Lost Legend (Part Two)

We continue the story of the Honda Legend, a car that will soon be consigned to history.

1990 Acura Legend sedan (second-generation). Image: hondanews.com

The second-generation Legend was launched in October 1990 in both saloon and coupé form. Surprisingly, given the relative youthfulness of the superseded model, the new car was not a reskin, but an all-new design which shared nothing with either it or its Rover 800 sibling.

The new Legend was a significantly larger car. The saloon’s wheelbase grew by a substantial 150mm (6”) to 2,910mm(1) (114½”), while overall length grew by 140mm (5½”) to 4,950mm (195”). The growth in size negated the possibility of a smaller, more tax efficient JDM version(2). The new model was now a more direct competitor for the BMW 7 Series and Jaguar XJ saloon.

The most significant mechanical revision was that the engine was now mounted longitudinally rather than transversely. Honda indicated that this layout was more conducive to achieving the best levels of mechanical refinement and minimising noise in the cabin. To Continue reading “Lost Legend (Part Two)”

Fanfare for the Common Van (Part 5): Long at Last

We conclude our Transitory aria.

Image: Ford Netherlands

In 1974, Ford at last gave serious consideration to a Transit replacement, instigating “Project Triton” by employing a French consultancy to produce studies for a new van to go on sale towards the end of the decade. The timing was inauspicious, in the midst of a global oil crisis and industrial and political turmoil in the UK.

Within the narrower confines of Ford of Britain, development of the strategically important Cargo medium sized truck range was running behind programme and over budget. Integration of the German and British operations was proceeding rapidly with priority for all resources going to the Fiesta supermini, the most expensive project in the history of the Ford Motor Company.

As Transit demand remained strong, it was decided to Continue reading “Fanfare for the Common Van (Part 5): Long at Last”

Lost Legend (Part One)

Honda recently announced that its flagship saloon will not be replaced when the current model is discontinued in March 2022. We remember the Legend.

1988 Acura Legend Sedan and Coupé. Image: curbsideclassic.com

The Honda Motor Company as we know it today was incorporated in 1948 and built its first complete motorcycle in the following year. Its rise thereafter was meteoric: just fifteen years later, Honda had become the largest manufacturer of motorcycles in the World. The company’s ambitious founder, Soichiro Honda, then turned his attention to automobiles and launched the T360 pick-up truck and S500 convertible sports car in 1963.

Although the diminutive S500 and 1970 Z360 / Z600 microcar achieved some export sales, it was the 1972 Civic that marked Honda’s arrival in the mainstream global passenger car market. This was a neatly styled front-wheel-drive B-segment model produced in three and five-door hatchback, saloon and estate versions(1). Its arrival coincided with the 1973 Middle-East Oil Crisis, which caused a huge increase in demand for small and economical cars, especially in the US. The Civic quickly acquired a reputation for excellent engineering, build quality and reliability(2). Continue reading “Lost Legend (Part One)”

A Smart Cut, or the Final Cut?

After decades of resolutely conventional if well executed D-segment offerings, Peugeot has tried something different with the latest 508. It deserves credit for doing so, but has the market recognised and rewarded its innovation?

2018 Peugeot 508  Image: ANE

For over a century, Peugeot has been the very essence of French conservative respectability. Its automobiles have, by and large, been well engineered, durable and reliable, with quietly elegant and unflashy styling. At the heart of its range has always been a medium / large saloon car, a natural and uncontroversial choice for middle-class professionals in France and beyond.

The post-WW2 series of such cars began with the Pininfarina styled 403 in 1955, a neat and contemporary looking RWD car with smooth ponton(1) styling. It was manufactured for over a decade in saloon, estate, coupé, van and pick-up versions and sold in excess of one million units. Continue reading “A Smart Cut, or the Final Cut?”

We Interrupt This Programme

Is that a gun in your pocket?

Image: Corrado Belli

The name of this vehicle has nothing to do with Auntie Beeb, being simply composed of the initials of Messrs. Beretta, Benelli and Castelbarco – all three of them distinctly Italian. The first two names will sound familiar as they are those of the arms maker and motorcycle manufacturer respectively; the third was a member of the Italian nobility.

Pietro Beretta had inherited the family company, founded in the 16th century, in 1903 but found his factories seized by the German army upon the allied invasion of Italy in 1943. When hostilities ended two years later there was understandably little demand for Beretta’s traditional offerings. Postwar Italy – its confidence, its infrastructure and its economy – had to be rebuilt and providing mobility for as many private individuals and businesses as possible was of course one of the vital aspects that needed to be addressed in order to Continue reading “We Interrupt This Programme”

Beyond Infiniti (Part Three)

We continue the story of Infiniti, Nissan’s troubled luxury brand, from 2010 to the present day and ponder its future.

2016 Infiniti Q30 (c) carmagazine.co.uk

Infiniti had spent its second decade rather more productively than its first and introduced models like the G35 compact premium saloon, coupé and convertible that were broadly class-competitive against their German rivals. However, sales growth still proved elusive. In 2010, Infiniti US sales were 103,411(1) vehicles, representing a 0.89% market share. In the same year, BMW and Mercedes-Benz were closely matched with US sales of 220,113 and 224,944 vehicles respectively, giving them market shares of 1.90% and 1.94%.

