Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Feature - Beauty Through Technology

The art of designing cars has changed significantly in the last fifty years. Designing a car used to be a relatively simple process. Have a designer sketch some sexy lines, then have an engineer take those drawings and turn them into reality. Somewhere along the line the engineers got tired of pleasing the designers, and the tables have now turned.

Today, cars have to be aerodynamic. The buying customer demands that the vehicle they buy must be as fuel efficient as possible, and one of the greatest attributing factors to a cars efficiency is its aerodynamics. So, when a car maker wants to build a new car, they call on the designer to lay down some beautiful lines, then send those lines off to the engineer to build a prototype. That prototype then goes into a wind-tunnel and the engineer effectively redesigns the car to be as aero-efficient while trying to retain the designers ideals.

This is a major factor why cars look they way they do today, and why many would argue that this modern form of automotive design yields less focus on a cars soul and character in the name of efficiency. Cars today just don't seem as alive as those built only a few short decades earlier. It wasn't so long ago that Ferrari were boasting of their new F-60 Enzo, being almost completely designed in the wind-tunnel.

So, when did this change in vehicular design take place, and can cars still be built with class, character and beauty using these methods? The answer may surprise you.

The Jaguar E-Type is widely proclaimed as “The most beautiful car in the world.” It was so beautiful that Enzo Ferrari himself mumbled the words “It's the most beautiful car ever made,” when looking the car over during it's release to the public. It's lines were so seductive that In 1996, the Museum of Modern Art in New York focused an entire show on the car called “Refining the Sports Car: Jaguar’s E-Type.” Safe to say, anyone who could pen a car so beautiful to be honored in such a way must be a gifted designer, just don't tell Malcolm Sayer that.

The late Mr. Sayer was the man responsible for the E-Types hansom good looks. However, he hated being called a designer, and thought of himself as an aerodynamicist. Fitting enough, Sayer was the son of an Art and Math teacher, and would go on to work for the Bristol Aeroplane Company during the Second World War. In 1951, Sayer went to work for Jaguar. Sayer had learned a great deal about aerodynamics while in service at Bristol, a science he believed would be of utmost importance to the automotive industry, and implemented this science with great success.

Sayers first project was the C-Type racing car. Jaguar founder, Sir William Lyons, believed heavily in the benefits of racing in front of an international audience. Like so many on his theories, he was correct, with Jaguar selling much more vehicles during successful years in motorsport. These were the glory years for GT racing, and Jaguar were one of the top contenders at the Le Mans 24h race. Sayer immediately implemented the knowledge he had learned working for Bristol into designing the C-Type racer. Sayer created the C-Type by basing his designs on mathematical principles rather than sleek good looks. The result was a Le Mans win that year and another in 1953.

Sayer then started work on the iconic D-Type racer, an dominantly iconic Le Mans winner that was not only ahead of its time in terms of technology, but decades ahead. For the incredible speeds the car had to endure in the race, Sayer made use of both a wind-tunnel and smoke testing to sculpt the D-Types magnificent lines. However, Jaguars glory racing years would come to an end after the tragic crash of the 1955 Le Mans race coupled with Lyons own son being killed in a car crash on his way to that race.

Jaguar were now distancing themselves from racing, however, the brand still had a performance quality to uphold. The XK-150 needed replacing, and Lyons wanted to use the same techniques that made the company a racing force, to build the most beautiful and capable performance cars of that time. He wanted a car capable of 150 mph, in a time where most cars were only capable of 70 mph. Sayers proven designs would be required once again, to build a sleek, low slung body that could cut through the air.

He would once again use his form following function techniques to create a D-Type for the common man. Sayer reached deep into his bag of aerodynamic tricks when conceiving the E-Type. He plotted ten points on the front section of the car to create a vertical and horizontal matrix to which he could manipulate mathematically to shape the body for optimal wind resistance. It was a free hand technique for what Autocad software does for engineers today. After all the mathematical equations were finalized and a working prototype built, and Sayer would tape hundreds of little strands of wool all over the body. He then had one of the engineers drive at speed on a runway while he took thousands of photographs of the reaction the wools actions had within the airflow from the back of a van. Hours of tedious analysis of the airflow characteristics, as interpreted by the flapping wool, showed aerodynamic deficiencies that Sayer would then correct.

His attention to aerodynamics was insatiable, and the resulting vehicle inspired Lyons to proclaim, “This car is the closest we come to making something that feels alive.” For two-thousand pounds sterling, or just over five thousand dollars, a common man could drive away from a Jaguar dealership with a car capable of nearly 150 mph, carries its lineage from the most advanced racers of that time yet posses a jaw dropping beauty that is loved by millions. In 1961, art and science collided to procreate the turning point in automotive design. Sayers was the man who proved that cars designed through science rather than just art can still be wonderful contributions to fashion and beauty, and the car that proved it was his Jaguar E-Type.

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