The Truth About Cars » industrial design The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Sat, 12 Apr 2014 15:00:55 +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 » industrial design Vellum Venom: Uwe Bahnsen, Car Designer, RIP Thu, 08 Aug 2013 03:51:41 +0000 photo

Never forget: people make all the difference.  This often overlooked fact in the glamorous world of automotive styling rings true for the life of Mr. Uwe Bahnsen. I froze in my tracks when I heard of his passing on Car Design News. His work at Ford and with the Industrial Design community influenced me, and every American who loved cars in the 1980s.

How ironic that Mr. Bahnsen’s passing was the week TTAC’s own Ford Sierra passed its citizenship test in Texas: so here’s a great Germanic-Texas Beer for you, Mr. Bahnsen.

Every car is designed by a team–not a person—but the kind words spoken about Uwe’s life say he was no ordinary designer.  And he was a good man: so instead of paraphrasing Wikipedia and the great work by Car Design News, let’s see what he did for us.

Bahnsen’s work with the “bathtub” Ford Taunus P3 and second generation Escort/Capri are impressive alone.  Especially the P3, a progressive–if not radical–design for the early 1960s.  But what’s the Super Bowl of a car designer’s career?  Being the VP of Design, making a paradigm-shifting sedan that sells well around the world. A vehicle that lives long enough to go from radical to mainstream over the course of a decade.

That work is the 1982 Ford Sierra. Unlike more exotic brands (Audi 100 and beyond) that went “Aero” thanks to pricey Italian design and/or expensive engineering for limited production, the Sierra was wholly affordable and completely common. A people’s car like the Model T and VW Beetle…just not to that famous of an extent.

Sierra meets the big fan…

But you catch my drift. Us Yanks only know the Sierra in Cosworth/Merkur drag, so perhaps the firsthand experience of Bahnsen’s hard work as told by Mr. John Topley says it best:

“It’s difficult for me to convey just how radical the Sierra was when it was launched. This was the car that replaced twenty years of the Ford Cortina, a favourite with both fleet and family buyers in Britain. By 1982 the Cortina was looking pretty tired. It was still a best seller but by all accounts it wasn’t a great drive and the technology was pretty agricultural. In spite of which, Britain was still buying masses of them.

By contrast, the new Sierra looked like nothing else around, aside from the even more radical Audi 100 which came out at the same time. I think the Sierra was more important though because it was a mass market rather than executive car.”

Moments in time like these are rare, how often does a design change the way a person moves?  On multiple continents, for over a decade?  This moment elevated the car design game thanks in part to Ford’s Aerospace division, the beginnings of finite element analysis, and usage of new technologies that made the Sierra’s wraparound bumpers and ergonomic dashboards so cutting-edge. It’s a most fertile ground for a designer.

While we (probably) live in the Golden Age of technology, Uwe Bahnsen’s world experienced a far more dramatic change from far less technology. Aside from the aforementioned Audi, most carmakers embraced this technology/design philosophy years later. Boo to them: Uwe and his team were on the cusp of something special…the future!

Uwe Bahnsen made the most of this opportunity, take it from the guy that owns one of his creations.  To this day, the original Ford Sierra looks more futuristic than a Toyota Prius, providing an ownership experience that satisfies the senses like a far more expensive BMW. This doesn’t happen often, especially in America.

More to the point, the Sierra is an ergonomic and aesthetic treat. I’d love to ask Mr. Bahnsen hundreds of questions about his life, but the fact remains: his contribution to the Automobile shall never be forgotten.

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


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Piston Slap: Some Venom for Andrew’s Vellum? Mon, 12 Mar 2012 11:39:46 +0000


Andrew writes:

Hi Sajeev,

I always enjoy reading your nuggets of design wisdom and critique on TTAC. From your articles, its obvious you know some rather talented designers, and definitely have some interesting stories.

If you could spare a moment of your time for a TTAC reader, I’m looking for some feedback on my industrial design portfolio; I’m trying to land my first proper design job that I’ll be happy with after graduating in April of last year. I’m currently working in a somewhat related field in a job that pays well but gives me no joy.

My website is at, I’d like rather honest feedback, whether harsh or good. If you were a hiring manager a design firm, would you give me an interview? And if not, what needs to change?

Much Thanks,

Andrew Lowe

Sajeev answers:

Andrew, you a certainly a gifted designer…definitely like one of the guys I’d just watch in amazement when I was in design school.

Your portfolio is pretty impressive for someone right out of college, especially working cross-functionally with engineering students on the Moon Buggy!  I love it.  I hope every Industrial design professional would like the content on your website.  Only a real douchebag (of which there are many) will have serious problems with what is presented. Don’t let them bring you down.

My recommendation is twofold: I need your ideation sketches.  How do you sketch something? How does your sketch sell the premise of the product to your manager? To their manager?  To a potential investor?

