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Automotive styling is part of a larger set of trends in design and fashion, including what's happening in clothing, furniture and consumer electronics.

In many aspects of design, trends die, then reemerge. The context they reemerge in often gives them a different feel.

Even in music, sounds reemerge. Hip hop has taken a basic James Brown backbeat ("Funky Drummer") and built an entire music genre around it. The Grammy Awards had both Parliment Funkadelic and Outcast play - the newer renewing and recasting many of the musical ideas of their elders. I was listening to the new White Stripes album on the way to work - pair it back to back with an early Yardbirds album, or something like The Stooges and the linage is striking. Yet, the White Stripes doesn't simply sound like a 30 year old record - the sounds and musical ideas exist in a different cultural context and relate to each other in a new way - recontextualizing them and making them feel new again.

Retro isn't even a new idea in automotive styling. The second generation Monte Carlos and boatail Rivieras were heavily influenced by the grand cars of the 1930s. The boattail was a recurring GM theme and orginated I believe from the Duesenburg boattail speedsters. Those fender "eyebrows" on the Montes were meant to recall the flowing fenders from classic era cars, if I recall correctly.

So, many (if not most) designs will be influenced to a larger or smaller degree by what became before. Some wear their influences on their sleeve - some combine an unusual (or not-well know) set of influences. Whether a specific design works or not has more to do with the quality of the execution then whether if references earlier designs or not, IMHO.

BTW - I think both the new Mustang and the new Corvette have done a really good job on incorporating iconic design cues and using more modern proportions to change their relationship to each other and create something fresh. Yes, the Mustang has the side scallop, the fastback shape, the grill and lights that strongly reference the 65 - 69 cars. But, the stance and proportion are very modern. The Corvette also has many reference to a whole history of Corvettes - yet has a very aggressive and modern stance and looks every bit a modern car.

A great way to acknoledge history while moving it forward, I think!
 

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Thanks for the update. Can you tell me the correct time and temperature as well? :p

Seriously, if you were designing a car to look "2004" without reference to the past, what would it look like? Even Cadillac's Art and Science look pays homage to cars like the late '60's Eldorado.

Mostly, from what I've seen, truly new ideas - often enabled by new material or manufacturing technologies - look pretty unusual at first. Ugly, even. They require some time a acquire a cultural context and become more approachable for people other than designers.

For example - take the GM Hywire concept. It is shaped by today's (and tomorrow's) technologies. See http://www.cardesignnews.com/autoshows/200...view/gm-hywire/ if you aren't familiar with it. I happen to like it a lot, but I'd bet it would take a while for people to become accustomed to the monoshape, the wide open space inside, the lack of a conventional dash and steering wheel, etc.
 

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Well, I think the line between "heritage" and "retro" is pretty fuzzy. BigAl says that the new Corvette doesn't look like any one year Corvette, but the T-Bird is "almost an exact replica of the 54 tbird."

Put a '55 - '57 Thunderbird beside today's counterpart. Do you really think it looks like a replica? It's obvious the cars are related, but the nod to Ford's more recent aero styling in the rounded front end and the radically different proportions make the new T-bird look more like a modern interpretation of a 50's T-bird than a replica.

If GM stopped making the Corvette in, say 1978, and reintroduced the C6 today, wouldn't it have the same kind of stylistic relationship to the C3 cars as the new T-bird has to its older counterpart?

The Ford GT, on the other hand, is a replica. While some of the measurements have changes, it looks damn near identical to the LeMans winning GT40s.

This is done fairly often in the guitar world. Classic Telecaster and Stratocasters are reissued. So, instead of trying to find that perfect mid-50s Tele, you can walk into a guitar store and buy a brand new reissue with all sound and feel of the oldies.

To me, this degree of influence from the past is more a continuum: there are reissues and then there are cars whose styling is influenced to some degree by a specific car or era (what we tend to call retro) and then there are cars whose styling is influenced by a number of cars (or other things). For example, Cadillac is influenced by a number of iconic models from it's past; Art and Science specifically picks up a number of cues from past cars like the '67 Eldorado and combines it with a geometrical knife-edge look that comes from stealth aircraft.

Very few cars are not, in some way, influenced by what came before. Am I to understand the anti-retro folks simply object to cars where the earlier styling influence is obvious (Mustang, Corvette, Mini, Porche 911, etc.?). It seems the assumption is that working with an obvious past influence means the designer hasn't done their job. I disagre - I think making something new out of iconic cues is probably harder than coming up with something from scratch.

Because of that, I do think some "retro" cars are more successful than others. The best ones recontextualize the old and blend in new influences. I think cars with an ongining styling history (the Corvette, the 911) have the chance to do it the best - to slowly evolve the look over time, adding new elements in small doses so the look retains a tie with the past while continuing to stay current.

But, if some of today's "retro" cars continue on to evolve the look they have (Mustang, PT Cruiser, Mini), whose to say in a decade or so that they too won't have an evolving and growing look that also works?
 

