Thursday, April 19, 2018

Some 1939 United States Street and Parking Lot Photos

From time to time I need a break from discussing styling features.  For examples, last year I did this post about a photo of a major downtown Seattle intersection taken in the summer of 1942.

Now I'll present some 1939 views of streets and parking lots that I've gathered from here and there on the Internet.  Car-spotters should enjoy identifying various models.  History-minded viewers might simply enjoy these peeks into the past.

Click on the images to enlarge.


Parking lot, Newport News, Virginia.

Parking lot for New York World's Fair.

Ford Pavilion roadway, New York World's Fair.

Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angles, looking west at Commonwealth.

New York: 34th Street near Fifth Avenue. This image will not enlarge much.

Sears rooftop parking lot, Los Angeles.

Sears rooftop parking lot, Los Angeles.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Comparing 1951 Packard 200s and 300s

The Packard Motor Car Company created its final redesign for the 1951 model year.  (Late-1950s Packards based on Studebaker bodies were basically a form of facelift.)

Using the same basic body, Packard introduced three models.  At the top of the price-prestige ladder was the Patrician or 400.  The next rung down was the 300, and the entry-level Packard was called the 200.

This post compares styling for the 200 and 300 lines.

The 200 was smaller than the other '51 Packards, having a wheelbase of 122 inches (3099 mm) as opposed to 127 inches (3226 mm).  It has a less-powerful inline eight cylinder motor.  There also were some noticeable styling cues that set 200s apart, and these are dealt with below.


1951 Packards were handsome cars in an brassy American 1950s sort of way.  The grille of this 200 is simpler than those of 300s and 400s.  This car and others shown below feature rear wheel spats covering part of the wheel openings, but Packards could be ordered without this detail.

Side view.  Uncluttered styling, though abaft of the B-pillar it seems a bit heavy and lumpy -- some other cars of that vintage also suffered the same problem.  Deleting the rear wheel spats would lighten the appearance a little.

Some 200s were two-door models such as this Club Sedan.

Rear three-quarter view from a "for sale" photo.  The most distinguishing feature of the 200 was its conventional backlight (rear window) and the thick C-pillars.  Tail light assemblies are simpler than those on larger Packards.

Now for images of Packard 300s.  The grille includes "teeth" not found on 200s.

This 300 features the Packard cormorant hood mascot -- 200s had a simpler mascot.

Besides being longer, Packard 300s has slightly different sheet metal at the aft ends of the rear fenders along with a chrome strip not seen on 200s.  Rear fenders also lacked the sculpting found on 200s.

Here are two publicity photos from the same shoot: note the background and the model in both.

This high rear three-quarter view shows the differing tail light assembly.  But the most important difference is the three-piece wraparound backlight, a design found on many circa-1950 hardtops and on some sedans.  I wrote about this feature here and here.  Its effect on the styling of 300 and 400 series Packards was to give the cars a noticeably lighter appearance than that shown above for the 200 model.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Toyota's Cliché-Filled 2018 Camry

Toyota's Camry has been the best-selling standard size sedan in America for quite a few years.  So it's always interesting hereabouts when Camry get a redesign, which happened for the 2018 model year.

By now it is well known that Toyota Motor Corporation president Akio Toyoda has been crusading against previous Toyota styling that had been criticized as being too bland.  But the results seen in newer Toyota and Lexus models sold in the USA are, in my possibly humble opinion, too far on the other extreme.  Cluttered, confusing and overdecorated are descriptions that quickly come to mind.  So does one more: clichéd.

Maybe I'm being unfair.  After all, automobile styling is definitely subject to fashion, especially for brands that sell well.  That's because, to maintain good sales levels, the appearance of a brand's cars needs to be acceptable to a large potential buying public.  Certain design features are accepted as being appropriate, especially when seen on brands from more than one automobile firm.  Styling fashions therefore tend to change slowly, a few details at a time.  (Even large changes such as General Motors' introduction of panoramic windshields for 1954 were previewed by placing such windshields on some high-end 1953 Oldsmobile and Cadillac convertibles.)

What of the new 2018 Camry?  Its styling is whole-hog overdone Toyota.  Sales will probably remain strong if for no other reason than major competitors such as the Chevrolet Impala and Honda Accord are also fairly jazzy -- though not so extreme as Camry.


A 2018 Toyota Camry seen in front three-quarter aspect.  The passenger compartment greenhouse is rounded-off and uncluttered.  This is contrasted by the sharp-edged detailing on the frontal clip.  Character lines and features on the sides -- especially the dished-in zone on the lower parts of the doors -- are found on many current brands.

Rear end design includes the usual sorts of V-shapes and contrasting angled creases that are common nowadays, though Toyota stylists worked to use such elements as distinctively as they could manage.  For example, the swelling or bulging of the lower trunk lid differs from the usual sculpting found on other cars.  On the other hand, the V-shape at the car's edge below the tail light assembly is clutter that's marginally related to the rest of the rear design.  It was probably added to try to relate the rear to all those V's seen at the front.

