it’s just a name

I’m not the biggest fan of Top Gear. The reviews border on painfully overzealous with comically quick transitions between the host screaming at the top of their lungs and the car drifting past the camera at 100 mph. But Top Gear is made with the jaded television viewer in mind, so it has to contend with the myriad of cop murder dramas and the endless race to the bottom that is reality TV. James May holds rank as the quiet mild-mannered host of the Top Gear trio. While the other two squabble to win the audience’s affection with the wittiest putdown of their co-hosts, May manages to put together some great insight with his time in front of the camera.

Model names are for the masses. 

Diehard owners never simply state that they drive an M3 or GT3. It’s always the generation designation first (e36 M3 or 997.1 GT3) because they understand that those distinctions matter. As I touched on in a post before, brands that carry a model to a successive generation are merely creating a modern reinterpretation of the original. The 991 911 shares nothing in common with the original besides the overall concept and that’s fine. Singer 911s, even if sold at a price point comparable to a 991, probably wouldn’t keep Porsche afloat today. There is no perfect iteration of the 911 anyways. Better to have it evolve than die.

Ferrari just does this better. 

I was set to write an article about how great Ferrari is with naming their cars. Then they debuted the LaFerrari, and I had to shelf that idea. But I’ve gotten over it. It’s not like I’m buying a LaFerrari so it’s really of little consequence to me. The point I wanted to touch on was that each new Ferrari bares a new name. While American (Mustang/Corvette) and German (911, S class, TT) are happy to continue their using their model name in perpetuity, Ferrari starts fresh with each model. The new model doesn’t have to be anything but better than the one it replaces. Mr Manzoni, the chief designer of Ferrari, shed some insight into the brand’s overall philosophy when he was asked in a interview about brand consistency when designing a new car.

this is the challenge we are faced with every time we work on a new ferrari. the challenge resides in coming up with a completely new shape while staying true to the values ferrari stands for. any repetition of design ideas invariably gets dismissed by our president mr. montezemolo as ‘déjà vu’. the basic rule is that a true ferrari must be immediately identifiable even without any badging. contrary to other brands we do not rely on a precise set of design guidelines which can be simply implemented across the model range. we instead call upon on a higher paradigm and need to come up with a fresh interpretation of it every time. with each new model we search for that subtle link with tradition and with the other models in the line-up. it is not a link that derives from the repetition of ‘graphic’ traits, but from the comprehension of the kind of plasticity and formal language a ferrari lives by.

This design approach is indicative of the entire brand’s philosophy towards building cars. Ferrari’s core values guide the design and engineering of their cars as opposed to the other way around, where design and engineering specifics define the brand. As a result of this approach noting is sacred at Ferrari. Look at turbo power for the California T or dropping the manual completely for paddles as far back as the 360 Challenge Stradale. They even went AWD and hatchback for the FF. How cool is that?

Ferrari FF, the rich man's Golf GTI

Ferrari FF, the rich man’s Golf R

While Porsche’s steadfast adherence to its past was the impetus for this article, BMW is actually the worst offender of the design by guideline approach. With Hoffmeier kinks, kidney grills, angle eyes, L shaped tail lights and most recently front fender vents constricting so much of the design, BMWs feel boring and fussy at the same time. The supposed design revolution that Chris Bangle started at BMW with the e65 7 series was not a success. Rather it only served to further emphasize these signature design cues and create an increasingly narrow window for design as more and more design cues became a necessity to the brand. M cars are even worse with their own set of design guidelines stacked on top of the already overstyled base model.

BMW’s i series (i3 and i8) demonstrate that BMW is well aware of the situation. These cars only carry the kidney grills while the rest of their design is left unrestricted. While it’s hit (i8) or miss (i3), it’s just what BMW needs to coincide with a dramatic shift in brand philosophy. We’ll just have to see how much of the i8/i3 aesthetic gets directly transplanted onto future models.

 

 

 

just click print

What constitutes a unique product? Are the minute variations in hand made products like an e34 M5 enough to warrant that each example be labeled a unique product? I would argue no. While hand made products carry a certain aura, they are not unique.

Sergio - open top heaven

Sergio – open top heaven

Anything that is genuinely unique is incredibly expensive. Design and fabrication of unique parts is incredibly time and labor intensive. Today, building a one-off of something along the lines of Pinifarina’s Sergio will cost you millions of dollars and takes months to complete. 3D printing looks to change this in the future.

While Ford is demonstrating using 3D printing to test parts for production, it’s easy to see process eventually being applied to end-use products. I see 3D printing working in a manner similar to GM’s Hy-Wire concept from the early 2000′s. Basically, the chassis and drivetrain are standardized (and thus built in a conventional manner) while rest of the car is up for individual interpretation, allowing for unlimited variations with 3D printing. You can already see the the auto industry moving in this direction with examples like VW’s MQB platform. VW uses the chassis to underpin a variety of VW and Audi cars like the Golf, Jetta, A3 and TT.

