15 Car Styling Cues For The Ages

July 8, 2013

Visit any auto show, and you'll see plenty of concept cars. Most will leave you feeling "meh". Like, "These designers had the time and the money to dream big, big, big, and that's what they came up with? I weep for the future. Hey, does anyone want Jamba Juice?"

Then there are the select few: some awesome, some awful. The line between the two can be very, very thin. In fact, terrific cars can share loads of design elements with terrible ones.

All car designers know that there are a handful of "can't miss" styling cues -- things found on many outstanding rides. The trick is to use those cues effectively. Get a proportion wrong or screw up an angle, and you'll go from a Ferrari to forgettable in zero seconds flat. 

What are these timeless styling cues, these elements that designers love to flaunt? We took an unofficial poll of the TCC staff to come up with our own 15 faves:

Flo Rida’s gold chrome Bugatti Veyron - image: Wrapped World

Flo Rida’s gold chrome Bugatti Veyron - image: Wrapped World

Whitewall tire (photo by Kevin Stanchfield)

Whitewall tire (photo by Kevin Stanchfield)

Fins 2006 Woodward Dream Cruise

Fins 2006 Woodward Dream Cruise

2006 Porsche 911 Turbo

2006 Porsche 911 Turbo

1. Chrome
The idea of using chrome-plated metal to spruce up an automobile is almost as old as the automobile itself. As with many bright and sparkly things, however, a little chrome goes a long way. More than one poor, defenseless car has been driven from "posh" to "prostitute" by eager human magpies. (Ed. note: Please insert Posh Spice joke here.)  

2. Whitewalls
Nothing says "elegance" like a fat, pristine, whitewall tire. Though we usually think of whitewalls as an add-on, once upon a time, all car tires were white, because white is the color of rubber. As tires improved over time, white rubber was overlaid with various black materials, allowing designers to use the white underneath as an accent. It's true that whitewalls make Type-A personalities spend inordinate amounts of time cleaning their tires, but hey, beauty doesn't come cheap.

3. Fins
Fins reached the height of their popularity in the 1950s -- and for good reason. Echoing the aerodynamic look of jet airplanes and rockets, tailfins shouted to the world, "I'm living in the Space Age! In 20 years, this car will be able to fly!" Of course, 20 years later we had the Ford Pinto and macrame, but by that time, motorists were clogging discos, buried to their necks in foothills of cocaine, so no one really noticed.   

4. Whale tail
Unless you're competing on the Formula One circuit, you probably don't need a spoiler on your car. In fact, nothing says, "I am compensating for something" faster than a bright red Toyota sedan with a spoiler bolted to the trunk. The whale tail, however, is a different matter: it debuted on the Porsche 911 Turbo, a car that actually needs some help gripping the road now and then. Since then, "whale tail" has become a catch-all term for a particular type of spoiler, usually one that's outrageously large and flares out a bit. Unlike their dinky, aftermarket cousins, whale tails know that it's better to go big than go back to the garage.

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