The Quintessence : (Part Three)

In 1968, Jaguar put all its saloon car eggs in one decidedly comely basket. We examine the likely causes.

(c) forum-auto

In 1964, a series of factors led Sir William Lyons to take the momentous decision to replace Jaguar’s multiplicity of saloon models with a single car line, betting the entire enterprise upon its success. Retrospectively of course, one could say he needn’t have worried, but at the time, it must have been a deeply anxious moment.

How did this state of affairs come to pass? To answer this, we must Continue reading “The Quintessence : (Part Three)”

The Quintessence : Part Two

In this second instalment, we examine the XJ6’s technical package.

Proving engineers, Don Currie and Richard Cresswell with a disguised XJ4 prototype, sporting Lyons’ ‘Studebaker’ grille. (c) Classic Cars

Sanctioned in 1964, XJ4 was intended to launch in 1967, which seems in hindsight to have been a rather optimistic timescale. The project team would be led by Bob Knight, Jaguar’s senior development engineer and one of the finest conceptual minds of his era. The Browns Lane engineering department at the time was something of a collection of minor fiefdoms, most of whom Continue reading “The Quintessence : Part Two”

The Quintessence : (Part One)

William Lyons’ masterpiece. In a series of articles, we celebrate an automotive high watermark as it marks its 50th anniversary.

(c) Jag-lovers.org

Without any doubt at all, the XJ6 is my personal favourite. It comes closer to than any other to what I always had in mind as my ideal car.” Sir William Lyons.

One bright spring morning in 1967, two men strode towards a lock-up garage in the grounds of an imposing Victorian stately home, amid the rolling Warwickshire countryside. As the dew shimmered on the immaculately tended lawns and borders of Wappenbury Hall, Sir William Lyons, Chairman, Chief Executive and spiritus rector regarding all matters aesthetic, led his European Sales Director, John Morgan to where Jaguar’s vitally important new car lay sequestered, in seemingly definitive prototype form.

An autocrat to the tips of his highly polished brogues he may have been, but Lyons nevertheless regularly canvassed the opinions of those he trusted, although having done so, he would Continue reading “The Quintessence : (Part One)”

The Mayfly

The 1998 S-Class attempted something of a rebalancing act after the critical wobbles experienced by its predecessor. Today it is as forgotten as it was forgettable.

(c) auto-agress

The German general election of 1998 was fought against the backdrop, not only of increased European integration, but growing pains on the domestic front stemming from the 1990 reunification project. With incumbent centre-right Chancellor, Helmut Kohl campaigning on a continuity mandate, the opposition Social Democrats portrayed themselves as the ‘new centre’. The results saw Europe’s strongest economy Continue reading “The Mayfly”

Dreams of Reason Produce Monsters

Chris Bangle may have been maligned for a good deal during his tenure at BMW, but there are some things one can never quite forgive.

(c) RAC

All evolutionary pathways have their variances, those points of deviation from the natural course, most of which lead to dead-ends. Some however mutate, leading to strange and unnatural creations. In 2007, BMW unveiled one such grotesquery, an incongruously formed fastback SUV concept, dubbed a Sports Activity Coupé, which was revealed the following year in production form as the X6.

Chris Bangle is a man who seems content to Continue reading “Dreams of Reason Produce Monsters”

Summer Reissue : Visa? That’ll Do Nicely Madam…

This weekend finds Simon in less peevish form. Well, only slightly…

Image credit: Partsopen

I love the smell of floor polish in the morning. Floor polish is an excellent product for cleaning the wood trim in Jaguars. I don’t own a Jaguar incidentally – in my experience, one really ought not. Like all examples of the treacherous genus Felis, it owns you, and one might reasonably add, one’s bank balance.

But I haven’t asked you here today to Continue reading “Summer Reissue : Visa? That’ll Do Nicely Madam…”

Toro de Lidia

Today, We enter the medios, and recall one of Lamborghini’s better efforts.

Image credit: (c) classiccarsforsale

Automotive exotica are not what they were. Traditionally selfish devices, aimed at those who preferred to enjoy their pleasures in isolated splendour. Hence the requirement for additional perches not being terribly high on the exotic carmakers’ priority list. However, a gap in any market simply begs to be filled and Ferruccio Lamborghini was not an individual to Continue reading “Toro de Lidia”

Kenosha Kid

The immortal ‘Frogeye’ Sprite appeared to be a typical example of British design ingenuity, but its roots may have lain further West: Kenosha, Wisconsin to be exact.

