Monday, August 21, 2017

Plymouth's 1949 Fastback

During the late 1930s and early 1940s American car stylists tended to assume that future automobile designs would emphasize streamlining.  One aspect of streamlining as it was then understood was that it required the "fastback" style, where the roofline curved downward to the level of the rear bumper.

Chrysler Corporation and Ford Motor Company 1940 models featured fastback designs on sedans.  General Motors introduced especially sleek fastback bodies for 1941, but hedged its bet by retaining some mild bustle-back designs as well.

But by the time new post-World War 2 designs were planned, fastback styling was falling out of favor.  One likely reason was because bustle-back designs offered more trunk space, making them more practical.

Nearly all redesigned 1949 Chrysler Corporation cars had rectangular, bustle-back styling.  But there were two exceptions: entry-level Plymouth and Dodge 2-door sedans were fastbacks.

The Plymouth fastback is featured below.  All the photos are of cars listed for sale.


This is a 1949 Plymouth Special DeLuxe 4-Door Sedan.  Most Plymouth sedans and coupes looked something like this.

Her is a 1949 Plymouth DeLuxe P-17 fastback.

1950 Plymouths were given a simplified grille, but otherwise little-changed.

One small change at the rear was different tail lights.

P-17 Plymouths had a 111-inch wheelbase, whereas other Plymouth sedans had wheelbases of 117 and 118.5 inches: this resulted in a stubbier look.  For what it's worth, this Plymouth did look sleeker than their 1940-48 fastbacks did.

Here is a 1949 Chevrolet Fleetline 2-door sedan.  It is far more stylish than the Plymouths shown above.  However, General Motors phased out fastback designs such as this after the 1952 model year due to slow sales.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Packard Grille Changes 1951-1954

Packard was America's leading luxury brand in the 1920s and into the 30s.  The company survived the Great Depression in part because it added less expensive models to its lineup.  Many writers blame this watering down of the Packard image for the eventual failure of the marque.  I am more inclined to believe that all of the smaller automobile firms were doomed because they lacked resources to compete with Detroit's "Big Three" during the 1950s and beyond.

In any case, it is true that Packard fell behind its rival, Cadillac, in sales.  This trend was not helped by Packard's unfortunate 1948 facelift that I touched on here.

A total redesign marked the 1951 model year.  As I note in my ebook "How Cars Faced the Market," Packard was one of those companies that favored strong, consistent styling cues that visually proclaimed the brand.  Packard used red hexagons on its hubcaps, a pen-nib spear side trim, and what many observers term a "yoke" grille.  The latter feature worked well when cars were tall and hoods were narrow.  But the '51 Packards followed industry design trends and were comparatively low and wide.  Plus, American styling fashions in the late 1940s and early 50s called for large, chromed grille elements.  So Packard stylists had to come up with grille designs that were low, wide and bold, yet carried on shape elements from previous Packards.


Here is an example of a traditional grille.  The car is a 1934 Packard Super Eight Coupe Roadster (RM Sotheby's auction photo).  The key theme continuity elements are at the top of the grille ensemble.

Shown here are 1951 Packards.  From front to rear are 400, 300 and 200 models (the higher the number, the more luxurious).  The upper parts of their grilles carry on the theme seen in the pervious image.  Grille interiors were made up of bold, chromed shapes in line with the current styling fashion.  I think the "teeth" in the 400's and 300's grilles are unnecessary and awkward.

The only change for 1952 grilles is the addition of a Packard crest at the top center (Gooding auction photo).

Those teeth were deleted on 1953 models, and the interior bar design was simplified, with some ribbing added: nice improvement.  Gone is the pen-nib chrome spear.

Grilles were unchanged for 1954.  Side trims were replaced and little wedges were added atop the headlight bezels.  This car's bumper is out of vertical alignment (Barrett-Jackson auction photo).  Packards were given a major facelift and new motors for 1955.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Kaiser's 1954 Darrin Sporty Car

As the 1940s were drawing to a close Americans were becoming sports car conscious, thanks to the affordable MG TCs being imported from England.  By the early 1950s, buyers might choose from the MG TD, Triumph TR2, Austin-Healey 100, Jaguar XK120 and others.

Seeing a growing market, some American companies developed and marketed what they called sports cars.  These usually were sporty cars with sports car looks, but lacking in sports car characteristics such as good handling.  They sold in low, sometimes hardly detectable, volumes, so their bodies were often made of fiberglass to save production costs.  I wrote about some of them here.  As it turned out, the only market success was the Chevrolet Corvette that remains in production more than 60 years later.

