A Farmer in the City

Alfasud reflections. 

The author’s 1979 Alfasud 1.2 Super. Image: Paul Doyle©

The 1971 Alfasud was a game-changing car, not only for what we would now call the C-segment, but for Alfa Romeo itself. Unfortunately, while the ‘Sud was to become the conceptual template for an entire generation of similarly sized (if not as technically ambitious) cars from rival manufacturers, it was something of a disaster for il Biscione. Not a brand-killer by any stretch, but nevertheless the case against the ‘Sud is not inconsiderable.

By re-orientating the carmaker’s centre of gravity to the crowded and heavily contested free-for-all of the compact C-segment the Alfa Sud programme placed the Milanese carmaker squarely in the gunsights of the mighty Fiat Auto group. It also had the effect of lowering Alfa Romeo’s average transaction prices, driving down its image as the builder of superior motor cars – a matter its subsequent reputation for slapdash build and premature corrosion would only serve to amplify.[1]

By the early 1970s, the Italian economic miracle was unravelling in a spiral of politically-motivated industrial unrest and violence amid growing inequalities between affluence and economic stagnation. Terrorist atrocities, assassinations, strikes and stoppages became the daily news headlines as Italy’s position as posterchild for post-war reconstruction and prosperity faded.

Its much-vaunted motor industry too was struggling to Continue reading “A Farmer in the City”

Beta Living Through Chemistry

 Beta musings.

As first shown. ruoteclassisiche.quattroruote.it

“To create an unfavourable impression, it is not necessary that certain things be true, but that they have been said. The imagination is of so delicate a texture that even words wound it”. [William Hazlitt (1778-1830) – Writer, critic, philosopher]

With a now unassailable position within the annals of infamy; derided and patronised by legions of uninformed writers and journalists, has sufficient time elapsed to speak dispassionately about the Lancia Beta? It’s difficult to be certain, but the point of today’s exercise is to Continue reading “Beta Living Through Chemistry”

Deserving Beta (Part One)

The 1972 Beta heralded a brave new start under Fiat ownership for Lancia. We tell its story. 

Lancia Beta Berlina Series I.  Image: ruoteclassiche.quattroruote.it

Over six decades from its foundation in 1906, Lancia & C. had earned an enviable reputation for the excellence of its engineering and its finely crafted, innovative and desirable cars. Unfortunately, Vincenzo Lancia, his friend and business partner Claudio Fogolin, and Vincenzo’s son, Gianni, who took over the company when his father died suddenly in 1937, were far more talented engineers than they were businessmen. Consequently, Lancia always struggled to Continue reading “Deserving Beta (Part One)”

A Mighty Wind [Part One]

Behold the Anti-Miura.

Image: premierfinancialservices

What has Emilia-Romagna ever done for us?

Composed of nine distinct provinces, Emilia-Romagna is an area steeped in millennia of military conquest and political upheaval – steeped too in religion, art, architecture, cuisine and craft – latterly of the industrial variety. Dominated by its capital, Bologna, the region might not justifiably lay claim to being the epicentre of the Italian motor industry (that honour falls to neighbouring Piedmont), but nevertheless, the Emilian province of Modena would become ground zero that uniquely Italian of late 1960s automotive confections – the Supercar.

Exotic cars were as much an Emilian speciality as Tortellini in Brodo. The primary reason for the former stemmed from the creations of the Maserati brothers, who formed their carmaking atelier in 1915. In the post-war era, the area of Modena, would not just become home to Maserati, but also Scuderia Ferrari, while the environs of Bologna would later house the more disruptive entrants, De Tomaso and Lamborghini.

By the close of the 1960s, something of an arms race had gripped the area within the Po Basin. Lamborghini was not first in the field[1], but its 1966 Miura was the most dramatic, both in technical density and quite obviously, style. After the Miura made its debut, no exotic Italian carmaker who wished to maintain credibility at least, could Continue reading “A Mighty Wind [Part One]”

Fanfare for the Common Van (Part 2) – Power and Glory

In the second part of our Transit story, we look at its unusual power units and the impact the van made on the British market following its October 1965 launch.

Image: Ford of Britain

Ruggedness and simplicity were at the heart of the Project Redcap’s engineering, but the engines used to power the Transit were strangely at odds with these design principles. The choice of power was a foregone conclusion – Ford’s European operations had been guided to meet their over-1600cc needs with a range of 60 degree V4 and V6 engines for use in passenger cars and light commercial vehicles.

The decision is possibly understandable given the popularity of V8 engines in the USA, but the V-configuration made a far weaker case with half the number of cylinders. Despite this, Ford’s European satellites were producing two different V4s by the end of 1965, with German production exclusively using the V-configuration, while the largest capacity(1) British in-line four was the 1500cc version of the versatile, stretchable and tuneable ohv engine first seen in the 1959 Anglia 105E, with V4s covering the 1.7 to 2.0 litre range. Continue reading “Fanfare for the Common Van (Part 2) – Power and Glory”

Hope You Guessed My Name.

