Franco-Italian Design Rationalism

Last week we discussed Audi’s sensible approach to design using the 1982 100 as an example. 

1992 (?) Peugeot 405 SRi seen in Kolding, Denmark.
1992 (?) Peugeot 405 SRi seen in Kolding, Denmark.

This late model Peugeot 405 SRi, which is in remarkably good condition shows how Pininfarina had a go at this approach to styling. Like the Audi, it still remains very fresh indeed but has its own distinct character. Thus, even within the framework of neat rationalism one can create shapes with a special identity. Note the very restrained use of brightwork: thin slivers of metal around the door frames.

Author: richard herriott

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

16 thoughts on “Franco-Italian Design Rationalism”

  1. The 405 is a perfect example.
    Is there a similar approach from an Italian make? The unloved Fiat Stilo? The Croma I?

  2. How about the 1988 Fiat Tipo? They did that in a pretty serious way.
    This 405 was almost showroom new-looking. It must be a garaged car. The black plastic remained really black and the seats were unworn too. Not far a away I sometimes spy a mint ’86 Escort and it’s not a special version but a GL 1300 “or similar”. Pininfarina did a good job with the 405. Simple as it is, the Peugeot identity is clearly in there.

  3. I had a think about the Stilo. Compared to the Tipo it seems much more “styled” even though they were trying to do a Golf-sort of car. The Tipo has all those simple radii and quite straight lines in parallel. Maybe others might see it differently. Obviously in 1985 much, much calmer design was acceptable!

    1. Yes, the Stilo is much more styled than the Tipo. But compared to its peers in its time, it looks fairly restrained and clean. Even the Golf V has this Günak-baroque feat…

  4. One of the best designed cars of this time – with very good aerodynamics, very compact without chi-chi. but also a typical peugeot style (look at the rear lights that has the same typical Peugeot-Style as the headlights) and with a wonderful shy coupé-look with the black B-pillar.
    When a car looks really good in white than this is a hint for really good design.

    Pininfarina´s timeless design at its best – looking at a Opel Vectra A, a Mitsubishi Carisma, a Lancia Dedra or a Renault 21, in my eyes they all are very dated and shabby in comparison with the Peugeot 405.

  5. I´d agree. Perhaps Audi´s 80 of the same period is as good. The Dedra is plain peculiar. The 21 looks very workmanlike now. It´s lacking much by way of subtlety as if they took the industrial look too far and did not know how to add some extra element of style, a small flourish. It ended up being generic I suppose.

  6. The Audi 80 of 1986 was not a very good example for Audi-Design. He looks modern but not really solid with those oversized lights. His successor with the sculptured bonnet. the greater boot and a more horizontal line was much better.
    But both Audis are lacking the natural elegance of a Pininfarina-creation.

  7. For some reason I always assumed that the Renault 21 was a Gandini design, from the end of his collaboration during Robert Opron’s time at Renault. But in fact I find that Giugiaro designed it (or someone at Ital Design). Odd, since it looks more like a Gandini design and I find that my misconception is held by other people. Notable though that, unlike the Lamborghini, Gandini and Giugiaro aren’t brawling in public over authorship of the Renault. I wonder why.

  8. I was thinking of the B3 which ran from 86 to 91. The previous one has little to commend it other than being fault-free design. I’d have to agree with you that the B3 isn’t especially elegant but it looks like a solid, quality car with nice touches like a super-light glasshouse and a flush body that avoids Vectra/R21 blandness. I’d rank the B3 as on a par with the 405.

  9. Markus, your list is valid, but missing is the Citroen BX, design rationalism in extreme and still “modern” on its own.

    1. Of course, the Citroen BX was a complete class of its own. Like the Saab 900 and the Mercedes 190 W201. Cars with caracter.
      I owned a BX too, knowing that the 405 offers much more quality and refinement.

      Concerning the Audi 80 B3, i don´t like his used soap-bar aerodynamic look – i have the same problem with rhe Audi 100 of 1983 and the Opel Omega A – and the Mercedes CLA nowadays. I prefer aerodyamics combined with an own style.
      What i always hated on the Audi 80 B3 and B4 was their air vents which remind me on bars of jailhouse windows….

  10. This is why we value the comments of our visitors. It encourages thinking!

    Having started with the Audi and 405 I had not gone much further with examining the extent of this design theme. Now the BX gets brought into the mix and it challenges my argument. Is it part of the design rationalist class of cars or is it not? If it is, why do I feel so uncomfortable with it? And if it´s not, I need to come up with a reason. First, it is one of those free-standing designs that has lasted and lasted. It still looks brightly Modern. Did it´s C-pillar inspire the Cactus, I wonder? I really need to think about this as the old saying goes, the exceptions test the rule. What is challenging is that on level the BX and 405 are orderly and simple forms. Yet the Citroen announces its Citroen character more clearly than the 405 (which does it very well anyway). What makes the BX seem more expressive than the 405? Research needed.

    It is only recently that I have come to terms with the 1983 Audi 100 and Opel Omega “A”. For years and years I felt both looked over-inflated, as if there was too much bodywork and not enough variation in their forms. I now “get” what the designers were trying to do, namely present completely flush surfaces to achieve an aerodynamic goal of low-drag. The consequence of this is that the cars´bodies lack the kind of small elements of relief that give the impression of material thickness. That is achieved by putting small flanges at the edges of major and minor apertures in the body, for example. Look at the tail lamps of an Alfa Romeo 147 to see an example. Both cars seem to have no deep draft pressings either.That can be mistaken for cheapness. The two cars look fragile – or can look fragile – as if they are made of plastic not steel. The W-126 avoids this. Of the two cars, the Opel is better planted and has better proportions. The Audi´s wheelbase/length ratio is wrong. If you see a Omega at night under street lamps and look at the car overall you can get a feel for the effect they were after. It´s quite strikingly architectural. If it takes 30 years to understand a design then maybe that ´s a sign something is a bit wrong. I would certainly see what you don´t like about them.

    1. For me, the Omega is only a blown up big brother of the Kadett Saloon. He does not look more solid or more elegant, just a bit bigger.
      In my eyes, the rear part of the Omega-sideline is even worse. There is too much steel over the partially covered rear wheel and the 3 windows seems to be a provisional solution after someone has destroyed the original rear window. And the rear llights has the same unindividual form of the Kadett Saloon and the Nova/Corsa Saloon rearlights.
      The Senator did a much better job concerning distinction to the smaller and cheaper Opels.

  11. I will respond to those point about the Omega later on today in a bit more depth. Does it help to see it as a replacement for the Rekord? The Senator version of the Omega A provided more a opulent-looking car. I didn´t like the Omega for years. I thought it looked brittle but these days I see it in the context of industrial product design. It´s very simple and geometrical like some peice of electronic equipment. That was probably not a good reference in the long run!

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