So Lay Upon the Riven Meads the Sullied Rags of Hope

The other day we were talking about the Renault 16 which led us to the Renault 21 which…

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…led me to look for one for sale. Finding one I noticed the unhappy design of the nose cone, the plastic mask around the headlamp and containing the upper grille aperture. Here (below)  are some other cars which demonstrate an attempt at rethinking the way the front fascia was handled.

One of them really works – the Ford Sierra is utterly industrial design. And have you noticed the Dacia Duster uses the same concept but eschews the body-colour for the lamp panel?  In fact the elegance of the concept is hidden by the Duster’s other fussy details.

I have done this theme before, I think – the new bit is the Renault 21 (the facelifted version). Interestingly (if you are like me), you’ll notice a difference between the Ford, Citroen and VW trio versus the R21. What is it?

The R21 shown is a facelift and the others are initial launch versions. Series 1 Renault 21 of 1986-1989 had a quite conventional nose treatment. If we look at the fate of the theme, we see it did not last long or go down well.

1986 Renault 21: source

The 1988 VW Passat had the nose-cone design but this was replaced with a conventional treatment in 1993. If Citroen didn’t change the XM’s nose, Velizy’s shape makers didn’t like the concept enough to use it on the 1993 Xantia. Ford threw away their ID aesthetic for the 1987 facelift of the Sierra.

The Renault 21 Series 2 is thus, in contrast, a kind of throwback – Renault had cottoned on to the nose-cone concept pretty much as every one else was facelifting them away (at a huge cost because the sheet metal had to be revised for a new/old assembly concept). Crash regs? Or aesthetics?

What were the origins of the “front clip”?  The American Big Three started using them in 70s and 80s as a simple way for the design to accomodate badge engineering and frequent facelifts.

The 1981 DeLorean has something of the same treatment and the same problem of a glaring transverse-to-vertical line messing with the flow of the forms it cuts across:

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By now have digressed back to John DeLorean’s time at GM where he introduced plastic, deformable nose cones. We must stop here….

(Is the Renault 21 as cool now as the Renault 16 would have been in 1987?)

Slide show sources: DeLoreanRenault 21; Ford Sierra; VW Passat; Citroen XM

Author: richard herriott

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

12 thoughts on “So Lay Upon the Riven Meads the Sullied Rags of Hope”

  1. Did any 1980s design ever benefit from having its off-centre badge relocated to the middle of the grille? I fail to come up with a single such case.

    1. The Fiats Panda and Ritmo (pre-facelift, bar logo) come to mind. Off-centre badging was very de rigueur during the late ’70s, when even Audi & BMW toyed with the idea.

    2. The Citroën AX had its badge moved from the side to the centre as well as the XM. For my eyes, it wasn’t a benefit in either case. The Renault 21 also looks better in original form, but it’s hard to tell how much of this is due to the badge location and how much to the strange nose cone.
      Other than Renault and Citroën, Fiat come to my mind as having asymmetric frontal treatment for some time – the original Panda as well as the first Ritmos. Here as well, the return to more conservative layouts wasn’t beneficial for the cars’ looks.

      By the way, referring to Richard’s question in the article: the specific feature of the R21 nose cone is that the lights (indicators, in this case) are not surrounded completely by the cone, but touch the metal of the wing.

    3. What about Mazda? Before they had a proper ‘badge’, their word logo was placed on the right side of the grille (seen from front).

  2. That Passat nose cone came straight from VW’s 1981 Auto 2000 concept (looks like they were 13 years ahead of the game).

    There is a cult of retro motoring enthusiasts for whom the original base model Sierra (the misleadingly-named Sierra “saloon”) with the polycarbonate slatted nose is the Holy Grail. A valiant effort is underway to preserve one, as these cars are incredibly rare nowadays: https://sierrabase.wordpress.com/

    1. Great reference. I notice the Auto 2000 has a much tighter panel gap condition and still looks wrong. It’s quite a rough concept car as in not very coherent. And you can see alot of it in the resultant Passat.
      Isn’t the Sierra excellent? The way the panel frames the grille and lamps and relates to its surroundings is first rate.

    2. I can relate to these Sierra fans. Everything that followed after the first series was basically watering down the concept and a backlash to conservatism (notchback, square rear lights, standard frontal treatment).

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