A new Auto Union

Germany’s Manager Magazin asserts that VW might buy Fiat-Chrysler. Ferdinand Piëch wants to re-create Auto Union and combine the VW brands Audi, SEAT and Skoda with classics like Alfa Romeo, Bentley, Bugatti, Lamborghini, Maserati, and Porsche. Along with Fiat and Chrysler it could make over 14 million cars a year, consigning Toyota and General Motors with about 10 million into second place.

In the 1930s four rings signified the creation of the first Auto Union, the amalgamation of the motor industry in Saxony. DKW, Horch, Wanderer and Audi joined up to weather financial storms following the Great Depression and face intervention from the emerging Third Reich. The State Bank of Saxony, the Allgemeine Deutsche Credit Anstalt (ADCA) and the Commerzbank of Berlin were midwives at the birth of the Auto Union.
Wanderer was the oldest, established in 1885 at Chemnitz. In 1899 August Horch set up at Cologne-Ehrenfeld, moved in 1902 to Plauen in the Vogtland, then in 1904 as a public company eastwards to Zwickau in Saxony. Third ring DKW also had roots in Chemnitz from 1904 when Danish entrepreneur, Jörgen Skafte Rasmussen established Rasmussen & Ernst GmbH in an empty textile works at Zschopau in the Erzgebirge. In 1914, as the Zschopauer Maschinenfabrik J S Rasmussen, it did military work, experimenting with a large, and as it turned out unwieldy, steam vehicle the Dampf Kraft Wagen (DKW - Steam-Power-Vehicle).

DKW persevered with motorcycles, making a primitive car in 1928, then at the 1931 Berlin motor show made a breakthrough with the first front wheel drive production car three years ahead of Citroën. FWD was novel, it was cheap, and DKW was good at it. Innovation did not bring prosperity however, and DKW was obliged to take a shareholding in Audi, making Rasmussen chairman. But by 1932 car sales in Germany had halved and DKW suffered from Rasmussen's expansionism. To make things worse, the Hitler regime planned a state-sponsored car to go on sale to the German Volk at a seemingly impossible price to savers of political tokens.
Amalgamation was complicated and it took nine months to agree terms and acquire funds. Headquarters were at Chemnitz, the Zschopauer Motorenwerke raised its share capital from 4.5 million Reichsmarks to 14.5 million and the new Auto Union AG bought the fourth ring, Wanderer, leasing its factories.

DKW's contribution of share capital was Rm10 million, Horch brought Rm500,000, Audi Rm2,500,000, and Wanderer Rm15,730,000. The new combine had a staff of 4,500 and factories at Zschopau making motorcycles and 2-stroke engines, Zwickau (cars), Berlin-Spandau (wooden body frames) and Siegmar (cars and steel bodies). Auto Union was a major player in the German motor industry alongside Adler, BMW, Opel, Daimler-Benz, and Ford. Meanwhile the cause of all the angst, the Volkswagen, was slow making its appearance.
Ferdinand Porsche’s consultancy made a submission to the Ministry of Traffic in Berlin for a car selling for Rm1500, with a fuel consumption of 8l/100 kms (35 mpg), a top speed of 100 kph (62 mph) and a weight of 650 kg (1433 lbs). Hitler and Porsche met in April 1934, at the Kaiserhof Hotel in Berlin, together with Jakob Werlin, Mercedes-Benz dealer in Munich and an early member of the Nazi Party. Werlin carried weight, joined the Mercedes-Benz supervisory board, and went on to be inspector-general of the industry.

Hitler sanctioned the VW provided it could cruise the new autobahns at 100kph, obtain a fuel consumption of 7l/100 kms (40 mpg) and sell for Rm990. A contract was drawn up under which Rm200,000 was set aside for a prototype and a production run of 50,000. The effect on the established Saxony car makers was profound but in 1935 Volkswagen was inaugurated. State intervention had been inevitable and the Auto Union’s marques Horch, Audi, Wanderer and DKW were broadly complementary. Horch made premium big saloons and tourers, Audi was distinctly middle-class. Wanderer had a solid array of good family cars and DKW lively cheap two-stroke economy models.
An urgent task was to forge the group’s identity and it took up a German state subsidy to build a 16-cylinder car designed by Professor Porsche, inaugurating a momentous period of grand prix motor racing. Mercedes-Benz and Auto Union overwhelmed all opposition in a demonstration of German technical pre-eminence, a triumph for the Reich’s propaganda machine under Dr Joseph Goebbels.

