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  •   Alastair Clements reacted to this post about 10 months ago
    One of my favourite characters from architectural history is Adolf Loos, a superlatively odd Viennese. Perhaps his greatest legacy is the city’s American Bar, a perfect jewel of a drinking hole: uncompromisingly modern, but also dark, intimate and charming. And a roaring success. Loos was a great aphorist as well as a great designer and one of his best aphorisms was ‘ornament is crime’.


    Quite correctly, I think, Loos believed that tattoos are a reliable indicator of depraved, criminal tendencies in the wearer. All of civilization’s progress, he said, could be measured by the rejection of decoration. Curlicue? Chuck it out! As an idiosyncratic independent, Loos belonged to no movement, he was a school of one, but his ideas flooded into mainstream Modernism.

    So when Jeremy Clarkson describes the #Audi-TT as 'Bauhaus’, a nod must be given to Loos. Jeremy paddles in a shallower end of creativity’s gene pool than Adolf, but acknowledgement of the Audi’s architectural clarity shows how far Loos’ ideas have penetrated the brackish waters of pop commentary. They have made half a million TTs, so it is not a classic in any definition that includes a concept of rarity, but nonetheless the TT is a design masterclass: one of the least tattooed vehicles you can find.

    It’s worth wondering why. Soon after its #1997 introduction, at dinner with J Mays (who has a very good claim to being the car’s author, although things are rarely quite so simple), J snatched my notebook and did some evocative scribbles that showed how the TT’s surfaces and profiles were derived from the pre-war #Auto-Union-Type-C . A few years later, Walter de Silva did something similar in explaining the evolution of the modern Audi face. That distinctive gaping mouth is also sourced in a historical memory of Dr Porsche’s Silver Arrow, which Nuvolari and Rosemeyer hassled around Europe’s circuits. Never mind that the TT was a Golf in drag, it was marvellous evidence of that German concept of Nachleben-. the after-life of things. Even the TT name refers to Audi’s parent #NSU and its successes in the Isle of Man bike races.

    Besides history, the TT drew inspiration from design theories inspired by Adolf Loos. The bold surfaces, confident radii and absolute refusal of frivolous detail were astonishing. But there were professional designer’s tricks too: cars almost always look good when front and rear overhangs are minimised (witness: #Citroen-DS , Mini) and the TT has overhangs so exiguous they scarcely justify use of the term. And those radii are as close to formal Bauhaus geometry of cubes, spheres and cones as manufacturing technology would allow.

    Difficult now to remember-especially as the car has, in Britain, become almost a spiritual successor to Everyman’s #MGB , such is its popularity - how thrillingly bold the original TT was. I once slowly drove a then-new #1999 cabrio past Charles Saatchi, a well- satisfied car enthusiast, and he almost fell off the kerb. I showed the interior designer Nicky Haslam the cockpit and he purred and tutted with approval. Couldn’t get him out. It was just like Harley Earl’s description of what a car’s cabin should be: a place making you think you are on vacation for a while. So sweet a thought captures the absolute essence of what designers aim to achieve.

    The original TT was one of the least compromised designs ever. It could be dismissed as designery indulgence, had it not been so successful. I asked J Mays about the #2006 successor. He said he admired it more, but loved it less. And now there is a third generation. With a lot of what the Germans call Forschung, a word that combines the notions of research and development, the new car manages that fantastic trick of appearing to be explicitly evolved from the original while being, at the same time, completely different in everything but spirit and quality of execution.
    Ornament is crime? Less is more? Form follows function? I adore these classic design tropes, but none can quite explain the intense attraction of the TT. Besides my admiration for its gloriously spare handsomeness, the latest car has extraordinary dynamic agility and a direct contact with the mystical idea of ‘driving pleasure’, rather lost ordinarily in my part of the Congestion Charge Zone. It is simply a delight to look at and to use, a marvel of practical aesthetics. And one of the very last: in 30 years time, hedonism will have been criminalised by tattooed busybodies and cars like the #Audi TT will have disappeared. #1995 #Audi-TT-Concept
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  •   Matt Petrie reacted to this post about 4 years ago


    Let’s face it, we all like an underdog, especially here in Britain. I suppose you can apply the idea of an underdog to motor vehicles. Without wanting to anthropomorphise inanimate motor cars, human beings have had a long and illogical relationship with their motors. A car is a strong reflection of its owner’s personality and position in society and there is no brand stronger than a motor vehicle. #Audi , #Bentley , #BMW , #Ferrari , #Mercedes-Benz , #Jaguar , #Porsche , #Rolls-Royce and so on spend a fortune burnishing their brand credentials and it works. Aston Martin was recently the coolest brand in Britain, ahead of #Apple , #Nike and #Rolex .

