The Truth About Cars » styling analysis The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Thu, 17 Jul 2014 20:36:40 +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 » styling analysis Vellum Venom Vignette: ATS Cluster Commotion? Sat, 05 Jan 2013 06:07:56 +0000

Fellow TTAC scribe Alex Dykes put a somewhat innocent enough post on our Facebook Wall, suggesting the BMW 3-series has a reputation for homogenous design, while the new Cadillac ATS suffers from…well, what so many modern GM products suffer from: a new release that’s only “almost” there. The ATS gauge cluster was his proof.

This cluster spurred a commotion from our FB readers that merited a chat window popping up from the Esteemed Mr. Dykes, suggesting this is a good Vellum Venom. Agreed.

The ATS’ cluster, much like a 94-96 Impala SS’ body in midnight black, is fine at night. The two half circles at each side with the speedo resting atop a multifunction display like a side view of eggs sunny-side up is different: and that’s not a bad idea in a sea of straightforward circles from BMW and Mercedes. A previous foray into this territory by Detroit, the Lincoln LS, was horribly boring and bland.

So let’s wait ’till dawn, shall we?

Oh dear. This is just far too much like the charcoal Tupperware designed Pontiacs of yesteryear. While the Cadillac SRX’s jeweled signal lights are cool and ballsy like tail fins on a DeVille, the ATS has…beveled black plastic accented lights. And that’s the nicest part of the whole cluster.

The flat plane gauge housing, draped in a dull wall of flat black, with cheap needles (again, see the SRX cluster) is so decidedly downmarket that the Kia Optima wouldn’t have it. The multifunction screen’s shape, size and location makes it poorly integrated into the circular theme. And heck, even my Ford Ranger doesn’t have those bizarre indentations for the idiot lights. Where did it all go wrong?

Honestly I don’t know…but the last Buick LeSabre (2005) was probably a low point for GM gauge design. The lumpy gauge receptacles made of cold/brittle looking (yet surprisingly color keyed!) plastic look more like the cute mushroom-thingies from Super Mario Brothers. It’s purely unrefined, and a lack of refinement is the main problem with the ATS’ cluster.

Compare it to what we saw a few decades ago.

Here’s a 1983 LeSabre dash. Note how the warm and inviting looking (if fake) wood trim surrounds the round gauges in a non-mushroom like fashion. There’s also a nice chrome ring frenched in for a decidely upscale look, even with the famous Malaise-era plastic quality. The last rear wheel drive LeSabre, Electra, Park Avenues from the early 1980s had a very upscale quality about them.

It was like a traditional Cadillac, but cleaner and far less ostentatious. It, chassis dynamics aside, was a proto ATS in this regard. I can’t believe I just said that. But here we are.

Perhaps the next photo is better ATS historical reference fodder.

I wish I grew up with the first-gen Pontiac Grand Prix. Reading the history and seeing them at car shows leads a youngblood to think these GM products were the high point of entry level luxury for Detroit.

No, for the world.

A fantastic car? Probably. A fantastic gauge cluster with real walnut trim and timeless mid-century design in the chrome gauge bezels? Wow, that’s the stuff right there, son.

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Vellum Venom Vignette: The Next Iconic American Sedan? Sat, 28 Jul 2012 16:00:46 +0000 The (mainstream) staying power of GM’s B-body is pretty much history.  Panther Love shall live for the next decade or so, not much longer.  I was in this state of mind when auto writer extraordinaire Alex Nunez posted a picture to my Facebook wall, suggesting that the Chevrolet Caprice’s proportioning is somehow a worthy successor to these Iconic American Sedans.   My response? Relative to the Chevy Impala, sure.  But proportioning is more than having rear-wheel drive and a lot of real estate.  If you proportion it wrong, you create a Fool’s errand. You create the Chevy Caprice.

While we say Panther Love, we really mean Cab Backward design for an Iconic American Sedan. Can you dig it?

Cab backward is the complete opposite of what we see today. The passenger compartment doesn’t interfere with the natural placement of the engine, axles and front/rear overhang.  While the original Chrysler LH cars were a fantastic case study in Cab Forward awesomeness, the concept’s absolutely ruined today. Not that every car should look like a Rolls Royce Phantom…

But perhaps the Iconic American Sedan should! Just look at the Town Car’s massive hood and short A-pillar, compared to the Caprice’s vast wasteland of dashboard and visibility-hampering A-pillar.  And look at how tiny the nose is compared to the green house: like a body builder who reached their caves’ growth limitations. It’s disproportionately small. Iconic American Sedan?  Not a chance.

That said, you won’t see me giving the last Town Car a free pass, its proportions are still on the wrong side of the Cab Forward spectrum.



