If we’re going to be rigorously honest, most cars are not only uninteresting, but they’re downright ugly. After experiencing last year’s car show here in New York City, I felt depressed. All of the cars looked spectacularly un-special, with little to distinguish them from each other. If you looked at a line up of medium sized sedans in the same color from BMW, Jaguar, Lexus, Toyota, Honda and even Mercedes, one could conceivably die of boredom. What the hell happened to design?
It’s no wonder that when someone dares to disrupt the formula and do something different and inspired, like the Mini or the Fiat 500 or even the Smart Car, heads turn. And if it’s actually gorgeous? Well… Stop everything. That Mazerati Ghibli or Quattroporte? Simply stunning. The Tesla Model S? Bafflingly elegant.
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I know, I know… it’s a luxury car. Strange topic for a confirmed bicycle man on a budget, but one of the themes here is “raising the bar.” The bar raising here concerns design, elegance and taste. It’s also important to recalibrate the eye after being surrounded by the numbing, uninspired sea of sameness for so long.
With the Speedback, CEO David Brown sought to build something that “encapsulates all that I hold dear to me in terms of style, quality and performance.” I don’t get the impression that he surveyed reams of data and research, but, rather, pursued a personal passion, vision, instinct and sheer love of beautiful cars. Then there’s the all-important ingredient that no data or course of study can give you: taste. Brown, like other impassioned visionaries who managed to put a real dent in the universe, like Steve Jobs, Ralph Lauren, Martha Stewart, Tom Ford, Walt Disney and others, has taste. When it comes to applying it, taste is like talent. You either have it or you don’t. You can’t teach it, buy it or steal it, but you can refine it, apply it and share it. Brown and the talented team he assembled did just that.
The Speedback GT clearly reflects Brown’s love of the 1960s, with lines that bear a transparent tribute to the Aston Martin DB5 with little touches of vintage Jaquar. But it’s also a decidedly modern car that merely recognizes that certain design elements have gotten lost over time, restoring an exquisite aesthetic that needn’t (or couldn’t) be improved. It’s also bathed in luxury Britishness: British leather, British wood, British manufacturing… One wonders if it won’t make an appearance in the next Bond film (but that might be a slap in the face to Aston Martin).
There was a time when one could identify a car’s make and model at a quick glance. They had an identity. They were special – even beautiful. Nowadays, it looks as if car companies are terrified of alienating anyone in the interest of selling as many cars as possible, aiming at the lowest common denominator and relying on design-by-committee-and-data and producing neutered products that all look alike unless you really stare at the grill, the hood ornament or the logo on the rear.
So, to Mr. David Brown, I offer my congratulations and my thanks. I offer my congratulation for imagining, creating and launching a truly beautiful automobile. I can only imagine the risk and the expense of making this happen, but I think Speedback is a work of art, and I genuinely hope it does well. I express my thanks because you have restored my faith that there are still people in charge who have vision, who have taste, and who give a damn.