Hunter or hunted?

There’s a good rule of thumb in the animal kingdom to determine whether creatures are hunters or prey.  If an animal’s eyes are mounted on the sides of its head, it is likely that it is destined to be lunch.  If they are on the front of its head it will be unfolding its napkin ready to tuck in.  Just think of the big cats and startled-looking deer. 

Apparently it was Aristotle who first mumbled something about art imitating nature (while eating a burger), but car design does, too.  There are many vehicles with animal features – just look to early Jaguars for the inspiration in Lyons’ designs, definitely feline.  There have also been many studies on the ‘faces’ of cars and the psychology behind the different model designs, from aggressive, masculine Audis to frog-like Nissan Micras. 

Looking at some of the bigger visual changes over the last 30 years other than size and stance, these automotive faces have evolved considerably.  In particular, the ‘eyes’ – the headlights – have changed from simple forward-facing circles and have started to slide round the sides of cars. 

The ‘80s brought some fabulous, outrageous cars, from Ford’s XR4i to the Audi Quattro.  It was an era of excess, of whalebone spoilers, bold graphics – and front-pointing lights.  What was to the side or behind didn’t matter; it was a time for the go-getters. 

In the last 10 years, the eyes – sorry, lamps – have started to move round to the sides apace.  Take a look on your commute.  Nearly all cars have these curved lights.  In general, the newer the car, the more the light is elongated down the front wing.  It is more than merely for improved aerodynamics; we managed low coefficients of drag on cars such as the Audi 100 in the ‘80s – and that had a flat front.  The lighting requirements haven’t materially changed either: they must still illuminate the road ahead.  No, the lights moving round the car are at the behest of the stylists.

So what’s changed?  The car has become less popular, certainly.  It’s considered more of a dirty thing which pollutes and uses up the world’s natural resources for both manufacture and ongoing running.  Cars clog our towns and cities, they blot the landscapes when in use and require disposal when finished with.  Some very high profile anti-car people over the last 10 years have also helped change the car’s image from enabler and desirable toy to planet destroyer.  I can’t help myself mentioning Ken Livingston and his high profile anti car views.

Cars are now the hunted.  Parking wardens, congestion charge cameras, speed cameras and the anti 4×4 brigade are all out to get you.  Government and local authorities have helped too, taxing heavily the thirstier models and increasing the charges of residents’ parking spaces.  And this is reflected in the faces.  Contrasting the elegant and slightly predatory Jaguar XJ of the ‘90s, we now have Toyota’s Avensis with its lights running half way up the bonnet.  Smaller cars seem worse – lights on the iQ run right up to the car’s windscreen.  Ford’s Fiesta definitely hints at gazelle rather than tiger.  Even the new Range Rover Evoque is taking a peek sideways – although I’m pleased to see it retains a purposeful scowl. 

Is this all a little tenuous?  Consider that when you drive, you are taxed on your car purchase and then pay for road fund, tax on fuel, congestion charge or toll road and all after the Government has taken its considerable chunk from your salary.  Who’s hunted now?

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  1. Azhar Alvi says:

    Fantastic Article!
    Makes us all wonder who is actually in the driver’s seat nowadays
    Ironically, cars in the past used to drive the driver.. They were beasts fit for a hunter metaphor, now all we got is an euphemistic take on the “car” as a “commuter” and thats the end of the line..

    • motorwriter says:

      Thanks, Azhar! One stage further are the cars given horses’ names, e.g. Mitsubishi Colt, Dodge Charger, Hyundai Pony and the most famous donkey of all, the Ford Mustang. What a cyclical world we live in.

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