Monday, August 29, 2016

Ford's Cleanly Styled 1960 Galaxie

By the late 1950s, American automobile designs were in a rococo period of flamboyance.  Tail fins were common and their shapes elaborate, while swathes of chromed trim clad the flanks of upper-range General Motors cars.  Grille themes changed rapidly along with those of elaborate bumpers, annually churning the faces cars presented to the buying public.  And then appeared those awful quad headlights.  Ah, the curse of living in "interesting times."

All this was what could be seen on streets, highways and in parking lots.  But inside Ford's styling studios a sense of design sanity was starting to emerge as styling for early 1960s models was being finalized.  (The same was true at GM, though on a very slightly later timeline.  But Chrysler remained in the Virgil Exner zone of strange shapes for a while longer.)

The subject of this post is Ford's top-of-the-line Galaxie model (Wikipedia entry here) as restyled for the 1960 model year.  It was a considerably above-average design for its time that suffered the usual sad fate of being poorly facelifted the following year, 1961.


1959 Ford Galaxie 500 - Barrett-Jackson photo
Setting the scene is the 1959 Galaxy, the final facelift of what was a nice new 1957 design that was badly corrupted for 1958.  Fords never had elaborate tail fins, and this Galaxie's rear fender features a fin transformed into small ridge atop a tubular shape.  The grille follows a fad for tiny shapes filling the air intake opening, a treatment first seen on 1958 Buicks and Cadillacs and currently being revived on Mercedes-Benz models such as the CLA.

1960 Ford Galaxie Starliner
Here is the hardtop coupe Galaxie, the nicest looking model.  The previous panoramic windshield has been replaced by a conventional windshield where the A-pillar leans backward.  In place of a tail fin we find a horizontally oriented blade running along the car's shoulder that ties into sculpting at the front of the car.  Quad headlights remain, but are better integrated into the frontal ensemble.

1960 Ford Galaxie Town Victoria
The four-door hardtop Galaxie has a less-graceful angular passenger greenhouse.

1960 Ford Galaxie Town Victoria
Even so, the greenhouse design is simple, relating fairly well to the rest of the car.  The large C-pillar is in the same spirit of previous Fords such as the tops on the initial Thunderbirds and even that of the unfortunate '59 Galaxie in the upper image above.  On the minus side of the design ledger is the considerable rear overhang whose only real justification is the trunk carrying capacity it created.

1960 Ford Starliner - brochure page
This shows the rear styling.  The side blades indeed have a jet fighter look where they terminate on the trunk lid.  By ending a little ways forward of the back end of the car, they reduce the visual bulk of the trunk and overhang.  Overall, a fairly clean design solution to the unnecessary problem created by all that overhang.

1961 Ford Galaxie - sales photo
Galaxie's 1961 frontal facelift was a step backward, though the concave grille is not a bad idea.  The problem is where the outer headlights "turn the corner" from the front to the car's sides -- often a difficult design task with modern, "envelope" bodies.  What we find here is a concentration of lumpy shapes instead of the cleaner separation of fender and grille found on 1960 Galaxies.

1961 Ford Galaxie - rear 3/4
The blade design is gone, replaced by rounded (and heavier-looking) fenders towards the front and small, canted fins towards the rear.  The fins and round tail lights recall the nice '57 Ford design.  In general, the aft end of the '61 Galaxie is a slight improvement over that of the '60 model.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

1940 Lincoln-Zephyr Redesign

Ford's V-12 luxury Lincoln sales declined during the Great Depression, as was the case for virtually all American brands.  But for luxury brands with modest sales to start with, declines often were to unprofitable numbers of cars sold.  Such was the case for Lincoln.  The final year for those big Lincolns was 1940, but the brand was saved by the 1936 launch of a medium-high range model, the Zephyr (Wikipedia entry here).

Lincoln-Zephyrs were marketed over the 1936-1940 model years.  With the demise of the large K model Lincolns, the Zephyr name was dropped and what had been the Lincoln-Zephyr was simply the Lincoln as of the 1941 model year.

The initial Zephyr design was produced 1936-1939.  For the 1940 model year a largely redesigned body was placed in production which continued through 1948 with the exception of 1943-45 when American automobile production was halted due to World War 2.

All that said, let's consider that 1940 redesign.


This is a 1936 Lincoln-Zephyr, its first year on the market.

