Theme: Shutlines – A-pillars

There are a number of ways to skin this particular cat. Do many people notice this? BMW thought so and ran an ad just showing the A-pillar of their 1988 5-series, or it might have been the 1995 version. 

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The little photo gallery shows a wide variety of ways to deal with the base of the A-pillar. It’s very complex since the glasshouse has to blend to the lower body; the doors need to close with a proper seal (are the doors inset, flush or to they cover the A-pillar?); the windscreen needs to be located; the wing has to terminate nicely; mirrors needs a home and finally the whole arrangement is pushed about by the location of the base of the windscreen relative to the doors.

The Honda CRV shown above is a puzzle as evidently the designers and engineers could not agree to move the door shutline and window base enough to make the tip of the side glass stay aft of the shutline. Citroen’s C3 is in the same category.

The point about this fraught little corner is that if you decide to avoid odd junctions you are committed to quite big and decisive limitations on the location of the door to the window and perhaps how the whole door closure is designed. With relatively upright cars of the 1980s this problem didn’t exist. As cars’ shapes have become more and more stretched the elements are moving around relative to one another in ways that can leave annoying detail flubs as on the Honda and Citroen. I imagine that the designer has drawn an expressive shape and then somehow had to find a way to fit that to a package. I presume the more sober of the marques keep the banalities of shutline management to the fore when sketching and this manufacturing and detail design can determine the character of the car. As in all aspects of design, it’s a trade-off.

Main aspects:

Side to side relations: does the shape flow from the side to the front or from the glasshouse to the bonnet?

Door frames: do they cover the A-pillar fully, partially or not at all?

Windscreen to leading edge of the door: does the front tip of the side glass end at the leading edge of the door or does it extend forward?

The wing to A-pillar join: is this high or low or equal?

Author: richard herriott

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

23 thoughts on “Theme: Shutlines – A-pillars”

  1. Looking at that Gallery, one image stood out and attracted my immediate contempt. By its awfulness, I knew immediately it was a Citroen (a C3 it transpires). A shutline that runs down the middle of the A Pillar. Surely Citroen must be current top of the “SHUTCRIMES : MOST WANTED” list.

  2. The sloppy treatment of shutlines and pillars is just one aspect of the carelessness that dominates PSA’s car designs today. Incoherent proportions, bad packaging and clumsily pasted-on details are others. At least with recent Peugeots, there are signs that it’s getting better, but will Citroën profit from that, or is it merely a means to “differentiate” the two brands?

    The A-Pillar is really an interesting area of car design. As you mentioned, Richard, much of today’s odd treatments result from the movement this pillar has done in the past decades. We recently had the GS and the CX here as examples of the rear door shutline, but they are also interesting further ahead. The leading edge of the front door actually has to curve backwards at the top to meet the window corner. A lot of cars in the ’60s and ’70s do it similarly. In the ’80s, we mostly see a straight vertical line meet the A-pillar base, as mentioned. Nowadays, we have glasshouses cutting more and more into the bonnet and over the front wheelarch. While this might contribute to a more airy feeling in the cabin and contribute to the stiffness in a crash, it also has its drawbacks. Having driven old cars with slim, relatively upright pillars for my whole life, I was quite irritated by a test drive in the then new Citroën C4 (first generation). The pillar seemed so thick and too far to the front, it always seemed to be where I wanted to look for the course of a curve or oncoming traffic. Furthermore, the vast areas on top of the dashboard tend to heat up and reflect in the windscreen.

  3. That relation of the a-pillar to the leading edge of the door is important. Cab-forward designs pull the a-pillar base forward so the mirror sail panel gets cut-off from the rest of the door. You get a faster profile but the dashboard gets deeper and deeper, and over it is a useless wedge of space.
    I’d be interested to know why PSA are less interested in the last details. Is it that they don’t want to spend the time on the extra iterations of the design process required to achieve the correct compromise or do they disdain such painstaking effort?

