Posture and Coolness

Here’s the new “off-road mobility machine” from Der Ziesel and by all rights it should be cool. It’s electric, has more than enough power and speed, comes in cool colour schemes. But why isn’t it? There’s something that’s just… je ne sais quoi… lame?

That’s what it looks like from the side, and I had an idea: the obvious comparison is a regular snowmobile, right? So here’s one I chose at random because it was first on Google Images:

It’s just better somehow. Now, we’re ignoring things like drivability, safety, cost, etc. but from two pictures alone, which would you rather have? Which would you rather be seen driving?

Which is curious, what is the difference, really? I suspect it’s posture. Top-heaviness. Fast things, cool things, are low-slung and wide. Lame things are tall and narrow. They look tipsy under fast cornering and terrain variations. The Der Ziesel has that roll cage and a seat belt. It’s tall and narrow.

So we see this everywhere: SMART Cars and Lamborghinis. Sure, you could argue status symbols, cost and performance, but what about Aston Martin’s lineup and it’s own Cygnet – same branding and luxury, an aesthetically inferior car. Now, interestingly, the Cygnet is based on the Toyota iQ, and even that’s better than the SMART because it has a wider, fatter stance. It’s less topheavy and tall. The MINI is wider and longer yet, but only slightly shorter in height and offers a more sporty posture for driving. When you get into the lower sports and race cars, you’re practically lying down in a vehicle so wide it has trouble with parking garages.

The moral of the story is if you want to make something cool, make it low.

New Car

That’s a strange photo for a blog post to be written around, but I’ll try my best to describe it’s importance. It’s a still taken from an unreleased video I made the summer before last which is just me longboarding around my hometown and visiting old places of interest and nostalgia. It really wasn’t very good, but I’ve always enjoyed filming the footage more than actually making something out of it.

But it was a common sight that summer, looking over the passenger seat and seeing a faithful piece of bamboo reflect the warm sun around the dark grey interior. This shot in it’s video form shows the shadows of leaves in the trees lining old streets as they stream in, gently waving. The sound is sort of like a waterful or TV static. That white noise of wind. I sat in my car listening to bands I hadn’t heard since high school and staring out the window. It’s an understated activity, really. People see people staring out of windows and describe them as ‘doing nothing’ but it’s hardly a fair observation of what’s actually happening; in that moment I was simply being. I was parked across the street from a perpendicular road (think a large T that I was at the top intersection of) that has a perfect hill for cruising. Just steep enough that you can get some good speed and work into deeper carving, but not so steep that you fear for your ability to stop or bail. It’s a road that is lined with large, old trees and is in the general area of a small indoor pool we used to take swimming lessons at as kids. Beyond it is my elementary school where we were sometimes picked up in the very car I was sitting in then.

Cars as an interior space are an interesting thing because all of my memories come from the same viewpoint: my driver’s seat. With exception to a few from when I was a kid sitting in the back, most of what I know in that car is from the exact same vantage. The result of that is sort of a timelapse, where the time can be sped up to show the surroundings without confusion, because of the fixed angle. Most other spaces – interiors of buildings, for example – would speed up like a movie would, with cuts and scenes that happen all over. They’re all in the same space, but they can’t be compressed or played back in the same way.

And not that my nostalgia would be interesting to anyone but me, but it’s weird to think about all the people who’ve sat in that other seat. Or things, like the longboard or cameras or pizza. The handful of chairs I’ve managed to stuff into the tiny car and bring home. Lumber that’s stretched from the very front of the dash to the very back of the hatch (exactly 8′). My computer tower, seatbelted in and surrounded by blankets and pillows that time I came home for Christmas month school break. Guys and girls, conversations both heavy and giggled. The awkward silence of giving someone you don’t know very well a ride home. The acceleration-challenged rides with four guys crammed in and dancing to some ridiculous song on the radio. The hours spent parked in usual spots just talking and watching the sun set. The time spent alone, or talking to the car herself. Space exists in relation to the people occupying it, and in a lot of ways the car interior is the ultimate space for holding memories, simply because it’s there in so many contexts.

I bought a new car. I’m deeply excited, of course, but there’s a lot of me that’s bitter-sweet about giving up what amounts to one of my longest standing loves. It’s not to say I don’t have good friends but these past years have been filled with new cities, new people and new places – the physical thread that’s always been there has been this one car.

Love the Beast

It showed up on Canadian Netflix a little while back which means, I can only assume, it’s available everywhere. Definitely this post put much more eloquently than I ever could have. It’s a topic that’s coming up more and more lately in not only my interactions with cars but also my observations of people’s interactions with their objects and even the introspective reasoning of who I am and why I design.

