October 18, 2012

Horse 1380 - The Spirit of Ecstasy

I saw this Rolls-Royce this morning and part of me died a little inside. This slab sided, brick of a machine isn't even remotely "nice". The hood ornament on the front of a Rolls-Royce has two names: the first is "Emily"; the second is the "Spirit of Ecstasy".
This Rolls-Royce did not fill me with "Ecstasy". I'm not even sure if Emily would be happy.

I can understand perfectly, the need to make cars more aerodynamic, sleeker and to cut through the air efficiently. Making cars slice more cleanly through the air increases their fuel efficiency, which saves the owner more money and collectively makes us all more prudent with the limited resource of petroleum.
What I fail to understand though, is why if you happen to be paying more than a million dollars for a motor car, why they couldn't have made it even just a little bit pretty?

I will more than likely never own a Rolls-Royce and so I suppose that the question of why my opinion even matters is more than valid. The thing is though, that even if I'll never own a Rolls-Royce I am still part of a society which does. The very name Rolls-Royce has become sort of a metonym to describe something of the highest quality and the sad fact is that even if you can afford to buy one of these, you still can't but a nice looking car. If the super-rich cannot buy a motor car which looks nice, then what hope do the rest of us have?
Part of the very point of owning a car such as this is to make people jealous and to make a display of ostentatious wealth. If even a Rolls-Royce cannot do that, then I'm sorry but it has failed in its raison d'ĂȘtre.

I come from a generation (possibly the last) to ever see utterly beautiful machines on the road. Cars used to be styled by men with pencils, sculptured by people out of clay and finally if you were wealthy enough, assembled by hand.
Stylists like Pininfarina, Bertone, Issigonis etc. could make metal sing. Wild looking cars like the 1959 Cadillac expressed a vision of the future of unbridled optimism, the Jaguar D-Type which was obviously built for purpose managed to stride valiantly against the wind. Even the original Mini and the Mark 1 Ford Cortina proved that style could be given to the family hack. Cars of the 1970s like the Falcon Coupe and the Holden A9X Torana look like they'd rip your head off and use it as a football. Even right up until the 80s and 90s, cars like the Opel Carlton, Peugeot 406 and the Alfa Romeo 155 showed that even a corporate executive who drove a repbox could still travel in style.
Cars of the late 00s and early 10s have usually all been trying to look edgey with swoopy hard cutting lines, and whilst this looks fine on a computer, it lacks an arist's hand, a craftsman's touch; dare I say it, soul.

Cars are designed almost exclusively on computers these days, there are no pencils, very few use of clays any more and certainly none of the individual working of sheet metal that Carrozzeria Scaglietti himself would have beaten the ever-loving life into (not out of) of the Ferrari 250 GT California.
Legend has it that when the people at Jaguar had made the full size clay model of the Jaguar XJ6 (XJ40 1986-1994), when the clay was left to dry it sagged and the designers liked the downwards slope  of the boot so much, they left it like that for the final production model.
The thing is that this hard edged design trend doesn't just apply to cars, it can be found in architecture, in industrial design for household appliances and even Windows 8 when it comes out at the end of this month will be hard, straight edged and cold.

Since a company like Rolls-Royce is going to spend the money for a designer to to the design work anyway, how about giving the artists a chance? A car company like Rolls-Royce especially cannot rely on a motor racing program like Mercedes-Benz and it cannot really generate the halo effect from producing hypercars. Rolls-Royce should be about producing jealously and envy in other people. Whilst envy is one of the seven deadly sins, creating beauty is not.

Why can't Rolls-Royce of all car companies make "nice" things? And if they don't anymore, then who will? When are we going to next see a brand new Rolls-Royce for which the "Spirit of Ecstasy" is truly a descriptive name and when again will Emily be happy?

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