Maranello Model Mystery

An interest in automotive design history can result in a fair bit of detective work, and occasionally, a surprise ending.

Ferrari 412i. (c) autoevolution

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”

Guilty Pleasures: BMW 1 Series (F20)

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. 

Image: The author

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)”

Lest One Forgets

The FIAT Uno was one of the biggest selling and most significant cars of the 1980s. Then, it was such a common sight that one barely took note.  Now, it’s invisible just because so few remain. Out of sight, out of mind; does anyone care anymore about the Uno?

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Uno 3 door – a FIAT publicity shot which is either deeply ironic or aimed at demonstrating new levels of rust-proofing (Source: WheelsAge.org)

The 80’s was the decade when my interest in all things automobile really took hold. In 1983, I remember deciding to Continue reading “Lest One Forgets”

EGV The Friendly Ghost

A peek under the cover at Mladá Boleslav’s design process.

All New Latest Exclusive Top Secret Undercover Groundbreaking Ghost Car Type 17. (c) Skodastoryboard.com

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.

In this domain, security is king; no mobile phones, no contact with outsiders, no leaks to press. Over three hundred souls are committed to Continue reading “EGV The Friendly Ghost”

The One That Got Away

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. 

The car in front is an Aston.

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”

Inferior Design

Driven to Write is pleased to welcome a new contributor from the world of automotive design, Matteo Licata. Today, he talks interiors.

Hyundai Intrado Concept sketch (c. Car Body Design)

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”

Auto Shanghai 2019: Misunderestimation

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.

Good enough for China, photo (c) Motor1.com

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”

Caddy Lack

Cadillac is in the midst of yet another revival. For real, this time. Honestly.

This definitely isn’t your daddy’s Cadillac. But what is it then? Photo (c) Jalopnik

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”

Denied: Cadillac Elmiraj (2013)

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. 

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Sheer look: Cadillac Elmiraj coupé, photo (c) Top Speed

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)”

Geneva Motor Show 2019 Preview: Audi TT-TT

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!

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‘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”

Kodo Arrigato

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. 

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The reality is even better,  photo (c) autoevolution

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”

Adding Dimensions (II)

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. 

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Photo (c) Pinterest

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)”

Adding Dimensions (I)

The car designer’s sketch, and how it is turned into a three-dimensional object, are no mere technicalities. 

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VW/Porsche Tapiro, styled and sketched by Giorgetto Giugiaro, photo (c) seriouswheels.com

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)”

Der Spießer

In late 2018, it’s time for a bit of reluctant praise to the automotive realm’s popular overachiever, the Porsche 911.

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German sports car design, photo (c) Porsche AG

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”

Mercedes-Benz Teases High-End Crossover Concept

During a special preview, the German premium brand spilled the beans about its future plans for the exclusive end of the market. 

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This official sketch depicts Mercedes-Benz’ upcoming Ultimate Performance concept car, which we believe is likely to be unveiled to the public, early in 2019 in some form.

In addition to the release of this sketch, the Germans invited a selection of journalists to Daimler AG’s new Advanced Future Research Studio in Stuttgart Stammheim, where some of the brand’s stylists were at hand to Continue reading “Mercedes-Benz Teases High-End Crossover Concept”

Toxic Emissions

Does it really matter what car designers say? Should it?

(c) nissan-infiniti

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”

AUTOpsy: VW Polo VI (2018)

VW’s staple supermini proves that too much of a good thing is still too much. 

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The Volkswagen Polo may never have matched its bigger brother, the quintessential Golf, in terms of significance or profit margins. And yet it was the previous generation of this car, the Polo V, that proved how serious VW’s then new management under (now) notorious CEO, Martin Winterkorn, was about redefining the brand.

The Polo V was a bit of a minor masterpiece – not just by the standard of this class of motor car. Assured, restrained, with an almost imperceptible, yet clear elegance in its surfacing and discreet detailing. It was, in short, almost everything the Polo preceding it (a heavy-handed facelift model with chintzy rear lights and the brand’s ungainly Plakettengrill at its front) wasn’t. Which leaves the question what this all-new Polo of 2018 has to Continue reading “AUTOpsy: VW Polo VI (2018)”

Car Design And Philosophy

Apart from matters of horsepower, handling and ashtrays car design is a lens through which one can view a number of philosophical questions.

