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Duke Automotive


#1

Duke was founded as an engineering firm in Vancouver in 1919, supplying mechanicals for the long-lost Portland Motor Company. Duke was bought by Portland in 1925, officially becoming their ironwork division (making engine blocks and other cast parts). However, Portland, as primarily a maker of luxury cars, sank during the Great Depression, leaving Duke on their own again. Without any more immediately available contracts, Duke decided to forge their own path in the motoring world, experimenting with various prototypes throughout the rest of the 1930s.

The Second World War saw this experimentation end, and Duke started producing light military vehicles for the British war effort (the US armed forces already had arrangements made with other companies). This move included opening a factory in Manchester, which after the war became their largest production facility. Duke used one of their 1938 prototypes as the basis for a production car after the war; put into production in '47 and simply named “The Duke”, it was popular in northern England due to low shipping costs, but lost the southern market to Melchett, the UK’s largest motor manufacturer, who had been quicker to resume normal services after the war. Duke did not give up, though, and spent the 1950s updating The Duke to be able to compete all over the country. Operations in Canada, meanwhile, were still slow due to Duke’s focus on the UK, but development of an American-market car was underway.

Duke lagged way behind Downton and Melchett, the big two at the time, but was beginning to establish a reputation for making competent, fuss-free, affordable cars. Their big break only came in the 1980s, after the collapse of both Downton and Melchett and once the hype surrounding the other rival, Holborn Motor Engineering, died down. By then foreign rivals were flooding the market, but Holborn and Duke stayed strong, and the latter only grew from that point forward.

Work began on an all-new lineup in 1987- they would be sold worldwide, and their names would be based on their order in the range for simplicity. The first of these models was the Segundo, a hatchback, bustle-back, estate, van and small saloon launched in 1990- it was followed by the B-sector Aprima (1994), D-sector Triad (1995), a small 4x4/MPV called the Quadrant (1995), and the US-market midsize Penta (1996). A larger SUV called the Sextant was to arrive in 2000- notable for being the first Duke to be offered with built-in GPS, but also because in the US it was known instead as the Seismic- Duke’s management perceived the average American to be too unintelligent to understand what a sextant was.

In 2004 two brothers, Eddie and Philip McIntyre, came to the company asking if they could build a sports car. The brothers had tried to resurrect their father’s old sports car company, Phantom, but had had no luck. Duke agreed to give them access to their parts bin and said that if they could have a production-ready car by 2007, they had a deal. This deal produced the Phantom R1, launched at Geneva in 2007 but with more versions to follow.


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#2

Phantom’s resurrection was made official at the Geneva Motor Show in 2007, with the R1’s unveiling. It initially came in three versions, the Pure (a base model with steel wheels and no entertainment); the Premium (with metallic paint, alloys, and the soundsystem from the Aprima); and the Luxe (with the option of a hardtop, more chrome and leather trim). The Silverstone edition (shown here in red) was a track-focused variant made in 2008.


#3

After dragging out the R1 for as long as possible, Duke finally agreed to let the McIntyre brothers develop a replacement in 2017. What they came up with was the R2, given a digital unveiling in April 2020 due to the cancellation of all the major motor shows. Later versions of the R2 are slated to have hybrid and EV powertrains.


#4

The first Aprima was lauched in 1994, and was a massive success. It became a staple of the range, with new versions in 2000 (far right) and 2006 (far left). Due to focusing on emerging markets in the 2010s, Duke have not updated the Aprima’s fundamentals since then, with a faint restyle and trimming-down of the range in 2013. For 2019, the car got a restyle fitting of its transformation into a crossover- this version is at the back of shot because the photographer hated its looks and wanted to draw attention to the older models, particularly the original which was entering classic-car territory by 2019.


#5

The R1 is definitely a looker as far as the late 2000s are concerned, but the current R2, despite being launched in 2017, looks more dated on the outside, and if it weren’t for the choice of body (ND MX-5 for the R2 instead of AP1/AP2 S2000 for the R1), it would actually be less out of place aesthetically in the early-mid 2000s.

