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Car-nal delights

I'm taking a brief break from politics for the evening. Those who may be wondering about my next "up the skirts" piece (both of you), rest assured -- it's under way. I've already spent two hours researching it, and I'm nowhere near ready to start writing it. Instead, tonight I'm going to talk about cars.

I've been a bit of a car buff for nearly 20 years. I've developed my own personal sense of aesthetics about styling, and have often surprised myself with cars I find appealing. For example, the first generation of the Ford Taurus/Mercury Sable station wagons, I always thought, possessed a certain utilitarian grace and charm. The first Toyota MR2 was stubby, blocky, and just about right for what it intended to be. The mid-90's Buick Park Avenue could have passed for a Jaguar. And the first Dodge Durango just oozed testosterone.

For every car I've liked, there have been a couple dozen I've loathed. The Cadillac Eldorado of the 90's had a highly angled rear window, yet the rear side windows were perfectly rectangular, totally throwing off the profile and giving the drivers a huge blind spot. The Toyota Camry of two generations prior were lumpy and misshaped, like they'd accidentally left the clay model in the sun too long before they made the molds for the real car. And the last generation of the Chevrolet Caprice looked like a suppository intended for the Statue of Liberty.

But the ones that have driven me the most nuts are the cars that are just about perfect, EXCEPT for one tiny detail that just ruins the whole effect. They are so close to gorgeousness, I want to weep for the waste.

This isn't to say that a single jarring element ruins a car. Austin-Healey built a tiny little sports car with the intention of having pop-up headlights. Just before they went to market, the plans for the headlights fell apart. They stuck them on anyway, without any mechanism to lower them, and crossed their fingers. The public instantly fell in love with the "bug-eye Sprites" and bought them up by the bushels.

The first example of this is the new Volkswagen Beetle. The original Beetle is an icon, and the recreation is so darn cute and friendly that it's incredibly easy to forget it's basically a body kit on a Golf, which is descended from the humble Rabbit (that replaced the original Beetle). The designers went go great lengths to recreate the feel and flavor of the original Bug without actually copying it, and they succeeded wonderfully. But they screwed up on one little detail.

Look at a new Beetle in profile, then compare it to an original. The resemblance is remarkable, but after a moment or two something nags at you that there's something not quite right. Somewhere there's an element of dissonance, a clashing in the new Beetle. Finally, it hits you: the bottom corners of the windows. Right smack dab in all of the sweeping curves and arches are two sharp, pointy corners at the bottom of the greenhouse. VW even goes so far to point these out as to cover them with gleaming, shiny chrome, just to yank your eyes away from the grace and elegance of the overall shape of the car and poke you in the eye with this insult.

A similar effect is shown on the newest Audi sedans. In the early 80's, Audi practically invented the concept of aerodynamic cars. The 5000 was a huge innovation to the American public, and it was wholeheartedly embraced. But in the latest versions of the 5000 (now named the A6), they still have the aerodynamic curves and sweeps, but just like VW, they have little pointy corners at the bottom of the side windows outlined with chrome.

Jaguar has always made beautiful cars. When Ford bought them, many people were convinced it was the end of the line's storied history. But instead Ford brought American reliability and money to the artists of Jaguar, and completely revamped the line to huge acclaim. Fans of the brand were first heartened when they brought back the Jaguar hood ornament, which the idiots who had previously run the company had discarded. The XJ sports car is, quite possibly, the most beautiful car Jaguar has made since the fabled E-type (also known as the XK-E) made famous again by Austin Powers. But the X-Type... from all reviews, it's a wonderful performer, very comfortable, quite reliable, and very attractive from all angles. But not in profile. I defy anyone to look at an X-Type from the side and NOT immediately think "Chevrolet Lumina, mid-90's or so." The resemblance is mortifying.

Those are just the first two that come to mind. I'd like to toss it open to the public -- can you name any other cars that are 95% or more beautiful, but then have that single element that just utterly destroys the mood? What cars made you almost weep for the lost possibilities? I'm curious to hear.

J.


Comments (1)

the Boxter is nice but the ... (Below threshold)

the Boxter is nice but the single giant exhaust pipe is not a nice look and flanked by the two winglets gives it a lame-o Chrysler logo look.




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