Princess and the Pea

This isn’t about the Opel Insignia though the words came from a review of the car. It’s about what kind of lives automotive journalists lead. It’s about language.

Where does “reasonable comfort” lie on this scale?

“The previous Insignia fulfilled the purpose of getting you from A to B in a well-equipped and reasonably comfortable manner…” wrote Car magazine the other day. What could they possibly mean***?  Continue reading “Princess and the Pea”

The Great Compression

Opel’s slow walk into the history books, to join Panhard and Saab, has begun. It occurred just as I came to understand what Opel was about.

2017 Opel Insignia Sports Tourer: source
2017 Opel Insignia Grand Sport: source

You can read the technical details here. The important and ominous part is this: “Tavares told his board that PSA would redevelop the core Opel lineup with its own technologies to achieve rapid savings, according to people with knowledge of the matter” (from AN Europe).

While I was reviewing the last generation Opel Astra, I noted that the description of the mechanicals differed little from its peers. So, you might say, where is the great loss? Even if you don’t care for Opel, its absorption into the PSA combine will reduce meaningful competition among the most important classes of cars.

Continue reading “The Great Compression”

Torpedo from the East, Incoming

PSA may purchase Opel. This story has been bubbling for a while and it has bubbled some more, like the sinister upwellings on the surface of a lava pool.

2017 Opel Insignia GS: Opel.de
2017 Opel Insignia GS: Opel.de

The Guardian has reported that PSA would expect rapid savings were they to buy Opel. “Carlos Tavares, the chief executive of PSA, which owns Peugeot, Citroën and DS, said on Thursday morning that adding GM’s German Opel and British Vauxhall brands would attract new customers and generate substantial cost savings. An outline agreement is expected to be announced as soon as next week, before the Geneva motor show starts on 6 March”, wrote the formerly Mancunian paper.

This is bad news for car buyers as Opel models will be subsumed into PSA’s model structure. There is not much tangible difference  Continue reading “Torpedo from the East, Incoming”

Theme: Brochures – 1964 Skoda 1000MB

In 1964 the Skoda 1000MB went on sale, replacing the first Octavia of 1959 (which stayed in production anyway). It had a 1.0 litre  four-cylinder engine.

1964 Skoda 1000MB brochure front covers.
1964 Skoda 1000MB brochure front covers.

And it started a long series of rear-engined Skodas. It’s not a car I know a lot about. The Wikipedia web-page reeks of fandom: “Apart from the use of cooling vents in the rear wings and rear panel, everything else about the 1000 MB’s styling was normal, which was undoubtedly in an attempt to appeal to all the conservative-minded buyers in export countries like the UK. This car was highly successful both for Škoda and the Czech economy”.

Continue reading “Theme: Brochures – 1964 Skoda 1000MB”

Two Items About Designers

Two designers with long careers provide an insight worth looking at.

Alfa Romeo 156: autoevolution.com
Alfa Romeo 156: autoevolution.com

Two of our regular authors run their own blogs, which we have mentioned before. Mick has taken a look back at the work of Walter de Silva and finds much to praise but also there’s a sore point which is worthy of attention: de Silva’s penchant for absent rear door handles. I will admit to having been swept along on the unthinking currents of received wisdom. Now the point has been made I realise I had not been critical enough. And a ever-present thought that I had ignored now seems as plain as day: that 156 would be perfect were it not for the silly faux-coupé trope.

Kris, in this post, has focused on the Opel Rekord coupe, the work of Erhard Schnell under Chuck Jordan; Schnell is a designer whose name I ought to have known but didn’t. The photography is lush and the text is delightfully lucid.

Bottom Up, Top Down Or Whatever

A manufacturer’s range can draw its visual reference from either the smallest car or the largest.

