During the early years of the 1950’s, the American auto industry was blossoming into previously unknown avenues, at times ambitious and in certain cases, downright arresting. Springtime 1954 saw head of Lincoln’s pre-production studio, John Najjar sketch five concept cars, only one making it past the papyrus stage. Known internally as Mandalay, the sketch pupated into the XM Turnpike Cruiser, “a four passenger cross country car for tomorrow.” XM denoting eXperimental Mercury.
Outré perhaps, even in the jet age, the design caught the attention of future Ford whiz-kid Francis ‘Jack’ Reith. Pushing the top brass for backing, an internal competition set the partnership of Najjar and Elwood Engel over that of Gene Bordinat and Don DeLaRossa. Both teams presented full size clay models (around 18 feet in length) knowing full well only one would be green lighted. Reith took an instant shine to the Najjar design, justifying tweaks and alterations, gaining approval that autumn. Continue reading “Najjar’s Butterfly Develops Seventy Years Late”
No sneering at the back, these machines drive America.
Today we peer closely at those bread and butter US sales machines – Chevrolet’s Silverado, RAM, a Stellantis brand now separate from mothership, Dodge and the ever-ubiquitous F-150 from Ford.
Spare a thought for those salespeople spread across the land – brand loyalty no longer fully applies – given sales no longer. Once dyed in the wool Chevy fans (for instance) have now taken up the Ford mantle – or even headed elsewhere. Belay playing the Stradivarius, forebear opening those saline ducts, but if you do nothing else today, Continue reading “Bizarre Love Triangle”
Searching for a horse’s mouth account of that pioneering purveyor of horseless carriages, a recent read was the well known autobiography of the irrepressible, late and lamented Lido Anthony (Lee) Iacocca. (1924-2019) With the internet nowadays a deep-mine of information, such a move maybe described as unnecessary, but to this author at least, that misses the point.
For those of you who seek the inner nuances concerning his fathering of the Mustang, therein lies a smattering – just eighteen pages given over to that mother of all car launches, but since other aspects of his career overwhelmed such matters, we ought not Continue reading “Try A-Coke-Ah (Part One)”
Editor’s note: A version of this piece was originally published on DTW in May 2018.
Don Henley’s 1984 Grammy-winning hit single, Boys of Summer was a meditation on reminiscence and regret. It plays on the slick US West Coast values of the lyricist’s Eagles heyday, deftly subverting its MOR rock sheen to underline more mature themes of ageing and loss. The track was not only a sizeable success in the US and elsewhere, but gained Henley a critical credibility he had perhaps hitherto lacked. After all, looking back to the past can be instructive, and in some cases, a virtual necessity. However, true folly lies with those who attempt to Continue reading “Boys of Summer”
During the Second World War, the Ford Motor Company built tens of thousands of Willys Jeeps under licence for the war effort, yet it was almost twenty years from the cessation of hostilities before Dearborn created an offroad lifestyle vehicle of their own, one which has more recently undergone something of a re-birth.
During the early ’60s, and somewhat belatedly spotting a potential market for a vehicle equally adept on, or off-road, the blue oval surveyed Jeep and International Harvester Scout customers. The revelation that these rivals suffered from “poor comfort and ride with harsh noise and vibration problems” led to a product planning committee memo dating from October 1963, code named Bronco. Seven days later, another memo, this time entitled GOAT (Goes Over Any Terrain), was distributed, leading those in the know to Continue reading “Untamed Soul”
The roaring twenties was a favourable decade for Citroën; not only did his cars gain a reputation for reliability, economy of operation and modernity, but the carmaker also was one of the first in the field to appreciate and apply the power of publicity on a grand scale. And we do mean grand. During the 1922 Paris motor show he hired an aeroplane to fly over the city and write his company name in the sky – over three miles long – the first time this was ever done.
