Thursday, September 17, 2009

Is good car design a question of time and context?

Recently I had discussions with friends what cars are beautiful and to what extent this changes over time.
At the end of the day we came up with a simple framework to group cars (see left picture).
"A" cars have been unattractive when they came out and we still see it the same way. Examples are the Ford Scorpio, some of the newer Lancias, some of the older Volkswagens (i.e. 411), etc.
"B" cars didn't appeal to people when new, but have gained in terms of attraction over time. An example to discuss here could be the R107 Mercedes (i.e. 280SL to 560 SL built between 1971 and 1989). This car was quite a disappointment for the "Pagoda" lovers and came across as being to plastic, too large, not elegant enough. It's quite different today when people name this car "pretty". The fact that many TV series showcased this car as the daily driver of their stars (e.g. Bobby in "Dallas", Hart in "Hart but Hart", but also Richard Gere in the movie "American Gigolo) certainly helped to make the car more attractive.
"C" cars are an interesting species. People celebrated them as being beautiful when new, but seem to like them less and less now. An example for this could be the Alfa-Romeo 164, pictured here. The car was described as a limousine beauty in the late 80ies, but looks rather boring and much to straight line cut today. It's certainly not yet a classic. Maybe we will change our mind in a few years. The Lotus Esprit (pictured here an S3) also may belong into this category, though already today people see him as a classic and collectable item. So if we ever thought it's actually not pretty, were are already again changing our mind. But yes, also the Esprit was very much a wedge type design and the flat front screen is quite special.
Last comes "D". This is the easiest category to find examples for. Cars that were beauties in its days and still are today are the ones that everybody knows, i.e. the Ferrari 250 GTO, the Lamborghini Miura, the Dino 246 GT, to just name a few.
Now the interesting question is where today's cars would fit. Let's take the BMW 645 Convertible pictured here. Is it pretty today? I don't think so. Will we consider it as being a beauty tomorrow? I can't imagine today, but I was wrong before about such things already. So maybe. But for the the time being, this is an "A" car for me. Let's take another example. The R129 Merdedes Benz SL (280 to 600 SL, built between 1989 and 2002 or so). This was a pretty car when it was new, people felt. But looking at it today, it's rather uninspiring. So this could be a "C" car, but maybe in few years people will see it as a "D" car.
What is clear is that "D" cars are probably the safest bet when you don't want to lose too much money, but "B" cars may make the best investment!

1 comment:

John L said...

The very latest Mercedes sports look pretty ordinary in my opinion. Maybe time will change my view.