A consideration of automotive beauty

‘What makes a car beautiful?’

McLaren P1 - Scotland - Blue - Hypercar | www.motormessenger.co.uk

This question popped into my head as I photographed Woking’s hypercar in brilliant sunshine two weeks ago. Are taut curves of sheet metal more pleasing to look at than aggressive, carbon-clad aero kits? Do we value a car’s looks because of the skill involved in their creation, or simply because we project our perceptions onto them? It’s certainly difficult to look at a silver Aston Martin DB5 and not associate the grand touring lifestyle with that of a particularly distinctive English civil servant, at least.

One can look at the McLaren P1 through the eyes of a cynic; built to cash in on the company’s relationship with Formula One, it showcases all the accoutrements and excesses of modern performance cars, such as adaptive aerodynamics. Those of a softer disposition, however, can see the stylistic beauty apparent in its design – lacquered carbon weave and paint makes up the dainty side mirror stalks, whilst the company’s swooping logo is echoed in the headlight design.

I attended Speedfest 2014 in the last week of June, and experienced a car show much removed from the event I reported on last summer. This year saw a much more varied mix of supercars from all eras, with a pot pourri of automotive beauties to be seen. As well as your ‘vanilla’ range of modern supercars (Gallardos, F430s and Elises), there were many oddities – the infield displayed a 1922 42-litre Bentley-Packard, Bugatti EB110 SS and this McLaren P1, no less.

For me, the beauty of a car can be heightened by the car’s purpose. A supercar is a message of intent; one that showcases both the best in automotive design and developments in technology. Within this category, there is a even rarer breed – the homologated road racer. A lightened interior, full roll-cage and visible aerodynamic aids collectively brutalises the aesthetic elements of a car, demonstrating that it is built for one thing – speed. The Porsche 911 GT3 RS 4.0 is Exhibit A in my manifest of gorgeous supercars, and I was fortunate enough to see an intimidating example of the Mezger flat-six engined future classic:

Porsche - GT3 - RS - 997 | www.motormessenger.co.uk

Yet, it’s crucial to remember that homologated supercars didn’t always look like this. This period-correct 1950s Ferrari 212 forms a confluence between pared-back necessity and elegance, with the wooden steering wheel and chrome switches contrasting with the diminutively small glass deflectors on the front. Both the Porsche and the Ferrari were built primarily to race, yet perhaps we will look back on the 997 in sixty years’ time with the same fondness reserved for the old-world Cavallino Rampante.

Ferrari - Red - Scotland | www.motormessenger.co.uk
A supercar’s attractiveness must be accompanied by a sense of theatre, which comes in many forms. The gullwing doors of a Mercedes – Benz SLS demonstrate the importance of a historical bloodline in car design, whilst simultaneously functioning as a pretty awesome way in which to make an impressive entrance. History – whether earned or inherited – can elevate even an anodyne Ford Focus to the heights of immortality. Slap the right names in the rear window and, with a smattering of victories, you can race them on Sunday and sell them on the Monday. A clear stylistic evolution from regular road cars not only demarcates a car as special, but increases a car fan’s desire to experience that car. McRae’s Acropolis-winning Focus WRC is more desireable to me than, say, a wedgy Bugatti EB110 SS. Perhaps that’s because subconsciously, I know that the Ford is paradoxically rarer than the super-Bug.
Ford - Focus - WRC - McRae | www.motormessenger.co.uk
Bugatti - EB110SS- Scotland - rare | www.motormessenger.co.uk
Like politics, music or religion, perceptions of beauty are deeply embedded within the interests and cultural tastes of each person. My day trip to Speedfest demonstrated to me that a car’s functional aspects are worth more to me aesthetically than a car’s image. It can be near-impossible to divorce a car’s sociocultural connotations from its material beauty: look at the example of the Aston Martin DB5 in film culture for proof of this. In my eyes, seeing the spot welds inside the cockpit of a stripped-out racer is more beautiful than a plushly-upholstered Rolls – Royce Ghost’s interior, as single-minded function generates its own hard-earned beauty.
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