Trafic

A Frenchman’s Vision of the Motorised World

Image: BFI

Monsieur Hulot is the creation of Jacques Tati, who in this 1971 film plays a car designer for Altra, a small Parisian manufacturer. Hulot is a tall, greying haired, bumbling yet loveable fool of advancing years. Dressed in a lightweight faded beige overcoat, grey slacks that are too short, revealing yellow socks with black hoops, Hulot’s character is defined by the ever-present furled umbrella on his arm, a never-lit pipe and battered trilby. His walk and general mannerisms are exaggerated, adding further comedic demeanour to the film’s storyline. Hulot rarely speaks and when he does his speech is almost imperceptible.

The film begins within the Renault factory; shots of panels being pressed (one wrinkled door pressing halting the process), tyres on overhead gantries, almost complete Renault 16s followed by a cinemascope of hundreds of completed cars. The film then cuts to the bustling, chaotic Altra atelier. The hapless workforce in paint splattered or filthy overalls aimlessly fuss about, not at all desperate it seems to Continue reading “Trafic”

Big Star

The Apex of full-sized Mercedes coupés.

Image: favcars

During the 1970s, when the engineers at Daimler-Benz’s Sindelfingen nerve centre were in the driving seat, Mercedes could be relied upon to do things properly. For if their cars were mostly on the large side – often somewhat heavy-jowled – they were mostly fit for their purpose, whether intended for the commercial trades, for plutocratic conveyance, or simply chariots of the indulgent.

Research and development was key to the three pointed star’s pre-eminence. Mercedes engineers not only worked through what ever technical challenge they were attempting to overcome, but also considered all of the alternatives – frequently going so far as to Continue reading “Big Star”

Changing Perspectives

The passage of time is not always enough

Image: the author

Sometimes, ideas for DTW contributions can come out of nowhere. While looking up some comparison data for a totally unrelated (automotive) subject, one of the brochures I consulted was of the 1993 Lincoln Continental. 1993 happens to be the year that I visited the USA for the first time – a car brochure exchange partner that I had been sending parcels back and forth with for years had invited me, and the fact that I was welcome to stay at his place in Indianapolis markedly softened the financial impact of the relatively expensive flight.

I would return the favour a few years later; being the same age and sharing at least one major interest, this was often repeated, and we never failed to Continue reading “Changing Perspectives”

Savannah Postcard (6)

Here is the X-series Touring Sedan, or XTS. The vehicle could be found in Cadillac showrooms between 2013 and 2019. During my time in Savannah I saw just one, pictured today.

Cadillac XTS side view, October 2022

The production run puts that of its peer, the last Lincoln Continental into sharp relief, a car when launched in 2017 lacked the will-power to Continue reading “Savannah Postcard (6)”

No Rest for the Deceased

Rover disinterred the MGB in 1992 to produce the RV8. It was something of an anachronism, but did what was expected of it.

Image: autoexpress.co.uk

The later chapters in the history of MG sports cars are well known to followers of DTW and do not make for happy reading. Starved of the resources needed to develop proper successors, MG was forced to limp along with only minimal modifications to both the Midget and MGB throughout the 1970s, the most notable being the rubber bumpers and raised ride height(1) introduced in 1974 that ruined both the appearance and handling(2) of the cars.

Both models struggled on in much diminished form until production finally ended in late 1980 with the closure of the MG Abingdon factory. Perversely, it was the commercial failure of the Triumph TR7 sports car that was cited as one reason the MGB had to go, because it was accused of cannibalising sales of the TR7(3). In any event, MG was reduced to Continue reading “No Rest for the Deceased”

Midship Triptych

Three brochures for the X1/9 illustrate Fiat’s differing marketing approaches.

All images: Driven to Write
All images: Author’s collection.

Editor’s note: This piece was first published on Driven to Write on march 1st, 2017. 

Despite having an instantly recognisable house style, FIAT Auto’s 1970s brochures were often rather stark looking affairs. Studio shots, no background and just the facts. For an economy hatchback or suchlike, there was an element amount of logic to this approach, but for what many dubbed a Ferrari in miniature, it risked underselling what was at the time a unique proposition.

Conceived to replace the popular Fiat 850 Sport Spider, the 1972 X1/9 would prove long lived. Claimed figures vary but at least 160,000 were produced over a 17-year lifespan. The story goes that faced with the likelihood of FIAT taking production of the 850 Spider’s replacement in-house, Nuccio Bertone pushed for a mid-engined concept, ensuring that his business would Continue reading “Midship Triptych”

A Holly Blue for Me and For You

The subject of today’s text represents the very epitome of the overlooked combined with invisible. Perhaps that could be a bit unfair.

