Monday, March 21, 2022


 One of the key launchpads for the Ford Fiesta, was a book given to the media at the launch events called, "Let's Call It Fiesta", written by the eminent European journalist Edouard Seidler.

It was agreed that Seidler would follow Project Bobcat from the design sign-off (below), all the way through to the first production cars.

He was given absolute carte blanche to attend every stage of the project, and the book was one of the finest examples of cataloguing every development of the path a totally new car follows from concept to production.

Despite this intimacy with the project, Seidler's book is much more about the 'management' of the program, than design and engineering - because Fiesta was a car that split Ford's top management team in a complete schism.

In North America it was championed by Lee Iacocca and Hal Sperlich, but basically every idea they pushed for Ford to globally embrace the major benefits of the project - front wheel drive; fuel economy; competitive segment participation, and U.S. sales, was shot down by Henry Ford II.

It was also pushed at Boardroom level by the Head of Ford of Europe at the time Bill Bourke, above, (who went on to run Ford Australia). Seidler never set out to expose these differences, but simply by cataloguing all the developments, he exposed the rifts and intrigues.

When I met Uwe Bahnsen in Geneva he made it possible for me to also meet Seidler. I had enjoyed a correspondence-based relationship with Edouard, dating back to my time as Editor of MODERN MOTOR magazine, when he contributed a number of feature stories.

Edouard Seidler was a giant of European automotive journalism, as well as a keen motor sport reporter. He was also Editor of l'Equipe, France's leading sporting newspaper, for ten years between 1960-1970. Sadly, there are virtually no photos of Edouard to be found on the internet, just these two (above) from book covers.

His book, "Let's Call It Fiesta" is a benchmark in automotive editorial coverage of a major project for one of the world's biggest carmakers.


Sunday, March 20, 2022


I strongly doubt the name INNOCENTI means anything to young car enthusiasts today, but in the 60s and 70s it was the maker of two refreshing new designs on humble BMC small car platforms.

British Motor Corporation had launched the Austin Healey Sprite in 1958; then the Mini in 1960.


BMC had a joint venture with Innocenti, which started out in 1920 making farm machinery, then it became involved in the growing popularity for motor scooters, producing Lambrettas. Later the Italian company assembled BMC cars for the Italian market.


In 1958 a young Tom Tjaarda started work with Ghia, and his first assignment was to develop a two-seat sports car for Innocenti. The Italians thought the ‘Frogeye’ Sprite was too ‘awkward’ to appeal to Italians, so starting with the basic Sprite mechanicals, Tjaarda designed the Innocenti 950, in the end realising a very ‘Italian’ design, which was much more appealing than the Sprite.

It's a tribute to the design maturity of the 24-year-old Tjaarda that the lines of the 950 were both ‘classic’ and ‘contemporary’ at the same time. It’s a personal favourite of mine. The 950 was revealed at the 1960 Turin Motor Show and went into series production the following year.

Total production of the 950 Spider over its four-year life was around 6900 cars.


Between 1961 and 1971 Tom went on to design a staggering number of cars for both Pininfarina, and Ghia – including work for famous and diverse marques such as Chevrolet, Lancia, Ferrari, Mercedes, Fiat, De Tomaso, and even the original Bellett sedan for Isuzu.


It was in 1972 that Tom Tjaarda, in his second stint at Ghia,  penned the iconic Fiesta for Ford – a car that at last count had sold more than 15 million models worldwide – and is still in production.

From 1965-1975 Innocenti had been assembling the BMC Mini from ‘Knocked-down’ kits, but the Italian company decided it could improve on the somewhat ‘pedestrian’ British design. So Nuccio Bertone was briefed to create a smarter-looking car, with two doors and a hatchback. To keep things fair and square, Innocenti also asked Michelotti to produce a concept.


At Bertone the Mini assignment was handed to a talented young designer, Marcello Gandini, who had joined Bertone in 1965.

The Mini 90L and 120L were shown at the 1974 Turin Motor Show, and were an immediate smash hit – in Italy, and especially France. Potential demand in Britain was huge, but BMC did not want the Innocenti versions stealing sales from the original Mini.

