Monday, September 18, 2017

Inside a 1935 Tatra T77a

Streamlined Czech Tatras of the 1930s fascinate, seeming more pure than their post- World War 2 successors.  I wrote about the first and last streamline models here.

The first production Tatra streamliner was the T77, only 249 T77 and T77a models being built over 1934-38.

Despite the small production count, a few T77s survive. I saw a 1935 T77a in May at the Tampa Bay Automobile Museum and took a few few photos of it in a state of preliminary restoration.


Tatra T77 from about 1934.

Tatra T77a.  The main exterior differences are the placement of the headlights on the fenders and the addition of a central light.  The museum's 1935 Tatra T77a is in the images below.  Click on them to enlarge.

The car is in sad shape, but these views provide a sense as to its construction.

It has a steel "turret top," but the doors are wood-framed.

Czech cars drove on the left sides of roads until the 1939 German occupation when German right-side practice was dictated.

Hub caps differ from those in the period photos.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Failing Brands, Shared Body: Graham and Reo

What do you do if your automobile manufacturing company is at the lower end of the sales rank hierarchy while the country is in a Great Depression and overall car sales are about half of what they were in prosperous times.  One possibility is to reduce costs by sharing car body designs with a car maker in similar straits.  There are several cases of this happening in America and Europe, and the one featured here involved Graham-Paige and Reo for model years 1935 and 1936.

Information on Graham is here and that on Reo here.   As it happened, Graham-Paige ceased production in 1940 while Reo exited car business in 1936 to concentrate on trucks.

Like some other low-production car makers in those days, Graham and Reo sub-contracted many components of their cars to specialists, including bodies.   Staring in 1935 they each bought the same basic body from Hayes, with certain trim details customized for the sake of brand identity.


One such "something about a Graham" was the body it shared with Reo.

Side view of a 1935 Graham.  Chrysler Airflow seating positioning hadn't trickled down to Hayes; note that the rear seat is above the rear axle as was the norm pre-Airflow.  The windshield is only slightly sloped back.  Perhaps the most advanced styling feature is the cautious fastback profile. This photo and the following one are from Lucky Collector Car Auctions.

Rear 3/4 view of the same car.  1935 was the model year that Pontiac introduced its famous Silver Streaks on its hood and grille.  Here the '35 Graham happens to have two sets of chromed streaks on its trunk lid.

This is an illustration of a 1935 Reo, so a few artistic liberties were probably taken to enhance appearance.  It does show that even fenders were shared with Graham.

Both brands had similar grille profiles and somewhat V'd front bumpers.  Differences include grille details, hood side vent designs and headlight mountings (on fenders for Graham, the sides of the radiator grille assembly for Reo).  Photo from the IMCDb web site, which explains the fuzzy quality of the image.

Graham for 1936.  The grille is a variation on the fashionable "fencer's mask" convex style.  Fenders were redesigned into more of a teardrop form, so the headlight attachments were moved to the car body.  An inexpensive cosmetic change was the detailing of the hood's side vents.

Same car from the rear.  Fastback slope was increased, so the aft side windows are much smaller than in 1935.  The trunk lid "streaks" are gone.  Photos from Niwot Auctions.

1936 Reos differ from Grahams mostly due lack of a fencer's mask grille.  Gone is the V'd front bumper.

Front of a for-sale '36 Reo showing its new pattern of grille bars, the vertical ones extending beyond the upper frame.

Rear of another for-sale Reo.  This has a bulged trunk that increases storage capacity, a common option in those days.  Chromed "steaks" that vanished from Grahams now appear here in simplified form.  This car has a divided back window like the '35 Graham shown above.  The 1936 Graham's backlight is not divided, but the window outlines are the same.

I include this Mecum Auctions photo of a 1937 Graham for completeness, as it represents the last version of that Hayes body.  The grille pattern has been simplified and the side hood vents restyled.  More costly changes are some fender reshaping and, especially, a new, V'd windshield.

