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Hagerty
Hagerty Employee

Vision Thing: Concepts are the boxes, not the blister packs of car design

Hello there! My name is Adrian Clarke. I am a professional car designer, earning a degree in automotive design from Coventry University and a Masters in Vehicle Design from the Royal College of Art in London. I worked for several years at a major European OEM.
https://www.hagerty.com/media/opinion/vision-thing/vision-thing-concepts-are-the-boxes-not-the-blist...
26 REPLIES 26
hyperv6
Racer

Many people today are confused by show cars and production cars.

Like the topic of the SSR Chevy truck that was based on a show truck. It as held very close to the show vehicle. In some respects that is great but in the real world the bumps and warts come out as most show cars are horrible real world cars.

The Ergonomics can be compromised like in the SSR you have to open the door to adjust the seats if you do not have very small hands. Today many complain about the low roof on the Camaro and high doors. They need the high doors for side impact and the low roof is for styling as a tall one would look less like the show car did. Even the horrid dash and large shifter were not changed in the return of the Camaro to keep the Concept look. Not a good move.

It used to be most show cars were clearly show cars and many were not disappointed as they were always farther out than most could build. Firebird 1-2-3 are great examples.

Then in the 90's companies started to try to emulate show cars into production or they would take the production car and make a show car of it. This raised expectations for some to unrealistic levels. This brought disappointment.

Regulations also play a large roll as many show cars were not built to meet crash standards. More would never meet lighting standards. Some you could just not drive down the road due to overly large tires and ultra low ride height like thee Buick coupe from a couple years back.
Concepts are dreams and production cars are reality tempered with regulations, cost and practicality.

As for Matchbox many of us grew up with them too. Hot Wheels did not arrive till some of us were 7 years old. I for one was never disappointed in the box vs the car. Matchbox pretty much kept it pretty real and that is what I always liked about them. Hot Wheels were cool but they were the show cars of 1/64 while my Mercedes ambulance was the reality of the 1/64 with the opening door and removable gurney.

Even today Hot Wheels tend to be more concept car vs Matchbox that is rooted more in reality. I sit here with my Hot Wheels Summit Racing Flat bed with my Matchbox 1949 Kurtis Sports Car on it. I like both but I also always had a thing for the more real cars as I knew that is more of what I was going to get. Today most of the show cars are rare at Auto Shows anymore. Even if I knew they were not production it was fun to guess at what might make it to the real car. At times things like the radio in the steering wheel of the old Pontiac Show cars and the Heads Up were like Sifi but yet my wife's SUV has both today.

 

Just a shout out to Johnny Lightning. I also have on my desk the 32 Highboy that has an opening rumble seat. A little show and a Little Reality both there. 

AdrianClarke
Instructor

Yeah, Hot Wheels USP was they leaned heavily on custom car culture, with metal flake paint, redline wheels and outrageous designs. Corgi and Dinky exported very successfully to the US, but they were bigger and much more expensive. Hot Wheels really knocked Matchbox for six.
If you’ve not read it I recommend ‘Britains Toy Car Wars’ by Giles Chapman. It’s a great little historical overview of yet another industry where Britain ruled the world only for it to implode spectacularly.
hyperv6
Racer

I still have sim Dinky toys from my youth. Well played with but still great memories. 

I will need to check that book out. 

tmkreutzer
Intermediate Driver

Talking toy cars isn't the point of the article, I know, of course but anyhow...

The Matchbox cars I bought in the early 1970s were held in a display case and you could see the real thing through the glass. It was rather like buying a fancy watch is today. You made your selection and the clerk would get it out for you. You never even saw the box until they put it in your hand. Funny that I recall they cost about $1 then and still do today.

Tomy Cars (Tomika) are sold in a similar way in Japan today. There is a case with the cars on display and a corresponding number. The boxes are self serve and usually under the display. They don't have the great artist renditions like the old Lesney Matchboxes, but use a photo of the toy car for the box. As little diecast cars go, Tomy Cars are among the best you can buy. They are usually realistic reproductions and always have some kind of functional element - doors or hoods that open, for example.
hyperv6
Racer

My point was that the box renditions were not that bad.  

 

But the truth is Hot Wheels themselves are more reprehensive of a Show Car while Matchbox then as is today are targeted to be more realistic. 

 

Larry wood and crew are more concept kind of guys and hot rod guys. Matchbox always tried for the most to represent the real cars accept for a limited era in the 70's. Mattel has returned Match Box to the real thing while leaving Hot Wheels to explore that concept kind of thinking. 