Car or exclamation mark?

Image: (c) lamborghini.com

The Ancient Chinese once espoused the philosophical concept of Yin and yang, two opposing, yet mutually dependant lifeforces. This notion of interdependent duality was embraced across many cultures and philosophies over intervening millennia, but would come to be represented in late 20th Century Italy, not only by the rivalry between exotic ateliers, Ferrari and Lamborghini, but also by the complementary, yet determined efforts of the two leading Torinese coachbuilding houses to Continue reading “Hope You Guessed My Name.”

Quelle Quatrelle! (Part Two)

We conclude our sixtieth anniversary celebration of the Renault 4, France’s most successful car.

Image: lautomobileancienne

The Renault R4 was formally launched at the Paris Salon in October 1961(1) in base and L trim. The two versions were immediately distinguishable by the fact that the base model had no third light in the rear quarter panel, just a very wide C-pillar. The L version was priced at a premium of 400 francs (£29 or US $82) over the base model. Both shared the same Billancourt 747cc 26.5bhp (20kW) engine.

Also launched at the same time was the R3, which was similar to the base R4 but had a smaller 603cc 22.5bhp (16.8kW) version of the engine, which placed it in the cheaper 3CV taxation class. The R3 was targeted directly at the Citroën 2CV and undercut the entry price for the latter by 40 francs (£3 or US $8). Also unveiled was the Fourgonnette van version. This was identical to the R4 ahead of the B-pillars but had a large cube-shaped bespoke body aft of the pillars with a single, side-hinged rear door(2). Continue reading “Quelle Quatrelle! (Part Two)”

Quelle Quatrelle! (Part One)

The Renault 4 celebrates its sixtieth birthday. We salute a French automotive icon.

1961 Renault R4 Image: weilinet

Certain cars seem perfectly to encapsulate a vision of their country of origin. It is easy to imagine a gleaming black Mercedes-Benz S-Class carrying a German government minister or plutocrat along an Autobahn at great speed and in discreet, sybaritic luxury. Likewise, one can dream of a pastel-coloured Fiat Nuova 500 driven by a strikingly attractive olive-skinned young woman, nipping adroitly through the narrow twisting streets of a sun-baked Italian hillside village.

Less romantically, one can readily visualise a metallic grey Vauxhall Cavalier sitting at a steady 80mph in the outside lane of a British motorway under a leaden sky, its driver grimly contemplating another difficult meeting with his boss about his failure to Continue reading “Quelle Quatrelle! (Part One)”

Fanfare for the Common Van – Part 1

We look at Ford’s most enduring European product, the clever and versatile van which not only became an instant best-seller, but shaped the future of Ford’s operations across the entire continent.

Image: Ford of Britain

Henry Ford II’s whole life had been turbulent, and he never shied from aggressive intervention. Hank the Deuce had been President and CEO of the Ford Motor Company from 1945, and by the late 1950s was becoming increasingly troubled by the fragmented nature of the firm’s European operations. Viewed from Dearborn, the absurdity and inefficiency of two factories less than 500 kilometres apart designing and producing separate, unrelated ranges of vehicles with few, if any parts in common could no longer be sustained.

Through the 1950s the situation was accepted as both operations delivered worthwhile profits, but the 1960s had scarcely begun before the opportunity to Continue reading “Fanfare for the Common Van – Part 1”

A Friend In Need

The Ami 6 was as expedient as it was successful. This is its story.

Image: (c) L’Aventure Citroën

It is probably reasonably accurate to suggest that while Automobiles Citroën was confident about the prospects of its radical 1955 DS19, the initial impact, and subsequent retail demand must have taken them aback somewhat. The Goddess of course was a relatively expensive, upmarket car, well outside of what the average French motorist could afford; the gap between the rustic 2CV, which primarily appealed to rural customers and the DS19 would therefore remain chasm-like.

Despite attempts at offering the big Citroën in decontented form, it was clear that a smaller, more affordable car was an urgent requirement.[1] But not simply lacking a 7-8 CV contender, Quai de Javel also found itself without a viable rival to Renault’s popular 845 cc Dauphine.

When work on Études Projet M began in 1957, early thinking was allegedly for an entirely stand-alone model; Panhard’s 850 cc horizontally-opposed twin being considered as a possible powerplant. However, perhaps for reasons of speed to market, or a desire not to step on Panhard’s toes, it was decided to Continue reading “A Friend In Need”

Last of England [3]

Understanding the X-Type.

Does X stand for expedience? Image: Autocentrum.pl

Given the unprecedented levels of investment, and the expectations of both maker and benefactor, the X-Type had a good deal of heavy lifting to do. Its eventual failure not only cost Jaguar dearly, it set the carmaker back to such an extent that it never truly recovered. X-type was commissioned with one overarching mission, to more than double Jaguar’s sales volumes, transforming the carmaker as a serious player in the luxury car market, especially in the US, where these cars had historically sold in large quantities. But the X400 misfired, falling well short of projections, and as it would transpire, fiscal break-even. How so?

