The Truth About Cars » Analysis The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Sun, 30 Aug 2015 15:30:36 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars » Analysis Vellum Venom: 2014 Mitsubishi Mirage ES Mon, 25 Aug 2014 12:04:13 +0000   Design School forces considerations outside of a student’s artistic comfort zone: a unique price, demographic, or geography for starters. Just don’t present a pragmatic design based in sociocultural fact: a conventional sedan for the Indian market–isolating the wealthy from their hired help and their untouchable luggage—was a fantastically stupid mistake. Cultural and profit-minded relevance […]

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Design School forces considerations outside of a student’s artistic comfort zone: a unique price, demographic, or geography for starters. Just don’t present a pragmatic design based in sociocultural fact: a conventional sedan for the Indian market–isolating the wealthy from their hired help and their untouchable luggage—was a fantastically stupid mistake. Cultural and profit-minded relevance aside, that’s the not-so-secret secret I’ve mentioned before in this series. Cars are made under a litany of profit-minded constraints, no matter what they may teach in design school.

And some thrive in their design constraints.


A slot. Just a slot: no big stupid Audi-esque maw, no poseur Aston Martin grin, no bullshit. The 2014 Mitsubishi Mirage ES is a snub-nosed hatchback working hard to reduce frontal area, with a .28 drag coefficient to boot. It took an unappealing template and made it work with a modicum of functional style and elegant interplay between elements and cut lines.

If only there was an ever-so-slight curve (down into the bumper) to the hood+fascia cut line.


Respect the slot…as it slices into the lower bumper.


No love for the badge so big that the hood cut line must bend to clear it. This is one excruciating element in modern automotive design, a Britches-Busting Badge dominating many an automotive face for no reason.

Not necessarily Mitsubishi’s fault, but the natural contours of the body must come first.


Oh Lamborghini, why must you bring credence to this abomination of a branding exercise?


Several harmonious elements, all with a “flow” that (attempts to) draw your eyes to a long and sleek form. Like how the grille slot’s earth-bound vanishing points are shared with the lower grille. The Mirage’s lower bumper has devil horns at each corner, arcing to the wheels. Then the fog light’s recess with upward slash into the Mirage’s side.   And finally, hood bulges that mimic the headlight’s contours as it flows to the windshield.


Transition to the fender: where’d the flow go? Small and cheap cars wind up with bug-eyed headlights on a stump-like face. All the flowy goodness from the last photo is gone in the name of compact car proportioning.


After experiencing these in my 1983 Ford Sierra Ghia in dawn/dusk conditions, the gentle glow of the headlight assembly when in parking light only mode is cool. Glad this bulb made it into the US-spec Mirage.


There’s a fake bezel and a fake(?) cylindrical housing inside the bumper’s fog light insert. Looked better before I said that, right?



The lower grille needs a Prancing Horse emblem à la Ferrari 612 Scaglietti. Mostly to be preposterous, but also to reward the clean integration worthy of more expensive metal: a nice contrast to the uber-subtle slot just north.


Too bad there isn’t one texture, instead of false teeth, small rectangles and larger rectangles. A dark-colored bolt would be nice too.


Here’s where the small car headlights really stand out. Even with the dimensional constraints, kudos to Mitsubishi for stamping out a reasonably bullet-nosed schnoz for such a short (length) and tall (height) machine.


Here’s a tidy cowl area, with the requisite windshield-to-fender modesty panel in black plastic. If only the hood extended further back to (presumably) reduce that panel’s size…and still actually open.


Large gaps around the windshield somewhat disappoint, but the metal work and paint quality remain respectable.


I used the term “honest” quite often in my review of this machine, no better proof than this antenna.


The repeater light and its subtle curve can’t take your eyes away from the DLO FAIL for long. Too bad the fender to A-pillar line can’t merge with the door to A-pillar line without losing the Mirage’s faux-sleekosity. (i.e. push the door cut line forward, making it rather boxy)


Gray rocker covers are unexpected when exposed unibody metal construction are acceptable for a cheap car. I was expecting blue-painted folds, creases and spot welds! Nice.


There’s a reassuring linearity and solidarity in these fast yet upright lines. The B-pillar’s black paint is a nice touch, since the belt line rubber demands a harsh transition from window to door frame. Compare this to something zany like the Nissan Cube.


A dash of tumblehome evident when opening the door: not bad for a small car that’s surprisingly roomy inside.


Tighter and more uniform panel gaps wouldn’t hurt.


The Mirage’s DLO FAIL free rear doors and fixed window free glass was a nice touch at this price. Also note the window’s outline empathizes with the door cut line and the hatchback’s outline.


The roofline has a Prius-like, teardrop fall. If it wasn’t for the DLO fail, there’d be an elegant flow from door to roof, to B-pillar. The strong bend above the door handle along with its softer partner below adds visual excitement to an otherwise plump and forgettable form.


While not as pretty as the close up you saw two photos ago, the upward belt line matches the trajectory of the two sheet metal bends below. The door cut line is on point with the B-pillar, elegantly encasing the rear door.


Step back and it’s still a cheap 5-door subcompact. No matter what!


Wait…are those flush mounted, non pull-lever type door handles? My design pet peeve hurdle cleared, the replacement of a conventional key lock for the ES-grade Mirage’s keyless system is logical, ergonomic and cost-effective.


A cheap car gets away with this: plus the passenger’s key lock makes sense if the transmitter fails harder than the DLO on a Chevy Cruze.


Man, that’s a huge gas door. Except it’s a normal-sized door on a small car with a seriously short overhang. If only there was a more elegant attachment point for the wraparound rear bumper. Considering this car’s intended market (crowded streets in third-world nations) the wraparound bumpers are more than mandatory.


The Mirage’s 14” wheels are static and uninspiring, except not: wheels this small are a treat if you’re sick of rubber band side walls from ill-proportioned mad-tite rims.


Another pet peeve: those fake slots do no favors to the wheel’s design. Either have real negative area, or make a flat casting.


Much like the Dodge Viper coupe’s helmet friendly roof design, the Mirage has little dimples for the hinges. It’s acceptable when viewed with spoiler’s speed bumps. The huge panel gaps, however…


It’s a rare occasion when a car actually needs a spoiler to complete the look, and the Mirage needs it more than a Plymouth Superbird!


Too many static elements: strong and steady cut line, downward sloping wedge from the quarter panel to the bumper and another lump that expands toward the bumper’s center section. These lumps aren’t structurally relevant, get a rounder bumper cover to mimic the front end’s bullet look instead.


Yup, round it off. (EDIT: enlightened reader SamTheGeek mentioned this is for aero, contributing to the Mirage’s fantastic numbers. So nevermind.)


The Fallout Shelter reflector logo in the deeply sunken housing brings a smile to one’s face.


The Venn Diagram worthy tail light cluster looks outdated by today’s standards. But compare the Mirage’s eyes to the cyborg (no pun intended) look of a Chevy Spark, maybe old and boring ain’t so bad.


The plasti-chrome emblem was unexpected: no cheapie vinyl-jelly decal? While the bumper’s transition to the hatchback is pleasant enough, the hatchback itself could benefit from pushing the tail light “back” to create an uninterrupted flow from the base of the door to the crest of the tail light.

What was that phrase about the shortest distance between two points? Or just a gentle curve instead. Don’t fight the flow!


Oh wow, another unconventional handle! And that cute little button again! Replicating a design saves money, and these bits are far from offensive the third time ‘round.


Imagine if the hatchback did indeed move in a solid, singular sweep from its base to the top of the tail light. No matter, console yourself with the clean lines introduced in the wiper arm.


The spoiler sure has a well-integrated CHMSL, too bad it isn’t red like the tail lights.


Again, problems emblematic with the brand: the logo is too big. Uncomfortably close to the handle and the transition to the rear glass, logos must stop dominating vehicle design. And imagine if the hatchback had a smoother line so it wouldn’t play second fiddle to the tail lights!

Yet here’s proof that fundamentally good, honest design lies in the most unexpected places. While the Mirage’s sins are unacceptable at a higher price, these are white lies and not all out deceit. Never in my wildest dreams could I imagine liking the Mirage to this extent. But whatever, life is full of contrasts.

Thank you for reading, I hope you have a lovely week.


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Track Analysis: Challenger V6 Track Pack, HEMI Scat Pack, SRT Hellcat Tue, 22 Jul 2014 19:45:01 +0000 Getting decent conclusions from very limited data is the sort of thing of which Nobel Prizes are made. What you’re about to read won’t be Nobel-worthy; however, I believe it will help you understand how fast the Hellcat and how it compares to both the other Challengers and the external competition. I got a total […]

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Getting decent conclusions from very limited data is the sort of thing of which Nobel Prizes are made. What you’re about to read won’t be Nobel-worthy; however, I believe it will help you understand how fast the Hellcat and how it compares to both the other Challengers and the external competition.

I got a total of six flying laps at PIR, a place to which I’d never been, in three different cars. I had traffic in my face for all but two of those laps, and I had no truly clear laps in the Hellcat. But let’s start with the basics. I drove these three cars in this order:

Challenger R/T 6.4L Scat Pack 6MT: lap time of 1:38.9 with a top speed of 122mph on the back straight.
Challenger V6 Super Track Pack 8AT: lap time of 1:38.3 with a top speed of 112.5mph on the back straight.
Challenger SRT Hellcat 6MT: lap time of 1:33.7 with a top speed of 136mph on the back straight.

So let’s start by eliminating some of the variables. The only clean lap I got in the Scat Pack was my first-ever lap of PIR. There’s no way I was going to turn a brilliant lap time first time out. Analysis shows I was 6mph slower going into the turn before the long straight than I was in the average of the other cars. My line in the V6 which I drove afterwards was better. After looking at the data and assuming that the Scat Pack can turn about as well as the V6, I’ve guesstimated a 1:36 at 127mph for the Scat Pack.

How did other people do: This video shows SRT’s Vehicle Dynamics Engineer Marco Diniz de Oliveira running a 1:33.0 with the same spec car that I drove. Compared to my videotaped 1:33.7 lap you can see that he didn’t have to lift for a frightened journo like I did on the front straight, and he also didn’t goatfuck the chicane the way I did. (My excuse: I was so annoyed at being balked that I held throttle too long.) I’m reasonably confident that I got about as much out of the Hellcat as I was going to in two laps. Given ten more laps, I think a 1:31.5 was well within reach. Keeping pinned on the straight is worth half a second, doing the chicane right is worth a second and a half, and I could have shortened the braking zone in back.

Another journalist whom I won’t name was kind enough to let me “run data” with them in the V6 Challenger that I drove. He turned a 1:58.3 with a top speed of 105.5mph on the back straight. That two-minute-ish lap time is approximately representative of what most people were doing out there and it’s why I kept running into traffic.

So those are the caveats. Now let’s look at some stats.

First off, acceleration. The corner before the back straight shows the Hellcat with a low speed of 43.5mph against 41.7mph for the V6. That’s the extra tire you get with the Hellcat which is only partially canceled out by the weight of the engine. As we pass the access road on the back straight, the V6 has accelerated to 87mph and the ScatPack to a corrected 93mph. How fast is the Hellcat going? Survey says: 102mph. That is brutal acceleration. More impressively, the gap widens as speeds increase. Supercharged cars often feel breathless at the top of the rev range because they are optimized to push air at low speeds and unlike turbo-supercharged (to use the old phrase) cars there’s no compound effect as the exhaust gases push the turbo faster. As an example, when I drove the GT500 at VIR I found myself dueling a Porsche GT2 on the back straight. The Shelby had legs on the GT500 in the first half of VIR’s long stretch but the GT2 picked up as speeds increased and it wasn’t all due to frontal area.

Now for braking. A similar push of the brake pedal produced a .78g retarding force in the V6, a .86g one in the four-piston Brembo Scat Pack, and .98g in the Hellcat. These numbers have to be understood in context, not as absolutes, because of the way my phone was mounted in the car and the general issues with Android accelerometers. Only the V6 ever felt underbraked in these short lap situations; it doesn’t have enough thermal capacity as supplied for two hard laps. The others were fine, with the Hellcat having a considerable edge in feel and response. My experience with the Z/28 at Thermal Club for last month’s Road&Track showed me that it’s possible to put enough brake on a ponycar, but you have to be willing to spend a LOT of money on it. As expensive as the Brembo system on the Hellcat must be, it ain’t carbon ceramic and when you’re slowing two tons down from a considerable velocity it’s worth getting the right material for the job.


This is the V6 lap.


This is the Hellcat lap.

Cornering isn’t exactly an open and shut case, which is why the V6 might be a satisfying track car if you could upgrade the brakes a bit via pads and fluid. Data for all three cars shows that they are capable of about the same max cornering g and speed, with a slight edge going to the Hellcat in pretty much all the corners. What the data can’t show you is that the Hellcat feels like it’s from a different class with regards to body roll control and suspension dynamics. Given enough time on a racetrack, you’d feel comfortable pushing the Hellcat harder in quick transitions and in long high-g turns. There’s a superiority of feedback that is no doubt due to better tires and higher-quality suspension. With that said, however, this is primarily a laws-of-physics thing. Big heavy cars are never eager to change direction. Unsurprisingly, the V6 is best in transitions and the Scat Pack has the lowest cornering speeds.

As I stated earlier today, you really do get your money’s worth with the Hellcat’s engine and brake upgrades. It’s also a solid handler for its size and class. Let’s do some subjective rankings as far as track-fitness goes, based on things I’ve driven recently:

Viper ACR (previous gen)
Viper TA (current gen)
Mercedes AMG SLS Black Series
C7 Corvette Z51
C6 Corvette Z06
C6 Corvette Z51
Camaro Z/28
Boss 302-LS
Boss 302
Jack’s raggedy old 2004 Boxster S with 48,000 miles
GT500 (not counting the brakes)
The old SRT8 392
Camaro SS
Mustang 5.0 Track Pack
Challenger R/T 6.4L Scat Pack
Mustang V6 Track Pack
Challenger V6 Track Pack
Challenger R/T 5.7 Track Pack

The higher you go up that list, the more comfortable the car feels on track, but at a cost.

I wish I’d had time to drive the standard SRT8, which has 485hp now and offers the big brakes as an option. I believe that car would feel most “balanced” since you wouldn’t be arriving at corners as quickly and therefore the brakes would hold up even better and it would be easier to select the absolutely perfect corner speed — but I’d choose to spend my own money on the Hellcat, plain and simple. There are no downsides. You can pretty much instantly turn it into an SRT8 6.4L just by laying off the throttle a bit on the long straights.

At this point I normally like to talk about what the cars do when they are “out of shape” on track. The truth is that with this little time on an unfamiliar course I didn’t spend too much effort getting the Challengers past their envelope of tire grip. I can say that the Hellcat and Scat Pack can be reliably turned on the throttle and that no Challenger has ever had bad habits on track with regards to overly quick responses in extreme handling situations. If you’re good to the Challenger, it will be good to you. If you’re bad to it, you will still have plenty of time to get things right.

Ponycars are about compromise. They’re about what you’re willing to give up in order to have the admittedly minimal but occasionally mandatory backseat. With the Hellcat, the answer is simple: you’re giving up Mustang-style direction changes but gaining more power at each trim and spec level than the not-so-small Ford can offer. It would be frankly absurd to buy a Hellcat if you primarily planned on using it at the track. But for the low percentage of owners who will try it there, their experience will be positive — even if their tire bills won’t.

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Vellum Venom: 2013 Lincoln MKZ Thu, 05 Jun 2014 13:07:15 +0000 Car Design college was a wake-up call for this auto-obsessed kid: it festered with two-faced people. There are bastard-coated souls smiling to your face, stabbing you in the back during Portfolio Review. Or friends that pity you, being your crutch via white lies and false kindness.  Bad news, especially for a Lincoln-Mercury fanboi saddened by […]

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Car Design college was a wake-up call for this auto-obsessed kid: it festered with two-faced people. There are bastard-coated souls smiling to your face, stabbing you in the back during Portfolio Review. Or friends that pity you, being your crutch via white lies and false kindness.  Bad news, especially for a Lincoln-Mercury fanboi saddened by how the MKZ became as two-faced as the industry that spawned it.


1The Lincoln MKZ trades the sistership Ford Fusion’s wannabe Aston schnoz for a gigantic butterfly smashed on the face of today’s upright, stubby proportioned sedan. It works, as there’s a balance of soft curves and thin lines with hard bends and thick marks.

The butterfly grille is organic but peep that Chevelle SS worthy hood bulge! The bulge has a strong center backbone and “power dome” shape that shrinks as it reaches the front fascia. Very Hot Rod Lincoln.


2The grille’s thick/thin teeth add significant depth. Their harmonizing with the grille frame’s upward bend only adds to the butterfly effect.

2_1Note the bumper’s creased beak: too subtle to catch the eye, yet clashes with Lincoln’s new “point free” emblem.  This nose either needs a belt sander or the 2014 Navigator emblem.

3Aside from the plastic block off plates as the grille reaches the headlight (note how the black abruptly turns gray), this is an elegant piece of kit.

4The butterfly grille effortlessly translates and surrounds the pointy-fast headlight assembly.  It’s a dramatic change from the first MKZ, as you’d be hard pressed to mistake it for a Fusion. (yet) The lower valence’s chrome trim and fog light harmonize with the butterfly too.

4_1The headlights may look flat, but not so!

5_1Note the lighter red section below my finger: an interesting soft bend at the hood’s edge, in contrast to the power done hood. Forehead much? It’d be less flabby if the bend started with the headlight’s leading edge and swept back into the body. Then, instead of being a receding hairline, we’d see a transition between the hood-fender cut line and the central power dome.


6Too bad about the solid grill space on the lower valence. It looks cheap, yet nothing like the yards of fake texture on spindle-grilled Lexi and big mouth Audis.


7Aside from that odd forehead (it really needs to start at the headlights) the MKZ pushes the right buttons.  Everything dances to the same DJ, and the bumper’s soft curve sympathizes with the butterfly grille. And it transitions to the muscular fender haunch well.

7_1No overhang and a very European signal light; tightly constrained by the wheel arch’s flat edge.  And if Edsel Ford’s Continental was influenced by the Europeans…wink, wink!


7_2Interesting interplay between smoked and shiny surfaces!  The MKZ’s rims blends unique ideas seamlessly, in stark contrast to the rough draft originally seen on the MKS.


8Clean, restrained firewall design: good use of what should rightly be a small patch of real estate.


9And then it became all Fusion: the latest iteration of wrong-wheel drive American Luxury is a Fusion with more chrome.  Literally, thanks to the solid chrome DLO Fail between the A-pillar and the door.

11The MKZ chrome DLO FAIL looks more expensive than the Fusion, in the same way Target is classier than WalMart.


10Again, too much of a Fusion…even if it really isn’t.  If you are a badge engineer, my analysis of the Fusion will come in handy. The door skins are different, but something’s lost in translation. Perhaps it’s the BMW style handles. Or the less edgy cut lines that still retain the Fusion’s angular windows. More on those later.

The point? The “let’s avoid badge engineering” mantra that we all believe needed more money, more dedication and less modification of an existing platform to work on the MKZ.


12A fixed vent window paired with DLO fail?  Usually one replaces the other, but the MKZ needs ‘em both to “accomplish” an A-pillar with such speed. Ford’s insistence to honor Aston Martin via family sedan failed. (Aston uses the fixed window, which obviously works on that body.)

13The chrome-y Fusion mirrors work quite well.  Too bad they aren’t unique, but whatever. This isn’t the first (last?) front wheel drive Lincoln to portend the brand’s future, as this isn’t a 1988 Continental.


14Wait, is this one of them fancy flagship BMW 7 series door pulls? A pretty shameful rip off.  So kudos to Lincoln for not raiding Ford’s parts bin, ribbons of shame for raiding BMW’s warehouse instead.

15This MKZ-specific B-pillar cut line works better than the Fusion from whence it came: the door and B-pillar share a common line.

16Too bad about the C-pillar: the MKZ’s cut line is flabby on such a porky side profile. The Fusion’s extra surface tension enhances the package, instead of adding unnecessary rotund-ness.

Perhaps badge engineering ain’t such a bad thing, no?  No, it’s bad…that was a trick question, son!

17And this is where it gets screwy: remember the balance of soft (butterfly) and hard (power dome hood) elements up front? There’s a bizarre, two-faced, ending to this tale. (tail?)

18The problem stems from the razor-sharp tail lights, artificially pushing back to the quarter panel/C-pillar.  And the soft spot once reserved for a “tire hump” or faux Continental kit. It’s the same idea as the power dome hood, taken to an incorrect extreme. What was needed?

The ideal balance of soft and hard elements presented up front.  How the MKZ’s butterfly grille blends with the curves of its lower valence.  This avoids the two faces of the MKZ’s design.

18_1The rear door’s flab looks muscular from here, but the number of cut lines implies “hack job”.  That is, there’s nothing luxurious about three different seams/panels on a trunk lid.


18_3Maybe this would be awesome if the front end ditched the butterfly for something in a Robocop.


18_2Nah, Robocop can’t handle these flabby planes with voluptuous BMW door pulls. But kudos are in order for not adding DLO fail to the C-pillar, like the original, super badge engineered, Lincoln MKZ.

19This is where things get ugly. Perhaps the decklid’s extra black trim is an homage to the Continental tire hump. Perhaps the two antennas (especially the quarter panel’s fixed mast) honors the CB radios that kept the Bandit out of Smokey’s reach. Or it’s just a sloppy workaround for a moving roof panel.

Then there’s the flush mounted spoiler out back: too many parts to make a single trunk lid!

19_1The extra crease adds another harsh element to the MKZ’s contrived tail.  It’s almost an homage to the Bangle Butt 7-series of yesteryear; begging for the refined (refined-ish) butt of today’s 7-series: Vellum Venom review here.

20Here you see the rotund-ness of the lower valence, in shocking contrast to the trunk lid.  Notice how rapidly the tailpipes fade to a distant vanishing point, compared to the gentle curve of the tail light.

21The harsh crease (mentioned above) encapsulates the problem: it lacks the elegance of the power dome hood on the MKZ’s butterfly front schnoz.  TWO-FACED! It’s an edgy and lumpy border, just as looney as a Continental tire hump. At least the tire hump had some precedence, and uber presence.

22The chrome lettering, spread out like the C-O-N-T-I-N-E-N-T-A-L emblems on a 1960-80s Lincoln tire hump, works elegantly.

23As do the flat top haircut with furrowed eyebrow tail lights from this angle.


23_1But there’s nothing Kid ‘n Play about the lower portion’s voluptuousness.


24The MKZ’s harsh creases accentuate with an open moon roof.  The power top must shadow the roof’s elegant curve (lest it never seals to the body), while the quarter panel has none of that.


25Speaking of seals: the smushed rubber at the end is less than reassuring.


26Definitely some “groovy” engineering involved to “channel” that much glass that far back.


27Perhaps my “moonroof must shadow the roof’s elegant curve” comment was incorrect. The glass top isn’t beautiful when unfurled, it’s actually ungainly.


28The shiny black trim looks sleek with the roof closed.  The implication of what’s possible is quite cool: the roof will slide down these rails?

No matter the MKZ’s flaws, this is still a bad ass design feature.

29Ditto the black trunk panel, just don’t  step back to see it’s misplaced round curvature. Maybe a larger swath of deck lid needed the blackout treatment.



While Fusion has poorly finished metalwork here, the MKZ’s rubber needs much detailing to avoid the ravages of time. Totally worth owning such a huge glass roof.  Or not: skip the two faced, almost-there badge engineering and get the Fusion.

Thanks for reading, I hope you have a lovely weekend.

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Analysis: Australia’s Free Trade Deals Are The Final Nail In The Coffin Of Its Auto Industry Tue, 08 Apr 2014 15:35:19 +0000 In the span of 24 hours, Australia inked two free trade agreements with both Japan and South Korea. Even though Holden, Ford and Toyota had already committed to ending auto manufacturing in Australia, it’s hard not to see the agreements as the last nail in the coffin of Australia’s once strong auto industry. Although North […]

The post Analysis: Australia’s Free Trade Deals Are The Final Nail In The Coffin Of Its Auto Industry appeared first on The Truth About Cars.


In the span of 24 hours, Australia inked two free trade agreements with both Japan and South Korea. Even though Holden, Ford and Toyota had already committed to ending auto manufacturing in Australia, it’s hard not to see the agreements as the last nail in the coffin of Australia’s once strong auto industry.

