Theme: Shutlines – Mind The Gap

Some collected, if slightly disconnected thoughts on this month’s theme gives us an opportunity for a little gratuitous Mercedes-bashing. 

Stand clear of the doors - image via The Telegraph
Stand clear of the doors – image: The Telegraph

So much is known and quantified, be it politics, cuisine, architecture or indeed recognising a decent pasodoble when we see one. It’s all out there to be discovered, downloaded and co-opted into our lives and dinner party conversations: we’re all experts now.

Hence the language that was once entirely the preserve of a few industry professionals has morphed into the vernacular. Motoring journalism is awash with industry-speak, those signifiers beloved of car designers. Until a few years ago, who outside of a design studio used terms like daylight opening, or the adjective fast to describe a roofline or screen angle?

Of course, we all now know what a shutline is and what it’s good for, but do we really need to? Isn’t it all just part of that whole universe of pointless industry-speak that invades our lives; merely another way of quantifying something? Be your own personal Steven Bayley – you may not have the qualifications or the wit, but at least you’ve got the terminology.

A couple of decades ago, car designers and stylists would have been horrified by today’s flagrant and wanton use of shutlines as graphic elements. Their job was to hide the joins; provide the illusion of a single seamless entity while providing access for humans and their chattel. Body seams were welded and filled with molten lead; highly skilled work, long redundant. It is said that half the body weight of a car from the 1950’s was the lead loading covering up all those small steel pressings mash-welded together.

Mini bodyshell - exposed seams and all. Image via Studdsey
Mini bodyshell – exposed seams and all. Image: Studdsey

When BMC introduced the 1959 Mini the need to reduce production costs dovetailed with an intentional and studied asceticism which saw them move away from more traditional methods. Instead, the body seams were exposed and spot welded together, with thin metal trim strips covering the welds which acted as superb moisture traps – some lasting a good six months in a damp Northern European climate. Alec Issigonis may have been a visionary, but he had scant interest in production engineering – and it showed. Today of course, laborious processes such as leading weld seams are not only inefficient, but costly and one thing that marks a modern car of any stripe from Dacia to Dawn is ease (and cost) of build. Say hello to the ever-present shutline.

Nevertheless, every so often, legislation throws the industry a loop. Take bonnet-height regulation for example. This EU-sanctioned rule dictates the amount of crushable space for downward deformation in the event of a human making contact with bonnet of the vehicle. It is a rule that has possibly saved a number of lives in the intervening time, but has also provided stern aesthetic challenges for stylists, one which has taken the industry some considerable time to assimilate. It’s an area that few have reconciled terrifically well, although most now have learned how to work around its more obvious challenges. Except of course for Mercedes-Benz.

Shutline horror - Mercedes W204 C-Class. Image via 3dtuning
Shutline horror – Mercedes W204 C-Class. Image: 3dtuning

The list of Daimler’s recent shutline failures is far too lengthy to go into in full, but two of the worst offenders are the 2007 W204 C-Class and current W212 E-Class and its derivatives. The treatment of the bonnet to front wing shutline on both cars is frightful, the E-Class being particularly offensive in this regard. The sharp fold in the panel, instead of creating an aura of solidity and visual quality, makes the bonnet pressing look what it is – a folded piece of tin. The panel gap is also huge.

Current design supremo, Gorden Wagener cannot be absolved either, his W221 S-Class featuring a similarly inept bootlid treatment. Given Daimler’s position as the World’s oldest car manufacturer, not to mention the resources available to them, one can only assume this was intentional on their part. Former design head, Bruno Sacco must weep blood whenever he sees what they attach a three-pointed star to nowadays.

Just when you thought it was safe - W212 - truly abominable. Image via mbclub
W212 – truly abominable. Image via mbclub

Nevertheless, however well or badly they are treated, as long as there are cars and people to be accommodated, the shutline will remain with us; it may become thinner or less obvious, but never entirely abolished. All of which should give Mercedes-Benz ample time to buck up their ideas.

Author: Eóin Doyle

Founding Editor. Content Provider.

8 thoughts on “Theme: Shutlines – Mind The Gap”

  1. Disagree. I find the continuous belt line from stem to stern created by the clamshell bonnet treatment enhances the perceived solidity of the flanks. Where the bonnet is made to look “thin” in both cases is around the front end. With the W204 C Class shown above, the complicated cut outs accommodating the grill and headlights undermine the bonnet’s solidity, and can give the impression that it is not fully shut. With the face lifted W212 E Class, any impression of thickness is ruined by the utterly Byzantine set of curves, corners and creases where the front edge of the bonnet meets the one piece plastic fascia. Why they chose to impose that treatment on the otherwise statesmanlike E Class, I simply cannot fathom.

