Monday, August 20, 2018

The 1957 Imperial's Nine Facelifts: Rear Views

For a far longer number of years than the 1960-vintage American industry average, Chrysler's Imperial brand cars used the same basic body, refreshing the styling via several major facelifts.   I compared side views of Imperials over model years 1957-1966 here. Rear-end styling changes are discussed in the present post.

Some background:  All Chrysler's makes got new bodies for 1957.  For the 1960 model year, all brands except Imperial were given new bodies featuring a form of unitized construction.  I've yet to read an explanation for Imperial's exception, but I'll speculate that it had to do with wheelbase length and the task of modifying unit-bodies that was difficult compared to modification of body-on-frame cars.  Chrysler New Yorkers had 126-inch wheelbases both before and after the changeover.  Imperials had 129-inch wheelbases in 1959, but to have them share the new unitized bodies while maintaining the longer wheelbase would have been expensive for a brand that typically sold fewer than 20,000 cars per year.  In other words, it was cheaper to continue the body-on-frame arrangement, especially because Imperials were already being assembled at their own factory on Warren Avenue in Dearborn -- a facility formerly used by Graham and DeSoto -- and therefore didn't need to be integrated into assembly lines for other Chrysler products.

This arrangement continued through the 1966 model year.  Thereafter, Imperials were again derivations of Chryslers until the brand was phased out after 1975.

Wikipedia's Imperial entry refers to 1957-1966 models as the brand's "second generation," so scroll down the link for its take on those Imperials.

Unless otherwise noted, the images below are of cars posted for sale on various web sites.

Gallery

1957 Imperial Crown Southampton Coupe
The first year for the new body featured styling director Virgil Exner's beloved tailfins in their classic form.  Tail lights are built into the fines, and those truncated chrome rings harken to the freestanding lights-in-rings introduced on 1955 Imperials.  The spare tire faux-cover on the trunk lid is another holdover feature.

1958 Imperial Crown Southampton Coupe, Mecum Auctions photo
Rear styling was essentially unchanged for 1958

1959 Imperial Crown Southampton Sedan
Some side chrome has been added, and interior detailing on the bumper is changed.  The 1957-59 bumper shape disappears for 1960, but partly returns in 1964.

1960 Imperial Crown Southampton Sedan
Imperials got a significant facelift for 1960.  Tailfins were enlarged and reshaped, the bumper was redesigned and the spare tire "cover" was replaced by a simple chrome strip.  Sedan back windows were also reshaped.

1961 Imperial LeBaron Southampton Sedan, Hyman Ltd. photo
Aft sections of the tailfins were restyled again for 1961.  Tail light assemblies are now freestanding, a side chrome strip has been added and  some trunk/bumper area ornamentation changed.  LeBaron sedans had smaller backlights than other Imperials.

1962 Imperial Crown Southampton Coupe
Fins disappear for the 1962 model year, requiring yet another tail light restyling.  Those torpedo-shaped tail light elements are functionally superfluous, only serving as a thematic link to previous Imperials.  Returned is the faux spare tire cover.  Also restyled is the bumper.  The after part of the passenger greenhouse is redesigned in a more angular fashion, and the backlight has changed as well.

1963 Imperial LeBaron Southampton Sedan
There were few changes for 1963.  Gone are those torpedo-shaped  tail light elements.

1964 Imperial Crown hardtop sedan, Mecum photo
Now the influence of new styling director Elwood Engel finally kicks in with this facelift echoing Elwoods masterpiece 1961 Lincoln Continental.  Everything abaft of the B-pillar has been changed.  It will be seen better on following images but the aft end of the trunk lid sports a squared-off sort of spare tire cover.  The bumper tapers towards the sides, harking to the 1957-59 shape.  The medallion at the center can be considered the hub of the notional spare tire.

1965 Imperial Crown hardtop coupe
The design is essentially unchanged for 1965 other than the back window being replaced by a smaller unit.

1966 Imperial Crown hardtop sedan
This is the final model year for the 1957 body.  At the rear, the only significant change is the elimination of the faux- spare tire "cover" -- now there is some squared-off shaping in the aft part of the trunk lid.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

1999 Alfa Romeo Bella and 1938 Phantom Corsair

Rust Heinz's Phantom Corsair of 1938 has fascinated me for many years. I've posted about it here (click on its name on the right sidebar for these), and I'm doing it again in the present post.