Although North American perception of Australia’s car market is one composed of big, rear-drive V8 sedans and Utes, that image is largely a construct in the minds of enthusiasts. The real picture is a lot less sexy.

Australia’s market is both unique and remarkably mundane. At around 1 million units annually, Australia’s new car market is a mere fraction of the United States – but it’s also far more competitive, with roughly 60 brands competing for a very small pie.

In past decades, the local auto manufacturing industry was heavily protected by tariffs, which encouraged a thriving domestic auto manufacturing industry. Holden and Ford ruled the roost, while Chrysler enjoyed a brief run of localized cars. Later on, companies like Mitsubishi, Nissan and Toyota joined the fray, establishing themselves as the favored Japanese brands.

But in 1983, the Button Plan radically changed the automotive landscape in Australia. The chief goal of the Button Plan was to consolidate the domestic auto industry by halving the number of model produced, while also looking to reduce tariffs and import quotas. The overall goal was to foster a more competitive, export-focused Australian car industry through increased competition.

In the immediate term, a number of badge engineered domestic models appeared in the showrooms of Japanese brands, but none sold particularly well. For a long time, traditional Australia vehicles like large sedans and Utes reigned supreme. But the past decade has seen a major shift in the automotive market, with rapidly changing tastes.

Much like their cousins in the United States, Australia’s traditional vehicles – large sedans and Utes – are facing a two-fronted war, and the outcome has all but been decided.

A report by Ward’s Auto shows that in 2003, large sedans (which ostensibly includes not just the Holden Commodore and Ford Falcon, but also front-drive entrants from Toyota and Mitsubishi) were the most popular cars in Australia, with 26 percent market share. A decade later, that number has fallen to just 7.6 percent.

Small cars and SUVs have overtaken the large car as the most popular segments in Australia. Rising fuel prices, shifting market tastes and a greater selection of small cars have helped propel vehicles like the Holden Cruze, Mazda3, Hyundai i30 to the top of the sales charts – to say nothing of the Toyota Corolla, which was Australia’s best-selling car in 2013.

At the other end of the spectrum, SUVs, crossovers and mid-size pickup trucks have eroded the large sedan’s domain as the family car of choice, with Ward’s reporting that one fifth of buyers are opting for mid-size or large SUVs. The Toyota HiLux was Australia’s best-selling truck in 2013, as sales of mid-size trucks (including Holden’s popular Colorado) helped dampen enthusiasm for Utes.

Beyond the lack of enthusiasm for traditional vehicles, the importance of Australian pedigree is on the wave. As Ward’s reports, the preference for Australian-made vehicles has declined substantially from over a quarter of new buyers in 2003, to roughly one eighth in 2013. Last year marked the first time that the three most popular brands in monthly sales rankings (Toyota, Mazda, Nissan) were all imports.

With a changing climate regarding imported vehicles, the FTAs with both Japan and South Korea will only reduce the cost of vehicles that Australian consumers are already gravitating to. While the FTA with Thailand arguably served as the catalyst for Australia’s major market shift towards Thai-built trucks and certain passenger cars, other factors, like a strong Australian dollar, high manufacturing costs and limited export demand for Australian cars (despite the protestations of enthusiasts across the internet) did their part in bringing about the inevitable end to Australia’s auto industry. The Japanese and South Korean FTAs won’t do any more harm to an industry on death row. But it’s impossible to ignore their symbolism in the wake of the Australian car industry’s annus horribilis.


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Vellum Venom: MINI Cooper Hardtop (2012) Tue, 31 Dec 2013 12:00:03 +0000 The end of the year, the end of an era for a famous British Marque.  Let’s get crackin’ before the ink on the vellum dries for the (all new) 2014 model. Everyone knows this face, it’s Brand Recognition 101.  Or maybe 202, as the original MINI (the 100% British one) was redesigned even less regularly/extensively […]

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The end of the year, the end of an era for a famous British Marque.  Let’s get crackin’ before the ink on the vellum dries for the (all new) 2014 model.

1Everyone knows this face, it’s Brand Recognition 101.  Or maybe 202, as the original MINI (the 100% British one) was redesigned even less regularly/extensively than the BMW-owned MINI.  Perhaps not even Ford’s iconic Mustang remained this true to form.  The MINI’s snout sports a traditional grille and round headlights on a small canvas, but the bumper could be any modern car.

The proportions are right.  The elements are well-formed and harmonize together quite well.  Just like it’s always been for this brand.



Both grilles work well together, the bottom opening is almost a mirror reflection of the top, as it pushes into the air dam’s real estate much like the grille’s forcible entrance to the bumper. Well thought out and clean!


And even though this is a small and (somewhat) cheap car where corner cutting is acceptable, well, this lower grille is a rather fancy casting.  The solid portions of the egg crate are deeply recessed, so it takes a while to see the mass-market cheapness.  Add the chrome strip in the middle and perhaps you’ll never even bother to notice this doesn’t belong on a high dollar 7-series BMW!  Well…


If the grille didn’t slide down into the bumper, the MINI would be surprisingly devoid of panel gaps.  That’s the beauty of a clamshell-style hood: the insurance industry may hate replacing these in a minor accident, but the way the hood and fenders blur into one panel is a work of fine art.


MINI’s always had the coolest headlights in its class, if not one of the coolest designs for any budget. Just the right amount of chrome inside the lense (not swept back into functionless blingy real estate) so there’s room for an expensive looking outer chrome ring: a modern interpretation of vintage Jags, Ferraris, etc.

More kudos for not using the chrome signal light body (or the cap for the headlight) for a branding opportunity. That notion’s been played out. And there’s a nice corporate logo on the hood if you think this might be a Ferrari.

OMG YES CLAMSHELL HOOD. But seriously, note the reflection of the lights above: there’s a subtle fender flare from the headlights on back.  It’s beautiful.  It is really such a sin to want more affordable vehicles with fewer breaks in the body for the singular reason of aesthetic delight?


A cheap(ish) car with expensive old world craftsmanship: the chrome trim around the clamshell is another subtle reminder that you coulda bought a more car for the money at damn near any other dealership…except that you actually wouldn’t!

8The Bayswater Edition replaces the standard logo with something straight outta 1981.  I think I have the same pattern when I crank up Giorgio Moroder on my Pioneer cassette player’s VU meter. But still, this mini billboard (get it?) should be binned for straight sheet metal around that light. Cleaner is better on a vehicle with a clamshell hood with such a racy cutline!


Oh yes, I did say racy.


MINIs are all about customization to an owner’s needs, and the Bayswater definitely appeals to my inner Max Headroom. But wait…do I see…


No DLO FAIL!  Even better, the black A-pillar blends nicely into the greenhouse, while that chrome trim continues around the side.  The three blue panels, the clamshell hood, the cowl paneling (for lack of a better phrase) and the door cut lines aren’t necessarily minimal, but they work well together.

If only the clamshell’s end point was the same as the front door’s beginning point like a C4 Corvette!


While that backslash on the clamshell is a MINI hallmark, using another horizontal line above this rocker moulding instead lets the clamshell go all the way back to really spice up the package.

Then again, the (rear hinged) hood probably wouldn’t open if that request came true…damn you reality check!



The gloss black wheels are a unique touch, only because the leading edge of the spokes and the rim’s lip is polished.  The wheel’s lines are logical and symmetric, so this bit of color ingenuity is certainly welcome and not outstanding like a black eye on a pretty face.13

So much for logical!  Perhaps employees of New World Pictures approve, yet both mirror skullcaps should be the same color.  This is nonsense, and not that systematic failure endemic of a failed organization nonsense that brought us the Pontiac Aztek…it’s just plain silliness with no value on an automobile.

Whatever graphical theme the Bayswater name implies, this isn’t how you do a gray and blue color scheme.


Although it might look better if both mirrors were that french gray instead of radioactive blue…what say you?


Invisible B-pillar that lines up well with the door cutline.  Unlike the CTS coupe, MINI did a fantastic job hiding pillars under glass.  Also note the chrome trim that started on the clamshell continues apace.

Sure, this is a round and cute vehicle.  But the round theme is more of an ovoid, and the negative area behind the door pull should emulate the shape seen in the headlights.  Or the ovoidness seen here in the door cutline.  This is “too round”, if such a thing is possible.



No A-pillar. No B-pillar.  No C-pillar. Be it wrapped in glass or covered in gloss black, the MINI does a fantastic job looking far more expensive than anything else at this price point.  All it needs is (illegal) limo tint and the greenhouse would look like a pillarless space ship! Very cool, very much approved.

Cute proportions, charming interplay between design elements, short overhangs and cheap yet expensive detailing.

This is why people love the MINI: staying true to it while advancing the game.  This is what us Panther Love/RWD American Sedan fans wanted.

18Retro gas caps usually look out-of-place (SN-95 Bullitt Mustang) but if there’s one mainstream machine that needs one…and it’s a clean and flowing design elegantly recessed into the body.


19_1Just like the side profile, the MINI’s rear greenhouse looks surprisingly sharp with this chrome strip.  The glossy C-pillar helps, as does the black roof.  A brighter roof color to accentuate the attention to detail in the glass work and pillar trimming is actually preferable! Whether or not the Union Jack treatment is needed is always up for debate.


Like many small hatchbacks, the C-pillar has a ridge to keep the cute little MINI tracking straight in stiff cross winds on the highway.  Supposedly these details matter, consult your local Aerospace Engineer if you don’t believe me.


Another aero touch: the spiraled antenna on the roof.  It’s surprisingly tall for such a small car. Or perhaps the MINI-ature dimensions are why it seems small!


Speaking of, the reflector/marker lights both front and back must be placed on the wheel arches because there’s simply no other place available! Short overhangs have their benefits!  22_1

Because of poor lighting at my “test” vehicle’s location, here’s a stock photo showing the Bayswater from the back.  Note how low the side view mirrors sit (at least on the Euro spec model) and the stilt-like tire width.  This model also has a different bumper (with fake grilles) and a central exhaust, which sells more exotic performance than the wrong-wheel-drive MINI can possibly produce.

22Logical cut lines for the hatch and bumpers. A complete chrome “belt” at the base of the greenhouse.  Chrome rimmed lights and something that only works on British cars like MINIs and Jags: a chrome mustache above the license plate that both adds English charm and is a handy place for a grab handle and license plate lighting.


The sleek rear wiper arm is another modern touch that proves that classic designs can always live to see another day…or millennium.


While not as punchy as the headlights, the logical use of chrome inside and the upscale chrome rim outside are hallmarks of good vintage British design.  25Last and perhaps least, the central lighting pod with backup lights, and used for a rear fog light in Europe (maybe America too?).  It, just like the front grilles, extends into the black lower valance to continue that theme.  All of which is in very good taste, at any price.

Thank you all for reading, I hope you have a lovely New Year’s Eve…and beyond!


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Vellum Venom: 2013 Dodge Charger SRT Mon, 02 Dec 2013 13:26:11 +0000 @willstpierre tweets: @SajeevMehta Art history teacher talked about using vellum today. Nobody else knew what it was #bringbackvellumvenom     While Ford and GM pissed away decades of heritage for horribly demure (yet disturbingly plump) full size sedans built on a namby pamby FWD globalized chassis, Chrysler took the hard points of the Mercedes-Benz W211 […]

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@willstpierre tweets:

@SajeevMehta Art history teacher talked about using vellum today. Nobody else knew what it was #bringbackvellumvenom




While Ford and GM pissed away decades of heritage for horribly demure (yet disturbingly plump) full size sedans built on a namby pamby FWD globalized chassis, Chrysler took the hard points of the Mercedes-Benz W211 sedan to make America’s one and only four portal bad motherfu*ker.

Get used to this face, because it’s today’s American Bad Ass Sedan.


Pardon me while I remain infatuated with the SRT’s perfect use of subtle bends to make a seriously muscular nose. The phrase “power dome hood” has been around for decades, but this fascia earns that title many times over.


The hood and fenders meet logically, elegantly against the slender headlights. While the bulldog grille accentuates the nose’s massive flatness, the Charger SRT asserts itself like no other machine in its class.


This design feature (assuming it’s radar cruise control) is far from invisible on the Charger’s facade, but at least the horn-shaped bezel complements the lower bumper’s curvature.

The wave at the bottom of the bumper bends harmoniously with the fog light surround and the grille’s teethy edge. The high spot over the foglight needs a belt sander, but this is a super hormonal family sedan by design. And it still looks the part without being cartoonishly overstyled like a C7 Corvette.


Dodge’s signature grille looks great: the original Viper started it and kudos to Chrysler for not blowing it with a switch to something less recognizable. The four pointed grille takes on a new dimension with the honeycomb treatment inside the “star”, proving this design stands the test of time by never remaining stagnant.

If only the other American brands (except Cadillac) could make a grille design and stick with it. Too bad about that.


Brand honesty is a great thing, but a tall and flat truck-y nose is not.  This design would be amazing on the sleek beak of an old school Plymouth Fury. No matter, the face is suitably modern muscle car angry.  And the staggered headlight sizing is the icing on the cake.


There’s an oh-so-subtle straightening of the wheel well arch as it meets the aggressive flaring of the front bumper. Man, now THAT is trick.


While unstoppable on a slender ’70 Fury, the Charger SRT’s gaping maw needs the shadows of black paint to compensate for this much real estate. But still, look at the power dome hood’s hustle and flow as it sweeps to the windshield!  The number of shadows on the hood (like the hard bend at the center of the hood, and the matching bends at the ends of the fenders) shows great attention to detail on the modern muscle car theme.


So many fast, long and flowing lines.  And none fight with each other! Note the negative area needed for the hood scoop:  there’s plenty of space to make a name for itself (i.e. unique shapes) on the Charger’s vellum.

9_2Another bonus: the hood scoop’s honeycomb is wide open: no solid blocks of cheapness here.

9_3Could this be a late 4th Generation Camaro? No matter, this gives the Charger SRT even more street cred, since the Camaro is now a plump tribute to the first generation of Chevy’s Pony Car.

10There’s a reason why that nose is painted black: it’s huuuuuge. The added contrast might remove visual bulk, but the middle band (the part below the grille, above the valence) needs body color paint instead.

11Six point four liters of REPRESENT: no greenwashed pretensions like Ford’s Ecoboost V6 (formerly and rightly called TwinPower), no excuses given. It’s just another American bad ass, right?

12With our last installment in mind, the Charger’s elegant side cove comes correct. While far cooler if the cove started on the fender (like a C5 Vette) it’s still a nice touch considering the height and visual heft of today’s sedans.

12_1Clean integration of the wiper arm and cowl cover. Nice.

The American Bad Ass has no DLO FAIL.


Such a perfect meeting of A-pillar, fender and front door! And to everyone else: how frickin’ hard is this to make?  No excuses, just do it!


Even the panel gaps are close enough to perfect. This is how you craft a sedan!

15_1The black Charger nearby highlighted the door cove’s flowing lines as it reaches the C-pillar. Sure, like all new cars, it’d be nice to section 1-3 inches of door sheet metal to lower the body and visually lengthen it…perhaps one day we will get that design aesthetic back.


Like the A-pillar, the B-pillar is sleek and clean.  The black trim always helps integrate the glass into the rest of the body: necessary when your greenhouse is sleek, fast and a bit on the skinny side.

17Not so great at the C-pillar: the greenhouse ends in a BMW-style Hofmeister Kink, but the door’s cut line refuses to play ball.  Instead of continuing the natural curve, it bends backward before repeating the kink’s curvature. Quite static and sad for a muscle car, actually.

18But there’s nothing but love for the black-chrome SRT rimz with Brembo stoppers. #wheelporn


Apparently the SRT brand has some curb (rash) appeal.  Literally.

19_1Gas filler door bisects the quarter panel with elegance and symmetry.  Nice.

19_2Aside from the usual complaints about sky-high belt lines, huge flat buffalo butts and the need for dubs to fill the gap…well, the Charger still has a nice profile.  I’d lose that spoiler in a heartbeat: it accentuates the buffalo butt.

20The door cut line and that Hofmeister kink look fine from here, even if they are too slow or static. The tapered C-pillar works well with the obligatory muscle car fastback roof line, but it’s a shame the lower half (i.e. the quarter panel) lacks tapering (inwards) to match.This touch helps tremendously in reducing automotive buffalo butt.

21Still, this sedan is a looker. The flat door handles look great, and there’s no DLO FAIL. The flat edge at the rear window gives a little muscle, keeping it from looking flabby.  Just a little more tumblehome at the B-pillar is all that’s needed for maximum style.

22 The C-pillar extends above the plane of the rear window.  Perhaps it’s a hat tip to the earlier Chargers, and perhaps it does a fantastic job keeping this area from being too flat and boring.

23But from this angle, the black plastic finish panel needs to go.  Painted metal would look much cooler.  Or just make the whole thing flush with the rear glass.

24Naaaah.  The effect is that of an American Bad Ass. Close enough to perfection for a mass-produced machine.

25An elegant backside, provided one never steps back to notice the height and bulk.

26A buffalo butt for sure, but the strong vertical cut line at the end of the tail light assembly isn’t without its charms. Too bad this Charger is so tall yet short on overhangs: more style from its 1960s forefather could complete the look.
26_1That hard vertical cut line ends rather abruptly at the base of the bumper’s sweeping bend.  A rounded edge is better than a 90-degree ending in this case.

28I don’t believe an American Bad Ass needs ‘dem fancy ‘furrin diffusers on its bumper. Because this is a bit much.


Especially considering the super clean and recognizable-from-a-mile-away tail lights.  The LED perimeter is a bit of old-school Detroit, from an era when beancounters had no say when a design studio demanded a feature, an era when insurance companies and beancounters didn’t dictate a vehicle’s design (expensive to replace full width lights)…so add the modest brand badging (aside from the dealership tattoo on top of the trunk) and the Charger SRT embodies many of the traits we love in American sedans.

In a modern tall+boxy package, sadly.  With a warranty, gladly.

Thanks for reading, I hope you have a lovely week.

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Vellum Venom: 1970 Dodge Charger RT-SE Tue, 17 Sep 2013 13:21:13 +0000 My departure from the cloistered world of automotive design was anything but pleasant: leaving the College for Creative Studies scarred changed me, possibly ensuring the inability to conform to PR-friendly autoblogging. Luckily I am not alone. While Big Boss Man rests in Chrysler’s doghouse, a remotely nice comment about their door handles perked the ears […]

The post Vellum Venom: 1970 Dodge Charger RT-SE appeared first on The Truth About Cars.


My departure from the cloistered world of automotive design was anything but pleasant: leaving the College for Creative Studies scarred changed me, possibly ensuring the inability to conform to PR-friendly autoblogging. Luckily I am not alone. While Big Boss Man rests in Chrysler’s doghouse, a remotely nice comment about their door handles perked the ears of the local Chrysler PR rep…and she tossed me a bone.

Perhaps you’ve never heard of Hovas’ Hemi Hideout: so here’s a slice of Mopar history worthy of a deep dive into the Vellum. Oh, thanks for the invite, Chrysler.


An unforgettable face: the iconic 1968-1970 design was Chrysler’s most memorable effort to spook insurance and safety special interest groups into forcing “better” vehicles on the public. Sure, we’re better off now, but is a fragile chrome halo of a bumper really that useless?

Isn’t this bumper (and complex hidden headlights) worth the extra insurance premiums? Worth it to have a disturbingly clean and minimalist design?  Probably not…


But still, you can’t argue with how stunning and shocking this is.  While nothing like Marcel Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase, the Charger’s front clip is a timeless work of art.  The blackout grille extends over the headlights, encased in a deep silver rim, topped with a chrome bumper…wrapped up with a name: Charger R/T.  This nose and this name made a promise to would-be new car racers of the era, and its aged phenomenally well.

That said, my favorite grille of this body style was the cleanest: the 1968 Charger was the one to have. It makes the otherwise clean 1970 Charger look downright fussy!


Things fall apart as you look closer, however.  Maybe the solid grilles over the headlights look cheap, and the panel gaps are too sloppy. The round signal lights look like a leftover assembly from the 1950s. Or perhaps the license plate should be located even lower as to not interfere with the bumper’s strong minimal form.


Even though the front end looks flat from many angles…

Note how the chrome bumper tapers in near the headlights, then pushes back out at the ends of the fenders. The silver rim accentuates this dance, ditto the fenders and hood.  But that black sheet of grille?  It peaks at the middle and nothing more.  The different high/low spots are phenomenally beautiful, it is fantastically executed on this front fascia.  5

The hood’s recesses and that strong center mohawk add a bit of excitement to an otherwise far-too-subtle design for a Mopar Muscle car. If you had a problem with Mopar Minimalism!


Somehow I doubt the meaty rubber trim does anything to protect the Charger’s painted body from the front bumper.  Not to mention the horrible fitment of this (replacement?) trim. I’d hate to be a broke-ass dude in the 1980s when someone slams their 5-mph bumper’d Monte Carlo into my otherwise cherry 1970 Charger.  The damage would be extensive…and would go unrepaired!



Hood pins are cool…but following their cable to this horrendous gap in the rubber trim leaves much to be desired. Damn, son!

7_1But it’s less offensive when you step back a little.


The only thing cooler than Rallye wheels and Goodyear white letter polyglass tires on this Charger would be the new-age 17″ repros with fat steel-belted rubber.  I love the proportioning of a proper 1970s muscle car with 17″ rolling stock: it’s perfection.


The hard bend (with a slight upward angle) at the end of the fenders just “ends” me. It’s another snapshot on vehicle design that emulates the timelessness of the infinity pool in modern architecture. Combine with the Charger’s long front end and deep fenders (i.e. the space between the hood cutline and the end of the fender) and this is simply a fantastic element.


The hood’s negative areas add some necessary excitement, otherwise this would be too boring for an American muscle car.  There’s just too much real estate not to do…something!


The signal repeaters at the beginning of the negative area’s cove are a styling element that I wish could come back.  But no, we need standard bluetooth and keyless ignitions instead…probably.


I’d trade all that standard technology for a hood this menacing, this modern.

Mid Century Muscle?

Mad Men Mopar?

Don Draper’s mid-life crisis machine?

All of the above. 13
The intersection of the cowl, fender, hood and door isn’t terribly elegant.  Newer cars have “hidden” cowls, an advancement that’d make the Charger shine. Because not having the fenders and hood sweep over THIS space does THAT front end a huge disservice.  Plus the panel gaps kinda suck, too.

At least there’s no DLO fail.  But imagine this angle with the 1980s technology of hidden cowl panels!


A little faster A-pillar would also be nice, it’s too static just like the cowl. But asking for such changes 40 years later is beyond idiotic. And while the R/T door scoop isn’t nearly as hideous as the afterthought scoop on the 1999 Ford Mustang, you gotta wonder how “ricey” this looked to old school hot-rodders making sleepers out of Tri-Five Chevys and boring 1960s sedans.


The pivot point for the vent window is an interesting bit of kit.


Chrome elbow sleeves, because a computer couldn’t bend/cut one piece of bling for us back then. Bummer.


Yeah, the R/T’s useless scoop is pretty much Muscle Car Rice.  While it kinda accentuates the genesis of the door’s muscular bulge, it’s completely superfluous. 19

Chrysler’s side view mirrors for the time were pretty cool by themselves…but they didn’t match the max wedge (get it?) demeanor of the front end.  20
I never noticed the three lines inside the R/T’s slash.  Definitely adds some excitement without today’s emblem marketing overkill.


Note how the R/T scoop does match the contrasting muscular wedge of the door.  Problem is, the scoop is obviously a tacked-on afterthought.  Negative area like the hood was a smarter alternative. But the interplay between doors lower wedge and the strong upper wedge coming from the fender is quite fetching.  As if the Charger is ripped from spending years a the gym.


Yup, toned and perfected at the gym.  Too bad the door handles belong on Grandma’s Plymouth.  Perhaps we all shamelessly raid the parts bin…22_1

The SE package was always the Super Classy Excellent model to have.  The vinyl top, these “proto-brougham” emblems and the interior upgrades are totally worth it. What’s up with the pure modern “SE” lettering with that almost malaise-y script below to explain what SE stands for? I’d cut the emblem in the middle and only use the upper half.

I’d save the lower half for the disco era, natch. I mean, obviously!


Vintage Mopar marketing sticker?  Check.