2017 Opel Crossland X: source
Artist´s impression of 2017 Opel Crossland X: source

Peugeot is a famous case of its style being led by a car from the bottom of the range. The 1983 Peugeot 205 ended what was seen at the time as a rough period for the firm. Subsequent models referred to the 205 in the hope that 205 magic might rub off. Top down is the reverse: the big car leads. Yesterday the news wires burned incandescent with discussions and reports of Opel’s new Crossland X, a vehicle dimensionally very similar to the Mokka. Visually, however, the Crossland X takes a notable percentage of its design themes from the lovely little Opel Adam. In some ways the theme has more space to breath. The base of the A-pillar, which is the Adam’s least satisfactory aspect is thematically similar yet can

Continue reading “Bottom Up, Top Down Or Whatever”

Nissan March Bolero

While the Irish car market is characterised by quite pronounced conservatism, there is a mad streak in there. There are people who buy cars like this:

image

Most of it is a Nissan Micra but it has a different grille and bumper. The rear and side are much the same as the Micra. It has a 1.2 litre, 4-cylinder engine and as such is stock Micra.  Continue reading “Nissan March Bolero”

Paint News Digest

Driventowrite leaves no corner of the automotive world unexamined. Today we look a bit at paint, Mazda paint, Toyota paint, Opel paint…

Soul red crystal paint: source
Soul red crystal paint: source

Mazda presented their new colour in November, ending their press release with the memorable line: “colour is an element of form”.

Soul Red Crystal is a development of an existing Mazda colour,  Soul Red that “balances vibrant energy and vividness with clear depth and gloss.” So, it’s rich and shiny. Mazda estimate that it has 20 percent higher colour saturation and 50 percent more depth”. I don’t know how the depth is estimated. There is no insight here. There might be some here.

Continue reading “Paint News Digest”

Let’s Sort This Out, Shall We?

Getting to the nub of the Citroën XM’s styling inspiration.

1989 Citroen XM
1989 Citroen XM

Recently we have been discussing the origins of the Citroën XM. Here are as many of the influences I can find, not counting the aspects of the car that draw on Citroen’s own general heritage. The roll call is long and not exclusive. However, it begins with the 1974 Lotus Eclat which has a similar dropped window line, one of the XM’s signature features. Deschamp’s drawing looks like a saloon Eclat, if you Continue reading “Let’s Sort This Out, Shall We?”

Design Review : 2003 Ford Faction

This forgotten concept stands for a raft of vehicles conceived in a brief time at Ford’s London studio, Ingeni.

2003 Ford Faction Concept:source
2003 Ford Faction Concept:source

Not unreasonably, Ford wanted a studio located somewhere other than the drab environs of Merkenich and Basildon. So J Mays, then chief of design for FoMoCo, selected in 2002 a lovely office in a ritzy bit of London where designers could work hard, inspired by the buzz of city life. There is some good sociological thinking behind this. It didn’t last long, being closed in 2003, the year the Faction was shown. Continue reading “Design Review : 2003 Ford Faction”

Micropost: 2016 Opel Corsa

In the rental car lottery I drew the Corsa straw. There will be a short report on it before very long.

2015 Opel Corsa
2015 Opel Corsa (not the car tested).

The first thing I noticed related to the spec. They have Adamed this version so it has more of a feel-good factor than the one I rented in 2015. I drove off in the dark which somehow made me more aware of the delightfully light steering and also the fun way the dials do a test sweep of the car’s instrument faces. It’s a pleasant vehicle to drive around town and the city-steering makes it a breeze. The day’s mission is a four hour drive over motorways and country roads. We’ll see the car bears up in the course of the day…

No, I Don’t Think So

Taking the unveiling of the facelifted Golf as the starting point Autocar thinks all car makers should aspire to evolutionary design. DTW disagrees.

2017 VW Golf: source
2017 VW Golf: source

“It’s a ballsy move, though, making a car look like its predecessor. But one that’s starting to spread – Audi’s in on the game too, with its new Q5, and BMW did it with the new 5 Series not long ago” writes Autocar.

The Golf is a text-book example of a product that has evolved gradually over the course of its 40 years on the market. Audi have also cleaved to such a strategy as do BMW (nearly). Mercedes have been less adept at this. Sometimes they’ve adopted quite florid designs such as the fintail cars and most of the current batch. At other times they’ve had the urge to

Continue reading “No, I Don’t Think So”

Goodbye MPVs and Other Opel Stuff

MPVs are so ’00s. Opel have announced the name of their new small CUV, the Crosslander which replaces the Meriva. Autocar said so too. As did BBC’s Top [Insert Name of Presenter here]

2016 Opel Meriva interior: source
2016 Opel Meriva interior: source

Opel used lot of design talent on the Meriva. It had a superb interior with some excellent colour and fabric options. The window line was unique in that it recognised the fact the kids in the back might want to see out. That’s user-centred design which I can only applaud. Those doors too. Continue reading “Goodbye MPVs and Other Opel Stuff”

Micropost: Mid-Greens

My search for green paints in current cars didn’t turn up much. This and this and this, only. However, these. These are properly green.