 

My example was similar to yours but I used the actual cars vs the packaging and my example. These two companies are run with two ideas similar to the concept and production. Very few Hot Wheels are stock production anymore and no Matchboxes are concepts. 

 

Now f you are talking pure diecast Tomy does do a good job but they are very limited in the states so we they seldom enter the picture for most. 

 

 

tmkreutzer
Intermediate Driver

The box art on Matchbox cars is great. Wonderful period pieces that highlight the cars and add a little motion. They capture the imagination. And I much prefer neat rows of boxes and a little customer service to the mis-sorted bubble packs shoved haphazardly onto hooks and ready to fall off the moment you reach past them to get the cool one in the back...

Hot Wheels were "extreme" before we wore that word out in the '90s. I think every '70s kid had the Red Baron or that Paddy Wagon in their collections. But when it was my own personal dollar to spend, I bought the matchbox cars because with very few exceptions you were buying a real car. OK, maybe real-life Ford pickups didn't come with a see through canopy and a lion circling in the back, but if that's not value-added in a toy, I don't know what is.

It has been interesting to see old companies like Johnny Lighting make a comeback but given the prices they put on them, you can tell they are aimed at the collector market. One thing I do like that Hot Wheels has been doing are the older Japanese cars, who would have ever thought that anyone would want a diecast Datsun 510? Turns out I'm one of them!
AdrianClarke
Instructor

I’ve got a few Johnny Lightnings - I picked up a load when I visited the Petersen years ago. They are great but as you say collectors prices. Not outrageous but more than pocket money.
These days I just stick to Hot Wheels, and usually only buy what I see and what I like. I don’t obsessively go for the Treasure `Hunts or anything because that way madness lies. As a rule I don’t buy on eBay, although I have broken this once or twice for cars I had to have - namely The Simpsons ones and the Mk1 Escort RS2000, which I hadn’t seen in the wild.
AdrianClarke
Instructor

I’ve got a few Tomica/Tomy cars that I imported especially for a college project I did years ago. They are limited in the UK as well - a shame as I’d love to collect them.
Ty
Intermediate Driver

I collected Matchbox and Hot Wheels as a child. I was and am a car nut...., errrr... guy. I had HUNDREDS of them when I was young and have started collecting them again. Bought about 40 or 50 in the last year. The green Mercury station wagon pictured in the article was one of my favorite toy cars. I still have it, and most others, in storage. My "adult" car addiction (along with the 80+ cars I've actually owned... no lie.) are brochures. Brochures that one gets at dealerships. Last count.... 5,400 different books including most everything (except some of the European automakers) made between 1984-85 through the late 20-teens. I also have many 1950s, 60s, and 70s that I bought from other collectors. I tell my son that the brochures will be his inheritance once I'm gone since most manufacturers have starting only offering digital literature (grrrrr....). Hey, maybe you should do an article on 'Brochure Collectors", Hagerty!
AdrianClarke
Instructor

I had both the Mercury Wagon and the Firebird pictured. My uncle has a box full of old brochures he collected when he was a kid - mostly British stuff from the fifties and sixties, as well as old motor show catalogs. He also has a couple of suitcases worth of mint and boxed Corgi and Dinky toys from the same period.
DUB6
Specialist

   Well, the comments so far have really focused on toy cars, but I read so much in the article that referenced the "nuts and bolts" of the design process as it pertains to real cars (and to Concept Vehicles as a piece of that process).  That's what interested me, and what makes me look forward to future Vision Thing articles.  I've always been curious about what goes on that few years before the cocktail napkin sketch is converted to the stamping plant realities.

   The reference to day-drinking also makes me wonder if the guys who have to sign-off on the dream-of-the-designer-that-makes-it-to-the-sales-floor aren't guilty of a tip now and then.  Witness the Pontiac Aztek, for instance...  🙄

AdrianClarke
Instructor

My strong suspicion with the Aztek is the designers knew it was bad, but were overruled by higher ups and had to get it out the door.
hyperv6
Racer

There were some disagreement on the Aztek at GM. 

Too often the folks making the call are isolated and don’t know the true public thinking. 

They did a update for the Aztek out side GM and Lutz arrived and saw it. He asked why could we not do something like this? 

True concepts are peoples idea of the future. Some folks vision is just sharper than others. 

