Best Indentations

Time to put down that chisel. 

Parking knocks come as standard. Image: MOTOR1

It’s probably sentimentality, but despite decades of disappointment I still maintain a vague attachment to what is by now only a platonic ideal of Automobiles Citroën. At least that’s the only reasonable rationale for why my interest is invariably piqued by the announcement of any freshly minted car bearing the double chevron. Equally without variance however is what I feel about what is routinely presented.

The newly fashioned Citroen C4 is only the very latest of a long and wobbly line of underwhelming visions from Vélizy; a car which replaces without doubt one of the dreariest vehicles ever to bear that fabled emblem, although in the latter case, it was probably the other way round – the emblem (just about) bearing the car.

This being so, it was either a case of overcompensation on the part of Citroen’s design team, or more likely a misguided directive to push for an element of visual drama hitherto lacking, but either way, the 2020 C4 is not only a very different proposition to either of its predecessors, it is also quite an exhausting one to behold.

Image: Citroën media

There’s an awful lot of surface activity going on here and only so many hours in the day – even now, when so many of us have far more time on their hands than we reasonably know what to do with. Far too many aspects of this car’s design irritate to list them out here (although lazy references to the 1970 GS Series ranks high), but amid the creases, bulges, bumps and indentions, the pressing on the leading edge of the front door, abutting the wheelarch is perhaps what most causes your correspondent’s molars to grind.

According to Marc Pinson, seasoned (and senior) Citroën designer, who was wheeled out to present the design rationale for the C4, the indent is there to lend an illusion of length to the flanks, to draw one’s eye away from the virtually non-existent scuttle to axle ratio, and more than likely, to annoy the likes of me. But despite becoming somewhat desensitised to the excesses of latter day car styling, it struck me that I had seen this treatment somewhere before, and because there genuinely is nothing new in the world, it turns out that I had.

In 1958, Ford’s Lincoln division introduced its latest line of cars, the pinnacle of which was the Continental Mark III. The largest production car of the entire US land yacht era, the 1958 Lincoln range was a colossal statement of (over)confidence. Also one which failed to resonate with the buying public, partly owing to its appearance, which was every American inch a binary proposition, and also owing to some teething problems the Lincoln production engineers experienced with such a gargantuan platform.

It too was rather exhausting to behold, because, quite obviously there was just so much of it, but what I really want to direct your attention to today is the indented scallop which runs from the leading edge of the front bumper to the trailing edge of the front wing. Whatever Lincoln designer, John Najjar[1] was aiming for, it seems unlikely he was attempting to accentuate a sense of visual length, because there was plainly no need. Striking it most certainly was, even if the end result was a matter of taste.

Nevertheless, on the Lincoln’s vast canvas, there was some mad logic to these stylistic flourishes and certainly the surfaces could take it. In the case of the Citroën however, it smacks of conceit. Good design is honest design, but to these eyes the C4 not only lacks integrity, I’m afraid to say it lacks sincerity. And if Citroëns of blessed memory used to be anything, they were at least sincere. Worse still, the manner in which Citroën’s designers have executed this stylistic device lacks conviction, a characteristic that could never be levelled against Mr. Najjar et al.

But leaving the C4 to one side for a moment (all day if you’d prefer), there does appear to be something of a fin de siècle sensation to a lot of the more expressive car designs these days – a feeling that we are witnessing a final fling, the last giddy burp before a new aesthetic washes all this overwrought nonsense away.

Some sixty years on, we can perhaps see the Lincoln more clearly as an aesthetic object, a marvellous artefact of an era few of us lived through, much less recall. 2020 might have been a year to remember, but this French debutant isn’t likely to linger long in the memory.

[1] John Najjar, working alongside Elwood Engel is generally credited with the styling scheme for the 1958 Lincolns. Najjar appears to have been scapegoated for the commercial failure of the ’58 cars, while Engel on the other hand managed to avoid the purgatory of the Agricultural division, leading the team who created the design for the seminal 1961 Continental – a form of redemption, if you’ll forgive the religious metaphor.

