Rinspeed iChange

The ichange, the latest Frank M. Rinderknecht concept car creation, is backward but definitely not retro. It nicely recapitulates the fender profile of 1942-48 Buicks but applies it back to front. In other words, backward. As a kid, I admired those swoopy lines on Buicks and find they still look just fine here, especially as contrasted with the big bubble canopy, the teardrop shape of which gives the necessary directional thrust to the overall design composition. As an adult - or at least as someone of adult age - I have also admired the many multifarious Rinspeed concept cars without ever liking any of them very much. Every year, as reliably as the bird in a Swiss cuckoo clock, a new one pops up at the Geneva show. They are always interesting but also always a bit skewed from mainstream lines technically and more than a bit unrefined in style.

Still, Rinderknecht's heart is in the right place, and he was on the environmentally correct bandwagon early, with a nod to aerodynamics, a commitment to light weight, and with a good story to go with each car. He plays with forms, with ideas, and with words. Last year's concept was called sQuba, a reference to scuba diving, since the car could operate underwater, like James Bond's Lotus Esprit S1. Except the sQuba really worked. There were also cars called X-Trem, zaZen, E-Go Rocket, and so on, all of them consistent with Rinderknecht's basic tenet - "Innovation driven by emotion." The bright green Veleno was a customized Dodge Viper, done at a time when there were only a few Vipers in existence, every one of them bright red. Although the Dodge may have been the biggest and most powerful of his creations, lately he has been working with fuel cells and batteries for zero-emissions vehicles.

This year's effort, the iChange, is actually pretty good-looking, and it solves the problem of how to provide headroom in the rear of a fastback by simply raising the roof when passengers are being carried. The central driving position with a pair of set-back passenger seats was first seen on the Wimille prototype mid-engine sports car in the 1940s and was adopted by the McLaren F1 sports car in the 1990s. It makes good sense for mid-engine cars, although passengers may not like being relegated to the back seats, even if they aren't very far back. Still, the Bugatti Type 35 passenger has to accept an offset as well, so that the driver is favored.

I'm not sure what such low-slung cars are good for in a severely speed-limited world, but if you want to be seen in a slinky slipper of a car as you negotiate city and suburban streets, it seems to me that this electric eye-catcher is as good a solution as a Lamborghini or a Ferrari. Both of which will likely fit electric propulsion to their cars in a decade or so.

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