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Auto Design: 'The Madeleine Effect'

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Rich Ceppos

The Madeleine Effect


AutoWeek | Published 01/23/06, 3:00 pm et

So there we were, Anne Asensio and me, on the GM stand during press days at the North American Interna-tional Auto Show in Detroit. We watched workers ease the retro-inspired Camaro concept onto its turntable.

Asensio is French. She has spent much of her career designing cars for Renault, and is now the executive in charge of GM’s advanced design studios, where this most red-blooded of American concepts began life.

Though Asensio would be the first to say she didn’t pen the car that won AutoWeek’s Best in Show award—and is a cinch for production according to high-level GM sources—she was heavily involved in its early development.

And yet I had heard that Europeans don’t like American retro cars—didn’t get the concept at all. Was that true? Asensio explained: “It’s like what Marcel Proust wrote about the madeleine pastry—you know?”

Well, I know about the pastry, at least. The delicate shell-shaped tea cakes are about the best thing at Starbucks, with a light sweetness that complements a latte like nothing else.

“Proust,” said Asensio, “wrote that when he tasted a madeleine as an adult, good memories came flooding back from his youth, from when his aunt made them for him.”

Asensio pointed out Americans have a golden era of cars we remember warmly from the ’60s. “But Europeans don’t,” she said. “Maybe for us it is cars of the 1930s. And so Europeans look at modern cars very rationally. They don’t have this feeling for cars from when they were young. They didn’t even like the New Beetle because it had a small rear seat.”

Europeans have no equivalent to cars like the original Mustang and Camaro. There is nothing from the recent past that resonates, that connects. There is no madeleine effect.

The passage Asensio referred to is from Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past.

“Once I had recognized the taste of the crumb of madeleine soaked in her decoction of lime flowers which my aunt used to give me... immediately the old gray house upon the street, where her room was, rose up like the scenery of a theater.”

Leave it to a designer to use Proust and tea cakes to explain a sentiment so powerful it produced a car that rocks you. One that reminds us that the most compelling automobiles still spring not from a computer screen or a marketing department memo, but from the same place they always have: the heart.

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I love Anne Asensio. She's awesome in interviews and has a personal investment in Buick's styling direction. I hope GM never lets her leave. :)

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Ya know ? I say Bologna !

to name a few:

The Modena was retro of the Dino

The Aston Martins are retro of the DB4, DB5 & Zagato

The Scaglietti was a tribute to one of Italys great coach builders and is retro of type

The XK8 was retro of the D, E and SS

these cars are the European muscle car equivelent of the great 60's era.

Why dont a small handfull like the new Camaro or Mustang ? Because they are scared, people love it and its so much better than anything we have seen in decades, jelous because people love it and its so much better than anything we have seen in decades, just plain mad because its reminecent of a period they were not around for and missed out on and its trumping their parade and people love it.

everyone is reaching back in some form or the other. Why ? because its easy to look back and see that somewhere between 1977 & 2005 things went astray. Now its time to get back on track and put a bit of edge back into the styling and get away from all the bland look alikes.

All styling is derived.....so where are you going to look ? The late 70's early 80's ? No, I dont think so. Your going to look back to the times of the greats and try to figure out what their majic was. Your going to look at Harley Earl, Bill Mitchell, Malcolm Sayer, Williams Lyons, The Farinas, Vignale, Scaglietti.........the masters

Great musicians study the masters

Great artists study the masters

Great warriors study the masters

Great auto designers will study the masters

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I guess Europe only includes the continent... looking at MINIs, Astons, Jaguars, Bentleys, Rolls-Royces, and Range Rovers, it's safe to say that the British love their '60s icons.

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Why dont a small handfull like the new Camaro or Mustang ? Because they are scared,

Simply not true. I don't like the new Camaro because it is proportionally wrong. It's enormous, the total antithesis of what a sportscar should be (although I would also say that a pony car is not a sportscar, but I digress).

The new Mustang to me looks a little bare. Slab-sided and unadorned, though I can see its appeal. The new Challenger looks exactly like the old Challenger, but at least it's refreshing in its faithfulness. The new Camaro looks like a characture, about 20% too big, a hood that looks like a cartoon, and a profile that fails to capture the purity of purpose that the '69 did.

The only way I could be called scared is in the future of GM. If this is going to be the competitor to the runaway sales success of the Mustang (and I'd wager the Challenger is going to be), well I'm afraid GM missed the mark.

It's exactly the opposite of what it needs to be.

All IMHO, of course.


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