Gandini’s lifetime design portfolio included far more exotic cars for Alfa Romeo, BMW, Citroen, De Tomaso, Iso, Lamborghini, Renault and Maserati – but in an interview in 2015 he said he retained a soft spot for the Innocenti Mini – and no wonder!

Who would have thought Alec Issigonis’s iconic Mini could look so sharp!

Leave it to the Italians.

Tom Tjaarda was just 24 when he designed the Innocenti 950 Spider, as was Marcello Gandini when he penned the Innocenti Mini.

Such tangled threads….



Thursday, March 17, 2022


Here it is, first quarter of 2022 in the USA, and gas-guzzling SUVs and Pickups accounted for almost 80% of the overall vehicle market last year – up from 55% a decade ago!

Buyers looking to avoid paying USD$4.33 a gallon for gas can only dream about the previous go-to vehicles, like fuel-efficient passenger cars and compact crossovers.

The new and used car inventories at U.S. dealerships for those vehicles is at an all-time low, as carmakers and the U.S. federal government push hard to eliminate ICE vehicles in favour of EVs.

However, whilst there is evidence of growing interest in hybrids and EVs, stocks of those are either thin on the ground, or at low levels of production in the case of EVs.

It seems there is nowhere to turn.

Ford Maverick Hybrid

Auto executives are bullish about EVs, but there’s a long way to go to fill the gap left by current ICE SUV and pickup owners contemplating ditching their gas-guzzlers.

In addition, the number of electric pickups and SUVs available to buyers is very limited, so owners of thirsty behemoths will have to put up with rising fuel prices likely over the next 2-3 years.

That will be the result from the Ukraine invasion cutting off oil from Russia; OPEC deciding not to increase output; lack of production from US shale oil fields, and Joe Biden shutting down the Keystone pipeline in the first days of his presidency.

However, gas prices are much worse in California, which is pretty much always the case.

Makes me think about my final weeks in the USA  back in 1994, before I returned to Australia, and although I was driving a Jaguar XJ12, I was buying gas for 99c a gallon!


Wednesday, March 16, 2022


As a long time student and apostle for car design I am always astounded by the tangled threads around the careers, and movements between companies, of many of my designer friends.


One such case involves a good friend (and a great designer), the late Tom Tjaarda. I have written on previous occasions about my respect and esteem for Tom’s work, which has touched many brands, but this time I was involved on two levels.


In 1972, with the 1973 oil crisis looming, Ford kick-started a job to design and build a new, small car, something which was anathema to Henry Ford II – who famously said: “Small cars equals small profits.”


'Project Bobcat' was designed from the ground up, after the success of the Renault 5 and the Fiat 127.


The Bobcat was to be built on a longer wheelbase than the Fiat 127, but would be shorter than the Ford Escort -positioning it in the European Supermini segment.

The design was overseen by the head of Design for Ford of Europe, Uwe Bahnsen, a likeable, talented and broad-minded guy who recognised Ford would need to dig deep into its design resources to create a highly competitive contender, so 

Bahnsen pushed the challenge out to a number of his young designers.

However, the final proposal was developed by, you guessed it, Tom Tjaarda, who was a leading light at Ghia. The car came to market in 1976 with the Fiesta badge. It’s interesting that many ideas from Tom’s original sketches became reality in the Fiesta’s first facelift.

Uwe Bahnsen came to Australia for a pre-launch publicity tour in 1976, when I was Editor of MODERN MOTOR magazine. Ford Australia set me up in Melbourne with an appointment to interview him.

We got along so well, that the planned two-hour interview, developed into a very enjoyable lunch prompted by Bahnsen, because he and I were on the same wavelength.


He went into far greater detail on both the design and engineering of the Fiesta than I could ever include in the planned feature, but he was full of praise for young Tom Tjaarda, and forecast a bright future for him.


I met Bahnsen again many years later in Geneva after he had retired, and we got re-acquainted over tea and scones in the Ford hospitality suite. He remained a genuinely humble man, highly supportive of young designers and never afraid to give praise when it was due.


Tom Tjaarda did go on to a highly successful career.

