Thursday, October 31, 2013

Raymond Loewy's Hupmobiles

Famed pioneer industrial designer Raymond Loewy is best known for his association with the automobile manufacturer Studebaker.  But his first car-making client was Hupmobile.  As the linked article indicates, Hupp was moving into the middle and upper-middle price class during the late 1920s in a poorly timed effort to expand its product line.  The Great Depression hit and Hupp, like most other carmakers, scrambled to make its product line appeal to a shrinking market.  So it hired Loewy who came up with a clean, conservative redesign for 1932.  Then for the 1934 model year, he styled a body with aerodynamic features, a fashion coming into play in those days.

Let's see what he came up with (click images to enlarge):


Above are images of Loewy's 1932 Hupmobile design.  The most distinctive feature being front fenders that fairly tightly wrapped around the tires.  Some observers retrospectively call these "cycle-fender Hupps," but the term is relative: true cycle-type automobile fenders lack the curved transition to the running board and wrap the tires even more fully.  Otherwise, the Loewy design was a cleaned-up version of normal 1930 vintage style.

Loewy's 1934 design was fairly radical for its time.  The most conspicuous features aside from the rounded-off shape are the three-piece "wraparound" windshield (a similar windshield design was on the 1934 Panhard) and the headlights blended into the hood.  The upper photo seems to include professional models and the lower features El Brendel, a comic popular at the time.

This advertisement shows the rear of the car (though the back windows are depicted smaller than they really are).  The ad includes a pitch for Hupp's aerodynamic design by noted aeronautics professor Alexander Klemin.

Sales of 1934 Hupps were disappointing, so the facelift for 1935 models included a reversion to a conventional one-piece windshield and a redesigned grille and front bumper.  I suspect that Loewy was not involved with this facelift, so invite Hupmobile mavens to set the story straight in Comments if I'm wrong.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Arnolt-Bristol by Bertone

Stanley H. Arnolt (for some reason known as "Wacky") had enough spare money that he created an automobile company that had several hundred cars built during the 1950s.  Nearly all had British based mechanical parts and bodies crafted by Bertone, an Italian coachbuilding firm.  Arnolt's first such effort was based on the MG TD sports car and the next made use of the Bristol. The Wikipedia entry on Arnolt deals with the history of his automobile efforts.

Both cars were nicely styled, but I think the Arnolt-Bristol (built 1953-1959) was the more exciting of the two. One source describing it and presenting some nice photos is here. Another account dealing with the Arnolt-Bristol can be linked here.

Below are some good photos of an Arnolt-Bristol that I found on this site.


Here is an introductory view.  Note that this car has no bumpers.  (Some had tiny bumpers that made them street-legal, but offered no serious collision protection.)

Here is how the car is seen from normal eye-level.  One of the sources linked above mentions that the hood and cowl were high due to the dimensions of the engine and its placement on the chassis.  It went on to state that Bertone helped camouflage the bulge by raising the fenders higher than they otherwise needed to be.  The result, in my fairly humble opinion, was a distinctive design that oozes sex, speed and a certain amount of power.  I loved it the first time I saw a photo of it.

A side view.  From this position the car's height and ground clearance are obvious.  It still looks good, but not so sensational.

Seen from towards the rear, the upwards body bulge and high fenders come into play again.  Not quite as nice as the front views above, but in the early 1950s stylists tended to pay less attention to a car's tail.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Streamlined Renaults of 1934

Streamlining was in the styling air as it became evident that the the economic contraction of the first few years of the 1930s was something more than part of an ordinary business cycle -- in fact, it was the Great Depression.  Rather than hunker down financially, most automobile makers spent heavily for new, non-traditional designs in an effort to attract buyers.  The idea of improving aerodynamic efficiency was gaining ground during the 1920s as roads improved, allowing cars to attain higher speeds, so an easy step to entice reluctant consumers was to incorporate hints of streamlining in new designs, if not serious aerodynamic improvements.

