North Star

Where Saab began.

(c) saabworld

Among the many reasons why a car company might come into being, matters of geography are not always the primary rationale. However in this particular instance, both they, and geopolitics played a highly significant role. During the 1930s, German territorial aggression became an existential threat to Sweden’s long-treasured neutrality, prompting the government to develop an independent air defence force, not so much to repel possible invaders it seems, but to make any such invasion more difficult and expensive to implement.

The development of a home-developed aircraft therefore came about from the unsuitability of bought-in hardware, and as hostilities became inevitable, the inability to Continue reading “North Star”

Anniversary Waltz 1959 – Neatness Is Always the Result of Deliberate Planning

“This matter is best disposed of from a great height, over water”.

Eve Marie Saint, James Mason and Martin Landau in a still from Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest. (c)

Amid a year of cinematic gems such as swords and sandals epic, Ben-Hur and Billy Wilder’s Some Like it Hot, Alfred Hitchcock’s thriller, North by Northwest might not have drawn as many cinemagoers, but if it wasn’t the auteur-director’s finest film, it was probably his most enjoyable. Starring an at-his-peak Cary Grant as the film’s suave but unsuspecting Mad Man, a diverting Eve Marie Saint as the requisite femme-fatale, combined with a strong supporting cast, a sharp, pithy script by Ernest Lehman and some of the best-known set-piece scenes in movie history, North by Northwest remains something to Continue reading “Anniversary Waltz 1959 – Neatness Is Always the Result of Deliberate Planning”

Anniversary Waltz 1969 – I Didn’t Expect A Kind of Spanish Inquisition

“This morning, shortly after 11:00, comedy struck this little house on Dibley Road. Sudden…violent…comedy.”

Monty Python. (c) Whatculture

As the 1960s drew to a close, centuries of hierarchy and forelock-tugging deference were under attack in class-riven Blighty. Television shows like The Frost Report saw a younger generation of university-educated writers and performers taking increasingly accurate potshots at a hidebound establishment who deserved every critical drubbing they received. The 1969 debut of Monty Python’s Flying Circus on BBC television therefore marked a watershed in what was deemed admissible for a primetime audience.

Owing a debt to the earlier Goon Show and Round the Horne radio formats, the Python’s anarchic, whimsical and often downright silly TV sketch series brought absurdist comedy into living rooms across the length and breadth of Britain, sending up authority and making household names of its creators – at least amidst those who understood, or at the very least appreciated its gleefully skewed logic. Post-Python, comedy would never Continue reading “Anniversary Waltz 1969 – I Didn’t Expect A Kind of Spanish Inquisition”

Anniversary Waltz – Never Get Out of the Boat

“Horror and moral terror are your friends. If they are not, then they are enemies to be feared”.

Time.com

Dystopian paranoia and reactionary politics were the order of play as this turbulent decade faded out. Having become inured to kidnappings, airline hijackings and low-level terrorism, 1979 witnessed the Islamic revolution in Iran, the Russian invasion of Afghanistan, and the ascent to power of Iraq’s Saddam Hussein. In Britain, Margaret Thatcher led the Conservative Party to power, proving Britain could Continue reading “Anniversary Waltz – Never Get Out of the Boat”

Anniversary Waltz 1989 – Tin Roof, Rusted

If you see a faded sign at the side of the road…

The B52s (c) Orlando Times

Formed in Athens Georgia in 1976, the US alt-surf-rock band The B52s had existed relatively contentedly on the peripheries of the contemporary music scene for a good decade and a half before a single taken from their 1989 album, Cosmic Thing propelled them into mainstream international chart success, and an element of immortality.

Written partly to recall their early years as impecunious art-loving musicians, and to honour their guitarist Ricky Wilson who had died in 1986 from a HIV-related illness, Love Shack was not so much the B52s shifting their retro-futurist sound and aesthetic to Continue reading “Anniversary Waltz 1989 – Tin Roof, Rusted”

Anniversary Waltz 1999 – Pre Millennial Tension

Waltzing into a new Millennium.

