Theme: Shutlines – A Review

We really went at this topic with gusto. Did we learn anything?

A shutline, yesterday.
A shutline, yesterday.

Editor Simon introduced the topic and noted that panel gaps or shutlines at their best become a positive part of the design and not are merely an interruption. And we spent the best part of the month demonstrating all the ways to get it wrong. Sean noted the problem of getting the wheel arch and door shutlines to relate properly. Should they follow the arch or should they form their own discrete shape on the side of the car as on the Renault Laguna or Passat?  The case is not proven.  I went over some old ground from another angle, looking at how the shutline between the bumper and the body has gained more and

Good grief. Ford gets it all up the side and out the front.
Good grief. Ford gets it all up the side and out the front.

more territory in the last decade. I had also dealt with this under our theme of evolution.  I was admiring a 2000 Ford Mondeo hatchback today which was an object lesson in rational design, particularly the way the rear bumpers efficiently mated to the rest of the body with no zany angles in evidence. At this point it dawned on us that we meant panel gaps and not shutlines; shutlines are where doors, boot and bonnet meet the fixed parts of the body. That detail notwithstanding, we soldiered on.

Sean looked  at the expanding bumper from yet another angle, the clever way Peugeot used a large bumper and large light unit to completely eliminate an entire side panel on their 107. Eóin had a go at Mercedes’ shoddy shutlines here, noting the W-204 C-class’s nasty A-pillar and bonnet shutlines. They do try to get away with a lot of rotten details, those Stuttgarters.

1994-1997 Audi A6. This is the V8. Impeccable.
1994-1997 Audi A6. This is the V8. Impeccable.

Sills: some cars have quite convoluted designs. Audi lead the way here. And Saab did too at one point by not having a visible sill. P. Thomas quickly spotted my typo in that article. Sean reminded us of the astonishingly ahead-of-its-time BMW Gina concept  which managed to avoid having any shutlines to speak of.

I discounted this design at the time but in fact it was one of the good ones that was so far ahead in its thinking I was not ready to understand it. Perhaps few people yet do. It’s anatomical references only make the car seem more appealing, a welcome alternative to the usual physiognomic clichés in car design.

Purest tosh.
Purest tosh.

A-pillars are a tricky area of the car. Eóin offered this insight, about the plunging A-pillar while I went out with my camera and found some contemporary examples  It was all done very differently in 1970, remember.

Simon S. wrote a nice piece about the fake frameless side glass and the appalling complications such a trick tend to create.  We had a chance to reconsider the 2006 Lexus IS, which is car that has slipped the attention of many of us.

2006 Honda CRV - you would think they could have nudged things so as to avoid that tiny splinter of brightwork.
2006 Honda CRV – you would think they could have nudged things so as to avoid that tiny splinter of brightwork.

The 1976 Audi 100 B2 is indeed a subtle thing. Eóin showed the depths of its creativity in his post on tricky C-pillar. Not for Audi, though.  Take a look at that again here.

Finally, Bristol do things differently as Sean demonstrated here  You have to give them credit for their imagination but one wishes that Bristol had shown some respect for what industrial design can do. There is no point in engineering a car to work peerlessly if it looks so awful only a few people will buy it.

This is great example of not respecting detail. Look at the violence of the door shut. And look at that nasty line running from the headlamp down.
This is great example of not respecting detail. Look at the violence of the door shut. And look at that nasty line running from the headlamp down.

In essence, the worst examples of shut-lines and panel gaps show inattention to detail. As I have said before here, this can be seen as a failure to see the ‘gestalt’ or entirety of the object. It can also be due to a different set of standards. At one point I think shutlines and panel gaps were not seen or were discounted on the grounds of their incongruousness. Firms – I am thinking Audi here, but also Renault and BMW – started to use them in a creative way. At that point engineering could not be offered as an excuse for shoddy solutions.

It is worth noting that American cuts of meat are much less likely to respect the muscle groups of the animal. French cuts are based on the anatomy while US cuts simply carve the carcass in crude oblongs. With that in mind, the awfulness of the Chrysler makes more sense. A more talented team would not have let the line that flows from bonnet to lamps peter out as it did and thereby they could have avoided that nasty, nasty line running down from the lamps.

Using this metaphor, can we view shutlines as the expression of understanding how the car’s carcass must be divided?

1976 Citroen CX: www.autoviva.com Notice how the doors continue down, as on the Saab.
Notice how the doors continue down, as on the Saab 900. 1976 Citroen CX: http://www.autoviva.com

We thank you for your many interesting and thought-provoking comments on these and the other articles we have run this month and look forward to seeing you back for more debate, shin-kicking and discussion next month.

Author: richard herriott

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

5 thoughts on “Theme: Shutlines – A Review”

  1. Ref: A more talented team would not have let the line that flows from bonnet to lamps peter out as it did and thereby they could have avoided that nasty, nasty line running down from the lamps.

    I have always had the belief if one is going to criticise something then one should offer a solution
    to solve the problem but looking at the Chrysler damned if I can see one.
    Just how would you alter the vertical line for a more pleasing result?

    1. It would probably help to start the divide at the rearmost point of the “eyebrow” line and then pull it more or less directly to the wheelarch, preferably with a slight slope or curve. That would at least avoid that rectangular character which is completely against the car’s design line.

  2. An interesting thought to relate the way how meat is cut to car panel divisions. I like that.

    The Chrysler’s odd vertical division for me looks like a heritage from the ’70s and ’80s. This was the heyday of crude badge engineering. It seemed as if there was a corporate body for each size of car which had both ends cut off with an axe. To this trunk each brand grafted their specific nose or tail. They might have heard that playing with Lego bricks enhances creativity, but just took it a tad too literally.

  3. My favourite car a 1957 Porsche speedster, could this be the perfect shut line car?
    Would like to include a picture but seems beyond my technical prowess.

  4. I can get the hang of putting in photos either. At the moment I have to open a message where it worked and copy and paste the code into a new message taking care to remove the reference to the old photo and put in the new reference.

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