At the 2008 Geneva Motor Show, Saab presented a concept that perfectly encapsulated the future direction the marque needed to take. Given the multitude of factors massed against it, its non-adoption was perhaps inevitable, but that didn’t stop enthusiasts howling in frustration and thwarted desire. Derived from earlier 9X concepts, the C-sector 9X BioHybrid concept not only looked fantastic, but also successfully imagined Saab’s entry into a sector that should have proven both lucrative and sustainable – hybrid technology or no. Continue reading “Concepts: Saab 9X BioHybrid”
The received wisdom is that the Juke is an odd-looking vehicle with no obvious purpose. Is this true? I drove one in order to find out.
To avoid disappointing people I’ll get the driving stuff out of the way immediately. After three hours on a route that took me from Stansted Airport to almost exactly the dead centre of Britain I had covered every major road type available in England barring gravel and mud. On motorways the Juke in 1.6 litre flavour can keep up with traffic and proceed to license-losing speed and stay at that pace unbothered for as long as you care to Continue reading “2011 Nissan Juke 1.6 Review”
One of the last Lancias had a five year gestation from concept car to production. In this case there were two concepts, a real one and a pre-production model. One of them was not helpful.
Lancia showed the 2003 Lancia Granturismo Stilnovo at the Barcelona motor show as a genuine kite-flying concept car, one of quite a few they showed around this time. Three years later these ideas were translated into the production ready 2006 Lancia Delta HPE concept revealed at the Venice International Film Festival which then took a remarkable 2 years to get to an official launch by which time the styling had staled somewhat.
Not all concept cars are designed by design consultancies or manufacturer’s own studios.
I have covered the work of the Pforzheim Design School recently. Today, presented as freelance concept designs, rather than as student work, here is David Obendorfer’s work. He graduated from the MOME Moholy-Nagy University of Art and Design of Budapest and has been working for the Officina Italiana Design of Mauro Micheli and Sergio Beretta for 5 years; they mainly deal with Riva boats and general ship design too.
When confronted by a question of taste, I always ask myself, what would Bryan Ferry do?
My extensive research has thrown up a nice example of a sub-set of a subset, designer accessories for designer editions of mass produced cars. It’s Gucci fitted luggage for the 1979 Cadillac Seville. Would Bryan Ferry go for this or not? The Big Two and a Half in the US have been more prone to tie-ins and designer editions of their cars than we have here in the social-democratic paradise of Western Europe. Continue reading “Matching Designer Luggage – What would Bryan Ferry do?”
What is a concept car? What was its past like and how did its future evolve? Why do we have concept cars at all?
We are late in the automobile era. It is ending as cars become banalities and as the illusion of mass personal transportation dissolves. Consequently, the car’s future might even be over already. In 1971 the future was staggeringly unlike the present. In a properly realised future all signs of the present are gone. Continue reading “Theme: Concepts – Introduction”
In late August the students of the renowned Pforzheim Automotive MA degree course held their summer show…
…it all looked lovely. I meant to write about this a bit sooner but other subjects demanded my time. However, the main points I wanted to make are still valid. I could easily have selected another degree show but this one is the excuse to make them as they are general to all design courses, I feel. Continue reading “How to Shape the Future”
The new Ford Mondeo will finally be on sale in 2015, just three long, long years after the launch of the car it was based on.
Above we see the 2000 Ford Mondeo, styled under the reign of Claude Lobo and Chris Bird. Then we have the 2006 version credited to Martin Smith but which is probably mostly a Chris Bird car. And finally, we have the 2015 car which I gather was designed in the US and has been sold as the Ford Fusion. The photos speak for themselves. Continue reading “Three Years Late to Market”
This week came more reports of the new Opel Corsa. What have they done, we ask, what have they done?
