My Car Quest

February 22, 2024

Pondering the Folly of Flippery of the Annual Model Change

A matter of philosophy.

by Wallace Wyss –

In pondering the (sales) success of Tesla (Never no mind the inexplicable down-in-the-dumps stock price) I always come back to one of its core secrets that is so obvious you wonder how can the rest of the auto world ignore it? I speak of the most egregious example of useless flippery in the Machine Age: The incremental automaker model change. I was raised in Detroit. Many of my neighbor’s fathers were toiling away each day to expedite the Next Model Change.

Us consumers actually lined up the dealerships, hoping to peek behind the curtains to see Next Year’s model. But when all is said and done, really, weren’t we for the most part all pumped up about nothing? I think the Cadillac tailfins are the best example. In ’57 they were yea high, then in ’58 higher, then in ’59 towering and adding dual bullet taillamps. If you drove “last year’s car” it was obvious to the neighors that you didn’t get that promotion–that you were slated to be shuffled off to Buffalo to count hubcaps or something.

Cadillac Eldorado Convertible

1958 Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz

Back to Tesla. The Model S of today looks like the Model S of ten years ago. Oh they got rid of that fake grille. Even the chief designer Franz von Holzhausen, admits that he was kow-towing to the God of Model Change. He grew up. He got rid of it.

Now as a car historian and fine artist depicting cars in oil on canvas, I am in love with various surface adornments. OK useless flippery. Say the grille of one of the Pontiac Grand Prix models. Or the stainless steel roof of the ’58 Cadillac Brougham. Or the hood scoop of one of the ’70s ‘Cudas. But unless you can prove a change in detail advances the aerodynamic (and we are talking about an object pushing through air) isn’t it shameless self adulation to honor these bits of well, once again useless flippery?

One thing I can compare it to is something that fascinates me, the women’s high heel shoe. I saw one the other day that might have been 9″ heels. What earthly use are they? I never actually saw a comparison shot between a woman in flat shoes compared to the same women in 9″ heels but I am sure the heels force her body into a more desirable presentation of body parts (one part of me makes me think they are the way short women attain height though temporary). Yet stepping back they are fiendish contraptions that have caused many a fall. Honored in their place might be some sneakers designed by a firm like Dr. Scholl that actually has some science behind them. And yet here we are hundreds of years later, women lining up to buy high heels.

I think Detroit automakers drank too much of their own Kool-Aid–they can’t imagine a future without a model change. They would have to do more useful designs free of useless frippery. Takes the Eames chair. I met Charles and Ray Eames, they explained how new ways of bending plywood led them to that shape of their iconic chair, which endures. It is the chair equivalent to the Model S.

So, Elon and Franz, if you’re reading this, Godspeed, stay the course. There’s also the nagging thought that Tesla owners are a breed apart, enjoying new intellectual pursuits, as they have been freed from the worry of are-my-tailfins-too-short?. They have gone beyond what we car enthusiasts once thought was oh-so- important….

Let us know what you think in the Comments.

Wallace Wyss art

THE AUTHOR: Wallace Wyss is a fine artist, portraying collector cars on commission. He can be reached at malibucarart@gmail.com

 
 
 
 
 
 

Tesla Model S

Tesla Model S in 2012 (note the grille) – photo by Mike Gulett

Tesla Model S - 2023

Tesla Model S – 2023 (note the grille is gone) – photo compliments of Tesla

Summary
Pondering the Folly of Flippery of the Annual Model Change
Article Name
Pondering the Folly of Flippery of the Annual Model Change
Description
I speak of the most egregious example of useless flippery in the Machine Age: The incremental automaker model change. I was raised in Detroit. Many of my neighbor's fathers were toiling away each day to expedite the Next Model Change.
Author

Comments

  1. brian winer says

    Don’t forget der VW bug…………..