Author: Eóin Doyle

Co-Founder. Editor. Content Provider.

43 thoughts on “Best Indentations”

    1. Hi Dave. Are those windows above the headlamps to allow the driver to see the front corners when manoeuvring in tight spaces? If so, it puts me in mind of the Austin-Morris FG-series lorry:

      Another innovation was the way the doors were angled, to allow them to be safely opened without protruding beyond the bodysides.

    2. Examples of ugliness in design are not that easy to come by. Many examples of bad design hinge on issues of confounding the user. Cases of bad design that are aesthetic are also debatable. The 1990s Fiat Multiplia is sometimes rolled and even that has its defenders. I found an example of an ugly building that was not just about crudity of construction and even it may have been a case where someone deliberately made a statement. The Belphegor is for me an example of someone sincerely trying to do a good job and failing. I don´t imagine many think it “beautiful” and it has enough details where it could have been made more visually coherent but was not to add up to as close to a genuine case of ugly as one gets, joining the 1998 Buick Signia in a small group of Grade 1 munters.

  1. Good morning Eóin. I was about to reply that one of the advantages of the new C4 was that you could pick up a minor dent in a car park and not notice the damage for weeks, (if ever) but then I spotted the caption to your lead photo. Great minds, etc.

    I’d file the C4 in the bin marked ‘too much going on’ alongside the Mazda MX-30 recently reviewed on these pages. For me the essence of good design is knowing when enough is enough and it is time to put down the pen.

  2. Good morning Eóin. I agree with your assessment of the C4 which appears to be an attempt to out Juke the Nissan Juke!
    I am also interested in your use of “fin de siècle” which, I believe, refers to “the end of a century, especially the 19th” according to my dictionary. As we are currently in 2021 perhaps you can help me better understand your usage.

    1. Although ‘siècle’ means ‘century’, it is also generally accepted as meaning ‘age’ or ‘era’ – which is how I read it here. If we were really feeling pedantic, I suppose ‘Fin d’époque’ might have been a more accurate phrase – but I’m not (it’s Sunday and I’ve been allowed honey on my toast) so I like it as it is.

      I also like that Belphégor – the perfect basis for the BEV that those of us still hooked on the idea of range. Just think how much battery capacity you could accommodate in that box behind the cab…..

  3. I have a theory that the rot set in once they started to flatten the angle of the double chevrons on the cars’ badges.

  4. Perhaps the brief to the designers was to squeeze a bit of company history into the flank. DS/ID was not allowed, so they used something from the Ami 6.
    (I’m having my positive minutes right now, hence this guess).

    1. You’ve put those minutes to good use Fred:

      Well spotted!

  5. Every time I see the new C4 from the side, my brain says, “Ah, yes, a new Toyota”. As well as having too many shapes, the C4’s not original, or what I’d expect of the brand.

    That said, having spent some time looking at it, and depending on who has photographed it, it doesn’t seem too bad to me. I quite like the interiors (only grey and black available, though) and the whole thing is a million times more interesting than the porridge they served up before.

    The pictures in Autocar make it look good / better. Blue suits it better than orange, I think.

    https://www.autocar.co.uk/car-news/new-cars/new-citroen-c4-and-all-electric-e-c4-go-sale-uk

    That design trick around the front door works, for me at least. It’s not brilliant, but it works. The reviews I’ve seen also say that it’s very (old school) Citroën in its comfort.

    I’ll conclude the case for the defence, by saying the combustion engine range starts at £21k, before discounts, which is reasonable value, your Honour. The EV starts at £29k with a range of 200 miles. It needs to be cheaper.

    Are the GS references the front lights?

    1. Hi Charles. I took a look at the press photos supplied to Autocar by Citroën, and this caught my eye:

      Note the (non) alignment of the lower edge of the tail light cluster and trim on the tailgate. It’s probably a simple fix, adjusting the tailgate stops and/or lock, but the fact that it wasn’t attended to before the car was handed over to the photographer leaves me unimpressed.