Box of frogs. Image credit: (c) stubs-auto.fr

The compact two-seat sportscar wasn’t necessarily a British invention, but for a period of the twentieth century, the UK was arguably, its prime exponent. Hardly surprising, given Britain’s traditionally serpentine network of narrow undulating roads and a taxation regime which dictated lower capacity, longer-stroke engines of limited outright power.

But the British are an inventive people and soon found ways to Continue reading “Kenosha Kid”

Eine Zukunft

BMW hasn’t a brilliant track record with open two-seaters. As the Bavarian carmaker prepares its latest sports car salvo, we examine one of their better efforts.

Image credit: (c) bmwblog

Given its current status as a generalist manufacturer with an increasingly thin residual veneer of aspirant prestige, it is with some incredulity one recalls how thirty years ago the BMW range consisted almost entirely of three volume saloons of an athletic mien.

Not that the Bayerische Motoren Werke lacked interest in more, shall we say, emotive vehicles, but an innate conservatism, coupled to a weak financial position meant that apart from the 507 model (a low-volume halo car created entirely for the United States market in 1959), and 1978’s M1 supercar, BMW cleaved to what it knew best.

By the mid 1980s, with the carmaker’s fortunes and upmarket reputation burnished like never before, a growing sense emerged within the Petuelring that BMW’s ‘Ultimate Driving Machine’ credentials were not being sufficiently well served merely by selling emboldened 3-Series’.

The official line, as forwarded by research and development chief, Wolfgang Reitzle, was to push upmarket into Mercedes-Benz territory, where profit and image were considerably more abundant. Reizle advanced his preferred ‘sporting’ model, the technically dense and witheringly expensive range-topping, V12 engined E31 8-Series coupé. However, factions within Munich’s Forschungs und Innovationszentrum had other ideas as to the nature and form of an overtly sporting BMW motor car.

During this period, the Bavarian carmaker created an engineering skunkworks dedicated to Continue reading “Eine Zukunft”

Eurochild

Vittorio Ghidella presided over one of Fiat Auto’s rare periods of growth and prosperity. The 1988 Tipo exemplified his pragmatic approach, but all gains would become subject to the Fiat Charter.

Don’t worry, it’s galvanised! 1988 Tipo perilously close to water. Image credit: stubs.centreblog

Boom and bust appears to have been as essential a part of the Fiat charter as ill-judged facelifts. Periods of prosperity punctuated by blind panic when the balance sheet nosedived. In 1979, Gianni Agnelli appointed former engineer, Vittorio Ghidella to head the Fiat Auto division. The Turin carmaker was in desperate straits, emerging from the 1970s battered from the legacies of the ’73 fuel crisis and from labour disputes which threatened the future of the business.

Within a decade, the picture would be vastly different. Continue reading “Eurochild”

The Born Identity

Like another much-loved ’80s C-sector stalwart, Volvo’s turn of the decade hatchback was aimed at two market sectors concurrently, satisfying neither. Driven to Write asks, was the 440-series Volvo’s Maestro?

1988 Volvo 440. Image credit: (c) autoevolution

Volvo’s long-lived 300-series proved something of a mixed blessing for the Swedish car maker by the late 1980s. On one hand, a firm and remarkably consistent seller (a regular in the UK’s top ten), while on the other, something of an embarrassment given its age, hapless dynamics and the fact that it was a car Gothenburg engineers never had much appreciation for in the first place.

Volvo were understandably keen to Continue reading “The Born Identity”

Ritmo Della Strada

Fiat’s Seventies C-segment style statement is largely a neglected footnote today, but there’s more to the Ritmo than a bunch of robots and some confusion over its name.

Style statement. Image credit: cargurus

Was any decade as truly modern as the 1970s? One retrospectively characterised in a roseate glow of giddy colours and lurid sartorial fashions; of long hair, beards, beads and ABBA songs, what chroniclers choose to ignore was how genuinely, thrillingly new it all appeared at the time and after an interval of four decades, seems even more so now.

In terms of product design, little that occurred in the decade that followed came even close to Continue reading “Ritmo Della Strada”

Five in Time

Cometh the hour, cometh the car. 1988’s E34 BMW 5-Series arrived at just the right moment, redefining the model line and clarifying a template that arguably hasn’t been bettered.

