The Continental: Kjell Qvale Passes, i3 Love, and Another Sweet Unimog

The Continental

Each week, our German correspondent slices and dices the latest rumblings, news, and quick-hit driving impressions from the other side of the pond. His byline may say Jens Meiners, but we simply call him . . . the Continental.

Qvale Mangusta

On November 1, Kjell Qvale passed away at the age of 94. Born in Norway and most recently based in California, Qvale has left indelible marks on the history of the automobile. Right after the second World War, he began importing MG sports cars to Northern California; he later added Austin-Healey, Aston Martin, Bentley, Rolls-Royce, and others to his portfolio. He was a driving force behind the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance and played a pivotal role in the popularity of sports car races.

There are two cars to which he is inextricably linked: The first is the 1970s Jensen-Healey roadster, which was intended to replace the legendary Austin-Healey (itself an acquired taste to drive). And in 2000, his family launched a car that sported its name, the Qvale Mangusta.

The Mangusta was a two-seater with an innovative targa roof concept; it was possible to open the forward portion of the roof and keep the B-pillar and rear window upright, or to fully lower the whole thing. Power came from a 4.6-liter V-8 supplied by Ford, and Qvale offered both manual and automatic transmissions. This was the last series production car to be designed by Marcello Gandini (of Lamborghini Countach fame), and his signature was clearly visible in the angled rear wheel arches. Despite the famed designer, the design itself was complex and somewhat awkward; the rear three-quarter view is probably the most successful angle, which says a lot about the rest of the car. Less than 300 units were built, but hats off to Kjell Qvale, nevertheless, for having the guts to launch this interesting and ambitious car. Requiescat in pace.

BMW i3

Customers Just Love the BMW i3

In an e-mobility love-fest, the first BMW i3s were delivered to customers in Germany last week. Expectations couldn’t be higher after BMW CEO Norbert Reithofer announced earlier this year that “what the mobile phone did for communication, electric mobility will do for individual mobility,” and board member Peter Schwarzenbauer revealed that “never before has the BMW Group been so proud to present a car to the world.”

A number of high-profile testimonials bolstered the cheerful mood in Munich. Here are some of the officially approved gems: “Emissions-free electro-mobility thanks to the BMW i3, this concept will be a great success and a Bavarian export hit,” predicted State Minister Christine Haderthauer of the ruling Christian-Social party. Oliver Bäte, board member of the powerful Allianz insurance, proclaimed: “We want to increase the acceptance of e-cars.” It took the i3 to convince Innovative Hausverwaltungen Eble‘s Gerhard Eble: “For years, I have wanted for a German manufacturer to bring an appealing electric car to the market. As soon as BMW introduced the i3, I was immediately enthusiastic.” Ingo Holz of BEOS AG shared that “straight away I was excited,” and Con/Energy AG‘s Roman Dudenhausen announced that “my electro-age as an energy expert and employer is beginning with my purchase of the BMW.” Let’s conclude the raves with this non sequitur by Thomas Aich from the picturesque municipality of Ettlingen: “I drive a lot all around town. Therefore, the efficient BMW i3 is obviously optimal for me.” Alright!

Audi A8 Exclusive concept

Audi Goes Lancia

Not willing to give up its position as a leader in interior design to Mercedes-Benz without a fight, Audi is launching an ultra-exclusive special edition of the A8L W12 with a bespoke interior that uses aniline leather supplied by Italian manufacturer Poltrona Frau. Available only with the “agatha cognac” interior color, the A8 W12 Exclusive concept will be built in just a 50-unit run. Car enthusiasts should be familiar with Poltrona Frau: For decades, the fashion brand has supplied interiors for Fiat-Chrysler’s moribund luxury brand, Lancia. This one will not be offered in the U.S., probably because the face-lifted A8 is off to a late start there.

In other Audi news, a prominent departure in the German automaker’s design department is imminent. Stay tuned.

First Drive: 2014 BMW i3
Instrumented Test: 2014 Mercedes-Benz E350 4MATIC Wagon
Instrumented Test: 2014 Audi A8L TDI Diesel

Mercedes-Benz Unimog

A favorite Benz

Because it is awesome, here is a picture of the Mercedes-Benz Unimog U423 designed for farm use. Note the industrial-style bumpers and the position of the windshield wiper. Power comes from a 231-hp engine, and the transmission sports eight forward and six (!) reverse gears. This one was shown at the Agritechnica show in Hannover, Germany this week.

About Jens Meiners