First published on April 27, 2016, this fine piece by the now-retired DTW co-founder, Sean Patrick formed part of the Japan Theme.
An obvious introduction for an obvious concept. If you want to fit people shaped people into a car, the architecture that allows them the most room to sit in comfort is a box. An empty volume bounded by a series of flat rectangles. In the early days lots of cars were like this, now they are not. A common criticism of car design, used in the UK at least, is that a car is ‘boxy’.
In the pantheon of industrial and automotive design and styling, he sometimes gets lost in the shuffle at roll call; Pininfarina, Loewy, Eames, Bertoni, Buehrig, Giugiaro, Earl, Lyons, Rams, Opron and Bertone are all present, and deservedly so. There is, however, one gentleman; tall, suave, impeccably dressed and exuding an effortless sense of good taste, that many people may have more trouble putting a name to.
This is somewhat surprising when one realises that this man not only designed important vehicles for several automakers, but also counted Harley-Davidson, Evinrude, the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad and a wide range of home appliance manufacturers amongst his clients. Moreover, he designed the first true SUV, was one of the founders of the Society of Industrial Designers, created with the famous Oscar Mayer ‘Weinermobile’ as well as the oval-mouthed peanut butter jar (to allow easier access to the bottom) and coined the infamous phrase ‘planned obsolescence’. Continue reading “The Milwaukee Magician (Part One)”
From DLOs to DRGs. Pillars, A through (occasionally) D, manufacturers and commentators spend countless hours unpicking these traits. Directives about placement, rules concerning dimensions, legislative measures, crash tests and, finally, the greasy paws of the customer. However much we admire (or admonish) a car’s looks, our first point of contact with any is that oubliette feature: the door handle.
Through an exhaustive half hour lunch break during the no longer recent summer – cobalt blue skies and the mercury nudging thirty degrees – my gaze became fixed upon the indents and recessed areas our digits seek out in order to Continue reading “For the German Bands”
Further precipitation. Continuing our examination of the streamlined monopod.
Bridges Lightning Bug, 1936
Doctor Calvin Blackman Bridges (1889-1938) did not have the background one would expect of a car designer. He was a highly respected geneticist who had contributed the first paper ever to the journal, Genetics and had invented the binocular dissecting microscope.
Bridges built his car in his spare time, machining many parts himself on a lathe. Being rather safety-conscious by the standards of the time the doctor used an early plastic named Pyralin instead of glass for the windows, a forced air ventilation system to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning and a steel and asbestos firewall between engine and passenger compartment. Unusually the front suspension was constructed of a motorcycle fork on each side.
Even now, well into the 21st century, the automotive industry and its related fields employ and attract more men than they do women, and the styling studios are no exception. There certainly has been a noticeable influx of women in the design departments over the past few decades: Anne Asensio, Marcy Fisher, Juliane Blasi and Michelle Christensen being a few latterday examples.
Wind back the clock some 90 years however and it was a different environment – and not just within the car industry. It took a determined and strong-willed woman to overcome the prejudice, condescendence, resistance and occasionally, outright hostility she would often confront if she dared enter an arena hitherto considered to be the sole domain of men.
Some of the women presented herein might appear a tad overdressed in period photographs, but it is important to Continue reading “Role Call”
Like the Buick Y-job that went before it, the 1951 LeSabre concept car was a GM testbed for both technology and stylistic ideas. The low-slung roadster, bodied in aluminium and magnesium, was the first to have the panoramic windshield that would be a defining feature on virtually all American cars from the mid- to late fifties. Its overall look is best described as jet age on wheels.
LeSabre also used the first application of GM’s 215 cubic inch (3.5 litre) aluminium V8 which would later find its way into a variety of cars, both in the USA and Europe – although in the LeSabre’s case the engine was supercharged and capable of running on both regular fuel and methanol. Harley Earl was known to Continue reading “En Garde! Part One”
Ready to take a trip? Today we discuss possible futures and automotive design with Design Field Trip’s editor, Christopher Butt.
