New Frontier – (Part Ten)

Press and punter have their say.

(c) citroen-sm-uk.com

Otherworldly, at least as celestial an apparition as Roland Barthes’ depiction of its DS 19 forebear, the appearance of the new Citroën poleaxed visitors at its debut. Because in the Spring of 1970, nothing spoke of the now quite like an SM, although the Pininfarina Modulo, also shown at that year’s Geneva salon potentially ran it a close second.

The motorshow also presented Citroën’s public relations with their first tangible opportunity to gauge the public’s reaction to the new Quai de Javel flagship, but more to the point, to elicit the impressions of those who might be minded to Continue reading “New Frontier – (Part Ten)”

New Frontier – (Part Nine)

High drama amid the champagne flutes at Geneva.

Geneva 1970, the SM makes its debut. (c) sm.uk

Spring 1970, and for months now the prospect of a new high performance Citroën flagship has become something of an open secret amid the motor-press. A concerted proving programme by Citroën engineers has been completed, although the chosen name is something of a late in the day affair. Nevertheless, and regardless of what Monsieur le Président is said to have originally wanted, the SM is ready to take its bow.

A prerequisite of the 1968 PARDEVI alliance with FIAT Auto was the creation of a new Citroën SA holding company, a development which saw Pierre Bercot Continue reading “New Frontier – (Part Nine)”

New Frontier – (Part Eight)

La Fluidité.

Image: autoevolution

While there may have been some disagreement as to the conceptual nature of Citroën’s 1970 flagship, the matter of its appearance seems to have been more assured. Certainly, there are comparatively few observers who could cogently argue that the SM’s styling was not a success – indeed it remains probably the car’s defining feature – still a futurist marvel, despite a half-century having elapsed since its introduction.

Within Citroën’s Bureau d’Études the Style Centre was hidden away in an unkempt and dingy section of the Rue de Théàtre facility. Overseen by longstanding Citroën design chief, Flaminio Bertoni, he alongside his small team of fellow designers and put upon artisans would Continue reading “New Frontier – (Part Eight)”

New Frontier (Part Five)

My friends all drive Citroën’s… Oh Lord won’t you buy me a … Porsche? 

Image: lautomobileancienne

After all this, they have created an enormous car; I wanted a Porsche.” These are the words of none other than Citroën President, Pierre Bercot, spoken at the time to delegate-Maserati administrator, Guy Malleret.[1] Quite some statement to have made; one which flies in the face of virtually every known document of the SM’s gestation. After all, the commonly held version of the SM’s creation saga is that Projet S was schemed almost entirely to Monsieur Bercot’s specification.

Jacques Fleury was the Citroën director responsible for factories, production and acquisitions. Amongst his responsibilities therefore was the Maserati factory in Modena and by consequence, the SM engine. According to his account, the prototype Maserati unit, having been tried in a DS saloon was deemed not only too powerful for the chassis, but that any resulting DS flagship model would have to Continue reading “New Frontier (Part Five)”

Oh Nicole!

File under (Renault: B-segment: Good – not great). At least the ad-campaign was memorable.

(c) autoevolution

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!”

Fire Without the Spark

The French Capri?

(c) stubs-auto.fr

The Spanish word for fire, the Renault Fuego was somewhat unusual in 1980 in that it was in receipt of a name rather than a numeral. The nationalised French carmaker’s numerical system, which had been in place since the ’60s was already showing signs of unravelling, but would take almost another decade before being abandoned with debut of the Clio in 1990. This made the Fuego something of an outlier in the range, a status the car maintains to this day.

To those who Continue reading “Fire Without the Spark”

Non-Conformist (Part One)

The future arrived in 1970. It was called GS.

(c) citroenorigins

Bernardo Bertolucci’s 1970 Franco-Italian feature film, The Conformist is billed as a cinematic masterpiece. Set during the 1930s fascist-era Italy, its themes of politics, betrayal, and psycho-sexual guilt, framed within Vittorio Storaro’s lavish cinematography remain as provocative today as they were when first screened in cinemas half a century ago.

As the 1960s gave way, France had witnessed a stark moment of unease in the Spring of 1968 when the conformism of French society was violently challenged in the streets of Paris by a younger generation, determined to Continue reading “Non-Conformist (Part One)”

An American in Paris

As Citroën’s SM turns 50, we trace an unlikely inspiration.

(c) Conservatoire Citroen

During a cocktail party at the French consulate in Detroit in 1960 – it is not known if any Ferrero Rochers were served – Citroën president Pierre Bercot met a man by the name of Henry de Ségur Lauve. Present as an interpreter because of his excellent command of both French and English, de Ségur Lauve was soon engaged in animated conversation with Bercot as the Citroën boss discovered that the Franco-American had considerable previous experience in car design.

