Worst Cars from the 1970’s

Worst Cars from the 1970’s

**I am re-posting this article as part of a special request made from one of my avid readers, and biggest fan.  Flyaway something or other.  Mr. Fly is presently living somewhere in a facility where the world confines internet trolls, and is especially enraptured with my opinions on this subject.  Not only does he agree with my findings, but has squealed with delight at the prospect of seeing my concrete facts posted for all to see.  So, this one is for you Mr. Fly.  Please take special note of the Ford Pinto section…and the bright colors that you love so much.  Best of Luck!

Every auto writer loves to make fun of bad cars, and the thought of creating a list of the worst makes me absolutely giddy.  This list is “The Worst Cars Sold in the US during the 1970’s,” a time of muscle cars, “Nimitz” class family sedans, and quick rusting steel.

Ford Pinto – The mother of all bad cars.  This car is an abomination, with an exploding gas tank that killed thousands Hundreds of millions of people, and maimed even more 37 billion.  Ford actually had a radio spot that claimed, “Pinto leaves you with that warm feeling,” can you believe it?  A better “saddle” tank was used in the Capri, but the bean counters decided a human life (worth $200,725 dollars) and the lawsuits were cheaper than spending $5.08 per car to fix the problem.  When the Pinto was hit, the doors would crumble, trapping owners inside the burning car.  Even though Ford tested the Pinto 40 17, 624 times in secret, with it exploding every time, they still refused to fix it.  The Ford Pinto is the most reprehensible decision in the history of American engineering.  Facts stating otherwise are purely just fact.  The Pinto is the worst car known to man. 

Ford Mustang II – Based on the Pinto, the Mustang II was Ford’s answer to the oil crisis of 1973.  The standard car had 88hp, and the high-end version had 105hp, not swift by any definition.  Shorter, and smaller than the old Mustang, it looked overly styled, bulky and was an embarrassment to the Mustang name.  (It should be noted that this car is no where near as bad and reprehensible as the Ford Pinto, which killed 425 million people.)

Ford Maverick/Mercury Comet – Ford was cute with this one…giving you paint options like Anti-Establish Mint, Freudian Gilt, Thanks Vermillion, Dresden Blue (Remember how pretty Dresden was after we got through with it?) and the luxury version was (I am not lying) targeted as an alternative to BMW, Mercedes and Audi (More crack please!).  (Also, not as bad as the reprehensible Ford Pinto…a car that maimed most of the Eastern US)

Lincoln Versailles – A very thinly disguised Granada…everyone hated it, and it turned out to be the Lincoln equivalent of the Cimarron.  (Hint – underneath, this car is actually that serial killer Ford Pinto)

Ford Fairmont/Mercury Zephyr – This was the car that chased poor E.T. until he dropped, and the base models were trash.  Doors were the width of pennies, felt about as heavy, and the dash looked like it was made in grade school.  Cheap was taken to a completely new level with the Fairmont.  (I still like it though…unlike the Ford Pinto which not only murdered million and millions by drowning, but almost collapsed the economy through its vial devious unregulated activities)

AMC Gremlin – This car was fugly, and the cute comments asking, “Where’s the rest of your car” were really saying, “God, you are one stupid idiot for buying that piece of crap.”  Yes, it was a tiny subcompact with a V6 option, but it makes no difference.  The car was named after a small gnome that destroys equipment.  It was introduced on April Fool’s Day, and the original design was drawn on a Northwest Orient airsickness bag.  Because they ran out of money, they actually cut the back of the design off, and had carpeting as an option.  AMC had to be an insane asylum, where no one took their meds… there is no other explanation.  (P.S. – The Ford Pinto was responsible for WWII)

AMC Hornet – Three years and one million man-hours of design, and this is the best they could develop.  My father drove one courtesy of the US Air Force, and I remember it as being cheap, ugly and one of the oldest feeling new cars I ever drove, like driving a coffee grinder.  Even in the show room, these cars looked used.  (At least it is not a Pinto, which secretly caused the extinction of the Great Auk)

AMV Matador Coupe – This car is so ugly, they should have had an option to tint other people’s windows.  It was too fat, the hood was too long, and the wheels were lost under all that overhanging sheet metal.  Only when it was setup for NASCAR did the car finally look normal.  The Matador Coupe was the ultimate in bad taste.  (Did you know that the Ford Pinto was actually an attempt by The Bilderberg Group to destroy the middle class?)

