Does a richly illustrated take on concept cars amount simply to a collection of pretty pictures, or does it make for a compelling read as well?
Apart from a more than decent layout, photographic and print quality, the first piece of information to catch the attentive reader’s attention when browsing through Gestalten’s Fast Forward is the fact that it’s not prominently attributed to an author or editor. It’s therefore not the work of a Stephen Bayley, Paolo Tumminelli, Bart Lenaerts or even an Othmar Wickenheiser. Which does show.
But before addressing the authorship of Fast Forward, of equal importance is to see how the subject matter is tackled, in terms of content and presentation.
‘Cars for the future, the future of cars’ is the subtitle of this book, which needs to be highlighted, for it doesn’t concern itself exclusively with concept cars, but a few production models, as well. The concept cars (beginning with the Buick Y-Job, of course) are presented on a decade-by-decade basis, although the logic behind the placing of each car is not immediately obvious.
The book starts with a promising preface (courtesy of German automotive journalist, Jan Baedeker) explaining the nature of concept cars and how they relate to both past and present. Bisecting the various decades, there’s a double page briefly summarising the non-car-related aesthetic values of each period for context. Among the articles about the cars, portraits of certain designers and companies are inserted.
One minor caveat with regards to the otherwise high standard of Fast Forward’s production values is the selection of photos. Most of them are contemporary press images, betraying all the sometimes subtle, sometimes less so changes in how advanced motor cars are visually presented. But some other photographs are obviously more recent or of unclear origin, which makes the visual concept behind the use of photography appear somewhat inconsistent. Mind you, unlike a surprising number of other car design-related publications, Gestalten have adhered to a generally high standard of photographic craftsmanship. There are certainly no flashlight snapshots or VHS screen grabs to be found here.
On the subject of standards, it's difficult to ascertain exactly who this book has been written for, given that the copy is possibly over-sophisticated for the casual reader, yet simultaneously unsatisfying to the car design connoisseur. Which leads directly to the question of authorship, as there appears to be no clear, elaborate concept for the book’s content.
Certain omissions or mistakes suggest a lack of in-depth knowledge that may be blamed for this lack of clarity and purposefulness. The role of the car company’s chief designer doesn’t seem to be clear to the author(s), for example, as all too often individual cars created under a particular chief designer are directly attributed to him Furthermore, the likes of Harley Earl, Sergio, Paolo and Andrea Pininfarina are presented as designers, which, influential though they were or are in their own respective rights, was never the case.
The inclusion of certain production cars also never quite gels with the rest of the book’s contents. Singling out the Mazda Cosmo 110S or the DeLorean DMC-12 as particularly influential futuristic production car designs does not make for a particularly convincing argument, for both were 'cars for the future' only on a superficial level. Especially so in the case of the DeLorean. It’s hard to imagine how a design that was not only over five years old by the time it went into production, but also deeply compromised (the stainless steel body was mere cladding, rather than structural as originally intended, once the DMC-12’s engineering had been made production-ready) could be considered a particularly forward-thinking automobile. Even more baffling though is the mention of the Alfa Romeo SZ in this context, which is an oddity above all else, and certainly not a styling pioneer. Why such a car is awarded space in this book, while Zagato as a design studio isn’t serves to illustrate the questions regarding the quality of Fast Forward’s editing.
In other cases, the influence of certain concept cars is crassly overstated (BMW Turbo), while the stated pièces de resistance of others’ ( such as the Peugeot Proxima’s cabin design) are named in the copy, but not shown in pictures.
In its final third, Fast Forward suffers from an issue very similar to Nick Hull’s Jaguar Design tome. For here it becomes blatantly obvious how the book’s financing was achieved, as there otherwise wouldn’t be a logical explanation for why a VW Microbus, Mercedes-AMG Vision Gran Turismo, Rolls-Royce Vision Next 100 or Audi Steppenwolf would be presented at eye level with Giugiaro and Gandini’s finest efforts.
In this context, the inclusion of Renault’s rather recent Trezor concept car (which is a fine effort, judged on its own terms) appears even more irritating, especially as each and every one of the rather fabulous concepts unveiled under former Renault chief designer, Patrick Le Quément, is conspicuous by its absence.
In contrast to this omission, numerous portraits of contemporary chief designers, most of which read like pure marketing copy (even though it must be stated that the mention of Gorden Wagener’s assessment of Mercedes’ car design of the ‘70s and ‘80s appearing somewhat ‘forced’ to him is a highly revealing statement).
Apart from this supposed ‘advertising supplement’, Fast Forward seems to be, above all, interested in showing nice photos of sleek or funky cars that at least look as though they can go very fast. Hence the omission of the likes of Mario Bellini’s Car-A-Sutra, Italdesign’s Lancia Megagamma or Pininfarina’s BMC 1800. On that front, it certainly delivers, particularly when one chooses to view the ‘advertising supplement’ as the price to be paid for the high production values.
Thanks to Stories Hamburg for providing a German-language copy of 'Fast Forward', where the book can also be ordered online
Excerpts/quotes © Gestalten
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