Thursday, November 27, 2014

Cheap, Obsolete Ford Anglias and Populars

For nearly 15 years after the end of World War 2, Ford's English branch continued building a pre-war design featuring shrunken (for the car was indeed small) mid-1930s styling elements.  These cars were exported to other parts of Europe and even to the United States.  Another production source was Australia.  But these English Fords held a coveted market niche: they were amongst the cheapest cars on the planet.

I am mostly referring to the Ford Anglia, but the design was continued 1953-59 as the Ford Popular. A four-door variant produced 1939-1953 was the Ford Prefect.  The Anglia and Prefect brands were continued into the 1960 following a complete redesign not covered in this post.

Not having grown up in England, and given the similarity of the cars shown below, I'm hoping that I'm correctly presenting the model years and model names for the images below.


Ford 7Y - ca. 1938
The Anglia name appeared on this car in the Fall of 1939, but the redesign of the Y line was produced starting with 1938 models.

Ford Anglia - 1940 advertisement
It seems Ford was still making cars in England in the year after World War 2 started.  Note the changed grille -- retro compared to the more aerodynamic looking 7Y grille, above.

Ford Anglia - 1948 - American advertisement
The three-element grille was used for only one model year, according to one source.  Click to enlarge a little.

Ford Anglia - 1949-53 E-494A
The Anglia front has reverted to pre-1940 7Y form.

Ford Anglia & Prefect - 1952 advertisement
Ford featured both brands in a number of advertisements and brochures around this time.  The Prefect was more expensive and featured four doors instead of two and had a different grille, fenders (wings) and trunk (boot).  But otherwise the cars were essentially the same.  Click to enlarge.

Ford Popular - ca. 1953
Compare to the 7Y photo at the top.  This design was continued through the 1959 model year even though it was thoroughly out of date.

There really isn't much to say about Anglia styling.  The "package" was small and Ford stylists shrunk circa-1936 American large-car styling features onto it.  Moreover, because it was an entry-level automobile, it was designed to be manufactured for the lowest possible cost.  Perhaps that is the reason for those odd little headlamps perched on the fenders; with a larger budget, they might have been better integrated with the rest of the styling.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Willys' Nice-Looking Post-War Sedans

During the early 1950s some American automobile companies introduced models that were smaller than standard-size entry-level cars of the time such as Fords, Chevrolets and Plymouths.  In every case, these cars came from the so-called (at the time) Independent manufactures -- not the Big Three (General Motors, Ford and Chrysler).  The small car was a kind of Holy Grail for some people in the American automobile industry, something with idealistic overtones of supplying cars to people in below-average income brackets.  Big Three firms were thinking about small cars and even built some experimental vehicles.  But they concluded that such cars cost about the same to assemble as standard cars, and savings in materials were too small to justify noticeably lower pricing.  The early crop of post-war American small cars included Kaiser's Henry J, Hudson's Jet and Nash's Rambler -- the latter being the only real sales success.

The other firm that lunched a small car was Willys (pronounced will-iss, where the Willys "y" is sounded like the "i" in the English word "it").  Willys had been making cars since 1908 and was a major firm in the 1920s.  But the company was hit hard by the Great Depression of the 1930s and resorted to making small cars to survive.  During World War 2, Willys was a major builder of Jeeps, and the company continued making civilianized Jeeps after the war.  But management caught the small car disease and introduced the Aero sedan for the 1952 model year.

The Aero was a nice little car with a peppy engine and above-average small-car design, the latter by experienced stylist Phil Wright.  Unfortunately, the Big Three analysts were right: For nearly the same amount of money a buyer could get a standard size Ford, Chevrolet or other low-priced car.  And lower income prospects could find inexpensive, larger used cars with greater appeal.  Aeros were manufactured for four model years in the United States, with production eventually shifted to Brazil for that market.


1952 Willys Aero Wing
The little tail fin added interest and balance to what otherwise was a simple design.  Note the low hood, a fashionable feature introduced that same model year on standard Nash's and the entire Ford Motor Company line.

