The Peak of Car Design

In the 125 years that the car has existed there have been some superstars of design: The Jaguar E-Type, Mercedes 300SL and Ferrari 275 GTS. There have been some horrors too – the Pontiac Aztek and AMC Pacer both come to mind.

What creates or defines a beautiful car? Beauty is not a measurable quality like speed or power. It needs to run in the cars DNA. This, I think, is why so many supercars and exotics manage to be so beautiful while Japanese hatchbacks fail to achieve this.

When a designer is working on a supercar nothing is allowed to get in the way of the looks and the power. A supercar does not need to be easy to park, have a big boot or carry lots of passengers. One of its few purposes is to look good.

As such, we see design touches like the golden engine bay of the McLaren F1, the protruding buttresses on a Lamborghini Murcielago and the sharpened cheekbones on a Ferrari 458. Items that have aid speed and look good.

So is there a formula, a set of magical proportions to guide designers into creating one of the gems of car design?

I don not believe there are these rules, but there are some common characteristics in many of the great car designs from the last 125 years.

  1. Engines belong in the front. The Mercedes Gullwing, Jaguar XK and Ferrari 250 GTO all have their engines in the front.
  2. Cars need to be low. Tall things are not beautiful. The Range Rover is the only tall car that has managed to be beautiful; mostly by it’s sheer elegance.
  3. A car needs to look aggressive. Shape a car after a shark or a viper. They have a leaned forward, sharp shape.

Since the cars invention designers have been working on these point. We can see this by taking a time slice of the cars in each decade, with car design peaking in around 1966. In the 1930’s most cars looked the same, with their large bonnets and curvaceous bodies. In the 1950’s each nation began to identify its own unique design style. Britain developed small, fast roadsters like the Triumph TR3. Italy developed the small family car in the Fiat 500 and America developed their legendary cruiser barges – like the Cadillac Eldorado.

The 1960’s saw some of the most historic car designs ever: The Mercedes SL, Jaguar E-Type, the rise of the muscle cars and the some of the most gorgeous Italian superstars – the Ferrari 275 GTS, Lamborghini Miura and Urraco and Alfa Romeo 2600.

The 1970’s and 1980’s saw a range of shapes, with some superstars such at as the Lamborghini Countach, Ferrari F40 and Aston Martin Lagonda being penned. The 1990’s saw things get worse, with no truly magnificent cars until we arrive in 2012 where we are presented with the MG6, a car that looks like it was designed to define “generic.”

If I were to choose the best looking car ever, I would have a walk around the garden and decide that the Ferrari 275 GTS must be it. This elegant Italian sportster is nothing but beauty and passion. There is nothing in its design that suggests that any thought has gone to practicality and that every item exists simply to be beautiful.

The modern era has no car that comes close. The great car designs are all gone and now exist only as classics and museum pieces.


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