Infiniti’s Japanese nemesis, Lexus, edged ahead of the German duo with 229,329 sales, a market share of 1.98%. Even Acura outperformed Infiniti, with US sales of 133,596 vehicles, a market share of 1.15%. European sales for Infiniti in 2010 were an inconsequential 2,393 vehicles, representing a tiny 0.02% market share. Continue reading “Beyond Infiniti (Part Three)”

Beyond Infiniti (Part Two)

We continue the story of Infiniti, Nissan’s troubled luxury brand, as it enters its second decade.

2001 Infiniti Q45 (c) autoevolution.com

As the new millennium dawned, Infiniti found itself far adrift of its two Japanese rivals, Lexus and Acura, in the US luxury car market. This was largely a result of an unconvincing and substandard product line-up. The J20 compact executive, which should have been Infiniti’s volume seller, was a barely disguised Nissan Primera P11 and had comprehensively failed to attract buyers.

At the other end of its range, the Q45 was a bland and generic luxury saloon that was hugely outclassed by its competitors. The only bright spots in its range were the two mid-sized models, the I30 saloon and the QX4 SUV, both of which were little more than rebadged Nissans. Together, these two models accounted for 78% of the company’s sales in 2000.

Infiniti’s parent company, Nissan, was also in deep trouble. Facing a real prospect of bankruptcy, it had entered into an alliance with Renault in March 1999, with the intention of cutting costs by sharing development on new platforms and mechanical parts, while retaining their individual marque identities. There was little doubt as to which company was the senior partner: Renault purchased a 36.8% stake in Nissan, while the cash-strapped Japanese company could only promise to Continue reading “Beyond Infiniti (Part Two)”

Short Story (Part One)

Brevity is an art.

Image: The Author/ Encyclautomobile fr/ Wouter Huisman

Although a much less common course of action compared to stretching a pre-existing vehicle, several car manufacturers have at times explored this avenue nevertheless. There can be several reasons for this; the main ones being motorsports competition requirements, creating a smaller and cheaper entry level variant, responding to customer requests or complaints, and unique geographical market circumstances.

The just for fun variants are left out of the equation here, those (however amusing in some cases), for the most part being one-off amateur concoctions and mobile billboards. Continue reading “Short Story (Part One)”

Beyond Infiniti (Part One)

Nissan’s luxury brand is reportedly facing another reinvention as its long struggle for relevancy continues. We examine Infiniti’s chequered history and ponder its future.

1989 Infiniti Q45 (c) Nissan Heritage Collection

When Toyota launched its first Lexus LS400 in 1989, the automotive world was simply stunned by the ambition and audacity of the Japanese automaker. Previously best known for vehicles that were carefully designed, well-built and reliable, but largely uncharismatic, Toyota had created a luxury saloon that easily matched and, in a number of respects, surpassed the best that either Stuttgart or Munich could offer. It was good enough to Continue reading “Beyond Infiniti (Part One)”

Moving Down, Scaling Up (Part Three)

The 1963 Hillman Imp was Rootes’ answer to BMC’s Mini, but a latecomer to the market and, ultimately, a commercial failure. We conclude its story.

1965 Hillman Imp Mk2 advertisement (c) somethingawful.com

Autocar magazine had been given early access to an Imp De Luxe for testing and published its road test just a day after launch. The price including tax was £532, a £24 premium over the standard version. The reviewer praised the new engine’s smoothness, quietness and willingness to rev. They noted that, despite an unusually high 10:1 compression ratio, it ran without any trace of ‘pinking’ or ‘run-on’ on Premium(1) grade petrol.

The recommended top speed of 70mph (113km/h) was easily exceeded, and a maximum of 83mph (134km/h) was recorded one-way. The 0 to 60mph (97km/h) time was measured at 23.7 seconds. Fuel consumption over the course of the road test was 38.1mpg (7.4 L/100km).

No coolant temperature gauge was fitted, and the reviewer had to Continue reading “Moving Down, Scaling Up (Part Three)”

Moving Down, Scaling Up (Part Two)

Continuing our recollection of cars developed in response to the demand for smaller and more economical models. Today we feature the Hillman Imp.

Image: motor-car.net

In the 1950’s, the cars produced by the Rootes Group were the very embodiment of middle-class respectability. Brothers William and Reginald Rootes, with the backing of the Prudential Assurance Company and Midland Bank, had assembled a stable of marques, including Hillman, Humber, Singer, Sunbeam and Talbot, all of which occupied the broad middle market.

There were some distinctions between them; Humber was the more upmarket brand, whilst Sunbeam models had a slightly sporting appeal, but the differences were marginal and largely historic. What Rootes emphatically did not possess was a small car brand, or expertise in that segment of the market.

Rootes was also initially slow to Continue reading “Moving Down, Scaling Up (Part Two)”

Slegs Vir Suid-Afrikaners*

The South African variants.

Image: BMW SA/ Drive-my.com

The main reasons for certain countries to develop (or have developed for them), unique variants of established car model lines can roughly be traced back to tax laws, vehicle or traffic legislation and domestic motorsports homologation requirements. BMW is a brand that has sired several bespoke cars only available in certain markets. Italian and Portuguese legislation resulted in the E30-series 320iS which was fitted with a 2-litre version of the M3 engine, avoiding the severe tax hike for engines with a displacement exceeding 1999cc.

