Loewy's left-field take on design greats

| 19 Aug 2011

Raymond Loewy is a legend in design history, but the man who helped shape such iconic works as the Greyhound bus,  spectacular streamlined Pennsylvania Railroad locomotives, Coke bottle, Lucky Strike cigarette packet, and one of the most beautiful American cars – the Studebaker Starliner – had strange aesthetic judgements when it came to restyling his own cars. 

It takes a bold personality to think you can improve on such all-time beautiful sports cars as the Lancia Flaminia, BMW 507, and XK Jaguar, but the extrovert French-born industrial designer had different ideas.

For a man who criticised American car design as "jukeboxes on wheels" his range of gold-painted custom road cars seemed to contradict his studio's pure design philosophy.

Loewy's bizarre Lancia Loraymo has hints of the Avanti in its overall profile, but there's some very weird ideas about lights, spoiler, and unsightly extended grille. The car was debuted at the 1960 Paris Motor Show and, like all his personal cars, was then driven around Europe. 

The fussy design contrasts dramatically with the Starliner, which is now largely attributed to Robert E Bourke, while the Avanti was possibly more influenced by young team member Tom Kellogg, a ex-student fresh from the LA Art Center. But Loewy always had a knack for spotting gifted designers.

This week another little-known Loewy custom, a '66 Jaguar E-Type coupé came out of hiding to be auctioned at Bonhams in Monterey, California. 

What Sir Williams Lyons or Malcolm Sayer made of the bizarre restyling isn't recorded, but you can imagine the Browns Lane design department having a long laugh down the local. Modifications included enlarged grille, frenched Corvair tail-lights, splayed out twin exhaust pipes and Loewy's signature roof spoiler.

This was the famous designer's second Jaguar creation. The first, based on an XK140 was built by Boano and destroyed in a fire in 1957. The E-Type was modified by Pinchon-Parat of Sens, France. 

Still in its original gold, the E-type has been hidden away for the past 40 years in the garage of architect and designer James Murry Hunt who once studied under Loewy.

Loewy wasn't alone, of course. Quite a few designers couldn't resist the challenge of reworking the E-type, including Pietro Frua, customiser George Barris, and later William Towns, but all prove conclusively to me that it's "better to leave well alone".

Eagle's latest Speedster is a very sexy reworking of Sayer's masterpiece, but if I had to have a custom E-type it would be a replica of the hearse built for 1971 movie Harold and Maude. Just imagine driving that around Monterey this weekend, and on to the lawn at Pebble Beach for the special E-type class!