Thursday, May 29, 2014

Stabilimenti Farina's Ferrari 166 Inter

The Italian carrozzeria (coachbuilder) firm Stabilimenti Farina is virtually unknown today, and what little notoriety it has is related to the fact that it was where Battista "Pinin" Farina got his start in the trade.  Pinin, you see, was the younger brother of Giovanni Farina, who owned and ran Stabilimenti Farina ("Farina Works"), founded in 1919 and closed in 1953.  Pinin founded his own coachbuilding firm in 1930.  As for Giovanni, I could find next to nothing on the Internet other than his year of death, 1957.  I suppose information exists, and readers with knowledge of him and links to source material are encouraged to pass that along in Comments.  At any rate, here is the best link I could find.

There are Internet sources showing images of cars created by Stabilimenti Farina in period photos, and I used some of those images for the gallery show below.  The subject car for these custom bodies was the Ferrari 166 Inter, the firm's first model intended for street use.


1948 Ferrari 166 Inter, number 009S

1949 Farrari 166 Inter, number 011S

1950 Ferrari 166 Inter, number 063S

My impression is that these late-period Stabilimenti Farina designs are mainstream examples of what I consider the Golden Decade of Italian coachbuilding.  Clean, functional envelope bodies with just enough sculpting and ornamentation to provide interest to what otherwise might be functional drabness.  But these examples seem to lack the spark that competing firms such as Pinin Farina, Vignale, Bertone, Touring and others were offering.  Giovanni Farina's designs seem tired, as perhaps was Giovanni himself.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Subaru Tribeca's Nose-Job

The Subaru Tribeca (Wikipedia entry here) was introduced for the 2006 model year and discontinued around the end of 2013, according to the article.  It sold poorly, averaging around 10,000 units per year.

The SUV faced plenty of competition, especially in the form of Honda's CR-V and Toyota's RAV4.  But what I believe held down sales was the tall grille element on the vehicle's front.  For one thing, it was unrelated to nearly all previous and current Subaru grilles (exception: the 2006 Imprezia WRX STI).  And at the time, it struck me and apparently many others as looking odd, providing the front of the car with a kind of snout.

In retrospect, and in the images below, the appearance of the front doesn't seem so bad.  Many other designs over the past several decades have included tall central elements, so the "shock of the new" couldn't have been in play.  So it was just one of those things; you had to have been there when the Tribeca hit the streets to get the negative vibe.


Original 2006-vintage Tribeca.  The grille's center piece has a shape similar to that of the Saab 96 of the 1960s.

2008-vintage facelift.  The grille was the primary object of redesign, but the shape of the aft side windows was also altered, probably with the intent of making the Tribeca seem longer.

The rear was changed, but only slightly.  The upper image shows the initial design.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Cadillac XTS: Form Versus Details

Although there has been and probably still is an automobile design school of thought that the form or shape of a car is essentially everything, I believe that styling details are also important.  In many cases, details outweigh shape when one evaluates a car's appearance.  For example, from the 1930s, two or three General Motors brands would share the same basic body, but their identity would be established via unique (to the marque) detail sets.  So if one preferred the looks of a 1951 Pontiac over those of a 1951 Chevrolet, it would be due to ornamentation and other detail differences rather than the general body shape, because that was essentially the same.  (However, some Pontiac models tended to have longer wheelbases and hoods, so this did alter body proportions a little and could easily affect evaluation of styling.)

A while ago I wrote a critique of the 2014 Chevrolet Impala's styling noting, among other things, that I thought the passenger compartment "greenhouse" occupied quite a large share of the car's length.  It turns out the the Impala shares the same body platform as the Cadillac XTS, introduced for the 2013 model year.  GM stylists did a good job of disguising the shared platform: the cars have different styling personalities aside from that inescapable long greenhouse and the proportional effects it introduced to both cars.


Here is the 2014 XTS in profile, showing the six-window passenger compartment.  Compared to a similar view in the above link, it seems to have a bit less front overhang, even though it and the Impala both feature overhang-friendly front wheel drive.  The XTS side sheet metal is less baroquely sculpted than the Impala's, as befits a dignified, up-market vehicle.