About 32 years ago the E100 iteration of the Corolla sprang into the world, the seventh generation of Toyota’s workhorse, butter-and-bread mainstay. It carried over a lot of the more angular predecessor, but in a more rounded and contemporary form. This allowed customers to Continue reading “A Holly Blue for Me and For You”

Fika Off*

Opening a new coffee jar should be a pleasant experience

Image: Volvo.com

September 2022 saw the millionth electric powered vehicle registered in the UK. According to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), practically a quarter of a million leccies were registered in the same year. Consider that the overall year to date figures includes over 85,000 hybrids of one form or another, along with 91,000 petrol driven machines. Favourite of old, diesel, mustered just over 10,000 sales, a sign of the times when overall sales are expected to encroach on 1.4 million cars for the year.

The UK’s top spot has been a race between the Liverpudlian Vauxhall Corsa and Newcastle’s Qashqai – 29,000 units each with the bronze headed to the blue oval’s Puma, an increasingly popular sight, especially in lime green.

Mike Hawes, SMMT Chief Executive observed, “September has seen Britain’s millionth electric car reach the road, an important milestone in the shift to zero emission mobility. Battery electric vehicles make up but a small fraction of cars on the road, so we need to ensure every lever is pulled to Continue reading “Fika Off*”

Small Wonder

Alchemy, à la Turin.

Image: Road and Track

The Autumn leaves were still carpeting the streets as the motor show stands were being dismantled at the Torino Esposizioni. November 1968 found Nuccio Bertone a worried man. Having grown his business substantially, not simply as a design consultancy but also as a contract manufacturer, Gruppo Bertone, like all satellites orbiting amid Italy’s car industry during this fecund period, was heavily reliant upon the patronage of the domestic OEM manufacturers, and in particular, the Jovian mass of FIAT SpA.

The source of Nuccio’s concern was the advent of Turin carmaker’s new for 1969 128 model. This technically advanced front-wheel drive saloon, enthusiastically received by press and buying public alike, would become a core model line, and spearhead FIAT Auto’s efforts to Continue reading “Small Wonder”

Shelby’s Oriental Fling

An unlikely but effective pairing that was sadly short-lived.

Image: channel-auto.com

Had Carroll Shelby ignored Lee Iaccoca’s advice, he might have amassed even greater financial wealth. In the latter half of the 1960s, Shelby, the gritty Texan and former racecar driver, was approached by Toyota of America and offered the company’s distributorship for his home state. Shelby’s auto business was certainly in those days relatively small in scale and to represent a foreign carmaker with big plans would be no small undertaking. Consequently, Shelby thought it wise to consult his friend, Lee Iaccoca, to see what he thought of the idea. Iaccoca’s advice was to Continue reading “Shelby’s Oriental Fling”

Are You Sure You Know What You’re Doing?

Is fettling a lost art?

Author’s collection

In a recent piece on the Austin Healey ‘Fright’, DTW Author, Robertas Parazitas made an interesting observation. “In the post-war period, and long after, Britain was a nation of tweakers, tinkerers, fixers and improvers …. I would contend that it was a practical manifestation of the democratic intellect of the nation’s people, most particularly young working men who would enthusiastically Continue reading “Are You Sure You Know What You’re Doing?”

A Lovely Frock, but Late to the Party

Lovely to look at and not without merit, but the market was moving on.

Image: autocar.co.uk

If one could distil and bottle the very essence of French middle-class conservatism and respectability, the label on the bottle would undoubtedly read ‘Peugeot’. Over its long and illustrious history, the French automaker’s products were well-engineered, durable, rational and sensible above all else. Peugeot was not a company given to flights of fancy or wilful self-indulgence. Even its coupé models were characteristically understated and practical conveyances. All apart that is, from the car we are examining today.

The Peugeot RCZ was first unveiled in June 2007 as the 308 RCZ Concept alongside Peugeot’s newly minted 308 production models. The RCZ was designed to be an image-builder for the mainstream C-segment hatchback and estate, and the 308 was a car that certainly needed some help as far as image was concerned – for it was an unfortunately flaccid and over-bodied looking thing, aesthetically inferior in every way to its better looking 307 predecessor. The RCZ was shown alongside the 308 at the latter’s formal launch at the Frankfurt Motor Show in September 2008. Critical reaction to the 308’s styling was mixed to say the least, but the RCZ received widespread acclaim. Continue reading “A Lovely Frock, but Late to the Party”

1976 Ferrari 400 Review

Prancing horse or lame nag? Archie Vicar samples Ferrari’s 4-seater oddity.