A moment, if you will. Lest the following reads as a full-throated orgy of blue oval bashing, we should first Continue reading “Last of England [3]”

Last of England

Jaguar’s compact post-Millennial contender misfired badly. We look back on the X-Type and consider its legacy.

Image: Sunday Times Driving

In car manufacture, there can be no success without failure, each new model an educated shot in the dark, each failure a reproach, all the more so should the product in question represent a new market sector for its maker. Moving downmarket carries greater risk, for the virtues to which customers have become familiar and value most must be offered in diminished form. Nor does development cost fall, any gains being rooted in volume and economies of scale. Furthermore, once a business has taken such a step, there really is no going back.

To some extent therefore, the X-Type irreparably damaged brand-Jaguar, the carmaker never quite recovering from the financial losses incurred by the X400 programme. The figures involved are sobering. According to a study carried out by corporate analysts, Sanford C Bernstein a number of years ago, Jaguar allegedly lost €4600 on every X-Type sold – an overall loss amounting to over €1.7 billion.

Widely viewed as Jaguar’s deadliest sin and the butt of derision amongst the more sensationalist automotive press, the story behind the X-Type’s less than charmed career is not only more complex than is often told, but deserves a less emotive, more nuanced telling. But beforehand we must first Continue reading “Last of England”

The Last of England

Jaguar’s compact post-Millennial contender misfired badly. We look back on the X-Type and reconsider its legacy.

Image: Sunday Times Driving

New Jag Generation.

In car manufacture, there can be no success without failure, each new model an educated shot in the dark, each failure a reproach, all the more so should the product in question represent a new market sector for its maker. Moving downmarket carries greater risk, for the virtues to which customers have become familiar and value most must be offered in diminished form. Nor does development cost fall, any gains being rooted in volume and economies of scale. Furthermore, once a business has taken such a step, there really is no going back.

To some extent therefore, the X-Type irreparably damaged brand-Jaguar, the carmaker never quite recovering from the financial losses incurred by the X400 programme. The figures involved are sobering. According to a study carried out by corporate analysts, Sanford C Bernstein a number of years ago, Jaguar allegedly lost €4600 on every X-Type sold – an overall loss amounting to over €1.7 billion.

Widely viewed as Jaguar’s deadliest sin and the butt of derision amongst the more sensationalist automotive press, the story behind the X-Type’s less than charmed career is not only more complex than is often told, but deserves a less emotive, more nuanced telling. But beforehand we must first Continue reading “The Last of England”

Der Zenit (Part Two)

Mercedes-Benz would never build another car like the 1991 W140 S-Class.

1994 Mercedes-Benz W140 S-class (post-facelift)

European automotive industry watchers, motoring journalists and the public were amazed that Mercedes-Benz could launch such a large and profligate flagship in the teeth of an economic recession and growing environmental concerns. Journalists’ preconceptions and reservations about the size of the W140 were, however, seriously challenged when they drove the new S-Class. While they had expected that it would be beautifully built from the highest quality materials and would Continue reading “Der Zenit (Part Two)”

Der Zenit (Part One)

The 1991 W140 S-Class was a technological tour de force, and possibly the finest car Mercedes-Benz ever made. Its arrival was also painfully mistimed. We remember the Uber-Benz on the thirtieth anniversary of its launch.

Mighty. Image: Australiancar.reviews

The arrival of a new Mercedes-Benz S-Class was always a seminal event for the automotive industry. It often heralded the introduction of new technology and safety features that would subsequently be adopted by other Mercedes-Benz models and, eventually, by its lesser competitors.

The 1959 W111 predecessor to the S-Class was the first car to feature a rigid passenger safety cell with front and rear crumple zones, to slow the deceleration that occurs in a high-speed impact and dissipate the kinetic energy released(1). In 1978, the W116 S-Class was the first car in the world to Continue reading “Der Zenit (Part One)”

German Film Star

Part three: Concluding our close-up of the R107 Mercedes SL.

Three dimensional actor. Image: Autoevolution

Despite entering a world yet to experience the true meaning of the term, Oil-Shock, Mercedes-Benz’s 1971 newcomer did not find its way bestrewn with rose petals, as one might have envisaged with half a century’s hindsight to draw upon. The product of a great deal of regulatory hurdle-jumping, Sindelfingen’s engineers did themselves proud on the safety and technological side of the SL coin, even if stylistically, few seemed poleaxed in mute adoration. Which isn’t to suggest that it wasn’t well received. It was. However, it is possible to Continue reading “German Film Star”

German Film Star

Part Two: The matinée idol’s lesser-appreciated sibling.