Image credit: bmwguide

If 1961’s Neue Klasse saloons served to define Bayerische Motoren Werke’s style template and 1966’s 1600-2 popularised it, the Paul Bracq-inspired E12 5-Series of 1972 would take the design principles of Wilhelm Hofmiester and recast them in a modish, yet still highly disciplined context.

A design which married a sharply pared and engineered steeliness with an almost Latin softness, the E12 became BMW’s visual touchstone for almost two generations. So much so that its replacement, 1981’s E28 was essentially a reskin of the outgoing car. Continue reading “Five in Time”

A Company Car

With Ford poised to officially reveal its spiritual successor, we examine the car which fifty years ago paved its path, becoming the fifth best selling car of all time.

Image credit: viaretro

It’s a curious choice of name when you think about it, connotating little by way of glamour or allure, unlike for instance its Cortina sibling. The car as companion perhaps? A no-nonsense non-specific name for what began as a practical, utilitarian no-nonsense car.

The Escort name in fact predated this model, first turning up on a variant of the 1950s British Ford 100E range, but more salaciously, it was also the title of a popular UK top-shelf publication, beloved of the school playground and travel motel dweller alike.

But the Escort in basic form at least, was hardly going to Continue reading “A Company Car”

Herbie Dies Again

Death’s door revolves once more for VW’s retromobile. Perhaps we’ll miss it this time, but only if it promises to go away.

Image credit: volkswagen.com

At the recent Geneva motor show, Volkswagen’s research and development chief, Frank Welsch confirmed the much rumoured demise of the Beetle. Many commenters had speculated since VW’s fortunes (both reputational and financial) took a dive in the wake of the firm’s emissions-revelations, that niche models like the Beetle were on deathwatch, so in many ways this news comes as no surprise.

Indeed, according to some sources, production could Continue reading “Herbie Dies Again”

Two Cities, One Car

A clumsy name for a rather clumsy car. Ten years ago, Alfa Romeo took aim at the MINI (and its ilk) and missed. We plot the MiTo’s wobbly trajectory.

Image credit: autokult

Alfa Romeo has throughout its long history enjoyed a distinctly patchy relationship with small cars. Pre-War, such a notion would probably have been laughable but even in the latter half of the 20th century, despite the occasional prototype, the smallest car Portello actually got round to Continue reading “Two Cities, One Car”

Anniversary Waltz 2017: Sweet Smell of Success

Our final retrospective waltz in this series lands in 1957.

Bert Lancaster as JJ Hundseker and Tony Curtis as Sidney Falco from the 1957 Alexander McKendrick release, Sweet Smell of Success. Image: video city

1957’s Sweet Smell of Success was an unusual film for its era, made by a director better known for lighthearted comedies, casting its two leads against type and portraying a seedy, rapacious twilight world behind the gloss of celebrity culture. In that respect, it was a very modern film, but it was one the public were not ready for, dying in cinemas.

Its two leading men, Bert Lancaster and Tony Curtis whose on-screen relationship was characterised by Continue reading “Anniversary Waltz 2017: Sweet Smell of Success”

Anniversary Waltz 2017: Reflections in a Golden Eye

Ah 1967: The Summer of love. Sgt. Pepper. Twiggy. Bond.

Adieu Panhard. Image: hemmings

But leaving popular culture aside, the mood music was more sombre. In the UK, land speed record holder, Donald Campbell died attempting to break the water record on Lake Coniston in his Bluebird K3 jetboat. While back on terra firma the advent of the Road Safety Act set a maximum permitted blood alcohol level, allowing breathalyser tests to be performed on drivers for the first time.

Across the Atlantic, the National Transport Safety Board was created to Continue reading “Anniversary Waltz 2017: Reflections in a Golden Eye”

Anniversary Waltz 2017: ‘Oh the Eastern Sea’s So Blue’

The waltz continues its overdue retrospective sweep through 1987.

LJK Setright liked it so much he bought one. 1987 Honda Prelude. Image: Japanese SportCars

By the mid-80’s the Japanese car companies were beginning to really give the European car business the willies, with the UK’s Car magazine bewailing their advent in luridly melodramatic terms. With Honda’s existing midliner being Accorded viable 3-Series rivalry status, Minato-Tokyo prepared a fresh salvo into the hearts and minds of their European rivals with this third generation Prelude.

