Photo Courtesy of RM Auctions
Pebble Beach Concourse is not just an event; it is a lesson in automotive design. I watched the RM Auctions this weekend and was amazed at the prices paid for some of the cars. After about 15 minutes of bids beginning at 200,000 dollars, I began to shift my attention from the exorbitant prices to the amazing history. I sat in anticipation for each new lot on the block and often heard myself saying: “That is beautiful!” I consider myself a person who keeps up with current trends and has a very modern taste. However these designs (some of which), more than 60 years later, were simply stunning.
It makes me wonder if we somehow have moved away from true beauty in automotive design. After all, Would a Deusenberg or Talbot Lago have shared the same drawing board as a Pontiac Aztek? Pondering the question even further into the weekend, I thought maybe we don’t have the same kind of talent. Then I realized that the same passion that drove Harley Earl, Alex Tremulus and Raymond Loewy drives Callum, Castriota and Donckerwolke. Okay we have talented people, so that’s not it.
Perhaps the era of Design Houses (Zagato, Pinninfarina, Bertone, etc.) has given way to dictated design. Maybe to some extent, but Guigiaro is still around. GM and Chrysler are producing some of their best designs ever and even Ford has finally made me forget The Ugly Sisters: Ford Tempo/Mercury Topaz of the 90’s. Since design is being driven by young design chiefs, we haven’t’ lost the source of design, so that isn’t it either.
My Sunday afternoon was consumed by (NASCAR and…) the review of a few automotive designs that have filled magazine pages in recent memory. If the talent is there and the companies are approving seemingly better design, how did Henrik Fisker get away with using tracing paper to design ”new” cars for Jaguar and Aston Martin yet the Porsche 911 has been virtually unchanged for more than 50 years? Who’s pulling the wool over who’s eyes, there? The McLaren F1 was a low, snake-like beast with presence. On the other hand, the MP4-12C is a technological wonder but only gets fanfare for its name. It doesn’t have a breath-taking design. The Ferrari 458 is one of the most beautiful cars to come from Maranello in years; l but there will never be another Berlinetta Boxer or 275 GTB. Why was Chris Bangle allowed to change the design architecture for a whole company and then be vilified almost a decade later? Who approved the 2008 BMW 7-Series before it left the factory? There’s your villain!
Literally, I labored with this for an entire day. Finally, an epiphany: It’s not that the designs aren’t good, they are. What they are not is timeless. Today’s designs are drop-dead gorgeous but easily forgotten. Yes, many years from now, we will look at a Gallardo or a DB9 and say “bellisimo”. However, those designs are starting to come fewer and more far between. I see carmakers hearkening back to their history and including signature design cues from eras past. I see refreshed copies of classic designs. I appreciate all of that. What about creating the new design cue? The one that people will copy after you are gone. Don’t get me wrong, I love where automotive design is going. Surely there will be hoards of people outside my door with sticks and pitchforks ready to debate me, but I am just sounding the alarm. Don’t let car design lose its passion. Men poured over drafting boards, clay models and even drew on restaurant napkin. Gilles, Welburn, keep it up! This, to birth the gift they wanted to present to the world. I hope there will be a day when a Buick Verano crosses the block at Pebble Beach and someone says: “That is beautiful!”