An interest in automotive design history can result in a fair bit of detective work, and occasionally, a surprise ending.
For three years, all the money in the world wouldn’t buy you a brand new Ferrari Gran Turismo. It may appear almost impossible to imagine from today’s perspective, but Maranello’s premier car maker wasn’t always the money printing machine it is nowadays, which would historically entail the odd glitch and hiccup in terms of production planning.
It was for this reason that certain models would outstay their welcome on a somewhat regular basis. But not offering a mainstay product for several years appeared very odd indeed, even before Ferrari evolved from being the maker of enthusiast’s cars to the status of luxury goods purveyors.
From 1989, when production of the long-serving 412i four-seater model finally ceased, until 1992, the year the 456 GT successor was unveiled, anyone looking for a Ferrari that could accommodate not just driver plus wife/mistress, but also the dog and/or kids, would need to go for the unloved Mondial. If this kind of customer was hellbent on a V12 engine under the bonnet, he’d have to Continue reading “Maranello Model Mystery”
Some car designs either mature with age or wait for the beholder’s eye to mature. The second-generation BMW Einser is an example of this phenomenon.
The passage of time can have peculiar side effects, in that both one’s own tastes tend to change, just as changing context can significantly alter one’s perception and hence opinion.
In automotive terms, for example, my (much) younger self was left unreservedly enchanted by the Rover 75 upon its unveiling. The attention to detail of its styling, as well as the obvious nods to historic British car designs completely won me over; to me, the 75 was everything the Jaguar S-type most equivocally was not.
Two decades later, the Jaguar remains no caterpillar-turned-butterfly, but the Rover has lost quite a lot of its charm. The care and attention to detail that went into its design remain as obvious as they were back in 1998, but the entire concept of a twee retro saloon so unashamedly attempting to Continue reading “Guilty Pleasures: BMW 1 Series (F20)”
A peek under the cover at Mladá Boleslav’s design process.
Car companies are rarely known for the philanthropy, charity work or comedy. Surely those who work within must see forms of any (or hopefully all) of these at some point. Making cars though is a serious business; livelihoods and reputations are at stake and those stakes are high. Thank goodness then for a small window opening into what is normally the most secretive of worlds – that of the prototype.
Given its pedigree, the ‘lost’ Aston Martin DBS(C), designed by none other than Carrozzeria Touring, should be an unsung masterpiece. Yet it isn’t.
It sounds like the typical scenario that entails reverberating boos and pronounced hisses from enthusiasts’ quarters.
A much-loved maker of exotic sports cars hires the services of a well-respected carrozzeria to come up with the design for a new model. The carrozzeria in question had previously designed the very same car maker’s most popular models. Due to circumstances (mostly of the business-related variety), that new model is only created in one-off concept car form. Et voilà – the recipe for yet another automotive myth!
Concretely, the car in question is a model retrospectively dubbed Aston Martin DBSC. Originally, it was simply called DBS upon its unveiling at the Paris Motor Show of 1966 – and that’s only where it starts to Continue reading “The One That Got Away”
Driven to Write is pleased to welcome a new contributor from the world of automotive design, Matteo Licata. Today, he talks interiors.
When interviewed on the subject, most design directors will often say something along these lines: “…Of course Interior Design is very important to us, as the interior is where our Customers spend most of their time…” Yet, inside the design studio walls, the truth can be rather different. I’ll get back there later. I’ve been a car designer for the best part of a decade, and I’ve spent most of that time designing interiors. Not that I wanted to.
Nobody actually does.
Let me explain: Automotive design awareness has never been more widespread, and there never has been as many design academies around the world. Yet to Continue reading “Inferior Design”
To quite some degree, the western view on Chinese tastes in car design has been informed by awe and condescension. This year’s Shanghai motor show suggests that may have to change sooner, rather than later.
China, as every donkey knows, is the centre of the automotive world these days. Without it, some of the fundamental changes to the business model of the western world’s car makers that are now on the verge of being addressed would have needed to be tackled a decade ago.