Utilising the core body structure of its 1982 forebear, the ’87 car’s smoother, softer style and lower nose (made possible by the engine being canted back 18°) lent it a visual grace its predecessor slightly lacked, but its distinctly three-volume silhouette meant Continue reading “Anniversary Waltz 2017: ‘Oh the Eastern Sea’s So Blue’”

Anniversary Waltz 2017 : Things Can Only Get Better!

Continuing DTW’s meta retrospective, we dial the time machine back to 1997.

LR Freelander. Image: RAC

1997 was an eventful year (weren’t they all?) which in a series of reversals for establishment-Britain saw the Chinese regain control over Hong Kong, and the dominant Conservative party lose power domestically following an 18-year run. In Paris that autumn, Princess Diana died in a car accident, the Hale-Bopp comet had its initial sighting, and oh yes, the Titanic sank again.

But if the number of débutantes profiled over the past twelve months is any indication, 1997 proved a good deal more fecund a year from an automotive perspective. Nevertheless, some stories remain untold, which leads us to Continue reading “Anniversary Waltz 2017 : Things Can Only Get Better!”

Anniversary Waltz 2017: The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

In a series of articles, Driven to Write gives 2017 the meta treatment.

2007 Audi A5. Image: CBG.ie

It’s normally customary at this time to reflect upon the just-departed year, its themes, its happenings and how these events might offer some guide to the coming one, but my DTW colleague-in-arms has already covered that. No, what I am offering today (and over the coming days) is to all intents and purposes a series of retrospectives on a series of retrospectives. Well after all it’s Driven to Write you’ve blundered upon, what exactly were you expecting?

Over the past 24 months, I’ve chronicled various (arguably?) significant cars, marking their various anniversaries and have found it to be a rich seam. After all, it’s pleasing to Continue reading “Anniversary Waltz 2017: The Diving Bell and the Butterfly”

The Death of Romance

A (modest) commercial success, but ultimately a creative failure, the 2007 XF opened Jaguar up to a non-traditional audience, but in the final analysis, probably cast too many values on the fire.

Image: Car and Driver

By 2005, Ford’s ambitious growth strategy for Jaguar lay in tatters following a series of misguided creative decisions based on a discredited retro aesthetic. As Ford’s Premier Automotive Group began its slow dissolve, the storied luxury car maker’s consistent inability to Continue reading “The Death of Romance”

Terrible Angel

The 1957 Lotus Type 14 was uncommonly beautiful, brilliantly courageous but ultimately doomed.

Image: MK14 Components

“Who, if I cried out, would hear me among the angelic Orders? And even if one were to suddenly take me to its heart, I would vanish into its stronger existence. For beauty is nothing but the beginning of terror, that we are still able to bear, and we revere it so, because it calmly disdains to destroy us. Every angel is terrible.”  René Karl Wilhelm Johann Josef Maria Rilke – First Elegy.

Anthony Colin Bruce Chapman was no angel, but a visionary, risk-taker, rascal, genius? He’s been called many of these things and indeed some of them may Continue reading “Terrible Angel”

Beauty Stab

Commonly regarded as the most beautiful Alfa Romeo saloon shape of recent times, the Alfa 156’s svelte lines remain a credit to its designer. But questions remain as to its authorship.

Image: cars data

Over the past sixty-odd years, Alfa Romeo berlinas and the notion of ravishing beauty were (for the most part) mutually exclusive. Now of course this doesn’t necessarily mean Arese wasn’t home to some very fine and finely wrought motorcars, but it’s difficult to avoid the view that the habitual centro stile fare hasn’t exactly been an art curator’s dream.

The 1992 Alfa 155 certainly wasn’t. Based on the Tipo-derived Type Three corporate platform, its tall, narrow-looking silhouette combined with skin surfacing endowed with an over-abundance of character lines, and clumsily placed shutlines was a clear evolution of its 75 predecessor, but hardly a car to Continue reading “Beauty Stab”

Anniversary Waltz 2017 : Wirtschaftswunder-Wagen

Three German cars, each of which share a birthdate and a complex web of gestational links, share one further distinction. Each helped put post-war Germany back on four wheels.

1957 BMW 600. Image: MODern deSign

Sixty years ago, Europe was still reeling from the effects of World War Two. Germany was inching its way back to political credibility and prosperity thanks to the economic miracle and a little help from an American named Marshall. Mobility was very much the name of the game, with most domestic manufacturers focusing on simple, affordable cars for everyman.

