Founded in Indianapolis, Indiana (USA) in 1851, the company originally was concerned with the manufacture of flour grinding mill equipment. Like many companies of the era, the lure and associated kudos of manufacturing automibles proved tempting, and in 1902 production began of a small quantity of experimental cars, then fitted with an air-cooled V-twin engine.
In 1903 came an air-cooled V4, and experimental V6 and V8 engines were to follow, until the company developed the engine for which they are best known, the straight engine design. The 1909 Model 32 morphed into the Wasp, which would take out the famous Indianapolis 500. The Wasp would also take the honours as being the first ever car to be fitted with a rear view mirror.
The 1916 Model 34 was a highly advanced iteration, using aluminium not only for the straight-6 engine, but also the body and chassis. The car weighed in at a remarkable (for the time) 1495kg, the resultant power to weight ratio enabling the Model 34 to be driven from coast-to-coast as a puclicity stunt, and in doing so beating Erwin "Cannonball" Baker's record.
In 1929 Marmon introduced their most famous model, the sub US$1000 "Straight-8" Roosevelt. It should have been a great success, but the timing could not have been worse. Following the stock market crash that year, the company was beset with inevitable financial problems, and Howard Marmon's development of a V16 engine was a costly exercise at a time when excessive developmental expenditure was ill afforded.
Marmon also lost some of its best engineers, such as Owen Nacker who defected to Cadillac, and James Bohannon who went to Peerless. Both Cadillac and Peerless would use their talents to help develop a competitive V16, with Cadillac taking line honours.
Nevertheless the Marmon 16 did make it to market, the 8.0 litre engine producing 200 bhp (149 kW), very respectable figures for the time. But with the Great Depression in full swing, there was little market for such a large and expensive luxury vehicle, and only 400 would be manufactured over a three year period. By 1933 Marmon were on the ropes, and decided to discontinue automobile manufacture, instead manufacturing car parts and trucks.
There were no less than five Maserati brothers involved in the racing of both cars and motorcycles. Alfieri, Bindo, Ettore, Ernesto and Mario made up the Maserati dynasty, tragically sixth brother Carlo died in 1910 and there was even a seventh brother that died at birth. In 1926 the five brothers built their first 1.5 litre racer, and soon after Alfieri had a class win in the Targa Florio. Technically speaking, there was a Maserati car manufactured in 1925 for Turin manufacturer Diatto, this being manufactured as a Grand Prix car, however this was sleeved down to produce the first 1.5 litre Maserati.
At first the brothers concentrated on the exclusive manufacture of racing cars, however in 1932 Alfieri was tragically killed in a racing accident. Mario left the business to become an artist, leaving three to carry on, however by 1937 the company was struggling and industrialist Adolfo Orsi gained a controlling interest. The remaining brothers would sign a ten year consultancy agreement, however on its expiry they left the company to form OSCA sports cars. Orsi and his son Omer were forced to find somebody extremely talented to fill the void left by the departure of the Maserati brothers, and a genius they did find, in one Gioacchino Colombo (who had already gained experience at both Ferrari and Alfa Romeo). He would oversee production of masterful race cars such as the 250F, which Juan Fangio piloted to victory in the 1957 Driver’s Championship.
That same year the company released their first real road car, the 3500GT coupé. By 1966 the road-going line-up had swelled in number, to now include the Quattro Porte saloon, Mexico V8 coupe and Ghibli. These were all more traditional front engined cars, and Maserati being the company that they were (and still are) needed a mid-engined iteration to take the fight up to Ferrari – and thus begat the wonderful Bora V8 of 1971. In 1971 the Orsi sold their interest to Citroen, who wanted access to the technology of high performance engines to enhance the engineering on their upcoming SM coupe.
In fact, the SM was quite a car, affording the best of French road-going design with one of the sweetest V6 engines under the hood, courtesy of Maserati. Citroen bailed in 1975, allowing Alejandro DeTomaso (with some financial backing from the Italian government) to take control, however it was always a struggle for survival for the company. Nevertheless some fantastic sheet metal left the company, such as the Kylami coupe, Khamsin 2+2 and V6 engined Merak. In 1993 the company was taken over by Fiat.
Made the jump from aeronautical engineering contractor to car manufacturer in 1964 when it assumed control of René Bonnet sports cars. Thus the René Bonnet Djet was sold as a Matra, but when production switched to their new facility at Romorantin the company would launch the M530, a svelt Ford V4 powered coupé. Built Formula 1 cars through the 1960's, even getting the backing of both the French government and oil giant Elf to develop a new Formula 1 car.