If you were there for the beginning of Panther Love, you’ll remember this photo. The 1988 Town Car had far better visibility from a lower belt line, the space between the dashboard and front wheel is unabashedly delicious, and the fascias make it clear: this isn’t an import wannabe.  Again, Iconic American Sedan. Not the only one, it’s one of many.

Not just many, a cornucopia of Automotive Americana. Sadly, the Iconic American Sedan has been under attack for decades.  Perhaps one day an empowered design team will have the right platform, the right motivation, etc and make a proper sedan for us Yank Tank Fans. Unfortunately, I won’t hold my breath.



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Vellum Venom: 2012 Lincoln MKZ Mon, 28 May 2012 12:38:02 +0000 “MR2turbo4evr”, today is your lucky day: you suggested that someone would appreciate my critiques on Lincoln products, and maybe you are right.  But this self-proclaimed Lincoln-Mercury fanboi was pissed when his favorite version of Ford’s CD3 platform, the Mercury Milan, bit the dust.  But I digress: what to do when you are a designer tasked with making every Lincoln look like the MKR concept, even if that ridiculous grille maybe (MAYBE) works on a sedan with Town Car levels of decadent proportioning, and no other Lincoln?

If you worked on the 2010-2012 MKZ, I suspect you bit your tongue, did your job, cashed your paycheck and told your family how much they meant to you. This applies to the MKZ more than the re-skin of the MKS, MKX and the all-new MKT.  Or maybe working on such a half-hearted design isn’t so bad for a car designer, because job satisfaction is a relative term. That’s where fanbois who’ve lost their way get lost in their own thoughts.


I admit the 2010 re-skin of the Mazda-Ford-Lincoln MKZ shows better attention to detail than the original, witnessed in the chrome headlight surrounds, lower valence chrome trimming and in a somewhat expensive looking grille texture.  But do I care? And should you?
The MKR concept’s grilles harken back to Edsel Ford’s original Lincoln Continental, which was a lovely machine by anyone’s metric. Problem is, the wavy grille has absolutely no business on a modern-day production car with integrated fenders and a boxy, blocky-nosed front fascia.  Absolutely none, because you cannot possibly create the surface tension and excitement without Pre-War hood and fenders.  It looks half-baked, and even worse from other angles.


I usually adore a harmonious theme with attention to detail, but this time I am wrong.  Do not make your grille teeth emulate the shape of your corporate logo’s four-pointed star.  This makes the Continental star (yes, Continental) appear lost in this monstrosity of a grille.  Which says a lot, since this emblem isn’t exactly small.


Even though these headlights are far from cutting edge, lacking LEDs or some cool plastic design feature to create a beam for the turn signals, I like their clean look. It’s organized and honest.  Ditto the chrome trimming, which is very Lincoln-y.  Too bad the grille is starting to get looney from this vantage point, and only gets worse the farther you step back.


Yup, it looks silly.  The grille is completely out of proportion.  How I long for the Mercury Milan! On the plus side, you might spot my daily driver in the background.

Lincoln-Mercury fanbois may be few and far between, but at least we can cry our pathetic hearts out on some respectable machines from yesteryear. My car was recently mistaken for a new Lincoln; the bystander remarked, “I didn’t know they still put the tire hump on new Lincolns!”  How disappointed she was when I said my 17-year-old Lincoln is just a footnote in history!

And footnotes are regularly overlooked, as history isn’t as important as brand synergies and sheet metal interchangeability. But you can’t put a 1940 Continental-style grille on a Mazda 6.  It’s a fool’s errand: the rest of the body’s hard-edged and blocky lines beg for a Milan waterfall grille or the razor blade treatment of the Fusion.



While this is a pretty design feature, the projector beam fog light looks outdated.  Certainly the 2013 replacement shall fare better. But this is proof that the MKZ is aging poorly, and that its replacement can’t come soon enough.


Thanks for telling me this is a “Lincoln”, I thought this was a Ford Fusion. Because I didn’t know what the emblem stood for.  Smart ass snark aside, this hub cap would look so much better without the lettering. Luxury cars don’t need to advertise…at least not here.

Nor should they advertise here.  Beginning with the Mark LT, Lincoln believes that the road to success is built on bricks of bling.  While the fender, door and A-pillar meet in a fairly elegant manner, this fake vent/over promoted ad campaign isn’t working. Thank goodness the 2013 model wisely avoided this cheap mistake.


The wonderful thing about black paint is that it makes everything looks better. The boring side view looks less like a Fusion and more like a nice blank canvas for the chrome bits. The subtle creases down at the rocker panels below are nice enough. The slight bit of tension near the door handles sweeps back to the tail lights in a somewhat elegant manner.  But the FWD proportions, high belt line and not-unique chassis hard points are a miserable failure. This is where I go on another rant about badge engineering, Panther Love and how badly this brand has lost its way.

