Aesthetic Analysis: Car Designers



This article grew out of a synthesis deeply rooted in a critical analysis and appreciation of the achievements of Colin Chapman and Lotus. It was also inspired by:

  • A requirement to establish the relative hierarchy of Chapman through comparison
  • That fact that Chapman commissioned designers to cloth his cars. In particular the Esprit introduces us to specialist designers.
  • The Eight Automobiles Exhibition profiled the aesthetics of automobile engineering and design.

As a means of critical analysis we adopt a system of bench marking. This article essentially comprises an A_Z directory of the world’s car designers and their work. It also thought that assessment can be made through comparison with enjoyment and critical appreciation developed by the exercise.
The author’s knowledge is limited and its appreciated there may be omissions. Should subscribers feel that there are major omissions we hope that you will make suggestions. The exercise will be better as a result. These series can be incremental and the resource can improve over time. This is a building block and will be the source of an expanding series of articles that critically examine car design and performance using Lotus as an essential benchmark.
The author suggests that these fundamental criteria are applied when making comparisons:

  • Is the designer just creating body styles and what is that role[ owner , corporate executive consultant or creative draughtsman]
  • Engineer and designer
  • Owner, engineer, designer and person determining brief specification and person taking risks
  • Owner, facilitator , coordinator [creative role can be underestimated]
  • Coachbuilders [ again the design role can be understated .The coachbuilders often were artists too ]
  • Industrial designer who designed in other fields as well as automobiles.

Subscribers may like to also look at our articles:

  • Motoring Icons of the 20C: Bugatti, Lotus and Jaguar.
  • Industrial and Product Designers
  • Aesthetic analysis – various descriptions of significant Lotus and peer car designs.
  • The work of Williams and Pritchard coach builders and our article.

Charity and Subjectivity

The author acknowledges that hard and fast rules are difficult in attributing design. The explanations are that individuals often worked for organisation that would tend to own the intellectual property.
Individuals might have reported to senior executives whom might have felt accountability. Aspects of the design might have been shared and designers change jobs mid project. Some alterations might be made in productionisation.
It is very difficult to hold a patent on a car design and for this reason designs are borrowed, modified and evolved. For this reason there is a continuum and many shades of gradation. The author’s chronology hopes to make some sense of this and offer peer comparisons.
For these reasons the author has been broadly generous in attributions.

The automobile design in the 20c

Design has been conducted against a wider socio economic context. The car has been one of the greatest symbols of the era and for some defining it. Please see chronology list of significant car designs as this will assist understanding. Some of the profound influences on design have been:

  • Socio-economic interaction –wealth and poverty. The search for individual expression in society requiring greater conformity and as modified by mass production
  • Technology
  • Employment and labour distribution through to commuting and public transport
  • Energy availability and price
  • Technology of mass production and mass markets and obsolescence.
  • Culture and freedom of expression and individuality.
  • National prestige.
  • Legal commercial , financial considerations
  • Insurance
  • Taxation and Welfare

In the 20c and the consumerist society; design has sold. Style has been applied to table ware, refrigerators, food processors, TV sets and furniture.
The design of the motor car is one of the hardest objects to design and produce because of its mechanical complexity. It too has been subject to style. In this article we attempt to look at designers and in some small way explore the works where engineering excellent has been equalled by aesthetic beauty allied to function.
There is rich and deep evolving resource to draw upon.

