Thursday, December 14, 2017

When DeSoto Wanted to be a Buick

Buick stood next to the top (Cadillac) in General Motors' hierarchy of brands once LaSalle was dropped from the lineup after the 1940 model year.  Like other GM brands, Buick offered models across a price/prestige range.  Around 1950, the most expensive Buicks overlapped entry-level Cadillacs in price, while the least-expensive Buicks competed with Oldsmobiles and some Pontiacs. Over at Chrysler Corporation, Chryslers were competitive with Buicks, while the Imperial model was in the Cadillac price range.  DeSotos considerably overlapped Chrysler's range, but from a slightly lower starting point.  That is, DeSoto competed with all Buicks save the Roadmaster line and all Oldsmobiles except the lower-level 76s.

From 1942 though 1954 a major Buick brand identification feature was a grille with vertical bars.  DeSoto grilles also had vertical bars, but from 1941 through 1955.  And there was a brief time -- model years 1951 and 1952 -- that DeSoto even borrowed Buick's hood sculpting theme.  I am not sure that was a good idea, essentially copying the looks of a competing brand.  In any case, that detail was dropped on DeSoto's restyled 1953 line.


1939 Buick - publicity photo
Buick first tried out a vertical grille bar theme in 1939, but went to horizontal bars for 1940 and 1941.

1941 DeSoto - Auctions America photo
DeSoto's first use of vertical bars on a horizontal grille.

1942 Buick
Vertical bars were back for the war-shortened 1942 model year.

1949 Buick Super Sedanette - Hyman Ltd. photo
Buicks were restyled for 1949.  Note the sculpting on the front of the hood.  DeSoto stylists were aware of this feature when the 1951 facelift was being developed.

1950 DeSoto - for sale photo
DeSotos were also given new body designs for 1949.  The 1950 models got a revised grille design.

1950 Buick Special Sedanette - Hyman Ltd. photo
Another new set of bodies for Buick in 1950.  The hood sculpting theme was carried over from 1949.

1951 DeSoto - for sale photo
All Chrysler Corporation cars were facelifted for 1950, the most noticeable change being the rounded-off hood prow.  Now DeSoto picks up Buick's hood sculpting.  Not an exact copy, but pretty close.

1951 Buick Super - Hyman Ltd. photo
That same model year Buick got a new grill, but the hood sculpting was unchanged.

1952 DeSoto - for sale photo
DeSotos for 1952 were almost identical to '51s.  The only difference seen here is the typeface for the word "DeSoto."

1953 DeSoto - Mecum Auctions photo
As mentioned above, restyled 1953 DeSotos dropped the Buick-like hood sculpting.

Monday, December 11, 2017

1996 Lincoln Sentinel: Non-Running Semi-Retro Concept

Even though it's a "pushmobile" concept car (lacking motor, drivetrain, etc.), Lincoln's 1996 Sentinel is interesting.  Unfortunately, when this post was drafted (early July 2017) there was little information about it on the Internet: examples are here and here.

Some observers regard the Sentinel as having Retro styling -- evoking the classic 1961 Continental.  To a slight degree that is so.  It also echoes a 1988 production model and explores a future grille theme.


The 1996 Sentinel.

Here is a 2009 Lincoln MKS showing one of several variations of a circa-2010 Lincoln grille theme previewed on the Sentinel.

The Sentinel shown in the car dealership where it spent several years.  It is painted a light gray, but the lighting gives it a warmer color.

The main similarity to the 1961 Continental is the sharp fender line.

Here is a '61 Continental for comparison.

Side view.  As is often the case, concept cars are given wheels that are a little too large.

The Sentinel's passenger compartment greenhouse resembles that of the 1988 Lincoln Continental shown here, and not that of the 1961 Continental.

Side view of a 1961 Continental.  Its main resemblance to the Sentinel from this angle is their simple, uncluttered sides.

High rear view of the Sentinel.

The 1961 Continental's rear design was not adapted for the Sentinel.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Styling Crime: 1997 Chrysler Phaeton Concept

I'm calling the 1997 Chrysler Phaeton concept car a "Styling Crime."  Not a major crime, because most of the car's design is unobjectionable.  But its front end styling is a serious problem: explicable, but not, in my opinion, justifiable.

Supposedly, it harkens back to the 1952 Chrysler Imperial Parade Phaeton (three built) and the 1940-41 Chrysler Newport (six built), both being dual-cowl phaetons with secondary windshields protecting back seat passengers.


1997 Chrysler Phaeton, Chicago Auto Show photo.

The Phaeton appears to have a removable metal top.  The B-pillar area windshield is rolled down here.  From the after end of the front wheel opening to the rear the design is simple, the rising side character line adding interest.  The wheels seem a bit too large.

High rear view showing a basically clean design with a hint of a boat tail.  The secondary windshield is down.  Like some classic-era phaetons, rear seat passengers are provided a speedometer and another instrument.

Side view found on the ConceptCarz web site.  The secondary windshield is raised.  Note the very short front overhang and relatively long (for its time) hood.  The fold along the bottom of the side might be a touch too static.

The 1952 Chrysler Imperial Parade Phaeton whose fender line was adapted for 1955 Chryslers and DeSotos.  Its long, fairly clean sides represent most of its contribution to the 1997 car.

The Chrysler Newport phaeton that was the pace car for the 1941 Indianapolis 500 race.  Its front end served as inspiration for the 1997 concept car's front.