And here is a 1939 Lincoln-Zephyr, the final year for the original body.  The front forward of the cowling was facelifted for 1938, and the '39 model was a minor facelift of that, grille bars changing orientation and the hood prow made more prominent.  Another 1938 change from '36 was the running boards being hidden by sheet metal.

This is an illustration from an advertisement for the 1940 Zephyr.  As is usual with illustrations, proportions were distorted.  I include it because it was the only image I could locate that showed a car in a similar orientation to those in the previous images.  The 1938-vintage bodywork forward of the cowling is mostly retained.  Headlights are now the new sealed-beam variety required of all American cars.  The hood prow is straighter and more vertical than for 1939.  Aft of the cowling the body is new.  The most visible differences are the larger side windows and the now-vertical C-pillar.

Here is a 1941 Lincoln.  It's included because the image is a photograph and not an illustration.  Also, the design is almost unchanged from 1940. (1942 Lincolns got a facelift that I wrote about here.)  Changes visible here besides the ones already mentioned include a higher, reshaped fastback and the elimination of visible door hinges.  Rear fenders look like they might be unchanged from 1939, but these are tack-on items and not intrinsic to the basic body.

The 1936 body was used for four model years, a fairly long life in those days.  That factor perhaps along with the planned demise of K-series Lincolns might have led Edsel Ford to opt for a new, somewhat more substantial body.  The result was not a great success aesthetically because it gave Lincoln-Zephyr a somewhat more ponderous appearance.  Retaining the old-fashioned flat windshield feature was probably not a good decision.  The same could be said regarding the 1938-vintage front end; it is lithe, contrasting with the heaviness of the rest of the car (which the large side windows do little to help).

Monday, August 22, 2016

1955 LaSalle II Sedan Concept Car

1955 LaSalle II sedan concept car was one of a pair using the name of a defunct General Motors brand that served as a companion car to Cadillac (Wikipedia entry here).  The other car was a roadster.  These and other dream cars, as they were popularly called, were displayed at the 1955 version of General Motors' Motorama.  Motoramas were cars-plus-entertainment shows that usually first opened at New York's Waldorf-Astoria hotel and then moved on to a few other large cities.  During the mid-1950s, GM usually included a number of dream cars along with production models.  The appearance of two LaSalle-badged show cars led to some speculation in car buff magazines that GM might be intending to resurrect the brand.

More information on the LaSalle II sedan can be found here.  It was much smaller than standard 1955 American sedans, having a wheelbase of 108 inches (2,743 mm). This was the same as that for GM's eventual compact car entry, the 1960 Corvair, or more currently, the 2001 Ford Mondeo.

Both LaSalle show cars were to have been destroyed, GM's usual policy at the time. But they managed to survive, badly deteriorated, to be acquired by the Bortz collection of concept cars. The sedan's entry on the Bortz web site is here.


Here is the front design of the 1940 LaSalle, the last production year for the brand.  Starting with the 1934 model, a LaSalle visual identification feature was a tall, narrow radiator grille.  Those narrow, vertical slots on the catwalks appeared only on 1940 models, but were to be retained on the cancelled 1941 cars.  Barrett-Jackson auctions photo.

Part of the Waldorf-Astoria 1955 Motorama display area.  The LaSalle II sedan is in the middle, flanked on the right by what looks like a 1955 Cadillac and on the left by the Pontiac Strato-Star dream car.

Another view of the LaSalle II sedan at a Motorama show probably not at the Waldorf.  A 1940-style vertical grille was considered old-fashioned in mid-1950s America (for example, recall the unfavorable reception of the 1958 Edsel's design).  That, and the comparatively low hood probably influenced stylists to take a different approach.  What they did was borrow the 1940 catwalk slots to use as the main grille.  But those four horizontal swaths with rounded ends that wrap around the body below the headlights suggest the '40 vertical grille shape if it were laid on its side.  Front bumpers are light, but the bumper guards look lethal.  Headlight assemblies recall those on the 1940 cars.

A poor quality photo of the rear, but it's all I could find on the internet.  It seems to have been taken at a car show and not a Motorama.  Rear protection is sketchy indeed, but this doesn't matter for show cars.  The tail lights are nondescript and don't seem to support the overall design very well.