For this post, I deal in more detail with the 1954 Kaiser Darrin.  Its Wikipedia entry is here, and another fairly lengthy treatment is here.

I stand by the assessment I make in the post linked above, where I stated:

"Kaiser was on its way out as a mainstream manufacturer, so the Kaiser Darrin can be seen as one of the company's last-ditch dice rolls.  Darrin himself had been involved in custom coachbuilding for many years (think Hibbard & Darrin of Paris, late 1920s) and had been a styling consultant to Kaiser. The fiberglass-bodied Kaiser Darrin sat on a Henry J (compact Kaiser line) chassis and also hewed to the prevailing sports car fashion -- but with several distinctive twists.  Most obvious is the tiny grille that makes me wonder if the radiator was given as much cool air as it needed.  Then there are the sliding doors that, according to the [Wikipedia] link, proved troublesome.   The back fenders had a falling-to-the-rear shape that terminated in standard Kaiser sedan tail lights."


Here is designer Dutch Darrin with the 1953 prototype.  Note the divided windshield with rounded top segments, a feature on Kaiser sedans.

Publicity card announcing the Kaiser Darrin.  The prototype is shown,  Click to enlarge if you want to try reading the text (it'll still be very small).

This photo shows an event where the prototype is on display.

Publicity photo of a production Kaiser Darrin.  The windshield is now a one-piece affair.  This image and the one above illustrate how cramped Darrin's beloved sliding door openings were.

Auction photo (RM Sotheby's) showing the front and the small grille.  More air must have entered from below the bumper.

Side view of a Bonhams auction item.  The leading edge of the rear fender is aligned with the door cut line and seating.  This made production sense due to the sliding nature of the doors as well as probably simplifying the fiberglass moulds.  However, the resulting fender shape does not relate well to the rear wheel and its opening.

Same car, rear 3/4 view.  The trunk seems tiny, especially given that it would be the location of the spare tire.  Apparently Kaiser Darrins were intended for day trips, not long journeys.  The tail lights are those of 1952-53 Kaiser sedans.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

How "Pregnant" was the 1929 Buick?

Once Harley Earl had been hired as General Motors' styling director, an early major project was to produce a design for the forthcoming 1929 Buick's new body.  When the cars reached dealers for the first time, there was a strong negative reaction to a slight bulge along the belt line, below the side windows.  That was because other brands featured body sides whose belt lines initiated curves that slightly tucked inwards as they fell away downwards.

Larry Edsall in Automotive News goes into more detail here.  According to most stories, including Edsall's, Earl reacted by claiming that body engineers altered his staff's design.  He used this (along with his friendship with Alfred P. Sloan) to gain final sign-off on future designs from his Art & Colour section.

I am a bit skeptical.  So far as I know, there is no visual evidence of the designs Art & Colour prepared for various Buick body types.  If this is so, then the matter cannot be resolved.  My guess is that Earl's design did have that bulge.  Checking with the styling history bible, "A Century of Automotive Style" by Michael Lamm and David Holls, I notice on page 91 that former Chrysler Corporation stylist Jeff Godshall is of the same opinion.  I base my case on the reasoning that body engineers, a conservative lot, would never think of making such a major departure from strong conventions of the time unless they were under instructions to do so.

We begin with four images of 1929 Buicks.  The notorious bulge is along the belt line.


Now compare these Buicks to some other cars of its vintage ...

A 1929 Chevrolet.  Its body was designed around 1926-27 for the 1928 model year, so it has no real Harley Earl influence so far as I can tell.

A 1929 LaSalle.   Earl's first styling project with General Motors was the 1927 LaSalle line.  Its sides are typical of the times.

A 1928 Chrysler.  Chryslers competed with Buicks, and potential buyers of '29 Buicks would have been familiar with cars such as this.

1929 Dodge.  Its design probably pre-dates Chrysler's 1928 acquisition of Dodge.  I include this image to provide some more non-GM design context.

So yes, that Buick bulge was definitely out of the American car body design mainstream during the 1929 model year.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Ford's Controversial Scorpio II in Context

Ford of Germany marketed a model named Scorpio from 1985 to 1998.  There were two versions, the second of which, sometimes called Scorpio II, was produced 1994-98.  Wikipedia provides background information here.

