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  #1  
Old 10-27-2002, 07:04 AM
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Car culture: Ugly: the new beautiful

Car culture: Ugly: the new beautiful
(From the Daily Telegraph, UK)


Our new columnist Stephen Bayley argues that car designers no longer want to please their customers and have decided to be deliberately offensive instead


Is it the end of the road for beautiful cars? Automobile ugliness was once a consequence of ignorance or ineptitude, but for some of the most sophisticated manufacturers it is now becoming a creative stratagem. This is odd, because in the history of design, evolution has usually presumed an edging towards aesthetic perfection. Such a vision may have been delusional, but it provided a pleasing prospect.

The option of beauty is now being not so much ignored as rejected and we are at a break point in cultural history. Harley Earl, the General Motors wizard of kitsch who gave the world "styling", said his job was to offer the consumer a delightful "visual receipt" for his money. The current generation of designers is doing the opposite: making heavy visual demands.

Signs that the great tradition of car design was becoming exhausted first appeared in Italy when Fiat introduced the Multipla. For a century, Italian carrozzieri, the coachbuilders who made the most beautiful cars ever seen, had defined and evolved what was literally a language of design. If you have, as they do, a precise word for the angle between the windscreen and the vertical, then you tend to pay great attention to the refinement of that angle. But with the Multipla the old rules were ignored. Although functionally a fine vehicle, the appearance of the Multipla is confrontational and irrational: there are curves where you expect straight lines and where you might expect the concave, you find the opposite. In a crowded marketplace, it attracted attention, but the consumer was left dazed and confused.

It is in Paris that the philosophy of uglification is being most poetically developed. Here designers are no longer in amiable dialogue with the public, but going for invective, even abuse. It is in Paris that they build Renaults and it was here that I first saw a Vel Satis. I was so astonished I had to telephone Patrick Le Quement, Renault's design "chef" and one of the most intellectually astute men in the business. I said: "Patrick, it's not a beautiful car is it? In fact, it's hard to look at."

His answer came in two parts. First the business case: why imitate Audi? Second, the intellectual one: beauty is not to be confused with mere elegance. Beauty, as the surrealists believed, must be convulsive and, thinking of the surreal proportions of Vel Satis, Le Quement said, "A certain imbalance is favourable to perceptions."

They are working on imbalance in Germany, too. Conservative Mercedes-Benz has not yet embraced uglification, for the moment content to lose its dignity with busy surfaces, fussy (neo-Korean) details and maladroit proportions. Instead, it is BMW that leads the indecorous tendency. The new 7-series has had perhaps the worst reception ever for a new BMW. Lardy and gross where before it was athletic and muscular, the new 7-series is a fascinating, if ill-judged act of aesthetic defiance.

You could argue that after a history of such refinement BMW had nowhere else to go but the ugly route, yet instead it has gone all over the place. The new BMW Z4 has what American designer Chris Bangle calls "flame surfacing", a meretricious effect that shows the fire is out of control.

But it is at the peak of the German industry that ugliness reaches its height. With typical thoroughness, for its new off-roader Porsche appears to have done immense Forschung into the possibilities of ugliness. Accordingly, the Cayenne is less beautiful than its famous predecessor, the Porsche Typ-100, also known as the Leopard tank. Its only claim on our emotions is a deadening shock. Did they try to do something else and fail, or was this gasp-makingly ugly car exactly what they wanted? Will consumers warm to arrogance? These are some of the quandaries of car design today.

Uglification brings a new vocabulary of dissonance. Le Quement says the Vel Satis is "imposing" and he is right. It is not boring. His countryman, chanteur and barfly Serge Gainsbourg once said: "Ugliness is superior to beauty because it lasts longer." It's a difficult philospophy, but an interesting one. There will be more ugly cars in our future.
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  #2  
Old 10-27-2002, 07:16 AM
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Re: Car culture: Ugly: the new beautiful

Quote:
Originally posted by WAM
"Ugliness is superior to beauty because it lasts longer."
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  #3  
Old 10-27-2002, 07:18 AM
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Fiat Multipla:

[img]http://www*****@fiat.com/merismus\Gallery\c4072a.jpg[/img]

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  #4  
Old 10-27-2002, 07:18 AM
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Interesting column... Too bad they didn't point out that Bangle also designed the Multipla...
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  #5  
Old 10-27-2002, 07:29 AM
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Quote:
Originally posted by ZBB 325Ci
Interesting column... Too bad they didn't point out that Bangle also designed the Multipla...
I don't think that's true...

