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The Glass Houses Of Automotive Design

November 23, 2009 – 8:15 pm | 3,511 views

It’s currently fashionable – and certainly a lot of fun – to look back at some of the most egregious styling errors and questionable automotive fashion decisions made in the 1970’s and early 1980’s and wonder just what everyone was thinking at the time.  From the custom van craze, which saw an amazing breadth of creativity devoted to sprucing up some of the least likely vehicular canvases, to the decision to equip interiors with crushed velvet seats as sumptuous as any to have ever graced King Louis’ palace at Marseilles, the over-the-top aesthetic of the era is so easy to lampoon it might as well have been dragged out of central casting to perform for our amusement.

The most arrogant aspect of our 20/20 rearview vision is that we act almost as though our current vehicular generation will itself somehow escape future criticism.  That’s right – we are so confident in the current state of automotive design that we rarely, if ever consider that as we have judged others, so shall we be judged.  Thus far, the 90’s and 2000’s have escaped the harsh words and jeering laughter of future generations, but our reprieve is only temporary.  There is no doubt that some of the metal plying modern roads will one day be considered as out of step as rooftops encrusted with leather and vinyl.

Let’s put ourselves in a time machine, skip ahead about 15 years and take a fresh look back at what those who can currently count out their age on their fingers might have to say about the most recent crop of automotive designs.

The Bangle Butt

Bangle Butt

Chris Bangle, who headed BMW’s design studio for a very influential period that saw significant re-imaginings of almost every BMW platform will be primarily remembered for two things.  This is one of them.  The early era of Bangle’s stylistic mandate was dominated by a somewhat lumpy and definitely ungraceful rear end design, starting with the E65 7 Series which debuted in 2002.  Eventually, the shape would spread across the entire brand, where it would be most prominently displayed on subsequent generations of the 5 Series and 6 Series.  BMW would later go on to slim down the mighty 7’s butt, but the damage had been done.  It is hard to imagine the Bangle Butt being viewed in the future as anything but the “continental kit” of high end luxury cars for the 2000’s.

ContinentalKit

Altezza Taillights

Toyota Altezza

Once upon a time, there was a sedan sold in the Japanese domestic market named the Toyota Altezza.  It featured crystal clear taillight casings that exposed bright red and orange lenses inside, and it actually didn’t look bad on the car it was designed for.  However, it didn’t take long before the more sheep-like elements of the automotive aftermarket began appropriating the style and producing taillights for almost every single other vehicle on the road.  The clear plastic covers proliferated, and the audacity of the interior lenses grew to almost absurd levels, with blue and purple-colored lights eventually making it to a Honda Civic near you.  By the time the Toyota Altezza made it to North America as the Lexus IS, it was hard not to feel bad for those who drove off the lot instantly looking like they had spent a whopping $29.95 on their taillights.  The aftermarket had almost completely destroyed the exclusivity of the design, and 10, 20 or 30 years from now it’s going to look cheap for no fault of its own – and so too shall all the other automotive brands who copied it for hipster cred after the fact.

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