The Camry's frontal styling is edging towards that of Lexus with the pinched grille ensemble.  Flanking the functional radiator air intake are two fake intakes inspired by racing car intakes used for brake cooling.  But the dark areas seen there are simply solid panels with textured surfaces -- well, that's what I see on a '18 Camry parked two cars away from my car's garage slot.  What is the point of such grossly obvious phoniness?

To illustrate my contention regarding clichés, this is the front end of a 2016 Honda Civic hatchback.  Note the pinched grille zone and the flanking fake air intakes.

Another emerging cliché is the faux-transparent roof feature shown on this white Camry.  Functionally, at can be regarded as a two-tone paint job.  Might those be returning?  That's how fashion often works.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Badge-Engineering: 1947 Kaisers and Frazers

The end of World War 2 saw the emergence of several new automobile companies in the United States.  Even in those days when cars were much more simple than now, it still took a large amount of money to create a standard passenger car brand from scratch.  The Tucker was a famous failure, whereas Kaiser-Frazer, backed by famed industrialist Henry J. Kaiser, was somewhat successful, at one point capturing more than four percent of the American market before failing by the mid-1950s.  More information can be found starting here.

During the product development phase, front wheel drive was considered for the Kaiser brand.  But this was called off and Kaisers and the more up-scale Frazers shared the same 123.5-inch (3137 mm) wheelbase body.  Frazers had slightly more powerful motors and fancier interiors.  But exterior differences mostly had to do with grille design.

This is not full-fledged badge engineering, yet it comes fairly close to that.  Below are images of early (1947-1948) Kaisers and Frazers.


A 1947 Kaiser publicity photo showing the simple, but rather awkward, design.

I include this idealized advertising illustration because it shows the Kaiser's grill design.  One inaccuracy is the raised area at the center -- behind it was body color painted sheet metal, and not a dark opening as shown.

Again, distorted illustrations typical of those times.  It shows the two brands' grilles for a quick comparison.  Note the chrome strip on the side of the Frazer as well as its more elaborate bumper design.

This Frazer publicity photo seems to show either a pre-production or perhaps an early production car.  That's because the grille lacks vertical bars typically seen on 1947-48 Frazers.  The bumper has only two guards instead of the usual four.

A "for sale" photo of a 1947 Frazer showing the grille and a two-tone paint job.  The radiator opening was the same as the Kaiser's and lacks the false grille opening segment mentioned above.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Rounded-Tail Infiniti J30

Infiniti, Nissan's brand targeted as a Toyota Lexus competitor, launched its J30 model (Wikipedia entry here) for the 1993 model year.  It was marketed through 1997 and then dropped.

The above link (as of when this post was drafted) notes that the J30 was a mid-size car with the carrying capacity of a smaller car abaft of the B-pillar.  That seems about right, as the focus of this post is the J30s rear-end styling.

By the early 1990s, most new designs were tested in wind tunnels with results that have affected styling ever since.  But to some degree it was still a transition period.  The J30 has a soft, minimally-decorated appearance in line with the Oldsmobile Aurora (introduced for 1995) and the 1996 3rd-generation Ford Taurus.  All three cars lacked built-in trunk lid air dams and had rear ends rounded-off to one degree or another (the Aurora least so, the J30 to the greatest extent).

Let's look at the J30.


The J30s frontal styling is rather bland, but in keeping with current fashions.

The same can be said with respect to this front three-quarter view.  By the way, this seems to be a factory photo that was digitally manipulated originally or perhaps later.  Note the background golf scene -- it's identical to that in the image below.

This shows the rounded rear end styling.  The design is clean and distinctive.  I don't know if the trunk could hold a set of golf clubs, as implied by the background setting, but the trunk does seem small.

Side view of a J30.  This also illustrates the rear-end problem: aesthetically okay, but lacking in practicality for many prospective owners.

Monday, April 2, 2018

LaSalle 1933 to 1934 Redesign

The focus of this post is the redesigned 1934 LaSalle (Wikipedia entry for the brand is here).  But instead of dealing with its design features, I try to put it in the context of 1933-34 carryover details for it and its parent brand Cadillac.  In addition, the 1934 LaSalle is compared to two other General Motors makes, Oldsmobile and Buick for reasons made evident below.

GM Art & Colour boss Harley Earl oversaw the new LaSalle design, but the stylist mostly responsible for its looks was Jules Agramonte.

Now some further background on LaSalle's 1934 redesign from an article by stylist/historian Jeff Godshall in the May/June 1971 issue of Special-Interest Autos (page 43):

By 1933, "La Salle had failed to get established despite its early success.  What looked right in 1927 turned out to be very wrong by 1933, so that year GM brass handed down the decision to discontinue the La Salle....

"Hearing this, Harley Earl went before the management committee and told them that he still had something  to show them.  While his exact words are not recorded, Earl said that as long as they had killed the La Salle, perhaps they would like to see what they had thrown away.  He then led them to the Art and Colour Section viewing room and pulled the drapes, and there stood the stunning new La Salle design for 1934 -- the slim-nosed, radically different (for the time) body that was to give La Salle a new 7-year lease on life.  Warren Fitzgerald of GM Styling asserts, 'It can honestly be said that Harley Earl saved the La Salle with his dramatic new design.'