Now Automotive News Europe reports: "The simple deal logic is straightforward," London-based analyst Arndt Ellinghorst of ISI Group wrote in a note to investors. "Chrysler - better Jeep and Dodge - could fix VW's US problems; Alfa could replace the ailing Seat brand; Fiat Europe is basically the 500 product family plus LCVs. Latin America could be sold, potentially to a Chinese buyer."
Both Piëch and Martin Winterkorn, VW chief executive, are on record as showing interest in Alfa Romeo. VW had $24 billion in cash to play with at the end of March, so a takeover would be manageable. Everybody denies any such thing but Piëch, the obsessive and brilliantly successful 77 year old grandson of Ferdinand Porsche gets his way more often than he doesn’t. If VW bought the 150-strong Agnelli-Elkann dynasty's 30 percent controlling stake in Fiat-Chrysler it could be $5 billion or $6 billion richer and even keep Ferrari to bring a regular $475 million pocket money every year.

Top: Mid-engined masterpieces, Auto Union racing cars by Dr Porsche.

Audi adopted Auto Union’s four rings.

Number 1 surmounts the bonnet of an Audi Front.

Horch made some spectacular cars

DKW Sonderklasse. Front wheel drive, 2-stroke and one of my first ever test cars, borrowed from the factory in Düsseldorf in 1956. My first drive at the Nürburgring.

Workaday Wanderer W24 with Auto Union rings

Back to the Future

Drivers in cars will seem bizarre. Future generations will never understand why we put up with the congestion, danger and inconvenience of cars driven by people. Allister Heath, editor of City AM points out presciently that the £35 billion HS2 will be obsolescent almost as soon as it is built in 2032 or so, as driverless cars develop. Driving as we know it will be relegated to a leisure pursuit rather like riding or carriage driving with horses. Motor racing? It has already become so far removed from the real world of cars that, like the Grand National or the Derby, it will survive in its own anachronistic way. (Above: Fisker had the vision)

Nothing’s new. On 30 April 1989 I wrote in The Sunday Times: An automatic pilot for cars is practical. Prometheus, a pan European research and development programme now in its third year looks like getting into the driving seat by the end of the Century. "Driving along motorways without electronic controls will be seen, in years to come, as savage and dangerous," according to Sir Clive Sinclair in a report on traffic published last week by the Adam Smith Institute. "Fighter aircraft perform in ways which would be inconceivable if a human brain had to regulate them. Cars under electronic control could travel at 100 miles per hour, closer together and in great safety. I envisage motorways where the control of the vehicles is taken over by the road," says the inventive Sir Clive.

One of the pioneers of Prometheus (PROgramme for a European Traffic with Highest Efficiency and Unprecedented Safety, not a catchy title), Dr Ferdinand Panik of Daimler Benz agrees. "Present day traffic with individual elements will evolve into an integral system of co operating partners." He regards the electronic revolution in cars as analogous to typewriters. "Twenty years ago, as a purely mechanical product, the typewriter had reached a very advanced state of development. Everyone was satisfied with it. Yet within a short time, computers and communication systems had brought about a change from independent typewriters to interlinked word processors, and conquered the market."

