The List






Ugliness is the Measure of Imperfection


The passage of time can have a strange effect on the perception of design. Sometimes the initially well-loved can quickly become the staid and cliched, whilst at other times the widely derided can eventually come to be appreciated decades after its original inception.

Take some of Erno Goldfinger's brutalist creations, such as Trellick Tower in North Kensington; high rise, reinforced concrete tower blocks that were despised by most in the 1970s, yet which are now Grade II listed buildings.

There are still other designs, though, that are neither admired upon their creation nor lauded in later years. The Austin Allegro is one such design - a car that achieved the seemingly impossible feat of making its pug-ugly, assembled-by-uninterested-communists, British Leyland stablemates appear to be almost Ferrari-like in comparison, and whose current appeal, even in the rose tinted world of the classic car bore, is limited only to the truly perverse. Admitting to an interest in Allegros is like admitting to an interest in the later works of Cliff Richard - something that should be revealed only in the company of other, like minded, inmates of the mental institution.

Porsche's new four door coupe - the Panamera - may not have the Allegro's 'quadric' (read square with rounded edges) steering wheel, nor is it likely to be put together with quite the same disdain for the fundamental principles of build quality as the British car, but it does share an important characteristic with the Austin - namely pure, undisguised, unadulterated ugliness.

It is not even the sort of endearing ugliness, like that of an Alfa 75, that, after some years, comes to be regarded as individuality. It is, instead, an ugliness borne of a complete lack of style, of imagination, of any flair; as if the car were the product of a couple of hours of playing around with pictures of 911s in Photoshop on a Friday afternoon.

But, being serious now, this was not, of course, how the new Porsche was designed. No - it was designed in the same way as almost all modern Porsches - by combining the front end of a 911 with the rear of a car drawn by the chief designer's five year old son. Or, in the case of the Cayenne, the front of a 911 and a drawing, by the chief designer's five year old son, of his house.

There is only one hope for the Panamera - that the current economic downturn will hit sales to such an extent that it will quickly and quietly disappear. Porsche could then concentrate its energies on expanding its design team beyond the current total of one (part time).

The rather dreadful alternative would be for the Panamera to be successful. Porsche would then follow its usual policy of launching a lightly face-lifted model every five years, ad infinitum. And as the last half a century has seen Porsche make the once handsome 911 progressively uglier, I can barely imagine what effect this design philosophy would have on its bloated and charm-free four door coupe.

One thing is for certain, though - unlike the Trellick Tower, the Panamera will never be the subject of historical aesthetic revisionism. It is the Millenium Dome of cars; a folly of such monumental and unpleasant proportions that it will forever remain unloved.