Anyway, I would like to see the specs of both the R1 and R2, just to find out if they measure up to their contemporaries performance-wise.


#6

They’re both fairly cheap, handling-focused machines, so not massively fast, but…

R1 (Premium spec):
1242cc NA I4, 128hp (143 in the Silverstone Edition) (this engine was a modified version of the one from the Aprima- it originally only produced 96hp)
5-speed manual (all R1s were manual or sequential)
1135kg
0-62mph in 9.6s
Top speed 127mph
39.7mpg

R2 (standard spec)-
1485cc NA I4, 127hp (the 1242cc engine was in reduced production, only available in the cheapest Aprimas by 2017, so a substitute was taken from a mid-range Segundo)
5-speed manual (an automatic version might come in the future though)
1022kg
0-62mph in 7.7s
Top speed 129mph
42.2mpg


#7

The R2 was launched in 2020, its development started in 2017. The idea with the R2’s styling was to go back to a simpler time, to contrast to the overstyling of most modern cars (including, to some extent, the R1, which was designed to modernise the overall shape and design language of the original Phantoms). Attached is a Phantom from 1963 to illustrate.


#8

The original Segundo is the car that established Duke’s presence in the UK, and was a best-seller for most of its time on the market. However, a combination of being cheap, plentiful and very basic meant they were the bargain of the century secondhand. Many were simply run to death with no regard for care or maintenance; others had virtually dissolved long before then and were sent to the banger track; some, like the one below, fell into the hands of reckless young motorists and were badly modified, thrashed and wrecked. Either way, they became extremely rare by the 2010s but still had almost no recognition in the classic car community, so they could still be picked up in the region of £200 by then.

That changed only slightly when in their Spring 2020 issue, Retro Motors magazine featured the Segundo in an article about the greatest cars that were turning 30 that year- it even made the cover, alongside an early 90s hypercar and one of the greatest all-round cars of the time. They cited the Segundo as “a car that, if you were around any time since the early 90s, was a major part of your life” and “its rarity is explainable by way of rust, neglect and low values, but it really is a shame as this is a well-rounded, sensible family car you can still use everyday”. The cover photo, post-editing, is below, with the Segundo being found in a typical grey colour despite the lighting.


#9

Duke never really took any interest in motorsport until their modern lineup was established. The first Duke Triad, launched in 1995, was entered into the British Touring Car Championship starting in 1996, and one won the championship that year with legendary driver Dale Stewart at the helm. He also won several races for Team Duke in the 1997, '98 and '99 seasons, but the best overall result Duke got from that point forwards was second, in 1999.


#10

The Penta was Duke’s primary American model for years, a large sedan available with a choice of I4 or V6 engines being just what the US wanted. However, it was allowed to stagnate during the crossover-mad 2010s, with the third-generation Penta C (launched in 2013) being the last one. The model was quietly retired in 2020, replaced with yet another crossover, the PentaX.


The PentaX (above right and below left) was the biggest news in motoring upon its unveiling, and the hype only increased once production was confirmed. It had very advanced safety tech, including built-in hidden cameras which would eliminate blind-spots, lane assist, auto-emergency braking and lots of other things which would keep inattentive or careless drivers from ending themselves too soon. Best of all, it was not massively expensive either, with basic models (on which several of the safety/convenience features were optional) starting at $31,495. And it came with an updated version of Duke’s legendarily reliable 4001cc V6, now producing 190hp.


#11

While the PentaX was still under development, using up most of Duke’s design resources, another model was more quietly rolled out. First shown at Geneva in 2019, the sixth-generation Segundo F finally entered production that November, with the first few being delivered the following January. There was also, for the first time, a SegundoX, which was taller than the regular hatchback, and had bigger wheels and a tougher-looking bodykit with pronounced bumpers and wider arches.

