The Truth About Cars » Design The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Wed, 23 Jul 2014 18:25:17 +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 is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » Design QOTD: Regulation Is Ruining Car Design Mon, 09 Jun 2014 14:42:33 +0000 Opel-Monza-Concept-17

Today’s installment of Quote of the Day comes from Mark Adams, design chief for Opel/Vauxhall and creator of the Monza concept, which is expected to set the design direction for the two brands in the near future – assuming that regulations don’t get in the way.

Speaking to Automotive News Europe, Adams opined that  “In the last five to 10 years designing cars has gotten a hell of a lot tougher”, with much of the blame going towards regulation. The twin forces of fuel economy and pedestrian safety standards have converged to create very specific parameters for automotive design – hence the proliferation of high hoods, blunt front ends and the “reverse tear drop” shape on so many three-box vehicles. This specific form provides an easy way around all of those requirements, at the cost of an increasingly homogenous cohort of new cars.

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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 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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Eyes On Design Announces Aliterative Show: Mustangs, Maseratis, Mass Market, Military, Muscle & Movies – Cars and Pop Culture Sat, 31 May 2014 16:00:19 +0000 eyesondesign2014poster

The Eyes On Design car show, held every Father’s Day on the grounds of the Eleanor and Edsel Ford estate in Grosse Pointe Shores, just north of Detroit, is a unique event. While many, perhaps most, of the cars on display there are of concours level quality, the show is not about perfection, authenticity or preparation. In fact it’s not actually called a show but rather an “automotive design exhibition”. Eyes On Design is run by the Detroit area automotive styling community so what judging is done and the awards that are given are based on design. The Father’s Day show is the major fundraiser for the organization, which holds a number of other events throughout the year (including design awards at the NAIAS aka Detroit auto show in January) to benefit the Detroit Institute of Ophthalmology, part of the Henry Ford Health System. That’s the hospital system that’s grown out of Henry Ford Hospital, founded by the automotive pioneer. Seventeen vehicle categories for this year’s exhibition, to be held on June 15th, have been announced to complement the overall theme of the event – “Automotive design’s influence on popular culture”.

Over 250 cars, trucks and motorcycles will be on display, chosen for those that “provoke a nostalgic reflection about cars that have, through their design, affected the popular culture of their day”. In addition to the general theme of the event, 2014 will mark four important automotive anniversaries, Dodge celebrates its centennial and this year is the golden anniversary for both the Ford Mustang and the Pontiac GTO. It’s also been 50 years since the New York World’s Fair in Flushing Meadows, where automakers and many suppliers had elaborate displays. Motorcycles will be represented at the show with a selection of Indians. Perhaps the category with the strongest connection between cars and pop culture will be a display of movie and tv cars. While some will be replicas, the authentic Monkeemobile from the tv series and the real Black Beauty from the 1966 version of the Green Hornet with Bruce Lee, both built by the late, great Dean Jeffries, along with a real Smokey & The Bandit Trans Am, will be on display, as will be a few fictional cars made for movies. The complete list of movie and tv cars follows the category listing below.

As part of the publicity runup to the event, the organizers recently revealed the poster for the 27th Eyes On Design exhibition. The artist is Nicola Wood of Los Angeles and it features a blue 1936 Cadillac “Aerodynamic Coupe” in front of the swimming pool on the grounds of the Ford estate. In the foreground a woman’s eye is seen in the reflection from a cosmetic compact’s mirror. Seven other eyes are hidden in the background. The symbolism expresses the charitable goal of the show, medical treatment for eye disorders. Though it’s a commissioned work, the painting was also labor of love for the classically trained Wood, a member of the Automotive Fine Arts Society (AFAS), who continues to paint after losing vision in one eye due to macular degeneration.

The poster was revealed by General Motors former assistant chief designer, Steve Pasteiner, who discussed the origins of the car on the poster. Originally a show car that Harley Earl created for the 1933 Century of Progress world’s fair in Chicago, the Aerodynamic Coupe established what today we’d call the design language for many GM cars in the mid and late 1930s. Pasteiner, whose AAT shop builds concept cars for automakers, is a big fan of the rolling sculpture era of the 1930s. His Buick Blackhawk, which was built to celebrate Buick’s centennial and sold at auction for more than a half million dollars and AAT’s Cadillac LaSalle C-Hawk, which sold for $269,500, were heavily influenced by the Aerodynamic Coupe.

I’ll be covering Eyes On Design this year, God willing and the creek don’t rise, so if there’s a particular car or category you’d like me to check out, let me know in the comments.

Here are the categories for this year’s Eyes On Design exhibition:

50th Anniversary of the GTO – celebrating 50 year’s of Pontiac’s muscle car
Classic Era – high culture becomes pop culture, from the mid-20s to WW2
100 Years of Dodge – a century of survival and success stories
Color, Chrome and Fins – symbols of post-war American optimism
1964 New York World’s Fair – 50-years on from the event in Queens
50th Anniversary of the Ford Mustang – the original pony car
Tuners – the evolution of car personalization from 1967 to today
Muscle Cars – high horsepower straight from Detroit
Working Class of 1928 – American car culture is born – the birth of Plymouth and Ford’s Model A
Pure Michigan – a celebration of some of the lesser-know makers from Flint, MI
Personal Luxury Coupés – a look at the high-end mid-size coupés of the 1970s
Movie & TV Cars – including four-wheeled stars from the big and small screen
Maserati – highlights from 100 years of the Italian maker
Stock to Rock – standard models paired with their heavily customized twins
Collector’s Circle – supporting car collectors and their hobby
Military Vehicles – from war-torn roads to off road heroes
Indian Motorcycles – an enduring and endearing tribe founded back in 1897

The movie and television cars will be:

1965 VW Beetle (“Herbie”) from “The Love Bug” (1969). The anthropomorphic Beetle with a mind of its own and the number “53″ racing number, which starred in six Disney productions through 2005. This is a correct replica owned and put together by a Lynn Anderson, who’s a contributing editor for Hot VWs magazine.

1966 Pontiac GTO from “The Monkees” (1966). California car customizer Dean Jeffries built the original highly-modified GTO convertible, known as the “Monkeemobile,” for use by the pop rock band during their NBC TV series, which originally aired from 1966 to 1968. This is the actual car from the tv series, as “restored” by George Barris’ shop, currently owned by a Detroit area collector who paid more than $300,000 for it. Pics here.

1975 Ford Gran Torino from “Starsky & Hutch” (1975). A replica of the red-with white stripes car driven by the two California detectives in the TV cop series, which originally aired from 1975 to 1979. A “Starsky & Hutch” movie was made in 2005.

Winton Flyer from “The Reivers” (1969). Designed to look like a 1904 car, this one-of-a-kind fictional vehicle driven in the movie by Steve McQueen and owned by him. It was created by the legendary artist and car craftsman Kenneth Howard, aka Von Dutch.

1966 Chrysler Imperial (“Black Beauty”) from “Green Hornet” (1966). Originally created by customizer Dean Jeffries, this modified Imperial rolling arsenal starred with Van Williams and Bruce Lee in the 1966-1967 ABC TV series.

