What’s On Your Fender?

June 23, 2006

Badges, brightwork and vents are automotive “jewelry.” Designers use them to break up large surface areas, to telegraph the brand or make of a vehicle to owners and admirers, and sometimes just to make a new vehicle pretty.

The final frontier for jewelry — once the grille, tailgate, steering wheel, and other prime real estate have been covered — seems to be fenders, if recent auto shows and vehicle intros are any measure. Look at Land Rover’s LR2 to get the idea: in the space between the wheel well and the door cutline, the LR2 has an eccentrically shaped accent that’s become a hallmark of the sportier Land Rovers in the lineup. In the same area on a Range Rover, there’s also a “buckle,” as some designers call it — but on the statelier SUV it’s a trim vertical rib of chrome or filigree, depending on your bank balance.

Jaguar designer Ian Callum’s done the same with the new XK and XJ, giving them a signature style piece with a metal clasp embossed with the brand’s name. BMW’s M6 has a dashing dash of chrome on its front fenders, too.

But it’s not just the Euro premium brands getting into the buckle boom. Lincoln’s MKS concept wears similar cosmetic jewelry. And Buick’s bringing back portholes on the Lucerne and the Enclave — a little north of the buckle belt, but with the same concept in mind.

Not every make is convinced. Volvo’s new S80 has unadorned fenders even though it’s the first cousin of most of the vehicles in this item. Sometimes, it seems, high style is no style at all.

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