BMW South Africa gave birth to an E23-series BMW 745i with a different and arguably better engine than the 3.2 litre turbocharged six with which it was originally equipped (because the turbocharger got in the way of right hand drive conversion), and homologation rules put cars such as the E30-series BMW 333i on public roads, again in South Africa, which turned out to be a fertile ground for deviant model versions. Today, let’s Continue reading “Slegs Vir Suid-Afrikaners*”

Moving Down, Scaling Up (Part One)

Two European automakers entered the small car market for the first time in the early 1960s. Both cars featured a similar rear-engined layout, but only one can be judged a success. 

Image: stubs.centreblog

The 1950s was a decade of recovery for the economies of European countries that had been devastated in the Second World War. Increasing affluence put car ownership within the reach of families for whom this was never previously feasible. Much of Europe’s road network, however, remained primitive and relatively unsuited to large and unwieldy cars. The 1956 Suez Crisis(1), although a relatively brief event, also heightened the importance of fuel economy to potential buyers.

West Germany had its distinctive bubble cars, but these were regarded with some distaste elsewhere in Europe, being seen as unacceptably small and crude. It was the somewhat larger 1955 Fiat 600 that achieved an optimal mix of comfort and economy in a small car and provided a template for other makers to Continue reading “Moving Down, Scaling Up (Part One)”

Newsgrab

Reviewing the automotive week ending 25 June 2021.

Peugeot 308 SW. Image: autoitocka

It has of late become a little predictable to begin these (relatively) infrequent news-related pieces with the latest machinations of the Stellantis auto group, but that’s hardly my fault given that they are the only carmaker these days truly capable of genuine surprise. This week, the continent-straddling motor giant sprinkled a few more crumbs of their plans for Alfa Romeo, which are believed to encompass a range of three crossover CUVs – (small, medium and large), a Giulia-esque saloon and if the tabloids are to be believed, a coupé.

Speaking to journalists, Alfa Romeo’s new CEO, Jean-Philippe Imparato intimated that he was “very interested” in the idea of a GTV-badged model (a statement that could quite literally mean anything), but given how little actual detail he was prepared to reveal, the space for conjecture and wishful thinking to Continue reading “Newsgrab”

Quelle Quatrelle! (Part Two)

We conclude our sixtieth anniversary celebration of the Renault 4, France’s most successful car.

Image: lautomobileancienne

The Renault R4 was formally launched at the Paris Salon in October 1961(1) in base and L trim. The two versions were immediately distinguishable by the fact that the base model had no third light in the rear quarter panel, just a very wide C-pillar. The L version was priced at a premium of 400 francs (£29 or US $82) over the base model. Both shared the same Billancourt 747cc 26.5bhp (20kW) engine.

Also launched at the same time was the R3, which was similar to the base R4 but had a smaller 603cc 22.5bhp (16.8kW) version of the engine, which placed it in the cheaper 3CV taxation class. The R3 was targeted directly at the Citroën 2CV and undercut the entry price for the latter by 40 francs (£3 or US $8). Also unveiled was the Fourgonnette van version. This was identical to the R4 ahead of the B-pillars but had a large cube-shaped bespoke body aft of the pillars with a single, side-hinged rear door(2). Continue reading “Quelle Quatrelle! (Part Two)”

Quelle Quatrelle! (Part One)

The Renault 4 celebrates its sixtieth birthday. We salute a French automotive icon.

1961 Renault R4 Image: weilinet

Certain cars seem perfectly to encapsulate a vision of their country of origin. It is easy to imagine a gleaming black Mercedes-Benz S-Class carrying a German government minister or plutocrat along an Autobahn at great speed and in discreet, sybaritic luxury. Likewise, one can dream of a pastel-coloured Fiat Nuova 500 driven by a strikingly attractive olive-skinned young woman, nipping adroitly through the narrow twisting streets of a sun-baked Italian hillside village.

Less romantically, one can readily visualise a metallic grey Vauxhall Cavalier sitting at a steady 80mph in the outside lane of a British motorway under a leaden sky, its driver grimly contemplating another difficult meeting with his boss about his failure to Continue reading “Quelle Quatrelle! (Part One)”

Bulletproof, Baby

The art of protection.

Looks can be deceiving. Image: Motor1.com.

Well, you’ve made it. King of the hill, head honcho. Now to get the country sorted, getting to grips with the nitty gritty. But, you’ve made more enemies than friends getting here. Some of those policies have disgruntled the populace. Changing the whole economy didn’t help, nor banning Sunday morning lie-ins. And as for pulling out of the Tufty Club.

Fortunately, some bright spark in procurement realised you might Continue reading “Bulletproof, Baby”

The Future Started Here

From the most modest of beginnings, Audi has become an automotive titan. We remember where, and how quietly, it all began.

1966 Audi Super 90 (c) honestjohn.co.uk

If truth is the first casualty of war, then Audi was a close second in 1940. Having been subsumed seven years earlier into the Auto Union combine that also included the DKW, Horch and Wanderer marques, Audi’s presence in Germany withered away to an inconsequential 0.1% market share before the outbreak of hostilities.