Classic Detroit is present in the Charger’s profile.  Long hood, long dash-to-axle ratio, long fastback roof, long quarter panels and a long deck. That’s a lotta long!

The only thing too short are those doors: the cutline should extend several inches back for maximum flow.  And from the subtle curve in the front fender to the stunning hips above the rear axle, does the Charger ever flow!


Aside from the obvious problem with rearward visibility, how can you hate this buttress’d roof?  The fastback C-pillar is a long, daring and classy affair when trimmed with chrome and textured vinyl.  Keeping the roof from being too boring was the rear window’s use of a different vanishing point than the C-pillar, which translates into a different stop on the blue body.


To make up for the different vanishing points, more chrome and vinyl. I can dig it, but perhaps such design novelties are better off on a less mainstream product.  Or perhaps not…because how many people wanted a Charger back in 1970?  And how many people want one now?  Me thinks the number is exponentially higher today.

Yes, I know these pictures suck. But you can’t imagine how painful it was to coax a cheapie digital camera to do the right thing under the harsh lighting provided by half a million dollars worth of vintage neon lights. And now I hate neon lights.


Chrome and vinyl: so happy together.


The different vanishing points for the C-pillar and rear window make for a little problem: the trunk’s cutline should be much closer to the rear window.  And while that’d make a stupid-long trunk, it would look stupid cool.

Just in case you didn’t know where the new Challenger got that fuel door idea from. Too bad the new Challenger doesn’t have the Charger RT’s sense of chrome trimmings elsewhere to integrate it into the package.  That said, this is a beautiful piece of outstanding metal on a minimalistic body. Which makes it a wart…and by definition, warts must be destroyed.

Killed with fire. Or splashed with acid.  Or whatever it takes for a Dermatologist to knock ’em off a beautiful body.


A part of me wishes the Charger’s back-end had the same round chrome bumper treatment as the front.  And no chrome around the red tail lights.  Actually just graft the front end entirely back here, and replace the black grille with red tail lights. A bit stupid perhaps, but it’d make a completely cohesive and eye-catching design.


That said, the Charger ain’t no slouch in the posterior.  The vertical bumperettes need to find lodging elsewhere, ditto the round backup lights.  But the space between the lights is the perfect location for a branding emblem, and the impossibly thin decklid looks quite sharp.


There’s a subtle dovetail at the end of the trunk, a nod to modern aerodynamic designs. I love it, don’t you?


Can’t say the same for the undefined space between the rear bumper and the quarter panel.  Yeesh, this was acceptable in 1970?


The trunk’s gap also leaves something to be desired. While I like the interplay between the chrome bumper and the tail light trim above the license plate area, it’s a bit too subtle.  Wait, did I actually mean what I said?

The difference in “heights” at the license plate should either be a bit more aggressive, or completely, exactly the same as the rest of the light/bumper ratio.


Maybe the crude black paint on the tail light’s chrome trim is the byproduct of a terrible restoration…but considering factory correct restorations elsewhere include similarly sloppy craftsmanship to mimic the factory…

Oh boy.


The tail lights are sunken significantly into the body, just like the grille up front.  Me likey enough to adore: such use of aggressive negative areas needs to come back in a BIG way.


There’s something about the chrome trim’s application around the trunk lock…


Even the camera-infurating action of all those neon lights can’t hide the ugliness here. Maybe my idea of having an all-encompassing chrome bumper instead of chrome around the tail light isn’t such a stupid idea after all. It’d certainly address this problem.


The round backup light does this design no favors. Exposed screws on the chrome bezel makes it worse. Weren’t there some square lenses Chrysler coulda parts-bin’d instead?

38 No matter: the 1970 Charger is an unforgettable machines.  I can’t imagine owning one when new, only to move on to tackier metal from the disco era.  And if a 1970 Charger owner was loyal enough to stick around during the Iaococca era and beyond, well, they’d be justified to hate everything made after 1970. Just look at that roof!

Thank you for reading, I hope you have a lovely week.

The post Vellum Venom: 1970 Dodge Charger RT-SE appeared first on The Truth About Cars.

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Vellum Venom: 1966 Datsun Sports 1600 (Fairlady) Tue, 03 Sep 2013 13:00:32 +0000 Can you remember when sports cars were a staple of design studios?  When these wee-beasties were vellum fodder like today’s CUVs?  Me neither.  But Europe once made these in spades, and–much like today’s utility vehicle craze–Japan regularly followed suit.  Let’s examine that rich history with a deep cut into Nissan’s “Fairlady” series.      Let’s […]

The post Vellum Venom: 1966 Datsun Sports 1600 (Fairlady) appeared first on The Truth About Cars.


Can you remember when sports cars were a staple of design studios?  When these wee-beasties were vellum fodder like today’s CUVs?  Me neither.  But Europe once made these in spades, and–much like today’s utility vehicle craze–Japan regularly followed suit.  Let’s examine that rich history with a deep cut into Nissan’s “Fairlady” series.   



Let’s be clear, the Datsun 1600 will never win a beauty contest if comparable Euro Metal enters the show.  Like most Japanese cars from this era, the styling was far more agricultural and cost-effective: uber voluptuous fenders, lumps, bumps and curves need not apply. The 1600’s box-nosed face belongs on today’s family sedan, and the bumper looks like an afterthought compared to the sexy slope of the MGA’s integrated maw. But the clean (well-organized) lines and tidy details (i.e. well placed signal lights) still makes it a timeless classic.

The practical charm of such nostalgic Japanese iron is clear to every eyeball. Heck, there’s even a fantastic website dedicated to the hobby. Check it.


There’s nothing wrong with a basic design when details like the grille and emblem are presented in such a clean and logical manner.  This is why cheap(er) cars are as cheerful as more expensive iron.


2_1What really makes the Datsun 1600’s nose stand out is the integrated grille/hood cut line.  Simply put, the ends of the grille match the beginning(s) of the hood.  It may seem like a little detail, but go back to the 2nd photo: doesn’t that make everything right on that face?


My, how things change with time! Body parts were screwed together back then?  No biggie: it’s part of the historical charm of many cars from this era.  Not having seen similar British/Italian machines up this close, I don’t know if screwing the front end in such a visible location is par for the course, or part of the Datsun’s value appeal.



I like the scalloping around the signal lights, a subtle touch to make these (universal?) parts look somewhat more unique to this machine.  The crease near the headlight’s center line is nice, but it’d be even nicer if they centered the headlights (i.e. slightly lower) to match it. Lowering the headlights would also help “visually lower” the front end. If the engineers would allow it.

But look at how elegant the front clip appears with the minimal cut lines from the hood+grille treatment!


Again, lower the headlights so they “center” with that very cool crease in the front fascia.  That said, this proto-240Z shows the future nosejob for the Fairlady of the 1970s.

The Datsun 1600’s other hard crease, at the top of the fascia and hood, could use some softening up to empathize with the headlight’s round form: another issue cured by the elongated schnoz of the 240Z.



My need for a rounder top and “centered on the crease” headlights comes to light (sorry) from this angle.  The biggest problem is how that hard fold at the top fights with the rounded headlights and turn signals.


The chrome trimming at the leading edge of this hood scoop is quite the expensive looking touch!  Nice job.


While the snub-nosed face with too many hard edges isn’t the best start for a 1960s sports car, the hood and fenders sweep back quite nicely to compensate. How I long for the days when every automaker had at least one car with a looooooong hood! Which leads to a discussion of “dash-to-axle ratios”…but I’m getting ahead of myself.

10Indeed, that space between the dashboard and the front axle.  The more you have, the more inherently bad ass your vehicle becomes!  The Datsun 1600’s snub nose really kills the mood when you consider the hustle and flow of all those complementary lines from the headlights alllll the way back to the windscreen. Yum.


10_1I love how this elegant and delicate side view mirror’s base compares to (almost?) anything from the 1970s and beyond. While this could be an afterthought/necessity to comply with US safety guidelines, it’s a delightful design element.  The problem is that wart of an antenna(?)…it’s like seeing a pretty girl with a not so handsome guy at a black tie event.

That’s one lucky chrome wart, I say!  Or maybe he’s well endowed. Whatever.


10_3These emblems, while cool by themselves, are far too chunky to live here.  They kill the flow.  Put them further down the fender, perhaps halfway between the chrome moulding and the base of the wheel arch.


Sadly the Datsun’s poor location ruined my side shot, so this hardtop’d interweb photo will suffice. The upright windshield rake and static vent windows make this body look cuter and dumber than the more refined metal from Europe. But perhaps that ain’t no big thang since it echos the boxiness of the front end.

And isn’t it refreshing to see such an advantageous ratio of side glass to side sheet metal these days?

12Dare I call this wheel design a classic from this era?  Purely functional, but elegant and modest.  Ditch the whitewalls, but the sliver slotted steelies with a big face chrome center cap is an element I’ve loved on Porsches, VWs…and Datsuns!




While the exposed screws on the front end look a bit cheap, these fasteners on the cowl vent have a functional beauty about them.  Maybe it’s the silver paint and how this could be a close up on any number of brilliant European sports cars from the 1950-60s, but it just plain works.


12_2Two window panes to make one windshield?  If only Datsun sprung for a fancier sheet of glass in their bargain basement roadster.  That said, the chrome details in the wiper arms, rearview mirror, windshield rubber, etc. look fantastic in their close up shot.  Ditto those exposed screws on the cowl vent.


13Back again to the fantastic real estate between the dashboard and the front axle.  Be it a lovely Ferrari or a lowly Datsun, this is always a delicious treat that’s good for the car enthusiast’s heart and soul.


14The chrome trim is modest enough, but its location between the door lock and door handle appears clumsy as you approach from this angle. This might be the only car more deserving of a body side molding delete than a C5 Corvette.



The ragtop’s boot cover buttons are super-static on this otherwise flowing form.  Is it possible to bend that panel a few degrees in, more aggressively inward as it nears the rear, and still make the buttons snap to engineering specifications?  If possible, it’d certainly help the look.


16Just an ever-so-gentle inward bending: I’m not expecting a Talbot Lago from a reasonable and honest Datsun, but give us a little taste!  And here’s another good reason to eliminate the chrome trim.  From the subtle curves of the quarter panel to the soft contours of the wheel well, the Datsun 1600 is begging for someone to remove its rigid orthodontia.


17And let’s round out the trunk’s cut line…this is brutally rigid.  It’s obviously cheaper than the goodies coming from Britain and Italy at this time. While there are other hard edges and elements in this design that must stay, this one needs the boot…from the boot!




There’s a strong homage to the Aston Martin DB4 and DB5 presented here.  Or perhaps it’s just a cheap knock off.  That’s fine, but punishing the eyes with the “visual sound” of fingernails on a chalkboard comes from the brutally hard edges connecting the rear fascia to the quarter panel.  My kingdom for a little more money to round out some panels!  Please!


19Generation Gap: whatever that says and no matter how poorly integrated it may seem, at least those aren’t Lucas Electronics.  Some scalloping/recessing a la the front signal lights would be nice, too.


20Too many hard corners and Aston Martin rip offs aside, this is a pretty wicked rear end.  Note how the trunk cutlines seemingly disappear like an infinity pool in some fancy spa with overpriced meals and minimalist music piped into every hallway. Nice.


This might be the best angle to photograph.  A well-organized and classically minimal interior only highlights the curvature of the Datsun 1600’s decklid.  And the subtle rib down the middle? Perfection.


Sorry about not blurring the license plate, but this dealership changed names!  Too bad the Datsun 1600’s location was less than ideal for photography.  But shooting outside shows the Datsun 1600’s flat butt…and Cindy Crawford worthy birthmark (gas cap) too.

Note the especially clean integration of the deck lid, rear fascia and quarter panels in a single line at the top. Nice-ish…too bad it all ends on a butt that needs a little Sir Mix-a-Lot in its life.



Requisite twin chrome exhausts are always welcome ’round these parts. The leaf spring perches (left) and back up light (right) are interesting throwbacks to a simpler, stupider time.


25And since the top was indeed down, the Datsun 1600’s interior plays an integral role with the exterior design.  And, simply put, this is a fabulous interior.  There’s nicer bits from the Europeans, but that’s all relative.  Datsun’s intelligent and cohesive design is an Everyman’s ergonomic and stylistic wonder.  It’s what IKEA is to modern furniture, and it’s damn good-looking.

Thank you all for reading, I hope you have a lovely week.

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Vellum Venom Vignette: Center Stage, High Mounted! Tue, 06 Aug 2013 12:32:06 +0000 TTAC commentator Darth Lefty writes: Sajeev, I was looking at a new Fusion in the company parking lot and noticed how its center brake light (CHMSL) is basically a very thin flap jutting out of the top of the window. Subtle… The center brake light is always like this. We are right now in a […]

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TTAC commentator Darth Lefty writes:


I was looking at a new Fusion in the company parking lot and noticed how its center brake light (CHMSL) is basically a very thin flap jutting out of the top of the window. Subtle… The center brake light is always like this. We are right now in a golden age of headlight and tail light design. The complex shapes and chrome and LED’s and rocket thrusters dominate the style of a car. But the center light gets none of this.

It’s as small and cheap as it can be made. It gets no chrome interior, it has a plain red lens and it’s shaped like a Tylenol, or it’s a single row of LED’s. It’s always stuck under the rear window or or in the spoiler or some other trim where it could be easily deleted and it’s never really integrated into the styling of the car. Why?

Why not booster engines or Terminator eyeballs or light-up logos?

Why no style at all?

Is there some other large market where they are not required, or are the companies expecting the requirement to suddenly disappear some upcoming model year?

Or is it just too difficult to do styling other than badges along the center line?

Sajeev answers:

I find the Fusion’s CHMSL (from the recent Vellum analysis) pretty ballsy for a modern car. Damning with faith praise, but still: when’s the last time you saw a CHMSL sticking out like that? It reminds me of the air grabber intake on old-school Mopar Muscle…except not that cool. The Fusion’s CHMSL is better off integrated into rear window’s form, be it at the base (the parcel shelf) or above (the headliner). That’s cleaner, sleeker and (by extension) more timeless.

There’s only one CHMSL that actually 1) has the balls that you speak of and 2) satisfies my need for using your whole ass when going out on a limb. This is how you highlight a design element, how you make it part of the body.

1971 Oldsmobile Toronado

This is how you make a good design, that stands the test of time.

To answer your questions: who cares?  Those are restrictions designers must fight every damn day/week/month of their careers. If you want to make something beautiful, fight until management (bean counters) approve and the implementation people (engineers) eagerly implement it. You even get the marketing people talking about your “cool design” so they promote it for you. A loveless and thankless job, perhaps?

But you just gotta Do It, To It…Son!

Oldsmobile did just that, proving it with a flagship…and what a flagship indeed!

1972 Oldsmobile Toronado.

1972 Oldsmobile Toronado.

1973 Oldsmobile Toronado.

1973 Oldsmobile Toronado.

1974 Oldsmobile Toronado.

1974 Oldsmobile Toronado.

1975 Oldsmobile Toronado.

1976 Oldsmobile Toronado.

1976 Oldsmobile Toronado.

1977 Oldsmobile Toronado XS.

1977 Oldsmobile Toronado XS.


1978 Oldsmobile Toronado XS.

1978 Oldsmobile Toronado XS.

Spend a few years bending sheet metal to completely re-theme a rear end with CHMSLs, innovate and continue to push that envelope.  Conversely, look at the mediocre decklid implementation of the 1974 Buick Riviera: it doesn’t cut the mustard like the Toronado. But, inevitably every good thing must come to an end…

1979 Oldsmobile Toronado. Bummer.

1979 Oldsmobile Toronado.

Like many other downsized designs of the malaise era, the butt of the Oldsmobile Toronado went from stunning to somewhat subtle.  Not necessarily a bad thing, except the Oldz Boyz threw away years of hard work to vanilla-fy the Toronado.

1987(?) Oldsmobile Toronado Trofeo.

1987(?) Oldsmobile Toronado Trofeo.

While I (don’t laugh) enjoy many elements of the 1980s Toronados, they’d look so much better with the 1970s CHMSL implementation. GM design ain’t what it once was, what it was for decades. Perhaps when you water down an American Automotive Design Icon, you give a Flagship-less Camry its wings.

Goodbye best-selling Oldsmobile Cutlass, hello Toyota Camry. Inevitable, indeed.

Thanks for reading, I hope you have a lovely week.

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Vellum Venom: 2012 Honda Crosstour Tue, 30 Jul 2013 12:42:32 +0000 Here are a few books I consider required reading for Transportation Design students: The Reckoning, Rude Awakening, All Corvettes are Red and Car: A Drama of the American Workplace.  These show what it takes to make a car…to make a designer’s work come to fruition. Sadly, during my (short) time at the College for Creative […]

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Here are a few books I consider required reading for Transportation Design students: The Reckoning, Rude Awakening, All Corvettes are Red and Car: A Drama of the American Workplace.  These show what it takes to make a car…to make a designer’s work come to fruition.

Sadly, during my (short) time at the College for Creative Studies, we focused on creativity at all costs: pay no attention to the business behind the curtain.  So while the Honda Crosstour is a curious stylistic exercise, does this dog hunt in the real world?



First, let’s just be surprised (impressed?) this design made production.  The Crosstour’s XXL-sized grin proves something in the land of bloated CUVs, perhaps giving the impression there’s a big rig Cummins Turbo diesel behind it? This grille needs a good head shrinker, so to speak.



While the grille’s 2013 redesign (scroll to the end) helps tremendously, this frame’s massive size combined with its dull gray plastic frame doesn’t impress.  To the 2012’s credit, the wraparound grille’s teeth add visual excitement not available with the 2013’s thick, wholly generic chrome rim.

The hard angles and modest chrome trim catches the eye, though a body color paint job in lieu of the gray plastic is price appropriate.



One of my more favorite angles: the hood sports sweeping and fluid creases, in the proud Detroit tradition of long noses for overt style and swagger.  Unlike every other CUV, the Crosstour has some Vista Cruiser DNA. Not enough wretched excess, but the proportions and general attitude are the closest we’ve seen in a long while to yesteryear’s Olds wagon.


Aside from the appealing wedge at the bumper’s base, this nose is way over-styled. Note the headlight’s uncomfortable transition from the pleasantly proportioned yellow reflector to that massive center signal light with oversized black plastic frame: necessary to integrate the bloated grille into the bumper’s demure-ish form. Honda designer’s did a reasonable job cramming 10lbs of shit into a 5lb bag, indeed.

Then clock the fog light: the negative area (in the paint) at the leading edge of the fog light assembly needs to disappear to reduce the bumper clutter.


That said, the over styled negative area is trick when zooming in. Except for the fake slots in the black plastic: a smarter-textured alternative wouldn’t cost much more! Hell, make it out of  fake carbon fiber instead of this Band-Aid look.


The bumper’s strong lower wedge is also present from here.  The lower grille’s texture is simple, logical, and remarkably well proportioned…unlike so many elements on the Crosstour.


Shades of the Accord: the Crosstour’s headlights, fender flares and the fender/door’s swage line harken back to the last-gen Accord.  It’s all good, because the Crosstour is a station wagon at heart.  Aside from the suspension lift kit, clearly seen here by the big wheels and poseur-tall ride height.

But just wait…the lifted station wagon theme gets worse as we go further back.

6The chamfered edge of this flare is unique, and worthy of possible implementation elsewhere in automobilia.  The only problem? It tends to fight other elements presented on the Crosstour’s body.


Like the rim of the 1999-ish Chevrolet Silverado (and countless other GM products from this era) these fake wheel holes don’t evoke extra strength, performance or curb appeal. They merely look cheap. Either you add a hole at the bottom of this space or you fill it in. No excuses.


The Crosstour’s cowl is tidy enough, except that it’s not: the A-pillar’s bulk(?) requires a plastic filler panel for the fender to meet with the base of the windshield. A poor implementation, perhaps stemming from the Accord cowl’s inadequacies for CUV duty?

9But wait…did this just happen?  NO DLO FAIL?  The A-pillar, fender and door are so happy together?  ZOMG SON THE CROSSTOUR IS TEH BOMB!

9_1Another shot of the Accord-esque swageline.  Unlike most swagelines that start small but grow upwards, the Crosstour’s goes down as it enters the front door.  While not hideous, it’s certainly bizarre…you’ll see why in the next shot.

Combine the odd swage line with the fake slots (nestled in a negative area in the rocker panel) and there’s a lack of correlation. The design gets undefined, busy and generally messy.  That bolt-on mudflap could keep more dirty lines from entering the equation, but the Crosstour’s undersized affairs don’t match the fender flare’s prodigious width, nor do they hide that line separating the fender and the rocker panel.

Visualize the alternative: reduce the fender flare’s width, fatten the mud flap and make the swage line “bend” at the deepest part of the negative area (i.e. the top row of slots) and bingo: a cleaner implementation.


Speaking of, make the fake slots go away!  Banish them to the land of silver painted interior trim and faux fender vents! And, by the way, thank you for not putting fender vents on this beast. 

Unlike the Pontiac Aztek’s profile, the Crosstour isn’t wholly hideous.  There’s a bit of five-door hatch, a smidgen of AMC Eagle wagon, and the sky high beltline of a modern vehicle. Which definitely makes the Crosstour something unique, if not outstanding.

While this Evox image is too perfectly manicured, the Crosstour’s front-to-back flow works well.  There’s a smart up kick around the rear door handle, a tough shoulder line (that shadow) above the taillight, a fast D-pillar, and a strong static line at the base of the doors that elengantly merges with the rear wheel’s arch. It all flows nicely without being too bubbly or too square.

And no DLO fail to speak of. Woot!


Not so pretty in the flesh, eh?  First, the matte black C-pillar needs to be shinier to go with the chrome trimming. Second, the door cut line crashes through the fender flare, instead of following/dancing with that arch. More to the point, integrate the door cut line into the lowest point of the fender flare’s negative area. Sure, this exposes more rocker paneling, but draping door sheetmetal over everything looks decidedly…cheap.

Lastly, the swage line (what’s left of it) slams through the door handle’s negative area instead of flowing over: not elegant.


In case you missed it, here’s how the swage line intersects with the door handle’s negative area.  The line should be further north to avoid this mess. And while you don’t see the BIG problem yet, the body’s increasing height and bulk is becoming a problem.



That’s not to say the rear isn’t without charm: the fast D-pillar, tapered greenhouse (i.e. gets slightly smaller past the rear door) and slight tumblehome looks elegant and somewhat muscular. No other CUV can pull this off…hell, even the Porsche Panamera looks flabbier from this angle.


And now, the moment you’ve been waiting for…drum roll please…the moment when the Crosstour goes from quirky and interesting to just plain offensive.

Because of the increasing height, the hatchback needs glass between the taillights and below the integral spoiler. (to improve visibility?) While that spoiler adds excitement, highlighting the acres of glass with a bubble dome hatchback like the Fox Body Mercury Capri woulda been so much sweeter.

Well, not sweet enough.  The Crosstour’s rounded bottom tries too hard to be a sporty 5-door hatchback. At this (ahem) elevation, that dog won’t hunt.  Instead of soaring upwards (at the side windows) the body’s belt line should remain static, emulating the height of the front door.  Combine that with a flatter/boxier butt (keeping the bubble dome hatchback idea) and there’d be a quirky cool version of the AMC Eagle instead.


The glass has interesting touches, like the floating Honda emblem. The defroster/defogger lines delightfully contour around said emblem and the integral washer nozzle at the top (not pictured, my bad) are also a minimalist’s treat.  In a world of afterthought CUV emblems, oversized and haphazardly slapped on a tailgate’s limited real estate, the Crosstour did a good job right here.



Too bad the wiper arm can’t hide under that spoiler!  While the Crosstour’s strong haunches (above the taillights) and tumblehome are both sporty and elegant, everything goes horribly wrong south of the license plate. No more tall buffalo butts, please!

While the taillights start at the “end point” of the spoiler, they aren’t flush with the hatchback.  The lense’s silver insert has no logical reason for its location: moving lower, where the hatch bends at the base of the glass would help integrate the form and reduce unnecessary “lines” on the body. (i.e. start the silver where that indoor light’s hard reflection is on the hatchback.)


What a mess! These hard lines make no sense with the upper half’s round glass and muscular haunches in the quarter panels. They are too harsh for too “long” of a form on this body.  Unrefined!