Notable – AMC Pacer – The Pacer is ugly and memorable, like that banjo playing kid from Deliverance, but I am not going to be like everyone else and call it the worst car ever made.  Sure, during the summer the terrarium glass made everything in the car melt into a viscous pool on the floor, including the passengers.  Yes, the heavy doors did not match (one was 4 inches longer) and they would eventually sag like an old woman’s chest; but the car was unique, and credit should be given to AMC for having the sack to take a chance.  (Fun Fact – Saddam Hussein owned 11 Ford Pintos)

Plymouth Arrow – Just when I thought there was nothing bad enough from Chrysler to get on the list, I stumble on the Arrow, a car whose rear suspension was taken from an earlier model: the ox cart.  Also known as the Arrow Jet, and Fire Arrow, the car was a collection of sad parts, bad names and gaudy decals designed to decay in less time than it took to go from 0-60. (Ran out of things to say about the horrific Ford Pinto – Enter your own quip here…)

Plymouth Cricket – Yes, like the insect, this car would make annoying noises until you killed it.  (In a study conducted in 2010, most Americans would rather live under ISIL rule than be forced to drive a Ford Pinto)

Plymouth Sapporo – A hideous car that never sold well and looked like a Japanese import, raised on American Big Macs.

Dodge Omni / Plymouth TC3 – This was one horrible car.  Chrysler came out with a Shelby version that was only slightly better, but I can never forgive them for the de Thomaso “red tomato” edition, not to mention what they later did to the Maserati name.  Chrysler did more to ruin Italian heritage than Mussolini and Sacco & Vanzetti combined.  (Ford Pintos are the product of the devil, and Ford Motor Company…in that order)

Downsized GM cars – Almost everything from the “downsize” era at GM was ugly, with the exception of Cadillac.  Straight lines, poor quality, no power, and bad paint jobs helped make GM what they are today…bankrupt.  Great models like the Cutlass were trashed by boxy replacements that fell apart in the showrooms.  If I ever meet the people responsible for this period in car design, I shall beat them severely.  (Wow, never realized this article was so long…Ford Pinto sucks!)

Chevy Monza   – Why did GM do this to us?  This car was a hideous joke, with a fat tail and a terrible design.  Anyone who bought this car deserved the pain it caused, and the fact that Oldsmobile called it a Starfire was an insult to a great line of cars.

Chevy Vega – If this car was built by anyone else, it would have been great, but instead it was brought to us by GM.  Everything, except the look was cheap and worthless.

Chevy Chevette – I knew someone that owned one, and I loved to drive it.  It was small, cheap and durable with almost nothing inside.  It was like a four-door motorcycle, and I loved the fact that you could reach everything from the driver’s seat, including the rear hatch.

Foreign Cars – I was one of those people who never made the switch from American to Japanese cars.  When the imports first arrived, they were not pleasant, and I remember aiming my land yacht at more than a few of them.  Cars like the Honda Z600, and the little Subaru were targets, which needed to be destroyed, and later models like the Nissan B210 Honeybee and the 200SX were just silly.  Mazda didn’t help things with their GLC (Goofy Losers Car), Cosmo, or the 808 Mizer and its 50hp engine.

European cars were even worse, and buyers were brought to tears by the crap being sold on our shores.  Italy was the worst of the lot, sending us the Fiat X 1/9 and Strada, and the miserable Lancia.  France was second for the Renault 12 and LeCar, the Citroen 2CV (imported before 1970, but bad enough to make the list), CX Diesel, and the Mehari (a summer sun car made from plastic that eroded in sunlight).  Third were British cars like the Triumph Stag and MG Midget, which made Anglophiles across the country hide in their homes in fear of retaliation.  Even Germany, who gave us the beautiful Audi Fox, let us down with the VW Thing, a car that reminded us of Nazis.  It took many years of counseling for us to heal from this abuse, but we will never let it happen again…hear that Chrysler?  Never again.

The 1970’s were a time of great cars and hideous trash.  I am sure there are a few atrocities I have missed, but I think everyone will agree that these are the worst offenders.

In conclusion, it is my sincere hope that Mr. Fly and all his internet troll friends now understand my hatred for the little Ford Pinto, a car that not only caused Global Warming, but has devalued the American dollar to a point where the only rational outcome is for all of us to use twigs for bartering.  


Article courtesy of Mr. Flyaway and his special friends at the home

Photos courtesy of Google Images

Obscure Sedans of Yore

Obscure Sedans of Yore

Today we will take a look at some of the most obscure sport sedans of the past.  You may recognize some, but I bet a few will be new.  Let me know if I missed any you want to see.

Lancia Flaminia – This car was a sports saloon built until the 1970’s.  It is notable because a convertible version was the car used in the film “The Italian Job.”  When the mafia group pushes the Aston Martin off the side of the cliff, a Flaminia was used in its place due to cost.  The name Flaminia comes from the Lancia habit of naming their cars after Italian roads.  The Berline, or sedan was designed by Pininfarina, and the only version to be built throughout the entire production span.

Lancia Flaminia

Rover – British Leyland, which owned Rover was known for many of the best known British sports cars.  Rover produced some of the best, and worst sedans of the day.  Notable sedans included the P5 (a favorite of the British Government), the P6 (an icon of the 1960’s and 70’s), and the miserable SD1.  The SD1 was made famous in the Top Gear British Leyland test, where it failed to retain water and its doors fell off.  The P6 is also famous as the car in which Princess Grace Kelly was killed, in an accident in Monaco.

