Trends in car design have come and gone and reappeared over the years, but Jim Hall in his latest Design Handbook entry for Autoline Daily, makes the argument that sports cars have more-or-less kept the same proportions for over a century: long hoods with cockpits placed close to (if not on top of) the rear axle. (These proportions can be explained partially by a subject covered previously in the video series, dash-to-axle ratio.)

Hall points to the American Underslung automobiles of the early 1900s as among the first vehicles to be designed with a sporty appearance. In addition to having long hoods and rear-biased passenger compartments, their axles were hung under the frame rails, and their engines, transmissions and bodies were mounted between them, instead of on top. These features lent American Underslung cars a relatively low and sporty appearance compared to other contemporary vehicles - especially with their 40-inch-diameter wheels. We also imagine that handling benefited from the low center of gravity afforded by mounting components lower.

Watch the video below to find out how the same basic design elements have been applied to vastly different sports cars over the years to get that same elegant yet athletic look - and why sports car proportions have never really changed.


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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 13 Comments
      GRR
      • 1 Year Ago
      Seems like this guy has never seen a Countach, he needs to go out of USA some day to find out that mid engine sportscars have been around for decades, and they are awesome.
        jonnybimmer
        • 1 Year Ago
        @GRR
        The guy talks about Lamborghini's first mid engined car and you criticize his lack of knowledge of non-American, mid engined cars by using another, newer Lambo as an example? What are you talking about??
      LW
      • 1 Year Ago
      Dis dood is so biased toward ancient relic design from the chitty chitty bang bang days that he can't let go of it. Its all about form follow function. The Elan was a transverse FWD car. The Miura had a transverse engine mid mounted, thus the short rear end. Nobody could make a 6 liter longitudal mid mounted/aft mounted transmission car with a short looking rear. What's he going to talk about next? The come back of the hand crank?
      MVM
      • 1 Year Ago
      Mr Hall may know a lot about automotive design, but this piece is very USA-centric and his knowledge of everything non-american seems poor. As far as I know, the Ferrari 250 LM inverted sportscars' proportions long before the Lamborghini Miura was launched (let alone the Lotus Elan). He also doesn't take into account the influence of F1 in sportscars' design after John Cooper created the central engine design, which implied long front and short rear overhang. Still the front-engined sportscars' proportions are timeless. Cars like the Mercedes SLS keep true to the tradition. I just love those long hoods.
        Rico Suave
        • 1 Year Ago
        @MVM
        No one cares about your mind numbing auto history. Just enjoy the clip.
      Alfa Pete
      • 1 Year Ago
      Au contraire, mon frere! Underslung means that the chassis side rails go under the rear axle. Conventional suspension puts the rear axle under the upswept portion of the chassis side rails.
      Ed Oldaker
      • 1 Year Ago
      Hi, I'm American and everything my country does is excellent. Hi, I'm the rest of the world and I see American's cars as the poorly thought out, poorly engineered crap that it is.
      • 1 Year Ago
      [blocked]
      eeenok
      • 1 Year Ago
      the long hood might be a near fixture of sports car design, but it's still based on a context - the cue that the hood is hiding a great long lump of motor - and context is not immutable. in particular, enough people know that mid engine is an exclusive luxury configuration that this knowledge gets incorporated into an aesthetic appreciation of the short nose and long deck that telegraphs an engine behind the driver. so much so that, for example, the third generation prelude mimicked this configuration when it borrowed the NSX design language. audi is also not being booed off the stage for emphasising cab-forward designs. hall's relief at the "obvious" benefit of the miura's conventional proportion is equivalent to claiming that the porsche 908 is "obviously" an unattractive car. hall clearly has a lot to teach us about car design, but i think his attachment to this particular context means that partly what he is telling us is that he is old, and confused about the difference between what is inherently beautiful and what was beautiful when he was growing up
      Cruising
      • 1 Year Ago
      I would love a episode about Grand Tourer, I bet Jim could have a field day with that.
      • 1 Year Ago
      [blocked]
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