For any item, from a house to a toaster to a shoe to a car, I have a simple design red line – form must always follow function.
This does not rule out elegance, but it does establish a hierarchy. Nothing should be styled for style’s sake.
First, your device or item should be functional. As functional as possible. If you manage that, like a Dieter Rams travel clock (Rams was the German design genius who was head of design at Braun during the period when they were German owned), it will have its own austere, functional beauty:
I bought one like this next one below, but with a snap cover (travel version), when I first went to college, and I had it for decades. It accompanied me around the world, and never – not once – missed a beat. I lost it in a house move recently, and spent a miserable year or so, trying out modern alarm clocks (I prefer to switch off phones at night). It doesn’t matter how much you spend on an alarm clock nowadays folks, they’re all shite. They don’t fucking keep time, and most of them break down inside a few months. Eventually, I did what I should have done at the outset, tracked down an original 1970s Dieter Rams alarm clock in New York, and bought it. I’ve had it for over a year now, and it works flawlessly. Class is permanent.
Here is a Dieter Rams designed radio-record player, from 1956:
And here is a Dieter Rams Braun radio, from 1961. See what I mean about timeless:
In an echo of Lotus Cars founder, Colin Chapman’s famous dictum (“simplify, then add lightness“), Rams once explained his design approach in the phrase “Weniger, aber besser” (“less, but better“).
Either of which principles, sadly, are the exact opposite of the current lamentable asshole fashions in modern car design, where more definitely is more, regardless of whether it’s better, or not. “If in doubt, bling it up to fuck“, is the first commandment of modern car design.
Second, while you can of course seek to make your design elegant, it must never be at the expense of function. Any styling enhancement should, at worst, be functionally neutral. Ideally, it should enhance function.
Er, that’s it.
And the converse applies – anything which has no functional role is always ugly and always dumb.
This is why I hate stucco, for instance. Especially interior Georgian stucco. Teeth-grindingly awful. Useless, curly rubbish. Adds nothing and does nothing:
And it’s why I detest big wheels on cars. Note: by “big”, I mean large diameter – not width. Wheels can be small and wide. That’s OK – sometimes, as on a track, grip is needed. It’s the metal wheel / rim with the large diameter that I find emetic. They derive from a dumb, peacocking urban culture. One where substance or function – including actual driving – is irrelevant and where being seen is everything. You have no existence unless you’re externally validated. That is, the external validation is not merely an adjunct – it’s integral. It’s Sartrean bad-faith in 30-inch metal rims.
Here’s why big wheels are dumb:
1. They cost much more.
2. They make your car accelerate more slowly. Oh sure, you may think you look cool, but all you’ve done is paid a lot of money to make your car slower and less comfortable. Josh Sadler, founder of Autofarm, Europe’s longest-established Porsche specialists since 1973, once told me that the biggest simple improvement you could make to an old air-cooled 911 was to “drop her onto 15s”. 1980s 911s were designed with 15″ rims; but fashion victims even then were insisting on larger wheels and so many were fitted with 16″ wheels in dealerships. But if you want to accelerate more quickly (surely a key consideration in a sports car), the advice from those who know what they’re talking about is clear – get rid of the bigger wheels.
3. By adding unsprung weight at each corner, they make your car less nimble.
4. In order to preserve your car’s gearing, the bigger the wheel, the shallower the side-wall on the tyre. Every inch you add to the diameter of your wheel means you have to take an inch off the sidewall of your tyre. And ultra-low profile tyres are little better than running on metal rims. Your car now jiggles and crashes on ordinary roads; dropping a wheel into a pothole is a seismic experience and your tyres will puncture much, much more.
6. Lack of sidewall flex means that your car now gives you no warning when you’ve ran out of grip. Modern cars are well insulated. Say you’re bowling along, stereo on, yakking on the hands-free phone, say a bend tightens unexpectedly, everythings seems fine and then bang! you’re gone sideways, backways through a wall.
7. Conversely, the advantage of a smaller rim is that it allows you to run tyres with deeper sidewalls. If you’re running out of grip, the car starts to squirm a bit under you and you know to back off. The fat sidewalls give you some warning. And, of course, tyre and road noise is greatly reduced with taller, narrower tyres; steering accuracy and feel improves; and you waft over potholes in comfort.
The only reasons for big wheels are fashion, and mechanical ignorance.