Production vehicles were, unfortunately, obtaining only mediocre sales success, more because of an almost non existant dealership network than having a poor product. Forced to combine with Simca, creating Matra-Simca in 1969. The first car of note from this union was the mid-engined Bagheera sports of 1973, featuring a 1.3 litre engine transversly mounted inside a fibreglass body. Then followed the mainly Simca derived 4x4 Matro Rancho, and in 1980 the steel bodied Murena sports, now fitted with a more sporting 2.2 litre Chrysler engine. In 1983 it left Peugeot-Citroen to join forces with Renault, creating the Espace and with it the catch phrase "people mover".
Mazda is one of the great success stories of recent automotive history. While car manufacture did not begin until 1960, the Hiroshima based Toyo Cork Kogyo company had been in existence since 1920, concerned with the manufacture of motorcycles, machine tools and drilling equipment. In 1931 the company began the manufacture of a light truck, and was renamed Mazda, both in recognition of its founder Jujior Matsuda, and in honour of Mazda, the god of light.
In 1940 a prototype car was manufactured, but the countries incursion on Pearl Harbour put pay to any automotive aspirations of the day. Amazingly the Mazda facility would only suffer very minor damage after the B-29 “Enola Gay” dropped the “little boy” atomic bomb, although truck production did not re-commence until the 1950’s. The first Mazda car was released in 1960, a micro car powered by a V-twin air-cooled 21.72ci 356cc engine. Immensely popular (and affordable), the company would sell 20,000 in the first year. The next model inevitably grew in size and stature, the P-360 now featuring a water-cooled engine and available in either 2 or 4 door body styles.
Then came the Familia, a 4 door sedan fitted with a 782cc four cylinder engine; outwardly the car looked very conventional, but look a little closer and you could see the Mazda engineers had thought outside the square, the engine being manufactured from light alloy and the options box including either a 4 speed manual or 2 speed automatictransmission. The Familia was responsible for not only raising the profile of Mazda in it’s home market, but for pushing it to third place on the Japanese sales charts, some 80,000 being sold in 1965 alone.
Bertone was commissioned to style a larger variant to help fill out the Mazda line-up, the 929 (also known as Cosmo or Luce) was fitted with a 1.5 litre engine, but again there was a difference, this time the options box included a very unusual offering – the Wankel rotary. Mazda had for some time shown interest in the rotary engine, and had finally bought a licence from NSU to build their own version after shipping samples from Germany. The first Mazda to be fitted with a rotary was the Cosmo 110S coupe, it also sharing the honour of being the first mass-produced rotary powered car in the world. By 1978 Mazda had sold over 1 million rotary powered cars.
Most historians agree that Karl Benz's first prototype of 1885 was the worlds first petrol-powered car. Benz was to start out working as a carriage builder and at a stationary engine manufacturer, where he quickly thought it a good idea to combine the two to make a better mode of transport. It would take him 5 years, and a couple of partners (allowing him to concentrate on his engineering) to see the first Benz tricycle reach limited production. This three-wheeler morphed into the four-wheel Viktoria in 1891, forming the basis for van and bus versions.
The four-wheel version became very popular, and by the turn of the century Benz was the largest automobile manufacturer. Fierce competition from other manufacturers would see Benz leave the company bearing his name, in favour of Hans Nibel, who soon embarked on a motor racing effort that would once again raise the companies profile. Most noteable was the "Blitzen-Benz", powered by a 21.5 litre airship engine! Designed to hold the land speed record, it not only achieved it but would hold the record for another decade. Economic hardship following World War 1 forced Benz to merge with another German manufacturer, Daimler.
The initial success of the Ford empire was clearly due to Henry Ford’s decision to keep things simple, in design, application and model line-up. But by the 1930’s competition was forcing Ford to do a major re-think of this strategy, and a move to a more up-market offering would also require the establishment of a different division, a brand that offered clear differentiation from Ford. Lincoln catered to the top tier, but for the burgeoning middle ranks Mercury would take the lead. In fact, the jump from the more humble Ford V8 to the Lincoln Zephyr was quite substantial, so Edsel Ford together with sales chief Jack Davis came up with the Mercury Eight.