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Today I saw this 2006 Ford Fiesta and a Skoda Felicia. These are the greens that are now in short supply. If you really want to

Continue reading “Micropost: Mid-Greens”

The French Connection

Calais is more than just a Town in France.

1966 Cadillac Calais: source
1966 Cadillac Calais: source

Very recently I mentioned the Calais cloth in a Buick Electra 225 . That reminded me that a long time ago I thought I would explore the world of GM name references to France. Today I will deal with one town in France. It turns out that GM has quite a thing for Calais, applying the appellation to trim, car lines and whole models. We chart the rise and fall of the Calais name today. Continue reading “The French Connection”

A Picture and Some Questions

A while back I alleged that, if nothing else, the mainstream saloon had more visual variety than that found among C-class family hatches.

Top selling saloons and others
Top selling saloons and others

A recent bit of news concerning Volkswagen’s Phideon saloon led me to put that in with seven other medium sized cars. See how many you can identify. How different are they? And which one stands out? Doesn’t the Phideon look a lot like a BMW 5-series proposal? Can you tell which one is the Phideon?

[Photo sources: Autocar, caranddriver, BMW, Mercedes, Toyota, Ford, Renault]

Micropost: the 1998-2004 Opel Astra Comfort

Not another Astra, Richard. Yes: it’s the rare 3-door with full Comfort spec.

image

That means green-grey velour, rear headrestraints and rear centre armrests plus a/c. Did any three door Focus or Golf have such a luxurious three-door? If it wasn’t such an unusual trim-body combination I would not have tried to photograph it.

The State of the Newstand

Before the internet captured every conceivable niche related to cars, a trip to a German railway station offered a chance to find out about cars from far-flung regions. 

Lots of magazines in a German railway station.
Lots of magazines in a German railway station.

If you thirsted after wisdom about the US market, there usually could be found a magazine or two in the Presse shop. As you might have noticed I’ve been auf achse in Germany for most of the month. During that time I’ve travelled by rail from Flensburg to Hamburg and on to Goslar in the Harz and then to Zittau on the Polish-Czech-German border via Dresden; and then I travelled from Schwedt on the Oder river to Bad Bellingen via Berlin and then Continue reading “The State of the Newstand”

Theme: Colour – She Wore Lemon

Mimosa yellow must be one of the most distinctive paint names after whatever the heck it is Ferrari calls its red.

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Over the last few weeks I went in search of yellow cars and, for the sake of completeness I’ve thrown the Tesla into the pile. None of these manage to be Mimosa yellow. That would have been very pleasing. From a safety point of view, a bright yellow car must be among the most visible against the widest range of backgrounds. Apart from that rather dull reason to prefer it, I find yellow a cheerful colour which to my eye, seems quite gender neutral whereas Continue reading “Theme: Colour – She Wore Lemon”

Micropost: 1994-2000 Lancia Kappa SW

Given Lancia made only 9028 examples of the Kappa SW, I see them often enough.

1994-2000 Lancia 1994 Kappa SW, Guben, Germany.
1994-2000 Lancia Kappa SW, Guben, Germany.

Pininfarina did the design and construction and I expect charged Lancia more for this than Lancia made selling them. That makes them good value now.

You’d want an SW if a Kappa saloon appeared too common, if a BMW 5 too mainstream, an XM too complex and a Scorpio too ugly and an Omega too banal.

Theme: Colour Micropost

We haven’t quite got around to exploring this so much.

Opel Agila
Opel Agila Njoy edition

In mitigation, I’ll present the interesting colour combination of the Opel Agila “Njoy” special edition. Critics of my Opel bias can roll their eyes if they wish. However, in keeping an eye out for bright, distinctive colours while roving around Germany it’s been Opels (Corsas, Merivas, Astras) that have been most likely to have characterful paint jobs. Continue reading “Theme: Colour Micropost”

Ashtrays: 1956-1967 Hillman Super Minx

The Minx name is mostly forgotten today, a legacy of the demise of its parent company, Hillman.

