Thursday, December 8, 2016

Those Look-Alike 1982 General Motors Cars

Above is the embarrassing (to General Motors) Fortune Magazine cover of 22 August 1982 showing A-body cars from four different divisions with the same paint color.  Some background on the matter is here.

The similarity was a cost-cutting measure at the time the corporation was beginning to experience financial constraints due to loss of market share.  Thereafter, GM made a greater effort to make its various brands more visually distinctive again.

This post features front end designs of the models shown in Fortune in order to show what effort GM had made on that critical part of the car's brand identification.  The Fortune cover cars were posed to maximize their similarity.


Taking the brands in alphabetical order, here is the 1982 Chevrolet Celebrity.  It features rectangular quad headlights paired with rectangular running and turn-indicator lights.  Between is a typical Chevrolet grid grille sporting the brand's traditional "bow tie" emblem.  The bumper is an unadorned horizontal element.

Chevrolet is GM's entry-level brand, whereas Buick in those days was slotted between Oldsmobile and Cadillac.  Shown here is a 1982 Buick Century from a Canadian brochure.  It too has rectangular quad headlights, but turn indicators are at the front of the fenders.  The grille, mounted higher than the Chevy's,  has a more elaborate grid design and there is a Buick badge at the center,

The 1982 Oldsmobile Cutlass Ciera has a grid grille with a center plate holding the Olds badge.  This design was on other Oldsmobile models of that time, adding some brand flavor.  However, still other Olds models had different grille themes, so the effect was watered down.  Lights are arranged similarly to the Buick's.  The bumper is cut down a little to accommodate the grille design.

The '82 Pontiac Phoenix lacks quad headlights and has a version of the brand's divided grille theme put in place around 1960.

The sides of the four cars are indeed pretty similar though a close look reveals some character line and other subtle differences.  Brand differentiation was largely carried by the front ends, each version having identity cues similar to previous or concurrent models.  Besides the grilles, hoods were given different metal stamping treatments related to the shapes of the upper edges of the grille openings.  That entailed extra tooling expense, though the results are too subtle for most people to distinguish unless examples from the different brands were placed side-by-side.

My personal experience at the time was that while I could distinguish A-bodied brands from one another, I was strongly aware of how similar the cars seemed overall.  When the Fortune issue was published, I nodded in silent agreement.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Type 3: The Second-Generation Volkswagen

Volkswagen management wisely realized that the Beetle would not be a top-seller forever.  So a larger, more powerful model was planned during the late 1950s.  Retained was the Beetle's rear mounted, air-cooled motor layout, but otherwise the new car abandoned 1930s styling for more contemporary features.

This new model, variously known as the Type 3, 1500 or 1600, was produced 1961-1973 (Wikipedia entry here).


The first Type 3s features notchback or bustleback styling.  I think the greenhouse is too soft in the C-pillar - backlight zone.  The wheels are commendably large (I dislike tiny wheels), and the front is sensibly styled.

The rear three-quarter view highlights what I consider the greenhouse weakness.  The lower body, thanks to the essentially straight side character line and fender profile is fairly crisp, though tempered by the curved front trunk profile and the slightly rounded bustle seen here.  As mentioned, the greenhouse strikes me as being too soft and, at the C-pillar, flimsy looking.  A more substantial C-pillar and a bit less back window curvature might have corrected this.

In 1962 the Squareback (station wagon, break) model was introduced.  The very nature of this kind of body eliminated the weaknesses of the notchback model's styling.

Then in 1966 a fastback version appeared.  Its styling was nice, so I have few quibbles to make.

Actually, the only change I'd be temped to make would be to shorten the aft side windows, most likely employing a dog-leg, BMW-type end treatment.  As the photo shows, the window extends abaft of the top of the rear seat, so there would be no adverse effect on back-seat passengers' views.