A few years later, the Eiffel tower would become the world’s largest lighted commercial display by means of 250,000 light bulbs; upon his final descent to the airport of Le Bourget after his 33-hour solo flight, Charles Lindbergh used the lighted Eiffel tower as a guiding beacon. Seizing the publicity opportunity, Citroën invited the aeronautic pioneer to Javel where the entire workforce as well as the domestic press greeted the first man to Continue reading “When Henry Met André – Part 2”
So long, farewell, adieu: This week has seen a lot of fervid happenings in the land of the free / home of the brave, but one which perhaps got lost amid the signal and noise of that election was the official cessation of Lincoln Continental production – which has either already ceased or is scheduled to Continue reading “The Art of Saying Goodbye”
What happens when a subspecies falls prey to evolutionary overspecialisation? The 2008 Ford Flex is what happens.
When J. Mays took over from Jack Telnack as Dearborn’s styling supremo in 1997, his avowed aim was to re-emphasise Ford’s homegrown product identity, appointing former Volvo design chief, Peter Horbury in 2004 as Executive Director for design with responsibility for FoMoCo’s cache of US brands.
By mid-decade, it had already become apparent that the US market was losing its appetite for minivans, but Ford, like most of its domestic rivals lacked the market foresight to Continue reading “Darwin’s Estate”
As Ford shuffles its CUV deck on both sides of the Atlantic, do we detect a certain softening in the Blue Oval’s visual palette?
It has been, as DTW’s curiously silent Ford-obsessive, Myles Gorfe might have said, a very busy week in Ford circles, with not one, but three new CUV model lines being revealed. Although, in the interests of accurate reporting that statement might want to be revised downwards, given that the new-generation K U G A and E S C A P E models are broadly one and the same.
But to be even more factually rigorous, one really ought to refine this statement further, given that Ford did not at the time of writing get around to fully revealing the forthcoming Puma – (or should that read P U M A?) badged model, electing instead to Continue reading “This Aggression Will Not Stand”
Today automotive News posted an item headlined “VW says next generation of cars with combustion engines will be the last”. The next sentence is “Volkswagen Group expects the era of the combustion car to fade away after it rolls out its next-generation gasoline and diesel cars beginning in 2026.” Hey sister, that’s 8 years away. Bloomberg has much the same story, by the way.
In my October 6th article I wrote “A car launched in 2018 might be replaced in 2025 leaving a short product cycle to recoup investments. That makes the period around now the last point at which it will be worth bothering to engineer for ICE engines.” I did not expect that. It means that VW will Continue reading “Is There A Way Forward Through The Frozen Glass?”
Retrofuturism didn’t necessarily arrive at Ford with J. Mays. It’s more likely to have started with a man named Callum. No, the other one…
As the Ford Motor Company grew its upmarket brand portfolio during the late 1980s, it became a matter of increasing importance to ensure each marque could carve out a coherent stylistic identity, one which not only honoured tradition, but that ensured no genetic traces were misplaced or appropriated.
Complicating matters during this period was the fact that Aston Martin had been gifted an Ian Callum-penned version of Jaguar’s cancelled XJ41 two-seater, which would eventually Continue reading “Antique Roadshow”
While something of a singularity, the advent of a defining car can only truly be acknowledged once a decent period of time has elapsed. The Ford Motor Company has created a number of cars which have in their way, helped define their respective eras, largely due to ubiquity and popular appeal. Nevertheless, the number of truly outstanding European Ford car designs are fewer in number.
Driven to Write’s pound shop Max Warburton considers Ford’s ongoing European woes and wonders if lightning does indeed strike twice?
There has been, one can be assured, better times to be a motor industry executive. But as chilly as it might currently be at the top table of most European automakers, Ford’s Group Vice President, EMEA, Steven Armstrong is in perhaps a more invidious position than most. Because while nearly every rival player is facing similar difficulties, Armstrong’s position is compounded by last month’s announcement of a second half pretax loss of $73 million, a likely prelude to an even heftier one being posted for the year as a whole.
Autocar gets its hands on a Ford Thunderbird for a full road test. Its conclusions might surprise you.
While the original 1955 Ford Thunderbird had proven a critical success, its sales were hampered by its two-seat layout and high price; a matter which was remedied in 1958 by the second-generation ‘Square Bird’, a bigger, more ornate looking four-seater personal luxury car.