BMW’s Eisenach works found itself on the wrong side of history by the end of hostilities, situated in what had become the Russian sector of a partitioned Germany. Producing exclusive and unprofitable V8 engined luxury cars wasn’t going to Continue reading “Anniversary Waltz 2017 : Wirtschaftswunder-Wagen”

Anniversary Waltz 2017 : A History of Lessons

A decade ago, Alfa Romeo wowed the faithful with the 8C Competizione, a car which ultimately amounted to less than the sum of its parts. But weren’t we here before?

8C Competizione. Image: autocar

The philosopher, Jorge Agustín Nicolás Ruiz de Santayana y Borrás once essayed the line, “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Following this logic, amnesia clearly runs as deeply within Alfa Romeo as blind optimism. The perennially crisis-ridden Italian car brand seems locked into a habitual cycle of hope and despair, with each new dawn promising that this time all will Continue reading “Anniversary Waltz 2017 : A History of Lessons”

Celestial Being

Overshadowed by its more lionised ‘gullwing’ predecessor, the 1957 Mercedes-Benz 300 SL roadster was in many ways the superior car. DTW recalls a time when Daimler-Benz was a superior motor company.

Image: Classics Honest John

Mercedes-Benz: A name that at one time symbolised a continuum stretching back to the dawn of motoring and an ethos that embodied the sternest, most rigourous engineering ideals with a relentless Swabian logic. By 1957, the Mercedes-Benz 300SL was the most modern, most eloquent exponent of these principles and perhaps the most technically accomplished car in production – this side of a Citroën’s homegrown goddess anyway. Continue reading “Celestial Being”

Four Ring Cycle

1997’s A6 saw Audi choosing bravery over stylistic torpidude. A lesson they could do well to re-learn.

Was this the earliest application of the lower-door-mounted rub-strip? Image: autowp-ru

By the early 1990s, Audi appeared to have run out of steam as the successes of the previous decade began to fade. Having lit up the automotive firmament with technological marvels such as the Ursprünglich Quattro coupe and the aero-influenced C3 100 / 200 series, the early ’90s saw the four rings of Ingolstadt comparatively becalmed.

Consolidation was the operative word, the feeling along the Danube being that enough had been done to Continue reading “Four Ring Cycle”

Two Fingered Salute

In 1987, Maranello went back to its roots, launching the precursor to today’s track-bound limited edition wonders. But in looking to the past, was F40 the modern Ferrari of all?

Weapons grade material. Image: fastestlaps

The Ferrari F40 is a car that brooks no ambivalence. Like the company’s founder and imperator, F40 is indifferent to the notion that you might find it vulgar, somewhat silly, a virtually unusable statement of machismo and status, because it’s all of those things and a great deal more besides. Because, perhaps more than anything, F40 remains the essence of Enzo. Continue reading “Two Fingered Salute”

Harriman’s Folly

If a car can embody the legacy of its creator, the 1967 Austin 3-Litre will forever be linked with the fall of BMC boss, George Harriman. Hubris or simply bad timing? Driven to Write investigates.

Quadruple headlamps quickly replaced the more modern looking ovoid units fitted to the car at launch. Image: Oldtechnology.net

An unwitting metaphor for a car company which had fundamentally lost its way, the 1967 Austin 3-Litre was an unmitigated failure in both creative and commercial terms. Received at launch with an embarrassed silence from the UK press corps, shunned by the buying public and withdrawn from sale in 1971 with a mere 9,992 examples built, the 3-Litre, along with the Austin Maxi would prove to be the final nails in BMC’s coffinlid and all the evidence Donald Stokes and his Leyland cohorts needed to Continue reading “Harriman’s Folly”

Norfolk Broad

With perhaps the shortest gestation of any production car, 1977’s Chrysler/Talbot Sunbeam personified the term, ‘rush job’ – and it showed. But one variant burned brightly, courtesy of Lotus.

Image: copie-petites-observations-automobile

In 1977, the TV ad-breaks were awash with the mellifluous tones of Petula Clark, exhorting us all to put a Chrysler Sunbeam in our lives. I was around 11 at the time, so there wasn’t much I could do to obey the Surrey songstress’ siren call but since we did have an Avenger parked outside, my level of interest in Linwood’s newest offering was perhaps keener that it might have otherwise have been.