Design was once characterised as “the dress of thought,” an elegant phrase and one at least as applicable to the automobile as any other form of styled product. Yet today, the dress which clothes our vehicles all too often suggests thoughts of a less edifying nature. But can anything be done to arrest this trend? Having recently launched his latest venture, Design Field Trip, we ask Hamburg-based design commentator, critic and writer, Christopher Butt, about his hopes to Continue reading “Depth of Field”
The curious unimportance of visibility in modern car design.
An oft-noted, yet insufficiently regretted, development in car design in the past 20-odd years has been the ever-rising waistline of the average automobile; a development that, combined with increasingly thick window pillars, has had a seriously negative impact on visibility out of the car (not to mention the effect on interior ambiance).
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?
VW’s staple supermini proves that too much of a good thing is still too much.
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.
I realise it’s an old and oft-discussed issue, but I have experienced VW shooting itself in the badge.
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.
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.
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”
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.
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.
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”
Long, thin lights make interesting reflections on car bodies. A malfunctioning restaurant sign made this Volvo panel especially fascinating.
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”
What do you do when your product’s character derives from a particular look? Here’s how Ford revised the Mustang for 2015.
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”
Usually cars in films are a background detail. Occasionally they have a more important role.
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”
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”
Why does the VW ID concept have to look more styled than a VW Golf?
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”
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.
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.
Quite some time has elapsed since I mentioned I’d write a little about the Bristol Bullet.
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)”
Sufficient time has elapsed now for Citroen to admit to making the CX.
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”
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?”
John Topley penned this rumination on the Ford Ka when it went out of production. I thought you might like to take a look.
About the only point where I am not in agreement with John is what he refers to as the Ka’s discordant lines. What makes the shape work for me is that absolutely everything adds up to a strong unity. Amazingly, the alternative design was as wrong as the actual one is right. Continue reading “More Ka Thoughts”
When confronted by a question of taste, I always ask myself, what would Bryan Ferry do?
[First published Oct 10, 2014]
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. Cartier have been associated with Lincoln; Bill Blass added his magical touch to the understated elegance of the 1979 Lincoln Continental Mk V; there was the 1984 Fila-edition Ford Thunderbird; AMC asked Oleg Cassini – yes, that Oleg Cassini – to trim the 1974 Matador, for example. Just recently I have become aware of the Gucci fitted luggage that came with the Gucci-edition Cadillac Seville, truly a part of this very fine tradition. Continue reading “DTW Summer Reissue: Matching Designer Luggage”
Few Murano’s roam about Jutland. I’ve always liked this car even if I am not a fan of softroaders.
The Murano shows what we might call Japanese design rationalism although the designers did their work in California. The bit we ought to notice is the very intelligent shutline management of the tailgate, rear lamps and rear quarter panel. The tailgate is oversized so as to eliminate the need for the roof panel to join to the C-pillar. Continue reading “2002 Nissan Murano: Americo-Japanese Rationalism”
During a conference on ugliness, the participants wondered if something could be ugly and still worth a further look.
I didn’t mention this car but I could have done. We’ve discussed here the marked difference between this and the predecessor; this example exemplifies Mercedes’ dropped standards of material quality and diligence of assembly. Even when tatty, the W-126 retains dignity, like an old tweed coat with a few patches. The W-210, in contrast, never looked good new and when the polycarbonate lenses become clouded and the MB star has fallen off, it becomes even worse. Continue reading “Theme: Materials – Decay II (1995 Mercedes W210)”
The car market is segmented into several slices. How are these distinguished?
When it comes to door skins, the supplier Johnson Controls has a good idea of what constitutes the appropriate level of luxury for each price level. They also have an eye on how these levels will change in the future. The image shows what you might expect to see in four classes of car in the near future. Continue reading “Trends in Doorcasings”
Following a discussion on the relative merits of various fabrics here and an article by Mick here I decided to take a preliminary look at the world of automotive fabrics.