One of my favorite bits:

Just briefly:

It’s interesting to me, now that I’m writing for LTKMN and working in fiction more, how much of my writing tends towards objects and spacial relationships. Coinciding with my love for architecture, even when given unlimited range to create things I create spaces, not people. I’d never really thought about it in such a direct way before, but I truly am bored with mere people. It’s a terrible thing to admit aloud but it’s true – I simply don’t find any interest in the people themselves outside of their relationships both with other humans and with other things. I look back to all of my favorite movies and books and stories and music and they’re all about a shift in paradigm that breaks and reforms those relationships. Those are interesting, those are the ones worth watching for me. Because the characters themselves are just tropes, just patterns based on the equally boring and predictable humans in real life. It’s how they collide and spin that’s fascinating.

And so, I write about spaces. I write about alternate histories and futures yet to come. It occurs to me that the few storylines I’ve written about people (or anthropomorphic robots) are all about the splitting and rebinding of relationships towards external things. Internal events, sure, that some might call character change, but that are inherently externally forced.

There’s that Debussy quote “Music is in the space between the notes” and it’s apparent: humans, like notes, simply smushed together is just a cacophony. Architecture, and that of a car’s space, is the physical separation required to generate story. My writing, then, is more a reflection on silence than anything, following the metaphor. Obsessed in the other direction.

Trapped

Two thoughts flash before my mind. The first: a childish sense of wonderment and the grandiose delusion of “someday, that’ll be my garage”. The second: a colder, almost bitterness towards whoever owns them and keeps them behind velvet rope.

Cars, by design and intention are made to move people around. Some cars are designed and lovingly made to move a single person around really fast and with remarkable grace – these latter are like majestic cheetahs or sharks. And, like cheetahs and sharks, tend to pace aimlessly when encaged. It’s sad to see them behind bars, trapped so we can parade by and admire them for mere and petty external appearances. It’s almost Damien Hirst of them. The point of a cheetah to run and a shark to swim; the point of a car is to drive.

Should we preserve legacy? Yes. But we have models and photos for that. If the vehicle functions, it should live out it’s days doing what it loves to do. Otherwise the design was for naught. Otherwise the people who hand riveted hundreds if not thousands of pops across the hand bent bodywork were in vain. These works of math and engineering and passion and vision and love. Trapped.

Mac Motorcycles

Mac Motorcycles out of the UK makes these gorgeous bikes powered by an affectionately known “Thumper” one cylinder that fires every second turn. I’m curious to hear what that sounds like, but there doesn’t seem to be much information around unfortunately.

In any event, wow.

Hyundai Veloster

I was driving to my hometown for the Easter long weekend and was passed by this; the Hyundai Veloster. It’s striking.

The lines are nice, like the lovechild of a Juke and an Evoque built on a Mini chassis. The three door thing is different and honestly, makes a lot of sense. Who needs symmetry?

The front is a wee bit gaping for my tastes. I liked the Audi look and I’m actually sad that they’ve been moving away from it recently, but the front on this hot hatch is just a bit… remora. Though I do love those side dams that move into the lines of the headlights.

Overall, I’m excited for this kind of car because I think it’s exactly what our society is looking for and previously found in more massive SUVs. These are smaller, sportier and better on fuel. Living in the land of pickup trucks with lone drivers and empty beds, it’s a welcome sign of things to come.

Photos via

Datsun Logo

If you cruise car news sites you’ll probably have heard that they’re reviving the Datsun brand. The news is bittersweet for me because I’m a huge fan of the past work and all the faux-nostalgia that comes with it but I’d hate to see it driven into the ground with generic new stuff. I really don’t mind Kia, but that’s sort of what comes to mind when I imagine what the new Datsun will end up like.

Secondly, and perhaps most forebodingly, the new logo above there is atrocious and is exactly the move to banal, boring predictable rubbish.

Some word association. There’s a song which is fitting for two reasons: a) it features the word Datsun right in the title, but b) because it actually was a song I played a lot in my old Japanese car a few summers ago, when the sun fell hot onto the seats and we sat by the river enjoying the breeze. There’s something in the word that’s just dusty and well used and loved and black leather seats cracked from years of some young couple adventuring and going on road trips down endless roads. There’s that gold that you see on the old Firebirds and sometimes crossed over into the land of JDM – this , really, is the colour scheme of beautiful old cars. From Countach to Esprit there’s just something classic about that. It harkens to the dark alleys just behind the neon lights, when streets lit up with auburn glow and gangs had dance offs instead of shooting one another because everything was classy like that. There’s a bit of space where my “memory” composed of the stories I’ve heard and movies seen bleed together, as if people were playing Micheal Jackson’s Beat It in such a car though they are ten years apart. The guy’s vest at 0:54 is that diamond stitch leather, which is what a 260Z’s seats should be made of (as should the Countach’s). The people who lived through the era will laugh at my such loose associations, but I even lump the early Daft Punk soundtrack into there, reminded by the intro to the Electroma – that Ferrari 412 could easily be replaced by the Fairlady styling.

