Both Denver and I share not only a love for fine whisky, we also love a fine motor too. Whether that be a car, bike, plane there is something universally appealing about amazing looking machines that promise so much performance. The other day over a tasty dram, we started talking about what is it about certain vehicles that make them so desirable? Is it art, or is it engineering? Is there such a thing as styled substance?
Today’s road cars are a great example of products where their ‘look’ is mostly driven by styling. The underpinnings of most modern cars are similar across manufacturers in any given category. To differentiate their product, manufacturers ‘style’ the car to be visually appealing to a wide demographic of people as well as portraying a specific set of company brand values. Automotive brands also ‘engineer’ their cars to be versatile to gain wide appeal; lots of boot space, fuel efficiency, comfortable seating and to not explode in a ball of fire when they crash are all pre-requisites. The outcome of this is that most cars are Jack’s-of-all-trades and masters-of-nothing.
Most of the time car designers do a great job with this balancing act of creating vehicles that not only do their job of getting you about the place quickly, comfortably, and safely, they can also look pretty good too.
Audi RS5 – Fast, four seats, a boot, and looks damn good too.
On the other end of the spectrum you have cars designed and built for a singular purpose. A great example of this is a Formula One car which is designed purely to go round a smooth tarmac track incredibly fast. The engineers and scientist don’t really give a crap if the cars look like a dog’s breakfast as long as they can put down a lap that’s faster than the next guy. But the resulting design details are simply stunning. Is this an example of engineering becoming art?
While slightly more versatile, the Land Rover Defender is a classic piece of engineering that is great at going off-road, but a bit shit for dropping the kids off to school every day (unless you live in the middle of the Sahara). Again this is a vehicle driven primarily by functional engineering, but damn they look cool. Why is this?
The Land Rover Mk2, can go anywhere.. just not quickly.
Both these vehicles are uncompromised in one specific area and highly compromised in others. In other words they do one thing and they do it really well. The F1 car doesn’t need to worry about trivialities such as carrying cargo, crawling through traffic in the rain, or even cost. The Land Rover can’t cruise the Autobahns at 200kph in comfort, that’s not what it’s built for. It’s more specifically what it can do that makes it appealing.
Some design features that on the surface may look like superfluous styling, may actually be for functional reasons. This E-Type’s bonnet is long, low, sleek and with a provocative bulge to top it off. But the design has a functional requirement, to cover the big straight six cylinder engine and cut through the air to help give the car it its impressive (for 1964) 150mph top speed. This is a perfect combination of function and style and another point where engineering becomes art.
The E Type Jaguar…form and function.
So when something has been designed right it has usually been designed to do one thing really well and the result is that it becomes inherently beautiful. We see this not just in vehicles but in many highly functional objects, from a handmade Japanese knife to a German copper pot still.
So while there are well designed vehicles that can be considered stylish, in our opinion its vehicles with a style derived from the intersection of art and engineering that really get the heart racing. LF