I didn’t expect two of these articles in one week. Yet here we find Opel having a “what have they done?” moment. Opel describe this as a new vehicle but we’d class this as a very comprehensive facelift. The main architecture of the car remains the same and, in my view, the addition of the black tab on the rear of the 3-door’s sideglass does not distract from this fact, and nor do the new front or rear forms. What else is different? Continue reading “Facelifts: the 2015 Opel Corsa”
Skoda’s Fabia appeared first on the market in 1999. Now it’s into its third generation. What have they done? What have they done?
This is the new Skoda Fabia. The previous two generations have been rather good interpretations of a difficult genre, the conservative but attractive small car. The first version displayed some nice automotive design tropes: the smooth flowing bonnet to a-pillar and neatly shaped vestigial boot. The rear graphics and sculpture worked very harmoniously, very much the work of designers who were unafraid to Continue reading “2015 Skoda Fabia: Oh Dear.”
A facelift is sometimes an indication that all is far from well with the car’s manufacturer.
In 1958 Humber cars introduced a new body style which was sold under the Hawk and Super Snipe labels. The Super Snipe was the more expensive of the two. For the last word in Humberness, there was the Humber Imperial which was the same as a Hawk and a Snipe in terms of the bodywork but which had “a vinyl roof, automatic transmission and hydrosteer power steering as standard… electrically adjustable rear shock absorber settings, a rear heater and optional West-of-England cloth-trimmed seats”.
When only basic proportions are giving the game away
Plastic surgery may not be limited to people’s faces, but only on few – usually bizarre – occasions do the stylists tempering with flesh and bone go for a change of the entire body. However, in car design, the situation presents itself rather differently: the choice is between either just a facelift or the full Monty. Continue reading “Theme: Facelifts – Bodylifts”
The it really should never have worked but it did facelift: 1983’s Ford Fiesta
The 1976 Ford Fiesta’s sales successes made it so ubiquitous that its appearance ceased to be either noticeable or remarkable. This however belies Köln-Merkenich’s initial design, which under the stylistic leadership of Uwe Bahnsen was neat, well executed and had, by the tail end of the ’70s, worn well. However as a new decade began, it began to Continue reading “Theme: Facelifts – Festie’ Refaced”
Could there be anything wrong with trying to design cars that can avoid an automotive face-lift?
When Simon came up with this topic we all immediately thought of the classic facelift disasters. Then there were the handful of acknowledged facelift successes; these have been touched upon by DTW at various points over the month.
We are also aware that some firms make a routine of “mid-cycle refreshes” as they are termed by those in the know. And this is probably to be deplored since facelifting a car means either a) the first attempt was not good enough or b) the company indulging in planned obsolescence. To which we can add c) the product actually is long-in the-tooth and it really needs some very obvious re-styling to distract from that fact. Continue reading “Theme : Facelifts – Does Your Car Pass the Facelift Test?”
The 2004 facelifted S-Type had it all to do. Unfortunately for Jaguar, it came too late.
While the 2004 facelift to the Jaguar S-Type could never fully excise the visual scars left by its predecessor, it did re-present them in a more broadly palatable form. Given that the original 1998 X200 remains something of a stylistic horror show; the result of an amalgam of three individual styling prototypes unhappily stitched together by Jaguar stylists under a reactionary Ford management, just about anything would have served to Continue reading “Facelifts – Winning the Battle, Losing the War”
You can’t polish a turd, but can you sully a diamond?
Once, whilst Europe was happy to go on producing the same identical model year after year, until the dies got too worn out to function, the US doggedly changed models every three years, with a facelift every year in between. Thus, any reasonable US car spotter will be able to identify the exact year of a Ford Thunderbird, first by the shape, then by the radiator trim or the rear lamps. Any manufacturer who didn’t come up with something new for each season was not going to be taken seriously.
Only a few puritans and some design dogmatists dislike chrome. However, a bit of tinsel would have made all the difference to emphasize the inherent goodness of some plain-Jane cars of recent years.
