Fifteen years ago today LJK Setright departed this life at the age of 74. Bereft of his guide, one DTW writer looks at the years which followed, and considers how this extraordinary man might have viewed them.
Firstly, I will assume that the reader has some level of familiarity with Setright’s work. He was best known as a writer on automotive and engineering matters, but that scarcely defines him; polymath, autodidact, wordsmith, bebop clarinettist, classicist, libertarian, controversialist, modern-day Jehu, dandy, Ba’al teshuvah. I could go on…
His description of Frederick Lanchester: “The most accomplished gentleman ever wasted on the motor industry” could equally apply to Setright himself.
Even for those of us well into middle-age, the day in September 2005 when this other-worldly man proved to be as mortal as the rest of us seems long in the past, more so since Setright’s last column in CAR* appeared in February 1999**, and afterwards his output was sporadic and thinly spread. Throughout his time as a writer, Setright viewed the world with scant regard for the preoccupations and fashions of the day, and was never afraid to Continue reading “Fifteen Years after LJKS”
The FIAT Uno was one of the biggest selling and most significant cars of the 1980s. Then, it was such a common sight that one barely took note. Now, it’s invisible just because so few remain. Out of sight, out of mind; does anyone care anymore about the Uno?
In an anti-climax to the series on the Triumph Acclaim, we summarise the legendary LJKS’s first review of the car for Car Magazine.
“It is a delightful car to drive, but it is so ugly that too few people will ever discover that. Or so I thought when I was fresh from trying the Acclaim, lamenting the need to fetch customers into the showroom and put them into the car and onto the road before they closed their minds to the purchase. If only they could Continue reading “Selling England by the Pound”
The bland Triumph which owed everything to a low-key Honda led to the next collaborative effort which Car Magazine headlined as a ‘Bland Rover’. From such inauspicious beginnings came something of a revolution.
“England Expects – but Austin Rover Struggles to Deliver”. Cover of Car Magazine in the issue which covered the launch and first drive of the Rover 800.
Looking back, the 800 could probably be acclaimed as a commercial success, in the UK at least, but its launch and early years were dogged by poor quality, bad reliability and uneven capabilities. It represented a faltering of the emerging track-record of BL-Honda cars in terms of reliability.
The Acclaim did not live that long a life, but, in a quiet and unnoticed way typical of the car itself, its legacy can be considered to be enduring.
“NO OFFENCE. Reliability, something not always associated with BL products, was the most memorable characteristic of our LTT Triumph Acclaim, though the spritely Honda drivetrain also won it approval”. Title of Car’s Long Term Test article regarding an Acclaim HL which it ran over 28,000 miles in 18 months.
So, the Acclaim did achieve a reputation for reliability.
In this fourth part of our look at the Triumph Acclaim, we dwell on what at times seemed to be a bitter-sweet truth for BL; everyone knew the latest car from Cowley had a heart made in Tokyo.
“We shouldn’t call this car British. When BL took over the standard of their cars went down. There’s no pride left in their work, only pride in opening their pay packets”; a quote in an article in Autocar from its survey of 200 members of the British public at the time of the launch of the Acclaim.
The best known and remembered aspect of the Triumph Acclaim was that it was originally designed, engineered and manufactured by Honda as the Ballade. Indeed practically every written reference to the Acclaim that can be researched from that time makes early, direct reference to the fact, for example: Continue reading “Cowley’s Japanese Boy”
In this third chapter, we find out more about the fruit of the Bounty, and review some of the prose written by esteemed journalists on the cuckoo Triumph.
“The Triumph Acclaim is a good replacement for the aging Dolomite. It is fast, comfortable, economical, and should be very reliable. Providing that the self-imposed restrictions of Japanese imports remain, the car should produce a handsome return for BL, but if cars like the excellent four door Accord become readily available, will people be prepared to accept less Honda for about the same price?” AutoTEST, Autocar, w/e 24 October 1981 (BC – Before Cropley!).
A review of technical specifications reveals that there is little that is remarkable about the three box, four door, saloon that was launched as the Triumph Acclaim on the 7th of October 1981. It had a modern, 1,335cc, four cylinder engine with eight valves and a single overhead camshaft, driving the front wheels via a 5 speed all synchromesh gearbox. The chassis was a steel monocoque, with a suspension system of coil springs over independent MacPherson struts and an anti-roll bar at the front.
In the previous instalment, we outlined how BL, under the driving ambition of Michael Edwardes, got in step with Honda, to collaborate on a new model. This time, we focus on the car itself and the choice of manufacturing plant, which took on almost as much significance.
“According to Ian Forster, the men from Honda, who have been worried by problems with ‘orange peel’ in the paintwork of their own cars, are learning to minimise it by adopting BL’s techniques.” Steve Cropley, Editor, Car Magazine.
The choice of model for Project Bounty, it seems, was largely determined by Honda. Hattori Yoshi (Car, November 1980) explains, “But why did BL pick the Ballade? Well, they didn’t. The fact is that BL picked Honda as being the Japanese company with the most compatible technology and went cap in hand in search for a car – any car – to help them keep going.
How are the papery ones doing? I had a look at the Audit Bureau of Circulation’s nice website to examine the state of the UK car magazine market.
The UK periodical industry owns and runs the ABC as a means to provide an independent (from one publisher) source of data on readership. That is then used to justify ad rates on the basis of the circulation of the journals seeking to sell space. The ABC describes itself as follows: “We deliver industry-agreed standards for media brand measurement across print, digital and events. We also verify data, processes and good practice to industry-agreed standards”.
Most of the effort in preparing this is in the image. It shows the number of times per year that exclamation points appeared on the front cover of Car magazine.
The reason I have chosen to analyse Car is that I have a continuous collection from 1998 to hand. I might later go and do a control and see how other magazines’ use has changed over time. Continue reading “A history!”
Examining the Gamma’s technical specification and its initial press reception.
Technically speaking, the Gamma was classic Lancia in that it mated an unconventional powerplant to a largely orthodox chassis layout. However, the big Lancia’s mix of conventional components came with an added dash of élan. The engine was a development of the proven Flavia unit, bored out to 2.5 litres. Sergio Camuffo outlined why he chose to enlarge the engine capacity saying, Continue reading “Gamma: Signs and Portents – Part Four”
My father was an old-school Freudian in his outlook. He wouldn’t miss a chance to make an association, and my obsession with cars was fertile ground. He pronounced that many cars were just phallic compensation symbols and I, in what I thought was a witty response, said that a phallus was just a compensation for not having a decent car – it sounded better when I was sixteen. Cars and Sex, Sex and Cars, they’re an old pairing, but I’ve never been entirely convinced.