The XTS's two grille segments are better integrated than those on the Chevy, which were simply stacked.  I don't much like the headlamp assembly -- especially the part at the outer edge.  Here Cadillac is simply following the current organic-look styling fad.

The rear of the XTS is nicely done, in my opinion, with perhaps one exception.  I think the exhaust pipes and the clutter connecting them in the zone below the bumper are not integrated with the rest of the rear-end's styling.  A particularly nice touch I noticed when viewing an XTS in person is the subtle interstitial facet between the roof's side character line crease and the central roof / rear window form.  Note its transition to the spoiler shape atop the trunk.

So the Cadillac XTS has a lot of good detailing, I think.  Do these details make the overall design a success?  I think not.  Like its sister Chevrolet Impala, the XTS suffers from that long, long greenhouse that throws the design off-balance.  Worse, the comparatively simple side sheetmetal serves, along with the greenhouse, to create a large visual "dead-zone" between the wheel openings.  When I see an XTS in person, I usually get a sense that something is wrong.  In this instance, the details were unable to rescue the form.

Monday, May 19, 2014

De Tomaso Pantera: Wedges and (Nearly) Flat Panels

The 1970s were a decade where taut, simple shapes were popular styling elements.  (Yes, there were cars that were rounded and fussy, but those tended to be the exception.)  And when it came to exotic sports cars, engineers and stylists were testing the limits of low overall height.  Not surprisingly, a combination of the two fashions could be found on a single sports car.

One such was the De Tomaso Pantera (Wikipedia entry here) that was sold in the U.S.A by the Ford Motor Company.  It wasn't the lowest of the low, but its design by Tom Tjaarda incorporated many of the styling and engineering elements fashionable at the time for cars of that class.  For instance, the engine was placed behind the passenger compartment, but ahead of the rear axle line.  The front of the car  tapered (in profile) essentially to a point.  Most body surfaces were nearly-flat facets, the overall design being an assemblage of these.

The Pantera's styling therefore can be characterized as simple, with form being the dominant visual element.  There was virtually no ornamentation.


As seen from near-normal viewing angle.  The dark, triangular shape behind the side windows is an air intake.

Profile.  Although the design is comprised of a number of simple near-planes, Tjaarda introduced conter-elements in the form of lips surrounding the wheel openings.  Up front, these plus the large opening and the low hood create a pinched effect that was hard to avoid.  In contrast, the rear seems too heavy.

Low-angle front three-quarter view.  I find the vent-quarter-window ensemble behind the roll-down side window rather awkward.  But given the door shape, little else could have been done.  Nowadays, the chrome trim would be eliminated and black moldings used: that would integrate better with the intake.

Rear three-quarter perspective.  The heaviness of the rear in the profile view was unnecessary, as this image suggests.  Tjaarda might have chosen not to use sail panels, but I suppose he included them as part of the wedge-and-planes styling theme.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Giugiaro's Bugatti EB218 Concept Car

The Bugatti automobile firm (Wikipedia entry here) was at its zenith during the 1920s and 30s.  World War 2 and the occupation of France by Germany marked the practical end of the marque.  Founder Ettore Bugatti died in 1947 and the firm expired in 1952 with few cars having been made postwar.

In 1998, Volkswagen purchased rights to Bugatti (see here), and commissioned ItalDesign (led by Giogetto Giugiaro) to create design concepts.  One of these is the subject of this post, the Bugatti EB218 of 1999.

To put the EB218 into one context, here are two postwar closed-car Bugatti Type 101 designs (note that the rears of the cars are reflected in mirrors):

The upper image is of a design by Louis Lucien Lepoix, the lower is a Gangloff design from 1951.

Now let's take a look at the EB218.


This photo from elsewhere on the Internet was taken at a Pebble Beach Concours d'Élegance.  The setting is the lawn between the Lodge and the shops.  I include this photo because it was taken from a near-normal point of view (the position of the camera was slightly down-slope from the car).  The publicity photos below were done from a low angle for some reason.