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First - I don't think the term "retro" is very meaningful. As I said in my last post, I think it's more accurate to think of past influences on design as a continuum from outright reissues (hence the reference to guitars); to designs heavily influenced by a particular model or style from the past; to designs which have a range of influences - past and present, automotive and non-automotive.

So, I'm not saying the new Corvette is retro. Try to breathe! :D

What I am saying is that a model, like the Corvette, that has had a continuing evolution has a similar relationship to its past as a model, like the Thunderbird, that uses many cues from its iconic years to develop a new look. You think that's insane - fair enough. But, to my eyes, both use the iconic cues from the past and recombine them, using modern proporations to create something that is new. Which I think is good, BTW.

This probably requires pictures -

Old T-bird:



Current T-bird:



1978 Corvette:



C6 Corvette:



Both designs are more influenced by their own history than other, outside influences - and rightly so. Yet, both do incorporate more modern proportions and other non-heritage cues that help create something new.

Regarding the reference to the '67 Eldorado in the Art and Science design - I remembered the reference when the Evoq concept debuted Art and Science. To quote what I believe are press materials from the time:

"One classic Cadillac design cue used on Evoq is the egg crate-grille, which first appeared in 1934 on Cadillac's V16 model and was incorporated into most of the Cadillac lineup by 1937. Vertical headlights and vertical taillights both appeared first on Cadillacs in 1965, and were prominent parts of the 1967 Eldorado - a landmark personal luxury car that combined sportiness and elegance. Working together, Cadillac and GM Design Center defined Cadillac visual brand character cues. Used consistently, these forms and details will evoke the main values of the Cadillac brand: global, innovative, beautiful, assured and responsible. Incorporated into Evoq, the cues will be part of future Cadillac designs."

See - http://caddyedge.com/Models/Concepts/Evoq/style.html for more information. If you recall, I used Art and Science as an example on the other extreme - a motif that incorporates heritage cues, but combines them with other influences (stealth aircraft, computing graphics) to create something very novel.
 

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BigAl - note that neither Desmo or myself have used the term "retro." I can't speak for Desmo, but if you read my post, you'll note I think the term is kind of useless as nobody can seem to define where something stops being "retro" and where it becomes simply influenced by its heritage.

But, so-called retro and "heritage" designs have something in common - they are strongly influenced by a specific car. In the Vette's case - it's influenced by over 50 years of history. As you mentioned, the basic styling cues for the current car were set in place in 1963 and have evolved since then.

The Thunderbird's history ranges a ton more, as you noted. But, what if it hadn't? What if the format of the car had continued over the last 50-odd years as the Corvette has? Isn't is possible that the current T-bird might be the result of that evolution? If that was the case, would it still be retro? If not, whose to say the current design dirction could not be evolved with future generations. And yes, I know the T-bird is going away, but the question is relevant for other cars like the Mini, the New Beetle and the Mustang. Or perhaps even an CF5 Camaro that incorporates cues from the '67 - '69 cars.
 

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Just because incorporating influences from the past to some degree or another works (IMHO) in some cases, doesn't mean it is appropriate in every case.

I think among the hundreds of models of new cars produced every year, there is room for both designs (and nameplates) that acknowledge the past and new nameplates that incorporate new ideas reflecting outside influences and new technologies.

I agree - you cannot only do "retro." But I do think reinventing older design ideas works with nameplates that have a significant history. Ignoring that history (as was done with the Cougar) is problematic - I think if you want to do something very new, give it a new name.
 

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Originally posted by gmwsag@Mar 1 2004, 04:57 PM
Tone, please do look at my post again:

"times change, so change with the times".

I don't care if they want to go back to all these stupid designs, but just change with the times as the times change.. if you do you won't regret a design, because everyone will like it!!!
I'm sure you have a pair of Nike's or Reebok's in your closet. A few decades ago, all people would care about is being able to actually WEAR shoes, since many couldn't afford them. Now, everyone's coughing up the $100 bill to pay for those Nike's and Reebok's; that is the golden example and the same should go for cars, foods, cd's, music, computers, technology, science & everything else that involves daily life!
As much as I've enjoyed considering this topic this is a sign that it's kind of played out.

"times change, so change with the times" - it would make a great Saturday Night Live catch phrase. Other than that, it's kind of meaningless in the context of this discussion. Designs influenced by the past are in fact attempting to reinterpret what came before in the context of our times. Ford's J Mays "retrofuturism" is a study in that. The new Mustang has many cues from the classis '65 -'69 era, but put it alongside those cars and you will notice fully modern proportions and shapes.

It's ironic that you brought up running shoes as classic styles - like Converse All Stars - continue to sell long after their utility as a running shoe has be eclipsed by more modern designs. There is actually a market for unusued vintage running shoes. Today shoe makers, like car makers, combine classic and modern cues across a wide range of shoes.

Like I've maintained before - the car market is big enough and diverse enough to support designs influence by past automobiles and more novel approaches influenced by new technology and non-automotive styles. The fact that both are available - and all kinds of approaches in between - make this a great time to be a car nut.
 
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