Car Talk

Saturday 26 July 2014

Designs on you – how your car starts as a lump of clay

Eddie Cunningham

Published 02/07/2014|02:30

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Opel Monza Concept
Opel Calibra
Opel Kadett

THEY say there are/were more old Opel Kadetts per head of population in Westmeath than anywhere else on Earth.

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I think that might not be as far-fetched as it sounds.

I still come across some examples – admittedly, severely battered but unflinchingly dogged – when I drive around some of that county's back roads.

I always get the impression their owners have held on to them like old friends.

Whatever about the ones on the road now, my God they were basic back in 1967. I took a well specced version of reasonable vintage for a drive in Germany the other day. Talk about rolling back the years.

I don't suppose many remember the Opel Rekord either? I drove one of them as well. It took a couple of minutes to kick over and was stroppy enough. Like the 1979 Golf from last week, it only served to show how much distance we've put between yesterday's cars and the luxury we expect from even the most basic of today's.

I remember thinking the Rekord was huge when I saw one parked in the Square in Clara, Co Offaly, a million years ago. It has shrunk with the years. And there was a Commodore, a motor only for the well-to-do in my youth.

And then there was the Calibra. Ah! Now we're talking about a real bit of car. Compared with the others it was madly modern (1994) and had 4x4. I loved that car and always wanted to drive it in all-wheel-drive.

And I got to meet a hero of mine. I always wanted to shake the hand of the man who designed the Calibra. For those of you too young to remember it was a great old sports/coupe that I think a lot of others copied.

George Gallion was demurely modest about his baby but proud too. I could see that.

Apart from Opels, he thinks Alfa have done a great job on the design of the Mito and he's a fan of Citroen's DS5.

But he felt that the German makers are all too similar and don't push back the boundaries nearly enough.

He's still a bit involved but was here ostensibly to talk to people like me as part of Opel's celebration of 50 years of design.

I know, I would not have them down as movers and shakers in that department either. Indeed some of their cars down the years have been dull to the point of numb.

But so have many others, if you think about it.

In fairness we forget about the likes of the Calibra, Manta, Tigra (in its first incarnation). And their Monza concept car (shown last year in Frankfurt) is quite an eyeful. So I suppose they have something to shout about. Makes you think a bit when you hear them say they were the first in Europe 50 years ago to set up a specialised styling base.

And that led to a lot of talking and walking about design and how it is done and history lessons and how much time and money they devote to how a car looks, feels and drives.

They took us to the coalface. You'd think it would be all computers and high-gizmo stuff wouldn't you? Well it was – and it wasn't. Sure they had computers and screen and facilities that let them magnify even the stitching on the seats a thousand-fold. A nudge here and a click there and a car can become an entirely different proposition.

But right across from them there were guys getting their hands good and dirty. They were making clay-model replicas of what the computer boys were trying out. A sliver here and a slightly different edge there can, just like on the computer screens, transform how a car looks. And they do it over and over again until someone, somewhere says: "We'll go with that."

Yes, your car starts out as an idea and a lump of clay.

There are cynics among us who would say it eventually ends up in similar mode.

Except for the Kadetts in Westmeath, of course. They never die.

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