Thursday, May 22, 2014

The Car Tangent, part 1...

Friends, welcome back to the beginning of a very long tangent. I have been on a racing, driving and general car kick over the past few months because a concept car shown a year ago was announced as actually going into production. It may seem obvious that the things that I am most passionate about get the biggest write-ups on this blog. I did mention why I did that in the About section of my blog. If you don’t care much for cars then just tune out for the next few weeks. I’ll get back into fighting games eventually. To get back to the subject at hand, Nissan showed off a fun little two door called the IDx at the 2013 Tokyo Auto Show. Both a street version called the Freeflow and a sport/racing version dubbed the NISMO (after the Nissan Motor Parts Racing Group) were unveiled. The announcement of a new concept car may seem insignificant, especially since just about every major manufacturer shows a new concept or pre-production car at every show. There can be dozens or even hundreds of new models at any one event. Audiences do not always have the time or patience to sift through them. However the response for the IDx was immediate. The general public and the press were all over the car, spreading images and articles online like wildfire. It was one of the strongest reactions that any company had gotten during a debut. The reason why may not have been obvious to everybody but those in the know recognized that Nissan was going back to a legacy design.

The IDx was a nod to the 1968 Datsun 510. Nissan phased out the Datsun name in 1986 although the recently brought it back in smaller markets, but I digress. The small car was popular in its day and predated the smash hit Fairlady-Z. The 510 was a cultural touchstone for the parents of people from my generation. Seeing it remade immediately brought back a sense of nostalgia. However there was also a sense of awe to go along with it. The IDx captured the essence of the classic 510 but included the modern conventions one would expect. Bigger wheels, sharper body angles, high tech electronics, engine and suspension that couldn’t have been possible 46 years ago were now available to the general public.

What Nissan did right by the IDx was apparent from the get-go. They did not simply call it the 510 and let the nostalgia critics tear it down. They would have too. The lights were not right, the grill was not right, the body lines were not right and the accents were not right for it to be a “true” remake of the classic 510. Instead Nissan wanted to demonstrate that their designers were going with a new idea but were also free to take cues from the company legacy. These designers had the freedom to make editorial decisions with the car and not put out another boring design based on sales numbers, as was the status quo for the industry. In fact Nissan reached out to the community and asked about 100 teens, the children of my generation what they were looking for in a first car. These were not run of the mill kids either but those that loved cars new and old. They loved the classic Datsun designs yet also wanted a car that was easy to customize, like something out of a videogame. From lights to fenders, seats and wheels, just about every component on the car was designed to be easy to swap out. The spirit of the classic two-door remained despite the radical ideas. The badge and color of the NISMO package in red and white livery gave car buffs a reason to do a double take.

The past was reborn and remixed in Tokyo that night. The decision to go ahead and turn the IDx Freeflow and NISMO into production cars filled my heart with hope. Car design was finally becoming fun again. It had been boring for the first half of my life. From the late ‘70s through the ‘80s there were not many cars, except for the exotics, that seemed to spark my imagination. I was crazy about cars as a kid but also knew that there were some bland cars that were as boxy and lifeless as my early drawings. Cars that once had formidable reputations like the Mustang and Corvette had fallen behind the curve. Something had to change and something did change when a wave of awesome imports hit the US. Whether they had better gas mileage, were more reliable or cost less than US automobiles it was apparent that America was embracing foreign autos. It took a long time for Detroit to take notice and even longer for them to do something about it. By the time the Great Recession hit the US auto makers were in too deep with the old modes of production and design. Change was the only thing that could help the industry and thankfully it was already happening. Nissan was not the only company that used a legacy design to re-launch a brand, if anything they were one of the last to do that. The next blog will look at how the muscle car was reborn.


  1. I was excited about the FR-S coming out because of the nod to the AE86.
    I checked it out, and ended up buying the Hyundai Veloster Turbo, because it was cheaper, faster, and had more features

    1. Hah, I won't even get to the FR-S for a few months. It's nice looking but I'll be comparing it to another even more desirable ride.