Both models had the same five-door shell, with just some outer panels changed, plus the same choice of engines and transmissions- the most popular choice was the 1485cc turbo I4, producing 143hp and 160lb/ft, and a 6-speed automatic.


#12

While the 4001cc V6 took a break (having been used from 1990-98 and then since 2008), Duke originally made a 3400cc unit- this was launched in 1998 and fitted to the Penta and Sextant from that point forward. It also saw use, albeit briefly, in the company’s European arm. The Triad (right in both shots) got a facelift in 1998 which included a new top-of-the-range V6 SLX model, while Duke also planned a luxury saloon to compete at the very top of the market. This project, outwardly known as the Septimus (left in both shots), was shown off at Geneva in 1999 and was going to use the 3.4-litre engine, but the market for these small-brand big cars was dwindling and the Septimus never saw the light of production, despite positive feedback from both the press and the public.

The Triad was the only production car to use the 3.4 V6, as a planned V6 version of the Quadrant was shelved due to lack of interest. When a second-generation Triad was launched in 2002, the engine was also available in a 3.4 SL model, which had a more basic interior and manual transmission and was (as intended) a favourite of European traffic police, with large fleets being ordered for the UK, France, Spain, Belgium, the Netherlands, Poland, Belarus, Norway, Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia and Slovenia. In fact, most countries that turned them down only did so due to home-grown rivals (such as Germany’s ETK 800) being offered without the hassle of importing.

A 2004 Triad 3.4 SL in service with the FSB. These were the only foreign cars employed by the Russian government at the time, and rumour had it they were specially modified- apart from being debadged, this was not true.


#13

The Triad remained a best-seller in its class throughout the 2000s, but the turn of the 2010s saw the rise of competitors with more sporting variants. Duke countered these in 2011 with the Triad SS (above), a more aggressively styled saloon with a new 4.0l V6 producing 277hp, a six-speed manual transmission and AWD. It was praised for its excellent handling and roadholding, but proved in its later years to be unreliable, with cooling problems common if the cars were driven hard, and it lacked the fuel efficiency to really take off in the first place. As a result, Duke decided that when the next-gen Triad D was to enter production in 2015, there would not be an SS model.

Instead, the top model was now an eco-focused version called the E5 (below right), named for its turbocharged five-cylinder, 2.25l engine. For a petrol-engined saloon weighing 1.6 tonnes, 53mpg was fairly impressive. This engine, coupled with a seven-speed automatic gearbox, became a favourite of taxi drivers, though for most fleet buyers the engine was too large and they opted for the cheapest powerplant of the range- a 1.8l I4 producing 126hp, which even in the heavier Triad SW estate (as shown below left) was capable of 42mpg.


#14

The new Triad looks too much like a Mk1 Ford Focus from the front - and the rear light clusters seem very dated for 2015, especially given their shape and scaling. Even so:

Is that US mpg or UK mpg? Either way, it’s enough to make some contemporary diesels blush.


#15

It’s UK mpg (equates to about 44 US). Also I was in no way inspired by Ford- haven’t seen an original Focus in ages- but I can see the resemblance in retrospect. It’s essentially a light restyle of the previous-gen Triad (from 2008), but the E5 version has less grille and more body-coloured plastic to emphasise that it’s an eco car (might also be why it looks a bit older). It was really intended to come more into line with the Penta and Australian-market Wildlander models (below), but still retaining recognisable features from the old Triad.


#16

The Triad ceased sales in North America in June 2019 due to the increasing popularity of crossovers. However, it was still around in Europe, and received a facelift shortly after which brought it more into line with the (Euro-only since 2018) Segundo. Along with the facelift came a new version, the TriadX, which had larger tyres, wider arches, plastic cladding on the body and the option of AWD. Both were available in a new colour as well- Windsor Green Metallic (as pictured on both models below).


