Lizards

lizards

David Icke believes that blood-drinking lizards from the fourth dimension secretly rule the world. Owners of the Subaru Impreza Turbo believe their car is attractive. Uh sorry, but no on both counts. Still, there's no arguing with some people. Once they get an idea about their car's physical appeal stuck in their head, even a steroid-crazed Marine drill sergeant couldn't brainwash it out. Beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, but some beholders are as mad as the government's nominal transport policy.

Why else would anyone buy a Fiat Multipla? Search the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, and you'll find a picture of a Multipla owner under the heading "automotive dysmorphia". As in someone who can't see that the Multipla is so ugly that if it was a dog, you should shave its ass and make it walk backwards. Except that the only thing uglier than the front end of a Fiat Multipla is the rear. So, if the Multipla was a dog, I reckon you should just go ahead and shoot it.

The Multipla is only the latest in an ignoble tradition of ugly cars. Henry Ford's Model T was no catwalk babe. Anyone heard of the 1935 Tempo? For the sake of your breakfast, I hope not. What about all those post-war, three-wheeled "bubble cars"? They look like nothing more than insects in need of a good smack with a rolled-up newspaper. And anyone who is nostalgic for the 70's should consider the hideous Nissan 300 ZX and the monumentally bizarre Aston Martin Bulldog. Both cars are so angular that their toy versions make ideal (and strangely satisfying) doorstops.

Evolving technology is responsible for a lot of today's automotive eye pollution. Headlights used to be big and round, to throw huge light beams down the road. Gas discharge lamps now do an infinitely better job with an aperture no bigger than an Escort exhaust pipe. But just because you can do something doesn't mean you should. Check out the front end of the new Volkswagen Microbus. Two sets of tiny bi-xenon headlights have transformed the friendliest face in motoring history into an empty robotic grimace. Alfa Romeo's designers also exploited the modern lighting technology when they drilled four small holes in their Spider's bonnet and called it good. I call it the "ecstasy look": the world's first car with drug-dilated eyes.

New technology— in the form of advanced aerodynamics— has created a whole new genre of ugly: blandmobiles. Pop any car into a wind tunnel and shave off the bits that stop the wind from slipping past the metal. No matter what you shape start with, you'll eventually end up with the same thing. Download the Porsche screensaver (www.porsche.co.uk), and you'll see the classic 911 shape slowly evolve into a suppository. It's no surprise that today's Carrera shares a virtually identical front end with the Honda NSX and Ferrari 360. Ask the same question—how do we get this damn thing to go faster? — and you get the same answer: make it look like a bullet. Bullets are fast, but they're better at piercing hearts than capturing them.

This aero-blandification has all but destroyed the venerable design tradition known as the English "flying brick". The best examples of this style, the agricultural Land Rover and the aristocratic Rolls Royce, have both surrendered their distinctive battering ram front ends for something altogether more slippery— and about as exciting as dry white toast. Only the Welsh or the culturally ignorant would deny that this ongoing process of "modernisation" has robbed the cars of valuable "British-ness". Unfortunately, the trend is just as pervasive in the mainstream. The MondeoC5LagunaS60KiaA4 look is a direct result of engineers messing about with giant hair-dryers. While the finished product is undeniably fuel efficient, it's the automotive equivalent of elevator music.

Luckily, manufacturers occasionally manage to answer the demands of engineering whilst delighting aesthetic sensibilities. I'm sure that the TVR Griffith will someday be displayed in London's Design Museum. OK, so a Griffith's answer to the "demands of engineering" is "huh?" But the fact that TVR or Aston Martin or Lotus sells any cars at all shows that good design is ultimately more important than silly little things like reliability and economy. Perhaps other carmakers will learn this lesson, and refuse to sacrifice visual thrills on the altar of new technology. Meanwhile, we have to put up with some very odd, terrifically ugly cars. I mean, has anyone else noticed that "new" cars like the Mondeo and Previa look increasingly reptilian? Maybe David Icke wasn't so wrong after all… But I still ain't buying an Impreza.

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  • EAM3 Learned to drive in my parents' 1981 Maxima. Lovely car that seemed to do everything right. I can still hear the "Please turn off the lights" voice in my head since everyone wanted a demo of the newfangled talking car. A friend of the family had a manual transmission one and that thing was fun!
  • FreedMike That wagon is yummy.
  • Syke Thanks, somehow I missed that.
  • 285exp I am quite sure that it is a complete coincidence that they have announced a $7k price increase the same week that the current administration has passed legislation extending the $7k tax credit that was set to expire. Yep, not at all related.
  • Syke Is it possible to switch the pure EV drive on and off? Given the wonderful throttle response of an EV, I could see the desirability of this for a serious off-roader. Run straight ICE to get to your off-roading site, switch over the EV drive during the off-road section, then back to ICE for the road trip back home.
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