Thursday, March 22, 2018

"Impression" -- Chip Foose's Reimagined '37 Ford Roadster

For a reason I've never been able to explain, I've never been a hot rod or kustom kar fancier.  Somehow, I always thought that tangible, production-based cars should remain stock.  This excepts those expensive classic cars of yore by coachbuilding firms that worked from a bare chassis-plus-frontal-metalwork.  Ditto concept cars.

The present post deals with what at first might seen to be a 'rod with a kustom body.  But it's not.  It's the Impression, an essentially-built-from-scratch (as best I can tell) car with modern components having a body inspired by 1930s Fords.

The design-builder is Chip Foose, trained in industrial design at the famed Art Center in Pasadena.   His web site is here.

Impression, a commissioned car costing a huge amount of money, appeared in 2006 and won an important design contest, as reported in Autoweek here.  The article mentions:

"That car was the one everyone generally acknowledged would go home with the nine-foot-tall trophy for America’s Most Beautiful Roadster. That car, the Impression, was designed and built by Chip Foose and is owned by Ken Reister. Other owners quoted costs from $1.6 million to $2.2 million, depending on how much they wanted to emphasize the gap between their cars and Foose’s. Neither Reister nor Foose would say how much it cost, and who really keeps track once they hit seven figures, anyway? But Foose did say the car sports 4000 handcrafted pieces and was started six years ago. True, it sat for about three and a half years while Foose and company tended to other projects, but this one got a lot of attention. ...

"'There’s some ’34, ’36 and ’37,' Foose told us, as he set up the display around the Impression. 'I took my favorite cues from those and from 1930s Mercedes influences. Everything was as if you took a ’36 or ’37 Ford and modernized it—if you had a stock ’36 or ’37 next to it, you would see the resemblance.'"

Below are paired images of Foose's Impression and a rare, non-customized '37 Ford so that you can evaluate his work given that starting point.  Photos of the 1937 Ford DeLuxe Roadster are from RM Sotheby's auction web site.  Those of the Impression were taken by me at the Petersen Automotive Museum in the Spring of 2017. Click on any of them to enlarge.


This is the museum's plaque.  It refers to Impression as being derived from a 1936 Ford design.

Here is a 1936 Ford.  Little of it is apparent on Foose's design.  Below are comparison photos of Impression and a 1937 Ford.

Front quarter views.  The Impression is lower and therefore visually longer.  The grille is raked back at a greater angle, plus there are no hood side vents.  Also missing are bumpers, this allowing Foose's sculpting to be better appreciated.

Impression's driving position is farther aft than on an actual '37 Ford.  This side view shows its hot rod design heritage in its notionally lowered chassis and the resulting awkward relationships of the wheels to the fender wheel openings.  I hate those chromed wheels that totally contrast with the otherwise clean design.  But (sigh) it's supposed to be a hot rod, so we just have to deal with it.

The real Ford has a rumble seat, a detail Foose probably wisely omitted.

1937 Fords were designed by Briggs, the company's body supplier.  According to Henry Dominguez (here, page 146), Edsel Ford told Briggs to use E.T. (Bob) Gregorie's Lincoln Zephyr frontal design features.  Both the Ford and the Impression have functional headlight components behind styled glass facings.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Mercury Park Lane 1958-1960: Redesign and Facelifts Were Improvements

The Park Lane was the top of the Mercury line over the 1958-1960 model years.  I'm guessing that the name refers to the street in London that runs along the east side of Hyde Park.  That would seem to be obscure to many potential American car buyers, as massive jet air travel across the Atlantic was just getting underway then.  Maybe all the other ritzy continental names had been grabbed by then.  Or perhaps Mercury marketers figured that the old breed of ocean liner passengers along with 8th Air Force and pre- D-Day troops stationed in England in 1944 knew all about the Grosvenor House and such and would create a usable buyer pool.  Whatever ... Park Lane it was.  Sales were in the 8 -13 thousand per year range, so it wasn't a massive success.

The Park Lane Wikipedia entry is here, though I have quibbles with its remarks about styling.

What I find most interesting about the 1958-60 Park Lanes is that while the 1959 redesign was better looking than the previous design, the 1960 facelift created the best design of all.  Quite often, facelifting degrades designs over time.


1958 Mercury Park Lane four-door hardtop.  It was a stretched, facelifted and upgraded 1957 Mercury Montclair: not a fresh design.  Questionable styling features include the grille openings in the massive front bumper ensemble, the awkward side and roof trim, plus the contorted back window that remained on the Mercury Monterey line through 1960.

This rear view of a Park Lane up for sale shows the rear bumper echoing the front bumper theme.  The ray-gun decoration on the tail light + side sculpting is a classic example of late 1950s silly styling.

The 1959 restyling most substantial on the greenhouse.  The windshield is now doubly curved, wrapping into the roof.  A big improvement is the new, cleaner backlight design.

