Sunday, September 25, 2005

Ground beef

So, I'm reading the latest issue of CAR Magazine. What we have ourselves here are some sacred cows. And I'm in the mood for a hamburger.

I've been an automotive journalist for many years, and I would just like to say to all my colleagues - could you please stop with this crap?

Sacred Cow I: The Citroen DS was an amazingly futuristic car, the marque's high point, and nothing out there today is as groundbreaking.

Honestly, this one never ceases. Every single time somebody starts talking about a modern Citroen, they mention how good the DS was and how it's all gone downhill from there. Gavin Green says: "There has never been a more advanced car, a more iconoclastic car, a more idiosyncratic car, and, even today, if it were magically to appear, brand new, at this year's Frankfurt show rather than at the Paris salon in October of 1955, it would still be celebrated as progressive and far-sighted."

No it wouldn't. The DS was underpowered, unreliable and unprofitable. It may have had more gadgets than other cars of the time... but where are those gadgets now? The turning headlights were not a Citroen first, they appeared on the Tucker Torpedo in 1948 and never got caught on because there was little point. The hydropneumatic suspension? Nobody wants it - people like their cars to handle well, and while ride comfort is a nice thing to have, the sporty Peugeot 406 has been outselling the comfy Citroen C5 by orders of magnitude. And the DS's beauty? In the eye of the beholder, certainly; I concede that it was unusual, but it was never as unassailably gorgeous as, say, a '55 Chevy or a '59 Cadillac hardtop.

Sacred Cow II: The coupe-like profile

As far as I can tell, this one started with the Alfa Romeo 156. It was a four-door whose rear door handles were hidden in the C-pillars, so car hacks started saying it looked like a coupe.

It was a nice hook for one article, but it wasn't strictly true. If you look at the 156 side-on, you could never mistake it for anything but a sedan. It's not just the shutlines, although you'd really need to squint to miss them; it's the fact that the front doors are just too short. You could not get to the rear seats through them, and they are out of proportion with the body; your mind has no choice but to parse the rest of the car, looking for an extra pair of portals.

Still, the 156 was (and remains) a gorgeous car, one of the all-time great saloon designs, and a shape that evokes primal desire rather than dazzles with its novelty. Unfortunately, this whole coupe-windowline nonsense did not die with the first round of reviews; the manufacturers' marketing division picked up on the idea and started to believe it.

Mazda developed the RX-8 around this concept; the car does have an unusual side view, and I dare say it is rather pretty, but it does *not* look like a coupe. Actually, although it has a separate boot, it looks most of all like a five-door hatchback. If they'd taken this design, thrown out the RWD to improve the luggage space, dropped in a Focus drivetrain and released it as the new 323/Protege - wow! (Of course, they're not doing badly with the Mazda3 either.)

The Mercedes CLS came next, and again - if the board of DaimlerSomething actually had any balls, they would have made that the default shape for the E-class. What a beauty! They say it's strictly a four-seater, but if you want space, get a minivan. And I don't accept the argument that it would have made the staple Mercedes unattractive to taxi drivers, because they don't use it anyway - too unreliable.

Next, it seems like VW (who has a sort of corporate insecurity that makes them pursue niche markets) is gearing up to make a "four-door coupe" version of the Passat.

Look: the Alfa 156, Mazda RX-8 and Mercedes CLS are all exceptionally good-looking cars. Respect to you for putting them into production. But they look nothing like coupes, so for the love of God please stop calling them that!


Anonymous said...

u're wrong about the ds.

antyx said...

Would you like to elaborate on that?

zagyex said...

As an automotive journalist you seem to know very little about the Citroen DS so I decided to help you a little :) and elaborate on that.

Right, it was not the first withe the turning lights, neither was the Tucker, you can check this
1934 Packard V12 ,

but it was the first mass prod. car with svivelling and self levelling headlights..."which never caught on" ...well you've writen your post a few years ago. Now nearly every high class car has turning headlights, so they did.

About the handling:

The DS was the best handling mass production car of its time, it advanced achievable standards in roadholding and handling.

It was an excellent rallye car for more than a decade

It was the first mass production car to have disc brakes..."where are these gadgets?" Crumple zones, collapsable steering wheel, first plastic dashboard, one of the first fuel injection mass production engines...etc, etc

With its "underpowered" 2-litre engine it could achieve higher speeds than an 55 (or 69) Chevy.

Was it unprofitable with 12000 sold on the first day, and with a production time of 20 years? Dont think so.

It was very robust and very reliable after the first years problems. Many DS-es are still in use nowdays, and prove to be reliable after even 40 years.

The suspension was used by Rolls Royce and Mercedes for their luxury cars. I dont see the point in comparing the sales of a Peugeot 406 and Citroen C5 when talking about a 50 year old car, do you? The DS was an ultimate seller despite of its high price.

Beauty: Its a subjective point, you may have your own ideals, american cars are made following a quite different philosophy of car building, both have their beauty, it would be useless to argue on that.




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