September 28, 2023


Only Automotive

Floating on the C. – ideas on automotive design

11 min read

The historical past of the floating roof or, the uninteresting curiosity of the separated C-pillar.

Automotive styling could be very a lot a vogue enterprise. Designers are a uncommon breed, current in very low numbers. They research on the similar locations and study from one another. They modify studios very often, and typically in packs (headhunted by one another). Add the large dangers concerned in billion greenback enterprise selections and we continuously will see what appears like copy-cat developments in automotive styling, however are literally much more unconscious in implementation. There are even developments in design sketch styles- however I believe that will deserve it’s personal weblog put up. The style business rigorously screens and plans round developments, and that is additionally true in automotive (significantly CMF departments) however by way of exterior design the intention is commonly to seem completely different (model recognition) however the consequence will be fairly comparable if a design is “on development”. Generally there are manifestly apparent copies- however extra generally we simply see the outcomes of parallel inspirations and makes an attempt to seem on customers radar because the “subsequent neatest thing”. Just lately my fleet of vehicles elevated with a 2014 BMW i3 becoming a member of. This excellent design (exterior by Nicolas Guille) impressed me to consider it’s stylistic influences. For round 10 years we’ve got seen a development for elaborate C-pillar dressage and floating roofs, together with abrupt adjustments in window/belt strains. Let me attempt to clarify, and maybe uncover a timeline. It may not be very fascinating….

Authors personal i3…. with paint-over graphic.

The primary proof of floating roof designs in all probability got here from our likeable authentic gangsters of automotive styling– the US of A. The 1950 Chevrolet Bel Air is just about the archetypal elaborate Coupé roof protege. The Bel Air continued this model for a lot of iterations and is remembered virtually completely for it. Many pre-war vehicles had contrasted color roofing. The supplies used had been gentle materials and coverings had been typically short-term. Pre-war was an period when most vehicles weren’t fastened roof. The rise of monocoque development put up struggle (from plane steel working know-how) with decreased prices of panel stamping in mass manufacturing, meant that the the material roof died out on account of a reversal of prices. Steel was now king, however the US stylists used paint selections and styling strains to remind us of the elegant previous of coach-built carriages and pre-war romance. Put up struggle emotional styling was the following huge development.

1950 Chevrolet Bel Air

In Europe the roof shapes and design had been way more pragmatic on account of manufacturing strategies(comparable know-how from plane) however with extra subdued styling that owed rather a lot to housing (precise miniature gutters across the domed roof!) quite than high-tech space-age concepts. It’s typically joked {that a} Rover, or Rolls Royce is a stately house on wheels, and that is stylistically and thematically true (inside and out of doors). The 1959 Mini exhibits a long-lasting instance of this model, continued as pastiche to today with all Mini designs. Simply earlier than the mini appeared, Europe create probably the most authentic and modern automotive designs ever from Flaminio Bertoni in 1955. The Citroen DS. The identical guttering will be seen, which additionally neatly hides the perimeters of the roof panel, however the jet-set model of American vehicles can be hinted at. The Citroen was exceptional for therefore many modern applied sciences and the roof was one more, being produced from GRP (Glass Strengthened Plastic). Matching a plastic panel color to painted steel (and maybe even portray it) was not simple within the Fifties, so I consider this would possibly clarify the choice to not match the colors on the cheaper ID19 mannequin primarily based on the DS21. The DS/ID roof was additionally bolted on, with a rubber seal between it and the steel body. On later fashions the plastic roof was bonded with adhesive! In 1966, this was actually area age, and hyperlinks very properly to maybe the religious successor of the DS for innovation and know-how – the BMW i3. A plastic roof panel once more, however this time recycled CFRP (Carbon Fibre Strengthened Plastic) is once more glued onto the roof body. A glass roof was accessible on the BMW, however Citroen reportedly supplied an much more daring completely clear panel for the DS! Glass roofs are a contemporary development, maybe publicised closely by Tesla, however Citroen did it first over 65 years in the past.

Element of 1957 Citroen ID19 rear C-pillar.

Clear full roof on a Citroen DS
BMW i3 roof is lowered into place earlier than bonding.

Between these two necessary autos had been some lesser recognized courageous designs that attempted tips with C-pillar design. Probably the most excellent of all was the Renault Avantime of 1999. Patrick Le Quement lead a serious renaissance of Renault design, and French automotive design generally, through the Nineties. Starting with some quite wise unexciting designs – which had been wonderful examples of the late 80s and early 90s industrial design aesthetic (sturdy aerodynamic and engineering-led designs). The late 90s and main into the brand new millennium Renault’s monetary place enabled Le Quement to take some daring subsequent steps. The Avantime was a really sturdy instance of his modernist strategy. Even the car sort it represented was completely distinctive, a 2 door MPV/Coupe/Luxurious sedan “crossover” which sounds unusual even now. BMW later bought near this idea with their 5 collection Gran Turismo of 2009 (F07).