Somewhat late in life I’ve developed a curious fascination with fabric in design. This is an extension of my interest in colour. The two go together and often a fine fabric is presented in a rather dreary hue or else a nice set of colours is marred by an unsuitable pattern or weave. For quite some time the world of vehicle fabrics has been stuck in a bit of rut. Fiat are perhaps the most notable exceptions to this, chiefly in their smaller cars. The rest of the world is trading – it seems – in dark grey woven cloth or unconvincing leather. Continue reading “Of Which the Stuff Of Dreams Are Woven”
The Peugeot 308 has better window trim than the Bentley Continental, which you wouldn’t expect. Only a brightwork obsessive would note that. Here is an example of the difference colour and trim make to a car. It’s a 2014-onward Peugeot 208. Small black cars aren’t that common, are they? Twenty years ago they were almost entirely unavailable which is why that Citroen Madame (?) we showed here was so unusual. Continue reading “Reflections On Chrome”
Yesterday we reported on the new Renault Scenic. I can see what inspired the shape of the side glass, a concept car from five years ago, the R-Space.
That car has a suicide rear door (not unlike the Lancia Appia we had on a while back). That made the precise character of the shutline feasible: a curve over the rear wheel intersecting at a point with the curve of the side glass of the front door. The way I see the actual production car, it’s a wobbly line and when the window rubbers at the B-pillar begin to become unmoored as they always do it’ll look appalling. So, I revised it. It would be nicer for kids sittting in the back.
A while back I ran an item on the connection between the 1991 Mercedes S-class and the Ulm School of Design. In it I promised I’d show some photos I took of the Deutsche Bahn ICE train which I propose as having been at least inspired by the Ulm School’s design approach.
This photo series was taken on the last run of the ICE direct line from Aarhus, Denmark to Hamburg, Germany in December, 2015. I took the opportunity to photograph the interior which is both modern and welcoming. It is full of thoughtful touches and is in contrast to the rather horrid Alstom commuter train I experienced recently.
The essence of my argument is that design differs from engineering in that it recognises the humanity of the user through what David Pye calls useless work. David Pye’s work is required reading for anyone interested in the meaning and value of design. This train supports that case. Continue reading “A Little More On Train Interiors”
For various reasons this year I have travelled more kilometres in public transport than in cars. What did I discover?
One thing is that cutting corners on the design of trains is a real false economy. The train shown here is a commuter carriage made by Alstom. The argument they’d make is that cutting the cost of the carriage keeps ticket prices down and attracts passengers. I’d argue that the cost of making this carriage something fit for humans is nugatory given the service life of the device. And since the passenger is probably comparing life in a car to life in a train, the train trip would have to be incredibly cheap for the cold brutality of this interior to be discounted. Continue reading “Ceci N’est Pas Une Voiture”
Yesterday we ran a small celebration of the Citroen ZX. Here’s a small gallery…
…showing the car as it is, with some window-lines marked up and then some small revisions which I think are in keeping with the designs of the period. The third side glass is neither fully aligned with the lines from the main DLO nor is it markedly different. I chose to make it more clearly different.
Recently we had a bit of a discussion about the DS brand. I suggested the DS5 could do with being lower and having a different front fascia.
Squint and consider the roughly-made changes wrought on the image [below]. It’s squashed by perhaps 7% and I deleted the busy stuff under the lamps. The foglamp moved rearwards. Out of curiosity I fixed the C-pillar. It’s crude work but gives at least a feel for what else this car might have been.
Not another Opel. But it is. This is a follow-up to our Opel Astra saloon. I’d like to draw your attention to the fine detailing of the rear side window.
And the aerodynamically-shaped rear wheel arch looks good too. The interior is a study in Spartan efficiency. The centre stack rises from the floor in a neat column and to its left is driver-orientated binnacle. The seats in this car look quite unmarked and the rest of the car is nearly unaffected by the passage of time. I’d guess it’s a late-model car, one owner, with a garage. It has a 1.3 engine, so it’s pre-1988. If I hope to achieve anything with this focus on Opel, it’s to Continue reading “A photo for Sunday: 1984-1991 Opel Kadett 1.3 S”
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”
Will this theme not tire us all? This BMW i3 caught my eye because of the novel arrangment of the bumper and bodysides.
