Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The sincerest form of flattery...

It's easy to tell what the aspirational cars are in Japan; just look at the output of Japanese designers, who are not at all shy about using tracing paper.

In the sixties and seventies, other than the Ferrari 275-esque Datsun Z-car, most of Japan apparently wished they were in Detroit. Sedans almost invariably looked like miniature caricatures of Studebakers and Dodges and suchlike, and things sometimes got as blatant as the early Celica sports coupes, which looked like somebody had left Larry Shinoda's Mustang drawings in the dryer for too long.

In the eighties and nineties, the target moved to Germany, with the RX-7 being a xerox of Porsche's 924 and most small passenger sedans aping either BMW or Mercedes. Witness the similarity between the mid-'80s Sentra and the 3-series Bimmer, or the Civic and the C-class Benz. (The odd one out here would be the Miata, which was a loving homage to a British roadster 20 years in the grave at the time of the MX-5's debut.) The most recent generation Toyota Camry looked like it could have been penned by Chris Bangle after he'd received the severe blow to the head he so richly deserves.

So the look of the new Nissan Maximas puzzled me... That is, until I saw one at a traffic light in Broad Ripple the other morning with a Jaguar XF behind it in line and an Aston Martin parked at a nearby curb. Ah. Of course.

32 comments:

Jim said...

And then there's the Detroit schizophrenia of the '70s resulting in American logos on Jap imports. I was subjected to the joke once when I volunteered to drive a friend's car 700 miles eastward fom Denver - a Mitsubishi skateboard bearing a Plymouth Colt marque. Back home, I developed a new interest in the science of osteopathy.

Tam said...

The car on which I learned to drive: The Dodge Colt Vista, aka "The Poppinsmobile".

CGHill said...

I drove one of those early Celicas for many years; a Boss Mustang it was not, but it was arguably better than the shrunken Dearborn pony being vended at the same time, and it would wail at 5000 rpm for just as long as you dared, as I found out one night when a throttle spring went awry. (Unintended acceleration in a Toyota! Who knew?)

Nathan said...

I remember my '77 Corolla SR5 looking vaguely like a Ford Mustang....

Jay G said...

I finally have a nit to pick on cars with you, Tam!

The Miata was introduced in 1990. The MGB was rolling off the assembly line as late as 1980...

:)

Now, back on topic... One of the interesting things I noted recently (like the past 4-5 years) is that the pendulum has swung back - the BWM 3 series was redesigned to look an awful lot like a Civic...

Tam said...

Jay G,

MGB? Wrong roadster. :)

Joanna said...

I keep getting stuck behind Hyundais dressed up like Jags, to the point where you can't tell the difference until you're close enough to see the badge. And not the cool Jags, either; they're knocking off the stuffy Jags driven by rich old couples afraid to go faster than 5 under the speed limit or take corners at anything more than a crawl. Unfortunately, the driving habits seem to be a package deal.

The Raving Prophet said...

The Japanese have at least been finding their own design directions in recent years.

If you want a good example of copycat styling, many of the Korean offerings just reek of it. Hyundai's upmarket vehicles are pretty clear ripoffs of Mercedes and Lexus styling.

og said...

That was the prettiest Lotus ever, IMHO. Plus, I actually got to ride in one, in one of it's increasingly rare moments of motility.

The Miata out-everythings it in every department but cool; a guy could be seen in a lotus, I wouldn't be caught dead owning a miata.

WV Exqaflia. The Lotus Exqaflia is only driven by wizards, being the only people who can keep them running for more than a week, and hence are often given as graduation gifts from Hogwarts.

Tam said...

Og,

"I wouldn't be caught dead owning a miata."

It's really only for secretaries or dudes who actually race.

It's hard to find a nice 1st gen Miata that hasn't had a roll cage bolted in and the engine ragged out running Spec Miata, autocross, F Production, etc...

Of course, owning an early Miata north of Bloomington would be torture unless you drove up to Carmel and spent the day surfing roundabouts. At least the Zed Drei has some wallop in a straight line; a Miata without curves is just another slow small car...

og said...

