Weekend Reissue – Taking Sides

When it comes to matters of symmetry, DTW takes the centre ground.

Syncopated rhythm.  (c) Autoweek

 Back in the early days of Driven to Write, when life was more innocent and we hadn’t entirely lost the run of ourselves, we had both the time and the inclination to exercise our more whimsical thoughts, impressions and observations, at length.

Our cloth is cut a little more snugly nowadays, I regret to note, but what cannot be altered must, as I’m sure any tailor can agree, must be endured. Today’s reissue dates from October 2015 and stems from the eternally sharp pen-nib of DTW co-founder, the much missed Sean Patrick.

Here, Sean admits to his borderline OCD approach to tidiness, decrying a creeping tendency towards asymmetry in automotive design and engineering. Written with tongue in cheek (one assumes) and in characteristic style, he points the gun barrel liberally, but ultimately at himself.

Sean’s fine piece can be accessed here.

Author: Eóin Doyle

Founding Editor. Content Provider.

32 thoughts on “Weekend Reissue – Taking Sides”

  1. What better way to start the day than with breakfast, laughing, seeing a point or two and learning. Bravo to Messrs Patrick and Doyle. Wheels, wipers and exhausts will never look the same.

  2. A witty and most enjoyable piece and comments. Thank you, Eóin, for pointing us to it.

    Automotive asymmetry seems to be rather out of fashion at the moment. The Hyundai Veloster has maintained its unusual three (side) door layout into its second generation, unlike the MINI Clubman. The current Discovery has been widely criticised for its off-centre rear number plate, an unnecessary stylistic flourish, given that the spare wheel is no longer carried on the rear door:

    No, I haven’t been Photoshopping to produce the right-hand image above: you can buy an aftermarket kit to correct the stylistic aberration. Strangely, I don’t recall the previous model being criticised for an equally unnecessary asymmetric rear window and number plate, which somehow looks fine, making one wonder if two negatives make a positive in this regard?

    Are there any more current examples of automotive asymmetry in production? I’m not talking about badges, exhaust pipe etc. but asymmetric body engineering.

    I also wonder if DTW’s readership contains a higher than average number of people with OCD tendencies? I am certainly one of that number, although even I don’t wince every time I see a panel van with a (single) sliding rear side door!

    1. As one who can only dream of a Disco 3 or 4 I can’t comment from personal experience but I believe that that lower right-hand side of the tailgate makes it easier to reach into the boot, and from looking at the picture, makes the swept area of the rear screen much larger than it would otherwise have been. I seem to remember that early Freelanders only had a vent on one front wing as that was all that was needed. Gerry McGovern seems to be doing away with functionality for symmetry, but then retains the asymmetry of the number plate for no good reason.

    2. Hi Andy, you’re right, the Discovery 3 and 4 has an asymetrically split tailgate and the lower loading lip on the right-hand side facilitated easier loading. Of course, a letterbox (rather than square) number plate mounting placed lower down on the tailgate would have allowed the lower lip to extend the full width. I imagine that JLR retained the offset square item as it was a Discovery hallmark from previous generations. If also facilitated the fitment of an (aftermarket?) spare wheel mounting cradle:

      Unfortunately, this really complicated opening the tailgate, unlike Discovery 1 and 2, where the spare wheel was bolted straight to the side-hinged tailgate. This made the tailgate very heavy and you hand didn’t want to be anywhere near the opening if the wind blew the tailgate shut. (I speak from painful personal experience!)

  3. I don’t think critiquing the Disco is a result of OCD, I think it’s fair game on the entirely reasonable basis that it looks absolutely shocking for no reason beyond flights of fancy in the styling department. Sniffpetrol rather nailed the issue at hand:

    https://sniffpetrol.com/2017/04/21/a-long-weekend-with-a-land-rover-discovery/

    In any case, a fascinating piece. But I fear it fails to address a crucial point. Does manufacturing different model trims with opposite asymmetries result in symmetry in aggregate? I think we should be told.

    Deliberate asymmetry choices within the context of a holistic design is one thing, of course. But somehow it’s all the worse when asymmetry is added after the fact, after everyone has visually ‘trained’ to expect symmetry where, suddenly, there is none. Try to imagine the revulsion when, having been brought up on a lifetime of XF Falcons, with accompanying expected symmetry:

    …one is alerted to the presence, not so long ago, of this prototype go-faster Falcon. In the interests of keeping breakfast down, we’ll kindly overlook the obliteration of the badging’s vertical axis symmetry into the bargain.

    1. The Panda’s asymmetric grille was delightfully functional: the flat-twin and transverse in-line engine options each had the radiator on a different side of the engine bay, with a grille to match. A less assured designer would have had a full-width grille, with the unneeded area blanked off behind.

      Regarding the Falcon SVO, I wonder if that’s the first, last and only asymmetric application of the Ford blue oval on the front of its cars? If so, good! It just looks wrong. Ford Europe went through a period in the 80’s and 90’s of putting the rear badge on the right-hand side, which looked less odd, but not quite right.

      Incidentally, is it just me, or does the red Falcon above put anyone else in mind of the Austin Montego?