Another element is the way the tailgate covers the lights. Audi have deployed this on some of their Q-series SUVs and good old Opel have managed it on their delightful Insignia estate. I have some history with this feature: as a newbie-designer (in 2002) I proposed this concept for a saloon and was told it was “not feasible”. Note to other designers, unless the laws of physics are challenged, everything is feasible given time and money. Always dispute the power of “no.”
The 2000-2004 Toyota Yaris Verso’s A-pillar is not quite tidied up, as if they lacked time for one more iteration during the modelling process.
The mirror sail panel is abutting the door-shut slightly and the A-pillar ends with an irregular looking outline. The doorshutline ought to have enclosed the mirror panel, perhaps. The rest of the car is equally unruly.
The 11th generation of the Astra on its way. Autocar were allowed to test a disguised prototype and reported on the apparent changes in comparison with the outgoing car.
The next Astra is going to be smaller and lighter but roomier inside. I am a little anxious that the next car is going to be less pleasant to look at than the current car which I regard fondly, especially in bechromed estate guise. However, one compensation is that Opel intend the new Astra to dispel the lingering criticism that they are duller to drive than its arch enemy, the Ford Focus. How will they do this? Continue reading “The Next Astra is Already Being Tested”
We have been discussing design rationalism lately. A lot of my visual analyses have focussed on the main linear elements and graphics. This photo taken early in the morning captures a subtle, sculptural element on the VAG city car body.
Notice the shadow on the doors, to the rear of the shutline. This shows that the bodyside is gently curved outwards; it is most curved just under the window line and if you inspect the window sill by looking down the car, parallel to the centre line, it bows outwards. The curve fades away downward. The shape is reminiscent of the hull of a boat.
An evening walk in central Copenhagen led to the discovery of this: a Chevrolet Impala.
I missed it as I walked within 5 metres of it but caught it as I walked back on the opposite side of the road. Chevrolet launched this version of the Impala in 2006 and it is still in production. It is based on the W-body which dates to 1986 though that platform has been revised a few times since then. It’s made in Canada and features a 3.5 litre V6 driving the front wheels. The grille is determinedly Continue reading “Sightings: 2006 Chevrolet Impala”
I did some more rooting around for oddities from the Shanghai Auto Show.
This is the Geely Emgrand GE, a rather shameless Rolls-Royce copy with a grille inspired by Buick. The headlamps curved shapes are not sitting happily there, are they? This car is reported to be based on the Volvo S80 platform. It has one seat in the back. When shown as a concept in 2008 it had a rather more obvious Rolls-Royce grille. That has changed to a less, slightly less, flagrant emulation of another brand’s grille. Continue reading “Some More Highlights of the 2015 Shanghai Auto Show”
The team at Australia’s Drive have put together an interesting listicle of some cars they consider worth our attention.
I picked two to show here. One is the Haval Concept R which has some rather wobbly highlights down the side but has a quite pleasing graphical arrangement at the front. Similarly, the Chery A5 looks orderly and distinctive. What we see here is a move away from the ornate look favoured by Chinese cars, specifically negative lines that meet at sharp points.
We get the slide rule out on Renault’s mid-80’s midliner.
To finish the French part of this discussion, here is the 1986 Renault 21. While there is some room for interpretation in the exact angle of these lines, the overall theme is clear. Parallel lines govern the bodyside. They are almost equally spaced too. The apex of the triangle formed by the windscreen and rear window is almost symmetrically located. Both of these characters indicate a lack of underlying dynamism in this car. Notice a faint nod to aerodynamism in the partly covered rear wheel arch. Continue reading “Renault’s Design Rationalism: 1986 R21 Analysed”