Born in 1910, in Montclair, New Jersey, Henry de Ségur Lauve’s family had roots that went all the way back to the French colonists who Continue reading “An American in Paris”

Theme : Simca – By Their Concepts Shall You Recognise Them

One car illustrates why Simca weren’t quite like the other three.

fulgar-2
It’s a misty morning in 2000 and, having just sorted out a minor malfunction with one of the core control rods, Madame is setting out to the Boulangerie.

Unlike the other French manufacturers, the Italian born Henri Pigozzi of Simca wasn’t scared of a bit of Transatlantic-style showmanship. His big Simcas, derived from the Ford Vedettes, didn’t shy away from chrome, wings and two-tone. Already, Aliens had helped present the 1954 Simca Ghia Coupe, now they were going to give those Aliens the car they’d want to buy. Continue reading “Theme : Simca – By Their Concepts Shall You Recognise Them”

Theme : Books – Robert Opron : L’Automobile et l’Art by Peter J Piljman

A book about one of Citroën’s two great designers.

Opron Photo

A while ago, having come across this by chance on the Internet, I bought a new copy direct from Sagitta Press in The Netherlands. First published in 2002, it’s not cheap, but it is a heavy, handsome and copiously illustrated book about a relatively unsung giant of car design.

Most of Robert Opron’s career was, of course, in the French industry. He started at Simca, had a short time out designing bathroom fittings, then joined Citroën where, upon the death of Bertoni, he succeeded him as head of styling. Continue reading “Theme : Books – Robert Opron : L’Automobile et l’Art by Peter J Piljman”

1988 Renault Megane – Here’s One They Made Earlier

Patrick Le Quément’s legacy of highly convincing, but unrealised Renault concepts begins here…

megane1

Renault seem to have been making attempts to crack the luxury car market for decades now. During the 1970’s they offered us the R30 hatchback – a kind of updated R16 with a V6 engine and luxury trim. It wasn’t a bad car – in fact contemporary reports suggest it was rather good. But success eluded it – although the smaller-engined R20 model sharing an identical bodyshell can’t have aided matters.

During the 1980’s Renault tried again with the more attractive looking Robert Opron-inspired R25. They got around the issue this time by offering the same model with a range of engines and while the car proved moderately successful outside of its home market, it too failed to make serious inroads upon rivals like the contemporary Audi 100 and Ford Scorpio.

megane2

During 1987, with Opron (and consultant, Marcello Gandini) gone, Renault appointed Partick Le Quément as Vice President of Corporate Design with a remit to shake up Renault’s styling and by dint, its position in the market. Le Quément got to work and one of the first fruits of this new regime was shown at the 1988 Paris Motor Show. The Megane concept was a three volume saloon with a drag coefficient of 0.21; Renault describing the Megane’s appearance as “plump yet not appearing so, a completely new form.” (Note the complete absence of the word ‘sporty’ – although one has to admit, ‘plump’ wouldn’t have been my choice of words)

Megane01

Its huge sliding doors revealed an interior that resembled that of a private jet, the Megane in some ways anticipating the later Avantime in providing exceptional comfort for four occupants – Le Quément calling it “a supercar for living.” Some of the more outré features such as the two luggage compartments and its ability to switch from a three volume to a hatchback by sliding its frameless rear window aft were somewhat far fetched show car frippery, but there was within this concept, the bones of a convincing big Renault for the 1990’s – one that could have given the Citroën XM a bit of a fright. So how on earth they went from this to the 1992 Safrane is anyone’s guess. One can only assume it was an argument Le Quément lost to more risk-averse minds.

1988-renault-megane-concept-car-1

Certainly, it was one that served Renault poorly, given the Safrane’s lack of sales success and Renault’s continued inability to wrest even a decent proportion of their German rival’s market. The Safrane’s lack of appeal saw Renault’s share of the mainstream luxury car market shrink to levels that were frankly unsustainable by the time it was eventually replaced by the Avantime and Vel Satis. A matter that should be borne in mind when considering their eventual fate.

The Megane concept therefore marks the beginning of a generation of avant garde Renault concepts – visions of what would become an impossible future.

Further musings on Renault’s recent design history can be read here and here

Photo credits/sources: howstuffworks.com/ favcars.com/ onliner.by

Theme: Facelifts – Leading by a nose

The re-definitive facelift: 1968 Citroën DS

ds

Further to today’s piece on the Studebaker Starliner’s lamentable fall from grace, how on earth does one attempt to facelift a design of the Citroën DS’ magnitude? Continue reading “Theme: Facelifts – Leading by a nose”