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Robert Opron

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Robert Opron (* 1932) is a French automotive designer, who created many unusual vehicle designs from the 1960s through the 1980s. He was a nominee in the 1999 Car Designer of the Century competition.

Opron joined Citroën under Flaminio Bertoni, the sculptor responsible for the dramatic style of the Citroën DS (called the "goddess", then also the "spaceship").

Opron realized that the only way to achieve good aerodynamics was with encased, smooth headlamps. Also, he developed swivelling, directional headlights, enabling the driver to "see around corners". He put both concepts into practice with the "shark nose" the 2nd redesign of the DS in 1967.

Encased headlamps are standard practice in the automobile industry today. Swivelling ones are only slowly re-entering the luxury car segment again through Lexus, Audi, and the Citroën C5, 40 years after their invention.

Opron's masterpiece was the 1970 Citroën SM, a flamboyant luxury sports car with a Maserati engine. This car was shaped like a tear drop, tapering towards the rear, with a sharp cut kammtail. The SM also had six halogen directional headlights mounted under glass. The SM had an impressive Cd drag coefficient of 0.336, in an era where most vehicles were designed without regard to aerodynamics.

Opron developed both the the 1970 Citroën GS and the 1974 Citroën CX sedans internally, using Citroën's own style center at Velizy in France. Both cars bear some resemblance to the late 1960s Pininfarina design study BMC Berlina Aerodynamica, which was commissioned by the British firm but considered far too radical to actually produce. While Citroën and Pininfarina did not have any official contacts at this time, the Berlina Aerodynamica was widely known in the public sphere.

The sharply raked rear window and abscence of a flat trunk surface demonstrated that 4 door sedans could look stylish. Combined, these two vehicles sold over 3.5 Million units, proving the rakish look to be a commercial proposition and paving the way for other "aero" look vehicles like the 1983 Audi 100 and the 1986 Ford Taurus.

Some contemporary critics puzzled that the GS & CX sedans were fastbacks and not hatchbacks, since the 5th door seemed so practical. The second series GS (the GSA) did receive a hatchback in 1979 and the 1989 CX replacement (the XM) had one as well. The counterargument is that executive class cars do not generally have hatchbacks, because they change the basic nature of the car and buyers of expensive sedans tend to avoid them. Saab 9000 is the only car that has achieved any real world success in the limited market for executive class hatchbacks.

The SM was Motor Trend Car of the Year in 1972, and the GS was European Car of the Year in 1971, and the CX in 1975 - a substantial achievement for any automobile designer.

Citroën overextended itself with too many projects in development and went bankrupt in 1974. The French Government, concerned at the potential job losses, merged Citroën with Peugeot. The new owners rid themselves of Opron immediately. Opron joined Renault and went on to design many pleasant vehicles in the late 1970s and 1980s, like the Alpine A310, Renault Fuego, and Renault 25. He then worked as a design consultant, until 2000.

Today Opron is considered a celebrity among 'Citroënistes'.

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