Liaisons, some dangerous, some inspired and many unexpected, have long created drama in the automotive industry.
Half a century ago, no pundit could have imagined modest, middle-class Peugeot being a lead player in an industrial combine including the mighty (it was then) Fiat, America’s third-biggest car maker (it was then) Chrysler and Opel and Vauxhall, twinned then cast off by General Motors. Almost as wild would have been the idea of Fiat swallowing Chrysler, Jeep and a pick-up brand called Ram.
Yet that’s exactly how things turned out, with Stellantis formed from the merger of the PSA Group (which grew out of Peugeot) and FCA (Fiat and Chrysler merged).
So how did its various brands get here, and what are some of their most memorable creations?
Punto: Fiat invented the supermini with the 127 in 1971, and its Punto descendant was often the best seller in Europe. It’s amazing that the firm abandoned such success, despite tight margins.
Tipo: A fine example of Fiat’s bipolarity: the charming 500 on one side, the dull and underdone Tipo on the other.
500: A fine piece of retro engineering that has succeeded beyond Fiat’s wildest dreams, doubtless saving the brand.
124 Spider: FCA’s on-off commitment to models caused this pleasingly effective Fiat-and-Mazda mongrel’s early death.
8C Competizione: Beautiful proof Alfa can easily sell a car for over £100k, but proof ignored.
Mito: Punto-based supermini with a shield for a grille was pretty but fell short.
Giulia Quadrifologio: Magnificent, albeit too late to rescue Alfa. Lesser Giulias are superb too.
Renegade: This charismatic compact SUV is Jeep-ish, yet with a sense of guilty-secret appeal.
Wrangler: True to its flat-panelled, rugged heritage. Not brilliant but honest and appealing for it.
Fulveitta Concept: A super-desirable hint of what could have been, this 2003 coupé still looks good. Since ignored.
Ypsilon: The last Lancia, a 10-year-old city hatchback, had a strong 2020 in the only place it’s still sold: Italy.
Memories of FCA
Fiat: Driving the 500 out of a Turin football stadium on the launch. So pretty and surprisingly well made. But to drive… so-so.
Lancia: The disappointment of being told by then Fiat marketing boss Olivier François that making a profitable go of Lancia was impossible, despite much research. Maybe that has changed now.
Alfa Romeo: Reading FCA’s astonishing 2014 indictment of its management of Alfa Romeo, presented at an investors’ conference. Its corrective goals have been only part-realised.
All of 2020's Best Sports Cars Reviewed | Autocar Best Driver's Car Shootout
Jeep: Driving the current Compass and feeling swamped by its averageness.
RCZ: Handsome, Audi TT-like coupé built out of concept. Sadly missed out on the 306 GTi-6’s dynamic panache.
205: A legendary hatch and hot hatch – which was inexplicably replaced with the smaller 106 and the larger 306.
206: Delayed actual 205 successor. Better made but less entertaining. Best-selling Peugeot ever.
405: Subtly handsome pounder of the fleet beat with an exquisite chassis, especially in hot Mi-16 form.
3: Stylish, premium supermini that laid the groundwork for the DS brand experiment. It has since ignored this class.
Corsa-E: Vauxhall has bounded into the modern world using PSA’s electric vehicle hardware in its perennially popular hatch.
BX: Pleasing mix of Citroën, Peugeot and Gandini. Sold by the million, despite its flimsy fittings.
ZX: As normal as its GSA forebear was complex. Introduced Citroën to the concept of profits.
XM: True to CX and DS roots but undone by early examples’ hair-tearing electrical issues.
C3 Pluriel: Intriguing concept car turned real, but with an unasked-for random water feature…
C4: Returned to bold looks. A successful rally car, although you wouldn’t know it from the drive.
C4 Cactus: A more Citroën-like Citroën: ingenious, stylish and colourful, albeit unexciting to drive.
Memories of PSA
Vauxhall: Its rapid rise to profitability making me and many others wonder what GM had been doing for all those years.
Peugeot: Driving a 306 GTi-6 with a hyper Subaru Impreza and an R32 Nissan Skyline GT-R, with neither able to shake the Pug and its exquisite chassis.
DS: Being knocked out by my first look at the DS 5, with its superb tan watch-strap interior. Then being knocked about by its absurdly stiff suspension.
Citroen: Trying to fling the supposedly no-roll Xantia Activa ever harder into corners and finding that it indeed didn’t roll.