Thursday, February 27, 2020

Toyota Supra and BMW Z4

From time to time cars from different makers share the same motors or even platforms.  An interesting recent example is the BMW G29 Z4 sports car platform that the company shared with the Toyota Supra J29/DB.

Even though both cars share many mechanical features, their styling is distinctly different.  And not just because the BMW is a convertible and the Toyota is a coupé.  One reason why this was possible is that both firms are in good financial shape and their need for low-cost "badge engineering" styling was nil.

Below are some factory publicity images for comparison.  Each Z4 image is followed by one of a Supra.


The only shared details from this viewpoint are the windshield, the round wheel openings, and the after part of the hood cutline.

Even the door cutlines differ to some degree.

About the only similarity seen here is the side sculpting upsweep theme -- but not any details.

Monday, February 24, 2020

Volkswagen Design Language Circa 2019

Unlike some Japanese carmakers, Volkswagen has kept its styling restrained, not flamboyant.

The problem all automobile firms face is the need to test body shapes in wind tunnels as part of efforts to achieve good fuel efficiency.  This results in little difference in basic shapes within each type (sedan, station wagon, SUV, etc.).  Therefore, to provide distinctive visual brand identity, cars nowadays often feature elaborate sheet metal sculpting along with cluttered, oddly-shaped details and ornamentation.

Volkswagen's current design philosophy seems to take a contrarian position.  Sculpting tends to be simple and grilles and other details tend to have a horizontal theme as opposed to the curves and angles seen in many places elsewhere.

2017 Honda Civic Hatchback

An example is the Honda Civic shown above.

Below is a gallery of recent Volkswagen models.  The company haas been making a major effort to have a small number of platforms as the basis for a large number of models for its various brands.  Given a basic unibody structure, sheetmetal claddings can assume a variety of decorative forms.  However, the Volkswagen brand styling is largely consistent across various platforms and body types.


2017 VW Tiguan
All the cars shown here feature a high sculpted character line along the side that starts abaft of the front wheel opening and extends to the rear.  Grilles feature simple, horizontal bar arrangements, sometimes supplemented by recessed vertical bars or small "teeth" as seen on the Tiguan above.

2018 VW Polo
The Polo is small with a small grille opening, though bars above and below the bumper are still horizontal.

2019 VW Arteon
A large VW sedan.  There are some fashionable angular touches in the headlight assembly and grille opening shape.  The VW design theme is retained in the horizontal bars at the front and the side character line.

2019 VW Jetta
The same can be said regarding the '19 Jetta, though its grille includes recessed vertical bars.

2019 VW Touareg
Grille elements are strongly horizontal.  Here the character line morphs into an evocation of a rear fender, and the side sheetmetal is dished in more than in the vehicles in the previous photos.

2020 VW Golf
The treatment here is similar to that of the Polo shown above.

2020 VW Passat
The new 2020 VW Passat continues the horizontal styling theme.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Studebaker's New 1939 Champion Model

The Studebaker Champion featured in the advertisement above debuted for the 1939 model year.   Its Wikipedia entry is here, and mentions that styling was done under the supervision of Raymond Loewy.

The Champion was designed with the goal of being a light-weight car in the main American entry-level marketplace.  Here are some statistical comparisons.  Its wheelbase was 110 inches (2794 mm), whereas Chevrolets and Fords had wheelbases of around 112 inches (2845 mm), and Plymouth wheelbases were longer yet by about the same margin.

A four-door Champion weighed about 2300 pounds (1035 kg), while Ford, Plymouth and Chevy four-doors weighed in the neighborhood of 2850 pounds (1282 kg).  Champion motors had the least horsepower (78) while the others were Chevrolet (85), Plymouth (82 or 86), and Ford (60 or 80, 80 being the norm).  Ratios of pounds per horsepower are: Champion (29.5), Chevrolet (32.9), Plymouth 86 (33.7). The Willys Overland, in the next smaller size class, had 2300/48 = 47.9. Therefore, setting aside other factors such as gear ratios, the lightweight car with the weakest engine, the Champion, was the peppiest of the lot.

Below are images of Studebaker Champion models along with those of four-door sedans of the competitors named above.  Unless noted the photos are factory-sourced or are of for-sale cars.


1939 Studebaker Champion Club Sedan
"Club Sedan" was Studebaker's term for a two-door sedan.

1939 Studebaker Champion Coupe

1939 Studebaker Champion Cruising Sedan
Champion four-door sedans were six-window affairs whose main bodies were late-1930s-themed rather than what GM, Ford and Chrysler would be introducing for 1940.

1939 Studebaker Champion DeLuxe Cruising Sedan
The most modern element was the front end.  Headlights are mounted in the fenders, and the grille profile is more horizontal than vertical. a fashion started by the 1938 Lincoln Zephyr.