Image: str2.ru

Like everybody else, Mercedes-Benz’s engineering teams had rather a lot to contend with by the late 1960s. Not simply developing the nascent W116 S-Class, the most ambitious and luxurious mainstream saloon yet to bear the three pointed star, or perfecting the advanced rotary-engined C111 prototype – in addition to ongoing developments for both conventional petrol and diesel powertrains, there was also a seemingly limitless tsunami of emissions and safety mandates emanating from the land of the free.

Facing large investments, and no small level of commercial risk associated with new model programmes, the Mercedes-Benz supervisory board are believed to have vetoed a proposal to Continue reading “German Film Star”

German Film Star

A car made for its times, Mercedes-Benz’s 107-series helped define them. We tell its story. 

Image: honest-john

“It’s a glamourous world”.

In the field of creative endeavour, matters of an unintended nature often have an inconvenient habit of altering initial intentions, and while in some cases this may be to the detriment of the finished product, more often the outcome emerges simply as different.

This being so, it certainly would not be wildly inaccurate to Continue reading “German Film Star”

German Film Star

Part one: “It’s a glamourous world”.

Image: honest-john

In the field of creative endeavour, matters of an unintended nature often have an inconvenient habit of altering initial intentions, and while in some cases this may be to the detriment of the finished product, more often the outcome emerges simply as different.

This being so, it certainly would not be wildly inaccurate to Continue reading “German Film Star”

Collaborative Applause Part Two

The applause falls short.

1986 Rover 800. Image: cargurus

Honda’s Legend was brought to market late in 1985, stealing some of ARG’s thunder. Mark Snowdon, Managing Director of Product Development countered this move with an acceptance that Honda were a little faster to button everything up; “late stage modifications, we have a wider model range and we have different ways of launching cars to our Japanese colleagues.” A foil which did little to mask his chagrin. One of those late stage modifications being the M16 engines, which were not fully ready. 800s at launch instead making do with the Honda 2.5 litre engine. The M16 became available later in the year.

Neither car had been a secret. No camouflage wraps or exclusive spy shots in the mid-80’s. Five (or so) long years had passed from Sked’s reconnoitre in Frankfurt to British launch date (10th July 1986), two days after the company rebranded to Rover Group PLC. Whatever their name, the current financial and political situation was far from rosy. Sales were up but losses remained huge, in the tens of millions.

One contributory factor must be the 800’s launch package; Rover paid return airfare where Swiss roads were subjected to a 3,500 complement of journalists, Chief Constables and fleet managers (and wives supposedly) for a weekend jolly. Northumberland was similarly invaded by British MPs and hundreds more foreign journalists, all eager to Continue reading “Collaborative Applause Part Two”

Welcome to the Machine (Part Three)

The XJ-S’ troubled early years. 

Image: carsot

While its commercial renaissance throughout the 1980s and into the early years of the following decade are indisputable, XJ-S critics routinely point to the first five years of its career as graphic illustration of Jaguar’s error in abandoning a much loved, tried and true format.

The XJ-S’ early years were undoubtedly difficult. Launched into a post oil-shock world, where 12 mpg would butter increasingly fewer people’s parsnips, yet presenting a visual envelope which substituted the E-Type’s easily assimilated aesthetics for something far more complex and discordant, the Seventies Jaguar flagship would prove a cerebral, rather than emotional choice. It was also a far pricier one than of yore, with an asking price more than double that of the last of line E-Types – but in mitigation, it was a far more sophisticated, more capable product.

The XJ-S was also introduced into a particularly febrile political landscape which saw Jaguar’s management (such as they were) engaged in a desperate battle for survival within a carmaking giant which not only had become fundamentally ungovernable, but by 1977, beyond rescue. As British Leyland’s flagship, the XJ-S, which was by no means a well wrought car during this lamentable period, crystallised the national carmaker’s uncanny ability to Continue reading “Welcome to the Machine (Part Three)”

Sochaux Goes Avant.

It all started here.

Factory shot of Peugeot 204 berline. Image: automacha

Since its foundation in 1810 as a maker of bicycles and kitchen equipment, there have been many incarnations of automobiles Peugeot, but perhaps the first truly modern car to bear the famous Lion of Belfort emblem was introduced in 1965, bearing the 204 name.

Initiated during the late 1950s, the 204 came about owing to a perceived gap in the market below the existing 403 model (soon to be supplanted by the larger-engined 404). By consequence, Sochaux management deemed it necessary for the company’s future viability to Continue reading “Sochaux Goes Avant.”

Classic Error

The 1961 Consul Classic and Capri were a rare market failure for Ford in Europe. We remember them on the 60th Anniversary of their launch.

(c) Ford.co.uk

Ever since the days of the Model T, Ford had developed an enviable reputation for delivering cars that were finely attuned to the perceived wants and needs of the automotive market. Moreover, the company was a master of what one might call value engineering, the art of designing cars wholly to satisfy the market whilst rarely challenging those expectations through new or radical innovations in format, engineering, equipment or styling.

Generations of Ford owners were able to Continue reading “Classic Error”

Enigma Variations

Ambivalence towards Jaguar’s Sixties Supermodel is as old as the E-Type itself. 