#17

Duke decided, having conquered Europe and doing reasonably well in North America, to move on to the developing world. The key to poorer markets, they realised, was making a cheap, practical, economical car with none of the frivolities that their existing customers expected. A factory was opened in Tunisia to make a range of cheaper models, which with any luck would take off in Africa, South America and Central Asia.

The first of these “new” cars was the Sego (below right), a cheaper, more utilitarian version of the third-generation Segundo (2001-06, below left). The first few rolled off the production line in March 2005 and were taken by truck straight to a network of dealerships spanning Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Mali and Mauritania (though more locations were to follow). Shipping to Brazil began a few months later, and the first batch arrived in time to be heralded as 2006-model cars. Asia, though, was not as receptive; though the public liked the idea of a “sophisticated” western European car, the Iranian government immediately wrote off Duke as Western spies (supposedly due to the nervous behaviour of one of the company’s younger managers, who knew how big a deal this was) and refused to allow them in the country. Once Duke’s management began trade negotiations with Israel, who had offered to supply engineers for their future projects, the rest of the region also shut them out.

They were not missing out on much by any standards- what made the Sego cheaper was worse materials, less equipment (even power steering was an option) and an overall more agricultural direction- as well as higher, stiffer suspension, Duke had even considered using solid axles at one point in the design cycle. Nevertheless, the venture was a success, with cheaper Triad and Quadrant-based models arriving in 2008.


#18

The Quadrant is a car I haven’t given much attention to so far- then again, hardly anyone ever did, it was a competitor in the most boring class- the MPV. Here is a first-generation model, with the optional (and rarely chosen) moon roof. It sits alongside the rest of Duke’s 1996 European lineup, from right to left and with colours included-

-Quadrant 1.6 SLX, Spruce Green Metallic
-Triad 1.6 SL, Canley Beige
-Segundo Smuggler (van) 1.6 E, Pure White Gloss
-Aprima 1.2 LE, Silk Blue Metallic


#19

Duke’s developing-world arm was renamed Duke Motors for Export, or DMX for short, in 2007, and their first “new” project was making the outgoing Triad B a budget model. To achieve this, and make what became known as the DMX Trio, the suspension was altered for more utilitiarian capabilities, and the options list was pared down considerably- the top model, the LSX (intentionally different from Duke’s own SLX models but designed to fool buyers into thinking it was the same) was the only one to come with a CD player, plastic wheel trims and a passenger airbag. To appeal to the South American market, where fairly large (by European standards) engines were still desirable, the Trio could be had with the 2200cc, DOHC I4 from the top-spec Triad and Quadrant, and the base-model Penta.


#20

Normally Duke’s products get positive feedback from the press and public alike. The fourth-generation Quadrant, set for release in early 2021 but with a 99% complete prototype offered for reviews in August 2020, seems to be an exception. Auto magazine was given an exclusive look at the 5+3 SUV, and were far from happy. The article written about it and published in the October 2020 issue quoted-

“What has happened the the Quadrant? It was a hero of practical utility vehicles, proof that you don’t always need an SUV… and yet in its fourth iteration it has become one? And not even a utilitarian, off-roadish one? Why does it have a splitter?”

“…the third row is there, but actually fitting in there would require the use of an axe”

“…while it has all the amenities you would expect a car in this class to come with, the interior itself feels cheap and the plastics are flimsy- it reminds me of a DMX Sego I rented in Brazil in 2009. There’s a reason the Duke and DMX brands aren’t one and the same, but at this rate they will be in a few years.”

Duke responded to the magazine that the Quadrant was heading in a different direction, that the one they saw was an E5 SS (a sporty-ish model with a bodykit and 21-inch wheels), and that another SUV (so far only known as Project Fourgon and slated for completion by 2023) was in the works to more directly succeed the original. They added that the interior expenses had indeed been cut back to allow for the car’s aluminium body, which reduces both the overall weight and centre of gravity of the vehicle, improving handling and fuel economy- had cutbacks not been made, the final product would have been too expensive to sell.