Chrome’s application on car exteriors is based on its capacity to resist corrosion, ease cleaning and increase surface hardness. It also has the pleasing ability to draw attention to the outlines of door frames, lamp housings and bumper pressings, among other features. Even at dusk, a chromed window frame shows up clearly and reveals the car’s character which would otherwise be hidden. Continue reading “Reflections On Chrome”
It’s been going on for so long now, it almost seems a tradition. Fiat’s styling has always been variable. They have produced some great designs and some disappointingly dumpy ones, often in the same generation. But what is constant is that, when it comes to facelift time, however good or bad the original was, the facelift is always worse.
There are various theories I can offer and, not being a Fiat insider, that is all I can do.
The facelift, once a rather quirky thing, has become accepted. A nip, a tuck, a chop, a stretch. No-one seems embarrassed. Your Editor is aware of these things because, much as he would prefer to always shop at Fortnum and Mason, circumstances (thank you Eoin and Sean) dictate that he has to stand in supermarket queues with everyone else. Therefore he cannot avoid the temptation to browse through those strange little magazines on offer beside the tills and read about these things.
Some cars are gob-stoppers. I can’t bring myself to do more than glance at them much less expend any breath. Here’s one: the 2014 VW Passat.
So far I have picked a shopping trolley and a sportscar in my excursion through the list of cars I can’t write about. Keen observers of my output will say this is because I am an enthusiast for saloon cars. You can infer from this a low-self esteem if you like, or you can imply a liking for four-door cars from mainstream makers is an automotive version of a taste for “reader’s wives”. To deal with the second argument, I present the current VW Passat. Continue reading “Cars I Can’t Write About 3: 2014 VW Passat”
Design Footnote: somewhere inside Ford, someone nodded quietly to the firm’s past.
A few months back, while studying the parked cars in my area, I noticed that there was something deeper to the design of late-model Ford Mondeo Mk2s. Not very many cars have a solution that avoids both a horizontal and a vertical wraparound at the front end. The 2005 Mondeo has a design where the strongest line runs down the edge of the wing, down the lights and then goes horizontal under the valence, requiring a twist from forward to sideways mediated by a vertical descent. Continue reading “1965 Ford Taunus Versus 2005 Ford Mondeo”
So many car design concepts intrigue and delight upon initial viewing but date as quickly. A notable exception to this truism sits below :
The 1992 Ghia Focus. First displayed at that year’s Turin Motor show to rapturous acclaim, it was a compact barchetta style roadster, and it’s radical form language prefigured a new direction for Ford. Its influence however, would ultimately extend further beyond Ford’s Dearborn, Dunton, Merkenich and Turin studios.
Has Centro Stile Fiat ever produced a design of lasting significance?
This is the question I found myself asking following a recent Driven to Write piece on Lorenzo Ramaciotti – (which I urge you to read). Because like many, I held firm to the view that Turin’s fabled carrozzerie were responsible for every design worthy of note. On the other hand, memory can sometimes prove a faulty co-driver, so I did what any self-respecting autophile would do at this point and revisited the Fiat group’s styling back catalogue in a quest for answers. So what I offer here is a list of significant Fiats of the last 50 years and who is believed responsible for their styling. Continue reading “A Question of Form”
A few years ago, brand consultants Landor redesigned the Citroën logo to be more rounded and, in their words, ‘liquid’. That is a strange adjective, since the chevrons famously represented the helical gear teeth that André Citroën patented and whose success he built his company on. In their current form the chevrons no longer seem to suggest precise technology and, therefore, it could be argued that Landor has done its job well in capturing the essence of 21st Century Citroën.
This thread looks at a period of transition as injection moulding, safety legislation and changing taste in colours acted to markedly alter how car interiors looked. The late 70s was the period when the dashboard became seen as an integrated whole rather than a set of items screwed to a bulkhead. Of course, Citroen´s SM got there in 1971 but did it without injection moulding on the scale possible in 1981.
In this article I examine the change-over from metal and glass to all-plastic interiors that occurred in the mid 70s.