Rear three-quarter photo.  The Type 3 has a nice, trim appearance from this viewing angle.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

1956 Buick Centurion Dream Car

I think the 1956 General Motors Motorama car-show-plus-entertainment extravaganza was the last of the interesting ones.  Decline was already happening, as evidenced in the mix of concept or dream cars (as they were called back then).  My favorite of that batch is the Buick Centurion; the GM web site discusses it here.

The Centurion is a mix of the practical and styling studio dream car show-off fluff.  Some features hint at future production, others are simply jazzy.  All the while, the car has styling cues that clearly identify it as a Buick.


Buick identification is in the form of the Sweep Spear chromed strip on the side that also serves as a paint tone divider.  The car seats four, unlike many Motorama cars, giving it a practical feeling.  The fender treatment between the extreme front and rear is one that easily could appear on a near-future 1950s production car.  The windshield is doubly wrapped-around.  This will be seen on some late '50s production cars, but not in such an extreme manner towards the roof.  A nice touch is the C-pillar's rake that complements the rake of the A-pillar -- a nice, logical symmetry seen here and there when panoramic windshields were in vogue.

An impractical styling fetish that has yet to die of natural causes is the transparent roof.  I feel very sorry for that poor model at the wheel being subjected to the Miami sun and the greenhouse effect caused by the roof.  True, the windows are rolled down, but that gal surely earned her modeling fee that day.  The pickle fork front treatment seen in plan view here makes for an interesting composition, but is impractical for real-world parking conditions.  Even so, from this camera angle, the Centurion has strong, clean lines without any serious disruptions: a fine show car.

The Centurion's rear is more problematical.  The wing-like rear fenders combined with the boat-tail-cum-jet-fighter trunk is nothing but dream car flash, devoid of practicality.

A glimpse of the interior showing the rear-view TV screen.  That feature is common today thanks to miniaturizing technology, but was too bulky and costly for production use in 1956.

Here is a 1957 Buick Roadmaster four-door hardtop.  Its Sweep Spear and the A- and C-pillar angles are carried over from the Centurion (that was designed when the general form of this Buick was pretty well established).  So to some degree, the Centurion was intended to get potential buyers used to coming styling attractions.

And this is a 1960 Mercury Montclair (a cleaned-up 1959 Mercury Park Lane) also featuring complementary A- and C-pillars.  It has a compound-curve windshield, but not nearly so extreme as the Centurion's.  For 1961, Mercury dropped panoramic windshields, as did Buick that same model year.

Monday, November 28, 2016

1956's Revived Lincoln Continental Coupé

Few dispute that the 1940 Lincoln Continental is a classic automobile design.  It began as a customized 1939 Lincoln cabriolet built for Ford Motor Company President Edsel Ford.  The designer was E.T. "Bob" Gregorie, Ford's styling chief.  Favorable reaction by Edsel's friends led to it becoming a production car for 1940. In addition to cabriolets, a coupé model was added.  More information on early Lincoln Continentals can be found here.

Aside from the World War 2 U.S. car production hiatus, Lincoln Continentals were produced through the 1948 model year.  But 1949 brought totally restyled Lincolns and Edsel had died in 1943, so Ford leadership was not motivated to continue the line even though stylists had sketched some proposals based on the new Lincoln Cosmopolitan body.

Potential buyers were unhappy with the decision to drop the Continental line and hounded Ford to build new ones.  By the early 1950s the company was prosperous again and there was money available to do just that.  Edsel's youngest son, William Clay Ford, was made head of the project.  As this Wikipedia entry indicates, the new car was called Continental Mark II and was cast as a separate brand, though marketed by Lincoln.  It was conceived as a super-luxury car, priced at $10,000 -- around twice the average U.S. household income at the time.  Only a coupé was produced, though Ford had a convertible built and some coupé owners later had their cars customized as cabriolets.

So far, I haven't been able to locate suitable examples from the styling competition for the Mark II on the internet.  When I find such images, I'll post about them.  For now, I'll compare styling of the original 1940 coupé with that of the Mark II.