The reason is that, while skimming through a book I bought dealing with Alfa Romeo models over the years, a photo that caught my eye was of a 1999 show car from Bertone called the Bella -- Italian for Beautiful or in more of a street-talk vein, "Sweetheart." Its Wikipedia entry is here.

My eye was caught because the Bella somehow reminded me of the Corsair.  That might be odd, because the references on the Web to the Bella that I came across only mentioned its design heritage in terms of previous Bertone creations.

True, the cars are 60 years apart and based on the technologies of their times.  Moreover, the details that caused me to make my connection are not identical -- they're only evocatively similar, or so I think.  Still, look at the images below so that you can form your own opinion.

Gallery

The Bella.  Note the designs of the front and the side windows, as these are the key details.

View of the Phantom Corsair when it was fairly new.


The Alfa shield-shaped grille and the Corsair's convergent grill louvers have a similar feeling.  But those louver shapes are strongly echoed by the shapes Bertone used for the Bella's grille-flanking cut-outs both above and below the bumper zone.


Rear ends differ because the Corsair was designed with pre-Kammback automobile aerodynamic concepts in mind.  But the aft part of the side window sharply tapers, as does that of the Bella.

Monday, August 13, 2018

The 1957 Imperial's Nine Facelifts: Side Views

During the 1950s, most American car brands got redesigned bodies every three or four years, relying on facelifts to freshen style during intermediate model years.

There were cases of more rapid body replacement.  Wealthy (at the time) General Motors' 1958 Chevrolets and Pontiacs had a body for only that year.  Chrysler Corporation cars got new bodies for 1955 and again for 1957, the '55s only having a two-year run.  GM's Oldsmobiles, Buicks and Cadillacs had their new 1957 bodies replaced in 1959, another two-year example.

Companies with less financial strength often had to defer replacement for more than the average cycle length.  For example, Studebaker sedan bodies were used from 1953 until the firm stopped making cars in 1966 -- that's 14 model years.

Another example is Chrysler's line-topping Imperial brand.  All Chrysler's makes got new bodies for 1957.  For the 1960 model year, all brands except Imperial were given new bodies featuring a form of unitized construction.  I've yet to read an explanation for Imperial's exception, but I'll speculate that it had to do with wheelbase length and the task of modifying unit-bodies that was difficult compared to modification of body-on-frame cars.  Chrysler New Yorkers had 126-inch wheelbases both before and after the changeover.  Imperials had 129-inch wheelbases in 1959, but to have them share the new unitized bodies while maintaining the longer wheelbase would have been expensive for a brand that typically sold fewer than 20,000 cars per year.  In other words, it was cheaper to continue the body-on-frame arrangement, especially because Imperials were already being assembled at their own factory -- a facility formerly used by Graham and DeSoto -- and therefore didn't need to be integrated into assembly lines for other Chrysler products.

This arrangement continued through the 1966 model year.  Thereafter, Imperials were again derivations of Chryslers until the brand was phased out after 1975.

Wikipedia's Imperial entry refers to 1957-1966 models as the brand's "second generation," so scroll down the link for its take on those Imperials.

The present post presents images of Imperials as seen in profile, later ones deal with frontal and aft facelift details.  What I find interesting is how extensive those facelifts became over time.

Unless otherwise noted, the images below are of cars posted for sale on various web sites.

Gallery

1957 Imperial Crown Southampton Coupe
In order to keep a reasonable length for this post, year-to-year comparisons are for four-door hardtop sedans.  However, let's first compare Imperial hardtop coupes for the first and final models years using the same basic body.

1966 Imperial Crown Coupe, Earlywine Auctions photo
A lot changed over those ten model years.  What is consistent in these two photos is the 129-inch wheelbase along with the windshield, its wing vent, and the door's position.

* * * * *

1957 Imperial Crown Southampton Sedan
This is the starting point's styling.

1958 Imperial Crown Southampton Sedan
The car in this photo has droopy rear suspension, so ignore the tilt.  Seen from the side, there are no obvious changes: those mostly are on the car's face.

