Thursday, March 21, 2019

"Devil's Breath" Alfa by Touring

This post's subject is a 1935 berlina aerodinamica body design for the Alfa Romeo 6C 2300 chassis by Carrozzeria Touring before its Superleggera system appeared.

It was called Soffio di Satana, or "Devil's Breath" for a reason obscure to me.

A few years ago Bonhams auctioned one of the three cars built.  Its web page quotes from "Hull & Slater’s standard work, 'Alfa Romeo – A History'” as follows:

"This aerodynamic saloon by Touring of Milan is one of just three built and is the only example known to survive. The first was commissioned by the renowned Italian poet, Gabriele d’Annunzio, who helped design its lines and gave it its name (“Devil’s Breath”). The second was delivered to celebrated soprano, Gina Cigna, and the third, this car, was built for Barone Mariano Pagliaro who specified “Blu Notte d’Oriente” livery with blue leather upholstery, to match his coat of arms. This car was raced in the 1934 Targa Abruzzo, winning the Turismo class before delivery to the Baron."

Gabriele d'Annunzio was a writer, adventurer and politician, still well-remembered in Italy.  He was quite capable of the Devil's Breath naming.  That might or might not be true, but it makes for a good story, so I'll go along with it for now.

The above quotation states that only one of those cars seemed to have survived.  Since then, d'Annunzio's emerged and went on auction.  The majority of the images below are of it.


This car on display, probably in Milan, has rear fender spats and the others do not, so it might be the Gina Cigna car, now lost.

This is the d'Annunzio car.

Here is the Barone Pagliaro version.

D'Annunzio's car, photos via the Ruote Vecchia website.

Its six cylinder motor and six-window passenger compartment results in a proportionally short hood.  Stylists were still groping with how to deal with streamlining in 1934-1935 when the Devil's Breath was designed, but as usual Touring came up with a pleasing solution.  But note the windshield is a two-piece affair, yet its V is so shallow as to hardly be worth the effort.

The spare tire lies beneath that round lid at the car's stern, so it lacked an obvious trunk.  It should be remembered that trunks were still not universal for four-door sedans in those days.

Front quarter view.  A fine design from the days when the transition from boxy to streamlined was taking place.  That transition produced many awkward designs, something Touring avoided here.  By the way, the grille is of the "fencer's mask" type, a fashion starting in the USA at that time.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Late 1960s Thunderbirds and Continental Mark IIIs

As this Wikipedia entry mentions, Ford Motor Company realized that its new Mustang would displace the Thunderbird as Ford's sporty, four-seat car model.  So the Thunderbird was slated to become even more upscale and a little less sporty.

Now for my conjecture.  A new Thunderbird might have shared tooling with existing or planned Ford models, but apparently it was decided that none of those platforms would be appropriate for the new concept.  The Lincoln platform was probably thought too large for even a semi-sporty Thunderbird.

So the decision was made to risk creating a new body for Thunderbirds.  And to increase this body's production in an attempt to help amortize its cost, it was decided to also use it for a sporty Lincoln that would be called the Continental Mark III.

The resulting Thunderbird was marketed model years 1967-1971.  The Mark III was launched during the 1968 model year and also continued through 1971.  Total production was just under 360,000 cars -- 280,000 Thunderbirds and 80,000 Continentals.  For the first (and last) time, there was a four-door Thunderbird; the remaining Thunderbirds and all Mark IIIs were coupés.  Four-door production was 77,500 --  21.6 percent of the overall total and 27.8 percent of Thunderbird production.  Given the high prices of the cars, it's likely that Ford found its platform-creation gamble profitable.

Thunderbirds had a 115-inch (2921 mm) wheelbase and were 209.4 inches (5319 mm) long.  Comparable Mark III dimensions were 117.2 inches (2977 mm) and 216.1 inches (5489 mm).  These differences and related styling might have been enough to explain the lag between the Thunderbird's introduction and the Mark III's.


The 1967 Ford Thunderbird line, factory photo.  At the upper left is the basic Thunderbird coupe that always sold less well than the Landau coupe at the upper right.  The four-door sedan in the foreground was also called a Landau, even though the roofs were fixed and covered with vinyl.

Barrett-Jackson auction photo of the sedan.  Even though it's a rear-wheel-drive car, it has plenty of front overhang, not to mention that at the rear.  The sloping hood, trunk and fenders provide a sense of lightness to Thunderbirds when seen in profile.

Set of photos of a Landau coupé for sale.  Aside from the faux-Landau gimmickry, the design is attractive.  The front is simplified in part due to retractable headlight covers in the grille ensemble.  Bumpers were skimpy, but in tune with the times.