As of the time this post was drafted, there was a Wikipedia entry section noting that Scorpio II styling was criticized be several noted car buffs who proclaimed the design ugly.  I would not go that far.  To me, it was nondescript in the soft, aerodynamic sort of way seen from the mid-1980s unto the early 2000s.

Here it is, placed in some contexts.


The Scorpio II sedan (there also was a station wagon / break version) was a six-window affair with a low, rounded nose.  I don't notice a large chin air dam, and the spoiler on the trunk lid is quite small.  Given that Ford was into aerodynamic efficiency ten years earlier, I find the modesty of these details puzzling.

Front end.  Soft, and not cluttered like current cars.

Two views of the rear.  Again, large-radius rounding that might have pleased General Motors' Harley Earl in his heyday.  The wide tail light / reflector assembly is clean with a dab of variety in the width of the upper framing strip.  See how modest the spoiler is.

This rear view is of a 1985 Ford Tempo, the company's first American compact car with proper aerodynamic basic body shaping.  It considerably predates the Scorpio II.  Its front has a chin air dam, but there is no trunk lid spoiler.  It too is a six-window sedan with a simple rear-end design that is less rounded.

General view of a 1985 Tempo.

1992 Mazda 929 ("Sentia" in some parts of the world).  Ford had ties with Mazda in those days, but I don't know how much that might have extended to styling.  This is a four-window sedan, but it has a rounded, spoiler-free trunk lid.

Now for the front.  Here is a Cadillac Deville from the early 2000s.  The hood is more raised and sculpted than that of the '94 Scorpio II.  Otherwise, the shape of the grille is reminiscent of Scorpio's and the headlight assemblies' overall shape in quite similar.  Again, a soft, uncluttered design.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Not All Pierce-Arrows Had Those Awful Headlights

Starting in the early 1900s, Pierce-Arrow cars from Buffalo, New York were amongst the American luxury automobile elite.   Information about the company and cars can be found here and here.   I wrote about 1936 models, the last of the line, here.

Starting in 1914, Pierce-Arrow headlights were placed on front fenders using an odd, vaguely trumpet-shaped stalk.  This definitely made most Pierce-Arrows visually distinctive.  I used the word "most" because not all Pierce-Arrows had that feature.  According to Richard Burns Carson in his book "Olympian Cars," (p. 194):

"Pierce-Arrow management rightfully credited their products with having the most famous headlights in the world.  The Pierce-Arrow was universally known as that marvelous large car with headlights coming up out of the fenders.  After this feature was patented and introduced in 1913 it appeared as a hallmark on most future Pierce-Arrows cars, but because these wide-stance headlights were illegal for many years in Pierce's home state of New York, the company offered an optional package of conventional bracket-mounted headlights.  Even after New York withdrew its objection to the fender headlights some customers continued to prefer the bracket-mounted option that was still available into the early 1930s.  When so equipped, the marque lost much of its memorably imposing appearance...."

But I think the Pierces with conventional headlights looked a lot better without those awkward headlight stalks.

This issue gradually became moot by the mid-1930s.  In order to stay in synch with styling trends, Pierce-Arrow cars got fatter fenders and the headlight assemblies became more merged into them.  I can speculate that had Pierce-Arrow survived to the 1940 model year, its headlight arrangement would have been essentially indistinguishable with that of the rest of the cars in the American market.

Below are some examples of Pierce-Arrows with traditional P-A headlights along with images of Pierce-Arrows with conventional (for the times) headlight assemblies.


Traditional Pierce-Arrow Headlights

1925 Pierce-Arrow Roadster by the Albright-Knox Gallery, Buffalo, NY.

1929 Pierce-Arrow Coupe.

1929 Pierce-Arrow Series 133 4-door sedan.

1933 Pierce-Arrow Model 836 Club Sedan -- RM Sotheby's auction photo.

1934 Pierce-Arrow Five Passenger Sedan -- Auctions America photo.

Pierce-Arrows with Conventional Headlights

1926 Pierce-Arrow Model 80 Rumble Seat Runabout -- Live Auctioneers photo.

1927 Pierce-Arrow 4-Passenger Model 80 Touring -- RM Sotheby's auction photo.

1929 Pierce-Arrow.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Cadillac's First Seville

The first-generation Cadillac Seville (1976-79) was given a clever marketing twist, as is mentioned here.  The Seville was smaller that other Cadillac sedans, but priced higher; normally the largest American luxury models had the highest prices.  General Motors' idea was to change the perception just mentioned.  This made further sense in that, partly in reaction to the 1973 oil crisis, the new trend was to smaller American cars and Cadillac needed to move in that direction.