(c) Brittania Row

As fireworks crackled over the midnight skies and the twentieth century was bid adieu, we peered hopefully, if somewhat tentatively into a technologically dominated future, on one hand embraced, yet quietly dreaded. At least amongst those who weren’t gleefully predicting, if not the end of days itself, then at least imminent technological catastrophe. Y2K, aka the millennium bug was (loosely speaking), a coding issue pertaining to the storage of calendar year data, meaning that the rollover to the year 2000 carried with it the potential for all manner of unsavoury consequences.

It was widely believed at the time that without adequate mitigation, Y2K could precipitate widespread system malfunctions, and in the most doom-laden scenario (of which there was no shortage at the time), the complete failure of the digital networks which were increasingly dominating our lives, to Continue reading “Anniversary Waltz 1999 – Pre Millennial Tension”

Anniversary Waltz 2009 – Crash!

We begin our review of cars we couldn’t write about this year, with a brief look back at 2009.

(c) New York Post

On a bright January afternoon in 2009, US Airways flight 1549 took off from New York’s La Guardia airport en-route to Seattle-Tacoma via Charlotte, Carolina. As the Airbus A320 climbed out of La Guardia airspace it struck a flock of Canada geese, instantly disabling both engines. Quickly deducing that the aircraft lacked sufficient airworthiness to attempt a conventional emergency landing, and fast running out of options, Captain Chesley B Sullenbeger, along with First Officer, Jeffrey Skiles, elected to Continue reading “Anniversary Waltz 2009 – Crash!”

Tilting the Scales (3)

In this concluding piece, we consider the Lybra’s appearance and ponder its ultimate fate.

(c) Quattroruote

So much for the underpinnings. The dealers’ main worry had been the styling, which had been a fraught process throughout. At the start of the project, proposals from the Enrico Fumia-led Centro Stile, Leonardo Fioravanti, and the I.DE.A consultancy had been evaluated. Team Fumia’s 1992 design was thematically similar to – if visually richer than – the outgoing Dedra, also marrying obvious cues from the forthcoming 1995 Y supermini. Elements of the design also reflected the Fessia era, but in a broadly contemporary manner. Overall, it was an attractive proposal, somewhat reminiscent of Peugeot’s subsequent 406, if perhaps a little derivative in certain respects. Continue reading “Tilting the Scales (3)”

Tilting the Scales : (2)

As the crisis-torn Lybra programme came under microscopic scrutiny, longstanding Lancia engineer Bruno Cena took responsibility for its salvation. 

(c) bozhdynsky

Cena, a talented engineer who came to mainstream attention for his work on the dynamic setup of the Alfa Romeo 156, was a self-described ‘Uomo Lancia’ from way back. Joining Fiat in the early 1970s, he had moved to Lancia in 1978, working under Ing. Camuffo on the initial stages of the Type Four project.

Appointed head of four-wheel drive development for the marque in 1984, he was promoted to head of Lancia development two years later, and given responsibility for vehicle testing across Fiat, Lancia and Alfa Romeo in 1991. In October 1996, he was made Fiat Auto’s ‘D-platform’ director – just in time to Continue reading “Tilting the Scales : (2)”

Tilting the Scales : (1)

Fables of the reconstruction: Another inglorious tale of Lancia.

(c) autodata1

It would hardly be inaccurate to suggest that under Fiat Auto’s purview, Lancia was never Job #1. In fact, it has been an awfully long time since the presence of Lancia earned more than a grudging acknowledgment and a, “Huh, is that still around?” grimace from Elkann’s crew. Would that we knew it at the time, but the restructuring of the marque’s residual engineering independence into the Fiat Group morass towards the end of the 1980s was, in hindsight, the harbinger for the extinguishing of Lancia’s brief revival in the ‘executive set’ ranks under Fiat ownership.

Certainly, within a decade, matters had reversed dramatically, Lancia’s record levels of production at the beginning of the nineties an already-distant memory. With sales of its larger models having almost entirely collapsed outside its native Italy, the brand was carried then – as now – by the indefatigable Y. Continue reading “Tilting the Scales : (1)”

A Ship Called Dignity

Pride cometh before a fall. 