Image: (c) Ferrari.com

From Motor Enthusiast, October 1976. Photos by Edward Blayliss. Owing to the excessive lens flare of the original photography, stock images have instead been used.

Editor’s note: This period review was originally published on DTW in November 2013.

It’s quite peculiar to review a car that already exists. As the only motoring writer in Britain who has been permitted to officially test drive Bristol’s new four-seater, the 603, I can reveal Ferrari’s 400 GT (an evolution of the previous 365 GT4 2+2) is the same car but worse. Far be it for me to criticise the long, hard lunches put in by Mr Ferrari’s assistants, but the 400 GT is a rather poor show. And Bristol’s car, despite its slightly brash Chrysler lump, trumps the 400 GT in every major respect.

Let us Continue reading “1976 Ferrari 400 Review”

Small, but a Big Personality

The author recalls his ownership of a far from perfect but still charming MG Midget.

Image: the author

Although I couldn’t have known it at the time, moving to London in the spring of 1986 would prove to be a major landmark in my life. I had spent the previous two years working in Belfast but for compelling reasons, both professional and personal, I decided that, at the tender age of 25, it was time for me to strike out on my own and see if I could make a life for myself in one of the world’s great cities.

My arrival in London was, to say the least, inauspicious. I pitched up in a hired Austin Montego estate car, packed to the gunwales with all my worldly possessions. A friend had kindly offered me lodgings while I arranged something more permanent. I had already secured a job, working for one of London’s blue-blooded merchant banks. Unlike my job in Belfast, this did not come with the benefit of a company car, so that was an immediate priority for me. Continue reading “Small, but a Big Personality”

Anti-Cyclone Hartmut*

From Russia with Renault.

Image: caradisiac

Best get this beast out the room, sharpish. A mere four years ago, Renault’s international plans were expectantly grand. A car was co-developed, launched and expected to sell in large quantities within the French car maker’s then second largest market, Russia. As part of the Renault Drive the Future plan, Arkana was all set to bolster figures in that region alone by some half a million units. Plants in both the capital and at Togliatti geared up for a 2019 Russian release, with the rest of the world to follow soon after.

Engines specific to the CIS region along with a drivetrain robust enough for typical local road surfaces were prominent Moscow car show features. Let’s Continue reading “Anti-Cyclone Hartmut*”

Elemental Spirit Part 7: Molestam Senectutem

Dodgem city, here we come…

Image: veikl

In May 1974, the little sports car we all still called the Spridget reached its sixteenth birthday. Its presents were belated by a few months, not arriving until October, and were of the sort that a polite mid-teenager might outwardly welcome with smiling gratitude, while being internally aghast.

Its in-house rival – perhaps, in teenage-speak, its frenemy – gifted a new engine. Newness was a relative term in this case. The Triumph SC engine originated with the 1953 Standard 8, Standard-Triumph’s deservedly successful response to the Austin A30 and Morris Minor. Like the completely unrelated Austin A series, it had started out with a mere 803cc, but had the space to Continue reading “Elemental Spirit Part 7: Molestam Senectutem”

Japanese Delights

Weird wipers, helium gas gyroscope-operated early navigation systems and a horny knob: welcome to Japan.

Image: Nissan Motor Company

For a westerner or gaijin, visiting a big city in Japan for the first time is at first a mildly confusing experience (as well as an often amusing one) filled with sensory delights in many senses of the word. Strolling outside the familiar surroundings of your internationally styled hotel, it doesn’t take long to discover that this is a different world; high tech and traditional values and customs go hand in hand, thereby creating a unique atmosphere.

If your hotel is located centrally, you will inevitably Continue reading “Japanese Delights”

Maranello Old Master.

The romantic’s Ferrari.

Image: (c) Ferrari.com

Marque iconographies can be somewhat unhelpful at times. Being so one-dimensional, it often requires an effort of will in the observer to see outside of their often-rigid narratives. The mythology surrounding Ferrari for example has become so infused by images of crimson-red racing cars and strumpet-Berlinettas that it is possible to neglect the fact that the less strident grand turismo was an intrinsic part of Maranello’s arsenal, almost from the outset.

Indeed, such machines were once the Scuderia’s primary source of income, and the primary means by which the racing cars were funded. Nevertheless, the road-going Ferraris occupied only as much of Enzo Ferrari’s thinking as was strictly necessary. He had them built, his wealthy customers would purchase them at suitably eye-watering prices and that was that. The Commendatore condescended to Continue reading “Maranello Old Master.”

Der Fünfer (Part Two)

Concluding the story of the BMW E12-generation 5 Series.

