Author Topic: "Back in the day, money was spent on ideas"  (Read 2656 times)

michaeld

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"Back in the day, money was spent on ideas"
« on: 20 January 2007, 02:46 PM »
I came across this in my paper.  Thought it was worth posting:

Title: Back in the day, money was spent on ideas

At a time when General Motors is trying to whittle $9 billion from its operating expenses, Vice Chairman Bob Lutz recalls the days when pinching pennies never crossed anyone's mind.

"In the '60s, design ran this place and a colossal amount of money was spent.  Bill Mitchell was head of design at the time and told his crew he wanted the Pontiac Firebird V-8 to sound just like a Ferrari V-12.

"To make his point he bought a V-12 Ferrari, about $50,000 at the time, had the V-12 taken out and put in a Firebird, and then brought in the staff and told them, "This is how a Firebird should sound,'" Lutz said.

The V-12 Firebird still rests in the GM garage.


Question: Does GM's glory days when "money was spent on ideas" speak of Mercedes-Benz and our cars?

oscar

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Re: "Back in the day, money was spent on ideas"
« Reply #1 on: 20 January 2007, 05:08 PM »
Two things come to mind reading that Michael. 

That's not an idea, that's cheating. 
Grab someone elses innovation and copy it.
That's not to say GM is the only one.  Remember the thread on the chrysler 300 (which I agree with you now having seen more and more of them, they do look 116ish) or the one on how cars of one era copy the leader.  I commented the other day on an Aussie club site how we owned a 95 Mazda 323 which has a similar rear end and side profile to a w201. At the time I mistook them all the time for Mazdas.

My second thought is - It's an interesting story and I can't really say with any qualification whether ideas and design are a priority with expenditure.  But there's plenty of comment on the flagships of the 60's and 70's MB's regarding design differentiating them from the rest.  Regarding style and engineering.  Newer flagships have spent that "idea" money on intelligent cars with lots of pushbuttons and menus and automation and safety.  Very unsexy. 
1973 350SE, my first & fave

Des

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Re: "Back in the day, money was spent on ideas"
« Reply #2 on: 20 January 2007, 05:16 PM »
they do look 116ish)


wow!
Lets back the truck up there a bit Oscar!

Are you trying to tell me this big, floppy, ugly American car looks like anything even remotely like a W116?



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1977 W116 280S *new*
1980 W123 250
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oscar

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Re: "Back in the day, money was spent on ideas"
« Reply #3 on: 20 January 2007, 05:37 PM »
Believe it or not.  Yesish :)

I didn't agree with Michaeld's view of it at first, but now every time I see them they appear to me as a new modern look borrowed from a 116/126.  In the same sense the way a new VW beetle appears to the old one and new mini's to the old ones.  Have you got a side on view. The top half is very similar IMO.  Looks like a chopped version from a 116.
1973 350SE, my first & fave

Des

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Re: "Back in the day, money was spent on ideas"
« Reply #4 on: 20 January 2007, 05:39 PM »
Ok I can see what you mean about the chopped down roof line, still think they are ugly,

1977 W123 230 
1977 W116 280S *new*
1980 W123 250
VW Beetle "Oval Window"
VW Golf Mk1
Volvo 240GL
Volvo 740GLE

michaeld

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Re: "Back in the day, money was spent on ideas"
« Reply #5 on: 20 January 2007, 06:24 PM »
Remember the thread on the chrysler 300 (which I agree with you now having seen more and more of them, they do look 116ish) or the one on how cars of one era copy the leader. 


wow!
Lets back the truck up there a bit Oscar!

Are you trying to tell me this big, floppy, ugly American car looks like anything even remotely like a W116?

Hung on my own petard, eh?

I remember that post.  After seeing the 300, I looked at the muscular nature of the car, saw the prominent grille, and thought, 'that reminds me of something.'  The grilles on most cars simply have never had that level of prominence in the design, and that reminded me of earlier Mercedes.  Largely, Mercedes itself has gotten away from that muscular look and large, prominent grille.  I might have been wrong, but I saw that as a resemblance.  I don't think the whole car is a copy; rather, I think they took certain features they liked, and - with that influence - designed the 300.  It is interesting that this design came about in a company that is now a subsidiary of Mercedes-Benz.

As to seeing the 300s as ugly, I think that's a matter of point of view.  I actually think they are good looking cars.  They have a powerful look to them.  I think that many cars today are designed to have a menacing look.  I think our w116s have a more open, honest "look" to them than many of today's menacing offerings.  That, also, is a subjective opinion.  I remember from my original post that most of the comments  were negative about the 300's relative "pulchritude." 

