August 30, 2012

The Curves of Yesteryear

What is it about old automobiles that draws our admiration? is it simply a nostalgic longing for the good old days, a sentimental walk down memory lane? or is there actual beauty in their design? I would say that there's something of both at work. I recently saw this deep red 1951 Ford coupe parked at a garage on a back road; the color, the chrome, the generous curves, made for a striking design. Every detail seemed considered, from the repeated circles of headlights to the exact curve over the headlight, which then dipped down and rose again over the hood.

When I look at photos of cars from the 1940s or 1950s cars before the age of fins, I see lots of luscious curves, and can't help but think––especially since men had a habit of calling cars "she", along with ships––that the designers caressed them as they would a woman's body. Then there's all that shiny chrome which seems a symbol of modernity. In the days before the Interstate Highway System, which was authorized in 1956, a car must have been a status symbol, an emblem of freedom, and of the open road. There was "See the USA in your Chevrolet". I don't think we have a romance with our cars in quite the same way anymore. 

And on the hood, a rocket, a paean to the Jet Age, a time of excitement and new possibilities, and new prosperity after the war. 

The round shape of the cantilevered rear view mirrors echo the circles of headlights. 

The tail light is inspired wackiness, with its long pointed oval and three protuberances, like a rocket turned on its side.

The wheel cover is elegant, and the three ridged lines emphasize forward movement. 

I loved seeing that amid all the curves in this car, there was one element that had straight sides: the gas cap lid. 

The door handle and lock also have a jet age look with the zoom of pointed sides. I like the little detail of parallel lines in front of the button, again suggesting speed like the lines on the wheel cover. 

Here's just a little comparison with a very non-romantic vehicle, my 2006 Subaru Forester. The design is simple and uses easy-care materials, but the round key hole does not work with the oval scoop behind the handle; the lines of the handle do not line up with that scoop. Those are just small design decisions that make the vehicle utilitarian and not artful. 

Even the rear of this car has pizzazz, and I can imagine it cruising down a highway that used to be, garnering attention from the smattering of autos on the road. I cannot imagine that in 50 or 60 years anyone will be feeling nostalgic about today's cars, except for a very few exceptions; good design does count. 

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