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Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham: source

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”

AUTOpsy: Dodge Avenger (2007)

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 ?

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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.

Of course, by the time the Avenger was brought to market, most of the people who had made those decisions had Continue reading “AUTOpsy: Dodge Avenger (2007)”

Geneva 2018 Reflections – Minor Distractions

As always, there’s more than just cars to the Geneva International Motor Show. 

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The glamour of Geneva, photo (c) DrivenToWrite

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”

Schandfleck-Klasse

The once-proud Mercedes-Benz has suffered a fair few indignities of late, but there is one desecration to make all the others appear moderate and respectful by comparison. 

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Yes, you can trust your eyes, photo (c) carscoops.com

It takes quite a lot to make Sensual Purity® appear timid and deliberate. In that sense, the Mercedes Royale (which, legally speaking, is unlikely to Continue reading “Schandfleck-Klasse”

Crossed Over

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?

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 Backside design, photo (c) suvauthority.com

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”

Geneva Motor Show 2021 Preview: Mercedes-Benz A-class

In an exclusive preview ahead of its unveiling at the 2021 Geneva show, Driven To Write can reveal the significantly refreshed Mercedes A-class.

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Official designer’s sketch of the 2022 A-class, photo (c) Driven To Write

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.”

Styling, incidentally, is the focal point of W177’s overhaul. Since its market introduction in 2018, the current A-class has turned out to Continue reading “Geneva Motor Show 2021 Preview: Mercedes-Benz A-class”

Fiat Nox (I)

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.

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Ritmo, post surgery, photo (c) YouTube.com

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.

So, in order to Continue reading “Fiat Nox (I)”

AUTOpsy: Mercedes-Benz SL (R231)

It it takes a lot to bring 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. 

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Despite having possessed neither 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, establishing 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. The SL to eventually succeed it, dubbed R129, turned out to be both icon and swan song to the highest German product design values.

23 years later, the SL is still with us, but has lost any sense of relevance. The former benchmark has become an obscurity, which cannot be explained simply by changing customers’ tastes.

Of course, this R231 was preceded by another SL, the Steve Mattin-penned R230. Unquestionably a statement car upon its unveiling in 2001, hindsight and a facelift of such cack-handed quality that it appears to have been outsourced to Fiat’s Centro Stile have seen to its stature deflating over the past decade-and-a-half. Given these circumstances, it could be argued that R231 was up against the odds of marking a true return to form for a slightly dulled badge upon its introduction in 2012.

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Not up to interpretation is R231’s perception by the media and prospective customers though, which was hardly enthusiastic initially and hasn’t improved since. In an imploding sector of the market that it now truly owns, this SL hasn’t managed to leave any mark at all.

Most if this is to do with its styling. The market may admittedly have fallen out of love with the folding hard top convertible in general, but this feature is the least of R231’s issues. For the list of R231’s aesthetic shortcomings is almost as long as the SL model’s history.

First of all, R231 perplexes, courtesy of its awkward stance. In contrast to both its immediate predecessors, this SL suffers from an obviously excessive front overhang to which unnecessary additional visual weight is added by the bluff frontal silhouette. In addition, even high-spec examples appear somewhat under-wheeled.

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With its body thus overwhelming the chassis, R231 comes across like a pretend performance car à la Alfa Montreal, despite the fact that it shares many components with the thoroughbred SLS sports car. This ineptitude of stance goes hand in hand with the R231’s bodysides appearing to be at their widest towards the top, exacerbating the issue of the car’s poorly judged stature.

These fundamental issues aren’t helped by the coarse details that beset R231’s body. Aiming for a cleaner appearance than its unashamedly ornate predecessor, R231 ends up combining the worst of both worlds: lack of sophistication with ungainly, attention-seeking flourishes.

Unlike the, at first glance, simple, but rich surfaces of the VH/HA Mercedes models designed under Bruno Sacco, R231’s appearance suggests a hasty styling process that didn’t involve an excessive amount of work on full-scale clay models. For here, what appears to be simple truly is simple, as in: lacking in sophistication.

None of the creases and swage lines on the bodywork impress through the virtue of being expertly crafted. Yet they are not even superficially striking either, despite the grille’s surrounding and the arrangement around the fake side vents suggesting some intended ‘showy’ effect.

