Thursday, March 4, 2021

Colorful Ruxton Sedans

Ruxton was a short-lived (1929-1930), low-production American brand -- brief Wikipedia entry here.  Ruxtons were unusual, having front wheel drive, and therefore were much lower than most contemporary cars.  Other noteworthy features were the slitlike WoodLite headlamps and the lack of running boards (justified by their low height).  And some were given bold, unusual paint schemes, the subject of this post.

Ruxton bodies were designed by engineer Joseph Ledwinka. Those paint schemes were devised by master designer Joseph Urban.

There is little information regarding Ruxton on the Internet if a quick Google search is any guide.  Amazon is selling a book about Ruxton for more than $800 -- far above my reference library price-point.  For those reasons, some of the photo captions below are conjectural.


Blackhawk Museum Ruxton photographed in 2010 and 2013 by me.

This mentions that multicolor Ruxtons either had this blue-violet scheme or one based on brown-orange.

Another view.  Lighting conditions at Blackhawk make for difficult photography.

Bonhams photo of perhaps the Blackhawk Ruxton or another with the same paint scheme.

Rear quarter view.

Tampa Bay Automobile Museum's Ruxton, my photos. This is the alternative color scheme mentioned above.

Rear quarter view.  Again, interior lighting made it difficult to capture colors accurately.

Nethercutt Collection Ruxton.  It's possible that the Blackhawk information card was incorrect and this color scheme is original.

Driehaus Collection's Ruxton.  The same caveat applies here as well.

A less elaborate scheme, photo via Bonham's auctions.

Period photo showing what seems to be a two-tone pattern with white or cream accents around the side window.

Monday, March 1, 2021

DeSoto Grilles 1940-1961

Chrysler Corporation's DeSoto brand was marketed model years 1929-1961.  From 1941 through 1955 DeSotos had a consistent grille design theme of vertical chrome bars.  After that, consistency was discarded while the brand -- never a strong one -- faded to the point that production ended in late 1960, not long after the '61s were introduced.

This post presents DeSoto grilles beginning 1940, when Chrysler Corporation brands were given a new body design that sloughed off 1930s awkwardness, positioning styling one notch away from the end of 1930-1949 evolution from discrete elements to smooth, "envelope" body designs.

Unless noted, images are via factory or of cars for sale.


Here we have a split grille featuring horizontal bars.

1941 - Auctions America photo
The next year saw the first vertical-bar design.  Front fenders were flattened (shallow catwalks filled in), creating a more solid frontal appearance.

Probably the most distinctive DeSoto frontal design.  Unmistakable, actually.  The strong, horizontal line running across the top of the grille and extending over the fenders made a strong visual statement that was enhanced by the hidden headlights.  Too bad all this was dropped after the war.

Postwar DeSotos got front fenders that flowed over the front doors.  Exposed headlights returned, and the grille format (not the opening) was widened, resulting in an even more toothy look.

Chrysler Corporation cars got new, boxy bodies for 1949.  DeSoto's vertical bars now varied in width.

But the next year bars had identical widths in line with the current American fashion for heavy chrome grille elements.

Chrysler Corporation cars got rounded-off hood fronts for 1951.  DeSotos had fewer vertical bars.  The grille design was unchanged for 1952.

1953 - Mecum auction photo
Chrysler brands were rebodied for 1953.  DeSoto's grille bars were similar to those of the previous two years, but more were added,

The '54 facelift featured "floating" vertical bars.

That bar theme was reprised in 1955 when another body redesign was launched.  I very much like 1955 DeSoto styling.  These and the 1942 models were the best of the breed.

1956 - Mecum photo
1956 DeSotos were facelifted, the most obvious change being tail fins on the rear fenders.  Vertical grille bars were replaced by a nondescript mesh, thereby ending the brand's established identification feature.  My father bought a four-door hardtop Firedome like this, but with the color scheme reversed.

1957 - Mecum photo
Yet another redesigned body, a flashy one that sold about as well as the '55s.  But the grille theme is not interesting or distinctive.  That mesh did not help, though perhaps stylists and marketers were thinking the mesh could now serve as DeSoto's visual identification.

The grille bars are less bland for the 1958 facelift, though the mesh continues.

1959 - Barrett-Jackson photo
Finally the mesh is gone and the theme is a variation on the flat, slits-defined-by-bold chrome found beginning in 1957.

1960 - Mecum photo
Then even that theme was abandoned in 1960.  Retained was the delicate, rectangular grid of thin bars that now cover a grossly large area compared to '59.

The final DeSoto design retained the rectangular thin bar theme with details changed.  The flattened oval shape at the front of the hood is strange, very strange, marking the finale of the brand's post-1957 death spiral.

