The 1991 and 1992 models of the Buick LeSabre are two fairly similar cars. The one big difference? The ’91 edition is angular and boxy, and the ’92 edition is round and curvy. That might seem like a small difference year to year, but the change is actually representative of a much bigger trend in automotive design.
In the late 1970s, a spike in gas prices set in motion a stronger emphasis on aerodynamic design for American cars. That wasn’t an entirely new thing: When family cars were first becoming popular in the 1930s, most models were designed in a very curvy shape for fuel efficiency, like the Chrysler Airflow. But a steady decline in gas prices between the ’30s and ’70s meant that aerodynamics became a fairly small priority for US carmakers.
Once the price hike hit, American manufacturers started taking cues from designers in Europe, where higher gas prices had always encouraged curvy design. That design influence has stuck around ever since.
The video above shows how that big shift happened between the 1980s and 1990s — and how the world reacted when it did.