The History of Automotive Design – From Classic to Modern

Automotive design can often be considered an art form. However, its process can often be both complex and time-consuming due to using various tools and techniques for design.

Automobile design history is long and diverse, and this article will examine some of its major periods and designs that have defined automotive aesthetics over the years.

1. Classic Period

Through history, car designs have long reflected the political and cultural trends of their time. Be they utilitarian or artistic in design, cars have often been affected by current social issues as well as technological breakthroughs.

The classic era, from 1920 through World War II, was defined by sleek aerodynamic designs. Additionally, running boards, wings, and headlights gradually integrated themselves into vehicle bodies during this period.

After World War II, automobile design underwent dramatic change with the emergence of pontoon styling. This revolutionary new look replaced separate fenders and running boards found prior to WWII; pontoon style would become popular worldwide until 1960s.

2. Mid-Century Period

Detroit automakers hired university-trained artists in order to gain market share after World War II. Their aim was to produce cars with aesthetic appeal.

At that time, automakers placed great value on styling and design, providing artists with an opportunity to influence the industry and transform the face of America. Unfortunately, company policies dictated that any preliminary artwork be destroyed when final designs were approved for production.

Now, most of those original sketches and models are being displayed for the first time ever in an exhibit curated by Detroit natives Robert Edwards and Greg Salustro, this exhibition highlights those designers whose creative imagination launched this golden age of automotive Americana.

This exhibit will open free to the public on April 17th in LTU’s University Technology and Learning Center’s Gallery and Lobby located at 21000 West Ten Mile Road in Southfield. A reception will take place from 4-8 p.m. followed by a panel discussion about each designer and their work.

3. Post-World War II Period

Following World War II, auto companies saw increased consumer spending and an upsurge in new-design vehicle releases as opportunities to boost sales.

In the United States, General Motors and Chrysler were dominating their respective markets but needed an upgrade. Their cars needed to attract consumers while also being functional and reliable.

Automotive engineers began taking more of an interest in designing the overall look and shape of cars during this era, such as creating more aerodynamic bodies.

Engineering and styling teams collaborated closely, while manufacturers introduced color into their cars for the first time, giving buyers more customization in personalizing their purchase.

4. Modern Period

The modern period of automotive design began during the early twentieth century, when Henry Ford introduced assembly line production and made cars more affordable and reliable – selling 15 million copies by 1927 alone, his Model T set the precedent for future car designs.

By the 1920s, however, American consumers wanted more from their vehicle than just solidity; they wanted style, speed, and luxury as well.

Monocoque or single hull chassis technology was an engineering revolution that made vehicles lighter and stronger, as well as more aesthetically pleasing; previously distinct features like fenders and headlights became integrated into their bodies.

As a result, car designers began using their creativity more freely; creating striking models like the Chevrolet Corvette and Cadillac Eldorado.

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