While I never officially put my time at CCS to good use, I did use my (pathetic) drawing skills to good use in the world of the MBA Business Plan competition.  I sketched a product, wrote its key features, and showed it to my team for criticism.  Then I made a nicer one to show to our professors and those who will be critiquing our business plan.  Finally, I made a stripped down drawing with minimal text for our official PowerPoint presentation to use at the actual competitions.

I personally think this kind of experience should be mandatory in Design School.  But that would require a lot of Entrepreneurs/MBAs in the mix.  And maybe, after seeing both sides, that will never work in higher education. For shame.

My second recommendation?  Industrial designers and most artists are too damn verbose. I always thought portfolios should use more bullet pointing of key features/actions/etc of your projects to show things off as purely as your renderings. Again, that’s the MBA in me speaking from Elevator Pitch experience.  But then again, if a kid that went to CCS can do cold calling and corporate-level sales in the same decade…maybe there’s something to it.

I wish you the best of luck; you obviously have talent and know a bit about marketing and sales.  If you didn’t, you’d be like every other I.D. student: unable to read the comments posted by our Best and Brightest because of your letter to me. And if for some reason you become miserable in Industrial Design, be like me and get an MBA. I think you will enjoy learning that end of the “business.”

Send your queries to . Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry.

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Piston Slap: Automotive Design Studio Inbreeding? Wed, 22 Feb 2012 12:57:52 +0000


TTAC Commentator halftruth writes:

Hey Sajeev,

I see a lot of manufacturers using the binocular style gauge motif (see Hyundai Elantra, 2011 Avalon, Chevy Cruze for example) and I hate it! I also see a lot of carmakers using the upside down triangle motif in a lot of their steering wheel designs.  We can even throw in the obligatory fuel AND coolant gauge.. they all seem to do this same thing with little variation. That said, if we look thru history, this mimicking has always gone on.

But why? Sometimes a bad idea is just that and shouldn’t be copied: I am reminded of huge gaudy consoles that take up legroom- for an automatic.

Sajeev answers:

Many, many moons ago, I studied Industrial Design at the College for Creative Studies. I was deluded enough to think I could be the next Harley Earl/Bill Mitchell/Jack Telnack. Instead I learned a truth of the car business from the perspective of an idealistic college student.

And if you notice an undercurrent of bitterness and sarcasm in my writings, well that’s also a byproduct of my time in design school. But I digress…

Binocular style gauge clusters?  They make you feel like you’re on a motorcycle.  Which is cool, even if you don’t get it.  After all, who doesn’t want a crotch rocket over a family sedan? I guarantee you that every clinic-demographic study done by the automakers justifies this styling trend.

Upside down triangle wheels?  Actually, I am okay with this one: tillers are more than just a way to steer and save your bacon (airbag) in a head-on collision. Thanks to cruise control, audio control, climate control and SYNC-like interfaces, the wheel should be a charming piece of design to keep you interested in the technology…when parked.

My point: the car business is a lead-then-follow industry.  Someone has the balls to do something nuts, and when said loony activity makes money, everyone jumps on the bandwagon.  Cadillacs got tailfins. BMWs got Bangle-Butts, Ford made the Taurus/Sable. Chrysler produced the Minivan. Nissan put clear taillights on the Altima. Technology like SYNC gave new purpose to an old steering wheel. And people like a sedan/CUV that’s influenced by a sporty motorcycle, too.

It all brings home the bacon. As Grandmaster Flash said:

“Cause it’s all about the Money, ain’t a damn thing Funny.

You got to have a con in this land of Milk and Honey.”

Bonus!  A Piston Slap Nugget of Wisdom:

When did you realize this sad truth about car design?

I learned about copycat designs with my favorite car, a 1983 (Fox Body) Lincoln Continental that’s been in the Mehta garage since 1986.  At the time, the Hooper inspired “bustleback” coachwork from Lincoln, Cadillac and Chrysler proved that everyone had the same idea. And I am not sure if any other moment in history made the point quite this clear!

Hooper’s designs were famous for a long hood, short deck and a sweeping beltline that dramatically tapered down to the rear bumper: the 1980 Cadillac Seville was the first to see gold in that pre-war styling notion.  Chrysler was certainly the wildest with the 1981 Imperial coupe, yet I thought the 1982 Fox Continental’s incorporation of the fake tire hump and Rolls Royce style grille (both Lincoln hallmarks for decades) worked the best on the retro-British theme. Plus, the automotive experts at Motor Trend liked the Foxy Conti better than the Seville, so now I know I’m 100% right.

Who knows, maybe disco music and endless lines of coke was part of the problem in the years leading up to those three redesigns. Or not.



Send your queries to . Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry.

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