And They All Look Just the Same . . .

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There are two chief reasons for the homogenous appearance of new cars. And they’re related.

The first reason is that all new cars – all new vehicles – must be designed in such a way as to comply with the same government regulations, particularly as regards saaaaaaaaaaaaaafety.

This leads to . . . sameness.

It began in earnest in the early ’70s, when government decreed “5 MPH” bumpers – so almost all cars suddenly had those ugly metal bumpers hanging off their chins. The same ugly metal bumpers. It was no longer possible – no longer allowed – to affix delicate, mostly ornamental bumperettes on new cars, as for example the 1970 Chevy Camaro Z28, which was available with twin (separate) bumperettes off to either side of the open grille.

Its Pontiac analog, the Trans-Am, had a completely clean face.

By 1975, both the Camaro and the Firebird had big – ugly – bumpers on their faces. So did all other cars. Even the Corvette – though it was hidden under a plastic cover, in the manner of a girder under the rug in the living room.

Cars also got a lot heavier – and slower and less fuel efficient for this reason. And then flimsier, on top of it. But that’s another story.

In any event, no more unmistakable shapes like E-Type Jags, letter-series Chryslers and Series 62 Cadillacs of the pre-Government Design Bureau era. Cars like them did not fit the template. So they were no longer made. The starting point of all new car design was not the inspiration of Gordon Beuhrig, Harley Earl or Bill Mitchell; it was – and remains – what are the regs?

The regs kept coming and the shape began to be more and more one-size-fits-all.

Or rather, one shape complies.

There is a reason why all cars in the old Soviet Union looked the same. It is the same reason new cars here look the same.

Inside as well as outside.

Steering wheels used to be a defining element of  new cars because they could be designed in almost any shape – even not round. Some had spokes, others not. But they did not look the same – or at least, did not have to.

Today, they do – because all of them must accommodate an air bag and must be designed in such as a way to work with the dashboard and other interior parts to comply with saaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaafety mandates.

They used to just look good.

Now they all look the same.

Other regulations – and cost cutting pressures – led to the widespread use of cheap plastic/painted front and rear “clips” – beginning in earnest in the mid-late -80s and ubiquitous today.

This further homogenized the look of new cars.

Which led to an interesting aberration – the aesthetically overdone front and rear “clips” of most new cars. The designers can’t do much with the sides anymore – these having to comply with side-impact standards as well as accommodate air bags within their structure, both limiting aesthetic whimsy and tending toward a sameness of shape, which leads to a sameness of look.

But plastic front and rear “clips”  – which are literally clipped on and designed purely to cosmetically cover up the ugly bumpers/structure underneath them – can be molded into a variety of bizarre and impotently angry expressions. Some look like furious samurais, enraged by the HOV lane. Others like mutant catfish. But rather than impart distinction, it suggests desperation.

It also looks cheap – because it is.

Except when it comes time to replace a damaged “clip.”

Even cars in the Bentley/Rolls-Royce class have plastic practically poured over them. And what is the difference between the plastic poured over the nose of a $14k Mitsubishi and a $400k Rolls? The latter used to have chrome you could go for a swim in. It was part of what people paid the $400k for. Such chrome is practically unheard of today – because of environmental regs that have made chrome too costly for most – even Bentley and Rolls.

Forget Chevy.

But the second big reason for the looking-alike is that so many new vehicles are the same.

Literally.

They are crossovers. Everyone makes them now – even Porsche, god help us. Fewer of them make cars – sedans, coupes and wagons – anymore. GM and Ford make almost exclusively crossovers now, of varying sizes and prices but looking pretty much the same – and like everyone else’s crossovers.

But why do they make them?

It’s because that’s what buyers seem to want nowadays. And why do buyers crave them nowadays? There are many reasons but the chief one is probably that sedans have become too small and impractical for many people – government regs having made almost all of them small (especially in the trunk) by historic standards as well as bland and boring under the hood, once again because of the regs – which have consolidated and homogenized what can be put under the hood.

2.0 liter turbocharged engines for all!

When all cars are electric, they will all have the same motors under their hoods.

Even transmissions have been homogenized – for compliance reasons. They’re almost all automatics now – and many  of them are CVTs, which best fit the regs.

Crossovers are bland and boring, too. But they do have room – and are practical in that way. A single crossover can serve the purpose of two modern cars. They have thus become the transportation appliance of choice for most people.