Demand for its large if slightly idiosyncratic Front UW 225(1) saloon evaporated as a result of the economic privations of the 1930’s. Auto Union instead concentrated on small and economical two-stroke engined saloons carrying the DKW brand. The Front was succeeded in 1938 by a 3.3 litre six-cylinder RWD model, the 920, which was manufactured at the Horch plant and was an Audi in name only. The 920 was itself discontinued without a replacement in 1940.

When production resumed after the war, the company remained focused on building small cars under the Auto Union and DKW brands. Mercedes-Benz acquired a controlling stake in Auto Union in 1958, but failed to Continue reading “The Future Started Here”

Heroic Failure

A noble project to mobilise rural India safely, the Tata Nano was a failure. Today we examine the reasons why.

2009 Tata Nano (c) slideshare.net

The Tata Group is one of India’s oldest and largest industrial conglomerates. It encompasses a hugely diverse range of manufacturing and service companies, including steel, chemicals, consumer products, home appliances, energy, telecommunications, hotels, finance, investment and, since 1954, motor vehicles. Tata’s first domestically designed and built car was the 1998 Indica, a supermini-sized five-door hatchback that went on to Continue reading “Heroic Failure”

Born in the USA

The Euro-pick-up truck is unwell.

FORD Ranger. Image: What Car

Broadly speaking, we have a good deal to thank our American neighbours for in automotive terms, notwithstanding of course, the fact that some influences have been better received than others. Nevertheless, the automobile evolved more rapidly, and improved in ways we could scarcely have imagined largely due to US market forces. For instance, the modern styling studio was very much an American innovation, and it’s probably fair to say that nobody did more to Continue reading “Born in the USA”

Phoenix Follies (Part Two)

Today, we feature the CityRover, a cynical and poorly executed attempt to plug a perceived gap in MG Rover’s model range.

2003 CityRover (c) parkers.co.uk

In 2000, the newly independent MG Rover found itself without a contender in the sub-B city car segment. As the formerly BMW-owned Rover Group, it had continued to field a version of the long-running 1980 Austin Metro, subject of three major facelifts before being renamed Rover 100 in 1994.

Despite its antiquity, it remained popular, at least in the UK, where it was valued for its compact size and nimbleness. A disastrous Euro-NCAP crash test in 1997 however, where the 100 received a uniquely poor one-star rating for adult occupant safety, caused sales to collapse and the model was discontinued the following year. Continue reading “Phoenix Follies (Part Two)”

Going Up

Introducing the MegaPanda…

Emelba Chato. Image: Esacademic.com

After the fall of Generalissimo Franco’s regime, Spain became free in more than one way; its market could now be opened to more products and brands produced outside of the country. This revitalization of the market stimulated the foundation of many new businesses, of which coachbuilder Emelba was one.

Commencing operations in 1978, Girona-based Emelba swiftly developed close ties to the national car maker SEAT and started producing the SEAT 127 Samba for them – the Spanish sister of the Fiat 127 Scout. At the time the market for small utility vehicles in Spain was dominated by Renault (4 F4 and F6) and Citroën (Acadiane). Oddly enough SEAT never brought its own version of the Fiat 127 Fiorino to market, instead Emelba built the SEAT 127 Poker: a 127 with a Fiorino-like rear section but executed rather more crudely.

The 127 Poker was still more a worklike van than people carrier, prompting Emelba to Continue reading “Going Up”

Phoenix Follies (Part One)

At a crucial moment, and to the detriment of their mainstream business, MG Rover’s management squandered time and money on frivolous distractions.

2004 MG Xpower SV-R (c) topspeed.com

It had all started so well, or so it appeared. It was May 2000 and, after months of uncertainty and worry, Rover Group, the UK’s last remaining indigenous volume car manufacturer, was independent again and back under British ownership. Phoenix Venture Holdings, a consortium of businessmen led by John Towers, had secured ownership of the bulk of Rover for a nominal fee of £10 and negotiated a generous ‘dowry’ of £500 million from BMW AG. The German automotive giant was just relieved to Continue reading “Phoenix Follies (Part One)”

Understanding the Welsh Air. And Yoghurt.

Lucid dreams. 

Lucid Air. Image: yankodesign

We aim to make not only the best electric car but also the best car in the world.” This may sound somewhat boastful but the chap expressing these words has quite the curriculum vitae to back it up.

Peter Rawlinson began life in South Wales, raised and schooled in the Vale of Glamorgan, later graduating in Engineering at Imperial College, London. Jaguar employed his young talent, where he reached the heights of Principal Engineer before quitting to assist Lotus. During his stint at Hethel, Rawlinson managed to Continue reading “Understanding the Welsh Air. And Yoghurt.”

The Brakeman

Let’s slow things down for Sunday.

I’ve driven under this bridge many times in my home town. The bridge remains but the slogan, lost. Sheffieldhistory.co.uk

Ever since cavemen realised the wheel was more conducive to transportation, reducing vehicular speeds safely has been a problem, to say the least. Fine to get motion rolling but just how do you make that cart or wagon slow down and stop, preferably before the impending river/edge/group of people?

Boughs from trees, old boots, metal, bricks, rocks – all of the above have at one time or another been employed to Continue reading “The Brakeman”

Searching for the Next Big Thing

We recall three vehicles from different European manufacturers, each trying to offer a new twist on the large executive/family car formula, but all failing comprehensively to break the stranglehold of the status quo.

