Friday, January 11, 2013

Automobile Facial Expressions

Because the front ends of most automobiles have two headlamps and an opening to send air to the radiator, they can be said to resemble a human face -- the headlamps as eyes, the grille opening as the mouth.

Ordinarily, the notion of a car having a face is simply a mental construct. But in some cases, front ends seem to be faces with expressions. At times, this might have been the intention of the stylist, in other instances it could have been accidental.

Let's take a look at some examples.


1949 Lincoln Cosmopolitan
Although I missed it, a number of observers have pointed out the "sad" look on 1949 Lincolns. Indeed, the outside of the grille was squared off for the 1950 model year apparently because potential buyers were put off the the '49s expression.

1950 Buick Special
I've never encountered a consistent set of reactions to the 1950 Buick's grille (that too was quickly changed for the following model year). Mostly observers found it outrageous. As for analogies to human expressions, the notions of "buck teeth" or "drooling" might apply.

1956 Oldsmobile 98
Oldsmobile sported a grille theme that evolved from 1946 through 1958. The endpoint versions are considerably different, but if one looks at Oldsmobiles year-by-year between those dates, the progression is noticeable. For the 1956 model year the cars had a fish-faced look because grille opening resembled mouths of certain fish.

2010 Acura TSX
The facial expression of this Acura is ambivalent. Seen on the street from certain angles, it seems rather harsh and sinister. But in the view in the photo above it looks like there is an odd, angular sort of smile.

2010 Mazda 3
On the other hand, the Mazda 3's face is clearly smiling.


dearieme said...

I'm a buy-a-car-and-keep-it-for-fifteen-years sort of person, so I ask from ignorance. Do these styling matters matter much? Do they matter only when the cars in a particular market segment are all about equally good technically?

By "matter", I mean matter economically. Obviously they matter aesthetically.

Donald Pittenger said...

dearieme -- If cars of a given type and price point are equal in terms of technical features and reliability, then appearance and other design features (styling, ergonomics, etc.) are likely to decide what vehicle is purchased.

But in the real world, price/feature factors never match, so it's hard to say where styling comes into play.

Now, I would like to own a really nice looking car, but when the crunch came, I usually got something sub-par in that area because other considerations (usually price) prevailed.

My most stylish cars were a used 1965 VW Karmann-Ghia coupe when I was in grad school and the 2005 Chrysler 300 that I traded in for a nondescript Toyota Rav4 SUV.

But if I had plenty of money, I'd probably go for styling.

mike shupp said...

That 56 Olds... yeah, "shark" comes to mind, Maybe not desirable in the showroom, though it could have had interesting effects on the road -- think about watching something like that coming close in your rear-view mirror!

The Acura's "smirk" is probably accidental, given all the other frontal openings on that face. The Mazda's expression, however... I suspect the designer had that appearance in mind.

Balfegor said...

I don't know if they all do this or it is a special option, but the headlights on the Hyundai Grandeur (Azera in the US) have eyebrows. It looks like a cartoon face when lit up. Easily the cutest luxury car I have ever seen.

Justin said...

I agree that each vehicle has its own facial expression. Some are masculine, others are feminine. I liked the shape of the headlights on my old Dodge Intrepid and thought it had a sleek and knowing expression.

Anonymous said...

While you are focused on grilles that smile or frown, I have been wondering about the shapes of headlights. In years past, headlights were always round. In contemporary cars, however, they are angled or slanting (see this post's photo of the 2010 Mazda 3).

In years past, America dominated the auto market, while today Japan and other Asian auto sales are equal if not ascendant.

Back in the days before the politically correct crowd taught us the error of our ways, Asians used to refer to Westerners as round-eyes, and Westerners called Asians slant-eyes. Does the change from round headlights to angled headlights mean anything cultural?

As this post stated at the start: "Because the front ends of most automobiles have two headlamps and an opening to send air to the radiator, they can be said to resemble a human face -- the headlamps as eyes, the grille opening as the mouth."

I wonder if the change in the shape of the headlights reveals a cultural preference among Asian automakers for the shape of slanted, rather than round, eyes.

Here's an interesting post on square headlights:
Round headlights were apparently required by American law until 1975.