  2. wallace wyss says

    The Bug is a case in point, odd that other journalists don’t mention it as the inspiration for Tesla keeping one body style. Of course the high point of the bug was when they went to Italy and bought a design from Ghia for a two seater coupe and convertible and I think the Karmann Ghia still looks good .But they wouldn’t have been able to afford it until they sold millions of the bug. So maybe Elon should go to Italy and buy an Italian coachwork design for a sporty variation to follow VW’s model

  3. William Marks says

    Socrates said that the statues in Greece were. representative of the spirit of the people. I feel that car bodies are similar in telling the story of their time. BMW’s Chris Bangle pointed out that the dies for a car body wore out anyway, so you got restyled new ones for tree. It’s like the sculptured public art and even graffiti that artists do now.

  4. Wayne Watkins says

    VW Beetles had style and still look stylish today , but white Teslas look like refrigerators on wheels . At least the 2012 model Teslas looked like a kind of stylish car and may become collectible like the early Mazda NA MX5/Miata or oval window Beetles .

  5. Body panel stamping dies for high volume selling cars do wear , and have to be replaced anyway if they are to be continued to be used in high volume with fit and finish used in the factory.
    If the body style is changed for the new madel, new dies have to be made, so why not a new model?
    The old dies,even if showing wear, can be used to stamp replacement panels for several years of crash repair panels, which do not require the precise fit of current factory production models.Manufacturers do not stockple years of service requirements because warehouse space is at a pemium and very expesive to build and maintain.
    Short runs of service parts, stamped from the original dies,even sourced to secondary suppliers, is the mode of operation for the OEMs for several years requirements.

  6. Rex OSteen says

    I just saw a pictcure of faces of consumer-type people like me excited at a 1953 Motorama about the introduction of the new 6 cylinder Corvette. I was like that once, and I regret my kids never knew a clutch.

    The new Corvette had no Jag engine, but gas was cheaper here, cubic inches were coming, and it was a fiberglass sports car. Duntov would soon join Chevrolet.

    Now we have torque sensors on the differentials of our race cars. The sanctioning body knows and controls almost everything- even rate of fuel flow in a pit stop.

    If winning a race becomes a matter of noise on the last lap, what is the next step? Now, the rule book for styling has not been closed. Styling? What useful harm can come out of styling?

  7. Variety is the spice of life. While some crave attention and change, others prefer a good value, reliability and longevity in their vehicles, and still others embrace history and timeless vehicle designs even when their use, care and costs give them limited utility beyond being rolling works of art or history that move from custodian to custodian.

    I’m fairly sure it was Henry Ford that had it right for the pragmatists with his early Model A’s through S’s and then the long-lived, 15,000,000 Model T’s, where the model progression was more about evolutionary changes in features, more so than style. Over at GM, Billy Durant was catering to a working-mans desire to emulate the very wealthy with their custom coachwork on production chassis from Packard and Cadillac when he introduced the annual model change and price-level variations on each of those model year changes across a range of sub-brands.

    As a youngster in the 1960’s, I too looked forward to seeing what the auto carriers would bring each fall to our small, local Ford dealership in Ramsey, New Jersey which I could easily reach on my bicycle: oh, those early Mustangs were neat, but those 1969-1972 yearly ‘updates’ were rather dramatic and exciting to a youngster whose parents drove a 1964 Chevrolet Impala SS and a Ford Galaxie 500 company car.

    Personally, I like the variety and see the need for both in a world where a lot of people bought cars like a beige or light-blue Ford Fairmont, Pintos,, Gremlins and Corvairs while neighbors clamored for a new Cadillac or Corvette every year.

    As for the Tesla S front end, I always assumed they adopted the faux-grille as a styling feature designed to help average consumers embrace the Tesla technology by avoiding the trap of “too-far, too-soon” that plagued ground-breaking designs like the Chyrsler Airflow and Cord front-wheel-drive cars that ultimately failed because they were deemed too controversial even though they were major leaps forward in auto design and engineering. Once consumers embraced the technology, it was no longer too risky to offer the unclutters, smooth front-end of the Tesla, something many other major-brand EV automakers still have not adopted.

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