DSC_0382_editedRoll up! Roll up! Come and play the ‘greatest’ motoring game ever! – Just musing, while driving slowly in heavy traffic the other day, Iain Robertson decided to apply some (il)logic to the faces of vehicles in the oncoming lanes 

Some, although not all, car designers talk about the visages of their creations, whenever given the opportunity, usually over a tincture, or few, taken in the bar, following the reveal of their latest offerings to ever-expectant motoring scribes and mostly after an over-lengthy dinner. They wax lyrical about giving character to their stylings, with the prescience of a brand evangelist possessing a mild sexual deviancy and the more ready the flow of alcoholic unguents, the more florid become their descriptions, accompanied by rolling eyes and expressive gesticulations to emphasise their self-aggrandising artistry.

It is astonishing how even the least fertile of minds can wander, when confronted by an apparently endless queue of traffic that moves with the alacrity of a line of constipated snails. As a result, I sometimes find myself reflecting on the faintly ridiculous and frequently scripted tales imparted to me by the often artless presenters earning their crusts at press introductions for the latest models. Fortunately, on occasion, some of the actual stylists make an appearance and it is consummately easy to become swept along by an equally endless stream of design consciousness.DSC_0231_edited (1)

Ian Callum, of Jaguar design infamy, highlighted the aerodynamic addition of ‘bling’ on the nose of the last version of the XF luxury saloon, when Jaguar replaced the S-Type. All I could see in the lower bumper area was a chromed Moulinex electric carving knife and, when I asked a pointed question about the replica’s inspiration, he actually confirmed that it was the case. Oh dear. It seems that designers can obtain their creativeness from a combination of the most ordinary of domestic items, yet they also dig into a very deep pot of so-called iconography. The problem for me is that some lifestyle icons do not warrant the image gifted to them, even though ‘lifestyle’ is their marketing-inspired mantra.

They talk about ‘fenders stretched sinuously over the broad tracks of the mechanical underpinnings’, they highlight areas that become synonymous with their etchings. Take the now expected ‘Horbury shoulder’, a renowned aspect of Volvo design, introduced by Peter Horbury, a stylist for whom I harbour a fair degree of respect, mostly for his capacity to consume almost as much booze as I can imbibe at Scandinavian launches of his employer’s products. Alternatively, every BMW worth its salt has incorporated the rear three-quarter window line of its progenitor, Dr Wilhelm Hofmeister, who was BMW’s design boss in the early-1960s.

It is an angular depiction that has appeared on virtually every BMW since the first 1501 model to feature it, although it is difficult to copyright it and, as a result, several other carmakers have also dipped into its outline and created their own versions of it. It is almost as famous as the ‘hockey stick’ on the Ford Capri of the late-1960s, which was designed by Uwe Bahnsen, who was aided by Patrick Le Quement, who moved subsequently to Renault Cars and created a ‘shakin’ that ass’ styling stance for the Megane that was uniquely Gallic.

DSC_0348_editedBefore we reach the ‘schnozzles’, I wanted to say that I have a great issue with the opposite-ends of many cars and I do believe that the vast majority of designers simply run out of momentum, when they reach the posteriors of their latest models, with the notable exception of a number of Peugeots (which also possess a rear three-quarter window outline, designed by Gerard Welter, that has been carried into almost every model since the 205 of 1983). Yet, despite imparting a ‘familiar familial appeal’, I feel that the majority of automotive stylists do not actually work that hard to earn their inflated salaries, or their elevated positions within the hierarchy of their employers. They will rail at anyone inferring that their work is that of an arch-copyist, even though their scrawlings consist mainly of ‘inspirations’ that are copied, which seems to underscore that there is very little left in this world by which to create something truly unique.

Anyway, I have devised a game that anyone can play from the cosseting comfort of their own motor vehicle. It is called ‘The Grille Game’. I ought to register it…

Based on the signature outlines of radiator shells, headlamp arrays and lower front bumper grimaces, it encourages the player to nominate what they depict. It can be played safely by one person, which might offset the bloodletting that is sure to occur with two, or more, persons indulging in the time wasting venture. If the player is speedy (and desperate) enough, it can be exercised at motorway velocity, or in gridlocked town centres. Its value, as a psychological diversion, cannot be emphasised enough.

To help you on your way, I proffer the following examples of make, model and what I believe to be their influences. See if you can formulate your own reference points…

1. Mid-2000s BMW Mini – like a Mutant Ninja Turtle, with its headband having slipped from cranium to mouth, to stop it talking.

2. Current BMW Mini – like a Koi carp, or a guppy, with ‘trout-pout’.

3. Current Kia Sportage – a smile like an oriental Cheshire cat.

4. Any present-day Volkswagen – has an avuncular but ever-so-sinister Dr Mengele smile.

5. Peugeot 208 – tight-lipped but with hidden toothy-ness, like my aunt Euphemia (I never said it couldn’t be personal).

6. New Toyota Aygo – looks like Cheryl Cole (or whatever she is calling herself this week).

7. New Jeep Cherokee – might enjoy some fava beans and a light Chianti.

8. New Seat Leon – possesses the terrifying face of a Samurai warrior.

9. Vauxhall Adam – looks like a self-satisfied geisha girl.

10. MG3 – just looks so bored and glum.

 Best of luck!

About Iain P W Robertson

Frequently being told to 'go forth and multiply', Iain P W Robertson's automotive wisdom is based on almost forty years in the business, across all aspects from sport to production, at the highest levels. He likes dogs and drives a Suzuki (not related).