Styling: Why Harleys Look Right & BMW Sedans Look Wrong

There Are No Absolutes In Styling But Some Things Are Just Plain Ugly!

I've been asked by Mike, a fellow cruiser rider and reader of my hub American vs. Metric Cruisers about my rather opinionated styling evaluations. Mike's query was not motivated by superciliousness, but was just a straightforward question to find out if I had any formal background in vehicle styling.

Well it turns out that the only styling evaluation credentials I have are my opinion. Vehicle styling is fully objective. Every time I see a late model BMW sedan I have to hold down my gag reflexes. I can't believe that an august company such as Bavaria's finest Motorwerks could possibly have hired a chief stylist as moronic as Chris Bangle. His designs are so misshapen, disproportionate and random that they make a Beemer look like a cheap Chinese toy. That apparently doesn't stop millions of yuppies all over the world from lusting after one and putting themselves into debt to the tune of $50,000 or more to own one. Is that because they actually like the aborted greyhound fetus look or is it because there's a sucker born every minute? I'm not qualified to evaluate that either!

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Didn't anyone at BMW notice that the trunk lid was designed for a completely different car?Fiat Multipla: An aborted cetacean fetus displayed at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.The 1971 SuperGlide single-handedly created the modern cruiser motorcycle. But pobody's nerfect. What was Willie G. Davidson smoking when he dreamed up that rear fender???The first Kawasaki Drifter 800s had perfect pre-War styling but the battleship gray spray paint on the engine was a bit too loyal to tradition.Will the first person who can tell if this is a Vulcan 800 or 400 please stand up? (Psst... it's a 400...)In case no one believes me, here are the pushrod Road Star's overhead cams!Sure, the Pacer was ugly and suitable only to be driven by Wayne and Garth, but you could see out of it!What are you supposed to do when peeking through those slits they call windows in the Dodge Caliber? Get someone to step outside and help you back up?This tinny, underpowered Korean blob is not worthy of wearing the distinguished Chevrolet bowtie! This is an outrage!Honourable Mention By Special Request: The Pontiac Aztek. Proof that an SUV can be designed on an Etch-A-Sketch.
Didn't anyone at BMW notice that the trunk lid was designed for a completely different car?
Didn't anyone at BMW notice that the trunk lid was designed for a completely different car?
Fiat Multipla: An aborted cetacean fetus displayed at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
Fiat Multipla: An aborted cetacean fetus displayed at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
The 1971 SuperGlide single-handedly created the modern cruiser motorcycle. But pobody's nerfect. What was Willie G. Davidson smoking when he dreamed up that rear fender???
The 1971 SuperGlide single-handedly created the modern cruiser motorcycle. But pobody's nerfect. What was Willie G. Davidson smoking when he dreamed up that rear fender???
The first Kawasaki Drifter 800s had perfect pre-War styling but the battleship gray spray paint on the engine was a bit too loyal to tradition.
The first Kawasaki Drifter 800s had perfect pre-War styling but the battleship gray spray paint on the engine was a bit too loyal to tradition.
Will the first person who can tell if this is a Vulcan 800 or 400 please stand up? (Psst... it's a 400...)
Will the first person who can tell if this is a Vulcan 800 or 400 please stand up? (Psst... it's a 400...)
In case no one believes me, here are the pushrod Road Star's overhead cams!
In case no one believes me, here are the pushrod Road Star's overhead cams!
Sure, the Pacer was ugly and suitable only to be driven by Wayne and Garth, but you could see out of it!
Sure, the Pacer was ugly and suitable only to be driven by Wayne and Garth, but you could see out of it!
What are you supposed to do when peeking through those slits they call windows in the Dodge Caliber? Get someone to step outside and help you back up?
What are you supposed to do when peeking through those slits they call windows in the Dodge Caliber? Get someone to step outside and help you back up?
This tinny, underpowered Korean blob is not worthy of wearing the distinguished Chevrolet bowtie! This is an outrage!
This tinny, underpowered Korean blob is not worthy of wearing the distinguished Chevrolet bowtie! This is an outrage!
Honourable Mention By Special Request: The Pontiac Aztek. Proof that an SUV can be designed on an Etch-A-Sketch.
Honourable Mention By Special Request: The Pontiac Aztek. Proof that an SUV can be designed on an Etch-A-Sketch.