I've seen the ones with the 289 shoehorned into them, which are pretty cool, but even then, it's a girl car, and I don't fit into one any more than I did in a Lotus, or for that matter, an Alfa. And the Alfa at least has a really good engine.

People actually race those? I saw one in a 24 hrs of lemons clip, but I thought it was a joke- it was being overtaken by a Chevette.

Tam said...

Og,

How popular is Spec Miata? Spec Miata might be the single most popular class in the SCCA, and the Miata totally pwns in Autocross the way that Porsche 917s used to pwn Trans Am.

Tam said...

Heh...

"A car like no other, featuring a tricked out cage that was custom-built around the World's tallest SM pilot: me!
Being 6'6" tall and wearing shoes size 14, I won't fit in just any Miata, with a hardtop, wearing a helmet. But I do fit in this one.
"

Ken said...

I think Joanna is referring primarily to the 2004-ish Sonata (actually, I kind of like its XJ-ishness).

Anonymous said...

Hmm. I thought the new Nissans were just getting made to look more like the infinitis. Same swoops on the hoods, I noticed.

-SayUncle

Tam said...

The Infinitis have that same Brit influence.

Interstingly, I was looking at a Lexus LS460 the other day and noticed that they've gone from being a blatant stylistic ripoff of an S-class to a blatant stylistic ripoff of a 7-series, right down to the Bangle Butt. I LOL'ed.

SayUncle said...

Sadly, the only cars that look unique these days are made by Government Motors and the guys who left the car biz for the gun biz.

-SayUncle

WV: shtfor

What did I post this shtfor?

og said...

"Spec Miata might be the single most popular class in the SCCA"

Lots of people pay good cash to own a Judge, too, Just sayin'

Will said...

Somewhere, there is a really well done aluminum bodied kit car for the Miata, oriented toward racing. Can't find it.

However, if you have time to waste, take a look at this site. Lots of drool-worthy offerings of the pavement rippling kind:

http://kitcarlist.com/

Kristopher said...

SayaUncle: Toyota and Nissan = Infiniti and Lexus

( or was that vice versa ? )

Same companies, different brand names.

og said...

At some point, all the cars developed in wind tunnels look like squished jellybeans anyway. It would be nice if they made them look like an Alfa C52, instead of a 95 impala. (First time I saw a 95 in black and white dress, I thought, "orca!" turns out that's what the CHP calls those squads.)

Anonymous said...

Kristopher, I know. I just think Nissan thought their Infiniti line looked better. I like infiniti and lexus because, unlike honda, lincoln, buick, their luxury models aren't must upgraded mirrors of their non luxo models.

-SayUncle

Anonymous said...

Saw a 95 Impala with the license plate "95 NASH". I don't know who's copying whom but car desgin seems incestuous. When I pick up a rental car I have to either be directed to it, or push the the key fob button to see which one blinks. Everything looks the same. Pay me no mind, I'm an old fart who remembers Pontiacs with the chrome ribs running down the hood and trunk and straight 8, porthole Buicks (Dad's '41). Learned to drive in a farm lot in a '41 Ford in the early 1960s.

the pawnbroker said...

True, the Japs were the consummate copycats, and why wouldn't they be? Everything they had and yearned for in the post-war era was American...and of course the tech and new machine tools they got from us they perfected and eventually surpassed us with...with the apparent willing participation of Detroit and American consumers.

Now though, they are as long in the tooth in many ways as the US was in the 70's, and it shows. Korea as Raving Prophet noted above has assumed the top copycat role up to and including a frickin' $70,000 Hyundai, the ersatz Benz that RP referenced. Who'da thunk it?