Jerome Rivard, former chief of electronics at Ford, now Vice President of Bendix Electronics in the United States believes we are entering the final phase of handing over control of the car to electronics. "Phase 1 was from the mid 60s to the late 70s, when we saw the solid state radio, electronic ignition, and digital clocks. Phase 2 brought integrated circuits and microprocessors which started to link components together. This included electronic engine controls, instruments, and anti lock brakes, now familiar to many drivers. Phase 3 began in the mid 1980s, in which we will see the total integration of vehicle electrical and electronic systems."
(Jensen and successors will survive)
What this means is that with developments such as anti lock brakes, and its corollary, electronic traction control for preventing loss of grip through wheelspin, coming into use, the stage is set for electronics to take the wheel. "We shall drive on to motorways, but once we are there, control of the vehicle will be taken over by the road," says Sir Clive. Rivard puts it another way, "The skills required in handling an automobile are, in some cases, beyond the capacity of the average driver. The advances in steering, braking, and suspension technology during Phase 3 will allow him to employ the full performance potential of the vehicle even in exceptional situations like avoiding accidents." The immediate safety related task of the new systems will be to create an electronic field round the car with ultrasonic, radar, or infrared beams, to measure the distances and speeds to other vehicles. Approaching a parked lorry at night or in fog, the driver will be alerted to the danger of collision. Before the invention of anti lock brakes (ABS) he would have put the brakes on, or swerved by himself. Now the car can do the job better than the most skilled driver, and on the Sinclair motorway, will apply its own brakes. The same applies to unwise overtaking. The on board computers calculate the speed of the lorry ahead, the speed of the car overtaking, decide there is danger of an accident, and over rules the driver's decision to pull out. Research chiefs such as Professor Dr Ing. Ulrich Seiffert of VW see measures of this sort as a solution to the problem of congestion on motorways. "With electronic controls regulating the cars, you could double or treble the capacity of a motorway," he told me during a meeting at this year's Geneva Motor Show. "And automatic traffic will also be more fuel efficient, and so less polluting."

At the inception of Prometheus in 1986, Professor Werner Breitschwerdt, Chairman of the Daimler Benz board of management defined its target as cutting road traffic casualties by half before the year 2000. At a meeting in Munich earlier this year by the participating companies which include most of Europe's principal car manufacturers (Jaguar, Rolls Royce, Renault, Peugeot Citroën, Fiat, Volvo, Saab Scania, VW, BMW, Volkswagen Audi, and Daimler Benz), the research and development phase of the programme was officially inaugurated. "It was a meeting to provide the project's board of management with a progress report," according to Daimler Benz, the prime mover and still the principal co ordinator of Prometheus. "The first year, 1987, was taken up with defining the programme, in 1988 the participating companies were discussing how to do it, and research proper starts this year."

I rode in road trains of vehicles on test tracks 25 years ago. (Below - Nissan Leafs at a Silverstone demonstration - imagine them driving like this on the motorway at 100mph without drivers) I marvel now at Google’s vehicles that have covered 400,000 miles without an accident. With 360degree sensors, lasers, GPS and learning algorithms everything is in place to make driverless cars practical. Public transport, except in close-packed cities, is doomed. People will travel by night, dozing off and waking up at journey’s end. Commuting, along with everything else, will be transformed.

Volkswagen Golf


Road testers are sensitive souls. Driving the new Golf I was struck with how refined it was. The 1.4 petrol engine was next to inaudible, wind noise subdued, the new MQB platform, I decided, superbly engineered and of a quality to match VW’s reputation. It was only when I got into a 2 litre diesel - same morning, same roads, but almost at once it went b-r-r-r-r-p. The body drummed. On smooth bits of road it went Ph-o-o-o-o-h but on every patch and joint it thrummed and strummed. It rocked a bit on potholes and tilted on cambers. Tyres, I decided. Why do they put press test cars on low-profiles? Maybe the Golf is quite ordinary after all.

I was being pernickety. Princesses and peas come to mind. Besides the 7J rims and 225/45 R17 tyres, the 2 litre had sports suspension, lowering it by 10mm. The 1.4 on the other hand had perfectly sensible 6½J rims and 205/55 R16 tyres, making it is a model of a modern middle-sized saloon, well balanced and exemplary. No wonder it is Europe’s best seller. At £19,645 my money would be on the petrol 1.4, not the £24,880 diesel, despite being short of some 28PS. There is scant difference in performance (0.7sec to 62mph), none in CO2 emissions and you would be only 9mpg better off. It would need to do a lot of miles to make up £5235.

This is the diesel with the silly tyres.

The Golf has been restyled but not too much. It still looks a bit anonymous but a lot of buyers like that. They don’t want to make a statement. They are conservative, content for neighbours not to notice a new car. Best way to assess a car – assess the buyers.

