Theme : Facelifts – Introduction

The Editor Reflects on the Need for Change

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The facelift, once a rather quirky thing, has become accepted. A nip, a tuck, a chop, a stretch. No-one seems embarrassed. Your Editor is aware of these things because, much as he would prefer to always shop at Fortnum and Mason, circumstances (thank you Eoin and Sean) dictate that he has to stand in supermarket queues with everyone else. Therefore he cannot avoid the temptation to browse through those strange little magazines on offer beside the tills and read about these things.

Speaking for myself and my milieu, I am at a loss. We all age and, although we might wish it were not so, we cannot escape the fact. The aches, the pains and the disillusionment do not disappear just because an abnormally tight and shiny face greets you in the bathroom mirror. Somewhere, in a distant attic, your true portrait exists and the facelift is just whistling in the dark, trying to postpone the inevitable. And so it has always been with cars.

Has there ever been a facelift in the motoring industry that didn’t besmirch even the most lacklustre original? To answer that question before you can, I would say yes, but very, very rarely. The Series 3 Jaguar XJ was the Miss Dolly Parton of the automotive World, managing to retain freshness, elegance and outstanding ability – your musical and other tastes might not concur with mine so I will not labour the parallel. However, despite Jaguar’s clever collaboration with Pininfarina, there was a price to pay. By extending the basic vehicle’s life by more than another model cycle, it set Jaguar into that onanistic spiral of retrogressive design that it took decades to escape from. So I will contend that even a good facelift is, ultimately, a bad one.

Generally a facelift suggests one of three things. First, that the design team got it wrong initially and is merely ‘rolling it in glitter’. Second, and even more dispiriting, that a new designer is seeking to mark their territory by imposing their style over their predecessor. Third, that the basic vehicle is overdue for a complete change, but all the manufacturer can manage is this year’s stick-ons.  Nevertheless, in each case the facelift is screaming “Do Not Buy Me!”

However, you might disagree and, if so, we would be grateful for your comments. I’ll also be happy to hear you tell me that I am completely correct.

3 thoughts on “Theme : Facelifts – Introduction”

  1. This is a good theme. It makes one reflect on the graduations of revision, from new paint, to a new set of bumpers and on to sheet metal changes of a more or less drastic nature. We have scheduled facelifts as a way of life, called mid-cycle refreshes, to emergencies manoeuvres to rescue a design problem: the 2004 Ford Focus didn´t remain long on sale before virtually all the panels were changed and the Fiat Multipla was savagely dumbed down to make it more conventional (parts of the new car don´t match properly with the carry-over bits). And there are the vain attempts to make the old look new: Saab´s 9-5 with its Dame Edna chrome headlamp trim, the Citroen Visa with its painted-on modernised side-glass profile and Ford´s 1994 Scorpio that tried to look like a classic car and which facelift needed a facelift within a year of launch.

  2. I have to concur with Richard.

    One’s stance towards facelifts actually says quite a bit about one’s take on cars in general. The choices are a) ignorance b) appreciation c) animosity d) a choice of a), b) and c), depending on each case.

    As per usual, I strongly find myself falling into the fourth category, as exemplified by my opinion regarding 1980s Mercedes models.
    In the W126’s case, I strongly prefer the facelifted version. The bigger wheels and cleaner, larger Sacco panels suit the lithe limousine perfectly and help it appear both more solid and more elegant at the same time.

    On the other hand, I’d only ever consider an R107 SL in pre-facelift form. The later cars’ bigger wheels appear slightly too large and massive (though not to the same degree as a BMW 507’s), and the plastic door handle does jar on what is still obviously a 1970’s car. It’s a pity then that only the later cars received Mercedes’ thorough rust protection.

    An even more complex case in point is Jaguar’s XJ-S coupé: once it turned into the XJS in the early nineties, it lost some crucial details that lent it its charms. Which is why I’d never be tempted to buy one of those, despite the fact that they’re considerably more robust than earlier examples. And despite the omission of the cheap vinyl window surrounds of earlier models (whose superior outline was abandoned too, unfortunately).
    But I also wouldn’t want a very early XJ-S – its rubber bumpers do appear horribly cheap, as does its “sporty” plastic interior.
    No, I’d go for the 1980’s iteration of Jaguar’s coupé, which added some opulence, but avoided the Americanisation of the later (regrettably fully galvanised) cars.
    So, in a nutshell: original car – no, 1st facelift – yes, 2nd facelift – no. There you have it.

  3. I partly agree with Simon. Fashions change, and then they change again. So, a long running model gets to a point where its chrome bumpers, although elegant, mark it out as old fashioned, even though the rest of the shape looks fine. Plastic bumpers are designed, but these must be more substantial to do their job and, whilst you’re at it, best add a body coloured grille. When it comes out it all looks fine, and sales are rejuvenated for a while but, ultimately, when the years have past, it’s seen for the compromise it is. The Citroen CX is a case in point. Robert Opron hated the facelift but, at the time, I thought it was OK. But I was viewing it pragmatically I guess, whereas Opron was viewing it paternalistically and, anyway, he was right.

    Kris mentions the W126 with a strong preference for the latter iteration, and I can see his point. However, many Mercedes customers probably needed to have the differences pointed out to them in the showroom. Until relatively recently, the German industry was adept at the super-discreet facelift, where small fortunes were spent on changes that only car enthusiasts of an anorakical bent would notice. But the counter is that, had such changes not been made, imperceptibly the car would have aged. Possibly one could call this finessing, rather than facelifting.

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