Leslie Special from “The Great Race” (1965). Driven by good guy Tony Curtis in the Warner Brothers movie, this gleaming white roadster was loosely designed to look like a 1907 Thomas Flyer, which actually won the real “Great Race of 1908″ from New York to Paris.

1977 Pontiac Trans Am  from “Smoky & The Bandit” (1977). This special black “T-top” Trans Am was driven by Burt Reynolds in the smash hit Universal Pictures movie, which made $300 million and almost doubled the sales of Trans Ams

1982 Pontiac Trans Am (“K.I.T.T.”)  from “Knight Rider” (1982). A replica of the advanced supercomputer in a bullet-proof body on wheels. The robotic KITT could communicate with humans, drive itself and shoot flames and tear gas in the NBC TV series which ran into 1986.

Nissan 240 SX  from “Fast & Furious IV” (2009).One of the many customized cars used in scenes from the Universal Pictures action movie starring Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Michelle Rodriguez and Jordana Brewster.

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can get a parallax view at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

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Vellum Venom Vignette: 2015 Camry Regression Analysis Wed, 16 Apr 2014 17:39:31 +0000 051-2015-toyota-camry-1

As expected, TTAC’s Best and Brightest called it: the 2015 Camry has Chernobyl-grade DLO FAIL.

Or maybe that’s heavily tinted glass?

I consider myself lucky I’m not attending the NYIAS, this would make my head go explodey all over the show floor.

No transportation designer, wannabe like me or otherwise, wants to see that gigantizoid of a hunk of black plastic go into production.  The years of thankless hard work, the brutal cost of design school on your wallet/social life, etc shouldn’t turn into this.

There was nothing, absolutely nothing wrong with the 2014 Camry’s greenhouse: it was sleek-ish and a completely DLO FAIL free zone before the redesign.  It was a beautiful thing. And now it’s gone.

Thanks for reading, I hope you (can still) have a lovely week.

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Wolff Out, Woodhouse In As Lincoln Design Director Fri, 11 Apr 2014 10:00:54 +0000 Max Wolff, Lincoln Exterior Design Chief

The Lincoln division of Ford has replaced former design director Max Wolff with David Woodhouse, the former head of the Blue Oval’s Premier Automotive Group, as part of the premium division’s $1 billion makeover.

Bloomberg reports Wolff will remain with Lincoln as the brand’s exterior design boss, and that the change occurred in December with little fanfare, as Ford no longer issues press releases for promotions below the vice president level, according to spokesman Stephane Cesareo. Both design chiefs were brought over from General Motors to Ford, with Wolff arriving in 2010 from Cadillac, and Woodhouse from GM’s design studios in 1999.

Wolff’s biggest mark on Lincoln is the current MKZ, which he reworked immediately upon arrival in 2010. Though the premium sedan — based upon the Ford Fusion — faced production problems that saw the overall brand’s sales fall to a low not seen in over 30 years, the MKZ’s success boosted Q1 2014 sales to 36 percent.

Aside from his styling work with PAG, Woodhouse was in charge of Ford’s advanced design studio in California between 2004 and 2009, and guided Lincoln’s strategy between July through December of 2013 before becoming the brand’s new director of design.

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Leno Talks Nissan IDx: What’s Left Unsaid Speaks Volumes Mon, 10 Mar 2014 15:42:57 +0000 IDx Freeflow / IDx NISMO

The Nissan IDx concept, which debuted at the Tokyo motor show back in November of last year, is in the news again, this time appearing on YouTube as a part of the popular Jay Leno’s Garage series. We learned in January that the IDx is expected to go into full production and Nissan has been relentlessly seeking publicity for it by taking it to events all around the country. It is a good looking little car with just enough retro touches to remind people of the times when Nissan was sold in this country under the Datsun brand name and this video is the lengthiest review of the car I have yet seen. Leno spends a lot of time speaking with the car’s designer about all the little details that make the car so special and then takes it on a real world test drive. If you haven’t seen it yet, take time to look at it now as it will soon be the topic of discussion around water coolers and wherever else it is that car guys gather these days.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Rather than review the video, I’ll let you watch it and draw your own conclusions but I was struck by the fact that, even during the test drive, there was no discussion about the car’s driving dynamics or performance. Leno and the car’s designer ride around together talking about silly things like three-box design philosophy and keeping the car cheap so that normal people can afford it, but at no point does Jay say, “Wow, this thing handles great” or “Wow, this thing really accelerates.” Perhaps it was a simple omission on the part of the video’s producers but I feel like it could be more than that and, because of it, I am getting an odd sense of foreboding.

Back when Nissan announced that the IDx would go into production, they mentioned that the turbocharged engine in the show car would not make the final cut. They suggested instead that the production car would mount a 1.6 liter four cylinder and this earlier statement is confirmed by the designer during his ride with Leno. What does not come up in this conversation, however, is the other bit of informaion Nissan originally dropped in their January announcement: that their stated choice of transmissions for the car is their continuously variable transmission.

Photo courtesy of

Photo courtesy of

I would imagine that, if Nissan was paying attention to the opinions of their many fans and had elected to go with a different choice of transmissions, the designer would happily have trumpeted that decision during the interview. The fact that he ignores the transmission altogether makes me feel even more certain that the IDx will be delivered exactly as Nissan’s original announcement indicates – sans manual. Frankly, I am disappointed, and unless the company takes action to offer at least some version of the car where people can row their own gears, I think the IDx is going to be another one of those cars that almost, but not quite, caters to the enthusiast market.

To be sure, I’m not sure if catering to the enthusiast market is a wise thing to do for a car intended to sell in large volumes, but I would like to think that our opinions still matter. If nothing else, enthusiasts generate buzz around a new car and that excitement can and does drive people into the show rooms. The industry has this habit of hyping cars to the enthusiast market and then coming up short and, frankly, I don’t like it. I believe the BRZ/FR-S is not selling in the numbers they expected because Toyota and Subaru decided they knew better than us about what people really wanted in a small sporty coupe. Dodge, too, horribly botched the debut of the new Dart by failing to bring enough automatic transmissions to market something that is, from my perspective, at least partially to blame for their failure to sell what is otherwise a nice little car. Will the Nissan IDx be the next example of a promising little car that ultimately under-delivers? I honestly hope it isn’t because I would love to live in a world where we have more than enough cute, zippy, fun to drive little cars running around, rather than a world where I am always right.

Thomas Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking where, according to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.

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Vellum Venom: MINI Cooper Hardtop (2012) Tue, 31 Dec 2013 12:00:03 +0000 title

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 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 Vignette: Art and Design at The 24 Hours of LeMons 2013 Tue, 22 Oct 2013 12:50:40 +0000

My worst moment at the College for Creative Studies was during Portfolio Review: a presentation of one’s body of work since the beginning of the semester.  So it comes as no surprise that my favorite parts of a LeMons race is judging the artistic(?) themes of the cheaty $500 race cars in attendance.  Let’s combine the two for this quick vignette into an alternate world of automotive design: come up with a moderately creative theme, say or do something idiotic, make me laugh and perhaps I’ll forget about that fancy header…or those super cheaty shocks that supposedly “came with the car.”

