In this series of four articles, let’s look at how automotive design has evolved over the last 40 years. Let’s examine what the design fashions of that time were and how they were influenced technologies and the era, which countries and manufacturers dictated automotive engineering fashion and to whom to chase competitors.
Let’s start with the 1980s, what car design trends dominated this decade?
What a time it was! The times of bright colors, easy pop music, the popularity of computer games, the rise of the power of Apple and Wall Street, the times when the biggest evil empire collapsed, and the most powerful man in the world was an actor. It is not surprising that in such charismatic times, no less charismatic ones were produced cars.
The 1980s were undoubtedly one of the best decades in the automotive industry – it was a time when alongside the traditionally strong American and German manufacturers, Japanese and French manufacturers established themselves in the markets of the world. It should be noted that Japanese manufacturers were much more flexible and daring than the conservative Germans or the stagnant Americans, while the French were still searching for their own identity.
“The decade began with a strong fashion for angular cars – let’s look at the first generation Volkswagen Golf, Audi 80 B2, third series BMW E30, Mercedes-Benz W124, Ford Escort, Jeep Cherokee, DeLorean or third generation Honda Civic cars. Cars of such strict forms appeared not at all due to the lack of imagination of designers, but because one extreme changes another. Just like every generation the youth does not accept the fashions of the older generation and creates the opposite – exactly the same in the automotive industry.
Thus, in the 60s and 70s, the fashion for soft, elongated forms was replaced by car designs with strict forms. Also, as the Europeans and Japanese took over the automotive industry, cars became smaller. Of course, the oil boom in the 1970s contributed to this crisiswhich forced manufacturers to create smaller cars with smaller displacement engines,” says Nerijus Paketūras, head of the reviews and ads site Autoasas.lt.
Stricter shapes found use in almost every detail of the cars – the shape of the windows, sometimes the shape of the wheel arches, the lights also became a regular rectangular shape. The bigger the lanterns, the more stylish they were. A good example of this is the Audi 80, Audi 100, Ford Sierra or Mercedes-Benz W124 car lights. Between the headlights – a plastic radiator grill of necessarily dark color filling the entire space. The rear lights also got bigger – note that with each “facelift” they got bigger in almost every car – Audi 80, BMW E30 cars.
Round lanterns were no longer fashionable. You will ask why BMW cars or the first two generations had them for so long Volkswagen Golf. This was because the Golf models were extremely successful and the manufacturer did not want to make radical changes, and the BMW company was generally very conservative in terms of design in the 80s. Some readers you may not believe it, but in 1986, the new generation Audi 80 (called “bulka” in our country) was completely more innovative in terms of design than its direct competitor, the BMW E30.
BMW’s round headlights, bumpers not integrated into the body, steep window angles, hard plastic conservative dashboard – all this was extremely old-fashioned. This is precisely what makes BMW cars so beautiful today – their conservative and classic design contrasts so strongly with today’s cars. It is this contrast that raises the value of a classic car.
A time when technology was combined with aesthetics
“Another interesting fad that gained a lot of momentum in the 80s is the flip lantern fad. What cars didn’t have them – all Ferrari models, Chevrolet Corvette, Lamborghini Countach, Honda Accord, Honda Prelude, Honda Integra, Toyota Celica, Toyota Supra, Toyota MR2, Ford Probe, Mazda RX-7, Porsche The 924, Porsche 944, Porsche 928, even some versions of the 911 had them.
In addition to aesthetic goals, this trend also had an engineering rationale – it is the improvement of the aerodynamics of cars. This is an area that was started to be professionally researched at that time in order to increase the economy of the car and reduce the noise in the cabin. Let’s not forget that in those days, low beams were only used in the dark, so most of the time cars drove with their headlights closed. Also, the opening/closing process of the lights seemed very hi-tech at the time. Innovative technologies are fashionable at all times,” says Nerijus.
The sleekness of the cars was enhanced not only by the hidden lights, but also by the bumpers integrated into the body and the windows bent at a more oblique angle, especially the front window. The windshield, which starts much further forward, also gives the interior a sense of more space. As a good example, we can mention the Audi 100 C3 car with extremely sleek shapes (here it is called “silke” in our country), which for a while became the most aerodynamic production car in the world.
Another trend is the abandonment of chrome finishes. Everything is very simple, chrome has dominated car design almost since the beginning of motoring, but in the modern 80s, when digitization took hold, such antiquities no longer seemed fashionable. Therefore, shiny parts were rapidly removed from car bodies and interiors.
The new “facelift” of the model eliminated the chrome trim from the bumpers or side trim strips as a rule, in addition, the “shadowline” and similar trims with dark rims around the windows were introduced instead of chrome ones. Minimalism has increasingly prevailed not only in the field of furniture design, but also in cars. The distinctiveness of the car should have been emphasized not by shiny details, but by the quality and technology under the hood and in the cabin.
Supercars of the 80s
The design of strict forms is also reflected in the supercars of the time – this is best demonstrated in the iconic Lamborghini Countach, Ferrari Testarossa and Ferrari F40 cars. What an amazing design these cars are! The design of the Ferrari Testarossa’s rear end alone is worth it – the aesthetics of straight lines like a ruler made car fans swoon both then and today. The Ferrai F40 was a masterpiece of both design and engineering, and is still hailed as the best Ferrari model of all time. And the Lamborghini Countach car is straight out of space, much like the stainless steel DeLorean, only this one was from the future.
Meanwhile, the Porsche 911 model, with its already extremely conservative design, looked even more ancient against the background of these angular cars. That is why, in the 80s, the Porsche company tried to replace the iconic 911 model with a new, more contemporary Porsche 928 model. On paper it all seemed logical – the 928 had a significantly larger 5 liter V8 engine and an attractive modern design. However, thank the car gods, this “coup” failed – the 911 model was not forgotten and soon gained even greater fame, and the Porsche company realized that designs are timeless.
Now let’s remember which ten cars were the most iconic or most influential in the history of motoring in the 80s. According to Nerijaus Paketurus, these cars left the brightest mark on the colorful decade:
• Ferrari Testarossa and Lamborghini Countach – for having their posters hanging on the wall of every teenager’s room
• Ferrari F40 – for being the first true supercar in automotive history
• Mercedes-Benz W124 – for becoming the gold standard in the luxury car market
• 3 Series BMW E30 – for making everyone understand that prestigious cars don’t have to be 5 meters long
• Honda CRX – for making everyone understand that sports cars can be just 3 and a half meters long
• Audi Coupe – for showing everyone that all-wheel drive is needed not only for SUVs
• Ford Sierra – for the fact that it could do everything: take children to school, parents to work, grandparents to the garden, and it also won victories in rally arenas and circuit races
• Volkswagen Golf – for being able to create the second miracle for the Volkswagen company
• Fiat Panda – for an automotive approach to minimalism or a minimalist approach to motoring…
• Renault Espace – for the discovery of a new market for monocoques
So much for car design fads for this time, stay tuned for more.