Image: autoevolution

The new 5 Series received a generally positive if not euphoric reception from the automotive press. With its 2-litre four-cylinder engine, it was not powerful enough, even in fuel-injected form, to exploit fully the capabilities of its chassis, and the engine itself was somewhat lacking in refinement when pushed hard.

BMW answered these criticisms in 1973 with the introduction of the 525. This was fitted with a straight-six SOHC engine with a capacity of 2,494cc which produced maximum power of 143bhp (107kW). Stiffened front springs and a thicker anti-roll bar were fitted to counter the extra weight of the engine. The 525 was fitted with disc brakes on all four wheels. Power steering and a limited-slip differential were now on the options list. Badging apart, the only external identifier for the new model was a subtly different bonnet: the 525 had a slightly raised centre section instead of the slightly indented section on the 520.

Car Magazine published its first impressions of the 525 in October 1973 and these were very positive: “the sheer performance was predictable, but the smoothness, flexibility and sweetness of [the] package was more of a surprise. It will potter along at very low speeds in top, rarely needs anything lower than third once on the move and will storm to over 120mph with beguiling ease.” The reviewer went on to Continue reading “Der Fünfer (Part Two)”

Savannah Postcard (5)

We are looking an E-body car, a twelfth generation Cadillac Eldorado.

With the benefit of hindsight and also seen at the time, the transformation of the 1986 Eldorado into the 1991 really must have been a socker. For almost twenty years the Eldorado sported a formal, near-vertical rear window. Then in 1991 Cadillac asked its customers to Continue reading “Savannah Postcard (5)”

Sketches of Andalucía [4]

No backward glances in this final sketch. 

Better from a distance. How much of a distance? Oh, the other side of the street would about do it… All images: The author

If the casual reader was to view the previous posts in this series as a barometer of the local vehicle population in this part of Southern Spain, they might be forgiven for believing that people here were trapped in some bizarre thirty-year time warp. In fact, modern machinery by far outweighs the old timers, as one might reasonably expect.

Those more familiar to the site will probably Continue reading “Sketches of Andalucía [4]”

Atomic Element 13

Placed Under Duress – an X1/9 like no other.

The Superlight now resides at the Volandia Museum near to Milan’s airport. Images found onXwebforums.com
The Superlight now resides at the Volandia Museum, near Milan’s airport. Image: Xwebforums.com

Cars are expensive for a reason. When shelling out the hard-earned one expects the thing to function, which calls for a punishing test regime to iron out defects. Nothing new there but almost forty years ago, plans were afoot to structurally place aluminium in a car almost at the end of its production life – introducing the Bertone built X1/9.

Wishing to demonstrate proof of concept, Canadian company Alcan[1] turned to Bertone to produce five replica models in what would appear to be a drive towards using the ever-abundant silvery grey material. However, your author could not Continue reading “Atomic Element 13”

Elemental Spirit Part 6: I Will Not Go Quietly

Emboldening the Spridget has become an industry.

British soul, Italian heart. Image: britishcarforum.com

The most prolific period for Spridget engine transplants was the 1970s. By then there was a good supply of second-hand Midgets and Sprites cheap enough for experimentation, and a far broader range of suitable engines. Fiat twin-cams were a popular choice, available cheaply from rotten or written-off 124s and 125s, and often with the added attraction of a five speed gearbox. In the USA and Australia, some Japanese engines found favour, including the twin rotor Mazda 12A. In Britain, the Ford Kent variants were the default choice, plentiful and easily fitted, with far more power than could be cheaply and reliably extracted from an A-series.

Creating these hybrids was not a task to be taken lightly, requiring mechanical knowledge, a variety of skills, a well-equipped workshop, and often an iron will and determination. Continue reading “Elemental Spirit Part 6: I Will Not Go Quietly”

Hercules’ Celestial Steed

A new star over Japan. 

Image: the author

Founded by Yataro Iwasaki in 1870, what was then named Mitsubishi Shokai would eventually grow into one of the largest and most diverse companies in Asia. Shipbuilding was the company’s initial field of business but, as time went by, diversification took place into activities such as mining of coal and precious metals, insurance, banking, aircraft production, real estate and, of course, automobiles.

The name Mitsubishi is made up of two words: ‘Mitsu’ meaning three in Japanese, and ‘Hishi’ which is a species of water chestnut. When these two words are combined, the ‘h’ of hishi is pronounced in Japanese as a ‘b’, hence Mitsubishi. The logo of the company was chosen by Yataro Iwasaki himself and combined the triple crest of the coat of arms belonging to the Tosa clan, Iwasaki’s ruler and employer before the Meiji restoration(1), and the Iwasaki family sign, which was three stacked diamond shapes. Continue reading “Hercules’ Celestial Steed”

Morte a Venezia

The Flavia’s final act. 

