Small Faces

Andrew Miles enters the crystal maze.

(c) Autocar

Steve Marriott was lead singer and co-creator of 1960’s Mod four-piece, The Small Faces. In their 1968 track, Donkey Rides, A Penny, A Glass… Marriott alludes to wasting his days in idyllic fashion in a caravan at the seaside. Mind you, the band’s subject matter also included (and indubitably entertained) various substances; references being made to the breakfast cereal All-bran, tin soldiers jumping into fire and life affirming measures that only those of a certain age could possibly appreciate.

As a ‘70s child, blissfully innocent of free-love and mind expanding powders, for me the band produced consistent results, a little like some Swedish artisans cooking up glass, deep in Småland.*

Orrefors (end it with a shh) are producers of fine glassware and have been shaping crystals for many years. Building a smithy and forge by the river which flows into the lake Orrenas, the company’s name translates as the Iron Waterfall. The car connection appeared when Volvo asked them to create some glasswork enhancements for the cabin their 2009 S60 concept. Whilst stunning in both looks and style, a centre glass console was never going to be within a sliver of a chance of actual use – imagine the insurance report on that crash.

The S60 Concept interior. (c) Netcarshow

The red hot furnaces to make such jewels were now well and truly fuelled though – the initial crystal gear knob installed in the 2014 Concept Estate. The small glass crystal became curiously lost in such a flamboyant interior but someone up high thought it worthy of XC90 fitment. Explicitly ostentatious, ostensibly pointless. The crystal glass engenders no faster gear change speed nor gearbox feel – drive by wire takes care of such matters. But pour your eyes over the hand crafted, joyous small-faced shape. This is a jewel as a part of the automobile.

Anders Bergström is Volvo’s colour and material designer. He wanted to explore the use of Scandinavian history, looking both to and through, crystal glass to give the interior a sparkle that few others achieve.

The gear lever being a notoriously difficult instrument to make interesting, Mr Bergström peered into the world of Versailles by using such glass as one does in a hall of mirrors. Poking fun at the initially comedic rising circular affair from JLR, making a mockery of the giant, truck-like gear stick spouting from the centre of the Bentley Flying Spur – how heartily Bergström must have laughed then at the distorted, rhomboid effect that was seen fit to grace the interior of the Seibener – this 50mm small glass face contains substance.

Ample forests for the fuel, silica-rich sand blended with a naturally secret array of other elements (that we can reasonably expect not to be of a narcotic base) are then heated to 1400 degrees centigrade for sixteen hours. This is purely to allow the sand mixture to become molten; at that temperature the glass is too runny and requires cooling to a more nursing-home like 1180. This gives the honey coloured substance malleability and the hand craftsmanship can begin.

Rolled roughly into shape before being pressed carefully but firmly into the shaping press. Science states that varying degrees of cooling and heating will strengthen and polish the glass to perfection. Roughly fifty units per hour are made but only three dozen of these will make it to an Inscription interior. The others cast aside by those with eagle eyes, due to minuscule bubbles in the casting. No matter, for the material can simply be reheated and another attempt made.

Of course, in-situ, the glass stick had to withstand many hours of testing. It has to survive the (admittedly rare) off-road excursion, being bumped about incessantly along with being safely out of harm’s way in the event of an accident. A typically perishing Swedish night or two ensured the glass could handle the cold.

It is there, just past the very nice “floating” Seat. (c)

It’s not known if Volvo employed an over exuberant toddler to ascertain the curious factor such a jewelled fancy must garner but it is believed none have broken to misuse. Which must also be reassuring for the driver. Take Steve Marriott’s Uncle Joe (such a lovely man) for example on his way to the caravan. Imagine having shard lacerations due to putting it in reverse?

Something small and perfectly formed then from a blend of natural materials. The crystal gear knob fits a nice groove you could say. I’m certain Mr Marriott would approve of these particular small faces. has several videos on the making of these small glass faces.

*The original glass works closed in 2012 and became a museum.

Author: Andrew Miles

Beyond hope there lie dreams; after those, custard creams?

40 thoughts on “Small Faces”

  1. Good morning Andrew. Your interesting piece highlights a more general issue with car interiors, their sameness and lack of variety in the choice of either materials or colours. Concept cars tantalize us with fascinating possibilities, only for the production models to disappoint again with the same as usual fare.

