The New Frontier : [Part Two]

A brief, meteoric rise and sudden precipitous fall.

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

While there may have been some discord as to the conceptual nature of Citroën’s 1970 flagship, the matter of its style appears to have been more assured. Certainly, there are 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 work largely in seclusion, without much by way of recognition.

Originally training as an architect at the Ecole des Beaux arts in Amiens, Robert Opron joined Citroën’s style centre in 1962. He quickly developed a rapport with the mercurial Bertoni, the two men sharing mutual interests in art, cuisine and culture.[1] Opron was said to be devastated when in 1964, he learned of his sudden and premature demise.

Having already illustrated his abilities and gained the confidence of his superiors, Opron was asked by head of the Bureau d’Études, Jean Cadiou to Continue reading “The New Frontier : [Part Two]”

The New Frontier : [Part one]

We profile the incomparable SM.

La Fluidité. Image: autoevolution

Observing 50 year old events through modern eyes can make for a faulty tool, yesterday’s visions of the future tending to appear somewhat naive to twenty-first Century sensibilities – as much a consequence of socio-economic factors, evolving customer tastes, not to mention the relentless march of time itself. Few carmakers have done more to define the modern automobile than Automobiles Citroën – especially during the post-war era – not simply in design, but also in terms of systems engineering, in particular its widespread adoption of aviation-inspired, engine-driven hydraulics.

If only Citroën could have made a car as technologically and stylistically advanced, as resolutely modern as the 1970 SM, it could only have done so during this fecund (some might say profligate) period of their history. Today, the SM still appears thrillingly futuristic, yet the future to which it spoke so promisingly seems more the subject of fond regret; one where to Continue reading “The New Frontier : [Part one]”

Oh Lord Won’t You Buy Me A… Porsche?

My friends all drive Citroën’s…  

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 all conventional lore on the subject; the commonly held version of the SM’s creation saga being that Projet S was schemed almost entirely to Monsieur le Président’s specification.

Jacques Fleury was the Citroën director responsible for factories, production and acquisitions. By consequence, the Maserati factory in Modena, and the SM engine programme would come under his purview. Speaking to Marc Sonnery, Fleury suggested that the S-programme had lost focus, morphing into the type of Grand Turismos Maserati were already producing. But by that point he suggested, it had become too late to Continue reading “Oh Lord Won’t You Buy Me A… Porsche?”

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”

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. Continue reading “Renault Megane – Here’s One They Made Earlier”

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”