It's okay, history tells us big grilles are okay
There's a precedent here
It’s been a time of great unrest in the motoring world.
A man, who in the last week, officially renamed himself Memelord, or something, and cannot, bless his zealous heart, sort a panel gap, has singled-handedly out-valued the giants of automotive that were so when we came into the world, and which we expected to be so when we left it. What we thought was simply a class of car we’d have to put up with in our city centres is now threatening to become the only legal form of car within the decade, and in amongst this confusion, and upheaval, and paradigm shift, and war, big grilles have appeared - and we’ve lashed out at them, too. They, too, must be the antichrist.
Well, I’m here to say that on this, we can calm down. The rise of the gaping front on modern cars is not a new evil under the sun, it’s actually an aesthetic change that has far more to do with the past than it has to do with an unrelenting future. After all, how much air does an EV need to gasp? This is why Tesla discarded the early Model S faux grille; a kind of training wheels to ease us into EV design.
So of course, big grilles are purely aesthetic, and BMW tells us it’s because big markets in Asia and the Middle East love Rolls-Royce-sized grilles. And as much as I’ll be happy to say they do look better in the flesh, I side with the original X5 designer; BMW’s new front grille isn’t the most successful fist of it. The Lexus grille, meanwhile -and you’ll see car enthusiasts gripe about this on the LC 500, that damn Grand Seiko of a GT - looks so at one with the rest of the sharp design, we should all love it.
If you’re still struggling, think of it as the air intake on a jet engine. Of course it’s not, but the point is - performance machine, gaping air intake.
None of this denotes the historical precedence of the grille as a bold statement piece, however. For that, we go so far back in the past that my soul is almost a child - the 1920s and 1930s. An era when the primitive ‘radiator and wheels’ format was starting to be cloaked in art deco magnificence, an era of the Bugatti Atlantic and the Cadillac Sixteen and the Mercedes-Benz 540K Autobahnkurier. Cars with long bonnets, tapering rears, cased sidespares, gorgeous wings that flowed on like a bride’s veil, and at the very front of it all, a stonking great chrome grille with a pedestrian-filleting goddess atop. This wasn’t function. This was sheer style. I don’t think car design has ever been as needless, as unrestrained, and as glorious since.
Paul Hoenhorst on Unsplash
Hence, when I see on modern cars a vain front grille - if it’s not done as chaotically as BMW’s, or even if it is - I don’t resent the needlessness of it all. Car design will get over this fetish. It’ll change, as it did when it realised it could incorporate wings above the wheels into the body, and when it realised engines were more compact and a mile of open space between the Mercedes logo and the raked front windscreen wasn’t as necessary. One day, someone will show big markets that the future is cool and the future doesn’t need a gaping mouth.
This is a moment of folly, a moment of not growing up, a moment of subconsciously celebrating the internal combustion engine even as it dies.
Let’s actually enjoy it.