Monday, February 19, 2018

When Plymouth Lost Its Tail Fins

This post is a continuation of the theme of how Chrysler Corporation cars lost their 1950s tail fins.  I wrote about Dodge here, and now deal with Plymouth, Chrysler's entry-level brand.

One of the justifications for adding tail fins to cars was that for style and marketing reasons, their shapes could be fairly easily changed from model year to model year to keep designs seeming fresh and appealing.

Tail fins on passenger cars turned about to be yet another of those 1950s styling fads whose welcome soon wore out (others include three-tone paint schemes and panoramic windshields).

Here is the Plymouth tail fin story using the top-of-the line Fury 2-door hardtop as the example:

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1957 Plymouth Fury 2-door hardtop, Barrett-Jackson photo.  Plymouths were given tail fins for 1956, but these were tacked on to a fin-less 1955 design.  The new '57 Chrysler line designs incorporated tail fins from the start.

Same car, rear view.

1958 Plymouth Fury 2-door hardtop.  Plymouths were given a very light facelifting for '58.  Note the wide door cut lines on the car in this publicity photo.  Quality control was not a major priority in those days.

1959 Plymouth Fury 2-door hardtop, Mecum photo.  The final year of the '57 body received a stronger facelift, including larger tail fins.

1959 Plymouth Fury 2-door hardtop, rear.  The faux- spare tire cover on the trunk lid was borrowed from the 1951 Chrysler K-310 concept car.

1960 Plymouth Fury 2-door hardtop, Hyman Ltd. photo.  All Chrysler Corporation brands save Imperial were given new unitized bodies for 1960.  Plymouth's tail fin reverts back to the 1957 design theme.  The trunk lid of this car retains that faux- spare tire cover affectation.

1961 Plymouth Fury 2-door hardtop, cropped publicity image.  Tail fins were "plucked" as Chrysler styling chief Virgil Exner commented with respect to forthcoming 1962 designs.  Front end styling is awkward, fussy here, and the same can be said for 1960 Plymouths.

1961 Plymouth Fury 2-door hardtop, Mecum photo, rear.  More attractive than the frontal design, but the bumper needed to be set farther back to better protect the attractive overhanging trunk ensemble.  The rocket-ship tail lights are another example of 1950s styling theme overkill.

1961 Plymouth Fury 2-door hardtop, Barrett-Jackson photo.

1957 Plymouth Fury 2-door hardtop, Mecum photo.  These images illustrate how the 1957 and 1960 restylings differ.  For these 2-door hardtops, the most noticeable fundamental difference has to do with the passenger compartment greenhouse.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Some Castagna Isotta Fraschinis

In every automotive era except during and shortly after world wars, super-luxury / super-prestige cars were produced.  Around 1930 those marques included, among others, Duesenberg in the United States, Rolls-Royce and Daimler in Britain, Maybach in Germany, Hispano-Suiza in France, and Minerva in Belgium.

And for Italy there was Isotta Fraschini.  Its English language Wikipedia entry was not very useful at the time this post was drafted, so I suggest the Italian entry here or perhaps the French version, and have your computer translate.  Isottas from around 1930 were all equipped with custom-made bodies, and a leading supplier was carrozzeria Castagna conveniently based near Isotta Fraschini in Milan.  Its Italian Wikipedia entry is here.

Below are images of Castagna-built Isottas from that time.  The cars had in-line eight cylinder motors and their hoods were extremely long. With the exception of a 1933 Isotta Fraschini Tipo 8A Dual Cowl Sports Tourer (not shown, but link here), Castagna bodies for Isotta I found on the Internet were basically conventional, but attractively styled.

An interesting Isotta Fraschini feature was the various (usually) Art Deco type chromed designs laid atop the grilles.  Some appeared on more than one car, others might have been unique.  Perhaps a knowledgeable reader can provide some background information in a comment.

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1928 Isotta Fraschini Tipo 8A "Commodore" Roadster Cabriolet by Castagna, RM Sotheby's photo.

Same car, rear 3/4 view.

1929 Isotta Fraschini Tipo 8A 7.4 Litre Sport Landaulette by Castagna, Bonhams photo.

Same car, rear 3/4 view.

1929 Isotta Fraschini Tipo 8A Roadster by Castagna, for sale photo.

Same car, side view.

Same car, rear 3/4 view.

1930 Isotta Fraschini Tipo 8AS Boattail Cabriolet by Castagna, RM Sotheby's photo.

1930 Isotta-Fraschini Tipo 8A SS Torpedo Sport by Castagna.

1930 Isotta Fraschini Tipo 8A SS Cabriolet by Castagna, Bonhams photo.  This might be the same car as in the previous photo.

Same car, side view.

Same car, rear 3/4 view.

1930 Isotta Fraschini Tipo 8A "Commodore" Cabriolet by Castagna, Barrett-Jackson photo.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Le Sabre: First Public View, 1950

General Motors' first post- World War 2 dream car (as they were called then) was the LeSabre (brief Wikipedia entry here).

