Tuesday December 20, 2016
Written by Andy Roberts
Over the last week, I‘ve been looking through reviews and road-tests of cars I’d forgotten had ever existed.
Enter the Honda Quintet – an agreeable alternative to the Escort Ghia Mk. III, the Astra GL or the Volvo 345. Then there’s the Vauxhall Viceroy – ideal for fleet managers looking for mid-range executive transport. When new, they were prime examples of well thought-out products which, for one reason or another, never found their niche in the market. Today, however, they’d certainly cause a stir at any classic show.
To refresh your memory, the Quintet was the second generation Civic, a large five-door hatchback intended to fit neatly below the Accord. However, few examples were ever seen on the road before their replacement by the Integra. In Australia, the Quintet was sold as a Rover, which makes me wonder if UK versions might been more successful had they been branded 'Triumph Acclaim Hatchback'. The Viceroy, introduced towards the end of the Vauxhall/ Opel dealerships era, was essentially a re-badged Commodore C, meant to bridge the gulf between the Carlton and the Royale. Vauxhall sold just 2,295 Viceroys in two years, before, together with the Quintet, it was forgotten.
The SEAT 133 was a familiar sight in Spain during the 1970s, but when Fiat sold them in the UK, there was little demand for a scaled-up 126. The Arna was a less-than-winning combination of the Nissan Cherry with 1980s Alfa Romeo build-quality. As a devotee of obscure large cars, I have a fondness for the Morris Isis, the 2.6-litre six-cylinder version of the Oxford Series II/ III, the well-appointed but misjudged Standard Vanguard Sportsman and the Talbot Tagora – striking in appearance but bearing the logo of a firm that lacked a distinct identity. My shortlist of cars that are often unfairly neglected in favour of a more glamorous stablemate, includes the Triumph 1500/ 1500TC - less decadent but possibly more useable than a 3000E and frequently overshadowed by the Dolomite or Capri 1600 GT Mk. 1.
Equally, if not more, fascinating were re-badged versions of a long running model made to satisfy arcane dealership agreements, utilise stock or circumvent import regulations. In 1971 BLMC built 1,022 Austin-badged Sprites after their deal ended with Healey. In the previous year Chrysler UK sold a limited number of Arrow-series Sunbeam Vogues after the demise of Singer. The Ital was the last saloon car to wear the Morris name in 1984 but Austin Rover continued to apply the Cowley badge on its light commercials for another year.
Finally, I can’t be the only one to recall the Lonsdale, the Adelaide-built Mitsubishi Sigma that had somewhat less impact on British motorists than Australian imports Skippy, Phoenix Five. My guess is that the print advertising campaign did not exactly assist its chances…