Some Aerodynamism

Aerodynamics lead car design to repeat certain solutions.

1955 Tara 603
1955 Tatra 603

The Czechs were applying most of the tropes on their wonderful Tatras. Here we have the 1955 603 (and a nice nostalgic racing photo below, just for fun). Compare the Czech car with the 2005 Mercedes Bionic and you see some of the same features. The general view of Tatras was that the handling was not their strong point. Violent lift-off oversteer is the chief hazard. Racing one of these must have been like playing Russian roulette with a cross-bow.

Racing a Tatra in 1967.
Racing a Tatra in 1967.

The 2005 Mercedes Bionic received a good kicking for looking too much like a fish. I like this car’s alien appearance. And fish happen to be even better than aerodynamic, they are hydrodynamically very efficent indeed. Too bad that motoring commentators have lightning fast knee-jerk reactions. We could have a very different looking B-Class if this one had gone over better.

2005 Mercedes Bionic concept car. Nicely surfaced.
2005 Mercedes Bionic concept car. Nicely surfaced.

Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

9 thoughts on “Some Aerodynamism”

  1. I agree with the surfacing part, at least regarding the front. But the proportions are just odd, aren’t they?
    Way too front heavy and too high to my eyes, and the treatment of the rear wheel arches is even worse (a lot, I might add) than that of the heavily condemned ones on the current pre-facelift E-class.

  2. I agree it looks strange. The reasons you mention are valid. On the other hand, imagine if they had produced something like it. That would have shifted our perceptions of normal. When the 190E came out I felt that the boot/tail was way too high. 25 years later it looks utterly normal or even old-fashioned as boots got higher and c-pillars more and more raked. My point is that it’s hard to judge if a shape is objectively “wrong” or just something we haven’t had time to get used to.
    I have no problem with the wheel arches on the rear of the Bionic: they’re there for a good reason. They wouldn’t suit an E-class. The E-class’s own flanks don’t look right and don’t
    adhere to any obvious aerodynamic principle.
    The best thing would be to clinic the design and tone it down until it was acceptable but still keep physical elements of the aerodynism that could “grow” in the next model cycle.

    1. It’s mostly the nose treatment (which evokes Mercedes commercial vehicles) and rake of the A-pillar that gives the Bionic such odd proportions. The rear three quarters are more redolent of Honda’s 1999 Insight hybrid and certainly appear to make sense aerodynamically.

      Richard makes an interesting point about the W201’s high boot line. It was a real shock back in 1983, but the 190 was possibly the finest piece of realised styling to emerge from Sindelfingen under the supervision of Bruno Sacco. In my view the W201 still looks modern, thirty years on. Try saying that about anything produced under Peter Pfeiffer or (heaven help us all), Gorden Wegener.

      The B-Class (current or former) will not age well.

  3. Interesting points, the shifting in perceptions especially!
    On the other hand, I thought of you being someone who believed in a certain amount of obectivity in design. Right or wrong? 🙂

  4. Objectivity is hard to pin down in design. Intersubjectivity is another matter. I think if something like the Bionic was made in series the perception of its oddness might diminish as it did with the 190E. I agree the Bionic is odd but that’s what appeals to me most. Even the upward sweep of the sideglass at the a-pillar makes sense. The sills are lovely.

    1. Ok… but I think “intersubjectivity” doesn’t help here, since it is a concept completely depending on context. Besides, it is a killer argument always coming up when one tries to avoid the bad o-word…

      Being no professional in design myself, I gain a lot from reading your pieces on car design with details, lines and shapes being “right/wrong”, “sloppy” or “brilliant”. That’s where my thought originated from…
      No offense intended, just seriously interested.

  5. I’ll have to come back to that point when I have a proper keyboard. The issue is really about aesthetics which is much messier than the level I’ve been discussing the Bionic, namely at the level of rules of thumb, general working principles and pragmatism. At that level nobody can claim a design is objectively superior and it would be decided more or less on the whim of the person in charge. If I was boss I’d have toned down the design a bit and checked it with a focus group and depending on the result, proceeded or modified or scrapped it.

  6. I like the Bionic too. Yes, the Bionic looks like a fish. The Multipla looks like a frog. And most other cars look like the one next door. I’m so bloody bored with them, and I really get pissed off with the reception given to anyone who designs a car that doesn’t conform to the same conservative template. I don’t mean what you say, Daniel, the proportions could work better – I tend to think of it as work in progress of a valid concept.

    As regards the Tatra’s handling, I make no apology for drawing everyone’s attention (once again) to one of my favourite videos. Admittedly the driver was Tatra employee and racing driver Jaroslav Pavelka, who knew the car intimately, but you will have to admit that it seems pretty controllable.

  7. I’m still dwelling on my “objectivity”. I suppose a good place to start is with some general rules of thumb being observed: proportions, detailing, consistent form and a consideration of requirements. Done well you’ll get a nice Audi or Ford out of that formula, for example. Most people will find the result acceptable to pleasing. There will be a close correlation with an high level of intersubjective agreement. There won’t be a high level of enthusiasm either.
    For a concept car you can create more of a reaction by bending or ignoring some of the conventions. A classic formula is to break one rule and see how you go with that. If you have a strong concept you can explore further from the familiar and hope it’s a positively viewed novelty or else risk an interesting failure or a disaster. Citroen used to do this with production cars. Sometimes the result was a stunning success (CX, BX, DS). The Bionic seems to be an interesting failure (not accepted) but has a lot worth developing. In that sense it was a good exercise. Fiat, Toyota or Citroen might have made it a goer; we didn’t expect this from Benz.

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