The Sunbeam was the result a neat piece of industrial blackmail on the part of Chrysler UK, the failing former Rootes car business, which under US management had merged with Simca but was struggling with a dated range of cars and a loss making production facility in Scotland making fewer of them than was economical. Faced with the plant’s closure, the UK government agreed to Continue reading “Norfolk Broad”

Stretching a Metaphor

Ford’s post-acquisition strategy for Jaguar was one of aggressive growth, but it came at some cost – particularly to their core model line.

Jaguar flagship. 1997 long-wheelbase Daimler Super V8. Image: motorstown

Having taken a multi-billion dollar hit on the acquisition of Jaguar in 1989, Ford executives saw only one way out of the mess they have got themselves into. In order to gain the return on investment they craved, Jaguar would need to be transformed from a specialist 35-40,000 car a year business to one pushing out at least five times that number. To achieve this, they would need to Continue reading “Stretching a Metaphor”

Bobcat by Another Name

Another in a series of lasts: The 1997 Ford Puma. We won’t see its like again.

Image: carcatalog

The 1990s saw Ford’s European outpost embark upon a period of reflection; a polar realignment from the provision of lowest common denominator perambulatory devices to a respected and critically lauded manufacturer of class-leaders. This process began in earnest with the 1995 debut of the BE91-series Fiesta. While retaining the body structure and basic mechanicals of the critically unloved preceding model, a series of chassis and engine refinements in addition to a major external and internal restyle saw the Fiesta Continue reading “Bobcat by Another Name”

Sons of the Silent Age

Part one: Driven to Write meets (and briefly drives) one of its heroes.

Image: Driven to Write

A commonly espoused orthodoxy warns us that close proximity to our idols can only lead to disappointment. Some go further, suggesting that the renunciation of hero worship is the mark of a mature mind. This being the case, I can categorically claim not to have attained it. But surely it is preferable to Continue reading “Sons of the Silent Age”

Henry’s Bequest

One model has defined Volvo’s rebirth, but its backer deserves some of the credit as well.

‘Ford Gives You More’ – Volvo XC60. Image: Car and Driver

It’s customary for a new car line to hit its sales-stride within the second full year of production, before plateauing and gradually ebbing downwards. This fall is normally arrested by a mid-term facelift, before once again, the graph pitches inexorably Southwards as the model is run out and ultimately replaced. While I wouldn’t necessarily Continue reading “Henry’s Bequest”

In the Name of the Son – 1967 Dino 206 GT

The car with which Alfredo Ferrari’s name would become synonymous did not carry the famous Cavallino Rampante emblem, but is arguably the most significant (and beautiful) Ferrari of all.

Mastery from the house of Pininfarina. Image: jdclassics

Enzo Ferrari preferred to be addressed as ‘ingegnere’, which was something of an irony, given his somewhat reactionary views on the subject. A staunch traditionalist, his principles were firmly rooted in the pre-war era; pivoting around the notion of a powerful, high revving power unit combined with a driver of sufficient bravery and skill to overcome the inevitable chassis-related deficiencies. Continue reading “In the Name of the Son – 1967 Dino 206 GT”

Transalpine Hightail

Disappointingly uneven, despite occasional flashes of brilliance, the 1977 Giulietta personifies Alfa Romeo’s 1970’s wilderness years.

Image: wheelsage

The much-loved 105-Series Giulia was the model line that put Alfa Romeo back on a World stage. This compact sporting saloon was a concentrated blend of Portello engineering knowhow wrapped in a highly aerodynamic, if superficially four-square package. Belying it’s ‘boxy’ appearance however, the 105 drove beautifully becoming a firm favourite from its 1962 inception until its ultimate demise 15-years on.

Replacing a car of its stature was no job of a moment, so Alfa not only took their time, but elected to Continue reading “Transalpine Hightail”

Car is a Four Letter Word

The fourth generation of the series proved to be the quintessence of Golf. Twenty years later, it still is.

1997 Volkswagen Golf Mark IV. Image: 3dtuning

In 1974, a teetering VW took a risky punt into the relative unknown by launching a car, which by no means avant garde, (even by the standards of the day), was nonetheless some way left of centre. While it would be facile to suggest it was anything but a commercial success, it wasn’t perhaps until its second permutation that it began to truly dominate the sector it would ultimately define. Continue reading “Car is a Four Letter Word”

Theme: Porsche – ‘Flow Motion’

A brave and modernist masterpiece from Porsche – of all people.