Proudia to meet you. Hope you guessed my name. (c) wheelsage

In more innocent times when Lexus was but a glint in the Toyota board’s eye, our collective impression of full-sized Japanese luxury saloons probably looked something a good deal more like this. Not precisely of course, since this particular duo debuted a full decade after Toyota’s creative moonshot, but Mitsubishi’s 1999 flagship was both in name and appearance very much JDM plutocratic business as usual.

As such, European (or American for that matter) nostrums of luxury to say nothing of prestige car semantics were quite obviously deemed not only unnecessary, but inappropriate. Sober and imposing was what the domestic market expected and in both Proudia and Dignity models, sobriety and imposition was what they got. Continue reading “A Ship Called Dignity”

Moonshot

In 1989, Toyota shot for the moon. Cars will never be made like this again.

(c) carsbase

We choose to go to the moon in this decade, and do these other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.” These are the much quoted words of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy in 1962, pledging his country’s commitment for the Apollo space mission.

The Apollo programme cost $billions and was only a qualified success, insofar as it did not precipitate a more widespread and far-reaching programme of space exploration. It did however succeed in demonstrating what the American government could do when the finest minds were provided with almost unlimited resources to Continue reading “Moonshot”

Euro Standard

The 1989 Dedra brought Latin style and a more competent package to the compact executive segment. Sadly, it left behind a few more pressing concerns.

(c) carsfromitaly

Italians have never needed to be convinced that a luxury car could also be a compact car. With a land and cityscape which militated against corpulence and a taxation system which proscribed large-capacity engines, Italian carmakers made something of an art out of geographical and fiscal necessity.

As artforms went however, it wasn’t the most expressive, the post-war Italian upmarket berlina conforming to a degree of visual rectitude that was almost flamboyant in its subtlety. Foremost amongst its exponents was Lancia. From the Ardea, its Appia successor, to the seminal Fulvia, these saloons gave the upwardly mobile a refined, well engineered and reassuringly patrician vehicle – one which could Continue reading “Euro Standard”

State of Grace

How the ultimate 1960’s bit of rough evolved into the best loved classic Jaguar saloon of all.

(c) storm.oldcarmanualproject

It has been said that by the mid-Sixties, it was common operational procedure for UK police patrols to stop and search any Mark 2 Jaguar with two or more male occupants aboard – such was the car’s association with criminality. After all, Mark 2’s were easy to purloin and were the fastest reasonably inobtrusive getaway car that could be obtained by fair means or foul in Blighty at the time.

It was perhaps this aura of transgression, coupled with its exploits on the racetracks (at least until the US Cavalry arrived) which sealed its iconography. So it is perhaps ironic that despite the forces of law and order also adopting the 3.8 Mark 2 as a high-speed pursuit car, that it latterly would become synonymous with that most cerebral of fictional police detectives.

The Mark 2 Jaguar was a paradox in that while it was undoubtedly handsome – a finely honed conclusion of styling themes which had begun in earnest with the 1948 XK120 – it was not only a bit of an overweight brute, but a car which never quite managed to Continue reading “State of Grace”

Fin de Siècle

We compare a pair of late ’50s fintails.

Nobody quite realised at the time, but 1959 would mark peak-tailfin – this styling device falling out of fashion almost as abruptly as it emerged. But while the tailfin’s retreat would be particularly rapid in its country of origin, the European industry, having been slower to adapt in the first instance, was equally tardy in abandoning it.

Of course, it’s worth reminding ourselves of motor industry lead-times – the period between styling sign-off and job-one. Certainly, when Ford’s UK arm conceived the 105E-series Anglia, nobody could possibly Continue reading “Fin de Siècle”

Il Sarto Piemontese

We compare a couture twinset from the tail-end of the GT era.

It’s an incontrovertible fact that the end of the 1960’s marked the apogee of the Gran Tourismo concept, both in design terms and in appeal to the broader swathe of the car market. Certainly by then, the choices available to the upwardly mobile individual who wanted to express their more indulgent side were of the more fecund variety. However, those who couldn’t Continue reading “Il Sarto Piemontese”

Disco Revival

History repeats at Land Rover.