A 1969 Lincoln Continental Mark III, Mecum auction photos.  Styling is more squared off than the Thunderbird's, creating a massive, less-graceful appearance.  Its grille strongly echoes the Rolls-Royce's and the faux-spare tire cover is a tribute to the original 1939-vintage Lincoln Continental.

Now for some body comparisons: this sedan is a "for sale" car.  Observe the rear door cut lines and compare to the coupé below.  The tops and notional C-pillars are the same -- or rather, the side window profiles are the same.  To make room for the rear door, the front door is narrower than the coupé's -- standard practice.  The rear door cuts well into what was the coupé's C-pillar.  It is hinged at the rear, a practice on 1960s Lincolns, but probably used here for body engineering reasons.

Side view of the "for sale" coupé pictured above.  Compare to the Mark III coupé below.

Mecum photo of a 1969 Mark III.  Its rear axle line is slightly farther aft than that of the Thunderbird.  The door shape is slightly different.  The rear fender high point is immediately abaft of the quarter window, whereas the Thunderbird rear fender peaks over the wheel opening.  The shapes of the passenger greenhouses are the same from the windshield to the B-pillar, but thereafter the Continental's seems shorter -- perhaps due to higher fender and trunk lines.  Hood and front fenders are higher than the Thunderbird's.  An impressive-looking car, but to me a little less attractive than the Thunderbird.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

1951-1954 Nash-Healey: First American Postwar Sports Car

I'll begin by qualifying this post's title.  The Nash-Healey, for sale in 1951, was the first post- World War 2 sports car offered by an established American car maker -- the Nash-Kelvinator Corporation.

Some background can be found here, here, and here.

Nash-Healeys had Nash motors and drivetrains, Healey chassis, suspensions, etc., and bodies by other vendors.  The 1951 cars had bodies designed by Healey and built by Panelcraft Sheet Metal of Birmingham, England.  For 1952 and later, bodies were designed and built by Pinin Farina in Italy.  Farina also contributed ideas for the restyled 1952 Nash passenger cars.

As the links mention, in part due to shipping costs (USA to England to Italy to USA) and the low-production semi-custom bodies, Nash-Healeys were expensive -- production being limited to slightly more than 500 cars.


This is the 1950 Nash-Healey prototype.

The prototype's grille is similar to that of the 1950 Nash NXI concept car shown here.

Production 1951 Nash-Healey.  Its grille is that of the 1951 Nash sedan with the Nash emblem placed on its center, as was used on 1952 Nashes.  The body design is pleasant and in the fashion of contemporary sports cars.  That is, the hood is fairly low and the fenderline is flowing with an up-kick abaft of the door.  The main clashing element is the windshield, whose strongly rectangular form is not related to the curved body lines.

Rear quarter view of the very first 1951 Nash-Healey in an auction photo.  Pleasing, but not distinctive.

Factory photo of a 1953 Nash-Healey Coupé by Pinin Farina.  The 1952 Farina design abandoned the use of a stock Nash Grille, though 1955 Nashes got grilles similar in concept to the one seen here.  The 1952-54 Nash-Healey design seems fussier than Healey's 1951 version, particularly the front end and the use of a separate rear fender.  On the other hand, the design is more distinctive, a plus factor in marketing terms.

Rear quarter view of a 1953 Nash-Healey auctioned by Mecum.  This shows the one-piece backlight.  I think the two-tone paint scheme detracts from the design by adding yet another  fussy element.

1954 Nash-Healey roadster, Hyman auction photo.  The curved, one-piece windshield is a better solution than the initial two-piece, flat glass windscreen of 1951.

1954 Nash-Healey Coupé, again via Hyman, Ltd.

Same car: For 1954 the back window became a three-piece affair similar to backlights on American hardtop convertibles of the early 1950s.  A distinctive feature of Pinin Farina's design is the upkick / mini-tailfin at the aft of the rear fender.  This and the grille incorporating headlights were key identification features on 1952-54 Nash-Healeys.

1953 Buick Wildcat show car whose fender line previewed that of 1954 productions Buicks.  Note the same sort of aft up-kick seen on the Nash-Healeys.  Surely Buick stylists were aware of that Farina touch, but borrowed it anyway.

Monday, March 11, 2019

General Motors' 1959 All-Brands Body Variations

The Styling of General Motors' 1957-58 Oldsmobiles, Buicks and Cadillacs and its 1958 Chevrolets and Pontiacs was noticeably more rounded (even bloated, perhaps?) than that of most of its competition.  Sales suffered.  So an across-the-board crash redesign project was launched, resulting in every GM brand sharing essentially the same basic body (with variations, as shown below) for model year 1959.  This was in stark contrast to GM's policy since around 1940 of having three basic bodies, each used by some, but not all, of its brands.