Did you really think that car design ends in the studio?


A 1990′s Pontiac Trans Am is a great canvas. This aftermarket(?) hood works well with the warning sign cribbed from an OSHA-compliant industrial zone. It’s mounted and cut in a way to harmonize with the body’s cut lines…for a reason…


Right. A toxic waste of a machine. Also note the sweet T-top covers.


Major props for the Terminator 2 style dying hand in a pit of goo!  This was a great theme that made good use of the Firebird’s real estate. This was a short and sweet Portfolio Review, also because F-bodies are so horrible in LeMons!


The Tow-Mater themed Miata is a local favorite.  “His” eyeballs went up for this LeMons race, as it was a full 24 hour running.  While not as cute with those square headlights in play, this team did a fantastic job impersonating the vehicle of many a kid’s fancy: check out the weathered paint on the door!  And since this Miata is only moderately cheaty with good-natured racers in tow, well, it’s hard to hammer them too hard during their Portfolio Review.  IMG_1479

Yup, Escort Service.  You just know these guys will fare well in their Portfolio Review. Because this is probably painted on a…IMG_1480

Ford Escort.  While this platform has uber LeMons potential with enough cheating and a decent crew, many an E30 must die in the paddock before it’ll ever win.  Combine that with the truly tasteless (yet clever) theme involving the famous Escort name…yeah, they got off easy. Ish.


This Shelby (yes, Shelby!) Daytona Z made plenty of friends at the race. Usually Engineers aren’t the most creative with themes…but…IMG_1485

Okay, this isn’t especially clever, but mechanical engineering formulas/jargon on a car tuned by Shelby himself is entertaining. Because we all owe so much to Nikolaus A. Otto!


Supposedly that’s the formula for an automobile’s exhaust composition. Some of the elements look right to my unverified eyeballs, but it didn’t help this Shelby. It barely ran long enough to produce said byproduct of the Otto Combustion Cycle.


Beaker from the Muppets sealed the deal: this Shelby sailed through its Portfolio Review easily.  Great theme on a horrible K-car!  How could it NOT dominate the slowest class in LeMons???   (It didn’t, remember it’s still a K-car.)IMG_1496

I had to dress up for my Portfolio Review, so I appreciate it when racers do the same.  Kudos to the flying sausages!

Great artwork too, by the way.  Someone definitely listened to Rob Zombie when they attacked the hood of this Porker.



Ditto this Toyota Supra with the Texas flag on the hood, made out of Shiner Beer bottle caps. Passed Portfolio Review with flying colors!


They say it’s Chuck Norris, I think it’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad! Plus it’s an E30, so this Portfolio Review might go poorly!


This Buick Century was “hand painted” in support of a local charity in Austin.  Part horrible Art Car, part horrible LeMons racer.  I LOVED IT.  IMG_1510

How can you say no to a vehicle with this much style? With a suspension so soft that the rear sloshes in harmony with the front when you push down on the front bumper?  It literally felt like a water bed with no internal baffles.  Sailed right through the Portfolio Review!


Pretty obvious, but totally worth a laugh on inappropriateness alone. But this was (IIRC) a super-cheaty Integra, and no amount of low-brow humor can overcome that!


A brilliantly executed theme on a VW you’d otherwise forget.   IMG_1519Slapping a mannequin onto a Honda Civic does not a good theme make, but seeing the underwear’s collection of track filth netted a hearty laugh. 

IMG_1520Plus it’s a Honda Civic, so it’ll be driven waaaay too hard and the head gasket will go explodey…Portfolio Review, Passed!


One of my favorite cars is next.  This Ford Probe is an eye catcher in the world of crap cars for a good reason! Note the attention to detail in the paintwork and the craftsmanship in the spoiler made of license plates.


Retaining the (rather cool when new) Probe SE graphic in your custom LeMons mural? Brilliant! IMG_1526_2

Even their name has some style…even if “some other guys” kinda ruined it.

IMG_1526_3Considering Houston is the home of the Art Car scene, this Probe does a good job mocking the genre. Or is it paying homage?


And lastly, the Probe’s roof. Michaelangelo would be proud…except not.


If Upton Sinclair ever ironically drove a Dodge Neon race car in the Land of Steakhouses…


A truly horrible theme for an increasingly less horrible LeMons racer. At least the team (all two of them) dressed to match the Gas Monkey thing.  This Datsun roadster is all-electric, and considering its terrible (but ever improving) on-track performance, “aping” a horrible TV show that grows on you…well, it totally made sense. What’s that sound that Richard Rawlings always makes?  Wow-ooooh!


Because Barbie always wanted a GMC Caballero.  Did they ever make a Ken doll with a mullet? IMG_1569

Another winner in this race for losers, they sailed through the Portfolio Review on theme/vehicle choice alone.  They offered to bribe and we told them it wasn’t necessary!

And with that, an apology: I’m sorry to soil your finely honed eyeballs with these horrible excuses for car design.  I promise to do better next time. But thanks for reading…and I hope you have a lovely week. Still!

title IMG_1569 IMG_1568 IMG_1567 IMG_1544 IMG_1545 IMG_1559 IMG_1547 IMG_1538 IMG_1539 IMG_1531 IMG_1529 IMG_1526 IMG_1526_2 IMG_1526_3 IMG_1526_4 IMG_1525 IMG_1521 IMG_1520 IMG_1519 IMG_1512 IMG_1514 IMG_1516 IMG_1517 IMG_1510 IMG_1509 IMG_1506 IMG_1502 IMG_1498 IMG_1499 IMG_1500 IMG_1501 IMG_1497 IMG_1496 IMG_1491 IMG_1490 IMG_1483 IMG_1472 IMG_1473 IMG_1485 IMG_1486 IMG_1479 IMG_1480 IMG_1488 IMG_1468 IMG_1467 ]]> 4
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 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.

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China’s Latest Military Weapon…on Whitewalls. Wed, 04 Sep 2013 15:25:41 +0000 Styling from a Billy Joel song...

Styling from a Billy Joel song…

What you see above is a picture of the Chinese “Dong Feng 21D,” or “DF-21D.” A new Anti-Ship Ballistic Missile being produced and fielded by the People’s Republic of China.

There is as to the true abilities of the missile, but it is being presented as a drastically capable anti-access weapon. More commonly we would think of this as stand-off weapon, primarily designed to target and destroy aircraft carriers, a distinct advantage of our nation’s military. Despite my chosen profession, I am not intelligence expert. I did speak with several unnamed sources. A pilot friend with a particular resemblance to from Rocky IV was quoted as saying “Wow, that IS a big dong and I wouldn’t mess with it!”

But the reason I have this here is to point out a key characteristic which might prove this isn’t a weapon system to be toyed with; whitewalls.

For those who don’t remember, whitewalls were THE symbol of excess in the 70’s and the statement of style in the 50’s and 60’s. As a result in of our nostalgia, they have made a specialized comeback.

It is worth noting that rubber in its natural state in white, and carbon was added to the tires to give them a clean appearance. So at the introduction of the automobile to our society, whitewalls were considered a sign or lower economic status.

t could be argued that the tires for this vehicle are un-dyed rubber and my mockery is unfounded. But that seems contrary to the camouflage of the vehicle. Moreso it seems to be the same level of posturing as the vehicles that would turn blocks in Red Square after changing number to give the appearance of more weapons than they actually had.