It was astonishingly futuristic.  And that astonishment took place for the first time for many people when Life, a leading American general-interest magazine, published photos of the car.  This happened in late December of 1950 when the 1 January 1951 issue appeared in mail boxes and on news stands.  The LeSabre public announcement, for that's what it amounted to, appeared in an article about General Motors, king of corporate America at that time.

Below is my scan of that landmark image along with some publicity photos of what appears to be a LeSabre mockup.

Some puzzling items: Only one functional LeSabre was built, yet the Life image shows two cars, neither painted its normal silvery blue.  My guess is that the upper car is a detailed mockup.  Note the lack of chrome on the rear bumper: the real LaSabre had chromed bumpers and trim.  The nearer car has a chromed front bumper and grille, so it must be the real thing, but painted like the mockup and not yet in silvery blue.

Knowledgeable readers are urged to correct me in comments if my speculations are wrong.

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Image as it appeared in Life magazine's 1 January 1951 issue that was on news stands in late December of 1950.

GM styling boss Harley Earl posing with what looks like a LeSabre mockup -- note the dull finish on what are chromed areas on the actual car..

Publicity photo of the same likely LeSabre mockup.

Publicity photo of the apparent LeSabre mockup with model at the wheel.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Cunningham C-3 Coupe


Briggs Swift Cunningham II (1907–2003) made the cover of Time magazine's 26 April 1954 issue because of his effort to build American racing cars capable of winning the Le Mans 24 hour race.   As his Wikipedia entry mentions, he did not succeed in winning there, but came close.

In addition to the racing cars, he had to build a number of passenger cars to qualify as a manufacturer in order to compete at Le Mans.  Hence the C-3, subject of this post.  It seems that 18 coupes and 9 convertibles were built.  The Revs Instutute web page dealing with the C-3 in its collection states: "Giovanni Michelotti styled the body; Vignale built it in Turin".

The Cunningham C-3 Coupe was indeed a handsome car whose design was in the mainstream of what I consider the apex of post- World War 2 Italian styling.  Because it was powered by a large Chrysler "hemi" V-8 motor, the C-3 was more massive than many coachbuilt Italian cars of the early 1950s.  However, Michelotti and Vignale saw to it that it was graceful and not bloated.

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Here is Briggs Cunningham's personal 1952 C-3.  It sold at auction for $1,100,000, as this RM Sotheby's web page mentions.  These first three images are from that site.

Side view.  Note the long hood and that the driver's position is well abaft of the center of the car.  Windshields in those days were far less sloped than today's wind tunnel tested versions.  Perhaps the need for driver visibility is the reason for the highpoint of the roof being immediately behind the top of the windshield.  Regardless, a slightly shorter windshield and a smoother transition curve on the roofline would look more attractive.  This is my only styling complaint about an otherwise excellent design.

Well, one more small complaint.  The C-3 has identical front and rear bumpers.  That dished upper edge was needed to harmonize with the oval grille.  A purely horizontal rear bumper is called for, but C-3s were hellishly expensive and a little cost-saving was called for, hence the shared bumpers.

Now for three photos I took of the 1953 C-3 at the Revs Institute in May 2017.  Lighting conditions were bad due to the window in the background.  This car lacks the bumper guards seen in Briggs Cunningham's 1952 C-3.

Another frontal view.  As best I can tell, most C-3s had two-tone paint jobs.

Interior view.  Passenger car seat belts were rare in 1953, so I wonder if the ones seen here were added years after this car was built.

Monday, February 5, 2018

General Motors' Companion Cars (4): Cadillac and LaSalle

This is the fourth in a series of posts dealing with General Motors' companion brands launched during the late 1920s.  The first post can be found here, the second here and the third here.

As I've been stating, a major factor in the rise of General Motors during the 1920s was Alfred P. Sloan's establishment of a price-prestige hierarchy for GM's various brands.  Over the 50 years from 1941 to 1991, when the Saturn brand appeared, the hierarchy, from low to high, was Chevrolet, Pontiac, Oldsmobile, Buick and Cadillac.  But during the late 1920s so-called "companion" brands were introduced to fill what seemed to be price gaps in GM's line.  In 1930 the hierarchy was approximately (there was price overlapping in a number of cases): Chevrolet, Pontiac, Marquette, Oldsmobile, Oakland, Viking, Buick, LaSalle, and Cadillac.

Cadillac's companion brand was LaSalle, introduced for the 1927 model year.  Next to Pontiac, a companion brand that usurped its host brand (Oakland), LaSalle was the most successful companion, lasting through the 1940 model year (though it came close to being ditched in 1934).

LaSalle was highly significant in terms of styling history because it was Harley Earl's first production design for General Motors, a sales success that led to him being appointed head of styling and creating the first American automobile company styling department.

Other comparisons in this series tend to focus on 1929 and 1930, the model years when GM's companion project was at its height.  For that reason, LaSalles and Cadillacs are compared using 1929 examples and differences in styling are noted.