China is the lifeline of the car business as we know it, yet the dramatic dependance upon this market hasn’t resulted in similar levels of respect for it – quite the opposite, in fact. ‘That’s what the Chinese demand’ has been used as an excuse for a great many a dubious product and design decisions in recent years, often spoken with an expression of regret on the face of those so obviously forced by the Middle Kingdom to Continue reading “Auto Shanghai 2019: Misunderestimation”
Cadillac is in the midst of yet another revival. For real, this time. Honestly.
Cadillac may never have been a noteworthy brand to Europeans on the basis of sales figures on the old continent. But that hasn’t prevented the erstwhile Standard Of The World from gaining fame (and some notoriety) on this side of the Atlantic, on the simple basis that Cadillac is one of the most storied, evocative brands of all time, anywhere. Continue reading “Caddy Lack”
Somewhat lost amid Cadillac’s varied (and ongoing) revival efforts, this superb concept car proved that there’s still mileage in some traditional concepts and values.
There’s no better symbol for the American car industry’s post-oil crisis’ struggles to change and evolve than Cadillac.
For the past four decades at least, the former Standard Of The World has found it difficult to come to terms with changing demographics, markets and tastes. For too long, an increasingly outdated concept of luxury was upheld, before numerous attempts at bringing Cadillac up to date have largely failed for one reason or another. Only the ongoing success of the gargantuan Escalade SUV has prevented the marque from falling into utter oblivion. Continue reading “Denied: Cadillac Elmiraj (2013)”
The fate of Audi’s landmark TT sports car model had been put into question recently. Now the car maker from Ingolstadt responds to the hearsay – with a vengeance!
‘Mediocrity reacts – superiority acts’ is the introductory statement of the press release Audi have published to announce their TT-branded concept car, to be unveiled at the Geneva Motor Show next month.
The Ingolstadt brand’s TT model, whose first iteration stunned the automotive world back in 1998 with its bold Bauhaus-inspired looks, has become something of a marginal note in recent years, with many commentators suggesting time was up for a model line that has lost impact with each successive generation and is, above all else, part of an automotive niche that’s falling into oblivion anyway: the sports car. Continue reading “Geneva Motor Show 2019 Preview: Audi TT-TT”
In the 21st century, common knowledge dictates that a car brand has to please everyone in order to succeed. Thankfully however, Mazda appear to disagree with this assessment.
Mazda’s most recent concept cars don’t photograph well.
What may sound like a negligible statement has, in fact, significant subtext. For in this day and age, photos are everything. In terms of marketing, appearances have never been of greater importance. In the age of the internet, social media et al, the word has lost most of its value to the image. So when food is judged by its looks rather than taste, car makers could be forgiven for making their cars, and concept cars in particular, not so much eye as phone camera candy. Continue reading “Kodo Arrigato”
When it came to translation a car design sketch into a tangible object, craftsmanship and even cultural background used to be of the utmost importance.
As described earlier on, the technique and style any car designer chooses to depict his ideas is highly informative.
Back in the golden era of the Italian carrozzieri, however, this did not matter as much, as most of the legendary Italian car designers didn’t much care for impressive illustrations. Viewing the sketches of the likes of Leonardo Fioravanti, Marcello Gandini or Aldo Brovarone from today’s perspective, their artistic qualities appear rather naïve, to put it mildly. Continue reading “Adding Dimensions (II)”
The car designer’s sketch, and how it is turned into a three-dimensional object, are no mere technicalities.
How a designer illustrates his work matters. For any sketch betrays not only one’s technical skills, but one’s sense of proportion, style and, indeed, taste. To compare and contrast illustrations by some of the great car designers of the past with their descendants is therefore rather instructive.
Not just due to changing techniques and technology, the way in which designers depict their designs has dramatically changed over the past six decades. Whereas those stylists who had to rely purely on their hands, eyes and a few templates to create an impression of what they had in mind used to Continue reading “Adding Dimensions (I)”
In late 2018, it’s time for a bit of reluctant praise to the automotive realm’s popular overachiever, the Porsche 911.
Intellectuals detest Tom Cruise. The combination of decades-long success in mainstream blockbuster movies, ridiculously good looks, as well as penchants for sofa jumping and sinister cults has seen to that.
Be that as it may, there is also a different side to Mr Cruise Mapother. The side that gave one Stanley Kubrick two years of Mr Cruise’s life at arguably the peak of the latter’s career. The side that gave cineastes Frank T J Mackey. The side that causes a 50-year old to Continue reading “Der Spießer”
Does it really matter what car designers say? Should it?
