(Originally posted 5 August 2018) Yesterday CC saw the highlights of the UK brands at the Festival of the Unexceptional and the Concours de l’Ordinaire. Today, it’s time to look at the pick of the European and Japanese brands.
The spirit of this show was a celebration of the ordinary, the regular, the familiar, not the exotic or unobtainable. The cars Dad might have chosen, from the 1960s to the 1990s. The Curbside Classics, or maybe Kerbside Classics, from our formative years.
And where better to start than with a Lancia Trevi? The Trevi was launched in 1980 as the saloon version of the Beta, which itself was not a hatchback but had a regular boot under that sweeping tail. Visually, the Trevi was a very direct conversion of the Beta, with a very Mercedes W123 rear end.
So this was a 1980 saloon version of a saloon dating from 1972, with an more upmarket twist, new name (a play on the words Tre Volumi as well as a fountain in Rome) and a very striking new dash, which is best described as Italian. There are now just two Trevis in the UK, one with an automatic transmission, and which dates from 1983 with a Coventry registration.
The Beta also came as a Coupe, and when did you last seen two together?
The second car is one of the later supercharged Volumex or VX series.
Before the VW Golf was launched in 1974, perhaps the best contemporary and easily available front wheel drive saloon in Europe was the Fiat 128, although you could make a case for the Alfasud perhaps. Cars like this 1971 1100 saloon was once a common sight throughout Europe, especially Italy of course, but sadly the tin worm has claimed practically all of them.
Unlike the earlier BMC ADO16 and Mini, the 128 had the gearbox in-line with the transverse engine with the radiator at the front – a layout you may well see under the bonnet of your car today. The engine was a single overhead cam four cylinder. As Britain joined the EEC and tariff barriers came down, cars such as the 128, the Citroen GS and the VW Golf showed up the inadequate homegrown products.
Another Fiat that is a very rare sight is the 1970 Fiat 125S – a car that combined elements of the 124 and the older Fiat 1500, with the floorpan of the latter carrying a body very closely related to the former. Power came from a 1600cc double overhead cam four cylinder with a five speed gearbox. A Morris Marina this was not – this as a car for conservative but discerning Dad.
The Fiat 128 went on to another life in the old Yugoslavia, as did the smaller 127 which was the basis for the Yugo 45, a car that was sold in the UK from 1983 to 1991, when Yugoslavia fell into a bloody civil war. It was the butt of much criticism, many jokes and little respect, but like other Eastern bloc cars, built a loyal army of repeat buyers. This is a 1990 car, but it could be from any year from 1983.
Let’s just say that the car parked next to it is a more likely Curbside Classic and collector’s car – an Alfa Romeo 164 Twin Spark. This was Afla’s version of the Type 4 joint venture, shared with the Fiat Croma, Lancia Thema and SAAB 9000, and without doubt the most charismatic if not rational of them all. It ran from 1988 to 1998, and sold 270,000 copies, eclipsing, for example, the Rover 800 series by volume. This example is a 1990 Twin Spark, with a 1962cc Alfa twin cam featuring two sparks plugs per cylinder, giving around 150 bhp and 134 mph. This is a front wheel drive car; some of the higher powered V6 and Turbo cars were four wheel drive. All 164s were saloons, with the elegant Pininfarina style and perhaps the first example of the now familiar current Alfa face, and that Alfa ability to make a driver feel special.
After an Alfa diversion, another Eastern bloc special. This is a Lada 1600 – initially a plush version of the familiar Lada 1200 and 1500 saloon but with all the trimmings available in Volgograd. Reversing lights, height adjustable headrests and twin headlights were just some of the features. More importantly, the more powerful 1600 engine was a Lada design, rather than basic 60bhp 1.2 litre engine then being used in the home market. Let’s just say it was not a Ford Cortina 2000E.
Many of the underpinnings of the Fiat 128 were also used for the Fiat Strada (or Ritmo in European markets), which presented a very 1970s appearance and traded on the “Built by robots” tagline. CC has looked at this car before, in more detail. The top shot in this blog is the Strada’s dash.
The Fiat 131 (or Bravo in North America) was another car for discerning Dad. Here was something that looked and drove as well or better than any competitor’s rear wheel drive alternative, as well as offering such features as a five speed gearbox. It was also known as the Mirafiori, after the location of the factory, and later models with the double overhead cam engine, such as this 1983 model, were sold as the Supermirafiori. Do I need to mention it’s Italian?
One more rare Fiat to complete the Italian section – a Fait Tipo. The 1988-95 Tipo was Fiat’s response to the success of the Golf, both commercially and in defining the product in that sector of the market. Styling was by IDEA Institute and clearly aimed to look modern. Size wise, it was little larger than the Golf Mk 2, being closer in size to the Austin Maestro. Engines ranged from 1.1 litre (under powered, arguably) to 2.0 litre 16V (which could show a Golf GTi a clean pair of heels).
In response to the Italian reputation for corrosion, it was fully galvanised, apart for the rear hatch which was composite. Sold as a value proposition in the UK, it nevertheless ultimately disappointed commercially, though later mid range Fiats did even less well. This is a 1955 1.4 litre edition.
