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1y ago

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What is it that makes old Ferraris so valuable? Not, I would venture, the way they drive.

Since all old Ferraris are just old cars, and old cars are pretty terrible compared with their modern equivalents, no person who otherwise qualified for a shotgun licence would want one for the purposes of driving. Agreed, an old Ferrari is more exciting than an equally old mainstream Ford saloon, but either way you’d rather drive a current Focus. If you’ve got any sense*.

So if we put aside actual driving, what are we left with? Rarity, certainly, but the Citroen Pluriel is mercifully rare and no-one is going to sleep dreaming of finding one in a barn. There’s the reassurance of race breeding, which definitely counts for something, but again, the Subaru Impreza has a magnificent competition pedigree and an old one can still be yours for the price of a slap-up fish supper.

It’s the styling. Because technology dates, eventually to the point of uselessness, the aesthetic is triumphant. That’s immediately true of high art, which has no utility, and it’s ultimately true of things like cars, which have a purpose to start with but eventually exist solely as part of the story of design, since driving them is awful (see above).

Hang on, I hear you cry as one from the collective lavatory seat of the globe; other cars have fantastic styling as well. They do, but Ferrari’s master stroke is this: Ferrari has only ever built contemporary cars.

If you look at the history of Ferrari design, you will struggle to identify any obvious and recurring ‘design cues’ or stylistic leitmotiv in the shapes, beyond the badge. A Ferrari is always of its time: a Testarossa (the Wolf of Wall Street one) is quintessentially 80s, the Boxer was obviously of the 70s and the 250GT SWB the very early 60s. Being of its time, a Ferrari, in time, naturally assumes the right position in this thing we call design history. It helps, of course, that Ferraris have been the work of master stylists, but even so. They seem to me always to have seized the moment, looks-wise.

There is a lesson here, because many other marques haven’t had the courage to do this. Two examples – but there are many more – are Alfa Romeo and Aston Martin. Both of these makers have produced radically modern-looking cars in the past, such as the Lagonda in the case of Aston and the Montreal from Alfa. Aston also produced the bulldog concept car, and Alfa has probably produced more outrageous show cars than any other maker.

More recently, though, Astons and Alfas have been tainted with design nostalgia, which is often passed off as ‘heritage’ but is actually a form of timidity. Aston is still headbanging a grille that is supposed to hark back to the DB grilles of the Goldfinger era, and Alfas often look good in profile only to be spoiled by front and rear lights that seem to be designed to invoke some earlier age. It’s comforting, doubtless, but also a bit square.

If you take this sort of thing to its natural conclusion, you arrive at the pastiche cars; the Fiat 500, the Mini, the Dodge Challenger. No-one in the future is going to remember a car that looks a bit like (but usually not as good as) the one that went 40 or 50 years before, which means the car is not fulfilling part of its essential work as a thing that people look at every day. Car designers must be modern, or there won’t be any interesting history in the future.

It’s not about a style language. It’s about the language of style. Very different.

*I’m not suggesting that you should have any sense. I don’t have much. That’s why we’re interested in cars. Read on.

Credit: www.thesupercarrooms.co.uk

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Comments (127)
  • "It is not about a style language it is about a language of style"! This is a nice turn. I think there may be a subtlety to this that I may be missing. I very much like the idea of being modern in design and while something beautiful from the past may lack a certain ease of function today it has it's own merit. The old Dodge Dart for example was not a brilliant looking car. The new one is much better looking and more comfortable, but the immediacy and response of the original are absent in the new models. The modern elements are better, but modern accountants ruined the design integrity

    1 year ago
  • Not sure I agree with James on this one. Using his logic the 911 would no longer exist.

    1 year ago
    1 Bump

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