That was how it was in those days. Now, I suspect the situation is rather different. New cars are so ugly, you have to flick back through a couple of decades’ worth of glossy motor magazines before you can find anything that you’d want to drive around in daylight, let alone leave out on your driveway for all to associate with you. Why is that? Why is car design so poor these days?
I don’t mean to pick on any particular brand; none seems to stand out as an exception to the manufacturers’ general rule of ‘let’s make it as grotesque as possible’, though I have to say that, as a sector, the pick-up truck and its saloon derivatives just about take the gong for gratuitous hideousness.
The two headlights that are customarily stuck on the front of a car have always attracted comparisons between an automobile’s front end and a face, so each car design acquires a personality from the ‘expression’ on its radiator grille. Look at one of the big pick-ups that barge their way along our highways and muscle through our narrow sois and what do you see? A benign countenance? A friendly complexion? No. The car has jowls like a growling, snarling bull-headed monster and it’s barrelling down the road straight at you.
If you own one of these gruesome machines and quite like its steroid-inspired lines and macho demeanour, you’re probably thinking by now that Kuhn Pobaan has simply lost it. Time has passed him by; he is, as it were, simply out of tune with the zeitgeist. Well, that is as may be, but in my defence I would cite my appreciation of modern design in many other areas, including other consumer durables.
Computers and their spin-off small cousins the lap-top, palm and – surely soon to come – thumb and little finger machines are to me highly desirable objects. Just spying these shiny new techno-baubles in a shop makes me drool with anticipation. I want to own them because they look so sexy. It’s the same with cameras. I already have an instrument that takes perfectly adequate photographs, yet I always have it in the back of my mind to buy a new camera just because the new ones look so cool.
I could say the same about televisions whose sleek minimalist lines beguile me into believing that my current set is a couple of centimetres too fat to be truly in vogue. The pictures they show on the demonstration models in the shop always look so much better than the ones I get at home.
And it’s not just boys’ toys. I like the look of new washing machines, coffee percolators, microwave ovens—even lawnmowers. I am an inveterate consumer. I am victim of the commercial imperative to persuade customers to replace products before they really need replacing. New designs, as they are designed to do, titillate my appetite for ownership and encourage me to look on last year’s model, though fashionable at the time, as in sore need of updating.
Except for cars. I love our car. It has never let us down and it is less ugly than the average. If a sexier design were to be released, I would feel the tight bindings on the Pobaan purse begin to slacken and a hankering develop for a newer automobile.
To test whether the market is about to provide these conditions, this week I went down to the Pattaya Motor Show. I say ‘go down’ advisedly since I was on the third floor of Central Festival when I happened to look over the rail and notice that the Motor Show was being held a couple of floors below.
You’d think a motor show would be the ultimate consumer event. As I descend the escalator, my anticipation grows of girls in bikinis draped over the bonnets of glossy new cars of sumptuous design and packed with features not dreamed up when our faithful automobile was conceived.
I’m thinking of gadgets that comb your hair as you enter the car from a strong wind, massage seats, an auto-garrotte device for troublesome kids in the back and Boudicca-style knives that emerge from the wheel-hubs to cut up pick-ups that cut you up.
OK, the gadgets were a bit of a fantasy, but some sort of attractive modern design might have done the trick and had me reaching for my credit card.
But no. If I’d had enough cash in my pocket for ten of these cars, I still wouldn’t have bothered to buy any of them. There they sat, on carpet, being cooed over by attentive salespeople, looking like big snarling monsters. One, with six headlamps, looked like a mutant space-bug. I wouldn’t feel safe at night with a thing like that in my garage. I’d hardly know whether to fill it with petrol or throw it hunks of meat.
Would I want to be seen driving around in something so ugly? No. For now, the credit card is safely stowed away. I’m waiting for the car industry to flick back through the archives to its past glories and hope that inspiration returns sometime soon.