    The predominence of the greyscale palette is very tedious and we’ve reached peak ‘premiumness’ as far as plastics are concerned. The recent fashion for ‘piano black’ and touch screens means that, in daily use, these interiors quickly look really grubby and unpleasant.

    Jaguar used to do delightful interiors and the recently deceased XJ is an excellent example:

    However, Jaguar’s current range is no better (maybe worse?) than its peers in this regard. I recently sat in an X308 XJ belonging to an acquaintance and it was a lovely environment:

    1. Daniel – I agree about the recent XJ interior; it’s just gorgeous. That uninterrupted sweep of leather and timber framing those voluptuously ensconced air vents is a triumph. When Jaguar get it right their effortless sense of style is such a joy compared to Bentley’s self-conscious excess or the Germans’ excessively try-hard efforts.

      If there’s a weakness to JLR-era Jaguar interiors though, it’s undoubtedly their switchgear. I think my overall perception that Jaguars are not as thoroughly engineered as their German counterparts finds its origin here: buttons and switches that look cheap, feel cheap and somehow hollow, with generic graphics, a less than satisfying uneven switch-action and middling levels of damping quality. I even found their party trick rising gear controller somewhat plasticky once you looked past the nice knurling. A pity these arbiters of quality will soon be gone from vehicle interiors…

    2. X300, to be pedantic, Daniel, itself lifted from the XJ40. The X308 had a more modern interior, but still long on plank.

    3. Further to the above, the X300 was possibly the last Jaguar saloon where the wood panels came from Jaguar’s own sawmill and the seats were upholstered by artisans in the Browns Lane trim shops. By the time X308 came into being, it was all sub-contracted, and in my estimation, it showed.

    4. Funnily enough, I set out to find an image of the X308 interior, noticed that the X300 looked nicer, chose that instead and forgot to change the caption in my post.

      Here’s the real X308 for comparison:

      I prefer the less rounded forms of the X300. The ‘horse’s collar’ centre console in the X308 is a bit too prominent for me and I prefer the straight dashboard plank of wood in the X300 to the wavy-edged one in the X308.

    5. I should say that the dashboard to centre console transition in any of these is SO much nicer than in almost all current cars. For example, here’s the current Audi A4:

      The dashboard and centre console look like they have been designed with scant reference to each other. There’s no proper alignment and no flow from one to the other. The dashboard looks just plonked on top and there’s a useless, dirt-catching recess where they meet.

      And don’t get me started on that sat-nav screen…

    6. Daniel,
      I’ve spent a fair bit of time piloting an Audi S5, which features the same dashboard. On the basis of my experience as a driver and passenger, I can attest that it’s unsatisfying to the point of frustration. From a driver’s perspective, ease of use is compromised, above all else, by the woeful digital dashboard – I’d pay money not to have that in my car. Programming the sat-nav is also far more difficult than it ought to be, even for someone with plenty of experience using previous MMI generations. Stylistically, attention to detail is glaringly absent compared with even the previous-generation A5, which itself was a step below the B6-generation model. Perceived quality is also well below what one had come to expect from Audi, to the effect that some surfaces are deeply unpleasant to the touch – the nasty ‘leather’ seats in the car I used being the prime offender.
      My own judgement of that car also resulted in bewilderment at the press’ continuous mention of Audi as cabin design/quality benchmark. That was a long time ago, but most certainly isn’t the case anymore. The most recent models (with the ‘all-touchscreen’/’piano black’ dashboard, rather than the full-length ‘vents’) are even worse in that regard.

  2. Do the practical test, remove the company logo inside the vehicle and none of your testers will know which vehicle he/she/it is in. I would say this test “works” in 80% of cars – and also, the premium, the more interchangeable.
    (In the remaining 20% you know exactly which car you are sitting in, even without a logo. But these are the 20% of cars you actually don’t want to sit in anyway.)

    It is the despondent design that leads to lack of character.
    It’s the thinking, “If we do something similar to competitor X, we might be able to poach a customer from them.” which on the other hand leads to the loss of some loyal customers, since there is no reason to stay with the brand if their product is arbitrary.

    It must have been decades of propaganda and PR that got people to buy an interchangeable design and think “This is premium. You did it”.