    People very seldom just purchase a ‘car’. They buy a product that reflects themselves. As the doyen of advertising David Ogilvy said: ‘You have to decide what "image" you want for your brand. Image means personality.
    Products, like people, have personalities.’ Sure, people buy cars based on price, but the mid-market 3-Series has long outsold the perfectly good #Ford-Mondeo - because it has a BMW badge on the front. And why do so many urban dwellers want a 4x4?

    Because a soft-roader is a lot cooler than a sensible saloon.

    Of course, those of us who are ‘into’ classic or historic cars have a real attachment: we actually love our old cars, which is faintly ridiculous, though also great fun and rewarding. Apart from the engineering and performance, classic car types are acutely aware about what their cars say about them. Both an E-type Jaguar and Mini are cool icons of the 1960s but are totally different, only having the fact that they are motor vehicles with four wheels in common, unlike a Morgan three-wheeler. Classic cars offer a wide canvas for tweedy types and Teddy Boys alike.

    But because classic car enthusiasts actually have a bond with their cars, they can see beyond just the brand image in a way drivers of modern cars don’t. Of course, modern cars are built to hammer down endless motorways and sit in traffic, whereas classics are for enjoyment. That’s why many classic car owners will often have an underdog in their garage along with a more recognised classic. As well as his C-type Jaguar and #Rolls-Royce-Silver-Ghost , the late Alan Clark MP also enjoyed A #Citroen-2CV and a #VW-Beetle (the latter admittedly with a #Porsche-356 engine shoehorned into the rear).

    Americans call these ‘trinket’ cars. Fiat 500 Jollys used to be trinkets but, now that owners of superyachts want them as tenders, they are priced like expensive jewels. I’m sure, like me, you have a soft spot for the automotive underdog, a classic that is not about the smart badge on the bonnet. The first time I drove a classic Mini I was shocked at how good it was on a tight road. It made the Porsche 356 I was driving at the time seem a bit numb. And years ago my father had an immaculate #Lancia-Aurelia-B20GT . To be fair it was the last of the line, a heavy sixth-series example. But when I raced him in my boxy, four-door #Alfa-Romeo-Giulia saloon, I’d blow his (two) doors off every time.

    As a member of the #Drive-My team I’m fortunate to get to drive some pretty impressive pieces of kit. And it is interesting to see quite how good some cars are - often the underdogs - and quite how lousy some of the supposed great classics can be. My good friend Ray Jones of Sydney, Australia, invited me to take part in the #Mille-Miglia with him in #1999 . We were to drive his #Chrysler-75 .

    Some in the vintage world look down on these Americans. Halfway through, #Bentley specialist Stanley Mann wandered over. ‘What sort of supercharger do you have fitted to the Chrysler?’ he asked (we’d overtaken his vintage Bentley a number of times). Ray opened the bonnet. Its two huge SUs and banana-branch exhaust header would have given your average VSCC scrute heart failure but there was no blower. Stanley was amazed. And the #Chrysler had excellent, original hydraulic brakes.

    In 2007, deputy editor Mark Dixon and I competed in the #Mille-Migila in a bog-standard #Triumph-TR2 , mustering just about 90bhp. Not powerful, but it handled well. In the mountains this light car was ace because of its overdrive gearbox, which operated on second, third and top. The #Triumph really annoyed a number of drivers of heavy Mercedes-Benz Gullwings with their wide-ratio gearing. Up the steep mountain roads we indulged in some of the most impertinent overtaking ever.

    Yes, it was a proper underdog.


