The author charts the evolution of BMW’s design over the past sixty years and laments the dismal state it is in today.
In the late 1950’s BMW was a company in deep financial trouble. It had been posting losses for a number of years as an increasingly affluent West German middle-class turned away from its motorcycles and Isetta bubble car but could not afford its 501 luxury saloon.
Moreover, the BMW 507 roadster, although beautiful, had proved financially ruinous for the company. Only 252 roadsters were produced over three years in production between 1956 and 1959. It was virtually hand-built and, even at a price of almost $10,000 (equivalent to $97,400 in 2021) in the US market for which it was primarily designed, BMW lost money on every single one sold. Consequently, the company posted a loss of DM15 million in 1959 and found itself on the verge of bankruptcy.
Daimler-Benz considered what would effectively have been a takeover of its troubled Bavarian rival. A proposal for a merger was tabled, but this was rejected by BMW’s shareholders. Instead, it was the Quandt family, whose wealth derived from a wide range of industrial holdings, that came to the rescue and recapitalised the company. A plan was formulated for a product-led reinvigoration of BMW. Continue reading “A Longer Read: Six Decades of Separation”
What happens when a subspecies falls prey to evolutionary overspecialisation? The 2008 Ford Flex is what happens.
When J. Mays took over from Jack Telnack as Dearborn’s styling supremo in 1997, his avowed aim was to re-emphasise Ford’s homegrown product identity, appointing former Volvo design chief, Peter Horbury in 2004 as Executive Director for design with responsibility for FoMoCo’s cache of US brands.
By mid-decade, it had already become apparent that the US market was losing its appetite for minivans, but Ford, like most of its domestic rivals lacked the market foresight to Continue reading “Darwin’s Estate”
As the Audi TT hits a significant historical milestone, it appears to be on the verge of taking an altogether different kind of hit.
It isn’t every birthday celebration that doubles as a wake, but the times are not what they were. Twenty years after Audi unveiled the production TT sports model, speculation is rife that the current iteration is likely to be its last – at least in the format we have come to know and love.
Indeed, this last component may form part of the problem, since the love affair has, it appears, run its natural course. Certainly, senior Ingolstadt management, when they can Continue reading “Death Disco”
Retrofuturism didn’t necessarily arrive at Ford with J. Mays. It’s more likely to have started with a man named Callum. No, the other one…
As the Ford Motor Company grew its upmarket brand portfolio during the late 1980s, it became a matter of increasing importance to ensure each marque could carve out a coherent stylistic identity, one which not only honoured tradition, but that ensured no genetic traces were misplaced or appropriated.
Complicating matters during this period was the fact that Aston Martin had been gifted an Ian Callum-penned version of Jaguar’s cancelled XJ41 two-seater, which would eventually Continue reading “Antique Roadshow”
Today we remember Ford’s 1998 roadster concept which championed the freedom of the open road for four, and pay tribute to its designer.
While four-seater convertibles are reasonably common commodities, four-door roadsters, have never quite caught on. But just as nature abhors a vacuum, car designers tend to view received wisdom as something to be challenged.
At the 1998 Chicago Auto Show, when such events took place in the ‘Windy City’, Ford’s US design team, under the leadership of J Mays presented a concept, while not entirely new, had not really been attempted at this scale before. Continue reading “Formula Libre”
Having made a less than critically acclaimed stab at reinvention with Ghia’s 1996 Sentinel, Lincoln’s Gerry McGovern hit the bullseye with the 2002 Continental concept.
With the Jack Telnack era of design leadership coming to a close in 1997, Ford’s styling centre in Dearborn entered a new phase under J. C. Mays, who following a two year stint as design consultant for the Blue Oval, was selected as Ford’s new design Veep. With a new face came a new broom, Mays telling journalists at the time, “I have been brought in to make some changes and I fully intend to do that.”
Death’s door revolves once more for VW’s retromobile. Perhaps we’ll miss it this time, but only if it promises to go away.
At the recent Geneva motor show, Volkswagen’s research and development chief, Frank Welsch confirmed the much rumoured demise of the Beetle. Many commenters had speculated since VW’s fortunes (both reputational and financial) took a dive in the wake of the firm’s emissions-revelations, that niche models like the Beetle were on deathwatch, so in many ways this news comes as no surprise.
1988. Let’s read that back: nineteen eighty eight. Which is half a year short of three decades.
There really is something about the form language of industrial design that is verging on the timeless. Credit for this car goes to one J Mays who penned the Audi 80 in 1983. This one is known as the B3 (35i). While there are a few oddities on the car, they are far below the detection limit of normal humans.
When I presented the Faction yesterday, I thought I would refresh readers’ memories about some of the other Ingeni-era cars.
The Ford 24/7 sprang to mind. When I checked up I encountered the fickle and fragile nature of memory: the 24/7 appeared in 2000, quite some time before the Ingeni studio opened. Let’s look at it anyway. It’s a nice coincidence that we are scraping about in the annals of car design just as the LA Motor Show is also on these pages.
This forgotten concept stands for a raft of vehicles conceived in a brief time at Ford’s London studio, Ingeni.
Not unreasonably, Ford wanted a studio located somewhere other than the drab environs of Merkenich and Basildon. So J Mays, then chief of design for FoMoCo, selected in 2002 a lovely office in a ritzy bit of London where designers could work hard, inspired by the buzz of city life. There is some good sociological thinking behind this. It didn’t last long, being closed in 2003, the year the Faction was shown. Continue reading “Design Review : 2003 Ford Faction”
GM’s head of design, Ed Welburn, is retiring in June. What is his legacy?
This was reported here. It seems like only yesterday that he was appointed: 2003. He replaced Wayne Cherry. One of his goals was to unify the design studios of GM, much in the way that the engineering and production has been streamlined (for good and for ill). Continue reading “GM’s Chief Designer To Retire”
I start by admitting an unjustifiable antipathy towards J Mays, which I must put to rest, now. It is based purely on the fact that he once called a 1 Series BMW a ‘shitbox’. Although I have admired several Bangle era BMWs from first viewing, the 1 Series was never one of them, but there is something unseemly about one designer slagging off another designer’s work in public. Continue reading “J Mays’ Ford Legacy”