This was even true in France, which experienced a delayed entry to the worldwide economic crisis.  So I'd like to feature a body style introduced by Renault at the October 1934 Paris auto show that was a first tangible step in the streamlining direction for that firm, a step roughly in line with what a few American manufacturers were doing at the time. (I exclude the larger step made by Chrysler with its Airflow that was introduced for the 1934 model year.)

I said "tangible step" because effort was made to go beyond essentially cosmetic streamlining features such as fender skirts and slightly inclined radiator grilles such as appeared a year or two earlier; I'll explain in the photo captions below.

One detail I find interesting is the fact that Renault was able to afford to put these changes into production, given their total output in those days -- about 55-60,000 cars per year. And that production was divided amongst three different body/chassis types: the low-end "Quatre," the mid-high range "Stella," "Nerva" and "Viva" lines (variations on the same package) and the semi-streamlined "Grand Sport" shown below. I don't have enough data at hand, so my guess is that French cars, small and large, were relatively more expensive than American equivalents. Otherwise, how could Renault and other firms remain in business and keep up with the technological and styling theme times?

Let's look at the Renault Grand Sports that were designed in 1933 or thereabouts.


Here's a 1935 Nerva Grand Sport at one of the concours popular in France at the time. Note the sloped, V'd windshield, the sloped grille and the blending of the headlights into the fenders. These features surely improved aerodynamic efficiency somewhat. The sides of the car had partial streamlining despite what the swoopy fender line might suggest.

Another concours, this featuring a convertible version of the Grand Sport (note the English spelling of "Grand").

This side view shows that even though traditional fender profiling was preserved, fenders and running boards were in low relief compared to nearly all contemporary automobiles.

The view from above is useful because it shows that the front, hood and top were indeed noticeably more aerodynamically efficient than previous designs featuring vertical fronts, detached headlights and so forth.

This is a fragment of a publication I include to show what the rear windows looked like. Click to enlarge.

Compare the Renault to this 1934 Hupmobile. The Hupp also features embedded headlights and a sloping grille and windshield. However, the latter is a three-pane "wraparound" style rather than a two-pane vee. The sides of the Hupp are high-relief, typical styling practice until near the end of the decade.

This is Studebaker's Land Cruiser for 1934. Its curved rear and multi-pane back window design is in advance of nearly all 1934 competition and in the same spirit as the Renault. The rest of the car is conventional.

A version of this article was posted at Art Contrarian

Monday, October 21, 2013

What Were They Thinking?: Triumph Mayflower

One of the strangest designs from the early post World War 2 period was the 1949-1953 Triumph Mayflower (Wikipedia entry here).  The article mentions that "The body was designed by Leslie Moore, chief body designer of Mulliners of Birmingham with input from Triumph's Walter Belgrove."  And it also notes that the design was controversial in its day and that only around 35,000 cars were produced during its production run.

It seems that the concept was to create a small car that had luxury touches, an idea that has been tried with varying degrees of success in the years since.  One way to do this is to focus on the interior, using quality materials (real wood, for instance, rather than cheap grades of plastic).  Where the Mayflower's stylists went wrong was to assemble upper-crust exterior styling details on a small, short-wheelbase chassis.  Those details originated on large, long cars such as custom body Rolls-Royces and didn't seem legitimate when scaled down to Mayflower size.  Another possible error was to add the new (at the time) feature of the flow-through fender line.


This is an advertisement placed in The Motor to let readers know where to find the Mayflower at the Earls Court automobile show (click to enlarge).  Features worth noting are the "razor's-edge" greenhouse, the flow-through fender line, the tall, narrow traditional grille and the oddly integrated headlights perched at the front of the fenders.

Another 3/4 front view, this from a photograph rather than an illustration.

A side view.

This rear view I found on the Internet seems to have been photographed at a car meet in England.

Aside from trying to put the proverbial gallon into a pint jar, the Mayflower stylists encountered a problem not understood at the time: It is difficult to graft a razor's edge upper body on to a more modern lower body, a case in point being the early 1980s Cadillac Seville (scroll down on the linked article).

