design, English

Car design: Proportions

Giorgetto Giugiaro said in an interview I recently read in “The Road Rat” magazine:

What’s beauty in a car? It’s simple architecture and good proportion. […] The simplest things are the most beautiful.

Well, that’s exactly what I wanted to discuss in this article. We will get a brief insight of design proportions using the Aston Martin V8 Vantage as an example.

Not long ago I got back to drawing cars, something I hadn’t done for the last 15 years. With my latest drawings I realized how Aston Martin achieved beautiful designs with a surprisingly simple approach, hardly using any aesthetic addenda; while for example the Opel GT has many things happening in its design language everywhere you look.

Proportions are the way in which different shapes relate and complement each other creating a connection sensation in the whole object being designed.

Let’s start with some math. Who said math isn’t beautiful? Do you remember Fibonacci sequence from school? That sequence in which the sum of two consecutive numbers always resulted in the following one:

0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, …

The relation between each pair of consecutive numbers (dividing each number by the previous one) approximates the golden ratio (1.618034…)

Visually, if we create a rectangle in which the sides are the length of two consecutive Fibonacci numbers, such as the one in the image:


And keep splitting it using the previous Fibonacci numbers


And finally draw an ellipse connecting the vertices


The resulting ellipse, known as the golden spiral, denotes proportions that our brain finds attractive and can be found all around the nature. Everything that is designed under these premises will look naturally proportionate.


Ok, that math explanation sounds interesting, but how do we use it in car design? Well, this has always defined Aston Martin design language. In the image below you will notice that several parts in the body design meet a golden ratio relationship (total length of the car, length of the hood, height of the body, distance between the wheel and the A pillar and even the air outlet position). Isn’t that beautiful?

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To achieve a dynamic shape, the relation between the greenhouse and the lower part of the body must be carefully proportioned. Even though in the design of a saloon car the golden ratio is the correct approach, this is not always the case. In a sports car, for example, it’s desirable to have a lower greenhouse.

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The relation between the total diameter of the wheels and the distance between them (not the distance between the axles) must also meet the golden ratio.


While creating car sketches we can approximate the golden ratio using the wheel size as a guide. The space between wheels should be approximately three times their diameter.

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Unfortunately form must follow function, and design process has to adapt to engineering requirements. Sometimes the manufacturer needs to focus on the passenger space, therefore the wheelbase needs to be longer and its relation with the wheel size will not meet the golden rule.

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We just discovered why you like huge wheels. Subconsciously, you are looking for natural and pleasant proportions.

Yes, I know, you’re thinking that this is all bullshit. Well… Shut up!


Regarding simplicity in the design, as I said before, it’s something very easy to notice when drawing cars. This drawing took me no more than 30 minutes:


While this one needed some 2 hours to be completed:



Let’s focus on both front bumpers. In the first drawing the global bumper shape is a uniform curve, with just an ellipsoidal intake in it. In the second one, in contrast, there are a lot of things happening and the lines that define each shape have much higher complexity.

By no means is the Opel ugly, but isn’t the Vantage beautiful?


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