1959 Imperial LeBaron Southampton Sedan
Again, the sides of Imperials are are essentially unchanged, even on this line-topping LeBaron.

1960 Imperial LeBaron Southampton Sedan
Other Chrysler Corporation cars got new bodies for 1960, whereas Imperials received a major facelift.  All Imperials' tailfins were restyled in an appalling manner.  LeBarons had back windows reduced in size, creating more privacy for rear-seat passengers.  This continued for the two following model years.

1961 Imperial Crown Southampton Sedan
Most Imperials were of the Crown variety.  Back windows were reshaped for the 1960 facelift.  Headlights were became retro, free-standing affairs harking to 1930s styles, as can be glimpsed here.  Tail lights were separated from the tailfins.

1962 Imperial Crown Southampton Sedan
The major change for 1962 was the elimination of tailfins, though restyled tail light assemblies remained detached.

1963 Imperial Crown Southampton Sedan
Elwood Engel, who replaced Virgil Exner as Chrysler's styling director in 1961, made his mark with the classic 1961 Lincoln Continental.  When development lead times permitted, he slowly nudged Imperial styling in that more angular direction.  Here we find a wider C-pillar and the integration of tail lights into the rear fenders.

1964 Imperial Crown hardtop sedan
Now Imperials assume even more Lincoln Continental characteristics.  The aft part of the passenger greenhouse is further squared off.  Those detached headlights have been moved into the grille ensemble and the front fender is reshaped accordingly.  A character crease is added to the rear fender side.  Continental chrome strips are atop the fender line.  For the first time, the rear door shapes have changed: compare their cut-lines with those in pervious photos.

1965 Imperial Crown hardtop sedan
No significant side changes for 1965.

1966 Imperial Crown hardtop sedan
The final year for the 1957 body.  Again, nothing new in the side view: visible differences are found on the grille design.  Compared to the '57, this seems like a totally different car.  The most noticeable similarity is the windshield.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Lexus GS Designs 20 Years Apart

Let's compare Lexus GS models of 20 years ago and now.  Shown below are images of 1998-generation GS 300s listed for sale along with factory photos of a 2016-generation GS F.

The GS 300 was a clean, attractive, aerodynamically efficient design.  In the late 1980s into the early 2000s, wind tunnel tested cars tended to be styled in a soft, somewhat "organic" manner with comparatively few straight or angular details.  In some cases designs seemed too soft, though the GS 300 did not go that far.

The current GS is representative of current styling fads where angles and edges predominate.  This is often found in extreme form on various Toyota products, including the Lexus brand.

I've made my choice as to which is the more pleasing design.  Examine the photos below and make up your own mind.

Gallery


Front quarter views, the GS 300 is in the upper image, the GS F in the lower.


Rear quarter views.

Monday, August 6, 2018

Harley Earl's Final, Unsuccessful 3-Segment Backlights

A styling feature that has a curious power to attract my attention is the three-segment rear window ("backlight" in stylist jargon).  For example, I wrote about Cadillac's backlights here.

Now I want to extend the timeline from the late-1940s and early 1950s to later in the '50s when automobile glass production technology had reached the point where breakage rates were low, making strongly curved windows economical.  Actually, this was attained for the 1953 model year wherein GM cars that had had 3-segment backlights in 1952 got unitary backlights on cars with the same basic bodies.

In other words, it was no longer necessary to have 3-segment backlights.  But GM styling boss Harley Earl, late in his career, for some reason opted for including them on some 1957 Oldsmobile and Buick models.

Resulting sales were disappointing.  Chrysler Corporation's redesigned '57 line with thin tops and tail fins was sensational compared to the rounded, heavy-looking new designs of GM's senior lines.  That was bad enough, but the three-segment windows with comparatively heavy segment dividers added to the heavy, unfashionable appearance of those cars.

Those segmented back windows were eliminated on 1958 models.

Gallery

This General Motors Heritage Center photo shows a 1949 Buick Roadmaster Riviera Coupe, one of GM's first hardtops.  It's not a generally-acclaimed classic design, yet one of my favorites.  The design of early GM hardtop greenhouses was exceptionally good.  Note the segmented backlight.

