2010 Volvo XC60 T6 AWD: The Horbury Shoulder
October 14, 2010
Volvos are boxy but they're good. Everybody knows this and that's because legendary Volvo designer Jan Wilsgaard made them that way during his tenure at Volvo from 1950 to 1990. The son of a Norwegian merchant seaman, Wilsgaard was a workingman's designer, known for standing shoulder to shoulder with his studio craftsman and carving the clay from the models himself, wearing clogs while he worked as always.
Asked to comment on the success of the Volvo 240, the car that institutionalized the boxy look for Volvo, Wilsgaard said, "It might be due to the fact that the car is a little square and sluggish, just like the Swedes themselves."
It was British designer Peter Horbury who changed all that and made Volvos look cool, notably with his unique shoulder line that helps make the Volvo XC60 the best-looking of the compact SUV crossovers.
Horbury had never really worked anyplace good before he became Volvo's design director in 1991, but he revolutionized the car Swedish company's design vocabulary and managed to do it while being true to the company's design DNA - an incredible feat.
The 1992 Volvo ECC concept car, noted at the time for its use of recyclable materials, introduced the new themes, and everyone remarked on the car's unique shoulder line. Sadly, the pace of progress at Volvo was slow because of the financial constraints that eventually led to the company's takeover by Ford, so lots of other car companies adopted Horbury's design lick (notably Honda) before the cars of Gothenburg were transformed.
But now this shoulder line characterizes everything that Volvo makes, just like the Hofmeister Kink characterizes the profile of the windows in the cabin of a BMW (a styling device BMW introduced in 1961).
After a time as Ford's director of U.S. design, Horbury is back at Volvo, replacing ex-Mercedes man Steve Mattin, who did the new Volvo S60. It'll be interesting to see what direction Horbury takes the company now that it has new ownership from China.
It's interesting that such a simple design lick can have such lasting importance.
Michael Jordan, Executive Editor, Edmunds.com