Is the devil really in the details, or is it greatness?

| 12 Feb 2013

It's funny how tiny details can completely turn you off a car or make you fall head over heels for something otherwise utterly unassuming.

Ok, it would be a bit unfair to describe this Ford V8-powered Matford (below) as unassuming, but by way of example there is something about those delicate headlight covers that really bring it alive, making the meat-and-two-veg Mathis and Ford collaboration as stylishly alluring as a Figoni et Falaschi Delahaye 135.

While my head is exploding with thousands of styling details that I love or hate, there is one very specific detail, however, that I have never been able to decide whether I adore or abhor.

A decade or so ago, I even had a heated argument about it with a well-known product designer in a concours judging room.

This was back in the happy days when Louis Vuitton threw most of its marketing budget at the classic car world, before it discovered that it could spend much more money much more quickly by getting involved in the yachting world.

I, like many, still have fond memories of the company's concours at the Hurlingham Club in Fulham, not least because my status as a judge gave me all sorts of perks and badges that impressed the girls.

Anyway, I digress.

The venue for my row was that erstwhile event in 2002, the designer in question Richard Seymour, the car a gorgeous Jean Daninos-styled (well Daninos-approved, he did like to claim credit for everything) 1951 Bentley MkVI.

It was a unique Facel-built car for Madame Daninos, not one of the more slab-sided Cresta variants he worked on with Pinin Farina and, apart from one small thing, I rated it as one of the most magnificent cars I had ever seen.

Actually, it wasn't a small thing, and that was the problem. It was the rear bumper.

Yes, really, two grown men almost came to blows over this until Jeremy Clarkson wanted to talk and the whole room had to shut up and listen to him.

You see, Seymour fell in love with the fact that this bumper encased the exhausts with millimetric precision, hiding such ugly protuberances from the delicate gaze of sensitive aesthetes.

Now, admittedly, the engineering of this little conceit – which would become a bit of a Daninos trademark – is mightily impressive and there is plenty to admire about it, but my argument (then) was that the vast, ugly overriders employed to do this very job rendered the whole operation pointless. It was like using a 3cm-wide beauty spot to cover a 2mm mole.

And is a super-sized overrider any uglier to look at than the rather more slender exhaust it hid (which would have been a single pipe on a MkVI anyway before Daninos started tinkering), especially on such a dainty (for a Bentley MkVI) design?

Catching up with the same car again recently, falling in love with it all over again until I got to the rear, I still couldn't decide whether Seymour was right or I was.

What do you think?