    A neighbor bought an Audi Cabriolet a few weeks ago. He could have bought a nice car for the same price. If at least somewhere in the interior a piece of glass – useless, just like that – had been installed, it would have been less bad.

    But maybe that’s always been the case, you just glorify it in retrospect.

  3. The steering wheel pictured on that recently deceased XJ example is just horrible! I think it’s a combination of the wheel boss not being centred within the rim and the use of the Jaguar leaper rather than the growler. We’ve talked before about how the leaper should only be used on the front wings. It doesn’t work not facing the direction of travel.

    1. I can forgive the XJ its sideways leaping cat. It´s a very charming interior indeed. It raise a set of disturbing socio-cultural questions though.

    2. You’re more forgiving than I am, Richard. I’m afraid I am wholly in agreement with John regarding the position of the leaper. Moreover, when used on the steering wheel or rear of the car, it’s leaping to the left, which seems unnatural, even to a ciotóg like me.

      Regarding the Xj’s interior raising “a set of disturbing socio-cultural questions”, you can’t just throw that out there and leave us hanging. Please do elaborate!

  4. If I sit in the car and drive it, I am sure that I won´t notice the silly sideways silhouette. It really ought not to be like that and it is frustrating we´ll never hear the reasoning behind it. The choice is even worse on the back. I can guess that someone with too much authority and not enough design sense imposed that one. The counter-argument is that the growler looks daft as well. It reminds me in a free-association kind of way of the Rover long-boat. I didn´t recognise that as a long boat (the simplified one on the SD1 is what I have in mind). The growler doesn´t look like a jaguar particularly whereas the sideways leaping image is definitely a big cat. It´s a clear image and the price paid for the clarity is semantic wrongness.

  5. I can see the appeal of both examples of Jaguars above ( thanks Daniel) though with a stronger allegiance towards the elder statesmen. This has, in spades that gentleman’s club, comfortable aura about it. The more modern version is just that but does lose that old school feel we like to harp on about. As for the leaper heading in the wrong direction, I’d like the chance to sample one to properly find out.
    However, this being a Volvo interior piece, no-one has mentioned the quality or, ahem , premium of these Swedish/Chinese vehicles. Apart from gawping through an XC90 Inscription window which in turn led me to writing today’s piece, I’ve not sat in a new Volvo. For what I read and hear, they garner encouraging reports on quality, feel, precision, etc. Bandied about as a thinking man’s alternative to the German brigades, has Volvo nailed the perfect interior? Can their cars now be treated as special enough? I like to think so. And should their seats provide perfect lumbar support, all the better.

  6. Sorry, Andrew, for another one of my infamous deviations. By way of atonement, here’s a typical example of current production Volvo interiors, in this case the S90:

    I know they’re highly regarded, but I’m not sure about that monolithic slab of black that forms the upper part of the dashboard. That seems to be a standard feature of current Volvos, presumably to avoid reflections in the windscreen.

    1. The dashboard shape overall is also influenced by the vertical / portrait format of the touch screen of course.

  7. Apology accepted, Daniel.

    I see where you’re coming from but I still believe this interior (minus the glass stick I hasten to add) is a breath of fresh air over the German norm. I can also perfectly understand Fred’s blindfold test but feel with this instance, a different outcome could be appropriated.

  8. Ah, my eyes, there IS a glass stick there. It’s late, the suns strong and I may have imbibed a sherry or two…

    1. Any particular sherry?
      I´d be happy with the S90 interior. It might even be a bit more delightful than the S80. It has the vaguest hint of N America about it, the kind of thing Lincoln might want to do but can´t.

  9. Yes, those Volvo interiors are lovely, but what of the elephant in the room? The large, touch sensitive elephant? Mind you, I must admit Volvo’s is one of, if not the, best integration of such things I’ve seen, but I still regret that it should be necessary.
    Has anyone considered the distraction that a lit screen represents when driving at night? Given that the eye is drawn towards the brightest part of any scene, there’s definitely a case for reviving Saab’s dark panel idea…

    1. Agreed, I also want physical buttons for basic functions (present in the Volvos) and knobs for the main hvac operation (which are not).

      Touch screens in a moving, bumpy environment are a distraction and it would be nice if Volvo were brave enough to defy trendy expectations and commit to logical ergonomics.

