What’s the fastest way to endear a mechanical object to the human eye?
Apply anthropomorphosis to it—give it a sense of being alive.
History has proven borrowing attributes from living creatures is a very good start. For example, if you’re building a fast car, one you want people to take notice of, the best thing you can do is give its face a serious expression.
And, right about here, some of you are probably asking; “Cars have faces?”
Of course they do.
The headlights typically represent eyes; the grille the mouth, the placement of the badge on the hood can resemble a nose. Cars like the MINI Cooper greet the world with a playful, happy face. They seem to smile broadly. Take a look at the Fiat 500’s face; it looks like a smiling Italian man with a mustache—or at least the basic one does. The more aggressive Abarth model looks like an angry Italian man with a mustache, just because the shape of the front grille was changed slightly.
Certain animals have different connotations as well. Snakes strike suddenly and thus are associated with speed. This is why Chrysler calls its halo performance model the Viper. But more so than just the name, the car’s designers actually gave the appearance of the car serpent-like attributes. The annals of auto design are rife with examples such as this. Some obviously intentional, others—not so much.
Still others, when viewed through a certain filter, you know the designers just fell into it by accident. After all, would any serious auto designer intentionally make their car look like a canine companion in a moment of gastrointestinal distress?
Well, it has happened—read on.
While here in the States we tend to refer to this car as the “Bugeye” Sprite, the truth of the matter is the car resembles a certain croaking reptile more so than any member of the insect family. In fact it actually looks like it eats bugs. In 1958, when the model was introduced, England was still overcoming the economic maladies imposed upon it by the Second World War. Because of this, mainstream English cars built in the 1950’s were largely “parts bin” specials. The designers had to come up with new cars capable of being assembled form parts already on hand. In the case of the Sprite, the original intention was for those headlights to pop up into position when needed and retract when they weren’t in use. Unfortunately, this presented cost issues at Austin so the headlights were fixed into position instead. The result gave the little car a frog-like appearance and presto, the world got a “Frogeye” Sprite.
Anybody else find it remarkable the world’s fastest series production car resembles something so cuddly-looking? We do too, but the combination of the bulge in the Bugatti’s front cargo cover, with the semi-ovoid shape of the traditional Bugatti “horsecollar” grille, juxtaposed against the headlights of the car, strongly resembles the countenance of the Australian native. By the way, Koalas are more closely related to kangaroos than they are bears. Yes, they look like bears, but because they carry their young in a pouch, they are considered marsupials, like the opossum. Point of fact; Koalas are not bears at all. Further, while they can be strongly defensive if threatened, they lead pretty docile lives for the most part. In other words, any resemblance between the uber-aggressive Bugatti Veyron and a teddy bear is purely coincidental.
On the introductory press drive for the 2002 Buick Rendezvous, as we were following along behind an example of the then-new Buick model (based on the Pontiac Aztek, one of the ugliest vehicles ever to see the light of day, by the way), one of our colleagues (for the record—a female automotive journalist) remarked; “Oh my goodness, it looks like a cat in heat!” At which point we took a good look at the rear of the Buick crossover. In so doing, we noted the way the rear ¾ view of the Buick sloped forward, seemingly hiking its rear end skyward, aping the aforemention cat in heat. When viewed from this perspective, the Rendezvous looks as if it were absolutely appropriately named. And frankly, given the eventual sales numbers of the Buick, it’s safe to say it pretty much got what it was seemingly anxiously anticipating.
We’ve always been fans of the two-seat coupe based on the Mercedes-Benz SLK introduced by Chrysler in 2004. In particular, we have always appreciated the distinctive styling of the Chrysler sports coupe—for the most part. Sure, we’ve thought the front end of the Crossfire looked a little plain—adhering as it did to the then ubiquitous face of Chrysler. (The company really missed a good opportunity there.) But overall, we’ve thought the car a pretty handsome piece. Then, one day we saw a parked Crossfire and nearby a dog enjoying an intimate moment. Observing the curvature of the dog’s spine as it struggled to retain a sense of dignity while tending to certain matters, we realized the Crossfire’s rear ¾ plan had exactly the same curvature. And while we still admire the car overall, we must admit, our opinion of the Chrysler Crossfire has been somewhat tainted by the memory ever since.
