As a car stylist, you’re only as good as your last design. Oh dear…
Once upon a time, there was a dashing Dane who, it appeared, could do no wrong when it came to creating sleek, elegant, timeless shapes for sophisticated sports cars. A mere decade later, little of this reputation remains intact – which also taints his past body of work.
I am writing this as someone who used to hold the talents of this particular designer in high regard. Despite my lack of enthusiasm for retro design, I registered an attention to detail in the BMW Z8 he helped pen that outweighed my reservations regarding the very concept of that BMW 507 pastiche.
Moreover, the Aston Martin V8 Vantage and, in particular, DB9 models he was credited with were, plain and simple, the prettiest prestige cars of the decade. These designs formed my view that Henrik Fisker must rank among the very top of the car designers’ ilk, as a man who could hold up the value of good old elegance in the vein of a Pininfarina, during a time when uncouthness reigned supreme.
But as with many heroes, the passing of time – and age – can do a lot to change one’s view. Yet in Henrik Fisker’s case, it appears as though it was, above all, he himself who did most of the disillusionment work.
In the years since he left Ford – and hence Aston Martin – he tried to hit the big time, time and again. His first, relatively modest venture was a modern stab at coachbuilding, which gave the automotive world re-bodied versions of BMW’s E63 Six series coupé and Mercedes’ R230 SL roadster, the latter of which arguably was marginally prettier than the base car. Yet in any case both were burdened with ghastly, cheap-looking rims of the Max Power breed and a gaping snout that seemed to be at odds with Fisker’s style of restrained elegance.
Rather surprisingly, just as the coachbuilt Fiskers were starting to appear in purchasable form, the maestro thought the time was ripe for his major coup. An ambition that not only meant he would succeed at what a great many men before him had failed to achieve – building a series-production car brand from the ground up, but also involved unproven, futuristic technology. So Henrik Fisker was about to build an electric car. On a grand scale, obviously.
But before that, as the public would learn a while later, he had actually been hired by one Elon Musk to design an electric four-door saloon for the latter’s emerging Tesla brand. It is unknown how far Fisker got with his ideas on behalf of the internet entrepreneur or what they constituted, but Musk certainly wasn’t pleased with what he was presented with – and even more displeased when Fisker unveiled what he’d come up with for his own brand later on. As a result, Musk sued the designer, to no avail.
The electric car Fisker did eventually design in his own image, the Karma, certainly was a striking car, albeit in a Sandra Bernhard kind of way. With its giant wheels, small cabin and hunched silhouette, it looked like some 19-year-old wannabe-designer’s wet dream. In actual fact, it was not just a renunciation of the stylistic virtues that Fisker had been associated with when in his prime, but also a woefully packaged flight of fancy.
This author, having subjected his lanky frame to both cars, can testify that the Karma’s cabin makes an Aston Rapide’s second row accommodations appear positively palatial. It can only be argued whether equipping the Karma with a second set of doors or giving it the kind of proportions it was blessed with in the first place was the more glaring case of style-over-substance thinking.
As is well-documented, the Karma’s karma proved to be of the sinister variety. And as if to prove that he was indeed the John DeLorean of the new century, Henrik Fisker also ended up in the kind of public divorce proceedings the automotive styling industry hadn’t experienced. This was due to his having formerly sought the company of show business celebrities – just for the sake of marketing his car, of course. In this process, the car designer turned entrepreneur turned plutocrat had finally become subject of the yellow press, too.
What followed this drastic fall from grace ultimately proved to be eating away at the very core of Henrik Fisker, the stylist – his previous, spotless body of work was put into question, no less. And by none other than Ian S. Callum.
The Scotsman may be far from the the most reclusive of car designers, even though he never engaged in anything as flamboyant as Henrik Fisker’s affairs. Yet his public claims that he, rather then Fisker, designed Aston’s DB9 and V8 Vantage models almost to completion will not have been made on the spur of the moment. And the fact that Dr Ulrich Bez, former Aston Martin CEO and hardly known for being a close friend of Callum’s, remains silent on the issue is far from compelling evidence in Fisker’s favour.
Most significant, however, is the evidence Fisker has laid out himself recently: the Aston Vanquish-based Thunderbolt concept car, unveiled last year, above all. It’s design betrayed the fact that, no matter what one thinks of Marek Reichman’s Vanquish Mk 2, there are still a great many elements that could be executed in even more garish and vulgar a fashion. That Aston Martin saw fit to seek an injunction against Fisker, thus prohibiting a limited production run of the Thunderbolt, is but a footnote in the scheme of things.
Even more absurd, and hardly beneficial to any of the parties involved, is the $100 million lawsuit Henrik Fisker has just filed against against Aston Martin. It involves yet another Aston Martin-alike concept car by Fisker and the British brand’s attempts to keep the Danish designer from unveiling it at this year’s Detroit motor show.
Aston Martin may currently be experiencing a modest upswing, thanks to positive press regarding the DB10 one-off designed for James Bond’s most recent cinematic endeavour, but any impression of the company fearing competition from Fisker is ridiculous at best.
And as for the designer himself, it can only be said that it is a pity how a man of such formerly stellar reputation can not only be trading on past glories, but actually engage in as undignified an affair as this.
If only he’d never started putting his own name onto the bonnets of cars.