Car design traditions
July 24, 2009 10:29 AM   Subscribe

Can you give me more examples of a design feature that different car manufacturers have kept for several decades...?

I don't know how well I can explain this...

I'm looking for examples of things that have stayed constant (or gently evolved) over the course of several decades - things like the Hofmeister kink on the back window of BMWs or the angled lights on Peugeot cars.

I'm not wanting things like the "flame edges" that BMW have used for the last couple of years or the "new edge" styling that Ford has used for the last ten years.

The difference being that kink and the lights have a history of 40 years or so, while the flame edge and new edge are only a decade old...
posted by twine42 to Travel & Transportation (19 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
The overall shape of the VW Beetle (yeah, it was re-released as a throwback, but so was the Mini Cooper)

The overall shape of the Porsche 911 (designed by the same guy as the Beetle)

The overall shape of Jaguar sedans

The front grille of BMW sedans

The Round headlights of the Mercedes sedans, which have gently started to lean backwards in recent years.

The overall shape of the front end of the Dodge Caravan hasn't changed that much since 1991

Is this close to what you're talking about? I'm sure there are dozens of other examples about the interior of cars too, but I don't spend much time /inside/ of these cars. (Was it Saab or Volvo that made you insert the key into the floor of the car?)
posted by Wild_Eep at 10:44 AM on July 24, 2009

The grille on a Rolls, maybe?

I'm going to assume that hood ornaments/logos don't count.
posted by Pragmatica at 10:50 AM on July 24, 2009

Buick's portholes or "Ventiports" have come and gone in recent years, but have mostly been a recurring Buick styling point since about 1949.
posted by paulsc at 10:51 AM on July 24, 2009

- Dodge has been using what they call the "cross hair grille" design on most of their passenger cars since the mid-sixties. It's gradually moved to their sportier models now too.

- Jeep has a patent and trademark on the five-slot grille and round headlight design in use on Jeeps since the late 30's.

- There's also the body design of the X-Series Jaguars which has been virtually unchanged for decades.

- What about the headrests out of the last 30+ years of Volvos, with the horizontal slits cut into the design? Would that count?

- And you can't forget the "waterfall" from the interior of Corvettes.
posted by littlerobothead at 10:51 AM on July 24, 2009

For decades from around 1960 on, Pontiacs (remember them?) always had what they called a "split grille" with a body-colored panel in the middle. BMW always has the "kidney-bean grille." Packards always had a "yoke" radiator, which translated to a yoke grille on later models. Corvettes always have small double-disc taillights (which have mutated to rounded rectangles).
posted by adamrice at 11:04 AM on July 24, 2009

Chevy has always hand a horizontal bar. On my '70 impala, the "grille" is two pieces with a bumper between 'em. On my 1998 truck, there's a chrome horizontal memeber bisecting the grille, all above the bumper.
posted by notsnot at 11:07 AM on July 24, 2009

Almost all the Europeans have something that has carried over for decades...I think that's part of why their cars tend to age a bit better. The Americans have their own little things that stay the same, but there's maybe a bit more model-to-model variation.

Pre-Bangle BMW was full of it, and some elements continue today. The hofmeister kink has been around since the early 60's, super short overhangs, aforementioned kidney grille, quad-lights, etc.

I think every Audi of the last 30 years has had lines running longitudinally from the grille to the, the hood looks pretty consistent.

Saab's got the hockey stick.

Volvo has the diagonal bar on the grille.

Jaguar just keeps rehashing the same car over and over and over. :)

Mercedes' grille.

Ferrari has the color red. :)

Moreover, the great coachbuilders have their own little touches that will transcend brand. You'll see Ghia elements on Alfas and Fiats and VW cars designed by them. Same thing for Pininfarina.
posted by paanta at 11:15 AM on July 24, 2009

In 1986 Mercedes E class introduced a trunk lid that wraps down at the rear all the way past the tail lights in such a way that the license plate raises with it. The angled rear view looked strange at the time, but like most Mercedes features, it was designed to be more functional/practical. Other manufacturers soon copied the design, and today most car trunks have the trapezoidal Mercedes look.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 11:25 AM on July 24, 2009

The Ford Mustang's taillights have always been in three sections, oriented vertically. Ford once made a switch to a horizontal orientation which, given the response from Mustang fans, was about as well-advised as the switch to New Coke. They switched back in short order.
posted by madmethods at 11:34 AM on July 24, 2009

Response by poster: Cheers guys - these are exactly the kind of things I'm looking for.

Examples I've already been working on are the grille on Alfas, the lights on Peugeots, the grille on BMWs, and the clamshell bonnets on Land Rovers / Range Rovers.
posted by twine42 at 11:35 AM on July 24, 2009

A year or two ago, I would've said frameless windows on Subarus.
posted by box at 11:44 AM on July 24, 2009

Saab: Key on the center console; "airplane wings" on the grille; until GM came along, hatchbacks; giant turbos; three-spoke wheels; cockpit-inspired dash.
posted by mendel at 11:49 AM on July 24, 2009

Response by poster: Sorry - I only half answered before I pressed post. :)

I'm looking for external examples only - things that people will have seen on the street without realising what they were seeing.
posted by twine42 at 11:54 AM on July 24, 2009

several makers use unique or unusual engine layouts or are known for a specific engine across lines like the horizontally opposed (boxer) four engine for subaru cars, horizontally opposed two cylinder for BMW motorcycles, (sadly no more)inline six for jeeps, rear mounted horizontally opposed six for porsche 911. Or unique technical details like the fiberglass body and transverse leaf spring on corvettes.
posted by bartonlong at 3:27 PM on July 24, 2009

Ford Mustang hood scoops... 1970 to present. I've seen them on models as early as '65, but I'm not sure they were OEM.

The Ford Tarus was, I believe, the first car to have the wheels mount flush with the fenders, to reduce drag. Turned out that the wider stance improved handling too, so now you'd be hard pressed to find a car with inset wheels. (Mid 1980's?)
posted by EnsignLunchmeat at 4:51 PM on July 24, 2009

There are also naming conventions, though I don't know whether that's what you have in mind, both because they're not usually 100% consistent and because it's something you'd only notice by looking at the badges (some of which haven't changed for decades themselves). BMW and Mercedes have used a system of number/letter names for years. Mazda has made 323s, 626s, 929s, RX-7s, RX-8s, MX-5s, MX-6s and CX-7s. Ford has been making F-series trucks since the '50s, and they've marketed a whole bunch of cars whose names start with 'F' (not all of them, but, off the top of my head: Fairlane, Fairmont, Falcon, Festiva, Focus, Freestyle) as well. There are plenty of other examples.
posted by box at 4:56 PM on July 24, 2009

Pontiac split grille. Oldsmobile 5 spoke wheels. Cadillac vertical tail lights.
posted by gjc at 5:29 PM on July 24, 2009

EnsignLunchmeat writes "The Ford Tarus was, I believe, the first car to have the wheels mount flush with the fenders, to reduce drag. Turned out that the wider stance improved handling too, so now you'd be hard pressed to find a car with inset wheels."

Their might be a specific you're missing here but this predates the Taurus. The 85 Fiero in GT trim had this in 85 for example which predates the 86 introduction of the Taurus.
posted by Mitheral at 5:43 PM on July 24, 2009

From the ~1950s through to ~2000s Citroen's had half-covered rear wheels. Very distinctive.
posted by trialex at 9:16 PM on July 26, 2009

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