Back to the 1930s

February 4, 2018 @ 11:01AM
By SHAMSUL YUNOS

More specifically, 1930s car design sensibilities are making a huge comeback with some of the world’s biggest brands.

They are especially apparent in Mercedes-Benz and Volvo cars, which have deconstructed design elements that make a car look elegant and reintroduced them into their products.

Mercedes Benz has abandoned their half-hearted attempt at introducing more cabin space through cab-forward design and has gone back fully to their traditional design style, which features a cabin that sits squarely on the rear axle.

Meanwhile Volvo, which have always had a more balanced front-to-rear proportions, has now adopted a more rear-ward balance in terms of visual mass, without pushing their cabin too far back, thus retaining a more egalitarian and sensible Swedish design characteristic.

Starting with the current generation S-Class limousines, C-Class compact executive and E-Class executive transport, Mercedes Benz design has acquired a certain visual tension with just the pure proportion of the cars.

When the cars first appeared, I was impressed, but I could not put my finger on their inspiration because the car has an oddly impressive presence, even though it is the compact C-Class.

With the S-Class, the surface play was highly emotive with many twisting and sinewy surfaces defining the flank, drawing our eyes from front to back, giving the large sedan a very dynamic, but somehow laid back and elegant character.

The short and rather stumpy boot was the first clue to what had inspired them, but it only became patently obvious when we look at the long bonnet and the way the shoulder crease has been stroked downwards towards the tail.

Suddenly, I could see the long sweeping fender lines of the Mercedes-Benz 500K Special Roadster in the S-Class and that rear-set cabin is the perfect foil for the long bonnet, giving the car a chance to sit squarely on it’s rear axles, giving it an elegant athleticism. And Mercedes Benz is not even paying me to say this.

Actually, I realised what Mercedes Benz was doing when I listened to Volvo designers explaining their cars.

The Swedes had put their design language through intense scrutiny and their research has shown that people associate the distance between the base of the A-pillar to the front axle as a measure of power, elegance and presence.

The longer that distance, the more elegant the car.

They implemented this understanding with their Scalable Product Architecture, which is fancy speak for their full-size platform.

They added distance between front door and front wheel arch and this is visible on their current XC90, S90 and XC60.

As a result, these cars now look far more premium than before.

A typical effect of giving some distance here is the resulting long bonnet, but the length of this distance does not have to affect the length of the bonnet directly.

For example, the Range Rover has one of the longest distance between the base of the A-Pillar and the front axle because they pushed the front wheels as far forward as possible and worked around that layout.

In order to visually accentuate the distance, they put three grey slats in the front door, nearly doubling the gap.

The Range Rover also sits so far back on the rear axle that it looks like it’s leaning back. Giving it a very elegant, relaxed and confident presence.

Rolls Royce returned to this design language with the Phantom and Ghost while Bentley’s cabin doesn’t sit too far back because they want a more athletic look.

This wonderful shift in design language will result in more exciting looking cars in the coming decade as mass market brands start to emulate the ideas proposed by these top-drawer marques.

I look forward to the industry slowly abandoning the cab forward design and embracing this more emotive look.

It may be a bit harder to implement on smaller cars, but the BMW 1-series and Mercedes-Benz A-Class has shown that even compact hatchbacks can have very dynamic proportions.

When I evaluate the looks of a car, proportions is the most important criteria and carries the most weight because most of the emotion what we feel comes from the interaction between shapes then our eyes would start to wonder on the surface play and finally the details.

I believe this is the same way that bodybuilding judges evaluate competitors. The body builder must have the correct body proportions before building muscles to that foundational measurements, finally judges would look at individual muscle definition as details. This is where the right pose can make or break a competitor’s medal chances.

The long distance between the base of A-pillar to the front axle gives the S90 an air of elegance.
Rolls Royce Phantom.
A 1931 Duesenberg.
Mercedes-Benz 380 Cabriolet.
This Range Rover’s front wheels have been pushed as far forward as possible.