Yeah, yeah, there’s a new 2013 model on its way. But has everyone moved on?  Conquest buyers have at least a decade’s worth of bitter taste from mundane and out-of-date Lincolns in their mouths. The ones that are still waiting for a truly good Lincoln…well, they are certainly more patient than yours truly.


Take the keyless entry keypad: originally introduced on the Panther (1980) and Fox body (1982) Lincolns, they were a stunning bit of engineering wrapped in an understated, flush mount aluminum panel against the window. The buttons were clear with black bottom…they were an infinity pool to today’s McMansion of a building on an MKZ’s door. Thank goodness the MKS/MKT kept the keypad dream alive, with a flush mount B-pillar design that pays homage to the 1980 original.

It’s bad enough that Lincoln threw a keypad on a Fusion door, but the chrome Fusion handle and silly round relief do not a luxury car make.


The chrome skullcap on a Fusion mirror is fine…I guess.  The big problem is the texture on the plastic base.  It looks cheap, which is reinforced if you are foolish enough to drag your fingernail across it. Cheap, cheap, cheap!


And the worst part: DLO FAIL.  Plastic triangles on a Lincoln are bad enough, but the chrome trimming on said triangle makes me long for a Lincoln Versailles. That was a horrible re-think of the Lincoln brand, but these days the flaws seem less egregious. A daylight opening is crucial to the image of a premium vehicle, and this is just, well…I don’t want drop any more profanities on TTAC.  This Lincoln-Mercury fanboi is just not in the mood, son.

Who in their right mind thought this DLO FAIL was acceptable? Does anyone wonder why Lexus gobbled up Lincoln’s market share?



I once thought that Continental Kits on the backs of Lincolns was more than a bit silly, even though I truly loved them.  But, now more than ever, Lincoln needs an authoritative brand statement.  Something that’s a brash, proud F.U. to the rest of the motoring world.  While Lincoln’s 2013 design language isn’t this shameful, it also lacks that Continental Kit soul. At least in the photos, I guess.



Tall, boxy and clumsy just like any other family sedan.  This isn’t a Lincoln, even if the 2010 redesign adds more upscale looking tail lights and a daring swoop between the bumper and the quarter panel.  The swoop complements the beginning of the tail light, and cuts down hard enough to make the entire decklid look like a Bangle Butt from the heyday of the infamous Chris Bangle designs at BMW. That bumper might be the most interesting, most appealing part in the MKZ’s portfolio of lines. And for that, kudos to the design team.


Except for the little black plastic triangle of DLO FAIL, this is quite an appealing angle.  Too bad the Mercury Milan was much cheaper, had no DLO FAIL and was never too big for its britches.  Simply put, FoMoCo killed the wrong vehicle: a $25,000 Lincoln Milan is a far more appealing proposition.


Notice how the Continental star isn’t lost in these tail lights, like it is in the grille.  And these lenses aren’t exactly small.


Last week’s Volkswagen CC had a clever trunk trick: that whip hid other design features under a flush-mount vee-dub emblem. The MKZ, on the other hand, places an afterthought camera against an afterthought emblem.  But perhaps that remark isn’t clear yet…


Note the thickness of the emblem.  Also note how the word “tacky” isn’t out of bounds.  Why isn’t this badge countersunk like the tail lights?  You already know the answer, and that’s why Lincoln is a brand on life support.


Yup, that’s an afterthought exposed trunk lock on a $35,000 luxury sedan that’s supposed to compete with the Lexus ES. The off-center location and chintzy grommet(?) surround is totally okay on a Ford or Mercury…you know where I’m going with this. One company did a good job up-rating their family sedan into a luxobarge, and another never figured it out. And the sales figures prove it.


On name alone, the MKZ’s death can’t come soon enough. Even if 2013 is a brand new day for Lincoln, this fanboi has a hard time seeing the silver lining in that Lexus ES-shaped thundercloud. I’ll be ready if and when Lincoln joins Mercury in a tragic, star-crossed fate.

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Vellum Venom: 2012 Hyundai Azera Thu, 12 Apr 2012 11:50:39 +0000 Sometimes it’s a little difficult to style a car in a certain genre.  Case in point, the “entry level” luxury car segment.  And not because the cars are rubbish or the designers simply phoned it in, but because so much equity is on the line…on a budget!  This is no audacious Maybach Exelero, here’s an ordinary platform given a few dimensional tweaks, a touch of class and a lot of tacked on “visual presence” in hopes of high volume (compared to an Equus) and high margin (compared to an Accent) successes.  And while this Hyundai has one of the toughest acts to follow–after its Sonata brother blew the roof off the world of family car design–it isn’t a dog.

