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Vive la différence – Design needs to appeal to human emotions

SAAB 900 T16s

SAAB 900 T16s

Recently, on Top Gear, James May said that he quite liked SAABs, in part because he felt that people who drove them were ‘interesting’. This left me with a slight smug glow, I have had a few SAABs, four actually and drive one now. I’ve also had three Volvos, three Moto Guzzis, and three BMW K Series motorbikes. For those with the slightest interest in this a picture will be developing, of brand loyalty, perhaps an interest in design maybe safety too. For others I will be coming across as a ‘bit of a yawner’.

Having recently spent some time looking for a new car with my partner, I am sad to say that anyone buying a current SAAB is beyond interesting (by some degree) and well into the new category called ‘Of Clinical Interest’. It was bad enough when SAABs started wearing Dame Edna Everage glasses, but who ever thought that re-branding them as little Cadillacs was a good idea? Oh yes General Motors did. At the time of writing SAAB’s future is tenuous to say the least.

Prototype NG 900 SAAB

Prototype NG 900 SAAB

Of course I realise that my car shares the underpinnings of an old Vauxhall Cavalier but despite what people say the GM 900s were actually rather good and for someone like me they offer a lot of car for not much money. It has been and continues to be a good car although it uses far too much fuel. At the time when I bought it though it was one of a handful of affordable cars that offered speed, space and three proper seat-belts in the back.

I see no great reason to sell the car although I wish it would use less fuel. It does most of what I need and, as Mr May’s colleague Mr Clarkson once accurately predicted, as a SAAB driver I have a little too much linen in my wardrobe. My son often comments on how the car seems right for me. I am interested to know the bigger picture with regards to the Scrapage Scheme, does it make environmental sense to scrap a perfectly viable car?

NG 900 SAAB

NG 900 SAAB

Anyway, I like cars, particularly older ones, but I don’t often look round garages until recently since K has been looking for a new one.

Initially she had wondered about a BMW Z3, we went to the local BM dealer but they didn’t have any. I went into the showroom and kicked the rear tire, the salesman got the joke, I explained it to K later. We looked at the One Series which ticked many boxes. However to my eyes it looked like it had already been in an accident, as Clarkson said;

The BMW, however, is just plain ugly. It may have the double headlamps and the kidney grille and the Hofmeister kink, but viewed as a whole it looks like a van….And it’s why I’m choosing the words for my conclusion with even more care than usual. So here goes. The 1-series is crap

The simple truth is that there isn’t much out there to excite, cars seem to be designed for people who watch X Factor a little too much. Yes we did venture into the local Aston dealership (to look at an A3) and yes I would, but I can’t so I won’t.

Along the line we looked at Audi A3s and briefly toyed with the idea of an old style TT. Ultimately there was nothing exciting about much of what we looked at, nothing that appealed at a human, emotional level as well as providing a practical workable solution. The TT came close however the Audi salesman declined to even attempt to show us an A3. Perhaps the clinical Audi thing had destroyed all enthusiasm. I suspect that the lovely showroom with it’s suite of iMacs running Windows told the true tale, even with the right ingredients the flavour is sometimes lacking.

500 Abarth Esseesse

500 Abarth Esseesse

A smile was achieved in the FIAT showroom, in fact the 500 raised a big smile from both of us. We had previously looked at an Arbarth in the Park Lane showroom. Fun. Sorry no that should be FUN!!!

Unfortunately it seemed that there were quite a few people looking to share the fun, and the waiting list took the wind out of our sails here. The salesman was pleasant, the showroom showed an interest in design and there were no Apples running Windows. There was a PC built into the 500 display which allowed you to design your own. Unfortunately it crashed as we attempted to.

Top marks to FIAT for trying though, top marks.

Now, I have already declared my liking for Scandinavian design, not to everyone’s taste I’m sure ut often more subtle than the alternatives. Hassleblads are a long-standing love of mine and there is something totally unique about them. Most people think of Volvos as big boxy things and to be honest there is a lot of sense to an estate formed from boxes.

1973 Volvo P1800ES

1973 Volvo P1800ES

However, along the line there have been some absolute gems from the company, as anyone who remembers Simon Templar (The Saint) in his Volvo P1800 will already know. Better still for some (ie me!) is the later Volvo P1800 ES. I love estates and this has to be one of the coolest of cool.

Along the line styling cues from this car have reappeared in Volvo’s lineage notably the little 480 and now the C30.

Volvo C30 design sketches 2

Volvo C30 design sketches 2

This leads us to the end of the search, a neat little Volvo C30-2.0D. Even Volvo say you will either love it or hate it, it’s clearly not going to suit everyone but Volvo are making offers that are hard to refuse at the moment. How about £5000 for a ’96 Pug 306? Quite aside from the hard to refuse offer I like it, but then I like Marmite too. I like it because it isn’t mainstream, it won’t suit everyone but the people who it will suit will love it. It has next to no boot and only four seats but the seats all work and if you are carrying a couple of people they fold flat in the back. I did try to get in the back of the TT, and failed.

C30 Interior

C30 Interior

Volvo 3CC (3-Seat Concept Car) 2004 Hybrid Car

Volvo 3CC (3-Seat Concept Car) 2004 Hybrid Car

Although the C30 isn’t a radical design statement it clearly refers to Volvo’s design history and at least shows interest. Inside it is comfortable there are interesting design approaches, the central instruments epitomise what I look for in Scandanavian design. Quite simply it is a nice place to be which is not too much too hope for.

Volvo C30 design sketches 1

Volvo C30 design sketches 1

I for one am pleased that occasionally companies push the boat out a bit, take a risk and come up with something even a bit different.

Sometimes companies really, really take a leap of faith. Recently I saw a Renault Avantime in Topsham. This, perhaps not unreasonably, will be a rare sighting, but for me at least a very welcome one. Vive la différence.

Renault Avantime 2002

Renault Avantime 2002

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