Just to clarify… we’re talking about wheelbases and more specifically extended wheelbases. Oh, and of course whether anything good comes with it?
The immediate and most obvious answer is of course that a longer wheelbase will offer up more space within the interior of the car. But the problem lies in that the extension of the wheelbase will more often than not be executed on a car which was already a finished design. As they start to mess around with the original design by changing only one of its parameters, namely the wheelbase, the fundamental proportions of the design will often end up being somewhat challenged.
In some cases though, it is in fact possible to achieve a new aesthetical harmony which isn’t necessarily any worse than what it was based on. I feel that especially the Jaguar XJ6/XJ12 is a prime example of this. The original design from 1968 has been universally praised as being one of the world’s most beautiful large saloons, so when Jaguar later offered the model with a 10 centimetre longer wheelbase, there was rich opportunity for that original harmony to be compromised.
But just look at the picture below: Unless you were to park the long wheelbase XJ next to a short wheelbase version, you most likely wouldn’t even notice any difference. This new harmony is of course achieved because Jaguar didn’t just brutally slot in those extra 10cm’s in the easiest and cheapest place. Instead they went through the trouble of adjusting the entire design to the extra length.
It might also have something to do with 10 centimetres being the magical limit. When Jensen stretched their Interceptor to create the four-wheel-drive FF, they ended up adding all of 12.7 centimetres. In this case, the extension was placed between the front axle and the bulkhead, and that too was an operation which required several changes.
The changes weren’t just of the technical sort either, as visual adjustments were necessary too. Jensen took to the trick of adding an extra air vent into the front wing, which frankly looks fabulous while doing its best at optically camouflaging the extension. But try holding your thumb over the extra air vent, and you’ll realise that without it, the Jensen extension is not nearly as harmonious as what Jaguar achieved with their XJ. I wonder whether that really comes down to those 2.7 centimetres in difference?
Because of course length does matter and you can’t just uncritically keep extending. There are limitations – maybe even more so aesthetically than technically. Personally, I have always really liked the Mercedes-Benz SLC C107, which amusingly is from the same era as the two other examples above (one might conclude that it’s also just the era as such which appeals to me…), but one can hardly claim that it possesses the same grace and harmony of design as does the long wheelbase versions of the Jaguar XJ and Jensen Interceptor.
That’s probably partially down to the general German design philosophy, but in this particular case also due to the SLC being a very significant 36 centimetres longer than the SL R107 upon which it was based. While the SLC took its extended wheelbase right to the limits, it also presents the question of whether the original SL arguably started off with a too short wheelbase in the first place? Mercedes-Benz utilised the infamous blinds along the trailing edge of the rear side window in an attempt to camouflage the extra length of the SLC, and yes, I feel that they miraculously pulled it off and created an entirely new identity for their long wheelbase coupé in the process.
But with that, I believe I’ve exhausted the subject of wheelbase extensions and acceptable compromises in creating them. If we progress into serious extensions of saloon cars where an extra row of seats are introduced, the aesthetics always suffer as the result ends up being some absurd interpretation of the original design. Just look at the Volvo 264 TE below. Perhaps helped by the original 264 E already having a very square-cut design, I think the long wheelbase Swede is one of the less horrific limousines, but even so, it’s hardly a beautiful or harmonious design by any stretch of the imagination.
With other similar limousines it just gets worse and worse. My conclusion must therefore be that it’s not the size that matters, but what you do with it. Uhmmm… so to speak. Also when it comes to cars.
May I suggest two short ones rather than one long one? There’s more fun to be had…