Of course, R231’s trademark detail must be its headlight design, whose most prominent feature is the Fackel (torch) indicator, which has since become a mainstay of Gorden Wagener’s Sensual Purity mantra. R231 incorporates it in a way that just about works from certain angles, but doesn’t do so at all from most others.

The idea to align the behind-the-glass graphics with those of the grille outline, while simultaneously having the light unit’s basic shape seemingly clash with the grille, may have seemed like a clever idea in certain drawings, but doesn’t work in three dimensions. What this error achieves is to distract from the lamp unit’s confused graphics, which fail to coalesce into a coherent whole.

Speaking of lamps, it must be said that their design at R231’s rear doesn’t fare an awful lot better. Seemingly influenced by the BMW E60 (front light) design, they suffer from a confused basic silhouette that fails to integrate the different creases and a weak swage line coherently. This might have been a decent approach, if there wasn’t that slight indent flanking the boot aperture. Its soft form suggests a striving for elegance that is at odds with this SL’s overall design and turns a dull rear end into an irritating one.

To add insult to injury, the lamps’ graphics are poor. There’s a half-hearted attempt to reprise the ribbed Mercedes tail light design of yore, but it’s as carelessly executed as the graphics, with LEDs dotted about in careless fashion. No amount of Mercedes-Benz badges can therefore distract from their cheap appearance.

Speaking of Mercedes trademarks, it must be mentioned that in recent years, the most consistently applied trope have been the ovoid door handles that are also present on R231. Since their introduction with the W220 S-class in 1999, they have turned out to be the staple of Mercedes-Benz design, rather than proud three-pointed stars, corrugated rear lights or even torches. In R231’s case, their application appears to be particularly poor, as their ovoid outlined is at odds with the straight crease that is supposed to bisect them.

On top of all these shortcomings, R231 also speaks of the general change of attitude that had taken place even before this car’s design process (which started about a decade ago). For R231 is full of fakery, pretend this and faux that.

Of course, neither fake exhaust tips, nor fake mesh are the sole domain of Mercedes-Benz. But that this formerly proud, most-engineering led of companies would not just bow to trends, but apply these tropes in the sloppiest, most offensive fashion is rather telling. The designers in charge of this car (reportedly Frank Pfisterer and future Nu-A-class stylist, Mark Fetherston) apparently thought little of the cognitive abilities of prospective customers if they thought such conspicuous Mummenschanz would do nicely.

In that sense, R231 incidentally serves as an excellent homage to Peter Pfeifer’s reign in charge of Mercedes-Benz’ stylistic fortunes. Without his less than assured hand, neither Mercedes-Benz, nor the world would be ready for the kind of Sensual Purity Untertürkheim now indulges in.

The author of this piece runs an obscure motoring site of his own, which you may or may not choose to visit at www.auto-didakt.com

[Badge] Engineering Failure: VW

I realise it’s an old and oft-discussed issue, but I have experienced VW shooting itself in the badge.

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I was recently loaned a brand new VW Golf Estate for the day whilst my Octavia of similar form was in for its 10k oil-change. I have frequently read over the past few years how the differential between VW Group’s brands has blurred, but this is the first time I was presented with an opportunity to witness the phenomenon so directly. And, although I should not have been, I was a bit taken aback at the experience.

I’ve always kept the view that the Golf is a bit special. A cut above. Very cleverly set aside from Continue reading “[Badge] Engineering Failure: VW”

Paths Of Glory

The most visual social media network, Instagram, provides car designers with the perfect platform to present their work. Or themselves. 

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Nothing Can Keep Gordenstagram Down

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”

A Bit of an i-Sore

The Hyundai i30 Fastback is currently getting a bit of coverage as it is launched to the UK press. I’m delighted that Hyundai is bringing it to these shores, but something has caught my eye.

Nice looking car which loses marks for the misalignment of the lower edges of the bonnet and the A-pillar. Image credit: Hyundai

Overall, I rather like the look of this car. It provides a touch more elegance and panache than the standard 5-door hatch. Arguably, it can be said to rival the Audi A3 and, perhaps more credibly, the Mazda3 Fastback (albeit both of those are 4-door saloons, this is a 5-door), and Skoda Octavia. It also extends choice to the market, and with my basic grounding in economics, I’ve been conditioned to Continue reading “A Bit of an i-Sore”

In China They Eat Dogs

Chris Bangle has returned to car design, but isn’t back.