But it’s a good thing Hyundai never called it the Hyundai Grandeur here in North America. There’s nothing especially “grand” about it.


And while all modern car’s massive front ends fail to excite me, this one has a bit of a “whoa” factor.  I wasn’t expecing to come up against something as vanilla as a Hyundai Azera and see such a uniform design with such a strong statement. The lumps and bumps have a forward lunging motion, as if the front end wants to pounce on you.  The hood’s negative area complements the thicker grille frame below, and the recessed grille teeth below that.  The center of the Azera’s schnoz has a downward pointing arrow feel to it, as if to suggest you should stare at its prodigious crotch.  Wait…that’s what the arrow means when its on a T-shirt worn by an adolescent male, not the Azera.

Combine that arrow with the tapering, drawn together, feel of the sides and the whole face has a lot of forward motion to it.  Then again, it also looks like a Lexus LS with E60 BMW headlights.  Which is the better assessment? Your call, son.


A close up of how the hood’s negative area complements the grille’s design.  Or vice versa.  No matter, it’s a pretty neat bit of styling.


The chrome-rimmed fog lights do a fine job dressing up the package, without actually drawing attention to themselves.  Nice job, Hyundai!


Yup, that there is some E60 BMW in this here headlight, which is pretty shameful.  The Sonata did such a good job looking like nothing else on the planet, and it’s a cheaper car!  I expect more for a snooty, upscale product. Then again, note the chrome flashing that starts from said BMW lighting pod.


On the plus side, the chrome flashing turns into a character line down the bodyside!  Me likey, that reeks of super classy, “entry-level” Luxury!


And that long strip of chrome accentuates a rather fetching greenhouse…this certainly looks more expensive than a Sonata. Too bad the new Chevy Impala just ruined this look for everyone, outside of the fleet departments that will be thrilled to see these in full force.


A little more chrome down unda, Captain!  This isn’t the first time we’ve seen it, and it still looks good.  Maybe add a badge down there, a la the outgoing Lexus GS Hybrid? This is entry level luxury after all, how about we make it a Royale Brougham? What a super classy idea!


Another shot of the chrome, albeit at a less flattering angle.  More importantly, dig deeper and you see how blocky and clumsy that A-pillar truly is!  Where are my beer goggles? Oh right, Hyundai gave us the little black triangle in front of the door, to extend the DLO and cheat on the Azera’s greenhouse sleekosity. More to the point, DLO FAIL!


Hey, is that a real piece of glass, instead of a plastic triangle?  DLO FTW, son!

Also note how strong the shoulder line is above the door handle, going back to the trunk.  The Azera is on its way into turning into a pre-war luxury sedan with voluptuous fenders!


So when your greenhouse has a DLO made of both WIN and FAIL, what do you have? I do like the touch of tumblehome and the angry (light) slash in the side mirror.


If the Azera wasn’t so goshdarn tall, this green house would be Talbot-Lago levels of stunning. Oh, how I lament the days of non-CUV styled sedans.


The lines are clean, the body motions are strong yet understated…this would be quite the looker if someone took out 1-2″ of sheet metal from the center. Considering the rear end design, it would also make it a credible threat to the street presence of an Aston Martin…except Ford already has that threat handled with the upcoming Fusion-Mondeo sedan.


This is where I show my bias to the cars I grew up with and admired: along with the outgoing model, I am very excited to see full width lighting pods come back into vogue. With the tight fitting bumper, Lexus-like exhaust pipes and spoiler-shaped decklid, the Azera banishes the goofy amoeba taillights and chrome license plate mustache to a special place in hell: the same place that DLO FAIL belongs.


I like the tiers in the sheetmetal as they provide a neat bit of surface tension…oh wait…are those Mercedes door handles?  First the BMW headlights and now this…Hyundai’s lack of creativity here is saddening.  At least move the chrome in the middle so the handle doesn’t look like a complete rip-off of zee Germans!


Back to my surface tension remark.  Unlike the new 3-series, the Azera isn’t flexing its muscles: it’s naturally fit.  If only the canvas wasn’t so damn tall, these contours would really shine…like I bet they did on vellum. You know, before the design was translated onto the canvas of a near luxury, platform-shared vehicle. Oh well, Ain’t No Shame in This Game!


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Vellum Venom: 2012 Lexus LFA Mon, 09 Apr 2012 11:23:04 +0000 I understand the need for a luxury car maker to create a super car. It spilled into my drawing books at CCS. But I love Lincolns. To wit: a stand up grille (modeled after the Bugatti EB110), covered headlights (Continental Mark III) , a power dome hood and an-ever-so-slight Continental kit that blended into a spoiler (like the final RX-7).  Jokes about my Panther Love on TTAC is fine, but I was far too scared to encourage the stereotypes in design school. I showed absolutely nobody my super car Lincoln, and I never will…it, among other aborted design studies, went in the trash when I left Detroit.

