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

10

Author: James ElliottPublished:

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?

Comments

Simon Charlesworth

Looking at the close-up, the over-rider detail is attractive in isolation. As a piece of product design it is rather lovely – but we are looking at an over-rider here. A piece of metal which is designed, sooner or later, to be hit; so in respect of its function it fails because you would lose a lamp and a backbox.

Viewed as a whole, I also don’t like the fact that this adds to the chunky bumper’s mass and to the car’s rump’s visual weight – endowing it with chromium-plated love-handles.

Although I must add that the front is hardly better, sporting enough shiny iron to make Colin Chapman explode with despair. In fact, I now must Google Elliot Silverstein’s ‘The Car’ because I’m convinced this is its doppelgänger!

Powell 0 Elliott 1

Simon Charlesworth

I_Drink_Petrol

Without the lights set into the over-riders (which I tend to think defined the dimensions) I think that it could have worked. Two styling gimmicks in the over-riders alone seems to have been too much though.
I'm no designer (and I have only seen the car in pictures) but I tend to think that whoever was responsible for the bumpers got the proportions wrong in general. The bumpers look too tall and too deep to my eyes and the over-riders too tall, too deep and too fussy. Now, if they'd been a slimmed over-rider that followed the styling cues of the rear wings/fins, didn't incorporate the silly lights and drew less attention to the exhaust tip they might have worked.
But by then you're most of the way to the Facel Vega....
(I'd be quite interested to see the Martin Buckley view on this subject)

PaulJ

Your comment re Louis Vuitton and big spending in the yachting world reminded me of the Bernie Ecclestone quote, I think, after his expensive divorce. 'If it flies, floats or f***s you are better off renting'.

He'd had a bad year...

bencollins

i do like to retell my working one on one with M Daninos for 6 months in Lisbon in 1990. I had no idea who he was historically though! he was about 80 then, but drove round the factory like a loony inches from the pallets. never hit one though.
Very enthusiastic chap, extremely charming and good sense of humour.

Simon Fairweather

Porsche managed to pull off this same trick on the 356 without making the bumper oversized. (the exhaust, not the lights).
I think the lights are what kills the above design - too big, and therefore the overriders are huge.
In short - ok idea, not well executed....

fergieswatchmaker

With only the photos to go on, both bumpers look somewhat overdone but at least they appear to match each other in that respect.

PaulJ's Bernie Ecclestone quote is up there with the George Best 'Squandered' quote. I shall live the rest of my life by it.

Chris Leopold

Coventry Climax

Too bulky, too fussy, and as Simon Charlesworth said, the design defeats the whole point of an overrider.

Nuno Granja

I couldn't agree more , there are some details on some cars that really put me off.

Sometimes as with the lettering "COUPÉ" on a horizontal plastic reflector between the rear lights of my Audi Coupé, its easy make them desapear (heavy duty black matte advertising spec stiker...) and almost no one notice, but in cases as this "Danidos" Bentley its impossible to do it without creating worst style and tecnhical issues.

nuno granja

Valve Bounce

Oh happy days, I was there at the Hurlingham Club all those years ago. Thanks to Classic and Sports Car free tickets of course!

I fell in love too. That car made a long lasting impression it has great presence. Personally I liked the bulk of the bumpers they seemed in proportion to me adding to the overall low slung planted look. Rakish and ruggedly handsome.

It would be great to see it again. Come back Louis Vuitton we miss you.

Chris Martin

Agreed the overriders do look a bit cumbersome in isolation (as to a lesser degree do those on the front) but as for the practical use of such decorative add-ons as exhaust outlets let's not forget this was a custom built one-off and I doubt such rules apply.

If it was a production car for sale to the general public, maybe, but like many other, often more extreme, showcars this was built to the exact brief of a very talented designer (possibly with some input from Mrs Daninos) and minor considerations like reverse parking probably did not enter the equation.

If it was my car, I would have preferred to maybe just slim them down for the exhaust tailpipes, like a fifties Caddy, and not bothered with the lights, but that is just my opinion. Jean Daninos was at this time making parts for other manufacturers and presumably with his Bentley creations and others he was casting around to make a name for himself and a lot of these ideas later found form in the production Facels.

I have a copy of the very interesting Facel Vega book by M. Daninos (published by E.P.A. in 1981, long out of print and only available in French) but have not yet saved up the pennies to indulge in a copy of Martin Buckley's tome; it is on the shopping list though. As someone above mentioned, it would useful to hear Mr Buckley comment on here.

Chris M.

 

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