Coincidence Is Logical

There is no such thing as coincidence, we are told. Bruno Vijverman (and a certain Mr. Cruyff) beg to differ.

Author’s collection

Similarity in looks is a fact which has been associated with the car industry almost since the very beginning and has sparked many a discussion. The factors causing some cars to look alike either as a whole or in certain details are manifold and include:

Fashion trends, like the ‘jellybean’ aero styling that was so widely seen from the mid-eighties on.

Legislation dictating certain parameters, usually for the benefit of safety.

Mechanical configuration demands, causing so many mid-engined supercars to have interchangeable profiles.

A dominant styling signature of a certain designer shining through in different cars- Frua, Michelotti are examples among others.

Selling what is basically the same design to different clients; the BMC Farina cars and Peugeot 404 come to mind.

Babushka syndrome; cars from one manufacturer having a very similar look, differing only in size (you know who you are).

Plain copying or even – step forward China – unauthorised cloning.

All items on this non-exhaustive list have been covered at length in countless sources including these pages. However, there is another kind of similarity which is the reason for the title of this article, a quote from my famous compatriot Johan Cruyff.

What connects the reasons for similar looks mentioned above is that they all occur more or less in the same timeframe. However, sometimes one encounters styling aspects of cars that look amazingly similar but there is a substantial gap in time between their occurrence.

This would lead one to suspect that it is just a coincidence, but many believe coincidence does not exist, or that it is a logical outcome of events
if you subscribe to the Cruyff gospel.

There is no way to be sure of course. Yes, it may very well be simply the limited ways you can shape a c-pillar or a grille. Then again I believe (I should really say I hope they do but that is my personal opinion) that designers regularly leaf through books, visit classic car shows and browse the web on cars and their styling history for inspiration and either consciously or subconsciously re-use a styling detail that caught their eye.

Here are four examples of “coincidence”. See how they strike you.

Matra M530 (1967) – Buick Reatta (1988).  Author’s collection

That C-pillar and backlight look almost interchangeable, but there is a 21-year gap between them. When Buick introduced the Reatta, over three decades had passed since Buick’s previous ‘halo’ car, the 1953 Skylark. Perhaps the stylists consulted various publications for inspiration from the past and somehow this aspect of the Matra stuck? Then again, maybe Cruyff was right.

If today Ford introduced a concept car that was a modern-day reiteration of the 1966 Galaxie, the taillights used would be pretty much the ones fitted to the current Duster, wouldn’t they? In this case I feel reasonably confident stating that the designer in question encountered the rear of a 1966 Galaxie at some point and liked what he saw.

As mentioned earlier there are only so many ways that you can give shape to a C-pillar. Still, the similarity in curvature and even the framing (chrome on the Mercury of course, black and body colour on the Tigra) is almost uncanny. It could be just coincidence, but….

The hourglass shaped grille of both the Plymouth and Lexus indeed look similar. But perhaps the plethora of ever-larger and aggressive grilles initiated by Audi years ago made the Lexus designers go for an alternative shape in order to still have the de rigueur huge grille, but with a twist. Here we see coincidence at work I believe.

21 thoughts on “Coincidence Is Logical”

  1. There are a number of aesthetic similarities among a number of vehicles that leave you questioning the validity of coincidences indeed. The one coincidence that comes to my mind would be the silhouette of the Alfa-Romeo Alfasud Sprint as compared to the Mk I VW Golf. Unlike the large time gap between the styling queues that the article mentions, the cars I mention were all prime objects of the 1970s.

  2. Tricky – humans are pattern-seeking animals, with mind´s geared for recognition. Sometimes that which is recognised is not there. The simplest reason for similarity is coincidence; for me a detail has to be uncannily similar to count as a likely copy. The Tigra´s distinctive C-pillar/cant rail is more likely to be an evolution of the Omega´s roof. But in the late 1980s Buicks had a general Jaguary feel which I think was at least “inspiration” if not downright copying. And the second Lexus LS has also the feel of some “inspiration” – the whole car not the details.
    It´s always nice when someone name-checks the Reatta – a sweet car whether or not you think it is a bit Matra-esque.

    1. here is an interview with the Reatta designer. It was done start to finish by GM designer Dave McIntosh.

