Thursday, September 5, 2013

What Were They Thinking?: 1951 Chrysler Grille

Facelifts for cars aren't always improvements.  That's usually because the initial design is conceived as a whole by the (notional) committee of stylists, styling executives and, finally, members of corporate top management who have the duty of signing off on a new design.   Facelifts normally deal with only a few details, and are intended to "freshen" the appearance of the automobile -- to make it look a little different, in other words -- so as to maintain marketplace appeal.

Usually, minor facelifts merit nothing more than a shrug of the shoulders. But there are occasions when the proper reaction is pure puzzlement. Consider the case of Chrysler's facelift for the 1951 model year

Here is a photo of a 1950 Chrysler, itself a minor facelift of a body style introduced for the 1949 model year.  I should add that the car shown is unusual in that it has a rare, prized "woodie" treatment.  Not quite a real woodie, however; by 1950, Chrysler eliminated wooden body parts and retained some now-superficial wooden "framing" as exterior trim.  The trunk lid, at least, was non-standard.

From the perspective of more than 60 years later, it doesn't seem to be a bad design.  But around 1950, Chrysler Corporation cars of all its makes -- Plymouth, Dodge, DeSoto and Chrysler -- shared the same basic body, and that body was taller, more angular and a little more awkwardly styled than competing designs from General Motors and Ford, especially, and even from Hudson and Studebaker.  Chrysler sales were beginning to suffer, so a facelift was in order for 1951 that hopefully would tide things over until 1953 when completely restyled cars would appear.

Aside from minor changes to chrome trim on the sides, the facelift resulted in a smoothed-off hood front and a new grille.  Below is a photo I found on the Web that provides a better view of the grille design.

The 1950 Chrysler and previous models dating back to 1946 featured an egg-crate grille bar pattern.  Cadillac had been using this general motif since the late 1930s, so it's possible that someone at Chrysler decided that Chryslers would be better off if their front ends weren't imitating a competitor's.  Or maybe it was thought that it was simply time to do something different.  The 1951 grille design was definitely unusual for its time in that from some angles and in certain lighting conditions, the grille was simply a dark hole framed by lots of chrome trim.  It boldly stated ... almost nothing.

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