The grille-bumper group has been simplified and made more conventional.  Side trim was also simplified and better integrated.  Losing the two-tone strip abaft of the headlights was a major factor here.

The rear bumper was restyled, but retained its two-element theme.  Ray-guns on the sculpting now look more like walking sticks.  The dogleg in the backlight echoes the windshield wrap-over, a nice, subtle touch.

Now for a set of photos of a 1960 Mercury Park Lane for sale in France.  The 1959 greenhouse design is retained, but most of the body sheetmetal has been reworked.  This is pretty expensive for the final year of a body design.  The entire front is redesigned, headlights being moved to the grille from the fender tops.

Side sculpting was totally restyled in a simplified, tasteful manner.  Those five vertical chromed bars designate that this is a Park Lane: lesser Mercury Montclairs only got three.

Rear styling is also pleasingly handled, though the tiny-tail-fin-plus-taillight grouping seem a little too cramped.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Some Isotta Fraschinis by Touring

I wrote about 1930 vintage Castagna-bodied Isotta Fraschini cars here. There were many Internet images of them available from various auction houses, but I found few pictures taken when the cars were new.  The opposite is the case with this post dealing with Carrozzeria Touring bodies for Isotta in the same era.  I found several old photos, but no pictures of existing cars.

Perhaps this curiosity might be explained because Castagna did a lot of work on Isottas, whereas Touring seemed to favor Alfa Romeo and few or none of its Isotta Fraschinis survive.  My personal library has almost nothing dealing with Isotta Fraschini, so I hope readers can provide the needed information.

In the years around 1930, Isotta Fraschinis were powered by inline eight cylinder motors that required fairly long hoods.  However, hoods seen on these cars seem longer than necessary to house such engines.  Regardless, the proportions created by factory hoods made it easier for coachbuilders (who provided all Isotta bodies in those days) to create impressive designs.

Below are images of Isottas with Touring bodies.


1927 Isotta Fraschini Tipo 8A Coupé.

1927(ca.) Isotta Fraschini Weymann Coupé.  The car in the top image also seems to have a wood-and-fabric Weymann type body.

1932 Isotta Fraschini Tipo 8B progetto "Tip-Top".

1932 Isotta Fraschini Tipo 8A SS Berlinetta.  This photo and the preceding one seem to be of the same car, though the captions derived from captions found on the Internet differ.

1932 Isotta Fraschini Tipo 8B Limousine

1935(ca.) Isotta Fraschini Limousine.

Monday, March 12, 2018

1949 Lincoln Cosmopolitan

The original plan for the new post- World War 2 Lincoln is obscure to me.  What is known is that the proposed 1949 Ford was rejected by Ernest Breech, who Henry Ford II brought in to essentially run the Ford Motor Company.  The design was considered too large for its market segment, so the body tooling was used for the 1949 Mercury and an entry-level Lincoln.

The obscure part is what the original intention for Mercury was.  Apparently, it would share a body with Lincoln, rather than the case from the 1941 models onward where Mercury shared bodies with Ford.

Here is this photo of a model where the design is close to the eventual 1949 Mercury below the belt line, but with a heavy, fastback greenhouse.  Most likely, this dates after Breech ordered that Mercury get what had been the '49 Ford body.  So far, I've found no photos of full-scale clay models of earlier Mercury design proposals from around 1946 or '47.

In this book, Paul Woudenberg suggested that the original intent was for Mercury to have the bustleback version of the large Lincoln body, and Lincoln was to have a fastback version.   Somehow, this strikes me as being a questionable use of resources, given the postwar drift away from fastback acceptance in the marketplace.  Knowledgeable readers are urged to clarify all this.

In the end, only Lincoln got the large body -- in both fastback and notchback varieties.  This class of Lincolns was marketed as Lincoln Cosmopolitan.  And then there was a line of just plain Lincolns.  These were based on what was now the '49 Mercury body.  About 48 percent of '49 Lincolns were Cosmopolitans, but I haven't found what share of Cosmos were fastbacks.  Probably not a large percentage, because the fastback line was dropped for the 1950 model year.

Even though the numbers of '49 Lincolns and Cosmopolitans were almost the same, a glance at Google Images when searching on "1949 Lincoln" suggests that the majority of survivors in good condition are Cosmopolitans, including some fastbacks.  Something to do with prestige and rarity, I suspect: fancy rare cars eventually become more treasured.


Here is a 1949 Lincoln Cosmopolitan Sport Sedan, the 4-door sedan with a bustle back.

A full-size Lincoln styling model when the basic body shape had been determined.  Trim details were still in flux, though the grille is close to the production version.

This fastback model is interesting.  Just possibly it was made shortly before the one in the previous image.  It has hidden headlights, a feature planned for '49 Lincolns but rejected late in the design process.  Hubcaps show different Lincoln brand identification proposals.  But the grille features thin, vertical bars and has no upper chromed frame: these are features found on 1949 Mercurys.

Side view of a basic, Mercury-body Lincoln that was for sale.  This 1950 model is nearly identical to the 1949s.