2001 Renault Vel Satis (c) Haessliche Autos

It is the Holy Grail for automakers: coming up with a design that defines a whole new automotive genre. You reap the rich rewards of first-mover advantage while your rivals struggle to catch up. Sticking your corporate head above the parapet of automotive convention is not without risks, however. For every Nissan Qashqai there is a Suzuki X90, selling in tiny numbers before being canned, then hanging around like a bad smell to remind the public how foolish you were.

To compound your embarrassment, it will also Continue reading “Searching for the Next Big Thing”

(Dis)missed Opportunity

Citroën suffocated France’s oldest carmaker in what seemed a needless fashion. Could it have ended differently?

Image: The author

At the official June 1963 presentation of what would be Panhard’s last new car introduction – the 24 – Jean-Pierre Peugeot was among the attendees. Having inspected the new car he took CEO, Jean Panhard aside and said to him: “How fortunate you are to have such talented designers – we’re forced to Continue reading “(Dis)missed Opportunity”

Z-List or X-Factor?

The Citroen ZX celebrates its thirtieth birthday in 2021. Will anyone remember to send a card?

1991 Citroen ZX Aura. Image: motorstown.com

The 1978 Citroën Visa came as a pleasant surprise to those who expected the Double-Chevron’s highly distinctive identity to be crushed under the weight of Peugeot’s conservatism and financial rectitude. Although heavily based on the Peugeot 104, the Visa retained more than enough Citroën quirkiness to be accepted as a spiritual heir to cars such as the Ami and Dyane. Likewise, the 1982 BX and 1989 XM models were both unlikely to be mistaken as anything but Citroëns.

Citroën had lacked a mainstream C-segment competitor since the demise of the GSA in 1986. It had hoped that the Visa and BX ranges might be stretched to Continue reading “Z-List or X-Factor?”

Best Bitter (3)

Third Pint (With Whisky Chaser): Still Bitter after all these years.

bitter
1987 Type 3 cabriolet.

Maintaining his interest in rally-inspired machines, another EB project was the Rallye GT. Observing there was a well of potential customers, not only younger but less well heeled than contemporary owners, his 1978 plan was also aimed at bringing financial stability. The Manta B offered up it’s floorpan and mechanicals for Eberhard Schultz, Gallion and Bitter to thrash out a design.

With its ideal front engine – rear wheel drive set up, Bitter planned to Continue reading “Best Bitter (3)”

Der Zenit (Part Two)

Mercedes-Benz would never build another car like the 1991 W140 S-Class.

1994 Mercedes-Benz W140 S-class (post-facelift)

European automotive industry watchers, motoring journalists and the public were amazed that Mercedes-Benz could launch such a large and profligate flagship in the teeth of an economic recession and growing environmental concerns. Journalists’ preconceptions and reservations about the size of the W140 were, however, seriously challenged when they drove the new S-Class. While they had expected that it would be beautifully built from the highest quality materials and would Continue reading “Der Zenit (Part Two)”

Best Bitter (2)

Second Pint: Bitter comes of age. 

Down but far from out, Bitter once again looked in Opel’s direction; the Diplomat having run its course, giving way to the Senator in 1978. Following two years planning and hefty external investment, the SC model was brought forth on the Senator platform. Assisting Bitter with production design were Opel stylists, Henry Haga and George Gallion; Bitter also enlisting Michelotti to assist with body detailing, while Pininfarina undertook wind tunnel tests. Quite what those at Cambiano made of the SC is unknown, especially considering this new upstart’s rather similar lines to Mr. Fioravanti’s contemporary Ferrari 365/400.

Initially offered with a 3 litre in-line six cylinder engine producing practically equal power and torque (180/182) the SC was treated to some tuning in 1983 by Mantzel who enlarged the GM unit to 3.9 litres and 210bhp. A no-cost option three speed automatic from GM was the preferred gearbox with a Getrag five speed manual only taken up by around forty customers. Top speeds approached 140 mph from the larger capacity engine.

Bitter had set up a new enterprise Bitter-Italia; and with the Baur build contract for the CD now ceased, Turin based OCRA was employed in their stead. Subcontracted to Continue reading “Best Bitter (2)”

Der Zenit (Part One)

The 1991 W140 S-Class was a technological tour de force, and possibly the finest car Mercedes-Benz ever made. Its arrival was also painfully mistimed. We remember the Uber-Benz on the thirtieth anniversary of its launch.

Mighty. Image: Australiancar.reviews

The arrival of a new Mercedes-Benz S-Class was always a seminal event for the automotive industry. It often heralded the introduction of new technology and safety features that would subsequently be adopted by other Mercedes-Benz models and, eventually, by its lesser competitors.

The 1959 W111 predecessor to the S-Class was the first car to feature a rigid passenger safety cell with front and rear crumple zones, to slow the deceleration that occurs in a high-speed impact and dissipate the kinetic energy released(1). In 1978, the W116 S-Class was the first car in the world to Continue reading “Der Zenit (Part One)”

Confounding Conventional Wisdom

For the past two decades, one manufacturer has proved that there is still significant sales potential in Europe for large mainstream saloon and estate cars.

