Unwanted Changes

I hate change.

This should come as no surprise to longtime Readers of my fevered rantings, most especially to Mr. Free Market who, while we were on a drive trip in Britishland, punctured one of my rants against ugly automotive modernity with the comment: “Basically, Kim, you’d be quite happy if cars looked the same as they did in the 1950s and 1960s.”

I’ve forgotten my actual response to this barb, but “Fuck, yeah!” would not be an inaccurate paraphrase.

So when I heard that Volkswagen (you know, the immoral bastards who brought you doctored emissions so as to sell more diesel-engined cars) announced that they were going to kill off the New Beetle, I didn’t care. I didn’t care because the New Beetle was, easily, one of the most revolting car designs ever inflicted on the public road. Compared to the older model, it looked like some retarded child’s experiment with Play-Doh, viz.:

Now granted, the old Bug was pig-ugly too, but at least it wasn’t pretentious — it was, as its name suggests, a People’s Car: cheap and reliable (almost unbreakable) and even a little eclectic, because while the auto industry was modernizing all around it, the old Beetle barely changed. The less said about its foul spawn, the better. (Ditto the Mini, which I’ve discussed before and of which pretty much the same can be said.)

So I don’t care about VW whacking the Beetle. I am furthermore unsurprised that they were surprised that the New Beetle never ever achieved the sales of the old girl. Because they’re marketing idiots. They thought that they could fool us Beetle lovers with some modernized monstrosity with a few cosmetic nods to the original, and we’d fall all over ourselves to buy this ugly piece of shit.

And speaking of German marketing stupidity: I see that VW’s sibling Audi has decided that it will soon stop making the excellent Audi 8 with a W12 engine option. I wonder when these fucking morons in what passes for a marketing department at Audi will realize that there will always be a customer segment of drivers who love 12-cylinder engines. The article notes that Bentley is not going to give up their W12, and car buffs will just chuckle because the W12 found in both the A8 and the Bentley is the engine designed by… VW, for their ill-fated Phaeton (a.k.a. “Piëch’s Folly”). What will happen (and you heard it here first) is that the people who love 12-cylinder engines in their luxury cars will,  rather than be content with the A8’s stepped-down V8, just buy ummmm… the Mercedes AMG S 65 (which, like the Bentley Flying Spur, costs about $100,000 more than the Audi A8 W12). Here’s the S 65:

…which quite frankly looks better than Audi’s blunt-nosed offering anyway. As nice as the AMG Mercedes looks, however, it’s still not as beautiful as one of its predecessors:

That’s a Mercedes 300 SC*, from 1954. Which takes me back to Mr. Free Market’s jibe.

Yes, you foul Brit toff: I would be perfectly happy if cars still looked like this.


*Before I get razzed: I know that the old Merc 300 used a 3-liter inline six-cylinder engine and not a V12. Didn’t need anything bigger, and anyway, the V12 engines of the time weren’t much good compared to today’s. But with the size of the 300’s engine compartment… is anyone at AMG listening? Nah, it’ll never happen. If Mercedes ever re-released the 300 SC it would probably look like today’s Maybach — i.e. even uglier than the new Beetle, and it would make women and small children scream as it passed by them in the street.

I don’t know why I bother.

11 comments

  1. The Merc 300 coupe. A Friend had one. It’s 3 litre engine was for its time quite advanced. The same basic engine as fitted in the 300 SL, but not leaned over to the side. Single overhead cam, aluminum head and fuel injection. Not just ordinary fuel injection, mechanical fuel injection and not into the ports either.
    High pressure injectors low on the side of the block injecting directly into the side of the cylinders.
    His was painted black, glossy black, black so deep you could almost see into it. Four speed gearbox on the steering column. It was a car that you don’t realize just how nice it was until you’d been around it for a while and you begin to notice the superb quality. Bank vault doors are an understatement.

  2. Looking at these pics, the only thing I can this is “real cars have curves”.

    Granted, the new beetle has some curves, but then fat chicks have curves as well, just not where anyone wants to see them. Likewise the modern bubble-cars.

    That 300SC is a sweet-looking ride.

  3. To me, at least, the reason the “new beetle” was a flop was because VW did what Hollywood keeps doing with all their “re-boots” and “re-makes” and sequels and whatever:

    They tried copying the STYLE instead of the SUBSTANCE. The VW was never popular because of its appearance, it was popular because it was well engineered, inexpensive and unique.

