Motoring Podcast Interview with the author!

Well this year has been incredibly busy, especially with my job where I’ve seen progress on my Vehicle Design course connecting with the industry. Meanwhile Twitter seems to be a place for my connections to grow and this led to a very fun situation where I was asked to be interviewed by Andrew Clews of The Motoring Podcast. Andrew managed to draw a lot of personal history from me, over the course of 3 hours chatting!  A very pleasant experience, it was split into two instalments due to length and I can part 1 and part 2 with you all now. Part 1 is about 1 hour, and covers similar topics to this blog. Part 2 is 2 hours talking about my own car ownership history!

Motoring Podcast – Rear View – Lee Walton Part 1

Motoring Podcast – Rear View – Lee Walton Part2

 

Sci Fi Dreams Do Come True

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Last month I was lucky enough to head to the Geneva Motor Show. Lucky enough to head there with a good buddy of mine who’s a Lotus designer and lucky again to chat at the end of the day to his colleague Russell Carr, who was behind the beauty of the Lotus Elise S2 and Evora. More on that later but for now, what was it like?

Well it’s cheap to get in (£15) it’s attached to the airport (just turn left) and it’s small enough that you can see it all in half a day. (My buddy and I were done and wondering how many beers to consume by 2pm.) It’s also full of all the eye candy you could ever wish for as a car nut, promo girls included. (Alfa was the best if you must know.) What were my overall impressions? Well, the notes I made on the plane home all gravitated to one thing, Sci-Fi really does come true.

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Let’s do exactly what we did when we walked through the doors of the show. Let’s go directly to LaFerrari. It looks absolutely, jaw-to-the-floor stunning. If you ever see one on the road brace yourself. Every surface. Every line. Every curve. Every tiny detail is breathtaking. We stared and we stared. It is art, sculpture. So we stared some more. The only fault we could find, after a lot of that time consuming staring, was that someone at Ferrari clearly forgot about the rear number plate slot (Issa go where?). Otherwise it’s a perfect study in vehicle styling. Not radical, arguably predictable even (it’s what every designer has been drawing for years) but boy is it beautiful. It is exactly what the public, the consumer has been dreaming of . It reminded me of those crazy cars that drift by in the background of Back To The Future Part II, but made real. A million quid? Pah. No problem. Even sat in a glass box and never used it’s worth every penny. 900bhp? Don’t actually care. Stood there looking at it it could have had a 1.0 litre turbo and still taken our breath away.

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So what about Ron’s car? The yellow beast sat in another hall. Frankly the P1 ain’t all that when it’s right in front of you, and static. Technically I get it. It’s an awesome ‘bit of kit’. Design wise, styling wise, it dissapoints. Here were two trained car designers staring again, but this time straining to see the drama, the beauty, the detail that just wasn’t there. To make it worse Mclaren had sat an F1 LM by it. As if to highlight everything that was right about the styling of that car. What the P1 did say however was ‘this is the future and you can buy it, and rag the arse off it’.

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The VW XL1 was the other car that gave me that same fizzing excitement inside as LaFerrari did. Almost. Why? Here were those Back To The Future Part II cars again. Here was a Syd Mead sketch. Here was the flying cars from The Fifth Element (ok so it doesn’t fly but you get the idea). It’s a scissor doored, faired wheel slice of a 260mpg future. Except you can order one right now. The lines are clean, they work neatly, and the form is lovely, the details exquisite. Just like the Ferrari, sorry LaFerrari, it is also slightly predictable. Cars like this were drawn over and over in the 80s. Some were attempted (remember the Ford Granda Scorpio). A lot graced the movies. VW made it finally happen.

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The Pininfarina Sergio was another gem of the show. It proved that while they may be a little haphazard when it comes to politics the Italians absolutely positively still know vehicle styling.

