Monday, August 18, 2014

When Oldsmobile Grilles Got Fussy

From the end of World War 2 until 2004, when the brand was killed by General Motors, Oldsmobiles usually featured styling with clean, simple ornamentation.  (For those who are curious, the major exception was the 1958 model year.)

But for a few years before the war, things were different for Oldsmobile.  This mostly had to do with grilles, which featured complicated patterns of bars and other details.   I will leave it to any readers with deep knowledge of prewar / postwar GM styling studio personnel and practices to provide details as to how and why this change happened.  For now, I'll guess that a change of head designer probably was an important factor, though styling supremo Harley Earl exercised close control, and the change of emphasis must have had his approval.


This is the grille of the 1946 Oldsmobile, the first year of simplicity.  The images below show what appeared on previous models.

A 1939 Oldsmobile grille.  It is in three sections, the center being in the previously common vertical mode and two flanking openings marking a transition to a more horizontal theme, in line with American auto industry fashion trends.  Aside from a central vertical bar, all other grille bars are horizontal.

New bodies appeared for 1940, and the grille became almost entirely horizontal.  The vertical bar in the center is gone, while vertical striped accent plaques containing the parking lights were added.  The result is interesting, but not simple.

Here is an auction photo of a 1941 Olds.  The vertical-horizontal juxtapositions persist, and with added emphasis.  A chromed swath tops the grille, the main horizontal bars are larger, and the flanking plaques have lost the parking lights.  The yellow fog lights atop the bumper are accessories, as are the spotlight on the cowl and the metal sunshade over the windshield.

1942 Oldsmobile grilles were perhaps the most odd-looking in the marque's history.  Vertical stripes are gone, but the only simplifying element is that the grille bars are all horizontal, save at the center.

This is a detail taken from a sales brochure.  The phrasing is indirect, but implies that there are two bumpers -- a main, lower one and a lesser bumper as part of the grille.  Note the bumper guards mounted on the main bumper and that they touch the upper bumper, yet are not attached to it.  I am not sure how the upper bumper was mounted.  It sits too high for the frame, so it probably was attached to the body in some manner, though it might have been linked to the main bumper via braces hidden from the outside.  If it wasn't braced, I wonder how much protection it actually offered.

A nice photo I found on the Web.  Click on it to get a better look at the front of the car.

America's entry into World War 2 in December, 1941 led to the early 1942 curtailment of car production "for the duration."  As a result, not many 1942 models of any brand were built.  When production resumed for the 1946 model year, the era of clean Oldsmobile styling began.

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