And there are a lot of strange cars coming out...
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  #6  
Old 10-27-2002, 07:31 AM
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Nick325xiT 5spd Nick325xiT 5spd is offline
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Quote:
Originally posted by Cliff3
Fiat Multipla:

[img]http://www*****@fiat.com/merismus\Gallery\c4072a.jpg[/img]

It's a pretty comfy vehicle with a HUGE amount of space. Great taxi. The shifter is on the dashboard.

This article is disturbingly correct.
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  #7  
Old 10-27-2002, 07:36 AM
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Quote:
Originally posted by nate328Ci


I don't think that's true...

And there are a lot of strange cars coming out...
What is not true ? that Bangle designed the Multipla ?
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  #8  
Old 10-27-2002, 07:46 AM
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Quote:
Originally posted by Alex Baumann


What is not true ? that Bangle designed the Multipla ?
Bangle designed the Multapla?
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  #9  
Old 10-27-2002, 07:49 AM
Alex Baumann Alex Baumann is offline
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Quote:
Originally posted by nate328Ci
Bangle designed the Multapla?
Yes, he did , and the Barchetta

EDIT : Fiat Coupe was also developed as he was the chief of exterior design at Centro Stile.
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Last edited by Alex Baumann; 10-27-2002 at 07:54 AM.
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  #10  
Old 10-27-2002, 12:30 PM
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Quote:
Originally posted by Nick325xiT 5spd

The shifter is on the dashboard.
I thought one of the new Honda's (maybe the new hybrid Civic) also has the shifter on the dash. Looked quite bizarre.
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  #11  
Old 10-27-2002, 12:43 PM
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Quote:
Originally posted by operknockity

I thought one of the new Honda's (maybe the new hybrid Civic) also has the shifter on the dash. Looked quite bizarre.
This isn't a new idea, nor that unusual. I recall several older Italian cars with dash shifters (I think there were some Alfas and Fiats in this mix) and the Civic Si shifter is an homage to the similar one on very early pre-Civic Hondas.
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  #12  
Old 10-27-2002, 02:53 PM
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It's a funny trend. I'm studying contemporary art history and noticed the same trend in art a long time ago.

The uglification of shapes and forms was brought about to make the mind think. It wasn't the flat and shallow beauty that was interesting anymore. It was the involment of emotion and concept that a picture represented which made it beautiful.

In short, I just think that designers are trying to break free of the mold that defines the car shape, in an effort to find something that is more interesting and looks good. It is coming at the cost of polarizing the audience, much like abstract expressionism did at the end of WW2.

If that is true, the initial shock shoud subside, as the art adapts to it's new role, and refines itself.
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  #13  
Old 10-27-2002, 03:09 PM
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I don't care how many ugly cars make it to production. Question is how many ugly cars are successfull in sales (in today's environment)?
There will alway be designers that want to be different. Usually they aready have several very conventional designs on their belt, so they can afford to take risks.
That's noise in my radar.
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  #14  
Old 10-28-2002, 03:45 AM
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WAM: This article is fascinating, and I believe it is on point as well. As someone who has appreciated fine car design for the last 40 years, I am a strong believer that truly good design, that is, the creation of aesthetically pleasing car bodies, peaked in the 1960's. In that decade, both European and American design houses consistently produced some of the most beautiful automobiles of the modern era. Just a few examples: Jaguar E-type, Ferrari 275GTB, Porsche 911, the original Buick Riviera, the 1963 Corvette Stingray. All stunning car designs, that look great the first time and the 1000th time you see them. The sixties produced many beautiful automobiles which have endured over time.

Ugly cars are NOT the new beautiful - they are an abomination. I will never purchase any motor vehicle that I find aesthetically unpleasing, and I believe a large number of true car nuts will agree with me. BMW's styling direction is a bad move - I predict that the new 5 series will draw bad reviews re: its styling, same as the appallingly ugly 7 series.
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  #15  
Old 10-28-2002, 04:36 AM
OBS3SSION OBS3SSION is offline
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I've also noticed the trend. Having a 99 Passat, I find the new, face lifted Passats to be ugly. Not only that, but VW other brand, Audi, is also heading down the tubes. The last gen A4 was sporty and refined... a look that went well with Audi's sport-luxury heritage. However, the new A4 is just a baby A6... which in turn looks like a bar of soap that's been in the tub too long.