And don't get me started about the original Fiat Multipla which was exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, despite also resembing a fetus, but in this case, a cetacean one!

Personally, I'd choose to drive a Pacer rather than one of Chrysler's new/60s revival "fuselage look" cars. At least you could look out in a Pacer and have perfect visibility. It may have looked like an aquarium, but it was the only car I've ever driven that had visibility almost equal to a motorcycle. Chrysler's stylists are diminishing the glass in their new cars to the size of spectacle lenses! Chrysler might as well equip them with a periscope.

The Japanese manufacturers have a history of "sleeving down" their motorcycles. On a British motorway a couple of years ago, I saw a Kawasaki Vulcan 800 rider being barely able to keep up with traffic on the relatively mild hills of the M25. He pulled into a petrol station and I followed him to see if I could lend a hand as it seemed he was experiencing engine trouble. It turns out that he was not having any problems, he was just riding a Japanese import of the Vulcan 400, a model never released in North America or Europe and absolutely 100% identical to the world's 800 version.

The Vulcan Drifter was another great case of misunderstood styling. I get teary eyed at the thought that Kawasaki killed that beautiful bike. I believe they went a bit too far to the 1932 Indian look the first couple of years by eliminating any touch of chrome on the engine and turning it into a dull lump, but when they came to their senses, the last couple of years of the model were very nearly spot on! And I liked the 800's styling even better than the 1500! That semi-hardtail look absolutely rocked on that bike.

Cylinder height is absolutely critical to obtaining that elusive cruiser "look." In my opinion the Yamaha V-Star 1300 designers erred in making those critical components too squat. But then again, the original Suzuki Intruder engines looked more like a hippie's two fingered peace symbol than a motorcycle engine. Suzuki went way too far the other way with the narrow angle combined with those two oversized, overshiny, tiny-finned cylinders giving the old Intruder engine all the guttural sex appeal of an air compressor.

Harleys are not overpriced, all cruisers are overpriced! To sell a vehicle with two wheels, an engine, some tubing and a bit of sheet metal for a price that would put two new economy cars in your driveway is nothing short of highway robbery. We pay the price because we're cruiser aficionados and because we have no choice. However, beware... my crystal ball says that it won't be long until the Chinese stop messing around stamping Virago 250 clones out of recycled tin, and come out with a one litre V-twin cruiser that they can sell at $5,000 stateside and still make a healthy profit. When that happens, we're going to see a much delayed shakeout in the cruiser industry that likely only Harley and Honda will be able to survive.

Then again, we'll all likely be driving Russian Ford Ladas, Indian Chrysler Tatas or Chinese Chevy Cheris by then. If you want to see the proud bowtie symbol which has signified American quality and pride totally deflowered, all you have to do is go to the European market and check out the Chevrolet Matiz, a skinny-tired 800 cc rolling lozenge, rebadged from the Korean Daewoo (ugh), and built with the reliability of a grenade missing its pin.

I'm definitely old skool. Just like Mike, I love the original pushrod look, even if in the case of the magnificent Road Star engine, many people don't know that each cylinder has dual overhead cams working with the pushrods. So the Road Star is technically a dual dual overhead cam design! I don't care if there are baby mice on pogo sticks making the valves go up and down, the overall styling effect is what "does it for me" and it was what made me place an image of the Road Star on my PC's desktop, replacing the one of Shakira wearing a diaphanous handkerchief.

I can't help but love vehicles. I have a passion for them which exceeds that which some people display towards their spouses, likely being responsible for my current bachelor status. I get emotional at the integration of a taillamp or the implementation of just the right compound curve in a fender. It's who and what I am and I'm far too old to change now.

The bottom line is that as in all art, there is a certain balance that just looks and feels right. It's the balance that draws us to or repulses us from, any particular "style." That balance is emphatically not an absolute and quantifiable measurement, otherwise BMW "Chief Stylist" Chris Bangle would be making minimum wage on a Bavarian auto shop's floor cleaning up 20W50 spills.

