Honmoku street is a wide, tree lined avenue that bends through the southern “Naka” district of the city of Yokohama. Close by sits the massive port, the gateway through which so much of Japan’s industrial output is sent to the world, its tall cranes working ceaselessly and with no regard for human concerns like the time of day. Above it all the Yokohama Bay Bridge soars like a vision, lifting cars and trucks across the entrance to the harbor as effortlessly as it straddles the line between art and infrastructure. Although the massive bridge and its double decked feeder highways encircle the entire district, the sense one has on the ground is of open space and nature, rarities in the second largest city in Japan. In the midst of it all sits the classic American Hot-Rod shop, Mooneyes.
You will find distinct improvements in the 1939 cars. The new cars are generally more functionally streamlined than ever before. Many wind-resisting gadgets have either been completely eliminated or made integral parts of the bodies. Headlights, in most models, have been set in the front fenders both to give wider light range and to reduce wind resistance. Trunk bulges have tended to disappear, but without loss of luggage space. Windshields are generally wider and higher, and corner posts are smaller to improve vision. Interiors are wider and seats designed for greater comfort. Upholstery is more luxurious. Door and window handles are improved to avoid catching clothes. Motors are generally more powerful without any sacrifice in economy. Hydraulic brakes have been improved, and frames and bodies strengthened for safety.
- Collier’s Magazine November 19, 1938
Discuss amongst yourselves.
Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can get a parallax view at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS
They say that you don’t regret the things you do as much as you regret the things don’t do. I hope the auto manufacturers are listening, because when I look at so many of the fantastic looking four door sedans on the market today, I feel a sense of regret for what they aren’t doing, namely making two door coupes. I know there are financial considerations, probably tens of millions of dollars worth, at work behind the scenes. I understand, too, that there are likely to be engineering challenges and any number of other issues that a simple layman like myself can never really understand, but the fact that there are no really cool coupe versions of today’s hot sedans gnaws at me.
Thank God for artists like Casey Shain, a man of considerable talent who, like many of us, believes that today’s cars can be better. Read More >
If you have a spare four minutes and four seconds (plus time for the commercial) take the time to check out the following discussion over at Bloomberg.com. As a layman, I find these kind of discussions very interesting and would like to hear the best and the brightest, many of whom I know to be connected with auto industry, give a little perspective to what seems to me to be a very shallow look on the subject of modern car design.
The best science fiction tells human stories set against a backdrop of strange worlds or futuristic cities. Because pacing and plot are more important than lengthy, accurate descriptions of the technology at work in those worlds, most sci-fi writers don’t spend a lot of time on the various machines their protagonists use. We might know that our hero traveled in a shiny aluminum air car, but the details generally are left to our imagination.
Fortunately for those of us who want a real peek into the future, film is a visual medium. The best directors know that set and prop design are critical to the tone of a movie and that machines can be as important as the action. They pay a lot of attention to getting just the right look and, even though we may not get to open the hood on that futuristic air car, we definitely get to see it at work, get a feel for its lines and even some idea of how it handles. If they do their job right, we might even believe these vehicle could be real.
The following are, in this author’s opinion, some of sci-fi’s finest.
The newly shown Jeep Cherokee has created quite a ruckus. Some like the design, some describe it in language unsuitable to a family-oriented site like TTAC. The fact is Jeep needs this. The mother-ship, Fiat, is taking Jeep international and while Jeep’s design language gets good points at home, it really doesn’t strike a chord among buyers worldwide. What’s more, Jeep doesn’t have that much of a heritage outside US borders. So, the Italians are free to do with it what they like. For starters, Jeep now sponsors one of the most popular football teams in Europe. That is a sure sign that the Jeep you knew and loved is going through profound changes that will either make it relevant, or send it bruised and bleeding to lick it wounds back home. Read More >
The person ultimately responsible for choosing colors for BMW cars, Sandy McGill, the other day attributed today’s popularity of white cars to the influence of Apple on consumers and designers.
Prior to Apple, white was associated with things like refrigerators or the tiles in your bathroom. Apple made white valuable.
McGill’s claims at first glance seem to be backed up by DuPont’s annual Color Popularity Report for 2011 that shows that 22% of new cars sold in the world were white, tied with silver. However, if you look at the historical data, white and lighter colors have been increasing in popularity for decades, long before Apple embraced white as their primary (no pun intended) design color.
No one cares, at least not among the automotive press, as to what happens at the (Phoenix) “Arizona International Auto Show” held every year over Thanksgiving weekend. There are no world or US product launches, no concept cars on display, and only a few attractive booth babes. Just a bunch of production (or almost ready to launch) vehicles for the masses to touch, feel and some even to drive (on the road) or experience (like Jeeps on an indoor obstacle course) sprinkled with a few exotics (roped off of course) to ogle over.
But TTAC cares. Why? Because the world of automotive retailing depends on the masses to buy cars, lots of them. The folks who go to smaller market car shows don’t go to see the whimsical fancies of vehicle designers (cause there aren’t any), they go to check out real cars that they might buy. Watching and listening to these attendees can tell those of us that care where the winds of favor will blow. What’s hot and what’s not.