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Saturn: The First and the Last

(Apologies to the late Generalleutnant Adolf Galland for cribbing the title of his autobiography for the title of this post.)

General Motors was not in the best of shape when Roger Smith became Chairman and CEO in 1981.  When he retired in 1990, the corporation was in worse shape, in part due to Smith's many unfortunate decisions.  This is not to say that Smith's ideas were totally bizarre; in a number of cases he was simply going along with conventional management wisdom at the time.  One such item was to rely heavily on high-technology solutions.  Another was to adopt Japanese production practices.  A major consequence was the launching of what proved to be an entirely unnecessary new make of car, the Saturn.

The Wikipedia entry on Saturn is here and the entry on the first Saturn production model is here.  The publicized concept was that the Saturn was to be a hi-tech Japanese car-beater, but by the time Saturns reached showroom floors in Fall 1990, there was little in the way of hi-tech to be found.  The most radical feature was the use of fiberglass body panels attached to a metal cage.  The selling point was that those panels could easily be repaired or replaced.  Another selling point was that Saturns had a fixed sales price, this to eliminate buyers haggling with dealers, a sore point for most car buyers.  I never considered buying a Saturn, though I test-drove one of the early ones once, so I'm not sure how trade-in prices were handled.  Unless some fixed amount for each potential trade-in was set, the result would be that Saturn dealers could bargain on the trade-in value.  Readers who traded a car in when buying a Saturn are urged to tell how that was done in Comments.

Saturn sales were never as strong as expected, and eventually new models based on German Opels were introduced.  Before the brand was killed in 2010, Saturns had become re-badged versions of other General Motors cars; whatever uniqueness the brand had possessed was gone.

1992 Saturn S sedan
2007-10 Saturn Outlook crossover SUV

Shown above are the initial and final versions of the Saturn. From a small Japan-fighter the marque evolved to include large crossover SUVs sharing bodies with the GMC Acadia.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Flaminio Bertoni of Citroën: Not a Bertone

Automobile styling buffs are probably familiar with the name Bertone, an Italian styling and coachbuilding firm.  But many styling fans might not know about Flaminio Bertoni (1903-1964) -- spelled with an "i" at the end, not an "e."  This "other Bertone" was an Italian who spent most of his career in France as head stylist for Citroën.  A useful biographical sketch is here and a link to a Bertoni museum website is here.

Bertoni was a sculptor as well as a car stylist, which might not have been a bad thing in theory.  In the days before computer assisted design, stylists usually sketched themes.  And those sketches were often exaggerated to the point that the intended effect was lost when a model of it conforming to dimensions of a usable car was built. This problem was largely eliminated when stylist relied on sculpting in the first place.  On the other hand, the sculpting approach has been criticized because actual cars are more like semi-hollow shells with windows rather than being solid lumps.  So sculpting also can present a distorted version of an actual car.

Bertoni was responsible for the design of Citroën's major models from the 1930s until the early 1960s, the time of his comparatively early death.  Here are those cars:


Traction Avant (from 1934)
The Traction Avant (front wheel drive) was radical in its day.  Thanks to its drive train, the passenger compartment could be set lower to the ground and its center of gravity lowered to improve roadability.  Other front wheel drive cars existed in the mid-1930s, but Citroën's version was the only one to attain high production volumes (for Europe in those days).

Prototype 2CV (c.1939)
Mass-production versions of the iconic Citroën 2CV (two "steam horsepower") had two headlamps and were otherwise tidied-up versions of the extremely basic prototype shown here. Although Bertoni gets the credit for "styling" the 2CV, it was so minimal and intended to be cheap to build, that engineer André Lefèbvre (1894-1964) might instead be considered the designer.

DS 19 - 1956
The DS was a sensation when it was first displayed at the Paris auto show in the fall of 1955.  This was largely due to engineering features, though its unusual styling also attracted much attention.  That styling was far removed from anything the Italians, Germans and Americans were doing at the time -- or since.

