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Discussion Starter #1
I think it's the evolution in headlight technology. We've moved away from round/squar cookie cutter headlights or flip/flops (which I still like) to totally revamping the way front/back ends of cars look. The HID/Xenon pump and the parabolic mirros in 'traditional' halogen lights have given designers freedom of shapes and lines without ducking the lights ala S1 or having to deal with accomodating a less pleasing or aerodynamic line.
 

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Headlights have always had a simple solution - pop up designs which then provide the designer with much more freedom. I think the one thing (if it can be counted as such) that has most influenced auto body design is the US Government! Think about it. Headlight heights (and separation distance), requirements for various lighs and reflectors all around, bumper laws, etc.?

If not that, then a better knowledge of aerodynamics has truly shaped automotive designs. Cars that try to ignore it end up with cosmetic warts in the form of spoilers (Audi TT, VW turbo Beetle).
 

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I would say US gov't, too. However, I am of the opinion that automotive design hasn't advanced all that much in the last 100 years.
 

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Discussion Starter #4
I agree with you both, I had not thought of the US Gov as an influence, but your point is well made. However, look at the front/rear ends over the past few years vs the past decades. S1 vs S2 Elise are perfect examples, one had to contend with older style plain round (albeit nicely done housings) lights vs. the current with their integration into the vehicle lines.
 

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babak said:
look at the front/rear ends over the past few years vs the past decades.
That has nothing to do with any technology or regulation. Changes in style are entirely an aesthetically motivated "design advance". The old Elise and the new Elise are virtually the same car in terms of everything except "style".

The changes seen in the Elise, Toyota Celica, Cadillac CTS (vs. the Catera), Dodge Viper, and a slew of other vehicles are all headed in the same direction. I call it "edgy". Cadillac calls it "art & science". Whatever you want to call it, it's full of sharp edges and angularity. It's what's "cool" for the moment. Where it came from is auto shows. In the mid-to-late 90s, auto show cars started moving away from the swooping curves of the late 80s to early 90s. The public responded well, and so you saw even more angles and edges and what not. If you look at auto show cars today, they've all taken the edgy look to the extreme (kind of like the swoopy curves of the late 80s and early 90s). You'll see this style die down eventually... once somebody has found the new latest trend.

Marques like Mercedes, Jaguar, and Lexus have managed to stay away from the edgy craze for the most part. I'm personally impressed with the designs that Mercedes has been creating lately, particularly the new SL.
 

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Ya'll have good points, but what about the advances in materials? New materials, cheaper materials, lighter and stronger ways of using new and old materials, new and better (and more cost effective) manufacturing processes... I think they have a HUGE effect on the change in cars and style over the years.

For example: without the ability to make an extruded aluminum frame, there would be NO elise. And I think a lot of the design of this car revolves around the frame. The style, (both body and interior) are largely ruled by that. And what about the other technological advances? New fiberglass molding techniques, lightweight and high output engines (with ALL that encompasses), and the lightweight crash structure? The new crash structure allows the Elise to be more safe than many cars, even without a front bumper. The lightweight yet powerful motor allows for the short wheelbase. Etc. Etc.

In my mind, a lot of the form is dictated by the function of the car, but making that happen is determined by the use of effective materials.

Cade
 

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Recently, it seems, the wind tunnel has had a profound effect on the performance car arena. Many of the "super cars" are starting to all look alike. Sort of same oval shape!

Personally I like the days when the designers used to express sex appeal!

Mark (Sexy Esprit ) pfeffer
 

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Great discussion. Sorry I'm late to the party.

As an engineer I'm usually attracted to the advances in materials/technology (as Cade so astutely notes). I had worked at the Pontiac Fiero assembly plant back in the 80s. It used a very innovative spaceframe chassis that allowed quick and inexpensive styling changes. In the 5 years of its existance, it also saw 5 body style changes/variations. That was unheard of in those days. The space frame allowed these simple mods. The Elise/Speedster styling have also benefited from such a flexible chassis.

I find the best designers always embrace new technology. They are the ones who bring magic to the new techy concepts. In the past most design concepts shown at car shows were simply styling bucks that were not 'runners'. Today, many cars are actual runners which forces the designers to find technology that allows them to put into production their latest aesthic offering.
 
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