I’ve often wondered if there is a relationship between the decline of the automobile’s cultural relevance, and the decline of the larger-than-life auto executive. Clearly the car’s waning ability to excite, inspire and shape material culture is a complex phenomenon with no single cause, but it’s got to have some kind of connection to the people making the cars. After all, the original Mustangs, Corvettes, and Model Ts emerged from firms led by such oversized presences as Lee Iacocca, Bill Mitchell and the original car-guy-as-folk-hero, Henry Ford. Today there’s no shortage of brilliant, engaging, passionate people working in the car industry, and yet few contemporary executives have made the kind of cultural impact that their predecessors once did. This, in a nutshell, is why Bob Lutz fascinates me: though he never made as wide of a mark on popular culture as an Iacocca or DeLorean, he’s one of the last remaining links to an era in the car industry that now seems impossibly out of reach.
But because he is not a man of the times, it’s incredibly easy to misunderstand the guy. In fact, having spent several hours chatting with him on and off the record, I’d argue that the best anyone can hope for is to simply not misunderstand him. In that spirit, I’ve assembled ten impressions of the man that I found not to be true in our conversation. But be warned: just because these “myths” aren’t completely true doesn’t mean they’re completely untrue either…
I designed TrueDelta’s Car Reliability Survey to provide information an average of ten months ahead of the established annual surveys. Early last December we shared with TTAC readers that ”Early data on the Ford Fiesta is not good.” Then, in early March, we stated about the 2011 Fiesta and the 2010 Taurus that ”Ford does not appear to have tested either model thoroughly enough.” The late February release on the TrueDelta site went a step farther, asking, “Is Ford slipping?” The answer last week from Ford: “Yes, but we’re going to fix it.”
In recent years the organizers of the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) have been especially eager to demonstrate that Detroit’s show is still relevant. Yet they crammed every OEM press conference save Volvo’s into a single day, leaving the second day for Li-ion Motors Corp., Mach 7 Motor Sports, and such. In years past there were two-and-a-half days of manufacturer press conferences, with little filler. Maybe next year everything will be back to normal?
The best thing about the Soviet Corvair, aka Zaporozhets? The original idea was to rip off the design of the Volkswagen air-cooled engine for its powerplant, but Soviet engineers made their air-cooled four a V4 so that the cylinder heads would be more accessible when working on the engine in a mud-floored lean-to in Kemerovo (no doubt using tools made on the spot from melted-down kitchen utensils). So why not make a limousine version? Read More >
Bill Mitchell, only the second man to head General Motors styling when he took over from the monumental Harley Earl, was not a man about whom people were impartial. GM’s official history reveres him. Harley Earl’s family reviles him. His coworkers and subordinates at GM either loved him or despised the man. Even landmark designs that were signatures of his reign at GM Styling, the split-window 1963 Corvette Sting Ray and the boat tail Rivieras, are polarizing designs that had detractors, including some on the GM Styling staff. He admittedly ran that department like a dictator, though he rarely fired anyone. Mercurial in temper, he’d have screaming fits at his design staff, laced with the most vulgar epithets, then defuse the tension with an offhand joke as he left the room. Shamelessly ambitious and self-promoting, often taking personal credit for his staffs’ designs, had the term “larger than life” not existed, Mitchell would have coined it to describe himself.
By today’s standards of workplace political correctness, diversity and racial and sexual harassment law, Bill Mitchell was an atavistic throwback to an age when ethnic jokes by supervisors were uncomfortably endured by the brunt of that ‘humor’. An executive then could tell his secretary to order him up some hookers after a multiple martini lunch, knowing that she’d hold all calls and cover for him if his wife (or another executive) got jealous. As a result, in addition to whatever praise and criticism his aesthetic direction and management skills have garnered, Bill Mitchell’s legacy has been somewhat tarred with the brush of bigotry.
The question is are we being fair to the man? Are we applying contemporary standards to an era that was simultaneously more innocent and more evil in terms of racial, ethnic and other prejudice?
Later this month at the upcoming Paris auto show, Lotus will be revealing the first car that reflects their new strategic vision, a vision of going upmarket and luxurious to compete directly with the likes of Porsche, Ferrari and Aston Martin. The car, originally slotted to fill the role of the much beloved Esprit, will now be “something more” than the Esprit. The midengine supercar is rumored to be powered by the V10 engine that powers the Lexus LF-A. Toyota currently supplies Lotus with all of its production car engines. The LF-A’s announced production run of 500 units probably won’t cover that engine’s development costs, so the rumor makes sense.
The Shelby 427 Cobra is a curious car. There are few vehicles that more worthily deserve the description iconic. The originals are so historically significant and rare that each is worth hundreds of thousands of dollars (and in the case of the six Daytona Coupes, millions), yet stylistically identical replicas are ubiquitous. Chances are, if you see a Cobra, it’s probably not real baby seal. Over the decades thousands of replica Cobras have been produced to varying degrees of fidelity by a variety of kit car and turnkey manufacturers. When Carroll Shelby realized that he couldn’t sue the replicar makers into submission, he decided to make his own “continuation series” Cobra replicas (in your choice of carbon fiber, fiberglass or original aluminum bodies). He’s also come to a licensing agreement with Superformance, who make superb Cobra and Daytona Coupe reproductions. I’m a big supporter of the idea of intellectual property, and Ol’ Shel is entitled to make a living off his name and accomplishments, but Carroll Shelby’s proprietary attitude towards the Cobra borders on the absurd.
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