Car designers nowadays are expected not only to be adept at the creative aspects of their calling, but must also learn to articulate it in a manner which in theory at least, helps us, the end user, to engage with and better understand their vision. To be frank, given how some designers appear to struggle with the first component, it is not entirely a surprise to discover that so few of them are anything but inept when it comes to the latter.
It has long been known and indeed commented upon that car designers, and especially those in a leadership role, speak such unregurgitated twaddle. Given the amount of time they spend making impassioned presentations to senior management who require their hands held throughout the stylistic decision-making process, they appear to have lost their ability to Continue reading “Toxic Emissions”
Apart from matters of horsepower, handling and ashtrays car design is a lens through which one can view a number of philosophical questions.
So today I will have a go sketching out what these might be. This list is not exhaustive, and is more a set of sign-posts pointing at some on-going problems which may not be resolvable: form versus function, aesthetics, semiotics, hermeneutics, phenomenology, approaches to engineering design. I wouldn’t Continue reading “Car Design And Philosophy”
The outcome of the best and brightest Daimler-Benz managers showing the Americans how to take the product side of the business was this. Seriously ?
Was it ignorance? Negligence? Arrogance?
The motive(s) may be up for debate, but there’s no arguing about the utter lack of lustre this 2007 vintage Dodge Avenger embodies. Or that this utterly cynical product was the result of management decisions betraying one or all the traits mentioned above.
As always, there’s more than just cars to the Geneva International Motor Show.
Geneva: Hotbed of glamorous wealth, elegant refuge of the well-off elite amidst the mountains and Lac Léman. London Mayfair with a Franco-Swiss twist and more of a Continental sense of style.
In truth, the impression the average visitor, let alone motoring correspondent on a budget, gets of Genève is a decidedly different one. First of all, Geneva is far more French in feel. The streets and public transport are far dirtier, the average encounters with locals far less courteous than in German-speaking Switzerland. In large parts, Geneva also feels rather stuck in the 1980s, if it wasn’t for the plethora of oh-so-2018 Bentley Bentaygas and Mercedes-Maybach in the streets. Continue reading “Geneva 2018 Reflections – Minor Distractions”
The recent crop of new models coming from Munich inevitably leads to a simple question: What on Earth has been going on at BMW in recent years?
Ever since the Neue Klasse reinvented and saved the brand, BMW could only ever, leaving matters such as personal taste aside, be described as assertive.
Assertively conservative insofar as an adherence to driven rear wheels, straight six engines and the evolution of the themes established by the Neue Klasse were concerned. Assertively daring when it comes to Continue reading “Crossed Over”
In an exclusive preview ahead of its unveiling at the 2021 Geneva show, Driven To Write can reveal the significantly refreshed Mercedes A-class.
The current Mercedes A-class, internally dubbed W177, receives an extensive mid-life facelift, to be officially presented at the 91th Geneva International Motor Show. Ahead of the world premiere, Driven To Write can provide exclusive insight into the most significant overhaul the A-class model has ever received.
“It’s time to be bold. It’s time for creases”
Daimler AG’s Chief Creative Officer, Gorden Wagener proclaims that the refreshed A-class is more than the regular nip-&-tuck-job. “The A-class is one of our icons. It is the most premium car in its class, and this new design shows that more than ever.”
Apart from contributing more than a few inventions of enormous importance and automobiles of superior significance, Fiat have also established themselves as true masters of the counterproductive facelift.
Italy unquestionably is a country of immense creative energy. More to the point, it is one of the hotbeds of automotive design and style, not to mention: taste.
And yet few marques have so comprehensively struggled to give its products a stylistic boost halfway through their respective productions runs as Fiat has. So much so, in fact, that describing any facelift effort as ‘Fiat bad’ acts as a fixed term denominating a particularly ill-advised attempt at refreshing a car’s design.
It it takes a lot to get one of the most revered models in automotive history to the brink of extinction. Yet this generation of Mercedes SL’s got what it takes.
Despite having possessed neither eponymous quality in ages, the Mercedes Sportlich-Leicht has been a car for the ages, and, on certain occasions, even age-defining.
