A sermon about why car museums are to be avoided if you like old cars.
Every car museum I have visited in the last 2.25 decades has been a disappointment. Cars are inherently space-consuming selfish monsters and even when they are caught, killed and pinned to plinths this quality does not diminish. They need plenty of room, alive or dead.
We’re not still sticking lights on the front of our cars, are we? Time for some fresh thinking perhaps.
Modern life isn’t necessarily rubbish, but on balance, it is somewhat disappointing. Not just the gnawing pointlessness of so much of it, but the nagging sense that the brave new world we were promised back in the 70s has decisively failed to materialise. Because laying aside for a moment the jet-scooters, orgasmatrons and robotised dogs we were all expecting to enjoy, there remain aspects of the motor car which really should have met the rendezvous with the eternal.
Richard Herriott introduces an occasional series, kicking tyres in Denmark.
Marcellus said to Hamlet “There’s something rotten….isn’t there?” Hamlet turned back, puzzled. “Come again?” Marcellus pulled a mildly irritated expression. “There’s something rotten…you know…something rotten-in-the-state-of-Denmark….” Hamlet’s face clouded. “This no time for cryptic clues, Marcellus….my dad’s been poisoned and I am pretty ticked off about the whole deal. What are you trying to say?” Taking a deep breath Marcellus then sighed. “I mean, Hamlet, there’s something profoundly wrong with things. Denmark is a metaphor for the situation we’re in. And all is not well. It’s a figure of speech… sorry I mentioned it.”
My father was an old-school Freudian in his outlook. He wouldn’t miss a chance to make an association, and my obsession with cars was fertile ground. He pronounced that many cars were just phallic compensation symbols and I, in what I thought was a witty response, said that a phallus was just a compensation for not having a decent car – it sounded better when I was sixteen. Cars and Sex, Sex and Cars, they’re an old pairing, but I’ve never been entirely convinced.
Once upon a time a trip to France from the UK was special. Not only did the cars look different but, at night, the roads came alive with lamps that were, uniquely, amber coloured. I admit that I enjoyed this. It gave French cars the same ‘interesting’ look that Jean-Luc Godard’s tinted glasses gave him. French cars were more intellectual.
There have always been cases of re-skins creating ‘different’ vehicles; and indeed VW Group have become masters at doing this in-house. But between independent brands this has usually been discreet and car companies have remained proud of their ability to manufacture the oily bits, as in the example of the Vauxhall salesman who once vehemently denied to me that the diesel in an Omega was manufactured by BMW. You might have thought he’d Continue reading “What Lies Beneath?”
Reassessing Chris Bangle’s Bayerische Motoren Werke Legacy.
Only a handful of individuals shape what we drive and by consequence, what populates our streets and driveways. Our current notions of automotive style were formed during the 1950s in the styling studios of Detroit and within the Italian carrozzieri, who fired imaginations and rendered dreams in hand-beaten alloy. For decades these designers and artisans were largely faceless men but during the 1980’s, the car designer emerged from obscurity and into the consciousness of the auto-literate.
The past few years have been difficult for manufacturers trying to sell new cars in Europe. But, even if people can’t afford them, one thing car makers take for granted is that everyone likes a new car. How many new cars have you sat in as the first driver? I’ve sat in a lot, not because I’d bought most of them, but because I once delivered them as a job. But when the car is yours it’s something else, that very special moment you’ve been waiting weeks, months or, sometimes, years for.
I visited here in 2011, just after it had re-opened following a complete restoration.
It is a large and impressive museum, mixing the informative (exposed engines and bare chassis) with the glib (new Fiat 500s bursting through kitchen walls). But you need to get them in and presentation is important, especially if you are accompanied, as I was, by someone who does not find cars at all exciting. Continue reading “Museo Nazionale dell’Automobile Torino”
Part one: Arguably the most misunderstood Jaguar of all time, Driven to Write seeks once and for all to put the ‘committee design’ assertion to rest as we assess the stylistic genesis of the 1975 XJ-S.