Now, beauty/ugliness is very subjective. Some people out there may love the new 7, or the new A4, or Passat. But others don't. Now, I've heard rumors that the new 7 is outselling any other 7 every made. Whether that is true or not, it seems that any time I go to my BMW dealership there is someone asking to see/drive a 7... and they usually have to turn them away because they are all sold.

What is almost scary is that the new 7 is growing on my. Not only that, but my wife is even beginning to like them. In certain colors, the ass end looks halfway decent. But then again, maybe that's not scary... because now I don't view it as an abomination anymore. I'm still scared as hell at what the new 5 will look like. And when I see older 7's, I am still amazed at the timeless beauty and sport-aggressiveness it instills.

I was behind a Hyundai Tiburon today on the way to work. Talk about an abomination from any viewpoint. But... it's amazing how many of those things I see on the roads. Enthusiasts like us may balk at how a car looks, but generally most of the US consumer market could care less what their car looks like. Hell, half probably don't even care what color it is!

As far as BMW... my first BMW is on order. I was going to get a 2003 5 series because I wanted to get one before the new design came out. But in the end, I wanted the more sport, less luxury of the 3 series (as opposed to the 5er's more luxury, less sport... my subjective opinion.) So, I'll be happy to know that I love the way my BMW will look... regardless of how future generations look.

Oh... and if Bangle is going for ugliness on the new BMW designs... making them look like Pontiacs is probably the best way to accomplish that!
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  #16  
Old 10-28-2002, 07:21 AM
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Quote:
Originally posted by OBS3SSION
Enthusiasts like us may balk at how a car looks, but generally most of the US consumer market could care less what their car looks like. Hell, half probably don't even care what color it is!
Yep. In 1975, AMC sold 145,528 Pacers.

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  #17  
Old 10-28-2002, 09:11 AM
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I am beginning to think that we should start a petition to get Pinninfarina to design all future BMW's.

I can't think of the last ugly car that they designed, maybe the Ferrari 400/412 ? I am not even sure who designed those, pretty sure it was Pinninfarina.

I just wish they would get rid of the eywbrow turn signals on the E60 and move them below the headlights like on the Z4. I think I could live with the mini bangle butt on it, although I am pretty seriously considering trading up to an E39 in the spring next year.
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  #18  
Old 10-28-2002, 09:43 AM
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The trend is already in full effect. Ugly is no longer considered ugly but beautiful now. I'm beginning to see a few industry writers converting over to defend Bangle and his "mangling" of BMW design (I personally like both the new 7 and Z4, as well as the prototype 6 series and the new 5). In Automotive News there was an article calling for the Bangle "flamers" to stop bashing Bangle because he's leading the company in the right direction.



Another case in point...One of the greatest car company where it comes to car design, Ferrari, has gone and uglified one of their most revered car and even slapped on the name "Enzo" on it.

I think cars like the Prowler, PT Cruiser, VW New Beetle, VW TT has somewhat soften the market with regards to pushing the envelope.
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  #19  
Old 10-28-2002, 12:39 PM
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Quote:
Originally posted by Kaz


This isn't a new idea, nor that unusual. I recall several older Italian cars with dash shifters (I think there were some Alfas and Fiats in this mix) and the Civic Si shifter is an homage to the similar one on very early pre-Civic Hondas.
actually the idea is from the popularity of rally (eg WRC) cars having shifters that are high up and close to the wheel. i heard that rally racers prefer to have the shifter that high up because they don't have to move their hand as much to shift. the new Civic Si hatch is a product of honda in the uk where rally racing is popular.
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  #20  
Old 10-28-2002, 01:20 PM
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Actually --- the part that worries me most isn't even mentioned in the article. BMW is a form-follows-function company. If they now want to be 'making statements' that challenge the mind artistically . . . at the expense of maximizing function ---- they have wandered down a road from which few return.

'Art' is inescapably something different to different people . . . and certain artistic expressions should (and do) challenge the mind with some dissonance that perhaps prompts thought.

But, then again, does anyone really think we need an automobile that is the artistic equivalent to 'Piss-Christ' or the Elephant Dung-Covered Maddona that passes for art today?
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