Not to dwell too much in the past, but…

…we randomly happened upon a classic auto show yesterday (it was taking place in the lot across the street from a hotel we were looking into). We took a few moments to wander around and take in all the beautifully preserved old cars and trucks. I am not a car lover by any means, but I found this ’58 Impala in particular…

…to be a breathtaking piece of design. The sweeping lines, the balance of angles and curves, the needless little embellishments that give it just enough detail to be graceful but not overly busy: Just fantastic. The color scheme, which consisted of the purest, brightest metallic white I’ve ever seen accented by silver trim and perfect red interiors, simply reinforced its appeal.

I don’t harbor any delusions that classic cars were better machines than modern ones. They lacked safety features and had the fuel efficiency of a lawnmower. They were huge and cumbersome to drive. They belched pollutants like a tiny Dow Chemical plant on wheels. But man, modern cars are ugly, boring, and stupid-looking. I rented a van a few months back that was literally a cube on wheels. They couldn’t even come up with an interesting name for it. It was just “Cube.” That is the industrial design equivalent of going grocery shopping in a house robe and curlers. It says, “We have given up.”

It’s a shame visual appeal had to die so that responsible ergonomics could live. In a better world, they’d coexist.

10 thoughts on “Not to dwell too much in the past, but…

  1. I don’t know, it looks kind of angry. The type of angry car that would steamroll you in a Stephen King book.

    Anyways, my stepdad also loves american oldtimers and as such I was chauffeured in one some times. It feels great, with all the leather and soft seats.

  2. Man, you got that right about most modern vehicles. They just don’t look good. I’m searching for a new vehicle now, and I really can’t find much that looks good in my price range. Everything looks so… drab. Characterless.

  3. That car is gorgeous, yes. In defense of utilitarian design, though: I have a Scion xB, which was a cubical precursor to the Cube (which is actually quite a bit more rounded off). And yeah, it’s pretty ugly. The thing about boxy cars, though, is that they have room to spare everywhere, with no rounded corners for the top edges of a bookshelf to snag on when you’re loading it up, or anything like that. It also has more headroom and better visibility than most cars I’ve been in.

    So while I agree that typical car design style these days is not very attractive compared to what it used to be (and designs that try to capture the feel of classic cars tend to fall pretty flat with me — they’re too … scaled down?), there are reasons to get a car like the Cube. It matters a lot more to me to have a fuel-efficient car that’s extremely reliable and fits my family, our dogs and a long weekend’s worth of stuff than it is to have one that looks snappy.

    At least cars look better now than they did in the 80s, eh?

    • I had a gold ’88 Accord with flip headlights, and it looked every single bit the year it was produced. A “so bad it’s good” vehicle if there ever was one. Loved that thing.

    • The Cube was around in Japan for several years before hitting the States, so I think it predates the xB.

    • Oh, no question, that Cube had room to spare and the best viewing angles I’ve ever experienced in a car. I felt incredibly safe. But bored out of my mind.

      • Carl, you’re right, the Cube has been around in Japan since 1998; the xB was first made in 2003.

        Parish, do you enjoy the activity of driving, in itself? If you do, that might explain some of the difference in our automobile outlook!

      • I sold my car when I moved to San Francisco nine years ago and haven’t missed it once. I hate driving.

  4. I’m not sure why modern cars tend to be so bland, the fact that cube cars exist means the designs aren’t just bowing to aerodynamics.

    I’m a big fan of the relaunched MINI line, myself. I prefer the Cooper hatchbacks (and drive one myself) but I’m beginning to come around on the new coupes.

  5. That reason is why I’m so hesitant to get rid of my ’03 Hyundai Sonata (the updated fourth gen version, with the dual headlights and throwback lines). I’d originally leased the thing when it was new, then bought it cheap when the lease was up.

    Originally I’d intended to switch to a newer model, but everything in the lineup before or since… Ugh.

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