Is modern car design all a bit boring?

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Tanya Weaver doesn’t own a car and she doesn’t particularly want to either as most mass produced, economy cars are all a bit meh. She longs for a car styling shake-up and something inspiring to hit the streets

I’ve given my father-in-law the wrong impression. Whenever we stay, he always tries to engage me in conversation about cars whilst he flicks through his latest copy of ‘What Car’. I don’t really know how to break it to him that I just don’t care that much about them.

But I know exactly where this impression comes from. My first ever press trip, about ten years ago, was to the Banbury headquarters of Formula One team BAR (then Honda, Brawn and now Mercedes).

Don’t get me wrong, the processes and technologies involved in developing a Formula One car are extremely interesting it’s just that the car itself is not something I get overly excited about.

Since that trip I’ve done many more visits to car manufacturers including Bentley, Land Rover, Aston Martin, Ferrari and Prodrive – the factory trips are great, driving in what they produce is fun but I don’t spend anytime obsessing over them and wishing I owned one.

In fact, I don’t own my own car although I am insured on my husband’s Audi A6 Estate, which I christened the ‘daddy wagon’. But as I’ve revealed in a previous article, if I could buy any car it would either be the Fiat 500 or the Range Rover Evoque. This is purely based on looks, as I haven’t driven either of them.

So, with cars not being my thing, I don’t tend to have my ear to the ground when it comes to automotive news. However, I do know that 2013 is a big year for UK car manufacturers with McLaren celebrating its 50th birthday, Aston Martin its centenary and Mini the 50th anniversary of the Austin Cooper S.


In terms of the road cars these three produce, I have to admit that the McLaren P1, a 2012 concept that is going into production this year, is pretty impressive as far as super cars go.

I actually have a funny story of when I met Frank Stephenson, McLaren Automotive’s design director, a couple of years back at an event in London where he was giving a talk. Afterwards he was signing posters of the MP4-12C for the press and when it was my turn I told him that he had designed my favourite car ever.

He probably thought I’d pick one from his time at Ferrari, Pininfarina or even McLaren but I’m sure he wasn’t expecting the answer I gave – the Fiat 500.

So, he signed my poster – ‘To Tanya, This is like your 500… x10! Best regards, Frank Stephenson.’ That poster takes pride of place on my office wall.

Anyway, back to the McLaren P1 – as bold and dramatic as it is, with an alleged price tag of £700,000 it is slightly out of my league! Although not as expensive, I won’t be purchasing an Aston Martin any time soon either, although I will admit that they are rather lovely to look at.

Now, a Mini is something I could possibly afford and if you had spoken to me a few years ago, I would have sang its praises as a small, compact, good looking car but that was until the launch of the Mini Countryman. It’s virtually unrecognisable as a Mini – it’s like a Mini Hatch on steroids that’s turned into the ‘Incredible Mini Hulk’.

I parked next to one in the supermarket car park the other day and I felt dwarfed, even in the daddy wagon. Although I have a strong opinion about this particular vehicle, for the majority, these everyday, run of the mill, mass produced family cars are all a bit meh. In my opinion, you can’t really distinguish between them — they are all the same shade of bland.

Perhaps the reason for this is that many of them are essentially the same car. It’s no secret that manufacturers share components so what you’ll find under the bonnet of an Audi you’ll find in a VW, Skoda and Seat. I guess the reason for this is to reduce risk — if a completely new car was designed with all new components and a factory set up to manufacture it, what happens if it’s a flop?

But when it comes to styling there is nothing on the road today that makes your heart skip a beat. (OK, my heart has never skipped a beat about a car, but you know what I mean.) I know that cars from a few decades ago weren’t as reliable as cars are today, but they had style, they had soul, they had presence.

Take the Jaguar E Type — not strictly a family car but one of the best looking cars ever I think.

I was recently reminded of that very cool 021c concept car that industrial designer Marc Newson created for Ford in 1999. His simple, affordable, eco-friendly yet stylish urban car certainly had a few quirks like swivel seats, a boot that slid out like a drawer and a bespoke motif on the tyre tread.

Ford was heavily criticised for it, mostly for creating an experimental design by someone outside of the company who had never designed a car before. But the model is still around and every so often pops up in a gallery or museum.

The London Design Museum makes a brilliant observation about it: “The 021c acts as a neat illustration of Marc Newson’s approach to design: don’t just tinker with existing typologies, but take a long lateral look at them and imagine how the perfect version would be.”

Although it’s been 14 years since it was launched, I don’t think it’s dated at all. If anything, it looks better. I’d definitely buy one if Ford decided to manufacture it and that’s saying a lot.

It also got me thinking, if you could design a car what would it look like? I know that the styling is just one small cog in the large wheel that is product development, but if it’s just the look of it, what would you come up with if you had a chance? Even I feel inspired.

Tanya Weaver longs for a shake-up in car styling

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