Opel Junior

Visiting galleries and museums is a great way to spend time, but I think that people often do it for the wrong reasons. It's not to look at pretty pictures; at least, doesn't have to be. Let me explain.

One of the most difficult concepts to convey is the sense of time. We can fake it on film or in writing or imagine ourselves 10 years in the future with a family and an electrified Citroën CX "Loadrunner". I personally find it difficult to judge a progression in my own work, my writing, and creative endeavours. There is progression in my work, my thinking, my personality—in some way, at least—but change creeps forward almost imperceptibly. 

It's not just a problem if you consider yourself a creative person, but it's often more acute, and talked about. So art galleries would be a natural place to see this happen, to watch change in an artist's career, their way of thinking, and their "style". Prolific artists create a canvas of applied consciousness that stretches, dawn through dusk, across their lives, and that's why I love art. I don't care that an artist had one image in them, I enjoy seeing that one image, theme—whatever—revisited from time to time.

A scroll through the Wikipedia page for Henri Matisse will prove this instantly. He initially trained to be a lawyer, and his early work (at least to me) was quiet, filled with bowls of fruit and vases, as he awakened as an artist. It was all about reproducing what he saw. Fast forward to the final years of his life, bed-bound and cancerous, where his work was mostly collages—with the aid of assistants—that consisted of paper cut into different shapes. 

If he'd have done collages and called it art in the late 1800s, he may have been committed to an asylum; still life images in the later years of his life may have inspired critics to claim he'd gotten stale. Funny how that works, right?

See, car design and art are indistinguishable from one another, moreover, each show us that it's a good idea to learn the fundamentals before you start throwing out the rulebook. 

With vehicles being far more mechanically complex than (most) paintings, and open to a ton of outside influence, it's a bit difficult to see this progression at work. Worse, it's not like manufacturers reveal all of the sketches its designers iterated on the road to production.

So we have to use our imaginations a bit.

If Chris Bangle is out there, listening, I'd like to say thanks. Thanks for solving problems, thanks for iterating, and thanks for thinking of our wheeled things in new way. If you ever have an hour to spare, I'll bring take-out and we can flip through our favourite books together. (It'd make a great TV show, too: The Banban Hour. I don't mind being the lowercase 'b'.)

I promised you progression, right? Let's pretend we're Bangle. He was apparently responsible for the interior you see above, from the 1983 Opel Junior concept car. (On a small team, he would have worked with "outsider" Japanese small car director Hideo Kodama and Gert Hildebrand.) You don't need to see the outside of the car to posit that it's a concept, it's a smaller car, and with the upright seats and cheeky colours, you can probable assume it's a city car or maybe something for active lifestyle types.

Designing Ferraris, Lamborghinis, and Zondas is relatively easy and straightforward, because the first (and often only) problem to solve is how to clothe high-performance mechanical parts in a sexy body. A body that's honed in the wind tunnel, yada yada yada, and there's your supercar.

Let's say this city car is for young people. Young people are generally broke, promiscuous, and active in some way. Impromptu road trips in crappy cars, minor fender benders, getting stuck in the mud at a music festival…that sort of thing. I call it Chevrolet Cavalier duty.

Think of how useful it would be, as a young person, to have an inexpensive, efficient, and space-efficient vehicle. But that's the (relatively) easy part. (Kodama later said its exterior is "huggable".) You'll be inside the car, and that's the most difficult part to get right. Notice that I haven't named one feature of the interior yet and you already have a sense of what it may contain?

In the Junior, the dashboard was reconfigurable to house different modules, great for upgrading over time if you're on tight budget or want the latest technology. Those modules were as diverse as its future owners, from practical items like a rev counter to hilarious ones like a shaver. Laugh all you want, but you know someone who'd love that in their car.

The seats, in perhaps a nod to the Citroën 2CV, could be used outside the car, though not as garden chairs—you're looking at a pair of sleeping bags. Perfect for a cold night at the drive-in or something to sleep in at Coachella. Even the roof was interchangeable. 

Above all, the inside of the Junior put function first. The sense of whimsy and fun came from the materials and abilities of the items inside, and how they looked. But it was all for a purpose.

Remember what I said earlier about learning the rules before breaking them? Well, is there no tighter box to design in than low-priced consumer goods? I can't say for sure who on the design team thought of this, but consider that the tachometer was actually removable and could be used in the engine, so budget-conscious hobbyists would be able to more easily do a proper tune-up. That's some next level shit.

About 25 years later, the BMW GINA concept was shown. Now leading an incredible team of designers, Bangle was the guy to push design forward. He knew the fundamentals front to back, so the only thing left was to innovate. 

As it turns out, sports car owners have many of the same problems as city car drivers that manifest in different sorts of ways. To properly understand GINA, consider that virtually none (or very little) of the strength of a modern vehicle comes from its heavy outer metal or composite body. The skin of your car could be made from condoms and it'd be just as safe, function much the same, and possibly slide through the wind a bit easier.

On the GINA, its skin was polyurethane-coated Spandex, which not only is impervious to dents and scratches but can be flexed to improve aerodynamics, plus is very lightweight. With magic mechanical parts under its skin, GINA moves, opens, and lights up in unexpected ways—just the ticket for a sexy sports car. Better still, it's an expression of both form and function using only four main panels of "skin". That's some next level shit.

GINA does far less than a Junior could have, yet there's a thread. I'm probably reading too much into this, but as artists age (and Bangle is no exception to the laws of time), there's a progression. From Junior to GINA, and beyond, it takes a real understanding of where the automobile has been—and for what—to be able to reimagine them in useful and unexpected ways. Bangle's one of those people who's just really good at it. If you don't believe me, listen to Chris Harris:

"This is why Chris Bangle was right and we were wrong: because his brand revolution now resonates outside the car-world, and that is unusual. Normally the car industry copies ideas from other, more radical corners of the industrial map, but in the paradigm shifts being undertaken by so many famous brands you see the Bangle effect."

Now that you're all fired up, watch Bangle's talk, "Great Cars are Great Art".