The Mark II was a lot longer than the original Lincoln Continental.  The long hood proportion of the original was retained, but rear overhang was much more extensive.  The most "Continental" details carried over were the blanked over rear quarter panels of the passenger compartment and the hint of the rear-mounted spare tire.

If today's acceptance of Retro styling had been in place during the mid-1950s the Mark II might have been styled to look more like the original.  Instead, John Reinhart's winning design was a conservative take on contemporary styling practice.  Such features include: "frenched" headlights; wraparound windshield; flow-through fender line; low hood; and the long rear overhang.  Fortunately, not all trendy items were present.  Some of these were: tail fins; chromed designs on the sides; two or three tone paint jobs; and jet fighter details.

From this angle, the passenger compartments have a similar flavor, though the Mark II has a larger rear window (backlight).  Its rear wheels are exposed rather than spatted.  Signature 1940 Lincoln Continental features included the boxy trunk design and the rear-mounted spare tire in its cover.  The Mark II's trunk curves down and the separate spare tire is evoked by a shape encompassing a spare.  It's rather like trunk sheet metal was draped over an interior spare tire that was propped up at a forward-leaning angle.  In fact, the Mark II's spare tire was inside the trunk and positioned in just that manner, even having a cloth covering to hide it.  Of course, that made putting luggage and other items in the trunk more difficult due to its blockage.

The Continental Mark II was not a sales success, only around 3,000 being sold over its two years on the market.   It high price was a limiting factor.  I think its styling was another contributor.  Despite its low stature, the car was massive -- not light and sporting looking like the original was.  Moreover its styling was dull, boring.  Making it look very mid-50s with fins and multiple paints might not have worked either.  The best solution from today's perspective would have been a shorter (but not too short) car with more Retro hints.  But that might not have sold well either, given buyer expectations in those stylistically flamboyant times.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

1962 Ford Cougar Concept Car

There's hardly any internet information on Ford's 1962 Cougar concept car.  The Wikipedia entry here is typical.  The Cougar name was eventually used for many years by Ford Motor Company's Mercury brand for various lines of sporty coupes.  Before that, it was found on show cars.

The '62 Cougar is not a famous concept car, but I find it interesting.  That's partly because it appeared right after American cars had moved out of the rococo era of three-tone paint jobs, swaths of chrome trim, and elaborate tail fins.  Yet the Cougar retained touches of fantasies dreamed up the Ford's advanced styling unit back in the 1950s.


This general view sets the scene.  Most of the images of the Cougar feature its Mercedes-Benz inspired gull-wing doors -- an impractical sports car fetish that has yet to be abandoned.

The Cougar's grille is simple and integrated with the bumper as a variety of horizontal shapes.  Headlights are hidden behind the fender caps, though its not clear how they are exposed.  (Perhaps they are not there at all and those cut lines are dummies.)  Note the wire wheels, a sporty '50s fad that was fading by 1962.  The front of the car from the cowl forward is very simple.  Side trim is a single broad, tapering chrome strip that limits the height of the front wheel opening.  The windshield wraps around to A-pillars that slant backwards, part of the trend away from vertical or forward slanting A-pillars of the 1950s.  But the windshield does not wrap upwards even though compound-curved windshields were not unknown at the time.  The result is that odd, rather small transition panel that links the windshield with the gull-wing door openings.

Side view showing the nice, long hood and fairly short (for the times) rear overhang.  The gull-wing door openings have a slant at the rear conforming to the seat slant.  There is a single lift strut mounted at the rear.  The most visually jarring feature is the tubular lump atop the fender over the rear wheel.  It distracts from the otherwise pure fender line and seems to serve only as a tail light assembly holder.  Perhaps the fender line did need some spicing up, but those lumps simply add poorly-placed clutter.  They represent a seeming holdover of Ford's advance styling group's early-1950s obsession with jet fighter and sci-fi spaceship detailing.