    By contrast the “new beetle” was just a marketing gimmick where they slapped a Beetle-looking body onto a generic VW. It had none of the simplicity, elegance or ingenuity of the original.

    My only question is that now that the “new beetle” is being discontinued, what will be the new suburban high school girl’s first car?

  4. I really like the style of the 1950’s sports cars, owned several and I also appreciated the 1930’s styling of the VW Bug, owned a couple of those suckers too. Anyone else ever have the cable, that shuts the doors that bring hot air back into the car for heat in the winter, break and have to bend coat hanger wire and cram them in to keep the doors shut. And I was also amused at the gas tank where you reached down and moved the handle over to switch from the main empty tank to the reserve tank since there was no gas gauge. Since wife and I shared the same car and she never fueled up unless she ran close to empty, I had a wood stick with lines marked to check the fuel level.

    Anyway, since I don’t have a wonderful storage area and a whole lot of money to own some of those great old cars, not to mention a lot of tools and parts, I am most happy to drive my modern vehicles, Ford F-150 and 4-runner. Both are short on personality and real long on reliability, capable of going over 50 thousand miles with just oil changes and whenever it’s time to get new tires then a small tune up. As for a 12 cylinder engine, that would be a lot of fun, I have owned four, five, six and eight cylinders in both gas and diesel, some of the old ones with their neat distinct exhaust sound but the 12’s, to me sound like an aircraft engine when they wind on out.

    As for the high school girl’s first car, not along ago I was fueling up and the next pump over there was a 5’1″ high school girl, in her cheer leader outfit complete with big bow in her hair fueling up a 3/4 Dodge Ram diesel 4/4 turbo truck and it appeared to be her ‘go to school truck’ with school stickers and girly stuff. Lots of kids around here have families with too much money for kid’s cars, BMWs, tricked out pickups and Jeeps, slightly older Jags and Mercedes and other fun rides. You can usually tell the teacher’s parking lot from the students, teacher’s with rice-burners, older Mini-Vans and other plain looking jelly bean style cars.

  5. There was a time when cars were designed on the backs of napkins by individuals, then handed over to real artist for finishing touches, all directed by passion, by the idea that if it looks right, it will be right.
    Now it’s beancounters and marketers.

    1. Read a book years ago called “Highways to Heaven” that talked about American (and world) car culture. The book came out in the early 1990’s so it’s a bit dated but it did point out something that hadn’t occurred to me until I read it.

      Look at the American cars that came out particularly during the boom years of the late 1950’s, say 1955 – 62 or so, and what you see is a lot of ostentation: Fins, hood ornaments, chrome geegaws and gargoyles and all sorts of protrusions, rocket-like appendages, etc. They were often very “ornate” – on the OUTSIDE. Because the car design, back then, was all about what was OUTSIDE the car, what image it projected to the outside world, i.e. “I’m successful” or “I’m sporty” or “I’m adventurous” etc.

      But take a look at the INTERIOR of that same car – even if it was a “luxury” model – and it was pretty darn plain! Bench seats, maybe made of cloth or mohair, or more likely vinyl or some other durable plastic. No sculpting or bolstering, an AM radio with one tinny speaker and a heater, if you’re lucky (AC being a big-time luxury item not normally ordered except in very expensive cars.) The interiors of those old cars were positively Spartan. They often even had exposed sheet metal in places like the roof pillars.

      Now fast forward to modern times. The exterior of most cars is pretty plain – the “Jelly bean” look, designed to slip through the air with minimum resistance. No excess ornamentation, very little chrome or flashy bits.

      But turn to the inside, and it’s a different story. Even cheap cars like the Corolla or Hyundai have nicely bolstered bucket seats, thick, padded steering wheels, quiet interiors, AM/FM/CD stereos with bluetooth, power windows and door locks and of course, air conditioning (I don’t even think you can buy a pickup without air conditioning unless you special order it.)

      IOW, cars have become less about what they project to the outside and more about what they do to the driver and passengers on the inside.

      Not really germane to this overall conversation, but it’s an interesting perspective that I hadn’t considered before. I’ve owned my share of older vehicles (my very first auto was made in 1957, nearly 5 years before I was born) and the observation rings true: Those older cars were very spare on the inside. Nowadays even cheap cars swaddle their drivers in comparative luxury.

      1. GM’s multiple brands comes to mind as well- a Chevy to start, an Olds if you wanted a bit of a step up with performance, a Buick when you were financially comfortable, and a Cadillac if you were successful.

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