VW has been clever about weight. Ever since I can remember new cars have put on middle aged spread. Customers always go for de luxe versions, so “improvements” never stop. Legislation and safety features always add bulk and throughout 38 years, 29million cars, and seven generations the Golf grew from 370cm (146in) long and 750kg (1650lb), to 450cm (177in) and 1140kg (2508lb).

At 425cm (167in) the new one is 5.6cm longer than the last (sixth) Golf but VW has saved 100kg (220lb), which brings it back to about the weight of the fourth or fifth generation. The wheelbase has been stretched and the body widened, so there is more room inside, the hatchback is bigger and there is more luggage space. It’s clever the way weight has been reduced; the structure is 37kg lighter, engines 40kg, running gear 26kg and even the electrical system weighs 6kg less. Aluminium engine blocks make a big saving.


Materials are used sparingly. Sheet metal thickness varies within one item. The rolling mill of the steel supplier makes what they call a tailor rolled blank, a sheet strip with variable thicknesses. Delivered to the hot-forming factory it has 11 areas each of a different thickness, with transitions between them so uniform there are no abrupt changes in strength. The saving is just 4 kg in one cross-member. Simples! As Sergei would say.
Here is what I wrote about another Golf 23 years ago, in The Sunday Times of 28 January 1990, the Umwelt Diesel

If cars of the Twenty-first Century are as good as the Volkswagen Golf with the Umwelt Diesel, giving up petrol engines will not be so bad. This is no sprinter, but it is lively enough and like policemen did in less frenzied times, proceeds in a measured way, which is faster than it looks.
The significance of the Umwelt (for Environmental) diesel engine is that it is the world's cleanest liquid-fuel combustion engine. Cleaner than any petrol engine the exhaust does not even have the characteristic diesel smell. VW has equipped it with a turbocharger, not so much to gain power, as pump 40 per cent more air in to make the combustion process more complete.
The result halves particulates to bring them well within strict American standards, and also banishes the discharge of highly suspect polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons by means of a simple oxidation catalyst.
Still recognisable as a Golf. This is Golf III. Clever VW.
The engine still has some strong diesel mannerisms. There remains a few seconds' pause between turning the key and starting up. The seat belt can be put on in the time it takes for the pre-heater indicator light to go out. And when the engine does start, it is accompanied by the orthodox diesel-taxi clatter, although not for long. Once under way, the noise is inaudible from inside the car and not obtrusive from outside.
The engine also has a low rev limit. Around 4,500 rpm on the tachometer - if this model had one - the power tails off and the car will accelerate no more. Diesel engines need a heavy flywheel to turn them over from one high-compression stroke to the next, so they do not spin quickly up to speed.
Racing engines are given a light flywheel to achieve the opposite effect - to run up to maximum revs almost the instant the throttle is opened. The corollary is that racing engines tend to be harsh and vibrant, while the Umwelt is smooth and constant, achieving its useful turn of speed with a cultured hum.
VW does not even put a D label on the back of the Umwelt Golf, to distinguish it perhaps from the smoky smelly diesels of old. However like former diesels, it still does not exactly dash up gradients, but reaches 100mph, and cruises serenely for a price of £9,739.93. It is a plain five-door Golf with no frills, not even central locking or electric windows. It is almost an industry cliché that diesel engines are installed in basic models on the grounds, it would seem, that diesel drivers are so consumed with ideas of economy that they are unlikely to pay for frills, even cheap ones.
VW's motives in producing the Umwelt may not have been entirely altruistic. Diesel sales in Germany over the past two years have dropped by a third, but the new cleaner engines being produced by VW and Daimler-Benz can be expected to reverse the trend in Germany, and increase the demand in Europe as a whole, the world's main market for diesel-engined cars.