An overnight sensation, the car would sell over 70,000 in 1939 and make it a household name in the US. Taking the middle ground between Ford and Lincoln, it inevitably drew upon the enormous parts bin of both divisions. The 1941 Mercury used a Ford body shell, then after World War 2 the Mercury Type 72 Coupe used a Lincoln body shell. The 1960 Comet used a Ford Falcon body, and the Cougar two door coupe of 1967 would become an almost direct competitor to the Mustang. The DNA would turn distinctively Ford, the Cougar really being a Thunderbird with slightly different sheet metal, and during the 1980’s and 1990’s the identity of the marque would become less prestigious.
Willy Messerschmitt would join the Bavarian Aircraft Works (BFW) in 1927 as chief designer and engineer. Willy was a firm believer in the notion of “light weight construction”, taking separate load-bearing parts and merging them into a single re-enforced firewall, thereby saving weight and improving performance. The BF108 “Taifun” sports-plane would soon make the theory fact, it going on to set numerous speed records.
The Luftwaffe watched the engineering triumphs of Willy Messerschmitt with considerable interest, and following the success of the Taifun the company was invited to submit a design for the 1935 fighter contest. Their entry was the incredible BF109, arguably the best fighter of World War 2. Willy Messerschmitt would become a favoured son of the Nazi party, and Messerschmitt AG was established with their backing on July 11, 1938.
With the renaming , the company's RLM designation changed from “Bf” to “Me”, although existing iterations, such as the Bf 109 and 110, retained their earlier designation in official documents. After World War 2, the company was not allowed to produce aircraft, and like Heinkel they turned their attention to the manufacture of a cheap three wheeled bubble cars, known as Kabinenroller (cabinscooter).
The KR175 / KR200 were built in a time of post war austerity, and despite the many drawbacks of such a vehicle those that owned one were considered very fortunate. rumours abounded that the Messerschmitt’s were being constructed from old aeroplane parts, but this was untrue. Nevertheless the Fritz Fend designed bubble cars would reach cult status, a red KR200 even being owned for a time by Elvis Presley. The cars were actually made by Fritz Fend's own company in the Messerschmitt works at Regensburg, Willy Messerschmitt having little to do with the vehicles other than ruling that they carried his name.
Fend's aircraft influence certainly showed itself in his desire to achieve a light yet stiff frame with low wind resistance from the tandem seating with aerodynamic steel body. This resulted in a surprisingly high performance from 175 and later 200cc single cylinder two-stroke engines. Some would say that his ultimate achievement with the Kabinenroller was the four-wheeled TG500 or 'Tiger' with a twin cylinder 490cc engine capable of higher speeds and sports car handling. However, there is little doubt that the best developed and most successful was the three-wheeled KR200. Production of the KR200 ceased in 1964.
Cecil Kimber, then General Manager for Morris, is credited by most as pioneer of the MG brand after he instigated the manufacture of the Morris Cowley. In 1924 the Morris Oxford would prove valuable as a donor car, used to form the basis of a small series of sporting four-seaters. Sanctioned by William Morris (owner of both Morris Motors and Morris Garages), Kimber's sporty new car would be dubbed the MG Super Sports. Grew out of its premises and moved to Edmund Road, not far from the big Morris factory in Cowley, and then again in 1929 to a disused leather factory at Abingdon.
In 1928 introduced the 18/80 model, this time only the Morris engine remained, the chassis and coachwork entirely MG. Corporate changes in 1935 saw Morris take direct control of both Wolseley and MG, and the Abingdon design department was closed. After World War 2 began the manufacture of the wonderful TC sports-car, it being a very lightly modified TB. Although the TC was produced only in right-hand-drive, it introduced MG to the important US market.
Little known and relatively short-lived auto manufacturer from Belgium, but was for a time the chosen brand for the Kings of Norway, Sweden and naturally enough Belgium (and it is reported that Henry Ford once drove one). Founded by Sylvain de Jong, a bicycle manufacturer, who progressed to making cycle-cars, then two, four and the whopping 6.2 litre 6 cylinder models.
After World War 1 began exporting their larger cars to the US. Upon Sylvain de Jong's death in 1928 the company quickly lost direction, and despite many attempts to prevent its collapse, including intervention by the Belgian government, it would cease automobile manufacture at the outset of war. Lingered on for a time, through the war creating commercial vehicles and then a 4x4 in 1955.
Mitsubishi is one of the largest companies of the world, and automobile manufacture makes up only one part of the conglomerates empire. It was originally established in 1870 as a shipping concern, then became one of the pioneering Japanese automotive manufacturers when it manufactured its first car in 1917 – only around 20 of the Fiat designed Model A would be manufactured before the company decided to concentrate on other endeavours in 1921, including the manufacture of trucks and buses.