Monday, September 11, 2017

The Svelte 1994 Dodge Ram Pickup

I seldom write about trucks here, only doing so when something really interests me. Such is the case with the redesign of the Dodge pickup truck line for the 1994 model year.

The 1981 first-generation Dodge Ram design was typical of pickup styling in those days -- a squared-off body sporting a bold grille.  The Wikipedia entry on "Ram Pickups" notes how the redesign for 1994 came to be.

What Chrysler stylists did was create a more rounded, more graceful shape.  One might expect that this "feminized" effect would run counter to expectations of trucks having rough 'n' tough "masculine" personalities.  What made the design truck-like was the bold, Dodge "gunsight" grille that served to counteract the curves.  The result was a huge sale success, an increase of about six times between 1993 and 1996.

General Motors and Ford eventually redesigned their pickup lines and Ram sales levels retreated.  Future Ram styling moved in a more powerful, less graceful direction.  That evolution does not detract from the 1994 Dodge Ram's important place in transportation design history.


Front view of the newly designed for 1981 Dodge Power Ram Royal SE W150.  Note the rectangular headlights and the strong, rectangular theme of the frontal styling.

The same truck as seen from the side in this public relations photo.  Very rectangular and very pre-aerodynamic.

The 1994 Dodge Ram 1500.  More rounded with a suggestion that the design might have had some wind-tunnel testing.  Headlights are similarly rectangular.  But though the frontal theme remains basically rectangular, this has been softened.

What struck me when the '94 Rams appeared was the fadeaway front fender crossing over onto the door.  It reminds me of front fenderlines on 1946-48 Dodges, DeSotos and Chryslers.  There is a slight fenderline echo in the sheet metal above the rear wheel opening.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Market Hierarchy-Based Trim Variations: 1950s USA

I touched on the matter here, and am now expanding on it.  Many automobile models have variations in price and prestige.  For example, my own model comes in three trim varieties, mostly having to do with the interior.  From the outside, these varieties are distinguished by the type of wheels and a few letters attached to the trunk lid.

At the other extreme, back in 1950s America during the fashion of elaborate two and even three color paint schemes and variations in chrome trim, the top and bottom of a brand's line were often easy to distinguish.  Despite my academic degree field, I'll do my best to avoid committing an act of sociology (being an apostate) to explain this.  From a strict automobile styling standpoint, the 50s was a time shortly after a strong, evolutionary trend had ended and styling staffs were groping (and failing to find) another evolutionary path.  See my book "Automobile Styling" for more detail.

This business of creating distinctions of price/prestige is a tricky one for manufacturers.  On the one hand, many buyers of top-of-the-line models enjoy being able to show off that they bought the best of the lot.  On the other, buyers of lesser models might feel a little unhappy that that other people can notice that their car isn't top-drawer for the brand.  So a certain amount of care needs to be taken to avoid loss of sales at either end of the continuum.  Of course, many buyers are not snobbish in this way; some are utilitarian in outlook and buy the model that best fits their budget and practical needs.

In today's automobile world, models of differing design within brands are what serve as price/prestige indicators.  Examples are letter-series Mercedes and number-series BMWs.

Returning to 1950s America, here are some examples of strong differences between models (though I must note that many brands' trim differences were more modest than what is shown below).


1950 Chevrolet Styline Special Sport Coupe (for-sale photo).  Bottom of the line.  Exposed rubber windshield moldings and rubber rock guards on the rear fenders.  The chrome strip running along the top of the rear fender hid a cut-line, the fender panel being detachable on 1949 and 1950 Chevys.

The top of Chevrolet's 1950 line, the Bel Air hardtop (Barrett-Jackson photo).  Much more chrome trim can be seen here, though it isn't very gaudy.

1952 Ford Mainline Tudor.  Bits of rubber here and there like the Chevy shown above.  The only chrome trim on the sides is along the belt line.

The Customline Fordor.  Not much chrome, but enough to distinguish it from the almost totally-plain Mainline series.