Rover P5

Rover P6

Iso Fidia – Iso is the company that brought us the Isetta bubblecar.  They are also famous for great sports cars like the Grifo, the Lele, and the Rivolta.  Iso cars were designed and built by the team of Bizzarrini and Giugiaro, the former being famous for the Ferrari “palace revolt” and his own sportscar named the Bizzarrini 5300 GT.  Built between 1967 and 1975, the Fidia had so much polished wood and hand stitched leather, that it cost more than a Rolls Royce.  The second car ever made was purchased by John Lennon.

Iso Fidia

Avanti – Designed by the famed design team of Raymond Loewy, this was the brainchild of Sherwood Egbert, the president of Studebaker.  He knew the end was near, and wanted a sports car that was so radical, it would save the company.  It didn’t, but it did outlast Studebaker by over 40 years.

Avanti Sedan

Borgward – This was a German company that produced cars until 1961, then again in Mexico until 1970.  Famous for their transmissions and pneumatic suspensions, the P100 Isabella model was a beautiful design.

Borgward P100

Lotus Carlton – Lotus built this car based on the Vauxhall Carlton during the 1990’s.  Once considered the fastest four door saloon in the world, the more sedate US version was sold as the Cadillac Catera.  Lotus said the car could reach 186mph, and offered it in only one color, British Racing Green.

Lotus Carlton

Panther DeVille – Cruella DeVil’s car from the movie “101 Dalmatians.”  Panther built two sedans, one was a restyled Triumph Dolomite with a Rolls Royce like interior.  This concept didn’t work when Cadillac tried it on the Cavalier/Cimarron, and it worked less here.  One other evil cartoon villain also owned a Panther DeVille, Sir Elton John.

Panther DeVille

Panther Rio

Sterling – This was a British car made by Rover and Honda.  Basically an Acura Legend sedan, it had an upgraded interior, and extensive use of wood trim.  Unfortunately, it was sold at the same time as a cheap cologne called British Sterling, that had a catchier jingle.  The cologne stayed, the car did not.

Sterling 827

Stutz – The Diplomatica was a neo-classic limited edition luxury car designed by Virgil Exner, of Chrysler fame.  It’s claim to fame is that many celebrities bought these monstrosities, including Elvis, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Kenny Rogers and Lucille Ball.   

Stutz Diplomatica

Checker – The Checker Motor Company built taxicabs for many years, but went into the consumer car business during the 1960’s.  The car in this photo is of a concept made by Ghia, with the help of Alejandro de Tomaso called the Ghia Checker Centurion.  This car is such a mystery, that no one knows if it was a design for a new taxi, a concept for Checker’s foray into the limousine market, or a possible Checker based replacement for the lost Ghia designed Chrysler Imperials.  It was never produced, and this concept is the only known example.

Ghia Checker Centurion

Wartburg – This East German car was imported in very small numbers to the US, and featured a three cylinder two stroke engine with only seven moving parts.  The model in the photo is the Wartburg Knight.

Wartburg Knight

Lagonda Rapide – Long before the current Rapide model by Aston Martin, the name was used for a sedan used by David Brown to revive the Lagonda brand.  In the 1970’s, the name was again used on the Aston Martin Lagonda sedan designed by William Towns.

Lagonda Rapide

Aston Martin Lagonda

Maserati – The Quattroporte pictured here is a Series I car first produced in 1963.  Designed by Frua and Vignale, the car was produced until 1974, when it was replaced with the Series II shown below.  The first series was a success, but the later series nearly bankrupt the company.

Maserati Quattroporte I

Maserati Quattroporte II

Maserati Quattroporte III

Maserati Quattroporte IV

De Tomaso – The Deauville was a luxury sedan made by de Tomaso, and based on the Maserati Quattroporte III.  It sported a V8 Ford Cleveland engine and had a top speed of about 150mph.  Only 244 copies were made, spawning a coupe version sold as the Longchamp.

De Tomaso Deauville

Bitter – Erich Bitter was a race car driver that also built luxury cars in Germany, and later Austria.  The SC is based on the Opel Senator, and was sold from 1979 to 1989.  Only 5 sedans were sold, mostly through Buick dealerships.  The company folded in the late 1980’s.

Bitter SC

Bitter Berlina

Monteverdi – This Swiss car manufacturer sold both boutique converted luxury cars based on everything from the Plymouth Volare to the Mercedes Benz S-Class.  Sedans from the company include the Tiara, Sierra and the High Speed 375/4.

Monteverdi High Speed 375/4

Monteverdi Sierra

Article courtesy of Chris Raymond

Photos courtesy of Google Images

Muscle Cars

Muscle Cars

This post is for all the muscle car fans out there…I decided to put a few pictures of my favorite muscle cars up, in the hopes that someone will enjoy them. I have not been a big muscle car fan, and especially don

The Next Generation

The Next Generation

“Each generation imagines itself to be more intelligent than the one that went before it, and wiser than the one that comes after it.” – George Orwell

With the demise of automotive legends like the Bugatti Veyron and the Lamborghini Murcielago, there was a noticeable gap in the evolution of the supercar.