But in the end, it’s a faded thing. Those gold stripes aren’t shiny and the black has softened with time. It’s grown beautiful because of it’s age. The leather smells of dust and warmth and the interior is that most comfortable form of stifling. The kind where you can’t breathe but smile because it’s summer. Your leather jacket squeaks a bit when you get in, sitting low in the buckets. It’s not a plastic FOB but a simple metal key in the ignition, springing with anticipation. The music player winds to life and those classic synth lines from the 70’s / 80’s resound as you set off into the horizon fire.

Will the new cars encompass these things? Nah. And maybe that’s alright. Some kid waxing poetic about isn’t going to change anything and nor do I expect it to. I’m sad to see the direction set off in this way, and it’s a brand that has those memories in a lot of people’s mind to play off of, but in the end the goal and duty of the brand was to provide decent cars that were affordable and if they can inject that into this market I fully support them. In the end, that is a far nobler cause than any mere aesthetic.

So, best of luck out there, however you end up doing it. Even if the old style is dead, may the old goals remain. Make something good and in such a way that everyone can afford it.

1966 Ford Bronco

Sure the ad is dated and cheesy by our standards. How anyone survived the inevitable whiplash of such brazen driving is beyond me, but that’s not the point. The point is lovely and happens between 45 and 54 seconds. Check out that line up.

It’s three vehicles, but really only one with a couple of additional roof options. The manufacturing is the same for all of them. It’s brilliant.

Of course, this is nothing new or different – everyone has some product manufactured in this way, it’s smart – but I look around at our sheer amount of options today and it’s not surprising that people are paralyzed by them.

If nothing else, be inspired and refreshed by the utter simplicity of the product lineup. I am.

The Magpul Ronin

I want so much to like it. The matte black and swooping flatness. The subtle red trim and the huge front disk. The way that mid plate flows into the rear arm. These are things I’ll always love.

So it pains me, in a way, to say that I really don’t. The creator, who stands proud like a father (which is admirable in any designer – I do greatly appreciate that) was inspired by a charging buffalo, and I do see that. The stocky front and heavy forward balance do portray this very well, but from where that excited tautness comes is also it’s weakness: it’s aesthetically (and physically) unbalanced. It just looks wrong.

This review should not be scathing, because I love everything about the project: the brick walls and wood floors of their office are perfect, the interviews and quotes seem like a man truly inspired and driven – these are awesome, awesome things. I just wish that front end were different.

Photos via

Intersections in an Age of Driverless Cars

Mesmerizing, isn’t it?

I’m very pro-driverless cars. Seriously. I love driving, don’t get me wrong, and there will always be racetracks because of exactly that. But for the everyday? Bring them on.

“But Brennan, doesn’t that seem dangerous? Trusting computers?” and to that I reply a simple image:

I see this at least once – often more – every time I’m out driving. Really? And we’re supposed to be worried about computers making mistakes? Ha.

So.

You sit back in your car, the seats face each other like a restaurant booth so you can easily and comfortably converse with each other. The world outside the windows whizzes by at a speed that you were very uncomfortable with at first but grew to love as it delivered you to your destination in a third the time. You arrive. You open the doors and disembark, closing them behind you. Since this is the future they’d probably have a subtle cool hydraulic hiss of pistons. You step away from the car to wherever you were going and the car pulls away silently from the curb, melting seamlessly and perfectly into the stream of traffic to pick up your spouse from work.

The intersections don’t have red lights and traffic signs in general are taken down – everything flows at once and is centrally controlled. “But Brennan!” you interrupt again “Isn’t that one step closer to a totalitarian government controlling your location?” and that, I admit, is a very good point. On the other hand, have you ever tried to go against a red light on an old country road when it’s obviously empty and hasn’t changed in ten minutes? It’s terrifying. Psychologically the red light is an overwhelming power. Would that be true for a resistance fighter’s car chase through the dystopian city? Probably not. Still, what’s the likelihood of that, anyway?

The benefits are immense and I for one welcome our driverless overlords.

Intersection video via


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