Very daring C-Pillar therapy on the 1999 Renault Avantime

The failure of the daring works of Le Quement maybe set again automotive styling a number of years, (together with maybe the Fiat Multipla) to it’s common cautious self. Fiat adopted fairly quickly with their new Panda design, with a utilitarian strategy to window graphics, considerably much like the i3 created 10 years later. It wasn’t till Chris Bangle gained a robust place at BMW that issues lastly took a step forwards. From 2003 when Bangle launched his iconic E60 5 collection it was recreation on, and Citroen actually took word of this. They explored extra fascinating design shapes, and their 2005 C-Sport Lounge idea automotive confirmed daring therapy of it’s C-pillar, rather a lot like their well-known DS mannequin of the previous. The inspiration appeared to return full circle, when that Citroen impressed the creation of a complete new model: DS, and the idea automotive developed into the DS5 manufacturing mannequin of 2011. The smaller DS3 mannequin was launched first, and we noticed that the C-pillar therapy and distinction color roof was emphasised as a key DS model trait. The DS model actually introduced these concepts to the mass-market and that is when different manufactures started to borrow this European aptitude. The Japanese (Nissan), and Korean automotive firms embraced this aptitude, in an try and attraction to European tastes and the Koreans are nonetheless taking part in with extra styling concepts than maybe every other producers. One thing that we’ve got seen the DS model introduce into the mainstream, is the shark fin B-pillar therapy seen on the DS3 mannequin first. This ahead dealing with styling function, is harking back to the reverse rake display screen of the Citroen AMI-6. The AMI 6 was Citroen’s most excessive tackle the fascinating styling of a C-pillar. It’s the reverse angle to which we’re accustomed, and the DS has a B-pillar which reverses the standard directional angle that we count on on this space. This shark fin is one thing we see moved to the C-pillar in quite a lot of up to date Kia designs for instance.

Citroen AMI 6 of 1961- with reverse rake C-pillar and floating distinction roof.
2009 DS3
Kia Sorento 2021, with DS model shark fin, however no floating roof or separated C-Pillar.

Lastly a few honourable mentions to daring designs which have pushed floating roof, distinction colors, and elaborate C-pillar designs into new genres. The Aston Martin DB11 (designed by Julian Nunn and Leighanne Earley) continues to be controversial after it’s 2016 debut, thanks principally to it’s floating C-pillar design. This appeared a lot too “trendy” for die-hard Aston traditionalists. Warnings got that it might date, however has it? The development continues to be round 5 years later, and in addition the design had many benefits. One purpose it was green-lit was for the customisation choices it gave Aston consumers. Completely different supplies, and completely different color combos (together with non- contrasting) can be found in virtually infinite variations. Aston wished to emphasize they had been a bespoke automotive firm. You possibly can play with these your self on their configurator…. The c-pillar additionally conveyed a hidden message, relating to the modern aerodynamic design. Air is ingested at the forefront of the C-pillar, the rear of the second facet window. Air travels down the C-pillar inner construction, both facet of the baggage area, and exists in a slot throughout the rear deck. This creates a spoiler, an invisible air spoiler, to provide excessive pace stability, often known as Airblade. The invisible spoiler is among the DB11’s biggest design options, and means we get that pretty easy clear rear deck

floating c-pillar, and air slot rear spoiler seen on rear deck lid.
Picture by Toms Svilans on

A automotive that I owned (from new in 2017, however changed in 2021) is the dramatic and daring Toyota C-HR. This coupe crossover was a styling-trick tour de power. An actual life textual content guide for aspiring automotive designers to study each trick from. There has maybe not been any automotive in historical past that employed so many styling tips in ONE car, it in all probability deserves a weblog put up of its personal. It did additionally hit the development of distinction color roof, with a floating C-pillar. By now I hope you realise that floating, implies that the roof construction, and the facet/door construction of the automotive appear to be separated somehow- as if the roof simply floats over the physique of the automotive. Toyota additionally used this transitional space, between facet and roof, to cram in a “hidden” rear door deal with. It was not utterly invisible, nevertheless it was impractical and a purely styling primarily based choice to place it there. I discovered it helpful as a mother or father as a result of my younger kids on the time couldn’t attain to open the door themselves. This meant I had extra management of the place and after they opened it!