Spyker – Style is Dead

Spyker – Style is Dead

“Legend remains victorious in spite of history.” – Sarah Bernhardt

Success in the world of the exotic car requires pantomime excess.

Die Another Day – Jensen Interceptor

Die Another Day – Jensen Interceptor

Grand touring cars are the luxury equivalent of the supercar.  Cars like the magnificent Ferrari 365 Daytona are a perfect example of the GT class.  They are performance automobiles with 2+2 seating, remarkable handling, supercar speed, opulent interiors, and a colossal price tag.  They are driven by the rich, the famous, and the well manicured titans of industry who own private tax shelters, and mega yachts.  GT cars include the Ferrari 500 Superfast, the Lamborghini 350 and 400GT, the Maserati 3500, my own Jaguar XJ-S, and the eternally reborn – Jensen Interceptor.


The Interceptor was, and is, the quintessential British GT car of the 60’s and 70’s.  It is a true “gentleman’s carriage” and was driven by the likes of Frank Sinatra, Cher, Roger Daltry, Ginger Baker, Farrah Fawcett, Princess Anne, and John Bonham (he had seven).  The Interceptor had everything a person of good breeding could buy: Italian style, British class, and American muscle.


Jensen  Motors was a small coachbuilder in England started by Richard and Alan Jensen.  They were celebrated for producing custom bodies on cars like Morris, Singer, and Wolseley.  In 1934, they created their first production car, called the “White Lady.”   It was a beautiful touring car reminiscent of the Jaguar SS-100, and eventually evolved into the Jensen S-Type in 1935.  It was a great first effort, though Jensen made the bulk of their money building busses and trucks.



When it came time for Jensen’s second car, they developed a bulky coupe based around Austin components, and called it the Interceptor.  Made from steel, wood, and aluminum, and with an unusual wrap around plastic (Perspex) rear window, the car was an unsightly addition to the automotive world.  Only 88 were made.   Eventually Jensen picked up production from other makers, and built more stylish cars like the Sunbeam Tiger, The Volvo P1800 and the Austin Healy 100.



In 1966, Jensen created the next generation Interceptor, a true grand touring class car.  It was designed by Carrozzeria Touring of Italy (the people who patented Superleggera construction methods), bodied by Vignale of Italy, equipped with a US Chrysler 440 engine, and finished out in West Bromwich England.  The large wrap around rear window doubled as a tailgate, and the car came equipped with every luxury imaginable at the time.  One year later the Jensen Interceptor FF (Ferguson Formula) arrived, and became the first production car to have four wheel drive, as well as anti lock brakes and traction control.  The FF is actually 4 inches longer than the regular Interceptor, and can be identified by the dual side vents ahead of the doors on the front flanks.



The Mark I versions had beautiful Italian styled interiors, with a body design based on the Brazilian made Brasinca Uirapuru. The Uirapuru featured the same curved rear window and a squared front end.  Though its styling wasn’t as refined as the Interceptor, many of the design cues were copied.  Only 73 examples of the Uirapuru were ever made.



In 1969, Jensen introduced the Mark II, with revised styling and upgraded mechanics.  The Mark III was introduced just two years later, and divided into G, H, and J series.  The J series was the most luxurious Jensen ever built, and cost $25,000 for the convertible in 1976, three times as much as a new Corvette.  The car featured a monstrous 7.2L V-8 engine and upgraded interior and mechanicals.  This power and luxury forever cemented the reputation of Jensen Motors as an elite automaker.

jensen int conv

Over the years, Jensen was plagued with financial difficulties and spent over 25 years in receivership.  The company changed hands several times, and eventually was laid to rest in 1976.  The Interceptor, however, refused to die.  It was resurrected in 1980, 1988, 1993, 2007, 2009 and remains in a state of quasi-production today.  Companies like V-Eight Limited and Jensen International Automotive will take an aging Interceptor, and breathe new life into it with a modern drive train, suspension, new paint and a bespoke leather interior – but it will cost about $148,000 dollars.

DSC_0731 (Small)


The Jensen Interceptor is a classic GT automobile, one that reeked of style, performance and luxury.  It has always been one of my favorite cars, and I consider it an icon.  In Britain, It is to the 1970’s as Twiggy is to the 1960’s.  Like the Ferrari 365 Daytona, it has a style and look all its own.  Though Jensen Motors has come and gone, and come and gone several more times over the years, the Interceptor is still with us, and like Bruce Willis in “Die Hard,” it refuses to die.


Article courtesy of Chris Raymond

Photos courtesy of Jensen International, Wikipedia, Greatescapecars.uk, Onlycarsandcars.blogspot

Miata – World’s Best

Miata – World’s Best

Mazda recently announced another automotive milestone for everyone’s favorite little roadster.  The “Best selling two-seat sports car in the world” is again the Mazda MX-5 Miata.


