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