Done for style or no, one thing is for certain, the Chinese are certainly learning how to make an entrance. So it is not entirely without basis that I see them rollin’

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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 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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Chris Bangle On Current Car Design: “Real Need For A Change” Mon, 02 Sep 2013 16:39:54 +0000

Click here to view the embedded video.

Designer Chris Bangle, who was strongly identified with BMW’s brand image and some controversial styling decisions before leaving the company four years ago to open up an independent design studio, says that today’s car designers are doing the same things over and over again, something he calls “mannerism”. In and interview with Automotive News Europe, Bangle said, “There is a real need for a change and that’s just not happening.”

Designers talk about innovation, but don’t really innovate, Bangle opined. “Even concept cars today simply anticipate the next production model coming down the line. Is this innovation? No. And at the end of the day this is what’s preventing car design from moving into a new era.”

When asked if he considered returning to run an automaker’s studio, Bangle confirmed that he’d been offered jobs but insists that he’s not interested at this point in his life, though he said that he loved his time with BMW. “Designing cars consumes you; it has a hold on your spirit which is incredibly powerful. It’s not something you can do part time, you have do it with all your heart and soul or you’re going to get it wrong. You have to know when to leave the party.”

Note: The video above is of a presentation Chris Bangle made last November to Stanford University’s Center for Automotive Research at Stanford (CARS), wherein he discusses some of the same issues.

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Vellum Venom Vignette: Center Stage, High Mounted! Tue, 06 Aug 2013 12:32:06 +0000 31-550x480

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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The Ur-Father of Automotive Design: Andrew F. Johnson’s Correspondence School For Automobile Body Makers, Designers and Draftsman – Now Online! Sat, 03 Aug 2013 13:00:49 +0000 car packard 2

Just who invented automotive styling is open to debate, that is if you can even really narrow it down to one person. A number of people certainly deserve credit. In the United States, Harley Earl, Edsel Ford, and Alan Leamy, among others, come to mind. However, there is one person in the early days of the automobile age who probably had more to do with the way cars have been designed than any other single individual. I like to call him the “Ur-Father” of car design. His name was Andrew F. Johnson and if you’ve ever enjoyed the way a car was designed, you should know about him.


Johnson taught the first generation of car body builders in America how to draw and design automobiles. Actually his influence on the auto industry predates the auto industry, since he taught people like Billy Durant (who founded General Motors), Charles Nash (who co-founded Buick and later started his own car company) and Herman Brunn (of Brunn & Co., one of the leading classic car era coachbuilders) how to draw vehicles when they were young men working in the carriage industry.


Once the automobile started to make the carriage industry as irrelevant as, well, buggy whip manufacturers, Johnson moved his focus to motor cars. George Mercer, who co-founded the first independent automotive design firm in America in 1909, was a student of Johnson’s. Three of the Fisher brothers, as in Fisher Body, were pupils of his and for a while he taught drafting at Detroit’s prestigious Cass Technical High School, a job that the Fishers arranged because the growing industry had a need for trained draftsmen and artists. Brunn wasn’t the only great automotive coachbuilder who learned his trade from Johnson, Ray Dietrich, who founded LeBaron and whose custom bodies now fetch millions was a Johnson student. Less well known, but also influential was Otto F. Graebner, who designed and engineered bodies for the Murray Corp, a major body supplier. Just about every significant coachbuilder as well as mass producer of automobile bodies in the first half of the twentieth century had designers who learned how to design car bodies from Johnson or apprenticed under his students.

springs color

So how did the man come to be so influential? Andrew F. Johnson was born in Nova Scotia in 1854 and he left home at the age of 16, getting a job at a carriage maker in Gray, Maine. By the time he was 30 years old, he was working for Brewster & Co. of New York City, America’s most prestigious carriage maker, later to be known for their custom automobile bodies with unusual heart shaped radiator grilles. The move to New York was a great opportunity for Johnson. Today, if you want to learn how to design cars, you have your choice of design schools, like Detroit’s College for Creative Studies, the Art Center school in California, Pratt in New York and schools in Italy, Japan and elsewhere, but it’s not a curriculum that’s offered at every college. You still have to move to New York or Detroit or Milan or Pasadena or one of the other cities with a design school. In 1883, the only place in North America where you could learn how to design carriages was in New York City, at the Technical School for Carriage Draftsmen and Mechanics. Classes were originally taught at the Metropolitan Museum, three nights a week. Tuition was free, subsidized by the carriage trade.


Before it was decided that every American student had to be on a college track or be considered a failure, few people availed themselves of higher education. They got jobs. If they wanted to improve themselves and their lots in life, they would enroll in night school. If there was no school teaching that skill nearby, correspondence courses of varying degrees of academic rigor were also popular.

Johnson showed great promise at the Technical School, graduating at the top of his class, winning an industry sponsored scholarship, the Paris Prize, that allowed him to study for five months in 1885 at the DuPont school in Paris, with Albert DuPont. DuPont is credited with bringing techniques from ship building and design to the carriage industry. In particular, DuPont taught his students how to design in three dimensions. One vehicle design term that dates to DuPont, lofting, describing how shipbuilders would drop plumb lines from building lofts in order to transfer locations from paper plans to physical space, is still used by designers and draftsmen today for the process of transferring a lines plan to a full size plan.

books (3)

Upon his return to the United States, Andrew Johnson was probably the most technically proficient carriage designer in the country, too valuable to the industry to work for just one company. He was encouraged to join the Technical School’s faculty, where he started introducing DuPont’s techniques to America. Seven years later, in 1892, when the director of the Technical School died, Johnson was named principal. Under his direction the Technical School started offering its curriculum via a correspondence course. As the automobile industry got established and grew, Johnson changed the school’s curriculum to meet the needs of the young industry but when the Carriage Builders National Association stopped subsidizing the school in 1918, it was closed. For a while, Johnson moved to Detroit, where he had a job teaching automotive drafting at the city’s premier public school, Cass Technical High School. His former students, Alfred, Edward and Frederick Fisher arranged the position, having by then with their other brothers sold 60% of Fisher Body to General Motors, after already becoming wealthy selling car bodies to a variety of companies. Johnson eventually returned to Maine, from where he operated the correspondence course, now called the Correspondence School For Automobile Body Makers, Designers and Draftsmanuntil his death in 1943. He was well loved by his students – there was even a “Johnson Club of Detroit”, an alumni association, to which he endowed his personal archive.

