Cars I Can’t Write About 3: 2014 VW Passat

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.

2014 Passat collage

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”

1965 Ford Taunus Versus 2005 Ford Mondeo

Design Footnote: somewhere inside Ford, someone nodded quietly to the firm’s past.

2005 Ford Mondeo
2005 Ford Mondeo

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”

High Concept – 1992 Ghia Focus

So many car design concepts intrigue and delight upon initial viewing but date as quickly. A notable exception to this truism sits below :

92ghia_ford_focus_09

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.

Continue reading “High Concept – 1992 Ghia Focus”

A Question of Form

Has Centro Stile Fiat ever produced a design of lasting significance?

centro stile alfa romeo
Centro Stile Alfa Romeo (as was).

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”

Theme : Badging – A Badge Can Speak a Thousand Words

We look for subliminal messages.

Chevrons

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.

Continue reading “Theme : Badging – A Badge Can Speak a Thousand Words”

Transitions : Car Interiors as They Turned Plastic

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.

1971 Morris Marina interior. Spacious and simple.
1971 Morris Marina interior. Spacious and simple.

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”

What Exactly Is Lorenzo Ramaciotti Doing?

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. 

lorenzo-ramaciotti

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?”

Reconvening the Committee

Arguably the most misunderstood Jaguar of all time, 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.

Jaguar-XJS-Red-Strip-1280x960%5B3%5D
Image: The Telegraph

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 venue was a calculated statement of power, British Leyland ensuring Jaguar’s beleaguered management and workforce knew exactly who was in charge. Continue reading “Reconvening the Committee”

XJ-S: Reconvening the Committee (Part 5)

We convene the committee one final time and examine the defamation of the XJ-S.

Image via Jaguar Heritage
Image: Jaguar Heritage

Widely seen as the most outspoken and irreverent of the UK’s automotive titles, Car was the journal most automotive journalists and commentators looked to and emulated. It’s evident the ‘committee-design’ assertion emanated from this source, which illustrates that journalists are as prone to suggestion as anyone. The press subsequently appropriated this assertion which over time morphed into established fact. Car editor Mel Nichols made his views clear in October 1975, stating; Continue reading “XJ-S: Reconvening the Committee (Part 5)”

Theme : Badging – Written on the Body

Do car badges have intrinsic value? Driven to Write investigates.

alfa_159_ti__sportwagon

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.

In truth we don’t really see badges on cars – our eyes note them before storing them away as extraneous information. It is only when they are conspicuous by their absence that we Continue reading “Theme : Badging – Written on the Body”

Another in a Long Line: Lancia Kappa Coupé (1997-2000)

Mistakes from which one can learn come in forms such as these.

Lancia Kappa seen in the Black Forest, Easter 2014

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)”

XJ-S: Reconvening the Committee (Part 4)

We take a more in-depth look at the Jaguar XJ-S’ styling. 

Image: forum-miata
Image: forum-miata

The world fell in love with the E-Type, but what many fail to realise is that by the early ’70s, Jaguar’s sports car icon was virtually unmarketable, the curves everyone loved in 1961 now hopelessly out of fashion. Yet when Jaguar announced the XJ-S as lineal successor, traditionalists had apoplexy on the spot. But was it really that much of a departure?

Continue reading “XJ-S: Reconvening the Committee (Part 4)”

Theme : Cute Car Hall of Fame – 1993 Renault Twingo

Patrick Le Quement´s little wonder, the Twingo. A reference for anthropomorphic design.

1993 Renault Twingo exterior
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.

Continue reading “Theme : Cute Car Hall of Fame – 1993 Renault Twingo”

Industrial Design Archaeology: New Edge to Kinetic Design

After “New Edge” came what exactly? And when? And why

2004 Ford Focus blue

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. Continue reading “Industrial Design Archaeology: New Edge to Kinetic Design”

Specifications May Vary

Image

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. Continue reading “Specifications May Vary”

XJ-S: Reconvening the Committee (Part 3)

The XJ-S marked a entirely fresh direction for Jaguar style. We examine its birthpangs.

XJ27 takes shape in Jaguar's Styling studio - image via ARonline/Jaguar Cars
XJ27 takes shape in Jaguar’s Styling studio circa 1970. Image: ARonline

Early in 1969, work on XJ27 began in earnest. Due to BLMC’s straitened finances, funding was limited to utilising a modified version of the existing XJ saloon substructure and hardware component set. Structurally and mechanically then, there would be few surprises. Stylistically however, Sayer had something far more radical in mind.  Continue reading “XJ-S: Reconvening the Committee (Part 3)”

Theme: Headlamps – The View Ahead

We’re not still sticking lights on the front of our cars, are we? Time for some fresh thinking perhaps.

2010-RDX-Racedesign-Peugeot-207-Headlight-1024x768
Image: RDX-Racedesign

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.

Take headlamps for example. After more than a hundred years of almost constant automotive development, surely we could have Continue reading “Theme: Headlamps – The View Ahead”

Are Cars Sexy?

Autoerotica Anyone?

Wienermobile1995

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.

Maybe I just look at it the wrong way. For a start, I’ve never Continue reading “Are Cars Sexy?”

Theme : Headlamps – Mellow Yellow?

Yellow Headlamps at Night

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.

Continue reading “Theme : Headlamps – Mellow Yellow?”

What Lies Beneath?

What is the future for Car Manufacturing?

Car BadgesThere 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?”

The Vision Thing

Reassessing Chris Bangle’s Bayerische Motoren Werke Legacy.

Chris Bangle. Image credit: Innovation Management

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.

But within another decade the reign of the Italian styling houses had reached its apogee and with carmakers moving to Continue reading “The Vision Thing”

A Road to Nowhere?

Does Car Design Have a Future?

S082352

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 get it wrong although, of course, they so often do. In contrast, architects only really need to please a handful of people, commissioning clients and planners generally, the rest of us just get to look, gasp and wonder why the roof leaks.

Continue reading “A Road to Nowhere?”