3D printing is poised bring a renaissance to coachbuilders and small volume manufacturers. Unless you’re the Sultan of Brunei, this means one day you may actually be able to afford the car of your dreams, not merely someone’s else’s interpretation of the idea.

because not race car

A McLaren P1 spitting fire mid-drift around the Bahrain circuit at night is mesmerizing. It borders on automotive nirvana. It’s also totally removed from reality, just as it should be. While supercars may scream to be measured objectively, it is ultimately a misguided exercise. If anything, it destroys the mystique of the car. Quantifying a car’s performance is effectively embracing its obsolescence.

I want to be there.

I want to be there.

There is this perceived correlation between performance and driving enjoyment. Newer = faster = better. It’s a form of planned obsolescence through technical advancement. Road cars are built to manufacturer’s individual objectives, not the rulebook of a race series. There is nothing stopping them from adding wider tires, more downforce, more power and more aggressive gearing. The lap times that people obsess over have no real context. Any legitimate race series takes these performance imbalances into account, separating cars into classes and further leveling the playing field by limiting power, grip and weight discrepancies.

Road cars are not race cars, even in light of how fast and powerful some have become. This relentless increase in performance neglects the fact that road cars are experienced in subjective isolation. Back roads and track events are about the driving experience, not the performance of one car/driver relative to another. Road cars should not share the same priorities as race cars.

The Nissan GTR, a turbo’d double clutch AWD sled, may keep 14 year olds up at night with its gaudy performance numbers, but I’ve never heard anyone with a driver’s license commend the car for its driver engagement. Do you think a Ferrari 250 GTO’s value is pegged to where it sits in the pecking order of Nurburgring lap times? The lasting appeal of a car is tied to everything but its outright performance.

quasi practicality

I can’t get behind the fast wagon movement. The only real benefit wagons have over a sedan is a larger trunk. If you’re going preach about the best form of fast practical automotive transportation, I fail to see how a fast SUV (Mecan Turbo/X5 M) doesn’t win that argument rather convincingly every time.

not cool. no matter what the internet says

not cool. no matter what the internet says

I’ve never seen a wagon at the track, and while I actually did catch a Cayenne Turbo at an autocross once, the point is that both SUVs and wagons predominantly operate in the real world where practicality demands heavy consideration. The SUV can simply match every task of a wagon and more. Off road? Try that in your RS6. A raised vantage point for navigating traffic? Good luck in your CTS-V. If you really think about it, an SUV is just a raised wagon. Its effectively taken the best traits of the wagon and (literally) built on top of them.

I appreciate cars that are tailored to their environment, and in the world of gridlock, shitty roads and steep driveways, SUV beats wagon every single time. While the absurdity of a sporty SUV is not lost on me, it’s massive breadth of ability can’t be ignored. There is a reason that fast wagons don’t sell in the real world, fast SUVs do everything better.

impulse buy

I read a depressing statistic recently that approximately 70% of lottery winners are broke within five years of hitting the jackpot. Just replace lottery with obscene tech company valuation, and this kid certainly isn’t bucking the trend. This video screams for a followup episode of VH1′s “Where are they now?” when he turns 25. This is ridiculous even by internet standards.

 

know your audience

 

F-Type Coupe

I want an F Type based on looks alone.

While aesthetics are rather subjective, the general consensus seems to be that Jaguar’s new F-Type coupe is the best looking car in quite some time, and I couldn’t agree more. The proportions are spot-on. It walks the line between elegant and sporty better than any car since Aston Martin’s DB9.

Yet the F-Type’s stunning looks also serve as a painful reminder of the sad state of contemporary automotive design. Jaguar’s designers certainly did their job. What’s every other manufacturer’s excuse? I ponder this question every single day. My completely unscientific theory centers around the notion that designers are too educated for their own good.

The general public has not studied automotive design. We understand and thus can only appreciate the basics. Part of the attraction of classic cars stems from their simplistic approach to design. There is an honest functionality to it. Their styling has purpose that is self-evident to even a layman.

straightforward design

straightforward design with Porsche’s 911

Contemporary automotive design stems from a much deeper understanding and appreciation of design. While there is undoubtedly aesthetic merit to contemporary designs, today’s seemingly overstyled and fussy designs are lost on the public. Best to keep it simple.

how’s your german?

So the video quality is crap, the music is tacky and the narration is in German, but I can’t get enough. Such a sucker for backroad hoonage. While the US spec 997.1 GT3 didn’t get the carbon fiber one-piece seats straight out of the Carrera GT or couldn’t be ordered without a sunroof, it’s probably my favorite GT3 variant. Free of all the unnecessary fluff now standard on GT3s, like active engine mounts (one more thing to break) and wearing 5 lug 18″s instead of those ridiculous center locking 19″s or 20″s found on later models, it’s a focused unfiltered sports car. Best part, you can find a clean example for less than the starting price of a fancy new Cayman GTS.