Somewhere in the halls of the Minneapolis Institute of Art the Tatra87 is on display. You’ll be forgiven for not knowing that this is a car because cars and their makers have been under much duress lately – plus it was from then Czechoslovakia. But the Tatra, designed and built in 1936 was heralded as the introduction of stylishness to the world of auto design. Every aspect from its aerodynamic silhouette, its chrome elements, its unusual fenders and three-part windshield sets it apart from the practical approach of its time. None other than Mr. Ferdinand Porsche was thought to have borrowed its rear-mounted, air-cooled engine for the VW Beetle. Lawsuits ensued.
Former car-designer Chris Bangle, an American from Wausau, who once ruled car design at BMW, is passionate about the idea of cars as art. Designing a car is not significantly different from sculpting in clay or designing a good suit, he said. Cars are not engineered, they’re designed. Engineers solve problems such as balancing cup-holders, while designers put their heart and soul into it. Automobiles are what we use, but cars are what we are.
Under Bangle’s watch, BMW became the only car-maker to own a design studio when it bought Designworks. He believes that practical concerns such as pollution and congestion detract from the artistic aspect of cars. It isn’t known what he thinks of the Dodge Magnum but Bangle was the design brain behind BMW 7 Series. But it wasn’t all wine and roses for his designs. Automobile journalists – who knew? – were widely critical, saying that Bangle was ruining Europe’s blue-chip brand. It is rumored that he didn’t care, but after 17 years, Bangle up and quit the world of car design earlier this year to head for the Tuscan sun where he is thought to be making wine.
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