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Here are coupes, the Cadillac above, the LaSalle below.  Aside from their grilles (discussed below), differences are few.  The Cadillac has a beltline moulding and panels on the frame sheathing above the running boards, whereas the LaSalle lacks these decorations.  Tail light placement differs.


The Cadillac Sport Phaeton in the RM Sotheby's photo (upper) and the LaSalle All-Weather Phaeton in the (lower) Hyman image feature painted grille bars, something not shared by all other '29 Cadillacs and LaSalles.  I paired them to make comparison more valid.  Phaetons were more of a custom or semi-custom proposition than the case of the coupes in the first images, so let's focus on the front ends.  And what I notice is that the cars are essentially identical aside from badges and mascots.


It wasn't until 1934 that Cadillac and LaSalle brand cues diverged significantly, along with mechanical details such as LaSalle's shift from V-8 to straight-eight motors.  Shown here are 1940 models, the Cadillac above (RM Sotheby's photo), the LaSalle below (for sale photo).  Even though they share GM "C" bodies, the cars have clearly separate brands identification features.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Pre- Austin-Healey Healeys


One car of my daydream cars when I was young was the Austin-Healey 100 such as the 1954 model shown above in this "for sale" photo found on the Internet. I gave the A-H an enthusiastic styling review here.

The Austin-Healey was a cooperative effort between the British Motor Corporation's Austin unit and the Donald Healey Motor Company, a specialty firm headed by car designer and former race driver Donald Healey.

For this post, I thought it might be interesting to feature Healey's post- World War 2 passenger cars made by the Donald Healey Motor Company.  Most were powered by 2.5 liter Riley motors and bodies were provided by outside firms.  However, Healey established a general brand-identification theme initiated by Benjamin Bowden that was carried out by the body contractors.  Most noteworthy is the shape of the grille, a fan-like profile that can be seen on the Austin-Healy in the image above.

Otherwise, Healey cars over the period 1947-1953 had typical British styling.  The general appearance was pre-war, with modernized detailing.  This often resulted in awkward designs, though Healeys were far from the worst of the lot.

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RM Sotheby's photo of a 1947 Healey Elliott two-door saloon.  Compare its grille to that of the Austin-Healey.

This nifty creature is a 1948 Healey Duncan Sport Saloon that was up for auction by Bonhams.  Its hood (okay, bonnet) is much lower at the front than those of other Healeys shown here.

Duncan built some coupé bodies for the Alvis TA14 starting in 1947.  From the cowing aft, this body look almost identical to that of the '48 Healey in the previous photo.  This car too was offered by Bonhams.

Yet another Bonhams photo, this of a Healey Tickford Saloon from 1951.

Most of the styling of the Tickford continued on the Healey Abbott Drophead Coupé, this an auction photo of a 1953 model.

One of the later Donald Healey Motor Company projects prior to the Austin-Healey was the Nash-Healey, a cooperative venture with America's Nash-Kelvinator Corporation.  The power train was by Nash and the rest of the car was by Healey.  The car shown here is from 1951.  In 1952 Pininfarina was commissioned to restyle the car.  Note that even early Nash-Healeys had Nash grilles and not the Healey fan motif.

Monday, January 29, 2018

General Motors' Companion Cars (3): Buick and Marquette

This is the third in a series of posts dealing with General Motors' companion brands launched during the late 1920s.  The first post can be found here, the second here.

As I stated in the previous posts, a major factor in the rise of General Motors during the 1920s was Alfred P. Sloan's establishment of a price-prestige hierarchy for GM's various brands.  Over the 50 years from 1941 to 1991, when the Saturn brand appeared, the hierarchy from low to high was Chevrolet, Pontiac, Oldsmobile, Buick and Cadillac.  But during the late 1920s so-called "companion" brands were introduced to fill what seemed to be price gaps in GM's line.  In 1930 the hierarchy was approximately (there was price overlapping in a number of cases): Chevrolet, Pontiac, Marquette, Oldsmobile, Oakland, Viking, Buick, LaSalle, and Cadillac.

Buick's companion, the Marquette, had far greater sales success than Oldsmobile's Viking dealt with in the second part of this series. That was in spite of the fact that Marquettes were marketed only in the 1930 model year whereas Vikings were offered for both 1929 and 1930. Around 7,200 Vikings were sold compared to nearly 42,000 Marquettes.

Unlike the Pontiac and Viking companion cars dealt with in the first two posts, styling detail differences from the host brand were more distinctive on Marquettes for reasons discussed below.

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Buicks featured distinctive brand-identifying upper grille framing and related hood sculpting, as can be seen in this "for sale" photo of a 1930 coupe.  Marquette, being a separate brand, was given different treatments in those areas.


The two images above are photos I took of a 1930 Marquette at the National Automobile Museum in Reno in January 2015.  Note the non-sculpted upper hood surfaces and grille frame shaping.  An even more distinctive difference from Buick is the 45-degree angling of the narrow grille bars -- Buicks had thicker, vertical bars.  A lesser difference is in the headlight mountings.  However, Buicks and Marquettes had nearly identical starter crank covers (at the bottom of the grilles).