The Ecphorizer

Automobile Follies
Tod Wicks

Issue 04 (January 2005)

I've often wondered about the trends in design and popularity of cars. Maybe you have too. Here are some of my own views about automobiles.

Favorite Car

The car pictured at right is my all-time favorite:  the French-made Citroën 2CV (deux chevaux = two horsepower!).  I call this car the "anti-BMW" because it represents everything that the BMW does not:  Style, fuel economy, low maintenance, low initial investment, collector value at resale.  It's an economical car that stands out in the crowd where every dot-com Silicon Valley stock-optioned Jack and Jane has gone with the herd mentality with their BMW purchases.  Additionally the Deux Chevaux doesn't sport that ugly set of buck teeth the BMW calls a grille.

Strangest Design Decision

Hands down this award belongs to the Nissan Xterra SUV for that ugly blister gracing the Xterra's rear door.  The whole bubble ruins the symmetry of an otherwise good-looking vehicle.  The blister creates a very strange rear window shape, making one think that the designer was smoking something very interesting.  That people actually buy this vehicle with this cosmetic defect is astounding.  There must be other saving graces.

If you visit the Nissan Motors website you'll find that they refer to it as a trademark, and the interior makes for a nice "nest" to hold their optional First Aid kit.  Wow!  What a novel idea!  What happens to all that stuff when you raise the door up to open it?  I think I'll keep my first aid kit up front in the glove compartment and forgo the added expense of an external blister.

Ugliest Car

If you use Google to search on "butt ugly car" (and filter out the "butt-ugly martian" stuff) then you'll have a good chance to land on reviews or forums that describe ugly cars. One of the most-mentioned is the Pontiac Aztek -(misspelling names for cars is so cool!). This car was designed with an abominable double grille up front and a very uncool slant on the rear end, a design that looks like a true Aztec warrior took his revenge on Cortez by hacking off the rear top of car. Pontiac had no choice but to put a window in the new opening and try to sell it.

An American Automobile Fault

I have owned foreign autos for several decades now and every time I travel and am forced to rent an American-designed car, I have the same old homesickness for my Japanese workhorses.  One reason is the nonsensical custom of requiring the driver to carry two keys rather than one.  For the typical American car you need one to open the door and another to insert into the ignition. Yes, I know that you might want to leave your car with a valet but the foreign cars I've owned had a special "valet" key that opened only the door and the ignition but not the trunk or glovebox.  Also, General Motors, after 40 years of Japanese and German competition (even Ford and Chrysler have been making double-sided keys for some time), still make keys that can be inserted only one way.  Foreign keys can be inserted top up or top down.  This makes it so much easier when trying to enter your car after the sun goes down and it's dark outside.

The downside of (American) rental cars

At least with the cars I've rented, the hinge mechanism for the trunk lid actually lowers into the trunk space, making it impossible to put suitcases or packages into that space or you risk crushing them when lowering the lid.  What idiot designed a hinge that reduces the storage volume?

Take a look at the images to the right: The top one illustrates the trunk with baggage and lid open. The middle picture shows the trunk lid descending and beginning to smash the suitcase under it with its left hinge. In the bottom photo the lid is nearly closed and the suitcase has been turned on its side to allow the hinge to fit into its space, effectively cutting the luggage volume in that area by 30%.

On the import cars I've driven, this mechanism is neatly tucked out of the way and presents no space-wasting issues.  

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