1952 Willys Aero models, plus a Jeep

1953 Willys Aero Falcon
Styling was essentially unchanged for 1953.

1954 Willys Aero Ace Deluxe
The '54 line introduced "Frenched" headlamp bezels and one-piece windshields and backlights.

1955 Willys sedan line
The ultimate American Aeros got a redesigned grille and a fancy two-color paint scheme typical of the time.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

What Were They Thinking?: Packard Station Sedan

What were the folks at Packard thinking when they planned the extensive facelift of the very attractive 1941-47 Clipper styling?  Whatever those things were, the decision makers made several wrong decisions that helped to eventually kill the famous luxury brand.  For now, I'll skip discussing the appearance of the  basic 1948 model year design and instead examine a curious variant, the Station Sedan.  For readers interested in more information regarding Packard's history, click here.

As the Station Sedan link mentions, Packard sold some station wagons ("brakes" as they are sometimes called in Europe) pre- World War 2, but this body style was difficult to make on the Clipper design.  However, when the Clipper body was facelifted for 1948, a station wagon inspired special body design was added.  A normal station wagon body is in the form of a large, rectangular box that includes side windows and a large access door or doors at the rear of a car.  The Packard body did not lend itself to a boxy rear, so a relatively narrow, yet high, extension was grafted onto the sedan body.  Wood was used for part of this added structure -- standard station wagon construction practice before the 1949 Plymouth all-metal wagon appeared.  Wood decorative panels were added to the side doors to provide even more of a station wagon look.

So the Station Sedan name was actually a pretty accurate description: It was a sedan with a narrow, roof-high extension that could hold more things than the sedan trunk could, but was less useful in that regard than a true station wagon would have been.  Plus there was the unavoidable "woodie" problem of maintaining the wooden parts with new coats of varnish annually and other detailing.

The result was a vehicle with many impracticalities that never sold very well.  Worse, it was based on the bloated 1948 Packard design that failed to attract many buyers once the postwar sellers' market ended at the end of the 1940s.


1948 Packard Station Sedan - publicity photo

1948 Packard Station Sedan - RM auction photo

1948 Packard Station Sedan
This is a photo I took at the Ft. Lauderdale Antique Car Museum in 2013.

1948 Packard Station Sedan - sales photo
This rear view shows how narrow the "wagon" feature was.  The car had a double rear door, the part containing the rear window swing upwards and the lower part dropped down in conventional tailgate fashion.

1950 Packard - auction photo
I include this photo so that you can see a regular Packard sedan and how its rear design served as the basis for the Station Sedan model.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Ford Ka: New, Edgy First Version

By "New, Edgy" in the title, I'm actually riffing on Ford styling boss Jack Telnack's New Edge styling theme back around 1996 when the tiny Ford Ka was launched in Europe. For some Ka history, click here.

As I mention from time to time, styling a small car is not an easy task.  There isn't much size for overall shape-sculpting, for one thing.  Nor is there room for the kind of ornamentation that can work well on a larger car.  As a result, for many years small cars tended to feature bland, simple styling.  Matters have changed in recent years thanks to the fashion of adding a lot of metal sculpting in the form of creases, bulges, folds and such on body panels.  This can become overpowering on almost any size car.

As for New Edge styling, the concept was to apply overlapping arcs (think Venn diagrams) to body panel or element breaks; this will be evident in the Ka images below.  New Edge was one of those theories that didn't work well in the real world of the automobile marketplace.  One problem was that it limited the kinds of shapes those parts of a car could assume.  That is, stylists were more highly constrained than normal when working on New Edge designs.  Perhaps more seriously, New Edge features were not especially attractive.  The eventual result was abandonment of New Edge on Fords, perhaps expedited by Telnack's 1997 retirement and replacement by J Mays, who had his own theories of car styling.


1997 Ford Ka - front 3/4 view
New Edge elements include the arc of the top of the grille opening that extends into the headlight housing via the division between the headlamp zone and the amber turn indicator area.  The curved fender peak blends with the light housing, this arc crossing the grille opening arc just mentioned.  Thus we see overlapping arcs.

