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?
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.