Either the northern hemisphere needs some hard bends or this area needs softening up.  Much like how the rear doors blanket over the natural location of the rocker panels, the tail lights shouldn’t be exposed in this bumper fold.  The lights should be smaller to let the painted bumper flow naturally from the bottom of the tailgate to the base of the roof: one simple, logical sweep of painted body. Too bad about that!


Once more: too many harsh lines, accentuated by rounded and beveled tailpipes.  Combined with the softer stuff up top and the excessive height brought about from the rear doors, the Crosstour’s butt steals defeat from the hands of victory.**

**provided you believe that a quirky alternative to a CUV is a good thing!2013_redesignAnd yes, a quirky alternative to a CUV is a worthy endeavor for any designer.  And any would-be CUV buyer, at least in theory.

While the 2013 model looks a bit more interesting (especially in brown, ‘natch) the Crosstour doesn’t fit the CUV bill. When you combine CUV, hatchback and station wagon in this manner, you insult all three automotive genres in one vellum rendering. Too bad about that, because this idea has potential. And possibly merit.

Thanks for reading, have a great week.

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Canada Sales Recap: June 2013 Fri, 12 Jul 2013 18:42:44 +0000 Canada’s auto industry grew 1.3% in June 2013, an increase of a couple thousand vehicles. No brand sold more often than Ford. No manufacturer sold more vehicles than Ford Motor Company. No June in history saw Canadians buy more vehicles than they did last month. Ford MoCo, the Chrysler Group, and General Motors combined to […]

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Canada’s auto industry grew 1.3% in June 2013, an increase of a couple thousand vehicles. No brand sold more often than Ford. No manufacturer sold more vehicles than Ford Motor Company. No June in history saw Canadians buy more vehicles than they did last month.

Ford MoCo, the Chrysler Group, and General Motors combined to to own 46.4% of the market, up from 45.5% in June 2012. Their market share in the United States in June was 46.8%, up from 46.7% a year ago.

Although it’s becoming more and more difficult to perfectly determine (and agree on) what makes a passenger car qualify as passenger car, by the definitions of Canada’s Desrosiers Automotive Reports, car sales fell 4.9% in June, accounting for just 43.7% of the industry’s total volume, down from 46.6% a year ago.

This trend in the overall Canadian market is supported by the developments of Canada’s class-defining best sellers.

Canada’s perennial top-selling car, the Honda Civic, isn’t Canada’s most popular car in 2013. Although it held on for a narrow margin of victory in the month of June, outselling the Hyundai Elantra by 27 units, the Civic has managed to end the first half of 2013 as the second-best seller. Because of the Elantra’s growth? Well, yes, Elantra volume is up 12.8% this year. But the Civic, like the overarching passenger car category, is down this year. Its 11.2% drop equals 3599 fewer sales for Honda.

Moreover, the Civic hadn’t been selling as well last year as it had at the heights of 2006, 2007, and 2008, when more than 70,000 were sold annually. Honda Canada will have to work hard to sell more than 60,000 Civics this year.

Meanwhile, Canada’s consistently dominant utility vehicle, the Ford Escape – which didn’t sell more than 26,000 copies annually between 2004 and 2006, not more than 40,000 until 2010, and nearly equalled 2011’s total of 44,248 with 44,099 sales last year – has risen 12.7% in the first half of 2013. All brands haven’t reported their model-specific June numbers, but through May, Canada’s utility vehicle market was up 5.6%, a growth rate that was more than twice as healthy as that of the overall market.

And yes, even after a record 2012, Ford Canada is on pace to blow its own F-Series pickup truck sales record out of the water. Last month, Ford produced a record number of F-Series sales: 11,051, which accounts for 6.4% of the industry’s volume. Twelve trucks combined for a 9.5% increase in truck sales in June, ever so slightly better than the year-to-date improvement of 9.3%.

Nevertheless, although 175 out of every 1000 Canadian new vehicle buyers in Canada chooses a pickup truck, that still leaves plenty of room for far-flung corners of the market to create news, both good and bad.

Down 25.8% this year, Volvo reported its 14th consecutive year-over-year decrease in June. Porsche reported its 18th consecutive year-over-year increase. Jeep sold more Wranglers in June than any month in history. Subaru also set a June and first-half record – the Forester accounts for just under one-third of the brand’s Canadian sales.

Since we’re unable to eat at In-N-Out Burger and since we’ve only recently been offered a few Target locations, you would think Canadians would bask in the opportunity to buy cars Americans can’t have. (You wouldn’t actually think that, would you?) But the Chevrolet Orlando has plunged 48.9% in Canada this year, and fell 77.8% to 125 units in June, the Orlando’s lowest total since its first month on sale, September 2011.

Is this because of the arrival of the second iteration of another car Americans can’t buy? Kia Rondo sales jumped 117% to 945 units in June. For perspective, consider that Honda sold 1125 Odysseys, Toyota sold 1327 Siennas, Dodge sold 4278 Grand Caravans, and Mazda 5 sells fell 50% to 233. And what of the Chevrolet Trax, an inexpensive Buick Encore? June sales shot up to 982 units, the Trax’s best month yet. 3711 have been sold since January. Buick has sold 1344 Encores; 237 in June.

Clearly the growth in auto sales in Canada has slowed, but it’s important to keep in mind that the market hadn’t declined as drastically as the U.S. market did, post-recession. Watchful eyes will be trained to look out for worse decreases among cars or, perhaps, a slowing of the Ford F-Series and Ram P/U when the new GM truck twins hit full stride. Crew cab versions went on sale in late June.



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Vellum Venom: 2013 Ford Fusion Hybrid Tue, 02 Jul 2013 12:00:25 +0000 Aside from the fame, fortune and talent, my design school stylings were criticized much like the early works of one Mister Lenny Kravitz.  I felt, as idiotic as it seems now, both of us were pigeonholed for our unabashed use of “influence” in our art. Kravitz overcame. I left the College for Creative Studies to […]

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Aside from the fame, fortune and talent, my design school stylings were criticized much like the early works of one Mister Lenny Kravitz.  I felt, as idiotic as it seems now, both of us were pigeonholed for our unabashed use of “influence” in our art. Kravitz overcame. I left the College for Creative Studies to pursue a less interesting career.  A career that makes me travel. With rental cars.

How fitting that I’d be blessed (cursed?) with The Son of Aston: the Ford Fusion Hybrid for 8 days and 800 miles. 



This was my constant companion from Oklahoma City to Kansas City.  The Texas plate made me feel more at home while avoiding a horrible storm that pummeled the city of Moore, but that beautifully disgusting Aston Martin grille was a constant reminder that I couldn’t be a car designer while THIS actually made production.

So beautiful, yet so offensive.  Somewhere between Tulsa and the Kansas border, I decided that there’s simply no fv*king way this facade would get an “A” in a design school’s studio review.

I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore, that’s for sure.



There are some vehicles that look overstyled when you mirror the elements from left to right.  The Fusion isn’t busy, it’s downright perfect.  Every crease and muscular fold compliments the other.  The powerdome hood is too cool for any family sedan, the bumper cover is creased to perfectly compliment the grille, and the headlights sweep far back to give an aggressive appearance. And the lower valence’s speed holes add race car style without looking like an afterthought. (cough, Camry SE)

The Fusion looks expensive and assertive.  There’s so much attention to detail presented here!  Question is, how much of that detail was already hashed out by Aston Martin?  And can we approve of this?



Dare I say it, the headlights look BETTER than the pods presented on the Aston Martin from whence this schnoz came from.  From this angle, the Fusion looks like a low slung sports car, not a boxy sedan sitting as tall as a CUV.



Light absolutely dances on the Fusion’s bumper.  The subtle bends turn the sunlight into logical extensions of line that doesn’t technically exist…but they somehow do.  The line I’m pointing to blends nicely into the powerdome hood only inches behind. The details never cease to amaze on Ford’s Fusion.



Even the beveled silver border with recessed blue oval looks far more expensive than any other corporate logo at this price point. Damn.




Many of those logical lines in the front bumper sweep back into this power dome hood. And the plateau is far from a simple square or trapezoid in cross-section: as you can tell from the different grade of shadowing, the Fusion’s dome has (some of) the flair of a late-model 7-series BMW.



The fluted grille reminds me of my first car, a 1965 Ford Galaxie. Perhaps it’s a hat-tip to the Norelco chrome grille of the first Fusion. The detailing is absolutely stunning: this is Cadillac worthy.


Surprisingly, the lower valence’s grille is just as precisely designed…just without the chrome plating.  Even the teeth’s bends and the frame’s shape compliments the main grille.


Of course they match for a reason. Ford even added a little crease in the bumper to make sure you noticed how both grilles “talk” to each other. Nice.

(Disregard the bug splatter, I wasn’t gonna wash a rental car just to make YOU happy!)


The lower valence has a sporty “body kit” feel to it, without being tacked on like many modern Toyota products.  Ford has something to prove in this market, and prove it they do. Even the scalloped area near the lower grille looks like a far more expensive car.



Luckily the solid black plastic panel around the fog light brings us back to reality. Nice touch with the chrome ring’d fog light, however.



While most new vehicles are finally abandoning the googly-eyed, oversized plasti-chrome headlights from the last decade, the Fusion does it the best.  Just the right amount of squinty, never small enough to get lost on this fairly large face…from any angle.



Massive power dome hood is…massive!  Only now does this front end look more like a boxy, modern FWD sedan and not something from Aston Martin. Note how much painted fender there is relative to the front wheel.  Things are getting chunky!

That said, I must compliment Ford on the transition from sexy Aston Martin to boring Camry-competitor.  This transition shows great attention to detail.

15By the way, I saw plenty of other rental cars during my travels.  The only one I really wanted besides the Fusion was a damn Crown Vic Kia Optima.  Note how both family sedans have a somewhat bullet-ish nose, but one doesn’t look like a Chinese knock-off of an Aston Martin.



This Fusion Hybrid sported 17″ wheels that wouldn’t look out of place on a baseline, super cheap to lease BMW sedan. Too bad the nose couldn’t move forward and downward…like the Aston Martin from whence it came. Sadly, nerdy family sedans are just that.


18Welcome to Tallsville: population, this guy. The Fusion’s 17″ hoops are positively lost in the height and bulk of the body.  The fenders need a good 6″ of length to justify that nose. The space between the cowl and the front wheel (dash-to-axle) is short and static.  Which kinda ruins everything: the A-pillar obviously wants to begin at a point between the cowl and front wheel.  Too bad it can’t flow right…because this chassis isn’t shaped like a Crown Vic an Aston Martin.

All the sculpturing of the Aston-inspired nose is gone…or is it?



Like modern BMWs, the Fusion creates many layers that hope to keep you from noticing its lofty height. With all this real estate, the good car designers make something that catches the light, plays with it, and fascinates the onlooker. Since demanding the cowl of a Panther Chassis is stupid even by my brain’s distorted standards, what we see here ain’t half bad.




Oh, except for that clumsy and fat A-pillar.  And the DLO fail.  Demanding the cowl (and resultant A-pillar) of a Panther would be nice, as it wouldn’t mean we’d need a black plastic triangle (with chrome trim!) to give the illusion that the greenhouse (the glass area) is sleeker than it is in reality.

Even worse, there’s a fixed vent window in the door.  Nothing wrong with that on the Aston, because it has a far more “Panther Like” cowl and A-pillar. We can’t expect the Fusion to have a DLO as lovely as an Aston, or a 2004 Nissan Versa Hatchback.



It sure is a pity, that your DLO fail couldn’t be a 2004 Nissan Versa hatchback instead. But from here, the short (width) and tall (height) of the Fusion’s dash-to-axle ratio could branch out into a vehicle that doesn’t try too hard to be sporty, swoopy.


These fancy heated,  bi-focal’d mirrors not only look cool, they definitely help with visibility.  A good thing, since the greenhouse of this faux-Aston is pretty horrible when it comes to avoiding highway traffic. I felt like a kid in a school bus…which isn’t unique to the Fusion in this class, of course.



The different planes and textures of the side view mirrors were fun to analyze in the hotel parking lot.  I only wish the signal light was flush, sharing the same external plane of the silver painted housing.



Everything is fun here.  There’s plenty of surface tension in the fold below the glass work, and there’s a subtle yet speedy crease near the bottom that keeps this tall vehicle from looking static.  It works, mostly because it does the job without looking busy.


The door’s stamping gives extra visual excitement to the form presented by the handle.  The “30-60-90 triangle” look of the lower door handle area compliments the actual door handle, unlike the amorphus blob presented in same area by many other vehicles.  It looks like it’s dying for an old school key lock! Me likey.



Wasn’t too thrilled about the slop in the plastic door handle itself.  And this wasn’t an abused rental…at least not at 1200 miles.


The Lincoln-Mercury fanboi of the 1980s within me totally adores Ford’s new keyless entry interface. Flush, completely invisible until it’s needed: a logical extension of the flush-button’d 1980 Thunderbird that started it all. Too bad I couldn’t find the code to use it.  I checked the trunk hinges for a 5-digit code like a proper Dearborn Man would…until I realized it hasn’t been there in decades, either. Rats.



Aside from the need for 20+ inch rims to put this body in proportion, this is a surprisingly sleek C-pillar and rear door. There’s a big window in lieu of DLO fail, the hard folds from the center section are starting to fade away, and the ever-so-gentle bend of the rear door’s cutline near the rear wheel: all are the marks of a well planned design.

My only concern is the harsh fold around the wheel arches: a more organic bend would keep one’s eyes from fixating on the oversized wheel arches and undersized wheels.



The big plastic pillar needed for the rear window to roll down is a nice, shiny one piece affair.  Good enough.



There’s a mild taper in the C-pillar, and a shocking amount of sculpture in the quarter panels and rear doors.  From this angle, the Fusion is just a two-tone paint job away from being an optimistic 1950s Jet Age design!



This is a faaaaaast C-pillar.  It’s lovely to behold, unless you’re in the driver’s seat. Then you curse it for blocking everything in sight.

Much like the front bumper, notice how light and shadow dance in different shades at the top of the (upper) C-pillar, in the gentle bend of the (lower) C-pillar’s taper as it blends into the hard edge in the middle of the body.


Also note that the fuel filler door is smack dab in the middle of the crease.  While not offensive, illogical, or asymmetrical, the door looks a bit silly with such a strong crease in it.


Our man Ronnie already covered this quality control snafu, and it’s sad to see he wasn’t lying.  I love how many modern cars use “floating” rear glass with no fat black gasket, but what if they don’t finish the metal underneath to the same level of brilliance as every other panel?


The CHMSL lives within a unique polished black container that juts out from the natural sweep of the roofline. This looks cheap and unrefined, like the bad old days of pre-Bankruptcy General Motors designs. (except with better materials, ‘natch.)Why the CHMSL can’t be as flush and invisible as the keyless entry keypad is beyond me. Put it inside the cabin like everyone else!



Ain’t technology grand?  This wouldn’t be nearly as beautiful if there was a big rubber gasket around the rear window. Just a lovely form.




Unfortunately the Fusion’s back end can’t mask the height nearly as well as the front.  The trunk’s cutline extends far below the logical end point (where the bumper normally begins). The rear bumper is flush enough to make that CHMSL up there a little jealous.  It’s all very flat and tall.



Something about these “furrowed eyebrow” taillights isn’t pleasant enough to go with the Aston Martin front end.  If you were ripping off the Aston for the front, why not do the rear too?  If it worked for the Jaguar XF…


And the plastic insert between the taillights looks out of proportion with…WAIT, WHUT?  IS DAT HYBRID BADGE ON CROOKED? Damn son, are you kidding me?



Back to that plastic bit. I’d prefer that cutline started where my other finger’s located on the taillight.


Or even better, eliminate the plastic trim and be like my neighbor here in the hotel’s self-serve parking lot. Much nicer!


The panel gap around the trunk was also a bit unsettling, after you got over the crooked emblem.


And there’s something counter-intuitive about a trunk that cuts this deep into the body.  Perhaps it will make more sense if I look at the cross-section of the trunk itself.



Chunky and clumsy.  I wish the trunk wasn’t flush with the bumper, if only it was sunken in like the Optima in the above photo.


Luckily Ford didn’t cut corners down here, either.  Just like the front valence, the rear’s chrome exhaust, black plastic “visual bulk reducer” and extra reflector (markers or fog lights in Europe, I suppose) lenses look suitably expensive from here.



Note the negative area in the black plastic, and how it matches the same area at the bottom of the silver painted bumper. Shades of the symmetry seen on the front bumper!



I also adore this little bevel to “introduce” the red taillight to the silver quarter panel. It’s a subtle bend that blends with all the more aggressive creases on the same quarter panel.


So what’s the end result?  Is the Fusion too strongly influenced?  Should we care since Aston Martin is also willing slap their face on anything to make a quick buck?


Too much influence!

This wouldn’t fly if a broke-ass design student (peep the tuition rates for design school) used this level of “influence” in design school.  While any student would be publicly, mercilessly humiliated for grafting an Aston Martin nose on their family sedan proposal, they’d be dragged out of the studio by the short hairs for making the C-MAX.

No way in hell this would be considered “A” work for a design student. Is it worth a “B”?  Maybe a “C,”  I think. Then again, FoMoCo writes some big-ass checks to all the major design schools..and offers priceless internships for would-be designers. 



In the end, I’d love the Fusion if it was on the same platform that pinned the GEN III Taurus.  Such a low beltline, low taillights and an open and airy greenhouse.  Put the Fusion’s design elements on this Taurus and you’d have a far more honest tribute to an Aston Martin.  If that’s what Ford actually wanted.

This was taken in front of the birthplace Will Rogers, entertainer and informer extraordinaire.  He famously remarked, “I never met a man I didn’t like.” I suspect he never met the critics in a design studio…

or a snotty auto blogger, for that matter.

Thank you for reading, I hope you have a lovely week.

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Vellum Venom: 2012 Nissan Cube Mon, 08 Apr 2013 10:00:52 +0000 Haters bust out the Haterade: I mastered your drama back at the College of Creative Studies. My luxury car proposals sported stand up grilles…and why not? The (beautiful-ish) 1990 Lexus LS400 proved an upright grille happily exists on a sleek, masterfully engineered machine. But very talented, well-praised drama queens in the design studio can’t be […]

The post Vellum Venom: 2012 Nissan Cube appeared first on The Truth About Cars.


Haters bust out the Haterade: I mastered your drama back at the College of Creative Studies. My luxury car proposals sported stand up grilles…and why not? The (beautiful-ish) 1990 Lexus LS400 proved an upright grille happily exists on a sleek, masterfully engineered machine. But very talented, well-praised drama queens in the design studio can’t be proven wrong by a talentless schmuck. Even if they get super butthurt when your Lexian-precedent made their grandstanding look like the adolescent ranting of one unfit to judge a grade school art show…

To wit, an extreme argument: The Nissan Cube.

Not that the Cube is remotely as elegant as the original Lexus LS. But unlike the Nissan Juke, the Cube has many logical elements assembled on a boxy body.  The headlights are quite square, but with enough curves to look appealing, not upsetting.  The grille, oversized emblem notwithstanding, looks right: slots and static forms do the job.  The air slot below is another logical element.  Add the lower valence’s strong egg crate grille and you are done.

My only recommendation is to emulate the angular fog lights of the mildly redesigned, 2005 Lincoln Navigator’s fascia.


Imagine the boxy-ish fog lights making more sense with the square-ish elements in the headlights and the slotted grille. This is quite the well-designed piece. Considering the asking price, let’s assume that unique fog lights were never part of the deal.


I wish more non-Cube vehicles had lighting pods this square and logical.  Aside from the side marker lights that bulge out from the body line, these are quite elegant.


And while the lighting pods in the headlight assembly looked square from some angles, note how round they are from this angle!  This is the secret sauce of car design: the perfect balance between soft curves and hard angles.  If the rest of the Cube looked this good, we’d have a stellar machine.


Again, square and round at the same time.  It works, especially adding the depth of the recessed lighting pods in the headlight assembly.  The Nissan Cube is far from an actual cube.  It’s a seriously somewhat complex design.


This is the big problem, or the key selling feature: an upright–yet rounded–A pillar.  It’s jarring.  It’s brutal.  It’s cool and stupid at the same time.  And, after looking at the window sticker, that makes the Cube both cheap and cheerful.

On the plus side: NO DLO FAIL, SON!  Love me some logically beginning glasswork with a distinct lack of plastic triangles.


Pretty clean cowl trim.  A leaf blower will make short work of any debris stuck in these nooks and crannies, probably. Yet, like many vehicles with more concealed wiper arms, the Cube’s goods are somewhat tucked away as to not attract attention.


Unlike the Juke, the Cube has a nice ratio of bumper-to-fender real estate.  The fender does creep into the logical place for the A-pillar: that cutline should be at the base of the windshield, not several inches above.  Too bad about that.

Then again, those 4 spoke wheels are ugly as sin: static and counter-intuitive to the mission of a round element. My design school teachers insisted that 4 spoke wheels are the work of the Devil, and I agree.  Then again, they do take away from the odd A-pillar cut line.


The Cube’s biggest problems are presented here: the wavy door cutline (inappropriately showing a body contour) and a distinctly, overtly round, totally “not cube” B-pillar.


Actually the combo of round elements here (recessed into the sheet metal, much like portholes on a cruise ship) is quite beautiful.The cutline between the doors is super Cube-y rigid.  The window’s DLOs (plural) are round and quite entertaining next to the rest of the package. It’s a delicate balance, balanced.

The problems are elsewhere: and they have an adverse relationship to the B-pillar presented here.  The asymmetric C-pillars (different between Driver’s and Passenger’s side) detract from the quirky anti-Cube design.  You will see it as we progress around the Cube…and I’ll try to make it super memorable for you.


The rounded C-pillar stamping is cute if there wasn’t a gigantic DLO FAIL embodied in a plastic trim…with shockwave ripples casted into the fail.

Of course, this argument hinges on one’s approval of the Cube’s appalling boxy, top-heavy, overtly JDM space-efficient car styling.


I’ll admit that the plastic trim’s ripple effect negates the foolishness of this DLO FAIL, but it’s certainly not enough.  This is horribly ugly.  No doubt, this needs to be a quarter window instead.  Raise the base price by $50 and make it happen, Son.

Or $100. Or whatever: easy credit is flowing like cheap wine once more, just fix it. We can afford it!

So step back and look at the thing: not bad!  The wavy door cut line below the equator is only somewhat upsetting. The big DLO FAIL on the C-pillar is well, still pretty horrible.  But the stylish “I” design present in the B-pillar personifies all that’s right with the Cube: static yet quite dynamic.

And I’m lucky to have both 4-spoke wheels stopped in the same position: they look even more static when double teaming the Cube’s body.


There’s something very right about a vehicle with zero rear overhang.  Maximum space efficiency, just a little bend and stretch at the bottom for a crashworthy(?) bumper. This is a seriously cool piece of shit kit.


Turning the corner, confusion.  The elongated panel between the bumper and the tailgate looks like an afterthought.  While I didn’t have the keys to open and inspect the Cube’s door mechanism, it’s a safe bet there’s some hinge that demands a unique panel.  On a car this cheap, it’s only a mild bummer.


I like how the rear glass emulates the B-pillar’s rounded and recessed glass treatment.  It looks expensive, compared to what you normally see here. (See Scion xB).


The CHMSL gets the job done without overselling, over styling.  Nice. Too bad the rear wiper washer jet pokes out rather cheaply.


I took these pictures last July, so I forgot if this Cube has a backup camera: but this tacked-on thing looks like a backup camera. (Go ahead and Google it, show me up, etc.) On a vehicle this cheap, this is acceptable.  Like Cindy Crawford’s birthmark, it’s just a cute little bump on a cute little curve of sheet metal.

Well maybe not Cindy Crawford cute, but you catch my drift.


I like how this reflector is tucked inside the bumper cover.  It makes a unique plane within the body.  A simple, cheap and often overlooked way to add some texture on an otherwise boring and massive sheet of painted material.


Alright no more teasing: the back-end is head-scratchingly fantastic.  There’s the trim bumper with an elegant, full-width tail light treatment.  Go further up and it’s a tall JDM van-let, except with a flaw: the asymmetrical rear glass treatment.

Honestly, after months of deliberation, I don’t know if this is brilliant or idiotic.  Probably both, since I can’t take my eyes off of it. This isn’t eye-watering like a Pontiac Aztek, it’s just…profoundly interesting.


