Two Items About Designers

Two designers with long careers provide an insight worth looking at.

Alfa Romeo 156:
Alfa Romeo 156:

Two of our regular authors run their own blogs, which we have mentioned before. Mick has taken a look back at the work of Walter de Silva and finds much to praise but also there’s a sore point which is worthy of attention: de Silva’s penchant for absent rear door handles. I will admit to having been swept along on the unthinking currents of received wisdom. Now the point has been made I realise I had not been critical enough. And a ever-present thought that I had ignored now seems as plain as day: that 156 would be perfect were it not for the silly faux-coupé trope.

Kris, in this post, has focused on the Opel Rekord coupe, the work of Erhard Schnell under Chuck Jordan; Schnell is a designer whose name I ought to have known but didn’t. The photography is lush and the text is delightfully lucid.

Author: richard herriott

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

14 thoughts on “Two Items About Designers”

  1. I can’t concur with this revisionism re the 156. The design needs a single pair of visible handles to work. The whole point of the hidden handles is not, per uninformed journalistic consensus, to make it look like a coupe; it is to ensure that the fade-in/fade-out swage is balanced front to rear. The front handle is placed exactly in the middle of the fade-in/out for this reason. Put a similar pair in the rear and the effect is destroyed.

    Apropros of nothing, the tactile operation of the 156’s chrome pushbutton is just about perfect. I will concede that the flimsiness of the rear flap is deeply disappointing in comparison. But it is nothing compared to the spectacularly awful arrow-shaped doorhandles on contemporary Ferraris. I find it incredible that something that pathetically flimsy was considered acceptable even once, let alone allowed to infect the range for more than a decade.

    1. On the 156, the swage line (in this case, the indent that runs from just behind the headlamps to just ahead of the tail-lamps) is explicitly intended to be bisected by the doorhandle, which acts as the single piece of adornment/visual focus. When I say fade-in/fade-out, I mean that it isn’t consistent through its length – it fades to near-invisibility at the point of the handle. It is less critical on the 147 but, I think, still worthwhile in cleaning up the side profile. In any case, I can hardly hold de Silva responsible for its promulgation in a variety of less-well-executed instances because other manufacturers picked up the idea as a gimmick without really understanding its intent.

    2. In my case Stradale it’s not revisionism as I never liked the missing door handles in the first instance. Perhaps it is uninformed journalistic concensus that this feature is intended to make the car look like a coupe. I could be mistaken but I don’t remember Alfa disabusing anyone of this notion at launch when they were receiving the plaudits for producing such a good looking car with notions of “coupeness”. I also never heard the theory that the door handle was intended to be dead centre. With this knowledge the side view is even less pleasing. If there is to be only one door handle it needs to be further back. This is only my opinion but this car would have been close to perfect with a second set of door handles.

    3. Thanks for the explanation now, Stradale, and sorry for the late reply. I see now what you mean. I also see the chromed door handle as a sort of post modernist statement. It is the only chrome detail on the car, it is overly ornate, and very obvious. The lack of a rear door handle puts extra emphasis on the front door handle, the fact they are missing makes the one that are seen so very very visible. It’s like using a corinthian column as living room furniture. Just like the post modernist architects used overly ornate decoration as playful mischief. It is a play with convention, what is expected and what is actually seen.

    1. Lose the wing mirrors and the sill covers too, and you are onto something.

  2. I should weigh in here and point out something that Chris Bangle said: if you need a designer on the showroom to explain the car there is a problem (words to that effect). I recall now that point about the centrally-placed door handle. With the paasage of time I don’t buy that. For a start, the central positioning requires a door without an expected handle, cars aren’t symmetrical front to back and the swages are not visually strong enough to “explain” the conceit.
    Despite that, it’s a very fine car to look at, neither retro nor avant-garde but distinct from its peers.
    About the door handles repositioning: didn’t some Seats have the feature?

    1. The Bangle quote is pretty ironic considering his stuff practically required a Britannica-length explanatory handbook.

  3. Am totally with Stradale, in this case (the first time the effect was used to my memory), the hidden door handle thing is very appropriately executed and is a key and effective part of the 156 design. Its successor is the poorer for not having it.

  4. Nobody’s mentioned Kris’s Opel article, so I will. Fine photographs, a lovely example of an unfairly forgotten car, and a droll lavatory paper related anecdote. More of this kind of thing please.

    1. Yes, I’ll second that – though my very poor German means that I’m filtering much of Kris’s typically excellent and witty writing through Google Translate. Great photos and a great colour. Opel styling always fascinated me. Vauxhalls were always wannabe Chevrolets, but though Opels at first seemed more conservative, they actually had more flair to them.

    2. Thanks a lot, gentlemen!

      The Rekord Coupé’s a minor gem, and I’m immensely pleased to have covered it. That generation of Opels was very fine indeed, in terms of styling.

      Erhard Schnell has only recently received some coverage (he’s in his 80s by now), courtesy of some local newspapers. Better late and small-scale than never, which could be said about the appreciation of 1970s Opels in general. These definitely are under-appreciated cars.

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