Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Et tu, Lambo?

Lamborghini has moved onto the retro world with it's new concept Muira. I'm not entirely opposed to the retro designs of cars, anything to put some distance between now and the designs of the eighties and nineties.

But where are the Colin Chapmans, the Harley Earls (as a footnote to that, Buick ain't foolin' no one-this was not being done by the ghost of the guy who gave us this) Where are the Dr. Ferdinand Porsches, the Enzo Ferraris? (Incertus had reminded me a bit ago about an ad from childhood that asked, "Why does every Ferrari that leaves the factory do it on Goodyear Eagle tires? Because Mr. Ferrari wants it that way." With Enzo getting out of a pristine Ferrari. The man had presence.)

Each of those designers had a personal aesthetic, something about the way they designed their cars that let you know, that is a Lotus, that car is a Porsche. Be it an attachment to aircooled engines hanging off the back of the car, 12 cylinder engines, light weight, an affinity for the 'rocket age,' these where cars with a stamp on them, something that made their cars their own. The Jagaur E-Type is in both The Smithsonian and the New York Museum of Modern Art. Even a remake of that car (which supposed to be Jaguar XK-R) wouldn't be able to do that.) It doesn't seem likely that cars today are going to have that impact.

That's not to say that there aren't some interesting cars out there with distinct looks. The big grill look is in, with Chrysler, Volkswagen, and Audi being the most notable fans. But even that is throwback. There is the new Pontiac Solstice and the Saturn Sky, and even some of the new retros are kinda cool.

But we don't have that one passionate designer that considers engineering a car at least in part an art form. Maybe it's just the change in the nature of the car company, the shade tree days of Colin Chapman's Lotus overwhelmed by the merger riddled mass market. No one designer has the control of a Harley Earl, no one aesthetic survives the marketing department unless it's something that theoretically has worked before. (I sometimes get the impression that the manufacturers think it was the silhouette that made their cars a classic.)

It's hard to call for an independent in a industry like automobiles. Even my preference for the little guy would have to take into consideration where I'm going to get those parts. (a question I easily forget to ask when buying vintage cars, so hey...) And it's not like Earl was working for a cottage shop. But it would be nice if all the creativity wasn't focused in after market and hot rod shops.

Unfortunately I have no ability to influence the industry since often I can't buy the magazines these cars are I'll just bitch about it here...


  1. There was a recent article in Playboy about the aesthetics of US auto design, as well as the perception gap Detroit has to overcome to be competitive with the Japanese. It dealt with some of the design issues you were talking about, and noted that the only US manufacturer taking real design jumps lately has been Chrysler, and that they owe it to their owners--Daimler was heavily involved with the makeover. They pointed to cars like the Prowler, which, say whatever you want about it, is different from pretty much anything else on the road.

    I'll see if I can find it online when I get home.

  2. There is one guy I forgot to mention in the whole thing that has a bit of an answer for the Prowler. Don Panoz just wanted to revive the American Sportsar market like the heyday of Chapperal and Cunningham. He produces the AIV roadster, which looks like this:
    with a Roush V8, making up for the Prowler's V6.

    If Chrysler had done with Plymouth what they had planned, we might have an interesting car line AND an affordable one. The PT Cruiser and Prowler where part of a line of cars, the PTs being inexpensive but interesting clutch of cars that included a roadster for under $20 grand. But instead they killed the brand. (No retro Barracuda). With the success of the PT Cruiser someone in the company has to regard that as a mistake.

    There is another Dodge mistep that pains me, not following through on the Razor, a barebones micro-rod that had the Mopar catalog as it's options list. It harkened back to the old Alfa Romeo GTV, Datsun 510, and BMW 2002 as trackable street cars in a a way that the Civic and GTI only come close.

    I bounce back and forth, I think I should have thought more about this entry but then I think if I had it would be five pages long...

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