This page contains a Flash digital edition of a book.

An early Beetle design. Left: New Volkswagen Beetle

The Beetle has had the most convoluted existence, from being the brainchild of Hitler to twice being voted Gay Car of Year

Now, comparing pre-Bangle designs to the BMWs we see on the roads today, the last laugh is with Bangle. His vision was spot on, he just didn’t implement the changes gradually enough and the leap of faith he was asking from the BMW customers was just too much too soon.

Modern classics Of course, the same can’t be said for the Mini, the Beetle or the Fiat 500. Their originality was born out of a time when the world was full of optimism and the need to get mobile. Perhaps that’s why these three cars have stood the test of time so well – they all define an era yet still manage to remain timeless. They always held the affection of several generations of drivers, and perhaps that’s why, unlike the Bangle debacle, their modernistic twist was heralded by the popular motoring media as a new dawn in automotive design. The Beetle has had the most convoluted existence, from being the

brainchild of Hitler to the post-war hippy love bug, then literally starring in it’s own series of Hollywood films, and now, in its 21st-century guise, being twice voted Gay Car of Year. There is a new, second-generation Beetle in the pipeline, which is due for launch early 2012, and I’ve driven it. It’s much more focused towards the driver than being a fashion statement. It is still instantly recognisable as a Beetle but it’s a lot more credible than the car it replaces. This may be due to the fact that Volkswagen realised that if they wanted the Beetle to remain a mainstay of their model line-up then they had to develop it wisely. Despite selling more than one million of the outgoing Beetles,

the car was only ever perceived as nothing more than a Golf with a different party frock on. This new one, however, has a much more individual feel which is mainly due to the fact that, for the first time since the original 1930s concept was launched, it has been designed to be an original and not a second-grade facsimile.

64 October/November 2011 The Mini, on the other hand – the one so coveted by London estate

agents – was built as a completely new car. It pays homage to its past but holds a totally different ethos to what Sir Alex Issigonis originally had in mind for it. His design was textbook perfect – form should follow function. And it did. Simplicity was the fundamental quality to the success of his Mini,

and by harnessing it to the extreme, he solved the problem of getting the British masses mobile – and, perhaps most importantly, doing so on the cheap. Even though the Mini of yesteryear has been masterfully encapsulated within the metal panels of today’s Mini, it has become more of a consumable that should colour-match its drivers’ Prada handbag, rather than a mode of family transport. The argument for these retro cars becoming trinkets for the well

heeled fashionista is cemented in truth when you learn that the Fiat 500 outsells the Fiat Panda by a ratio of 2:1. What’s so surprising here is that the 500 is based on the Panda – it uses the same platform, running gear and engine – yet costs at least £1,500 more. Form may still follow function, but style has an uncanny way of sniffing out the money and doesn’t stop until it bleeds it dry. The thing is: car designers can never move forward until the past

has been completely cleared and swept away. And, as we now know, good design never fades – it just evolves. Also, no one in their right mind would want to quash the memories of a time when the world had felt an unprecedented faith in the future and where designs embodied the promise of progress which had aimed to liberate us all. That’s why the likes of the Mini, the Beetle and the Fiat 500 will continue to be built – and bought. All that’s missing is the amazement they would have inspired earlier generations with. l

DANNY COBBS is a freelance motoring journalist

Page 1  |  Page 2  |  Page 3  |  Page 4  |  Page 5  |  Page 6  |  Page 7  |  Page 8  |  Page 9  |  Page 10  |  Page 11  |  Page 12  |  Page 13  |  Page 14  |  Page 15  |  Page 16  |  Page 17  |  Page 18  |  Page 19  |  Page 20  |  Page 21  |  Page 22  |  Page 23  |  Page 24  |  Page 25  |  Page 26  |  Page 27  |  Page 28  |  Page 29  |  Page 30  |  Page 31  |  Page 32  |  Page 33  |  Page 34  |  Page 35  |  Page 36  |  Page 37  |  Page 38  |  Page 39  |  Page 40  |  Page 41  |  Page 42  |  Page 43  |  Page 44  |  Page 45  |  Page 46  |  Page 47  |  Page 48  |  Page 49  |  Page 50  |  Page 51  |  Page 52  |  Page 53  |  Page 54  |  Page 55  |  Page 56  |  Page 57  |  Page 58  |  Page 59  |  Page 60  |  Page 61  |  Page 62  |  Page 63  |  Page 64  |  Page 65  |  Page 66  |  Page 67  |  Page 68  |  Page 69  |  Page 70  |  Page 71  |  Page 72  |  Page 73  |  Page 74  |  Page 75  |  Page 76  |  Page 77  |  Page 78  |  Page 79  |  Page 80  |  Page 81  |  Page 82  |  Page 83  |  Page 84