Look at this visual timeline of how wheels have become more stupid:
Original Issigonis 1960s Mini on 10” rims -have you ever driven one in anger? Probably the most fun car ever made; in its day, cleaned up on the European rally circuits, all on 10″ rims:
1970s Porsche 917 race car on 15” rims – in full race tune, it had 1,600 bhp (in 1971!), and was the most outrageously-dominant race car ever built – and all on 15″ rims:
2022 Porsche 917 replica with predictably idiot rims (even on a ruthlessly-pragmatic racing machine, not even Porsche nowadays can resist the temptation to add some unnecessary wheel bling, even when it does fuck-all) – the wheels look comically over-sized, and, naturally, there’s no clearance to speak of – but hey, da boyz in da hood would approve:
1980s Audi quattro rally car on 15” rims – the car that ripped up the world rally rulebook, all on 15″ rims:
Noughties Range Rover, goes carefully to supermarket, worrying about speed humps, on over-sized rims:
This next proud owner (below) is very taken with his new 22″ rims – why, he notes triumphantly, there’s “no rubbing“. Seemingly, wheels which manage to avoid fouling on the wheel arches are now something to brag about – what a tool:
Lambo SUV, with 23″ rims – Lambo intends this to be their “off-road” vehicle, lol:
Incidentally, just to debunk an oft-proffered justification from the big wheel idiots, no you do not need super-sized wheels to clear brake calipers either. Get yourself a Wilwood brake kit if you need to. F1 cars have the best brakes in motorsport, and they use 13” rims, the same diameter as my little 1990s rally Micra. Depressingly, F1 cars, the world’s fastest-accelerating cars, which until 2021 had always ran on 13” rims, will be moving to 18” rims from 2022. Sheepishly, F1 admits this change has nothing to do with engineering – it’s entirely a fashion-led move, as technical director at Mercedes F1, James Allison, admits:
“All things being equal the bigger rims, low-profile rubber is always going to be a worse tyre than the sort of tyres that we have on our racing car today. That sort of balloon-type tyre that you see on our cars today and have seen on racing cars for decades is a really good solution for going quickly. It allows the tyre to transmit the forces to the road really effectively, it’s light, it acts as a good suspending element so it gives the driver good ride quality, allows the forces to be taken at quite low inflation pressures, which means you get more grip, et cetera. So from a lap time point of view the way we currently do it is definitely the right way. And the new tyres are going to be heavier, lower grip and worse for ride – all other things being equal. So they’re going to slow the cars down by somewhere between a second and two seconds, something like that. Of course Pirelli are putting a lot of effort into to mitigate those losses and to bring an improved technology on the low-profile tyres. That means that they will still be good racing tyres. But all things being equal that sort of tyre is not a good thing.”
Allison said he isn’t convinced by some of the arguments for introducing the new tyres. “I guess if you are a 13-year-old boy or a fan of ‘Fast and Furious’ films you’d like the look of the tyre,” he said. “So aesthetically they appeal to some people.”
But where is this bullshit fashion influence coming from?
Essentially, urban streets, especially LA. Ever since the 1940s, Mexican Americans have been slamming cars to get the Lowrider look. Since then, a variety of essentially urban car peacocking sub-cultures have turned car fashion away from its traditional obsessions with driving fun, and towards a new obsession with empty-headed suburban peacocking.
The new car sub-cultures are not rally boys fitting gravel suspensions and twin-shocks to get you round a bad back road as quickly as possible. Nor are they worried about improving their time around Laguna Seca. In fact, these people have no interest in driving at all. As with SLAB (“slow, loud and bangin”) cars, the idea is to drive as slowly as possible, all the better to be seen – check out these SLAB car owners from Texas – the idea is you pimp up the interior, fit an oversized sound system in the boot, fit “elbow” wheels (dangerously-protruding wire cages on your wheels), and drive, really, really, slowly, while weaving in and out. It has nothing to do with driving; it’s all about being seen:
I see a variant of this exact same asshole culture locally in Ireland. Whereas the country lads want nothing more than a deserted late-night or early morning back road to get the loud pedal down and go a bit slideways at speed without the Feds on your case, lots of urban youth in Ireland wait until a Friday or Saturday night and cruise around in heavy traffic(!), just to be seen. That is, crawling around in a perpetual traffic jam – the kind of environment that would be unbearable to a proper driving enthusiast. And, in fairness, this is not just in Ireland – you get the exact same crap in Britain – I remember a few years ago, late one night in Manchester, a knob driving around in an orange Lamborghini, doing about 3.5mph, revving constantly, to make sure everyone was looking at him. Of course, since it was Manchester, he got as ,much abuse as admiration, but the preening bollocks – he may have been a local pro millionaire footballer – was undeterred.
And, with the Lowrider boys, the idea is to bounce up and down on the spot, while not actually making any progress at all. You can spend up to $100k fitting your car out with a boot full of hydraulics to “achieve” a bullshit functionality like this:
I well remember being on a bus in East London in the mid-1990s, when 2 dudes at a traffic light started their car bouncing up and down. I marvelled at how solemn the 2 lads were, how proud – even though they looked like something out of a fucking circus. The 2 old ladies sitting in front of me nearly fell out of their seat and wondered aloud if they needed to have their spectacles changed.
Lowriders, and slab cars, they both popularised the idea that car accessorising could be legitimate even when it demonstrably makes cars much worse than standard. There isn’t even a pretence at effecting any sort of functional or dynamic improvement – empty, peacocking idiocy becomes its own raison d’etre.
However, the nadir of big wheels bullshit arrived with a spin-off of the Lowrider culture, namely “DONK”, or “Hi-riser” cars. To DONK your car, you do this to it:
Check the low-profile tyres on this Donk:
Here’s another modern Donk:
And this is a forthcoming top of the range Audi A8 – you can see how it has been influenced by the culture typifed in the silly car above:
Note how much of the side panel is cut out to make the wheel arch on this new Audi – the cutting is now so extreme that the wheel arch practically extends up to the level of the bonnet. Unbelievably, this blinged up piece of fashion-victimery will be Audi’s top of the range, “executive” car. I don’t doubt it will be very well made, but fuck me. You’ll note how the new Audi typifies a global trend – by all car manufacturers – towards:
- Ever-bigger wheels; and
- Ever higher belt-lines, with their concomitant ever-slabbier / uglier side metal; and
- Ever shallower roof lines.
Very good article <here>, in Forbes, entitled “Design Disasters: Three Ways Cars Are Getting Worse“. That article is from 2011, folks; it hasn’t been getting any better since.
Essentially, mainstream manufacturers have all been DONKed.
Unless you’re DONKed, you can’t sell to DOLTs …