Automotive Artistry Imitates Life
In the pool of people who drive, there are two groups: 1) those who see a car as a way to get from A to B, and 2) those who see the automobile as an artistic assemblage — a rolling piece of artwork — destined to be parked in a heated garage, sketched, photographed and hung on a wall.
Fact is, the second group is absolutely right. Automobiles are perhaps one of the world’s most complex, useful and beautiful forms of art. Like any traditional painting, poetry or pottery, they imitate life and artistic trends. They are designed and created by some of the greatest artists of their time.
Signs of the Times
The beginning of automotive expressionism
It’s understandable that when the Model T was introduced in the early 1900s, it had a carriage-like appearance with bicycle-style wheels. After all, that’s what transportation looked like for many years prior to its inception.
Still beautiful in their simplicity, it’s after these early renderings — after the automobile industry stood steady on its legs — that we started to see the influence of art, life and the world around them come into focus in car design.
Influences of the ’30s and ’40s
In the late ’30s and early ’40s, America was finally seeing an economic upturn following the great depression. The Art Deco stylings from the mid-’20s evolved into Streamline Moderne, a sleeker form than its earlier Deco, that used curving forms and polished surfaces.
The influence made its way to the automotive industry, which was getting back on its feet and eager to show emerging prosperity. The result was vehicles like the DeSoto or Plymouth Deluxe. On the exterior, the vehicles touted interesting, bountiful curves in contrast with striking straight chrome lines. And, on the inside, had a heightened sense of richness and comfort. Both evidence of wealth and success.
To Infinity and Beyond
The ’50s launch automotive design into the future
In the United States, the 1950s reflected a country that was tired of war and ready to launch itself into the future. The art world was trending toward “anything goes” abstractism. It was the golden age of television, rock ‘n roll and technology on the inside. And on the outside, jet engines and rocket ships were breaking the sound barrier. American automotive companies kept up with the times by introducing cars that went as fast as the world around them.
The stimulus showed up in the automotive world not only under the hood with unprecedented power, but also on exteriors by way of fins, flames and curvatures that were unique and unexpected. Chrysler vehicles were at the forefront of the new age styling with cars like the late ’57 Plymouth Fury, the ‘50s Imperial, the Windsor and the 300C.
Pop Goes the ’60s and ’70s
Color, contrast and a bit of crazy take the wheel
Psychedelic prints, peace, love and pop art were the themes of the era, complete with bold colors, freedom of expression and style intended to make a statement. Any Mopar® and Dodge enthusiast can see the impact it had on the American muscle cars and especially Mopar muscle.
Comic books and cartoons, as well as pop art design, played a role as well. The bold color and clean design of Andy Warhol’s illustrations and screen prints not only boosted him to the top of the art world, the pop art culture inspired a new generation of vibrantly swatched Charger, Challenger, Dart and the 1971-1972 Dodge Demon vehicles.
“Look at the Plymouth Road Runner,” said Frank Pascoe, a now-retired FCA Design Engineer. “We took an iconic cartoon character to capture the youth market. The cartoon character was all about speed. Jack Smith (“Father of the Plymouth Road Runner”) came up with the idea to call it Plymouth Road Runner, the brand got a hold of Warner Brothers, and the piece of art became automotive. Even the horn went, ‘BEEP BEEP!’”
Squeezing the Dollar
The impact of economy
The ’80s and ’90s ushered in a series of recessions and the influence of artistic design on vehicles was notably affected. A focus on economic growth impacted the industry with the concept of less is more. This nose-to-the-grindstone all-go and no-show attitude gave way to a movement of compact cars that touted fuel efficiency over aesthetic appeal.
Masterpieces of the Millenium
Looking back and the shape of things to come
Recently, the art movement has a great contrast between showcasing technology and nostalgia of days gone by. This has inspired a retro style, which is largely the influence of the past few decades.
In the world of Mopar®, retro influences have molded launches that revisit models, colors and trims. The Plymouth Prowler hit the streets as a nostalgic hot rod with all of the modern-day handling, suspension and safety conveniences and mandates. Both the Dodge Challenger and Charger have re-emerged with strong styling cues from days past, and colors like Plum Crazy, Go Mango and B5 Blue were enhanced, repeated and rejoiced by consumers. And, of course, the Dodge Challenger SRT® Demon is a monster of technology bearing a throwback name.
“I think that’s what is cool about our cars,” said Dodge Head of Design for Performance Passenger and Utility, Mark Trostle. They respect the past design as well. The Challenger still holds true to how cool Challenger was, it’s just the best Challenger ever. The Charger is a sedan, but takes from the cues of a ’68-’69 Charger. We still have to evolve them but nod to the past as well.”
One of the greatest promises of any artist, culturalist or automobile stylist is that creativity guarantees endless possibilities. As the future unfolds, the one uncertainty we can look forward to is the beauty of change and growth and the influence from past successes as we boldly move into the next great trend.