Ford Ka - side view
This seems to be from a later model year, where the impact zone cladding is de-emphasized because here its texture and color blend with the rest of the body.  New Edge is being dialed back.

1997 Ford Ka - rear view
More New Edge overlapping with respect to the hatch opening, the tail lights and the dark rear impact cover panel.

Even though I've been critical of the New Edge concept, I think it worked about as well as any other approach would have on the first-series Ka.  Ka styling comes off as whimsical, not too serious, perhaps because of the car's small size.  The Ka's I see when visiting Europe seem cute, like the early Renault Clios and the current Fiat 500s.  Nothing wrong with cute styling, especially on a tiny car.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Last of the Oldsmobile Ninety-Eights

For 53 model years, 1941-1996 (less the wartime 1943-45 models that never happened), the top of the Oldsmobile line was the Ninety-Eight series that usually shared bodies with Cadillac and the larger Buick models.  A Wikipedia entry summarizing the various versions of the Ninety-Eight is here.

This post deals with the last of the breed, produced for the 1991-96 model years.  For 1997, Oldsmobile dropped the Ninety-Eight name from its restyled large sedan line, retaining the "Regency" subtype as the monicker.  At this time, Oldsmobile sales had fallen considerably from the heyday of decades past so marketers and product planners were desperately trying to turn that tide.

Since the 1970s, Oldsmobile stylists placed an "eggcrate" theme on Ninety-Eight grilles to help distinguish the line from lesser Oldsmobiles.  This theme continued when the restyled 1991 model appeared, though by 1996 it was weakened when the horizontal bars were placed slightly in front of the vertical bars, thereby gaining prominence and creating a more horizontal feeling.

When the 1991s were introduced, I rather liked the way the eggcrate theme was handled.  Because the profile of the grille was curved to match that of the headlamp covers, the upper part of the curved grille area faced upward, reflecting the sky, street lights, and such.  In other words, the curvature made for a stronger, more obvious statement thanks to the resulting highlighting.

The remainder of the car was largely devoid of ornamentation (aside from grooves on low cladding panels), this in keeping with Oldsmobile theme of "clean" styling that began in 1946.  The body was also rather squared-off, so the rectangular grille holes in a way reinforced the overall styling theme.

Oldsmobile Ninety-Eight styling for 1991-96 was not great.  Rather it was pretty good, unobjectionable.  Unfortunately, that kind of styling rarely excites potential buyers to crave having such a car.  So sales of Oldsmobiles and other GM brands sporting similarly dull designs continued to falter.

1991 Oldsmobile Ninety-Eight

1992 Oldsmobile Ninety-Eight

1993 Oldsmobile Ninety-Eight

Monday, November 10, 2014

Styling Crimes: Panhard Dyna X

It is generally easier to design an attractive large car than come up with a very small car with attractive styling.  That doesn't mean that small cars necessarily must be ugly, though that's all too often what happens.

This post's case-in-point is the Panhard Dyna X, produced 1948-1954.  As best I can tell, the "X" label was applied years after the introduction as a means of distinguishing it from later Dyna redesigns.

Jean-Albert Grégoire was a famous automobile engineer best known for proposing innovative designs (biographical snippet here).  During World War 2, he worked on a small sedan design that, among other features, weighed comparatively little because much of the body was made of aluminum.

His AFG design interested the Panhard firm, but when Paul Panhard licensed the design from AFG and Grégoire in 1943, it was stipulated that Panhard had the right to modify the design.  And modified it was, as the images below indicate.  As best I can tell, the redesign was handled by Louis Bionier and Panhard staff.


AFG-Grégoire prototype from about 1944
Panhard used the engineering as the basis for the Dyna, but the body wasn't considered suitable.

Dyna X prototypes from around 1947
French car buyers strongly preferred four-door sedans, so the two-door AFG design had to be reworked.  The woman in the driver's seat serves to indicate how small the car was.

Prototype Dyna X
A closer look.  The models are posed a short distance beyond the car to make it appear larger than it really was.