Image: Autowp.ru

During the early 1970s, contemporary music’s centre of gravity saw a shift away from the UK and America, Eastwards to Germany, where so-called ‘Kosmiche’ bands like Can, Cluster, Faust, Kraftwerk, Tangerine Dream and Neu! forged an alternative soundscape, laying down a sonic basis for the post-punk, new wave and electronic music that followed. Dismissed at the time as ‘Krautrock’, without its influence, music would most likely have evolved in a very different direction.

Porsche’s 928 is one of perhaps six outstanding car designs from the 1970s, a half-dozen vehicles that in their own disparate manner, eloquently Continue reading “Theme: Porsche – ‘Flow Motion’”

Fallen Star – 1997 Mercedes A-Class

With total sales of over a million, the W168 Mercedes A-Class is possibly the best selling commercial flop ever. We chart its fall.

Green wheelie bin. Image: mercedesclass.net

The 2012 announcement of Mercedes’ current-generation A-Class and its re-alignment in ethos and market position was viewed by most observers as an expedient business decision based upon 15 torrid years in the compact car game. While Daimler’s U-turn elicited little by way of overt criticism, it could equally be regarded as a potent symbol that the Stuttgart-Untertürkheim car giant had conclusively lost the argument. Continue reading “Fallen Star – 1997 Mercedes A-Class”

Trident Inversion – 1987 Maserati 228

The Biturbo’s bigger brother appeared very much the sober Italian aristocrat. Unfortunately, both breeding and manners were slightly suspect.

Image: betterparts

The Biturbo could be said to have saved Maserati, yet is perhaps best remembered for its troubled reputation than any commercial, aesthetic or performance-related virtues. Whether such a reputation remains entirely justified is perhaps a question for another time, but what is often forgotten amid the flow of water under the Tridente’s bridge is what a significant step the Tipo AM331 was when first introduced in 1981. Continue reading “Trident Inversion – 1987 Maserati 228”

Fiat al Fredo – 1967 Fiat Dino Coupé

While it’s comparatively easy to dismiss it as something of a parts bin special, the 1967 Fiat Dino Coupé amounted to a good deal more than the sum of its parts.

1967 Fiat Dino Coupe. Image: Wheelsage

By the latter stages of the 1960’s, Fiat management realised the necessity of providing more than just basic transportation for the Italian market. With living standards on the rise, the demand for more upmarket cars grew – at least within the bounds of what Italy’s stringent taxation regime would allow.

With Dante Giacosa’s engineers at work on a series of new models to cover the compact to mid-classes – (124 and 125-series’) in addition to a new flagship to replace the dated 2300-series, Fiat’s offerings to Italy’s middle classes reflected this push upmarket, even if the egalitarian Giacosa didn’t necessarily Continue reading “Fiat al Fredo – 1967 Fiat Dino Coupé”

Anniversary Waltz 2016

So many cars, so little time.

A car to return to. Image: Spiegel.de
A car to return to. Image: Spiegel.de

Like most of what we do here at Driven to Write, our commemoration of significant automotive anniversaries throughout the past year came about largely by accident and was therefore never intended to be exhaustive or definitive. But with 2016 consigned to a blessedly welcome end, we now find ourselves like overindulged children with an embarrassment of riches for which we have little real use. So in the spirit of post celebratory ennui, we propose to take a brushstroke to the cars we never quite got around to last year. Continue reading “Anniversary Waltz 2016”

Estate of Arese – 1986 Alfa Romeo 75 Sportwagon

Missing Links and lost causes – in search of Alfa Romeo’s elusive estate.

1986 Alfa 75 Sportwagon. Image: Alfaroma.it
1986 Alfa 75 Sportwagon. Image: Alfaroma.it

The recent announcement by Alfa Romeo’s Harald Wester that the Italian manufacturer has no plans to introduce an estate version of its latest Giulia saloon was hardly a shock, given that the forthcoming Stelvio crossover will henceforth fulfil that role, being to all intents and purposes a jacked up Giulia hatch. As we know, the European market for upmarket estate cars is shrinking to the crossover contagion and what is left of it is dominated by the German hegemonic trio and Volvo, so it probably makes little sense now for FCA to throw good money after bad. Continue reading “Estate of Arese – 1986 Alfa Romeo 75 Sportwagon”

Welcome to the Machine

The advertising copy was unequivocal: “10th September 1975: A black day for Modena, Stuttgart and Milan”. It didn’t quite work out like that, but 40 years late, the jury’s finally in on the XJ-S.

