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When worlds collide

4 months ago

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Writer:

James Mills | Journalist

Date:

14 December 2023

Car engineers often take one view and their colleagues in marketing another – and the mess that gets left in the middle tends not to be pretty. Especially where modern classic cars are concerned. Take the first turbocharged Ford Fiesta ST, a corker of a wheel-cocking hot hatch. It could have had a 200bhp engine were it not for the marketing people telling the boffins to stick at 180bhp. Why?

The engineers had done all the durability testing, explained to marketing how it was proven to be reliable and wouldn’t add a penny to the car’s engineering costs. What’s more, the engineers knew the competition, namely the forthcoming RenaultSport Clio, would have the full 200. In fact, the outgoing Clio 197 near-as-dammit already did. But no, for reasons nobody in engineering could fathom, 180bhp it was, albeit with a brief overboost function. The sharp-suited marketing men (and women) had won another battle.

If that seems silly, we’re just getting warmed up. Equally unfathomable was the time when Chrysler’s Bob Lutz – a marketing and product visionary who rarely misread the crystal ball – decided the Plymouth marque needed to be dusted off and funked up for the 1990s. Together with his fellow marketing wonks, Lutz approved a project to create the Prowler, a 1930s hot-rod-inspired experiment in aluminium that looked like it could rip up a ¼-mile drag in 10 seconds flat and would parachute to a stop it before it hit the buffers. To hell with those engineers who reasoned it would be utterly impractical and therefore tough to sell, difficult to engineer (thanks to a newfangled riveted and bonded aluminium structure), and hard to prevent from handling like, well, a top-fuel dragster with a puncture.

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