The original 300SL was one of the first motor cars ever to be described as a ‘classic’ and remains exactly that. Its Pagoda (W113) progenitor still ranks among the most elegant vehicles of all time and established the concept of the European open top boulevardier. The indefatigable R107 SL acted as proof of life of the sophisticated European convertible from 1971 to 1989 and became a fashion statement almost a decade after its launch. Continue reading “AUTOpsy: Mercedes-Benz SL (R231)”
The most visual social media network, Instagram, provides car designers with the perfect platform to present their work. Or themselves.
In a sense, Harley Earl was too early (no pun intended). If he’d waited three quarters of a century before pursuing his career as chief designer and PR innovator, he wouldn’t have needed lavish GM roadshows and the likes to showcase the fruit of his and his underlings’ labour. He could just Continue reading “Paths Of Glory”
Chris Bangle has returned to car design, but isn’t back.
The most influential car designer of the past two decades has returned to the automotive realm. His message is more radical than ever – but his audience is an altogether different one than in the past. We needn’t listen to what he has to say, for we are not his audience anymore. Continue reading “In China They Eat Dogs”
Compiling a list of The 100 Prettiest Cars Of All Time sounds like a fairly straightforward task. Until you ask Chris Bangle to cast a vote…
AutoBild Klassik, one of the leading German publications in the field, is currently celebrating its 100th issue with a list naming the 100 most beautiful cars of all time. The jury tasked with naming the entries includes quite a few illustrious names, such as that of Peter Schreyer, Leonardo Fioravanti, Paolo Tumminelli, Simon Kidston, Gorden Wagener, Henrik Fisker and Laurens van den Acker, among others. One name that isn’t included though is that of the most significant car designer of the past twenty years, Christopher Edward Bangle. Continue reading “Thou Shalt Not Poke Fun”
Bentley’s Bentayga SUV turned out to be an instant smash sales success. Yet the car that was intended to preview it was not only met with fright – it also cost its chief designer his job.
Dirk van Braeckel’s career at Volkswagen had been one of sustained corporate ladder climbing. Having joined VAG’s Audi branch in 1984, he rose through the ranks at Ingolstadt, before being chosen to help re-launch the much-maligned Škoda brand. He did as he was asked with some aplomb, leading to a generation of Škodas that were not just competently styled, but, more importantly, conveyed a sense of thorough quality.
With hindsight, this first generation of VAG-engineered Octavia, Fabia and Superb models must be considered as conservative, competent, long-lasting pieces of design which stood the test of time without anyone really noticing. Continue reading “Dirk’s Demise vs Luc’s Lamento”
Everybody’s gettin’ down at the Disco, so Land Rover’s CCO gets his boogie shoes on.
Since Land Rover announced the current L462 Discovery last year, JLR and Land Rover’s Chief Creative Officer, Gerry McGovern have been batting away varying degrees of critical opprobrium over the vehicle’s rear-end styling – the Discovery’s offset numberplate positioning to be exact. A few weeks ago GMG expressed his defiance at the critical backlash associated with his creation, suggesting the problem was not of his making.
Despite the enormous size of the automotive industry and the enormous importance of aesthetics, the academic literature on the topic is sparse.
There can be found in any bookshop a shelf of ten to thirty books on marques, full of glossy images and I am not talking about these. A few books supposedly on automotive design exist and these are inadequate. This has a few nice pages on rendering. The rest is fluff, sorry to say. The same goes for this book which is mostly about drawing not design.
Well yes, that may be overstating matters, but Hyundai’s i30 Fastback is an attempt to offer something a bit less crossover and a little more louche. Stop giggling back there, it’s better than nothing.
As mainstream car manufacturers increasingly rationalise (read cull) available body styles, it’s somewhat refreshing to see someone offer something (slightly) different. The recent announcement of the Hyundai i30 Fastback was not an event the motoring press dwelt upon overmuch I’d have to observe. Continue reading “Bringing ‘Sexyback’”
Some time back I promised that I would return to the topic of the form language exemplified by the 1970 Ford Cortina. Well, here we are.
Prompting this much-delayed exegesis is the coincidence of an academic paper (Carbon, 2010) which I came across (check out Google Scholar) and the fact that someone parked a new Mazda3 outside my front door.