Authors personal C-HR… with added snow in complicated C-pillar design

An important and radical vehicles for the reason that DS, as talked about earlier, had been the BMW i3 and i8. These vehicles had been previewed by the superior pondering, environment friendly dynamics ideas. The primary of those debuted in 2009. The floating surfaces, and new shapes and constructions had been made potential by carbon development methods. The ideas had been maybe created with complete freedom, and the manufacturing vehicles might observe with modern surfaces. Within the case of those vehicles, the styling was to create the sensation that nearly each part of the automotive was floating- and never related to every other part. It is a enormous leap away from the solidity and ritual beforehand anticipated of auto aesthetics. An annihilation of the Bauhaus-like ideas that automotive design nonetheless hinted at, however didn’t respect, by way of being pure emotional styling workout routines, not rational merchandise. There was in fact some performance implied by these vehicles styling, principally aerodynamic movement administration and the visible illustration of it. This may be finished with out the flowing aesthetics, as evidenced in vehicles such because the McLaren Senna, or virtually any covered-wheel race automotive. The i8 adopted on from the idea, and put in follow a reoccurring aesthetic which had a floor beginning on the A-pillar, flowing all the best way to the rear deck, by way of a C-pillar (B-pillar was invisible, blacked out, or not current). The glass and darkish colored physique of the vehicles had been sandwiched in between. This has grow to be a trademark model of all BMW i merchandise. The ahead pondering of the unique two i3 and i8 merchandise, implies that many different manufacturers and designs have been influenced by them. The separation of the roof- with a flowing line from A pillar to rear most pillar, with blacked out part in between has grow to be a real automotive styling trope of the 2020s.

Environment friendly (Aero)dynamics. Because of CarDesignNews for the picture.
BMW i3 Idea and BMW i8 Idea (09/2011)

I attempted to checklist a timeline of serious vehicles with this styling feature- however my data can have vital gaps, and with a present development resembling this you’ll simply discover many extra vehicles with the function. Asia (Chinese language manufacturers particularly) can be house to an enormous variety of fashions with this trendy styling concept. Decide any model, for instance I’ll select Geely, and there it’s once more on not less than 3 fashions.

2021 Geely Atlas (beforehand Boyue from 2016-2020)

Through the extra pragmatic Seventies, 80s and even 90s, there have been vehicles with styling options on their C-pillars which could be labeled right here however principally the options had been to cover welds, or act as air vents. Within the 70s the black vinyl roof was a well-liked look, however with out the floating model of the C-pillar being completely different in color to the roof and physique facet. The 80s and 90s additionally noticed aero look as a development, and maybe one other weblog put up can discover this. Aerodynamic aesthetics initially meant lack of options, and fairly uniform shapes. One instance could be the Renault Fuego from 1980, and the identical yr the extraordinarily small division on the base of the Audi Coupe C-pillar. Maybe in case you discover extra examples of this aesthetic, put up them within the feedback part.

Timeline of floating C-pillar developments

  • 1950 Chevrolet Bel Air
  • 1955 Citroen DS and ID19
  • 1959 Austin Mini
  • 1969 Land Rover Vary Rover
  • 1980 Renault Fuego
  • 1980 Audi Coupe (B2)
  • 1982 Citroen BX
  • 1985 Ford Granada/Scorpio
  • 1999 Renault Avantime
  • 2003 Fiat Panda
  • 2005 Citroen C-Sport Lounge (idea)
  • 2009 BMW Environment friendly Dynamics (idea)
  • 2009 Citroen DS3
  • 2011 Citroen DS5
  • 2012 Opel Adam
  • 2013 BMW i3 and i8
  • 2014 Citroen C4 Cactus
  • 2016 Aston Martin DB11
  • 2016 Lexus RX
  • 2019 Peugeot 2008
  • 2021 Chevrolet Trailblazer

Thanks once more to for excellent Citroen pictures!

EDIT: Because of replies on Twitter- and within the feedback part, I made a decision so as to add some reader strategies in one other gallery.

Debate appears to centre on what counts as a floating C-pillar, and I agree that not all my examples “float”. There was some designs talked about with a blacked out C-pillar, such because the Ford Granada Scorpio. Sure a black painted C-pillar does certainly create a floating roof, that is true, however the added upwards kink or different adjustments of color or materials, are the principle exaggerated variations we see as a contemporary development. Citroen have had this function on almost each mannequin for the reason that DS, and the XM is harking back to the BMW i3 for certain. In the meantime after penning this put up, Genesis stated “maintain my beer” and created one of many strangest C-pillar designs we’ve seen for a very long time with their new BEV, the GV60. Exhausting to explain (primarily a extreme V graphic) however I’m not a fan.

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