Publicity photo of the Chrysler Phaeton featuring the frontal design.  Like the 1940 vintage car, it features a tapered hood blending into a fairly small V'd grille.  The front fender tops converge to a pointed ridge that carries through on the fender fronts where the headlight assemblies are located.  The result is three similar plan-view profiles: the grille and the fender fronts.  In theory, nothing intrinsically wrong with this.  Where the design gets unglued is the carry-through of the character ridge along the lower sides, resuming in front of the wheel openings and running across the lower edge of the front end.  Again, carry-through lines can be an important tactic for integrating a design.  But here, an observer will most likely read the frontal ridge as being a misplaced (much too low) bumper.  What the frontal design really needs is a proper bumper, and having that would have required major adjustments to the rest of the frontal ensemble.  One solution would have been a design closer to that used for the Newport.  A final note: The large grille grid pattern anticipates Chrysler grilles of 2005 and later, but would not work well on the Phaeton if the 1940 design had been more closely followed.

Monday, December 4, 2017

1992 Ford/Ghia Focus Concept vs. Porsche Speedster

Normally when I compare the design of one car to that of another I deal with specific similarities and differences.  This time, I compare two cars that have no design details that closely match, yet share a common feeling thanks to a few features that are evocative.

The primary subject is the 1992 Ford/Ghia Focus concept car.  Background regarding it can be found here and here.

It is a striking design, basically clean but with odd, "organic" (in a kind of biological sense) details placed here and there.  About all that came of the Focus was its name that has been widely used on various Fords cars starting in 1998.  In other words, it is an example of a pure styling exercise.

And the other car?  It's the Porsche 356 Speedster launched in the mid-1950s (information about the 356 series Porsches here, scroll to"Body styles" for mention of the Speedster).

The following images are paired with the Focus on top, Porsche Speedsters below.


Both cars are two-place roadsters with low, moderately-wrapped windshields.  Porsche: Bonhams photo.

Hoods are low, flowing down towards the bumper / impact area.  Each has thin, chromed side decoration.  Porsche: For sale photo.

Perhaps the major thematic similarity lies in the broad "shoulders" on each side of the passenger compartment opening related to the large-radius upper parts of the fenders.

The Focus features an interesting sprinkling of tail lights.  And the early Speedsters have some rather little dots too, especially if the reflectors are included.  Porsche: RM Sotheby's photo.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Early 1950s Chrysler Imperials

Chrysler's Imperial line never settled into a marketplace groove.  For many years, it was simply a Chrysler model, albeit at the top of the line.  At other times it was a separate marque.  In terms of styling, some model years the main exterior difference between a Chrysler Imperial and a New Yorker or Saratoga was its model nameplate -- at other times the cars were visually distinctive.

This post deals with Chrysler Imperials during the first half of the 1950s.  During those five model years their appearance evolved from near-identical to distinctive, this largely driven by the plan to make Imperial a separate Chrysler Corporation division for 1955.


Chryslers for 1950.  The upper photo shows a Chrysler Imperial sedan, the lower one a Chrysler New Yorker hardtop.  Their trim is identical in almost every respect.

All Chrysler Corporations cars shared the same body platform for 1949-1952, and for model year 1951 their hood prows were all rounded off.  It was at this point that Imperials became visually distinctive compared to other Chryslers.  The 1951 Chrysler Imperial in the upper photo has a different grille than the Windsor in the lower image.  Also, it lacks a chromed spear over the front fender and door. Plus, the rear fender rock guard has a different shape.  The Windsor photo is a common one on the internet ... no obvious source.  It is possible that the car is a 1952 model, as changes between '51 and '52 were minimal, perhaps related to Korean War induced shortages.

These are a 1952 Chrysler Imperial and a 1952 Chrysler Saratoga (for sale photo).  As mentioned in the previous caption, 1951 and 1952 models looked nearly the same.

The entire Chrysler Corporation line was redesigned for 1953, Chryslers and DeSotos sharing one body, Plymouths and Dodges another.  The Imperial in the first photo appears to have retained the front end from 1952, starting at the cowl, changing only the hood ornament.  The comparison car in the lower image is a 1953 Chrysler New Yorker Newport.

Chrysler Imperials for 1954 were given a new grille plus mid-fender side trim extending abaft of the wheel openings onto the front doors.  The lower image is a publicity photo (cropped) showing a 1954 Chrysler New Yorker Newport hardtop that also got a new grille and side trim.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Richard Howard Stout's Fascinating Article on 1950 GM B and C Bodies

A magazine I truly loved, especially when Michael Lamm edited it, was Special-Interest Autos, published by the Hemmings organization.   Here on the Hemmings web site is a complete index of SIA articles, some of which have links, and other do not.

Those that are linked are where the Hemmings Daily posts SIA Flashbacks.  This is a fine feature since SIA is long gone, yet its content is often pure gold for automobile history buffs.  One article yet to appear on the Internet is from SIA #39 titled "Body Politics" by Richard Howard Stout.  The title seems a bit misleading because it goes into great detail regarding how General Motors B and C body elements in the early 1950s could be arranged and rearranged to yield designs with different impacts.  I found this fascinating, and I think it should be of great interest to readers of this blog.  Especially helpful are the fine illustrations by Harry Bradley.

By the mid-1950s Stout was working at Ford Motor Company and created presentation material largely like that in the article.  It opened management eyes to ways of making better use of body resources.  A byproduct of this revelation (that's what it was) was aiding people who were pushing a concept that resulted in the Edsel brand.

A big problem for me is that, even though the article appeared more than 40 years ago, it is surely still under copyright.  Yet due to its importance (as I see it) I'll risk presenting scans of it below in the hope that Hemmings will see fit to post their own, better scans on their site in the near future.

Be aware that if Hemmings asks me to delete this post, I will do so.

The images below can be enlarged, but the scan quality is such that the text can be hard to read in places.