Photo by FCA Media
Known as the Infiniti FX35 and FX45 upon its introduction in 2003, the model now known as the Infiniti QX70 was intentionally styled to resemble a muscular jungle cat. The idea behind the Infiniti FX was to combine the performance and handling of a sports car with SUV-like functionality. Further, to telegraph this, the design team came up with a lower body design reminiscent of SUVs, but capped with a delicately graceful upper body reminiscent of a sports coupe. The bulging wheel arches and the rippling shoulder line crated tension within the design, reflective of a powerful cat in full stride—thus fostering the idea of the Infiniti resembling a “Bionic Cheetah”. Fans of the old television show starring Lee Majors will recall "The Six Million Dollar Man" was a human being enhanced with artificial electromechanical limbs—making him faster and stronger than any human being. Similarly, the Infiniti FX was billed as having the power and agility of a technologically enhanced cheetah.
Spend even the least amount of time among a gathering of MINI owners and one of them will inevitably refer to the car as a bulldog. And, indeed, if you look carefully, the contemporary MINI Cooper’s face does resemble that of a bulldog. The way the headlights frame the grille and the combination complements the curvature of the engine cover looks decidedly like a bulldog. What’s more, if you look at the way the MINI is planted on its relatively wide wheelbase, the car has something of the stance of a bulldog too. You may recall an early MINI commercial in which a bulldog comes face to “face” with a MINI Cooper and stares transfixed, as if the dog is trying to see if the car is a distant relative. The spot closes with the bulldog walking around to the rear of the Cooper and sniffing its tailpipe, just to be sure.
The aerodynamics of most sporting oriented cars typically lead to them looking like sharks. However the Mitsubishi Lancer and its high-performing Lancer Evolution sibling take this one step farther, they were intentionally styled to have their faces look like the most notorious predator found in the seven seas. While there have been many negative associations with sharks, largely because of their predatory nature, sharks are also one of the most successful species on the planet—dating back some 420 million years. Sadly, this does not seem to be the case for Mitsubishi. The company has but one truly successful model in the U.S., the Lancer Evolution. By the reckoning of most automotive pundits, Mitsubishi’s days are going to be pretty difficult in the U.S. automotive marketplace for some time to come.
Next time you see a Porsche 911, take a look at the car in profile and you’ll see the overall shape of the iconic sports car closely resembles the appearance of a dolphin arcing through the water. This is particularly true of the version of the 911 produced around the 2001 model year. The tapering nose, the graceful curvature of the roofline—the only thing missing is the dorsal fin. And actually, if you look at the car with this in mind, its face starts to resemble that of a dolphin as well. Widely considered the most intelligent creatures to inhabit the sea, dolphins occupy a special place in the hearts of most people. And, for those of us of a certain age, the 1960’s television show ‘Flipper” (which originally ran from 1964 – 1967) informs this attitude tremendously.
Looking for the entire world like a fish with its cheeks puffed out, the diminutive Scion iQ so closely resembles a porcupinefish, it’s hard to believe the car’s design team was considering anything else when the model was penned. Part of the same family of fish as blowfish, porcupine fish can also inflate their bodies by swallowing air in an effort to make themselves less attractive to predators. In the case of the iQ, the intention was quite the opposite. By giving the tiny Scion such a cute and pleasant countenance, it was hoped the adorable factor would kick in and help the car develop an enthusiastic following. So far, it hasn’t worked very well. The iQ is the slowest-selling Scion model of all. Of course, it’s also the smallest Scion. Hmm…perhaps size does matter? Either way, as of this writing, the iQ seems destined to join the ranks of the discontinued.
This car has so many snake-like styling cues; we’re surprised it doesn’t shed its body once a year. Let’s start with the car’s face, the way the headlights taper rearward, the shape of the grille opening, and if you look closely at the grille—are those...? Yes, absolutely, the Viper even has fangs! Now go around to the side, take a look at the pattern in the fender vents—yep, that’s snakeskin. Ditto for the heat extractors inset into the hood of the Viper. Around at the back of the SRT model, the LED taillamps have a snakeskin texture too. The central high-mounted stoplight is integrated into the rear badge featuring the “Stryker” viper logo, and in plan view, the car looks like a snake all coiled up and ready to strike. If any design team ever took incorporating the theme of a car model name more into consideration than did the group responsible for the new Viper…well, we have yet to hear about it.