Welcome to the Machine (Part One)

How does one follow up a classic?

jaguar xjs
Image: Practical Classics

In the Spring of 1973, English progressive rock band Pink Floyd released Dark Side of the Moon, their eighth studio LP and their most ambitious to date. With tracks which flowed seamlessly, replete with cinematic sound effects, soul choirs, disembodied voices and a song-set which dealt with issues of success, the march of time and mental illness, the conceptual double album became one of best selling, most critically acclaimed and best loved progressive rock LPs of the 20th century – still cited as an all-time classic.

Two years later, the band released their follow-up. Wish you Were Here continued many of the themes explored in the earlier recording, but in more developed form. Predominantly a tribute to founder-member Syd Barrett, who had had become estranged from the band following a mental breakdown in 1968, possibly related to drug use. Less acclaimed than Dark Side, it has for many years languished in its shadow, only latterly being hailed in its own right.

Officially introduced two days prior to the Floyd’s 1975 opus, Jaguar’s XJ-S was also a reprise of a much-loved original. In a similar manner, fans of sporting Jaguars, not to mention the gentlemen of the press were beside themselves in anticipation of how Browns Lane would Continue reading “Welcome to the Machine (Part One)”

A Song For Erika

‘Simple is efficient’ the adline stated. But Ford’s 1980 Escort really was all about design. 

1980 Ford Escort Ghia. (c) curbsideclassic

Throughout the 1970s, the Ford Motor Company’s European satellite produced cars that were precisely what large swathes of the market not only wanted, but actively aspired to. This highly lucrative recipe was a combination of tried and trusted conventional engineering, slick marketing, a gimlet-eyed focus on product strategy and well judged, contemporary style.

First introduced in 1968, the big-selling Escort model was successfully rebodied in 1975. However, by the latter part of the decade, it had fallen behind, stylistically, but particularly on the technical side. With most of Ford’s rivals moving inexorably towards the front-wheel drive, hatchback layout, the blue oval needed to Continue reading “A Song For Erika”

Sir Alec ‘Nose Best

Widely derided as a travesty of Issigonis’ original, but was the 1969 Clubman intended to be something more?

‘Honey, the Rover won’t start again – be a love and run me down to the station…’  Author’s collection

The Mini was wasn’t really styled as such – its body style simply a clothing for the technical package set out by its creators, with only the barest concession to style. Surprisingly, it worked, the car’s appearance proving relatively timeless, endearing and well proportioned. The problem was, it didn’t really lend itself to facelifting. By 1967, the Mini had yet to become legendary, to say nothing of iconic. It was just another product which had been on the marketplace for some time and would soon require more than the rather perfunctory nip and tuck it had just received.

Appointed head of the BMC car division in 1966, PSF chief, Joe Edwards quickly put into action a plan to Continue reading “Sir Alec ‘Nose Best”

Orphaned, Abandoned, Unsung

When is a Volkswagen not a Volkswagen? When it’s an NSU. The K70’s fate forms a salutary tale. 

All images – author’s collection.

There is an argument to be made that the Volkswagen motor company has thrived upon existential crises. Certainly they have experienced no shortage of them over their lengthy and mostly successful history. Having survived and prospered in the wake of the first of these in 1945, by the latter years of the 1960s, the Wolfsburg carmaker once again was faced with a serious reversal of fortune, with demand for the emblematic Beetle faltering, and little clear idea of how to Continue reading “Orphaned, Abandoned, Unsung”

Fire Without the Spark

The French Capri?

(c) stubs-auto.fr

The Spanish word for fire, the Renault Fuego was somewhat unusual in 1980 in that it was in receipt of a name rather than a numeral. The nationalised French carmaker’s numerical system, which had been in place since the ’60s was already showing signs of unravelling, but would take almost another decade before being abandoned with debut of the Clio in 1990. This made the Fuego something of an outlier in the range, a status the car maintains to this day.

To those who Continue reading “Fire Without the Spark”

Non-Conformist (Part Two)

Concluding our brief overview of Citroën’s epochal GS.

Image: Citroen UK

In 1970, the European motor press voted the GS its car of the year. The award, Automobiles Citroën’s first ever European Car of the Year award, was formally presented in February 1971 to Pierre Bercot’s successor as Director General, Raymond Ravenel in the Hilton Hotel in Amsterdam.

Hailing 1971 as “the year of the GS”, Ravenel told assembled journalists and dignitaries, “The public was quick to Continue reading “Non-Conformist (Part Two)”

Non-Conformist (Part One)

The future arrived in 1970. It was called GS.