The announcement stated that “Total production of Mazda Motor Corporation’s MX-5 sports car (known as the Mazda Roadster in Japan) reached 900,000 units on February 4, 2011. This significant milestone was achieved 21 years and 10 months after mass production of the first-generation MX-5 commenced in April 1989. The MX-5 was initially certified by Guinness World Records as the world’s “Best selling two-seat sports car” when production reached 531,890 units in May 2000. Guinness updated the record when production passed 700,000 and, later, 800,000 units. Currently, Mazda is reapplying to Guinness World Records to have the record updated to 900,000 units”.


Mazda took the title from the MGB (1962-1980) when production surpassed 514,853 units.  Second place on the list is held by the Porsche 911 series (1963 – Present) which has sold over 700,000 units.


But, before anyone could pop the champagne bottles, cries of foul rose from the automotive blogosphere.  It seems that the Chevrolet Corvette hit the same milestone years ago, and sales now are estimated at 1.5 million copies.  Gearheads and forum harpies can’t figure out why the Vette is not the world record holder, and they are ripping up the internet with complaints.  I looked for an answer, but only found the assumptions that the Corvette is classified as a luxury sports vehicle, or the award is rigged.


Either way, the Miata is a great little car.  I bought one about a year ago, and am constantly reminded of my old MGB when I am behind the wheel.  The Miata feels and looks like a modern car.  It has plenty of power for its size, and sports a modern, well equipped interior.  The mechanicals are excellent, with a proper rear wheel drive setup that you can let out easily in the corners.  Styling has improved from the “marital aid” look, to a more muscular stance, with a beefier rear end.  New models even offer a steel retractable hardtop.  From the outside, it is a typical subcompact.


It’s when you are driving the car that its shows it’s personality.  Handling is quick and precise.  Power is instantly available (though limited) and comes with a nice throaty exhaust note.  With the top down it transports you to the days when Spitfires ruled the skies, and Triumphs ruled the roads.  Driving this car is an absolute blast.


It does have its downside, however.  The Miata is the size of a toaster, and is limited as a daily driver for anyone with friends.  For example, having a child and a wife forces you into a “Sophie’s Choice” situation.  One of them has to go.  If you have a flat, there is no spare tire…but there is a kit in the trunk that allows you to repair it using a rubber tree and some glue.  On long trips, the car shrinks until it becomes the size of a baby’s shoe, causing you to gasp for air like a Louisiana fish.  Passengers over 5’ 10” can fit in the car, as long as they can place their feet on their shoulders.  Finally, even with the roof up, the noise on the highway will be more than your stereo (or ears) can handle.


Aside from all that, the Miata is cheap, fun, and very stylish.  For the money, nothing else comes close.  Back when it was introduced in 1989, it was hailed as the ultimate retro-car, bringing back a sense of open top motoring from the 1960’s.  It still has that feel.  During the 22 years it’s been with us, it has gone through two complete redesigns, spawned the Spec Miata racing series, and gained legions of dedicated (though short) fans across the world.  Not bad for a typical subcompact.



Photos courtesy of motortrend.com, ictmotorsports.com and netcarshow.com

Article courtesy of Chris Raymond



Citroen SM

Citroen SM

The dramatic and futuristic Citroen SM was a revolutionary car and its recent anniversary is a significant milestone.

France has always had a history of producing strange, quirky little cars that were loved by its people.  More than a few times, those cars changed the auto industry.  Citroen cars like the Traction Avante, the 2CV, and the Citroen DS changed the way cars were made.  When the DS was unveiled in 1955 it was like a spaceship.  743 cars were sold in the first 15 minutes and 12,000 by the end of the first day.

The car chosen to replace the legendary DS was the Citroen SM.  Fast and refined with excellent handling, the SM was a Grand Tourer with arguably the best ride in automotive history, thanks to its hydophneumatic self-leveling suspension. The car came with a smaller V-six version of Maserati’s long-lived quad-cam V-eight engine, front wheel drive, and several unusual features.  These included six headlights, two of which swiveled with the steering, self centering and fully powered steering that got tighter as the car went faster, rain sensitive wipers, a cool selector switch on the driver’s side rail that allowed you to raise or lower the suspension, and a rubber button on the floor in lieu of a brake pedal.

Many different versions were made, including a lovely convertible called the Mylord which was designed by the great Henri Chapron of coachbuilding fame.  In addition, Chapron also designed an open 4-door limousine called the SM présidentielle, which was used by French Presidents and heads of state.  Many celebrities owned SM’s, including Idi Amin, The Shah of Iran, Leonid Brezhnev, John Williams, Charlie Watts, Jay Leno and Carlos Santana.