In September 1975 the newly nationalised British Leyland conglomerate celebrated the Jaguar XJ-S’ launch at Longbridge, the traditional home of its volume car division. A worse time to launch a 150-mph grand turismo is difficult to imagine, to say nothing of the chosen setting. The venue was a calculated statement of power, British Leyland ensuring Jaguar’s beleaguered management and workforce knew exactly who was in charge. Continue reading “XJ-S: Reconvening the Committee”
Car design is usually late to the party. This isn’t because designers aren’t up to it – consider the bold output of the Bauhaus in the 1920s and 30s, when run by Walter Gropius, then consider his rather conventional design for an Adler car of the same period. It wasn’t until the late 1990s that critics felt that a car, an Audi, deserved the Bauhaus soubriquet. Compare 50s modernist and brutalist buildings with the florid vehicles produced then. Cars did vaguely get round to embracing minimalism, but by then it was the 70s, and architecture had started fiddling with post-modernism. It was only relatively recently that vehicle design started catching on to that, first in a lukewarm way with retro, then by introducing jokey references such as the half-height Citroen DS3 B-pillar, which seemed to support nothing, and the bug eyed lights and grinning grilles of various recent offerings. Why this conservatism? Well, producing items with a relatively long gestation period and a relatively long production life, designers are understandably anxious not to get it wrong although, of course, they so often do. In contrast, architects only really need to please a handful of people, commissioning clients and planners generally, the rest of us just get to look, gasp and wonder why the roof leaks.
Sometimes it pays to be brave, sometimes it doesn’t. Better luck next time, Renault.
By the final decade of the 20th century, motor manufacturers, having established that engineering integrity would only take them so far in the quest for market leadership, began to realise that the answer to their prayers lay within the spreadsheets and focus groups of the product planning departments. In a mature market, largely populated by feckless new money garnered from illusory internet start-ups and awash with cheap credit, the differentiator between the automotive carnivores and their prey would be defined by one word: Segmentation. Entire departments sprang up in such demographically significant hotspots as Miami, London and Southern California, all tasked with seeking that elusive niche that would give the parent company a jump on their rivals.
The in-line eight cylinder petrol engine has receded into history. It has powered some of the great cars – the Alfa 8Cs, the Mercedes 300SLR, the Duesenberg SJ and the Bugatti Type 35, but its last appearance in a production car was in the early 1950s, in the finely named Packard Patrician.
The reasons for its disappearance are pretty obvious. It is not the greatest packaging solution and, with all those stresses and temperature variations laid out in a long line, it presents a whole series of engineering problems. Why bother when a V configuration is easier? For anything that has to be made to a budget, that is probably a reasonable attitude to take but, for some of us, the engine has a hugely exotic attraction, highlighted by its very impracticality.
My French teacher at grammar school, Mr Roberts, had a small collection of Austin 7s from the 1920s, which he alternated using as transport to work. I think that he considered me a bit of a prat (history might have vindicated him on some levels, certainly) and, sensing this, I reciprocated with contempt for his collection of little, old and, at the time, very cheap cars. In hindsight, I might have had a more rewarding time discussing the niceties of the Ulster, Ruby, etc with him and he might have decided that I had some redeeming features. I deeply regret my glib teenage contempt, though it was entirely my loss. He was right, I was wrong.
Many thanks to Eoin for his kind mention below of my recent little volume on Sir Basil Milford-Vestibule.
I’ve been putting away the research material of late and was leafing through the long out-of-print autobiography of Len Brik, who will be remembered by many of us longer serving types as the charismatic Chief Engineer at Victory Cars. Following the merger of Victory Cars with Empire, he came into close rivalry with Sir Basil. Len was entirely self taught and there was mutual loathing between the two men. Sir Basil is usually reported as referring to Brik as ‘The Blacksmith’, though more exactly he used the phrase ‘The Blacksmith’s Dull Apprentice’, whilst Brik returned the compliment with ‘Sir Beryl’.Continue reading “Len & Now”
I had a ‘Ring obsession for a short while and trawled for various videos. There are the obvious ones that put you in awe of other’s skill, either flat out driving with Water Rohl or the sight of Sabine Schmitz taking passengers round in the ‘Ring Taxi, chatting to them as though she’s on a country drive whilst effortlessly dispatching day-pass,would-be Ringmeisters. The nicest I found was an early morning video of an unidentified driver in an Elise, top down, no gloves, driving fast but flawlessly on a near empty track, the dew still drying off.
The most memorable of all, though, is this. Somewhere, we are assured that no-one was seriously injured, which I hope was the case, but is pretty miraculous. If anyone out there has ever wondered why it is so hard to find a nice Fiat 850 Sport these days, here is the answer. Cars have come a long way since then, thanks be.
