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Design 6

Can the history of automobile design actually be pigeonholed into periods of similar styles? It would have to have started at the time of carriages, then from around the turn of the century it would change over to the lasting era of the front-engine of today, which asserts itself over and over again. Developing parallel to this, was the urgently needed lowering of the centre of gravity, apart from the SUV-fashion, which is also an everlasting subject.

The fashion which is fundamentally followed by the large mass of automobiles, is being constantly attacked by the particularly lightweight cars. These attacks have been following us since the beginning, from the Maybach steel-wheeled coach and the Benz three-wheeler up to the Bugatti Type 13, the Porsche Sascha and the mass success of Rasmussens DKW, right up into the immediate post war era.

Indeed, the official motor car-technology orientated itself on the larger cars and sometime, between the two world wars, established a dividing line between functionality and streamlining. This period could roughly be fixed at the time of the two biggest sellers of the last century, Ford's Model-T as the more functional- and the VW-Beetle as the more streamlined design.

After the second world war, the American automobile industry showed quite clearly, in which direction they were going, by borrowing shapes for their cars from airplanes, rockets and in fact, sharks. As much as Mercedes paid moderate homage to this trend, in 1968, they decisively and very capably put the brakes on by bringing out their /8 model. It was soberly objective up to the point of being totally free of emotion. Typical of this time, were the narrow pillars which allowed an all-round panorama which was never to return again.

All this stopped pretty soon. Safety was the new catch-phrase. The engineers would have to work on the protection against side-on collisions for a long time. The headrests, together with the thicker beams and pillars from which the seat belts also hung, made it more difficult to see what was going on around you. Added to this, was the battle against harmful exhaust gases and finally, the obligation to save energy. All this gave the cars a lower front-end and a more inclined windscreen. Thus the wedge-shape was born, out of necessity.

Now, where do we stand today? The assumed, and feared, mass standardisation never took place. The manufacturers are striving for brand-name identity and also model-diversity. The bumpers have become a part of the bodywork. The shape of the radiator grille still plays a big part, although in the meantime, the shape of the headlights has become just as important.

The LED-technology has also given crucial impulses to the rear of the vehicle. What it boils down to, is that the cars now have hardly any flat surfaces. Also the all-round edging a la Corvair or BMW 02, has become extinct a long time ago. The edges now seem to meet by chance or they just miss each other. The catchphrase is now 'suspense'. Who would have thought that something like this could be conjured up onto the side surfaces of completely normal cars? 11/14

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