This publicity photo includes human models who provide as sense of scale.  The LaSalle II sedan is really fairly small.  Smaller than it looks without nearby people.  The concave sculpting on the side was picked up by the 1956 Chevrolet Corvette.  At the time it appeared, the lack of flow-through fenders or a shoulder below the side window sills attracted comment in some car buff magazines, writers wondering if this might be a harbinger of future production car features.  They were correct.

This car show photo from the Conceptcarz web site shows the LaSalle II sedan before restoration.  (Web sites conflict as to whether or not restoration has begun.)

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Auburn's 1935 Facelift

In the 1930s, Auburn was part of E.L. Cord's business empire that included Lycoming motors, an airline, Stinson airplanes and the Duesenberg and Cord automobile brands.  But the 1930s Great Depression took its toll, all of his automobile production ending by 1937.  A short Auburn Wikipedia entry is here, and a bit more information on 1930s Auburns is here.

The Auburn brand's last model year was 1936, Cord and Duesenberg carrying on for one more year.  Auburns were upper-middle range cars, some of which had V-12 motors, a prestige item then and now.  Sporty Auburn Speedsters for 1928-36 had boat-tail bodies and some other Auburn models featured sporty looks.  However, this post deals with the brand's sedans, the models required to sustain viability.

Auburn sedans were redesigned for 1934.  Unfortunately, that was the model year LaSalle, a competing General Motors brand was also redesigned in a more modern manner featuring an all-steel roof, among other features.  So Auburn faced an uphill battle.  The company's reaction was a 1935 facelift of the entire front end that, coupled with the old-fashioned appearance of the rest of the car, was not good enough to remain competitive.  Auburns for 1936 were essentially unchanged, corporate development money going to the re-launched Cord brand.


This is a 1933 Auburn sedan, the last before the redesigned 1934s.  Note the color-separation / character line that starts at the front of the hood, then widens as a curve to sweep around to the car's sides at the cowling.  This had been an Auburn visual identifier since 1926.

Those character lines were continued for the 1934 redesign, and their spirit was enhanced in the form of those curved side vent decorations on the engine compartment.  This photo taken at the factory shows a sedan that seems to have returned following a test drive (note the dirt on the tire).  The car features "suicide" front doors.

This view reveals that all the sedan's doors were of the suicide (hinged at the rear) variety.  The grille slopes back, as does the windshield.  The front fenders have valances.  These features were fashionable at the time American designs began to move (slightly) in the direction of aerodynamic efficiency.

From the rear, we see that the Auburn's Standard Sedan body features a good deal of rounding compared to 1933.  The sculpting on the valances and over the rear fenders is interesting and unusual.  The car shown here has no trunk.  And it seems lower than many other '34 sedans, an aspect of Auburn's sporty image.

This is perhaps Auburn's most serious competition, a 1934 LaSalle being displayed on the roof of the Argonaut Building in Detroit where GM's Art & Colour group was located in those days.

Now for the facelift.  Here is a 1935 Auburn 854 Brougham.  As can be seen, everything forward of the cowling has been redone.  Abandoned is the character line motif, the hood becoming plain as well as stronger looking (and longer than hoods of Standard sedans in the pervious photos).  The grille has a tucked-in look caused by the radiused sheet metal serving as a frame instead of the usual sort of brightwork framing.  Engine compartment vents are larger and decorated by horizontal strips that help provide the ensemble a more firm appearance.

And here is an 851 four-door sedan.  The sculpting over the rear fender was retained for 1935.  This car and the one shown above have trunks, so spare tires are mounted on the front fenders.

A 1936 Auburn 654 sedan.  This is a short-hood model.  As best I can tell, there are no significant differences from 1935 Auburns.  The styling is now out of date compared to that for competing brands featuring more rounded bodies and fenders as well as the fad of "fencer's mask" convex grilles.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Ford's Falcon: The Most Successful First-Generation Compact Car

Increasing market penetration by foreign brands, especially Volkswagen, along with rising sales by American Motors' compact Rambler in the late 1950s inspired America's Big Three car makers to introduce their own compact models for the 1960 model year.  I dealt with Chevrolet's Corvair here, and the Plymouth Valiant here.

The third 1960 American compact car was the Ford Falcon (Wikipedia entry here), the subject of this post.  Its first generation (treated here) was sold during model years 1960-63, and the third generation cars were last marketed for 1970.