    2. That isn’t good.

      It made me smile when you noticed the fuel cap continuing the window shape on the Frua (I think it was) the other day. And the panel gap arrangement at the front of the new Jazz, for that matter. Just a completely different level of perception from me – others here have similar skills. It’s really interesting to get these perspectives.

  6. Eóin nails it for me, that very same pressing is beyond what’s remotely plausible about car design for me. It contributes to the ridiculous engrossment of the front section of the car, which is all out of proportion with everything else. And everything else about the exterior is lumpenly disfigured.

    Even if one can bring oneself to abide it (nice try, Charles), it’s not a Citroën, is it? No way. How can anyone see the GS in any of it? It’s not even like a Toyota, sorry, because Toyota would not let this get out into the market.

    Oh, and I have seen spy-shots of the new large car which, apparently, called get the C6 badge (pass me a bucket, someone). It’s like the C4, only bigger – can you imagine? Yep, the nightmare that has become Citröen and DS just keeps getting worse.

    1. Thanks, S.V. – I’m doing my best! At least I get marks for effort.

      Can you post the C6 pictures, or are they hard copy?

  7. It´s a bit unfair on the Juke to compare it with this delightful and wholly excellent product from Citroen.
    There are a bunch of blokes wielding pens at Citroen for whom Citroen´s history means nothing and also who are being misdirected to produce over-wrought mediocrities like the new C4.

  8. Finally someone acknowledges the fact that the surface treatment on this car is so overdone ,messy and just plain terrible.

  9. I once thought of a pre-dented car, so you wouldn’t have to worry about getting small dents in the car park. Also a DIY job of denting your own car came to mind. Most likely this photo inspired it:

    1. Yes, I know I’ve posted this before, but all this talk about dents reminded me of it again:

      Comedy gold!

  10. Much as I love the exhaust outlet under the drivers door, a ‘non-existant scuttle to axle ratio’ is – like a double A-pillar – a bete noir to me.
    At some point folks you have to face the fact that the Citroen marque died many years ago, even if the brand is on life-support.

    1. “Much as I love the exhaust outlet under the drivers door”. <- Figuratively speaking, I just spewed my boisson all over the keyboard.

  11. Only on DTW would the Citroën C4 and 1958-1960 Lincoln sharing space within the same article- thank you for this. Another car criticized in its day for its unusual body indentations which made it look as if it had been involved in a low-speed ding was the 1972 full-size Plymouth:

    1. Hi Bruno. They did sell 224K + 54K wagon variants in 1972. https://www.allpar.com/threads/plymouth-u-s-model-year-production-figures-1946-2001.228378/

      And today there is a German site specifically dedicated to this family of cars:

      http://www.fuselage.de/index.html

      Note the brochure for this car, and the print ads (click on the bottom of “72”). The particular example in your picture seems to have had quite a bit of trim removed , to the benefit of its handsomeness, IMO.

    2. Chrysler really did get the short straw with the design talent they hired. That said, compared to the Citroen, the green metallic fuselage on show here is a delight.

  12. Yes, I share the author’s frustration and disappointment at Citroen’s failure to maintain it design ethos. The GS was possibly the most sublime of the lot, with a rare degree of understatement, although the DS was utterly stunning from the day it was announced to the day it was dropped. To this day I remember seeing a two page wide shot of the CX in Car magazine. I couldn’t believe that someone had finally designed the perfect car! Sadly no chance of such feelings for the dull, or gimmicky designs we have seen in recent years. ‘Striking’ seems to be a description designers actually seek these days. It is almost always a synonym for pig-ugly. Peugeot let the C6 slip by, which was almost up there with the best. The hiving off of DS as a brand is final insult. How the mighty are fallen.

    1. Hello Gooddog,
      Yes, Plymouth still sold quite a few of these in 1972 although I am pretty sure its competitors Ford and Chevrolet shifted even more cars that year; having said that I’ll take a fuselage Mopar any day over the Ford or Chevrolet, neither of which offer the same depth of engineering IMHO.
      Thank you for the link to Fuselage.de; I had taken a look on the site a few years ago but for some reason never bookm arked it- fixed now.