Simon A Kearne’s long awaited biography of Sir Basil Milford-Vestibule is well overdue. Keenly awaited by enthusiasts of engineering and knitting alike, this comprehensive overview of an almost-legendary engineering genius and his lifetime’s work as chief engineer of The Empire Motor Company.
Kearne, (who requires little introduction), was granted unprecedented access to the Milford-Vestibule archive and through painstaking research, has crafted a biography as maddeningly eccentric as the subject himself; a book, one can’t help feeling, Sir Basil would have berated publicly but secretly adored. Continue reading “Sir Basil Milford-Vestibule – A Life Unstitched”
I am a cry from beyond the pale. I have spent all my driving years reining in my hooligan element and, for much of the time, it has been my personal circumstances, rather than my self-control, that have prevented me from totally inappropriate purchases.
The first Audi RS6 Avant really fulfilled a long-held fantasy for a big, very fast, estate car, marrying the hooner with the homely. Lately, the AMG C63 Estate has taken my fancy, and I now see that they have produced a more powerful version, addressing the problem of the standard model’s woefully inadequate 451 bhp.
Seeing a Jaguar XJ hearse on the Westway a few weeks ago, made me realise that modern design does not adapt well to the production of a dignified funeral wagon. Consider Coleman Milne’s latest offerings based on Mercedes and Ford base vehicles. Try getting out of those back doors with your top hat in place.
There was a nice feature on the Voisin C7 Lumineuse in The Automobile (publisher Mr Doug Blain – late of CAR) a couple of months ago.
It was a very boxy car, so much so that it even came with extra boxes attached. Distinctive, for a car of that era, and contributing to the name, was a full width rear window, and Voisin apparently had to work hard to get people to accept the need for decent all round visibility. He’d have the same problem again today. With a few notable exceptions, I don’t spend much time admiring Vintage machinery, but I rather like this.
Although the C7 is one of Voisin’s more conservative designs, particularly technically, Gabriel Voisin, as much as Andre Citroen, could be seen as the godfather of the classic Citroen. Andre Lefebvre, the engineer behind the Traction Avant, 2CV and DS, worked for Voisin both as an engineer and a competition driver throughout the 1920s, and developed his innovative and uncompromising approach under Gabriel Voisin’s leadership. Compared with its contemporaries, the unfussy nature of the C7 might also be seen in the Traction.
“May You Live In Interesting Times” is an apocryphal Chinese curse popularised by Bobby Kennedy and it would have to be said that, for the motor industry at least, these are indeed Interesting Times. For much of the World, the single, most relevant, life-changing invention of the late 19th Century was personal propelled transport. The freedom granted by the ability to move reasonable distances, affordably and independently, might be summed up crudely by the British politician, Norman Tebbit’s infamous, so-called ‘Get On Your Bike’ speech but, for Western Society, the vehicle for change was generally the motor car. Continue reading “Welcome To Driven To Write”
“Even Beta: Lancia’s thrilling new Trevi.” Archie Vicar takes a look at an exciting new sporting luxury saloon from Italy’s respected Lancia marque.
Track & Motoring, July 1981. Photos by Greg Orford. Owing to an overwhelming cyan-blue colour cast affecting the original images, stock photography has been employed.
Without any doubt Lancia’s engineers have been scratching their heads since 1972, trying to think of a way to top the terrific Beta. Despite its front-drive handicap and an engine donated by Fiat, it really is a cracking car, with much to commend it. So how do they go better than the very best? Simple, they don’t. The Beta Trevi has a different interior and new body panels. But the underpinnings of the Beta are all still there and, some say, thank goodness for that. The Beta Trevi was shown in Geneva about a year ago but it’s only now available in the United Kingdom. We tested a 2 litre model to find out Lancia’s formula for building on their achievements of the 70s and taking them into the ‘eighties.
“Another Mill From Peugeot.” Archie Vicar takes a closer look at the latest offering from Peugeot – the 505.
The Monthly Car Review February 1979. Photos by Parker Pettiswode.
Here are two items about Peugeot’s famous saloon, the much-loved 505. It is viewed as an icon today and has a strong classic following. If you see an older Peugeot on the road today, chances are it’s a 505 in immaculate condition. These two articles show how the motoring press received the car.
