The Sierra came about on account of two intersecting imperatives. Head of Ford’s European operations, Bob Lutz had brought from BMW a sophisticated understanding of the semiotics of automotive desire; his avowed intention being to completely transform Ford’s image, especially in the West German market. This would dovetail with the determination of FoE’s Design VP, Uwe Bahnsen, to Continue reading “I Don’t Think You’re Ready for This Jelly”
Despite what Uwe Bahnsen later stated publicly, both he and his design team were placed squarely in the firing line as Sierra’s disappointing early sales figures were thrown in their faces, as Patrick le Quément recalls: “Design was the centre of acrimony, we had designed a car that started slowly in the UK, the cash-cow land of Ford in Europe. We entered very difficult times”.
Having taken something of a leap of faith with Sierra rather than their usual practice of exhaustive market research, Dearborn’s executives wanted someone’s head. Bahnsen would be a convenient choice and at a Star Chamber interrogation at Merkenich, chaired by Detroit Ford executive, Harold A. (Red) Poling, and witnessed by a horrified le Quément, they got their man. “The end of Uwe Bahnsen’s career was a tragedy and they almost managed to break him, but he left, dignified and became head of Art Center Europe in Switzerland”. Continue reading “Into the Vortex – Part Three”
For the Sierra, the path to stylistic approval was lengthy and difficult. Given the Ford Motor Company’s scale and multi-national status, it was normal procedure to involve its myriad international styling studios to submit proposals for commercially significant models. We therefore know that innumerable rival proposals for the Toni programme were evaluated before the Merkenich scheme was green-lighted in 1979, but less known are what they were like.
For decades, Ford of Britain designed and engineered its UK model offerings. However, by the latter part of the 1960s, Dearborn management elected to bring these two entities together, eyeing reduced development costs and a more unified offering to the public. In 1967, an engineering and style centre was opened at Dunton Wayletts, near Basildon in Essex. Here, engineers and stylists would Continue reading “Second Division”
Early 1979, and as Patrick le Quément wraps up his assignment at Ford UK’s Dunton research centre for the Ford Cargo truck programme, he receives a summons back to Merkenich from Chief Designer, Ray Everts. [With] “6 months before the Go With Two decision, I was asked to dedicate all my energy to the Toni project, for the battle was far from being won, there was much to do, to convince, to improve!”
Part of what Bob Lutz would later characterise as le Quément’s “decisive role” in the Toni design programme was to help build up a detailed analysis of Ford’s design strategy with a view to providing Uwe Bahnsen with the precise data he required to convince the Detroit board of the necessity for radical change. Using analysis and experience from both Erika and Cargo programmes (the latter a revolutionary design in itself), Everts, le Quément and the team concluded that promoting aerodynamic efficiency was the route to take. “We felt we were ready to appeal to our Lords and Masters for, after all, aerodynamics was to be had for free (or so we thought at the time), but it also gave us the opportunity to invent a brand new formal language and take a divergent route from the Me Too approach”.
In a three part series, Patrick le Quément speaks exclusively to DTW about the Ford Sierra’s troubled genesis.
All car designers set out to create beautiful objects, not simply for artistic reasons, but for commercial ones too. After all, a beautiful car is more than usually a successful one. But like success, beauty has many parents and midwives, whereas failure (and ugliness for that matter) is almost always an orphan.
Automotive design is a collaborative process, requiring no small measures of vision, craft, intelligence and determination, but in the final analysis, it requires a consensus; after all, no modern car design can be decided upon by a single individual. But with the cost of failure so high, the process can often appear as something more akin to an act of faith. Continue reading “Into the Vortex – Part One”
What we are looking at today are images from a period sales brochure for the second-generation Ford Granada. A brochure whose well-thumbed pages serve as mute testimony to your editor’s youthful aspiration; notions, as we’d describe them round these parts. When a Ford Escort would Continue reading “Taking a Stance”
Twenty years on, DTW recalls the shock factor of the mundanely named but highly distinctive Renault Mégane II.
I have had in mind to write something about the Mégane II for a while now, but other distractions have prevented me from doing so. Then, in starting to do some research on the subject, I came across ‘The Surge’ series on Christopher Butt’s irresistible ‘Design Field Trip’. As a result, I nearly didn’t bother writing this piece, because Christopher and Patrick le Quément (no less!) have put together the definitive articles on the boldest C-segment hatchback design since the Golf. However, I decided to carry on so that, if nothing else, this piece can act as a signpost to that series of articles.
File under (Renault: B-segment: Good – not great). At least the ad-campaign was memorable.
Ask anyone about the 1990 Renault Clio and amongst those who remember it at all, most will cite the long-running UK advertising campaign, featuring the somewhat clichéd antics of comely young Nicole, getting the slip on her somewhat louche papa at their somewhat clichéd Provencal retreat. Meanwhile Papa, displaying equally duplicitous behaviour (all French men of course routinely have affairs), was fomenting assignations of his own.
Risible of course, but it played to cherished English preconceptions of French mores, and was instrumental in cementing brand-Clio in the minds of UK buyers. It worked too: the Clio proving a thirty year success story for the French carmaker, but the first-generation model, unlike its ad-campaign, was not what anyone would Continue reading “Oh Nicole!”
A Laguna Coupé ought to be both a rare and welcome sighting. But it doesn’t do to look too closely.
The Renault Laguna, especially in its third and final iteration was a popular car in Ireland. Not popular in Passat or Avensis terms, but sold in quite respectable numbers nonetheless, notwithstanding Irish motorists’ long-standing distrust of the larger offerings from our esteemed French neighbours.
This was all the more surprising really, given the frightful reputation its immediate predecessor earned over its lifespan – riddled as it was by electronic gremlins which cost the carmaker dear, both in market share and in warranty costs. But then, Renault’s Irish importers were (perhaps through grim necessity) somewhat generous when it came to sales incentives. Continue reading “Sighting and Seeing”
Despite the diminutive profit margins they typically engender, small cars have always been big business for mainstream European carmakers. But finding a recipe that is equally acceptable across pan-European palates is no minor matter. The ongoing mission to craft the required blend of practicality, utility, style and indulgence at a price that will attract the urbanite and rural dweller alike might well be the toughest gig in car design.
Renault landed upon just such a recipe with the original 1992 Twingo, a charming and strikingly designed compact monospace whose distinctive style, the result of Patrick le Quément’s dogged determination to Continue reading “Metropolitian Glide”