Another three-quarter front view.  Note how Giugiaro curved (and re-proportioned) the traditional 1920s/1930s Bugatti grille design for aerodynamic reasons.

Side view.  Aside from a bit of tuck-in at the lower part and sides that become nearly flat and curve inward very slightly towards their bottoms, the body could have been plucked from a mold, because most of the surfaces curve away from the center of the top.

Rear view. Note the windsplit on the top and trunk that is interrupted by the backlight (rear window). Earlier, Giugiaro created another Bugatti concept, the EB112, that had a continuous windsplit and a divided backlight somewhat in the vein of the classic 1963 Corvette Sting Ray coupé.

Giugiaro is difficult to criticize because he is so good.  To me, the main flaw of the EB218 lies in its proportions -- to wit, the passenger compartment greenhouse is too tall for the rest of the body, or the lower body is too low relative to the height of the car.  I would have split the difference.

What I do not know is whether or not Giugiaro was handed a package specification that gave him little freedom in terms of dimensions.  That possible factor aside, at the time the car was designed, large greenhouses with plenty of glass area were fashionable.  So maybe he wanted to create a design that would be acceptable under current market conditions.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Reverse-Angle ("Dog Leg") C-Pillars

I all-too-often see references to reverse-angle or dog-leg C-pillars (the roof support post immediately to the front of the backlight / rear window) as a BMW thing.  True, this styling detail is strongly associated with the 3 Series and other BMWs for the past few decades.  But the general design is a logical extension of the aft cut-line of a rear door, and has been around here and there since the 1930s on many cars besides BMW.

The present post is simply a very short historical review of this detail with a glimpse of how it has been elaborated in the currently prevailing Rococo styling mode.


Reverse-angle pillars can be found on 1930s European custom bodies.  Perhaps its first use on a mass-production car was by General Motors for the 1948 model year.  The example shown is an Oldsmobile 98 fastback two-door sedan.

Another GM example, this on a bustle-back design 1953 Chevrolet Bel Air Sport Coupe.

And here is a BMW 3 Series four-door sedan.  This image is of a UK version seen in the Lake District.

Reverse-angle C-pillars are common these days, and not only on BMWs.  Shown here is a 2014 Toyota RAV4 crossover SUV.

Apparently revervse-angle C-pillars are considered too tame, too common, too whatever by stylists working on Nissan's Infinity luxury brand.  Above is the 2009 Infinity Essence concept car where the pillar assumes a fashionably curved aspect.

Concept cars are usually serious business for manufacturers.  They can test reactions of potential buyers to styling concepts and details or else preview intended features as a means of conditioning such potential buyers to radical changes.  Infinity apparently liked the elaborate dog-leg , so here it is on a QX60 introduced for the 2013 model year.

For 2014, Infinity extended the detail in toned-down form to its Q50 sedan line.  My take: distinctive, which might help brand identity, yet a little fussy.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Gull-Wing Doors: Mostly a Market Failure

Why does there seem to be such a fixation by automobile marque-creators and certain stylists for gull-wing doors?  The strongest rational argument for that feature is that such doors can be opened in a confined space, whereas conventional doors need to be swung out a certain distance to allow one to enter or leave the car.

Downsides include increased likelihood of rain entering the passenger compartment when a door is opened, and a similarly increased likelihood of bumping one's head when entering or leaving.

A short review of the best-known production cars with gull-wing doors is below, in the form of images and captions.


That's Mercedes racing engineer/supremo Rudolf Uhlenhaut posing ca. 1953 with a 300 SL rennwagen.  This racing coupe was highly successful and soon led to a production version.  It introduced gull-wing doors and lent them considerable prestige as a design detail.  The reason for that door design was functional: Racing 300 SLs had a tubular space-frame "chassis" that would have been substantially weakened if door openings extended down to near the lower sides of the body (see photo below showing the space-frame).

Here is a production Mercedes 300 SL from around 1955.  Total production over 1954-1963 was 3,258.

A Bricklin SV-1.  Its doors drop farther down the sides because it was built using a conventional chassis.  I recall the Bricklin fiberglass body as appearing a bit crude, having thick-seeming panels.  If others got the same impression, that might have affected sales.  1974-76 Bricklin production was 2,854.