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However, Hillman used the Minx name for nearly fifty years on three or four generations of cars. As was typical of Rootes, the Minx name had a convoluted model history of small upgrades, badge engineering and variants such as the Super Minx with moderately modified bodywork. There is an awful lot of noise to sort out to get at the core of the Minx story. As with many of the cars of the time, the exact social significance and market positioning is rather hard to parse and I suspect one could devote quite a long time to gathering period reviews to reconstruct the Minx’s place in the market.

1966 Hillman Super Minx
1966 Hillman Super Minx: source

I seldom get to sit in cars of this age, first because I am not especially drawn to these British vehicles from this time and also because they are not very common, not with the doors open anyway. When you sit inside the car you notice how hard and metallic it is, with the body dominating the trim; these days trim of exceptional depth and complexity conceals the body and it is probably hard to find a car at any price with exposed metal inside.

For the average woman or man driving in the mid 1960’s this was entirely normal and they’d need to step into a wedding car such as a Rolls to experience an interior where the metal work could not be seen and where the soft fitting were anything but vinyl, hard plastic and that especially rough carpeting that manufacturers preferred at the time.

Cutting to the chase, we find a single drawer-type ashtray for the driver and front passenger. This one slid out with a notable squeeky roughness and I can imagine that many Minx’s had nice, thick cakings of nicotine on the panel over the tray. While some cars summon up fantasies of cross-continental drives (that 130 saloon I featured some time back and a 130 coupe that is forthcoming) this one summons up drives in the rain to a new supermarket that has sprouted outside Weston-Super-Mare. The wood trim is not doing much to raise the ambience but I suppose at the time it was a pleasant touch, reminding one that one didn’t have enough money for a Wolseley or Triumph maybe?

In the back, ashtrays mounted stupidly right over the arm-rest so that you need to move your entire arm to flick the debris into the trough. So, I can’t award many marks here for hedonism or ergonomics.

I am left wondering why anybody might want to buy a car like this. There’s nothing special to look at and the engineering is what I might term Soviet British. The suspension “was independent at the front using coil springs with anti-roll bar and at the rear had leaf springs and a live axle” according to the font of all wisdom, and that is not that appealing. You can see why Rootes faded away.

Although Opel and Vauxhall offered equally uninteresting cars, they were linked to large corporations with a broader outlook so they could draw on the resources of their head office for design, engineering and marketing. Rootes was as English as Alfa Romeo was Italian; perhaps I mean Fiat. And if corny old Italian brio added some romance to Fiat’s sometimes workaday cars, stolid English practicality could do nothing for cars like this.

Triumph and Rover could offers sporting appeal or decent luxury while Hillmans churned out expedient vehicles for what I assume were not very demanding customers. We often think that modern cars are mostly bland appliances. This car shows that the car as appliance can be found further back in time than 2004.

(Note: I’m not all that au fait with the byzantine history of Rootes and its badge-engineered cars. Further clarifcation on this expected and indeed welcome. If vexed members of the Hillman Owner´s Club want to chip in, feel free).

Theme: Material – Decay

Cars start decaying the moment they are built. Some manage to accumulate character while most don’t. What do you do?

Rust.
Rust.

One response is obsessive polishing and maintenance. The other is stoic acceptance. For many the response is to oscillate in between the two, starting with careful stewardship of the new possession. Why do people fight physics? And why is it that cars don’t last longer? Continue reading “Theme: Material – Decay”

Micropost: The Italian Car Park

Here is an Italian car-park: Naples Airport.

image

My casual analysis of the Italian fleet leads me to conclude Fiat, GM, Toyota and VW dominate the low to middle market and thereafter it’s Audi and Mercedes. The losers are Renault and Citroen at one end, Ford in the middle and Lexus and BMW at the top. Subaru, Mazda, Honda and Mitsubishi have no strong presence. Alfa aren’t even all that common. Continue reading “Micropost: The Italian Car Park”

Micropost: the elusive 1991 Opel Astra in metallic light grey

The vast majority of survivors are estates or saloons in dark green, dark blue or dark red . Never black.