Something about the full width tail lights makes this design more cohesive and expensive: it makes up for the normally horrid feelings most of us feel about asymmetric design. It’s like Lyle Lovett and Julia Robert’s child, on wheels.


Except the Cube is kinda cute…not this.


More good design: the rear door seamlessly blends into the bumper and quarter panel.  Very trick, and a good use of minimal cut lines to carry out a particular need. Add that unique plane for the reflector light and you have something exciting, and not offensive.


And if the driver’s side of the Cube was the Lyle Lovett, the passenger side is Julia Roberts. RAWR!

Note how the C-pillar is completely encased in glass. And glass equals class.  It makes me wish the other side was this impressive.  Totally worth the extra cost, no matter what it is! (i.e., this isn’t a loss leader Versa, go ahead and ask a little more for being unique.)

Also note how the 4-spoke wheels continue to fight every damn element on the body.


While I’ve mentioned the Cube’s nice use of hard edges and soft forms, the square gas cap needs a good rounding out.  This would help accentuate the “Julia Roberts” C-pillar and it will also match the round negative area behind the door handle.  Shame.


Maybe this DLO (odd fitting black paint between two sheets of glass) isn’t as pretty as Julia Roberts, but this ain’t no Lyle Lovett.  I like how the DLO’s hard edge (Left) and round edge (Right) play with the straight-then-curve demeanor of the rear door’s cutline.  This is just car design cool.


Yes, car design cool.  Offensive? You betcha!  But, aside from the wavy door cutline (just like the driver’s side) that smears reflections (note the Versa’s wheel cover) from an unfortunate curvature, the Nissan Cube is a well-integrated design with moderate attention to detail.

At least on the Julia Roberts side. The Lyle Lovett side?  Not as much.

Thank you for reading, I hope you have a lovely week.


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 16_1 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 Rounder than expected. (photo courtesy: Sajeev Mehta) (photo courtesy: Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail

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Vellum Venom: 2012 Nissan Juke Mon, 11 Mar 2013 07:12:00 +0000 I was in a bad place about a year ago: fighting problems that resurfaced 10+ years of (secret) regret that my life at the College for Creative Studies shoulda ended differently.  But then a few silver linings showed up, motivating me to write the first installment of this series.  While I still am in (occasionally) […]

The post Vellum Venom: 2012 Nissan Juke appeared first on The Truth About Cars.

I was in a bad place about a year ago: fighting problems that resurfaced 10+ years of (secret) regret that my life at the College for Creative Studies shoulda ended differently.  But then a few silver linings showed up, motivating me to write the first installment of this series.  While I still am in (occasionally) bad places a year later, designs like the Nissan Juke keep me motivated, excited.

So, to celebrate this series’ First Anniversary: THANK YOU for letting me share my Venom. And know how much I appreciate it when you click that link:

The Nissan Juke is one of those concepts-come-to-life that did the original proud.  If the concept’s truly bizarre styling offended you, well, that’s understandable.  But remember it’s still a well sorted piece of Transportation Design kit.  The six eyes (on the hood, in the bumper, in the lower plastic valence) do offend me…in a good way.

Even though I hate the lighting pods, the multiple grille textures, and the emblem’s “U” chrome surround…I can’t help but admire it. The Juke is just so fantastically well executed.


But still, I could do without the oval grilles on the side.  The Juke is more logical and cohesive with the same “slats” of the grille’s center portion.  Plus, the oval grille casting looks cheaper than the vents in the center.


Much like the curiously placed headlights of the Rolls-Royce Phantom, the Juke uses what would make a fantastic Rally Car fog light for a head light.  Unlike the Roller, the headlight is made to dominate the bumper and grille.  It’s vulgar and beautiful at the same time.

If only the grille had the same texture: the strong linear elements of a “non-ovoid” grill would let you enjoy both the grille and the headlight far easier, with less distraction.


The swept back, lumpy and bumpy signal/marker light?  Pretty insect-like hideous, though I suspect (much like the LEAF) its shape is dictated by the wind tunnel for less wind noise around the A-pillar.  I’d prefer if this lamp assembly was flush-mounted above the grille, matching the linear tone of the center portion of the grille.  Then the Juke would look like a tall (yet right sized) Chevy Camaro. Distraction: gone!

But again, I hate yet wholly admire this element at the same time.  Argh, nothing is ever easy!


Present in the original concept, these round forms made production.  They work, unlike the ovals that dominate the grille.  And looky here: those be the real fog lights, too!


Perhaps if these were the only set of “eyes” on the front end, but since there’s another set of headlights and foglights…no. Too polarizing.

Except polarizing is often a good thing.  Especially when it comes to the Juke.


The windshield/cowl/wiper trim is very well executed: clean and elegantly tucked under the painted hood.  That’s the perk of a vehicle with a retro-sized windscreen, I suppose.


What did I say about a retro-sized windscreen?  Apparently the people who made the roof expected it to go up further: the glass’ natural end point is where the A-pillar turns into a flat roof,  instead we get a “bendy” roof.  Which is truly odd.


Speaking of, the bumper-to-fender crease isn’t especially logical. This is an unfortunate by-product of making a radical concept car come to life, cost effectively.  My suggestion?

Perhaps if that crease started at the trailing edge of the grille instead of some random point at the light.  The hood-to-fender has a similar problem: it should start from the top of the light assembly and end at the base of the A-pillar.

Why did Nissan make the least flowing, smallest possible fender?  Cost effectiveness, insurance repair concerns…or both. Sad.


If the fender was allowed more real estate on this form, the Juke would be a far prettier vehicle.  Or perhaps it’s just best in a panel-hiding black.  No matter, look at those fender haunches, front and rear!  What a quirky and fun design!

(That you must love even if you hate it.)


Note the lack of a black plastic triangle aimed to lengthen the greenhouse (DLO FAIL) on the Juke.  This rig is happy being in the dimensions bestowed upon it.  But while the fender was shrunken elsewhere, it creeps up the A-pillar?  I’d prefer if that fender-to-A pillar seam began at the base of the DLO…


The window weatherstrip smeared over the B-pillar is impossible not to fiddle with.  Good thing I didn’t have an X-ACTO knife handy.


Short wheelbase.  Impossibly short overhangs at each corner. Tall roof that immediately sweeps down. Oversized wheel flares.  Volvo like hatchback design. This rig is just plain cool, even if you’d never buy it. Or would you?

That “slopey” roof just does it for me.  What a fantastic design element!!!


I’ve enjoyed door handles blended into a vehicle’s greenhouse ever since the introduction of the GM-10 Coupes, even if they are magnets for scratches in a super visible place.  Combined with the little black plastic triangle of DLO FAIL in the C-pillar, perhaps it doesn’t work here.  I’d suggest eliminating the DLO fail and making the rear door end in a voluptuous curve instead.  There’s no need for a curvy triangle of FAIL if the door was rounded from the git-go.

While it’s always important to have a blend of hard bends and soft contours, the mix here is off.  Round off the door to match the “thrusting arch” of the wheel wells, eliminate the DLO FAIL and call it a day.


Can you imagine this body if the rear door ended with something as round as these fender haunches?


Here’s a close up of the DLO FAIL so you can imagine a rounded rear door that could eliminate this.


The rounded curves (and inward bending of the body) adds a bit of needed surface tension to the Juke’s very tall profile.  Note the wave in the cutline between the doors.  If that “wave” wasn’t there, this would be a boring panel.


Speaking of waves, the tail lights are a fantastic piece of kinetic lighting art.  Maybe the rear door’s redesigned curve should be just as radical as the lights.  Oh, and replace the dumpy square gas filler door with something as round as the back up lights, please? The natural curve of the tailgate and fender haunches demands something less static.

I wonder if it’s the same filler door as the Nissan Cube. Hmm…


Is this a Volvo or a Nissan?  No matter, this huge slice of non-functional red lense does something I thought I’d never say: be an important design element that looks better than if the same real estate was painted body color.


To my earlier point about having a blend of hard bends and soft contours, the Juke’s rear lights embody that belief.  There’s so much surface tension presented here!  And the way it naturally flows into the rear haunches?  Close to perfect for such a small vehicle.


Note the odd lump at the top of the roof, where it meets with the hatchback.  Considering the downward sloping roof and rather tiny rear dimensions, I suspect these “external” hinge covers are necessary.  It’s much like the bubbly roof on a Dodge Viper GTS, except the Juke didn’t make it into a noteworthy highlight.  If only it had more “oval” like qualities, like the front lower bumper valance, perhaps.


While I usually like clean and minimalist rear window wiper arms, the Juke demands something more garish and over-styled.  Too bad about that.


Tacky rear mud flaps are tacky.  Boo for the lack of integration.


The gray Juke was backed up against a brick wall, so its white neighbor will do.  While very Volvo-like, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  Note how the lighting pods add excitement to the body, while complimenting the curves and cutlines: the hatchback cutline doesn’t look out of place…even if it sorta is. I’m even digging the oversized license plate mustache with the Nissan logo.  While the mustache has been done to the point of death elsewhere, it looks good on the Juke.

If only the front end’s lighting pods were as logical as the rear. Then again, the Nissan Juke is impossible to miss, and easy to appreciate. While it may never grace your parking space, it deserves your respect.

The Juke is a nice piece of Vellum, that made production without much Venom. Thank you for reading, I hope you have a wonderful week.

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Vellum Venom: 2003 Volkswagen Jetta (MK IV) Mon, 21 Jan 2013 13:54:50 +0000 Did you see an instant classic at last week’s Detroit Auto Show?  Maybe that new Stingray. And hearing that the first C7 Vette was on the auction block to support the College for Creative Studies made me a little proud of my former school, too.  But, aside from the always nerve-racking bus ride between CCS […]

The post Vellum Venom: 2003 Volkswagen Jetta (MK IV) appeared first on The Truth About Cars.


Did you see an instant classic at last week’s Detroit Auto Show?  Maybe that new Stingray. And hearing that the first C7 Vette was on the auction block to support the College for Creative Studies made me a little proud of my former school, too.  But, aside from the always nerve-racking bus ride between CCS and Cobo Hall, my “instant classic” moment from the (1999) NAIAS was the introduction of the MK IV Jetta.  All of a sudden I couldn’t keep my eyes off of Jettas, especially a silver one in the lower hall of Cobo. And time hasn’t changed my opinion…aside from making it more extreme.


14 years later, the MK IV Jetta is still the best looking of the breed.  I sampled this from our old friend Captain Mike Solo, who apparently has a thing for VAG products.   Driving this Jetta around made me feel far superior to the current (MK VI) Jetta, and like a God among Men compared to the MK V. Just park one of these next to one of those.

How many cut lines do you see?  Not many. Because so many cut lines originate from the headlights and most are parallel to the strong grille lines, there might as well be none.  Well, at least compared to so many busy designs from the past 20 years.


The MK IV Jetta has a certain “1970s-80s clean wedge” theme about it…without being a boring wedge. Utilizing “modern” plastic casting technology for the bumpers and headlights, there is the ability to add a flair of curves and circles not seen back then.  But real subtle, never showy. This is perhaps the best of both worlds: a specific design aesthetic adapted to make a new look for a new era.


Note how the base of the headlight sweeps upward, complementing the shape of the bumper, forming the beginning of the fenders and the end of the hood’s horizontal cut line.  The “J” theme presented here is certainly the most distinctive element of the MK IV Jetta.  And damn, it’s so frickin’ beautiful.


Transposed “J” theme.  The body color grille doesn’t take away from the theme, and the power bulge in the hood is a natural extension: filling out the “shelf” of the bumper in the center. There’s another important design concept presented here: surface tension.  Never flabby or overwrought, the Jetta has acres of surface tension in its mid-sized body.


I like round headlight themes confined to square-ish headlights.  It adds excitement, without making a front end look like some sort of goofy creature with roundish, amoeba-ish eyes.  If it had the MK V’s cool VW logo in the headlight’s reflector cap, it would make the MK V Corolla Jetta a wholly extraneous design in the history of the Jetta.  Well, maybe not.


I never liked the emblem butting into the hood’s cut line.  I always wanted it straight up there, doing that with the bumper instead.  This looks like a wart, while my suggestion would be cute and cheeky.  But VW certainly doesn’t agree: this theme continued into the next two generations.  Oh well, can’t win ’em all. Or any of them.


What do you think of the hood’s little circle of discontent? But the grille slats are very Mercedes SL like. Which is cool.


The strong parallel lines are most obvious down below. But even more surprising, the grilles look surprisingly multi-layered and expensive.  Not like the cheapy one piece units found on many cheap sedans…or the fog light assembly of the Cadillac CTS-V coupe.



The clean lines continue all the way to the front wheel. I like how the flat black lower trim visually thins the bumper.


The clean, parallel rub strip incorporates a marker light that bends and ends as a perfect compliment to the rub strip. Clean.


The “J” theme looks fantastic as you walk around the fender.  While Saturn already did this with the 1996 SL, the bumper’s cut line and gap size makes this a far nicer implementation.  And Ford aped this with their 2005 Focus…and failed.  The Jetta’s tight panel gaps and bullet like shaping trumps ’em both.


Acres of surface tension on the hood. Note the warpage of the building’s reflection on the domed hood.  Combined with the neatly tucked away plastic cowl trim, this is such a beautifully modern and minimal design.


The base wheels are a snooze, especially how the plump spokes meet the rim.  The double-5 spoke 17″ wheels available from this era (on the VR6 model?) really added punch to the entire design.


The complex reflector design of the side marker light is hip and Euro: no wonder so many moderately aspirational people (i.e. Sorority Girls) flocked to the design.


This quirky mirror mount proves the Germans have a good sense of humor.  Not that I am laughing, I merely applaud a good zinger within a subtle statement.  Well done.


Functional and nicely tucked away door handles.  The negative area doesn’t try to impart a sense of style, it just does the job.  Which is beautiful in itself.


Wrap around door pillars need to make a comeback, even if they are harder to seal or assemble…or something.  With it, the fender, hood and A-pillar blend seamlessly (well, except for the two modest cut lines) into a green house with no non-functional plastic triangle of DLO FAIL. (daylight opening) Instead of the FAIL, there’s a cute little footprint for a sleek side view mirror. While the newest Jetta is by no means hideous from this angle, it isn’t this beautiful.

This car is a modern classic, people.  Stop and stare at one soon.


While this shot exaggerates the size of the greenhouse, there’s so much unfettered space here.  It’s delightful considering the submarine stance of most new sedans, even the latest Jetta.


Such a clean and strong B-pillar. The canted cut line looks both fast and solid at the same time.  And while newer Jettas try to hide this pillar with blackout trim, the MK IV makes it a significant styling statement.  It’s refreshing, because it doesn’t look cheap…even if it is.

Sometimes less is more…see???


The fixed rear window is necessary on the rear door, but VW wisely made the black trim hiding the runner (for the not-fixed window) as small as possible.  Apparently it needs to be a touch wider at the bottom.  Instead of fattening up the whole part, there’s a clever line added to keep your eyes on the slim and tall part, not the fatter part at the bottom.  It works, even though I have mixed feelings about that line…maybe the runner would look slender enough without it.


That’s a lot of glass.  And there’s no fake window/black plastic triangle giving the illusion that the Jetta is sleeker.  Instead, a big ass fixed window.  It looks fantastic.  Any day without the triangle of DLO FAIL is a good day.


I adore a rear door (get it?) that wraps up and over the area above the wheel arch.  It looks curvy, like the hip of a beautiful woman.  Problem is, it makes for a gigantic fixed window (or aforementioned DLO FAIL) as the moving window can’t roll down into the tire. And some people think this design makes it difficult to get in/out of a car.


I beg to differ.  While this vintage Jetta’s door is smaller than the “less sleek door” of the current model, one must remember to aim their head for the center of the interior, even if there’s a temptation to slide towards the back?  And the door makes for a good weapon, as it’s far “pointier” than a blocky door. Which isn’t a problem on the new model, but it’s also stodgy…and this is sleek.


This is just a gorgeous family sedan.  Perfect front-wheel drive proportioning and enough space for 5 non-American adults. Every line in its place, simple and pure.  Also note the low belt line where the glass and sheet metal meet.  This means that visibility is quite good in the Jetta…even with that tall and blocky butt.


Even the door molding is thin and sleek.  More parallel lines to boot.  Just a pretty design!


As mentioned two pictures ago, the green house is low and provides fantastic views of your world.  It’s in stark contrast to the short and fast rear window, which is commonplace in today’s vehicles.  This dichotomy is a blend of past and present.  It’s a fantastic transition, I believe it shows the evolution of passenger car design.  And, for the love of all that’s right with car design, it needs to come back to we can have our visibility again!


More clean cut lines around back, and there’s something unique about the tail light texture.  More on that later.


While everything is sleek and rakish elsewhere, the Jetta’s rear is tall and blocky.  Not a bad thing, if you actually use a sedan to carry people and their crap. There is still, like the front end, plenty of surface tension on this boxy butt: the crease above the license plate, the gentle curves of the bumper and the top of the trunk.  And, as always, the normal looking rub strip on the bumper is much appreciated.  Two things are still outstanding: the tail lights…and something else? Yup, the lack of a flashy tail pipe.  Who cares about pipes on a family sedan with such nice lines?  Much like the butt of the (C4) 1984 Corvette, the turn-down pipes make the exhaust essentially invisible to the casual observer, which is very cool for some designs.  Designs with C4 or MK IV Jetta levels of cleanliness deserve turn-down exhausts.


The extra trunk line (of surface tension) starts logically where the signal lights (within the entire lighting cluster) end.  There is plenty of tumblehome in the roofline, making the Jetta’s body look quite sleek for a small-ish sedan.

The MK IV’s trademark rooftop whip antenna is adorable and annoying at the same time.  Like Mr. T’s mohawk, this is an authoritative statement that also leaves the body sides uncluttered. According to the Wikipedia article on this car, there are aerodynamic advantages here too.  Which makes sense, even if I dropped out of Fluid Dynamics in college…to pursue a car design degree at CCS.  Oh boy, let’s move on to a new subject.


Okay, here’s the big thing about the taillights.  As Capt. Mike mentioned, VW went waaay out of their way to blend all the lighting elements into one form.  The yellow signal lights?  They are striped with red bands. The back up lights?  Tinted a purple-ish color.  Added to this car’s red paint, and the lenses are essentially invisible.

Which is so damn cool.  And musta cost a pretty penny too.  Too bad these tail lights didn’t make it to term with the rest of the MK IV Jetta: the clear bits added to the later lenses are likely a cost-cutting measure masked as a “product redesign.”  Or maybe I’m too much of a cynic.  Whatever.


Another cool detail: dat trunk lock cylinder.  Not resorting to an expensive sliding cover, the MK IV Jetta simply slides the lock within a perfectly sized Vee-Dub logo with black paint in the negative areas.  Damn son…THAT IS SHARP.



While not the MK IV Jetta’s finishing touch, the gas cap is a good ending to this article.  It has a logical location and remains relatively flat (not smeared on a fender flare) and purely functional.  Good design never dies, it only gets better.

The sad reality is these Jettas are far from good cars as they age: expensive and difficult to repair when fully depreciated. And now I see far too many of them in the junkyard.  Which saddens me, much like my shattered dreams as a CCS student dreaming of his career at the NAIAS many moons ago.  But that’s life, and that’s Vellum Venom.

Thank you for reading, I hope you have a wonderful week.

The post Vellum Venom: 2003 Volkswagen Jetta (MK IV) appeared first on The Truth About Cars.

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Vellum Venom: Ferrari 275 GTB Tue, 25 Dec 2012 09:00:58 +0000 I apologize for torturing you, dear reader, with over-analysis of absolutely mundane machinery for far too long. I blame it on my style–or lack thereof–as a student at the College of Creative Studies.  So on Christmas Day, how about I let you in on another secret? No matter which bias (American, German, Japanese) got you […]

The post Vellum Venom: Ferrari 275 GTB appeared first on The Truth About Cars.

I apologize for torturing you, dear reader, with over-analysis of absolutely mundane machinery for far too long. I blame it on my style–or lack thereof–as a student at the College of Creative Studies.  So on Christmas Day, how about I let you in on another secret? No matter which bias (American, German, Japanese) got you into car design school, everyone loved Ferraris.  This predominantly male student body often equated a Ferrari’s universal gorgeousness with that of the female anatomy. Surprised?


Under the lenses of a design student born in the 1970s, a Ferrari of this vintage has no reference point or historical attraction.  Well, at least not a good one: I absolutely adore the 250 GTO after I purchased the 1:18th scale Bburago model when I was a child. Compared to the long, low and mean 250 GTO built solely for race homologation, the 275 GTB looks cute, soft and distinctly Miata like.

Is comparing the 275 GTB to the 250 GTO a fool’s errand?  Perhaps. 

It needs to lose a good 20 lbs in the face. The headlight buckets are too big for the lights themselves.  The fenders are fat with no toned muscles underneath. Worst of all, the transition from front fascia, hood, hood bulge, and fenders lack definition stemming from toned, muscular stampings.  What you see here is just plain fat.


No flab and lack of definition here.  The egg crate grille that’s a Ferrari hallmark looks mighty tasty from here.  Nicely sunken in with a deep chrome lip around it.  The craftsmanship is stunning in person. Plus, exposed mechanical bits are cool.  I’m digging the easy-access radiator cap, but I trying it is probably a bad idea at a Fezza dealership.


The 275’s overt roundness isn’t so obvious when you focus on the middle, without the headlights and the fenders.  But even here, compared to the 250, the hood has round cut lines that accentuate the chubbiness.  With so many round lines, the square hood mohawk in the center has no complimentary forms to blend with.  This one bit of toned muscle needs some “friends” on the rest of the 275’s face.


While there’s too much round elsewhere, the very bulbous windscreen is a work of art.  Visibility must be pretty fantastic inside there.


See how the toned and “muscular” roundness of the headlight itself makes no sense in the fat, amorphic blob of its oval case?  Yes, things like this keep me awake at night.


Well it looks better from this angle.  But still, if the middle of this oval was sucked in a touch like duckface on some chick’s profile pic on twitter, the Ferrari would look much longer, lower and sexier.  Not that duckface is sexy…


And yes, the 275 GTB has a lot of length to promote.  Why not suck the lense in to highlight this car’s fantastic proportions?  This isn’t a CUV that needs to mask all its heft with eye-catching headlight amoebas!

I once said “a Ferrari is whatever the hell Pininfarina says it is” in my Testarossa review…now watch me back pedal.


Perhaps not everything is fat and/or chubby on the 275.  The thin, delicate space between the headlight and chrome wisp of bumper is very elegant.  And taut.  Muscular, with the frenched-in signal light.  How lovely!


The fender starts to look a little plump here, but that teardrop-shaped turn signal is absolutely fantastic.  Considering this is the perfect aerodynamic shape found in nature, why don’t we have more side marker lights looking like this? The imagery, complete with that delicate chrome foundation, is fantastic.


The 275’s round and chunky face translates into a rather tall and blocky side profile.  Is it possible to have too much dash-to-axle ratio (i.e. that space between the front wheel and the A-pillar) when the fender tops are so high off the ground? Compounding the problem is that insanely laid back, thin and fast A-pillar. The roof doesn’t match the fender’s proportions.


I suspect that mere millimeters separate the heights/curves of the 275 to the 250 GTO (and the Jaguar E-Type) it only takes a few subtle changes in dimensions to turn a sexy sports car into a chubby wannabe.  The 275 is unquestionably cute, and certainly an excellent Ferrari. But I still long for more…perhaps Chris Bangle needs to flame surface this to add some excitement and thin down the bulk?

On the plus side, peep that massive stretch between the beginning of the door and the beginning of the A-pillar. It’s grotesquely unnecessary, and I like that.  If only the glass to body ratio was a little better: the door is super tall, round and massive: not a proto-Chrysler 300 by any stretch, but it’s too much red paint and not enough glass.


To my point about paint vs. glass, imagine how sexy the 275 could be if the red paint below was 1-2″ shorter in height? Course, that would probably be the Ferrari 250 LM.  So that’s already been done. And this isn’t exactly a race car, even if it’s trying to look like one.


Look at those massive sidewalls! How I long for the day when we can have a little more rubber…not this much, but you see my point.