Image via tumblr

Described by the UK’s Guardian newspaper as “a slow, precise and beautiful film”, Italian filmmaker, Luchino Visconti’s 1971 adaptation of Thomas Mann’s 1912 novella, starring Dirk Bogarde and set in a ravishingly filmed Venice was a sombre meditation on art, beauty, creative attainment, age and desire. Critically acclaimed, Death in Venice would come to be viewed as an arthouse cinematic masterpiece.

Slow, precise and beautiful were adjectives that could at various times have been attributed to Lancia’s 1960s mid-range offerings – although the latter two were undoubtedly the more apt descriptors, especially once the power to weight aspect of the Flavia’s performance envelope was addressed towards the latter part of the decade. In its post-1967 Milleotto evolution, the Lancia berlina offered a refined, modernist, yet utterly Italian dissertation on elegance in motion, its seemingly unprepossessing style masking a highly considered technical and aesthetic package. Continue reading “Morte a Venezia”

Der Fünfer (Part One)

Half a century ago, BMW quietly launched its first 5 Series. The automotive world did not realise what a seminal car it would become.

Image: schlegelmilch.com

The trio of German so-called ‘premium’ automakers like to represent themselves as operating at the cutting edge of automotive engineering, technology and design. Hence, instead of using whimsical or ephemeral names for their cars, they instead identify them with scientific precision, using alphabetic and/or numerical model designations that are entirely logical in their construction and impossible to confuse(1).

In earlier times, the business of model nomenclature was much more straightforward. Smaller cars had smaller engines and vise-versa, so the engine capacity alone was often enough to distinguish between different models. When BMW introduced its ‘Neue Klasse’ mid-sized saloon in 1962, it was simply called the 1500. Larger-engined versions followed and these were duly called 1600, 1800 and 2000. However, when BMW introduced a range of smaller saloons using the same engines, they had to Continue reading “Der Fünfer (Part One)”

Sketches of Andalucía [3]

It’s later than you think.

News broke this week that London’s Ultra Low Emission Zone is now certain to be extended outwards as far as the London Orbital Motorway (M25) which encircles the outer reaches of the metropolitan area, a decision which will be greeted with some dismay amongst certain (older) car owners amid the UK capital when it comes into force next August. And while most can probably agree in principle that a reduction in airborne pollutants is likely to benefit air quality, it will mean that swathes of perfectly serviceable older vehicles will be taken off the roads – or simply shunted out of London entirely.

Similar strictures would decimate the car pool in this part of the Costa del Sol, given what remains in daily use there, but I would posit that it’s only a matter of time before such matters eventually come to pass. But in the meantime, we at least get to Continue reading “Sketches of Andalucía [3]”

Savannah Postcard (4)

On my first morning, a Sunday, I crept out of my lodgings and strolled around the grid-system streets of old Savannah.

1995-2000 Mercury Mystique in Savannah, Georgia.

This postcard concerns what resembles an alternate-reality Ford Mondeo, the Mercury Mystique which Ford USA sold from 1995 to 2000. Why did it exist? It looks perhaps like a rejected Mondeo proposal. What it is, is evidence of increasing rationalisation of the global Ford product range. The Mondeo upon which Ford based the Mercury Mystique was intended to drag Ford’s mid-sized offering into the front-drive world where its main enemy, the GM Cavalier/Ascona, had been thriving for some time. Continue reading “Savannah Postcard (4)”

You Wait for Three Years and Then…

… along comes Donny 375.

All images: The author

A dozen or more reasons prevent your author from driving more diverse vehicles, but determination and perseverance can warrant its own reward. Anyone can pop down to a dealership and sample something new to them, but on the other hand, the total number of places you can Continue reading “You Wait for Three Years and Then…”

Sketches of Andalucía [2]

Intimations of Alemania.

Late ’80s Golf GTI 5-door. On factory-fit steelies. All images: The author

For a place where locals appear to think nothing of maintaining thirty-year-old cars as daily runners, the proliferation of German-manufactured cars in this part of Southern Spain amounts to less than one might reasonably imagine. Did German cars fail to chime with the Andalucían sensibility, or was it more a factor of up-front cost? Only a native could possibly Continue reading “Sketches of Andalucía [2]”

Elemental Spirit Part 5: Building the Perfect Beast

Drivin’ with your eyes closed. 

