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now you see it ... NOW you see it!  a closer look at that car right over there ...

Published on Mon, Jan 28, 2019

By: Doug Stokes

Editor Emeritus and wise automotive sage Doug Stokes calls our attention to an ubiquitous styling cue

PROLOG: Approximately year or so ago, I casually mentioned what the title of this note alludes to to an old friend and well-known car designer who I had run into at some sort of automotive gathering. 

I almost didn’t believe that it was him on the phone four or five hours later when he yelled “STOKES!” back at me in answer to my perfectly innocent, normal-tone “hello?”  

This normally mild-manner fellow followed the above up with something that sounded like: “Damn-you-Stokes-I-looked-at-every-mother-loving-car-on-the-road-all-the-way-back-to-Reno-I can’t-stop-seeing-it!”   

What was it that made his eyes sore and his normally “pretty good for his age” blood pressure take a shortcut to it’s redline? 

What it was … was this:

… It’s an automotive styling cue that I personally calculate, is now bigger than tailfins, continental kits, mag wheels, spoilers, racing stripes, side exhausts, hood scoops, and Targa tops combined.

Here’s a hint: if you spend more than three or four minutes behind the wheel of a car a week … you’ve likely seen it (and probably more than once).

By the way, we’re quite purposely not including any illustrations right here because there are simply so many examples out there awaiting anyone’s glance that printing a couple would be akin to bringing coals out to Newcastle.

All one needs to see what I’m talking about here, is to simply look at almost any of the cars AHEAD  of them:  on the freeway, in the parking lot at Bed Bath and Beyond, or waiting in line at Starbucks or In-N-Out.

I will here submit that a wide inverted u-shape (now you see it, right?) sweeping across the lower part of that car in front’s broad butt is the single most used styling motif (outside of four wheels) ever to be pressed into service on modern automobiles, has been for (at least) the past five to seven years, and shows absolutely no sign of fading away the way that many of the aforementioned styling cues have.

Not government-required, nor endorsed by a famous person, this (now almost universal) shape (some would call it “fishmouth”) seems to be some sort of an homage to racing car diffusers that allow air trapped under a fast-moving to open back up to the airflow at the rear of the car to improve ultra-high speed aerodynamics as well as serve to assure good  downforce at the rear of the machine.

A number of high performance road cars actually have such units that work to some degree or another although at legal road speeds, the technical effect is minimal but the visual impression is impressive.

Such rear “diffusers” (that’s the tech name for “inverted u-shape”)  with their flairs and strakes give a serious/businesslike look to Mustangs, Corvettes, Ferraris, Porches, BMWs and exotics like McLaren and Lamborghini and can actually be critical to the vehicle’s stability if/when one of the above is driven at or near it’s limit.

But it’s the shape on the backside of my (decidedly NOT exotic) 2014 Ford Fiesta that I’m really talking about … After reading this you are going to see this little leitmotif gracing the backside of just about every automobile, SUV, and light truck that you come up or that sips by on the highway.

Sometimes it’s a different color or material, sometime it’s molded into the shape, sometimes it’s only a scribed line, and sometimes you have to look twice to see it … but it’s there … you’ll see it and not be able to unsee it on hundreds of cars on the road with you each week.

… That unmistakable inverted u-shape below the back bumper running almost from side to side and now screaming out (to your now tuned-in and ever-pealed eyes) as thought it was painted Day-Glo orange and had mega-watt klieg lights shining on them at high noon.

So (and if it interests you) be on the lookout for the next universal great styling cue … It seems that Tesla has attempted to lead the way with some grilleless automobiles in their lineup … blank faces without a “mouth”, which Renault tried in the late 50’s and early 60’s and that the ill-fated Studebaker Avanti sported for a short couple of years in the mid-60’s, but that one, as you’ll likely agree, has far from caught on.

So, and indeed, I rest my case that no one single styling cue has so saturated, so dominated, so commanded, so fully permeated automotive styling for such a long (and still full-bore/on-going) span of time as that (dang) inverted U-shape.  Has anybody out there in LACar land got any other all-time styling faves that are as ubiquitous as this one?  

Our editor indicated that this thesis needed an illustration of what I was talking about . To get one all that was needed to do was park at the Smart & Final in Duarte with full confidence that whatever car I parked next to would prove my point.  –DS 

Sorry about your NOT being able to unsee it …

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