1989 LR Discovery. (c) Iroac.com

Thirty years ago, in the hope of reviving their ailing business, Land Rover introduced the Discovery at the 1989 Frankfurt motor show, inspired (in part) by the vehicle that had made their name, but aimed at a very different customer. Three decades later, facing an even more precipitous climb, they appear to be doing something broadly similar, this time however, based squarely upon the original.

The eternal Defender, in production in various forms since 1948 had become a very dated proposition by the close of the 1980s. Starved of meaningful investment throughout the previous troubled decade, the Land Rover’s best days were well past. The global market it once enjoyed was being eaten alive by more modern, better developed and more reliable Japanese rivals and with BL’s apathy being equal to its empty coffers, the outlook seemed as stark as a contemporary Landie’s cabin. Continue reading “Disco Revival”

The Wild Man of Kvasiny

That rare thing: a desirable crossover.

(c) autocentrum

The product planner’s art has never been a particularly straightforward one, even less so when one is dealing with a brand portfolio the size and scope of the VW Group. Nevertheless, during the previous decade at least, the individual business units contained within the sprawling VW Group were allowed to Continue reading “The Wild Man of Kvasiny”

Flirting With Distinction

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

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

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

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

Can You Handle This?

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

(c) moibbk.com

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

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

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

Space Oddity

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

(c) bilmodel

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

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

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

Summer Reissue : Peak Bristol

The Bristoliste’s Bristol? The 411 turns 50.

Bristol 411 Series 5. Image: (c) bristolcars

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

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

Ode to Joy

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

Better as a 5-door? (c) autoevolution

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

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

The Fourth Letter

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

(c) Weilinet

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

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

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

Leap of Faith

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

(c) barrettjaguar.com

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

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

Pushing the Envelope

The 1999 C215 Mercedes CL redefines the term ‘back of an envelope design’.

(c) Autoevolution.com

Like most major carmakers, Mercedes-Benz design under Bruno Sacco’s leadership at Stuttgart-Sindelfingen assigned individual design teams to specific product lines. However, it was policy that all members of the styling team, irrespective of discipline could submit proposals for consideration whenever a new model was in gestation.

These would be whittled down to a shortlist, the favoured proposals then going forward to be produced in scale model form. A further evaluation would see this being reduced to a final shortlist of three, which would Continue reading “Pushing the Envelope”

Saving Grace – Part Eight

Concluding our profile of the Series III.

(c) Jaguar Cars

It can be stated without a trace of hyperbole that the Series III XJ remains the most commercially significant Jaguar of all time. Not the most successful, mark you; other XJ generations have sold in greater numbers, others still to come may yet again transform its fortunes, but the Series III remains to this day the car that single-handedly saved the company.

Ironic of course, given that it should never have come into being, and had BLMC’s Lords and masters given Browns Lane the creative freedom and the finances to Continue reading “Saving Grace – Part Eight”

Saving Grace – Part Seven

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

(c) Company Car

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

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

Saving Grace – Part Six

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

(c) Auto-Didakt

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

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

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

Saving Grace – Part Five

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

(c) Jaguar Cars

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

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

Maxi Twist

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

(c) wroom.com

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

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

Saving Grace – Part Four

Understanding the background to Jaguar’s 1979 annus horriblis.

(c) Jaguar Cars

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

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

Saving Grace – Part Three

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

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

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

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

Saving Grace – Part Two

Series III’s advent coincided with a number of technical innovations, but one in particular would come with a side-order of calamity. 

(c) Autocar

Despite the outwardly positive manner in which the Series III was presented to the motor press, there was no getting away from the political environment under which the car was developed. Jaguar was reeling under the dictates of the infamous Ryder Report, a series of post-nationalisation recommendations which as implemented, stripped Browns Lane of its leadership, its identity and ultimately its ability to Continue reading “Saving Grace – Part Two”

Saving Grace – Part One

Forty years ago, Jaguar introduced the Series III XJ. Its combination of virtues cast deep and lasting shadows.

