Four decades of top design: The Opel Monza GSE meets the Monza Concept
- Style icons in comparison: Dream coupé of the seventies meets the IAA study 2013
- Designers from back then and now in dialogue: George Gallion and Friedhelm Engler
- Fascinating double interview: The Opel design language of yesterday and today
Rüsselsheim. A beautiful autumnal day at the river Main: Riding on a yellow truck, the Monza Concept rolls up in front of the Adam Opel Building. The namesake of the brand-new concept vehicle, a Monza GSE, is already set. George Gallion, who designed the original 1977 Monza, and Friedhelm Engler, Director of Advanced Design of the Monza Concept, follow spellbound, as the two cars are placed side by side – a moment worthy of goose bumps. Dozens of employees gather immediately, pulling out their smartphones as they walk around the racers. Even the two designers cannot be persuaded to pose for the photographers as planned. While the Monza Concept is still assuming its position, Gallion opens the tailgate of the GSE. “That was a tricky thing,” he says, stroking the delicate trimming of the rear window. “It ensures the extremely slender structure is rigid enough, and we wanted this structure at all costs,” he explains. “When designing the Monza Concept,” says Engler, “we were inspired by the tailgate’s glass.” And the car is now finally good to go. With a stroke of his finger over the rear fender, Engler opens the huge gull-wing door. Silently. Gallion takes his seat. Using a touchpad, Engler raises the LED projection. The curved cockpit, stretching from door to door, springs to life. Virtual buttons and control dials appear on the cockpit surface. “Everything can be shown here. A CD cover, the navigational map, a Facebook app, whatever you want, when you want it,” explains Engler.
Ten questions for Opel designers George Gallion and Friedhelm Engler
? Mr. Gallion, you made history with the Monza A2 in 1983. It was the first car with a digital display. What do you think of this new kind of instrument panel?
GALLION: Some newspapers called our display a ‘mouse screen’ back then. I liked that. This is like, how should I call it, “Mickey Mouse meets Star Wars.” I am even slightly envious when I see what’s possible today. How beautiful this car has become.
ENGLER: Hey, George, you’ve got goose bumps. This interface between human and machine is crazy, right? The infotainment and instrument panel was originally intended to be a lot smaller, more reduced. Then we realized that it works really well. We can place the multifunctional, customizable dash panel across the entire width of the dashboard. It’s state of the art.
? Mr. Gallion and Mr. Engler, your paths coincided at Opel in 1992. Did you ever run into each other?
Gallion: But of course. I actually interviewed Friedhelm for the job.
ENGLER: I still remember it well. After the interview, George showed me around the studio and let me look under all the car covers. That was actually against the rules. But that’s typical of the fascination with Opel / Vauxhall. It’s approachable, both then and now.
? How has the work of designers changed?
ENGLER: The early stages always involve the vision, the idea and then pencils, and quality paper. That hasn’t changed. Right, George?
GALLION: Yes. It’s the old cliché – the designer sits in a café and sketches with pencil and paper in front of them. That’s true. Even in meetings, while designers are listening, well, most of the time, they are drawing while they’re at it.
ENGLER: What has changed, of course, are the tools – computer development and 3D programs, shaping machines and simulations.
? 48 years ago, Opel was the world’s first car manufacturer to present a concept car at the IAA, the Experimental GT. This year it’s the Monza Concept. How important are concept cars for the evolution of design?
GALLION: The show cars are there in order to showcase new design ideas. They don’t necessarily have to result in a product. Rather, they aim to illustrate a trend. At that time, Opel had the first design department that was only allowed to research without regard to a particular product line.
ENGLER: The Monza Concept is the vision of the Opel brand, and for us, too, for designers, employees, and colleagues. It is incredibly motivating to see a vision take shape. Indeed, we have just seen what happened in front of the Adam Opel Building. Before the car is even in position, colleagues gather in droves to see the car and take photos.
? How was the idea of the Monza Concept born?
ENGLER: It began with a vision of the brand. We wanted to visualize efficiency that could also be realized from the point of view of engineering. The idea was for it not to convey heaviness but also not fragility. That is how the original sketch of the lady and the dog was born. (Engler pulls out a poster showing the car next to a lady and a greyhound.) This greyhound is just skin and bone, is incredibly agile, and at the same time looks elegant. That is perfect. Also, this woman, she’s got a 70s, 80s look on the one hand, but is also modern and cool. That was it, that was a full story. Together we developed the idea for another two years. A show car is not the work of just one person. It is a team effort, involving 70 or 80 people.