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Chrysler Pacifica Minivan

Chrysler Corporation introduced the minivan body type to the American market in 1984 (Wikipedia entry here).  The current iteration is the Pacifica, a 2017 redesigned van the was called the Town and Country, a name used by Chrysler for "woodie" convertibles and other body styles since the 1940s.  The name Pacifica itself was previously used for an early crossover SUV-like design.

This post features the Pacifica's side-window profile design for reasons to be made more clear in captions for the images below.


This is a 2011 Chrysler Town and Country minivan.  Its purpose is to haul people in three rows of seats or stuff when seatbacks are lowered.  That is, it is shaped to maximize carrying capacity rather than to look attractive.

The vehicle was redesigned for the 2017 model year and renamed Pacifica.  Its windshield is raked back at a greater angle and the roofline is more curved in order to improve aerodynamic efficiency.  Note the "dogleg" shape of the aft side window, a major visual change from the Town and Country.

In recent decades that shape has been associated with BMW sedans, but was previously found on various production cars including 1953 Chevrolet Bel Air hardtops.  An early example is the 1936 Delage D6-70 Coach Panoramique by Letourneur et Marchand pictured here.

Rear quarter view.  What might seem to be a wraparound/panoramic backlight window actually isn't.  The triangular area bordered by the hatch cutline, taillight and C-pillar sheet metal is actually some molded black material placed over more of the C-pillar sheet metal.  In other words, the wraparound backlight is phony.

Side view.  Another design problem with the C-pillar as defined by gray painted sheet metal in this photo is that it strikes me as being too narrow.  I prefer that it be twice as wide (or thereabouts) than it is now.  That would make that part of the body seem less delicate.

A 2021 Pacifica -- a facelifted 2017.  The major change is frontal styling, though the upper side character line was slightly altered as well.

No change for the window treatment.  Probably the facelift budget was tight, but I would have pushed for widening the C-pillar or even have the aft window element lean forward rather than backwards as it is here.  And the fake wraparound might have been changed too.

Rear quarter view with the hatch opened.  This offers a better understanding of the body structure at the car's rear, something the facelifters could have used as the basis for some improved styling.

Monday, February 22, 2021

Last-Ditch Styling

Sometimes there's a last spurt of flame before the candle dies, or so I recall hearing it said.

True or not, something similar sometimes happens with automobile companies that are about to flat-line.  In this instance it's a final roll of the dice, betting what money the company has left on a flashy model that is either brand new or (more likely, given the cost factor) a major styling facelift.

Where money is totally lacking, little gets changed and the brand dies with nothing but a whimper.  Badge-engineered British makes that died in the 1960s might be a case in point.

This post deals with some American brands that went down fighting with regard to styling.  They are: Hupmobile, which was gone by 1940; Graham, that ceased production in the 1941 model year and had a curious afterlife (see the link for details); Kaiser, the only halfway successful post- World War 2 new brand; and Studebaker which built the Raymond Loewy designed Avanti for a few years before dying in the mid-1960s while trying to sell its Lark-based sedans with facelift after facelift after facelift.

Here are these companies' last (or nearly-so) gasps:


1939 Graham "Sharknose" coupe
The "Sharknose" (a popular name, not the official company version) Graham was largely designed by Amos Northup as an attention-getting style in the pseudo-streamlined fashion of the 1930s.  For some reason I rather like it, though it was not a sales success and the company continued its slide out of the industry.

Surrealist Man Ray in his 1941 Graham Hollywood
Not a publicity shot: he actually bought one when he returned to the USA after France fell and was living in the Los Angeles area.  Aside from the hood and grille, the Hollywood used body panels from the Cord brand that failed after the 1937 model year.  The Cord 810 and 812 models of 1936-37 are not included here because they represented the revival of a brand that had been discontinued a few years earlier.

1939 Hupmobile Skylark
Hupp shared Cord bodies with Graham, though few of the Hupmobile versions were built.  The car depicted is a prototype with a front that looked Cord-like apart from the tacked-on headlights (the Cord had them hidden in the fenders).  Production versions looked almost identical to the Graham shown above.

1954 Kaiser
This is how the last American-built Kaisers looked.  It was a major facelift of the 1953 version. Changes included the Buick-like grille, wraparound rear window and elaborate tail light housings.  Production continued in South America for a few years with another facelift style.

1962 Studebaker Avanti
Studebaker announced the sensational Avanti almost 60 years ago, yet the styling could just as easily be for a current model aside from a few details such as the windshield angle (today's cars would have greater slope).

This post is an adaptation of a 2011 Art Contrarian post.

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Some 1927 Grille Designs

This blog deals almost exclusively with cars designed after styling departments began to be established by American automobile makers.  Specifically, the 1927 General Motors Art and Colour Section headed by the legendary Harley Earl.