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Yes. This is an Automobile. photo (c) CNET

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”

Thou Shalt Not Poke Fun

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… 

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Chris Bangle, photo (c) car blogger.it

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”

Dirk’s Demise vs Luc’s Lamento

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. 

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Dirk’s swansong, photo (c) Car and Driver

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”

Registering Discontent

Everybody’s gettin’ down at the Disco, so Land Rover’s CCO gets his boogie shoes on.

Asymmetric or just plain odd? Image: autoexpress

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.

Speaking to Auto Express, McGovern made it clear that he saw no issue with the styling feature, instead suggesting LR dealers Continue reading “Registering Discontent”

IAA 2017: Pillar of Style

Augmented by colourful accents and/or a girth suggesting they’d last a thousand years – this year’s Frankfurt Motor Show showed that creativity rests on the D-pillar 

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When Marc Newson met Zaha Hadid

For once, I shall let the pictures do the talking. Continue reading “IAA 2017: Pillar of Style”

Should The Waves Of Joy Be At One With The Tide? Well, Should They?

Despite the enormous size of the automotive industry and the enormous importance of aesthetics, the academic literature on the topic is sparse.

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Citroen C5 sketch: (c) citroencarclub.org.uk

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.

Car Styling and Auto & Design purport to tell the design story and do often have revealing studio photos of rejected clay models and theme sketches that lead to the final cars. Both, however, are essentially very dependent on the industry that provides the information and so, apart from Robert Cumberford’s articles, they only Continue reading “Should The Waves Of Joy Be At One With The Tide? Well, Should They?”

Micropost: Why Design Matters

German news magazine, Der Spiegel, didn’t have to look very hard to find the right image to accompany its cover story on the alleged German car manufacturers’ cartel

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Photo (c) Der Spiegel

Continue reading “Micropost: Why Design Matters”

Bringing ‘Sexyback’

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.

Image: motorward

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’”

The Allusion That Does Not Allude: A Silent Smile

This is very likely the most striking car on sale today, the Toyota C-HR.

Inside and out, the car uses extremely expressive forms, taking the deconstructed appearance seen on some front-ends and bringing them around the sides. The exterior is conceived of in a rather different way compared to what, up until now, we have considered standard. It is available as normal petrol-engined car or as a hybrid but that’s not where the interest lies. No, madam.

Continue reading “The Allusion That Does Not Allude: A Silent Smile”

A photo for Sunday: 2004 Ford Fusion

Night lighting is continuing to fascinate me. Under the bright, cold glare of a street lamp, this Fusion showed off the car’s essential character.

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2004 Ford Fusion

The wheel arches stand out here as does the upper surface of the body side above the feature line and door handles. The time is nigh when I should get a camera able to capture the depth of black and the richer colour of night lighting.
Continue reading “A photo for Sunday: 2004 Ford Fusion”

Highlights of Last Night

Long, thin lights make interesting reflections on car bodies. A malfunctioning restaurant sign made this Volvo panel especially fascinating.

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These reflections show the contours of the front wing of a Volvo S60 from a sign. It had two strips running horizontally, one of which turned on and off at intervals. Image one shows the wing with one light illuminated. The second shows it with both strips illuminated.
Continue reading “Highlights of Last Night”

Mustang Micropost: Compare and Contrast

What do you do when your product’s character derives from a particular look? Here’s how Ford revised the Mustang for 2015.

2015 Ford Mustang and its predecessor (right)
2015 Ford Mustang and its predecessor (right)

The overall change is that Ford have accentuated the horizontal character of the vehicle, front to back. While the old car looked more brutal and Aston-Martin-esque, the new one has smoother blends, and the two features that interrupted the front-to-rear flow are gone: the heavy B-pillar and the J-shaped scallop. At the front the lamps are slimmer and wrap around to the sides, again stressing horizontality and width. I think the previous car looked more masculine and robust. The new one loses some of that in the name of flow. Continue reading “Mustang Micropost: Compare and Contrast”

1970 Ford Cortina Revisited: Form

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.

1970 Ford Cortina: source
1970 Ford Cortina: autoevolution.co.uk

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”

Theme: Film – National Lampoon’s Vacation

Usually cars in films are a background detail. Occasionally they have a more important role.