Born in Michigan, in 1934 to Dutch parents, he attended Birmingham High School, and studied architecture at University of Michigan. For his senior thesis he built a model of a sporting estate car, rather than a building design, but it won him an internship with Ghia. He moved to Italy in 1958 and basically, never left!


His first design for Ghia was the Innocenti 950. More on that in my next Post.


During his career Tom designed 66 cars for a variety of carmakers. His first posting after Ghia, was with Pininfarina, but later he returned to Ghia. His next job, in 1981, was Head of Fiat Design. He launched his own company Dimensione Design in 1994, working as a consultant.


He was honoured at both the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, and the Concorso Italiano in 1997, and continued to live in Turin until his passing in 2017.

Probably the best tribute to Tom and his work on the original Fiesta is this promo photo of Henry Ford II (the man who disdained small cars), posing with the first production car.

John Crawford

Friday, March 11, 2022


In the UK last year Ford Focus sales (in one of its strongest markets) dropped 50%; in the USA sales fell from a high of 270,000pa in 2012, to just under 10,000 cars in 2021. In Australia sales fell 56% during 2021.


If ever there was a benchmark for the decline in passenger car sales, then you’d have to say Focus is a bell weather. The Focus was one of Ford’s real success stories, and why not. It was a brilliant car, and although not quite on a par with the segment benchmark – Volkswagen’s Golf – Focus held its own in the compact hatchback segment. This was especially so in Europe and the UK, and to date Ford has sold well in excess of 12 million Focus variants.

The last Focus I drove was in Florida in 2016, and if I had paid my own money for it, I would not have been unhappy. The car performed well, delivered impressive economy and the interior looked sharp, was well-featured and comfortable.

On the road, it’s responsive, fun to drive and a satisfying family, or touring car. Behind the wheel I can’t help but remember Ford of Europe’s impressive Engineering Director, Richard Parry-Jones, who was responsible for the Focus’s agile handling and driving enjoyment.

It seems, from scoop photos which have appeared in AUTOCAR, that Ford is developing one more new Focus in Cologne, Germany. What’s the lifetime horizon on this disguised prototype? With the present car market deterioration, I would think, not long!


In the USA Taurus, Fusion, Fiesta and C-Max have been read the last rites, but Focus was expected to survive in one last generation model in the USA as the Focus Active, alongside the tearaway successful Mustang for perhaps one more generation.

However, Ford North America has since announced that Mustang will remain its only passenger car.


This time around though the falling sales cannot be blamed on the cars – in either design, function or form – it’s just the global swing to Crossovers and SUVs that has spelled the death knell.


Despite living happily and contentedly among Americans for just over 12 years I have never understood the big romance with big trucks. Maybe it’s just part of a cultural desire for everything to be BIG - big houses; big dinner servings; big boats; big bands and big trucks.


But, it makes me wonder – what’s next? When will the confluence of EVs, ICE, LEVs, hybrids, FCEVs, crossovers, passenger cars and big trucks finally take effect? 2050, 20??

What will be the solutions for sustainable personal mobility?


As far as I’m concerned, everyone’s tossing a coin in the air, waiting to see which side is up!


I’m convinced none of them know the right way to tackle the ultimate challenge, nor the inevitable transition to ‘something new’.  

So why don’t we all sit on the fence and see who survives.


Wednesday, March 9, 2022


The question is? Is Toyota a leader in Low Emission Vehicles (LEVs), OR, a red-hot racer company? It’s hard to tell sometimes!


We all know the head of the company, Akio Toyoda, is a rev-head, and advocate-in-chief of Gazoo Racing – based in Cologne, Germany.

Toyoda’s mission is for Toyota to build ‘better driving cars’, and he’s committed to being deeply involved in building the kind of car he ‘loves’ – barely-disguised race and rally cars.


On the other hand, there’s the almost constant flow of new models joining the company’s catalogue, wearing a HYBRID badge.


So, the next cab off the rank will be a GR version of the venerable Corolla nameplate, due in Australia next year, powered by the same giant-killing three-cylinder turbo engine which powers the Yaris.