2001 Škoda Superb Mk1 (c) drive2.com

At the dawn of the new millennium, the market for large non-premium saloon cars in Europe seemed to be in terminal decline. The traditionally big-selling Ford Granada/Scorpio series had ended production in 1998. The Rover 800 and Renault Safrane followed suit in 1999 and 2000 respectively. Sales of the Opel/Vauxhall Omega were falling precipitously, from 74,753 (1) in 1997 to just 15,542 in 2003, its last full year on sale. Like the others, it would bow out without a replacement.

Peugeot attempted to Continue reading “Confounding Conventional Wisdom”

Best Bitter

First Pint: The Bitter origin saga. 

All images (c) Bittercars.com

The world needs characters such as Erich Bitter. At 87, if the Westphalian runs on oil, he must have reserves aplenty, at least from wells of entrepreneurship and dogged determination. For without that close to wind, to blazes with millstones like finance and ruin, his dogged spirit and an array of automotive anomalies would never have been. Although that output may have been small in relative terms, his legacy (of which surprisingly large numbers survive) continues. Mind you, those seeking marriage or financial guidance might wish to Continue reading “Best Bitter”

Newsgrab

Reviewing the automotive week ending 7 May 2021.

“I see a little silhouette of car… Scaramouche Scaramouche, will you do the Škodango” The 2021 Škoda Octabia – or is that Corbia? Image: Drivespark

Say what you will about newly-forged Stellantis, but now that the reconstituted car giant has cleared its regulatory hurdles, it has hit the ground at a blistering pace – particularly on the new model front. Much of it of course being massively overdue, given the delays and re-organisation such a colossal enterprise necessarily entailed, and that is before we mention the malign effects of the pandemic, or the recent industry-wide shortage of micro-chips, the most recent frontier in the automotive industry procurement wars.

This week, as reported in Automotive News, CEO, Carlos Tavares told reporters from French publication, Le Point that it will no longer be necessary for Stellantis to Continue reading “Newsgrab”

The Machine That Changed The World

Twenty years ago a book revolutionised the auto-industry paradigm – for those who were paying attention at least.

Image: Simon and Schuster

First published in 1990, three enthusiastic researchers set about collating data related to how the motor industry operates, positing how to improve matters, espousing the principle of lean, over mass production. 

James P. Womack, Daniel T. Jones and Daniel Roos created the International Motor Vehicle Programme (IMVP) at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Not merely a database of who was building what and how many but a full in-depth analysis into the car making business. 

Funding for global research would be task number one. Limiting individual contributions to 5% of the $5M raised from global carmakers, component suppliers and governments, placing monies in just one account and openly inviting two-way correspondence guaranteed their independence whilst also nullifying any form of sponsored influence.

And their team went deep, from shop floor to boardroom, from Australian trade and industry to Volvo. Not wishing to Continue reading “The Machine That Changed The World”

Small Beginnings

Half a century ago, South Korea’s auto industry was in its infancy. We recall its inauspicious start and chart its early progress.

1975 Hyundai Pony (c) Hyundai Motor

With global sales(1) in 2020 of 6.52 million vehicles, Hyundai Motor is the world’s third largest auto manufacturer, behind Volkswagen Group with 9.31 million and Toyota with 8.90 million sales. Hyundai, which includes the Kia marque, overtook General Motors in 2019 and continues to move ahead of the troubled US giant, suffering less of a reversal in the Covid-affected 2020 market than either it or the two market leaders.

Fifty years ago, things were somewhat different. Hyundai was building just one Ford passenger car model under licence, while Kia was confined to building Mazda light commercial vehicles. Both manufacturers shared an ambition to Continue reading “Small Beginnings”

Dutch Treat

There were more strings to DAF’s bow than one might have imagined.

Image: The author,

Although small in stature, The Netherlands has given the world several notable innovations. The microscope, the orange coloured carrot, the stock market, the pendulum clock, total football, the anthem, the first modern world atlas, Bluetooth and WiFi, the artificial kidney and heart, not to mention cocoa powder.

But while the Gatso speed camera has been greeted with less cheer, the positives outweigh that negative by some margin. In the carmaking field however, the country’s track record has been less stellar. Even though luxury car maker Spijker was the first to introduce a car with six cylinders (and four wheel drive as well!) in 1903 with the 60HP, the company went bankrupt during the roaring twenties; and even if current CEO Victor Muller of the revived-since-1999 Spijker would have us Continue reading “Dutch Treat”

Variomatic for the People

Today we recall DAF’s sixteen years as a manufacturer of small passenger cars alongside the heavy trucks for which the Dutch company is famous.

1960 DAF 600 (c) reddit.com

Mention the name DAF to those interested in matters automotive and their mind will immediately turn to the heavy trucks that are a familiar sight as they carry freight across the length and breadth of the European road network. Based in Eindhoven, the Netherlands, DAF Trucks is a subsidiary of the US manufacturer, Paccar Inc, which acquired the Dutch company in 1996. Paccar’s US truck brands include Kenworth and Peterbilt. It also owns UK truck maker, Leyland, which it acquired in 1998. Paccar is one of the world’s leading manufacturers of medium and heavy trucks.

Some readers may Continue reading “Variomatic for the People”

Ford Rediscovers its Mojo (Part Two)

Concluding the story of the original Ford Mondeo and how it confounded the expectations of those who drove it.