How the course worked was as follows. After tuition was paid a student number was assigned that the student would use to identify his homework. Johnson would mail a copy of that week’s lesson to the student. To create the lessons, Johnson would draw and hand letter each lesson, first in pencil, then in ink. Those masters would be used to create the cyanotype copies of the lessons mailed to students. Just why he used cyanotypes isn’t clear since by then the Gestetner and mimeograph processes were in use. Perhaps his training as a draftsman made him favor the blue printing process. Later, Johnson would have his lessons typeset and printed.

car renault freres 1912 cyan

Whichever way he duplicated the students’ lesson papers, they went out with the following instructions:

Instructions to Pupil. – Copy in black crayon the design on this sheet, increasing the size by about one-quarter, and observing all suggestions contained in Lesson Paper No. 1. Return to the instructor, by parcel post, prepaid, within one week after receipt, when the following lesson will be forwarded to you. Put no writing on either the copy or original drawing and do not seal the envelope. All questions must be sent by letter mail. Be sure, however, before returning your copy, to place upon it the number assigned you on the Teachers’ List of Corresponding Pupils, that he may identify it.

first-series-lesson-paper-1 preliminary instructions in free hand drawing

The reason why Johnson wanted the pupils to increase the size of the drawings was to prevent them from cheating, either tracing or using tools to transfer the design. The reason why he didn’t want any writing on the originals is pretty obvious, he wanted to use the same cyanotypes for as many students as possible. Cyanotypes were affordable but still not inexpensive. Johnson must have been very careful with his originals. He cared enough about them to endow them to his alumni club in Detroit. One of those former students, George Mercer, later arranged for the correspondence course to be donated to the Detroit Public Library where it is now part of the National Automotive History Collection (more on the collection here).

car renault freres 1912

The NAHC is one of my favorite places, the world’s largest public archive of things automotive. The NAHC has everything from the latest enthusiast oriented automotive books to the board meeting minutes of long dead car companies, to technical specs and repair manuals for just about everything that has a motor and four wheels. Unfortunately, with the City of Detroit’s financial problems, much of the NAHC’s collection will not be digitized for the foreseeable future. A historical artifact like Johnson’s course should be available to students of design and automotive historians.

fourth series lesson paper 4 figure planes and their traces on the planes of projection

When I found out that the  NAHC had a copy of his correspondence course, I visited the DPL’s Skillman branch and took digital photos of all of the originals and cyanotype copies in the Andrew F. Johnson portfolio. Some were loose, some were bound with a cover. It was exciting to see that on some of the originals, Johnson’s own handwriting, calculating out projections, could be seen in the margins. There were sample drawings of cars and car chassis, used as homework assignments, drawn by Johnson’s own hand. He was a talented artist as well as a gifted teacher.

miscellaneous lesson paper 18 developing the surface of a cowl

As far as I have been able to determine, the only other collection of  lesson papers from Johnson’s correspondence courses besides the NAHC’s is in the Library of Congress, in Washington, D.C. and it’s hard to tell from the online catalog records (here and here), just how complete the Library of Congress’ Andrew F. Johnson collection is.

miscellaneous lesson paper 3 developing the surfaces of automobile wings

I have been able to determine from a syllabus listed in a 95 year old trade publication that what the DPL NAHC has in their collection is not quite a complete copy of the course. The materials in the course are arranged into series of lessons. Series 1 is missing one lesson, Series 2 is mission one lesson, Series 4 is missing 8 lessons, Series 5 is missing 5 lessons, Series 6, which has three lessons, is missing entirely, Series 7 appears to be complete, the 8th Series is missing 8 lessons, the Extra Series is missing 2 lessons, and the Miscellaneous series appears to be missing three lessons. Still, even with those lessons missing, the bulk of the correspondence course is intact, with examples of  at least 87 out of 118 lessons.

miscellaneous lesson paper 11a developing the surface of automobile bonnet

It occurred to me that Johnson’s course on automotive body design and drafting deserves to be seen by a wider audience of designers, students of design, automotive historians and car enthusiasts so I decided to make a digital copy of the documents in the Andrew F. Johnson portfolio at the NAHC. Many of the techniques Johnson pioneered or popularized and taught are still used by automotive designers today, albeit in digital form on computers.

miscellaneous lesson paper 11 developing the surface of automobile bonnet

The circumstances for photographing the documents were not ideal, I simply laid them out on a chair underneath my camera’s tripod. Since I could not get my camera exactly perpendicular to the documents, there was some keystoning, the images were skewed. With a photo editor I then did some minimal deskewing and cropping – they’re far from perfectly square and aligned, but for the most part they’re legible. Some of the documents were only available as cyanotype reproductions, and in a few cases, the blue printing had faded and legibility has suffered. Still, as a whole, it’s an amazing artifact of the early days of automotive styling and body building.

After I had all the images in more or less usable form, I thought it would be a neat idea to put Andrew Johnson’s Correspondence School For Automobile Body Makers, Designers and Draftsman online, in the same order as he taught it, so that if someone wanted to go through the course and learn how to draw cars in the real old school method, they could. After a false start with some HTML templates that took forever to fill in, I came to a better solution, posting the lessons in order on a blog.

Blogging software is perfect for providing the materials in an organized manner, so if someone really wants to, they can start at the beginning of the course and do all the lessons in order. Each lesson series is posted under a different category and a Table of Contents page has links, in order, to all the lesson and examination papers. My hope is that the site will function as an archive of his work and a memorial to the enduring influence on automotive design by Andrew F. Johnson. You can access Andrew F. Johnson’s Correspondence School For Automobile Body Makers, Designers and Draftsman here.

I finished getting everything online a few weeks ago but I haven’t done much to publicize it, just asked my colleague here at TTAC, Sajeev Mehta, who knows more about the process of learning how to design cars than I’ll ever know, and automotive writer Michael Lamm, who literally wrote the book on American automotive styling, if they thought the project was worthwhile. They thought it was, and since my regular weekend slot here at TTAC usually touches on some aspect of automotive history, I’m using this post to let you know about it. Under the new regime here, our Editor in Chief pro tem said there’d be no vanity publishing, so just to be sure, I ran it by him and Mr. Kreindler and they’re cool with it. They agree with me, if you’re a car guy, you should know about Andrew F. Johnson.

For more on the seminal role that Andrew F. Johnson played in the history of automotive design and styling, please check out Chapter One in Lamm and the late David Holl’s encyclodpedia of American automotive styling, A Century of Automotive Style: 100 Years of American Car Design, now available on DVD (the hardcover version is now out of print) from either Amazon, or directly from Lamm-Morada Publishing. You can also probably find it at your local public library.

Speaking of which, since this post and the project of putting Johnson’s course online would not be possible were it not for the Detroit Public Library’s National Automotive History Collection, if you’d like to contribute to the Detroit Public Library Friends Foundation, an independent 501C3 non-profit, you can, or if you have something of a historical nature that you’d like to leave to posterity, the library does accept donations to their special collections, including the NAHC.

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can dig deeper at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

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Vellum Venom: 2012 Honda Crosstour Tue, 30 Jul 2013 12:42:32 +0000 title

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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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 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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The Growing D-Pillar Epidemic Tue, 04 Jun 2013 16:44:19 +0000 pillaraaa

Today, I’m going to talk about SUVs. This will annoy some of you out there in readerland because I’ve talked about SUVs a lot lately. First, I posted a story about hybrid SUVs, which was largely ignored by the automotive community but caused me to chuckle several times as I wrote it. Then, I posted a story about the BMW X5, which was also largely ignored by the automotive community, with the exception of BMW X5 owners, who passionately defended their SUV’s honor in the face of lease jokes.