This 275 didn’t come with the wire wheels, which is a bit of a shame.  I’ll assume these rims are a lightweight alloy casting far superior to the wires, but they look like the dumpy steelies on a 1980’s econobox.  Do you think these wheels aged well over time?


The Ferrari hub is certainly cool, even if it looks out-of-place on a wheel you’d expect on a Hyundai Excel. I admit this critique is unfair to the era of this vehicle’s engineering, but hey, history can be cruel. And people write on blogs for a reason…probably.



There’s something universally perfect about this A-pillar shot here.  It could be an older Ferrari, or an early Porsche 911…or maybe a the beginnings of the Ford Mustang?  Read on…


Oh yes!  The other side of the door shows a bit of why the 1965 Ford Mustang fastback is such a hot commodity: Ferrari’s classic styling makes for the Perfect Pony Car.  Not to take away from the beauty pictured above, just adding a little context into why this is beautiful.  And why you like it.



Because, without a doubt, this is a gorgeous greenhouse.  The tumblehome, the inward taper of the glass as it nears the “B” pillar, the body’s “hip” below the B-pillar, the scoops, and the eyebrow of the rain gutter is timeless, priceless.


Maybe the rain gutter is a bit too angular and ends rather abruptly.  It should follow the edge of the glass like that Fastback Mustang.


Yup, this is the real reason “we” love Fastback Mustangs. See how the round curves below logically extend into a taut, fit B-pillar that’s so faaaaast?  And just to keep the pillar from being flat and dull, there are three vent cut outs to add some excitement.  Is the excitement necessary?  Perhaps its a bit much.



Round curves and taut straight lines in perfect harmony.  If only the front fenders, hood and fascia had this magic blend of perfection.  As a bonus, the 275 looks much shorter/sleeker from this angle!


Oh yeah! Flat and muscular merges with fat (PHAT?) and curvy so perfectly.  The rear wheel arches just add to the sexiness as the B-pillar extends waaaay back here.


I love the sleek, pure yet functional design of these trunk hinges.


Oh wow, it even has a rear window defogger!


The trunk sports a logical cut line, ending at the base of the dovetail spoiler. The thin, body-hugging chrome bumper looks more than integral with the design: it looks necessary.  Add the period correct tailpipes and the 275 looks mighty smart from this angle.


Doesn’t the bright work say it all?  The nicely chiseled butt, slick spoiler (eat your heart out, 1970s Camaro) and unadorned rear sheet metal is pure Italian design goodness.


Is this too boring?  Maybe more tail lights would help, but then it’d look more like a Corvette.  Add a license plate and call it done: this is a pretty posterior.


The reflector pattern in the stop/signal lights is pretty 1960s groovy.  Compare that to the loony CGI inspired designs of modern lights and we see how design changes with technology over time.


And the license plate lights are a neat bit of kit.  They look far better on the bumper than as warts on the rear end.


Too bad this isn’t a one piece bumper!  But if you have to go multiple parts, the fit and finish of the 275’s bumper is very well executed.


But why fall in love with the 275 GTB when you can gawk at her hotter, more mature sister called 250 GTO? Okay, I know this is unfair to the 275 for several reasons, but just look at this beast!

Thanks for reading, have a very Merry Christmas.


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Vellum Venom: 2012 Lincoln MKX Mon, 10 Dec 2012 15:27:39 +0000 One thing that really burned me about design school: when a student applied their talent outside of their comfort zone, subsequently ruining a famous bodystyle, make or model.  Hey, I’m guilty of it too. VERY guilty. But a foolish, ignorant student at the College for Creative Studies is one thing, getting paid by the manufacturer […]

The post Vellum Venom: 2012 Lincoln MKX appeared first on The Truth About Cars.

One thing that really burned me about design school: when a student applied their talent outside of their comfort zone, subsequently ruining a famous bodystyle, make or model.  Hey, I’m guilty of it too. VERY guilty. But a foolish, ignorant student at the College for Creative Studies is one thing, getting paid by the manufacturer of said brand is a whole ‘nother.  And while the original, JFK-Continental infused, Lincoln MKX wasn’t far removed from the Ford Edge from whence it came, the redesign takes what was once a solid reinterpretation of the Lincoln brand and well…completely screwed it up.

Again…ever since the Mitsubishi Diamante face of the Lincoln LS, that is.  Let’s get this over with.

Like most all new Lincolns, the MKX has way too much width in the grille and not enough in the painted bumper and/or the lighting pods. While the strong center Mohawk hood crease, slender headlights and cohesive chrome valence (lower bumper treatment) look clean and logical enough, the face isn’t friendly to the CUV’s gigantic real estate.  The original Aviator/MKX design looked JFK-sleek and off-road friendly at the same time: it was pudgy like a proper CUV (so to speak) and had enough brand recognition bling to make it work.

BTW: if you’re upset that I kept dealership’s advertising present, don’t worry: Southwest Lincoln (Mercury) closed this year after being in business since 1966.  Owned by the same person that owned the Houston Oilers, “SWLM” was a fixture in Southwest Houston.  But it, much like the Lincoln brand AND the Houston Oilers, was left for scrap.  At least the Houston Texans don’t suck this season. But I digress.


Another reason why big grilles are a bad, bad idea: they cannot be functional.  When 30+% of the krill-filtering teeth don’t even feed this whale, the designers at Lincoln completely screwed up. This looks Tupperware Pontiac Grand Prix cheap. I wonder how the new MKZ will fare from this angle.


Which is a shame, because the intersection of so many fast lines looks absolutely fantastic up close.  If only this was on something Lincoln Town Car sized, especially in the height department.


Too bad I knelt to look at that valence.  The chrome is fine, but the oversized black trimming around the fog light is a poor (literally) way to integrate a round element into the chrome rhombus-thingie.  And there’s ANOTHER solid plastic grille…why? Attention to detail: not present.


Then again…imagine this pointy profile on a Mustang chassis!  Oh my, I’m feelin’ a little faint!


Another problem with the MKX’s redesign: round fenders on a blocky body, complete with a round crease above the wheel that has to meet up with the original’s hard and straight line from the door and back to the end of the body.  Much like a child hammering a round peg in a square hole, the designers are trying to take Lincoln’s latest design direction on the angular wedge that is the Ford Edge.  It isn’t called an “Edge” for no reason, Son!


Here’s a close up of the round element trying to seamlessly blend into the straight line crease of the Ford Edge.  It’s hideously flabby in its undefined and timid execution, looking like a mistake from this angle. But this is no mistake. Neither is the MKX’s fake fender vent appliqué in the shape of the Continental Star.  And there’s a wonderful black plastic triangle of DLO FAIL with chrome trimming up top, but more on that in the next photo.


The fender extends into logical places for both the door and the A-pillar. And because it does, there’s that black plastic DLO FAIL triangle, trying its best to make the MKX appear sleeker/longer/faster than it is…or ever could be.  I doubt the MKX was ever a credible sales threat to the Lexus RX, and here’s one reason why: the RX is so much prettier with more glass and none of the DLO FAIL.


At least this side marker light in the mirror housing looks pretty trick.  I wonder if they’d fit on a Lincoln Town Car, I’m sure they’d love to “escape” the MKX (get it?) for a proper Lincoln.


Lincoln’s signature keyless entry pad is a slapped on afterthought-like on the MKX, since this is an older design that was heavily based on the Ford Edge.  While this was acceptable in the 1980s with the fox body Lincoln Mark VII, it’s still a shame: the fox body Lincoln Continental had the keypad mounted flush with the aluminum trim around the base of the window. So while we love to complain about Lincoln’s current problems, they’ve been battling this since at least the 1980s.  Too bad about that.


Well, at least the detailing on the panoramic roof is pretty cool.  I like this lip spoiler looking thing…the entire roof panel of the MKX looks pretty sleek.



We used to live on the Edge, until someone heated the MKX’s front fascia and lightly smashed it into a brick wall.  The front end’s ripple makes absolutely no sense with the other 3/4’s of the MKX’s body.  This CUV is another tragic victim of Lincoln’s inability to stick with a design theme.  Or make a cohesive theme.  Or perhaps both.


But the wheels (photographed on another MKX on the lot) are pretty tasty.  Lincoln’s had a bad habit of writing “LINCOLN” in huge lettering around the hubcap, not present here.  I guess nobody’s gonna mistake this one for a Honda, so the letters got the boot.


Even worse, they ruined the original MKX’s taillight treatment too!  Sporting a proper full-width treatment that was impossible to mistake at night, the MKX used to be a catchy design.  With these two amoebas on the tailgate, all that brand equity was flushed down the toilet.  For what reason? The MKT has the same goofy nose with a somewhat sane full-width taillight…why on earth can’t the MKX have the same thing, too?


The new reflector treatment is certainly catchier than the last one.  If only the outgoing model’s dimensionally correct tail light had these inside instead. It would be a logical and proper upgrade for the Lincoln brand.  It would signify the product renaissance Ford says is right around the corner.  Instead, they blanded up the rear end, generic to death.  But at least the chrome inside them is sweet!


Nice afterthought backup camera. Instead of integrating/hiding this in some other element like so many other luxury vehicles, Lincoln seemingly had no choice but to make a new plastic part, slap a logo and a camera in it. I think a camera integrated into the FULL WIDTH TAIL LIGHT of the original MKX would be pretty nice.


How is this a Lincoln?  More chrome than the outgoing MKX? This new tailgate is, without question, a huge step backward for the brand.


Where did it all go wrong?  While I love my Mark VIII, it’s far from a perfect design, and didn’t sell terribly well.  Could Lincoln’s fear of getting stagnant be the reason why we are in our current MK-Hell? I doubt it.  While the personal luxury coupe market dried up in the 1990s, I still get compliments on what a “Great New Lincoln that must be to own!” For real. In my dentist’s parking lot last year, to be precise.

Wanna know the funny part? Comments like that turn my car into a Halo Vehicle in consideration of new Lincoln vehicles in this town.  A Dodge Viper with a fake spare tire hump. Believe that.

And why the hell not? From that long, sleek nose to the short and low rear deck with integral Continental kit, the Mark VIII paid homage to Edsel Ford’s original Continental coupe while still looking like a new car. Is there a lesson to be learned here?

Thanks for reading, you have a fantastic week!

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Vellum Venom: 2012 Honda Civic (Hybrid) Fri, 30 Nov 2012 19:19:12 +0000 Sometimes promises are kept in the car design biz: the 2013 Civic sounds like a big step up from this 2012 model. Which was a big step down from the ’70s concept car chic of the 8th generation Civic. Aside from Wayne Cherry’s professional nightmare, how often does a manufacturer make such significant changes after […]

The post Vellum Venom: 2012 Honda Civic (Hybrid) appeared first on The Truth About Cars.

Sometimes promises are kept in the car design biz: the 2013 Civic sounds like a big step up from this 2012 model. Which was a big step down from the ’70s concept car chic of the 8th generation Civic. Aside from Wayne Cherry’s professional nightmare, how often does a manufacturer make such significant changes after one year of production?  This model insulted more than one autojourno and countless fanbois, apparently Honda doesn’t mess around when reputation and $$$ are on the line.  But just how bad was it in 2012? What in the hell is that?

The 8th generation Civic’s bumpers had a flat and clean, 1970s People Mover vibe to it. Radical yes, but not offensive. The 9th Gen’s redesign added lumps and bumps to the bumper, with the aesthetic pleasure of a pear-shaped silhouette. Adding insult to injury, all the folds and unique planes on the bumper’s face. This nose doesn’t work on a body this tall and, um, People Mover like.


The pear shape isn’t obvious from this angle.  Aside from the blocky-cheapness of the grille (even in fancy Hybrid trim), the Civic looks okay from here.  A perfectly flat nose (without the high point for the license plate) woulda been nicer, however.


This is a good time to mention that I gladly put my fingers in strange holes for TTAC’s readership. And, that solid casting behind the logo looks even cheaper in real life.  Shouldn’t Hybrids have a flat, solid badge for better aerodynamics?


This blue strip of Hybrid Snobbery is kinda cool.  First green was marketed for unique Hybrid markings, now blue. Which any luck, we will see more brown hues taking over in the Eco-Friendly color challenge.  After all, isn’t the earth mostly made of brown stuff?  There’s just a lot of green and blue on top of the chocolatey goodness!


While I’m all for unique trimmings on unique models, this blue lightbulb umbrella is a bit much.  Anodized(?) blue on a cheap metal stamping doesn’t look better, it accentuates something that’s better left in chrome camouflage. The only thing worse would be my brown remark from above, translated here.


If there was no fender flare, no pear shape to the bumper, this would be a decent enough looking machine. Then again, the 8th Gen Civic already had that covered. Much like the awful Chevy Uplander (CUV-wannabe) to the mediocre Chevy Venture (Minivan) that came before it, sometimes change is a very bad, very half-assed thing indeed.


On the plus side, the plane of the bumper that flows into the headlight is pretty cool from here.  And the bumper to fender seam is logical. There’s a bit of the 1970s wedgy perfection here.  Just not enough of it.


The 9th Gen Hybrid wheels are as contrived and overwrought as the front end.  The 8th Gen’s totally futuristic wheels were so much better.


Contrary to most cab-forward designs, the Civic’s plastic trim on the cowl is quite minimal and clean.  It’s nice to see more painted hood and less black plastic in this manner.


Too bad about this slab of plastic.  The Daylight Opening (DLO) of the 9th Gen is so, so much worse than the 8th Gen.  What used to be a cool ’70s people mover with those sleek bits of glass in front of the door turned into plastic triangles of DLO FAIL.  It’s very sad to see Honda go to Pontiac Aztek levels of cheapness in their quest to…well, I have no idea what they were thinking.

That’s right, they were thinking about the $$$.  And since the 2013 model still has the plastic triangles of DLO FAIL, we see that it’s still all about the money. Ain’t a damn thing funny!


DLO FAIL from another angle, complete with round-ish mirrors that fight the very wedgy greenhouse.  Remember when Honda spent the money to put covered headlights on the 3rd Generation Accord?  Oh, how the mighty have fallen.  Hyundai and Kia: the ball is in your court.


And yet, just like my review back in 2007, I still hear Jazz-Rock Fusion when I see a Civic.  The 70’s never died, it just went mainstream pop. The watered down wheel design, big hunka DLO FAIL, unnecessary muscular crease by the door handles and generic taillights don’t totally negate the wedge greenhouse. Probably.


Ack: bargain basement Hofmeister Kinkery!!! Try saying that three times fast!

Another reason to love the 8th Gen Civic.  While this isn’t DLO FAIL like the front, this cheap bit of (tacked on, not-flush fitting) trim at the end of the DLO means Honda took a page from GM’s beancounting playbook.  A very sad move indeed, son.

Since I am not one of those autojournos that gets all-expense paid trips to the LA Auto Show (sorry about that), I don’t know if the 2013 Civic improved here.  From what I see on the web, I have my doubts. Too bad about that.


Is this one piece plastic casting of parcel shelf and high-mount stop light (CHMSL) a clean and modern design, or a cheap bit from the dark days of GM and Chrysler interiors? I like carpet better, personally.


Most (all?) Civics in the history of Honda Awesomeness sported taillights that were either full width or something close to it. This cheapness is too Toyota like, and shameful.  Luckily the 2013 model goes back to a lamp arrangement befitting the brand and the Civic lineage. Now if only I knew for sure that bumper shelf below the taillights also met the chopping block for ’13.

At least you can’t see the DLO FAIL from this angle.



The strong shoulder line in this panel extends logically into the rear door.  It looks good enough, but the flat and wedgy profile of the 8th Gen was far more appealing from this angle. Mostly because it didn’t over promise on style, in an overwrought Toyota way. Hondas used to be so lithe and clean!


Thank goodness that mustache above the license plate isn’t chrome, as Honda would be just a fender ventiport away from copying every design cliché in the book! And that “shelf” at each corner really needs to go from this angle.  The pear-shaped Civic must never been seen again!


While there is an interesting dynamic of busy angles at the border of the Civic’s body, it is lumpy and frumpy.  This design will not age well.


Dare I say that, compared to what you see here, the 8th Gen Civic was downright gorgeous from this angle? While all the planes and wedges all lead to complimentary vanishing points somewhere out there in interstellar space (hopefully), there are simply far too many of them.


More blue tinting and pointless chrome bits. The lights would look better if they were flush to the body. It would also eliminate many lumps you’ve seen in the last two pictures.


And the spoiler adds a coupla more unique planes into the mix.  Just waaaay too busy.


Too many clichés, too much abandonment of what made the Civic a quality product with progressive and/or upscale design. The best thing you can say about the 2012 Civic is that the 2013 model should be in the showrooms very shortly.

Thanks for reading, you have a lovely weekend! This photo from 2006 will help.

1 1_1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 13 13_2 13_3 14 14_1 15 16 16_1 17 18 19 I DO NOT KNOW WHAT TO SAY HERE! (photo courtesy: Sajeev Mehta) WOW. 2006 Civic Hyrid. (Photo Courtesy: Honda Motor) Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail


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Vellum Venom: 1986 Audi 4000 CS Quattro Thu, 22 Nov 2012 05:05:17 +0000 Some designs are perfect in their initial run, others need a mid-cycle rethink to make ’em sing. The 4000 is the latter: cost effectively ushering a new era of modern and luxurious Industrial Design for Audi.  I loved the styling, but a classmate at CCS showed me the light: he was an SCCA racer with […]

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Some designs are perfect in their initial run, others need a mid-cycle rethink to make ’em sing. The 4000 is the latter: cost effectively ushering a new era of modern and luxurious Industrial Design for Audi.  I loved the styling, but a classmate at CCS showed me the light: he was an SCCA racer with a similar CS Quattro in the dorm’s parking lot. And while CCS was a total bummer at times, we enjoyed the 4000 in the horrible winter weather around Metro Detroit. Especially at one of our favorite hangouts: Belle Isle.  At night. In a 4000 CS Quattro. Oh hell yes.


Belle Isle sans sunlight is a scary place for most Detroiters, but many a CCS student knew this was the place to enjoy your machine.  But those days are gone, and I believe the 4000 CS Quattro that I adored found a new owner in Denver about 8 years ago.  Perhaps Murilee will see it soon in the junkyard.

Now this particular 4000 belongs to the somewhat-famous Tony Hoffman, a true genius when it comes to anything VAG related. It is his daily driver, and it shows.  In a good way, check out those factory looking driving lights in the grille.  Problem is, those aren’t factory. But you can still see the new 4000’s nicer bumper, made from fewer offending parts compared to the original 4000.  And the Euro-like headlights that finally made it into production!  It’s a big change from the last 4000 in this series.


Oops, missing reflectors in the bumper, too. But you can see the Audi 5000’s design DNA in the lights and bumpers, even if this isn’t the clean sheet re-think like the flagship Audi. The execution of Audi’s future design elements to its current platform were done fantastically well.


Okay, maybe those driving lights don’t look factory at all.  And maybe they make the Audi logo look like a kid that just bought a certain mouse-like hat at Disneyland. But the smooth bumper finally lets the 4000’s clean lines shine.  I love how the fender, hood, signal lights and headlights all share common cut lines. And how the bumper’s curvature matches that of the hood.


Trying to look like the big brother 5000, this 4000 is certainly a serious entry into the mid-luxury Yuppie market of the 1980s.  Wrap around lights that match the bumper curve for curve? Check.  All front end lines share the same vanishing point?  Check. Too bad the lower light/grille trim is missing, but sometimes I must photograph whatever comes my way.


Unlike the previous 4000’s Tupperware trimmings, this upper bumper trim is a small aluminum strip. And while the connection points are a little crude by today’s standards, this is a wonderful upgrade.


And no center trim buckle here!  Big step up from the original 4000.


I still feel the front end is too thick, static and stodgy from this angle.  If only there was more taper up front so the fender would look “faster” from front to back.


Still an odd mis-mash of seams, but the 4000 was not designed with an Audi 5000 budget in mind.


The front end’s taper looks better from here.  Perhaps the hard-line in the fender (by the hood and up against the headlights) is the only static part that “slows” down the package. And the bumper’s side protection finally looks like a proper Yuppiemobile. Integration at its finest, topped with a layer of aluminum icing.


And the superior bumper-age of the redesigned 4000 continues to the upscale side protection.  Very clean, very Audi and very 1980s.


Yes Tony’s car is rough around the edges.  But the wedgy edges of this fantastic design remain.  Compared to the original 4000’s comprised mouldings, these are superior for many reasons.  One: fancy Audi emblem, instead of a plastic casting.  Two: they cover the lumpy sheetmetal bend and smooth out the lower half of the body, while the older model’s trim was slapped on below the bend.  Three: the negative area for the door moulding to clear the fender is almost invisible. Four: more snazzy aluminum trim.


Okay, perhaps the mouldings are a little too shallow: witness the exposed sheet metal on the doors.  But this certainly helps remove the negative area’s bulk on the rubber, and this is still a huge improvement over the outgoing 4000.


Yes, these mouldings are a work of art on a rather unappealing bend.  All of a sudden, form and function meet, fall in love and get married.


The lower trim panel integrates all of the body’s elements into a nice foundation to hug the earth.


Step back and see what I’m talkin’ about.  With the 4000’s redesign, the whole becomes more integrated, focused on the taut lines of the midsection.  Smooth bumpers keep you away from the corners and the strong horizontal lines in the midsection (mouldings) accentuate the harmony and cleanliness of the aerodynamic wedge styling that was so common in high-class vehicles of the 1980s.


Yes, 4000’s refinement is present: an executive sedan if you want the finer things in life without trying too hard (Mercedes, BMW), without being stodgy (Cadillac and Lincoln) and without being screwball weird (SAAB, Volvo).  All lines are in harmony, all in the right place.

Man, what an amazing piece of work for a mid-cycle refresh.


Now perhaps the moulding is too thick for such a small and tall platform.  It does take away from the clean door cutlines and flowing DLO of the Hofmeister Kink-infused greenhouse. But the moulding’s proportioning is respectful to the rest of the package, so it works.


The front doors are vent window free, unlike most of the earlier 4000s (except for the LE model reviewed last time).  So the look is far cleaner, thanks to one less static line thrown into the mix.


While I love “quattro” props as much as the other guy, this one gets too close to the edges of the glass.  I’d shrink it down a good inch or so.  No need to overdo it, we all know that Quattro Audis totally rock.


Such a clean door cut line.  Such an open and exciting greenhouse.  Exciting?  Well, perhaps I’ve been punished by too many Chrysler 300s…and 300 wannabes.


And the rear bumper!  Oh my!  So clean and so elegant.  We gotta do something about Tony’s love of Audi decals, but the redesigned tail lights and that bumper clean up the 4000, taking it to a new level of snobbery.


There’s a strong sense of Audi 5000 here.  And it gets better the farther you go ’round back.



This isn’t the only 4000 that cracks the (non-functional) lense in this spot. One of my first H-town junkyard trips after I left CCS was to get a replacement for my buddy’s 4000 back in Detroit.  Like most modern/minimalistic art, cars from the 1980s let pure design elements take up a lot of real estate.  Clownish license plate chrome mustaches would be laughed out of town, as lighting pods get center stage.  Think new Dodge Charger, for example.


While this treatment looked far more elegant on the larger 5000, these lights filled up a lot of undefined space from the old 4000.  And that undefined sheet metal clouded the purity of this body’s design.  Clear, logical and minimalistic lenses were a great upgrade.


This looks like a far, far more expensive car than the original 4000.


Just because the lights are minimal does NOT mean they are simple.  Look at the casting work involved to flush them against the license plate.  This couldn’t be cheap back in the days of Atari 2600 technology. Plus, it’s lovely.


And the “quattro” badge reminds all why something this beautiful costs more than a, uh, Honda Accord?


Just like the outgoing 4000, the spoiler is too big in some places. Thin it out so the trunk lock won’t mess up the vibe.


Just like the front, there’s a modest meeting point for the aluminum trim.  Safe!


Even from down here, the bumpers are a HUGE improvement. The clean and organized plastic works well to let the lighting pods shine, so to speak.  Modern art on wheels, for the win.


“Quattro” lettering in the rear window defogger?  Not only is it nicely proportioned with the rest of the glass, it’s a somewhat subtle nod to why Audi’s are different/better than other European marques. If you disagree, fair enough. But I counter with today’s fake fender chrome/vents…and Audi’s lack of bandwagon jumping.


