The 72nd Goodwood Members Meeting at the weekend was enjoyable for all the usual reasons associated with this famous venue, getting close to exotic and rare cars, interesting characters both behind the wheel and on the banks at Lavant, and very expensive cars being pushed to their limits.
But the sight of the Group One Touring Cars in the paddock raced me back to the late 70’s and early 80’s, when I used to spend every second weekend at a circuit around Britain. As my brother Martin pursued his favoured career, design being a fall back, racing a Formula Ford in various championships; Donnington Park, Brands Hatch and Silverstone were as familiar to me as my parents’ garden.
The likes of Richard Longman, Tony Dron and Win Percy, were names that meant more to me then than James Hunt, and still do. The sight of Richard in his Mini hassling and embarrassing the larger more powerful cars was re-enacted at each round, and once again brought to life at Goodwood in the Gerry Marshall Trophy.
But as a youngster it was the paddock in the evenings, meeting drivers and sitting in the cars as mechanics worked on them, “as you’re in there, make yourself useful, push the brake”, where I got the most enjoyment. Listening in on their banter about ‘if only’, ‘the lack of sponsorship’ and from the mechanics “he couldn’t drive a nail in a plank” was fascinating and intoxicating.
Seeing the TWR logo on the Mazda RX-7 at Goodwood reminded me of those conversations because more often than not, talk would eventually make reference to Tom Walkinshaw, who was a pretty quick driver and quite a character by all accounts too. Stories of intrigue about his racing exploits accompanied hot cups of tea and bacon butties. How he would find a ‘special’ limited production model made for the sand dunes in the desert, its particularly large wheel arch inners allowing the touring car to run unfeasibly close to the ground, and moving a number of cars from one warehouse to another ‘doubling’ production numbers for compliance with championship entry requirements. Now the stories of folklore.
But the success of the man was unquestionable, setting up Tom Walkinshaw Racing in 1975, to build and run his race cars for the touring car championship. It went on to become an incredibly successful racing outfit, including winning Le Mans in partnership with Jaguar with a car designed by Ross Brawn, and even racing Volvo estates – although not a racing success certainly a PR one!
The spin off from the racing was production of performance aftermarket parts for road cars such as the Mazda RX7 and more famously the Jaguar XJR-S, at which point Walkinshaw realised the potential for this service and started TWR Design. This new design consultancy, with Peter Stevens, attracted one Ian Callum from Ford as designer, and clients such as Volvo, Mazda and HSV all benefitting from their input, with the Aston Martin DB7 being the most prolific project. In the early 90’s I was able to see from the inside the work they were doing, as I provided alias modelling expertise. The close knit, efficient and boistorous team of designers and modellers outputting an incredible range of concepts and production models.
It is only now as I reflect on the weekend at Goodwood, and review my own experiences as Drive Design goes into its 18th year, that I fully appreciate what Tom Walkinshaw achieved, and how driven, motivating and business savvy he must have been to build a race team into a company peaking at around 1500 employees worldwide, that went on to design what is one of the most beautiful production cars ever.
Geneva this year was, for me, a mixed bag of sophisticated concepts, inspiring steps forward in production cars and a display of how saturated the industry is becoming with clichés and forgettable designs.
We started our day drifting from stand to stand and were quickly met with the Hyundai Intrado concept which turned out to be one of the better resolved concepts at the show but for me, like many of the concepts here, lacked any deeper thinking outside of brand development.
With brief stops at Audi, VW and Skoda and their perpetual evolutions of the same design we were feeling a little uninspired. Renault brought a little sunshine to precedings with their Teletubby hills, warm glowing orbs and the prospect of an exciting new rear engined, rear wheel drive Twingo. The layout did provide some visual divergence but with its unnecessary central tunnel and lack of luggage space it felt almost like a hindrance rather than an opportunity. Renault really could have capitalised here over the competition which comes in the form of the Citroen, Toyota, Peugeot trio, all of which have their own idiosyncrasies. The C1 and 108 seem to be fairly successfully unique but the Aygo, in what looks like an attempt to catch up, adorns an imposing black ‘X’ on the front which to me is about as exciting and creative as putting some colourful laces on a pair of Clarks brogues.
The most successful designs, in this case, were the ones that celebrated their functions and practicalities like the intriguing Citroen Cactus, an honest and pure expression of what a utility vehicle can be. It felt like Citroen were boldly going where no production cars had been before with a wide variety of interesting ideas which, whilst sometimes being divisive, were never short of inspiration.
Following the functionality theme, the show was awash with crossovers and station wagons but Volvo seemed to take centre stage both literally and figuratively in this department. The message was clear and ran through everything they did, I felt more intelligent just being there. Aside from the beautifully formed surface language of the concepts, what was most impressive was Volvo’s use of colours and materials which undoubtedly took inspiration more from Scandinavian furniture than the automotive world. I was even happy to overlook the gimmicky thick-rimmed glasses that the staff were issued but they do have to be careful not to become the Hunter wellies of the automotive world. After being invited up for a closer look at their glass encased concepts and a brief chat with one of their team it seemed Volvo are destined for a bright future.
Less successful, by contrast, was the 2-Series Active Tourer. A front wheel drive watered down BMW still hiding beneath the tenuous facade of BMW’s sporting intention? Not for me, BMW have always delivered products that perform as well, if not better, than they look but this feels false with it’s aggressive looks when compared to the marvel that is the i3.
Whilst some areas of design remain stagnant, Mitsubishi and Subaru spring to mind, the majority of companies seem to be moving towards big changes, some to catch up and make themselves relevant again, others to define new trends and push things forward. The car of the show for me was the Citroen Cactus. At a glance, much like the BMW i3 and i8, you could be forgiven for thinking it’s a concept car, an empty promise, but it’s so much more pertinent and profound than that, it’s a flash of colour in a sea of grey, it’s a really cool car that you can actually own.
As part of our designer insights series, Pratap Bose, Head of Design for TATA Motors, gave us an overview of the TATA design language encapsulated in the Nexon.
LinkedIn has become an incredible database for automotive design personnel and a must for resourcing and recruitment professionals, but it is its capability to engage experts in discussion that could be the most valuable aspect for our industry.
In the beginning as interest groups were set up, a wide range of topics were posted and discussed, with some real insight to industry practice ….. apart from automotive design, where it appeared that car designers were neither interested in or engaging with discussions.
Indeed there was so little informative dialog other than how to use Photoshop, that Patrick Le Quément was driven by despair to start one of the more interesting topics
‘Why is it that there does not seem to be any debate on “Car Designers”, all I see is how to improve your rendering techniques?
Do we, automotive designers, have no other interest but drawing skill ?’
The last post on ‘Car Designers’ was over a year ago, and the group is now left on the iBook’s shelf, however another group ‘Automotive Design’ has thrived with some 11000 members.
One reason would appear to be the change in topics, that has taken place over the last 10 months, – student portfolios are less, ‘we are looking for …’ have gone elsewhere, and new brush textures have been erased.
There is now maturity to the ‘Automotive Design’ discussions and topics, ranging from seat ergonomics, the millenials’ lack of interest in cars, to reasons behind bumper design solutions.
The contributors are varied bringing their knowledge from all aspects of automotive design, and exchanging views with meaningful insight.
So now there is a discussion board that is worthy of the experience and knowledge that our industry experts have, lets embrace it and engage.
LinkedIn Group – Automotive Design
George Hugo – Can somebody give me a good answer as to why the designers would place the bonnet shut-line as they did?
Patrick Le Quément – ‘Why is it that there does not seem to be any debate on “Car Designers”