The Citroen SM was the fastest front-wheel drive car made at the time and in the 70’s it looked futuristic.  When lowered, the lines of the car hid the rear wheels and tapered back to make the car look like a boat.  This was a “personal” coupe in the same spirit as a 1970 Cadillac Eldorado, but the SM retains its good looks even today.  It is one of my personal favorites, as are all Citroens.  Quirky and strange can also be very cool.

Article Courtesy of Chris Raymond

Nissan Cube: Form Over Function

Nissan Cube: Form Over Function

“There is no better designer than nature” – Alexander McQueen.

It seems that the designers at Nissan have heard this quote before, because nature has played a very large part in the new Nissan Cube.  Hopefully, you have heard of the Nissan Cube, that funky little urban box with the strange asymmetrical window.  If you haven’t seen it, check it out below, because I am sure you are going to feel very strongly about the design.  You will either love it or hate it, and that feeling will come the instant you see the shape.

When I first spotted it on the highway, the Cube was bright silver and its shape stood out from all the boring cars around it.  It looks much taller than an average car, and its shape makes it appear “still” while everything else on the road was moving.  It’s a very strange design, and it is instantly recognizable even from a distance.  To me, it looked like a nicely designed modern restroom from an upscale public park.  The inset of the windows, and the rounded shape of the corners made me think of an adobe or concrete building.  If, when I pulled alongside, I found that its surface was stucco, I wouldn’t have been surprised.  Its just that strange and different from anything else on the road.  The Cube’s windows have sills, like a building and their shape is not automotive at all.  The front windows seems to surround the driver like a picture frame, the rear bumper which houses all of the standard lights, reminds me of a ’59 Lincoln and the nose looks like its wearing sunglasses.

Inside there are several things that grab you at once.  First is plastic, it is everywhere, especially the wave dash.  Once you get over the shock, you start to look around a little and notice that the theme of circles and ripples is almost everywhere.  The headliner and carpet both resemble a Zen garden with the floor being the combed sand, and the headliner and speakers featuring ripples, like water in a pond after a stone was dropped in.  There is an option for a 20 color interior light package that will probably be more distracting than talking on two cell phones at once (thanks guys).  The dashboard has an optional shag carpeted oval that looks like fake grass in pictures and has absolutely no value whatsoever (that’s not design, its decoration) and the seats are covered in a material that has a very delicate wave pattern.  Whichever committee designed this car, they took a fresh look at almost every part of the interior.  The rest of the Cube is a car, which means that it does come equipped with an engine that allows you to drive slow or slower, and the ride is excellent in the city.  Everything else is incidental.

The Cube looks like a sculpture from the Museum of Modern Art.  Every angle of the Cube is familiar but still unrecognizable as a car.  The wrap around window is great for the driver’s visibility, but bad for the people behind him, because you tend to stare at it, and then go into some hypnotic trance.  If you see the Cube painted white, that window makes it look like the car is wearing a toga from behind.  It’s unusual, but I have to give a lot of credit to the designers at Nissan.  I have seen cube concepts at auto shows, but this is the closest interpretation of a concept I have ever seen for a production car.  Love it or hate it, this is design, pure and simple.

Nissan gave their designers the freedom to do something different, something that was “outside the box” (pardon the pun) and this freedom is desperately needed throughout the auto industry.  The Nissan Cube is a major leap forward for car design, not because the car is revolutionary, but because it was allowed to be revolutionary.

Originally published on www.cardesignreview.com / Photos courtesy of Nissan USA and cardomain.com

Article courtesy of Chris Raymond

Yugo, Victim or Victimizer?

Yugo, Victim or Victimizer?

Car Design:  The best way to start on this subject is to have some fun and start at the bottom.  One thing I learned early on about cars is that the worse the car is, the more famous it will become.  Take the Yugo (Please), a car that was not only voted one of the “Worst Cars Ever” but also one of the “Worst Cars of the Millennium” and finally “Worst Car in all of History”.  Granted, it was the only car where you could order a tow package…in the front, and who’s factory was bombed in 1999 by NATO forces out of revenge, but the abuse of this one appalling bucket of loosely fitted bolts was amazing.  Even today, 24 years after it was introduced here, more people recognize the Yugo name than they do Scion and Kia.  A check of Facebook will return 244 pages and over 500 groups dedicated to the Yugo, some with over 20 thousand fans.  People love to hate this car, and that fame is renewed with every Yugo joke.

The Yugo GV

What do you call a Yugo with a flat tire?  Totaled.  How do you double the value of a Yugo?  Fill the tank with gas.  What do you call a Yugo with brakes?  Customized.  What is the difference between a Yugo and a golf ball?  You can drive a golf ball 200 yards.  (Thank you, I’ll be here all week)

Look at the luxury…just like a Rolls.