It joins the GR86 and the GR Yaris.

Then there’s Toyota’s venture into the highly-sophisticated sector of the Low-E market, Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles (FCEVs), represented by the Toyota Mirai.

To complete the conundrum, there’s the Le Mans-winning GR010 Hypercar!

Whatever sort of company you think Toyota is, there’s always a surprise around the next corner. Remember Toyota’s motorsport history actually dates back 60 years!


And you thought Toyotas were just beige and boring! Think again.



Tuesday, March 1, 2022

THE MESS THAT MASI'S IN by John Crawford

There has been a lot of talk about the grand final of last year’s Formula One world championship.

Much of it has been totally uninformed, skewed with bias towards or against the two contending teams and their drivers.

Australia’s Michael Masi (right), a brilliant sports administrator from his earliest days, was the focus of a great deal of angst and abuse.

He has now been relieved of command, losing his place as Race Director in F1.
That’s led to even more uninformed commentary and a great deal of abuse.

So here is something to think about . . . 
Imagine the grand final of your favourite footie championship.
Imagine there is less than one minute to go and one of the players goes down with an injury, forcing a stoppage.
At this point, the coaches from the rival contenders for the title start harassing the lead official over a live radio link. It’s all being broadcast live, three views and up close, to millions at home.
They are screaming and yelling, each demanding that their point of view gets precedence when the game resumes.
Then one team moves a key player into position and, with no time left on the clock and no chance for the opposition to react, they score a winning point.
Does it sound familiar?

It’s the Abu Dhabi grand prix, except the situation at the Formula One decider could never have happened in the football world.
Coaches are not allowed to talk to officials. There is no live broadcast of any of the private conversations between players and officials.

Football referees (or umpires) do not act alone; even in soccer there are officials on the sidelines.
Almost every football code also has an ‘off-field’ official in a bunker to rule on contentious events.

Yet there was Michael Masi, alone in the F1 firing line . . . 
Up front, it needs to be said that Masi made a mistake - some people say two - in his application of the Formula One regulations at last year’s final race.
But should he have been sacked?

In this woke world, where was the support and the counselling for someone who became a worldwide target for anyone with an F1 gripe? Cyber bullying was rife, and the British motorsport press - many of them fans of Lewis Hamilton - sided entirely with the losing team.

It helped that many of them were listening to Toto Wolff, who has done a masterly job of building support for Mercedes-AMG, himself and Hamilton in the F1 world.

In Australia, where the majority of the F1 coverage comes from the UK - because we share a common language - the skew towards the British hero Lewis Hamilton was obvious.

When Hamilton failed to attend the FIA’s annual prize-giving, as required in the F1 regulations, he was not punished. Mercedes-AMG was not sanctioned for failing to provide a car for the official FIA photography, again as required by the regulations.

The FIA president, Jean Todt (left), walked away and left the problem to his successor, Mohammed Bin Sulayem (below left).

An investigation was promised, and completed, but the full report is not yet public.

Instead, Masi was singled out and punished.

But, look at the rest of the announcements by the new FIA boss and it’s easy to see that the system was flawed.

There will be two Race Directors on rotation for season 2022, a remote ‘adjudication’ crew, a new staff appointment to cover the track safety responsibilities that Masi had, and my good friend, 73-year-old Herbie Blash (right), is being brought back as a special advisor.

It’s hard to know the exact number, but it appears that six people - at least - will be doing Masi’s job.

That job, last year, included a pin-ball bounce around the world to act as Race Director, but also to ensure the circuit safety. So there were many, many transcontinental trips in addition to his commitments on F1 weekends.

Crucially, the television-friendly decision to allow live broadcasting of communications to Race Control - and access by team bosses like Toto Wolff and Christian Horner - has been reversed.

Masi has been offered another senior role at the FIA, but it’s hard to see him continuing. Perhaps he will come home to Australia, where he has worked successfully with Mark Skaife and was once being groomed to become the Race Director in Supercars.

Did Masi make a mistake? Yes.
Did the punishment fit his crime? Absolutely not.
Is he a scapegoat? You decide.

John Crawford & Paul Gover