This thread looks at a period of transition as injection moulding, safety legislation and changing taste in colours acted to markedly alter how car interiors looked. The late 70s was the period when the dashboard became seen as an integrated whole rather than a set of items screwed to a bulkhead. Of course, Citroen’s SM got there in 1971 but did it without injection moulding on the scale possible in 1981. Continue reading “Transitions : Car Interiors as They Turned Plastic”
This being, unofficially, the Fiat/FCA themed month, I feel like shedding some light on Fiat’s current styling policy and the man responsible for it.
And when I say “shedding some light”, I actually mean pointing out all the dark and shadowy areas that currently make up Fiat’s styling. More questions will be asked than answered, inevitably.
Superficially, the reorganisation of Fiat’s different Centri Stile in the wake of the company’s Marchionnisation seems to have been a straightforward example of streamlining. And, unlike the most famous jumper lover’s financial and fiscal shenanigans, this move appears to be both easily graspable and logical. Continue reading “What Exactly Is Lorenzo Ramaciotti Doing?”
Driven to Write seeks once and for all to put the committee design assertion to rest as we examine the defamation of the XJ-S.
This article was originally published exclusively on Driven to Write in serialised form in the Spring of 2014.
In September 1975 the newly nationalised British Leyland conglomerate celebrated the Jaguar XJ-S’ launch at Longbridge, the traditional home of its volume car division. A worse time to launch a 150-mph grand turismo is difficult to imagine, to say nothing of the chosen setting. The chosen venue appeared to be a calculated statement of power, British Leyland ensuring Jaguar’s management and workforce knew exactly who was in charge.
Do car badges have intrinsic value? Driven to Write investigates.
We all misread the obvious sometimes. Our world is frequently confusing, as are the brands and symbols that surround us. The car badge or emblem embodies a narrative – an entire marque history distilled into a small piece of moulded plastic.
Mistakes from which one can learn come in forms such as these.
About once a year I visit a relative in a very small village on the south fringe of the Black Forest. Every time I do, I see a different Lancia Kappa coupé. But they only made about 3000 of these cars and production ceased 14 years ago. I assume then that the region in which the car was seen has an unusual density of the vehicles. Continue reading “Another in a Long Line: Lancia Kappa Coupé (1997-2000)”
Patrick Le Quement´s little wonder, the Twingo. A reference for anthropomorphic design.
Twenty one years later, the Renault Twingo still holds up as both a very decidedly un-threatening car and a solid bit of industrial design. Seldom are cuteness and aesthetic discipline united in such a successful way.
After “New Edge” came what exactly? And when? And why
For some considerable time I have been wondering about the legacy of Ford Europe’s design director, Chris Bird. What did he achieve and where is he now? First a short review of the received wisdom. Prior to taking up his position at Ford in 1999, Bird was at Audi (where he did the first A8) then renowned for its ice-cool design approach.
Like finding empty spaces in a tray of chocolates, but worse
In a perfect world there would be no such thing as a switch blank. You’d have enough money to buy the car with every conceivable feature fitted. Or, if you wanted a simpler, lighter car, that version would have a console and switch panel designed for that exact level of trim. If there were four switches required for the four functions, there would not be a fifth and sixth hole stoppered with an unmarked plastic plug.
Ideally, the designers would arrange the buttons so that there was no evidence of anything being omitted. For the manufacturer this might mean designing and tooling a large number of variant parts. But in a perfect world, you wouldn’t mind paying that little bit extra. What we find in reality is that manufacturers need to make hard-headed decisions. On the one hand they want the possibility of fitting as large a number of functions as possible but also they want to have, on the other hand, the possibility of selling the car for the lowest price possible.
A circle must be squared. The resultant squircle is the existence of glaringly obvious non-functioning buttons and blanked-off switch holes around the dashboard. They say to the owner: you were too cheap to opt for the rear-view mirror demisting function. You did not have the wherewithal to afford the heated rear armrest or the electrically-actuated glove-box closing feature.
1997 Volvo 850 centre console
The other puzzle is the existence of switch blanks on quite expensive motor cars. My research indicates that the highest ranging prestige brands from continental Europe are among the worst offenders. There are Porsche Panamera’s with switch blanks. Conceivably even Porsche can’t fit everything as standard despite their high prices but their customers are not so price insensitive to be able to pay for custom trim, designed for the number of buttons for that trim level and no more and no less.