I discussed how the 1959 bodies appeared on Chevrolets, Pontiacs, Oldsmobiles, Buicks and Cadillacs here using four-door hardtops as the basis for comparison.

In the present post, variations on this basic body are illustrated.  Buick is used because it was the only brand where all such sub-types were marketed.  Images below are of cars listed for sale unless otherwise noted.  Since all the cars were essentially the same from the middle of their front doors forward, all the photos save the station wagon's show rear quarter views, where the differences are concentrated.


Two-door sedan: LeSabre was Buick's newly (and confusingly) renamed entry level line, replacing Special. Only LeSabre offered two-door Buick sedans. Roofs were more rounded on '59 GM sedans and station wagons than on hardtops. The latter are nowadays sometimes referred to as "flat-roof" cars.

Four-door sedan: Another LeSabre, though Buick also offered 4-door sedans on its Invicta (formerly Super) and Electra (ex-Roadmaster) lines, but not on its luxury Electra 225 models.

Station wagon: LeSabre Estate Wagon.

Two-door hardtop coupe: This from the Buick Electra line, Electras being the top level, but just short of Electra 225s.  Back windows ("backlights") on GM's hardtop coups and 2-door sedans were tall, quite possibly admitting too much direct sunlight for comfort on the necks of back-seat passengers on summer days.

Four-door hardtop sedan, four-window type: Also an Electra.  This model had a huge amount of glass-area that was minimally obstructed by window frames (by the B-pillar stub) and the A- and C-pillars.  This is the model I used in the post cited above for brand comparisons.

Four-door hardtop sedan, six-window type: Only Electra 225s had six-window hardtops, and the only others of this GM body type were sold by Cadillac.  I don't have a source for this photo.

Convertible: An Electra 225 convertible, factory publicity photo.  I find it interesting because the car is posed by a Lockheed L-188 Electra turboprop-powered airliner that entered service in January 1959.  The plane is painted in an Allison scheme, Allison being a General Motors division that built the turboprop motors for the Electra transports.  Chalk this photo up as a Double Whammy advertising coup.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Chrysler Corporation's Inverted C-Pillars

Usually a car's C-pillar -- the roof support immediately forward of the rear window ("backlight") -- becomes narrower with height.  This is due to the interaction of the downward curve of the roofline towards the car's rear and the shape of the aft side window that usually curves down at a greater pace.  A BMW-style "dog-leg" side window profile even further creates an upwards convergent C-pillar profile.

This was reversed on the redesigned standard-size 1965 Chrysler Corporation two-door hardtops for Plymouths, Dodges and Chryslers.  The bodies are essentially the same, so Dodges are dealt with here.

An interesting effect of a C-pillar that's narrow at its base and widens with height is that, combined with a thin roofline, the car's passenger compartment "greenhouse" seems visually lighter than if the C-pillar narrowed in the conventional way.  The images below are of cars for sale unless otherwise noted.


Dodge Monaco, top of its 1965 line.

Monaco, Polara and Custom 880 Dodges had 121 inch (3073 mm) wheelbases, whereas entry-level Coronet's wheelbases were 117 inches (2972 mm).  The bodies differed slightly, the larger cars having smaller, less-wraparound backlights that resulted in wider C-pillars.

Rear quarter view.  The vinyl roof covering on this car largely conceals the sculpting on the pillar and roof.

Here is a Polara hardtop with an unadorned roof.  You can see the slight fold of the C-pillar sheet metal that continues across the top, creating a subtle kink in the roofline.

What appears to be a factory photo of a Dodge Coronet 440 hardtop.

Side view of a Coronet 440.  The wrapped backlight results in a narrower C-pillar base.  This pinching of the base comparatively widens the top of the pillar, giving the greenhouse a heavier appearance than seen on the senior Dodges above.

Rear quarter view.  It's pretty hard to see, but there is a fold across the roof as on the larger cars, but here it's anchored where the aft side window frame kinks downward.  As best I can tell, there is no fold on the pillar itself.

A 1963 Mercury Monterey hardtop with a "Breezeway" reverse-angle, roll-down backlight.  Here too the C-pillar has a reverse taper.  But the pillar is so wide that the greenhouse is not visually lightened very much, as was the case with the Monaco and Polara.

Monday, March 4, 2019

Mullin Automotive Museum: Some Photos

An automobile museum that's extremely worth seeing if you are very interested in pre-1950 French cars is the Mullin Automotive Museum (web site here).  It's located in Oxnard, California, a small city partway between Los Angeles and Santa Barbara.  But it is hard to visit.

The problem is that one can't casually drop by.  It is open on Saturdays for five hours only -- and is not open every Saturday.  You need to go to their web site to determine what dates they are open, then book a ticket on-line.  (There seem to be exceptions to this, but that requires contacting the museum to find out if they would allow you a special visit.)