DUB6
Specialist

I chuckled when I wrote the Aztek reference, and said to myself, "this will get a response from @hyperv6".  I just KNEW that there couldn't be a Pontiac mention in a posting that wouldn't get a rise out of you, my friend!  Poncho, on, Dude!  👍

DUB6
Specialist

 How is it that some people saved not only toys, but in some cases, the boxes the toys came in?  I'm gonna tell ya, in 1957, I was definitely NOT thinking far enough ahead to realize that if I kept that package in the attic, and didn't put that firecracker into the interior of the tiny car, I might have something to brag about 50 or 60 years later (maybe even sell for a gazillion percent profit)?  I'd like to go back in time and kick my younger self right in the keester!  😭

Snailish
Instructor

-The Plastic cladding killed the Aztec in its day. Quite a few Aztec like vehicles and concepts (especially EV) around the last few years.  Even with the cladding, had VW been marketing it back in the day the Aztec may have done just fine.

 

-Chevy Volt is a great example of the concept car generating hype and interest and then the production model being a let down to many.

 

-Nissan IDX concepts were also a shame. Some versions of it looked close to production. I think it would have been the Chrysler 300 of smaller car segments and had a following enough to prove the prevailing wisdom of "nobody wants cars now" wrong.

 

-Cybertruck concept borrows heavily from Giorgetto Giugiaro's concept in a 1975 Mechanix Illustrated magazine (tailgate lowers like a ramp... etc.) but today's consumer gets just excited about the hype. With Tesla who knows if they ever actually make the "real" truck and how far it diverges from the concept, in the meantime that's a lot of deposits...

 

-Even dealer art, sales literature plays into the "concept car" mystique. Look up 50s-60 ads and they are often creative interpretations of what is actually going to be sold (i.e., 59 Pontiacs in the sale literature are low and sleeker than the actual, and I love the actual don't get me wrong).

AdrianClarke
Instructor

Yeah a those fifties and sixties illustrated adverts had a LOT of artistic license.. in the UK the passengers were drawn much smaller to make the cars appear bigger and roomier,
tmkreutzer
Intermediate Driver

My heart weeps for the IDX that we might have had. However, Nissan would have had to have done it right. Although I owned and enjoyed a Versa Note with a CVT, which I think is fine for a little commuter, that drive train would have sucked the joy out of the little sporty little IDX.

Hyundai made a similar "mistake" with their Santa-Cruz concept. I would have moved heaven and Earth to put that small-sized concept in my driveway but have taken a hard pass on the larger truck-like thing they have given us. I put mistake in quotes, however, because I am sure there are a great many people who would take the current design over the concept and assume that the company followed the money to the design that would make them the most.

Alas, I think concepts are for us fanboys and actual cars are for everyone else.
autorelic
Intermediate Driver

Personally, I think the Cybertruck borrows heavily from our "Pinewood Derby" days.
I won't buy one but apparently a lot of folks will. And that's a good thing -- if everyone liked the same thing the world would be a truly boring place. Competition and taste also keep the prices down and allows us to be able to buy what we do like.
Flashman
Technician

Another excellent informative article; looking forward to the continuation. You don't see many people using "bodging". Since I am old and didn't have an American childhood, I missed Hotwheels, but I fondly remember my Matchboxes and Dinky toys. I treated them as any single-digit-aged kid would and I have no regrets Eventually you put aside childish things.
Swamibob
Technician

"Eventually you put childish things aside"; I agree. But, sometimes, later in life, you could be lucky enough to re-discover those early passions and they can transform from childish to child like joys, that entertain and help to inform your perspective; in a way that keeps you young. 🙂
DUB6
Specialist

@Swamibob - are you trying to tell me it'd be okay to go buy a bunch of Hot Wheels and a box of firecrackers and have at it like in the old days?  😋

fueledbymetal
Advanced Driver

Another excellent explainer, thanks! I wonder which of the two categories the Cybertruck will fall into if/when we ever see the production version. 🍺
AdrianClarke
Instructor

When the Cybertruck was shown EVERYONE with any of industry/design/production experience knew it could never make production in that form. It's a simplistic, childish design that's going to have a lot issues to solve.
Tesla could have done something a lot more conventional incorporating their existing design language ruggedized for a pick up, and probably had it in production by now. But no, they had to do something 'disruptive' and 'edgy' and play to their gallery.
DUB6
Specialist

Interesting point.  I have no industry/design/production experience, so had no real opinion of its ability to hit production or any disruptiveness or edginess - I just thought it was ugly as all get out...

autorelic
Intermediate Driver

I agree with your post completely. Yeah, Elon's a dreamer and I think the Cybertruck is ugly as hell -- we whittled stuff like that in Boy Scouts. But the Muskonian cult members will like it.
Then again, ain't it great? If everyone else ONLY liked C-10s I couldn't afford my F-150...