Non-North American readers are reminded that an American "compact" car is roughly the size of a standard size European sedan. For example, the wheelbase for the 2001-2007 Ford Mondeo is 2,754 mm (108.4 in), and that for the current U.S. compact Ford Fusion is 107.4 in (2,728 mm).  Wheelbase lengths for the 1960 American compacts were: Chevrolet Corvair, 108 in (2,743 mm); Plymouth Valiant, 106.5 in (2,710 mm); and the Ford Falcon, 109.5 in (2,781 mm) -- all almost the same.

Ford's Falcon was the most conservatively designed of the three and its first-year sales about equaled the combined sales of its two competitors.  The Valiant featured odd, Virgil-Exner type styling and the Corvair had an air-cooled motor mounted at the rear, Volkswagen-fashion.  Here was a clear case of cautious, conventional styling and engineering winning over creativity.


Although it was styled during the Baroque phase of Detroit's tail fin and wrapped windshield era, the Falcon reverted to a simple, three-box design.  With a bit of imagination or three glasses of wine, one might consider it a modernized classic 1949 Ford.

Here is more of a profile view for the four-door version.

And this is a side view of a two-door Falcon for 1961.  Also very clean-looking.  But I think Falcons would have looked better with larger wheels.

The rear styling was logical and simple as well, as seen in this Owls Head Museum auction photo.  Ford's traditional (for a while in the 1950s) round tail lights were dropped on standard size 1960 Fords, but continued on Falcons.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

General Motors' 1964 New York World's Fair Show Cars

Now for something a bit different.  New York City held a World's Fair 1964-1965 (information about it here).  As it did for the 1939-1940 New York World's Fair, GM had a Futurama exhibit.  But it was not as exciting as the '39 version of the World of Tomorrow.

GM did display some concept cars that featured crisply-streamlined shapes of the sort its styling group was playing with under Bill Mitchell's direction.  I'll probably get around to treating some of them in detail in a future post.

For now, I thought I'd post some photos I took when I visited the fair in June of 1965.


Fairgoers crossing over Grand Central Parkway with the General Motors pavilion in the background.

Inside, we find this abstract shape illustrating the long-range theme GM stylists focused on in the early 1960s when the concept cars were being designed.

GM photo of the three-wheeled Runabout -- an "urban car" 30 or 40 years ahead of its time.

Two photos of the Runabout that I took.

Firebird IV.  This was supposedly to be gas turbine powered like previous Firebirds, but actually was a "pushmobile." GM photo.

My photo of the displayed Firebrid IV.

GM-X Stiletto, another of the three non-functional concept cars.   GM publicity photo.

The Stiletto as I saw it in 1965.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Saab 99: The Quirky Swede's Second Act

Around 20 years after Saab's first car, the 96, was being developed, the company finally got around to adding a newer, larger model.  The Saab 99 was produced 1968-1984, and introduced in the USA in 1969.  Although they don't seem large today, the 99s looked big at the time they were first seen when compared to the fairly small Saab 96s people were familiar with.

The Wikipedia entry for the 99 is here. It mentions that it was designed by Sixten Sason who was responsible for the styling of Saabs up to that point.  He died in 1967 while the 99 was being readied for production.

Saab 99s eventually appeared in a four-door version, but the first ones only came with two doors, as this site mentions.

The Saab 99 was not good looking.  This wasn't because it was one of those stark, by-the-book "functional" designs.  Instead, while aspects of its appearance might have been rationalized in functionalist terms, it was simply quirky-looking.  Rather like a number of French designs.


This is a 1966 prototype 99, called Padden (Toad) by Saab staff.  The Wikipedia link above states that these early prototypes were cobbled from Saab 96s.

Here is a later, four-door Saab 99 as seen in a publicity photo.  The comparatively shorter front door's B-pillar and the post for the rear quarter window (needed so that the main rear door window could be rolled down) resulted in a busy appearance for the passenger greenhouse.  Two-door Saab 99s had a cleaner look in that area.  Saab 99 windshields were long, shallow curves when seen in plan view.  I'm not sure whether this was for aerodynamic reasons or had to do with reducing distortion found in conventional panoramic windshields.  Maybe for both reasons.  The hood (hinged at the front) had its cut line part way down the front fender.  A character line extended this mark to the rear of the car.