1961 E-Type. Image: Sportscar Digest

The problem when approaching time-honoured and much-loved cultural touchstones is that as their mythology develops, layers of symbolism and exaggerated lore build up like barnacles upon the hull of a sunken craft until the object itself becomes obscure, indistinct; the legend eventually overtaking fact.

Certainly, the cult status of the Jaguar E-Type has morphed to that of venerable sainthood – its position as all-time investment-grade classic seemingly inviolate for the rest of time. So much so, that to Continue reading “Enigma Variations”

Nordstjärna (Part Two)

Saab takes off.

(c) saabworld

In the years immediately following the cessation of global hostilities, the pace of technological change accelerated massively. However, this rapid forward motion was particularly obvious in the aviation sector, especially following the advent of the gas turbine jet engine.

For Sweden, peacetime did not entail a loss of vigilance – far from it, with the threat now stemming from a resurgent Soviet Union, seeking to Continue reading “Nordstjärna (Part Two)”

The New Frontier : [Part Two]

A brief, meteoric rise and sudden precipitous fall.

Geneva 1970, the SM makes its debut. (c) sm.uk

While there may have been some discord as to the conceptual nature of Citroën’s 1970 flagship, the matter of its style appears to have been more assured. Certainly, there are few observers who could cogently argue that the SM’s styling was not a success – indeed it remains probably the car’s defining feature – still a futurist marvel, despite a half-century having elapsed since its introduction.

Within Citroën’s Bureau d’Études, the Style Centre was hidden away in an unkempt and dingy section of the Rue de Théàtre facility. Overseen by longstanding Citroën design chief, Flaminio Bertoni, he alongside his small team of fellow designers and put upon artisans would work largely in seclusion, without much by way of recognition.

Originally training as an architect at the Ecole des Beaux arts in Amiens, Robert Opron joined Citroën’s style centre in 1962. He quickly developed a rapport with the mercurial Bertoni, the two men sharing mutual interests in art, cuisine and culture.[1] Opron was said to be devastated when in 1964, he learned of his sudden and premature demise.

Having already illustrated his abilities and gained the confidence of his superiors, Opron was asked by head of the Bureau d’Études, Jean Cadiou to Continue reading “The New Frontier : [Part Two]”

The New Frontier : [Part One]

We profile the incomparable SM.

La Fluidité. Image: autoevolution

Observing 50 year old events through modern eyes can make for a faulty tool, yesterday’s visions of the future tending to appear somewhat naive to twenty-first Century sensibilities – as much a consequence of socio-economic factors, evolving customer tastes, not to mention the relentless march of time itself. Few carmakers have done more to define the modern automobile than Automobiles Citroën – especially during the post-war era – not simply in design, but also in terms of systems engineering, in particular its widespread adoption of aviation-inspired, engine-driven hydraulics.

If only Citroën could have made a car as technologically and stylistically advanced, as resolutely modern as the 1970 SM, it could only have done so during this fecund (some might say profligate) period of their history. Today, the SM still appears thrillingly futuristic, yet the future to which it spoke so promisingly seems more the subject of fond regret; one where to Continue reading “The New Frontier : [Part One]”

Betting the Farm – and Winning

The investment programme behind the 1991 Volvo 850 was the most important in the Swedish automaker’s history. Not only did it deliver an excellent car, it had a fundamental impact on the company’s future direction.

1997 Volvo 850 Estate (c) autocar.co.uk

Despite its conservative appearance, which looked like a scaled-down and smoothed off 940, the 1991 Volvo 850 was the fruit of the Swedish manufacturer’s largest and most expensive ever investment in new models, so it needed to be good.

It was not, however, Volvo’s first foray into front-wheel-drive. That honour rests rather heavily on the 400 Series. First to launch was the 480 coupé in 1986, followed a year later by the 440 five-door hatchback and 460 four-door saloon. The 400 replaced the 300 Series, which Volvo had inherited as a largely completed design (the DAF 77) when it took over DAF’s car-making business in 1975.

The 400 was, to put it bluntly, not great. Continue reading “Betting the Farm – and Winning”

Academic Revolution

A totally new kind of Lancia.

Image: Klassik-Auto

From a six-decade perspective, it is difficult to gain a sense of where the carmaking firm of Automobili Lancia & Compagni was once positioned in the marketplace, or indeed an accurate breakdown of a typical Lancia owner. Hailing from the fringes of nobility to the more recent emerging middle classes, they tended to be affluent, cultured individuals who prized the finer things, but were not inclined to make a statement of it. Despite appreciating tradition and craftsmanship, they were not averse to bracing modernity either. But more to the point, they were prepared to Continue reading “Academic Revolution”

Anniversary Waltz 2010 – The Wrath of Eyjafjallajökull

We round out the waltz with a look back on a detonating landmass. 