It spent many years manufacturing the infamous A6M “Zero” fighter which rose to prominence in World War 2, then it would take until 1953 before the company again ventured in the automotive arena, this time building Jeeps under licence. In 1959 came the 500, a typical Japanese micro car that used a three cylinder 2 stroke engine. Renamed the Colt, it would inevitably grow in size from the fastback 800 to the 1100 saloon.
In 1966 Mitsubishi attempted to launch their large six-cylinder “Debonair” in Australia, it brimming with standard kit such as air-conditioning, automatictransmission, electric seat adjustment and a self-seeking radio, however it came at a time when Australians chose to buy Japanese for only one reason – their low price – and it proved far from successful.
During the 1970’s the company showed some bold initiative, releasing the stylish Galant coupe in 1974, and later developing the “Astron” engine, which featured a balancer shaft to smooth out unwanted vibration, an unwanted characteristic of nearly all 4 cylinder engines up until that time. Export markets came courtesy of a tie-in with US manufacturer Chrysler, the Mitsubishi’s being re-badged as Chryslers to enable the company to bolster their product offering.
The first Sigma’s offered in Australia were re-badged as Chrysler’s, but when financial problems beset the giant Chrysler Corporation Mitsubishi Motors Australia Limited were ready to assume control. The company inherited a dynamic team of engineers, designers and managers, many of whom had worked with Chrysler since its Australian inception.
Established in Switzerland in 1967 by Peter Monteverdi who, during the late 1950s and early 1960s, had built, sold and raced a number of "specials" while developing the motor vehicle repair business founded by his father. In 1967 Peter decided to undertake series production of exclusive high performance luxury sports and touring cars. The first model, the 2-seater Monteverdi High Speed 375S coupe, was launched at that years Frankfurt Motor Show to critical acclaim.
Designed by Pietro Frua it featured aluminium body panels over a square-tube space frame, a De Dion rear axle, and was powered by a Chrysler V8 engine delivering 380 bhp. Other '375' models were introduced in subsequent years, all featuring the same basic layout but with variations in wheelbase and power outputs and including 2+2, 4-door 4-seater, and 2-seat convertible versions.
A smaller BMW based 2000 GTI model was shown in 1969 but failed to make production.The high point came with the mid-engined 2 seater Monteverdi Hai 450, first shown at the 1970 Geneva Salon. But the proglem with the Hai was the cost, it far exceeding that of competing Ferrari and Lamborghini models. Out of the reach of almost the entire world population, only 2 are believed to have been produced. From 1976 the high-performance models were discontinued and Monteverdi concentrated on Safari, Sierra and the Sahara, based on International Harvester's Scout II and Traveller series.
These models sold in greater numbers than the preceding sports cars and remained in production until 1982. Then between 1980 and 1982 Monteverdi would manufacture their own unique version of the 4 door Range Rover, however despite ambitious plans for subsequent models production would cease in 1982, and the factory was converted into a museum, the Monteverdi Car Collection, in 1985.
Following his training with the Great Western Railway, Morgan would set up a car dealership in Malvern Link, Worcestershire. Here, and in his spare time, the young Morgan would build his own iterations, one such three wheeled version using a Peugeot engine and independent front suspension. Believing in the genius of his son, Morgan’s clergyman father would finance the establishment of the Morgan Motor company in 1910, then manufacturing the now famous 3 wheelers using JAP engines. Immediately successful, the company would hit a production high of 1000 by 1914, then after World War 1 sales would boom, particularly with the release of the four-seater “Family Morgan” of 1919.
The V-Twin engine proved tractable and powerful, and would quickly garner legend status with those of a racing inclination. The first “four-wheeler” came in 1935 with the release of the 4/4, the company forced to add the extra wheel when it became evident the time of the 3 wheelers was coming to an end. The final 3-wheeler was manufactured in 1952, and the 4/4 was replaced by the 2.1 litre Plus Four in 1950. H.F.S. Morgan would pass in 1959, however he left the company to his four daughters and son Peter. Many thought the company would soon fold, but instead it would flourish. The Rover V8 powered Plus 8 was released in 1968, it using design cues from the original 3 wheel two seat design of 1910.
