More Ka Thoughts

John Topley penned this rumination on the Ford Ka when it went out of production. I thought you might like to take a look.  

A golden wonder from 1996
A golden wonder from 1996

About the only point where I am not in agreement with John is what he refers to as the Ka’s discordant lines. What makes the shape work for me is that absolutely everything adds up to a strong unity. Amazingly, the alternative design was as wrong as the actual one is right. 

Handsome but huge - image via greencarreports
Complex modelling – image via greencarreports

What happened around this time in car design? If I can generalise, the main surfaces were still quite simple big spans as per the 80’s but the lines where they intersected became complex: both in their number and character. Today even a VW Polo has a pinching at the creases. Mazda, Mercedes, Alfa and Ford and many others use much more intricately constructed surfaces than we have seen generally. Turning back to the Ka, its dynamism is balanced by calm surfaces and orderly graphics. You can see a little of this in the CX.

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

Author: richard herriott

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

10 thoughts on “More Ka Thoughts”

  1. John can obviously answer for himself, but I take the ‘discordant’ comment in the viewpoint of the times. Ka was designed when the idea of covering a car’s body with a load of graphic shapes was ‘discordant’. Now, of course, you have to do it. Except most designers, ironically Ford’s in particular, don’t seem to have learnt the lesson from Ka, where the trick was to integrate them so well with shutlines.

    The body coloured bumpers are an interesting point. In essence, they should read as the way Ka should be, making the design more coherent, with the grey bumpers being similar to the deliberately clunky grilles Ford applied to their base model cars (see Anglia, Cortina Mk 1, Sierra) in order to encourage you to go for a more profitable model. But Ka purists generally prefer the unpainted versions.

    1. I would never consider myself a Ka purist – the very thought! But when I was looking for one to buy, a prerequisite was unpainted bumpers. I was less enamoured when they turned a dirty grey…

    2. I detested that car so much I couldn’t bear to wash it, much less attend to the bumpers.

    3. An interesting question (which you apparently won’t be answering, Eoin) is how pleasant an experience it is to clean a Ka. My own (yes, somewhat limited) experience of car cleaning is that hard edges spoil the sensuous experience. As such, and additionally because it’s small so wouldn’t take so long, I’d have thought that Ka cleaning would be quite pleasurable.

  2. Wow, thanks for the link love, guys! I’d almost forgotten I’d written that. Interestingly, a mere eight years later I’ve warmed to the appearance of the second generation Ka, whilst still acknowledging that it doesn’t begin to approach the brilliance of the original. There’s a particularly cute silver number with alloys I sometimes see.

    I presume you’ve seen the new Ka? My goodness Ford design is in the doldrums again! It’s like we’re back in the dark times that proceeded New Edge.

    1. You’re welcome, I liked that article and it came from outside the cars/ design field which makes it more lucid.

      Ford now: they have some excellent designers and clay modellers. The management have sent the wrong orders. None of it’s bad but none of it is “wow” good or “hmmm” respectworthy. It’s overworked and anonymous despite all the swages and creases. What the hell are customers saying in the clinics and focus groups?

  3. Do Ford even still do clay modelling? I remember reading in Car magazine years ago that they’d invested a lot of money in some fancy computer setup that could project a life size photo-realistic render of a vehicle that you could walk around.

    I could perhaps have chosen a better word than “discordant” in my original blog post. I was trying to draw a parallel with music, where if you discard the rules of what sounds pleasing to the ear you can mash your hand down on a piano keyboard and create something new and…interesting and maybe even pleasing in a totally fresh way.

    What I liked about New Edge was that with the Ka and Focus the designers somehow managed to break the traditional rules to create interesting and intriguing-looking cars that I also find genuinely aesthetically pleasing.

    For an example, take the tail lights of the first Focus. In traditional car design the base of the vertically-mounted light would have been wider at the bottom than the top, causing the trailing edge of the light and thus the rear window to be more steeply raked than the leading edge when viewing the car in profile. With the Focus they inverted that triangle, so when you view the rear glasshouse in profile it’s almost a classical Citroën GS-like curve, but then it has this extra dimension of this more steeply-raked light cluster behind it. When you first see it it looks strange and a bit jarring (and some people never liked it), but then it works.

    The headlights of the first Focus always looked Art Deco to me, with their seashell-like intersecting curves, and there was something of the post ’67 Citroën DS headlights to them as well.

    1. I’ ve just taken another look at the Mk1 Focus.

      If I wasn’t around at the time I would not believe that was a C-class car. It’s still as fresh as a flower – and, yes, the rear light are very well done. Compare that car to the current one.
      No, don’t. It’s a bit depressing that among the C-class contenders there is much that’s good but nothing that’s original.

    2. Yes, they all do. There’s no better way to realise a form in full-size. It can show all the nuances of the surfaces and under real lighting. The cost is negligible compared to signing off a turkey.

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