With sales in the region of 200,000 over its three-year run, the ‘Square ‘Bird’ not only codified the T-Bird template, but became a sizeable profit earner. The third generation, dubbed ‘Bullet Bird’ was introduced in 1961. Its styling, said to have been the work of Alex Tremulis and based on jet fighter iconography and was chosen in favour of a rival design by Elwood Engel, which would itself go on to Continue reading “Riding the Jet Bird”
To the accompaniment of grinding metal, Driven to Write takes a decidedly Eurocentric view of Ford’s recent retrenchment on domestic saloons.
Last week’s announcement by Ford to discontinue their entire US market saloon lineup, while a shock to some, was not without some fairly broad hints being laid. In movie parlance, we’ve been hearing the ominous cellos in the background for some time, because the US market mood music on sedans has long been of a less than upbeat tempo.
Having made a less than critically acclaimed stab at reinvention with Ghia’s 1996 Sentinel, Lincoln’s Gerry McGovern hit the bullseye with the 2002 Continental concept.
With the Jack Telnack era of design leadership coming to a close in 1997, Ford’s styling centre in Dearborn entered a new phase under J. C. Mays, who following a two year stint as design consultant for the Blue Oval, was selected as Ford’s new design Veep. With a new face came a new broom, Mays telling journalists at the time, “I have been brought in to make some changes and I fully intend to do that.”
The legacy of the 1961 Continental lays heavily upon Ford’s Lincoln division. Today we begin an examination of two concepts aimed at re-establishing that defining car’s visual pre-eminence.
Europe does not have a monopoly on history or heritage. Long shadows of the past also haunt the American automotive landscape, as the big-name US automakers struggle, just like their European counterparts, to reinterpret the past while straining for relevance in a rapidly approaching future.
With Ford’s Taurus the latest sedan nameplate set for a date with the eternal, what does this growing convergence mean for the large blue-collar American saloon?
Cadillac’s recently announced plans to remove a number of sedan model lines in response to shifting commercial realities appears not to have occurred in a vacuum. Last week it was Ford’s turn, first with reports of the Mexican-built Fiesta being phased out, but more dramatically, that executives have elected not to Continue reading “Victim of Stars”
Launched fifty years ago, we examine the fifth best selling car of all time.
It’s a curious choice when you think about it, connotating little by way of glamour or allure, unlike for instance its Cortina sibling. The car as companion perhaps? A no-nonsense non-specific name for what began life as a practical, no-nonsense car. The Escort name in fact predated this model, first turning up on a variant of the early 1950s British Ford 100E range, but more salaciously, it was also the title of a popular 1970s UK top-shelf publication, beloved of both (secondary) school playground and travel motel dweller alike.
Another future postponed. Today we look at an engine technology from the early 1990’s which, for a short time at least, looked like a certainty.
Where do ideas go to die? Are blueprints simply rolled up and secreted away, to be dusted off by historians in decades hence or are there engineers in a quiet workshop somewhere in Australia (or Toyota City) still burning with religious fervour for what now appears to have been something of a lost cause?
Founded by engineer, Ralph Sarich, the Orbital Engine Corporation was based in Perth and during the early 1990’s attracted the interest of a number of big name manufacturers for a clever reworking of the time-honoured but somewhat flawed two-stroke engine design. For a short period of time, it sounded tantalisingly like Continue reading “Stroke of Fortune”
The current KA+ is a dispiriting sight for those who appreciated the original’s daring style. Today, we consider lost causes in the form of the 2010 Start concept.
Presenting a plausible and attractive evolution of the Ur-KA silhouette, Start came out of Ford’s Californian design centre, allegedly as a conceptual piece of blue sky thinking. Designed by Jeff Nield under the supervision of Freeman Thomas, Start debuted at the 2010 Beijing motor show, touted as a technology trailblazer for the blue oval.
A delightfully organic, podlike shape, the stylistic homages to the original 1996 KA are abundant, especially in the shaping and treatment of the Continue reading “Start at the End”
As Ford readies its 2018 Euro-offerings, Driven to Write asks whether Henry’s Focus remains slightly askew?