XJ sIII
Best until last? (c) jaglovers

Frequently exercises in diminishing returns, facelifts tend to fall into the category of change for changes sake, or perhaps a last ditch effort to breathe life into a fading model line. Rare indeed is one which successfully transcends its originator. But if the original XJ saloon’s body styling was the inevitable culmination of a lifetime’s study by a master auteur, the Series III of 1979 proved by comparison to be something of a fortuitous accident.

In 1973 Jaguar introduced the second-series XJ, a modest revision of a highly successful model line – for at the time, no more was required. By then, work had already begun upon its ultimate replacement – the troubled XJ40 programme, then scheduled for release in Autumn 1977.

But the tectonic plates that underpinned Browns Lane had become highly unstable – within a year their BLMC parent would Continue reading “Saving Grace – Part One”

Simple Soul

We pay tribute to a diminutive giant.

(c) classicandsportscar

What can there possibly be left to say about the Citroën 2CV? Should we simply rehash its backstory, acknowledge its long commercial career, mention the cars it sired, and allude to its afterlife once production ceased? Surely this alone will not do. The problem with approaching cars which have attained the status of holy relics, is finding a means to Continue reading “Simple Soul”

Anniversary Waltz 1968 – 41 Century Girl

A good many dramatic situations begin with screaming”. Rounding out the Waltz for 2018.

(c) the-atomic-cafe

Tempting as it might be to dwell on the negatives, of which there were many; Vietnam, politically motivated assassinations, student riots, the polarisation of race relations, but 1968 wasn’t entirely the unremitting grimfest it might appear in retrospect.

Directed by Frenchman, Roger Vadim with a knowing screenplay by Terry Southern (Dr Strangelove, Easy Rider), and based on Jean-Claude Forest’s cult comic strip, 1968’s Barberella provided some light relief, melding science fiction, titillation, comedy and high camp on a scale perhaps never previously committed to celluloid. (Although 1980’s fevered Flash Gordon remake potentially runs it close). Continue reading “Anniversary Waltz 1968 – 41 Century Girl”

Road Test Retrospective : Wolseley 15/60

The Farina-bodied BMC saloons would become ubiquitous Sixties fare. We examine an early verdict, courtesy of The Autocar.

All images (c) The Autocar

The very first of a new generation of Pininfarina-bodied medium saloons from BMC, Wolseley’s 15/60 model was introduced in December 1958 before going on sale in 1959. This new series would take BMC’s multi-marque strategy to previously unheard of heights (some might choose to invert that statement), with a succession of models quickly following, all sharing identical bodies and technical specifications, apart from minor changes to engine tune and detail styling. Widely derided as ‘badge-engineering’, it proved a commercial success for BMC, but one which ultimately came with a reputational cost.

The Autocar published its first road test of the 15/60 on 13 March 1959. The test car retailed at £991.7s, including purchase tax. Not (then) noted for sensationalism, The Autocar writer’s style was drier than a chilled glass of Tio Pepe, but with a little gentle sifting one can Continue reading “Road Test Retrospective : Wolseley 15/60”

Anniversary Waltz 1998 – In the Aeroplane Over the Sea

As we complete our retrospective of 1998, we ponder air and water.

(c) airliners.net

Not simply one the World’s busiest airports, but amongst the most challenging from a pilot’s perspective, Hong Kong’s Kai Tak airport had by the 1990s become something of a liability. Situated in the heavily built-up Kowloon district, the technically difficult approach over mountains and city skyscrapers not only looked and felt alarming, but the abrupt banked descent to the single runway in Victoria Harbour required both nerve and experience.

The World’s largest airport terminal building when it officially opened in 1998, the newly built Hong Kong International airport at Chek Lap Kok put paid to the hair-raising sight of 747’s skirting the tips of the Hong Kong skyline. Built on a reclaimed island in the South China Sea, flights into the Kowloon Peninsula became a good deal less dramatic and a whole lot more frequent.