Image: spriteparts.com.au

From the moment the Austin-Healey Sprite met the world in Monte Carlo in May 1958, there was a widespread and urgent demand for much more power than the 42.5 bhp at 5000rpm delivered by its Healey-fettled 948cc A-series engine. Professional and amateur racing drivers, and road car owners who just wanted to Continue reading “Elemental Spirit Part 5: Building the Perfect Beast”

Swede Dreams are Made of These

A tale of some lesser-known Saabs.

Image: the author

Some will be of the opinion that ‘SAAB oddity’ is something of an oxymoron, in particular when it concerns the Swedish company prior to its acquisition (and homogenization) by General Motors. That may be so, but over the course of its existence, the Swedish marque produced and, in some cases, inspired its fair share of projects that were noteworthy and unusual, even by the company’s own sometimes eccentric standards. Today we will Continue reading “Swede Dreams are Made of These”

Missing the Marque: Renault Safrane

Renault replaces French style with Euro-blandness, with wholly predictable results.

Going incognito. Safrane Biturbo. Image: razaoautomovel.com

The 1965 Renault 16 was highly unusual for a large European car. Firstly, it was a hatchback when all of its contemporaries were three-box saloons. Secondly, it was front-wheel-drive when large saloons were mainly driven by their rear wheels. Thirdly, its styling was highly distinctive and didn’t observe any of the norms expected in such models. Ask me to Continue reading “Missing the Marque: Renault Safrane”

Sketches of Andalucía [1]

Italy, via Spain.

All images: The author

Occasionally, we get the opportunity to glimpse other possible lives. These are commonly known as holidays, although I prefer to imagine them as being more akin to dreamscapes. For the first time since before the Covid pandemic, I (very) recently found the opportunity to return to the Andalucían coast, and despite the lateness of the year, was mostly blessed by the weather deities.

As is now habitual, I spent a sizeable amount of time getting a feeling for the place, which involved a good deal of legwork – a happy consequence of which was that there was usually something notable (or simply unusual) lurking down a side street[1].

The Spanish do tend to Continue reading “Sketches of Andalucía [1]”

Savannah Postcard (3)

Truly one of the great and lovely names in the back catalogues of car history: Electra.

1985-1990 Buick Electra in Savannah, Georgia

General Motors has produced some very charming cars and they have also been incredibly bad custodians of their brand equity. Here is an example of a great name on a good car, relics of an abandoned market and an abandoned badge. More than 30 years after it ceased production, the Electra name still casts bright-blue light, and it made my afternoon when I saw this one while I was about to Continue reading “Savannah Postcard (3)”

Who Shall Go to the Ball and What Shall Go to the Ball?

The Prius is reborn. But does it matter?

Image: (c) global.toyota

Twenty-five years after the nameplate made its debut, “just in time for the 21st Century”, and six years since the introduction of its astonishing looking predecessor, Toyota have revealed a new generation of their hybrid trailblazer. Billed as the “Hybrid Reborn” by its maker, the 2023 Toyota Prius is set to Continue reading “Who Shall Go to the Ball and What Shall Go to the Ball?”

The Gest of Robin Hood

Prince of… supercars?

Horacio Pagani and his namesakes. Image: carthrottle.com

Gest (a hard G) is an old English word meaning acts, or deeds. While it’s unequivocal that Robin Hood lived in the fourteenth century – but a stone’s throw from my own abode – his character will forever be open to speculation. Was he a thief who gave his plunder to the poor (à la Hollywood), a vagabond cast out to live life alone in the forest, or a plain woodsman who like many Englishmen from that time was skilled with bow and arrow?

My personal thoughts are that Robin Hood was indeed skilled in the art of thievery, along with a flashing blade and the gentle twang of a bowstring[1], to fell boar or errant henchman. But a benevolent thief; head honcho with an understanding side, engendering a brotherly, welcoming mien, to Continue reading “The Gest of Robin Hood”

Welcome to the Machine – Part Seven

More than one way to behead a cat.

The XJ-S at its Geneva 1988 debut. Image: Car Magazine

Following the carmaker’s remarkable return from near-death only three years previously, America’s movers and shakers were once again buying Jaguars in number. “The word has got out on the cocktail circuit that the Jaguar is the car to have”, as Jaguar Inc Press Officer, Mike Cook told journalists in 1983. But the lack of an open-topped XJ-S model would soon become a genuine impediment to sales growth. From this point onwards, US requests for a convertible would become increasingly strident.

The Jaguar board realised that the expediently engineered XJ-S Cabriolet could only buy them a certain amount of time, but meanwhile something needed to be done to mollify potential US customers, for whom nothing but a full convertible would suffice and who would otherwise simply Continue reading “Welcome to the Machine – Part Seven”

Talk to the Hand

He who dares, not always wins.