  10. Well, no manufacturer can avoid a TV-size touchscreen in these days, i guess.
    At least they are brave enough to offer a white steering wheel. They deserve kudos for that.

    1. The white steering wheel is interesting; to me it somehow shrieks “1950s speedboat”, which is quite a distance from my mental picture of Volvo. Is this an act of discombobulatory genius or just disorientating? It is certainly striking!

    2. Does anyone imagine that the touchscreens will be functional in 20 years time or that spares will be available?
      If these are capacitative touchscreens the problem goes away- they don´t wear out. If they are resistive they will deteriorate. Maybe this is a non-problem. I don´t imagine ICE many cars from the touchscreen era will be around in 2040 in the first place, except in the odd museum.

    3. The white steering wheel looks nice, of course. But what about its looks after some time? Is one supposed to drive with gloves in these cars?

      Overall, I like the current Volvo interiors a lot (as I do the exterior, despite the fake RWD appearance). They offer light colours and are never overwrought. No diamond stitching to be seen. The touchscreen is inevitable, yes. But I can’t believe they don’t have a dark panel function. Even my old C6 has that. Anyone who knows with certainty about that?

    4. In the interests of research I have been exploring the deeper functions of my XC60 for you all. No, it appears it does not have a dark panel function. It does have different ‘themes’ for the dashboard overall (ie instrument panel, touchscreen and everything else that is lit) some of which are plainer and darker than others. There is also a dimmer function for everything too.

      To my simple mind it’s a bit like I commented about climate control functions a few months ago. If all is designed well and works well then you don’t actually find yourself needing to go and fiddle with it at all. It’s the first car I have owned with a touch screen of any size and I don’t find it distracting at night, or too dull during the day.

      I do like my ‘amber’ interior too. Not bleak or black, but very welcoming and light. Not quite as cosseting as my cream velour upholstered 406 of course…..

    5. Lucky you. My 406 has black woven upholstery. I don´t even recall seeing one with a beige interior, at least not in Denmark since, oh, 2006/7 or so. Around here they are all black or grey.
      I wrote to Peugeot Denmark to ask if they had any plans to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the 406. No answer yet.

    6. No Richard, lucky you! My 406 is long since departed, apologies if my previous post was misleading. The pre facelift 406s had the lower half of the dash, door cards, carpets and roof linings in the light colour too, all of which was very impractical, but lovely!

    7. I´d much prefer a 407 in a light colour; preferably metallic green over beige or mid-grey metallic. The car looks rather aristrocratic when seen on the move in those colours. The black is practical but oppressive inside and on the outside it obscures the car´s general shape. Detailing aside, the design is growing on me. It´s neat and well-proportioned.

  11. @ Richard Herriott:
    Regarding the displays, it is like the rest of the car.

    When the manufacturer’s obligation expires, which is usually 10 years, the spare parts situation becomes critical to catastrophic – depending on the manufacturer.

    The repairability of a car started to get difficult in 1995, when the manufacturers were obliged to install immobilizers. Of course, these intervened in the engine control.
    With each new generation of models, more electronics were installed.
    Components became more complex, components that age and were / are hardly or not repairable.

    And in the automotive sector everything went with computer hardware and software: it was like Microsoft Word, where the rumor says “There are 3 people in the world who really understand the program. The developers are not one of them.”

    In principle, one can say that everything that was built before 1995 – more or less * – can be repaired ready to drive and, worldwide **, do the job it was built for.
    Everything that was built after 2000 is difficult to repair. Everything that was built after 2010 (some say 2003) can only be disposed of after a defect.

    So if a car, that was built today, is on dispay in a museum in 2040, then one can assume that it is only for display. It will not work anymore.
    And assume that all functions that were carried out via the giant mobile phone in the dashboard can no longer be shown.

    Actually, you can watch a dinosaur – some say residual waste – die.