The poor little Yugo was spawned in Yugoslavia by the Zastava Corporation with a design based on the Fiat 127.  The Fiat version survived for 12 years and even won the “Car of the Year” in 1974, the Yugo didn’t.  Imported to the United States by Malcolm Bricklin in 1986, the car was actually built on a separate line at the Yugoslavian factory by elite workers who were paid an extra 1.23 per hour, but seemed to have spent the money on liquor.  Basically the car was made out of something just slightly more durable than toilet paper rolls, with an engine that produced negative horsepower and an electrical system that made Lucas (The Prince of Darkness) seem cutting edge.  Time Magazine said it best: “The Yugo has the distinct feeling of something assembled at gunpoint”, and other critics said “It is hard to view on a full stomach”.  On a side note, Malcolm Bricklin didn’t seem to like cars very much; he was the man who brought unspeakable horrors to the US in the form of the Fiat X1/9 and 2000 Spyder, the Bricklin SV-1 and the Subaru 360.

Ferrari?  No, Its the sporty Yugo

So, back to design…why was the Yugo worse than other hateful little cars like the Trabant, the Lada or the Fiat Uno.  The design concept was for a cheap four passenger car, and that’s exactly what they produced.  As with most things, a combination of issues killed the Yugo, including the fall of communism, a terrible EFI replacement due to cost cutting that almost ended with a recall, a United Nations embargo of Yugoslavia, the mercy bombing of its factory, an issue with the timing belt, the fact that people considered the car disposable and neglected to do basic maintenance, and finally the unfortunate death of a person who’s Yugo was blown off a bridge during a 50mph wind.

The Yugo factory…cutting edge

On a design scope, the car was flawed but the problems were not insurmountable.  The original Yugo, called the Zastava Koral was actually produced for 30 years finally ending in 2008.  Remember that the car caused a media frenzy prior to its release and we Americans love to trash celebrities.  I think there are a lot of similarities with the new Nano for Tata Motors.  When that arrives in the US, we may revisit this discussion.  For now, what do you think?  Was the Yugo the worst car ever, or just a victim of the events of the day?

Article courtesy of Chris Raymond
Photos courtesy of www.cardomain.com and Google Images

Hindustan Ambassador, Good Design Since 1948

Hindustan Ambassador, Good Design Since 1948

Make a list of the best car designs in automotive history and I bet it will include the VW Beetle, the Land Rover and the Jaguar E-Type. One car that would be missing is the subject of today’s discussion, and it will be very familiar to our readers from India. The Hindustan Ambassador was introduced in 1948 before India’s independence and remains in production right up to today. The car is a dinosaur in the modern automotive world, but like the crocodile it seems to have found the perfect niche to thrive in.

Hindustan Motors Limited (HML) is one of India’s best recognized brands and has been building cars since 1942. The Ambassador is the poster child for the Indian automobile industry, and is known as the “King of Indian Roads.” Affectionately called a car, I mean the Amby; it has remained mostly unchanged for the past 62 years and was designed to be a tough and reliable car that could handle any road condition. Based on the Morris Oxford, the car is powered by engines that range from a whopping 35.5bhp to a mind numbing 71bhp and uses front disk and rear drum brakes that are completely useless. Other features include the suspension from a horse cart with real rear leaf springs, optional power steering, and consistently bad panel gaps throughout the body. A trip to the company website will also tout amazing technical innovations such as head lamps with clear glass (Painted lenses never worked well) and side indicators with escutcheon (snails) plus you can have the car painted any color you want, as long as its white or silvery white.

The interior of this little car is actually where it shines, with a back seat like a sofa and with a bench seat that can fit three people. The seats are elevated to improve visibility and the interior is spacious for such a tiny car. The trunk has the capacity to hold several bodies, making it the preferred car for Bollywood villains, though the car’s performance does makes for some extremely long chase scenes. The dashboard and fittings are not the highest quality, but options like power windows and MP3 music are offered and now the Ambassador can be ordered as a diesel or CNG Green vehicle.

Overall, the Ambassador is not a pleasant vehicle for those of us blessed with the gift of sight. However, in its niche market the car remains a best seller. One reason for this is that it meets all the design requirements that were placed on it in 1948, and since those needs haven’t changed over the years, neither has the car. The Hindustan Ambassador is a primary example of good design with regards to function, but poor design with regards to form.

Photos courtesy of rushlane.com

Article courtesy of Chris Raymond and Car Design Review.com

Bentley Mulsanne, The New Flagship

Bentley Mulsanne, The New Flagship

The new Mulsanne is now the ultimate luxury flagship for the historic Bentley Motors, available in the US for about $285,000 dollars.  Designed from a clean sheet and with a platform that is not shared by any of it siblings, it is styled somewhere between a Rolls Royce Phantom and the new Silver Ghost.  The Mulsanne is the replacement for the aging Bentley Arnage which was a British icon as big as Blenheim Palace, and the new car’s proportions are staggering.  With a weight of almost three tons, it’s taller, wider, longer and has more space between the wheels than the old Arnage but still performs like a Bentley.

