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Futuristic, Futurama and Retro-futurism

Rod Halligan
CarsGuide

2 Dec 2008 • 3 min read

No.. but we are closer than we have ever been.

Even more than architecture, fashion and aircraft, cars are the most visually represented statement of our possible future. From Rust Heinz’ 1938 Phantom Corsair to Syd Mead's Spinner in Blade Runner, the car has been central to our dreams and the imaginations for our potential.

The 1950's saw the emergence of a style of design exemplified by Nuccio Bertone, Virgil Exner and Harley Earl, that while it may be considered visually naive now still has profound influence on our perception of future possibilities. GMs Motorama of 1956 was the major showcase for this style of design that lasted into the early seventies, the over-riding feature being the human interpretation of function as driven by form.. The last truly great examples of this period; the Coke bottle Corvette of 67-73, the Ferrari Dino, Lamborghini Muira and E-Type Jag are now revered as works of art by car cognoscenti and their prices reflect their stature in the motoring world.. All of these cars display a human’s perception of the flow of air over metal; the mind as a virtual wind tunnel. Post these cars we saw a period of design that was quite - well...., square.

The second coming of car design emerged around ten years ago and has been going from strength to strength. While the Futuristic period of the 50's set the visual benchmarks and boundaries for current designers, the designers of the period did not have the shackles of the oil, financial or environmental crisis to deal with. They also did not have the technology available that allowed them to add the function to the form efficiently. At the very heart of the current design period is the evolution of human possibilities that advancing technology and social dreams and responsibilities allow and dictate.. What we are seeing is art meeting and merging with technology to create form with function. If the 50’s were the golden era of car design we have now reached platinum. The Veyron, the 599, the DBS, 997, Murcielago and yes, still the Corvette – all are incredibly beautiful and also capable of 200 mph in relative safety.

As exciting as car design presently is the Futurama period is hard to let go of, hence the number of Retro-future cars we continue to see. From the Mini to the Mustang good design should be celebrated, honored and mimicked. The re-interpretation of a classic design when made relevant to the current situation is not something to scorn as it just adds another variety, another choice - and there is nothing wrong with that.

For a lot of current designers the benchmark for futuristic design was set in the 70's by Syd Mead  ...Visually we are there. Technologically we are close.

We are at the dawn of the alternate propulsion era. We have broken through the political and financial barriers of the oil era. In many ways we can thank the current financial crisis for that. Electric is on the way, which will be an enthusiasts dream with its full size slot car performance and environmental friendliness.

Let’s just not get to the point we ban petrol cars from our roads, let them naturally evolve out.

With the future - we are almost there, but our past is continuing to remain with us longer. - Thankfully.

The last turn of a V12 on a public road should be put off for as long as possible.

Rod Halligan