Just for fun, here is a publicity photo intended to show how roomy the back seat of a 99 was.

The side character line beginning at the hood transitions to the trunk's rear cut line, a touch that helps to integrate slightly a somewhat confused overall design.  Tail lights and rear bumper are spartan, and have a tacked-on appearance.  On two-door models such as this, the rear side windows do not roll down; instead, they are hinged at the front and can be unlatched and pivoted out a short distance.

This side view is of a 1972 Saab 99 EMS.  It's included to further demonstrate the quirkiness of the design.  Front overhang is considerable, but that is the norm for a front-wheel-drive car.  Due to its curve, the very front of the windshield is about even with the rear of the wheel opening.  This helps make the front look stubby.  What looks to be a cabin air outlet, that louvered patch below the C-pillar, is oddly shaped, not fitting into the overall design.  If it had to be there, the louvers should have slanted in the opposite direction, reflecting the angle of the C-pillar.  Another odd feature is the quasi- sail panel ensemble of the C-pillar, back window, and trunk -- a scooped out look.  This helps make the 99 look distinctive and also lightens the appearance compared to, say, a conventional three-box with bustle-back design.  But it seems quite unrelated to the rest of the car.  Some of this is because the backlight is concave and the windshield is quite convex, giving the greenhouse a disjointed look.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Plymouth's 1st-Generation Barracuda

April 1964 saw the introduction of the first so-called "pony car," a relatively inexpensive, sporty, compact (by American standards) automobile  No, it wasn't the Ford Mustang, whose name gave rise to the pony car label.  It was actually the Plymouth Barracuda (Wikipedia entry here).  The far more successful -- in terms of sales -- Mustang was introduced two weeks later.

The first Barracuda generation was produced model years 1964-1966, the final third generation car ended production in 1974.  The first two Barracuda generation models were reworked Plymouth Valiants, the Valiant being Plymouth's compact line.


Here is a two-door 1964 Plymouth Valiant, the basis for first-generation Barracudas.

And this is a 1964 Barracuda.  It has a different grille and the V-slash on the front fender is tighter.  The major difference has to do with the passenger greenhouse aft of the windshield and wing-vents.  The trunk and other rear-end details were changed as well.

Here is general view of a first-generation Barracuda that shows the grille design better.

This side view is a sales photo of a 1965 Barracuda Formula S "performance" variation.  Barracuda's most distinctive feature is the huge backlight (styling jargon) or rear window.  In profile, it doesn't seem particularly massive.

But from any other angle aft of dead center, the backlight looks quite large.  Moreover, it seems heavy looking, something of a surprise for an area of glass; one would ordinarily expect glass to lend visual lightness.  In fact, when seen in person, Barracudas looked a lot heavier than competing Mustangs, perhaps a factor in their relative sales performances.

Barracuda rear seat backs could be folded down to increase hauling capacity.  This photo that seems to be from Motor Trend magazine shows the small trunk lid that nevertheless allowed shallow objects to be loaded.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Honda's Prettiest Preludes

Honda's Prelude was a sporty line produced 1978-2001.  A Wikipedia entry about Preludes is here.  That article mentions that there were five generations of Preludes.  The second (1983-87) and third (1988-91) generation Preludes are those that interest me.

Those Preludes were very attractive coupés in an angular variation of the so-called "three-box" style.  Besides having distinct, nearly flat body surfaces, these cars had plenty of glass area -- their greenhouses being a little less than 40 percent of their total body height.

The overall visual effect of these Preludes was that of lightness and grace, something lacking in prior and later generation Preludes.

Second and third generation Preludes have a very similar appearance, even though the third generation cars were slightly longer and details differed subtly.  In the paired mages below, second generation Preludes are shown first, third generation cars below.


The second generation Prelude has a character line running near the top of the fender, and the third generation Prelude lacks this.

Third generation Preludes have lower hoods.  They also lack a grille above the bumper, though below-bumper treatment is similar for both cars.  The third generation car's appearance is cleaner from this point of view.

The third generation car has a slightly longer greenhouse.  Also, the windshield and backlight are raked a bit more.  Differences in hood height are also apparent, the third generation car having a more pointed nose.

The main difference in these rear quarter views is the subtle spoiler-like sculpting around the top of the trunk.  C-pillars are thinner, making the greenhouse even airier.