EV Makers Stymied By Front-End Designs – What Tesla and Others Can Learn From Classic Designs

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For some reason, designers struggle with cars without a front engine. Here’s how the classics handled front-ends without needed grills.


While both the Fisker Karma and the Tesla Model S are gorgeous designs, many fans and even owners, feel that the front fascia designs are the one weak area of the design. A small cottage industry popped up to offer Model S owners alternative front ends. The Karma’s front end was redesigned by VLF and renamed the Destino. The front was one of the few things the company changed – aside from getting rid of the EV motor in favor of a V8 engine.


Before we begin, let’s look at the Model 3 as it stands in its pre-production images. As anyone with eyes can see, the Tesla Model 3 is a beauty. Its fastback rear end is particularly unique for its size. However, up-front, one can see that the bumper and fascia look almost unfinished. Also, note the way in which Tesla created this press page image. The front is almost hidden from view. Below we see the front end as it presently appears on Tesla’s public page.


Automobile Magazine employs one of the most respected automotive design critics, Robert Cumberford. A former Corvette designer who worked with the greats, Cumberford called the front bumper of the Model 3 “Controversial, but brilliant.”

In the October 2016 issue, Cumberford said, referring to the of the featureless fascia of the Model 3, “This near-vertical plane leaning slightly forward produces a shadowed effect infinitely superior to the painted surrogate grille of the original Model S.” In just one statement, Cumberford not only throws his qualified approval to the Model 3, but he also damns the Model S design.

With Tesla’s most important car now nearing the end of its design in anticipation of a 2017 release, we looked back at some ways automakers solved the riddle on past designs.


First up is the Chevrolet Corvair. Yes, it is now well known for being the subject of a safety quote by a guy who later lost big running for president. You just said it in your head, didn’t you?

Safety aside, the Corvair was revolutionary. It used a rear-mounted, flat six engine (“pancake engine”, as the GM press release called it on September 29th, 1959). This was pre-Porsche 911, if you are wondering.

The Corvair won numerous awards and was widely considered the best looking American passenger car of its time. Cumberford said of the Corvair in an Automobile post this year”…the high perimeter body line of the 1960 Corvair (was) copied by a dozen companies all over the world, from BMW (the 2002) to Zaz (the 966)…” Note that the front is relatively devoid of features compared to a car with a grill. Yet, it still looks pleasing to the eye. The license plate also does not disrupt the lines.


The Porsche rear and mid-engine cars, of course, are famous for their designs. It is hard to find fault in the front end of any 911, aside from those that had the huge rubber bumpers mandated for safety in the dark days.

To our eye, the Tesla Model 3 looks great in every way except from the front. There is still time for changes. Unlike the low-volume, custom-built Models S and X, the Model 3 is intended to be a mass-produced car selling in the hundreds of thousands. Just like the Corvair, which sold 1.8 million units over its production span. Time and sales numbers will be the judge of the Model 3’s design success.

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Image Notes:  Corvair Image by permission of GM, not for reproduction. Tesla Images courtesy of Tesla Motors.



John Goreham

John Goreham