Super Formed Aluminum, C-Lines and Sheetmetal: Four Modern Cars With Beautiful Bodywork

This is The Owner's Manual: a limited series discussing some of the most stunning car designs and details on the road today – or, perhaps, ever. In this edition: body and sheet metal shapes we can't get enough of.

2021 mazda3 hatchback, 2022 bentley continental gt speed, 2022 bugatti chiron super sport, and 2022 maserati mc20
Editor's Note: Every car boasts an extremely considered look, but not every car is beautiful. However, certain details and designs sprinkled throughout the modern automotive world are so stunning that they can stand out on their own. Welcome to The Owner's Manual: a limited series discussing some of the most stunning car designs and details on the road today – or, perhaps, ever.


In this edition of The Owner's Manual, we're looking at distinctive body panels and shapes on four cars – three on the (very) expensive side of the spectrum, and one you likely see every day. Plenty of others could be added to the list – what'd we miss?

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Bentley Continental "Super Formed" Aluminum Body Panels
2022 bentley continental gt speed
Lee Brimble

In recent years, Bentley has made huge design strides, somehow evolving its lineup's heritage-driven shapes into beautiful modern cars–even as other marques lean heavily into decidedly "futuristic" shapes. The Continental GT grand touring coupe is a prime example of Bentley's design strategy: it is a classic shape retold with modern technology called aluminum "super forming." This process is standard fare in the aerospace industry and involves heating aluminum to almost 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit before it is forced over a mold using air pressure. The benefits of super forming are twofold. Firstly, this construction method requires fewer body panels overall, since super forming is capable of producing complex shapes that would typically require multiple panels welded or bolted together. Secondly, super forming allows Bentley to craft almost impossibly crisp corners and edges throughout a car's bodywork, as seen on the GT's long shoulder line.

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Mazda3 Hatchback Rear Quarter Panel
2021 mazda3 hatchback
Mazda

You'd be forgiven for doing a double-take. Particularly slotted in amongst literally the most expensive cars in the world, a very affordable hatchback may seem out of place on this list. But the Mazda3 Hatchback sports one of the most gorgeous automotive design details on the road today. This makes a lot of sense, as Mazda is a leader in automotive design thanks to its "Kodo," or "soul of motion" design philosophy, which we have to thank for the curvy metal on everything from the Miata to the CX-9. The 3 Hatchback's rear quarter panel is one unbroken sheet of metal, contoured in a nearly provocative shape around the car's back haunches. It's a bold design element that wouldn't be out of place on luxury cars four times its price, but the 3 Hatchback can be had for just $23,000.

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Maserati MC20 Side Profile
2022 maserati mc20
Maserati

The Maserati MC20 was, essentially, designed in two halves. Klaus Busse, head of Maserati design since 2015, explained to Forbes that, "the upper part was hand-modeled by our design team while the lower part is completely designed by computers in an engineering way and in real-time by an aerodynamicist in Modena." The upper part, then, is an exercise in art and design, inspired by Maserati's own heritage and that of Italy at large. The lower half is a technological marvel; with its shape, engineers compensated for the MC20's lack of conventional aerodynamic aids, like a spoiler and large air intakes. In that way, the MC20's lower section is similar in purpose to Aston Martin's Aeroblade, only instead of an unobtrusive wing, Maserati utilized a major part of the car itself. Even if it weren't a deeply functional choice, splitting the car in half horizontally makes for a fascinating profile in that it appears to be far slimmer than is really the case. For our money, few automotive design elements can boast such a smart and elegant mechanical solution.

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Bugatti Chiron C-Shaped "Bugatti Line"
2022 bugatti chiron super sport
Bugatti

Despite there being other exotics that have challenged its top-speed prowess and excess, the $3,300,000 Bugatti Chiron remains the king of the hypercar jungle. There are many wild design elements at play on the Chiron, but most remarkable to us is the C-shaped "Bugatti Line" that defines its profile. Firstly, it is functional, in that it houses air intakes that route directly to the adjacent engine. But we're suckers for heritage, and the Bugatti Line is a trademark of the brand's design and can be traced back at least as far as the iconic Type 57 SC Atlantic, which sported rounded doors of a similar form. But its use in design isn't what earned the Bugatti Line its name; it's said that the shape resembles the signature of Bugatti founder Ettore Bugatti himself.

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