Thursday, July 19, 2018

American Motors' Sawed-Off Models

A while ago I wrote a post titled "General Motors' Chopped-Off 1978s."  It had to do with the need to downsize cars for better fuel economy following the 1973 oil crisis.  The subject was new-design cars having what looked like reduced rear overhang from what might have been longer design proposals.

But a few years earlier American Motors marketed two models that were actual shortened versions of larger cars.  This was a comparatively inexpensive way of expanding its product line.

The first was the 1968 AMX, a two-seat version of its new '68 Javelin, a sporty car influenced by the success of Ford's Mustang.

In the Spring of 1970 AMC introduced the Gremlin, that looked like a (literally) sawed-off version of its 1970 Hornet that appeared in 1969.

The AMX had modest sales, its two seats making it a specialized version of what was essentially a niche product.  It since has become something of a cult car.  The Gremlin sold surprisingly well.  More than 670,000 were made during its nine model-year run.


The top (Barrett-Jackson) photo is of a 1968 AMX, the lower is a "for sale" photo of a '68 Javelin.  The cars are basically the same from the B-pillars forward, and the AMX appears to share some aft-end sheet metal with the Javelin.  I plan to write more about these cars in a later post.  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.

The upper photo (unknown source) is of a 1971 Gremlin, the lower image is of a 1972 Hornet two-door (there also was a four-door version).  Again, the design surgery was at the B-pillar.  But abaft of there, the Gremlin has unique styling.  Dimensions are: respective wheelbases 96 in. (2438 mm), 108in. (2743 mm); lengths 161.3 in. (4097 mm), 179.3 in. (4554 mm).  In English units, the Gremlin wheelbase is one foot shorter and its length a foot and a half so.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Chrysler Corporation's 1954 Facelifts

While Chrysler Corporation was readying its soon-to-be-successful 1955 redesign, it was in a serious downwards sales spiral.  Its 1949-52 postwar redesign was not stylish, and Ford Motor Company edged ahead of it in total sales.  Chrysler's 1953 redesigned line was more attractive, but its biggest sellers, Plymouths and Dodges, became smaller while the American industry trend was to larger cars.  DeSotos, Chryslers and Chrysler Imperials were based on a body that carried features General Motors cars had been using since 1948.

Model year 1954 saw the corporation's sales dive, continuing its slide in market share.  GM had introduced redesigned Oldsmobiles, Buicks and Cadillacs that looked futuristic due to their wraparound windshields.  Chrysler's line looked dowdy by comparison.

Even so, Chrysler had made the effort to facelift its new 1953 designs in order to make them as appealing as possible while awaiting new styling boss Virgil Exner's 1955s.  As mentioned, that effort didn't pay off, though it's possible sales might have been even worse had nothing much been done for '54.

Below are examples of front-end styling for 1953 and 1954 Chrysler Corporation brands.  Fronts were where most of the facelift effort was made.


1953 Plymouth Cranbrook Convertible - Mecum auction photo

1954 Plymouth Belvedere
The grille bars and turn indicator lights were rearranged and side trim was altered.  Plymouth grille designs for both years were different from the early-1950s norm.  The '53 version's theme is more coherent, but I suspect potential buyers might have expected both more artistry and convention.

1953 Dodge Coronet - factory photo

1954 Dodge Royal Convertible - Mecum photo
Redesigned grille fitting in the same opening, plus flipped side trim.  The 1953 grille design was a variation on a theme established for 1951.  This too was non-mainstream.  The 1954 design is more conventional, that central knob hinting at the 1955 design having a central hood prow flanked by openings.

1953 DeSoto Sportsman - Mecum photo

1954 DeSoto Firedome Sedan
DeSoto's grille teeth were restyled and the opening enlarged.  Reshaped bumper.  Once again, side trim was changed.  The vertical bars theme was a strong one, though also used by Buick and Mercury at various times.  I consider the '54 DeSoto's the most effective of these various facelifts.

1953 Chrysler New Yorker Convertible - Mecum photo

1954 Chrysler New Yorker Newport
Grille restyled, new headlight assemblies, new bumper and side trim for Chryslers.  The new grille design is an improvement because it is stronger than the previous one.

1953 Chrysler Imperial Sedan - factory photo

1954 Chrysler Imperial Newport - Mecum photo
The Chrysler Imperial was to become a separate brand for 1955.  Before that, its styling was made increasingly distinct from that of lesser Chryslers.  Its '54 facelift was in line with the other brands: new grille, bumper and side trim.  The 1953 grille was a somewhat weak, sunken affair, so almost any change would have improved it.

Unless otherwise noted, photos are of cars listed for sale by car brokers.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Phantom Corsair as Movie Star

Time for another change of pace.  I wrote about ketchup heir Rust Heinz's Cord-based Phantom Corsair here.  In that post I noted that the car played the role of the Flying Wombat brand in the 1938 comedy movie "Young in Heart".