So many of the Mk 1 Golfs that remain have been modified within an inch of their lives it is always a pleasure to see an unmolested example. This example dates from 1977 and has a 1.1 litre engine, the entry level rather than the 1.3 litre which was probably the default choice for many European Golf owners in the 1970s.
But from little acorns do mighty oaks grow, and this is the beginning of perhaps the most successful, modern European car.
Back in the early 1970s, Standard Dad bought a Cortina or a Princess, but Leftfield Dad might have gone for a Citroen GS.
Here’s a car that needs little introduction or explanation to Curbivores – hydropneumatic suspension, air cooled flat four engine, innovative and challenging interior, aerodynamic styling, and that great Citroen ability to outperform its nominal peers in just about every way.
We had a choice of two: the red car is a 1979 1199cc example and the yellow car is a 1975 1015cc version. The GS changed little until a hatchback was added to create the GSA in 1979, taking advantage of the low level suspension and flat floor.
This was perhaps the best riding, but still good handling, compact family car Dad could buy, and was still competitive 12 years after its introduction. Truly an all-time great.
The yellow GS is parked next to another all-time great – the original Renault 5, the first supermini to be fully desirable as a car and as a fashion item. Every supermini that has tried to appeal on anything other than fully rational grounds since 1972 has been thinking about this car.
This example is a 1979 782cc version, and you have to ask if you need much more from an urban car, even now.
Also French was this 1973 Citroen Dyane 6, the first descendant of the 2CV, and whilst it lost some of the 2CV’s charisma, it gained in practicality. You might be surprised how far and fast 602cc can take you.
In the late 1960s, Innovation Dad might have chosen a Renault 16, which was perhaps one of the most influential cars of the decade, maybe even of the post–war period. A five door, family hatchback with a truly flexible interior, strong performance and economy, and a decent driving experience all contributed to it being competitive in the market for over a decade, and influential for far longer. This is a 1972 version, looking very like the 1965 original
By 1978, Cautious Dad could have a Renault too – in this a case the Renault 18 Estate. This car is a 1982 2.0 litre diesel engine version. The 18 was more familiar as a saloon than an estate and was perhaps the first car to suggest Renault were thinking about conformity rather individuality. More than competitive against a Cortina, Marina or, for the driver if not the owner, many Japanese equivalents.
The car alongside the Renault is a 1989-2000 Lancia Dedra, a saloon derived for the Fiat Tipo, which was Lancia’s last mid-size car in the UK market.
The Peugeot 104 is now a very rare anywhere in Europe. This is the short wheelbase 3 door Z version, with some gentle modding going on. This is a 1982 1.1 litre version, with a very neat (and genuine) number plate. This car was the basis for many others, including the Citroen Visa and LN, as well as sharing its engine with the Renault 14.
And, of course, the Talbot Samba. The Samba was the only real new car introduced under the Talbot nameplate after the Peugeot takeover, and was clearly derived from the 104. You don’t have to look at the Samba and 104 together for long to spot the ancestry.
Even the interior was clearly Peugeot derived. This is obviously the convertible version of the Samba, which added some distinction to the Talbot range, and was built by Pininfarina. But it was not enough – the Samba and the Talbot name both died in 1986.
Unusually for a British car show, Japanese brands were represented well. Second place in the Concours de l’Ordinaire went to this 1981 Nissan Bluebird 1.8GL. This was from the era when value, equipment and reliability were the big draws to owning a Japanese car, and this car was no exception. Not quite a Brougham, but velour upholstery was a very likely feature.
Further upmarket, and rarer then and now, was this Mazda 929 wagon. Lining up against the Volvo 200 series, Citroen CX Safari and Opel Rekord/Vauxhall Carlton estates was always going to be tough gig, and it seems surprising now that Mazda used limited import volume to supply cars like this. Unusual then, complete hen’s teeth now.
And even more so, and quite a sight now, this 1966 Toyota Corona. In size and style, this 1.5 litre saloon looks to be aimed directly at the Ford Cortina, Morris Oxford/Austin Cambridge and Vauxhall Victor, trying to be better and dependable rather than novel, like the Renault 16. The slightly Italianate styling still looks good, with some distinctive features around the grille and front wings.
It would be another ten years before Ordinary Dad was looking at Japanese cars; this was a car for Early Adopter Dad.
And finally, two cars that never made it to North America, but which have featured on CC over the years. In the yellow corner, a 1975 Volvo 66 saloon. The DAF 66 became a Volvo when the Dutch company was bought out by Volvo, with key changes being the safety bumpers, running lights, head restraints and some other visible safety features. It kept the Renault engine and Variomatic CVT transmission though.
The red car is a 1985 Volvo 343. I probably should say little about this, as my CC of this car had to accompanied by a health warning. Suffice to say, this was one for Cautious but Badge Conscious Dad, who probably didn’t follow car culture that closely, and didn’t want an Austin Maestro. This example has a 1.4 litre Renault engine, quite possibly a four speed gearbox and maybe overdrive, and at this time the 340/360 series was making regular appearances in the British top ten sellers chart.
But they were completely unexceptional.