A consequence of its lengthy connection with Mazda, Ford had for some time been attempting to Continue reading “Anniversary Waltz 1998 – In the Aeroplane Over the Sea”

Anniversary Waltz 1978 – This Year’s Model

Driven to Write forces down some Texas tea. 

(c) pinterest

A year which appeared to consist of little but tit-for-tat nuclear weapons tests by opposing cold war powers, that uniquely played host to three different Catholic pontiffs, where the Red Brigades kidnapped and murdered former Italian Prime Minister, Aldo Moro, and where Spain finally renounced the last vestiges of dictatorship by declaring a democracy, 1978 experienced its share of geopolitical turmoil. Continue reading “Anniversary Waltz 1978 – This Year’s Model”

Wings of Desire

Driven to Write profiles the black sheep of Crewe.

(c) inews

Even the most aristocratic families have their outcasts. Whether it’s cousin Geoffrey the bounder, serial adulterer and spendthrift, or aunt Gertrude with the secret laudanum habit, a noble bloodline is no barometer of respectability.

This is as much a truism at the House of Crewe as anywhere else, and while the halls of Pyms Lane may shimmer with any number of Wriaths, Clouds, Shadows or Spirits, within a secluded chamber in a little-visited wing of the facility lies the Seraph, brooding in gloomy seclusion. Continue reading “Wings of Desire”

Anniversary Waltz 1988 – A Groovy Kind of Love

Driven to Write loses an uneven struggle to frame a rather unremarkable automotive year.

Phil Collins – Buster 1988 (c) agreatmovieblog.wordpress.com

Be it economically, politically, or indeed the arts, 1988 proved to be a year of transition. And while the UK music charts were increasingly dominated by the burgeoning counter-culture of dance music, some older orders remained stubbornly implacable.

Following his first solo album release in 1981, actor and former Genesis percussionist and lead singer, Phil Collins had become one of the World’s biggest grossing recording artists, amassing in the region of 150 million album sales. A large proportion of these came on the back of tracks like his chart-topping (across six countries) 1988 release – a cover of the 1965 Mindbenders’ single, Groovy Kind of Love, taken from the soundtrack of Buster, a sepia-toned UK made biopic of ‘Great Train Robber’, Buster Edwards, in which he also starred. Continue reading “Anniversary Waltz 1988 – A Groovy Kind of Love”

Cat, Interrupted

The Jaguar creation myth owes everything to this Autumn 1948 debutante.

(c) pixels.com

In October 1948, a British industrialist stood nervously by as the assembled press and dignitaries gathered around the Jaguar stand at the Earls Court Motor show. On a plinth sat a metallic gold roadster of breathtaking simplicity and elegance of line. As the crowds gathered to swoon over the newly announced XK 120 Super Sports, Jaguar’s (as yet unknighted) William Lyons realised he might just have hit the big time.

Ah yes, creation myths. Usually a catalogue of unbridled success, but in Jaguar’s case, this was hardly the case. Because like most overnight successes, the XK 120’s was forged over some considerable time.

Creatives rarely enjoy being interrupted in their work. One easily loses one’s train of thought, the muse frequently escapes and it’s often difficult to Continue reading “Cat, Interrupted”

Anniversary Waltz 1958 – Going Down With All Hands

Reviewing 1958’s British offerings, DTW experiences a sinking feeling.

(c) collidecolumn

The RMS Titanic sank many times in the intervening years since it first slipped beneath the waves with terrible loss of life in April 1912, but perhaps its definitive cinematic retelling dates to the Roy Ward Baker directed A Night To Remember, starring Kenneth More. The most expensive British made film when it premiered in July 1958, it was notable for its historical accuracy and the fact that several first-hand survivors of the sinking were employed as advisors to the production.

But not simply a faithful telling of a fable about hubris and man’s incapacity to truly overcome his environment, it also served as a potent metaphor for Britain’s fading grasp of empire and diminishing global influence. Continue reading “Anniversary Waltz 1958 – Going Down With All Hands”

Anniversary Waltz 2008 – Higgs Boson Blues

As 2018 leaches away, we begin our annual run-down of cars we couldn’t write about this year, beginning with 2008.