Production Dyna X
The main final styling touches are the redesigned grille, the slightly blended headlamp housings and the hood louvres.

Rear three-quarter view of Dyna X

Even though the Dyna entered the market in late 1948, its styling was in line with that of American cars from around 1937.  So the selected design puzzles me because the designers were surely aware that the trend was to "envelope" bodies where fenders and other formerly separate elements were blended into the overall shape of the body.  Perhaps there were technical / manufacturing reasons why the design was so archaic.  But it was what it was, and what it was was a collection of awkward shapes and details, especially those headlamp housings.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Datsun's Cleanly Designed Fairlady

Nissan (in its former Datsun guise) built roadster-type sports cars from the late 1950s to 1970.  The most important and by far the best-selling was the redesigned Fairlady (its name in Japan) series introduced in 1963.  Its Wikipedia entry is here, and a Web site devoted to it is here, while the Nissan corporate site mentions it here.

Back in my graduate school days at Dear Old Penn, I longed to own a sports car.  But my budget couldn't be stretched far enough to justify the purchase of the Datsun sports car, which seemed to be the best fit so far as price and features were concerned.  Therefore, you are warned that I have a soft spot in my heart for Fairladies (odd name, but I'll use it in this post for convenience).

Some sources refer to Fairlady 1600s and 2000s as roadsters, but they weren't exactly that, because they had roll-up side windows.

As for the styling, I haven't found a name for the main designer.  Regardless, the design is clean -- not excessively fussy like some other postwar Japanese efforts.  English sports car designs of the 1950s and designs from other places that were influenced by them usually featured a front fender line that peaked near the front wheel and fell away towards the rear.  There was a distinct rear fender and usually a cockpit form for the passenger area.  The Fairlady has a hint of rear fender, but no strong fall-off for the front fender.  This near-horizontal profile had the effect of eliminating the cockpit design feature.


This introductory view of a 1963-ish vintage car illustrates that the Fairlady has neat styling.  Nothing spectacularly different in terms of features.  No serious flaws.  No excitement, either.

This 1600 from around 1967 has a different set of grille bars and a shorter side chrome strip.  Which is just fine, because there was no need for a serious facelift.

A front view of the 2000 series featuring a larger motor displacement.  Again, slightly different grille detailing.

I include this Wikimedia image because it shows the rear of the car.  This to me is the weakest part of the design.  It's functional, and probably inexpensive.  But the three tail light / reflector units introduce a hint of Japanese styling fussiness.  An integral unit could easily have been substituted and the trunk lid / back panel relationship deserved some cleanup as well.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Simca's Huit-Sport

French carmaker Simca began in 1934 as a branch operation of Fiat, the major Italian transportation conglomerate (historical Simca profile here).  An important model was the Simca 8, produced 1937-51, with a time-out during World War 2.

A sporty version of the 8 was revealed at the 1948 Salon de l'automobile.  It was a convertible coupé designed by Pinin Farina, fabricated (according to some sources) by Stabilimenti Farina, and based on the Simca 8 chassis.  A license was obtained from the design firm, and subsequent bodies were built in France by Facel-Metallon with market introduction early in 1950.  A coupé version was displayed at the October 1949 Salon.  It too entered limited production, and two examples competed in the 1950 Monte Carlo Rally.

The 8-Sport was given a literal facelift in in the form of a redesigned grille by the time of the 1951 Salon.  During 1952, the Simca 8 platform was replaced by that of the new Simca Aronde passenger car.  The name was changed to 9-Sport, and some minor changes were introduced, the most visible being the addition of bumper guards.


An early convertible version.

The coupé.  If you look closely, you will see that the rear window (backlight, in styling jargon) is a three-piece affair.  This was common practice around 1950 because glassmakers were still researching how to manufacture large panoramic windows.

This is the facelifted version.  Some purists might object to the heavy, perhaps American-inspired chromed grille bars.  But the result is a simplification that might appeal to other observers.   I have no preference.  Either way, the design of the 8-Sport is virtually beyond criticism.