    2. I always liked the Reatta, it is a pity the car was not better received by the buying public at the time. There are of course several reasons you can think of for that- perhaps the Reatta’s tale merits an article on DTW….?

  3. Hi, Bruno. An interesting and nicely timed piece, thank you, following Eóin’s on the rather Saab-ish Skoda Joyster.

    Regarding the Duster’s tail lights, they certainly are a dead ringer for the Galaxie’s. I wonder, however, if they were inspired by a much more recent and similar type of vehicle, the Jeep Renagade? Here is the Renegade’s tail light:

    At the launch of the Renegade, Jeep claimed that the distinctive “X” motif featured by the tail lights was a reference to the pressing in the sides of Jerry Cans. I had assumed that Dacia liked the look of these and simply rotated the radial arms through 45° to avoid accusations of plagiarism.

    Other views are, of course, equally if not more valid!

    1. Hi Daniel,
      Thank you for your kind words. I had the taillight of the Renegade on my list also as another design that looks like the 1966 Galaxie’s, but as I found it more pleasing layout-wise to have two photos for every “case” I did not add it.
      Your suggestion may very well be true- as the article implies there is no real way to be sure unless a designer honestly owns up to having copied a design detail from the past (retro cars excluded), which I don’t see happening any time soon….

    2. Daniel, I must offer a very slight correction. The fine Skoda Joyster piece to which you alluded is the work of the estimable Mr. Andrew Miles. I cannot take any credit for it.

      Bruno: The Reatta is indeed an interesting, and rather DTW-esque car. Its tale was told in some detail on US site, Curbside classic quite recently, so I’m not sure what we could add to the stock of knowledge.

    3. Eóin, thank you for the correction and, Andrew, apologies for failing to afford you due credit.

      Eóin’s omnipresence on DTW is such that his name is the first that comes to mind, and I should really pay better attention. That’s what my school teachers said anyway!

  4. Great article and excellent comparisons of original and “copier”. Well done.

    I would just say I’ve been an observer of North American automotive hardware since 1959, and never once before run into any article mentioning the 1953 Buick Skylark as a halo vehicle. It must have passed by the popular imagination, because Buicks had become slugs in the performance department with their single speed automatic and looked like medieval castles. The last Buick people remember with a huge degree of fond remembrance for styling was the 1963 Riviera. It certainly made current reasonably-priced vehicles everywhere in late 1962 suddenly look old-fashioned, or straining for effect like the concurrent Ford Thunderbird. Europeans like BMW et al (NSU, Imp and everyone else with a pulse) were at the time hastily using styling cues from the 1960 Corvair, and then Bill Mitchell dropped the Riviera on them. Uncopyable.

    The 1958 Mercury shown simply used a dogleg windshield as a backlight. Not much original thought there! Considering the Turnpike Cruiser’s rear backlight of the same year and eventually the gigantic version of the reverse rear window Anglia they produced for 1963, Mercury designers struggled to differentiate their cars from mere Fords. The 1961 Comet was a very awkward Falcon reskin, but the Cougar in 1967 for me was a far better-looking Mustang with that old Falcon/Comet chassis still underneath.

    The 1961 Plymouth dropped jaws when it came out, being so incredibly ugly, although its relative the Dodge was even more nightmarish if that can be imagined, while the smaller 1962 was positively beaten with the ugly stick just to prove the ’61s weren’t a fluke. Thanks for pointing out that the awful Lexus spindle grilles “came” from the ’61 Plymouth in spirit – never made that connection before, but boy is it apt!

    Anyway, the article made me have a good old ransacking of memory. Thanks.

    1. Plymouth did try to make a significant effort on aerodynamic improvement for 1960. But by 1961, a lot of the air turbulence body features that Jack Charipar was able to take out for 1960, the stylists and marketeers had apparently put back for 1961.

  5. Mr O’Callaghan, my legal team were on standby…but you are fully redeemed by the addition of more articles to enjoy after Bruno’s superb initial foray into yet another car I’d previously unheard of. We are blessed to be surrounded by such knowledgeable souls.

    I do like the convertible Reatta but they appear beyond rare. The hard top is a DTW car full on alright, though one that would take time to love.

  6. Hi Brrruno,

    An interesting subject. Altough they’re from the same era I think the case of the Matra Espace club and the 1st gen Citroen Picasso is interesting because Citroen was taken to court and lost against the designer Antoine Volanis.