So don’t mess with this guy, he might be crazy enough to know what he’s doing.

When Sajeev the TTAC autojourno turns into the Indian Heritage Wearing Judge in the 24 Hours of LeMons, Tony gives me the keys to this Audi 4000 CS Quattro so I can quickly lay the hurt down on cheaty racers. This car is a joy to behold and drive. Stylistically it’s very crude compared to the Audi 5000, but it promises the same thrills of the honest and entertaining mechanicals underneath.

Happy Thanksgiving from “Indian Judge” Sajeev, and I hope you have a lovely weekend.


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Vellum Venom: 1984 Audi 4000 LE Mon, 12 Nov 2012 12:07:00 +0000   One of my Automotive Design teachers at CCS made us take a personality test to determine our strengths(?) as a designer.  It was beyond stupid, or so I thought. To wit, a (paraphrased) question: do you collect old things?  The answer was supposedly neutral: no matter what you answered on this query, your overall […]

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One of my Automotive Design teachers at CCS made us take a personality test to determine our strengths(?) as a designer.  It was beyond stupid, or so I thought. To wit, a (paraphrased) question: do you collect old things?  The answer was supposedly neutral: no matter what you answered on this query, your overall score didn’t change.

Which is a total crock. The history of design is so very important, especially for a powerhouse like Audi. Please!

The Audi 4000 signified the impending maturity of the Audi brand in the USA. This is a design that was the harbinger of better things to come: mass appeal with aspirational appeal.  It was seen in the Audi 5000, but that’s for another day. The 1984 Audi 4000 LE is a particularly perfect example of the breed, based on rarity (less than 400 made) alone.  Add the fact that this vehicle’s owner is our own Captain Mike Solo, who visited me in Houston to pick up his impressive 4000 LE a couple of weeks ago.

Now let’s be clear on one thing: like most European iron from this era, the 4000 was a somewhat horrible bastard compared to its homemarket offering.  The Euro 4000 (called the Audi 80) wasn’t handicapped by this battering ram bumper. The nose is overly static thanks to it and the US-spec headlights drowning out the clean lines of the upper half of the fascia.

While styled by the great Giugiaro himself, he did a far better job a couple of years later making the Hyundai Excel‘s bumpers. Perhaps VW was responsible for the US-spec bumpers, and if so, my apologizes to Mr. G and his studio.

Audi fanatics shall note that the LE was front-wheel drive , but there’s a Quattro badge on the grille!  Captain Mike’s LE had front end damage, so this isn’t the original grille.  (The emblem pops off, if you really give a crap about that.)

The quad headlights look a little sleeker from the side, sunken in with a wraparound trim cover and integral reflector. And while that bumper is all kinds of big compared to the Euro 80, let’s not forget that Lincoln loving fools like yours truly sported some seriously scary battering rams on their late-70s Disco Iron.  The point: these bumpers were here for a damn good reason.

Even better, the prodigious lower valance does a good job taking your eyes away from the large bumper.  The overall look is clean, but composed of far too many pieces.

Okay, the headlights look much better from here.  But my beef of too many parts to make the whole is coming to light: the trim between the headlights and bumper exists for…what reason?The extra filler panel abruptly ends with the marker light, adding an unfortunate layer to the already huge bumper.

Is this a Renault Alliance or an Audi 4000?  There’s a reason why people can still lust after aspirational American Iron of this era: they were about the same price, and they looked like a million bucks.  A million tacky and tasteless bucks, but whatever…peep the one piece bumper of the 1980 Ford Thunderbird: hideous car, awesome bumper.

Audi wasn’t on their game just yet, unless you were looking at the Audi 5000 waiting in the wings.

The four rings are a classic design element, and isn’t it such a lovely logo on such a small grille?  Too bad about that center trim thingie!

Too bad this couldn’t be a one piece affair.  Perhaps VW didn’t have the budget to make a fancy hunk of plastic only for America?

Too many parts, too many ways to weather in the Texas sun.  A big gap near my finger, an overlapping trim piece to the left.  The team involved in the US-Federalization of the Audi 80 can’t be thrilled with the end result in the 4000.

As you turn away from the 4000’s US-spec design, the clarity of the Audi 80’s DNA starts to show.  The side marker light is too close to the fender’s subtle crease, but at least it’s a slick affair with no exposed screws.

Like a balding forehead, the upper half of the fender is too thick and static, too Datsun Maxima.  A little less sheet metal above the headlights (ramp up) would make the front a little sleeker and “speed up” the lines as the fenders go to the A-pillar.

The thinner fender at the front wouldn’t change things here, but the overall effect would be far sleeker. Also note the interesting cut line of the fender into space normally reserved for the cowl: this also helps speed up the look.

That cut line made no sense in the last photo, but here you see it blend into the base of the greenhouse’s DLO, where the side view mirror starts the rest of the design.  Logical!

When is the last time you saw a near-luxury car with exposed wiper arms?  Times have changed, for the better.

Go a little lower and examine the bodyside molding, note the large negative area needed for the rubber to clear the path of an opening door: while this is a design pet peeve of mine, the cute Audi logo cast into the space is pretty cool.  The bigger problem?  The molding doesn’t blend into the crease directly above, it adds unnecessary visual bulk by not playing nice with the sheet metal.

Yup, premium imported vehicles have come a loooong way!

Today we hate the hideous black plastic triangle of DLO fail…but the Audi 4000’s black paint doesn’t look much classier.  Why not make an integrated sideview mirror casting to eliminate this waste of space?

Step back. That’s better. The 4000’s greenhouse is large, airy and chock full of glass.  The LE went a step further, eliminating the vent windows on the front doors.  It looks fantastic, also being a hat tip to the redesigned 4000 arriving shortly. The extra window in the C-pillar isn’t a cheap addition, and the contours of the sheet metal below give the impression of more tumblehome to the roof. Epic.

The 4000 is quite a looker from here.  Long hood, short deck and a wide open greenhouse. It looks efficient and sporty.  The C-pillar is fast, but not idiotically so. The decklid’s downward taper is delicious. While Audi’s clean DNA isn’t entirely present, this is definitely not Detroit Iron…and has more logical lines and crisp contours compared to its Japanese wannabe-competitors. Slam dunk win.

Did I mention “crisp contours”?  Note the four bends in the side of the 4000’s profile.  It’s not busy, and adds style without bulk and fuss.

I really like the slender black plastic door pulls with modest chrome overlays, especially since the negative area behind them is logical, not drawing attention to itself. (I’m looking at you, Toyota Venza) And the little release lever behind the slab of plastic is pretty slick.

Until Mike informed me that these release levers break at an alarming rate.  So much for beauty and durability going hand in hand.

Look at the size of that greenhouse!  What I wouldn’t do to see such a fine ratio of glass-to-metal, and for a clean cut line between the rear door and the fender. Everything is in its right place, logically.

The recessed rim is quite a looker too.

The BMW-like Hofmeister kink in the quarter window is a nice touch, sure to upset fans of the Roundel to no end! The horizontal trim bit at the base of the C-pillar upsets me. Was there a vinyl top option I’m not aware of?

While nobody loves black plastic triangles, this one serves a purpose (rear glass movement) and has nothing to do with DLO fail. Win.

This rain gutter is such a period piece, but it’s well-integrated. I wish the front bumper was this slick. Epic win.

Clean, trim and efficient.  The rear bumper has the same deadly sins of the front, but to a lesser extent.  Maybe because there’s an offset bulky spoiler on the deck lid?

A functional gas cap with finger assist (so to speak) and a symmetrical design that isn’t smeared on one of the 4000’s many body creases. Nice.

Tumblehome aplenty.  Me likey. A lot.

I’d still like to know why this trim piece at the base of the C-pillar needs to exist.  My cockamamie vinyl top notion makes sense from this angle!

Walk up, check out those cool halo headrests for rear passengers.  Very upmarket!  And if you want to complain about the aforementioned Hofmeister kink, Captain Mike has a Complaint Department ready to “handle” your concerns.

Yes ladies, he’s single!

Back to the bumper. Just like the front, that intermediate piece between the bumper and the body isn’t an elegant solution.  I know Audi was trying to eliminate the “shelf” appearance of most big bumper’d cars from this era, but this isn’t working.  The intermediate piece’s abrupt ending looks cheap, fading to bumper level as it reaches the rear wheels would have been marginally better.  Better still, stick with the conventional bumper “shelf”.

I do like how the crease ends into nothingness before the tail light.  I just wish the amber portion of the lense used that as a start/end point.

Then again, the 50/50 distribution of amber and red looks better here.

The 4000’s butt is a bit rounder than the front.  The curvy lights give surface tension to the design, even if it’s too VW-like for my tastes. The 4000’s redesign fixed that “problem”.

Like the front end’s significant valence, the rear end’s use of body color paint below the bumper helps lean out the package.

The spoiler is a nice “cap” to the decklid, tucking around the emblems and adding a new element to a somewhat mundane rear end. From this angle it looks like a perfectly curved baseball cap on the chiseled face of a perfectly wealthy baseball player.

Too bad the spoiler is too thick for the trunk lock.  Price point be damned, the 4000 is still a small car, the spoiler needs a bit more whimsy and lightheartedness to really be a part of the whole package.

These exposed license plate lights aren’t exactly the stuff of Yuppie fantasy, but at least you don’t see any exposed screws. And the lense is nicely frenched in.  While the 4000 is a nice piece, consider it as one of the vehicles that ushered decades of unquestionable design authority from Audi. Everyone starts somewhere, and this is a damn good place to start.

And that’s the real story here.

But still: my, what a big…bumper you have!  Thanks for reading and have a fantastic week!

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Vellum Venom: 2013 Scion FR-S Tue, 25 Sep 2012 13:00:51 +0000 Damn near everyone in the Industrial Design department at CCS said my engineering/gearhead/history buff background was killing my potential Car Design career. In hindsight they had a point, but most were complete jerks about it.  With three art history courses at three different colleges in mind, automotive brands/models/trim levels do indeed nod to something more […]

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Damn near everyone in the Industrial Design department at CCS said my engineering/gearhead/history buff background was killing my potential Car Design career. In hindsight they had a point, but most were complete jerks about it.  With three art history courses at three different colleges in mind, automotive brands/models/trim levels do indeed nod to something more than PR-hyped styling takeaways: perhaps a vintage automobile, a vague reference to a sub-culture not normally associated with a large corporation, or an entire genre of fine art. But the Scion FR-S isn’t retro…

…it’s retro-futurism.


Toothy and fang-like.  The FR-S has an assertive stance, made clear with pointy scoops at the base of the bumper and a hard cut line separating the bumper’s snout against the headlights.  Nissan 370Z it ain’t, there’s another hard crease between the headlights and the fog light area, making for three pairs of hard lines that give the FR-S a very angry look.

The round bulge for the low-beam headlights adds a more-than welcome soft point to all these fierce elements, but something about the Scion emblem in the center looks less like an organic extension of natural facial features…and possibly more of a wart on an otherwise lovely face. Even the hood cut lines are clean and logical.


The depression around the emblem is what kills the nose. This is far too cute and soft, which has nothing to do with this car.  While corporate logos housed in round casings is more than a little trite, combining it with the bumper’s reverse pimple takes away from the design’s overall aggressiveness.

A mail slot grille, individual S-C-I-O-N lettering…heck even the flat spot/round logo combo of the last Toyota Supra is a huge improvement.  Maybe on the mid-cycle refresh!


We discussed the hard, fierce lines before, but there’s more to the FR-S.  Note the gentle bend in the hood and bumper, creating a new point of surface tension.  It keeps the bumper from being too bloating and boring. If there was a slotted grille (a la mid-cycle refreshed Lexus SC400) using this soft curve and its genesis, the nose would be far more aggressive. It would no longer have a self-congratulatory wart for the Scion brand.

And if you missed the round element of the headlight, note how it breaks the surface tension of the front end from this angle.  Less techno-future, more retro Ferrari headlight from the 1950-60s.  Retro and future combine to form one being.  Dang.


The fog light pod is a different story.  The gigantic black plug is pretty tasteless, though I am sure the aftermarket can make it into a functional speed hole for something.  Perhaps a brake cooling duct, or something turbo-intercooler related. No matter, the entire form is a key element to the FR-S’s fierce nose.  And the strong linearity of the beveled edge around its bottom and outer edge looks pretty trick.


The angry creases of the lower bumper, the headlight, the fog light look absolutely sinister.  But the subtle crease above the headlight? That’s like a flirty eyebrow on a very pretty face.  It’s like a Maserati Gran Tourismo coupe, but not Italian super car pompous. Me likey.


Nicely integrated signal light!  But the front end’s angry lines look so tough because of one design feature: front end overhang allowing for an organic tapering of the snout.  Repeat after me, “Overhang is a good thing. A GOOD THING!”

Put another way: you ain’t nothin’ but a hound dog, Mr. Scion FR-S!


OMG SON, am I really seeing a non-Ferrari-Corvette-Panther with an impressive amount of space between the firewall and the front axle?  This dash-to-axle ratio is more than a little delicious, and such a great value compared to the others! (except the Panther, ‘natch)


While this 86-boxer emblem is “emblematic” of the limp-wristed motor beneath, you can’t deny the presence of such a “fast” looking line on the expansive canvas of a rear-wheel drive fender. Even better, this painted fender trim lies on a separate plane from the sheet metal itself, adding surface tension to a tall (by retro standards) belt line.

But I’m seeing another, far bigger problem. More on that later.


Thank goodness my camera phone couldn’t properly show this fake fender vent.  Oops on my part, double oops on the designer’s part.


That “far bigger” problem mentioned two photos ago?  Take a look at the sheer number of panel gaps, and their terrible sizing!  The door to fender is the worst, until you spend a little more time with the plastic cowl trim that starts with the wipers and ends at the base of the A-pillar.


Chintzy. Cheap. In poor taste for any non-Yugo product.  Go back to the last photo and note the sloppy end-point installation of the black plastic cowl trim. Hell, even the Yugo didn’t f–k up a fender’s meeting point this badly.  It doesn’t take much to visualize a fender that fixes this problem, too bad they couldn’t metal smith that plastic tab out.


You can see a bit of the black cowl plastic here too.  And the gigantic panel gap of the A-pillar to fender.  While Toyota generously gave a glass triangle instead of the typical DLO FAIL at this point, this area suffers from a unique form of FAIL: the DLO slides below the A-pillar, the fender AND the fender vent panel, adding another unnecessary line to the profile!

On the plus side, the unique plane of the fender vent/emblem continues across the top of the door.  Back on the minus side again, the side-view mirror’s black plastic base fights this plane with pudgy, bulge-y, overlapping curves. It reminds me of when I used to pour batter into the waffle iron as a child, and spill it over the “lines”.


In collector car speak, the FR-S is definitely more of a 20-footer. The ungainly cowl plastic, the hideous panel gaps and unnecessary meeting points blend into a smooth and slick coupe.  While the FR-S is still tall and mid-heavy like most modern cars, the ample greenhouse, flowing C-pillar and elegant “swoop” of the door’s cut line are an instant classic.  I love the complementary swoop of the rocker panel, especially as it naturally flows to the rear wheel well! Retro-futurism, indeed.


Not as lovely as a Porsche Cayman from this angle, but quite a stunner compared to everything else on the market.  While I’d like more chisel to the quarter panel’s “shoulders” on the C-pillar and a bit less hard/perfectly round negative area behind the door handle, this car is still the business.

Except for that droopy, chubby side view mirror.  I can’t wait for the aftermarket to “fix” this with a more suitable replacement.


Ack! The door cut line doesn’t end at the same point where the B-pillar begins!  While not as horrendous as the CTS coupe, it’s the same buzz kill.  The extra line presented here never had to exist.  And the FR-S deserves better.

Then again, this ain’t nothing compared to the nightmare of panel gaps and extraneous lines at the A-pillar…so the B-pillar is like totally my second favorite pillar on this car!


But kudos to the team responsible for the window trim and weatherstripping: the mating of two unique parts above the B-pillar is super tight and very intuitive. Yup, this is totally my second favorite pillar on the FR-S.


But there’s something about the FR-S’ C-pillar: it starts with this reverse power dome roof, continues to the glass shaped like the “T” of Toyota’s Truck emblem…even the black plastic rain gutter looks fast and powerful.


Note the amount of tumblehome between the roof and the quarter panel’s wheel arch/flares: significant!  This is a straight up sexy roof.  The Toyota Truck themed glass is very Toyota/Scion modern, but the forms presented in silver paint are just so, so classic. Retro-futurism ahoy!


The trunk shares its endpoint with the rear glass. The quarter panel and trunk share a common line with the side of the glass. Combined with the classical goodness of a proper RWD sports coupe in proportioning, this is one of those classic moves we just don’t see enough.


Oh yeah baby, that’s a C-pillar to die for.  Like I mentioned before, the gentle bend above the gas door should be a little more creased: this blends the hard edges in the bumper to the rest of the body far more elegantly.


What the heck is that???  As a Lincoln-Mercury fanboi I’ve always enjoyed the round Continental kit, grudgingly appreciating the goofy trapezoidal butt of the 1977 Mercury Cougar…but seeing this all over again on the FR-S? Some elements of retro-futurism MUST DIE!

This trunk needs a serious diet.  Just like the Cougar, when 1983 rolled around and that bustle got borderline beautiful.  Perhaps just raise up the bumper’s middle section to make the trunk a little smaller…but do something, ANYTHING to get that gaping maw outta my face!


Far less annoying is this subtle Bangle Butt on the rear.  Trunks don’t need flame surfacing, nor do they need a solid chunk of chrome tail light for no good reason.  Don’t make me wish this was an AE-86 liftback instead!


The Bangle Butt goes up.  The bumper slides down like Homer Simpson’s gut. The trunk thinks it’s a 1977 Mercury Cougar for a new millennium.  I really hope Toyota cleans this mess up in the mid-cycle refresh.


Flush-mounted tail lights would help too.  The chrome spear adds another layer of gravel to this talus pile of FAIL.  Imagine lights that are flat and form-fitting, and the FR-S could have more of a Lotus Elise “cove” treatment instead!


Another problem: the flat face of the trunk fights the downward sloping curve presented from corner-to-corner of the bumper. I’ll go into further detail, three pictures from now.


I guess the red triangle in the backup lights is cool, but it is another busy element to this convoluted rear deck.  It also reminds me of the over-the-top literal rotary theme on the Mazda RX-8 in the same place: considering their flawed engines, is it no surprise that both of these machines have this quirky styling element?


I’d prefer a smaller version of this emblem on that massive plastic mustache above the license plate instead.  Leave the Scion emblem in its place, but shrink it down a good 25% too.  Then put “FR-S” in the lower RH of the mustache.  Maybe emboss it into the plastic…nah, that’s a bit much: stream of consciousness writing FTL.


Remember what I said about the trunk needing a little slope?  If it leaned (from the top, leave the bottom’s location as-is) juuuust a bit, if the signal light didn’t thrust toward the center of the trunk so violently, there’d be a sweeter face to this sour puss.


The gas filler door is slightly melted over the fender bulge, but not bad enough to offend.  Safe!


One last curve: now you know why my professors/classmates at CCS said my automotive passions handicapped my designs!  How slow can you go? Sure it’s got a pretty face and a lovely hood, but open the bonnet and the FR-S’ retro-futurism officially failed.

Thanks for reading, I hope you have a great week!

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Vellum Venom: 2013 Infiniti JX Mon, 03 Sep 2012 13:19:04 +0000 Sometimes we work too hard for success.  We listen to others, constructive criticism or not, doing our best to make a change for the better.  But are we really accomplishing that?  I’ve always wondered if the ends justify the means. Not for me at CCS in Detroit: after trying to change myself to fit a […]

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Sometimes we work too hard for success.  We listen to others, constructive criticism or not, doing our best to make a change for the better.  But are we really accomplishing that?  I’ve always wondered if the ends justify the means. Not for me at CCS in Detroit: after trying to change myself to fit a certain mold and failing, I realized I’m totally okay with (most) everything I do. On or off the vellum.

I wonder if vehicles like the Infiniti JX are the byproduct of a design studio trying too hard to address criticisms.  Or maybe this is just a common case of “over-styling” a vehicle.  Either way, here we are.

Is that a big-ass badge in ‘yo grille, or are you just happy to see me?

Since when did we let vehicles get so big (or tall) that emblems make a statement by being the size of a license plate? I’m not sure if I love/hate the lumps and bumps on the hood, bumper and the strange wraparound curves of the headlights.  The wings at the ends of the hood are a bit much, but nothing compared to that XXL grille.  Silly makes the wrong statement for a luxury car brand.


While Lexus’ “spindle” grille has a certain presence from its sharp curves and layers of texture/elevations, this flat and flabby grille shows why Infiniti always plays second fiddle to that other premium Japanese brand.


When you need textured light/wind diffusers in such an obvious location on the headlight, you did something wrong. Maybe there was a last minute legality issue with the light output, or maybe those things were needed to smooth out the aerodynamics.  Or maybe something else. Whatever that design problem is, this was the wrong solution.


This Mustang-esque lower valence treatment looks too sporty for a truck. Or SUV. Or CUV.  But when you have a face as tall as this, you got a lot of real estate to style.  At least the chrome fog light trim and not-solid plastic grille looks suitably upscale.


Hello Mr. Front Fascia, I’d like you to meet Mr. Hood and Mr. Fender.  You guys obviously hate each other, but that’s what happens when you add too many curves with no real place to merge elements cleanly.  For a fine example of this concept, check out the 1984 Corvette. It tucked away every panel gap behind a protective rubber stripe.


I love how this pointy styling element at the end of the headlight is cleanly and thoroughly filled in with an amber signal light. It adds sanity to an otherwise insane lighting pod.


The Gatling Gun look of the third generation Infiniti Q45 is alive and well in the JX.  And that’s a good thing.


I enjoy directional, twisty wheels on vehicles with boring sheetmetal, it brings visual excitement where needed. The JX’s voluptuous curves don’t need them: it adds too much noise to an already noisy body. Furthermore, can you believe how short (yet tall in height) the overhang is on this machine?

Like Disco music in 1983, car based trucks are wearing really, really thin these days.


No DLO fail and the fender/door/A-pillar meeting point is pretty logical.  Until you see just how much dead space there is between the A-pillar and the hood.  That’s one oddly shaped fender!


The negative area highlighted here may become a significant design element as you walk further back, but it starts in a horribly undefined/arbitrary location.  I’d move it much farther away from the door’s cutline, so it’d be less of an afterthought and “part of the whole” package.


The little tumor at the bottom of the side-view mirror doesn’t please the eyes. Considering the size of this part, there wasn’t enough real estate for a cleaner installation?


There’s a tacked-on mud flap up front, a clever chrome moulding (when nobody woulda minded ordinary paint) and a flared lower moulding at the bottom.  I hate the latter, as they are usually so big that they require “notching” so you can actually open the door without squishing the moulding.  Pontiacs of the 1990s were terrible about this, and it’s sad to see this trend continue apace.


More moulding notching.  Nothing says “We don’t really try very hard” quite like a severely notched moulding.


The notch doesn’t go away when you step back. Even worse, the wavy sheetmetal is a unique element to the JX.  Waves are a slippery slope, so to speak.  The more waves you add, the uglier the door cut line becomes.  I liked the aggressive (yet symmetric) coke-bottle profile of the 1996 Taurus from this angle, perhaps that’s the upper limit of good taste.


Toyota is pretty bad about over-styling the sheetmetal beneath the door handle to give a unique appearance, and now Infiniti is following suit.  Somehow, some way, this trend needs to stop.


No hate here, the JX is quite the looker from this angle.  All the waves and curves work mighty fine.


But (and there’s always a but) I can’t stand this plastic swoop holding the quarter window at the base of the C-pillar.  Maybe this smooths out the aero at highway speeds, but it sure is hideous.


And the big plastic triangle for the rear door’s window isn’t especially beautiful.  But at least it adds a little hard-edged blockiness to an otherwise frilly and frou-frou package.


Ack!  The plastic triangle bends up the window seal!  Infiniti is far from the only automaker doing this bit of design sin, I just wish I could banish this to the land of tailfins, open fenders and other outdated design elements.


I needed to snag an EVOX image to really show off the side.  From afar the JX looks much cleaner.  The fender flares and side sculpturing are not just appealing, they are unique.  But, as I’ve tried to show in the last few pictures, they over-styled the hell outta this vehicle. And for no good reason!


