The Editor Peers Into The Void
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.