1939 Studebaker Champion DeLuxe Cruising Sedan
The trunk is integrated with the main body, and not an obvious add-on.  Nevertheless, the Champion -- a brand new model -- looks a bit dated from this perspective.

The Competition

1939 Chevrolet Master Deluxe, Mecum Auctions photo
As for the competition, it too mostly seemed dated because their bodies entered production a year or more before.  And all the cars dealt with here, Champions included aside from the Willys, had six-window configurations and rear doors hinged on C-pillars.  Chevy's freestanding headlights were a regressive styling feature.

1939 Ford De Luxe Fordor
Ford four-door sedans featured a stubby form of fastback styling.  That, and the restyled front ends, gave them the most "modern" appearance.

1939 Plymouth
The body was a few model years old, but the forward part starting from the V's windshield was new for '39 -- a major facelift.

1939 Willys Overland
As mentioned, the Willys was in a somewhat unique, even-lower entry class  than the mainstream brands dealt with above.  As such, it was only marginally competitive with the Champion and its sales were far less.

Monday, February 17, 2020

Ferrari Roma

The above photo is amazing.  Not because of the car so much as because we see Rome's Spanish Steps utterly deserted -- something I thought was was impossible.  I'm sure the Rome police and perhaps even the Carabinieri were in cahoots with Ferrari publicists to pull off this miracle.

As for the car, it's Ferrari's new Roma coupé that will be available Summer 2020.  Ferrari's website announcement is here, and a car magazine's reaction is here.

For reasons not at all rational, I'm not a Ferrari fan: never was one.  But the Ferraris I like best are the custom-bodied ones of the late 1940s and the 1950s.  Which is why I am pleased to see the Roma.  It strikes me as being a reasonable 2020 version of, say, a 1953 Ferrari by Touring, Vignale or Ghia


This front view shows the classic egg-crate grille bar pattern, a nice touch.  The running lights slashed across the headlight assemblies is another very nice detail -- all too often in recent years on other brands these has assumed twisted, almost bizarre shapes.  I am less happy with the clichéd detailing below the grille.

Design-wise, I much prefer front-mounted engines to the mid-engine layout.  In part this is due to the long hood.  But in practical terms, mid-engine sports cars tend to lack storage space for packages, luggage and such.  (I once owned a Porsche 914, so I know this from personal experience.)  The general appearance of the Roma is that of a taut, well-proportioned sporting coupé.

In this era of exaggerated sheet metal sculpting and zig-zag detailing, the Roma comes off as comparatively constrained, even though it doesn't totally escape that styling fad.  Rear end elements are almost all logical -- aside, perhaps, from the dished panel below the tail lights that does offer relief from potentially too much roundedness.  The bulged rear fender area is appropriate for a powerful, rear wheel drive sports car.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Nissan Altima Side-View Evolution 2002-2019

Nissan's Altima model was enlarged for the 2002 model year to become a "standard" size car in terms of the North American market, and has maintained essentially similar wheelbases (1.9 inches, 4.9 cm variation) over three later redesigns.

Although he retired from Nissan's California styling center in 2000 before all details were finalized, the design theme was developed under the direction of Jerry Hirshberg (1940-2019).   He later appeared in television advertisements discussing the new styling.

As might be expected, over time original theme features fade somewhat.  Yet they are still present in modified form.  Side views are presented blow.


Hirshberg's original 2002 Altima design.  Salient features are the dogleg C-pillar, the wide, flat brows over the wheel openings, and the side character line crease that rises towards the rear.

A 2007-vintage Altima.  According to the link above, it used a different platform.  Yet the body has every appearance of a modest facelift, and not a redesign.

The 2013 Altima redesign is more apparent.  The rising character line is now an extension of a line originating by the hood, and its rise is less than before.  The eyebrows and dogleg are retained, though altered in detail.

For 2019, the wheel base was increased from 109.3 inches (277.6 cm) to 111.2 inches (282.5 cm) and the height reduced from 57.9 inches (147.1 cm) to 57.0 inches (144.7 cm).  These are not large changes, but sufficient to create a slightly different "feel."  The C-pillar dogleg is disappearing into a faddish "separate-top-delineated-by-a-black-wedge" treatment.  The wheel opening brows are less wide.  However, the rising side character line has reappeared, though accompanied by a higher beltline character line.

Monday, February 10, 2020

1948 Hudson Convertible

In its day, the redesigned, postwar 1948 Hudson looked sensational.  It had the streamlined kind of appearance that "cars of the future" in advertisements and hobbyist magazine covers featured from time to time during the late 1930s and the war years.  It was low and sleek.

