Sunday, June 30, 2013

Driven Personalities - Peter Arcadipane


Back in 1997 a young Aussie car designer called Peter Arcadipane pushed a concept sketch to his then employer, Mercedes-Benz, for a coupe-sedan version of the CL coupe, to be badged the CLS.

Mercedes-Benz CLS

The management thought it was a bit radical, but then it took the brave step of greenlighting the car for production - after all Peter had designed original CL coupe.

Mercedes-Benz CL 600

Just three years later I'm told, Peter came up with another concept, which, although it went right through to what the car industry calls a 'see-through' model, it never made it into production.

But more on this later.

The significance of the development to the 'see-through' model stage needs an explanation. In the car design business the first concept sketch is often ignored. It's not seen as being important.

What was important with the CLS coupe-sedan concept - is that it went through all the processes of the system, from an initial sketch; then tape drawings; to a 'clay' model and finally to a full-size model which you can 'see right through' giving the viewer an accurate idea of how the car will look, full-size.

That last step is an important one for the car maker, as it's very costly, but almost guarantees the model is headed for volume production.

Porsche Panamera Clay (at rear), and first-stage 'see-through' 
This is the final and very important stage because, from a distance, the results look just like a real car. See-through models are hard models - either made from a light (almost balsa-like) plywood, or fibreglass/carbon fibre. They have a fake interior-- which removes all the mass and weight, that the clay model presents. 

'See-through' motor show concept car

They also have a much better painted finish, that the clay model lacks, but can cost upwards of a million bucks!

*   *   *   *

Peter and I first crossed paths back in 1973 when I was the Editor of MODERN MOTOR magazine and he was a budding young designer with Ford Australia. We spent many hours both in my Sydney office, and in various coffee bars in Melbourne talking about car design and the possibilities.

Even at that time his somewhat radical ideas for Ford's then-current range got turned down by management, but it didn't deter him. Peter's great skill was something that years later turned out to be much needed - he was an expert at conceiving NEW designs off existing platforms - thereby avoiding unecessary investment in developing all-new cars!

Then in 1981, when I was PR Director for Jaguar in Australia, he even presented me with a fantastic concept to turn the Jaguar XJ-S coupe into a hatchback, almost like the E-type!

Of course, the Jaguar design team in Coventry sniffed at the idea, but in the meantime Peter had won a place in the movie Hall of Fame by producing the car which garnered global fame, the 'Mad Max' special - built off a standard Falcon coupe platform!

The 'Mad Max' Special

Peter Arcadipane, I must say, was/is(?) a bit of a rebel. He clashed many times with senior design staff at various car companies, pushing his 'crazy' ideas, but here was a guy who really did think outside the square - every time.

I really admire his originality, his thorough thought processes, which worked around the financial advantage of preserving the basic platform and putting a new 'top hat' on it.

That's not to say he only thought about extending the life of existing models. He led the design team on the innovative Kia KCV II, shown in Paris in 2002.
Kia KCV II sketch

Kia KCV II Paris motor show concept

Mitsubishi Lancer 'Evolution X'

Peter has worked at Peugeot, Mitsubishi, Ford, Kia, Stola and a number of other companies, developing interesting, all-new cars, like the stunning Evolution X for Mitsubishi, but I believe he wrote his name in the automotive history book when he produced the smooth CL coupe for Mercedes-Benz.

Serious designers around the world stood back and took a deep breath when it debuted.

So, rewind to the start of this Post.

In 2000, Peter presented a design sketch and tape drawings for a 'Shooting Brake' version of the CLS to the Mercedes-Benz design management (that's a station wagon to you and me).

Sportbrake Tape Drawing
They liked it, and it too went the full distance, from sketch to 'see-through'. However, management was super-cautious about such a radical model, so it went on the back burner. 

To the basement of the design studio actually!

The whole box and dice was moved to the basement - not just the concept sketches, but the tape drawings, the full-size clay AND the see-through model! 

Guess what? Thirteen years later (after scouring the collection of deferred designs in the basement!) it's made it to the market.

Mercedes-Benz finally made the decision that this was a variant which could make money! So here it is - at last! Now, that's some gestation period.

The Mercedes Benz Sportbrake!

Recently Peter Arcadipane was appointed Head Designer at China's BAIC, with a brief to completely overturn the current model catalogue and thrust the company into global recognition, with models which compete in EVERY worthwhile segment, including territory currently occupied by Audi, Benz and BMW! What a juicy job for an innovative designer!