The 2010 eruption of Eyjafjallajökull in Iceland. (c) BBC

Given its situation in the midst of the North Atlantic, perched upon a massive faultline, it’s hardly surprising that Iceland is utterly defined by its landscape. The least densely populated country in Europe, it is perhaps best known for its geothermal and seismic activity, much of which falls into the category of visually dramatic but relatively harmless (from a safe distance). However, Iceland’s landmass is not to be trifled with. In 2010 the Nordic country made the front pages when the Eyjafjallajökull volcano erupted, spewing massive quantities of volcanic ash thousands of miles into the atmosphere.

As the giant ash cloud migrated across the Atlantic, air traffic across Europe became paralysed, with thousands of travellers stranded over the Easter period, when huge numbers of people would normally Continue reading “Anniversary Waltz 2010 – The Wrath of Eyjafjallajökull”

Anniversary Waltz 2000 – New Millennial MINI. 

Sputnik Falls, MINI rises.

“What do you mean ‘what dome’? And you call yourself a location scout?”  The 2000 Mini range. (c) thelastminis

It seemed for a time that it would simply go on indefinitely, but in 2000, after 41 years, time’s irresistible march finally caught up and Sputnik came home. The last years of Mini production saw it become something of a tribute act, with a bewildering array of special editions being offered, (mainly for Japanese consumption) culminating in the wide-tracked Cooper Sport 500, an example of which being the very last Mini built, leaving the Longbridge tracks on October 4th that year.

The advent of the new millennium was greeted with lurid fireworks along the Thames and thousands queuing to be underwhelmed by Mr. Mandelson’s Millennium Experience in Greenwich, but it wasn’t just Mini that sputtered and popped that year, so too the unhappy BMW-Rover alliance. Unravelling for some time, the Vierzylinder officially announced plans to Continue reading “Anniversary Waltz 2000 – New Millennial MINI. “

Anniversary Waltz 1990 – Rubbin’ is Racin’

High concept. Low expectations.

Cole Trickle aka Tom Cruise from 1990’s Days of Thunder. (c) Radio Times

There is believed to be a document secreted in a vault somewhere in the Hollywood hills that states the actual reason why it’s impossible to make a wholly credible motion picture about motor racing. Clearly, this parchment has never come to light. This of course has not prevented certain ambitious producers from making the attempt, and indeed some efforts have been rather better than others – not however, today’s featured celluloid gem.

Days of Thunder was created by the same executive producer and directing team (Don Simpson/ Jerry Brookheimer/ Tony Scott) that had brought Top Gun to the silver screens in 1986, reimagining both storyline and exposition to Continue reading “Anniversary Waltz 1990 – Rubbin’ is Racin’”

Anniversary Waltz 1980 – Born Under Punches

The name of this band is Talking Heads.

Image: 99designs.uk

In 1980, the Art Rock grouping of frontman David Byrne, Bassist Tina Weymouth, drummer Chris Frantz and guitarist Jerry Harrison released what would become their defining album. The four-piece, which played its first gig as Talking Heads in 1975 at New York’s CBGB venue had forged a reputation, first in the post-punk new-wave scene, but after they began to Continue reading “Anniversary Waltz 1980 – Born Under Punches”

Anniversary Waltz 1970 – Help the Bombardier!

“They’re trying to kill me”, Yossarian told him calmly. “No one’s trying to kill you”, Clevinger cried. “Then why are they shooting at me?” Yossarian asked. “They’re shooting at everyone”, Clevinger answered. “They’re trying to kill everyone”. “And what difference does that make?”

Alan Arkin as Captain Yossarian in a still from Mike Nichols’ adaptation of Catch-22. Image: rob’s movie vault

History did not demand Yossarian’s premature demise, justice could be satisfied without it, progress did not hinge upon it, victory did not depend on it. That men would die was a matter of necessity; which men would die, though, was a matter of circumstance, and Yossarian was willing to be the victim of anything but circumstance.

Joseph Heller’s 1961 novel, Catch-22 characterised the blind terror, numbing futility, banality and sheer mindlessness of war through the eyes and experiences of a US Air Force bombardier who becomes grimly determined to Continue reading “Anniversary Waltz 1970 – Help the Bombardier!”

Anniversary Waltz 1960 – Here Come the Big Jets

Faster is not always better. 

Convair 880 at take off. Image: Airliners.net

There remains some debate as to when the Jet Age truly began, but to put it in aviation parlance, 1960 is generally held as being the point of v-max, this being the speed above which take-off must be attempted. The kerosene-fuelled era of widespread commercial air travel was unsurprisingly synonymous with the United States, even if Britain’s De Havilland largely pioneered the commercial jet airliner with its elegant if doomed 1952 Comet. All-comers however would be overwhelmed by the irresistible rise of the Boeing 707 and McDonald Douglas DC8, soon to Continue reading “Anniversary Waltz 1960 – Here Come the Big Jets”

Anniversary Waltz 1950 : Do Not Try To Understand, Just believe

Keeping death at bay.