Speaking of…I normally like a radical looking side window, but this one tries way too hard.  The logical crease that sweeps back to the tailgate is a nice touch, ditto the plastic tailgate trim emulating the window’s curve.  But it’s not enough: this is such a silly design element.


Yup, still very silly.  Plus, it makes a rather impressive blind spot.  Remember when people bought SUV’s for their excellent view of the road from all corners? That died sometime around the Explorer-Firestone tire debacle.


While the front can get away with the curves and bubbles, the business end of a CUV needs to be boxy. Infiniti tries harder than most to hide that truth, and the overall look is contrived and counter-intuitive.  The lower curve of the rear glass gives the rear end a silly smile, while the rakish lighting pods have no business on a CUV.  Infiniti’s signature upper and lower license plate chrome mustaches are similarly out of place.  When it comes to the business end of any vehicle, being simple (or at least functionally honest) in the design is the right move.


More to the point, the JX’s rear hatch has too many elevation changes. I like the design on the tail lights from this angle, if they were flush with the body.  Stop trying so hard to be different!  There’s not enough room for creative expressions at this point!


Here’s an EVOX image since mine was too washed out from this angle.  You can’t see the elevation changes from here, which makes the JX look cleaner.  Flattening out most of the elevation changes would make the JX look this good at other angles.  But there’s really no hope in saving that rear glass treatment: this isn’t a Nissan Murano.  It doesn’t work here.


Bumper protection is usually an extra-cost option, but it shouldn’t be this much of an afterthought. If you can’t flush this part into the bumper for all models, at least chop it off before it melts down the bumper.  I’m fine with this treatment on a Hyundai CUV or similar, but Infiniti is a luxury brand!


When your emblem sits this close to your chrome trim, either the badge needs a shrink or your painted real estate needs more acreage.  Shrink the badge down, we know this isn’t a Honda! We promise!


This oval element is a nicely integrated item.  Kudos.


My favorite part of the JX is the sleek and functional components making up the rear wiper arm.


Now that I think about it, not only are there too many elevation changes on the rear end, but the lights are too narrow for this gigantic ass.


Yup, they need to be inches thicker. Inches, because the dead space between the bumper and the tail lights is rather extravagant. And not in a good way.

Combine all my other beefs with the two different textures presented in the tail lights, and I really grow weary of this back end. Simplify your life!

Thanks for reading, have a wonderful week!

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Vellum Venom: 2012 Maybach 57 Fri, 10 Aug 2012 10:52:30 +0000 Let’s be clear about one thing: racism sucks.  Be it the recent, tragic temple shooting or some BS you experienced when doing/not doing what your culture demands, this is a fact of life. That said, geo-cultural influences are everywhere, including the car design biz.  Take my time at CCS: one of my classmates was a […]

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Let’s be clear about one thing: racism sucks.  Be it the recent, tragic temple shooting or some BS you experienced when doing/not doing what your culture demands, this is a fact of life. That said, geo-cultural influences are everywhere, including the car design biz.  Take my time at CCS: one of my classmates was a South Korean lawyer who wanted to style cars for Hyundai. His work was unique amongst all studio creations, reflecting a culture that’s borderline impossible to understand by the uninitiated. Which is damn near every college kid.

This person’s work reminded me how culture influences design, and how people can negatively react to it. Which leads us to a flagship Mercedes heavily(?) influenced by a Mercedes design studio in Japan. Yes, Japan.  So let’s get to it.


Massive. Imposing.  Ugly?  Unlike the utterly fantastic Rolls-Royce Phantom, the Maybach just never had the presence of a proper flagship machine. The headlights are just awful in both shape and size/proportion relative to the rest of the vehicle.  Even worse is the massively generic chrome grille, whose front face looks undoubtedly…Asian.

This grille had little (no?) connection to the original Maybach, plus it was horribly bland and uninspiring.  That said, the massive hood contours complement the grille and headlights nicely.  Add the somewhat posh logo on the hood ornament, and you know this is a large-and-in-charge type of machine.


Here’s another Maybach I shot, giving you a better look at the absolutely silly shape of the headlights.  Googly-eyed lenses on a car that costs…how much? Combine the headlight’s shape with their grille-fighting size says one thing: Greed may be Good, but excess has its limits.


The fussy details on the bumper don’t help.  I’m certain they are meant to complement the LED marker lights at the bottom, but none of this screams “cream of the crop” luxury.  These bumper bulges are better suited to…well…something Korean on the scale of a Hyundai Azera.


Look at all the wasted real estate!  Make all the non-functional chrome go away so this beast can actually look luxurious!


The upside is that first impressions can go away, when you see the rest of the Maybach.  The extra cost over an S-class Benzo becomes clear in the length of that hood, the space between the dash and front axle, and the very subtle yet expansive use of chrome. The big problem–aside from the headlights–is the hard edges making up the hood’s power bulge. It works with the grille, but the rest of the car is so voluptuous that the front end’s design is just flat-out incorrect.


I do like how wheels get more restrained as you move up the automotive food chain.  But let’s hope you (or your driver) don’t scrape up those upwardly bending spokes at your nearest (so to speak) parallel parking curb in Beverly Hills.


No DLO fail, as hoped.  But WTF is up with the two different cut lines for the A-pillar and the door?  Massive(?) engineering undertaking aside, the Maybach would look so much more luxurious if the door’s cut line extended to the same point where the A-pillar meets the hood.

On a more ironic note: economy of lines regularly equates to a more expensive product.  Look at any late-model Aston Martin.  Or any Mac vs. PC debate.  The Maybach screwed the pooch.


I do like the shape of these mirrors and their proportion relative to the rest of this beast.  This proves why we need smaller mirrors in more normal sedans.


Organic and fluid, even in this “short” wheelbase configuration.  The classic pre-war lines that always influence modern executive sedans are here, but softened up.  Perhaps a little too much, as the Mercedes S-class references are not without foundation. The biggest problem to the Maybach’s lack of top dollar snooty factor? An S-class fast roofline.  A similar mistake was made by the original Lincoln Versailles, before a hasty re-do formaled up the rig.  Hmm, perhaps there are more apt Versailles references for the Maybach. Ouch.


There is excellent use of chrome throughout. While luxury cars (that mere mortals can buy) have plenty of spizzarkle around the glass and maybe the door handle area, who has the balls to chrome things below the belt line?  The filthy rich, that’s who!


S-class or Maybach?  It’s such a lovely door curve, with such an elegant roof. Too bad it was never the right move for Maybach. Plus, can’t I get those door handles on an E-class? Pish-posh!


This is a classic Mercedes door.  Adding the curtains is another excellent touch.  With the extra chrome above the door handles making a break in the sheetmetal’s wake, the Maybach’s W116 S-class roots are showing very, very well here.


Oh dear, that roofline is just all wrong for this car. Where’s the formal? But kudos for the tumblehome!


The monster rear moonroof is more than a little cool.  It promises a rear seating cabin that trumps everything. From what I’ve experienced, that’s no lie.


The full width taillight promises more luxury than an S-class and the decklid verges on being pre-war “bustle back” cool.  But without a more formal roof, the promise is watered down to the point of lying.


Here’s a factory photo, showing how the rear end has that classic Bustle Back look, but it can’t be accentuated to the point of ostentatiousness with a sporty roof line messing it up from the beginning. Too bad about that.

Also note how a two-tone paint scheme really adds some “pop” to the package.  Thank goodness for chrome trimmings on the bodyside!

These taillights are great, until the W220 S-class got the same fine-tooth backup lense treatment in 2003. Damn that S-class!!!

That said, the taillights have the same problem as the headlights.  They stick too far into the quarter panel, making the rear look artificially fat. Paper thin lights leading to a wide full length treatment at the bottom would be nice.  And the rounded shape of the trunk’s side might look better if it was as flat as the top. It would also help justify that looney grille up front.

Yup, the decklid needs to be a little flatter to help accentuate the Maybach’s overall size in other places.  Like a modest CEO of a Fortune 500 company, sometimes you have to be small to really be big.


If that didn’t make sense with the last photo, perhaps this shot helps.  The Maybach’s rear is too round and ponderous.  The people have spoken: and they all speak to the Phantom. Well, except for Rick Ross…but it’s all good.


I know a break in the taillight saves a huge wad of cash both in R&D and real world ownership costs, but on this car?  The Maybach needs a one-piece lamp assembly.


This bizarre kink in the glass is brought to you by…well, who knows!


And on that note, soak this in.  The Maybach looks suitably posh in a high-contrast, two-tone paintjob.  It’s a huge step forward.  Now imagine it with a formal roof and smaller headlights. And now, finally, you have a vision of how the Maybach could have beaten extinction. Better luck next time.

Thank you for reading, have a wonderful weekend.

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Vellum Venom: 1986 Hyundai Excel Thu, 26 Jul 2012 12:56:03 +0000 Sometimes designers become super stars in the car biz: just ask that dude who made the Ford GT, or the other dude responsible for the Chrysler 300. I am sure both made other vehicles which they truly hated.  Perhaps the 300’s designer shares some amount of blame for the last Chrysler Sebring?  I am sure […]

The post Vellum Venom: 1986 Hyundai Excel appeared first on The Truth About Cars.

Sometimes designers become super stars in the car biz: just ask that dude who made the Ford GT, or the other dude responsible for the Chrysler 300. I am sure both made other vehicles which they truly hated.  Perhaps the 300’s designer shares some amount of blame for the last Chrysler Sebring?  I am sure that Ital Design’s Giorgetto Giugiaro has the same problem, but Hyundai wrote him a check and he made it happen.  Quite honestly, the original Hyundai Excel here in the USA wasn’t a bad car at all.  Bad looking, that is.

And honestly, after walking around this example at a historically savvy Hyundai dealer (next to a Lamborghini Dealership that bored me after 20 minutes) I suggest to you, dear reader, that the Excel sold so unbelievably well on both price and design. Because this machine could look much, much worse.



Boring and Boxy?  Yes, but the Excel is also very clean and well-integrated, when you consider the design confines of a low asking price.

Note how the signal lights are cleanly and very deeply sunken, instead of screwed on top. There’s an overabundance of parallel lines, which shows a bit of “big picture” thinking by a wise design team.  And every seam and cut line is remarkably well placed. Today’s cars could learn A LOT from the Excel.


The grille is the Excel’s best work: the one piece black plastic affair elegantly stores an emblem, headlights and is a natural extension of the parallel lines in the bumper and the slight curvature of the signal lense. And the grille ends at the same point where the hood and fender meet.  It may not have Italian flair, but someone sweated the details…on a tight budget.


You can see the harmonious lines here.  You can also see the less than perfect panel gaps and the tacked on side marker light, but this is anything but offensive to someone in dire need of cheap wheels.


When is the last time you saw a car that the hood, fender and lighting pods began and ended so logically? Even the grille’s modest and purposeful slats just makes sense (get it?) on this face. If Hyundai installed flush fitting headlamps in 1986, this Excel would look like a proper 1970s concept car from damn near any high dollar design firm. Which is a compliment, of a very high order.


Too bad the white lense couldn’t wrap around juuust a little more.  This would extend the grille’s curvature and make the Excel look a little less static.  Then again, this is a very static and boxy design from any angle outside of the grille, so perhaps Ital Design was on to something.

Once again, note the purposeful and super cheap signal lights.  Something about them screams “honest” like no car can today.


The hood crease doesn’t line up with a natural place in the grille, rather it comes from a place inside the headlights.  This probably keeps the Excel from looking like it was designed using a T-square at every angle…probably a good move by the Italians.


A tiny cowl with a similarly small dashboard.  Does it look cheap, or do you wish history could repeat itself?  Honestly, I don’t know the right answer.


Note the lack of DLO fail: the fender and A-pillar meet in such a logical manner. If only modern cars could replicate this.  That would mean abandoning today’s truck like nose swooping back to a wanna-be sports car greenhouse.  The Excel has a small nose and plenty of tall and upright glass.  It’s almost impossible to mess this one up.

Another shocker: wrap around door pillars on a Hyundai Excel?  This bit of 1980s aerodynamic kit was available on a car this cheap? Surely this door was far more expensive to pop off compared to a Yugo portal!


No, I am not pointing at the stain.  The crease in the fender turns into a large fold after it crosses the mirror.  This fold becomes a very important part of the Excel’s profile.  While the transition is far from organic, it works.


Another fold in the sheet metal. This not only gives the Excel a bit of negative area to break up the (still) very boxy side, it also makes for a logical place to insert some door guards.

More importantly, they put that guard on the fender?  That’s not a cheap item for such a cheap car.  Put it this way: the Ford Crown Victoria had this bit of plastic from 1992 until the mid-2000s, which Ford decided to thrift it out and let the fenders not match the doors.  Nice job Hyundai, you had something to prove while Ford had something to slowly kill for no good reason.


I can’t adequately explain why, but the rubber and chrome guards on this Excel integrate well with the door handles.  It says “cheap, yet cheerful.”  I also like how the side view mirror is by no means an afterthought…even if the wheels and signal lights need a lot of help.


One reason this Excel is in such good shape is because it sits underneath an awning, with an annoying pole right  in the middle! Luckily the B&B will fix it for me using some madtite photoshop skillz.


That problem resolved, there’s nothing wrong with the Excel from this angle.  It’s the classic “three box” design for a sedan. But the fender crease turns into a big crease under the door’s glass, and quickly merges with the rear door’s vent window.  The lower trim isn’t out of place.  The C-pillar is almost fast, yet there is so much greenhouse you are guaranteed not to feel claustrophobic in this machine.

Okay, maybe that last bit was going over the top.  No matter, this isn’t a bad piece of work for an Italian design firm. Not great, but certainly not bad.


The urge to grab a Testor’s paint marker (flat black, ‘natch) and remedy this odd showing of bling was tough to overcome.  Because it does detract from the smooth B-pillar, and the gentle (but present) use of wrap around door pillars. Not a cheap bit of stamping for a super cheap car.


The greenhouse is gigantic on this Hyundai!  It’s hard to dislike this angle when you consider every car looks like a submarine these days, but 1980s econoboxes looked cheap for a reason…and this is it.

Still, I love how the door cutline follows the natural line of the wheel well, then goes up and “back” to shadow the curve of the C-pillar. And no stupid black plastic triangle!

Oh crap, I’m starting to like this shitty little car.


The steel wheels are plain but somewhat easy on the eyes.  Someone bothered to put a flat plane around each vent hole, and they have a nice “dish” to the rim like most rims from this era.  The center cap is clean and modern, if a bit oversized for a car this size.


A locking gas cap?  I am not entirely sure of this Excel’s trim level (it was repainted and debadged and I’m not buying a brochure on eBay to verify) but this highline model has a nice touch that you never see anymore.  For good reason?  Perhaps, but this is another “honest” design element that I can appreciate.


Just like the front, but red. And it’s poor, but very honest!


The rear window matches the C-pillar’s angle quite well.  And there’s a slight amount of tumblehome, which looks out of proportion with the door’s relative straightness.  Dare I say it, can someone chop the roof down so it won’t overpower the doors?

Nah, I take that back.  This makes up for all the Chrysler 300s I’ve seen this past year. It’s refreshing, dammit!


Most of its Japanese and American competition had nicer side contouring, but they were all much more expensive.

Whoa dude, check out the logical trunk cut line, just like the hood!  The current Hyundai Elantra could learn a thing or two from its Excel forefather.


I like the hard bend to quickly and definitively transition from the C-pillar to the back of the roof.  Even more important, there’s another hard bend that accentuates the wrap around doors.  How much did this car cost when new?


Since I couldn’t get a decent shot of “my” Excel, this factory shot shows off the roof’s hard bend and the creases in the side.  You didn’t think the Excel could make the shadows dance with the light, did ya? Another thing you will see (in brutal detail) is the pure and functional design of the tail lights.  Simply put, they blend very well with the design.


More excellent usage of parallel lines.  The tail lights wrap around the quarter panel fairly nicely.  There are several bends that keep the boxy trunk and bumpers from looking like (just like the photo of the hood crease) the Hyundai Excel was designed using a T-square. That’s proved further by the negative area on the bumper and between the taillights. Even the trunk lock/handle is well thought out…at this asking price.


A gigantic wart of a lighting pod with exposed screws. Cheap, but who cares?  The Excel is now a museum piece.  It shows how things used to be done, and how lucky we are today!


Every line is in its right place, if only the trunk’s panel gaps were consistent.  And is it just me, or  are those tail lights a little on the Ferrari Testarossa side?


A ribbed, staggered tail light profile?  Don’t look now, but every Mercedes from the 1980s is blushing!


I swiped this photo (credit given) since I couldn’t get this far away from my example.  The Excel is boxy and chunky (never mind that aftermarket spoiler) but there’s no shame in being a cheap but purposefully designed three-box sedan.


This model came with the luggage rack, which is now mostly missing.  Not surprisingly, it doesn’t detract from the mystique of the Hyundai Excel.


Even their license plate graphics conveys the unabashedly cheap demeanor of the Excel. Very kitch, but the trunk lock/handle is definitely a cool bit of cheap car design.


Unlike so many modern cars that chrome out this feature in hopes of looking larger than life, the Excel’s exhaust pipe doesn’t overpromise. Honesty is a good thing, in this case: the motor never really delivered for the Amercian market. Oh well! Goodbye dear Hyundai Excel, I learned much from your logical Italian design. And I hope you did too.

Thank you all for reading, have a great weekend!




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Vellum Venom: 2012 Nissan GT-R Wed, 11 Jul 2012 12:04:33 +0000 Circa 1998, I was mentally ready to move from the (lower-middle class) suburbs of Houston to the College for Creative Studies’ (CCS) dorm in the heart of Metro Detroit. Oddly my big surprise came not from Detroit itself, but from the dorm’s many Sony PlayStations…and something called “Gran Turismo”.  I knew about the Nissan GT-R, […]

The post Vellum Venom: 2012 Nissan GT-R appeared first on The Truth About Cars.

Circa 1998, I was mentally ready to move from the (lower-middle class) suburbs of Houston to the College for Creative Studies’ (CCS) dorm in the heart of Metro Detroit. Oddly my big surprise came not from Detroit itself, but from the dorm’s many Sony PlayStations…and something called “Gran Turismo”.  I knew about the Nissan GT-R, but I was like every other kid playing this amazing game: absolutely blown away by the GT-R’s prowess.

That said, I raced all CCS’ contenders in “arcade mode,” in the big block ’67 Corvette.  With the most power and the easiest to rotate chassis, I wasted most of my Japanese car loving dorm mates. The GT-R was/is rarely my weapon of choice in Gran Turismo. Which kinda explains my general apathy to the GT-R in the flesh.


Swing open that barn door of a grille so we can start dancing! Yee-haw!

The Nissan GT-R has always been a charmingly dumpy 2-door sedan with very little sexiness seen from a proper 2-door coupe. Which makes sense for your average 5.0 Foxbody Notchback or even a Buick Grand National fanatic, but the GT-R turns just as good as it goes: think 911 and Corvette, instead.  But what’s presented is an overwraught sedan, wearing many of the same design cues of the “bad years” of the Mitsubishi Eclipse.

Don’t buy what I’m selling?  I can dig it.  But peep those fluted things around the fog (running?) lights and that gaping maw, both elements in the past decade of Eclipse design language.  And while GT-R looks far, FAR better on proportion and dimensions…I can’t say this design is especially pleasing to the eye. The grille is harsh, the hood (scoops) looks aftermarket, and the headlights are oversized but very static and linear.

It’s brutal and inexcusable…in a good way. I mean, this isn’t an Altima coupe.


Close up to prove my point: is this a NACA duct readily available at Summit Racing?  This certainly is not, but I find the design uninspiring for such an expensive car.


Next close up: this barn shaped cooling-grille-bumper thing is pretty imposing and impressive, but the treatment is just too close for comfort next to the Mitsubishi Eclipse SE. At least the GT-R’s design language hasn’t trickled down to lower Nissans, ruining the mystique. So wait…am I mad at Nissan or Mitsubishi?


Final close up: this tall bumper is ribbed for nobody’s pleasure.  An overabundance of real estate is a big problem for the GT-R. Could be worse, it could be a black plastic insert like the Cadillac CTS-V coupe, I guess.


Iconic emblem FTW.  Not sure if I can say the same about the textured black plastic below. I wish this car looked more expensive!


Okay, I take back my comment about the headlight.  I like the blocky wedge feel, I just wish it was attached to a more organic and less jarring front fascia.


Normally a fender this voluptuous and a hood so bulge-y should tug at the heartstrings, but this design is more like an unfinished lump of clay in the design studio!  Even worse, the GT-R has a wonderful fender that meets up to the A-pillar so elegantly, but I can’t enjoy such economy of cut lines because of the body underneath!


More photo support of the elegant fender-to-A-pillar meeting.  This odd lump on the black plastic triangle probably exists for some aerodynamic purpose, but I can’t shake the feeling it is unnecessary in a better designed vehicle. Does a 911 have this? Or a (gasp!) Corvette?


Fake fender vents are silly on most cars, but this one piece casting is just shameful on a car of this (Dodge?) caliber. I will dance in the streets when designers give up on this idiotic styling trend. I promise.


This greenhouse is rather stunning.  I love the “floating” A-pillar treatment, and how the glass elegantly slopes down as it flows to the trunk. This is one element of the GT-R that I hope will live for years to come, it’s both unique and beautiful.


I couldn’t get a complete side shot in the dealership, so here’s a stock photo.  You can see the unique greenhouse gives the GT-R a commanding presence, but it also accentuates how tall, blocky and cubby this body truly is. If I could take 2″ out of the middle via some sort of automotive Bariatric procedure, I’d be a happy man. This lighter, leaner GT-R would look better from every angle.


And here’s my shot instead.  Natural light helps break up the otherwise slab sided look, especially where the fake vent flows into the front fender’s wheel flare. Also note the helpful hard bend at both wheel wells, and the soft and gentle shadow under the C-pillar, implying a gentle curve to soften the package. Helpful!


Cool door handles almost seem mandatory for a vehicle that became a stateside sensation via PlayStation. This does not disappoint.


Remember those shadows and soft curves previously mentioned?  Yes, they do work. This looks muscular and taut, especially since you can’t judge the GT-R’s height from this angle. There’s nice tumblehome to the cabin, big and broad shoulders, and glass that looks like a racing helmet. Cool!


Note the hard bend (finger pointing) in the C-pillar’s sheet metal. WTF SON: shall we also paint eyebrows on the Mona Lisa?  This bend absolutely ruins a pretty little pillar.


Corvette much? The GT-R’s butt-cap is somewhat appealing, with the strong “square” tone of the marker light mimicking the rear bumper’s harsh cut.  And the round lights don’t look boring (à la Corvette) because of such squareness below, with a hint of round up top.  But that wing looks like a rooftop mounted luggage carrier: adding even more bulk to a tall and fat design.


This Nissan coupe’s back-end would look infinitely better (get it?) if the package sat 1-2″ lower with smaller tail lights. This bumper is just massive, the license plate is absolutely lost in the design!

And I thought the C5 and C6 vettes were worthy of a Sir Mix-A-Lot song. Adding insult to injury is the gentle bend created by drawing a line at the base of the tail lights: making the GT-R’s middle sag like the gut of a stereotypical Gran Turismo couch potato. Bariatric doctors need apply right here!


Zooming in and standing up definitely helps.  The GT-R could be a lean and mean design from here. I am still not in love with the off-center GT-R emblem: this makes the GT-R look like a trim level for some other 2-door vehicle.

Sort of a Super Bee to Dodge Coronet…if such a “Nissan” Coronet existed.


The trunk’s cut line intersects with the tail light in a very unpleasant way. Either the deck lid or the light is trespassing on the GT-R’s massive hindquarters.  Which one needs to retreat?


Much like the ribbed things in the front, this negative area reduces visual bulk and adds some excitement to a big-ass butt.  It is a necessary evil that does help this design.


These tailpipes are huge!  But you really can’t tell until they are isolated from the rear bumper.  The bit of carbon fiber diffusing to the right of the pipes is pretty tasty, too.  If only the entire body was as trim and toned as the lines and curves presented here…then we’d have a proper sports/super car.

Then again, Godzilla himself needed to lose a ton of weight from his midsection too.  So maybe this is no big deal at all. Thanks for reading, have a wonderful week.

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