Looking backwards, it was drawn to my attention that the rear doors of the Peugeot 604 had grommets where the manual window winders were to have been placed despite electric windows being standard on the car in W. Europe. You’d think the entirety of W. Europe was large enough a market to warrant a grommet-less door card.
Anyone who has ever peered inside a Mercedes W124 will find a wealth of switch blanks, none of which quite fit the panel they sit on. Is this phenomenon still with us? It has been a while since I looked at an E-class interior. I must suppose that as more and more functionS migrate to touch-screen interfaces, the days of the switch blank are numbered.
We’re not still sticking lights on the front of our cars, are we? Time for some fresh thinking perhaps.
Modern life isn’t necessarily rubbish, but on balance, it is somewhat disappointing. Not just the gnawing pointlessness of so much of it, but the nagging sense that the brave new world we were promised back in the 70s has decisively failed to materialise. Because laying aside for a moment the jet-scooters, orgasmatrons and robotised dogs we were all expecting to enjoy, there remain aspects of the motor car which really should have met the rendezvous with the eternal.
My father was an old-school Freudian in his outlook. He wouldn’t miss a chance to make an association, and my obsession with cars was fertile ground. He pronounced that many cars were just phallic compensation symbols and I, in what I thought was a witty response, said that a phallus was just a compensation for not having a decent car – it sounded better when I was sixteen. Cars and Sex, Sex and Cars, they’re an old pairing, but I’ve never been entirely convinced.
Once upon a time a trip to France from the UK was special. Not only did the cars look different but, at night, the roads came alive with lamps that were, uniquely, amber coloured. I admit that I enjoyed this. It gave French cars the same ‘interesting’ look that Jean-Luc Godard’s tinted glasses gave him. French cars were more intellectual.
There have always been cases of re-skins creating ‘different’ vehicles; and indeed VW Group have become masters at doing this in-house. But between independent brands this has usually been discreet and car companies have remained proud of their ability to manufacture the oily bits, as in the example of the Vauxhall salesman who once vehemently denied to me that the diesel in an Omega was manufactured by BMW. You might have thought he’d Continue reading “What Lies Beneath?”
Reassessing Chris Bangle’s Bayerische Motoren Werke Legacy.
Only a handful of individuals shape what we drive and by consequence, what populates our streets and driveways. Our current notions of automotive style were formed during the 1950s in the styling studios of Detroit and within the Italian carrozzieri, who fired imaginations and rendered dreams in hand-beaten alloy. For decades these designers and artisans were largely faceless men but during the 1980’s, the car designer emerged from obscurity and into the consciousness of the auto-literate.
Car design is usually late to the party. This isn’t because designers aren’t up to it – consider the bold output of the Bauhaus in the 1920s and 30s, when run by Walter Gropius, then consider his rather conventional design for an Adler car of the same period. It wasn’t until the late 1990s that critics felt that a car, an Audi, deserved the Bauhaus soubriquet.
Compare ’50s modernist and brutalist buildings with the florid vehicles produced then. Cars did vaguely get round to embracing minimalism, but by then it was the 70s, and architecture had started fiddling with post-modernism. It was only relatively recently that vehicle design started catching on to that, first in a lukewarm way with retro, then by introducing jokey references such as the half-height Citroen DS3 B-pillar, which seemed to support nothing, and the bug eyed lights and grinning grilles of various recent offerings.
Why this conservatism? Well, producing items with a relatively long gestation period and a relatively long production life, designers are understandably anxious not to Continue reading “A Road to Nowhere?”
Seeing a Jaguar XJ hearse on the Westway a few weeks ago, made me realise that modern design does not adapt well to the production of a dignified funeral wagon. Consider Coleman Milne’s latest offerings based on Mercedes and Ford base vehicles. Try getting out of those back doors with your top hat in place.