But listen up, because today’s topic is far more interesting than either of those. It’s about D-pillars.

A little background. The D-pillar is the fourth structural pillar on a modern automobile. You, being a car enthusiast, probably already know this. But when I put “d pillar” into Google, one of the suggested results was “d pillars of Islam.” So, just to be clear, this article is about cars. Or, more specifically, SUVs.

When I was a child, (this was approximately 15 years ago, or – if you ask my girlfriend – last month, when I spent $40 on a Cadillac beach towel) SUV D-pillars were tiny. And when I say tiny, I don’t mean “slightly smaller than they are now.” I mean: D-pillars were actually the size of one of those empty paper towel rolls elementary school art teachers always seem to be collecting.

These days, that isn’t the case, as modern D-pillars are absolutely enormous. I noticed this because I’m currently driving a Hyundai Santa Fe press car, which has gigantic D-pillars. It also plays a song when you turn it off, which is another major difference from old SUVs. Back in the 1980s, the only thing that happened when you turned off your SUV was that you were now able to hear your passenger.

To prove my point about D-pillars, I present to you this photo comparison:


On top is a 1980s Jeep. You’ll note the Jeep’s D-pillar is only about 13 pixels wide. Meanwhile, the bottom photo is of the all-new Hyundai Santa Fe. I took it this morning after I ambled out of bed, wrapped in my Cadillac beach towel. In this photo, the D-pillar is 367 pixels wide. Clearly, we have an epidemic.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: Why the hell does this matter? or maybe: Hmm… that Jeep looks nice. I wonder what they’re going for on Craigslist. If you’re thinking that, we have something in common, because this article has been heavily delayed by Craigslist browsing with the search term “cherokee -grand.” But if you’re thinking the former thing, the answer is simple: visibility.

You see, some drivers – and I’m not going to name names, because I don’t want to point fingers, but it’s the baby boomers – believe a lane change cannot be properly executed without a) signaling, and b) removing your eyes from the road for as long as physically possible to look over both shoulders, and possibly behind the vehicle. These drivers spend about 20 minutes a day looking backwards. These drivers need small D-pillars.

Because of the immense safety concern presented by the enlarging D-pillars, I’m curious about precisely what is causing them to grow. I have two theories:

1. Style. It seems that automakers view the D-pillar as a growing source of stylistic expression. This may be because the rest of today’s crossovers look so similar that the D-pillar is the only opportunity for any distinction.

To prove this, I present two exhibits. One is the Lexus RX. The first-generation model, you see, had a D-pillar that was sized like the aforementioned paper towel roll. But the second-generation RX lost this feature in favor of an enormous D-pillar, possibly designed so that baby boomers would stop considering the RX, thereby lowering Lexus’s average buyer age.


Exhibit two is the Infiniti JX, which may also be living under the alias QX80, or possibly QX60 – no one’s really sure. The JX, which is largely bland, especially when you’re driving it, offers a kinked D-pillar, almost as if to say: Don’t forget about me!


2. Safety. Yes, that’s right. I believe that the growing D-pillars – themselves a very dangerous element of automotive design that could only be rectified with some crazy course of action, like mirror adjustment – are an element of safety.

You see, back when that Jeep was new, nobody was doing roof strength tests. These days, however, both the NHTSA and IIHS carries them out. In fact, doing well on roof strength tests is basically essential to receiving top marks from those agencies. The result is that everyone is beefing up their pillars to pass the tests, thereby earning great safety ratings.

Sadly, no one carries out visibility tests, which leaves our over-the-shoulder lane changers with a serious problem. Fortunately, I have a solution: a used Cherokee. Because in Craigslist photos, the D-pillars are even fewer pixels wide.

@DougDeMuro operates He’s owned an E63 AMG wagon, road-tripped across the US in a Lotus without air conditioning, and posted a six-minute lap time on the Circuit de Monaco in a rented Ford Fiesta. One year after becoming Porsche Cars North America’s youngest manager, he quit to become a writer. His parents are very disappointed.

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Vellum Venom Vignette: Auto Dealership Design? Tue, 04 Jun 2013 11:00:29 +0000

I enjoy highlighting automotive design, yet cars aren’t everything: architecture happens. So let’s combine ‘em for the world of automotive retailing.

Witness a perfect moment in A.D.D. (Auto Dealer Design): the Mid Century Modern design of Duffield’s Lincoln-Mercury paired with a suicide door Continental. Photographer Julius Schulman did a solid to both man-made, Mad Men worthy items: taking advantage of the facility’s rectilinear-ness, the Continental’s unique doors, a perfect shadow and a pretty girl for scale and perspective.

This is one reason why you love(d) certain car dealerships. Then again, step back, remove the artsy-fartsy elements and let the local marketing change it all.

Apparently Mid-Century design is NOT mass-market retail friendly. Maybe you want the lifestyle of Mr. Schulman’s photograph, but we all know you’re leaving with ‘dat $2168.00 Mercury Comet.


Perhaps it’s time to examine modern dealerships…sporting all that manufacturer-demanded style!

No surprise: BMW does a fantastic job.  If the dealer has the real estate, they sport a rotunda that emulates the “four cylinders” of the corporate office.  Far from a facade re-skin, this is arguably the best designed dealership plan by the automakers. To wit:


Mercedes’ blue pillars with vanilla-steampunk metal elements in front of the requisite luxury car glass walls doesn’t work. I see it speaking to Local Motors’ quirky mechanical wonders on wheels. While far from offensive, does this work with a somewhat conservative, hood-ornament bedazzled luxury car brand?

Since the Volkswagen Auto Group is far from stuffy and conservative, both the Audi and Porsche boyz make some interesting spaces that emulate their vehicle’s Teutonic designs.  Porsche dealers emulate the newer buildings in Porsche’s home in Zuffenhausen quite well.  It’s an appealing grouping.


Lexus’ modern, minimalist mushroom-topped buildings had a charm that grew on you…just like the 1990 LS 400. While the textures changed from ribbed pillars and roofs to modern, BMW-like, square paneling, you know a Lexus dealer when you see one.

Unless you visit Escondido California.  Wow: a stunning wedge of (mixed use) office building with the Lexus Mushroom in the entryway.  This is why America rocks…right?

Infiniti is another story.  Their original buildings had a cubist theme rivaling the hipness of the grille-less, belt-buckle face on the original Q45. The new design puts a glass wave of modest elegance to any current building.  Not bad, but forgettable compared to other brands.  Then again…if the cars are this forgettable…

…but it could be worse…

Photo Courtesy: Performance Ford-Lincoln

Oh my damn. Admittedly, the standalone Lincoln dealerships (all 17 of them?) are far better.  But the not-expensive, supremely cosmetic facade-upgrades of their blocky entryway do not scream luxury. The black marble is cool, but that’s only one element looking for more. This isn’t a rotund BMW dealership: much like their product, Lincoln buildings are needs a more unique platform.

I was going to say something slightly similar–but less negative–about Cadillac.  Until this: cheaper Cadillac buildings have the same tall entryway on a mundane box of a facility, but there’s something refreshing about their lightly colored stone, all that lightly-tinted glass and the supremely traditional Cadillac script logo on top.  And when lucky enough to add it to a dealership this round, tall and impressive…well, it’s a done deal. The mix of color and glass seems more inviting and more upscale than the starkness of Lincoln dealers.

