Cue Fanfare

Meet the new Grandmaster. 

Image: Mercedes-Benz-author’s collection.

They called it the match of the century, an East versus West showdown to elect a new Grandmaster, to be decided in the Icelandic capital of Reykjavik. Over a tense series of matches from July to August of 1972, Brooklyn-native, Bobby Fischer sensationally became not only the first American, but the first non-Russian to Continue reading “Cue Fanfare”

Ciao Bambino! [Part Three]

From Bambino to Maluch.

Image: FCA Heritage

In the normal order of things, the cessation of Italian production by mid-decade should really have signalled the end for the Fiat 126. Outdated in concept, outclassed by an increasingly sophisticated and capable cohort of putative rivals in the budget car sector – not least Fiat’s own Panda model – its residual appeal largely a function of its cheapness, compact dimensions and miniscule running costs, the rationale for continuing appeared marginal at best.

Whether it had been FIAT Auto’s intention all along, or simply a happy confluence of factors, but the wholesale shift of 126 production to Tychy, not to mention the ongoing demand for the Maluch[1] in its adopted Polish home, would facilitate the 126 remaining available to those amid Western European markets[2] for whom nothing but a 126 would do[3].

This state of affairs prompted FIAT to Continue reading “Ciao Bambino! [Part Three]”

Ciao Bambino! [Part Two]

Defying the naysayers. 

Image: FCA Heritage

The environmental non-starter” was how Car magazine’s Ian Fraser defined the 126 in December 1972, having attended the press launch along with fellow scribe and Car Editor, Douglas Blain, in its home town of Turin[1]. The thrust of their argument against the car seemed to pivot around the assertion that not only was the 126 “something of a throwback” in technical terms but also, in their estimation, that even Fiat themselves appeared unsure about as to its purpose in life.

This would hardly be the first time that the iconoclastic UK monthly took against a car largely on the basis that it failed to Continue reading “Ciao Bambino! [Part Two]”

Ciao Bambino! [Part One]

A matter of perspective.

Small, or far away? Image: FIAT Auto via the author.

It’s not you or me, or Fiat who will decide whether the 126 is a good car. History will make that decision.” These words were spoken, no doubt through clenched teeth by FIAT’s UK representative to Car magazine journalist, Ian Fraser in the wake of the UK imprint’s assessment of the new for ’72 Fiat 126. The Italian carmaker’s displeasure at Fraser’s trenchant review can be gauged by its reaction – FIAT UK pulling their advertising and banning Car’s staff writers from forthcoming press junkets.

The issue, if you could call it that, was one of perception. By 1972 Fiat was viewed as a progressive manufacturer of some of Europe’s most up to date motor cars, with a reputation for fine engineering and superior dynamic characteristics. By contrast, the 126, in Car’s estimation at least, was dismissed as a throwback to the 1950s. But it should behove us to first Continue reading “Ciao Bambino! [Part One]”

Voiture à Vivre [Part Six]

The everycar.

Image: Publicis Conseil – author’s collection

It may not have been the most commercially successful car of the 1970s, nor even the most technically significant. It did not win accolades for its ultimate handling capabilities or jaw dropping styling. Car of the decade may have been a title which eluded it, but none of the above should detract from the significance of the Renault 5 amid the automotive pantheon, nor Renault’s sound judgement in taking the car into production in such unadulterated form.

As an archetype of the art of product design, the Five was almost perfectly realised, certainly by the standards of its time. The practicality and robustness of its basic shape, the unmatched versatility offered by its hinging rear tailgate, combined with the subtle richness yet stark modernism of its detail design ensured its place as the first genuine hatchback supermini and the archetype for the modern B-segment motorcar. Such was its design integrity that Renault not only found themselves incapable, but unwilling to Continue reading “Voiture à Vivre [Part Six]”

Voiture à Vivre [Part Four]

My brilliant career.

