Vellum Venom Vignette: The Normalization of Art and Science?

Sajeev Mehta
by Sajeev Mehta
vellum venom vignette the normalization of art and science

Kyree writes:

Mister Mehta,

I should start by saying that I thoroughly enjoy the pure and unadulterated experience of TTAC. I also enjoy poking fun at you because you are a Mark VIII diehard, while I am a huge fan of the Gen-8 Riviera, which you have described as having an exterior full of “unrefined lumps and curves.” I suppose they’re both great personal luxury coupes–the Riv’s just a better one. (Tongue out!)

Just as well, I should say that I am currently in school to be a mechanical engineer (with a concentration in the automotive field), but the parts I wish to create are the visual ones that the customer would see (body, dashboards, steering wheel hubs, et cetera. As such I derive particular enjoyment from your Vellum Venom segment, as peoples’ eyes glaze over when I describe elements like DLOs and A-pillars.

The first is the Cadillac ATS. It is, in a departure from Cadillac trends, a world-class car with world-class styling. The goofy full-length grilles and drastic proportions were eschewed for something that is demure and agreeable. I couldn’t believe the GM luxury division would be able to manage such a feat, but it seems that they have. I’ll let you be the final judge on that, though.

The other vehicle is the Infiniti JX. It is the first production car to fully feature the brand’s new “windswept” design cues, mainly on the front fascia and the controversial D-pillars. Though it does hide its stretched-Murano/’13 Pathfinder origins, I don’t know what to make of it.

Hopefully, you’ll take these into consideration, and thank you for many moments of literary and aesthetic enjoyment.


Sajeev answers:

I’ll answer/debate your comments in order of importance, lowest to highest.

  1. Son, a Gen-VIII Riv fan taking shots at the Mark VIII is like a dandelion hatin’ on a Redwood. I’d be terrified if you were an original Lexus SC fanatic, however. (Tongue Out!)
  2. Think for yourself, but you can see what I make of the Infiniti JX right here. It should be “windswept” to the Over-Designed CUV Detention Hall: the same one where the Pontiac Aztek parks itself in shame…for different reasons, obviously.
  3. I was once in school to be a mechanical engineer too! I wanted to work with designers and help them make parts. Then, on a fateful evening in 1996, FoMoCo had an open house for engineering students in a fancy hall at UT Austin. Not to wallow in the past, but Ford engineers in the business said that “our” dream could never happen. I took the business card of Dan: someone at Ford who knew what they expected from Automotive/Industrial Design students. I then wandered away from campus to the luxurious confines of my 1983 Continental Valentino in the student lot. I marinated over what I just heard. And about 1.5 years later, I was a student at the Center (now College) for Creative Studies doing the damn thing for real. My point? Don’t hold your breath for working on the stylish bits, such “cross functional” opportunities are rare for engineers.
  4. I agree about the ATS: it’s the high point of Cadillac’s Art and Science design. The original CTS was horrifying and everything else was either milquetoast (STS, DTS) or only mildly interesting (XLR, current CTS, Escalade). The only problem? Proportioning: the size of one item relative to the rest. The ATS has fascias with a nice balance between grille/headlight/bumper/hood/etc, but the package is too Acura TSX-like. From their current, the disconnected-from-reality BLS, we all know what makes/breaks a Cadillac…especially for the Europeans. I even heard (off the record from a fellow auto-journo?) that GEN-I CTS’s for sale in the Czech Republic generally retail for the same price as a comparable Ford Mondeo. Which equals Cadillac Design FAIL.

What does a designer consider when making a REAL Caddy aimed at European-minded minds?

The space between the front axle and the firewall (dash-to-axle ratio) needs to be long, which the ATS nails. But you need the right amount of front/rear overhang to sell a Cadillac. You need a hood that oversells that (standard, cough) V8 engine. You need a trunk that puts a BMW’s Bangle Butt to shame, reminding people why America is NUMBER ONE, SON. And if that extra overhang adds 1-2 seconds to the ATS’ lap times on the ring? Go back to my “Cadillacs don’t sell well in Europe” notion above. Nobody frickin’ cares about that!!!

You need something like…wait for it…a proper European Touring Sedan from Cadillac. Why have “TS” anything, when you want to pay for what those letters stand for?

Don’t you dare call it a DTS. Aside from the obvious superiority of its naming convention, the DeVille Touring Sedan got it right. It looks like a Caddy, but it has the cleaner design elements of a European car. Perfect? Far from it. It suffers from the same half-assed upgrades as most Euro-centric GM products of the time. Remember the Oldsmobile International Series?

Plus, this is wrong-wheel drive in a class of RWD excellence. Imagine something like the DeVille Touring Sedan on an ATS platform! The proportions, NOT the dated styling.

Proportioning and overhang: talk about overselling that Standard V8 Engine! I’d work that body over in rear-wheel drive Art/Science fashion, then respectfully turn heads at the ‘ring any day. Proportioning is what makes a modern day Cadillac.

More to come, when I spot an ATS in the wild.

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2 of 33 comments
  • Bunkie Bunkie on Sep 19, 2012

    I have mixed feelings about the ATS. On the one hand, it promises to be the most driver-oriented car Cadillac has ever made and that's exciting. Cadillac has a real advantage with Magnetic Ride Control which is very impressive. I had it on my last car, an STS with the Northstar and performance package and the combination of smooth ride and seamless transition to firm damping was a revelation. I miss it in my current CTS. On the other hand, I find the muted Arts & Science styling to be boring. It may be well-proportioned, but it lacks the exciting/polarizing details that make the CTS such a unique car. The grill, in particular, has a timid quality. I am glad, however, to see the omission of the silly fender vent.

  • Outback_ute Outback_ute on Sep 21, 2012

    Sajeev I can't see how an ATS with the overhangs doubled in length would benefit Cadillac, it would become the size of the CTS without any interior space. The front overhang on that Deville looks to me to be larger than any of the 'proper' Cadillacs of the 1970s or earlier, and speaks of fwd which does not reflect a prestigious car. Even on a Ciel-style flagship the front axle should be placed further forward.

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