Peter Stevens Examines the Complexity of the A-Pillar

The launch of the 2016 Ford GT at the Detroit auto show was greeted with great excitement by the world’s motoring press, a dramatic looking car fired the enthusiasm of the journalists; but what about the invisible A-pillar?

Developing a good looking and well resolved A-pillar is one of those apparently simple but actually very complex tasks that the designer faces. A trap that many designers fall into is the ‘invisible A-pillar’, where the plan shape of the windscreen flows round into the side glass in a smooth curved piece of surface. This is easy to sketch and very seductive when the designer is looking for a new image. The roof takes on the appearance of a single integrated cap that closes the top of the car.

This style usually ends up causing more problems than it solves. The roof will either look flat and without form on a small hatchback type of vehicle such as the Skoda Fabia or the Suzuki Swift. Or it will look thick, over-crowned and heavy, as is the case with the Lotus Evora and the Koenigsegg CCX. The Mini Paceman demonstrates that a roof can even look flat and formless whilst at the same time also looking thick and heavy.

Colin Chapman’s first mid-engined road car, the 1970s Lotus Europa, was designed by Ron Hickman. Hickman wanted the top line of the windscreen to curve round to meet the top line of the door glass; there was probably just one view point from which this would happen, although I never found it. The two lines are always in conflict with each other.

This is the major problem with this route to design resolution; you can see it with all the examples here. The one view that worked in sketch form for the design team is always impossible to resolve in the other 179 views that one has of the side of a car.

One of the worst is the treatment of the A-pillar on the Citroen DS3. The design intention was no doubt to have an integrated black upper part to the body; roof, glass, upper B-pillars and the A-pillars. The lower body being in a bright contrasting color like yellow.


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