IAIN ROBERTSON

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It is no error to state that British humour (like that of the Czechs and the Finns) seems to revolve around bottoms and toilets, a factor that Iain Robertson believes is wholly and historically excusable, even though the following diatribe might be questionable at best.

 

Some pseudo-wise individual once asked me, if I knew why turds (sorry, stool) are tapered. Despite possessing a moderate education, with more than a soupcon of medical bias, I had to admit that it was not an aspect around which I had placed much thought. Yet, he was delighted to inform me, “Because your arse would slam shut painfully, otherwise!”. It was clearly good advice.

 

On another occasion, a very well-to-do person of my acquaintance related a tale of a friend, who had visited his very expensive and private medical specialist on Harley Street, London. The chap had been experiencing an issue with ‘gentlemen’s problems’.

 

In fact, he had been suffering from an unfortunate case of haemorrhoids, which I appreciate also affect females of the species. When the specialist probed him for more information, he responded frankly, “All I want to know, is what’s happening at the entrance to my arse, doctor?”. To which the renowned gastric surgeon riposted, “Mr Smith (I change his name to avoid his potential embarrassment), in the medical profession, we call that an exit…!” Oh well, bang goes the public school image.

 

While realising that you are still wondering about how I am going to connect bums to cars, trust me, it is coming. Yet, I cannot be alone in questioning the use of English in describing a ‘Lap of the Ring’, which might be either rivetingly grubby and unfunny, or sexually dubious, when it is simply a reference to circumnavigating the Teutonic rigours of one of Europe’s most engaging racing circuits in the Eifel mountain range.

 

Back-ends and cars are definitely connected and the initial link arises on the draftsman’s table, or the CAD-CAM desk computer, where the vast majority of car designs are formulated, prior to building a body-in-clay and the final artwork being signed-off for line production. It is here, where my story proper commences.

 

Car designers are creative people. In many cases, they are wondrous artists, producing their own versions of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in automotive form. Yet, into their outline drawings, which invariably start with a side elevation, they need to introduce a corporate signature, with due deference to the grey-suited types that run the marketing departments and who sign-off their wage-slips every month.

 

The ‘company look’ is of vital import to those responsible for giving the final product a place in the market. It is as important as any aspect of branding and it needs to be finely considered along with every stroke of the Yasotumo design pen (other brands are available).

 

Simultaneously, the designer is tasked by his employer’s accountants to keep any extravagances, or avant-garde sweeps, to a minimum, to avoid extraneous costs becoming factored in during the production phase. Meanwhile, the safety department lobbies for the correct ride height, bonnet height, bumper height and seat entry points, all aspects that must be incorporated into the final iteration of the initial designs. The technologists demand that the designer includes the latest addenda and optional equipment.

 

It is a heavy remit but the work progresses in design studios around the world, usually in exotic locations like Los Angeles, Miami, Hong Kong, Melbourne, Nice, or even London. The shape is created diligently. A wonderful balance in form is finalised. A ‘show car’ might even result, if budget allows it, as a means to demonstrate the intuitive talents of an entire aesthetic design team that has been working for a couple of years, at least, on the organic contours of the door mirrors, the bumper unit profiles, the airflow characteristics, even the colours that are appropriate to season, to market position, to quality enhancement and to provide a boost to consumer appeal.

 

Naturally, the radiator grille is vital. It sells the brand. Its shape is the signature and is both the place for brand recognition, as well as model denomination. It is the vehicle’s face, which relates wordlessly with the customer. Whether earmarked for a beguiling smile, a rictus grimace, a snarling riposte to rivals, or just a less-than-bland portrayal of mainstream modernity, it plays a vital role.

 

Moving rearwards, the windscreen angle, even the bow of the wiper blades and whether, or not, they should be concealed, along with their ancillary washer-jets, is taken into artistic account, along with the style-lines inscribed into the bonnet, or hood of the vehicle, which draw the eye and even stretch the belief of the car’s nose. The tumblehome of the side glazing and the daylight-openings are all contemplated judiciously, all the way to the rear-end of the machine.

 

Yet, no matter how beautiful, no matter how inspirational, no matter how moving, or motivational is the bulk of the final outline, when it reaches the back-end, all too frequently, it can look like a cow’s arse on a frosty morning.

 

Why is it that car designers seem to have forgotten the simple premise of how to end something that can look so vaingloriously, painstakingly and achingly beautiful in every other aspect, except its arse-end? As a vehicle critic, I endure phenomenal frustration with a great many designs, mainly because I will have fallen for the style and expression up-front, or along its flanks, only to reach the back-end and also reach for the bucket to contain my biliousness.

 

Prime examples of arse-end automotive excreta include the previous generation Ford Focus, although the latest version is no great shakes. The Hyundai Veloster, the MG6 (or MG3), the BMW Mini (in all of its questionable forms), the Honda CR-V, the Volvo XC60, the Honda Civic, most Toyotas, several Nissans and so on fail to tick some essential boxes.

However, then there are the reminiscent and reflective design efforts aimed at preserving some remote historical reference…to what? Bloodshed at Crecy? Elvis Presley’s toilet? Or some dim and distant model boasting a relevant marker in the brand’s past? I number the arse-end offenders as the Jaguar XJ, the Bentley Continental, the Range Rover Evoque and, once again, the BMW Mini.

 

Yet, Gallic mainstream car producer, Peugeot, has managed to resolve beautifully the tail-end of its 508 model, either in estate, or saloon, forms. The car looks finished. It possesses a tail-end flourish that can only be described as neat, tidy and true to form. What I should like to know is, when will the sinners, who run out of budget (because it was all spent up-front), the perpetrators of this vital element of car design, wake up to realising that once ‘autonomous motoring’ becomes a reality, only one in a very few drivers will ever see much more than the ill-styled arse-ends of the vehicle in front? Can that be described as a ‘major advance in road safety’? I think not.

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Of course, beauty is in the eye of the beholder but, before becoming incensed with my selection, do consider what happens at the other end of the animal. I know that it is usually an exit point for the waste but that should not place design restrictions upon it. Finally, it is worth highlighting that what steams out of cows backwards is actually the Isle of Wight Ferry…

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).