Big trucks (and big SUVs based on them) have essentially replaced the big, rear-drive and V8-powered sedans and wagons that were once very popular with average people. The problem is that average people increasingly cannot afford a big truck or SUV – these vehicles start around $30,000 and with 4WD and a few options easily cost $40k-plus.

So they buy crossovers.

And they all look just the same.

.  . .

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56 COMMENTS

  1. “A variety of bizarre and impotently angry expressions”… ding ding ding! To match the bizarre and impotently angry expressions of the mask-wearing cucks who “drive” them, when they see someone breathing free, and not a little bitch like them.

  2. Mr. Peters:

    Why do you reinforce the lie that any of this regulation is about safety? Yeah, you make fun of “saaaaaaaaafety”, but you still reinforce the lie.

    Are 5 mph bumpers supposed to be about safety? Who gets hurt in a jogging speed thump? Those are safety for insurance companies, not humans.

    Are air bags supposed to be about safety? Who devises something that blows up in your face with explosive force, knocking your hands off the steering wheel, for safety?

    None of this is about safety, and it’s about time you stopped repeating and reinforcing the lie. The same goes for the lie that this is about consuming less oil.

    Oh, sure, we *heard* a lot about using less fuel. At the exact same time, we got bumpers that were two hundred or more pounds heavier–each–than what we were using. At the exact same time, we got engines with reduced compression ratios, which were considerably less efficient (because oxides of nitrogen). At the exact same time, large cars were eliminated by CAFE, forcing customers with family to carry into taller, more primitively suspended light trucks.

    Who saves fuel by forcing a switch from cars to trucks, especially as four wheel drive is coming into vogue? These things weren’t about us using less fuel. We wound up using more. Just the sort of policy you’d expect from politicians who get brib–er, I mean *campaign contributions* from oil companies.

    And safety?

    Safety was the result of the natural evolution of the automobile toward wider and lower. Handling improved continuously. Vehicles became harder to roll over.

    Then suddenly it’s 1974, and the only way to seat six without paying gas guzzler tax is to buy something with a center of gravity about chest height and Twin I Beam suspension. Do you really think that was done because government loves us and wants to protect us? How much did rollover crashes increase?

    That’s like saying diesels were declared too dirty to live in order to save fuel. It makes no sense.

    Mr. Peters, do keep up the good work. But please step up your game. We weren’t forced from cars to trucklets to lower consumption or increase our odds of survival. The net effect was the goal on both counts–we use more oil.

  3. I owned and drove a 1973 240Z when first married. My dream was to put a 350 in it, alas being young, married, and broke caused me to rethink the grand plan. I’m perfectly content with my 4runner TRD these days.
    But! This was the dream car. Sad that cars became one size fits all, cookie cutter ugliness.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/De_Tomaso_Pantera

    • Hi Manse!

      Those early Datsun Z cars were the bomb. As a kid, I leered at the one owned by the guy up the street. It was brown metallic – ’70s special- but gorgeous, regardless. If only they weren’t so prone to rust cancer…

  4. “You remember a commercial with a cup of water that didn’t spill?”

    Could be. I don’t recall any such, Just the whoops.

  5. Putting on my 10th man hat…

    Which came first, the regulation or the problem? Sure, Ralph Nader wrote his manifesto back in the 1960s but it took a good while for the bland ship to come about. The 50s and 60s were brash, garish and bold. Then in the late 60s everything took on a sanitized look. Gone were the curves, now came the boxes. Boxes for homes, boxes for work, boxes for driving. “Clean lines” and solid colors. Brutalist architecture. Exceptions in ethnic communities and European sports cars… they seemed to keep it interesting. Compare the ’65 Chrysler Imperial (or was it just The Imperial?) with the ’72. The 72 is big for big’s sake, square, boring. The 65 had style. The ’72 had a vinyl roof (to hide the screwed up paint job). Adding the stupid rubber blocks didn’t make the 75 look any worse than it already was. Of course it didn’t make it any safer either, unless you just happened to crash right on one of those rubber blocks…

    That said, GM had the ’72 Buick Riviera, and I’d say all the big Pontiacs, at least for bold styling, like it or not. And they kept the Corvette out of the boxy template for the most part, but it also began the transition from fun and sporty to supercar during that time too.