Image: Publicis Conseil. Author’s collection

1975 was not a year to be recalled with much fondness across the global automotive industry, as the effects of Yom Kippur 1973 hit home. A number of carmakers would not survive the year, while others would undergo painful reinventions under dramatically altered circumstances. Renault, to some extent insulated by French Government stewardship, would undergo change too, Pierre Dreyfus, the CEO who had steadfastly guided them for two decades had elected to retire, nominating Bernard Vernier-Palliez in his stead. Prior to his departure, Dreyfus made another significant appointment, luring design-lead Robert Opron to Continue reading “Voiture à Vivre [Part Four]”

Voiture à Vivre [Part Two]

The Supercar cometh.

Image: renaultgroup.com

Unlike other major European markets, France did not particularly enjoy a love affair with the two-door bodystyle and by consequence, for sound commercial reasons, few mainstream French carmakers saw fit to offer one throughout the 1950s and 60s[1]. It was therefore not at all surprising that Renault CEO, Pierre Dreyfus and his marketing heads were initially dubious about the sales prospects for the new Renault 5’s two-door-with-a-tailgate style. The level of commercial risk was, not to exaggerate matters, enormous.

Misgivings were not only expressed within Billancourt itself however, Renault’s dealer representatives vehemently agitated against the two-door body style when the Cinq was previewed to them prior to launch. In fact, they wrote it off entirely, baldly stating that only commercial operators would Continue reading “Voiture à Vivre [Part Two]”

Voiture à Vivre [Part One]

Big science in a small package. 

Image: largus.fr

The scientific approach to motor car design was one which was taken up with some enthusiasm in France during the post-war period, resulting not only in some of the more compelling examples of motive modernity, but the most significant of the modern era. The results of intellectual rigour and no small quantum of application, these cars were also imbued with another, more nebulous quality: a piquant and distinctive character. Certainly, it was a potent amalgamation of elements that in this instance created a car both of its time, yet also timeless. A car for living. A car for life.

Towards the end of the 1960s, amid Europe’s engineering centres and styling studios, a new evolution of car was being forged. With matters of powertrain layout and body format still to be definitively established, nobody was entirely sure what would emerge as the dominant strain. But while Mirafiori, Turin would in the fullness of time lay claim to the precise technical layout of the compact front wheel drive car[1], it was their Transalpine rivals at Boulogne-Billancourt who would go on to Continue reading “Voiture à Vivre [Part One]”

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 Two)

Fate’s cold hand catches up with the Beta.

Lancia Beta Series II.  Image: autoemotodepoca

The Beta and its derivatives were developed progressively over its production life. A smaller 1,297cc 81bhp (60kW) engine replaced the 1,438cc entry-level unit in 1974, at which time power steering was offered on LHD models. In 1975, the 1,592cc engine was replaced by a slightly smaller capacity 1,585cc 99bhp (74kW) unit and the 1,756cc engine was supplanted by a 1,995cc 117bhp (88kW) powerplant. Electronic ignition was fitted from 1978 and automatic transmission became an option, making the Beta the first Lancia to Continue reading “Deserving Beta (Part Two)”

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)”

Family Breadwinner (Part One)

Although eclipsed by the hugely successful 205, the 104 was a highly competent design that served Peugeot and its sister companies well for sixteen-years.

Peugeot 104. Image: autodata1

Mention Peugeot Supermini in the company of car enthusiasts of a certain maturity and their minds will immediately turn to the 1983 205, the delightfully attractive, practical and sweet-handling car that, for many, was the definitive 1980’s B-segment hatchback. In 1.6 and 1.9 GTi form, it was also the definitive hot hatch. What is not as readily recalled, however, is the success of its largely forgotten predecessor, the 1972 Peugeot 104 and its PSA siblings.

Prior to the launch of the 104, Peugeot design was the very epitome of sober conservatism, with understated but well-engineered saloons and estates, and attractive but unflashy coupés and convertibles. The company had ventured into transverse engines and front-wheel-drive with the 204 and 304 siblings, but their conservative exterior appearance belied the engineering innovation within. The 104 would be the company’s smallest model and the first two-box design that was not an estate, but what was becoming known as a Supermini.

Except that, like the Fiat 127 that preceded it by a year, it was not a true Supermini in that it had a conventional boot-lid instead of a hatchback(1). Peugeot was, allegedly, concerned about the impact a hatchback 104 might have on sales of the existing 204 estate, hence the decision to Continue reading “Family Breadwinner (Part One)”