    2. When I returned from the UK in 1974, my new boss had a 1972 Plymouth four door in lighter lime green. I toured with him to many sites in that big bag o’wind, logging thousands of miles. It felt like a giant hollow shell, which is in fact what it was, being of unitary construction. Applying sound-deadening to the acres of surplus bodywork would no doubt have added tons to its already porcine weight. Under the hood, the apparently Playskool-size 318 V8 was lost in the metal garden shed. Under way, the engine produced booming noises as the shed walls reverberated to the mighty mouse power plant manfully attempting to tow it along. It did have a large ashtray, but was a completely uninspiring piece of stodge. The smaller Dodge Dart was a better car.

      My old university pal with whom I hooked up as I re-entered society after five years absence in London, had a 1973 Chevrolet Impala in fetching yellow. No comparison whatsoever. The Chevrolet walked it over the Plymouth in every way a reasonable person would note. It was far quieter, rode better, the interior was on another higher plane, and it handled well for a leviathan – I once got it into a minor four wheel drift on an exit ramp as I discovered it was quite a predictable handler. And the tires weren’t howling their heads off. Streets ahead, separate frame and all.

      The Plymouth’s only two tricks were the torsion-bar front suspension and unit body, of which the same could be said of the 1960 version which I had driven at the start of my motoring career, sometimes illegally, and which I wrote about soon after my entry to this site. Somewhere between 1960 and these fuselage cars, Chrysler completely lost the plot, because the ’60 was solid, even if it had tailfins to rival a ’59 Cadillac.

      There was a reason Plymouth never came close to selling as well as Ford and Chevrolet. They were simply not as good, really starting with the first giganto Fury III in 1965 which is this exact car in early straight lines disguise, and Chrysler persisted with rear leaf springs to the end in 1979 on all their big cars. A 1976 Chrysler New Yorker was the epitome of this cheapness, so big it creaked over road seams, with bonking noises faintly heard throughout.

      One can sit in 2021 and have opinions of these cars, but I’d wager none here but I have actually experienced these cars in actual use. Believe me, the Plymouth and its siblings were no star whatsoever. They were firmly at the bottom of the pile. The Fords were as quiet as the Chevrolets, but rusted far more quickly, and seemed to have limited suspension travel, always ready to hit the bump stops and were thus the epitome of the landbarge. I’d still take one over the Plymouth.

      Then the 1977 Chevrolet “downsized” arrived, and put the old huge machines to complete shame. My car at the time was a 1974 Audi 100LS, which was a far better car than any of the big old Detroit ones, but I wouldn’t rate it above a ’77 Chevrolet at all, as I certainly wouldn’t a friend’s 1976 Volvo 244 which was objectively worse. Drove ’em all, and I’m an enthusiastic punter. The Volvo was dead, featured stupidly heavy steering, no life and stolid. The ’72 Ford his father owned is the basis of my evaluation of the the three main markt sellers of the time, by the way.

      As for the Citroen C4, well tickle me with a feather. What dross. However, the even worse Citroen truck looks to have emerged from the pupate state as from a nightmare, yet never able to spread its wings. It would no doubt frighten small children as it hove into view.

  13. For those (like me) suffering from the inevitable return to work tomorrow, the link to pictures from SV Robinson shows some rather run down looking sheds.

    And a camouflaged Citroen somewhere on the black stuff.

    Have all the coherent (meaning old school) designers retired from Citroen? Has all that knowledge, framework and understanding simply been allowed to drain away? I’m not so sure about laying down the chisel; looks to me like the axe is blunt. The chamber in my heart I reserved for Citroen’s wares cools as if Jack Frost’s tendrils grasp harder. The new C4 (and six for that matter) do not seem worthy of a score.

    1. gooddog; that’s quite nice – a little rearward looking, but infinitely nicer than anything ‘official’ out of Citroen.