So what do you think about A.D.D.? Well, I hope you have a lovely day.

(If the comments section warrants it, I’ll dig into non-luxury brands next time ’round. Come on Son, you know you want it!)

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Car Design Driving Increased Car Sales? Spare Me Wed, 22 May 2013 12:30:11 +0000 2013-Ford-Focus-SE-Ecoboost-1.6-001-450x300

A piece in Bloomberg that could hardly be seen as anything but relentless Detroit homerism puts forward the thesis that cutting-edge design is helping Detroit capture increasing market share in a white hot new car market. Per Bloomberg

From the fires of Detroit’s descent into near-death, GM, Ford and Chrysler Group LLC have forged some of the most distinctive designs since tail fins were soaring in the halcyon days of the postwar-era. Models such as GM’s Cadillac ATS sports sedan, Ford’s Fusion family car and Chrysler’s Jeep Grand Cherokee are turning heads and stoking sales.

On the strength of stylish new showroom offerings, GM, Ford and Chrysler all gained market share in the first quarter for the first time in 20 years. Meanwhile, Toyota Motor Corp. (7203)’s staid standard-bearer, the Camry, has endured three months of declining sales as the automaker ceded U.S. share this year.

Rather than single out Detroit as the object of my scorn, I will say that we are far from a golden age of car design, and that sentiment transcends vehicle nationalities. Safety regulations, CAFE and a relentless focus on fuel economy have made most cars look utterly homogenous; nearly all sedans are some variation of the reverse teardrop shape, while crossovers, tall wagons and SUVs blend into the same amorphous two-box conformity. There are a few standouts these days and Detroit seems to have a disproportionate share of them; the Jeep Cherokee (which is distinctive if nothing else), the Jaguar F-Type, the Chrysler 300. The Ford Mustang will sadly be turned into another organic blob as the Blue Oval prepares it for sale in Europe and other world markets. The new Cadillac CTS is a wonderful execution of the concepts expressed in the ATS, but at a price point that’s off-limits to many of us. But by and large, it is getting harder and harder to tell one car from another.

Bloomberg pays particular attention to the Ford Fusion, the 4th best selling car as of April 2013. Even so it is still being beaten by three dull-looking Japanese cars; the Camry, Accord and Altima. Cadillac is resorting to incentives to push the ATS, a car that was already the subject of more Bloomberg  boosterism and the Jeep Grand Cherokee, despite being a lovely SUV in every single respect, is not exactly a ground breaking design. Hell, the consistently criticized Chevrolet Malibu is currently ranked tenth in the sales charts despite being panned by just about everybody who fancies themselves an armchair Adrian van Hooydonk.

There are many factors driving the growth of domestic auto sales; the need to replace an aging vehicle fleet, the expansion of subprime financing on the part of certain manufacturers and of course, the general competitiveness of a wide number of American cars. But to suggest that we are in a “Golden Age” of design not seen since the 1960s – a truly superlatve era for automotive design in America - is an absolute farce.

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Mustang by Mazda? When Ford Probed The Possibility Fri, 10 May 2013 16:17:52 +0000 Photo courtesy of

In the early 1980s, as the economy continued to slump and gas prices soared, American car makers were desperate for a way forward. The good old days were gone forever. Under pressure from the Japanese, whose small cars had gone from rolling jokes to serious, high quality competition in little more than a decade, the big three knew they needed to make a radical departure from their traditional approach before it was too late. Although some of the more stodgy cars would soldier on and continue to sell to members of the Greatest Generation well past their expiration dates, for the rest of us the future was a smaller, lighter and more efficient. The winds of change were blowing and even the Ford Mustang felt the chill.

In 1982 Ford began to take a good, hard look at their strong selling V8 powered, rear wheel drive pony car. Introduced in 1979, the Fox body mustang was a radical departure from the Ford Pinto based Mustang II that had carried the name forward through the disco era and it was a good car, but all indications were that the front engine rear wheel drive platform appeared to be on the way out. Most domestic manufacturers were headed towards front wheel drive platforms, Chrysler was already heavily invested in its K car and rumor had it that even GM was considering moving its Camaro and Firebird to FWD. Fortunately, Ford’s 25% stake in Mazda offered them quick and relatively inexpensive access to a FWD platform already under development, the Mazda 626, and they chose to examine that option.

Toshi Saito of Ford’s North American Design Center prepared the initial concepts, one of which was chosen and the project moved forward into a full sized clay mock up and eventually a fiberglass model was constructed and sent to Japan where Mazda headquarters in Hiroshima. Mazda’s management approved of the design, but after some thought Ford decided that it wasn’t quite what they were looking for and came back with a longer, leaner and more rakish design that required some re-engineering from Mazda. The car was to be produced in the United States and Mazda purchased a Ford property in Flat Rock, Michigan to produce the car alongside their own 626 and Mx-6 models.

Photo courtesy of

Much like the now oft-derided Mustang II, the new Mustang was set to be a radical departure from the Fox car. First, no V8s were to be offered. Instead, the front wheel drive Mustang would mount a Mazda sourced transversely mounted 4 cylinder good for about 110 horsepower. For the first year, GT Mustangs would feature the same 4 cylinder with turbo good for about 145 horsepower – comparable to what the Mustang V8 was making at the time – and the next year move to the Mazda V6 which was good for about 175 horsepower. The design was sleek, slippery and generally well liked by those who saw production models and images.

The public backlash against the car came as a real shock. Mustang enthusiasts and red blooded ‘Murricans everywhere were appalled at the thought of a Mustang based on anything other than good old American design and sent up a howl of indignation that resonated all the way back to Ford’s executive offices. Firmly in the Reagan era, a resurgent America would simply not tolerate the venerable Mustang name attached to a Japanese design. As thousands upon thousands of angry letters poured into the corporate offices, buyers rushed into dealerships and sales of the Fox body Mustang, which had been slipping as the design aged, suddenly increased.

Photo courtesy of

People, it seemed, were anxious to own what was sure to be the last “real” Mustang rushed into the dealership before it was too late and, in a moment of “Classic Coke” vs “New Coke” brilliance, Ford capitalized on the controversy. The classic Mustang would remain on sale, but the new car would live too, and so Ford reached into the bag of names and pulled out one that had been attached to an especially well received aerodynamic concept car just a few years earlier and, with a knowing wink to proctologists everywhere, dubbed it the “Probe.”

Photo courtesy of

The rest is well known history. Introduced in 1988, The Probe was a success and it went on to win the hearts and minds of many of those who cross shopped it with its primary competition, the Chrysler/Plymouth/Dodge Turbo K variants, the small FWD GM cars, the Cavalier and the Beretta and Japanese turbo cars of all makes and models. Sales were brisk and the Detroit News reported in 1989 that Ford was selling around 600 of them a month. The design was refreshed in 1993 and almost 120,000 were sold that year. By 1997, however, the design had run its course and only 16,777 were sold. Meanwhile, the “Classic” Mustang soldiered on, was continually refreshed and, although it has been updated and redesigned over the years, it is still with us as the front engine, rear wheel drive pony car that God and Lee Iacocca originally intended.