  6. I like The Groobers version of Little Boxes better…
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8B-q3JN-h_Y
    The absolute most horrendous travesty was what British Leyland did to the MGB to get it to fit Uncle’s FMVSS befehls. The 1974 1/2 “Rubber Bumper” B’s were both less stylistically stunning, and very much worse handling to meet blasted bumper and headlamp height restrictions. A crime it was. I think the FMVSS and EPA led to the demise of MG, if they had not had to spend their tight money on air pumps and rubber bumpers (and pillow fascias), they would have come out with the next gen MGB BMC had been working on. The next gen probably would have sold nicely in the US, saving BMC and keeping them out of the tender clutches of BL.
    Between the EPA and the FMVSS regs, we no longer have automobiles, we have moveable appliances. Motor Law indeed!

    • My shitbox ’67 MGB got my new engine and gearbox. Surely it was a toad but fun to drive. Back then JC Whitney had most everything for them. 38 dollars versus 250. for the same exhaust components, Whitney vs. dealer.
      It was pretty rusty but would drift somewhat well in the black primer getup. I almost lost my setter over the right side door when sliding into a traffic peg. I valued my dog higher than the car as she could run and point better than any other of her type. I never missed the bumpers as I never hit anything.
      Later I considered a V12 E-Type, but couldn’t get past the looks. I thank Jaguar for chasing me off with such an ugly mess.

    • That song is incredibly sad. But I’ve been listening to and singing a lot of those in the car lately. Mourning the passing of a great civilization and weeping for the coming absolute rule by “enlightened and progressive” savages.

      • I don’t know why but I thought of the word, ‘Tang’ for some reason while listening to it.

        Thought of The Six Million Dollar Man, and The Outer Limits, and a whole host of 1950’s B-rated Sci-fi flicks which had hope for mankind and the future as the underlying. theme.

        … In steps, Rod Sterling,… when sometimes, the bad guys won a few.

        So, yeah. I agree with your assessment.

  7. What gripes me is all the sedans are the same egg shaped profiles; wind tunnel approved for the fractional mileage gain to comply with Uncle’s mpg fatwas.

  8. The ’86 Taurus was a watershed moment as it marked the end of “styling”. Cars are no longer styled; they’re “designed”. Like a GE refrigerator.

    I grew up riding in my mother’s Mercury Sable. If it wasn’t for watching old films and TV shows, I would not be interested in cars.

  9. This is why I love my old Pontiacs.

    All of them have distinctive love it or hate it styling inside and out, including the steering wheel.

    I doubt anyone will much lament in 10 years, the rapidly depreciating transportation appliances on the showroom floor today, with exception to the fun ones like the Trailhawk and Raptor, et al.

  10. All the delightful individual variety lost because a few busybodies (and non-driver) like Ralph Nadar thinks they know better for the rest of us.

    It’s that type of arrogance that needs to be put out to pasture, not personal cars.

  11. What’s up with all the UGLY GRAY ‘polished primer’ paint jobs on new cars and trucks? Has everyone lost their color vision? As you travel on the road today, note how most of the personal vehicles are either black, white, silver or gray. Is everyone trying run ‘incognito’ to avoid the cops? I’m at a loss to explain the dearth of colors on new cars.

    • It’s not just cars. Millennial grey is THE color for inside and out on a whole lotta houses these days and for the last decade.
      And, have All the MacDonald’s painted their stores the same grey color? Prison-like grey, is. what I call it, the color all drained away by the fun-suckers.

    • It’s all drab protective coloration to avoid big bro’s all seeing and ever greedy eyes. Don’t you dare drive, do, or be anything cool, unique, or individual unless you’re neck deep in ill gotten money and power. Be a new Soviet man!

    • Good point, but I happen to like either light blue or grey (hence my username) cars. Personally, I find that those particular colors give the car a “factory fresh” look, especially after a good wash and wax. However, I also wouldn’t mind a two-tone burgundy and gold paintjob. Don’t ask me why. lol

  12. ‘front and rear “clips” can be molded into a variety of bizarre and impotently angry expressions’ — EP

    If cars are ‘furious samurai,’ pickup trucks are now muscle-bound comic book villains, sneering and snarling at us through their towering, armor-plated Ultron faces of doom.

    Our volunteer trail crew leader had a 15-year-old Ram pickup whose bed was easily accessible, from the sides or back, to grab picks, McClouds, and Rogue hoes.

    But the bed of his new Silverado is surrounded by impregnable five-foot high walls of sheet metal, like a medieval fortress.

    Convenient? HELL, NO. But it’s what’s dispensed to automotive fashion victims these days.

    It’s sad and comical to watch smaller-sized folks scramble up the sides of these behemoths like monkeys scaling a banana tree. Me so hungry!

