By Design

Rinspeed iChange

By Design

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.

1 The fairly blunt nose is set back slightly from the sharp inner leading edge of the front fenders.

2 The low nose’s tight ramp angle precludes entry to many driveways. For production, ground clearance would have to increase.

3 This nice, big outlet could be used to exhaust air entering under the front of the car.

4 Notice how the roof bubble is subtly flattened to allow more rear headroom.

5 The wheels have solid surfaces at their outer edges to reduce turbulence.

6 Sharp, hard line defines the rear-fender profile and moves inward to intersect the greenhouse.

7 Another hard line flows off the wheel opening and translates to the spoiler lip across the rear end.

8 The lower rear panel behind the fender skirt is almost perfectly flat in the vertical plane.

9 Entry conditions are, at best, difficult. One must step over the fender while ducking under the roof edge. It might have been better to fix the windshield and pivot the canopy from the base of the A-pillars.

10 When passengers are carried, a vertical, body-color panel pops up in this area to raise the back of the roof.

11 Twin passenger seats, subtly trimmed in gray and beige, look comfortable.

12 Call it a throne if you like. There’s no question that an iChange driver would feel pretty much like the king of the road.

13 An underbody diffuser, similar to those on racing cars, helps keep the rather light (2315 pounds empty) iChange stuck to the road.

14 This cutline shows where the roof rises. When the roof is up, there is a body-color vertical band about five and a half inches high that tapers to nothing at the A-pillars.

15 This central transparent strip is rather odd because it doesn’t provide rearward visibility, so there seems to be little purpose to it. But it looks cool.

16 This surface is almost something one could make out of a piece of paper, wrapping up and around from vertical body sides to the concave area ahead of the rear spoiler lip. A subtle and elegant development.

17 The roof is quite broad here, more than usual on a bubble canopy, so that passengers aren’t squeezed inward. Side headroom is still pretty tight.

18 Like the body panels behind them, the fender skirts are also almost flat, in two planes this time.

19 Tall, drag-inducing stalks are needed to place sideview mirrors at a useful height.

20 Sharp, hard edges on the front fenders repeat the lines on the long rear fender form.

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