    Matra Espace Club

    Citroen Xsara Picasso

    1. I will not expand too much on the subject, but the problem here would appear essentially to be whether there was, or not, a “slavish imitation” of the Matra car.
      I can see at least six noticeable differences in the side view; hence I can only suppose Mr. Volanis had a good attorney and/or Citroën a bad one.
      Of course there may be other grounds or legal constrains bonding Volanis and Citroën of which we are not aware.
      It would be interesting to read a copy of the judge’s decision.

      An intellectual property case coming to mind, perhaps similar in the not-so-expected outcome, is the Gingo-Twingo case in 2003, when Fiat renounced at once to their Gingo name, without ever going to the court, on the only base of fearing the reaction of Renault, which had rights on the name ” Twingo”.
      Fiat went therefore again for its well-known “Panda” name, for which it is said they paid good money to the WWF in the Eighties, and which was to be replaced with “Gingo”, possibly in order not to pay again for the use of the name.
      What is interesting is that Fiat had to replace a lot of things, from manuals to labels: apparently they undertook the project a bit lightly, not taking into due consideration the intellectual property part of it.

  7. Ok this isn’t really a copy because its within the same family but I think the China-only C3 XR’s rear window is a bit reminiscent of the Dyane’s rear window:

    1. Hello NRJ,
      Thank you for this; I did not know (or maybe had forgotten about) the Matra Espace Club. The Citroen Xsara Picasso certainly looks a lot like it, it does not surprise me that Volanis won the lawsuit! The Citroen came out in 1999, do you know what year the Matra was shown? I always assumed that the Xsara Picasso was a productionised version of the 1994 Xanae concept car but the Espace Club is a much closer match visually.
      The similar rear window kink between the C3XR and Dyane is interesting but probably a coincidence. For instance when I see a first generation BMW X5 directly from the front, the lines of the hood look similar to those on the Dyane- but I don’t believe the BMW stylists used it as an example to emulate.

    2. Hi Brrrruno,

      The story only says Volanis began working, on his own, on a project for a mono volume vehicle in the beginning of the 90’s. At Matra he was responsible for the design of the Bagheera, Murena and the first Espace. He offered his concept and ideas to Citroen who refused the project yet presented the Xanae in 1994 which bear a strong ressemblance to his initial project. With the money he won at the trial he constructed his own building with his design office.

      For the Dyane’s and C3 XR’s rear window I’d like to think the Dyane was on the mood board or at least in the imagination Of the designers. Citroen sometimes uses inspiration from old models for the newer ones: for example the 1st generation C3’s DLO was inspired by the 2CV I believe.

  8. Hi NRJ,
    Thank you for the info. You could be right of course about the Dyane being on a mood board during the design process- only the designers in question know for sure!

    1. The Volanis story is developed a bit more here but it’s in french. The article is confusing I think…..because at the end it says the Espace Club was actually designed by….Giugiaro at Ital Design !

      The author thinks the 1992 Columbus concept from the same designer influenced the design of the Matra Espace Club. The author even wonders if Citroen wasn’t in fact inspired by the 1992 Columbus concept for the Xanae and Xsara Picasso. So I’am guessing Volanis’s project from the early 90s that was refused by Citroen is not shown here, or anywhere else it seems as I couldn’t find any picture of it.

      https://lignesauto.fr/?p=2167

      Columbus

      One particularity on the Espace club was that it had only one door on the driver’s side and the traditional two on the other.

      Regarding the copying stuff, I was a bit taken aback by Citroen current vice president of Marketing tweet suggesting Elon Musk was inspired by the Citroen Karin concept.

  9. Thank you for the additional info; not sure if I agree with the French website about the Columbus influence….
    The Belloni tweet is amusing -and I remember being very intrigued seeing the Karin in person in early 1981 at the Amsterdam Car Show- but the Tesla Cybertruck has stronger similarity with the Aston Martin Bulldog concept and the Bertone Lancia Stratos concept in my opinion.

  10. Something intriguing concerning the Matra 530 / Buick Reatta likeness: on the WWW, I came across these photos by Michael Moreelse, a Matra enthusiast, who discovered the original and complete body mould for the M530….. in Grand Rapids, Michigan which is not all that far from Detroit. Could it be…..? Probably not, but isn’t it a nice mystery how this body mould ended up here?

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