    • Way back when, Dodge’s new body design incorporated lots of plastic, a friend of mine bought one. He was herding cattle from one pasture to another, and the last cow through was hesitating. He did as he had normally done in the past and bumped the cow with his truck, causing $2500 in damage. Which was a lot more then than it is now.

    • LOL.
      Yep. That’s another reason why I am still driving my 1989 F150.
      Single cab, long bed. Straight 6, Borg-Warner T-18 (3 + granny).
      Turns about 1500 RPM @ highway speeds, goes almost everywhere a 4WD can go.
      I actually haul stuff with it, as in, building materials, trash to the dump, etc.
      Be damned if I want to heist sand & gravel, or dirt, over a 5′ wall, shovel by shovel.
      Or have to keep the tranny “stirred up” to get any torque, for that matter.

  13. Your article caused me to think of a bit written by Fred Reed, in it he described how he and his friends could identify each others cars by the shape of the tailfins on the cars as each went past another on the hyway at night.
    In the 80’s we could still somewhat do that, a yellow black stripe Camaro or a 78 F-series still stood out a bit.

    Most cars these days do all look the same to me, the guys below mention how a Tacoma truck looks different than a Nissan, yeesh, they look about the same to me: appliance-like, as in the difference between refrigerators or washing machines.

    Tailfin isn’t even in spellcheck.

    One other thing, are people referring to this decade as the 20’s?
    The, ‘Roaring 20’s’?
    I never heard anyone say/refer to the pervious decade as the, ‘Aughts’.
    Funny, all that.

      • ‘timorous twenties’ I like that. It won’t catch on, though. It was a new word for even me, and I read too much, no way Wonder Boy and his sidekick Gamestop will ever say that.

        It -is- The Roaring 20’s, though. For some. Just like in 1920. Those closest to the easy money spigot reap, while others weep. So says Mr. Banker.

        People in general aren’t referring to this decade as anything, are they? It’s just, 2021.

  14. The sameness of shape bothers me little anymore. The aesthetics of (most) cars for the last 20 years really have been terrible. Even a new Challenger and Camaro (not bad looking) look sad beside a 1968 versions.

    What really bothers me is that the electronics and many greasy bits are near car specific. Even cars from the same manufacturer, built on the same platform but with a different skin, end up having hundreds bespoke bits. Often for only one or two years before being slightly changed just enough to make them incompatible with the year prior. Some are even half year updates making 2018.5 model specific parts that don’t work with an otherwise exactly the same 2018.

    Not that there is enough room to get a wrench on many parts without removing the engine, body, or six other major components. Part $37.50, Labor $2200.

    1995-2000. The last of the reliable and economical to fix machines.

    To me, new is not even worth looking at. At least $40k for a new generic looking disposable vehicle? No thanks.

    • And all of the electronic bits are…
      Dealer items!
      $urprise, $urprise, $urprise.
      Which, when the OEM quits making them after 8 years or so, will render the vehicle permanently inop when it breaks.

      • Particularly since on many new cars the modules are locked into the VIN so you cannot even install used junkyard parts. They are truly disposable vehicles.

        • I’ll wager the major “improvements” on the “new and improved” models we’ll be forced to buy will be:
          a) useless electronic gee-gaws
          b) ‘improved” surveillance technology

  15. Not only do the people in the houses all *look* alike, they also all *think* alike, if what they do can be said to be “thinking,” their control programs all being of a standard design laid down by a government programming facility and “potted” in a suitable polymer to prevent unauthorized modifications, “for their own safety.”

    Such units *crave* conformity; they are in fact programmed, using second order negative feedback, to return to a predetermined set point, for “stability,” and will in fact self destruct if their operating parameters are somehow tweaked too far from the factory set point by some nasty, unscrupulous, and totally unauthorized “modifier.”

    A government designed Transportgerät? Why, just the thing!

    There’s a white one, and a black one,
    With matching (fake leather) upholstery,
    And they all have fancy touchscreens,
    And they all drive just the same.

    Ed. note:
    This is about as far from “hot rodding ” as it is possible to get.
    In fact, the term “hot rod” was edited out of Newspeak dictionary several editions ago.
    There’s just no word in Newspeak for the things you’d like to do…
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AIr_v3a5T-s

  16. Add to all that the aerodynamics required for peak MPG, and there’s even more pressure to make them all the same. The key being “required”. And by whom? Oh, you mean the same government that thinks poking nuclear armed nations in the eye with a sharps stick is proper foreign policy? Well that’s comforting.