(c) citroenorigins

Bernardo Bertolucci’s 1970 Franco-Italian feature film, The Conformist is billed as a cinematic masterpiece. Set during the 1930s fascist-era Italy, its themes of politics, betrayal, and psycho-sexual guilt, framed within Vittorio Storaro’s lavish cinematography remain as provocative today as they were when first screened in cinemas half a century ago.

As the 1960s gave way, France had witnessed a stark moment of unease in the Spring of 1968 when the conformism of French society was violently challenged in the streets of Paris by a younger generation, determined to Continue reading “Non-Conformist (Part One)”

A Matter of Consequence

The Millennial Mercedes C-Class is not a car that lives in the memory. It’s far too inconsequential for that.

(c) carpixel

Like all inversions, the decline of Mercedes-Benz didn’t occur overnight. Its slide was glacial at first, before gradually and inexorably picking up speed as gravity took hold. Gravity isn’t an adjective which immediately lends itself to the model line we are retrospectively appraising today – a car which can perhaps most charitably be described as inconsequential.

Because over the four generations the C-Class has established itself in the upmarket compact saloon category, the W203 series can safely Continue reading “A Matter of Consequence”

Anima Semplice

Giugiaro’s favourite. Popular too with over 4.5 Million owners, the Panda was as good as it was clever – but was it great?

(c) bestcarmag

The most significant designs carry within them an essential seam of honesty – call it a fitness for purpose, if you will. This was especially apparent at the more humble end of the automotive spectrum; cars like the Citroën 2CV and BMC Mini bear eloquent witness to a single-minded approach to a highly specific brief. And while some of the more notable utilitarian cars appear to have taken an almost anti-styling approach, they were for the most part, sweated over as much as anyone’s carrozzeria-honed exotic.

Fiat’s original Panda is a case in point – appearing to some eyes as being almost wilfully unfinessed upon its Geneva show debut in 1980, it was in fact not only the brainchild of some of the finest creative minds of its era, but probably the final product from a mainstream European carmaker to Continue reading “Anima Semplice”

Late Reprieve

The 9-4X arrived too late to save Saab. But could it have done so?

(c) motortrend

When General Motors acquired Saab, they were not taking control of a healthy, thriving carmaker. Saab was already losing money and furthermore, required massive investment. It’s clear that GM made many mistakes over its stewardship, but perhaps the most glaring of them was (and GM were by no means alone in this) a growth policy which placed speed and market presence over quality of execution.

Having spent vast sums of money acquiring European prestige car brands, General Motors, like their Dearborn rivals saw expansion as the favoured route to Continue reading “Late Reprieve”

Class Act

Social mobility, across all-terrain.

Image via pinterest

Britain has always enjoyed a somewhat elastic relationship with both the land itself, and those who both own and administer it. Pivoting from forelock-tugging deference to bland indifference during the short years of relative social equality, the more recent austerity-era saw a shift back towards a renewed hunger for the certainties of the established social order – a matter which has been reflected to some extent with the rise of that automotive marker of social (and physical) superiority – the SUV.

Few vehicles personify landed gentry quite like the Range Rover. But to call the original version an SUV is really something of a misnomer. A car designed for the affluent farmer/landowner, hitherto forced to Continue reading “Class Act”

A Step Back

In 1970 Triumph had a decade to live. Two cars combined that year to bookend its saloon swansong.

1970 Triumph Toledo (c) carsaddiction

It wasn’t apparent at the time, but 1970 marked the close of Triumph’s expansionist ambitions, and the beginning of its fall. Not that the fortunes of the carmaker prior to its undignified end under British Leyland had exactly been characterised by unbroken success – quite the contrary in fact. But for one short decade, the name of Triumph burned brightly before being snuffed out through a combination of self-harm and corporate politics.

Following their 1960 acquisition of the Standard-Triumph business, Leyland Motors invested heavily in the Triumph marque, rendering the Standard nameplate to the history books. Amongst the most significant fruits of this investment was seen in 1965 when the compact and technically sophisticated front-wheel drive 1300 (Ajax) saloon was introduced. Continue reading “A Step Back”

Mother of Invention

Making a little go that bit further. 

(c) drivezing

Throughout the 1960s, US carmakers enjoyed unprecedented prosperity, with a buoyant domestic market, cheap, plentiful fuel and a customer base who had wholeheartedly bought into the concept of plenty – at a superficial level at least. Because beneath the giddy headline figures, sales of imported cars were giving the movers and shakers of Detroit serious pause.

The encroach of smaller, more fuel-efficient models, notably Volkswagen’s cult-car Beetle, prompted American carmakers to Continue reading “Mother of Invention”

Fontana a Tre Vie

Lancia’s idiosyncratic Beta Tre Volumi turns 40.