? Getting back to the greyhound, over and again we read that animals are the inspiration for car designs. Do designers visit the zoo regularly in their free time?
ENGLER: I don’t think that our people hang out at the zoo. Although, George, there is that story about the manta ray …
GALLION: That was in 1969. In response to the Ford Capri, we designed a prototype for a coupé in the space of four weeks. Predator names were ‘in’ at the time. We wanted to name it manta and use the shape of the fish as the emblem. But nobody could tell us what this fish looked like at all. Nobody but Jacques Cousteau, the marine biologist. So I went to see him in Paris to get photos of the manta ray. And well, the fish wasn’t all that beautiful in the end. So then we gave it a more elegant look in the design.
ENGLER: Examples from the animal world are appreciated simply because they mean something to everyone. When I talk about a cheetah or a greyhound in conversation, everyone has an image in their mind straight away.
? Monza: that means, a sports coupé with a lot of space inside. What parallels can be drawn between the Monza A and the Monza Concept?
ENGLER: The Monza Concept stands on its own. However, there are certain intentional references to the Monza A, for example, the implied air ducts of the C pillar. The duct along the roofline reflects functionality which is what Opel stands for. This makes it a high-value four seater that makes no compromises. That’s why we call it a sports break and not a sports coupé. The generous sculpted glass – another reference – brings lightness and also gives it a more slender appearance. Otherwise, the Monza A is just a namesake, a reference. While we had it with us in the studio, we didn’t do a retro design, and we didn’t cook or rehash any old ideas. George and his team never looked back either.
? How much of the Monza Concept’s design will be incorporated into new Opel models?
ENGLER: Like all Opels, the Monza Concept vehicle is the embodiment of our basic messages – sculpted design and German engineering skill. But it develops the topic, the design philosophy further, pushes it to the next level – by placing the emphasis on extremely strong proportions. Simple lines are therefore sufficient in other areas. Just like a beautifully grown Christmas tree. That’s sculpted design. And it’s evident in the Astra GTC: The lateral, fully pulled sheet metal completes the stage performance.
? Is it often the case that you have to sacrifice a brilliant design idea for functional or technical specifications?
ENGLER: No, not if you develop the idea from the beginning together with colleagues from the engineering and marketing departments.
GALLION: I’ve never tried to do anything that wasn’t technically feasible. But if the engineers said to me, “no, we cannot tilt this component another degree,” then I’d say, “Ok, then just try half a degree more.”
? By the way, what cars do you have in your private garage? Mr. Gallion, you arrived today in a Meriva …
GALLION: Yes, that’s my fourth already! The door design of the Meriva B is very practical, particularly when I have my five-year-old grandchild with me. And the blue Aero GT, at Opel Classic, that’s mine also.
ENGLER: I’m pursuing a special project at the moment. My son and I are turning an Opel GT into a rally vehicle, which we want to use for racing. When it’s finished, I’ll come over to your place and we can do some laps.
GALLION: It’s a deal!
In brief: The designers and their concept cars
Born in 1963, the Director of Advanced Design at GM Europe studied design at the University of Pforzheim for three years, before moving to Tokyo to work as a product designer. At Opel, he began as a transport designer, was later head designer on the Meriva A and the Astra H, then Director of Design for Global Compact Car Architecture. Until 2010, he managed the design department of the PATAC development center in Shanghai. As Director, he was responsible for show cars and studies, including RAK e, RAD e, and the Monza Concept.
Born in the U.S. in 1937, he joined GM in Detroit after having studied industrial design in Atlanta, Georgia. In 1969, he moved to Opel and became Deputy Design Director. Many Opel / Vauxhalls carry his signature, from the Manta A to Monza to his latest projects, the Signum and Movano. He retired in 2002 and lives with his wife in the Taunus mountain range in Germany.
The Monza A1 was presented at the Frankfurt Motor Show (IAA) in 1977. The three-door coupé of the new top model, Senator, was ideal for everyday use with its four seats. The Monza was powered by six-cylinder engines with 2.5- to 3.0-liter cubic capacity. The Monza A2 replaced it at the end of 1982. In 1983, the top GSE line featured digital display instruments for the first time. Production of the coupé ended in 1986, but today it is fast becoming a cult classic.
It combines the silhouette of a sports break with the line of a coupé, and gull-wing doors with functionality. Highly modern instruments and infotainment displays using LED projection technology are indicative of O / V’s plan for sweeping integration. As for the drive system, the modular design ensures the highest degree of flexibility. A 1.0 turbo engine is connected to the electric drive system of the design study, with more combinations possible.
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