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Comments 19 comments

livelonger profile image

livelonger 9 years ago from San Francisco

Don't forget the AZTEK, one of the ugliest cars I've ever seen.


Hal Licino profile image

Hal Licino 9 years ago from Toronto Author

Sorry, livelonger. The Aztek was not a car. It was an aberration. It was designed on the day that Pontiac Division's CAD computers were down and they had to finish the drawings on an Etch-A-Sketch! :)

Actually it would be interesting to get the readers' input into the Top Ten Ugliest Vehicles Of All Time. My contribution for modern car would be one that just narrowly squeaks past the Aztek: The Subaru Tribeca. Apparently it is being placed in gastrointestinal Emergency Wards to provoke vomiting. The ugliest classic car has to be the Citroen 2CV! It's like the French took everything they didn't know about car styling and threw that out the window too!


livelonger profile image

livelonger 9 years ago from San Francisco

The Tribeca doesn't look too bad except for the grille (and it's probably one of the more attractive Subarus, considering their history of ugly styling). The Citroen isn't too bad considering it's a really old design. But I think that Fiat you have a picture of above, and the Aztek (yes, retch-inducing) still win the prize for the ugliest.


Hal Licino profile image

Hal Licino 9 years ago from Toronto Author

Livelonger, I have added a photo of your favourite ride, as a special honourable mention. :)

I remember a few years ago when the Aztek was given away on a TV game show. The look on the lady's face was precious. She was excited to have won a car, but didn't know if this thing was some kind of joke!


livelonger profile image

livelonger 9 years ago from San Francisco

Ha ha, that's great! Aztek & Multipla should be given their own category: Reasons Why Modern Pop Artists Shouldn't Be Car Designers.


Mike 9 years ago

Hal,

First let me say that I think this is a great article you wrote but if you do not mind I want to rant about BMW some. I was a BMW car owner for 12 years and the last one I owned was a E-46 323ci that I think was a pretty ride (awesome driving car too). I was more upset with BMW after the first payment I made they decided to scrap the 323ci for the 325ci but had the same 2.5 liter motor. Usually BMW makes the last 2 numbers in the model design the motor displacement size but in some cases they did cheat (the reason they called the 2.5litre a 323ci was because they felt calling it a 325 was too close to the 328 number and did not bring back the 325 until the 328 was completely scrapped. In 2000 the Better E-46 was the 328ci but they wanted 5k more for the a lousy 20 more hp. What really pissed me off was the introduction of the 330ci one month after I made my first payment. I would have GLADLY paid 5k more for the 330ci and its 230hp “vs” my cars 170. Even though I am still a member of a BMW club I have not owned one since 2003 and probably will not again as I have decided “I Drive” sucks and I will never buy another BMW as long as I”I Drive” is in them. Anyway, the 7 series like you pointed out was HORRIBLE, that trunk was the worst thing I ever seen on a Bimmer. The BMW club members were also horrified and the second worst thing BMW ever did was “I Drive”. “I Drive” is now in the 3 series cars and I will never own one again. By the way, BMW cars are Bimmers, the motorcycles are Beemers, but mostly us club members are clear on that. Also, all BMW’s are getting uglier as in the 7, the new 5 and the Z4. The New 3 looks decent but “I Drive” ruins it for me and many other die hard 3 series lovers.

I have to agree with you that all cruisers are overpriced. My comment about Harley was only because they are way too expensive compared to the current market imports. But its our fault as consumers they are all overpriced because we are willing to pay that price. I will NOT pay for any athletes salary by attending a sporting event or paying for sports on cable and if more thought like I did we would not have athletes making 20 mil per year but they get it because we are all dumb enough to fund it. If we started to not buy cruisers I bet they would drop way down in price. But we are passionate about our cruisers and until China makes them at least the Japanese ones are reasonable compared to the American made ones. If the people at Polaris were smarter they could make a line of cruisers in the 8-12k price range to use Americans not willing to spent 15k+ but want to buy American made can do so.