I wish him luck with this daunting challenge, and trust that having headhunted him, the BAIC management back his judgment.

Few car designers have enjoyed the breadth of experience, and the challenges of competing in a variety of segments which Peter Arcadipane has racked up, and I think his new post is a fitting reward for someone who has given us many memorable cars.

From the Mad Max madness and the Mercedes Benz CL and CLS - not forgetting the Shooting Brake of course! Just 13 years after he presented the concept sketches!

Better late than never!

Monday, June 17, 2013

Alfa Romeo 159 Replacement?

Sign Me Up!

If this rendering represents the replacement for Alfa Romeo's Tipo 159 then I think I want one!

Alfa Romeo Giulia Concept

The 159 has been a solid success for the FIAT Group and has soldiered on since it's Geneva reveal in 2005. However, it was not one of Alfa Romeo's finest cars. You could describe it as a 'Bit of a Bastard'!

World Premiere Tipo 159, Salon de l'Auto, Geneve, 2005

When the FIAT-General Motors merger was on the cards FIAT was looking to replace the Tipo 156, which had been very beautfully-styled by the now VW Group Chief Designer, Walter de Silva (who also produced the 147).

Alfa Romeo Tipo 156

At the time FIAT did not have a suitable 'platform' in development and GM offered the Italians a platform it had concocted, and intended to be used by Saab and Opel-Vauxhall.

GM's European companies kindly declined the offer, because they felt that the American-inspired platform was a bit clunky (meaning overweight). So this platform, which came from the USA, plus a bit of European input (a bit of this, and a bit of that) failed to find a home at GM.

FIAT jumped at the offer, and was not worried about the 'overweight' issue, as Alfa Romeo had indicated it might use the design as the basis for a Maserati V8-powered race car for the European touring car races (the platform strength being a bonus in controlling rigidity caused by the torquey V8). As it turned out Alfa Romeo could never raise the budget to go racing, so this platform ended up just being too heavy.

So the rather 'lumpy' platform was sent off to Torino to Ital Design for father and son, Giorgetto and Fabrizio Giugiaro, to weave some kind of magic, to produce the 159.
The Master! Giorgetto Giugiaro

And they did weave magic! As far as I'm concerned the Tipo 159 could be one of the most beautiful Alfa Romeo sedans ever conceived. It's a hard act to follow.

Especially considering that this Giulia concept was initiated within Alfa Romeo's Centro Stile studio - by the same guys responsible for the truly awful Mito and Giulietta - which are sad-looking cars (IMHO).

Having somewhat redeemed themselves with the 4C coupe, I think this 159 replacement is a pretty snappy looking car. We'll have to wait and see what transpires.
Alfa Romeo Giulia Concept - Photo from AUTO EXPRESS

Thursday, June 13, 2013

On Safari

From humble, post-war beginnings in 1950, when Toyota launched the Jeep BJ (its own version of the successful Willys Jeep),
Jeep BJ by Toyota
through until the present day, the Land Cruiser (renamed in 1953) has been sold all around the world in ever-increasing numbers, and in developing nations has become almost ubiquitous.

The first Land Cruisers were exported to Africa in 1958, when eight 4x4 trucks were imported into Angola. Since then the Land Cruiser has become the “4x4 du jour” across the continent, 

and there is now a major local assembly plant in Kenya.

In the early 1960s Toyota sent a small Land Cruiser project team to Africa to study the market and advise HQ on important modifications to improve its suitability for a country with poor, or non-existent, roads. Together with other small teams in Australia and the USA, the Land Cruiser has evolved from utilitarian workhorse to an 'accessorised' family car in many homes.

But, back to Africa. Today, anyone planning a vacation at one of the many private game reserves, can expect to get close-up to the animals perched in the back of a Land Cruiser.

It was so for me, in April 2013, when I visited the Kariega Game Reserve, just north of Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape.

The Author, at an Elephant afternoon tea

Kariega’s story is one of enterprise, love and respect for nature, and the determined resolve of two families (Rushmere and Fuller) to develop a prime model of a conservation-based game reserve. The re-introduction of a wide variety of animals native to the Eastern Cape, and successful regeneration of the land to pre-farming splendour has been going on since the first 660 hectares was purchased in 1989. Kariega now occupies 10,000 hectares and is home to Africa’s Big Five (Lion, Elephant, Giraffe, Zebra, Rhino).