That's John Z. DeLorean posing with his new baby, the DeLorean DMC-12.  Around 9,000 were built during 1981-83.

The DeLorean DMC also featured gull-wing doors that extended almost to the lower edge of the body.  This made entry and egress easier than was the case of 300 SLs. Much of the styling was by ace stylist Giorgetto Giugiaro of ItalDesign.

Clearly, cars with gull-wing doors were never very successful in the market. The 300 SL was very expensive, which held down sales.  But it lent significant prestige to Mercedes-Benz during its recovery after World War 2.  Bricklin and DeLorean, like most automotive start-ups, were under-funded, which was probably the most significant factor in their failures.  The gull-wing doors might actually have been a plus, because the cars were sports cars and buyers of such cars tend to more tolerant of inconveniences than those wanting more practical conveyances.  The DeLorean had better build-quality than the Bricklin plus a lot more media buzz thanks to the charisma and General Motors background of DeLorean himself.  Malcolm Bricklin's previous automotive experience had to do with being the first to import Subaru cars to America.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Infinity Q45: Nissan's 1990 Zenmobile

In the late 1980s Japan was riding high economically.  Japanese investors were buying up properties in the United States much to the horror of many Americans.  The U.S. automobile industry was operating on the notion that the Japanese could build and successfully sell small and perhaps medium-sized cars in America, but the market for the more profitable large and luxury cars could be defended.

Then came the Lexus from Toyota, the Acura from Honda and the Infiniti from Nissan, brands targeting the upper-middle to luxury size and price ranges.

The Wikipedia link above mentions that Infinitis were Americanized versions of top-of-the-line Nissans marketed in Japan, which helped reduce the cost of launching a new brand overseas.

One feature of the Infiniti launch was a series of television commercials and a print advertising campaign showing rocks, water, and nature in a tranquil mood -- a Zen sort of thing with no images of the cars themselves.  Some links dealing with this are here, here and here.

A wisp of this Zen spirit could actually be found on the cars, as can be seen below.


Front and rear three-quarter views of the Infiniti Q45

Front view.  Hmm.  Look at that medallion.

Medallion closeup.  Most automobile insignia are like the wedged oval in the center of the medallion, a symbol Infiniti maintains to this day.  These are simple, crisp shapes with similar settings, if present.  Flowery details typically come in the form of traditional symmetrical framing elements for heraldic shields.  But the botanical background on the Infiniti medallion is not a symmetrical frame.  It is vaguely Zen-like, in the spirit of the advertising.

It didn't take many years for both the medallion and Zen-themes advertising to disappear because Infiniti sales were disappointingly low.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Pickup Trucks with Panoramic Windshields

Panoramic or "wrap-around" windshields were a 1950s styling fad in America and elsewhere.  The American version first appeared in the 1953 model year on expensive, low-production General Motors convertibles such as the Oldsmobile Fiesta.  Then, for 1954, GM unleashed futuristic looking Oldsmobiles, Buicks and Cadillacs, all with panoramic windshields.  For the 1955 model year, all American manufacturers had wrap-arounds on most of their brands.  (Yes, Kaiser-Willys did not, but it wasn't major, being in the process of closing up shop aside from the Jeep line).

Somewhat surprisingly, GM, Ford and Chrysler rapidly followed up on their pickup truck lines.  I say "surprisingly" because in those days pickup truck styling took a distant priority compared to the firms' passenger cars.


Advertising illustration of 1955 Chevrolet Task Force pickup truck.

Photo of 1955 Chevrolet 3100 Series pickup.

1955 GMC 100-Series Deluxe pickup truck. Both GM divisions marketed pickup trucks, but each brand's styling was distinctive.

Dodge C2-GL pickup. Panoramic windshields were introduced during the 1955 model year as a running change.

Ford F-100 for 1956.  Ford and Mercury sedans got their wraparound windshields for 1955, so Ford was lagging GM by one model years for both passenger car and pickup truck panoramics.