The test drive took place (as of going to press) some fifteen weeks ago. Since then I have found myself polishing shoes and trying to think of an opening paragraph. I shared Boxing day luncheon with my nephew who wanted some advice. I spent most of the meal wondering how I would describe the car (the 505) instead of offering sound counsel. With a quiet pipe of Old Latakia and a few pints at the Bishop’s Head pub in Great Malvern (eight weeks ago) I wondered if it would be permitted simply not to Continue reading “1979 Peugeot 505 Review 1”
“Point Counterpoint.” Archie Vicar muses on the meaning of Peugeot’s exciting new saloon, the 505.
Drivers & Motorists Monthly (February 1979). Photo by Crispin Darling. Owing to the poor quality of the original images, stock photos have been employed.
The keenly contested large car sector is very profitable. 2.46 million large cars were bought in Europe in 1976. Manufacturers pick different weapons with which to capture these customers. Ford uses keen pricing and generous specifications to help the set-square Granada find its customers (300,000 a year!). Vauxhall tries to Continue reading “1979 Peugeot 505 Review 2”
Encore Again! Archie Vicar tests Citroen’s long-wheelbase CX Prestige.
“Driver & Motorist”, July 1976.Photographs by Dick Trevithick. Owing to poor quality originals, stock photographs have been used.
Despite producing some technically intriguing cars such as the GS, Citroen’s finances are not in the best condition. And despite this, Citroen devoted more of their precious francs to developing the CX yet further, with this long wheel base limousine, the Prestige. At least this proves that Peugeot are not going to interfere too much in Citroen’s engineering activities. Continue reading “1976 Citroen CX Prestige Review”
Prancing horse or lame nag? Archie Vicar samples Ferrari’s 4-seater oddity, the 365 GT4 2+2.
From Motor Enthusiast, October 1976. Photos by Edward Blayliss. Owing to the excessive lens flare of Mr. Blayless’ images, stock photography has been used.
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 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 365 GT4 is a rather poor show. And Bristol’s car, despite its slightly brash Chrysler lump, trumps the 365 in every major respect.
Let us consider the ash receptacles. Bristol places theirs near the steering wheel while Ferrari throws theirs somewhere down by one’s knees. Both cars are 4-seater GTs. Both cost a king’s ransom but one car will unfailingly Continue reading “1976 Ferrari 365 GT4 2+2 Review”
Archie Vicar tests three sporting saloons: Triumph’s Dolomite, Lancia’s Fulvia and Alfa Romeo’s evergreen Giulia.
From the Driving & Motoring Weekly Guide, 1975. Photos by Nigel de la Warr. Owing to the loss of Mr. De la Warr’s Nikons, stock photography has been used.
Small sporting saloons are becoming an important if quite tiny part of the market place. Naturally, the large family car will always remain the most popular choice for the suburban motorist and business-man on the move. But, for the fellow who likes energetic driving and who also needs to Continue reading “1975 Triumph Dolomite Review”
“No mashed Swedes!” Archie Vicar on the Volvo 244 saloon.
Automotorist, September, 1974, pages 23-29. Photos by Ian Cambridgeshire. Owing to the poor quality of the original images, stock photography has been used.
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.
Alfa Resurgent! Archie Vicar takes a look at the new executive car from Alfa Romeo, the Alfetta 1.8
For too long Alfas have been a car for the heart, but can they build one for the head too? The answer could now be “si.” For those of us fond of the Italian maker Alfa Romeo, there are clear signs that there really is a resurgence afoot. “The Alfetta is a new chapter in Alfa Romeo’s history,” said Angelo Scoria, chief of Public Relations, in a press release.
“The Alfetta is full of new engineering thinking and will be a more modern car, one built to a high standard too. It will be a future classic, we believe.” So, reasons to be optimistic. For a very long time Alfa has indeed been guilty of making cars that have Continue reading “1973 Alfa Romeo Alfetta Review”
Cortina, Maxi and Victor group test. By Archie Vicar.
From “Driving & Leisure” April 1970. Photography by C. Wadsway. Owing to the unexplained disappearance of Mr. C. Wadsway, stock photography has been used.
When Harold MacMillan declared a few years ago that “you have never had it so good,” he wasn’t thinking of motor cars but perhaps he could have been so doing. Mr and Mrs Average now enjoy the comforts of cosy semi-detached homes away from the bustle of the city and all around England´s towns and villages, the large new supercentres and shopping markets that are sprouting up are a clear sign of the advances being made by business and enterprise. The old is being swept away. Continue reading “1970 Ford Cortina Review”
Something old, something new! Archibald Vicar, Dip. Eng. tries the latest sensation from BMC, the Austin “Maxi.”