SUVs to Wait

It would be no surprise to see Bentley and Lamborghini shelve their SUVs. The VW Group is not being complacent over the Eurocrisis, unlike the French industry, which is in panic mode. It looked as though premium manufacturers might be profitable enough to press on almost regardless, leaving the volume producers to suffer from faltering sales. VW itself looked secure by outperforming the market, but it isn’t going to spend money recklessly. It makes Audis for not much more than it costs to make Skodas, Seats and VWs, and charges a whole lot more for better trim and a classy image. But the supervisory board is being slow to sign off the Bentley EXP9F and Lamborghini Urus. They would be nice projects to improve profit, Lamborghini hasn’t made any money for three years, but they are not essential for survival. Development costs are large and if it doesn’t need to spend, VW would prefer to keep the money aside for a rainy day. The board will make up its mind in November, when it plans cuts in some volume production and wonders how to deal with falling sales. It will look at spending on equipment and factories and is likely to delay the SUVs. The Bentley, shown as a concept at Geneva, would not have appeared until 2014. Based on an Audi platform 4,000 a year with super-luxury fittings it could have made Bentley some good money. Lamborghini would have made fewer to meet expected competition from Maserati, the Jeep Kubang and even Ferrari. The tempting target is Land Rover, which is raising its asking prices ever further with the new Range Rover and Range Rover Sport but, like partner Jaguar with the F-type, is facing critics who think it is pricing itself beyond what the market will stand in an economic downturn. (Top) A Bentley Sports Utility Vehicle of the 1950s. A Countryman with fold-out tables for upper-class picniques at the point-to-point.

Car Fires


There is nothing the Guardianistas on the Today programme love more than a good scare story. This morning it was rising food prices and 138,000 Toyotas going on fire. Even its interviewee on the price of wheat was cautious about its effect on the cost of a loaf. Scott Brownlee did a decent job of saying Toyota’s recall concerned a window switch in danger of melting, and 138,000 Rav4s and Corollas were not about to incinerate themselves. Silly woman presenter kept claiming Toyota’s press release said there was a fire risk. It said nothing of the kind, but in her efforts to show how nasty big corporations are she exaggerated, and Toyota had to issue an amendment.

Toyota Window Switch Recall: Clarification On Media Reports Of ‘Fire Risk’ Issue Toyota has today announced a recall of 138,000 Yaris, Auris and RAV4 cars in the UK. This involves the electrical contact in the driver’s side Power Window Master Switch (PWMS), which may over time come to feel ‘notchy’ or sticky during operation.

If commercially available cleaning lubricants are applied to the switch to address the notchy or sticky feel, the switch assembly may overheat and/or melt. In the USA, issues of melting or erosion are categorised under ‘fire’ by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. If a car's power window switch feels notchy, owners should not attempt to address the issue themselves with commercially available lubricants. Toyota engineers have conducted various simulation tests, including using commercially available lubricants. In no instance did a fire result. There has been only one case related to this issue in the UK, and no reported accidents.


Trouble was, this is the second recall of door window switches in as many days, and Honda’s press release was more alarmist. Honda said it would be trying to contact everyone who owns a Swindon-made CR-V, “because of a potentially dangerous defect that could lead to it catching fire”. The problem was spotted after one owner in Britain, and four in the United States said they could smell burning. It seems to be a faulty seal on a master switch inside the driver’s door that controls the automatic windows. If liquid seeps inside, it could overheat and the door could catch fire. Are they all using the same switch? The same supplier? The same door trim manufacturer? I think we should be told.

The pictures are of a Volvo that caught fire on a Scottish road. It started as a small conflagration under the bonnet (top), but as I watched the car comprehensively destroyed itself, with much crackling and banging as windows broke and fuel ignited. Another memorable car fire I watched was when a colleague in the Glasgow motor trade was trying to sell a VW Beetle (old air-cooled sort) to an overweight Glasgow lady. She thought she would try the back seat but was so heavy that when she sat down the batteries underneath shorted out through the seat springs. The upholstery caught fire, then the whole interior, the paint blistered and the tyres caught light. The fire service came and put it out. She didn’t buy the VW.

VW, Deutsche Post, University of Art, Braunschweig


Electric cars are over-hyped. Hardly anybody buys them. Hybrids with engines that charge batteries are practical; some such as the Toyota Prius sell quite well. But the whole industry is too excited about Evs, and is only preparing itself for the day when politicians outlaw petrol and diesel.
Back in November 1991 California legislature demanded that, “by 2010 seven cars out of ten will be electric”. It hasn’t happened and despite desperate efforts by the motor industry to persuade the world it is green, it won’t. Not yet anyway. You can’t store electricity in a tank, like you can petrol, and the only way we’ll have electric cars is by having two - one car for Town, one car for Country. That’s not very Green.