A 1949 Lincoln Cosmopolitan 6-Passenger Coupe.  Its profile is the same as the four-door Sport Sedan's, but its door is wider and window shapes differ accordingly.  Photo via Mecum.

Side view of a fastback 1949 Lincoln Cosmopolitan Town Sedan.

Rounding out the Cosmo line was the 6-Passenger Convertible (Barrett-Jackson photo).

More views of the Cosmo Town Sedan.  Like many first-generation postwar designs it had a basic heavy appearance that the fastback styling exaggerated further.

Cosmopolitan Sport Sedan for auction by Barrett-Jackson.  The doors and side windows are same as on the fastback, but the bustle back style reduces visual bulk.  Backlight windows are three-piece affairs due to limitations in technology at the time.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Adler's Eclectic 1930s Mix

Adler was an important German automobile maker in the 1930s, ranking third in sales during the first half of the decade.  The above link is to the English language Wikipedia entry from which you can link to the German entry that mentions market rank and some production numbers.  I last wrote about Adler here.

Given the small 1930s production levels for European automobile firms compared to the likes of General Motors, Ford and Chrysler, I find the variety of models some manufacturers produced rather surprising.  That definitely was the case for Adler.  For instance, at the start of the decade Adler marketed both six and eight cylinder models.  Then in 1932 it launched its Trumpf ("trump") front-wheel-drive line.  Towards the end of the 30s came the streamlined Typ 10 (also known as the 2.5 Liter or Autobahn Wagen).  And around that time Adler made a few Trumpf Rennlinousine ("racing sedans").  Examples of these and some others are shown below.


Adler Standard 8 Limousine - c.1930.  A conventional looking car with fenders typical of the mid-1920s and earlier.

Adler Standard 8 Kabriolett, Walter Gropius design - c.1930.  Gropius founded the famous Bauhaus school, but left in 1928.  The next year he was asked to design Adlers, a sedan and the cabriolet shown here.  Only about six were made.  (Some background information on Gropius and Adler is here).

Adler Primus Kabriolett - 1932.

Adler Diplomat - 1934.

Adler Trumpf Junior - 1936, for sale photo.  For some reason Trumpfs lacked running boards.

Adler Typ 10, 2.5 Ltr. 6 Zyl. Limousine - c.1939.  I find this design quite interesting, especially the curved belt line.

This is the coupé version.  No B-pillar, so this flashy car anticipates postwar hardtop convertibles.

Adler Trumpf Rennlimousine - 1938, RM Sotheby's photo.  The body design is a nearly pure example of Paul Jaray automobile streamlining.

Monday, March 5, 2018

General Motors' C Body Cars: 1941 Facelifts

In my post dealing with General Motors' new C body designs for the 1940 model year, I stressed that styling was inadequately modernized.

To summarize: Most American closed-car designs in the period approximately 1934-1940 were awkward.  In part, this was because body and production engineering could not evolve rapidly enough to deliver sleek streamline-influenced designs stylists were capable of dreaming up.  For the 1940 model year, General Motors finally produced attractive closed cars in the form of its redesigned C platform.  But while these cars were attractive abaft of the front axle line, their front end styling seemed a little more dated.

This changed when GMs C body lines were facelifted for 1941.  An important factor was integration of headlights into front fenders, something GM was slow to do apparently because Engineering had objections.  The other improvement component was grille design.  Grilles for 1941 (with one possible exception) were much better matched to the rest of the styling.

Below are comparative images of 1940 and 1941 frontal designs.  Missing is a comparison for 1940 LaSalles because that brand was dropped at the end of the 1940 model year.


Pontiac front end styling was greatly improved over the too-delicate 1940 design seen in the Mecum photo.  All fenders took on a squared-off "suitcase" motif with side ribbing.  Headlights are essentially blended into the fenders, though are still placed inboard of the fender sides.  The front of the hood has been flattened slightly to blend with the rest of the flattened face of the car.

Oldsmobile grilles retain all the 1940 element themes for '41 but are made bolder, as can be seen in this likely "for sale" photo.  Aside from the reworked headlights, Olds frontal styling is the least-changed of the lot.  A fussy design.  Unlike Pontiacs, sheet metal is almost unchanged.

Buick headlights were completely integrated, unlike those on Pontiacs and Oldsmobiles.  Better yet, they were placed near the sides of the reshaped fenders as seen in the for sale image.  The grille is now horizontal, not the equivocating '40 outline.  Grille bars are larger, adding strength to the design.

Cadillac faces for 1940 were strongly old-school, whereas the '41s received a classic design that set the theme for many decades of future Cadillacs.    The upper photo is from RM Sotheby's, the lower is a for sale photo.  Front fenders and the hood were less curved, headlights were integrated and placed outboard.  Note the fender crease that notionally passes through the headlight center and whose line becomes the upper edge of the grille.  I rank the 1941 Cadillac design as the best ever for that marque.