Image via Jaguar Heritage
Image: Jaguar Heritage

On this day 40 years ago, the Jaguar XJ-S was launched to the press, and while knives were mostly sheathed, the sense of bewilderment was palpable. Because the one aspect of the XJ-S few critics ever truly got their heads around was its styling. For the entirety of the car’s career, its appearance was derided by the automotive media, certain they were as right as Jaguar were wrong.

Report after report of Jaguar’s flagship told of a brilliantly developed grande routière whose road behaviour, effortless performance and uncanny mechanical refinement was from the very top-drawer but was let down by its polarising appearance. Continue reading “Welcome to the Machine”

Benchmarks: Audi’s Monospace Capsule

The A2 wasn’t simply the most intelligently wrought Audi ever. It was also their most expensive sales flop. We tell its story.

Audi A2. Image via nordschleifeautoblahg
Image (c) nordschleifeautoblahg

History marks the Audi A2 as a failure, and with vast commercial losses incurred during a six year lifespan, it’s a simple and convenient dismissal. Since its 2005 demise, the party line has been that Audi took a brave, risky and ultimately doomed gamble into the unknown, one which was studiously ignored by the buying public. But is it as simple as that?

It had been an open secret since the late-1980s that Daimler-Benz had a compact hatchback in development. Such an incursion into the VW Group’s orbit was viewed by Chairman, Dr. Ferdinand Piëch as a gross betrayal, precipitating amongst other things, this overt cost-no-object rival.

Schemed on the basis of an ultra-economical VW concept, Piëch tasked Audi engineers to create a technological statement with the avowed intention of putting his detested rivals in Stuttgart-Untertürkheim firmly in their place.

Ingolstadt’s engineers had one pronounced ace in their pocket – material technology, in the form of aluminium spaceframe construction pioneered in the range-topping A8. However when Audi displayed the Al2 concept as a spoiler to the Mercedes A-Class’ 1997 debut, few saw it as anything more than simply another fit of Piëch. Two years later, both press and public realised just how serious he was.

Image via bilmodel
Image (c) bilmodel

An engineer’s car from its rounded nose to the tip of its aerodynamically shaped tail-lights, the A2 appeared to have been milled from a solid billet of aluminium. Luc Donckerwolke’s styling scheme was a masterpiece of form and structural function. Its design detail was a delight and with a exquisitely streamlined teardrop shape the A2 was a pared-back study in visual and material purity.

Beautifully finished and assembled to similar standards of care as larger Audi models, the A2 became an object of desire for design aficionados from Dingolfing to Dungeness. Ingolstadt would never be this clever again.

Image via audiworld
The level of investment in the A2’s aluminium spaceframe construction was huge. Image (c) audiworld

But this level of integrity costs. Priced above a well-specified Golf, prospective customers really had to make a case for the Audi. Combine this with small-capacity carry-over VAG engines (with a commensurate lack of performance – a function of its efficiency brief), and the A2’s fate was sealed.

Because while the market was perplexed by Mercedes’ A-Class, it was utterly confounded by the A2. Was it a compact luxury saloon or an economy trailblazer – could it be both? The motoring public are notoriously both fickle and inherently conservative and therefore by nature abhor a smart-Alec.

As a result, buyers cleaved to the safety of convention, so A2 never troubled the sales charts. After six slow years Audi pulled the plug, replacing it with the screamingly conventional, and considerably more market-friendly Polo-based A1.

Image via picgifs
Image (c) picgifs

VW ultimately lost €1.3bn on the A2 programme, although one suspects its costs were written off before the first production car rolled down the lines. The A2 did its job for Dr. Piëch, proving Audi could out-engineer their bitter Stuttgart rivals.

Yet the A2 proved a more durable design amidst enlightened autophiles – held in genuine affection by owners and those (like this author) who still quietly covet one. While sales success eluded the A2 during its life, it has become a sought after secondhand buy, holding significantly more residual value than its considerably less well wrought A-Class rival.

Late era A2's were available in these cheerful Colourstorm liveries - image via A2oc
Late model A2’s were also available in these cheerful Colourstorm liveries – image (c) A2oc via fourtitude

Today, an A2 arguably makes even more sense – its alloy body impervious to rust, and with commendably low running costs – especially in three-cylinder TDi form. While Audi have abandoned the A2 concept, recently stating they have no intention of producing a similar monospace vehicle, the concept has taken on new life at Munich’s Petuelring, with BMW’s i3 vividly illustrating the A2’s prescience.