From “Today’s Driver” February 1969. Photography by Patrick Lamperay. Due to the poor quality of the original source, stock photos have been used.
There it was, an Austin Maxi, Leyland’s latest motor car. And we were in Dublin, Eire, to test it. It was eight o’clock in the morning and photographer, Lamperey, and I were at British Leyland’s small factory in the middle of what was once the Empire’s second city. While I ought to have been taking in the generalities of the Maxi’s technicalities I was more cognisant of my rather delicate physical state, that of a rotten hangover.
Said hangover was largely as a result of my failed attempt to anaesthetise myself during the festival of mal de mer that was the ferry from Holyhead to Dublin. The duty-free Guinness was at least remarkably cheap so the experience was merely disagreeable and not costly. I was also able to Continue reading “1969 Austin Maxi: Road Test”
Archie Vicar continues touring from London to Latvia in Jaguar’s new XJ-6. His mission, to test this important new saloon and to recover his hand-made shoes left behind on a previous jaunt.
From “Private Motor Car Owner” (pages 34-39, page 109, page 116, December, 1968). Photography by Douglas Land-Windermere. Owing to the very poor quality of the original images, stock photography has been used.
Getting into Latvia was a breeze. We presented our passports and sacrificed a few cherished boxes of Craven “A” cigarettes and we were in. Even the sight of the new Jaguar, in De Luxe trim and virtually rust free, didn’t make the unshaven brute at the border blink. It seemed like we would sail through under the dusty hem of the Iron Curtain.
“Uncommon the twain!” In what is probably a purported period review, the motoring writer Mr. A. Vicar considers the choices of car afforded to varietists enjoying a moderately higher-than-average income.
[From “The Motoring and Driving Register”, July 1967. Photography by Cyril Leadbeater. Owing to the poor quality of the original images, stock photos have been used.]
This month’s motor vehicle comparison pits two well-established players against one another. For the gentleman of comfortable means life affords choice and what is choice if it is not among things that differ? What point is there in being offered a large range of very similar cars for a similar price as many makers seem to want to do these days? That is no choice at all. We can see at the more pedestrian end of the market – and indeed have done for some time now- that many car builders are merely shadowing one another so that were one to sit inside a Ford, a Vauxhall, an Austin, or a Hillman selling for, say, £800, one could not Continue reading “1967 Humber Super Snipe Review”
Sporting to a “T”. Archie Vicar drives to Sicily in the new motor carriage from Crewe.
From Motorist’s Illustrated Digest, Dec 1965. Photos by Douglas Land-Windermere. Owing to the very poor quality of the original images, stock photography has been used.
The Bentley marque conjours images of the driver Richard “Dick” Seaman charging along the Mulsanne Straight at a 100 mph. That he achieved this very respectable pace minus a tyre is a tribute to his Bentley and to his boundless idiocy. Great chap. He is very much missed in motoring circles. For a while Bentley’s sporting character has been as absent and as lamented as Mr Seaman. The last batches of Bentleys have, frankly, been a little hard to distinguish from their Rolls-Royce stablemates. Continue reading “1965 Bentley “T”-Type Review”
From the Motorist’s Compendium and Driver’s Almanack, Dec 1959. Photographs by Marmaduke Orpington. Owing to the poor quality of the original images, stock photography has been used.
Bentley seem to be finding their feet again after a spell in the shadows of their owner, Rolls-Royce Motor Cars. This month it is our privilege to be invited to test drive the evidence of this resurgence, the S1 Continental Flying Spur.
First might I present a little history for younger readers. Bentley started offering steel bodywork in 1946 and many coachbuilders have been continuing to offer their own versions of these car, as if a ‘standard’ Bentley wasn’t sufficiently prestigious. But these later cars have apparently lacked a certain something. For this author, if were one to Continue reading “1959 Bentley S1 Flying Spur Continental Review”
Archie Vicar represents a different generation; people who came of age in an uncertain period where a World War followed a World Recession. Few of these men (and we cannot deny that they were all men) set their youthful sights on Motoring Journalism as a profession. They came into it through circuitous routes, bringing with them, for good and for bad, a worldliness that is, perhaps, missing today, where a childhood spent poring over EVO magazine, followed by a spell at journalism school, leads directly to employment on a national magazine. Where is the wisdom; where is the experience of a wider world? Continue reading “Archie Vicar”