Welcome to a new installment of curbside classics in the streets of my neighborhood, Berlin Neukölln where I present some of the curbside classics that I come across on my daily walks with my son. Today’s installment features cars whose design spans 8 decades. Today’s post focuses, but isn’t limited to, the Germanic and what better way to start off with the grandfather of German mass produced vehicles, the bug aka beetle aka Käfer.
Now why the Käfer turned out to be the success that it was is beyond my comprehension. I assume it to be a melange of it being the only small car design available in Germany that was ready to be mass-produced, and the British occupants certainly helped with that. But why did the rest of the world buy it? Performance was abysmal, packaging was a disaster. My theory is that in no small part it has to do with a morbid fascination for all things Nazi that prevails until today, all over the world. After all, the Käfer was Hitler’s car for the people. Now you could get one for yourself. (ED: that is the first time I have ever heard that theory, and it is by far the most unusual (and controversial) one as to the VW’s success. Hmm)
While the mostly fabricated unintended acceleration scandal almost did Audi in in the US market, the vehicle under attack, the 100/5000 C3, marked a big step forward for the brand in Germany. Some argue its shape to be the mother of modern sedans. The desgin – reused on the Eagle Premier – was clearly Giugaro: An angular body over wheels too small. And while Americans complained about the lack of reliability which was to some part due to a plethora of extra equipment installed on US bound C3s and to another to mechanics inexperienced in servicing Audis, in Germany – where most models where manual windows, manual trans no A/C – the Audi 100 C3 enjoyed and still enjoys a reputation for sublime reliability.
The dashboard of the facelifted 100 C3 was actually reused on the 100 C4. And since the first Audi A6 – the C5 – was but a slightly facelifted Audi 100 C4, our blue A6 C5 wagon pictured here shares most of the controls with the 100 C3. Talk about the Germans‘ knack for recycling! To me, the C4/C5 wagon is one of the most beautiful vehicles of all times. The color makes a point – this is proper eye candy.
Not quite as beautiful, but still pretty attractive and better suited for the inner city parking spot hunt is the Audi 80 Avant B4 that was never available in the US because the tides had turned in favour of the minivan by the time of its conception.
Though officially it is a B4 Avant, it seems more apt to speak of a B3.5: While the front lights are identical to those of the B4 sedan, the rear illumination stems from the B3 sedan. It would be interesting to hear the story behind that factoid though my research has not yielded any results. Ideas?
Moving backwards in time we have now arrived at the B2 chassis which the above Passat Variant station wagon shared with its Audi brethren Audi 80 B2 and the Audi Coupe. The pictured vehicle features the rare inline-5 engine and light brown leatherette seats.
Moving away from the Germans – before we return to them towards the end – I want to talk Prius. The Prius has become almost synonymous with gasoline electric hybrid propulsion and with millions and millions sold they are so common by now that we fail to notice them. But what about the Prius‘ (literally) small beginnings? What we see here must be one of the shortest hood-to-wheelbase ratios of any production sedan ever sold. It’s telling of Toyota’s engineering prowess that they managed to fit both an inline-four and the electric motor in this miniature of a hood.
I love myself a strange story when it comes to the developmental history of a car and this is where the Citroen BX really shines. Sure, we all recognize a weird French hatchback when we see one but what if this French hatchback looks actually much more like a Volvo? And what, if in fact this design by Marcello Gandini from the Bertone design studio were actually conceived in the late 70ies as the Volvo Tundra? Be that as it may, the BX may have looked Italian Swedish but with its hydropneumatic suspension it was properly French. Would I like to drive one with the crazy 160 hp non-catalyst 1.9 liter inline-4 that also propelled the Peugeot 405 MI16 and the 309 GTI-16? You bet I would.
In a common theme with Giugaro’s Audi 100 C3 and the Eagle Premier, design recycling is much more prevalent than big automakers are happy to admit. Nowadays, as the Italian design studio’s have lost quite a bit of their influence, particularly the recycling crazy Germans have taken design recycling to the next level. Or can you really tell a C-Class from an E-Class without using a measuring tape? Even the S-Class coupe looks like a C-Class coupe. Bruno Sacco would not have liked this.
I fancy myself a nice visual juxtaposition. It’s pretty unlikely that the Saab 900 and Trabant 601 where involved in the same car crash but who knows. In the early nineties there were still some Trabants on the newly reunited Germany’s roads while the 900 was at the height of its popularity. Though it is hard to say why they are sitting were they are sitting the owner of the garage seems full of faith in the structural rigidity of his garages. With the Trabant’s plastic body he is probably on the safe side (it also spreads its weight across two garages) but with the Saab, I wouldn’t be so sure.
I remember vividly the sensation of the first generation Mercedes SLK coming to the market in the mid nineties. It is hard to fathom that this event now lies more than 20 years in the past and that the unloved SLK now qualifies as a proper curbside classic. I am not a sucker for modifications but the smoked lights and the – probably faux – golden Brabus wheels actually lend to the design the purposeful stance for whose lack the SLK was harshly criticized in 1996.
If I had to pick a Mercedes that was the polar opposite of the SLK this would be a worthy choice. With the flat front tire it may not be going anywhere anytime soon, but does it matter?
My neighborhood seems to undergo an inexplicable fad for classic camper vans and while not all of them are that interesting, this VW T3 with its ocean cruiser bull’s eye and multiple bicycle rack seems worth a shot.
When – or in case of our US readers: ever – have you last seen a Rover 200? Neither have I, or at least not in years. Note the „floating“ roof, a popular late eighties early nineties design feature the 200 shared with his Japanese half brother Honda Concerto.