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!
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.