1951 Hudson Pacemaker (for sale photo).  A thin chrome strip low on the body is the main bright side decoration.

The '51 Hudson Hornet in this for-sale photo features a chrome strip echoing the pressed character line along with a wide swath of chrome along the lower edge of the body.

1955 Chrysler Windsor DeLuxe Nassau hardtop, Mecum Auctions photo.  We are now well into the era of elaborate paint jobs set off by chrome trim.  But this entry-level hardtop lacks all of that.

Top of the line '55 Chrysler New Yorker DeLuxe St. Regis hardtop.  Aesthetically a few notches down from the Windsor, though it follows the function of proclaiming what it is.  Interestingly, the first Chrysler 300, introduced partway into the model year, had a clean side like that of the Windsor in the previous photo.

1955 Chevrolet One-Fifty Utility Sedan (for sale).  During the era of 1950s excess, we find this almost totally plain automobile.

1955 Chevrolet Bel Air hardtop at the other end of the line (Auctions America photo).

1956 Nash Rambler Super.  It isn't nearly as plain as the Chevy One-Fifty, having a swoopy two-tone paint scheme.  But it isn't nearly as elaborate as...

... the three-tone paint job on the line-leading Rambler Custom 4-door hardtop.

Finally, a 1958 Chevrolet Delray coupe.  Two-tone paint schemes were possible due to the chrome strip running along much of the side, though this car has only one color.  The color break at the front was via a small chrome piece linking the side strip with the top of the wheel opening.  This car lacks it, being monochrome.

This Bel Air sedan shares the side body stampings with the Delray, but uses a different trim design to proclaim its higher status.  It has the forward color divider above the wheel opening.

Monday, September 4, 2017

The Last Lanchester: The Postwar Fourteen

Lanchester began producing cars in 1900, was purchased by BSA (Birmingham Small Arms) in 1930, and production was transferred to BSA's other automobile subsidiary, Daimler.  That and more about Lanchester is covered here.

Lanchester's Fourteen model first appeared in 1936.  Its postwar redesign was announced October 1950, production continuing into 1953 when the car was essentially rebadged as the Daimler Conquest that continued to 1958.

Postwar Fourteens had "coachbuilt" bodies in the sense that framing was wood.  An all-metal version for export was called the Leda.  This puzzled me, but then this was England after all, and the English can be whimsical.  Or, much more likely, postwar shortages and production restrictions had something to do with this.


Lanchester Fourteen from around 1951.  Styling is in the same spirit as some other early postwar English cars.  Grilles were vertical and front fenders flowed over front doors.  The cars tended to be rather tall and narrow, but this suited English driving conditions in pre-Motorway days.

Side view of a Fourteen up for auction.  It can be considered a six-window saloon, all passengers having good views of the car's surroundings.  Note the turn indicator wand on the B-pillar.

Same car.  The large boot (trunk) is practical, but removes whatever grace the design otherwise might have.  The fold at door handle level helps the break up any slab-sidedness and helps tie the front and rear together.  The character lines on the fenders also break up surfaces, but are a bit fussy and their elimination would have improved the design.

Leda version of the Fourteen in a for-sale photo.

Daimler Conquest.  The main difference from the Fourteen is the traditional Daimler grille with its ribbed upper frame.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

From Nash Rambler to Rambler American

The Nash Rambler, launched in the spring of 1950, was the only American small car (by U.S. standards) in that era that sold well.  They were marketed model years 1950-55, some in 1955 being sold as badge-engineered Hudson Ramblers following the formation of American Motors.  A redesigned Rambler appeared in 1956, but that car does not factor in our discussion here.

American Motors preserved the early Rambler's tooling, using it as the basis for the Rambler American line introduced for the 1958 model year.  This kind of hiatus is rare in automobile history, where the past is discarded and forgotten in the constant drive to entice buyers with something new and presumably better.

Background on Nash Ramblers is here, and on Rambler Americans here.

The images below help to illustrate how American Motors modified the earlier bodies to create the new sub-brand.


This is the Nash Rambler product line for 1953 following a major facelift.  All of these cars had a 100-inch (2540 mm) wheelbase.