Image: Pininfarina SpA

The revered Italian styling house of Pininfarina has designed, and in some cases also built, cars for a multitude of manufacturers spanning the globe. As far as French triumvirate of mass-market automakers is concerned, the decades long collaboration with Peugeot is, of course, well known. With Renault, however, the only styling work commissioned has been for the Argentinian IKA-Renault Torino and, with what could be argued is the most distinctively French of the trio – Citroën – the counter stands at zero.

A little over two decades ago, Pininfarina did, metaphorically speaking, ask for the hand of PSA’s ‘other daughter’ by presenting the Osée research prototype at the Geneva Motor Show in 2001. This was the first and so far only Citroën conceived and clothed by the Italian styling house. The word Osée is French for daring and, even ignoring its rather radical appearance, the moniker was certainly apt as the Osée was a mid-engined rear-wheel-drive sportscar, a specification unheard of for a Citroën. Continue reading “Talk to the Hand”

Fortune Doesn’t Always Favour the Brave

Innovative designs, and better built than one expected from Fiat.

Image: honestjohn.co.uk

Prior to the inexorable rise of the crossover, the C-segment hatchback was the bedrock of the European automotive market. Every mainstream automaker knew the vital importance of success in this class, the champion of which was the VW Golf. The Volkswagen Group prospered on the enduring success of this car, while other manufacturers strived to match its qualities and capture its appeal in their own offerings. Some slavishly tried to build near-replicas(1) of the German car, an effort lampooned by Volkswagen in its witty and memorable 2009 ‘Just Like a Golf’ television advertisement(2).

The success of the Golf was, however, something of a double-edged sword for its maker. So concerned was Volkswagen not to inadvertently kill the golden goose that it allowed the Golf to Continue reading “Fortune Doesn’t Always Favour the Brave”

Compromise – The Paradox of Failure

As David Pye observed, every design is a failure.

Failure. Image: bringatrailer

Editor’s note: David Pye OBE (18 November 1914 – 1 January 1993), was Professor of Furniture Design at The Royal College of Art, from 1964 to 1974, in addition to being a respected wood turner and designer in his own right. He also wrote several notable volumes on design theory. This article was originally published as part of DTW’s Compromise theme in January 2017.

His argument rested on the idea that no design can optimise every aspect. The more complex the object the more likely this is to be the case. If we take a simple example of a knife, it’s a compromise because unavoidably the designer had to work within constraints of time and materials. The knife has to function but be affordable and attractive to enough people to Continue reading “Compromise – The Paradox of Failure”

Punctuation Bingo!

Please gamble responsibly.

Image: The author

Best start with the facts. This is the cover composite from the November 2010 edition of Car magazine. It was, as we can discern, a busy month for the UK periodical. Big Georg Kacher was flown out to the United States (business class no doubt) for an exclusive ‘drive’ of Jaguar’s shapely CX-75 hybrid-supercar concept, while the fullest possible coverage was provided of the three conceptual offerings from the fevered imagination of Lotus’ then CEO, the much unmissed Dany Bahar.

Britskrieg ! screamed the headline, as stridently as a dive-bombing Stuka; a tortured and needless piece of bellicose verbiage which previously only the UK’s Red Top editors might have considered. Such language was not only rather inappropriate, but references such as an “all out sports car war” were really Infra Dignitatem for a once high-brow title such as the EMAP monthly. It would be interesting to Continue reading “Punctuation Bingo!”

Savannah Postcard (2)

The Century nameplate adhered to Buick’s mid-size cars from 1973 to 2005. In this postcard we look at the last two iterations.

Buick is a brand I think of as approximating to a combination of Rover, Lancia and Volvo but with a distinct veneer of the Ghia-character of European Fords. I hope that evokes the idea of the middle-market with comfort-orientated accoutrements. If we Continue reading “Savannah Postcard (2)”

SMS

Salmson – a brief history. 

Image: Bellina Classic Motors

Famous of course for being the spiritual home of Renault, but before Louis built his factory in Billancourt, an altogether different engineer set up shop here leading to some perhaps unexpected diversions. As with so many Victorian-era small time engineers, Émile Salmson (1858-1917) ran a workshop where he produced steam powered pumps for railway and military applications. Attracting the likeminded Georges Canton and Georg Unné, the company changed name to Émile Salmson & Cie, manufacturing pumps, magnetos and engines.

Further plans would include producing radial aero engines. Investment and excellent results found ES & C at the forefront of French aircraft engine production as the Great War began. At full capacity in Billancourt, some aero engine production migrated to Villeurbanne, near Lyon. This too would include an unsuccessful helicopter.