    Robert grew up with classic cars, and has owned a #Lancia-Aurelia-B20GT , Alfa Romeo Giulietta and Porsche 356C. He currently uses his properly sorted #1955 #Jaguar-XK140 as his daily driver, and is a founding editor of this magazine.
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  • There was much office debate this month over the Wankel engine. Thanks to Mick Walsh enthusiastically researching his piece on the #Mazda #RX-500 , the rest of us discovered that we already knew a surprising amount about the ingenious rotary even before debating the two crucial questions: 1) why didn’t it take over the world; and 2) once it was clear it wouldn’t, why did (does) Mazda persevere? It had already watched the brilliant- in-theory unit kill off #NSU and then take #VW ’s #Audi NSU Auto Union wing to the brink. The first question - basically rotor-tip reliability and maintenance by people who didn’t understand it - was easier to answer than the second.

    Left: proud #Hoffman X-8 owner Myron Vernis on the #Pebble-Beach fairway where the car decided that it would not be driven by Elliott. Below: can anyone name another #X-8 equipped car, or something weirder?

    As ever, however, such a conversation soon turned into the usual mental Top Frumps between the Drive-MY team, this time the verbal trading cards being weirdest/most unlikely motor types and configurations used in road cars. Naturally, we ticked off jet-powered cars and propeller-driven fare pretty quickly, but when someone ‘stole’ the card I was planning to play - the should-have-been-but-never-was Doble-steam-powered #1953 #Paxton #Phoenix-it it reminded me of (I think) an even better one.

    The second car came to mind because, like the Paxton , it is owned by my good pal Myron Yernis. To understand the car, you need to understand the man. The superficially ‘normal’ Myron, mastermind of the Glenmoor Gathering in the US, is so obsessed with Porsche engines that he once bought a Stuttgart- powered ski-lift from Europe and shipped it to Akron, Ohio. He is a man so fascinated by the off-the-wall that he bought a Mazda Cosmo to be the run around at his Greek holiday home.
    Apart from perhaps the Lane Museum, therefore, it’s hard to imagine anywhere more appropriate for the wonderful Hoffman X-8 to wind up than with Myron. The what? The Hoffman X-8 - a futuristic, Deco-tinted utilitarian steel-monocoque saloon with independent suspension built by Detroit engineer Roscoe C ‘Rod' Hoffman in #1935 . As an aside, if I had a name like Roscoe, there’s no way I would want to be called anything else. Back to the car: it was given to Brooks Stevens and stayed in the designer’s museum even after his death and right up until #2010 , when it came to Myron.

    'Superficially "normal" Myron once bought a #Porsche ski-lift in Europe and shipped it to Ohio'

    It is a captivating little thing and, though slightly resembling a host of classics, for me it most looks like a Renault 4CV mated with a Stout Scarab. Best of all is its engine. Properly rear-mid-engined, it is a (sort-of) radial unit and I can’t think of another road car that went down this route. Perhaps with good reason. Ford certainly experimented with an air-cooled flat- head X-8, as did GM pre-war, and Honda is said to have investigated the possibilities for racing in the 1960s, but all clearly thought better of it. Hoffman, under commission (though no one is certain for whom) and having started filing patents for such a beast years earlier, pressed on with his water-cooled overhead-cam unit. You could argue that the single-cam X configuration of twinned V4s is not actually ‘radial' at all. For a start, it doesn’t have the odd number of cylinders that is de rigueur with four-stroke radials, but that’s enough science.

    Despite being 170cu in and supposedly good for 75bhp - when it works - the engine does not exactly drip power, being fed by a single twin- barrel carb and driving through a three-speed transaxle. But it sounds great, spitting through its pea-shooter exhausts like an amplified version of one of those miniaturised desktop model V8s.

    I know this because, thanks to Myron showing the Hoffman at Pebble Beach in #2012 , I have at least seen the car and heard it running. In fact, it created quite a stir and stopped Jay Leno and his XX crew in their tracks. Sadly, my planned drive and feature - most likely the first since Michael Lamm’s brilliant article for Special Interest Autos in #1974 - was thwarted when the clutch (which couldn’t be repositioned anywhere in the bay to get any hotter) gave out and we ended up gently pushing the car off the showfield.

    This was long after die red-trousered crowds had dispersed, of course, yet to see the Hoffman X-8 silently slipping away unnoticed despite all the furore it had caused earlier in the day struck me as probably the perfect epithet for the car’s place in motoring history.
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