Country Club hardtop convertibles and other Ramblers were facelifted for 1955.  The upper photo shows a 1954 model, the image immediately above is of a '55.  The latter received a new grille and (finally! now that George Mason was no longer on the scene) larger front wheel openings.

Four-door sedans and station wagon were introduced in 1954.  Their wheelbase was 108 inches (2743 mm), a dimension continued on the redesigned 1956 Rambler line.

Shown in this publicity photo and the preceding one is a 1955 four-door sedan Rambler.

Here is a 1960 Rambler American two-door sedan.  It and all other Americans had the 100-inch wheelbase of previous two-door Ramblers.  There was no Country Club hardtop, so this model retained the door of the convertible and station wagon shown in the top image.  Besides a new top, this model got a new grille and larger rear wheel openings.

A four-door sedan was added to the American line for 1960, as shown in this publicity photo.  Unlike the 1954-55 four-door sedans, the wheelbase was 100 inches.  That made things a bit cramped, even for the model seen climbing out of the back seat area.

I found no decent images of 1960 American four-door sedans on the Internet aside from the publicity shot above.  This photo is of a car for sale.  Its top seems to be the same as that of the two-door sedan.  To make a four-door version, the front doors were shortened and given a vertical B-pillar.  The rear doors are new, of course.  To accommodate roll-down rear windows, the aft cut and post are vertical, thereby creating a short six-window sedan (typical six-window U.S. sedans were large, long automobiles).

Monday, August 28, 2017

1934 Chrysler Airflow Grille Up Close

Unsuccessful sales-wise in its day, the Chrysler Corporation Airflow continues to fascinate the design community, and not just automobile stylists.  Books and exhibits dealing with "Moderne" or "Art Deco" can include photos of Chrysler or DeSoto Airflows to help establish an early 1930s mood.

Books and web sites dealing with automobile design history -- including this one -- ignore Airflows at their peril.  For example, as of the time this was drafted, I'd featured Airflows here and here, as well as having another Airflow post besides this one written and awaiting future publication.

Airflow design was wind tunnel tested at the instigation of Carl Breer, a leading engineer who had the ear of Walter P. Chrysler.  Chrysler's styling section had been established in 1928, but was under the thumb of body engineering.  According to Lamm and Holls in "A Century of Automotive Style," stylists seemed to have been involved mostly with decorative aspects of 1934 Airflows: the design was essentially engineering-driven.

I want to focus here on the styling of the front end of the original, 1934, Chrysler Airflow.  It seems to have been a factor in the car's disappointing sales.  That's because Airflows for 1935 and succeeding years received more prominent, elevated grilles more in line with mid-1930s customer tastes.  For example, the second link, above, deals with the case of DeSoto Airflows and how Chrysler stylists tried to deal with problems created by the 1934 models.

Below are some photos I took a while ago at the National Automobile Museum in Reno Nevada. It is what remains of the huge Harrah collection.


First, some stage-setting.  Above is a CU model, the archetypical Airflow.

Another 1934-vintage photo, this of the front end of the same car.  The dark rectangle is the opening to the radiator.  All those thin, vertical chromed bars serve to largely conceal the opening when viewed from other angles.  Now for my photos:

The subject is a 1934 Chrysler Airflow 5-Passenger Coupe wedged between a 1939 Mercury and a 1933 Studebaker.

Even from this nearly head-on angle, the opening cannot be seen -- though the black body color helps to camouflage.  Headlight assemblies are placed on the aerodynamically shaped nose of the car.  The Studebaker at the right of the image shows the sort of frontal designs potential Airflow customers were familiar with: the differences were shocking to many.

When not supported by sheet metal, the grille bars are attached to roughly horizontal metal frames at the upper and lower edges of the opening, allowing them to span the gap.

Chrysler symbolism included wings and a blue ribbon (first prize winner) enhancing the name badge.  The grille bars are attached to connective bits.  This is more evident in the photo below.

Closer view of the wings and badge.