We stayed at the rustic River Lodge, on the Kariega River, and with just ten accommodation places we joined small groups venturing out twice daily to catch the sights and get up close, and personal, with the animals.

I’ve selected just a small portfolio of photos from my ‘camera safari’ - but my memories are not limited by lack of space to share the results.

Lion Cubs waiting for a feed

"Look dear, this grass is yummy for white Rhinos"

Standing guard over the pride

Each day (6:30am and 4:30pm) we mounted the dark green Land Cruiser trucks to explore the reserve.


The roads are just tracks made by the trucks, and frequented by the animals, so the surface and condition is ‘variable’ - by that I mean, from relatively smooth, to deep ruts forcing us to slowly grind up and down steep hills in Low Range.
Animal Freeway!

The Land Cruisers handle the terrain easily, but the stiff spring rates ensured that our bums needed the padding of the seats! Somehow, that wasn’t what I would call comfortable. I’d say the padding was barely adequate, as we bounced around the reserve.

But, our ranger Zolani, skillfully navigated us across rolling plains and dense bush to find healthy and beautiful examples of the Big Five!

One day we parked just three metres from a big male Lion devouring the carcass of a Blessebuck!

Lion feast!

Post-lunch repose - It's Good to be The King!
Another day we stopped the Land Cruiser in the middle of a track as a family of elephants brushed past the truck, just millimetres from our jacket sleeves!
"Excuse us. Coming through."

Another day Zolani spent 30 minutes tracking a rare Black Rhino for us to photograph, 
Black Rhino

and later we sat, silently, waiting for a pair of hippos to raise themselves from the bottom of a bush pond.

"This is our pond. Right?"

It was a revelation to be able to sit safely in the company of such beautiful animals who are living in their natural surroundings, without fear of hunters. Sadly, not without fear from poachers, who manage to strike in even the most well-protected reserves.
Champagne at Sunset - Great way to end your day

One thing I should point out is that ‘professional hunting’ still goes on in Africa, and before animal rights activists rush to protest, it performs a useful service. The hunters pay a considerable amount of money to ‘remove’ old and ill beasts, and the money goes into improving conservation of the species’.

Mind you, I can’t fathom the personality of people who want to be led to a lonely bush location where they can kill a defenseless old lion! It takes all types!

Giraffe - at their most vulnerable

South Africa is a beautiful country, with many great assets, both natural, and man-managed. However, from my observation the post-apartheid period has seen the needle swing back as far to the other extreme as possible.

The economy is badly mis-managed, and the majority of the societies still suffer from tribal tensions and favouritism, lack of skills and job opportunities, as well as political populism. There are few skilled caucasian managers left, and many caucasian families, are leaving South Africa in droves, taking their skills, experience and expertise with them.

Despite the potential offered by some excellent universities, I believe it will continue to be the country’s biggest challenge; to properly educate (both academically and socially) the majority of its peoples, and to ensure the development of less opaque political management which can deliver stability and opportunity. If that doesn’t begin to happen soon, we will see an explosion of youth unemployment on a scale the world has never before witnessed.

However, let me tell you, all these serious matters pale into insignificance when you’re face to face with a roaring lion just metres from your Land Cruiser!

Love Wax!

After four years I remain firmly in love with my Alfa Romeo 159 1.9 JTD, and I am happy to go to considerable lengths to keep the ‘Rosso’ paint job as pristine as possible. Even using my own elbow grease!

I have been using an American-made spray-on wax finish called ‘FW1 Racing Formula’ which is described as a ‘cleaning wax’ - and I’ve been pretty happy with it. I apply it immediately after I have washed the car.

However, I’m always on the lookout for something simple, and DIY, that I can use to provide the paint job with additional protection, and a new product from 3M looks just the ticket.

3M has just announced the Paint Defender System, a new solution that, I think, is clever, accessible, and convenient. 

The spray-on paint protection application sprays on as a liquid, before drying into a clear, durable film. You can apply it in your garage.

3M offers this list of qualities:

·         Protects vehicles from rock chips, dents, scratches and other common road concerns for at least a year
·         Project can be completed in less than 30 minutes
·         Removes cleanly when the time comes to add a new layer – simply peel off
·         100% clarity and seamless finish
·         Available for less than $45 (in the USA)

Check out the Paint Defender System in action here:

Even though I am re-publishing parts of a 3M press release, I’m happy to post this on my Blog, because it’s cost-effective and easy to use, and useful for people as nutty about their car as I am.