Cumberford Martinique

If you're privy to any of the inside baseball concerning what goes on in the world of automotive writing, you're well aware of the often privileged life of a professional car reviewer. As a former member of that tribe, I can say that there are parts both good and bad. 

But I will say with certainty that the tropes about members of the press lusting after brown, all-wheel-drive, manual transmission-equipped wagons must be more prevalent than in the general population. Same for Miata love, dislike of continuously-variable transmissions, a lack of understanding when it comes to electric anything, and an unrealistic appetite for stupidly powerful cars.

With privileged access to the people who keep the automotive industry running, I've often wondered why we don't see more of the vehicles auto writers say would sell like hotcakes. It must be because they're bad ideas, right? The march toward hybridization, electrification, and driverless cars is often made against the collective voice of the automotive media. I think that's smart. It's disappointing at times, but it's mostly fine.

What would happen if an auto writer designed a car?

Robert Cumberford, whose résumé includes stints at GM Design and at Car and Driver as a writer, is hardly the next L.J.K. Setright but in my estimation would have carried a few auto writer tropes close to his heart. I mean, just look at the spec sheet of his car, the Cumberford Martinique: 

  • Carbon composite fenders covered in mahogany veneer
  • Aluminum bodywork for the rest of the car (shaped with the assistance of the Renault wind tunnel)
  • Engine and transmission from the E23 BMW 7 Series 
  • Suspension from the Citroën CX, with special parts to mate BMW and Citroën drivetrain components

I can say with certainty that no automaker in 1982 would have created the Martinique. From design to execution, it's a car created by an outsider. It's what I love about it.

Backed by an early personal computer baron (no, not a Jobs, Gates, or Wozniak), Cumberford and his brother, James—who had his own yacht delivery service—tried to woo the nation's rich with the assertion that the car was "a jewel for the wealthy."

Three were made, and the demo car you see above is currently in private hands and, apparently, still reliable on account of it being rather well-made. Gaylord Gladiator it is not, but then again at a price of just $125,000 in 1982, the Martinique ended up as a curiosity, far from the icon the two brothers had hoped to create.

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