Editor’s note: A version of this piece was originally published in April 2016 as part of DTW’s Japan Theme.
From a purely commercial perspective, the Toyota motor company appears to have fared perfectly well without the benefit of image-building halo cars. While enthusiasts have been well served by innumerable performance versions of regular production models over the intervening decades, the Japanese car giant has largely eschewed outright exotics. Not so fast however. As long ago as 1965, crowds at the Tokyo motor show were captivated by the introduction a sleek and beautifully proportioned coupe from that most cautious of Japan’s burgeoning carmakers. Deliveries began two years later, but by the decade’s end, and after a mere 337 cars, the Mayfly Toyota 2000 GT disappeared as quickly as it had emerged.
The story (as commonly told) begins in the early 1960s. German nobleman and designer, Graf Albrecht Goertz had forged a successful consultancy in the United States, having been involved in the design of a number of post-war BMW models, most notably the acclaimed 507 roadster. Commissioned by Nissan to assist in the design a two-seater coupe, he is said to have drawn up a low-slung concept, a running prototype of which was subsequently built for Nissan by Yamaha. Nissan’s management however opted to adapt their in-house Fairlady model along different lines, introducing it as the highly successful 240Z in 1970.
It is tempting to characterise the 1960s as a period of wild hedonism, artistic abandon, sexual freedom and social progress, but in reality it was nothing of the kind. Not in Italy at least, still firmly under the heel of the Vatican, whose tentacles encroached into all areas of domestic life. Strict social and societal mores were observed. Matters of appearance remained of the utmost importance. Yes of course, in the ateliers of Milan, fashions were of a most flamboyant, provocative nature, but the garments one actually wore, even to the local tabaccheria, were well chosen, decorous – demure even.
This sensibility pervaded Italian life, product design included. Because even if the most prosaic piece of household equipment was designed to please (or at least satisfy) the eye, it was nonetheless a function-first device. So too the automobile. Throughout the ‘Sixties, the Italian aesthetic for the berlina was highly formalised, upright, rectilinear. Regardless of whether it hailed from Portello, Mirafiori or Borgo San Paolo, there was little for the unschooled eye to Continue reading “The Second Act”
Ah 1967: The Summer of love. Sgt. Pepper. Twiggy. Bond.
But leaving popular culture aside, the mood music was more sombre. In the UK, land speed record holder, Donald Campbell died attempting to break the water record on Lake Coniston in his Bluebird K3 jetboat. While back on terra firma the advent of the Road Safety Act set a maximum permitted blood alcohol level, allowing breathalyser tests to be performed on drivers for the first time.
A decade ago, Alfa Romeo wowed the faithful with the 8C Competizione, a car which ultimately amounted to less than the sum of its parts. But weren’t we here before?
The philosopher, Jorge Agustín Nicolás Ruiz de Santayana y Borrás once essayed the line, “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Following this logic, amnesia clearly runs as deeply within Alfa Romeo as blind optimism. The perennially crisis-ridden Italian car brand seems locked into a habitual cycle of hope and despair, with each new dawn promising that this time all will Continue reading “Anniversary Waltz 2017 : A History of Lessons”
If one car can embody the legacy of its creator, the 1967 Austin 3-Litre will forever be linked with the fall of BMC boss, George Harriman. Hubris or simply bad timing?
An unwitting metaphor for a car company which had fundamentally lost its way, the 1967 Austin 3-Litre was an unmitigated failure both in creative and commercial terms. Received at launch with an embarrassed silence from the UK press corps, shunned by the buying public and withdrawn from sale in 1971 with a mere 9,992 examples built, the 3-Litre, along with the Maxi would prove to be the final nails in BMC’s coffinlid and all the evidence Donald Stokes and his Leyland cohorts needed to Continue reading “Harriman’s Folly”
Part one: Driven to Write meets (and briefly drives) one of its heroes.
A commonly espoused orthodoxy warns us that close proximity to our idols can only lead to disappointment. Some go further, suggesting that the renunciation of hero worship is the mark of a mature mind. This being the case, I can categorically claim not to have attained it. But surely it is preferable to Continue reading “Sons of the Silent Age”
The car with which Alfredo Ferrari’s name would become synonymous did not carry the famous Cavallino Rampante emblem but is perhaps the most significant (and beautiful) Ferrari of all.
Enzo Ferrari preferred to be addressed as ‘ingegnere’, which was something of an irony, given his somewhat reactionary views on the subject. A staunch traditionalist, his principles were firmly rooted in the pre-war era, pivoting around the notion of a powerful, high revving power unit combined with a driver of sufficient bravery and skill to Continue reading “In the Name of the Son”
It all began with a casual conversation at a motor show, which touched on the Ro80 and its stylist, Claus Luthe. An acquaintance, with an extraordinary nose for the rarely trodden byways of automotive history said “You do know that Luthe probably didn’t design the Ro80?” I confessed I didn’t, but I was keen to know more.
“It’s in an old copy of CAR”, I was told. I asked if there was a possibility of a scanned copy of the article. “I’ll do better than that”, I was told; “I’ll send you the magazine”. Continue reading “A Question of Attribution”
Marking the Saab 99’s 50th anniversary, we revisit legendary motoring writer Archie Vicar’s impressions of one of the top-ten great Saabs. (First published Nov 7, 2014.)
There can be little doubt that in the annals of automotive journalism, the voice of Archie Vicar was unique. At a time when most road test texts were couched in the most circuitous language; where opinion or indeed outright criticism required from the reader a keen appreciation of the science of forensics, Vicar stood apart.
A little like the cars of Trollhätten, if we can make that analogy. The Swedish carmaker, by the latter 1960s, had made itself a name for finely crafted, durable motor cars, but more so, for going about their business to a drumbeat very much their own.
1967’s 99 model marked the point where Saab began to be taken seriously. A car which in its various forms would serve the carmaker loyally for more than two decades, it was perhaps the most ideally realised of Saab’s production designs, being at the very least, closest to the vision which inspired it.
Today’s reissue, sees the esteemed motor-noter essaying forth to Sweden to sample the 99 on home territory and proffer his wildly opinionated generalisations both on the car itself and on the subject of national stereotypes. (Although one never quite knew how far Vicar’s tongue was in his cheek as he did so…) His fine (and inimitable) review can be found by clicking upon this link, right here.
For more of Archie Vicar’s renowned period car reviews, click here
The 1967 Fiat Dino Coupé amounted to a good deal more than the sum of its parts.
By the latter stages of the 1960’s, Fiat management realised the necessity of providing more than just basic transportation for the Italian market. With living standards on the rise, the demand for more upmarket cars grew – at least within the bounds of what Italy’s stringent taxation regime would allow.
With Dante Giacosa’s engineers at work on a series of new models to cover the compact to mid-classes – (124 and 125-series’) in addition to a new flagship to replace the dated 2300-series, Fiat’s offerings to Italy’s middle classes reflected this push upmarket, even if the egalitarian Giacosa didn’t necessarily Continue reading “Fiat al Fredo”