    * Depending on the manufacturer, whether it reproduces parts for older vehicles or whether it is worthwhile for third-party manufacturers to manufacture parts – regardless of the tiresome topic of IP.
    As I heard Mercedes and Porsche are reasonably OK – as long as you can pay their prices, without taking out a new mortgage. FCA, depending on the type of vehicle, is – more or less, mainly more – a disaster. (I can’t say about other brands)

    ** Worldwide except in Germany you always have to say. Our mafia named TÜV or DEKRA has been operating a legal system for racketeering for decades. (They are also not interested in any EU regulation that says that if a vehicle has a registration in one country of the EU, this applies to all countries of the EU. Until recently, you could have a vehicle that was built in the UK, let´s say Ultima, getting approval all over the EU, except in the BRD. Born in the wrong country and live in the wrong country, your fault.) You cannot simply replace components, even if they are better than the standard parts. Carburetor, injection systems, exhaust, brakes, you name it. Even seats – don’t laugh, it’s not funny at all. Everything must be original parts. Changes must be entered on the vehicle in a complex and expensive process. (So if you are tempted to criticize the lifestyle in your country, or the government – for good reasons or not – take a look across the channel. It could have been worse, in any position…)

  12. What used to be called “Tuning companies” are, more or less, extinct. Anyone who survived (AMG, for example) is part of a manufacturer.
    Others “act” as manufacturers and have placed a lot of money at the KBA (German Federal Motor Transport Authority aka Kraftfahrbundesamt. And no, more you don´t want to know) and/or TÜV to buy their products for approval.
    In addition, most of what looks bad and ugly – and, needless to say, makes a lot of noise – now can be purchased directly from the manufacturer.
    But don’t ask about the prices. Usually you will get a decent appartement for the same amount, or have a good time for the rest of your life.
    In contrast to the past, when similar sums were spent on this kind of vehicles, you got at least a unique design and some sort of craftsmanship. Nowadays you get maybe some sort of craftsmanship, but forget about unique, and especially, design.

  13. I have occasional use of a 2019 Volvo XC60 – an Inscription model with a similarly finished interior to the S90 shown above. I would say that the cabin ambience is amongst the nicest I have encountered in recent times. However, one aspect of the IP I am not enamoured by is the touchscreen. I dislike them in general (and Volvo’s is by no means the worst of its ilk) but find it very difficult to understand how a carmaker who has built its reputation around occupant safety forces one to take one’s eyes off the road to adjust something as basic as the heating or ventilation.

    Another irritant is that it isn’t possible to turn the confounded thing off while driving. In ‘our’ car, the home page defaults to showing the placename of one’s current whereabouts. Obviously, while driving, this updates, and as it does so, one’s eyes are drawn unnecessarily to the screen when one ought to be concentrating on the road. There is probably a way of dealing with this, but I haven’t been moved to delve into the manual and find out. Perhaps I should. Having said that, we had to go onto the internet to ascertain the location of the rear fog lamp switch. Easy when you know how…

    1. That would annoy me enormously. I can find buttons in the dark through touch; a screen does not afford that possibility. The placename feature sounds truly rubbish. The allure of the extra functionality of screens has been too much for someone in marketing and planning to resist. I don´t mind if a screen is used for extra functions that are rarely used or adjusted while parked. For the ten basic functions used when driving they are a backward move. I want to be able to adjust the HVAC without looking and maybe operate the music/radio the same way.

    2. The trouble is the geeks who design this stuff think that additional ‘features’ like those Eóin describes above will enhance the user’s experience and their perception of added value, but the reality is exactly the opposite, for me at least. Happily, one (prolonged) push on a single button switches off my Boxster’s touch-screen, which doesn’t control anything other than comms and infotainment.

    3. Eóin – I do like the whole set up of my XC60 but to get the most out of it you really do need to master voice control as part of the whole driving package. You don’t need to prod the screen when on the move once you know how. It’s great, but definitely not intuitive and is quite a lot to learn. I have no idea how it compares in this respect with its competitors.

      On the other hand I suppose one could argue that there is an inherent complexity due to the number of features that a car like this now offers. And you’re right – you can set the front screen to show what you want. Swiping the whole screen one way or another brings you up a whole host of different things to set, adjust, explore and play with if you are bored in the car park one day.

  14. Interior designed by stylists, operation designed by digital naives, I would say.

  15. Enjoyed the reference to The Small Faces Andrew. A particular favourite of mine when I was a lot younger and saw them many times at the Streatham Locarno which is long gone.
    Sadly Mr Marriott died in a fire at his home which was caused by a lighted cigarette. He was 44.

    I agree with previous posters about the shiny black areas of various car interiors these days, having recently purchased a nearly new Ford Fiesta. Surface requires cleaning every other day…

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