In a Automotive News report this week, it was revealed that Ford will not unveil the new-generation Focus model at the Geneva show in March, electing to do so at a bespoke event the following month. The Ford spokesperson did not explain why this decision was taken (nor, it seems was the question asked) but it does suggest that Ford’s marketers believe they will Continue reading “Ford ReFocuses its Offer”
An encounter with the Ka’s more glamourous cousin has prompted Driven to Write to seek the word on the Street.
The 2002 Ford StreetKa was first shown at the 2000 Turin motor show as a concept, but its roots go back to 1996, when Ghia presented the Saetta, a teaser for that year’s Ka hatchback, but also the StreetKa’s direct forebear.
Driven to Write has a thing about brightwork. We also have a thing about quality.
The 1990 Lexus LS400 famously had nitrogen-filled tyres because mere air caused a resonance. Despite the car’s astonishingly careful conception, these aren’t much loved and few are they now in number. It’s successor (above) is a crouton in the same soup bowl.
Despite arguably being the most gifted automotive engineer and manager of his generation, Prof Dr Wolfgang Reitzle would only ever enter the captain’s chair once he left the car industry for good.
It is one of automotive history’s more baffling paradoxes that a man of such undisputed talents as Wolfgang Reitzle never reached the post of chief executive at an automotive business. But as with a great many other high achievers, it actually was the same traits that had brought Reitzle so close to the apex that ultimately prevented him from arriving there.
And finally, another tale of compromise, recounted by M. Seidler.
Once work on the Almusafes plant was underway, Ford negotiated with the Spanish tax authorities to import some cars for use by their staff and management. Presumably the notion of using Chrysler 180’s or Seat 132’s would be too much to countenance. The sticking point was a rigidly enforced annual limit of 250 imported cars for the entire country. Continue reading “Compromise Redux – The Generous Generalissimo”
So you thought there was only one Fiesta Mk.1? In fact there nearly were two, and the one we never saw almost tore Ford apart.
From its inception in 1969, Ford’s small car project had always had inter-continental ambitions. An early project structure saw engines manufactured in Brazil being used in cars made first in Europe, with a production base in Brazil following on, which would not only serve the home market, but would also export to the USA. US and Asia-Pacific production sites would follow. Other visions included a simplified low-powered variant adapted for production in developing countries, a third world car maximum speed of 55-60mph, a 0-50 time of 25-30 seconds, capable of being sold at 50-60% of the price of the cheapest Ford Escort. Continue reading “Theme: Compromise – The Fiesta Mk.1 – Blood on the Boardroom Floor”
Let us consider the conventional wisdom about the first generation Fiesta.
It arrived some time after the revolutions in small car design which raged through Europe in the fifties and sixties, and continued to bear fruit into the early seventies. It was thus a rationalised ‘best practice’ car, standing on the narrow but solid shoulders of at least four influential and successful rivals which arrived early enough in the 1970s to influence and inform Ford’s designers. Continue reading “Theme: Compromise – The Fiesta Mk.1 – Almost Revolutionary”
A missed opportunity or a masterpiece of compromise? We look at the unassuming little engine that drove the Fiesta’s success.
CAR March 1974 was confident in its prediction about the Fiesta’s engine; “it is a completely new water-cooled, in-line four with single overhead cam and Heron head. It will come in two sizes – a little over 900cc and 1090cc for the top of the range model.” As we now know, the “scoop report” could scarcely have been more wrong, but it is easy to understand the reasons for their conjecture. Continue reading “Theme: Compromise – Ford’s Valencia engine. A Curious Orange?”
The Rhymes of Goodbye. As Henry’s new broom sweeps both baby and bathwater, XJ40 gets a final makeover before it bows out.
Bent on beating General Motors to the punch, it appears the Blue Oval not only overpaid but failed to carry out a sufficiently thorough pre-purchase inspection. As the scale of Jaguar’s issues became clear, budgets and new car programmes were slashed. It didn’t take long for the briefings to start, the US giant unashamedly publicising their findings, seemingly oblivious to the negative PR this would engender – to say nothing about morale. Continue reading “History Repeating – XJ40 Part 18”