This rear view indicating that, aside from the tail light arrangement  the design of the car's rear is clean.  A production version would have required a higher trunk lid for reasons of practicality, however.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Functional Design: 1929 Chevrolet

When I was a lad reading up on pioneering industrial designers, modernist architecture and the like, along with taking the first-year architectural course at the University of Washington (I majored in ID for a while), the big deal was Function -- to which Form should follow.

A lovely ideal, that.  But utterly pure Platonic function-shaped forms are hard to come by.  Setting aside the exquisite chicken egg, I really can't think of a single example of architecture or industrial design that is universally acclaimed to be perfect.

In part, that's because objects used by people usually have more than one function to fulfill.  For instance, a knife has to have a blade that will cut.  But different kinds of things are best cut by different kinds of blades.  And knives must have handles, and those might vary in shape and material.  So there is no real-world Platonic knife.

Automobiles, as I've pointed out more than once, have the function of being sold, something that at times can be at odds with design purity.  Setting aside the current needs for aerodynamic efficiency and compliance with government safety regulations that affect appearance, one might consider functionality in terms of the visual expression of a car's major visible engineering components and how well the forms express these.

As it happened, such conditions and expressions began to disappear when cars designed by styling staffs began to dominate the American market in the early 1930s.

Let's take a look at a typical American car design at the point when they were about to be succeeded by professionally-styled models.  In this case, the 1929 Chevrolet AC.


Harley Earl, General Motors' first styling supremo, made his mark with the 1927 LaSalle.  The new 1929 Buick design came from his new studios, though details were supposedly altered while the car was productionized.  GM's high-volume brand then and now was Chevrolet.  As the "Sheet Metal" list above indicates, 1929 Chevrolet bodies were minor modifications of 1928s that would have been designed before that year, so Earl had little or nothing to do with 1929 Chevrolet styling.

This, and the following photos were taken by me in September at the Saguenay, Québec cruise port.  This 1929 Chevrolet was on display.  The card behind the windshield describes the model (click to enlarge photos).

Everything is pretty clear.  Passengers are carried inside a box with doors and windows.  At the front is a radiator requiring a nice blast of air while the car rolls along.  Behind it lies the motor that is protected by box that folds up for access.  Headlights are prominently placed so that their beams can illuminate darkened roads.  At the very front is a bumper to protect the car's front from impacts.  Fenders are present to protect the body from splash.  Between front and rear fenders are running boards, steps allowing easier access to the passenger compartment.  Many functions, each clearly expressed.

Side view.  That small lip above the windshield is an external sun visor -- inferior to internal visors, but common in the late 1920s.

Rear three-quarter view.  One hint of things to come is the rounding of the aft part of the top.  For instance, 1927 Chevrolet tops were angled.

The two lower tail lights are not stock, being added to make this car street-legal nowadays.

View of some front end details.  Very spare, very functional.  Attractive, in a way, though I can't call it beautiful.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Honda Finally Gets the CR-V Right

A while ago I wrote about the side window designs of recent Honda CR-V SUV models.  I was not happy.

I concluded, stating: "I'm hoping the Honda stylists will come to their senses and find a more attractive side-window profile when the fifth-generation CR-V comes along."

And voila! They actually did.


The first-generation CR-Vs appeared in the USA for the 1997 model year.  Window treatment was basic station wagon (break) style.

Second-generation CR-Vs arrived for 2002.  A wee bit of rear overhang was added and the C-pillar received the merest whiff of a dog-leg treatment.  Nothing objectionable as yet.  (These first two images are "for sale" photos, the others look like they came from Honda.)

But for the 2007 third-generation, there is trouble.  The drooping upper window profile clashes with the profile of the vehicle's top.  That design was suited for sedans, not SUVs.

Honda's 2012 redesign corrected some of the problem just mentioned, but the window treatment remains better suited for sedans.

Here is a photo of a 2017 CR-V.  As of late October when I drafted this, I couldn't find one showing the left side view, so this will have to do.  At long last the upper window profile and the roof profile are in sync.  The side of the tail light assembly clashes with the rest of the C-pillar treatment, so Honda stylists still have a little more work to do.