Road Ahead

A Look Back at Rear Ends


Rear-end styling doesn’t seem to be much of a design priority, yet it’s something motorists have no choice but to face in many driving situations.

Open a buff book, coffee-table tome or any gearhead’s blog and beauty shot upon beauty shot of grilles, headlights, hoods, rooflines and glittering trim spill from the pages or screen. In short, pretty faces, with the occasional side view

But what’s bringing up the rear?

Consider what’s ahead of you while you’re boxed in on an urban freeway, waiting your turn to gawk at the traffic stop or paint exchange on the left shoulder. Chances are your attention won’t be captured by the cars, except maybe those with provocative bumper stickers or vanity plates.

I doubt rear-end styling is deliberately neglected. It’s just not front and center, if you will.

What got me thinking about trailing edges was the ’11 Ford Focus ST, an eye-popping departure from its mousy predecessors. The fenders flare away from the body, suggesting the Volvos that once were part of Ford’s lineup; the rear window is a rounded-off trapezoid surmounted by a sweeping roof spoiler. In sum, the ST shakes a booty as sculpted and motion-suggestive end-to-end as any Jaguar.

The ST advances what Ford used to call Kinetic design, and the new language is migrating to other models, the chunky rear end of the Taurus notwithstanding. It emerged about the same time as  Hyundai-Kia’s fluidic design, which means that if you squint (not recommended, although the squinting-taillight motif has become commonplace) while following a newer Elantra or Santa Fe, you might mistake it for a ’13 Fiesta or Escape.  Forgive me, Hyundai, but I see a measure of Veloster in the Fiesta.

We’ll skip vans, SUVs, cross/utilities and pickups, which do show a few interesting if not compelling designs. Suggestions in the Comments section welcome.

Instead, compare and contrast Ford, Hyundai-Kia, et al, with Chevrolet.

On a recent 22-mile commute through Detroit’s close-in suburbs, I saw dual taillamps either contained within a single lens or in discrete pairs on a Malibu, Impala, Cobalt, Cruze, Aveo and HHR of various model years (I gave the '99 Corvette a pass because its twinned taillamps were oval.)

To be sure, any number of other makes, notably older Mazdas, bear this styling cue, but Chevy seems to be particularly relentless in its application.

Whether intentional or not, Chevrolet is edging away from this tiresome setup, at least here and there. The Camaro and the ’13 Malibu still feature paired taillamps, but at least they’re squarish. The Volt is pretty cool, evoking an older Prius that’s spent a week at a spa. 

In sum, I submit the best-known, most iconic rear ends are those on the tailfinned Big Three models from the 1950s – led, ironically, by the ’57 Chevy Bel Air. 




Discuss this Blog Entry 1

on Dec 12, 2012

Sure, tail lights are important, but I am constantly amazed by the unartful exhausts under the rear bumpers of soooo many cars. GM appears most guilty in my opinion. I also REALLY dislike the plainly visible parking brake cable clearly visible just inside the left rear wheel on EVERY Tahoe/Escalade on the road---it looks so lonesome and vulnerable hanging out like that....bleh! Doesn't anybody at GM think about what we see below the bumper?

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What's Road Ahead?

Blogs with an emphasis on technology, design and suppliers.


Drew Winter

Drew Winter is Editor-in-Chief of WardsAuto World magazine and a Senior Editor at He was won numerous awards for his work in both print and digital media and has been...

Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is executive editor of WardsAuto World magazine, with an emphasis on technology and suppliers. He leads selection of the Ward’s 10 Best Engines and Ward’s 10 Best Interiors...
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