But Lexus? No, they actually think they can play in this space. At least long enough to make a statement: since I never did, I do applaud their effort. Even if I don’t especially like it.


The LFA has an odd symmetry about it: from some angles, things like the bulbous and bowed headlight buckets look great.  Especially from far away, as the front clip looks like a Honda S2000 that’s trying way too hard to look cool.  Look a little closer to see why.


The hard crease which abruptly ends the headlights and this speed hole are a little too “static” for a high speed machine.  Then again, it has the strong fender line of my Lincoln super car, which I used to reference the 1961 Continental’s flat fenders.  Lexus did this because…well, who knows?


I still don’t know what’s going on here: the fender, hood and bumper meet up like a love triangle gone awry.  Fix it by going Lambo, using the same bumper cutline for both the fender and the hood.  This would certainly clean up the look.


Speaking of clean, this black aerodynamic thingie looks just right for a super car made by a subtle luxury car manufacturer.  I’m sure it does…something.


I don’t know why the signal lights need such an extravagant appendage.  It looks like a super-minimalist buffet table from the dining room of a coke dealer in Miami Vice.  I love it.


The golfball dimples on the badge are a nice touch, but I’d prefer the corporate logo was mounted flush like damn near every other car in this class. This is another busy element to a car that needs to chill the heck out.


But when you step back and turn the corner, things don’t look that bad at all.  Still busy and over detailed, but it also looks like a really, really pissed off LS460. Which I can appreciate.


Surprisingly, Lexus went understated in a place you wouldn’t expect: the carbon fiber side aerodynamic thing.  Again, maybe this really helps, but at least it doesn’t look like an afterthought.


The fixed vent window is a little disappointing. Combined with the harsh meeting of the A-pillar to the fender, the LFA looks far too static and stodgy compared to the same implementation in the Ford GT.


These speedy side view mirrors do look pretty snazzy, even if they don’t “fly” quite as visually high as the original wing mirrors of the Ferrari Testarossa.


This scoop is definitely not Lambo or Ferrari. The L-Finesse design language works rather well here, and justifies the need for a Lexus super car.  Okay, maybe that’s stretching it a bit too much.


This shot reminds me of aquarium fish brave enough to open their mouths against the glass, trying to eat whatever child is gawking from the other side.

Nothing works from this angle, and this is how you approach as you reach for the door handle (bottom RH corner).  Not to mention that this speed hole literally covers the quarter window, big fish in the aquarium style!


When you step back, the “fish” turns into an odd bit of L-Finesse meets Volvo P1800. Except it is still an aesthetic affront to my senses because of its proximity to the quarter window.


I have yet to meet a super car that I didn’t adore from this angle.  Tumblehome and flared fenderwells are a truly magical thing.


The negative area on the posterior (i.e. the black grilles) provides a carve out to the otherwise uninspiring rear bumper. While I admire the LFA’s blend of hard and soft contours, the meeting of the negative area with the fenders is far too harsh.  It’s simply fighting every other element presented.


Negative area should accent or complement other design elements on a rear bumper. The LFA turned them into a duo of malcontents in the hen house.


But wait, it gets worse.  The mini spoilers atop both taillights look just as bad as the afterthought body kit on a Toyota Corolla S. But I am sure these are not held on with adhesive backing, even if their placement would make that acceptable.


Yes indeed: I think the Corolla S reference is still valid…son!


And unlike the McLaren MP4-12C previously reviewed, the lighting elements are also slapped in odd locations with no attention to how their form can accentuate the LFA’s butt.  Then again, with a butt as contrived as this…also take note of the exposed fasteners in the upper RH corner of this picture.


Now these fasteners look great.  Everyone loves seeing a functional bit of kit when presented with such flash (shiny) and modesty (black paneling).


The exhaust pipes mean business. The dealer installed chrome license plate says what everyone already knows: the LFA is only for the Toyota loyalists.  If this was the mid-1990s, I’d fully expect to see gold emblems, too. Just kidding.  Except maybe not.


And that ends it.  When a luxury brand goes for the heart of super car passion, this is their “end” result.  There’s little to be excited about, considering the sizzle from the usual suspects at this price point.  And considering the LFA’s not-mind-blowing performance, the steak isn’t that noteworthy, either.

Then again, perhaps the same thing could be said of the original LS400.  And we all know how that turned out for the Lexus brand.

