Standing the Test of Time

“Timeless design” is one of those ubiquitous phrases that’s bandied about by people trying to sell new products, but like many marketing mottos has lost much of its meaning through overuse.

In its purest sense, “timeless” means unaffected by time or changing fashions – a design that will endure, and still be considered beautiful and sophisticated for decades to come.

Our running 2022 C-Series prototype parked up, capturing the essence of sleek design in Fremantle, Perth

As a designer who’s always been drawn to things that cleverly combine elegance, simplicity and practicality, I was determined to apply these qualities to the design of the Savic C-Series electric café racer.

Ignoring fleeting or faddish market trends, and the temptation to go futuristic –“cyberpunk with current technology” – I instead took inspiration from the original café racers of the 1950s and 60s.

The clean lines and utilitarian style of these race-replica production bikes have been keenly adopted by motorcycle enthusiasts and builders throughout the world. For more than two generations, the café racer style has not changed much at all – with the striking clip-on handlebars, the single cowled seat, and the clear commitment to eliminating parts in the interest of reducing weight and increasing performance.

Custom design 1954 Matchless Cafe Racer by Studio Motor in Jakarta

Combining these classic features with the latest electric and digital technologies, the C-Series, devoid of the traditional internal combustion engine, is certainly practical, elegant and beautiful. But can it also be considered timeless?

The honest answer to that is: I really hope so. But if we are going to be faithful to the phrase, we should probably wait to see what future generations of motorcyclists have to say!

2020 C-Series prototype before alterations where made to suit Australian Design Rules

The Savic C-Series café racer of the 2020s… even more minimal! No combustion engine, no exhaust pipes, no gears, no clutch, no sound – and best of all, no emissions.

Masters of timelessness

The irony of a truly timeless design is that it takes a huge amount of time to achieve. The process of elimination in creating beauty in its simplest form is always time-consuming.

Not to mention that it involves a considerable passage of time before something can genuinely be considered timeless!

The following images are my favourite examples of timeless designs, which have strongly influenced my approach in the humble attempt to create our own timeless machine.

Jaguar E-Type (Malcolm Sayer, England, 1961)

1. Jaguar E-Type

The E-Type’s clean, immaculate lines give it a simple, head-turning beauty, and make it one of the world’s most iconic cars. I loved the E-Type as a young boy. I still love it – and I’m not the only one!

Wassily Chair (Marcel Breuer, Germany,1925)

2. Wassily Chair

This chair from Germany’s Bauhaus movement is still considered a modern classic nearly a century on. I’m fortunate enough to have a production replica in my living room and, when guests see it, they often remark on its ultra-modern looks. When I explain that it was designed in 1925, their usual response is: “No way!”

Church of The Light, Ibaraki, Japan (Tadao Ando, 1988)

3. Church of The Light

This quietly stunning church in the small town of Ibaraki, 25km outside Osaka, has been drawing Christians and architectural pilgrims for the past 35 years. The predominant material in this peaceful, contemplative space is concrete.

Soulages Museum, France (RCR Arquitectes, 2014)

4. Soulages Museum

With its majestically minimal aesthetic, this iconic building looks like it's been around forever. The featured material is corten steel, which as it rusts, takes on new shades of timelessness, and grows a protective layer that will preserve the base metal for millennia.

Ryoan-Ji Dry Garden, Kyoto, Japan (late 15th century)

5. Ryoan-Ji Dry Garden

This simple but highly-symbolic garden of rocks and raked gravel at a Zen temple in Kyoto is considered the preeminent example of the kare-sansui Japanese dry garden. The minimal design suggests that, even if the flora and fauna die, the rocks and gravel will live on. Simply stunning!

Venerated venues

All the images above demonstrate timelessness as they did not adhere to any particular trend or contemporary aesthetic when they were designed. They are simply all-time classics!

The Church of The Light, the Soulages Museum, and the Ryoan-Ji Garden are visited and admired by thousands of art and architecture enthusiasts each year, not to mention devotees of the Christian and Buddhist faiths who place them firmly on their “must-see” bucket lists.

The Jaguar E-Type and the Wassily Chair, meanwhile, are on the “must-own” lists of automobile and furniture collectors to this day. Again, testament to their timeless design.

But with all these things, their timelessness has taken time. Architects start with a series of hand sketches and move through multiple design iterations that can – as with the C-Series – take many years. In some cases, they keep evolving even after they’ve been made; like the incredible Soulages Museum, which continues to mature as its rust changes hue and complexion – a living work of art becoming ever more enmeshed with its surroundings.

As far as the C-Series goes, I see it still being desired in its current state 20 years ormore from now. As technology evolves, and more of us make the switch to electric vehicles, I picture myself riding an even more simplified C-Series.

There may be smaller cockpits and slimmer handlebars, as rearview mirrors are replaced with cameras and nothing protrudes from the bars except small LED signal lights. There’s even talk of replacing touchscreens with heads-up displays on helmet visors – although so far, no company has been able to master this transition with any great success. But with the exponential expansion of technology, you’d be a fool to take any possibility off the table.

Whatever the future brings, one thing is clear: the designs that stay with people, that they’ll remember and cherish throughout their lives, are those that make less of time – and can genuinely be considered timeless.

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