Breadbox or Bullet?
Has America lost it’s way? If America goes by what Detroit sells, we better pull into a gas station and ask directions. This is not about politics, the state of the economy or even the health-care system, although Lord knows that’s a bucket of mud. No, it’s about what we drive, and what it LOOKS like.
When the automobile was invented, it was little more than a carriage, or box, with a motor. After thirty or forty years, designers sought to envelop their engineering marvel with a body that moved more efficiently than a barn door. In fact, the whole idea of developing styles that were “aero-friendly” blossomed during the thirties, or “deco years”. Smooth, rounded shapes that cheated the wind, so to speak, were so popular, they were emulated by things that didn’t even move. During the height of the Art Deco movement, even toasters looked like they were going a hundred miles an hour.
Then things got rather bizarre. Detroit took wing, er… fins, that is. They decided that if cars looked more like planes, sales would surely take off. And, because of the high flying fifties economy, they did, for a while. Nothing is quite as strange as the sudden turn of events as the sixties began to unfold, leaving the baroque ‘59 Caddy rocket ship in its wake. Chrysler did such a quick about face that they literally reversed the direction of their fins on the 1961 Dodge. What a strange bird that one was.
Pretty soon, things started getting boxy again. Real boxy. By the early eighties, cars looked like cardboard cutouts with windows painted on the sides. Some of the most “forgettable designs” were spawned during those desperate days before Ford allowed the Taurus to lead a gas-starved America out of the styling wilderness. The real significance of Ford throwing down the “aero gauntlet” was that it was a move away from conformity for a major mass produced vehicle. Everyone picked up the challenge during that next decade, but like bubble-gum, aerodynamic efficiency apparently lost its innovative flavor, because Detroit auto manufacturers always seem to be “running scared to death” their products might go out of fashion.
Here’s a most current example of this hasty turnaround. Back in 1996, Chrysler stood everyone on their collective ears with some “cab-forward look” concept cars. Unlike the “Forward Look” of the late fifties, this formula took root because of one clear point. It was truly aerodynamic. A gun doesn’t shoot a box through its barrel, it fires a bullet.
Now it seems we’ve come “full crop-circle”. This is such an odd odyssey, to see the major manufacturers moving away from Streamliner Shapes to the Mack Truck Look. After viewing the new Chrysler 300C, it is apparent that it is again “hip to be square”. Well, it’s still too early to tell, because if the American public doesn’t buy this new-old flavor of the day, Chrysler may have to take one step forward and two steps back. But before anybody starts doing this flip-flop line-dance, the market place will play its own tune. Maybe the public will embrace the “more powerful than a locomotive” look. However, for all of us “top speed junkies”, the hope is that when the smoke has cleared, buyers will still be wanting to appear… “faster than a speeding bullet”.