BTW, I also looked at some of the Lexus models, and saw a graceful body slope that - again - reminded me of our w116s.

That brings me into the current thread topic (at least in my mind).

Oscar views "copying" as "cheating."  And of course, he's basically right.  But "All's fair in love and war," they say; is it also fair in automotive design?  Is it appropriate for one designer to look around and see what others are doing, and then incorporate part of what they like - or what is "working" in the marketplace - into their own designs?

The Pontiac Firebird established a reputation for itself as a classic, collectible car.  It is fascinating to see where they looked to for inspiration: the Ferrari V-12 (talk about being ambitious!).  IMVHO, Pontiac was trying to capture the "soul" of Ferrari for an entirely different market.  And rather than merely being a "Ferrari-light," the Firebird is very much its own car.  It wasn't like people were asking themselves, "Should I buy a Firebird, or should I buy a Ferrari?"  Pontiac was trying to bring in an influence from a great car/engine design and modify it for their own market. 

In my mind, the MOST interesting thing about the article is the idea that, in designing a car, money used to be no object.  Bean counting didn't drive the entire project.  Engineers and designers spent what needed to be spent in order to obtain their vision in real metal, and then they sold the car and tried to earn a tidy profit.  Is that still the case today?  I got the idea from Bob Lutz's comments that he no longer believed that to be the case.  Has accounting become the end, and not merely a means, in today's automotive industry?  In my mind, I wonder: What has the impact of budget limitations had on car design, and is that budget "hamstringing" (if in fact it does hamstring designers) affect ALL the manufacturers, or only the Americans?

michaeld

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Re: "Back in the day, money was spent on ideas"
« Reply #6 on: 23 January 2007, 06:09 PM »
That all started changing in the 70s, especially in the USA with the advent of the fuel shortages and the reaction to the carnage on the roads and the race to win the 'ultimate fast car' mantle amongst the Big Three manufacturers.

This led to the ugly shock-absorbing bumpers and the choked up engines, not to mention the most dreadful car design period in American and world motoring history.

Now them's fightin' words (well, maybe not fighting words, but at least, "give-you-a-dirty-look" words!). ;D

I'm just kidding about the whole "dirty look" thing.  But your attitude is precisely why w116 cars - including your 6.9 - are so undervalued.  It is why - outside of a few faithful, none of the w116s has any real "classic car" or "collectible" following.  I'm never surprised to hear the 70's as "the most dreadful car design period," but I AM surprised to hear it on THIS forum.  Because you are ridculing your own car!

I have no doubt that you feel that you can denigrate the 70s automobiles as a uniquely American phenomenon.  But I don't see how you can.  One simply can't think of the 70s as the worst period in automotive history, and cherish ANY of the w116s (which, you know, were nearly all built in the 1970s).  For better or for worse, the U.S. smog and safety program affected every carmaker who wanted to sell cars in the largest car-buying market on the planet at the time.  That included Mercedes-Benz.  It included most of the w116 cars, and it included the 6.9s.  It takes more than ugly bumpers and smog pumps to transform a car from great to pathetic.  It's not like US market 6.9s are worthless pieces of crap, and Euro 6.9s are one of the world's great cars.  You can't have it both ways.

I am one of the crazy ones who like 70s cars.  I grew up with them, and they trigger fond memories.  I also like the fact that you still have genuine steel cars, you still have big V-8s, and you still have a commitment to a high level of quality.  There are still a LOT of 70s American cars driving on the road today, a testament to the fact that they were well made.  In fact, in California - where new smog laws require post-1976 cars to go through smog tests, there CONTINUE to be a lot of 70s American cars.  I can also tell  you that those "ugly shock-absorbing bumpers" you so hate make the cars a LOT more solid in a wreck.

The 70s are really an amazing period for the automotive industry.  Jimmy Carter's 20 + percent interest rates made automakers cash-strapped in their efforts to obtain financing at the same time it made if tough for the market to purchase new cars.  And the carmakers were still reeling from the OPEC embargo and the US smog emissions requirements.  Automotive engineers had to go through the equivalent of "Apollo 13"-style heroics in order to satisfy the federal requirements.  In a way, getting through all those hurdles was the industry's biggest triumph (perhaps like getting the astronauts back home following the Apollo 13 disaster was NASA's greatest triumph).

One of the things I've read was that the 4.5L M117 was built right off the 3.5L engine in order to have an engine that could pass the US smog regs and have roughly equivalent performance.  The 3.5s actually have more horsepower, but the 4.5s have more torque.  I for one am satisfied with the performance of my 77 M117.  If I really want to drive fast and furious, I'll get on a motorcycle.  I love my 450SEL as a great cruiser, not as a rocket.