Theme : Shutlines – Introduction

The Editor Peers Into The Void

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Once they were called Panel Gaps. These were negatives, they were just places where metal didn’t exist. Cars were assembled from a lot of different bits, leaving gaps between them, especially where one bit might need to be removed again, or where it hinged. These gaps varied in size and it was generally safer to make them a bit bigger in case of mistakes, and maybe to allow for better ventilation.

The original Volkswagen Beetle had good fitting panels for the time. Combined with stout rubber seals this resulted in the Beetle owner’s old party trick of slamming a door, which resulted in a noticeable blow to the eardrum, so airtight was the fit. The Japanese industry always seems to have been more rigorous, but most European and American carmakers back then did not seem to care to work to such tolerances and, in truth, no-one seemed to care that much.

Modern production techniques made machining and assembly more accurate, but it took a while for the industry to embrace this. Much of the tightening up of gaps happened gradually – as Eoin pointed out in his XJ40 opus, the slow motion genesis of that car meant that, by the time it was released, its once normal sized panel gaps were being viewed as chasms.

Ferdinand Piech, unsurprisingly, was a great proponent of narrow panel gaps, setting his engineers targets that they incorrectly thought couldn’t be achieved, let alone maintained. But they were and, over a period of time, the Panel Gap has become the Shutline. The concept of a Shutline is subtly different. It refers to the same phenomenon, but somehow a Shutline has achieved its own identity. It is no longer a negative, it is an entity, it is part of a design, something that the younger design-oriented types on this website will ponder, stroke their chins and earnestly discuss.

Unlike the Panel Gap, the Shutline isn’t something that unavoidably interrupts the flow of a design, it becomes part of it. Or that is the theory though, in reality, I find the design world’s attitude to shutlines pragmatic, to put it politely. A shutline is not a crease which often makes the flowing of one into the other unsatisfactory. There are many Shutline crimes, and a few hits. Doubtless we will discuss them in more detail this month.

7 thoughts on “Theme : Shutlines – Introduction”

  1. I don’t get it – I can see shutlines/panelgaps on all those cars in the reel but none make me feel negative or positive about the car, including the AUDI. I suspect it is merely something else to be competitive about that “may” differentiate your quality from another manufacturers. Mentally programmed by the manufacturer who happens to have close shutlines. In another decade another manufacturer will be discussing the merits of their large panelgaps, LOL.

  2. For me, it’s not the width of the gaps that is the crucial point. But I see shutlines that do make a difference. In the positive sense (e.g. the Saab’s bonnet) as in the negative (the Juke’s clash of shapes between the rear door and the DLO). I’d rather like to discuss the latter point this month than to talk about micrometres (I already do this often enough on my job).

  3. What Audi and others have done is add the shutline to the list of positive design elements. If you want shutlines to be unnoticeable then there needs to be some hard work done to balance all the other demands of assembly and production. I will be presenting some examples soon.

  4. OKay, I have to admit that the intro made me all giddy with excitement, especially seeing all the gorgeous (and a couple of less commendable) examples. I find the A6 and the Ka exceptionally well done and it actually does make me like the Ka a lot more.

    1. Kajetan, you are of course entitled to admire the KA from a safe distance, but I strongly advise against ownership, especially if you live in Northern Europe. I speak from (very) bitter experience.

      There are by the way, two shutlines on the KA that I think are poorly handled. The first is where the metal piece that forms the top of the tailgate meets the roof panel. This doesn’t integrate well. The second is the shutline between the base of the door and the door sill. Again, the integration here is woeful. Overall though, it was very well designed. I seem to recall that RH of this address flagged up another design flaw some time back, but nobody was able to identify it. Chances are it wasn’t either of the above. Any thoughts?

    2. I’ve never noticed the tailgate thing, thanks for pointing that out. Thankfully it’s in a rarely seen place on the car.
      The door sill shutline is quite annoying, I agree, but I think it’s mainly because of the weird radius that doesn’t appear anywhere else on the car and the flimsy, uncomfortable, concave shape it leaves for the rear wing.

  5. Funnily, I don’t see anything wrong with the tailgate or the door. Overall the shutline management of the Ka is an object lesson in how to use the fewest panels and make the most of their form. You can see more recent attempts at this with the first series Aygo\C1 which looks fussier; the VW Up is equally simple in terms of panel count but treats the shutlines as nuisances to be played down.

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