The new Hudsons featured an essentially unitized body whose lower side frame cradled passenger compartment seating.  Advertising stressed that the new Hudsons had "step down" entry.  Well, it would be "step down" if one first stepped on the high door sill atop that side frame and made a second step down to the flooring.  For many folks it was really a "step over" if a door sill step was omitted.  Nevertheless, Hudsons were low cars for their time.

There was even a convertible version available.  But here was something odd about it, as will be shown in the images below.


1948 Hudson Commodore Six sedan.

1948 Hudson Convertible Brougham.  Note the small roof sheet metal segment above the windshield.  Other American convertibles did not have that feature, which made it seem odd.

Phantom view of the 1948 Hudson sedan's unit body structure.  It frames the windshield opening and has no relationship to the convertible's roof segment's overall shape.

1948 Hudson Commodore Eight Convertible, Barrett-Jackson photos.

Side view. Compare to the image below.

The new, postwar 1949 Chevrolet DeLuxe Convertible, Mecum Auctions photo.  In those days, most American brands including Chevrolet were body-on-frame affairs.  Windshield framing for convertibles was minimally structural, and the canvas top's leading edge sits atop the framing.

In theory, Hudson could have reduced the size of that roof segment, but the body structure noted above would not have allowed the solution seen on the Chevy.  At best, there would have been about a two-inch  (5 cm) strip of sheet metal above the strongly curved windshield, and the front of the canvas top would have had to conform to that curve.

My guess is that Hudson engineers favored a quick-and-dirty solution -- the front of the top being simply squared off and roof sheet metal adjusted to fit.  Please let us know if you can tell us what actually happed.

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Oldsmobile Designs from 1940 to Its '48 C-Body Redesign

General Motors' Oldsmobile Division from the early 1930s to the end of the century held the middle position in the corporation's brand hierarchy: Chevrolet, Pontiac, Oldsmobile, Buick and Cadillac (the LaSalle that ended production in 1940 was a companion brand to Cadillac).

And Oldsmobile had its own hierarchy of models.  During the period dealt with here, these were the 60 Series, the 70 Series and the 90 Series.  Those actual numbers were in use for the 1940 model year, but for 1941 and later the numbers were modified in the second digit place by a number indicating the number of cylinders of the motor used.  For example, a 66 Series Olds was an entry-level model with a six-cylinder engine.  In those days GM had three basic body types: A, B and C.  For various years Oldsmobiles were built using at least two of those, and sometimes all three, as was the case for most of the 1940-48 period.

For some background, here are Wikipedia links dealing with types A, B and C.  Series 60 Oldsmobiles used A-Bodies, Series 70s had B-Bodies, and 90 Series Oldsmobiles used C-Bodies in those days.  All but the C-Body (redesigned for 1948) were in production through the 1948 model year.

I wrote about the 1947-1948 transition of 98 Oldsmobiles to the postwar C-Body redesign here, and discussed that redesigned Oldsmobile here.  That subject will be part of the present discussion.

Unless noted, the images below are of cars listed for sale on the Internet or are factory-sourced images.


The 1940 Oldsmobile 60 shared A-Bodies with Chevrolets and entry-level Pontiacs.

Here is a B-Body Olds 70.

Topping the line were Series 90 models such as in this Barrett-Jackson photo.  Even though the bodies differed in wheelbase, widow treatments and some other details, front-end styling was nearly identical across the Oldsmobile model line.

Fastback styling was added to B-Bodies for 1941, as seen in this Olds 76.

C-Bodies retained a notch-back look.  They also were a four-window type in contrast to six-window four-door B-Body sedans.  Olds 98s can also be identified by the chromed trim abaft of each wheel opening.

This appears to be an Oldsmobile 66 for 1942.  All GM brands had front fenders overlapping front doors for that model year.

1942 Oldsmobile 98.  With the lengthened fender, those fender trim items were replaced by chromed strips.  Olds grille designs were rather complicated in the war-shortened 1942 model year.

Postwar production resumed for the 1946 model year.  Here is a 66 sedan whose side trim is a chromed strip on the front fender and a rock guard on the rear fender.  The grille has a new, simple theme featuring a few thick bars.  Olds 60 and 70 series cars were almost completely unchanged in appearance through 1948.

The 1946 and 1947 Series 98 Oldsmobiles dropped the decoration on the sides of the hood and fender trim was modestly restyled.  The main change was the grille design shared with lesser models.

General Motors C-Bodies were redesigned for 1948 and used by Oldsmobile 98s and Cadillacs that year.  Side trim was carried over from the previous bodies with only detail changes.  The grille theme was also retained for reasons of maintaining brand identity, though it was reshaped and two of those curved bars were eliminated.  I consider 1948 Olds 98s the most attractive GM cars for that model year.