The Wikipedia link above notes that the first Sevilles were based on the nearly-unique (to them) General Motors K platform.

My take is that first-generation Sevilles didn't look especially luxurious and expensive.  Nor did they have what might be called strong "character" -- admittedly a fuzzy, subjective assessment.  There was nothing technically wrong with the styling, but the likely intent of the designers was to produce a dignified image and this resulted in something bland, rather than distinctive.

My previous post about Sevilles dealt with the later, definitely distinctive "Razor Edge" version styled under Bill Mitchell's guidance.


Front and rear three-quarter views of 1976 Sevilles.

Side view.  I like the long hood on this rear-wheel drive car.

Another advertising image, this showing a Seville not in a photography studio.

1978 saw the introduction of the Elegante package, a new top-of-the-line Seville featuring a two-tone paint scheme (Palm Springs area for-sale photo found on the Internet).

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Lancia Aprilia: Production Series

Aerodynamic refinement was in the mid-1930s automotive air.  The most famous such body design from that era is the Chrysler Airflow of 1934.  There also was the Tatra 77 of 1934 (wind tunnel tested), then came the Volvo PV 36 Carioca of 1935 (I'm not sure if it was wind tunnel tested), the Fiat 1500 of 1936 (tested), the 1936 Peugeot 402 (probably not tested), and the Lancia Aprilia, Wikipedia entry here.

In addition to many custom-bodied Aprilias there were two factory body versions: first series 1937-1939, second series 1939-1949.  The differences were mostly mechanical.

The Wikipedia entry as of the time this post was drafted states that the Aprilia was " of the first designed using wind tunnel in collaboration with Battista Farina and Politecnico di Torino, achieving a record low drag coefficient of 0.47. The berlinetta aerodinamica was first shown in 1936."

Regarding the wind tunnel testing, the Italian Wikipedia (here) mentions:

"Quanto alla carrozzeria, ricerche effettuate in collaborazione con il Politecnico di Torino portano a concludere che la forma della coda riveste una particolare importanza aerodinamica: la linea della vettura, quindi, segue alla lettera queste indicazioni al punto che, quando Vincenzo [Lancia] vede il "mascherone" in legno della carrozzeria, trova esagerato il raggio di raccordo tra tetto e fiancata, e lo fa subito ridurre.  Alla fine, il coefficiente aerodinamico risulta di appena 0,47 Cx, un record per l'epoca, se si esclude la Tatra T87 del 1936, che aveva un cx di 0.36 (e corrispondente, grosso modo, a quello di una Renault 5 o della prima Volkswagen Golf o di una Alfa Romeo Giulietta della serie degli anni ottanta).

La scocca dell'Aprilia, carrozzeria compresa, viene brevettata - come consuetudine Lancia - il 9 gennaio del 1936."

No mention is made of Farina.

"A total of 20,082 cars and 7,554 additional chassis for coach built bodies were produced in Turin along with about 700 in France," according to the English entry above. The French Wikipedia entry has it that "Les ventes entre 1937 et l'arrêt de la fabrication pour cause de guerre ont atteint les 1.620 exemplaires seulement ; 1.500 berlines et 120 châssis" for the Lancia Ardennes (the name used in France).

The French Wikipedia also notes, regarding the Aprilia main Italian competitor: "Les deux modèles, Lancia Aprilia et Fiat 1500, seront commercialisés jusqu'au printemps 1950, date à laquelle les deux marques les remplaceront par la Lancia Aurelia et la Fiat 1400. La Fiat 1500 sera produite en 47 000 exemplaires tandis que la Lancia Aprilia atteindra les 28 000." So the larger, stronger Fiat firm had somewhat more success with its early wind tunnel tested car.

Here are some images of Aprilias whose factory design remained virtually unchanged over its production run.


A 1937 Lancia Aprilia for sale in the UK.

Dimension diagram for the 1937 Aprilia.

Two more images of the car in the first photo.  The body to the fore of the cowling doesn't seem particularly streamlined.  Apparently wind tunnel resting had the most impact abaft of that point.  The ridge running along the center of the top and across the rear windows to the license plate frame is probably a styling affectation -- but a nice touch.

Two for-sale views of a 1939 (second series) Aprilia.  The main changes from the 1937 car that I notice are the running boards and the tail light arrangement.

RM Sotheby's auction photo of a 1949 Aprilia -- the last model year.  Still the same design.