Jean Marais in a still from Jean Cocteau’s Orphée from 1950. Image: Taste of Cinema

Death travels in a Rolls Royce landaulet accompanied by a pair of leather-clad motorcycle outriders. The portal between the living world and the afterlife is fluid and open. Reflections come fraught with risk. Death herself; beautiful, irresistible in her terrible inevitability is nonetheless prey to similar failings as us mortals. Reality pivots amid clever reverse projections and rippling looking glasses – Jean Cocteau’s visionary 1950 movie Orphée retells the myth of Orpheus and his journey into the underworld, set amid the landscape of post-war France.

The aftermath of hostilities was a desperate time across Europe; the old ways could no longer continue, given how the continent had been altered by war. For Alfa Romeo it marked something of an existential crisis. The coachbuilt cars they previously specialised in were no longer relevant, and with Portello being forced to Continue reading “Anniversary Waltz 1950 : Do Not Try To Understand, Just believe”

Insight in Hindsight

Honda’s 2010 CR-Z was not without precedent. Quite the contrary.

(c) autoevolution

Of all the mainstream Japanese carmakers, Honda have perhaps the longest track record of going about things their own way. Yes, one can point to someone like Subaru and suggest an element of stand-alone behaviour, but while Fuji Heavy Industries has for the most part cleaved doggedly to one central idea, one never quite knows what Honda is likely to get up to next.

Take the 2010 Honda CR-Z: A compact 2+2 hybrid coupé was not the epicentre of automotive orthodoxy ten years ago, the intention being to create something of a halo model to help nudge customers towards Honda’s more prosaic range of Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) petrol-combustion hybrid drive models. But not only was the drivetrain shared with the concurrent Civic Hybrid and stand-alone Prius-baiting Insight model, so too was the platform, in this case with a sizeable chunk excised from the centre section.[1]

The CR-Z also arrived with a palpably strong sense of déjà-Vu, insofar as more observant Honda watchers were likely to Continue reading “Insight in Hindsight”

Original Sin

Ten years on, are we ready to forgive yet?

(c) autoblog

In most creative spheres, there are only so many ideas to go around. Easier then to blend and repackage the pre-existing, a familiar gambit amid the mainstream arts, and especially so in film. We’re all familiar with the putative movie pitch: “It’s Love Actually meets Inception, but, the twist is, everyone’s really a werewolf“, and so forth. After all, why go to the trouble of being original, when its easier to reimagine someone else’s idea.

To many observers the Nissan Juke came across in a similarly contrived manner when it debuted in 2010. A confection of wholly contrary styling features more or less co-existing in an uneasy truce, it was not what anyone would Continue reading “Original Sin”

French Polish

DTW makes the case for the Peugeot 404.

Image: Author’s Collection

Regardless of whether one is discussing art, cuisine, kitchen appliances, or indeed motor cars, definitives are tricky things to quantify. In the field of automobiles, applying such measures to specific marques comes fraught with even more difficulty, but this doesn’t necessarily mean that one ought not Continue reading “French Polish”

A Matter of SMantics

Separated by two decades, and a good deal of ideology, we trace the seemingly improbable; the similarities between Honda’s 1990 NSX and Citroën’s 1970 SM. 

(c) dyler-com

For a short period of time during the close of the 1980s, it did appear as though the Japanese auto industry were poised to, as the UK’s Car Magazine rather hysterically headlined in 1988, “tear the heart out the European industry.” The reality behind this seemingly overnight transformation was quite naturally, anything but; Japanese carmakers after all, have never been in the business of impulse.

By mid-decade, the land of the rising sun had learned about as much as they felt they needed from the established players and were confident enough of their abilities, particularly from a technical standpoint. Furthermore, it had dawned upon the leading Japanese carmakers that European and US lawmakers were unlikely to drop the punitive barriers to unfettered trade; not when the domestic producers were incapable of competing on quality, durability or increasingly, sophistication.

The only route for Japanese carmakers was to Continue reading “A Matter of SMantics”

If Hopes Were Dupes, Fears May Be Liars. Turin Motor Show 1970 – Part 2

Stepping back fifty years, we return to the Salone dell’Automobile di Torino for a second day for a feast of stylistic flair and bright hopes for the future.

Tjaarda-Giacobbi Sinthesis Image: Hemmings

As with neutral Geneva in the spring, Piedmont-centric Turin was a showplace for the industry’s fringe performers. In Italy fantasists and dreamers exhibited beside perfectly worthy but little-known Carrozzieri. In 1970, the sideshows were still rich in interest, although my IPC Business Press Cicerone, Anthony Curtis gave them only a sideways glance.

The UK and Italy seemed to share similar ambitions at the peripheries of their automotive industries. In Britain, clubman racing car constructors nurtured ambitions to Continue reading “If Hopes Were Dupes, Fears May Be Liars. Turin Motor Show 1970 – Part 2”

Oh Nicole!

File under (Renault: B-segment: Good – not great). At least the ad-campaign was memorable.

