Automobile Design

Who Wants a 1957 Maserati 250s? I do.

IIf you have a couple million extra dollars lying around and you are in London this September, you might want to pick up this 1957 Maserati that is being offered via RM Auctions.

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Quite possibly one of the most beautiful race cars ever built, this late 1950’s classic has been fully restored to perfection. This 1957 Maserati 250S is one of a handful that were ever built. And in my opinion this vehicle represents the best of the 200S series Maserati’s from that period. The car was popularized on the amateur racing circuit worldwide. Unlike the smaller 200S, the 1957 Maserati 250S was powered by a powerful 230 horsepower inline 6 cylinder engine that could propel the car to 161 mph against professional-class competition.

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The definitive lines of this car, smooth, sleek aerodynamic make the look. That long slender nose gracefully sloping toward the ground. Wire spoke wheels. The thin windscreen, and the drivers fairing. Those high arched fenders, and that Maserati Red… This was a remarkable vehicle for its time, and this version has been restored to that original esteem. By the look of the photos you’d think it just rolled out of the Maserati workshop, ready for its next rider to come calling with a hefty checkbook.

This 1957 Maserati 250S will go under the gavel on September 8th at the RM Auctions London show. Reserve and estimated bidding pricing has not yet been released.

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Art of the Car Concours. It All About the Details.

This afternoon my friend Tim and I spent a few hours at the Art of the Car Concours on the grounds of the Kansas City Art Institute. The annual event is a scholarship fund raiser for the school, and over the last seven years has grown into a world class automotive event. The two of us spent a hot humid summer afternoon, walking through 100 or so vehicles taking photos, admiring the design styling, engineering, and distinction of the cars shown. At one point both of us commented on how each car, each brand, had unique looks that set it apart from it’s contemporaries.

Both of us remarked that in todays world, most people can’t tell a Nissan from a Honda, from a Volkswagen, from a Chevy, from a Hyundai, from a Kia, from a Ford (although Ford is arguably ahead of the curve in distinctive styling). Aside from a few marquee brands, or higher end autos, most look the same, and no one making a car for the masses puts the attention to detail in things like badging any more. Looking at a 49 Ford coupe, and 66 Covair it made me long for the days when each car brand looked distinct, and the exterior styling was as important as the creature comforts like iPhone connectivity that we lust after today.

Below is a sampling of some of the photos that I took today. Realistically some of these shots are for cars that would cost a small fortune in todays dollars. None the less, the attention to detail, the quality of materials, the small things, are what made these cars part of the golden age of automobile design. Personally I wish the big three, Ford, Chrysler, and Chevy would step up to the plate and bring this kind of styling back. Raise the bar, set a new standard based on vintage design styling that was in many ways simply better. No I don’t want the old school technology. What I want is a car that looks as cool as these, with all the comforts my 2013 model offers me today.

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The Art of the Car, Kansas City.

I took a couple days off from posting. Sometimes you just need a break from the routine, and as the weekend rolled in that’s where I found myself. Today I ventured out into the abnormally 100 degree heat to take in “The Art of the Car” at the Kansas City art Institute. As myself and ten thousand others melted under the late June sun, I was fortunate enough to see some of the finest rolling stock that ever lived.

There was a time, when cars didn’t look the same. When you could tell one brand from another by the look of the grill, the fender line, the hood ornament. There was a period of automotive glory that seemed to die around 1980 as cars became more and more generic. I go to this car show every year and today ore than any other, I was fixated on automobiles that were pushing 100, or at least 60. As I looked at the wonderful styling, craftsmanship, and attention to detail, I wondered “where did this go with the modern car?” Yes today’s automobiles are safer, more efficient, loaded with creature comforts, require less effort to drive… and for the most part they are boring.

I look at what I saw today, and say they don’t have to be.

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MIT’s City Car, Becomes a Reality as Hiriko.

About 5 years ago, MIT began developing an inner city automobile that was designed for highly congested areas. The commuter car had a distinct advantage in dense urban areas where parking is always at a premium. “City Car” could fold up to reduce it’s physical footprint.

Recently in Brussels, the “City Car”, now renamed “Hiriko Fold” was revealed as an actual production prototype slated to go into production in 2013. The first urban areas slated to receive the car is Vitoria Gasteiz, a community on the edge of Bilbao Spain. Cities slated to follow the debut of for a trial run with Hiriko are Boston, Berlin, Hong Kong, Francisco, and Malmo. It will be interesting to see how well this concept does in the United States, a country that loves it’s over sized gas guzzling SUV’s and Trucks. A country where people don’t mind driving from an hour outside the city on their daily commute. One thing about most of the United States, land is available, and urban sprawl is common. These factors lend themselves to the obsession with Suburbans, F-350’s, Hummers, and Explorers in most of America.

The Hiriko, when unfolded is slightly smaller than a Smart Car, yet the styling is very futuristic, and sleek. Factors that might help it do better than Smart has done since it’s introduction to the American market a few years back.

What makes Hiriko unique is it’s ability to fold into itself allowing it to park in a space about one third the size of a normal car. According to MIT, three to four Hiriko vehicles can fit into the space used by a normal full sized car. This will be huge for American cities like New York, San Francisco, or Boston. In addition, the Hiriko has the ability to turn on its axis with virtually no turning ratio which aids in inner city driving/parking conditions. Powered by four independent electric motors (one for each wheel) Hiriko can even move sideways in a crab-like manner, virtually eliminating the need to ever parallel park the in a traditional fashion.