I have driven through Oxnard once or twice a year for some time now, but never on a Saturday.  Finally, I resolved to visit the museum, booked a day and time, and planned a trip to California around that hard-point.  It was worth the effort, because I am interested in French cars, especially those from the 1930s.

Most visitors take guided tours in groups of 10-15 people.  I did not because (1) I'm familiar with many of the the cars on display, and (2) my goal was to take lots of photos.  No doubt I missed out on learning some things by avoiding a tour, but I accepted that.

Not all the Mullin collection can be seen at one time.  In part this has to do with available space and partly because some cars have been sent elsewhere for display.  For example, a couple of years ago some of Mullin's Bugattis were displayed at the Petersen museum in Los Angeles -- I wrote about the Type 57SC Atlantic I saw here.

Below are some photos I took showing the main exhibition floor from different points of view.  I hope these give you a sense of what you might see if you visit.  The cars shown are for an exhibit stressing French coachbuilders.


The maroon car at the lower left is a 1937 Talbot-Lago T150-C-SS "teardrop," the red car is the Delahaye 165 by Figoni & Falaschi displayed at the 1939 New York World's Fair.

The car with the odd paint job is a 1928 Citroën B14 Coupé with a recreation of the paint scheme designed by Sonia Delaunay who was active in avant-garde arts.

At the center is a 1929 Talbot M75 with De Vizcaya body paneling.  To the left of it are two Voisins and a Panhard.  The car at the lower left with a wood body is a 1922 Hispano-Suiza H6B Skiff-Torpedo.

At center is the 1936 Bugatti Type 57SC Atlantic mentioned above.  The shiny car in the foreground is a 1939 Bugatti Type 64 chassis with a recently built body harking to the spirit of late 1930s French "teardrop" style.

Off at the rear of the display room is a group of Bugattis and other unrestored cars that were part of the famous Schlumpf collection in Mulhouse France.

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Pierce-Arrow Silver Arrow: Aimed at the Future

The Great Depression was in full force.  The Pierce-Arrow Motor Car Company luxury automobile maker in Buffalo, New York was on a fatal downward trajectory despite being under the control of Studebaker, which also was suffering.

Those times forced carmakers to abandon slow product changes in an effort to attract customers.  The result was that the decade of the 1930s saw the most radical change in the appearance of production cars ever in that span of time.

Pierce-Arrow did its part by creating the Silver Arrow, a show car for the 1933 Chicago Century of Progress fair.  A few were made to that design, and some more conventional looking Silver Arrows were built by Studebaker.

The Silver Arrow's stylist was Phillip O. Wright, who years later designed the Aero Willys cars.

Background information regarding the Silver Arrow can be found here on RM Sotheby's web site related to a Silver Arrow they had up for auction.

Unless identified otherwise, the photos below were taken by me several years ago at the Blackhawk museum in Danville, California.


1933 Pierce-Arrow Silver Arrow, Barrett-Jackson auction photo.  Wright retained the 1933 Pierce-Arrow grille design, but raked it back slightly and shaped the lower part into a very modest shovel form.  The brand's traditional headlights-atop-the-fenders feature was also retained, though he extended the headlight housings far to the rear.  In sum, the front of the car that must have seemed radical in 1933 strikes one now as being its most old-fashioned design aspect.

For about as long as I can remember, observers have commented that the Silver Arrow "predicted" the fender design of General Motors' initial postwar restyling.  Perhaps "anticipated"might be a better term, but the relationship is clear when comparing the first image above and this one of a 1948 Oldsmobile Futuramic 98 fastback.  Surely Harley Earl and members of his styling team were aware of the Silver Arrow design, but I cannot say that they consciously copied it.  More likely, the combination of a swept back front fender and distinct rear fenders was one logical way to deal with "envelope" bodies.  This fender theme was being explored around 1940 by Italy's Touring coach building firm, another possible inspiration.  (The 1947 Studebaker line also had such fenders, but the basic '48 GM C-body design was probably nearly set by the time those Studebakers were revealed in June of 1946.)

Side view via RM Sotheby's.  From the aft edge of the front wheelwell to the rear of the car, the styling was nearly ten years ahead of its time.  Note the taut lines of the fastback, windows and side trim.  Very impressive considering that design work was done in 1932.

Silver Arrows must have seemed highly futuristic when viewed from this angle -- just what a show car needed.  But looked at 85 years later, the tapering of the main body seems impractical due to the resulting small trunk.  Of course, integral trunks are rare indeed in 1933, and the taper doubtless was inspired  because of its supposed aerodynamic quality.  More questionable is the odd-looking back window design, possibly a consequence of the glass forming technology state of the art back then.  I think Wright could have come up with a decent-looking backlight using two larger planes and a touch of sculpting to frame them.