Back to the Japs though, and their love affair with the Bangle Butt that was the subject of a prior post of yours; something registered in my brain then about that duck's ass design that predated Bangle's Bimmers. By the time I realized what it was, the thread was old and no longer topical. But since you brought it up again, I think maybe the Japanese had the timeline advantage here:

https://www.google.com/search?um=1&hl=en&q=1993+lexus+gs300&gs_sm=c&gs_upl=42872l43774l2l46412l2l2l0l0l0l0l424l714l2-1.0.1l2l0&bav=on.2,or.r_gc.r_pw.,cf.osb&biw=1093&bih=538&wrapid=tlif132441219565131&ie=UTF-8&tbm=isch&source=og&sa=N&tab=wi&ei=WO3wTsvCGIXqtgeJ9LjPBg

At least to me, it looks like Lexus had 'em beat by close to a decade in '93, the phenomenon was even more pronounced in the second-gen GS of '98 (still prior to the BMW), and on to today's version. And who knows, maybe ol' Chris was inspired by it to create what has become his quintessential namesake, instead of the other way around. Credit where due and all that jazz...

jed said...

Was just talking about this with some friends. It's hard for me to look at the latest crop without thinking that a lot of them are moving further into the butt-ugly category. Worse than the Aztek. I was looking at Fortune Magazines 'most disliked cars of 2011', and the BMW 550i is just awful, IMHO. I'm reminded of a criticism leveled at Puegot by a writer in either Car & Driver or Road & Track back in about the mid 70's, to the effect that it looked like the car had been styled by a French pastry chef. The new Sonata is almost as bad. Too many body creases and swoopy lines. I guess some people like that, but Bangle butt is positively elegant by comparison. The folks at Nissan at least had the good sense to avoid such on the Maxima (excessive creases, and such, I mean, except on it's ass end, which is atrocious, but overall it's not as bad looking as e.g. a Crosstour).

In re. the Z, like most people, I had read that it was designed by Albrecht Goertz, and so I just looked him up, to discover that it's not true. Well, indirectly, thanks for clearing that up for me. I sure enjoyed my 260Z for the entire 5 weeks I owned it before driving it into the side of a hill.

>At some point, all the cars developed in wind tunnels look like squished jellybeans anyway.

Ain't it the truth. I used to work with a guy who complained that all the new cars looked like a used bar of soap. Word.

Tam said...

Og,

You are beclowning yourself. Please stop.

og said...

Never played by anyones rules but my own, never will. If that offends you, ill stay out. No skin off me.

Rabbit said...

I have a lot of difficulty telling the Maserati Quattroporte from any largish standard Buick sedan of same vintage. Dr. Reynolds states a similar confusion.

Will said...

The reason cars are starting to look alike may be due to Euro regs relating to pedestrian safety. They have mandated that the front be as least injurious to wandering peds as possible. That influence is spreading to all the car companies, due to common design elements.

Damned bureaucrats are what need to be regulated, not vehicles.

An Ordinary American said...

Aside from the wife's new Avalon and my daily driver Chevy C1500, we enjoy the mint, showroom condition (original) 1984 Nissan 300ZX in which I never drive it in the rain whenever possible, and rarely on trips of under 50 miles.

And then there is the 1974 restored Corvette with the 454 and 4-speed manual transmission. Zooming across I-40 in the panhandle of Texas in this thing is kinda exhilerating.

The Z will flat get up and go, especially on the straightaway, but nothing beats ol' fashioned American muscle V-8 power.

--AOA

Anonymous said...

The Miata is not descendant of the MG but the Alfa Romeo spider.

Ever took a look at the Alfa Romeo Junior Zagato... It looks like the pattern behind the RX-7 far more than the Porsche does. Honda engineers actually measured Alfa Romeo cars in the corporate Alfa museum. Take a look at the Junior and the first generation CRX and tell me what you think...

Bobby said...

Oh please, the Sentra was just a a late Datsun 510! Pure refinement of a Japanese idea!



...Ofcourse, the 510 was a copy of the BMW 2002.

If you listen to the guy who designed the Miata, He basically took his favorite features of all the old Roadsters, So I'm with Jay, The MGB was only 2 years or so dead when the Miata came out.