Continental Drift

As Lincoln’s Simon Woodhouse gets a quilted leather handbag in the chops courtesy of his Bentley opposite number, are the designer gloves off for good?

2015 Lincoln Continental concept - image via netcarshow
2015 Lincoln Continental concept – image: netcarshow

This week’s pique-fest courtesy of Bentley’s Luc Donckerwolke is interesting for a number of reasons. Firstly, it breaks a tacit understanding that rival stylists do not publicly criticise one another’s work. Secondly, it prompts the question, is it possible to claim ownership of a style?

For those who missed it, the spat came about following Ford’s announcement of the Lincoln Continental concept at the New York motor show. In the aftermath of the unveiling, Donckerwolke alleged that Woodhouse had appropriated the styling of the current Bentley Flying Spur – which on the face of things it does vaguely resemble. He went as far as to offer Woodhouse the Bentley press tools, telling Car Design News: “This behaviour is not respectable. Building a copy like this is giving a bad name to the car design world.”

Rhapsody in blue - now that's an American car interior. Image via
Rhapsody in blue – now that’s an American car interior. Image:

But is it really possible to own a style or indeed a line, a cross or a curve? Over time, certain styling features have become synonymous with certain marques. Yet this hasn’t prevented others from borrowing or appropriating them. But is it theft, flattery or simply bad manners? Over the years, many designs have strayed over an unspoken line into what could be viewed as larceny. Ford’s use of an Aston-Martin-esque grille outline being perhaps the most notable example; one that can’t have gone down well at Gaydon, yet not a peep from Aston have we heard. More recently, Hyundai have borrowed the spirit of Audi’s grille framework. Homage or plagiarism?

On the face of it, the argument around ownership is similar to one that has taken place for years within comedy as to whether it is possible to own a joke. The consensus being that it’s not, but that it remains bad form to appropriate someone else’s material as one’s own. Within music too, the debate rages, from Hip-Hop artists sampling other musician’s work to the recent court case where the family of Marvin Gaye successfully sued another recording artist for plagiarism.

Image via caranddriver
Image: caranddriver

Leaving aside the question of whether the Lincoln copied the Bentley for a moment, a more relevant question is whether it’s any good? Given that in silhouette and overall form there are similarities, the Lincoln more successfully masks its FWD architecture and is therefore better proportioned. The rear three-quarters of the Lincoln could also be said to contain more echoes of the 1993 Ghia Vignale Lagonda concept, 2014 Audi Prologue (or even the 2010 Saab 9-5) than it does Donckerwolke’s car.

Taken as a whole, it’s a more cohesive piece of styling than the Bentley, which in my view never quite gelled. Nevertheless, it would have spared Woodhouse some embarrassment by toning down some of the more overt similarities. But as we’re told, there’s no such thing as bad publicity.

A Bentley Flying Spur, this week. Image via autoblog
A Bentley Flying Spur, earlier this week. Beside itself with rage. Image via autoblog

My personal view is that it looks okay. A little derivative here and there, but a decent update of a traditional nameplate. The interior in particular has a refreshingly American Showbiz feel to it. I didn’t notice any overt similarity to the Flying Spur until it was pointed out and then had to check, which does suggest Donckerwolke is over-reacting. And given the quality of Bentley’s current stylistic output, I’m less inclined to sympathise.

It’s not the first and possibly not the last concept Ford will show under the Continental nameplate, one used extensively by both marques over many decades. This one differs in that Ford say it will appear in production form in around 12 months time, which means the production car is already signed off.

Image via Carscoops
Image. Carscoops

But what this episode does illustrate is the days of car designers maintaining discretion regarding one another’s work is passing. Which if nothing else could make life a little more interesting for the likes of you and I.

Author: Eóin Doyle

Co-Founder. Editor. Content Provider.

13 thoughts on “Continental Drift”

  1. Do you really believe ‘the Lincoln more successfully masks its FWD architecture and is therefore better proportioned’?

    That aside, the first thing I thought when I saw pictures of the Lincoln was ‘Audi A8’, but they weren’t very good pics and I hadn’t noticed the line break on the rear door, but it’s more obvious on those you selected.

  2. And I see 7 Series BMW there too. Though combined with the grille I can see Mr Donckerwolke’s point. But whether it’s a ‘gentleman’s agreement’ or self preservation that prevents designers from criticising other’s work is a question worth considering. Design feeds off design and where you cross the line into plagiarism is very subjective. I find the Lincoln quite good looking and the Bentley less so – its rear wing curve seems to be grafted onto a contemporary shape in order to hint at heritage. My suggestion is to be more critical of your own current output Luc – or be flattered that anyone would want to copy it.

  3. My view is that the Continental is derivative. The pronounced hip over the rear wheel comes from something Bentley did not recently enough and not long enough ago; the grille is a Bentley outline plus a tab acting as a fig leaf; the rear is nice but stage whispers Audi. Only Ford knows why McGovern’s concept research was canned in favour of a decade of mediocre production designs.
    Not all designers have been polite about each others’ work: Giugiario on Mann’s TR7 is a famous example. And Bangle called a production car “s*** ugly” but I can’t recall which one.
    Audi were sharply patronising about Rover’s aping of their double height grille on the V8 Rover 75: we wish them luck, they said.

    1. Someone also dissed the BMW 1-series, but I can’t remember who. Was it also someone from VAG?

    2. I can’t remember Bangle ever publicly criticising competitors’ works, but he certainly got his fair share of less than complimentary remarks courtesy of supposed colleagues, most famously the esteemed Mr J (neither Jay nor J Full Stop!). The E65 was, to my knowledge, the first car to receive a very public drubbing from competing stylists – GG’s comment on the TR7 is more of an urban legend and something that was supposedly overheard by someone at some auto show, rather than a straightforward comment to the media.

      Oh, and Marc Newson hated the original Z4, as he proclaimed in TWBCM. Thankfully, I’m not aware of owning a single item designed by the man.

  4. Big grille aside, I am quite a fan of this new Continental. It certainly adds to the Bentley-aping American sedan genre, the only other example being the Chrysler 300. And to my eyes it looks better than the Bentley original it supposedly riffs upon. Just a shame that it looks set for FWD architecture.

  5. It does have a faint whiff of a Bentley (as everyone has already pointed out – the grille especially). The more important question to me is why they have decided against the marvellous, minimalistic approach of McGovern and then turned to soft, inoffensive, blandly executed retro styling, which both on Bentley’s cars and the Continental looks simply childish. I know retro sells, but look at how competent are the contemporary Rolls-Royces.

    1. Agreed Kajetan, McGovern’s Lincoln concepts were without exception, exceptional. A real missed opportunity by Ford. I don’t really care if this concept is derivative or not, I’m just really disappointed that it’s so torpid.

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