Beauty is a delicate, precious, indefinable, tremulous, flyaway thing. Try and grasp it in your hand – or your algorithm – and you will crush it like an ickle butterfly.
Though if you’re a ‘leading expert in the psychological analysis of images’ you’ll probably end up with something that looks less like a crushed butterfly and more like a squashed, poisonous, very uneconomical toad. How else to describe the ‘perfect car’, that Professor Peter Hancock of Stirling University came up with recently?
The motoring press certainly came up with worse. A composite of several cars, including the Aston Martin DB9, Lamborghini Gallardo, Triumph Spitfire, Rolls Royce Phantom, Range Rover Evoque and the Mini Cooper, it was widely-derided.
Such ugliness doesn’t come easily, or, I’m guessing, cheaply. Commissioned by the car insurer Privilege to come up with ‘the perfect car’, the professor spent three months asking 2,000 UK respondents about their favourite cars, ‘including which features they favour most’. Men and women were, apparently, largely in agreement about what cars and features they liked the most. They also both liked the same colour – black.
He then analysed 3,800 pieces of feedback: ‘looking at everything from size, shape and colour, to headlight dimensions, door symmetry, wing mirror elevation and windscreen angle.’ Though not, apparently, taste.
Using specialist computer software and an algorithm, he produced the CGI of ‘the nation’s perfect car’. The result is, as I think most people would agree – including probably those surveyed by Professor Hancock – perfectly awful. Homer Simpson did a better job when he designed a car that bankrupted the car company he was working for. At least ‘The Homer’ had a fun bubble on the back.
Mind you, ‘Britain’s perfect car’ isn’t as scary as those ‘perfect celebrity’ CGIs. You know, the ones where they take David Beckham’s beard, David Gandy’s jawline, Bradley Cooper’s eyes, Brad Pitt’s nose and stick them all together with blue-tack and Vaseline to produce a face that is a kind of creepy, celebrity Mr Potato Face. Strangely familiar yet powerfully repugnant.
In the final ‘perfect’ motoring monstrosity, the front section (including bumper, bonnet and windscreen) was an Aston Martin DB9 (with 47 per cent of the vote). The middle section (including roof and side windows) was a Lamborghini Gallardo (33 per cent). And the back section a Triumph Spitfire (10 per cent).
You can certainly see Beckham in the DB9, Gandy in the Gallardo – and Leslie Phillips in the Spitfire.
The headlights are from a Mini Cooper (14 per cent), the rear lights an Audi A1 (17 per cent), and the doors a Rolls-Royce Phantom (17 per cent). The wheels a Ranger Rover Evoque, and the wing-mirrors, weirdly, from a Citroen Picasso (2 per cent).
There isn’t of course much wrong with any of these features – on the original car. They’re all lovely and classic in context (except maybe the Picasso wing mirrors). Hack them out of context and instead of a raised pulse you get a raised gorge. Bork instead of torque. (Leslie Philips’ rear so does not belong on David Gandy’s midsection.)
It’s like taking all of your favourite flavours, savoury and sweet, spicy and bitter, and putting them in the same dish, but without Heston Blumenthal’s flair.
When you look at the figures closely, however, it quickly becomes apparent that the composite nature of the dream car is a bit of a sleight of hand. What the professor’s research suggests is that when fantasising about their ‘dream car’ – i.e. one they don’t have to buy, insure, run, park, valet and maintain in the real world – most British people want a black Aston Martin DB9 (retailing from £125,000), which got nearly half the votes and makes up the most important half of the composite car.
Or they want a black Lamborghini Gallardo (from £136,000), which got a third of the votes. Or maybe they want a black DB9 with an Italian midsection engine. And big wheels. The other votes and parts mostly don’t add up to very much, percentage-wise or shape-wise. Except perhaps for the Rolls Royce Phantom (from £285,000) doors.
The terrifying truth revealed by their ‘dream car’ may actually be that most British people want to be David Beckham crossed with David Gandy crossed with Lady Penelope.