  14. I know I’m in a complete minority, and probably plain wrong about this, but I don’t mind the C4 that much.

    There’s more than one school of French design – the striking modernism of the rightfully best-loved Citroens being one of them, and one I personally feel very attached to. However, certain factions of French designers have continued to advocate a more obviously ornate approach – (Italian-born) Bertoni among them, who, lest we forget, was drastically reigned-in by Lefèbvre during the DS’ design process. The Ami 6 mentioned by others, which is hardly completely dissimilar to the C4 in terms of visual approach, was Bertoni’s favourite piece of work, after all.

    At its worst, such flamboyant French style results in something like the current Automobiles DS range. This C4 is similarly different for the sake of being different, but not as revoltingly visually cacophonous. I’d therefore rather see this, with plenty of dents and scratches, parked alongside the lanes of St Germain-de-Prés than either its predecessor or a Golf 8. Or a DS 3 Crossback. It may not embody the best of France, but there’s some Frenchness to it that I can’t help but appreciate.

    Then again, I might be just wrong about all of this.

    1. Simon A. Kearne has finally located the office carbon paper and the typewriter and is now, as I write, typing out the barring order. No…wait.. the typewriter ribbon is dry he needs to order a new one…

      Assuming the postal service is okay the order should arrive by registered mail at your address in the middle of next week. Can you sign it and send it back, please?

    2. – COMMENT AUTOMATICALLY REDACTED, DUE TO VIOLATION OF DRIVEN TO WRITE CODE OF CONDUCT –

    3. Before Simon´s barring order takes effect, I suppose I should say that it´s good to hear a counterpoint. I´m not convinced the C4 is the car worth standing up for. There are other better interpretations of “very busy” that are worth a bit of devil´s argumentation. Peugeot´s busy front ends look more palatable and they have the merit of some interesting texture work inside the grille.
      Which grille do you mean, Richard?
      The front grille, of course.
      And I´ve been the devil´s advocate for the Camry (Simon didn´t even notify me of the barring order, note) and I am only still here because I have switched devices and encypted my net address to by-pass the spam detectors (which is what I hope Christopher will be able to do)).

  15. Another great feature Eóin on a current machine. I completely agree with your assessment of the Citroën C4. The designer didn’t know when to put down the pencil—or perhaps pick up the eraser. It’s a shame really as the scale and proportions of the car are reasonable. Here in the US, the awkward shapes of the C4 are scaled up 200% and applied to large pickup trucks!

  16. 612 Scag also has the scallop around the front wheel arch . . . although executed much more classily

  17. Those who like the new C4 can buy a little model of it from Citroen Lifestyle Boutique, should you wish (5 Euro at 1:64, or 37Euro if you prefer 1:43). As well as other items, often quite charming, they also have these curious “Seetroen” glasses, which reckon to alleviate motion sickness: https://lifestyle.citroen.com/en/shop/_/pr4619/lunettes-seetroen-inspired-by-you

    Strange, I’ve seen plenty of Citroen H-vans converted to food vans, and some replicas, but never the same for the “Belphegor” models….

  18. One of many possible answers about John Najjar’s intentions, was that he was apparently after a solution to disguise the vastly disproportionate lengths of front- vs. rear- overhang.

    That lack of proportion seems a bit on the wild side,
    even by the standards of that era.

    1. Taste is somewhat a function of and subject to the influence of the surrounding culture, I praised the curator of Plymouth Fury above for deleting trim that doesn’t flatter the forms, IMO. But in its day, a car lacking such body trim parts would have been thought of as cheap in a mean sort of way, diametrically opposed to a classy “brougham” chariot.

      As a result of having noticed this on the example Plymouth, it stands out to me that the 1958 Lincoln Continental Mk III as equipped from the factory is almost unique amongst its peers for having no brightwork on the lower body sides, and minimal brightwork on the roof section. In context, I feel that the heavy scalloping adds a requisite amount of interest and distinction which is appropriate to the period, not necessarily overcooked (the massive size, weight, and quixotic and unintuitive choice of unibody construction are another matter). Compare to a showroom sibling, the 1958 Mercury Park Lane, for example.

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