    2. Not the sole example – the production-spec domestic-market Escort GT had this flourish:

      But indeed, it is a rarity. Off-hand I can’t think of any other examples from the house of Henry.

      I can see how you might draw an equivalence between the Falcon and the Montego from that photo – but I think it’s just a trick of the photo. In the flesh there’s no chance you would pinpoint any similarities, they’re really quite different both in form and detail.

    3. On the Panda grille – I am not 100% on this, but I seem to recall reading that it was especially functional in that it was the same panel for the flat-twin and in-line versions, just flipped to suit.

    4. Hi Stradale, the resemblance between the Falcon and the Montego is limited to the front end especially the body-coloured front bumper, which is a dead ringer for the Austin’s item:

      The XD/XE Falcon is an unusual design, virtually a carbon copy of the European Granada Mk2, apart from the dramatically lowered sill line:

      An interesting treatment. I can’t decide if it works or not.

  4. OCD? BTW, DTW is AOK and is VG VFM, IMHO.

    But it’s always Jam then cream on scones…

    1. I don’t think there’s a name for an obsession with acronyms, but you still need help…

  5. The given examples are all asymmetries regarding the longitudinal axis; what about the transverse axis, could it be that transverse asymmetries are less obtrusive to the OCD-prone eye?
    First coming to mind is the difference between front and rear track in the Citroën DS, a bold measure in order to correct the noticeable understeer of the prototypes, present also in the SM and conserved in the following CX.

    1. Hi Anastasio. Don’t the vast majority of cars have different track widths front and rear? Usually, but not always, the rear track is wider. That neatly takes me to today’s trivia quiz: which modern (post 1950) car has or had the greatest difference between front and rear track widths? Smart alecs who nominate the Reliant Robin as having a zero front track width will be ignored: the car must have four wheels.

    2. If you demand symmetry across both axes, here’s the car for you:

      Not a Photoshop effort, but created by a retired Indonesian mechanic for reasons best known to himself. Perfect (if you ignore the fuel filler flap, of course).

  6. Personally, I don’t mind some asymmetrical details- the bonnet vent on the Citroën SM for instance.
    Or the asymmetrical bonnet hump on the Studebaker Avanti that is neatly continued into the instrument binnacle:

    But Sean Patrick would probably have needed an air sickness bag or two if the proposals for the 1962 Plymouths by Virgil Exner actually made it to production. Luckily someone had the courage to tap him on the shoulder and whisper in his ear “Maybe not”:

    1. Hi Bruno. Were those clay models not simply double-sided proposals, to illustrate two alternative design proposals using the same clay model? If not, they’re beyond weird.

  7. Daniel – re the largest difference in track widths, I’d say a BMW Isetta (with 4 wheels).

    1. Well done, Charles, that was exactly the car I had in mind:

      My father bought one as his first car in exchange for a Norton Commander motorcycle in 1958, when my elder sister was born. I arrived in 1961, and the BMW had to go.

  8. Hi Daniel, To the best of my knowledge these were genuine proposals for the actual vehicles. If you look at the photo at bottom right (the convertible with the top up) you see one taillight at left with a recess for the number plate right next to it, and three taillights on the right. That arrangement cannot be neatly split in two by putting a mirror in the middle. It also looks like a later clay that has been painted and fitted with chrome bumpers, an indication that the asymmetrical idea remained alive until a relatively advanced stage.

    1. Wow! It really was a creative nirvana back then. We could do with some of that today, to relieve the boredom of endless “me too” crossovers.

  9. Speaking of Falcons and asymmetry, this horror came out in the upmarket versions of the XE…

    1. Wow. I honestly don’t think that has been imprinted on my mind’s eye since the early ’90s. I wouldn’t have minded had it stayed that way, either.

  10. Whatever happened to Sean Patrick? I don’t even see his SM parked outside his house anymore.

    1. Laurent, as a man of mystery, once he established you had discovered his whereabouts, he probably felt the necessity to move to another safe house. Sean’s current status is unknown and possibly unknowable. For his safety and potentially yours…

  11. I like a bit of asymmetry. Citroën went through a spell of placing their bonnet badge to one side (the right as you looked at it, from memory), recalling in particular the AX and XM in their initial forms. My old Cinquecento Sporting had a black air-intake surround on the left side of the front valance which was a neat and cheap trick in adding character (alas I think it was non functional). I may also be in the minority if liking Alfa’s offset number plates …

    1. Definitely not in a minority with me around, SVR. I admire Alfa for sticking with the scudo radiator grille and refusing to compromise for a number plate surround.

    2. The first Citroen asymmetric badge on the bonnet is visible on the SM, I suppose the AX and XM took example from it.
      What appears to me with regard to the asymmetric SM badge is that it is not there to make the car recognisable; the DS had nothing on its front (as others, like the Ami 6/8), and so appears to be the SM at a first glance.
      So what was the meaning of it? Maybe just an embellishment of the opening, which otherwise would have had a sad appearance?
      A bizarre thing is that it is apparently silver-coloured, a feature normally found on lesser Citröens (the DS Spécial had silver ones on the back, while the 21 and 23 had golden ones).
      Possibly at that time they just chose random, I don’t know.

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