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Vellum Venom: 2013 Lexus GS 350 Wed, 04 Apr 2012 11:46:58 +0000 A design studio gets shocking when someone shrugs off their stereotypical work, coming up with a whole new game.  But all your designs look the same! You are too retro! I’ve had better looking bowel movements than your last luxury sedan proposal!  The end result of this hate can be shockingly different from what they normally make, and the person behind it can have new found swagger.  In my case as a student at CCS?  Not so much.  But for the Lexus? Maybe so.

Anger.  It’s a good thing in the cutthroat world of design.  And this new GS has it in spades.  Taking the gaping maw of modern Audis and adding a metric ton of hard-edged F.O.A.D. angles to the schnoz worked well for the Lexus GS.  I like the brutal angles to the grille, the not so subtle chrome framing and I especially adore the corners of the bumpers: the fang overhang is very Batmobile.

To wit: my Mother, a GS430 owner, likes her car better from this angle.  Which means that Lexus’ new direction might be well on its way to lowering its ownership demographic.

Critics at the time referred to the Edsel’s loony grille as “an Oldsmobile sucking on a Lemon.”  This is definitely an A6 enjoying that same fruit, except after a few tequila shots to try and forget a traumatic incident.  And that’s huge compliment!  After all, who remembers that Oldsmobile…and who can’t forget the iconic face of an Edsel?

This Lexus sucks…in a good way.  There’s some serious harmonizing here in these lines. Remember what was written on Samuel L. Jackson’s wallet in “Pulp Fiction”?

Ahhh, the classic RWD proportions of a luxury sedan.  This may not be a Fisker Karma, but the same applies here: long hood and a short deck.  The dash-to-axle ratio is long enough to remind you this is a vehicle with the engine pointed in the correct direction, driving the proper pair of wheels. Plus, the punchy grille still comes correct.

The dash-to-axle deliciousness is even better from the side.  The chrome window trim keeps the theme set up by the grille, but everything is a little softer. I also like the relatively tame side surfacing, especially compared to the BMW 3-series.The GS may try too hard up front, but this sedan is keepin’ it cool on the sides. Better let BMW stick with hyper-Bangle flame surfacing, this is still a Lexus. And that is something to be proud of.

Oh, and shame on me for my insistence to go guerrilla-publishing with only my camera phone and almost no time with the vehicle: this is a terrible picture and I apologize.  But if you can only stir up the Venom at high noon on a Saturday, well…

And, in another attempt to look different, the GS avoids the Hofmeister Kink in its quarter window with something that emulates the front grille. Combined with the curve of the rear door, the GS has an almost hourglass quality that takes the edge off the rest of the package’s overt masculinity. Or something like that!

The rear cross section is quite clean, no lumps and bumps like many a modern luxo-sport sedan.  Note how the exhaust pipe (overlays) pull up, while the bumper and quarter panel have a distinct downturn in the corners. That same curvature is emulated in the brake/signal lamp assemblies.  And the obligatory license plate chrome mustache is nicely integrated too. Me likey.

How I long for just a touch more tumblehome in the B-pillar.  Bending things back in that area would naturally bend the C-pillar and make the whole roofline a lot sleeker.  The natural flow would make it happen on Vellum, as you can’t do one thing without an equal reaction in another area.  That’s how your body moves when you draw one line on paper. Golfers know what I’m talkin’ about…it’s all about the swing, son!

This might be one of the best luxo-sedan butts in the business.  Mercedes is flabby, BMW is flexing “Dr. Todd ‘The Todd’ Quinlan” style, and Cadillac is a geometric Buffalo Butt. This right here is tight, muscular, and the lighting pods and angry brow of the decklid make for an assertive look. And the double barrel shotgun look below?  That’s just proper.

Screwball aside: Buick needs this emblem-homage on the Regal’s lighting cluster.  You know what I’m talkin’ about…

Rarely do I appreciate a hunk of plastic deviating from the form of the sheetmetal, but this bit of taillight surface tension works. It is a slick operator.

Okay, this was a bit much.  A faux rear diffuser? Somebody is trying too hard…not to mention on a vehicle with a torqueless V6 and a ton of styling that suggests far more brutal performance than what’s on tap.  Still, this is a great effort and the second best looking GS to date: the rebadged Jaguar Kensington Concept mentioned in a previous review is still my favorite.

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Vellum Venom: 2012 Fisker Karma Mon, 02 Apr 2012 12:00:13 +0000

One of my Transportation Design teachers insisted that cars were just like restaurants: success depends on proportion, proportion, proportion!  And while the mere thought of his lectures makes me want to vomit in terror, the dude is right: cars need to be perfectly proportioned to prove a point. And my goodness, the Fisker Karma is just that. Put another way…

Pull up to any Cars and Coffee gathering in a Fisker and you only need to say this, “Karma’s a bitch, bitch.”

Why? Because you just won at Cars and Coffee, that’s why!