Hiriko is estimated to cost around $12,500 when it arrives next year. That price point makes it affordable, and it’s size makes it desirable for many. I just hope MIT can come up with a marketing plan that will sell this to an American audience. In my opinion Hiriko will be a huge success in Europe, Japan, India, and other extremely dense urban areas. Here in the good old USA, it might be a tough sell since we have to share the streets with so many bloated over sized vehicles. Either way I can’t wait to see this in person, and actually take it for a test drive.

Andy the Pinstriper, Presented by HBTV: Depth of Speed

Keeping with the automobile theme for Friday, I thought I would post this video from Depth of Speed. The film is a beautifully shot short documentary about “Pin Striping” artist Andy Kawahara.  This is a great story, and the film has a really nice look to it. Even if you aren’t into cars, or car culture, this is worth watching. Additional videos from Depth of Speed can be found here.

Design Friday. The 1969 Mercedes-Benz C111 Concept.

Lately the Design Friday posts have focused on a specific designer, and not necessarily a specific piece of design work. Today I am going to change it up a bit and talk about something that is an amazing piece of design work, and lives in the world of priceless and rare.

I have always been a car guy. Not a gear head but a car guy, as in I am all about the design and styling of the automobile and less about getting my hands dirty building a hot rod. That doesn’t mean that I don’t appreciate horse power, and the engineering that goes into the vehicle. It simply means that I am initially drawn to the styling and the appreciation of power comes when you drive it.

In 1969 Mercedes introduced the beautiful C111 gullwing. At the time it was going to have a list price of $8700.00 if it made it into production. (which makes me wish I had my USB powered time machine finished.) The C111 was a series of experimental automobiles produced by Mercedes-Benz in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The company was experimenting with new engine technologies, including Wankel rotary engines, turbo diesels, and turbocharged gasoline engines, The basic C111 platform was used as a testbed, but ultimately a number of these car were made available for sale .

The car featured gullwing doors, angular body styling and luxurious interior trim and appointments. At the time the C111 was a Mercedes super car that rivaled any of the Italian high-end sports cars on the market.

The first version of the C111 was finished in 1969. It featured a fiberglass body, that allowed the designers to create long flowing lines that helped to set the look of the car apart from the competition. The C111 was powered by a mid-engine three-rotor direct fuel injected Wankel engine, that produced a370 horse power, which for 1969 was pretty impressive. With a top speed of 180 mph, the C111 was a direct competitor with the  likes of Ferrari, and Lamborghini. The coupe’s lightweight skin, opened up new possibilities in the aerodynamic design of sports cars.


The C 111 never did appear in showrooms. Instead the coupe was an extension of the development of the Sport Light models from the late 1950s, it was to serve as an experimental car. A study in design, aesthetics, materials and technology. Despite interest from Geneva show-goers in the late 60’s, the C111 II never made it to production largely because of the engine. “The Wankel engine was not yet mature enough to be handed over to customers in line with company standards,” said the car’s developer Dr. Hans Liebold in 2000.


As I look at the images and video of the car, I can immediately see how it influenced so many others that followed it, and not just those made by Mercedes. I am drawn to the sweeping lines, the low wide stance, and that amazing orange and black paint job.

Anti-Design Friday, The Sbarro Autobau.

For this weeks Design Friday post, I have decided to focus on what not to do, sort of an anti design Friday in a sense. With the Geneva Motor Show in full swing I thought I would talk about quite possibly the ugliest car in the world. The Sbarro Autobau.

Now I have seen some ugly automobiles before. Usually the result of engineering overload dominating the styling process, or just a lack of solid talent in the design pool at the manufacturer, but this is something I can’t quite get my head wrapped around. And the name, “Sbarro Autobau”? Did designer Franco Sbarro not realize that Sbarro is a fast food pizza chain no longer relegated to the East coast of the United States?

OK enough, let’s take a look at why this car is so completely horrible on the eyes.

First starting at the front, the Autobau has dual scalloped lines which are bisected with stubby vertical fins and some sort of bizzaro jet engine intake thing. Visually there is no central point of focus, or any single line that completes the overall shape of the car. Even the scalloped cuts have concave recesses worked back into the body lines of the car. All of this adds up to a visual look that feels assembled, not seamless. The roof line and windscreen seem like an afterthought. Angular flat, stylistically disproportionate to the other shapes and lines extending out of the electric razor/roto-tiller front end. The windscreen is so flat it almost appears to lie horizontal across the surface of the car.


The front fascia has this sort of pitch fork demonic maw to it, and then there is the headlamp, and turn signal assembly which just looks like it was an after thought. I am assuming that Sbarro wanted the car to look menacing, but it just looks like a mish-mash of styles and shapes.


As you move along the car to the sides, the design attempts to incorporate cutlines though the windows similar to a Lamborghini Gallardo, which look great ion the Lamborghini, but Sbarro added a second set of windows behind the doors which breaks the linear sweep of the profile, and the repeated curves as the descend down from the roof line of the car. As you look down the side of the car from the front, another odd design feature is the way the wheel wells break the visual flow, and appear as though they have literally been cleaved off with a knife. Actually there are a number of places where razor-sharp angles collide with fluid lines…


Then there is the proportion of space on both sides of the wheels. Both front and back the car extends more than 30 inches, creating this sort of stretched and warped look that just seems out of balance and out-of-place.


I’m not even going to go into issues with the color pallet. Maybe he went with yellow, red, black and silver because it reminded him of a slice of pepperoni.