Why Don't Designers Incorporate Distinguishing Features Of Past Popular Models Into The New Design?

Greg Zyla
Q: Dear Greg, I have long been upset at the people who design the new model cars. All the autos look very much alike, and as a former Lincoln Continental owner, I note the new Lincoln. I think it looks very similar to a Honda, Toyota, Ford, Chevy, etc.
Why don’t the design engineers look at past models that were most popular and incorporate distinguishing features into the new design?
Personally, I would like to see a flat hood, not curved, with some old fashioned headlights that have the modern capabilities as to power yet still look like one of their distinguishing models of the past. I want to know when I see a car coming it is a Lincoln, Mercedes-Benz or a Ford. I feel every auto has some excellent design features in the past, but few designers take it into account and they all look alike. This is a shame and we are the losers.
Sincerely yours, Bill Witthuhn, Coeur’d Alene, ID 13815. 
A: Bill, thanks much for your letter and I’ll let you know up front one of the world’s top auto designers, namely the late Harley Earl, has a grandson (Richard) who reads this column. Maybe he’ll send us his thoughts for us all to enjoy on the subject.
(Richard Earl has been featured on these pages before).
In my opinion, you are correct that the majority of today’s modern cars are getting close to “cookie cutter” dimensions and design, especially the mid-size and full-size units. Most have very similar design traits and to make matters worse, there are way more foreign manufacturers building cars. This makes it even more difficult to distinguish a vehicle than the days gone by.
In 1959, for example, Chevy had a full-size car in three flavors, Impala, Bel Air or Biscayne. Other than trucks and a Corvette to choose from, that was pretty much it. Regardless, you sure knew it was a Chevy coming down the road. Same goes for all the other models from the big three back then, be it Ford Galaxie or Plymouth Belvedere.
Today, there are a few builders who have done what you say, and are successful. The Ford Mustang, Volkswagen Beetle, Porsche Carrera and Dodge Challenger come quickly to mind, as these modern vehicles still evoke design cues from the past successfully. I’ve said many times in the past that if Chrysler ever found the tooling for a 1967 Plymouth Belvedere GTX, and then built it like they do the Challenger, I’d be the first one at the dealership to order one!
As for novel modern day expression, foreign manufacturer Nissan (formerly Datsun) had always been ahead of the curve when it came to design that pushed the envelope. (IE: the Nissan Juke).
Nissan has never been afraid to introduce a new design, which certainly costs a lot of money in modern day car building than it did in the past when a “new design’ meant a hood, grille and fender enhancement on the same chassis. The reality of today is that the electronics, mechanicals and safety offerings probably overrule design budgets more so than we realize.
Still, I believe as you do that certain popular design traits from the past can be included in modern day design, allowing for more identification properties. Perhaps someone reading this column employed in the car design business will give us his or her thoughts on the subject.
Overall, there are millions of happy Mustang owners that to this day, love the retro styling of the world’s first ever “Pony Car.”
I know I do. (See photos). Thanks again Bill and have a good day.

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