stated before upon these pages : The future of the distant past looks considerably more futuristic to our eyes now than that of its more recent equivalent. By way of illustration I urge you to Continue reading “Way To Blue”

Saving Grace – Part Six

Today we interrogate Jaguar’s quality claims, explore Browns Lane’s engine policy – and indulge in a spot of counter-factuality.

(c) Auto-Didakt

Unreliable and unjustifiable, its cars had become a laughing stock, its management a comedy and its accounts a tragedy. Only when it began to take itself very seriously indeed, to cultivate the quality it had previously scorned did things change…” (LJK Setright – Car 1986)

It has been retrospectively stated that the Egan-led quality drive was more illusory than real, which is perhaps a little unfair to the huge effort from all concerned. There was however, in Egan parlance, perhaps a little more sizzle than steak to it. Nevertheless, the reforms had a basis in fact and if the JD Power statistics were any guide, it’s evident that Jaguar made significant strides in this area.

In 1983, BMW’s Eberhard von Kuenheim toured the Browns Lane facility. What he made of it is undocumented, but he must have been, to say the least, given to Continue reading “Saving Grace – Part Six”

A-Game

Mercedes has brought its predator face to the C-segment and is devouring all before it. Is the A-Class becoming an unstoppable force?

Predator. In yellow. (c) Mercedes.com

There is a certain point in most career arcs where things begin to go somewhat awry. Sometimes it’s a blip, a momentary reversal or poorly judged decision, quickly righted. But for others, it’s a full-blown meltdown. After all, success can frequently be its own undoing. This is certainly true of Germany’s three upmarket car brands, who it can probably be safely said to have been in the throes of a full-blown stylistic mid-life crisis for some years now.

It is perhaps therefore fitting that being (arguably) the first to Continue reading “A-Game”

Saving Grace – Part Five

“We had a modern, world-class car before. All we had to do was to improve quality and reliability.” (John Egan – 1982).

(c) Jaguar Cars

It was dubbed ‘The Egan miracle’. The turnaround which saw Jaguar go from loss-making irrelevance (in the region of £20 million in 1979), ripe for closure, to media darling and example to all of how failing businesses could be transformed by effective management.

And Egan was effective. Aided by a store of goodwill that existed for the marque within the broader automotive industry, amid the car-buying public, from the workforce itself and within certain quarters of the unwieldy BL leviathan, the ambitious Lancastrian came with proven managerial qualities, enthusiasm and a burning drive to Continue reading “Saving Grace – Part Five”

Vroom for Improvement

The Allegro 3’s ad budget was as limited as the facelift it represented.

(c) carter collectibles on twitter

It’s not what it looks like. It isn’t my intention to cast over-ripe foodstuffs in the unfortunate Allegro’s direction; after all, why add to the sum of opprobrium already flung its way? Indeed today’s subject for discussion is not really the Allegro itself, rather the manner in which BL’s marketing department elected to Continue reading “Vroom for Improvement”

Maxi Twist

Austin’s ill-starred 1969 confection still casts a max-sized shadow.

(c) wroom.com

History judges Austin’s ill-drawn hatchback pioneer harshly. Its orthodoxies tell us ADO14 was a terrible motor car; ungainly, ill-conceived, introduced with a litany of serious flaws, thereby failing to even approach its commercial aspirations. Its introduction was repeatedly delayed, with serious concern being expressed over its styling, driveability, power output, commercial viability and basic fitness for purpose.

For the second time since the two businesses were merged, Leyland’s Donald Stokes took the momentous decision to Continue reading “Maxi Twist”

Saving Grace – Part Four

Understanding the background to Jaguar’s 1979 annus horriblis.

(c) Jaguar Cars

The Castle Bromwich paint debacle crystallised the manner in which the relationship between Jaguar and its adoptive parent broke down in the years following its absorption into British Leyland; one characterised by unwarranted interference and lack of meaningful communication on one hand and distrust, insubordination and outright defiance on the other.

The roots of this go back to the creation of the car giant in 1968 – a piece of well-meaning, government-led commercial engineering. Much like a certain latterday piece of political engineering currently paralysing Britain’s political establishment, the BLMC experiment was undeliverable, but more fundamentally still, should probably never have been attempted in the first place. Continue reading “Saving Grace – Part Four”

Always Crashing in the Same Car

The Triumph TR7 Convertible embodied the BL charter in microcosm. 

(c) Car Magazine

If only this could have been the TR7 that was launched five years ago instead of the poorly-assembled and inadequately developed Speke-built versions that so quickly acquired a tarnished reputation.” [Howard Walker, Motor – August 30 1980.]

If only. Those two simple words perhaps most poignantly encapsulate the British Leyland charter. Because amid the egos, the politics, the industrial strife and lost hopes chiselled onto BL’s cenotaph, there were also well-conceived, rational motor cars which deserved a better fate. Continue reading “Always Crashing in the Same Car”

Saving Grace – Part Three

For a ‘hapeth of tar… (or in this case, paint).

As you know, the quality of a car really starts with the body. Get the body right and you get the paint right. Get the body and the paint right and everything fits.” [John Egan – Motor, August 1980].

What would become the epicentre of Series III’s existential maladies lay North West of Browns Lane, opposite the Grade A listed Fort Dunlop tyre factory in the district of Erdington, on the outskirts of Birmingham. The Castle Bromwich facility, built by William Morris, was completed in 1940 as a wartime shadow factory for large-scale manufacture of Spitfire fighter aircraft. Over half of the total compliment of Spitfires flown were constructed there.

Post-War, it was purchased by Pressed Steel Fisher as a ‘jobbing shop’ producing bodies in white (unpainted shells) to highly variable standards for a number of domestic manufacturers, Jaguar included. It was entirely reasonable for BL to Continue reading “Saving Grace – Part Three”