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For the 1983 cinematographic production “National Lampoon’s Vacation”, a Ford LTD Country Squire was transformed into a Wagon Queen Family Truckster. The production designers could almost have taken a stock car as it was, so grotesque had some American vehicles become by the time the film was in production. Continue reading “Theme: Film – National Lampoon’s Vacation”

The Divorce of Form and Function

This brief post serves to notify readers that at Lexus the designers have finally separated form and function

2016 Lexus UX interior: source
2016 Lexus UX interior: source

This image shows the interior of the Lexus UX concept car. There are functions and there are forms and there is no apparent bridge between them. I don’t believe the person who created this image had any idea how these forms would be realised in production. I think it’s okay to do free-form sketching in the initial stages of a design programme. It’s essential, even. Usually then the “feeling” of the first loose sketches get transferred to the structure of the likely interior components with changes made to both as the iterations are iterated. Continue reading “The Divorce of Form and Function”

Question of the Day

Why does the VW ID concept have to look more styled than a VW Golf?

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The ID concept is claimed to have a 371 mile range (compared to the 248 miles of a Renault Zoe). At present Chevrolet’s Bolt promises around 230 or so (and Car and Driver have confirmed this). I’m more interested in the visual semantics of electric cars though. Tesla have chosen to make their cars look quite conventional (less so with the X). BMW have opted for po-mo design while the Zoe could conceivably be an ordinary modernist car: not Tesla’s classicism and nor either obviously outré. Continue reading “Question of the Day”

2017 Land Rover Discovery

It’s all change at Land Rover, as Archie Vicar might say. I have prepared this visual analysis of the car so as to show you what’s being offered.

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The new car looks longer and lower and has lost a few degrees of rectilinearity. It has also lost the hard, industrial character which made the last Disovery so appealing and indeed distinct from the Range Rover above it. The residual roof bump might make sense in a design board meeting (“We’ve refenced the step in the roof, Bob, but made it more dynamic…”) but in reality it is now pure styling.

The base of the A-pillar is visually very unsettling, a hard corner amidst a mass of radii. The previous model handled this area nicely. Notice the lamps are now horizonally accented and not vertical. They resemble a Ford S-Max and the stepped feature offers nothing functional. The BOF construction has gone as well as the square looks.

Verdict: the Discovery now looks like many other mid-size SUVs.

Image sources: 2017 Discovery and 2009 Discovery.

Rio Grande

Disappointment takes many forms. Today it looks something like this – the 2017 Kia Rio.

2017 Kia Rio. Image: Autocar
New but not necessarily improved. 2017 Kia Rio. Image: Autocar

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”

Bristol Bullet (Part II)

Quite some time has elapsed since I mentioned I’d write a little about the Bristol Bullet. 

2016 Bristol Bullett: cnn.com
2016 Bristol Bullett: cnn.com

This reminds me of the legendary Archie Vicar taking several months to decide what he thought about the Peugeot 505. You can read the general outline here: big engine, light car, Italian retromod styling, carbonfibre body and a big price tag (£250,000). My first reaction is to welcome the existence of the car even if it’s not something I’d want to buy were I to have more of the world’s money than I do. Continue reading “Bristol Bullet (Part II)”

2016 Citroen Cxperience Concept

Sufficient time has elapsed now for Citroen to admit to making the CX. 

2016 Citroen Cxperience concept car: source
The bonnet is too high. 2016 Citroen Cxperience concept car: source

Make that 25 years in the dog house before they could bear to put the name, or something like it, on their latest concept car, the Cxperience. Thancx, Citroen. Extrapolating from this we may have the Xmination concept car in 2026. The car is showcasing the drivetrain and not the appearance. We’ll see what others have to say about the oily/electrical bits first. Continue reading “2016 Citroen Cxperience Concept”

Is Art and Science on the Way Out?

News From a Few Days Ago…

1999 Cadillac Evoq: source
1999 Cadillac Evoq: source

By the time this is published you may very well know what the concept design in question looks like. I think it’s an interior concept but may involve a new exterior form language. I didn’t want to nudge any of our other articles to one side for a teaser so the first available place to discuss it is here, after your breakfast. Continue reading “Is Art and Science on the Way Out?”