At the end of the day I waited for my flight home. Camera memory strained. Feet strained. Imagination running riot. We hung at the airport with the Lotus guys. So what did Russell Carr think? What did any of them think? They seemed lost. Lotus is a company in trouble but the guys themselves seemed in design limbo – their mojo deleted. They seemed lost amidst the design language they talk when they present the latest sketch to management. Caught up in the every day detail of their job they appeared confused as to what the consumer actually wants. It happens to us all. I know it does when I create my shoe ranges. We don’t see the wood for the trees. Russell wondered out loud what was the exact appeal of the VW XL1? “Is that what people want?” “It’s a bit predictable”. I replied yes on both fronts, and damn it’s got cool doors! It got me thinking. Sci-Fi told us that the consumer dreamt of a car like this. They wanted this product. The iPad was predicted by the film 2001 A Space Odyssey back in 1968. It was a dream back then, a want. Did that make it predictable? Maybe. Did that make it wrong when Apple finally cracked it? Apple lovers would sternly disagree. I remember seeing an alien pilot (yes really) run through his photo collection on a small hand held ‘screen’ in the 80s film The Last Starfighter. Was this the smart phone predicted? Or a consumer dream later spotted by smart phone designers. Whatever it was, it looked cool. Gattacca, a more recent Sci-Fi effort, ‘predicted’ classic cars humming around with electric drive. Now we have re-engineered classics like the Singer 911, Eagle E-type and MG LE50 running on modern mechanicals. How soon will it be before someone makes them hybrids? On an even more practical level Toyota created the GT86 from the consumer asking ‘can I have a real sportscar that is cheap to run and costs the same as a Golf to buy?’. Sounds like a fantasy. Toyota made it happen. Back To The Future Part II (again) featured laceless Nikes. Would the Reebok Pump have been developed if it hadn’t been for that film and those Nikes?

The conclusion of my day at Geneva was that if we embrace our imagination. Embrace our dreams. Embrace Sci-Fi. We might just find the ‘next big thing’ and take the world by storm. Hoverboard anyone?

lotus evora

Unveiled at the 2008 British Motorshow, the Evora is another ambitious Lotus. The design of this car was hard to gauge at first- seeming a little safe at the initial viewing, It also needs to be judged in the flesh perhaps, rather than in photos. The last time Lotus diversified their range this much- it nearly killed them off. The ’70s saw massive success for Lotus in Formula 1, winning successive titles, and moving their road car business from its kit-car origins, into proper car manufacturing. They went a bit crazy though, producing front engined 2+2 shooting brakes, mid-engined supercars, and even the 2+2 coupe that I owned- the Eclat. The range was a stretch too far for Lotus, and the cars were very under-developed and unreliable. History may repeat itself, but clearly Lotus are aiming to avoid those mistakes- claiming the Evora to be the most tested Lotus ever in its history.

It is currently a totally unique design in regards to it being mid-engined but having more than 2 seats. The last car of this layout was a Ferrari, the Mondial. That car was styled by the Pininfarina Studio, who managed to hide the central cabin length of such a layout. Lotus have designed the Evora internally of course, under the direction of Russell Carr, and have achieved a fantastic result with their own attempt to hide similar bulk. They are so proud, they even released a package drawing- which gives an idea of just how hard this problem was. The rear passenger is very cramped though, and as always there seems to be no thickness to the seats- we all did package drawings like that as students! The key part of the attack on the cars bulky centre and rear section, is maximum plan shape in the glasshouse. We can see this feature very prominently in the released top view photographs. The wrap around visor windscreen also lengthens the cabin visually. Overall, I think this design is very successful, and has a rare elegance not often seen on new cars. The front end in particular is very clean. Some recent amateur shots though, may show that at certain angles the bulk of that mid-mounted V6 was nearly impossible to hide.

Russell Carr, Head of Lotus Design, led the Evora’s design team with Steven Crijns, Design Manager responsible for the exterior and Anthony Bushell, Senior Designer, responsible for the interior.

“A cornerstone of the design’s success was working closely with the technical team to develop a package that allowed us to get the proportions correct,” says Head of Design Russell Carr, “The asymmetric wheel sizes, the short rear overhang, long front overhang and cab forward visor screen all contribute to giving the car visual movement and an agile stance. This is incredibly important to us because we want the car’s aesthetics to communicate its driving characteristics”