Phantom Menace. (c) Autocar

The largest machine ever built, the Large Hadron Collider at CERN was created with the modest aim of testing particle physics theory and possibly uncovering the secrets of existence itself. Situated 175 meters underground, with a circumference of 17 miles, the LHC was completed and inaugurated ten years ago. And while some critics expressed concern that it would Continue reading “Anniversary Waltz 2008 – Higgs Boson Blues”

Love’s Easy Tears

The 2008 Lotus Evora exemplifies the adage that subtlety rarely succeeds.

(c) autoevolution

Stepping outside of one’s accepted position is rarely rewarded, either in life, love, art or car design. For Lotus, revered by generations of enthusiasts for producing cars of often fragile genius, their occasional attempts at marrying dynamic prowess with a dash of practicality have by and large backfired. The 2008 Evora attempted to combine both. Misunderstood by aficionados and (some) members of the press, the car split opinion in 2008. It still does.

When Lotus ceased production of the aged Esprit in 2004, not only had the basic car been in production for 28 years, but its demise left a gap at the top of Lotus’ model range. At the opposite end, the pretty and gimlet-sharp Elise (and its derivatives) had proven a critical and commercial success, and Lotus, having become part of the Proton Group were in the process of persuading former CEO, Mike Kimberley to Continue reading “Love’s Easy Tears”

Children of the Revolution

The ‘Sixty-Eighters’ rocked France, yet one of its more illustrious offspring would become a bastion of more conformist values.

In a curiously prescient article for Le Monde in March 1968, journalist, Pierre Viansson-Ponté made the assertion that France was suffering from the dangerous affliction of ‘boredom’. During a period which French economist, Jean Fourastié coined as Les Trentes Glorieuses, the country settled into a period of political stability and economic prosperity, transitioning from a predominantly agricultural economy to a largely industrial one.

Rural France had decanted into the cities and its universities were brimming with the young and sexually frustrated, expected to behave in a similar fashion to that of their socially conformist parents. But students from Paris’ Université Nanterre, emboldened perhaps from a diet rich in Satre, Brel, and Dylan would no longer Continue reading “Children of the Revolution”

Parliamentary Privilege

Rover’s 1958 3-Litre was a class act, but it was a class in the grasp of profound change.

(c) datch.fr

On the 30th of April 1958, Royal assent was given to an act of parliament which changed the constitution of the upper house (the House of Lords) from being a male-only chamber, composed exclusively of hereditary peers. The Life Peerages Act led to a significant modernisation of parliament, lending the Lords a degree of legitimacy it had hitherto lacked, while better reflecting a changing UK society. Continue reading “Parliamentary Privilege”

Along Came a Spider

In 1978, Pininfarina made one final pitch to gain Jaguar’s business. It didn’t succeed, but did it precipitate another, more tangled narrative web?

(c) car-revs-daily

By around 1976 the automotive world had broadly coalesced around the belief that Jaguar’s XJ-S was, in stylistic terms a rather poor show from a carmaker renowned for being the business of beauty. It didn’t really matter that this particular set of shared assumptions had largely been formed by a UK and US press corps who had whipped themselves into a frenzy on the false premise that Jaguar would reprise the E-Type’s impact and ambition and by consequence required a scapegoat when reality proved somewhat different.

Blaming Jaguar was perhaps cathartic and while some argued the carmaker might have controlled the narrative a little better in the run up to the XJ-S’ announcement, in reality, the embattled residents of Browns Lane couldn’t Continue reading “Along Came a Spider”

Song to the Siren

Volkswagen’s upmarket Passat derivative – was it misunderstood or simply misconceived? 

(c) privatefleet

If one was to plot the course of Volkswagen’s design heritage in purely aesthetic terms (if indeed such a thing were possible), it would be represented on a somewhat undulating graph, and it could be argued with some conviction that overall, the troughs have tended to outweigh the peaks. But automotive design is a cyclical discipline and all styling studios must move with, or at least reflect the times. Continue reading “Song to the Siren”