VW, however, has a hopeful little invention that follows historical precedents. It is the ingenious product of VW’s co-operation with the German Post Office (Deutsche Post AG) and the University of Art at Braunschweig. Dr. Rudolf Krebs, Group Manager for Electric Traction at Volkswagen AG describes the eT! as an automotive building block for zero emissions in urban areas. It has electric wheel hub motors and great freedom in manoeuvering. “If ‘refuelled’ with electricity generated from renewable energy sources, the eT! could indeed be operated with zero emissions,” says Dr Krebs.

Historical precedent 1. Ferdinand Porsche designed hub-mounted motors for his Lohner Porsches at the beginning of the 20th century. They do not require drive-shafts, gear trains or brakes. (Above) This Lohner Porsche had hub-motors in front; some were four wheel drive.

Historical precedent 2. When VW was run under the British military government of 1945 its principal customers were the British army and the German Post Office. The army bought VWs as communications and staff cars, the post office for delivering mail in the war-torn country.

It was Reichspost before it was Bundespost
Deutsche Post is still one of the largest customers of lightweight commercial vehicles, and wants a postal van that can operate semi-automatically. eT! can follow a postman from house to house (“Follow me”), or return on command (“Come to me”) – driverless. It can be operated by a ‘drive stick’ from the passenger’s side and its electric sliding door reduces a delivery person’s walking movements.


The eT! concept shown in a world premiere at the Design Centre of Potsdam will now be analysed. Let us hope if it ever gets made they find a name without the !

Fedden's Mistake

Roy Fedden is remembered unkindly for his disastrous foray into making cars in the 1940s. Yet the more you look into the career and inventions of Professor Dr.Ing. (honoris causa) Ferdinand Porsche (1875-1951) the more you see what Fedden was driving at.

It was far sighted in 1942 to begin work on a British Volkswagen. In Germany the factory was doing war work but the VW’s merits were acknowledged by a handful of individuals in Bristol, among them motoring journalist Gordon Wilkins, who had gone to the Volkswagen factory inauguration in 1938. Alec Moulton, who won fame as inventor of a key component of the Mini also worked with Fedden, chief engineer of the Bristol Aeroplane Company.

Bristol had been making four out of every ten RAF aero engines and Fedden knew this would be much reduced after the war. He had been promoted as special adviser to the Minister for Aircraft Production, the ascetic vegetarian socialist MP for Bristol Sir Stafford Cripps. With the connivance of the Ministry of Production and the Industrial Supply Division of the Board of Trade, he put a team together in 1944, working at Benton House, Cheltenham. Other motor industry firms were refused similar facilities, raising questions in the House of Commons.

Fedden faced down the critics, Rolls-Royce and Jowett among them, and carried on. Materials were sanctioned for six prototypes, although only one was built, and once Germany was defeated Fedden went on a commission inspecting what was left. The Allies confiscated patents and intellectual property, so he came back from Wolfsburg with a Type 60 rolling chassis. Established UK manufacturers rejected it but the war-time team had already been at work on a rear-engined Beetle-shaped six-seater, and wanted to know how its creation compared with Dr Porsche’s.

They knew that in 1930 the twelfth assignment of the newly created Porsche design office at Stuttgart-Zuffenhausen was a people's car. The specification of the Porsche Type 12, dated September 1931, called for a car with a backbone frame, all independent suspension and a three cylinder radial engine at the rear. Gordon Wilkins drew up the prototype’s shape, produced glossy brochures of the F-car, as it came to be known, with a flat floor, all independent suspension and a three cylinder radial engine at the rear.

Bristol specialised in radial engines with sleeve valves, so hanging over the back of the F-car was an aluminium 1495cc air-cooled 1100cc, each cylinder at120 deg to one another. All had three exhaust and two inlet ports, with sleeves operated by half-speed cranks off the vertical crankshaft. It produced 72bhp (53.7kW) at 5000rpm and a respectable 85lbft (114Nm) at 2500rpm.