Rare in this colour now: 1991-1998 Opel Astra 1.6 saloon
Rare in this colour now: 1991-1998 Opel Astra 1.6 saloon

What you don’t see are light metallic five door versions. However for the next version metallic grey became the default. Continue reading “Micropost: the elusive 1991 Opel Astra in metallic light grey”

Anatomy of a star: 1991 Opel Astra

Twenty-five years ago, Opel launched the Astra F. As far as I can ascertain, this is the only place where you will find that event marked.

1991 Opel Astra: source
1991 Opel Astra: source

You might find it odd that DTW (or just is it just me) continue to bang on the Astra drum. One reason that I like to draw people´s attention to this is because the recognition of good design is often rendered harder by ancillary matters of fashion and consensus and I´d like people to see past that. The received wisdom is that in the C-class the Golf is the gold medallist. The Golf has many positive attributes: often its quality of construction is superior to the average of the day; some versions are acknowledged driver´s cars; some versions are neatly designed. However, the Golf´s arch enemy, the Astra has lingered too long in the shadows of the Wolfsburg car and if you are blinded by consensus you are missing something lovely. Continue reading “Anatomy of a star: 1991 Opel Astra”

Cookie Cutter

“Where all think alike there is little danger of innovation” –  Edward Abbey.

1981 MB SEC
1981-1991 Mercedes-Benz SEC: source

17 years. You would think that was long enough to convince my girlfriend that a W126 is the ideal family car. It seems not. I’ve always loved the cars MB produced during Sacco’s time (I like to think he had called in sick the day they designed the W210) but his first S-Class (especially the coupe) is top of the heap for me. For some reason his theory of Vertical and Horizontal Affinity has always had a strong resonance. Continue reading “Cookie Cutter”

Something Rotten in Denmark: 1964-1967 Buick Skylark

This is one for someone with patience, some spanners, some paint and a lot of money for petrol.

1964 Buick Skylark
1964 Buick Skylark

“Tatty” describes this remnant of Detroit’s golden years, a Buick Skylark which descended from the base-model Special as a line of its own in 1964. That´s a recurring theme in GM´s model evolution, how separate lines would emerge from trim variants and sometimes fade back again. It makes these cars somewhat hard to pin down if you are not into the cladistics of the USican automotive zoo. That bifurcation of product lines is something that doesn´t happen so much now. Maybe the Ford Vignale might be a recent example of the type (though Top Gear´s 2016 Car Buyers [sic] Guide does not even deign to Continue reading “Something Rotten in Denmark: 1964-1967 Buick Skylark”

Stocking up on received wisdom

The car magazine I usually buy has given up on price lists so I had to get the Top Gear 2016 New Car Buyers [sic] Guide. That should be buyer´s guide (the guide of one buyer) or buyers´guide (the guide of lots of buyers). In no particular order I gleaned some new received wisdom.

100% Clarkson-free
100% Clarkson-free – the 2016 Top Gear New Car Buyers [sic] Guide. It knows the price of everything…

Before I launch into that, I am in the position of having to find my own car news. Car and Autocar´s content is not sticking in my mind after I read it. I don´t feel I know the state of the car when I read Car anymore. I feel I know only about driving an expensive car somewhere photogenic.  Automotive News is good for nitty gritty industry news but not car reviews. So this Top Gear New Car Buyer´s Guide was a chance to quickly find out what this pillar of the automotive news world thinks we should think. I view it as a chance to see what the mainstream is thinking. What is it thinking?

Continue reading “Stocking up on received wisdom”

Understanding blandness

There is a fine line between the severely rational and the bland. The 1997 Toyota Avensis is bland yet there is a hint of something else there too. What little character the car has did come from somewhere. So, what inspired the theme?

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This is the 1997 Avensis. To try to understand this car is to try to guess at what else Toyota had in mind when developing it. If the car was launched in 1997 then the designers were looking at cars launched or on sale in three years before: 1994. What do we find? The Opel Omega and Renault Laguna had the most impact. The Peugeot 406 and Mazda 626 estates also guided the packaging targets. Continue reading “Understanding blandness”

When the dust clears

It´s only with a good bit of hindsight can you see what has really happened. 

