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Design Highs and Lows: William Towns

November 2, 2011 by Matt

1970 Aston Martin DBS First Generation Old Blue

Observe the car pictured above, a 1970 Aston Martin DBS. Muscular, but nicely tailored. Bulldog-ish in a sort of British muscle car fashion. Classically-proportioned and free of frivolous adornment.

Now, take a gander at the car in the image below, a 1978 Aston Martin Lagonda. I regret to inform you that yes, this car was actually built in quantity and loosed upon the civilized world. 627 of them, to be precise. Over an agonizingly long 16 year period, at the end of which they still hadn’t resolved all the car’s wildly overambitious electronic features. Incidentally, “wildly overambitious” would also be a generous description of the styling, which, well…just look at it. Words fail me. The sheer size, the shape, its utterly reckless, angular arrogance… I think I would be catatonic if I saw one in the flesh.

Aston Martin Lagonda Burgundy Auburn

Hard to believe the cars were made by the same automaker, isn’t it? And this the same manufacturer that recently graced the automotive world with some of its most stunning creations in the DB7 and DB9… But not only is the same firm responsible for both, the same man—one William Towns—penned both cars’ designs. Over his 40-odd year career, the British designer styled cars exclusively for British automakers, besides the DBS shown at top, and got lucky with a few well-received shapes—the Jensen-Healey among them. Mostly though, he stuck to drawing boxy little city cars and other transportation appliances, and precious few of them were actually produced in the automotive wasteland that was ’70s and ’80s Britain. Unfortunately for Towns, then, his most notorious design is far better known than his best, and it’s the one that defines his legacy.

Editor’s note: This post is part of an ongoing series where I highlight one example of both excellent and awful design from a noted styling house or designer. Read the other installments here:

View all posts in this series

Filed under: Aesthetics, Aston Martin, Design Highs and Lows

2 Comments

  1. areopagitica says:

    Sorry, Matt, the Jensen Healey was not the least bit successful aesthetically. The original Healey has always looked better. Look to the auction prices and know why. I can understand why one cannot always produce a “mona lisa” design. But, one should at least know that one has NOT done so, or has not improved upon one’s earlier work. I guess it is a fact that the hacks who run companies insist on creativity punching a time clock rather than emerging when it has found something worthy to express. There needs to be a sympathetic soul at the helm of the client company such as William Lyons to maintain a sort of quality control on the corporate image machines.
    Now to the Lagonda. I was forced to realize the ungainly Lagonda (Town’s Car) was itself light years ahead of the trolley car aesthetics found on the 1980 Lincoln Town Car we at Dearborn were simultaneously launching. Lincoln, as you remember had once done the lovely –and successful 1961 Continental, or the similar themed 1956 predecessor. Clearly a different set of “eyes” buying off on the product of those eras.

    • Matt says:

      The Jensen Healey wasn’t a knockout by any stretch of the imagination, but it wasn’t a complete disaster, either, a la TR7, hence my use of the phrase “well-received” regarding its styling.

      There’s no hope for the Lagonda, though. :)

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