This design appeared the following model year on GM's lesser brands, Chevrolet and Pontiac, having smaller bodies.  Shown in this Mecum auction photo is a 1950 Pontiac Chieftain Catalina.

Background on the 1954 Pontiac Strato Streak concept car shown above is here.  Even though GM cars all had unitary backlights by this time, it seems that Earl still liked the three-segment idea.  Note the segment divider posts have ridges that continue up onto the roof.  This style was used on production cars for 1957.

This is a closeup view of the backlight on an Oldsmobile 98 Holiday Coupe.  The backlight segment divider ridges extend all the way over the top and down across the trunk lid -- far greater length than on the Strato Streak in the previous image.  The rounded corners of the window segments add visual bulk to the design: a marketing mistake.

Here's how the segmented design looks on a four-door sedan, this an Oldsmobile Super 88.  Note the overall heaviness of the design that the segmentation contributes to.  Mecum auctions photo.

This is Oldsmobile's top-of-the-line Ninety-Eight Holiday four-door hardtop (Mecum photo).  It's longer than the Super 88, so visual bulk due to large-radius rounding is less apparent and the three-piece backlight is slightly less of an issue.

Sharing the same basic body were Buick's entry-level Special and Century models.  This a a Century four-door hardtop.  The ridges show up well in this Mecum photo.

Some Super and Roadmaster Buicks based on a different body also received segmented backlights as shown on this 1957 Roadmaster Riviera Coupe (Barrett-Jackson auctions photo).  Here the divider posts are thin, helping to lighten their effect.  Rather than ridges, continuations on the roof and trunk lid are supplied by chrome strips.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

American Motors' AMX, a Shortened Javelin

American Motors' new 1968 Javelin was a nicely-designed sporty car that I wrote about here.  But AMC decided to build an even sportier car, the two-passenger AMX that was essentially a cut-down Javelin.

I briefly wrote about the AMX-Javelin relationship here and want to add more in the present post's image captions.

As for dimensions, their respective wheelbases are 97 in. (2464 mm) and 109 in. (2769 mm).  Lengths are 177 in. (4491 mm) and 189.2 in. (4806 mm).  About an English foot difference in both cases.

Gallery


The AMX ("for sale" photo) and Javelin are essentially the same from the B-pillar forward, the most obvious differences being the central grille divider and inset grille mesh on the Javelin.  The Javelin is a hardtop convertible style with a truncated B-pillar and roll-down side windows, whereas the AMX has fixed rear quarter windows.

The AMX has its own character lines on its rear quarter panel.  Like the javelin, its front overhang is long for a rear-wheel drive car.  However, this gives it a long hood.

Publicity photo showing the nicely-composed front end.  Those were the days before higher-impact bumpers were regulated.


High rear three-quarter views, the AMX in a Barrett-Jackson auction photo.  Rear windows and tail cap ensembles appear to be the same.  What differ are quarter panels and the sail panels that frame the backlight and trunk lid.

Monday, July 30, 2018

When Ford's Falcon Got a Sporty Hardtop

Ford's Falcon introduced for 1960 was the most successful new American "compact" car, as I posted here.

For 1962 it was decided to enhance the line by adding a sportier Futura series.  This was further upgraded for 1963 -- the last year for the original body -- by marketing convertible and hardtop versions.  Some background can be found here.

The Futura hardtop is illustrated below.

Gallery

The original 1960 Ford Falcon 4-door sedan.

Rear quarter view, Owls Head auction photo.

Side view of a two-door Falcon.  This was the basis for the hardtop version.

The 1963 Falcon Futura hardtop coupe, Barrett-Jackson auction photos.  The new top design is more angular than the rest of the car, which has a more rounded look.  But the rounded parts of all Falcons were counterpoised by strong horizontal character lines, allowing the top to blend better.

Another horizontal element is the decorative spear trim on the side.

Rear quarter view.  The aft end is the same as regular Falcons aside from the Futura name and chrome strip.  This view shows off the new top best.

But Futura's top was not exclusive.  Also for 1963, Ford placed a similar top on its sporty Galaxie 500s, as can be seen in this Mecum auctions photo.