To start with the easy part, we can talk about the concepts of angular and curved. Two prototypical examples might be the VW Beetle (rated as very curved in Carbon’s paper) and angular as embodied by the 1968 Carabo Concept (Carbon showed a 1986 Alfa Romeo 75, please note). So, where does the 1970 Ford Cortina fit in? What is it like? Continue reading “1970 Ford Cortina Revisited: Form”
Disappointment takes many forms. Today it looks something like this – the 2017 Kia Rio.
Having shown us a stylist’s render of the forthcoming Kia Rio about a week ago, the Korean car giant’s PR machine has released the first photos of its new supermini contender. The new Rio is more ‘grown up’ and of course, ‘sportier’, which is another way of saying it’s wider, lower and longer both in overall length and in wheelbase. Autocar described it thus; “the 2017 car will evolve the design of its predecessor with an aggressive nose and more muscular and vertically angled rear”, which sounds like a straight lift from the press pack if you ask me. Continue reading “Rio Grande”
Far from being the worst offspring of the late Sacco/Peter Pfeiffer era at Mercedes-Benz, the CL-coupé (C215) still exhibits a very poignant reminder of what went wrong at Untertürkheim during this particular period of time.Its proportions are actually very pleasing indeed (unlike those of its immediate predecessor), yet the CL is utterly let down by its detailing. Continue reading “Mind the Gap!”
Japanese automotive engineering went into warp-drive mode in the middle 1980s. The Nissan CUE-X of 1985 remains an impressive tour de force of the purest styling and technical experimentation.
Starting under the skin of this elegant and minimalistic design, we find electronic air suspension which controlled the spring rates, ride height and attitude. The damping could be altered as well making this a car which had the potential to fill a brief written by Citroen. Going further than Citroen did with their 1988 XM, the Cue-X also boasted four-wheel steering* The description of how it works is very similar to that of the XM: sensors sent signals to the vehicle’s central processor. The data described vehicle height, road speed, steering input, braking forces, throttle position and gear position. Continue reading “Theme: Japan – 1985 Nissan CUE-X”
Let’s look back at a quarter of a century of disappointment from Citroen. The ZX is 25 years old today.
Such was the let-down of seeing the first photos of the Citroen ZX that I can remember exactly where I was and what I was doing at that moment. You don’t normally remember this kind of thing. If you recall that Citroen’s previous big launch had been the XM, then you can understand the shock of the ZX’s all-round ordinariness. Continue reading “A Quarter Century of the Unexceptional – Citroen ZX”
Further to our discussion of the visual attributes of the 2017 Lincoln Continental, here is a view of the current car and one where I generously added more length front and back.
Put together like this you can see how wrong the Lincoln really is. There is no point in making Lincolns off Ford platforms. They should do it the other way around. It looks like the front wheel is about half a wheel’s diameter too far back on the existing design. It could be that my version would be too long in reality. It just shows you can’t design a car piecemeal. Proportions matter.
In the not too distant past DTW covered the matter of the slow end of the internal-combustion engine era. The matter comes up again… It’s not so bad really. In fact, it’s great.
This time the prompt for this article is a proposal by the German Green party to essentially do away with petrol and diesel engines by 2036. Their proposal is reported by Der Speigel. The alternative is to use electric cars and more buses and trains. In my earlier article I mentioned that certain north European and North American states were planning to be rid of ICE vehicles within forty years. I suggested that Continue reading “More Harbingers”
A few days ago we took a general overview of the year past and reviewed the big trends. In this article we will look at the pointless details, the stuff you’ll have forgotten by the time you swipe the screen and return to your mince pies.
Land Rover’s Discovery Sport made the front pages of the magazines and as far as I recall I didn’t read another word about this life-style accessory for the rest of the year. Jean Marc-Gales discussed his plans to save Lotus which reminds me of the perennial stories about [insert name of manager]’s attempts to save Alfa Romeo. Among his promises: a four-door Lotus, an SUV. At present, the only hybrid they have is a concept Evora and that was from 2012. Continue reading “Car Noise 2015? Part 1”
Murilee Martin used to post Down At The Junkyard at Jalopnik. Here’s a discovery from 2010, a 1989 Volvo 780 ES. Alas, there’s no commentary, which is puzzling.
