The last-minute cancellation of the 2020 Geneva Motor Show due to Coronavirus concerns is a huge blow for a motor industry that is already reeling from the impact of reduced supply of Chinese-source components (and collapsing Chinese new car sales). But also for car enthusiasts and the local economy, with hotels, restaurants and so on usually thriving during the Salon fortnight.
The eight best cars from the Geneva Motor Show... (1975) – Axon's Automotive Anorak
Debuts at this year’s 90th edition of the Geneva Salon were due to include a number of new electric models, SUVs and niche hypercars, as well as the ultra-rare event of an all-new Morgan; the CX-Generation that the plucky Malvern manufacturer boldly chose at to unveil at its HQ on Monday evening at near-zero notice, recalling the car from Geneva over the weekend. Chapeau to Morgan. Very enterprising, and very Morgan.
Other 2020 Geneva debutants that lost out on their 15 minutes of fame at the Salon due to the Covid-19 virus range from the new Seat Leon, Hyundai i20, Volkswagen Golf GTI and Audi A3 Sportback, to the latest luxury Mercedes-Benz E-Class, DS 9 saloon and Bentley Bacalar, the high-performance Porsche 911 Turbo S, Czinger 21C, unknown Apex AP-0, BAC Mono 2, Rimac C_Two and Pagani Imola, plus a ton of crossovers and SUVs, including new Kia Sorento, Aiways U6ion and Aston Martin DBX Q.
Some interesting concepts like the BMW i4, Renault Morphoz and Hyundai Prophecy were also due to grab our attention in Switzerland, but alas... We may now have to wait until July to see some of these new models featuring at the 2020 Goodwood Festival of Speed presented by Mastercard.
In the absence of the chance to report on some of the would-have-been stars of the 2020 Geneva Salon, I’ve chosen to turn the clock back 45 years and reflect on a few of the many interesting new models that were first revealed at the 1975 Geneva event, a stand-out Swiss Show that I avidly recall reading about as a car-crazy kid in the black and white pages of Motor magazine.
For the time, the 1975 Geneva Salon had an uncommonly high number of new model unveilings, with eight important and/or interesting show debutants, highlighted as follows:
1. Rolls-Royce Camargue
The undoubted star of the 1975 Geneva Show was the new, but controversial, Rolls-Royce Camargue. An elegant (to some) and decadent luxury coupe, styled by Pininfarina’s Paolo Martin, the designer of the more accomplished (and clearly related) Fiat 130 Coupe, rumour has it that the Camargue design was presented to Rolls-Royce by Pininfarina after Fiat rejected it for the 130 Coupe!
When revealed at Geneva, the Camargue was the world’s most expensive new car, costing a mind-blowing £29,250 in March 1975, more than twice the price of Rolls-Royce’s contemporary Silver Shadow. The Camargue’s pioneering dual-level automatic climate control system (a world first) was said to account for a significant portion of the model’s extortionate cost.
Initially adopted by top-draw celebs of the day (singer Shirley Bassey used to open her Saturday prime time BBC1 TV show behind the wheel of her Camargue), the marmite Rolls-Royce coupe ultimately proved to be a low-volume niche seller, with just 531 examples produced over its eleven-year career.
2. Triumph TR7
After the proud lineage of hairy-chested Triumph TR open-top sportscars, the effete closed TR7 coupe came as something of a shock to the traditional string-backed gloved, real ale-drinking driving enthusiasts.
Launched at the height of Leyland’s union disputes and quality control issues, the extreme wedge styling of the Triumph TR7 (created by Harris Mann, the creator of the controversial Austin Allegro and Leyland Princess) certainly attracted attention, the venerated Italian vehicle styling genius Giorgetto Giugiaro reportedly exclaimed “My God, they haven’t done that on the other side I hope?!” upon seeing the acute swage line carved into the side panels of the TR7 for the very first time at the Geneva Salon.
Already revealed in the vital USA market in January 1975 ahead of its European debut at Geneva (the proposed US legislation outlawing soft-top cars being the reason behind the TR7 having a coupe roof), Triumph’s new sportscar was initially an American sales hit, with UK and European buyers having to wait until May 1976 for deliveries to commence, due to high North American demand.
Poor quality control and insipid performance from the Triumph’s 105bhp four-cylinder two-litre engine soon hurt sales however, with Leyland soon introducing improvements to keep the model saleable, the key enhancement being the introduction of a Convertible model in 1979 once the rumoured American soft-top ban failed to materialise.
In the North American markets much needed extra grunt arrived in late 1977 with a Rover V8 engine shoehorned into the Triumph to create the TR8, a derivate that was finally set for UK and European launch just as Leyland pulled the plug on all TR7 production in 1981. In all, around 135,000 TR7s and derivatives were built (in three different Leyland factories!), making this oft-maligned model the most successful of any Triumph TR sports car.
3. Vauxhall Chevette
General Motors (GM) first ‘world car’ project was the GM T-Car, initially revealed as the Chevrolet Chevette saloon in Brazil in 1973, with the German Opel Kadett T-Car derivative launched for Europe a few months later.
GM’s British division, Vauxhall, had to wait a while longer to introduce its own version of the global T-Car. The result was the Vauxhall Chevette, the UK’s first hatchback model (pre-dating the Ford Fiesta and Austin Metro), as revealed at the 1975 Geneva Salon.