Image: Ran When Parked
Image: (c) Ran When Parked

This article first appeared on 3 February 2017.

The Lancia Trevi is an unusual car, not simply because it was and remains an intriguing one to behold. For one thing it may well be the only car that began life as a fastback saloon (with a separate boot compartment), and ended it as a three-volume version. There have been innumerable saloon from hatchback conversions (and vice-versa), but a saloon from a saloon?

It’s clear that the Trevi was a stopgap. By right, Lancia should have readied an all-new replacement by then, but that failed to materialise. Of course lengthy production runs were by no means unusual either for Lancia or within the sprawling Fiat Auto grouping they had become an unwilling hostage to. Couple this with a crisis both of confidence and managerial competence which afflicted the entire Fiat Auto group in the wake of the 1973 oil embargo, to say nothing of Fiat’s inability to Continue reading “Fontana a Tre Vie”

The Aurelian Way

The Lancista’s Lancia turns 70. 

1950 Lancia Aurelia B10 -(c) carstylecritic

If one was to carry out a poll amongst Lanciaphiles as to the quintessential model in the storied marque’s history, there is likely to be a certain amount of heated debate. While some might cleave to the innovative and undoubtedly influential Lambda of 1922, it’s probably more likely the Aurelia would garner the majority vote.

Borgo San Paolo’s 1950 entrant was Lancia’s first genuinely new product of the post-hostility period, replacing the emblematic Aprilia, which ceased production the previous year; the latter model itself a ground breaker in design terms mating fully independent suspension, a narrow-angle V4 engine and pillarless construction within an aerodynamically streamlined, stressed bodyshell.

The Aurelia was intended as a larger, more refined car, aimed at the affluent owner-driver. Italy was for the most part impoverished and war-torn from years of conflict by the close of the 1940s, with large swathes of the population who could only dream of car ownership, but there remained a base of professionals, wealthy industrialists and titled nobility who could Continue reading “The Aurelian Way”

Icing the Cherry

50 years old this year, the Datsun 100A takes a bow.

(c) zonedatsun.fr

Here on the pages of Driven to Write, we have spent a good deal of the recent past discussing aspects of the Toyota marque and its associated brands. Not so however with regard to its once great rival and commercial antagonist, Nissan.

Upon its introduction to European (and US) shores, Nissan cars were sold under the Datsun brand name, for reasons which aren’t entirely clear, but probably pertain to marketing considerations. For Datsun, then an almost entirely unknown brand, their breakthrough motor car arrived in the envelope of the 100A Cherry, a compact front-wheel-drive supermini.

It’s probably fair to Continue reading “Icing the Cherry”

Dawn of the Iconoclast (Part one)

The Mini is one of the most ingenious, most innovative cars ever, but is also one of the most maddeningly inconsistent. In this two-part essay, DTW considers both icon and author.

(c) pinterest

The problem with icons is that often their venerated position can act as a shield against scrutiny, an insuperable barrier to unsentimental analysis or critique. How after all does one approach one of the most significant motorcars of all time objectively, without skirting the boundaries of iconoclasm?

Because to look at the Mini through one narrow prism is to Continue reading “Dawn of the Iconoclast (Part one)”

Quiet Confidence

Profiling the R129 Mercedes SL – the silent sportscar.

(c) zombdrive

There is little question that successive generations of Mercedes-Benz SL would never have come into being without the patronage of the more affluent and socially aspirant United States car buyer. After all, there simply wasn’t a sufficient market for such wilfully indulgent fare in the old world – nor available spaces one imagines on the car-train to Sylt. Also beyond doubt is that by the close of the 1980s, the SL had become the automotive marker of choice for those who really wished to Continue reading “Quiet Confidence”

Relative Values

Rover’s great aunt marks her 70th. Time to pay our respects.

(c) classics-honestjohn

Reputation can be make or break. Whether it be gained through dynamic prowess, stylistic excellence, or for other, more negative traits, once it has been established, there is little chance of a well orchestrated perception being altered. Certainly by the time production finally ceased, the image of the Rover P4 as stuffy, outdated and overtly conservative had been broadly codified in the consciousness of the press and thereby the public. But it wasn’t always thus.

By the outbreak of the second world war, the Rover motor company was established as the purveyor of finely engineered, upmarket driver’s cars of quality and bearing, favoured by the establishment and by what might have been termed, the professional classes. Dignified, conservative, but by the time hostilities had ceased, somewhat old-fashioned in design and execution.

Like everyone else, Rover’s senior management, led by the Wilks brothers (Maurice and Spencer), were keen to Continue reading “Relative Values”

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”