High Belt Line: A Modern Atrocity

As of this post the average age of our staff is twenty-eight, with myself being the youngest. This fact may seem like it has little to do with car design, but from the perspective of someone who goes crazy over the right shapes, I hope it foreshadows the tone of my dissenting opinion against current car aesthetics.

I hate the high belt lines and short windows on today’s cars.

It may make wasp-y yuppie families feel safe – or allow 22″ rims to look “hella dope” on your entry-level Chrysler sedan – but it’s ruining car design. In terms of surface area, modern style only takes from the space least populated with sheet metal: the window pillars. However, think about this: From what it takes, it adds exponentially to what is best described as negative space in the body. The least shapely of areas.

Allow me to show you an example. I have stock photos of two cars, the first being a 1967 Oldsmobile Toronado. This car may be the most beautiful front-wheel drive vehicle ever designed. Following it is a 2010 Toyota Camry, which will likely go down as one of the most bland cars to ever run a 14 second quarter mile. The thing I like most about this comparison is that despite the difference in design, era and intent, they happen to share a very similar C pillar shape.

I’ll admit that Toronado seems to have higher belt line from a cursory glance. The Camry’s windows actually sit below the cowl and deck lid, which creates this illusion. Just look at that A- to C-pillar relationship, though. On this car it’s one of it’s defining features and what makes it look so handsome. It sets the cars profile and 3/4 look while using very little sheet metal.

Obviously the lack of a B-pillar helps this tremendously, but we’re going to ignore the fact that hardtop cars always look better than posts and sedans. Some other things to note is how the nose and tail gradually come down from the end of the bumper to the bottom line of the car at the wheel wells, and how little sheet metal isn’t being used purposefully. What is there is occupied by a simple body line that carries your eyes across the car smoothly.

Now let’s take a look at the Camry.

I want to start out saying that I can’t fault the Camry for having big, ugly A-pillars. Today’s crash standards are to blame. Despite this, the A- and C-pillar have a very similar shape to the Toronado. On this car though, it’s does nothing for it. The deck lid has a “Bangle Butt” that ruins any hope of the C-pillar giving the car a sporty look.

It does allow the belt line to appear to sit low on the outside, while still giving the comfortable feeling of it being high on the inside. This have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too compromise sacrifices seeing low objects out of the rear windshield.

Here’s the most important part: Notice the empty expanse of sheet metal from front quarter to rear quarter, mostly in the doors themselves. It does nothing for the car. In contrast to the Olds, look how low the front and rear bumper hang through the length of the car. It’s the reason why modern cars have all those tacky scoops, lights, reflectors, plastic trim pieces and grilles shoved in these areas. They need something to fill all that space in the front and back.

Now I know what you’re thinking… Shame on me for picking on the poor Camry. It was never designed to be a looker, just to operate flawlessly and unexcitingly. My problem is this: The same problems that exist on this car exist on most cars nowadays. You can look at “stylish” cars like the Challenger, the Camaro, the Fusion (which is just a gussied-up, Camry-like people mover) and see all these same problems. This look has got to stop. I’ve never owned a car newer than model year 1998, so it’s up to you, the car-buying public, to see the error of your ways. If you keep buying these cars, they’ll keep making them look like this.

So what can you do?

Now we’re back at age 28. Most people my age are the ones buying and loving the looks of these cars, while most older car-lovers (not be confused with older car-buyers) are shunning them for their cookie-cutter style. The cars I grew up around had low belt lines, great visibility and a large greenhouse area. They also looked stylish. If you need proof, look no further than the Fox-body Mustang, The Z32 300zx or even the Impala SS. We didn’t need slab-sided cars with larger-than-life wheels to have something that looked cool. We grew up as the last generation to be able to see a brand-new powerful car without traction control, stability control, anti-lock brakes and such. And sportscars didn’t weigh as much as a pick-up truck either.

Excuse my Grandpa Simpson-isms for a moment and just hear me out. This style does nothing to improve the aesthetics of the car with exception to fitting large wheels (a fad, in it’s own right) and only gives the driver the illusion of “feeling” safe, as if you were driving a tank. Say no to slit windows and tall doors. Let’s bring back beautiful cars.

8 thoughts on “High Belt Line: A Modern Atrocity

  1. I did a search for door height safety requirements with only one meaningful hit, which led me to search for high beltline. I too, hate this look. Just hate it. I’m 27 and can’t understand why any sports(sporty) car would have a higher beltline than a 3rd gen camaro. Only reason would be government nanny state requirements for side impact safety, and also to fit 20-22″ wheels, which aren’t all that necessary.

    • I’m glad that there’s other young people out there not buying into what car manufacturers are pushing. Keep up the Third Gen love!

  2. The high belt-line, gun-slit window trend has afflicted my 2008 Kia Optima, albeit to a lesser degree. I still have to open my driver door and look down and aft when backing into a parking space – something I never had to do when backing up anything built more than 10 years prior to this posting.

    Another trend, more safety than style-oriented, which I think is counter-productive – side-view mirrors closer to the driver(along the door sill) and further out from the side window glass.

    This makes it impossible for me to exercise the BGE(Blind-spot Glare Elimination) mirror setting, where you should see NONE of your own vehicle in the side-views(that’s why they’re called side view mirrors people!). Unfortunately, BGE(google blind glare elimination mirror) works best with maximum forward placement of sideview mirrors(as close to the A-pillar as possible), and as close to the side window glass as possible. My 1996 Ford Contour(Mondeo originally in Europe) excelled in this respect, allowing me to execute BGE flawlessly.

    With newer cars, such as my 2005 Malibu and aforementioned present 2008 Kia, it is much harder, due to mirrors being further from the glass and of folding variety. I do not NEED folding mirrors! The 1990s Contour mirrors did not have to fold because they were closer to the side glass than on recent models.

    A return to common-sense automotive aesthetic – with ample greenhouses, back windows you can actually SEE out of, and properly placed side-view mirrors – would eliminate the need for gimmicks such as blind-spot warning systems and back-up cameras. And don’t get me started on 20-25″ blingy WAGON WHEEL rims….

  3. Amen, new cars are bloated, ugly, high sided battleships.

    That’s why I don’t drive anything or own any car newer than 1995.

    As a Fox body Notchback Mustang owner, it was slim, good looking and low sided…In 1994, it became fat and bulbous. Eww.

    All these new blobs suck…Like land submarines.

    Rather have REAL metal and chrome steel bumpers, like on my 85 G body Buick Regal coupe, than a plastic crap metal and 30 airbags in a spacey looking Kia.

    No Thanks.

    • Although I can agree with most of your sentiments, I have owned a 94-98 Mustang GT and my complaints are more with it’s poor straight line performance despite its stark difference in appearance to the 79-93 models.

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