I found a few marginal-quality outtake images from the film on the Web and thought it might be amusing to post them.


This seems to be a publicity photo including the Flying Wombat, Paulette Goddard and Douglas Fairbanks Jr.

View of the Flying Wombat showroom.  It's a matte shot, most of the background being painted.  The cars are either painted or altered photos.

Showroom scene.

These showroom scenes include a diagram view of the car in the background.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

MGB - The Modernized MG Sports Car

Probably more than any other car, it was the MG that sparked the USA's postwar interest in sports cars.  Although the styling of those MG TC and MG TD Midgets was decidedly prewar, they were in most other ways also very different from the Chevrolets and Fords that dominated street scenes in the very late 1940s and early 1950s.  Besides being different, they were fairly affordable compared to the likes of Jaguar XK120s.

Whereas TCs were rather spindly looking, the TDs seemed more substantial.  They too eventually needed modernization, so the TF, which I wrote about here, was introduced.  There was a limit to how many model years prewar styling would be viable in the American market, even for a sports car.  So for 1955 the redesigned MGA was introduced.  I posted about it here.  The A received a new frame along with the new body, but its wheelbase was the same as the T-series MG just mentioned -- 94 inches (2,388 mm).

The MGA proved to be a short-lived transitional model.  It was replaced by the MGB, a considerably modernized design using a unit-body instead of body-and-frame construction.  Its wheelbase was slightly shorter at 91 inches (2,312 mm).  Its length was 153 inches (3,886 mm), again shorter than the MGA at 156 inches (3,962 mm), whereas the older TF was 147 inches (3,734 mm) long.

The MGB was long-lived, versions remaining in production as late as 1980.  However, it was long out of date stylistically and engineering-wise by that time.

The images below feature an early B from 1963 that was advertised for sale.  A few photos of previous MGs are included for context.


The MG TF, last of the old breed.  Go to the TF link above for a discussion of its styling.

Factory photo of the MGA.  Its styling was in line with sports car fashions of the early '50s.

And this is the MGB.  No more distinct rear fenders.  More of a panoramic windshield.  The traditional MG grille design is now strongly horizontal.  Headlights are inset slightly from the front of the car in contrast to the protruding ones on the MGA.  All-in-all, frontal styling is good, although the long chrome strip on the side of the car awkwardly extends too far forward.  I award demerits for its touching of the headlight rim and the front wheel opening.  Better it should have terminated about a third of the way between the opening and the leading door cut line.

Again, consider the position of the side strip.  If it were shortened, its leading section should also be lowered a little, making it truly horizontal.

Side-view comparison with an MGA.  The driver's seating position has been moved forward a bit, a good thing.  This also allows more trunk room, making the car more practical.

To my way of thinking, the rear of the car is its greatest styling weakness.  The fender line becomes rather boring by that point -- a slight bump in its profile would add interest.  The vertical tail light ensembles give the rear a slightly pinched appearance.  I would terminate them at about the level of the trunk lid cut line.  These tail lights were also used on the new MG Midget announced in the summer of 1961, and were used on both cars as an economy measure.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Dodge, Typical 1941 American Car

By the 1941 model year, mainstream American cars had reached an important milestone in the design evolution from boxy bodies with discrete elements (headlights, hoods, fenders, etc.) to integrated, envelope-bodies such as appeared on 1949 Fords.

This milestone was the elimination of awkwardness.  Body components were now largely integrated and overall shapes were rounded as a gesture (as well as a little reality) toward aerodynamic efficiency -- "streamlining" was the catchword of the day.  But the key 1941 distinction was that shapes and details, including ornamentation, were in synch.  Some brands attained this before 1941, and by that year almost all brands had followed into line.

This post features what I'm calling a "typical" 1941 brand: Chrysler Corporation's Dodge.  Why Dodge?  For one thing it was a lower-middle market level brand -- not an inexpensive entry-level car, nor a high-priced fancy one, inaccessible to an average car buyer.  It was not a product of a minor firm that might have lacked product development funds, especially as the Great Depression was finally ending: it was essentially state-of-the-art from an engineering standpoint.  It was not a Ford product, Fords being industry engineering laggards in many respects.  Nor was it a General Motors brand, GM being the style leader.  So Dodges represent a kind of happy medium.  Chrysler Corporation was engineering-dominated and prosperous.  Dodge styling was in line with current fashions.

Below are photos of '41 Dodges up for sale.  The black six-window car is a Dodge Custom Town Sedan that was offered for auction by Mecum.  The two-tone four-window Dodge Luxury Liner 4-door sedan was offered for sale by Specialty Sales.  Click on the images to enlarge.


The Dodge Custom Town Sedan.  Fenders were still somewhat separate items in 1941, yet more far more integrated than those of cars of a decade before due to the high, wide catwalk between the wheels and the hood.  Some Dodges still had exposed running boards, unlike many other '41s.  The grille design was in the newly fashionable horizontal mode, headlights had moved to the edges of the front fenders.  This body was introduced across the Chrysler line for 1940.

