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Sunday, July 4, 2010

"The world's most beautiful cars...

... almost always look like a naked woman lying on her stomach about to get up." -unknown
I would have gladly taken credit for this quote, but let's face it, we all know it was said by someone much more brilliant. If any of you know of its origin, feel free to leave a helpful comment.

Every once in a while, your favorite car magazines will do a cover on what they've nominated as the most beautiful cars in the world. 90% of the time, they've somehow managed to let you down by either not including one of your favorite cars or by putting in a car that you just don't care for. Unfortunately, this may happen here too. If you really want a list that meets your expectations, it'd be easier if you just created your own.

Anyway, back to me. I imagine that industrial design may be one of the most creativity prohibiting fields within design. Oftentimes, designs are dictated by the boring philosophies of practicality and functionality. You've all heard the phrase "form follows function," yes?

Even so, the humble automobile that started out as a tool for transportation, has become something that has transcended to lifestyle, culture, and won the affections of many.

Affection is wonderful. Affection has given upright utility a sprinkling of the irrational. But with a little extra addition of passion (Italian or otherwise), the flood gates opened and we witness the evolution of modern car design.

Through the decades, specifically starting in Europe and the United States during the late 1930's, one shape overcame the test of time and became the shape we have all universally agreed upon as beauty.

A common misconception has been that the most important part of a car is its engine.

Take this picture of an 1918 Peugeot for instance. It suggests to me that it is as powerful as a locomotive, dramatically displays the immensity of its engine. All else is an afterthought.

Later, a new philosophy stated that, in fact, the most important part of the car is its contact points to the road-- the wheels and tires. Car design paid close attention, and eventually devoted attention, to incorporating fenders that cover the wheels and suspension for better protection, aerodynamic fluidity and, of course, aesthetics.

1935 Duesenberg SJ Speedster

1938 Alfa Romeo 8C 2900

Italian "Pontoon"

1949 Mercury Coupe

American "Character Line"

This design pursuit gave fruit to two key design cornerstones. The "pontoon fender" and the "character line." The majority of later design exercises have always been a combination of the two in varying degrees.

1955 Porsche 550 Spyder

1957 Ferrari Testa Rossa

1963 Ferrari 250 GTO

1963 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray Coupe

1968 Ford Mustang GT Fastback

Approaching the late 1960s, we enter the golden age of Italian car design and engineering.
Advances in fiberglass and metallurgy allowed for even more complex surfaces. In order to convey athleticism, designers offered the illusion of tension and bottled energy. No longer is it simply an attractive steel shell covering the mechanical bits. Inspiration created taut, firm skin, appeared to have stretched itself to its limit of tension across the car. What's the result?

Yes you guessed it, the result is a car that looks like a naked woman lying on her stomach.

Through it all, the philosophy from the 1930s remained true in the 1960s-- wheel fender arches are even more aggressively exaggerated, the engine still bulges through the bonnet.

Another notable event happened in the 1960s. A small Italian automaker was founded in the once quiet town of Sant'Agata Bolognese. You may recognize the name from their more recent efforts; Diablo, Murcielago, Gallardo. But in 1966, Lamborghini created their genesis, the very first mid-engined V12 Lamborghini. The Miura.

A sword has two edges, however. In the 1960s, car manufacturers were still in the experimental phase of aerodynamics and many were yet to master wind tunnel techniques. What does this mean? The rule of thumb for designers became, "if it looks slippery, then it is slippery."
1967 Lamborghini Miura
1968 Alfa Romeo Tipo 33 Stradale
1968 Ferrari Dino
Porsche 917

Ferrari 330 P4
Ford GT40

1990s Britain's decade of Magnificence. The wind tunnel's path of enlightenment.

Jaguar XJ 220

McLaren F1

Aston Martin DB7

Porsche Carrera GT

Ferrari F430
Aston Martin DB9
Alfa Romeo 8C Competitzione

Porsche Cayman S

Like many things, design can come back in full circle. For numerous reasons, whether it may be heritage, intellectual recycling, or what not, I do feel that the modern cars, while still thoroughly modern and innovative, borrow a lot from its predecessors.

Nonetheless, I am very amazed at how far and how successful the original Italian Pontoon and the American Character line have developed and evolved while still staying very true to its original intention.

Thank you all for reading this incredibly long post. In a century, there have been millions of cars that have been created so naturally there are numerous cars that have captured our hearts and inspired us.

To the Lotus race car fans, and Lancia Stratos fanatics, Acura NSX tuners, Rolls Royce connoisseurs and yes, even you BMW playboys, I have not forgotten about the contributions your cars have provided but I just couldn't have possibly done them all.


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