1994 Ford Mondeo 2.5 V6 Ghia (c) carsnip.com

The launch of a new Ford was always big news in the UK, so it fell to BBC Top Gear motoring journalist Jeremy Clarkson to pronounce upon the Mondeo. Clarkson tested the car in 1.8 litre manual four-door saloon form shortly after its launch in March 1993. He was underwhelmed by the car’s appearance but impressed by both the interior design and quality of finish.

However, he criticised the cabin space, which he described as merely “adequate”, and noted a shortage of headroom in models fitted with a sunroof. Clarkson remarked favourably upon the car’s “vast” boot, which could Continue reading “Ford Rediscovers its Mojo (Part Two)”

Ford Rediscovers its Mojo (Part One)

The Ford Mondeo will soon be consigned to automotive history. Today we recall the 1993 original and how it confounded the expectations of those who drove it.

Understated: 1993 Ford Mondeo five-door (c) honestjohn.co.uk

Ford recently surprised nobody(1) by announcing that the Mondeo will be discontinued without a direct replacement in March 2022. The D-segment saloon, hatchback and estate has fallen victim to a fatal cocktail of countervailing forces that reduced European sales to just 21,222(2) in 2020. This is a far cry from the model’s heyday in the 1990’s when annual sales exceeded 300,000 units. Its North American equivalent, the Fusion, was discontinued in July 2020.

The Mondeo was initially hit by the encroachment of smaller premium models, which could be had for similar monthly leasing payments to the mainstream Ford, thanks to their stronger residuals. Company car drivers and personal contract purchasers, who comprised the vast majority of Mondeo customers, were happy to Continue reading “Ford Rediscovers its Mojo (Part One)”

Across The Pond Part Two. The Story of Uncle Tom

The first modern motor journalist? In praise of Thomas Jay McCahill III.

Tom McCahill. Image: Simanaitissays.com

Part of every dollar goes into the redesigning and styling pot, in an attempt to make your current car look doggy, outdated. It’s a successful trick that closely borders fraud.” These words from possibly the last known living descendant of the Scottish highwayman, Rob Roy. And if, as Henry Ford proclaimed that history is bunk, the story of this particular fellow could as easily be a work of fiction.

Thomas Jay McCahill III was once America’s foremost automotive journalist with a character as large as his substantial six foot two, 250 pound frame. The grandson of a wealthy lawyer, he graduated from Yale with a Fine Arts degree (possibly English, his story changed over time) and was surrounded by the automobile – his father had Mercedes-Benz dealerships.

Taking on two garages of his own, the Depression excised the McCahill wealth, leaving him destitute in New York. That city’s Times newspaper carried an ad for an Automotive Editor at Popular Science with a remit firmly stating: simple technical review, no brand names. McCahill’s sarcastic leanings, mentioning those taboo brands got him the sack only to be hired the very same day as a freelance writer with rival magazine, Mechanix Illustrated.

Keen to use his new position to Continue reading “Across The Pond Part Two. The Story of Uncle Tom”

Under the Knife – Taking Care of the Pennies

A smart re-skin and an even smarter nip-and-tuck kept the 1972 Ford Granada at the top of its game for thirteen years.

1973 Ford Granada Ghia (c) aronline.co.uk

In the 1960’s and 70’s Ford of Europe was the master of value engineering, designing cars that were highly attractive to potential buyers, but engineered to be little if at all better than they strictly needed to be. The 1962 Ford Cortina Mk1 was just such a car. It was a simple, light and efficient design and it effectively killed off the cumbersome, complex and heavy 1961 Consul Classic after just two years on the market(1).

The Cortina’s winning formula was reprised in 1968 with the Escort, another light and efficient design that was simple to build and was tailored to appeal to a wide range of customers via an extensive range hierarchy comprising basic, luxury and sporting variants. Likewise, the 1969 Capri, which easily shrugged off the Cortina in a party frock jibes because it looked great and gave customers exactly what they wanted.

There were missteps too, notably the 1966 Mk4 Zephyr / Zodiac. The lower-line versions were fitted with a new V4 engine, but the designers wanted a long bonnet as they believed that this was a signifier of power and prestige. Harley F. Copp, an American Ford design engineer on secondment to Brentwood to Continue reading “Under the Knife – Taking Care of the Pennies”

Classic Error

The 1961 Consul Classic and Capri were a rare market failure for Ford in Europe. We remember them on the 60th Anniversary of their launch.

(c) Ford.co.uk

Ever since the days of the Model T, Ford had developed an enviable reputation for delivering cars that were finely attuned to the perceived wants and needs of the automotive market. Moreover, the company was a master of what one might call value engineering, the art of designing cars wholly to satisfy the market whilst rarely challenging those expectations through new or radical innovations in format, engineering, equipment or styling.

Generations of Ford owners were able to Continue reading “Classic Error”

Robert Opron – In Memoriam

By their works you will know them…

Citroën CX. Image: likewheels

On the 29th March, automotive designer, architect and artist, Robert Opron departed this life, aged 89. According to an obituary published on the Citroenvie website, while he was believed to have been in failing health, the cause of death was officially attributed to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

Opron’s career was by most accounts illustrious – having enjoyed an early stint at Simca (1958 – 1960), it would encompass lead design roles at both Citroën (1962 – 1974) and Renault (1975 – 1984), in addition to some fruitful later work as a freelancer for centro stile FIAT in the late 1980s/ early 1990s. However, his legacy, especially at the latter two more storied French carmakers, was abruptly truncated – in the former case by his flat refusal to Continue reading “Robert Opron – In Memoriam”

A Longer Read: Six Decades of Separation

The author charts the evolution of BMW’s design over the past sixty years and laments the dismal state it is in today.