Ami 6 - 1961
The Ami was Bertoni's final Citroën design.  A distinctive feature was its reverse-slope back window, an element that had been used earlier by other brands, including Mercury.

I find it a little difficult to evaluate Bertoni's designs because they were so far from mainstream thinking in Europe as well as America, and because they mostly were tied to unusual engineering solutions.

Let's just say that Bertoni was creative.

But what about the aesthetics?  Did his designs look good?

I happen to like the Traction Avant styling best.  To be sure, it was of its early 1930s time, yet it was racier looking than much of its mass-production competition.

As noted above, the 2CV was largely an engineering-based design, so its appearance wins points for functionality even though it's pretty ugly.

The DS is harder for me to pin down.  I can appreciate it intellectually, but was never fond of the styling.  The defects are related to what stylists call the "greenhouse," the windows-and-roof area.  To me, it always seemed too spindly, insubstantial -- that due to the thin door posts.  At a more general level, this wispy upper area contrasted too greatly with the rather thick, heavy lower body, thereby destroying unity of the whole.  The brake lights at the rear of the roof also struck me as being too contrived a solution to a fairly minor potential problem.

And the Ami?  I think it is an ugly mess.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

1996 Ford Taurus Wagon: by Salvador Dali?

A comparatively easy way to increase fuel efficiency in the wake of the gasoline shortages on the 1970s was to improve the streamlining of cars.  Ford was one of the first American manufacturers to do this in the early-to-mid 1980s, the best-known example being the Taurus line.  These early wind tunnel tested Fords tended to have windows featuring large-radius corners.  This was something in the spirit of 1936 vintage models from General Motors, Chrysler and others introducing all-steel bodies in those days when metal stamping technology could not easily accommodate tight surface curves.

But when the aerodynamic Fords appeared, stamping technology didn't force large-radius window corners; stylists apparently chose strong rounding as a means of emphasizing the curved design theme derived from the wind tunnel testing.  At the time, I felt that all that curving wasn't really necessary and resulted in designs that seemed excessively soft looking; more crisp styling elements in the details would have been better.  And of course others came to the same conclusion, so today's aerodynamically efficient cars include many crisp elements along with the curves.

So why, when it came time for a complete 1996 redesign on the Taurus, did Jack Telnack and his crew decide to emphasize curves even more than they did for the original Taurus design?  I have no idea, other than they might have decided to zig while the rest of the industry zagged.  Or perhaps corporate management interfered.

In any case, while the Taurus design had some nice features (I like the subtle sculpting around the front of the hood and fenders), other parts of the car are simply odd -- especially the windows at or near the rear along with the instrument panel.

In fact, I now entertain the amusing thought that surrealist artist Salvador Dalí of drooping watches fame could have been on the Taurus styling team had he lived long enough.  This is especially true for the station wagon model, the subject of this post.


Here is a general view of the 1996 Taurus station wagon showing the subtle front end styling and hinting at the window curves towards the rear.

This appears to be a factory photo showing the rear of the wagon.  It was taken from close to the ground, a view few people normally have of the car.

I found this image on the Internet.  The car is painted white, eliminating distracting highlights and allowing us a good view of the large, rounded, droopy looking window shapes around the rear.  The rear passenger door looks to be the same as that for the sedan, a cost-saving detail (no special door tooling for the station wagon version).  The problem, as I see it, is that the rear area window treatment is not integrated with the rest of the design.  In particular, the upper edge of the rear side windows fails to link to the upper edge curves of the other side windows, giving the window a tacked-on appearance.

This is the Taurus instrument panel where curves further abound.  To me, the problem area is the cluster in the oval at the center, just forward of the shifter lever.  Control buttons are strewn across it in a somewhat organic pattern, not in well organized (from an ergonomics standpoint) groupings.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Brussels' Autoworld Museum

One large European automobile museum that's not far off the beaten path (as many are) is Autoworld in Brussels, Belgium.  Its Web site is here.  It is located in the Parc du Cinquantenaire (Jubelpark) that's a longish walk or a fairly short subway ride from the Gare Centrale (Centraal Station).