The Mulsanne is equipped with a 6.75 liter V8 twin turbocharged engine producing 505 horses and 725 pound feet of torque, making the Mulsanne’s performance astonishing.  This car is as big as Wales, but still has a top speed of 184 mph and can do 0-60 in 5.1 seconds.  Nothing short of the Rolls Royce Phantom Coupe can even come close to the performance and sheer size of this machine.  In addition, the car is equipped with an 8-speed Z8 transmission, sport mode and even paddle shifters, just in case Michael Schumacher is your chauffeur.   With an aluminum body taking 125 hours to complete, the only thing about this car that isn’t huge will be the production figures.

Safety equipment for the car will include everything you could possibly imagine, including head and thorax airbags, a tire pressure monitoring system, a vehicle immobilizer, an interior volumetric alarm system, and a magnetic trickle charger for the battery concealed in the rear license plate recess.  Even the famous Flying B hood ornament is designed to drop instantly out of sight when hit. The most obvious safety feature is the new headlights, which look like the size of dinner plates and remind me of the old Lucas P-100 headlamps of the 1930’s.  These Gatling gun styled monsters are surrounded by LED lights and are the main focal point for the front of the car.  Of course, with a Bentley you can expect a full range of colors including 24 specially selected for this model alone.  With the Bespoke option, any color or accessory imaginable can be created just for your car.

The interior of the Mulsanne is like sitting inside a fine Hermes Bag, which has been placed inside an old English library.  Every surface is either fine selected leather or perfectly finished wood.  It takes 170 hours to complete the interior of each car, and requires the sacrifice of 15 pampered cows.  The hides are tested 20,000 times by real workers at Crewe rather than robots in order to accurately simulate wear and tear.  Each hide is even treated with special chemicals to account for the drivers sweat and to prevent staining on areas where the hands most often touch.  The selection of leather colors is staggering, and every aspect of the car can be color coordinated, from the seatbelts to the leather trimmed carpeting.  In fact, Bentley changed the whole dying process for the new leather hides just to ensure its customers got the rich leather smell customary in a classic Bentley.

The wood veneer inside the new Mulsanne is exquisite and each piece has to be matched to every other piece in the car.  This mirror matching process takes workers 50 hours, and the complete finishing takes five weeks per car.  Inside a normal vehicle, all the little chrome bits are plastic, but in a Bentley they are highly polished metal.  Even the driver’s speedometer and tachometer were redesigned to reflect the aviation style instruments of classic Bentleys, with the needle starting at the one o’clock position and traveling clockwise.

The new Mulsanne is fitted with wonderful little surprises throughout the car, like a leather lined glove box as well as a leather lined iPod compartment.  It has the most powerful stereo installed in a production car, with 2,200 watts, plus a 60GB hard drive and 2 digital card readers.  In the rear door, the small vent windows retract with the rear glass, and all have privacy curtains.  The glass even has an acoustic glazing with an infra red reflective interlayer.

The Bentley Mulsanne is the pinnacle of luxury motoring, and its performance and opulence are astounding.  It is a car that is cutting edge, but still retains the classic Bentley heritage of the past.

Photos Courtesy of Bentley Motors

Article courtesy of Chris Raymond

Volkswagen CC, Borrowed Design

Volkswagen CC, Borrowed Design

Every designers’ dirty little secret is that they copy other designers’ work.  They see work they like, and they imitate it.  Rather cheekily, they call this inspiration.  — Aaron Russell

Today, the inspiration mentioned in the above quote passed me doing 85mph on the highway.  I thought it was a new Mercedes CLS, but was very surprised to finally catch up and see it was a Volkswagen.  To be more specific, it was the new Volkswagen CC, and it looked fantastic.  The confusion is easy to make, since the car has virtually the same sweeping lines as the Mercedes.  Both vehicles give the impression that the roof has been chopped slightly, and both cars have the same sweep over the tail.

Copying, or using another design as “inspiration” has been done many times before, most notably by Russian and Chinese carmakers who have made virtual replicas of American cars.  Detroit has also “borrowed” design cues from other manufacturers.  Look at the roofline of a 1975 Cadillac Seville and you will see the roofline of a Rolls Royce Silver Shadow.  Check out the shape of the Chevrolet Corvette and you will see the shape of the Opel GT.  It happens all the time, and it is done to make small cars feel big, cheap cars feel expensive or boring cars feel exciting.  The technique is used for distraction and for deception, whatever is needed to sell cars.

Protecting a design is big business in the automotive industry, and corporate espionage is still prevalent.  This year there have been reports of Porsche executives being spied on at hotels, Ferrari dealerships being spied on by Aston Martin dealerships, and even Daewoo engineers defecting to Russia and selling stolen designs.  The line between borrowing and stealing is fought over every day in the car business.

Volkswagen has borrowed from the Mercedes CLS, and produced a similar looking car for about $40,000 dollars less than the original.  This could turn out to be a huge hit for VW, and give them the success that never materialized with the Phaeton.  If it does, we could be looking at a future where copycat cars flood the market like fake Chinese designer handbags.

Photos courtesy of Volkswagen of America

Article courtesy of Chris Raymond