Underneath the Arches

All those elaborate wheel-arch forms we see on automobiles are the result of decades of evolution and the work of hundreds of designers looking at each other’s creative output. Are they done out of habit now?

The simplest wheel cut out.
The simplest wheel cut out.

Perhaps some designers have forgot the wheel arch is first a hole in the body for a wheel arranged so as to allow the wheel’s movement and manage water spray. Like many features on a car they are often drawn as sculptural entities or purely graphical forms. I personally have sketched shapes from purely a formal viewpoint: two blobs for lights, a block in the middle some lines underneath…. And there’s a car’s front end, divorced entirely from the relationship of each shape the thing it represents.

It´s not even that simple really. 1989 Peugeot 605: autoblog.com
It´s not even that simple really. 1989 Peugeot 605: autoblog.com

It is not a necessity that a wheel arch-cut out has to be as complicated, nuanced or constructed in the ways that we see on most cars. What might be the case is that designers are simply doing their version of a moulding around the wheel-cut outs on the bodyside. The decision to have a complex shape around the wheel cut-out is itself a choice. I don’t think that it is always the case that a designer approaches the wheel-cut out (or other shape) and thinks: what can or should I do here? Why is this thing here? The habit of creating yet another decorative surface around the wheel cut-out might be often just a default.

I dont even know what car this is from now. I only took the photo this morning.
I don’t even know what car this is from now. I only took the photo this morning.

There are reasons why wheel-arches are very complex over and above the reason discussed above. Bonnets and window-lines are higher so that expanse of metal needs to be filled (does it?). And the silhouette of a car has been smoothed off so much that the only way forwards is back (the last C-class was more upright than the one it replaced – it’s smooth again). So that leaves graphics and sculpture to carry the task of distinguishing the car from every other car in the world.

Made in China, the Envision by Buick: Motor Trend.com
Made in China, the Envision by Buick: Motor Trend.com

Author: richard herriott

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

9 thoughts on “Underneath the Arches”

  1. I’m not sure where this story is going, but I like the sketch at the start of the article.

    1. That’s fair enough. I suppose car designers spend so much time thinking of new and different ways fo render wheel arches that a minimalist solution would be hard to accept. I suppose there is also the complication of the body side surfacing, and complication of bodyside surfacing seems fo be the way of things these days.

      Is the silver car you took a photo of a second-gen Nissan Micra?

    2. My first thought was “Punto”, but yes, Mark, you had the better eye.

  2. Where the story is going depends from our contributions to the discussion…
    I have always been a friend of “simple” wheelarches. As Richard shows, they probably are not that simple as we first think. What I probably want to say is that I prefer a full-panel flare over any kind of bulge or extension which is the common way to do it today (with increasingly complex shapes, yes!). Examples for such a flare are the Peugeot above or the 1991 Opel Astra Richard brought to our attention recently. The first Opel Corsa was an interesting example as well.

    With the Bulges, I often feel that they remind me too much of pre-war or ’50s shapes and therefore are inappropriate on a modern car. There are better and worse examples, however. I’ll post some examples later when I have my image editing software.

    1. Elaborate wheel arches aren’t wrong in themselves. I am questioning the extent of their use. That said, if you look in the car park you’ll find an astonishing variety and variation. Quite a lot of brainpower getd spent on them, I suppose. Peugeot have one with a subtle assymetric concavity, for example. It’s splendidly

  3. Nice to see a photo of a 605 – a car I always admired from the outside at least and with a subtly flared front wheel arch. A French boss of mine had one in the early nineties and swore it was vastly superior to drive than a 5 Series … did I say he was French?!

    1. Car magazine rated the 605 for its refinement. Seen up close the interior is not very appealing. There are odd uses of squashy plastics on the doors and even the leather and wood version is far from special. Citroen’s XM had a far stronger impression of quality, relatively and absolutely.

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