1962 BMW Neue Klasse 1500 Saloon (c) wheelsage.org

In the late 1950’s BMW was a company in deep financial trouble. It had been posting losses for a number of years as an increasingly affluent West German middle-class turned away from its motorcycles and Isetta bubble car but could not afford its 501 luxury saloon.

Moreover, the BMW 507 roadster, although beautiful, had proved financially ruinous for the company. Only 252 roadsters were produced over three years in production between 1956 and 1959. It was virtually hand-built and, even at a price of almost $10,000 (equivalent to $97,400 in 2021) in the US market for which it was primarily designed, BMW lost money on every single one sold. Consequently, the company posted a loss of DM15 million in 1959 and found itself on the verge of bankruptcy.

Daimler-Benz considered what would effectively have been a takeover of its troubled Bavarian rival. A proposal for a merger was tabled, but this was rejected by BMW’s shareholders. Instead, it was the Quandt family, whose wealth derived from a wide range of industrial holdings, that came to the rescue and recapitalised the company. A plan was formulated for a product-led reinvigoration of BMW. Continue reading “A Longer Read: Six Decades of Separation”

A Poor Round

The jury may still be out on the Mk8, but most commentators would adjudge the 1991 Mk3 to be the poorest articulation of the qualities that made the Golf into an automotive phenomenon over the past five decades.

Tepid: 1991 VW Golf Mk3 GTI (c) volkswagen.com

The 1974 Volkswagen Golf Mk1 was a simply brilliant car. In retrospect, however, it appears to be something of an outlier in the eight-generation history of the model. When one thinks of Volkswagen’s C-segment stalwart, the characteristics that come immediately to mind are the high quality of its design, engineering(1) and build, its sober, timeless styling that eschews fads and fashion, good (but not outstanding) dynamics and most importantly, the quiet self-confidence, perhaps even bordering on smugness, it instils in its owners. Golf ownership says: “I could have spent more, but why would I?” 

Unburdened by any of this later baggage, the Golf Mk1 was more Italianate than Germanic in character, with its sharp Giugiaro styling, lightweight construction, and peppy and eager (if noisy) engines, to the extent that nobody would have been surprised if it had emerged as Fiat’s hatchback replacement for the 128(2). It also shared another less desirable Italian characteristic, a propensity to Continue reading “A Poor Round”

Pampas Troika

Not everything is what it seems at first glance: Citroën 2cv derivatives from the fertile South American lowlands.

IES America. Image: (c) Etienne Musslin

Founded in 1959, Citroën Argentina S.A. initially assembled vehicles with parts imported from France. The A-series Citroëns produced at the plant located in a southeast barrio of Buenos Aires named Barracas were mostly identical to their French sisters although the 602cc engined version was renamed 3cv, and featured a fifth door hatch which the European 2cv would only receive many years later.

The A-series models made in Barracas were the 2cv, the 3cv and 3cv in the fourgonette (van) version. Starting in 1964, Citroën Argentina began to manufacture the 425cc engine for the 2cv themselves. In 1969 production was expanded with the Ami 8, followed by the Méhari in 1974; production of the GS being contemplated but never materialised because of the large investment required.

As the end of the decade neared, the changed political and economic situation due to the national reorganisation process (known as proceso) under junta leader Jorge Videla made Citroën decide to Continue reading “Pampas Troika”

I Want To Make A Car

Small yet mighty.

Image: classiccarcatalogue.com

Those enigmatic words once spoken by Carl Borgward when asked about the enthusiastic, engineering-driven young fellow’s aspirations, when older. Whilst this technically minded and for a good while, financially successful man’s eponymous car building history is well documented, we deal today with yet another post-war side line to his empire; that of the car small in name but mighty in stature – the Goliath.

With his Bremen factories – appointed to the German war effort for various armaments – destroyed by Allied bombing, Borgward rose from those ashes with determination. More so after his two year incarceration by the Americans for assisting the enemy – not that he had much choice in the matter. Assessing that the population had little to no interest in anything ostentatious, he realised the opportunity to Continue reading “I Want To Make A Car”

An Uncharacteristic Misstep

A rare market failure for the Volkswagen Group, the 1988 Corrado was a victim of poor product planning rather than its own shortcomings.

1988 Volkswagen Corrado (c) classics.honestjohn.co.uk

Volkswagen’s product planning is the very epitome of Teutonic efficiency and timing. It is difficult to think of an instance when the launch of a new model was greeted with anything like surprise, never mind delight, such is their predictability.

Within the wider Volkswagen group, the other marques have occasionally surprised us with their debutantes: Škoda’s 2006 Roomster and 2009 Yeti arrived during an era of unprecedented and welcome creative freedom for the Czech marque. SEAT’s wholesale switch to monobox vehicles, heralded by the 2004 Altea and Toledo, was brave left-field thinking, if ultimately a dead-end in both creative and sales terms. Continue reading “An Uncharacteristic Misstep”