The appointment of Cripps as President of the Board of Trade in the Attlee government might have helped Fedden make progress, although the Patents Office’s FC Whitteridge thought the design “undeveloped”. Another of the Ministry of Production’s scientific advisers, Sir William Stanier, thought Witteridge’s objections could be met, although as the designer of LMS Coronation, or Duchess class locomotives Stanier’s engineering was in an altogether different league. The Ministry avoided showing it to anybody in the motor industry on the grounds that they might not prove objective, and might even make trouble. It never seems to have occurred to official minds that they might also have pointed out difficulties.

By 1945 these were apparent. Whitteridge had been right. The handling was problematical, stability even in a straight line uncertain, there was bad vibration from the tall 3-cylinder engine, which was noisy and overheated. The swing axles tucked up in a way which later became familiar with turning-over cars like the Renault Dauphine.

VW spent six years developing the Volkswagen Beetle. The handling was never quite right and nobody seriously developed another rear-engined mass-market car in the second half of the 20th century. The radial engine was soon discarded. The VW had an air-cooled flat-4 that at least kept the weight low down. The F-car was heavy and sluggish but it was the handling that did for it in the end. Test driver Alec Caine was badly injured when, inevitably, the prototype overturned and by 1947 the project was dead and the company went into liquidation. Yet given six years’ gestation a British VW might have made it. Bristol pirated a BMW design and went into luxury car making instead.

Sir Albert Hubert Roy Fedden MBE, HonDSc, MIMechE, MIAE, MSAE, HonFRAeS, born 1885, died in 1973.

Acknowledgment: Fedden – the life of Sir Roy Fedden, by Bill Gunston OBE FRAeS; Rolls-Royce Heritage Trust 1998

VW shook off its handling troubles. Scirocco at St Andrews Bay last year.

Premium Brands

Volkswagen Group sells more cars than Ford in Britain. That’s not just Volkswagens of course. It is also Seats, Skodas and Audis. You could include other VW-related nameplates, Bentley maybe, Porsche and Lamborghini although the numbers would not add up to much. It was a bit different in 1991 when everybody was into acquiring a premium brand as a means of improving profit-per-car. Ford sought Jaguar and Volvo, General Motors Saab, while Toyota created Lexus and Nissan Infiniti.
Right-click to view
Ford is now back to just Ford. If it still owned Jaguar-Land Rover and Volvo, or wasn’t busy relinquishing its stake in Mazda, VW might not have taken the lead. Ford claims it is less concerned about market share than about profit. Well, it would say that, wouldn’t it, yet it is probably true. The engines and components it still makes for Jaguar and Volvo, a relic of its ownership years, must make a useful contribution to its balance sheet. An Aston Martin V12 started life as a doubled-up Mondeo V6 after all, and Ford-made bits will go into Indian-owned Jaguar and China-owned Volvo for a long time to come.

VW has been good at absorbing other makes and keeping them all on board. It is rationalising its engineering, concentrating development of sports and luxury cars at Porsche against opposition from Audi, which keeps the 2007 modular longitudinal matrix for the Audi A4, A5 and Q5. With the dust is settling on who owns what at Porsche and VW, Martin Winterkorn told Audi executives just before the Porsche AGM at the end of November that it will keep the lead in developing large luxury cars. Winterkorn reassured Porsche that it won’t be merely a tenth VW brand and will develop the Panamera and future Bentleys, as well as a sports car platform for Porsche, Audi and Lamborghini. It will have a new wind tunnel, a design centre with a hundred new engineers and integrate electronics at Weissach.

Volkswagen Karmann Ghia


The European Union has approved Volkswagen’s purchase of bankrupt Wilhelm Karmann GmbH, according to Automotive News. This provides control of Karmann's divisions for car and components development, contract manufacturing, plant engineering and equipment and tool development. “Given (so many) considerable suppliers and Karmann’s moderate market share, the Commission concluded that car manufacturers would still have alternative suppliers,” according to the competition watchdog. Karmann filed for bankruptcy after it stopped making the Mercedes-Benz CLK in 2009.

Valmet of Finland took over roof-making in Osnabrück and Zary, Poland; Canadian Magna International acquired roof business in Japan, while Webasto gained Karmann’s concession for the US and Mexico.