We are all familiar with Henry Ford, and the impact he had on the mass production of the automobile. Lesser known perhaps, but providing a similarly important role to the British car industry was William Morris (later Lord Nuffield), who believed firmly in the need to produce cheap cars for the masses. Morris himself started out manufacturing motorcycles, but his attention soon turned to automobiles, and he was determined to make his company a success. The first iteration was the 1912 Oxford, named after the nearby city of Oxford (the Morris factory being at Cowley). But the Oxford moniker was soon replaced by the rather less attractive name “Bullnose” by most, because of the distinctive rounded radiator grille. Powered by a small White and Poppe four cylinder engine producing 10hp (7.5 kW), only 1000 would be manufactured before the outbreak of war. Next came the larger Cowley, which used a 1.5 litre US built Continental engine, and then after the war both cars had their engine capacities upgraded. As production methods were streamlined, costs inevitably fell, and instead of the savings being consumed by greedy executives they were instead passed on to the buying public.
The Cowley, albeit with a slightly lower level of trim, had £100 slashed from the price, a huge sum at the time. Inevitably there was an increase in demand, and with the added cash-flow Morris set about the strategic acquisition of key components suppliers, including Hotchkiss engines, Wrigley transmissions, SU carburettors and Hillock and Pratt bodies. The “Bullnose” radiator would be dropped in 1927, replaced by a less distinctive but more traditional flat design. The “Empire Oxford” was designed for export to the then British Empire, it featuring a 2.5 litre six cylinder engine mated to a four speed gearbox and worm final drive. In 1934 hydraulic brakes were introduced across the range, and larger versions appeared such as the long wheelbase Ten-Six and top of the range 3.5 litre Twenty-Five. The trusty Minor was replaced by the side-valve Eight in 1935, and was available in saloon or open tourer models.
The Eight was replaced by the E Series just before the war, and all models would go back into production following the cessation of hostilities. But the best would come in 1948 with Alec Issigonis masterpiece Morris Minor. Designed by Issigonis and A. V. Oak, it was originally intended to be a front wheel drive flat four iteration, but time constraints meant the design retained the old 918cc side valve rear-wheel-drive configuration. But it was technically well advanced, offering rack-and-pinion steering, independent front suspension, unitary construction, a roomy interior, excellent handling and great fuel economy. In fact, it was such a hit that it would remain in manufacture right up until 1971! Morris merged with Austin in 1952, forming the British Motor Corporation (BMC).
The Austin overhead-valve engines were favoured over the older design Morris side valve units, the Minor now equipped with a 49ci 803cc engine taken from the Austin A30, the 1954 Cowley received the 73ci 1.2 litre B Series, and the Oxford received the 1.5 litre version. Over the next few decades, the Austin and Morris cars became increasing an exercise in badge engineering, being virtually identical versions of the same thing. This was never more evident that with the other Alec Issigonis masterpiece, the Mini, that was available as either the Austin Seven or Morris Mini Minor. The last “Morris” only iteration was the woeful Marina, the victim of British automotive industry upheaval during the 1970’s. Build quality was non-existent, and it would tarnish a marque better known for producing high quality affordable automobiles for the masses.
Mors was one of the best known of French automobiles at the turn of last century, it making its sporting debut in the Paris-Dieppe race of 1897 when driven by Emile Mors. This first outing would herald the start of a long and torrid struggle with Panhard. The first Mors had an 850cc two-cylinder engine at the back, with belt drive and magneto ignition. Next year there were water-cooled V4's, but these were not quite enough to make them terribly competitive, even the Peugeot twins were quicker. By 1899 the Mors were up to 7.3 litres, this being enough to help them take out the two biggest automotive events of that year, the Bordeaux-Perigueux-Bordeaux at 48.4 mph (77.89 km/h), and the Paris-Toulouse-Paris. For the first time, Panhard had to take a back seat...and Mors were not going to stop there. Their next engine grew in capacity to a whopping 13.6 litres.
etter yet, the mechanical specifications of the Mors was fairly advanced for the time, the inlet valves being mechanically operated, however they did stick with the use of a chain drive. There last great victory however would come in 1903, in the Paris-Madrid race. Mors' very last effort was in the 1908 Grand Prix car, a 12.8 litre ohv four-cylinder iteration, still with magneto and chain drive, but alledged to boast a credible 100 bhp. The factory team achieved nothing, and their attempted come-back in 1914 with a 2.5 litre sleeve-valve engine was frustrated by the war. In 1921 Malcolm Campbell was the English agent, he running a 3.5 litre Knight engined car at Brooklands. By now, however, the Mors name meant little to most car enthusiasts, and even the great man himself had to quit his agency. The company struggled on until 1925.