New York Museum of Modern Art .1951 Exhibition “Eight Automobiles” [Rolling Sculpture]

This exhibition was concerned with the “aesthetics of motor car design”
The curator for this exhibition was Arthur Drexier and a catalogue was produced by Leo Lionni.
It listed these iconic cars that were displayed;

  • 1930 Mercedes-Benz SS Tourer
  • 1939 Bentley Saloon [ James Young]
  • 1939 Talbot Lago [Teardrop coupe]
  • 1951 Willis Jeep
  • 1937 Cord 812 Custom
  • 1948 M.G.TC
  • Lincoln Continental Coupe
  • Cisitalia 202

The Designers

A directory in three groups forming an A-Z

Aesthetic Analysis of Exceptional Cars and Short List

Aesthetics is very subjective and the editors acknowledge this. For this reason we invite other interpretations and suggestions for inclusion. We will be happy to respond.
In the early stage of motor car design the design clues and architecture were adopted from the steam engine. Symbolic and function suggested a long bonnet, small cab and fuel tender. From these functional activities derived the canons of taste.
Long bonnet, small cockpit and small boot comprised the essence of the recognisable sports car.
The structural move to mid and rear engine at a stroke removed this established formulae and allegory. A new vocabulary was required to articulate form and function.
More recently the mass produced saloon car with the transverse front engine, demand for internal space and fuel economy has perhaps reduced or restricted personalisation and expression.
Within this study the author has not provided a history of manufacturers but has chosen to focus on designers and engineer/ owner designers. However coachbuilders have contributed some truly magnificent designs and it was felt appropriate that they too ought to be acknowledged.
The author has drawn up a short list and a selection of detailed aesthetics studies is provided.
Again we are happy to receive reader’s ideas and suggestions which will be responded to. The incremental comparative nature of this study improves as a result.
Show cars have been referred to as: “butterflies – rare and ephemeral” but none the less in the authors eyes still some of the most striking beautiful of objects ever made particularly where there is total integration and articulation of form and function.
In the 1950’s there was a Renaissance in European car design and our study evidences this. In particular the Italian school has perhaps not been excelled in either quality or continuum. Theirs has been a celebration of sculpture and an expression and exercise in artesian skill and applied technology. Passion drives the creativity and there is a sense of aspiration that is rarely compromised by any cynical requirement of utility.
I hope that these observations will be borne out by the aesthetic studies provided.
The author suggests that although photographs are a useful tool for aesthetic analysis they are possibly best used in conjunction with working drawings. For this reason readers are directed to the website WWW.carblueprints and examples are included to complement the observations made,

Short list [designs selected for extended analysis in italics] see also chronological list.
Pre War.

  • 1915 Stutz Bearcat
  • 1933 Dymaxion Car
  • 1934 Tatra 77
  • 1934 Bentley 4.5L
  • 1934 Chrysler Airflow
  • 1937 BMW 308
  • 1937 Cord 810/812
  • 1937 Talbot Lago T150-SS
  • 1938 Alfa Romeo 8C2900B
  • 1949 Delahaye 175S

Post War

  • 1948 Cisitilia 202
  • 1949 Citroen 2CV
  • 1949 Landrover S1
  • 1949 Porsche 356
  • 1953 Mercedes Benz 300SLR coupe
  • 1954 Kaiser Darrin
  • 1955 Fiat Multipla
  • 1957 Lotus Elite
  • 1959 Mini

  • 1961 Jaguar E Type
  • 1963 Corvette Stingray
  • 1966 Lamborghini Muira
  • 1966 Toyota 2000GT
  • 1967 Mazda Cosmo Sport 110S
  • 1967 Jaguar Pirana
  • 1967 Bizzarini 5300 GT
  • 1969 Ferrari 512 S

1970 -2010

  • 1970 Ferrari Modulo
  • 1970 Stratos HF Zero
  • 1987 Oldsmobile Aerotech
  • 1992 Jaguar XJ220
  • 1995 Ford GT90
  • 2001 VW W12
  • 2010 Porsche 918 Spyder concept


The author has attempted a reasonably comprehensive review in order to achieve a fair critical comparison.
By accident some of our subscribers may feel that there have been omissions. If this is the case please forward details.
As impartial and reasonably academic examination we will make inclusions which can only serve to improve the exercise.
Should any subscriber wish to see a specific model researched in detail again please forward a request [either from those listed or another example.

References and A to Z Directory of Designers

When it comes to design this is my favorite…

Lotus 11

Photo courtesy of the Lotus Eleven Register