"The Series 350 ushered in both a new car and a new direction for La Salle.  Management decided that La Salle had gotten too close to Cadillac in size and price.  Remedy: put La Salle into a different [that is, mid-price] market entirely."

Out went its V-8 motor, replaced by a Straight 8 from Oldsmobile.  In came other changes to achieve the the new market niche.  The Wikipedia entry linked above mentions that "Beginning with the 1934 model year, a significant portion of the LaSalle was more closely related to the Oldsmobile, than to Senior Cadillacs."

Comparing 1934 price ranges, the LaSalle, now with a 119-in (3,023 mm) wheelbase sold for $1,595-$1,695.  The Oldsmobile series with the same wheelbase had a $895-$995 price range, and Buicks with that wheelbase were priced $1,110-$1,230.  However, the price range for the entire Buick line was $795-$2,175.  The lowest-price Cadillac line that year with 8-cylinder motors and 128-inch (3,251 mm) wheelbases were set at $2,545-$2,695.  LaSalle was GM's most expensive car for its wheelbase, but one could buy a 128-in wheelbase Buick for about the same price, $1,465-$1,675.  So LaSalle was in a tricky marketing situation armed mostly by its new styling.


1933 Cadillac V-12 4-door sedan, Hyman Ltd. photo.

1934 Cadillac Coupe, Hyman Ltd. photo.  Although the body was new, Earl saw to it that the 1933 grille theme was carried over to the 1934 models.

1933 LaSalle Convertible Coupe, Auctions America photo.  LaSalle's grille theme is close to that of Cadillac.

1934 LaSalle sedan for sale.  The Cadillac-related grille theme -- fine vertical background bars, a stronger central vertical bar and five stronger horizontal bars -- remains.  But the drastic narrowing of the hood and grille opening largely obscures this continuity.  Note the shared front fender design: lesser GM brands got more traditional fenders for 1934.

1934 Oldsmobile 2-door, RM Sotheby's photo.  Although LaSalle got an Oldsmobile motor and some other engineering details, the brands were stylistically distinct.

1934 Buick Series 60 3-Window Coupe, Mecum photo.  This is the same body type as shown below for the 1934 LaSalle, though on a Series 60 128-inch wheelbase.  This car sold for about the same price as that LaSalle, but even though it was longer, its styling was less advanced and far less exciting.

1934 LaSalle coupe, photo source unknown.  Both the LaSalle and Buick coupes have the same basic body as the '34 Cadillac shown earlier.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Cute Neon

Chrysler produced a cute compact (in American terms) called the Neon over model years 1995-2005 with a body revision in model year 2000.  This is related by Wikipedia here.

Neons were a prime example of "badge engineering" whereby an automobile is marketed under two (or more) brand names with minimal differences.  In the Neon's case, those brands were Plymouth and Dodge in the USA, and overseas Neons were sold as Chryslers.  Basic first-generation Plymouth and Dodge Neons differed externally mostly via brand badges, though they also might have had different hub caps and other minor non- brand related items here and there.

Styling was of its time, featuring increased aerodynamic refinement compared to boxy Chrysler Corporation K cars that were marketed from the early 1980s into the 1995 model year.  Passenger compartment greenhouses were large and the rest of the bodies were comparatively short, features also in line with styling fashion in those days.  Ornamentation was minimal, this too a current practice.

The detail that made Neons seem "cute" and helped their marketplace success was the shape of their headlights and the smile-like effect of the lower air intake.  The story goes that Chrysler bean-counters objected to the headlight design on the basis of cost, wanting cheaper round ones.  This would have made Neons less distinctive and probably would have lessened sales.  Fortunately, the financial folks were overruled and Neons sold well, especially during the first model years.

The images below have captions based on what I found on the Internet: in many cases it's hard to tell if a Neon is a Plymouth or a Dodge when looking at a small photo.  Even the model years posted are problematical, though the Plymouth brand was dropped during 2001, so all USA Neons thereafter were Dodges.


This is said to be a 1996 Plymouth Neon ...

... and this a 1996 Dodge Neon.  Two-door Neons such as this were produced only during the first generation.

1998 Dodge Neon showing rear-end styling.  First-generation Neons' front and rear bumpers and side trim had rub-strips at the same level, helping to integrate the design.

2001 Dodge Neon.  The general effect is quite similar to that of the first-generation design despite many detail differences.  The set of rub-strips mentioned in the previous caption is gone so far as bumper relationships are concerned.  The side strip has been joined by a character line above the door handles.  Headlights are a slightly different shape, but retain the "cute" theme of those on earlier Neons.

Rear 3/4 view of a 2003 Neon.  Different from before, but not seriously different.

Dodge Neon from late in the production run.  Its grille has been facelifted to incorporate Dodge's cross or "gunsight" theme that remains in place today.