It has plenty of cars, the Web site claiming more than 250.  I found some interesting ones, but few showstoppers.  That is, a few Belgian Minervas were on view as were some Hispano-Suizas, but no Duesenbergs, Bugatti Royals and their ilk.

I had my trusty camera on hand and took plenty of photos that I might include in future posts.  For now, I'll just set the scene.

This is what a visitor sees shortly after entering. Most of the cars are clustered on the main floor, but there's also a mezzanine with more cars and some motorcycles.

Looking down on the main floor from the opposite end of the hall.

Another view, this from a stairway.  Below is a display featuring Panhards form France.  Let's take a closer look at the one at the left.

It is a 1937 Panhard et Lavassor Dynamic, featuring an early form of wraparound windshield plus a centrally-mounted steering wheel. I encountered one in Florida a while ago and included a photo in this post over at the Art Contrarian blog.  Note that the Panhard is not resting on its tires.  Instead, it sits on supports, two of which are visible below the bumper.  Cars in the museum are supported this way, eliminating the need to keep tires fully inflated.  But it does give the cars an odd stance with the tires and wheels not quite relating to fenders and wheel well openings as they would when seen on the street.  Also note that this Panhard has not been restored to factory-fresh condition.  Many of the cars on view are in a similar state.

Also on view is this 1937 Cord 812.  It is in good condition, but the metallic gray paint job is almost certainly not original.  Looks nice, however.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

General Motors' Chopped-Off 1978s

One consequence of the 1973 "Yom Kippur" Arab-Israeli war was a gasoline shortage in the United States that in turn led to downsizing of many American cars a few years later.  Given the three or four years it took from start of planning to appearance in showrooms, General Motors' most visible reaction didn't appear until the fall of 1977, when 1978 models based on a new, redesigned A-platform were introduced.

I don't think it would be fair of me to criticize the styling of the new models because the mid-1970s were difficult times for Detroit's engineering and styling staffs, though I couldn't quite resist the temptation, as you will see below.  Some of the difficulties have to do with the car market, because buyers shifted to smaller, usually imported cars with better fuel consumption than the large, traditional American automobiles that dominated the market when the gasoline crisis hit.  Most of the difficulties were related to government regulations related to engine emissions, passenger safety and crash worthiness, the latter having to do with stronger bumpers being mandated.

One way to improve fuel economy is weight reduction.  At the time when the new '78s were conceived (1974 or thereabouts), production models tended to be long, with plenty of rear overhang.  So the 1978 redesign had the wheelbase reduced about 8 inches (20 cm) and overall length shortened as much as 17 inches (35 cm) for Buick models.  Most of these reductions were applied to the rear of the cars, creating what seemed at the time to be a stubby or 'bob-tailed" look.


1978 Chevrolet Malibu
The 1970s were a time when Mercedes-Benz styling was influential in Detroit, so the new A-platform cars and many others had a crisp appearance based on what was called the "three box" configuration (the general shape resembling two boxes placed end-to-end with a box centered on top). In any case, GM's styling supremo Bill Mitchell had a preference for sharply creased edges and transitions, so the new designs must have met his approval.

1978 Pontiac LeMans
This is a four-door version by Pontiac. Note the attempt at a "flowing" fender line with a rear apex at the C-pillar, this to distinguish Pontiacs from other makes sharing the platform.

1978 Buick Century Custom
1980 Buick Century
Two-door and four-door A-platform Buicks are shown here.  Rear side window glass on the 2-door models did not roll down, a source of customer dissatisfaction and probably lost sales.  Unlike A-platform Chevrolets and Pontiacs, the Buick and Oldsmobile versions were given "fastback" rather than "notchback" or "bustleback" styling.  Although the styling effort might have been well-intended, the result emphasized the fact that the cars' rears had been chopped off compared to previous models.

1978 Oldsmobile Cutlass Salon Aeroback
This is the Oldsmobile version.