A nostalgic look at highlights in motoring news

By David Linklater

We're not called a newspaper for nothing. But sometimes, it's both entertaining and enlightening to look back at what was happening in the automotive past. In the first of an occasional series, we look back at what was happening in the world of cars in April, five, 10, 20 and 40 years ago.

Volkswagen Golf VI. Photos / Supplied
Volkswagen Golf VI. Photos / Supplied

We're not called a newspaper for nothing. But sometimes, it's both entertaining and enlightening to look back at what was happening in the automotive past. In the first of an occasional series, we look back at what was happening in the world of cars in April, five, 10, 20 and 40 years ago.


Doesn't seem so long ago, does it? In April 2009, the New Zealand new-car market was enjoying a renewed focus on small cars. The big launch was the Volkswagen Golf VI, which arrived here with a big reputation and a World Car of the Year award under its belt. Sounds familiar.

Kia Soul
Kia Soul

Kia launched its take on the quirky "box car" trend, the Soul, pitching it to early adopters and people who liked stereo speakers with lights that flashed in time with the music. It was perhaps a bit too quirky for Kiwi buyers, as sales fell away rapidly following the initial launch buzz. The second-generation version just launched here is more mainstream and SUV-like.

Mitsubishi brought the pure electric car to New Zealand in the form of evaluation examples of the iMIEV (Mitsubishi Innovative Electric Vehicle) - sent by head office in Japan due to the high percentage of renewable electricity we produce. The iMIEV eventually went on sale here, although limited range and a sky-high price (three times that of the iCar on which it was based) made it niche in the extreme. It did pave the way for the excellent Outlander PHEV launched earlier this year though.

Internationally, Citroen previewed its new DS range of models with a Geneva Motor Show concept car called DS Inside - essentially the DS3 that was to be launched in 2010.

It wasn't all small and sensible, though. One of the big international launches at this time was the rorty Nissan 370Z - the replacement for the 350Z and a model which remains on sale today.

Overall, it was hard times for the motor industry. The Global Financial Crisis was having a massive impact and Kiwi passenger-car sales would reach their lowest ebb in 2009.

Globally, it was the beginning of the end for some big brands. In April, General Motors confirmed that its Saab, Hummer and Saturn brands were all up for sale.


The heady days of 2004. It was clear that many brands with a traditional outlook were keen to try new things. BMW might have pulled the wraps off its monster V10-powered M5 Concept (which was production-ready in all but name), but it also released the first official pictures of its new small car, the 1 Series.

Mercedes-Benz was also about to change its image in dramatic fashion, with the debut of the CLS four-door coupe at the Geneva motor show. It sparked a trend for similar genre-bending models from premium makers that continues today.

Closer to home, FPV shocked Australian muscle-car fans by daring to suggest that a turbo-six could take on the traditional V8 with the F6 Typhoon, which was shown at the Melbourne motor show. It went on sale the same year and still stands as (arguably) the best bang-for-buck performance Falcon ever made.

In New Zealand, Honda aimed to bring hybrid motoring to the masses by bringing the petrol-electric Civic to market for just $33,000 - the first truly affordable hybrid and a substantial saving over the only other such vehicle on the local market, the $43,500 Toyota Prius.


The motoring landscape of today started to form at the 1994 Geneva motor show, when Toyota showed the production version of the RAV4, following on from its 1989 Tokyo show concept. The RAV4 was arguably the first true "soft roader", combining off-road-style looks with on-road chassis and suspension components. It was only ever intended to be a low-volume curiosity.

Toyota RAV4
Toyota RAV4

The world was also talking about a new phenomenon based on something old: retro cars, exemplified by the Volkswagen Beetle Concept One shown at Detroit early in the year and followed up by a convertible version at Geneva.

The new Beetle went into production in 1997.

Premium makers were head-to-head as always. Audi launched its revolutionary all-aluminium A8 - the brand's first full-size luxury car - while BMW also had an all-new 7 Series on offer.

VW Beetle Concept One
VW Beetle Concept One

The Munich marque had its first try at a proper small car, the Compact, which was being launched to international media (including New Zealand) in Germany around this time. Media excitement probably overruled objectivity on this one: it was a cynical car, recycling underpinnings from the previous-generation 3-series. But the Compact did come right with the second-generation version in 2000.

They were at it in the sports-car segment too, with Mercedes-Benz revealing a close-to-production SLK concept at the Turin motor show in April, Porsche showing a Boxster mule (developed from the original concept in 1993) and BMW confirming it planned to build a Z3 roadster.

For those who think Mazda New Zealand is only just getting into the premium segment with the latest 6: the brand's flagship model at this time was the $92,990 929 sedan. The big announcement in April was that an airbag had been added to the standard specification.

This was also a big year for New Zealand motoring journalism. A newcomer called David Linklater, thin and full of enthusiasm, joined the ranks of automotive writers. In the two decades since, Linklater has risen to just below the middle of his profession, always trying his best and never unashamedly writing about himself.


Seems to be a VW theme here: the 1974 Geneva show marked the debut of the German brand's Scirocco coupe, a model line which continued until 1992 and was revived in 2009.

Volkswagen Scirocco
Volkswagen Scirocco

The Scirocco was based on the underpinnings of VW's all-new small car, the Golf, and actually beat it to market. The first-generation Golf went into production on the last day of March and was in full swing through April. It went on sale in May.

In April 1974, the motorsport world was mourning the death of Peter Revson, who was killed during a practice session for the South African Grand Prix on March 22.

Volkswagen Golf MK1
Volkswagen Golf MK1

Revson, the nephew of Revlon cosmetics founder Charles Revson, was one of the more glamorous drivers of his time. He shared a Porsche 908 with Steve McQueen in the 1970 Sebring 12-hour race (they placed second) and drove in both Formula One and the Indianapolis 500 during his career. There's even a Kiwi connection: he drove for McLaren in 1972-3 and achieved two Grand Prix victories for the team.

And the early-1970s oil crisis came to an end in March 1974, as the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (Opec) ended a six-month embargo that had crippled the oil-dependent global economy.

- NZ Herald

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