With hostilities over, priorities altered. Demand for aero engines fell, so typewriters and woodworking lathes would become the company’s mainstay, but the burgeoning private car business was seen as the way forward. Management realised the fastest route to Continue reading “SMS”

Gems on the Assembly Line…

…and it was not one of the cars.

Image: classiccarstodayonline.com

At the dawn of its existence, painting an automobile was done in the same manner as one would apply a coat of paint to a horse-drawn carriage: by means of a brush and, in some cases, paint-rollers. Since cars were in those days built more or less in the same manner as their animal-powered predecessors, this was only to be expected.

The introduction of the moving assembly line by Ford in 1913 and the consequent rising demand for cars revealed the limitations of this method of application(1), but it would not be until 1924 that the first car to be spray-painted rolled off an assembly line, not at Ford, but at competitor GM with the Oakland model, a precursor to the later Pontiac. Continue reading “Gems on the Assembly Line…”

Welcome to the Machine – Part Six

Giving the XJ-S a brake.

Lynx Eventer. Image: Autoevolution

Nobody ever purchased a grand turismo motor car for its load-carrying capabilities, there being vehicles better suited to such tasks. But for a select few, such binary propositions exist only as orthodoxies to be upturned. It requires a certain mentality to envisage the recasting of something as indulgent as a 2+2 GT into an estate car. But in order to fill a vacuum, one must first Continue reading “Welcome to the Machine – Part Six”

E1 before i3

Two decades before BMW launched its first production EV, there was the E1 Concept.

Image: cartype.com

Energy Density and Specific Energy are the twin holy grails for any automaker wishing to bring a viable electric vehicle to market. These two units of measurement are often confused, even by people who really should know better(1). In simple terms, energy density is the amount of energy that can be stored in a given volume, whereas specific energy is the amount of energy that can be stored in a given mass. The S.I. unit for the former is joules per cubic metre and for the latter is joules per kilogramme. In the context of electric vehicles, the energy component is more usefully measured in kilowatt-hours, since the joule is a very small unit of energy(2).

Petrol has a specific energy(3) of around 12.5kWh/kg. Diesel is slightly lower at around 11.5kWh/kg. These numbers might appear meaningless in isolation, but compare them with the specific energy of a traditional lead-acid battery, which is a tiny 0.04kWh/kg and you can Continue reading “E1 before i3”

Birthday Present, Birthday Past

“The Magnification of Inspired Performance

Infiniti Essence. Image: automobilesreview.com

The Japanese luxury carmaker had something it wanted to make clear in its 2009 Geneva press release: “What Essence is not is merely an indulgent birthday present from Infiniti to itself“, it asserted, immediately planting the germ of doubt into those of a more cynically minded bent.

2009 marked Geneva’s 79th motor show. Infiniti was present that year, celebrating twenty years since its inception. To mark this auspicious milestone, they displayed Essence, a petrol/electric/hybrid concept GT coupé. Essence’s mission it appears was twofold. To showcase a new design ethos, forecasting a range of more exciting vehicles to wear the Infiniti badge, but also to generate excitement around the brand as it made a late entry into the European market.

Nissan’s upmarket sub-brand needed to make up for lost ground. Having made its US debut in 1989, it arrived concurrent with, yet somewhat on the tail of Toyota’s more impactful Lexus nameplate. Over the intervening two decades, while its Toyota City rival became an accepted member of the ‘prestige’ firmament, Infiniti, owing in part to Nissan’s US-centric focus, not to mention a somewhat half-baked commitment to product development, remained something of an also-ran.

Nissan, never as strong or well-resourced as Toyota, probably bit off more than it ought by attempting to go head-to-head with Lexus. By 2009, not only had it the carmaker been forced to Continue reading “Birthday Present, Birthday Past”

1974 Volvo 244: Review

“No mashed Swedes!” Archie Vicar on the Volvo 244 saloon.

Image: autoevolution

Auto Motorist, September 1974, pages 23-29. Photos by Ian Cambridgeshire. Owing to unexplained fermentation affecting processing of the original images, stock photography has been used. [Editor’s note: This transcript was first uploaded to DTW on 2 November 2013.]

The Swedish like eating tinned rotten fish. It’s an acquired taste, I am told by those with experience in such things. One is advised to open the tin can under water so as to contain the noxious aromas that would otherwise emanate. And one is also advised to drink plenty of schnapps to kill the taste. That’s really the only part of the whole palaver I can really see my way to agreeing with. I mention all of this by way of an introduction to Sweden’s other acquired taste, their Volvos.

And they have a new one on the way, the 244. It’s in the spirit of fellowship between our two great nations that I Continue reading “1974 Volvo 244: Review”