You know it when you see it:  a car designed around the vision of a single person.  In this case, the work of Mr. Henrik Fisker isn’t gonna leave anyone on the fence.  More to the point: inside and out, this is a far more honest luxury sedan than the nauseatingly badge-engineered Aston Martin Rapide, and looks even sleeker.

Yes, the grille looks like a mustache, but it’s a very dashing look for a proper gent.  The triangle theme on the lower valence is seen in the rear, and all cut lines flow from logical points: note how the hood lines accentuate the “hips” above the wheels, and how their turning point is the corner of each headlight. The only bummer is the black foam crash pads behind the bumper. You can’t see it from my camera phone, but they stick out like a sore thumb. Maybe those mustache grilles need a re-think.


The headlights also have a nice flow to them.  The black plastic “waves” are what Mazda should have done with their Nagare design language: left in a hard to find but easy to appreciate location.  And the LED’s elegant arrangement needs to be seen in person to really appreciate.  The only question: did Visteon cut Fisker a break on pricing to have their name so prominently presented on the bi-xenon headlamps?  One can hope.


Again: sorry for the lousy photos, but what you see from my phone is what I experienced.  And did I ever see some amazing proportions!  This is a classic luxury sedan with a long hood and short deck, a notion that’s been around since the day when custom coachbuilders still worked on cars with wood spoke wheels. When you think luxury, this is the proportioning that’s been mandatory since DAY ONE.   Detroit would be wise to remember that.

The only stick in the mud is the oversized wheels.  While I am sure everyone loves big-ass hoops for no reason, the Karma looks clownish with so much rim. The front wheels sit as high as the front door handles!  The Karma is dying for a staggered wheel setup like a C5 Corvette. And yes, this 5300lb cruiser would ride better with less metal and more rubber sidewall.


With the monster rims out of the equation, you can see the Karma’s real beauty. The greenhouse is just so right. Kudos to Fisker for keeping true to the original concept.  This is no small feat.


This is just stunning: every line just falls naturally into place, as if Mother Nature herself drew on the vellum.  While I’d like less rim, the 22′s make more sense back here.  And the oh-so-subtle door handles are a lost art: why can’t we have flush fitting door pulls again? Yes the Dodge Charger comes close…but no, it’s not close enough.


While the (metal) panel gaps are shockingly wide, the Karma is just so right.  As I said when I first introduced TTAC to the Karma concept car, Fisker really shoulda named it the “Karma” Sutra. This body has so much tumblehome and is so deliciously curvaceous in every contour. This is actually a production car? Someone had the balls to green light a design this daring?


Once again, note how much tumblehome there is in the greenhouse, relative to the edges of the fenders. Wow. Even the cutlines for the decklid provide the right amount of curvaceous flair and firm angles to the package.  And the triangles from the front are here on the back, in chrome.  My only beef is with the oh-so-delicate taillights. This is a wide and low machine, a little more heft to the taillights toward the center would add some gravitas to the package. But just a little more, because it is almost perfect.


You might already know what this design feature accomplishes, but that’s not the point.  When a designer needs to make a “feature” perform a certain duty, the gifted ones integrate it with the entire package.  And here is the rear’s “feature” mimicking the front triangle theme.  No doubt Fisker is a gifted designer, but kudos to him for seeing it through to production.  This car is literally a concept car made for the streets.

Once more: this looks like a concept car.  It could be vaporware. But it rides and drives…quite well I might add.  But that’s not the point.


While I will not give any driving (or interior design) impressions on Vellum Venom, anyone who ever experienced the low-slung appeal of the C4 Corvette understands what makes the Karma so appealing.  Both cars have similar hood bulges and fender flares from behind the wheel.  And while the low-slung position means you see plenty of hood in your sightlines, who cares? This car is straight up impressive: all the appeal of the C4, with none of the ingress-egress difficulty.



Here’s another important design term to learn, so you can impress people with your mad skills: dash-to-axle ratio.  The Karma is balanced at a proper ratio.  Perhaps there will be a day when more automakers will get back to something “proper”.  And perhaps Lincoln will make the 1977 Continental Mark V all over again. Yeah right.

Oh, and that exhaust pipe for the 2.0L Turbo mill is pretty cool too. Mercedes SLR aside, when was the last time you saw an exhaust pipe between the front wheel and the firewall?  It’s been way too long, son…that’s what’s up.



Interesting note: the front passenger door handle has a conventional lock cylinder, but the driver’s door has nothing.  While I appreciate the need for minimalism where a driver really needs it, there’s something not right about this.  The driver always has the key, and he deserves a lock to go with it.