Mid-range American automobile brand cars made before 1930 or thereabouts tend to look very similar to me.  To some degree, that's because I wasn't alive then and not that many were still on the road when I was old enough to begin paying attention to cars' appearance.  To a larger degree it was because their bodies looked similar -- very boxy if they were sedans or coup├ęs, with similar fender shapes, headlight placement and such.  I might add that it was during the 1920s that basic mechanical features had become perfected enough that late in the decade the focus could begin to shift to appearance as means of product differentiation and sales appeal.

In the pre-styling era visual brand identification was almost entirely in the form of grille design, the main exception being Pierce-Arrow's fender-mounted headlights.  And those grille designs were often only subtly different between brands.

I define "grille" here to include its frame, which was the place where brand differentiation was placed.  Moreover, some of the photos suggest that there was little or no radiator protection via grilles: radiators might simply have been framed in chrome or nickel.

The images below are mostly of mid-range American brand cars from the 1927 model year, the time when Earl's first design (LaSalle) hit the streets.  Most are of cars listed for sale, and brands are listed in alphabetical order.


1927 Chevrolet Landau Sedan - contemporary photo
All the grilles shown here are essentially the same shape -- a shape determined by the radiator they cover.  Chevrolet's grille frame is somewhat rounded with a tiny dip at the centerline.

1927 Dodge Brothers Four-Door Sedan - Swope Museum photo
Dodges had square-bottom frames and a simple, rounded top.

1927 Erskine - my photo taken at the Studebaker Museum
Erskine's frame is rather angular-looking with a flat front.

1927 Essex Speedabout by Biddle and Smart
Essex had a frame similar to Dodge's, but the radiator is protected by horizontal louvers.

1927 Hupmobile Coupe - H and H Auctions photo
The Hupp frame has some subtle sculpting around a medallion at the top.

1927 Nash Special Six Two-Door Sedan
Similar to Dodge.

1927 Oldsmobile - Silverstone Auctions photo
At least Oldsmobile had elaborate frame-shaping and therefore strong brand identification.

1927 Pontiac DeLuxe Landau Sedan - contemporary photo
Like Hupp, Pontiac had some sculpting.  But all around, and not just at the top.

1927 Willys-Knight Coupe
The upper part of Willys' frame has noticeable sculpting and shaping.

In general, differences between brands tended to be minimal and small-scale. Which is why I have trouble identifying brands from that era without resorting to reference material.

Monday, February 15, 2021

Cars With Broad Shoulders

An American styling fashion of the early 1960s was what might be termed "shoulders" -- a catwalk atop the fender.  According to something I read many years ago (perhaps in Automobile Quarterly, though I'm not sure), the concept was to "nest" the passenger greenhouse.  That wasn't the exact case, aside from a few instances.  But a number of car models did have fairly horizontal sheet metal areas extending outward from the window glass before bending downward as fender sides.

The examples I am aware of were cars introduced from the 1960 model year to the 1965 model year.  Thereafter, sides fell away from the bottom of the window glass in various more rounded or thinner fender forms.

Unless noted, images are factory-sourced or are of cars listed for sale.


1960 Ford Galaxie
Ford stylists created a catwalk that also served as the top of a canted tail fin -- or perhaps a character fold.

1960 Oldsmobile Ninety-Eight
1959 Oldsmobiles featured something akin to tail fins.  But all General Motors brands save Cadillac shed these for 1960, most having flat aft lower bodies.  This Olds has perhaps the widest shoulders of the cars shown here.  Mecum auction photo.

1960 Chevrolet Corvair
Even the new, compact Corvair received the treatment, though in more rounded form.

1961 Lincoln Continental
Elwood Engel's classic Lincoln Continental design has narrow catwalks.  But their outer edges are slightly raised and topped by chrome strips.  This is a clear instance of nesting the greenhouse.  Mecum photo.

1961 Ford Thunderbird
Thunderbird shared the Lincoln's platform and body structure.  So it too has catwalks defined by chrome strips.  Via Mecum.

1961 Oldsmobile F-85
One of GM's new "compact" cars.  It too has a catwalk above some body sculpting.

1963 Mercury Monterey
Another example of a Ford Motor Company catwalk design.

1965 Rambler Marlin
The catwalk is narrow, but a Lincoln-like chrome strip can be seen.  That, too was a 1960s American styling fad.

1965 Ford Thunderbird
No chrome strip here, but the catwalk feature is retained.

1965 Chrysler New Yorker
Engel moved from Ford to Chrysler Corporation whose cars now began to receive 1961 Lincoln features such as catwalk shoulders and chrome strips.