1995 Buick LeSabre: cardomain.com
1995 Buick LeSabre: cardomain.com

When I started writing about Opel and Buick my view of the relationship rested on the idea that if Opel could provide some useful platforms to Buick then that would be a good thing. I recently noted that not only are Buicks not wholly designed in America but in future may not be made there. Continue reading “When the dust clears”

Whither Buick and Opel?

At the Detroit Auto show Buick showed off the rather handsome Avista concept car which is based on Chevrolet’s Camaro. 

2016 Buick Avista blue front
Buick Avista: automobilemag.com

And at Geneva ’16, Opel is planning to show off a GT inspired by the GT of the 1960s, a car many admired for its pretty styling.

I´ve lumped Buick and Opel together because these days they are interchangeable (for better and for worse). When the Avista was revealed I immediately saw that the Tristar badge could be replaced by an Opel propeller flash if something like the Avista was sold in Europe. This would be a good thing because the Avista would be a Buick first and an Opel second. For too long the traffic has been from Rüsselsheim to Detroit and at this stage Buick is a nameplate lacking its own identity, nice and all as some of those Buickised Opels are.  Continue reading “Whither Buick and Opel?”

Can the Mondeo Stage a Comeback?

As the brakes come off the troubled mainstream European car market, Ford and General Motors jealously guard market share, but at what cost?

2016 Ford Mondeo. Image via fordautoreviews
2016 Ford Mondeo. Image via fordautoreviews

The post crunch era has been tough for America’s European automotive outposts. Of the pair, Ford appears in better shape, having already taken painful steps to arrest serious overcapacity in their European operations by shutting loss-making plants. The closure of the Genk plant only partially explains why the US Fusion took so long to become the European Mondeo; last year, we suggested Continue reading “Can the Mondeo Stage a Comeback?”

Sign of the Cross

It’s been confirmed the next Opel Senator will be a crossover – as indeed it appears will everything else. Are we approaching a tipping point?

Inspiration for the forthcoming Opel CUV? Image via autoblog
The new face of Opel. Image via autoblog

When GM showed the Avenir concept earlier this year, many viewed it as a sign Buick was serious about re-entering the full-sized luxury saloon market with something along more traditional lines. For enthusiasts here in Europe it prompted speculation as to the potential for a similarly proportioned model – a latter day Opel Senator if you will. But while it’s possible such an idea was at least considered, it’s equally likely it wasn’t given a great deal of airtime. Especially given the recent announcement stating GM Europe is preparing three new crossover models over the next couple of years – one of which is set become Opel’s next Euro flagship. Continue reading “Sign of the Cross”

2014 Opel Zafira 2.0 CDti Ecoflex roadtest

The Opel Zafira Tourer went on sale in late 2011 as an addition to the Opel family, rather than a replacement for the existing Zafira. That remains on sale as a cheaper, smaller MPV, albeit in facelifted form. DTW gained access to a Zafira Tourer Ecoflex, with a 2.0 diesel engine fitted with stop/start technology. Read on for a short review…

2014 Opel Zafira 2.0 CDti
2014 Opel Zafira 2.0 CDti

The Zafira does such a good job it is hard to write about the car´s demerits without seeming to make too much of rather small details. All the good points can fly past unnoticed since getting it right is often just a way to go unnoticed.

From the outside, the Zafira makes a good case for the MPV format. It has Continue reading “2014 Opel Zafira 2.0 CDti Ecoflex roadtest”

Concepts: Little Wonder

The 1983 Opel Junior concept personified the adage; small is beautiful.

opel-junior-05

The 1983 (is it really that old?) Opel Junior was one of the stars of that year’s IAA at Frankfurt, where it debuted. Small and pert, the little Opel was the work of a team of designers at Opel’s Rüsselsheim styling centre, under the direction of Hideo Kodama. Alongside Kodama was Gert Hildebrand and neophyte, Chris Bangle, who, it’s said, was responsible for the concept’s modular interior.  Continue reading “Concepts: Little Wonder”

Advertising: Speak My Language

Vorsprung durch… advertising.

audi-logoamsmdb261408

When Sir John Hegarty; doyen of UK advertising (and co-founder of renowned ad-agency, Bartle Bogle Hegarty) took on the Audi creative account back in 1982 the Ingolstadt marque’s image was somewhat woolly.

Continue reading “Advertising: Speak My Language”