(c) autoevolution

Ask anyone about the 1990 Renault Clio and amongst those who remember it at all, most will cite the long-running UK advertising campaign, featuring the somewhat clichéd antics of comely young Nicole, getting the slip on her somewhat louche papa at their somewhat clichéd Provencal retreat. Meanwhile Papa, displaying equally duplicitous behaviour (all French men of course routinely have affairs), was fomenting assignations of his own.

Risible of course, but it played to cherished English preconceptions of French mores, and was instrumental in cementing brand-Clio in the minds of UK buyers. It worked too: the Clio proving a thirty year success story for the French carmaker, but the first-generation model, unlike its ad-campaign, was not what anyone would Continue reading “Oh Nicole!”

The Labour and the Wounds Are Vain – Turin Motor Show 1970 Part 1

Fifty years from the day it opened, we look back at the 1970 Salone dell’Automobile di Torino.

Italdesign Porsche 914 Tapiro Image: viaretro.com

In late 1970 much of Europe was in the grip of a pandemic, but not one which hindered the annual motor show round which had started in neutral Amsterdam and closed in Turin with a high-art extravaganza where function took a distant third place after form and fashion.

The pandemic was not biological but ideological, manifesting itself in social, political and industrial turmoil, and acts of terrorism by far-left, far-right and nationalist elements. In Italy the phenomenon was given a name – Anni di piombo – ‘The Leaden Years’, and was to Continue reading “The Labour and the Wounds Are Vain – Turin Motor Show 1970 Part 1”

Coupé à la Française

DTW recalls the 1971 Renault 15 and 17, La Régie’s distinctively French take on the sporting coupé.

Renault 15 & 17. (c) stubs-auto .fr

The 1969 Renault 12 saloon was an immediate hit for its manufacturer. It was praised by European motoring journalists for its styling, spacious and comfortable interior, and good performance and fuel economy. It was based on a new platform that placed the engine longitudinally ahead of the front axle and gearbox. On Renault’s existing FWD models, the 4, 6 and 16, the engine was positioned behind the gearbox, necessitating a distinctly unsporting high bonnet line and dashboard mounted gear lever.

Renault had not offered a coupé in its range since the demise of the Dauphine-based Caravelle in 1968, and only 9,309 Caravelles had been sold in the last three years of its production. Moreover, the European coupé market had been transformed by the launch of the Ford Capri Mk1 in 1969 and Opel Manta A a year later. The new coupés were closely related to their mainstream saloon siblings, the Cortina Mk2 and Ascona A. More significantly, they were styled to look aggressively sporting, masculine rather than demure in character.

Renault decided that it could usefully Continue reading “Coupé à la Française”

Keeping the Seat Warm

The 1984 Alfa 90 was to all intents and purposes something of a placeholder. But does it deserve a better epitaph?

Alfa 90. Image: viaretro

The early 1980s were difficult years for Alfa Romeo. Having abandoned its patrician pre-war roots for a more populist reimagining throughout the 1950s and ’60s, this once successful market realignment had started to unravel; partly due to its own failings as a business, both internally from a product, management and labour perspective, and also externally, owing to its close proximity in market terms to Lancia.

Unlike its Borgo San Paolo rival, who was by then reliant upon the financial support of the Fiat car giant, Alfa Romeo depended upon the largesse of the often reluctant Italian IRI state body for funding, while battling a depressed home market, ageing model lines and by consequence, little by way of genuinely new product.

What there was, fell very much into the make do and Continue reading “Keeping the Seat Warm”

Talent Borrows

Did the Deauville’s somewhat over-familiar appearance ensure it would be the second rarest De Tomaso of all? We investigate.

de Tomaso Deauville. (c) classic-driver

The early 1970s (prior to 1974 at least) proved to be something of an Indian summer for the European exotic car businesses. Demand for exclusive hand-built GTs was brisk, both in Europe and especially in North America, and for those ateliers who lacked the wherewithal (or the inclination) to engineer their own power units, there was a ready supply of powerful and proven engines to be obtained and repurposed from the major OEMs in Detroit.

For specialist carmakers such as Bristol and Jensen Cars in the UK, Iso in Italy and Monteverdi in Switzerland, this would prove to be a godsend, until the oil taps were turned off at least. Another fledgling exotic carmaker was that of De Tomaso, headed by Argentinian businessman and ace deal-maker Alejandro de Tomaso. Having taken over the struggling carrozzeria Ghia concern in 1967, he approached Ford with a proposal to Continue reading “Talent Borrows”

Anastasis

We examine the death and afterlife of the Triumph Stag.

Image: wallpaperup

Some cars are easier to write about than others. Failures in particular exert a stronger grip upon the imagination, better lending themselves to narrative. However, despite falling into the latter category, the Triumph Stag is a car which almost defies classification. Because, while there is little doubt about its status as both commercial failure and potential ownership nightmare, its story has been told and retold so many times that one struggles to Continue reading “Anastasis”

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”