Opinion: Why it pays to value art

Hyundai sketch

Korean car makers have recognised that a pert bonnet line can shape a new model’s fortunes, and theirs.

Went to a school-night nosh-up with Hyundai recently and had the privilege of watching Sydney-born, South Korea-based designer Casey Hyun sketch freehand.

With a little camera transmitting onto a white screen what his brain was transferring onto paper, I was seriously gobsmacked at this Aussie-boy-done-good’s perspective.

Like any great artist, Casey looked into the blank sheet in front of him and saw another dimension. And even when his main design – an interpretation of what a Hyundai Ute might look like – was approaching completion, all I could see was some stunning, long-nosed reimagining of a 1963 Buick Riviera, not realising I was mistaking the tray for a bonnet. And had ignored the mirrors already drawn on what I thought were the car’s rear flanks.

When I think car drawing, I think like a flat-earther. All my childhood scribblings were wildly fanciful two-dimensional side views with ‘bee-sting’ aerials, mudflaps and exhaust smoke.

Given how much I now detest mudflaps (for their detrimental effect on a car’s styling), I don’t know what I was thinking. At least the cars themselves had taste – Citroen DSs, VW Beetles and boxy HK-HG Holdens were my specialty.

This whole lack of perspective came flooding back at the Audi A3 Cabriolet launch on Kangaroo Island last year. A pre-dinner challenge was to draw the A3 rag-top in a setting that reflected our location and the Audi brand, with the prize being the best room in the lodge. I don’t think I’ve concentrated that hard in years, copying the base grid of the artist on hand to give us hacks a few pointers while desperately trying to produce something respectable. But still no cigar, and certainly not the fancy room. My embarrassingly juvenile A3 Cab looked like a deflated soufflé.

So I’m no car designer. But I definitely appreciate how great design is more than just slapping a badge on a vehicle, or fickly following automotive fashion.

The thing that resonated most from our Hyundai design experience was the statement that “a definitive vision and consistent brand identity become crucial to [a brand’s] growth”. At which point I thought about Hyundai and Kia’s exponential rise from some of the atrocities they’ve produced in the past, and the utter failure of ‘badge engineering’ across multiple generations to achieve anything good for anybody.

It’s a surprise that it took the Koreans so long to learn from the Japanese experience, entrusting the styling of international models to the masters of the craft. Think Datsun’s Pininfarina-styled 410 Bluebird (1963) and the beautiful Giugiaro-designed 1500/1800/Luce (1966) that put Mazda on the map. How anyone at head office in Seoul ever thought the world would want a 1998 Hyundai Grandeur remains deliciously worthy of ridicule.

Casey Hyun told us that car designers can actually pick the signature in someone else’s work and say “that’s a Ponchard” (for want of a better name), which is an incredible skill. Yet Casey remains deeply proud of his early work for Hyundai – the 16-inch steelies on an iLoad. Given the evergreen popularity of the Korean van, he’s just chuffed that there’s a small slice of his art sitting in loading zones all over the country.

Triumph -Mayflower

Ugly runs deep

EVERYONE surely has an ‘ugliest car of all time’, even though some person’s ugly is definitely someone else’s cuddly. But mine has to be the Triumph Mayflower. As a kid, this mutant on wheels was even more repulsive than eating vegetables.

Sign up here to receive the latest round-up of Wheels news, reviews and video highlights straight to your inbox each week.

Sign up here to receive the latest round-up of Wheels news, reviews and video highlights straight to your inbox each week.

Want free access to 5 years of Wheels archive content? Sign up now!