The 780 ES was presented the 1985 Geneva motorshow, and went on sale in 1986. That means this is its 30th anniversary year. Skol!
There is a nice collection of photos here plus a little bit of history. What I didn’t know is that the 780 ES was not only sold with the 6-cylinder PRV engine. One could also have a 2.0 L turbo I4, a 2.0 L turbo dohc I4 ,2.3 L turbo I4 and 2.4 L I6 turbodiesel. They only made about 6000 of the things so some of those must have been made in very small numbers indeed. Continue reading “A Bit More Volvo 780 ES: It’s 30 This Year”
Renault have not one but two design studios in India. What is the result?
One of way of looking at it is that you get a competitive and competent looking vehicle. As a raised-height hatchback it is what Indian customers want: “This is because the project was both Indian as well as French. Most of the data collection, however, was done from here, on the ground. It had to be. Renault was keen on an immersive experience for its design team. It wanted the design staff to be drowning in the local culture and local tastes, and there was a special emphasis on what Indian customers disliked too. This is how they discovered what Indian customers really meant when they said they wanted more car for their money.” Continue reading “Into the Magimix Goes National Style”
We don’t really think much about sills. On some cars they were not even visible, as in the 1978-1993 Saab 900. It’s a case of the missing shutline.
Admittedly this example is rather dented. Looking past that, notice that the door comes all the way down to where the sill or rocker panel is normally visible. There is a sill there, but it is about ten centimetres in-board, with a thick rubber seal to Continue reading “Theme: Shutlines – Look, No Sills.”
Some collected, if slightly disconnected thoughts on this month’s theme gives us an opportunity for a little gratuitous Mercedes-bashing.
So much is known and quantified, be it politics, cuisine, architecture or indeed recognising a decent pasodoble when we see one. It’s all out there to be discovered, downloaded and co-opted into our lives and dinner party conversations: we’re all experts now. Continue reading “Theme: Shutlines – Mind The Gap”
What is it with those slightly sagging window lines of the late 1970s?
A few days ago we posted an article about the 1978 Colt 1400. I noticed the window line sags slightly. The Opel Manta did this along with a few other cars of the era. What effect would it have had if the window line was dead straight? I did a simple edit on the original photo and found the difference between a dead straight line and the actual line is small. Does it look better? Continue reading “Small Details”
Is design still evolving? As part of this month’s theme, Driven to Write republishes a post from the beginning of last year
Does Car Design Have a Future?
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.
Legend has it that Lexus’ engineers explicitly used the 1991 BMW E-36 version of the 3 series as a benchmark for their 1999 IS200, right down to giving it rear wheel drive and a straight six engine.
By the time the IS200 came out, the E46 had replaced the E36. The benchmark that Lexus had chosen was obsolete. At this point BMW had settled on a slow detachment from its roots as a “hard as nails” small sports saloon and was well on the way to becoming, in ordinary trim versions, a Munich Mondeo, though to be fair, that’s unfair to Ford’s Mondeo of the same period. As I see it, the car Lexus benchmarked was already Continue reading “Theme: Benchmarks – The Moving Goalpost”
This year Rolls Royce is showcasing the things it is willing to do to its cars for its wealthier customers. A one-off car, the Serenity, will be shown at Geneva this year to this end.
The aqua leather and wooden accents work very well indeed. It might even be that the silk used extensively is fetching. I remain unconvinced by the Kimona-esque detailing in the roof that looks like a strange blood spatter rather than a delicate tree in blossom.
You can read Rolls Royce’s more generous description here:
DTW takes a Fiat 500C on a road trip. What did we learn? For one, don’t trust the fuel gauge and for another, it’s amazing people buy the Ford Ka.
DTW is a bit late to the party in the case of the 500 as we aren’t yet on the invitation lists of the major car companies. By now the 500 is getting on a bit, launched as it was in 2007 when George Bush was still president. Nonetheless, we have got a hold of one now and if this isn’t a review of the car, at least it provides a check against the opinions of the motoring journals.
The model in question is the 500C semi-convertible version, on sale since 2009. I drove a 1.2 litre five speed manual without the stop-start technology and without the Twin Air engine. As the weather was dire, I didn’t open the roof except once to Continue reading “2015 Fiat 500C Review”