September 29, 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 examine on the identical locations and study from one another. They alter studios very often, and typically in packs (headhunted by one another). Add the large dangers concerned in billion greenback enterprise selections and we continually will see what seems to be like copy-cat traits in automotive styling, however are literally much more unconscious in implementation. There are even traits in design sketch styles- however I feel which will deserve it’s personal weblog publish. The style business fastidiously screens and plans round traits, 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 outcome will be fairly comparable if a design is “on development”. Typically there are obviously apparent copies- however extra generally we simply see the outcomes of parallel inspirations and makes an attempt to seem on shoppers radar because the “subsequent neatest thing”. 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 modifications 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 most likely 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 fashion for a lot of iterations and is remembered nearly completely for it. Many pre-war vehicles had contrasted color roofing. The supplies used had been gentle materials and coverings had been usually non permanent. Pre-war was an period when most vehicles weren’t mounted roof. The rise of monocoque development publish battle (from plane steel working expertise) with diminished prices of panel stamping in mass manufacturing, meant that the the material roof died out because 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 battle emotional styling was the following large development.

1950 Chevrolet Bel Air

In Europe the roof shapes and design had been far more pragmatic because of manufacturing strategies(comparable expertise from plane) however with extra subdued styling that owed loads to housing (precise miniature gutters across the domed roof!) fairly than high-tech space-age concepts. It’s usually 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 fashion, continued as pastiche to at the present time with all Mini designs. Simply earlier than the mini appeared, Europe create one of the vital authentic and revolutionary 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 fashion of American vehicles can also be hinted at. The Citroen was outstanding for therefore many revolutionary applied sciences and the roof was yet one more, being made out of GRP (Glass Strengthened Plastic). Matching a plastic panel color to painted steel (and maybe even portray it) was not straightforward within the Nineteen Fifties, so I consider this may 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 really area age, and hyperlinks very properly to maybe the non secular successor of the DS for innovation and expertise – 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 out there on the BMW, however Citroen reportedly provided an much more daring solely 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 automobiles had been some lesser identified courageous designs that attempted methods with C-pillar design. Probably the most excellent of all was the Renault Avantime of 1999. Patrick Le Quement lead a significant renaissance of Renault design, and French automotive design generally, in the course of the Nineties. Starting with some fairly smart unexciting designs – which had been wonderful examples of the late 80s and early 90s industrial design aesthetic (robust 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 robust instance of his modernist strategy. Even the car kind it represented was completely distinctive, a 2 door MPV/Coupe/Luxurious sedan “crossover” which sounds unusual even now. BMW later acquired near this idea with their 5 sequence Gran Turismo of 2009 (F07).

Very daring C-Pillar remedy 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 regular cautious self. Fiat adopted fairly quickly with their new Panda design, with a utilitarian strategy to window graphics, considerably just like the i3 created 10 years later. It wasn’t till Chris Bangle gained a strong place at BMW that issues lastly took a step forwards. From 2003 when Bangle launched his iconic E60 5 sequence it was recreation on, and Citroen definitely took be aware of this. They explored extra fascinating design shapes, and their 2005 C-Sport Lounge idea automotive confirmed daring remedy of it’s C-pillar, loads like their well-known DS mannequin of the previous. The inspiration appeared to come back full circle, when that Citroen impressed the creation of a whole 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 remedy 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 corporations 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 another producers. One thing that we’ve got seen the DS model introduce into the mainstream, is the shark fin B-pillar remedy seen on the DS3 mannequin first. This ahead going through styling characteristic, 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 anticipate on this space. This shark fin is one thing we see moved to the C-pillar in quite a lot of modern 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 fashion 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) remains to be controversial after it’s 2016 debut, thanks largely to it’s floating C-pillar design. This appeared a lot too “trendy” for die-hard Aston traditionalists. Warnings got that it could date, however has it? The development remains to be round 5 years later, and in addition the design had many benefits. One motive it was green-lit was for the customisation choices it gave Aston consumers. Completely different supplies, and completely different color mixtures (together with non- contrasting) can be found in nearly infinite variations. Aston wished to stress they had been a bespoke automotive firm. You’ll be able to play with these your self on their configurator…. The c-pillar additionally conveyed a hidden message, concerning the revolutionary 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 velocity stability, generally known as Airblade. The invisible spoiler is among the DB11’s best design options, and means we get that beautiful 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 pressure. An actual life textual content e book for aspiring automotive designers to study each trick from. There has maybe not been any automotive in historical past that employed so many styling methods in ONE car, it most likely deserves a weblog publish 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 fully invisible, nevertheless it was impractical and a purely styling primarily based choice to place it there. I discovered it helpful as a father or mother 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 once they opened it!

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

A very powerful and radical vehicles because the 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 attainable by carbon development strategies. The ideas had been maybe created with whole freedom, and the manufacturing vehicles might observe with revolutionary surfaces. Within the case of those vehicles, the styling was to create the sensation that nearly each element of the automotive was floating- and never linked to another element. It is a enormous leap away from the solidity and ritual beforehand anticipated of car 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 after all some performance implied by these vehicles styling, largely aerodynamic stream administration and the visible illustration of it. This may be executed with out the flowing aesthetics, as evidenced in vehicles such because the McLaren Senna, or nearly 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, through 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 change into a trademark fashion 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 change into a real automotive styling trope of the 2020s.

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

I attempted to checklist a timeline of great vehicles with this styling feature- however my data could have vital gaps, and with a present development akin to this you’ll simply discover many extra vehicles with the characteristic. Asia (Chinese language manufacturers specifically) can be house to an enormous variety of fashions with this trendy styling thought. Choose 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)

In the course of the extra pragmatic Seventies, 80s and even 90s, there have been vehicles with styling options on their C-pillars which is perhaps categorised right here however largely 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 fashion 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 publish can discover this. Aerodynamic aesthetics initially meant lack of options, and fairly uniform shapes. One instance is perhaps the Renault Fuego from 1980, and the identical yr the extraordinarily small division on the base of the Audi Coupe C-pillar. Maybe for those who discover extra examples of this aesthetic, publish 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 photos!

EDIT: Due to replies on Twitter- and within the feedback part, I made a decision so as to add some reader options 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 modifications of color or materials, are the primary exaggerated variations we see as a contemporary development. Citroen have had this characteristic on almost each mannequin because the DS, and the XM is harking back to the BMW i3 for certain. In the meantime after penning this publish, 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. Arduous to explain (basically a extreme V graphic) however I’m not a fan.

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