  4. Damn you, I spent all day looking at the A pillar of every single car that I walked past today ! 😉

    1. Sorry about that. I does get a bit compulsive. Thanks for stopping by. Have we another Citroeniste here? I have been looking at shutlines for the last ten days. A-pillars and bumpers seem to attract my attention most.

  5. I’ve just spent an enjoyable and indolent hour reading through the pieces and contributions in the “Shutlines” theme, all food and drink to an obsessive like me. Regarding A-pillar treatments, I’m surprised that this most unusual one escaped DTW’s gimlet-eyed attention:

    It was, rather expensively and inexplicably, revised at facelift time to this rather more conventional iteration:

    It should be an easy car to identify, but what is it?

    1. Rather like the Lancia Beta, I was always bemused at the sheer number of variations of Polo Mk 2 that existed.

    2. …and had I scrolled down I would have seen that Marco…two, had already been correctly identified. Apologies Gooddog for not reading your post!

    3. Hi Adrian, was there more than three? There was the “breadvan” hatchback with the vertical tailgate, the “coupé” (just another hatchback with a sloping tailgate) and a two-door saloon. Here’s the original range:

      Of course,there were lots of special editions during its long (13 year) life. Only the Austin Metro, in its various guises, lived longer (18 years) with the same basic body structure.

    4. No, just the three Daniel, but multiplied by two with the facelift.

      The facelift was intriguing – I think it spoilt the neat, sharp looks of the breadvan quite badly, but the coupé came into its own with the chunkier but more rounded front end, which set of the rest of the body shape well.

    5. Yes, Adrian, I agree that the smoother front end (and wider rear light units) suited the coupé well. If you like that car, you might appreciate this VW Brazil variation on the same design theme, the VW Gol:

      It’s an elongated Polo Mk2 Coupé, or a Polo Mk2 / Scirocco Mk2 mash-up, whichever you prefer. I’ve always been intrigued by the amount of creative freedom VW allowed its Brazilian operation, which produced some interesting vehicles.

    6. Yes, that’s rather pleasing isn’t it? Mark 2s always struck me as being dainty yet solid, and the Gol seems to carry that combination on further. A 1.0 Formel E breadvan took refuge with me for a few months whilst it was looking for a sympathetic owner once. It was desperately slow, but a reliable companion, a bit like an elderly springer spaniel but with sharper looks.

    7. I owned a Mk2 Polo “Breadvan” back in in 1982. It was my first new car, a 1043cc basic “C” model in white. It was a nice little car, more solidly put together than other contemporary small hatchbacks. Its only fault was a propensity for the rear side window rubbers to let heavy rainwater into the cabin, a problem easily fixed with a tube of household silicone sealant.

      Here’s yet another variation on the same design theme, the Voyage two and four-door saloon model, here in four-door form:

      VW South America continues to offer a number of unique models unknown in Europe. In Argentina, the company offers five different four-door saloon models covering the B to D-segments! However, the most unusual offering is the Saveiro, a small (Golf sized) pick-up available in single, extended and double-cab versions:

    8. I have a friend who was looking for exactly that size of pickup last year – he didn’t want anything as big as the current fashion. I’m sure he would have been interested in one of these, but he compromised and ended up with a Bipper instead.

    9. The Voyage is interesting – rather than the Polo, some Jettas come to my mind here. It looks like a mixture of Mk1 (rear lights, overall shape) and Mk2 (windows, bodyside crease, bumpers) Jettas. But like the Polo, it’s an attempt to translate a basically outdated design into modern times. I think that on the European market, no other company but VW would have got away with this by 1990, not even offering a 5-door variant. Even Ford got it right with their Mk2 Fiesta at that time.

    1. Oh, that’s difficult, gooddog. Can’t we have even a small external bodywork detail?

    2. Oh, sorry gooddog, I missed your “Marco…two”. Well done, I’ll have to find a more obscure A-pillar to test you properly!

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