Vauxhall was given the global lead by GM to develop a hatchback derivate of the T-Car platform, the three-door Chevette spawning the subsequent Opel Kadett City, plus American and Brazilian Chevrolet Chevette hatchback and Pontiac T1000 models.
The three-door Chevette hatch was later joined by two- and four-door saloon models, plus a three-door estate and Bedford Chevanne derivatives, making this one of the most popular and fondly-remembered Vauxhalls to-date.
4. Peugeot 604
Peugeot’s first prestige post-war range-topping model, the handsome Pininfarina-styled 604 was a refined executive saloon powered by the then-new PRV V6 engine, jointly developed by Peugeot, Renault and Volvo, hence PRV.
The square-cut 604 attracted instant acclaim at Geneva for its restrained but elegant design and plush interior fittings. Post-Salon, early road tests praised the big Peugeot’s ride and refinement, the former being hailed as superior to the contemporary Jaguar XJ6 and Mercedes-Benz S-Class; high praise indeed!
In those halcyon days, pre-brand snobbery, the 604 proved that an suave executive saloon didn’t have to carry a German prestige badge to succeed, a very different situation to today where a brand name on the grille and boot lid now stands for too much (as the would-be 2020 Geneva debutant French DS 9 saloon may yet prove as it battles against its Audi, BMW and Mercedes rivals).
The Peugeot 604 D Turbo of 1979 was the first turbo-diesel powered car to be sold in Europe, this pioneering combination quickly becoming the norm for most diesel engined cars, including the 604’s domestic French rivals, the Citroën CX and Renault 30, the latter as described now.
5. Renault 30
With the avantgarde Citroën CX launched just months earlier, and still causing a sensation at its first Geneva Show appearance in 1975, Renault’s response to its svelte Citroën rival was the brand new 30 TS V6; a pleasant, if somewhat bland, five-door hatchback rival pre-dating subsequent executive hatches such as the Rover 3500 SD1 and Audi 100 CC Avant.
The new 30 TS sat atop the popular R16 in the vast Renault range, and was powered by the same PRV V6 engine as its new Peugeot 604 and Volvo 264 competitors.
In late 1975 the Renault 30 was joined by its lesser four-cylinder sibling, the R20, sharing the same five-door hatchback bodyshell. The R20 was intended to replace the aging but still popular R16, which actually ran in parallel with the newer R20 for a further four years or so.
Never achieving the success or cult-following of the Renault 16, the R30 and R20 were phased out in 1984 to make way for the more striking R25 range topper.
6. Lancia Beta HPE
In 1972 the Beta berlina (saloon) was introduced – the first all-new Lancia model to be launched since Fiat took control of the celebrated engineering-led car maker in 1969.
Over the following few years, Lancia extended its Beta range with the addition of the attractive 2+2 Coupe in 1973, the mid-engined Monte Carlo in 1974, and the open-top Spyder in 1975. At the March ’75 Swiss show Lancia launched the latest addition to its growing Beta family in the form of the versatile HPE (High Performance Estate).
Taking its inspiration from the pioneering Reliant Scimitar GTE, the new Beta HPE shared its frontal structure and panels up to the B-pillars with the Coupe, with the fastback rear end extended to incorporate an opening tailgate and fold down rear seats.
The HPE proved to be one of the more successful derivatives of the six Lancia Beta body styles available (the last being the three-box Trevi saloon), HPE production continuing until 1984.
7. AMC Pacer
With its distinctive goldfish bowl-like styling and broad stance, AMC’s new Pacer had its European premier in front of an intrigued audience at Geneva, looking unlike any other car at the 1975 exhibition.
Dubbed America’s ‘first wide small car’ (is that an advantage?!) 37 per cent of the Pacer’s surface area consisted of glass, making for an exceptionally airy cabin compared to most contemporary mid-sized saloons. Thoughtful detailing included windscreen wipers hidden below the bonnet line (an American first) and a passenger door wider than the driver’s to make entry/exit to the rear seat easier (though this didn’t work in RHD markets!).
Originally designed to accommodate a rotary Wankel engine (scrapped ahead of the Pacer’s launch due to the mid-‘70s fuel crisis and a rotary’s strong thirst), AMC equipped the production Pacers with either inefficient V8s or a sluggish four-cylinder motor sourced from the US-built Volkswagen Rabbit (Golf). With either engine option, the Pacer was a poor performer and badly matched to European driving tastes and requirements.
Always a niche car in Europe, and increasingly regarded as a joke in its native USA, the Pacer had been withdrawn by 1980, with its now-famous role in the Wayne’s World movies giving the AMC a certain notoriety today.
8. Bricklin SV-1
A major novelty of the 1975 Swiss show was the first public display of the Bricklin SV-1, a two-seater sports coupe ‘safety vehicle’ that anticipated the latter and better-known De Lorean DMC-12 with its gullwing doors and niche appeal.
Just like the De Lorean that followed, the Bricklin was shorted-lived, leaving a Government and innocent tax-payers (Canadian in this case, rather than British) out of pocket as the success of the overly-ambitious gullwing sports car project unraveled dramatically.
Unlike the De Lorean with its rear-engined PRV V6 motor, the plastic-bodied Bricklin used a front-mounted V8, initially supplied by AMC and then Ford. Malcolm Bricklin, the SV-1’s creator, was a keen non-smoker so refused to equip the car with ashtrays and a cigarette lighter, something unheard of in an American car at the time. Within 18 months Bricklin was out of business, leaving Canadian tax buyers to pick-up the bill.
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