Looking back, the 80s was a time or real, small-car innovation. Car companies, both domestic and foreign, put forth an amazing number of designs across all price ranges as they fought for market share. In that regard, I suppose, Ford really didn’t hurt themselves by keeping the ‘Stang and adding the Probe to their showrooms. I’m guessing the Probe really didn’t steal buyers from the Mustang as they each appealed to different market segments. I wonder, however, what would have happened if Ford had made the decision to stick with New Coke? Would GM have followed suit and put the Camaro and Firebird on a smaller FWD platform? Would the Chrysler K Turbos have eaten all their lunches? I wonder…

Thomas Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking where, according to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.

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Fear Of A Black Planet Fri, 03 May 2013 14:30:19 +0000 Chevy Equinox Trio Picture by David Hester

Take a good look at the picture above. What do you see? If your answer is that you see three black Chevrolet Equinox “cute utes,” you’d be wrong.

I took the picture at about four in the afternoon on a sunny day at my local Chevrolet dealer. According to their window stickers, each of those trucklets are a different color. The Equinox furtherest from the camera, facing the building, is the only one that is Black. The one closest to the camera, next to the curb, is Black Granite Metallic. The third Equinox is painted Tungsten Metallic. Here’s a shot from a different angle of the Tungsten Metallic and Black Granite Metallic trucks. See the difference?

Tungsten on left GBM on right Picture by David Hester

Yeah, me neither.

And if that’s not enough different shades of Pretentiously Named Dark Color That Looks Almost the Same from 50 Feet to satisfy you, Chevrolet offers a fourth shade of Almost Black for the Equinox called Ashen Gray Metallic. Here is a picture of an Ashen Gray Metallic Equinox parked next to a Tungston Metallic Equinox. The AGM truck is on the left. I think.

AGM on left Tungsten on right Picture by David Hester

Keep in mind that these pictures were taken on a sunny day. Time, and the fact that the dealership was still open and I didn’t feel like dealing with any salesmen desperate to close a sale before the end of the month, kept me from examining the trucks any closer. I returned the following Saturday evening after the lot had closed for some more pictures. The sky was clouding over as a thunderstorm approached, so there wasn’t any sun to bring out the metallic flakes that help to differentiate the individual colors. Here are all four of them in order from darkest to not quite as dark.




Granite Black Metallic

Granite Black Metallic

Tungsten Metallic

Tungsten Metallic

Ashen Gray Metallic

Ashen Gray Metallic

Seriously. It’s not just me, right? These colors are almost the same.

For 2013 the Chevy Equinox is available in 11 different colors. That’s actually on the high end for modern mass produced vehicles and it’s down from 12 options during the 2012 model year. The Equinox’s big brother, the Traverse, is available in 9 shades, as is the Suburban.  The Cadillac XTS makes do with only 8. Somehow, the marketing mavens at GM have given buyers of the fifth cheapest car in Chevrolet’s lineup more color options than they gave the higher end flagship models.

On the other hand, if 4 of the 11 colors are so similar that 9 out of 10 eyewitnesses to a drive- by shooting involving a Chevy Equinox after dark would describe the getaway vehicle’s color as “Black,” are consumers really being offered much choice at all? On Chevy’s  “Build Your Own Page,” photoshopped onto a beach background, each of these colors appear very different from one another when viewed on a computer screen. But in real life, parked next to one another, they look way too much alike. This lack of choice was augmented at my local dealership by the fact that of 19 new Equinoxes for sale, 10 of them were painted one of the four “Almost Black” colors in question. The point was further driven home by the almost complete lack of diversity in interior color ordered by the dealer. Only a single model had a gray interior. All of the others were black.

Chevrolet (and presumably, the dealer) would most likely reply that they are simply responding to what customers want. Every year DuPont publishes a survey of the most popular automotive exterior colors broken down by market. In the latest survey black and gray were the second and fourth most popular colors in the North American market, as well as in the world overall.

All well and good, I suppose. There’s no reason why black and gray shouldn’t both be part of the lineup. But why offer two of each color and why make your grays so dark? Compare the color range in the four pictures above to the picture of a 2012 Equinox painted in a discontinued color called Graystone Metallic I found for sale on the used car side of the lot.


Graystone Metallic

Graystone Metallic

So why would Chevrolet be so seemingly afraid of color? Their competitors aren’t. At the Ford dealership across the street I found these two Escapes. The dealer had stocked multiple examples of both.

Frosted Glass and Deep Impact Blue

Frosted Glass and Deep Impact Blue

It seems that Ford and Chevy have reversed their traditional roles when it comes to exterior colors. Most people have heard Henry Ford’s famous quote regarding the color of the Model T:  “Any customer can have a car painted any colour he wants so long as it is black.” Most people don’t know that prior to 1914 the Model T was available in multiple colors and the black standard was only adopted as Ford refined his assembly line process. The conventional wisdom is that Chevrolet (and GM overall) were able to grab market share because their models were offered in a greater variety of colors. There’s some truth to that belief, but it’s not the whole story.

It’s obvious that the old days of dozens of color combinations for each model are gone. That doesn’t mean that consumers shouldn’t be given a few more choices than the manufacturers seem to feel comfortable offering today.  At the very least, there’s no reason to offer four shades of practically the same color. C’mon, Chevrolet. Take a chance and show us some color.  Dump two of those four colors and give us another green or a real brown. Throw in a Burnt Orange or a Turquoise instead. Your competitors are doing it.


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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 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 ]]> 49
Bloomberg Interview: American Car Design Rennaissance? Fri, 05 Apr 2013 14:57:57 +0000

If you have a spare four minutes and four seconds (plus time for the commercial) take the time to check out the following discussion over at As a layman, I find these kind of discussions very interesting and would like to hear the best and the brightest, many of whom I know to be connected with auto industry, give a little perspective to what seems to me to be a very shallow look on the subject of modern car design.

The active premise of the Bloomberg piece is that American car design lost its way in the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s, and is now beginning to return to its former glory. There is no doubt in my mind that improvements automotive technology have ushered in a golden age of performance, dependability and longevity, but I am left feeling cold when I hear people talking about how superior the “new designs,” are to the ones that came before.

There were some fantastic designs in the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s and when I look back at the clean, classic lines of many of those cars I miss the days when designers used a straight edge as a part of their work. The Chevrolet Vega and Monza, while mechanically problem prone, are still wonderful looking little cars that have aged quite gracefully. The mid 80s Fox Body Mustangs, shown in the piece alongside both previous and later versions, look especially good to my eye. Of course you already know my thoughts on the Chrysler LH cars of the 1990s – I like them so much I put my money where my mouth is and have a 300M Special in my driveway.

My take is that there were some damn good designs in the eras these people are deriding. Sure there were some uninteresting and even outlandish designs too, but that doesn’t mean that designers have spent the last 30 years sleeping on the job. They were trying new things and some of those really worked. So, tell us now, what are your favorite cars from the much derided ’70s, ’80s and ’90s?

Thomas Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking where, according to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.

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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) 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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