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I miss not being able to tell one car from another

When I was a kid, you could tell what car it was from a block away. There goes a Galaxy 500, a Pontiac Bonneville, there’s a Studebaker, a Mercedes, a Jaguar. “What on earth is that?” I asked my step dad in 1965. “A Ferrari” was the answer. Car designers were not only keen to create awesome body designs, they cared about distinctions. Seems as if the 1980’s changed all that; the designers were no longer trying to be creative and just wanted only to copy what Mercedes was doing. Now you can’t tell a Mercedes from almost anything else unless you get close enough to see it’s not a Mercedes insignia on the grill. There are few exceptions, but even those tend to be pretty boring. I do like some things about the newer Thunderbirds, but then it’s only those features that resurrect the older T-Bird style that make them appealing.

I think the manufacturers are stuck with some design compromises. The car has to be aerodynamic, crash worthy, use the least amount of metal possible, and still appeal to the buyer. Plus, it doesn?t hurt to look like a Mercedes. The models that try evoke earlier designs; T?Bird, Camero, Mustang, Beetle, HHR, Flex weren?t (except maybe the Mustang) segment leaders. At the moment buyers and manufacturers aren?t putting much emphasis on distinctive styling. Even the quirky Scion xB was redesigned to eliminate the fat lip. Hyundai is getting some recognition for its designs but I understand their chief designer was just hired by Mercedes.

I have an '04 T’bird and I agree with you on it being a distinctive car in a sea of similarity. Much of the design of cars now depends on aerodynamics. To be slippery moving through the air dictates a similar shape since the air is the same and all cars need to move through it.

Still, designers try to incorporate unique aspects into their designs, Ford uses broad chrome strips in the grill, BMW has the spilt grill, Buick still has decorative port holes on the fenders, etc. These distinctions now are more subtle and unless you are really into cars you can miss them entirely.

You are right about the changes started in the '80’s. This was due to the 1st oil crisis that brought gas up from $.30 per gallon to $1.50 in matter of a few weeks. After that OPEC became a household word.

There have been a large pile of things change since the 80’s and if the big one in your life is that today’s cars all look the same consider yourself doing way better than most. I read today that there are 60 million Americans that American banks don’t really want to be troubled with “servicing”, now there is something that has distinction.The banks don’t want you,the employeers don’t wan’t you,health insurance providers don’t want you, the only one that will hire our children is the military,the old Dylan tune about “not needing a weatherman to see which way the wind blows” is taking on new meaning, no wonder we vote for government leaders that at least throw us a bone with a little meat on it once in a while.

Back when cars were cars, many cars had distinguishing features. The Pontiacs had silver streaks running down the center of the hood and trunk. The Buick had its portholes on the front fenders. Cadillac had its fishtail lights. Nash had its Airflyte styling from 1949 through 1951.

After WW II, General Motors made certain that each succeeding model made changes in the grille and often other trim so that one could tell the model year of the car. One could easily determine whether a Chevrolet was a 1946,1947 or 1948. This wasn’t true of the Chrysler or Ford products of those years.

Ever since the auto buying public accepted the original Ford Taurus the car makers have given aerodynamics a higher priority.

The cars of your youth are always more interesting. On top of that, there are many times more models out there these days, so it’s much harder to keep them straight. I actually find it easier to tell modern cars apart than early '50s cars especially. But one of my hobbies is keeping up on all the makes and models. And a Ferrari in '65 was like a spaceship from another planet. Now, not so rare!

I would think 65 Ferrari’s are pretty rare these days:)

When I was in second grade, the 1949 cars hit the road. For most of the manufacturers, this was the first post WW II design. The 1946-48 cars were based on the prewar designs (exceptions were the 1947 Studebaker, 1948 Hudson, 1947 Kaiser and Frazer, and the 1948 Oldsmobile 98 and the Cadillac–these cars had all new designs). I made a scrap book with each domestically available car. To me, 1949 was the most fascinating year in automotive history with all the new designs. I was most fascinated by the Nash Airflyte. Years later, I learned that this car had the lowest coefficient of drag of any car produced–it was designed in a wind tunnel. Elements of that design didn’t come back until the introduction of the Ford Taurus.

What I find interesting about the war years and the civilian population that still wanted to drive was the creatitivity of the men in machine shops that wanted to squeeze a few more miles out of an engine. In Steinbeck’s “Grapes oF Wrath” didn’t Tom Joad wrap the rod journales in leather or perhaps pour new bearings out on the road? I can’t quite remember how he fixed the family ride on the way to CA.


Lack of creativity; trying to make their cars look like another because that other particular car is popular.
No one really wants to take a chance and try to make their car look too radically different for fear of losing sales figures

Pontiac Aztec,now there is one you will not mistake,for a good looking car that is.

Most cars from the 1920s decade were like this too. I can’t tell one from the next a half block away. The 1930’s decade cars had a little more differentiation as did 1940s and 1950s cars. I haven’t got a firm opinion about 1960s through 1990s styling but as you said, recent model cars are mostly difficult to know a half block away. Some luxury oriental cars seem to have a generic look. Acuras look like Honda Accords for example. A Lexus seems to vanish in a sea of traffic and some look like a Benz ripoff. For the money that these cars cost, they should do better with more distinctive styling.

There does seem to be a homogeneity within sub categories, but there have been some distinctive designs come out in the past few decades and today. Cadillac, the PT Cruiser, the Dodge Ram, the Chrysler 300 (both versions), the new Nissan Altima and Maxima, and a few others. Ford and GM have been risk-sverse for decades, and tend to homoginize their designs into something that they think will have something for everyone. IMHO this results in the sutomotive equivalent of a camel, which is a horse designed by a committee.

I only have trouble distinguishing the last generation Honda Accord and Hyundai Sonata. Hyundai did a faithful job of copying the Accord. Other than that, I have no trouble distinguishing cars from each other.

Get over it. Frankly I dont think the new buick lacross looks anything like a mercedes. The new mustang looks great as does the camaro and the challenger, and the charger and the jeep wrangler the yoyota fj40, the kia soul, the 350z, the caddi cts, VW beetle. All these cars look different and distinctive. The only reason for all the jelly bean cars is thats what people buy. If they stopped buying the Accord/camry/sonata twins they would make them more distinctive but they just buy them for the same reason someone would buy a fridge. It just works for 10-15 years with little maintinance. People who want style buy style, those who want an appliance buy just that. I own a brick of a suburban because of what it can do. I also have a 66 bug that I have because I just love everything about it starting with the shape. Different strokes ect ect

Yeah, a Ferrari in '65 was the closest thing to a UFO (or UAO unidentified automotive object). I think I must have obsessed about it coz my parents bought me a green one for xmas that year, I felt so privileged. Never mind that it fit in my stocking-- a Matchbox toy.
Not sure the aerodynamic theme works-- the '80’s were the decade of cookie cutter cars and all and I do mean all, were boxy straight edges. Not a curve in sight for so many years. I dunno, fear of not selling out of a concern for boring sameness is exactly the corporate mentality I can’t endorse. I prefer a fear of not selling out of a concern for distinction. Both driven by fear but the latter seems to breed creativity. Certainly not my only concern in life, tho I wish it was.

Readily agree. Except for the some scions, cars are generally better looking by today’s standards. Even the retros are not really that far removed. Gotta love those big older cars with narrow tires. I think the safety requirements have a lot to do with it too.

Let’s bring back the Gremlin and Pacer.