So what’s left to say?  Fisker needed to prove itself to rich people.  They also needed a vehicle that could capitalize on our need for alternative propulsion.  My goodness, did they ever do both.  Combining nearly 100 years of luxury coachbuilding elements, modern production capabilities and impressive attention to detail in every corner, the Fisker Karma is the reason why mammal skin is sacrificed in order to make vellum: it actually made production!

If you agree, do yourself a solid and seek one of these in person.  Your eyeballs will not regret it.

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Vellum Venom: 2012 McLaren MP4-12C Mon, 12 Mar 2012 11:55:30 +0000


The MP4-12C has a wonderful backstory for those who love and admire the McLaren brand.  The McLaren F1’s instant Zeus-like status is a large part of the mystique, but not necessarily all of it.  That said, for everyone outside of this world (and price point) you are forgiven if you wouldn’t even consider this over the similarly priced Ferrari 458 Italia….as I probably fit into that category.


A large portion of what makes a super car (in the purest, Lamborghini Miura type of way) so amazing is the character in its sheet metal (or carbon fiber), and the imagery in those creases.  Symbolism is also important: Prancing Horses, Horny Bulls and even the stuff inside the Corvette’s crossed flags give someone a concept to latch on to, a reason to be proud of the huge capital expenditure they are about to swallow.  Too bad McLaren’s red wave emblem looks like something any junior graphic design student can make while picking his nose. But I digress…

I do quite like the lower valence: charcoal grilles that float in nothingness is a unique take on the supercar schnoz.  And while I think it’s a bit busy compared to the purposeful design of the original McLaren F1, at least it stands out in a crowd.



This is a good time to note how a proper Super Car has a nice amount of overhang.  I will take the leap of faith and assume the MP4-12C is designed to meet Europe’s pedestrian safety standards, and make a blanket statement: we need sleeker, more aerodynamic noses for everyone’s benefit.



The doors also do something pretty cool.  I wonder if their design is too complicated and fussy compared to the rest of the package. But if the F1 had it, the MP4-12C needs them.  Side note: the Gallardo needs a proper set of Lambo doors, too!



From the front three-quarters view, you can see how the bumper/grille design emulates the wispy side coves for engine cooling.  It’s pretty trick, even if I think black wheels detract from the package.  Considering the whole vehicle looks like it could be made by one of the many super car makers in this cottage industry, a set of wheels with the authority of the Lamborghini Countach’s “revolver chamber” design are needed.



Do you feel this car hails from the automaker that gave us the F1?  I’m not feelin’ it, son…especially since that greenhouse doesn’t hold three people with the driver in the center.  Tragic.



The integrated vents (that probably do something epic) most certainly look awesome.  I love seeing subtle, well-crafted details like this.



Speaking of details, thank goodness for Super Car hips and tumblehome!  Granted, we can never have this in an affordable vehicle, but work of the late Bill Mitchell was close enough.  Oh, to feel that good about Detroit Iron again!



While the speed bullets are a little fussy to me, these side view mirrors are quite appealing.  But considering the MP4-12C’s extensive use of Carbon Fiber in the McLaren tradition, maybe they are just fine, going with the carbon fiber mirror housing themselves.  I’d probably spend the extra coin to get McLaren’s matching carbon fiber arms…which I believe do exist, but cannot verify due to McLaren’s unbelievably slow and obtuse website.  Web 2.0 junkies do not approve.



The rear three-quarters perspective shows off the necessary “speed holes” you always see on Super Cars to make them fast and sexy. (Hat Tip to Homer Simpson for that wonderful phrase.) My problem here?  The speed holes aren’t as integrated (or painted body color) like many a Super Car before this one. From the materials, the shape of each hole, the cross section of each hole and the patches of flat black trim, this is a busy design. It’s begging for the integration seen on the quarter windows in the photo above.



Problem solved. The rear end is simply awesome from a dog’s eye view.  Which is what most people will see as this monster disappears into the sunset.  And while I could go on about the sleek integration of this design, I will say one thing instead: the high mount exhaust tips are very trick. They no longer exist by themselves, like a perfect couple that’s perfectly in love, the rear of the MP4-12C is a single entity.

Wait…one more thing: the integrated, smoked taillights in the rear louvers are so awesome that it needs to be a retrofit for Ferrari Testarossas around the world. It feels so good to see new lighting technology implemented without drawing attention to itself, until actually necessary. Death to Altezzas?



Yes, no doubt.  This car proves why oversized lighting pods are officially out of style. Death to Altezzas!



Even the rear marker/reflector lights mimic a character line in the MP4’s rump.  Somewhere, Mr. Walter Gropius is smiling from a sky high vantage point.



Oh yeah, the engine is quite pretty too, but that’s not really the point behind the Vellum Venom series.  Kids don’t normally sketch dashboards and engine covers in the margins of their school notebooks, they stick to the body.  And can you believe a phone took a picture this nice?







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