  17. I was browsing the classifieds and noticed–what I thought to be a Toyota Tacoma picture advertisement–Nissan at the bottom of the page. I then looked at the picture above and sure enough, it’s the new Nissan Frontier. Now even more like the Tacoma than ever before.

    Sameness just keeps getting samer.

  18. I was browsing the classifieds and noticed–what I thought to be a Toyota Tacoma picture advertisement–Nissan at the bottom of the page. I then looked at the picture above and sure enough, it’s the new Nissan Frontier. Now even more like the Tacoma than ever before.

    Sameness just keeps getting samer.

    • The nissan and toyota don’t look that much alike to me. To me the old Dodge Dakota looks more like the tacoma than the nissan.
      Also the inside of frontier and tacoma are vastly different. I have never felt a more uncomfortable back seat of a crew cab truck like the one in the frontier. The side facing jump seats in the back of my 96 ranger are about as comfortable as the frontier crew cab back seat. The frontier exterior to me looks closer to the chevy colorado or gmc canyon.

      • Have you looked at the completely redesigned 2021 Frontier? That’s the one I’m talking about. The outside only. The interior could be vastly different, but methinks your saying the outgoing design looks like a Colorado.

  19. My dad had a ’54 Mercury with three-on-the tree. Had a Ford Motor Company V-8, had an engine that had plenty of power, my cousin got hold of it and the motor went into his race car. Never did benefit from the good vehicles, my cousin was a greedy fool back then and still is. Drove in circles and thought it fun. lol

    When I was 13, I could drive it. A little nervous, but could do it.

    Add up all of the vehicles ever manufactured and arrive at a sum total.

    1900-2021 at 10,000,000 each year on the average you can see that there are easily 1.2 billion internal combustion vehicles, machines, in a never ending line from new to junk in about 120 years time.

    The number is more than double for all vehicles manufactured and then become junk in something like 30 years.

    Airplanes, ships, trains, all at a salvage stage at some point in time. Not to mention all of the buildings built, razed, bombed, ad infinitum. Give it a rest already. har

    Humans are too industrious, they need to stop developing every cubic millimeter on Earth, Moon and Mars.

    Calculated to the nanogram, sheesh.

    100,000,000 bpd consumption of oil, 20 million metric tons of coal consumed each day, half by Xina, is just too much to bear anymore.

    Everyone has to cut back by half, especially personal private transportation vehicles, you don’t really need a car, just live in the neighborhood, when you want to travel, you’ll need papers, read a Real I.D.

    Just the way it is, just a better world. Just too much freedom allotted to the general, run-of-the-mill, garden variety, average clueless human who needs to have limited access to resources.

    Sorry, you’ll just have to make some sacrifices. Walking is healthy, it’ll be good for you. You can and must wear your mask, you dumb enslaved fool.

    You just can’t be running around free as a bird, unfettered, stuff like that, just has to stop.

    A Covid death cult is here, beam me up.

  20. Morning Eric,

    Two questions.

    You did an article years ago about big ugly cars coming out and chasing the pastel cars. What was the name of the story?

    Where can I find a list of approved auto templates?

  21. Top photo … 1958 Chevy Impala dashboard, if I’m not mistaken. With a three-on-the-three manual shifter. And probably a 283-cubic-inch V8 up front. That’s a massive 4.6 liters, in soy boy speak.

    Only bizarre note is the AM radio, starting at 16 on the left, with frequency descending to the right.

    No display screen; no nested menus. Just honest, form-follows-function design that anyone can understand at a glance.

    This old-school, mostly analog tech launched John Glenn into orbit just four years later.

    What happened to us?

    • Jim H;
      What happened to us indeed……From an automotive perspective, the best days of my life were spent in the driver seat of a 1976 Mediterranean Blue Fiat X1/9. As Eddie Money sang it…”I wanna go back, and do it all over, but I can’t go back I know.”

      • a 1976 Mediterranean Blue Fiat X1/9

        Looks like a fun car. I never even sat in one or even touched one. It looks like it handles like an MGB. That was fun to drive.

        Thanks for putting the Eddie Money song in my head, that does take me back, slightly.

        Reminds me of the very last car commercial I ever liked, it was for a VW GTi, I vaguely recall they took the car over some whoops or something and had a half-way decent jingle I used to think of whenever I got 2 or 4 wheels off the ground or did some serious s-curves.
        Fun times. Fun times.

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