Karmann made its name with the VW Beetle-based Karmann Ghia and VW has plans for cars at Karmann’s Osnabrück factory in Lower Saxony, starting next spring with a Golf convertible. Will it have the grace and style of a Karmann Ghia? VW CEO Martin Winterkorn had kind words. “Over the decades, some of the most beautiful models in the automobile world have left here. We will be carrying on this tradition from 2011.”

A definite maybe perhaps, yet it could scarcely have the perfect proportions of the little Karmann Ghia, over which I eulogised in my first ever motoring column. “It has faults in its handling,” which I apparently found easy to master. Well, no denying the perils of swing-axles. I can’t have been going fast enough.

Here is my test car of 1959
VW hit upon the idea of the sleek coupe in 1954 and the first were displayed the following year at European motor shows. Italian studios were all the rage and VW commissioned Carrozzeria Ghia, which created haute couture Cadillacs for Rita Hayworth and was in league with Chrysler. One of its less accomplished designs was the Chrysler Norseman, which took 15 months and $150,000 to build in 1956, before being shipped off to New York. Unfortunately it was on the Andrea Doria, which collided with the MS Stockholm off Nantucket and the Norseman went down with the ship.

Ghia assigned Luigi Segre to base a design on the VW platform chassis, with air-cooled flat four at the back. There was no question of competing with Porsches, which looked quirky and had only just got under way. Karmann made 444,300 up to 1974.


I had not quite got into my writing style in 1959. I was quite new.
Demonstrator cars had plastic seat covers; I was already into taking interior pictures. Right-click to read motoring column


Giorgio Giugaro


Giorgio Giugaro’s portfolio of car designs is without peer. I met him not long after he set up Italdesign in 1968 and found not only a talented artist but also an enthusiastic communicator. Flamboyant, arm-waving, Italian and despite his celebrity status he has the rare gift of making you feel worth listening to. And what cars. He worked at the Bertone studio from 1960-1965 creating memorable Alfa Romeos and Ferraris, and the exquisitely proportioned Gordon Keeble, a large British car that he somehow shrunk to a manageable size. Among his masterpieces were the BMW 3200CS and in 1965 a Mustang commissioned by Automobile Quarterly. From 1966-1968 he was with Ghia, producing the beautiful Maserati Ghibli. When he set up on his own he was able to pursue the distinctive ‘origami’ designs, which made him famous, such as the 1972 Lotus Esprit. Prolific Giugiaro’s flair spread from one-off haute couture to popular cars that became best sellers. He became a popular consultant to manufacturers in the developing industries of the Far East, not only producing cars that were the height of fashion but also, by virtue of their clever detailing, cheap to make. His work for VW on the Passat and Golf brought enormous commercial success, culminating it seems, according to the usually reliable Luca Ciferri, in a takeover.
My motoring column in The Sunday Times 24 April 1988

TURIN – Volkswagen AG will buy a controlling stake in Italy's largest design and engineering firm, Italdesign Giugiaro S.p.A., two industry sources confirmed to Automotive News Europe.
One of the sources said that an announcement could come as early as next week. Italdesign and VW representatives declined to comment.
The move is consistent with VW's plan to be the world's largest automaker by 2018 with sales of 10 million vehicles a year. To reach that goal, VW's 10-brand group, including Porsche, will need more designers and engineers. In 2010 alone, VW group plans to add 60 models, including upgrades.
Italdesign, co-founded by Giorgetto Giugiaro in 1968, currently has 975 employees and 800 computer aided design workstations. Most of the workers and equipment are based at the company's headquarters in Moncalieri, 15km south of Turin.
Italdesign is a private company entirely owned by Giorgetto Giugiaro, 71, who serves as chairman, and his son Fabrizio, 45, who heads the design and model division.
Both executives are expected to continue working at the company following the VW takeover.
Italdesign does not disclose its financial results. The most recent data available shows that in 2008 the company increased its revenues 6.2 percent to 136 million euros ($166 million) and reported an operating breakeven. Luca Ciferri

There is always something worth seeing on the Italdesign stand at Geneva.