In those days, stylists usually paid little attention cars' rear ends, so these tended to be rather plain, as seen here.  Chrysler Corporation cars featured a brake light positioned on the trunk lid above the license plate.  Back windows were given curved glass, the rest had flat glass -- common 1941 practice.

Sides views showing open and shut doors.  Six-window Chrysler products had latches fitted to B-pillars, so back-seat doors were hinged at the rear.  Note the position of the steering wheel and its column.

The driver's compartment.  Not really seen is the bench-style front seat common on American cars through the 1950s.  Fabric covering on doors and the seat is typical for 1941 -- fine, fuzzy texture and bland colors.

The instrument panel has a somewhat symmetrical layout in that the instruments on the left could in theory (and in practice, for all I know) be swapped with the clock and glove box on the right when exported to countries with right-hand drive.  The center has the radio speaker and those buttons to its left are for station selection.  This car's steering wheel ensemble contains a horn ring; my father's '41 Pontiac's horn was activated by small buttons on steering wheel spokes.  Note the steering wheel column-mounted gear selector, a fashionable feature.  It eliminated a floor-mounted shift that interfered with a passenger seated in the middle of the bench; the idea was to claim six-passenger seating as a marketing feature.  The disadvantage of column shifts was that connections were wobbly, not as precise as floor-mounted versions.

The Dodge Luxury Liner.  Its rear doors are hinged on the B-pillars, a safer arrangement.  This model has a fancier interior than that of the Custom Town Sedan.  The running board is partly sheathed.

View of the 1941 Dodge grille.

The four instruments at the left next to the partly hidden speedometer are for fuel level, water temperature, oil pressure, and battery -- not necessarily in that order.  The fabrics on the seats and door panels are more richly textured and colorful than usual for 1941.

The rear passenger compartment is also fancy from a fabric standpoint.  On the other hand, those grab straps were common then, as were the robe cord and ash tray mounded on the back of the front seat.  There should be a window crank on the door, but it seems to be missing.

The trunk is typical for '41.  The vertical spare tire placement allows access with lesser disturbance of carried items than would be the case for a spare being hidden under the floor.  This also potentially freed up space for the gas tank.

Monday, July 2, 2018

The Tiny Honda Beat Sports Car

While walking around London this April I noticed this rather dingy Honda sports car.  I'd never seen one before, so I snapped this reference photo so that I could research it after returning to Seattle.

It turns out that it was a Honda Beat from around 1991-1996 (Wikipedia reference here).  The entry states that it was the last car Soichiro Honda approved before he died in 1991.  I'm a little skeptical because, given development timelines, it's possible that he approved other models that appeared a year or two later.  Let me know in comments if my skepticism is wrong.

The entry also mentions that the design was by Pininfarina and sold to Honda.

Beats were of the small-displacement Japanese Kei class, having a 3-cylinder 656 cc motor producing 63 horsepower (according to Wikipedia) that was mounted between the seats and the rear axle line.  The wheelbase was 90 inches (2,280 mm) and it weighed only 1,675 pounds (760kg).  Its speed was governed to 84 mph (135 km/h).

Wikipedia doesn't mention if Beats were exported when new.  United States allows used Beats to be imported, this having to do with the interval since they were built.  Given my uncertainty regarding exportation, I have no idea as to when the car I saw in London arrived in the UK.  Given its unkempt state, I would say it had been there for quite a while.

I rate its styling as very good for such a small package, though I'll also note that small sports cars are much easier to style than sedans of comparable size.


Images of a 1991 Honda Beat up for bid: high right front quarter view.

Right rear quarter view.

1991 Honda Beat side view from Mecum Auctions.

Phantom view of Beat from Honda.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Cars' Facial Expressions

Perhaps this will end if electric cars ever take over, but due to headlights (eyes) and radiator air intakes (mouths) and central hood-related elements such as brand badges (noses), front ends of cars can seem to have faces.  Human faces can assume expressions reflecting emotions, and so it can be for some automobile front end designs.  For instance, I wrote about "eyes" here.

Nothing original regarding this idea, but just for some fun and a change of pace from usual topics, below is a collection of cars with expressions.


I missed this when I was young, but other writers have pointed out that 1949 Lincolns such as this Cosmopolitan had a sad look that had to be changed for 1950.

Innocent, Naïve
This advertising theme ran when 1995 Dodge Neons were new.

Oldsmobiles featured oval grille openings that could create a fish-mouth look.  This was the case for 1956 models such as the 98 Starfire Convertible seen in this RM Sotheby's photo.

That's what this 2010 Mazda 3 seems to be doing.

The new 2019 Toyota Avalon has a fearsome expression.  I'd hate to meet one in a dark alley.

Equally sinister is the look of this 2018 Chevrolet Equinox.