The Aesthetics of Car Design

In another part of my working life I had reason to revisit the Lancia Kappa coupe and discuss its aesthetic failings. I may be the first person ever to get the car into a peer-reviewed article, which is something to be proud of.

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Using a stock image and my rough and non-evolving Paint skills, I thought I’d see what the Kappa coupe would have looked liked if it had conformed to the norms of vehicle proportions. In order to generate some interest I have not labelled which is the original.

This is the third car where the visual problem lies in the difference between what you see and what is actually there. What did the designers see? Did they see something that looked something more like the revised car? And did their objectivity suffer from having to banish the saloon from their minds?

All of this leads me to meditate on the apparent dearth of real design failures. Most of the cars that have had a rough ride are essentially alright. There are very, very few that display the egregious wrongness of the Rodius and the Aztek. The Kappa is at the extreme end of tolerably awkward. It’s not so bad that I wouldn’t mind one (I also like the Trevi) and perhaps after a while I might not see the car as it is but as it was intended to be. Love is blind, you know and affection has short sight.

The image is from here.

Author: richard herriott

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

21 thoughts on “The Aesthetics of Car Design”

  1. “What did the designers see? Did they see something that looked something more like the revised car? And did their objectivity suffer from having to banish the saloon from their minds?”

    I have a feeling that the answer is simpler than those you suggested. The saloon itself is quite awkward looking, with a lot of metal above and behind the rear wheels, which they tried to mitigate while still making a traditional 3-volume coupé. So more than what they saw, I would suggest the main issue here is that they had to keep close to the saloon, and that was probably imposed on them.

    1. Could well be. Maybe you should have a third picture with a longer front door but the same roofline.

  2. I don´t like the Kappa Coupé with its too short wheelbase, but at that time, Fiat had developped a fantastic strategy for Alfa Romeo and Lancia: Alfa Romeos are cars with a “cuore sportivo” and Lancia .. different from Alfa Romeo.
    So even a Coupé from Lancia should not have a sporty aura (but why then creating a Lancia Coupé?).
    And Lancia did always emphasize that the Kappa Coupé did follow the lines of the Flaminia Coupe with its tail fins.

    So if you want to create a unsporty coupé with long tail fins – the original version is more convincing. If you want a car that looks good, your version is much better…

    1. It would be a real delight to see a Flaminia in the metal. We were talking about a spartan but incomparably-made car recently. I’d benchmark the Flaminia.

    2. The roof/c-pillar/rear wing make a beautiful shape. Yet it’s there for a reason. Mercedes and Rolls-Royce could not get close to matching this.

    3. The Flaminia was really well proportioned, but the Lancia Aurelia Florida was perfect – and both are crying for a bicolor paintwork:

      By the way, is the Flaminia really the first car with this lightbreaking bend in the sideline ?

  3. Another car which suffered from such a too short wheelbase was the first Megane CC. Even though they had had a longer wheelbase (and thus associated components) to hand with the estate version, they chose to use the hatchback’s wheelbase to base the CC on. Sigh.

    I had done a similar sketch to what you did for the Lancia yonks ago but as that was pre-gmail I can’t lay my hands on it.

    If only they used the wheelbase from this:

    The difference in wheelbase is only 61mm according to Wikipedia but that in my book would have made the world of difference visually.

  4. As it has been said before, the shortcomings of the design were the result of well defined limitations imposed by the management, mainly the reuse of the whole front section of the berlina. I think the Kappa coupè was the reason why Fumia left his role as Lancia’s styling director, such was his disaffection and useless struggle.

    Bertone used the berlina underpinnings to make, in my opinion, a more convincing proposal for a big Lancia coupè, the Kayak. But Fiat would have never allowed Lancia to produce it.

  5. What this exercise did for me was to show how much the actual car deviated from something better. Previously I knew it was unsettling without having anything to compare it too. Is it me or does the actual car quickly become the shape that deviates from the revision and not the other way ’round?

  6. Kayak vs. Kappa coupe: I’m reminded of the 1986 Rover CCV and 1992 Rover 800 (R17) Coupe. I suppose we should rejoice that the rather tame later coupe made it into production, but the Rover under BAe R&D budget could probably have been put to better uses.

    It’s odd that Lancia saw fit to shorten the Kappa wheelbase for the coupe. Does anyone else remember the Calibra story? The plan was to shorten the Vectra / Cavalier platform for the Manta succerssor, but this complicated production, so a ‘LWB Calibra’ was mocked up on the standard saloon / hatchback wheelbase. It looked just as good as the shorter version, and was adopted for production.

    1. I didn’t know the Calibra story, but it makes perfect sense for me. I’m very much an advocate for long wheelbases (remember the Traction and the DS), and if in doubt, I’ll always vote for the longer wheelbase and the shorter overhangs. Richard’s images prove my point.

    2. By the time the 800 Coupe made it to production the CCV was looking extremely dated. The R17 Coupe was a handsome thing, if they had used some cues from the roofline and glasshouse for the R17 saloon and fastback rather than completely reusing the XX design it could have made for a very appealing range.

  7. David: The R17 coupe looked better and was the right way to go; maybe the grille could have been bigger. It’s far better proportioned than the Kappa. The CCV looks “dated” inasmuchas it had an overtly modern style and modernism had become less desirable than classicism and contemporary by then.
    What was the XX design?

  8. The XX was the first generation Rover 800 – the equivalent Leg End was HX.

    Its R17 successor was intended to be a ‘clean sheet’ superstructure on the XX platform, but was compromised by a management edict that the XX doors were to be carried over to reduce tooling costs. It turned out that the doors tooling had to be renewed anyway as the dies were worn out, so there was no saving, and the R17 ended up looking needlessly awkward.

  9. Beside the shortening of the wheelbase the Kappa Coupé suffers from design and size of its wheels.

    Allow me to tell that front wings and windscreen as also bonnet are NOT identical between Coupé and Berlina. If you dont believe me, try to exchange them

    1. Hi Thomas:
      You might be right about the wheel sizes but the alloys are quite nice.
      It is interesting that even the bonnet and wings are not the same – then it seems they managed to create an interesting monster without even compromising on the cost of those parts had they been carry over.
      Despite it all, I rather like the Kappa and as I have mentioned elsewhere, I greatly regret not buying one when I had the resources to do so. Like the XJ-S, they are a charming failure redeemed by their character. I rather love the Kappa.

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