Car Design Peaked in the 1960s
Design evolved over the years, with some notable cars beginning to crop up in the 30s and 40s, pieces of rolling art like the 1934 Voisin C25 Aérodyne or stunning Cadillac Coupe DeVille of 1948 were extremely beautiful creations, requiring one to step back, light up a cigarette and simply contemplate.
People don’t really realize how dull, ugly and soulless modern cars are, when compared to the great classics of the 60s (and 50s, but to a lesser extent). We have had to lower our collective standards to even stand these new cars, let alone buy them and pay their badge-derived high prices. I dare you to think of a car from the 90s until the present day which you could genuinely call beautiful if you were to park it next to a 1960s Citroen DS? Or next to a Jaguar E-Type? Or next to a Stingray?
Sadly, following the introduction of planned obsolescence, in the US in the 1920s, car design took a back seat as they had to leave room for improvement so that people would keep buying a new car, say, every 5 years. This strategy of making cars deliberately worse in order to improve them later made cars end up being 75% of what they could have been, just so that the CEO of ‘Car manufacturer X’ could add an extra story to his mansion.
From this respect, at least, human ego is the defining factor of the car’s downfall into consumerism, which, sadly, would have happened sooner or later as it does with almost any good and useful invention.
So let’s get down to concrete facts. The period between 1950 and 1970 marked the high point of car design, without a shadow of a doubt. The 30s and 40s were war-ravaged times and nobody gave a damn about how cars looked, and then after the 1970s, came the ugly square shapes of the 1980s and early 1990s, a period which marked an acute fall in the design quality of most cars, with one notable exception: the Ferrari F40 which looked and drove great!
Nowadays, almost all cars you see as being a modern interpretation of something take their inspiration from late 50s to early 70s cars, with a notable example here being the modern MINI, a very capable small car, but with a name stolen (or bought by BMW) from the pages of history; pages which should have been opened with gloves and a welding mask so as one wouldn’t get blinded by the awesomeness and sheer genius of Sir. Alec Issigonis.
The ‘golden period’ gave birth to stunning pieces of art, like the Citroen DS and SM, Jaguar E-Type, Aston Martin DB4 Zagato and DB5, Ford GT-40, Lamborghini Miura and Countach, Ferrari 250 GT (preferably a convertible), Maserati 3500GT, Ghibli, Merak and the gorgeous Tipo 61. Definitely worth mentioning, though, is the most beautiful car ever designed in the US, the awesome C2 Stingray, a car which is evidence of sheer design genius.
The same age gave rise to the greatest sports car the world had (and has) ever seen, the Porsche 911, a car first launched in 1963, and which, let’s face it, hasn’t changed at all in terms of shape, design or layout in its half-a-century history. The fact of the matter is that the list of great cars from the period could go on and on and the conclusion would be the same.
All modern car manufacturers are so keen to make money, that they forget what cars really mean to people, who develop a genuine emotional relationship with them. With modern cars having absolutely no personality and charm, it’s very hard to develop this ancestral bond between man and his ‘carriage’. Of all the modern manufacturers, only Alfa Romeo and Renault have given us genuinely characterful cars, excluding the exotics (Ferrari, Maserati, Lamborghini and the lot).
In my perfect world, coachbuilders would still exist, and you’d go to a BMW dealership and they’d sell you an excellent RWD chassis, then you’d go to Japan for a small, economical and fun naturally-aspirated petrol engine and then you’d go to Italy, where you'd have your car's body and interior coach-built to your own specifications.
This is still possible today, but it’s far too expensive and impractical. What I was trying to say was if these things would have stuck and become accepted as ‘normal’, over the years, their price would have gone down and everybody would have had a custom car which genuinely reflected their personality. Cars would be so interesting that everybody would be a car person and whenever a conversation on a different topic would run dry, you could always talk about your car – Your Car!