I read your comment on the Vulcan 800 being a 400 in England and I think it’s a crime that they can get away with that there so I will not say anymore on that. I still love the ride of my V-Star 1300 but every time I see the pushrod engines of the bigger brothers I do regret not spending more. It’s a great classic look no matter what cams they have. Maybe I should cut some chrome tubes and stick them in there for that fake look….. any opinion on that?

Hal, this was a great article and I respect your opinions and your comments related to the last article you write and I replied too. Keep up the good work! Also, lets not forget about the Honda Element, that is one UGLY vehicle as well. Well, its nice out and I want to go and ride so be well and ride safe out there.

Mike


Hal Licino profile image

Hal Licino 9 years ago from Toronto Author

Hey Mike! Thanks for the comments. I certainly agree with you! Especially when it comes to the Honda Element. What were they thinking???


marv drysdale 9 years ago

i like the message in this article. i am bothered by the chrome finish on plastic pieces on the bikes; i feel the plastic ought to be a solid color so as not to pretend it is metal. i feel the cruiser bikes are bulbous looking. the yamaha v-star 1300 interests me because of the fuel injection and belt drive. i am lacking insight as to a purpose of cruiser's weight vs. different types of bike. as for the cost of a bike, i have no idea what it costs to make one, but i have thought about the components which make a bike. nice article.


Rick 8 years ago

Technically speaking, the Road Star is not an overhead cam engine. It is a conventional engine with pushrods and lifters. I too, share your love for the Road Stars, having four of them, and Yamaha products in general.

I've accumulated more than a baker's dozen in the stable since I got back into bikes five years ago. ABout half of my Yamahas are older, in the '70's and '80's, a couple are projects or donors, mostly XS-650's and CT-3's.


Bosephus 8 years ago

Hey Rick,

Get your facts straight! Road Stars do not have an overhead cam. Are you sure you don't have a Honda?


Rick 8 years ago

Wasn't me Bo!!

I've looked at everyone of my Roadies, and can't find an overhead cam anywhere in the bunch!!!

I do have a set of cams in the overhead cabinets in the garage, does that count?

Rick

www.RakedCycles.com


Jim 8 years ago

Hey Hal, why don't you find another subject to write about because it is obviouse you have all the automotive knowledge of a teenage girl with a VW infatuation. Overhead cams on a Road* and two per cylinder? I've never heard anything as dumb as that in a long time from a so-called auto writer. Only Harley and Honda will servive a Chinese one liter bike competition? Give me a break!!!


Talltxn44 8 years ago

Overhead cams on a Road Star??? What an idiot!!!


Rick 8 years ago

Someone should give reading comprehension lessons to the coward responsible for sending the pitiful hate mail this morning.

I didn't author this article.

I know it has to be difficult after negotiating those terrifying steps up the short bus each morning, but have someone capable read it to you next time.

Rick


Joe Friday 8 years ago

Hal, do they really pay you for writing articles like this? Overhead cams on a Roady... Sheesh...


Evan Hutchinson profile image

Evan Hutchinson 7 years ago from The Dirty South

BMW sedans have been cleaned up a LOT since the Bangle resigned, and now I'm liking the Hooydonk Badonkadonk much better. Somehow though the Bangle designs grew on me a bit - not so much the original 7-series or the 6-series, but the updated 7 (when the 750i re-debuted) and the 3-series.


Hal Licino profile image

Hal Licino 7 years ago from Toronto Author

To the morons who are doubting the 2xDOHC on the Road Star, check the photo in the Hub, simians, and then tell me what those things are... :P

Evan Hutchinson: Yes, the very latest Beemers are much cleaner than Bangle's expulsive designs, but IMHO they are still fairly junky. :)


Always Greener 6 years ago

I KNOW!! BMWs are SO ugly now! And they all have these phoney marketing descriptors attached to them, like sports activity coupe, etc...

I love BMWS but they seem to have lost all of their true essence, their identifying factors - they look like Toyotas now.


Hal Licino profile image

Hal Licino 6 years ago from Toronto Author

Right on!

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