Greatest Year in Automotive Design


I just finished listening to Kelly McEvers interview of David Hepworth about his bookNever a Dull Moment, 1971 The Year that Rock Exploded. Hepworth backed up his hypothesis that 1971 was the best year in rock and roll because in 1971 there were more musicians in their peak creative time (thank the baby boomer generation). The musicians were also not over produced. They would go in the recording studio and lay it down in only a couple of takes. David Bowie recorded 1 song short of three albums in 1971. Led Zepplin' fourth album, didn't even have the name of the band, album or record label on it. Only a photo of a guy carrying sticks! Fascinating.

Who would think? Well, it got me thinking about the relationship of music with the automobile. What is the best year in American automotive design? A contentious question for sure. 

There were key periods:

  • 1915 – Invention of the assembly line
  • 1932 – Ford introduces the V-8 – the quintessential hot rod.
  • 1940-41 – Height of streamline design.
  • 1950 – Fords and Mercury's built for customizers
  • 1955 – Chevrolet introduces the small block V-8
  • 1959 – Harley Earle bids adieu from GM with the biggest fins ever!
  • 1960's – The space race is on!

What about 1971 in American automotive design? Bigger is better? The muscle car was at it's peak with big block motors, wide bodies and longer wheelbases. All this just before the oil embargo and gas prices soar.

Here is where we see the difference between the musical artists and their automotive brethren. Maybe it is due to the systems in place for automotive design, because, 1971 is not recognized as a creative force.

Like all this talk about design? Take a look at our creative process

For the music industry, the creativity is measured with the artist. Without a huge machine behind them, they are much more willing to take chances and release statements of art. Whereas in the auto industry there are committees and shareholders that need their risk assured. So change is slow.

Marry the two, and It will not be until 1976 when Johnny Cash releases his automotive classic "One Piece at a Time."

Photo: Johnny Cash's "One Piece At A Time" Cadillac, Photographer: Unknown

Keith from my LinkedIn page commented, "Remember when cars didn't all look the same?" – 

My reply: YES! Sorry to say automotive designers (many coming from the same school) are all working under the common wind tunnel constraints. Either that or they are chained to copy "what has worked". This is a challenge that the auto makers most likely didn't think of, so now they only thing they can market is their badge and marque. Tesla, and many of the exotic super-car builders are the only ones with the guts to change the status quo.

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