  2. Clamshell bonnets result in an “extra” line on the bodyside that has to end somewhere. That’s trouble. It leads one to expect a corresponding line for the bootlid which is not often chosen.
    Mercedes have not found a good way to handle the bumper and bonnet junctions and at best they are adequate.

  3. You know me. Normally if there’s the chance for a bit of Merc-Bashing, you’ll find me wearing by steel capped DMs and elbowing my way to the front of the pack. In this case though, I’ll side with Chris. I always found the 1997 W204 an aberration, being a Mercedes that actually looked OK. So much so that I actually considered an estate for a while – a lust solved by escalating my desire to an AMG C63, thus pricing it out of my reach. Thankfully, balance with the rest of the ‘sculpted’ (as in self-expression with plasticine at play school) Mercedes range has now had balance restored with the elaborate W205.

    Clamshell bonnets can be a problem. I used to admire the Saab 99, and I still do, but today’s expectations made the image that Simon used in his intro rather shocking – the line of the clamshell with the body crease now seems an inexcusably clunky detail. Mercedes got round this by running it into the base line of the side window trim on the C Class, which I find acceptable.

  4. The first crime that comes to my mind when looking at both of the Mercedes-Benz examples is the horrid, flimsy stripe of wing metal between the rear door and the rear wheelarch fillet. The E-class actually makes it look as if this part of the panel could be easily broken off/bent out of shape by hand. Why on earth didn’t they just keep a straight shutline and treat the lower rear edge of the door as part of the wheelarch?

  5. I actually took some time to try and rework the C-Klasse shutlines. I’m not too sure about the result, but I daresay the rear door looks better this way.
    I’ve also moved the front bumper shutline, so it’s clearly detached from the hood shutline (and crosses the body section in a more convenient point), the rear bumper shutline (a bit more experimental, I’m not too sure about the engineering that would go into such a bit swathe of plastic) and the hood to A-pillar shutline (not sure about this one either, but it does make the hood look a bit more solid).

    1. Thanks for those. It goes to show what a tricky task it is to keep shutlines orderly. I feel the original shutlines on the C-class we are dealing with here are not great. Have Mercedes ever been really good at this? The revised sketch improves the front bumper and rear door. I’d have to decline the revised a-pillar. The value of your proposal is that reveals the parameters leading to the chosen solution are at fault. It’s the clamshell that is the core of the matter. At the rear I feel the alternative leads to the shutline running non-parallel to the curvature of the panels it crosses. I might feel happier if there was a smooth curve where it crosses from the body side to wheel arch lip. On the other hand it is credible. I personally would choose the existing solution or explore changes to the conditions. Thanks again for posting it and being brave enough to listen to our comments.

  6. I actually took some time to try and rework the C-Klasse shutlines. I’m not too sure about the result, but I daresay the rear door looks better this way.

    I’ve also moved the front bumper shutline, so it’s clearly detached from the hood shutline (and crosses the body section in a more convenient point), the rear bumper shutline (a bit more experimental, I’m not too sure about the engineering that would go into such a big swathe of plastic) and the hood to A-pillar shutline (not sure about this one either, but it does make the hood look a bit more solid).

  7. I’m unrepentant on this, the whole floating bonnet/clamshell effect on both cars hits me square between the eyes every time. I think it’s really poorly handled and cheapens both cars unnecessarily. I agree with Richard on this. If you do it on one end, you are duty bound to do the other end too. Even more illogically, the W221 S-Class had a clamshell bootlid, but in that instance was given a conventional bonnet treatment. It looked just as bad there – possibly worse, on a flagship model. That old axiom holds true; just because you can doesn’t mean you should.

    Otherwise I’ve grown almost fond of the W204. Alongside its modern siblings, it now appears stately and well proportioned. The estate is particularly good to my eyes. The W212 is another kettle of fish altogether. Okay, it’s not W210 awful, but it is and always has been a bit of a stylistic eaton mess.

    Thanks to Kajetan for the altered images. Clearly there was a bit of an ‘anything goes’ attitude in Peter Pffifer’s Sindelfinen dream factory during the previous decade. And no firm hand on the tiller.

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