Hansen: Death of design in cars is nothing but a loss

There are times when you look at lines and curves and realize that beauty is framed by the contrast of space, filled by air, metal and longing.

It's the arc of a Porsche 356, the tail of a Volvo P1800 or the inimitable sleekness of a Ferrari 246 GTS.

Sunday brought together these images through an amazing lineup of vintage cars for the Laguna Beach Rotary Club's ninth annual Classic Car Show, which has become the city's own Concours d'Elegance. From Aston Martin to Pantera, there were so many fine details that it was overwhelming.

But what was especially interesting was what happened after the show ended, and the cars started making their way back home. Dozens of them drove up Laguna Canyon and all along the route, people stopped and pointed, pulled out iPhones and took pictures, grabbed their kids and waved like it was some Disneyland parade.

It's not just a guy thing, it's a people thing. It's not for some lost era but for the quality we seek in our daily lives.

"It seems like every year we get a few more unique cars," said Harry Bithell of the Rotary and chairman of the show.

Bithell spends his off time going to other shows, chasing cars for this invitational event. His effort is worth it. The exquisite characteristics of the vintage cars here are obvious.

The interior of a 1931 Cadillac 370A blows away a modern Cadillac XTS.

A modern limo has nothing on a 1931 Lincoln Town Car.

Who decided that contemporary cars should all look like they came from the same mold?

"What we get is the interesting cars," Bithell said. "The Jaguars we get are probably the best collection I've seen."

Most people define their lives by their generation. If you grew up in the 1950s, you probably like Thunderbirds and Elvis. The 1960s were Mustangs and Beatles. And so on.

Now we have Kias.

There are no real cars that define our age. People will look back at these years as the low point in automotive design. Sure, we are making more efficient engines — but not by much.

The average new vehicle only gets about 23 miles a gallon, which is about the same as my old 1975 BMW 2002.

Ironically, we claim to be modern but still live in the car dark ages.

Search Google Images for the Ford Comete or the Austin Healey Bugeye Sprite or Reo the Fifth.

These are cars designed with lines and purpose. They have form and nuance. There is subtlety because the creators cared.

There is no visual brute force that you see today — only respect, intelligence and balance.

We deserve more.

The reason people point at cool vintage cars is not because it reminds them of their first love. It reminds them of the love they never had.

We want more. We want to have lines in our lives that reach the horizon. We want perfectly formed knobs that we can pull, not anonymous electric buttons.

Sure, I will take satellite radio but give me the option to change my own oil.

We want only what is necessary. Simplicity is good, with smooth, practical features. Things that are palpable. Handles that click and chrome that shines without trying.

Current designers act as if our lives revolve around the strip mall: boxed, mindless and half empty.

We are more than that.

We are by design.

We are made up of the spaces between lines and curves that connect on a summer road.

It's a road where driving used to be fun.

DAVID HANSEN is a writer and Laguna Beach resident. He can be reached at davidhansen@yahoo.com.

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