Thursday, August 28, 2014

A Fuselage-Look Echo

I include the label "Lookalikes" for this post, even though the cars discussed here only have the similarity of "fuselage" styling.  The term was applied to large cars in Chrysler Corporation's lineup that appeared for the 1969 model year.  What interests me is that more than 30 years later, Cadillac revived that theme.  Which is further evidence for my belief that American automobile styling evolution ended about the time of the 1949 Ford, and that since then, what we have is largely a matter of changing fashions.


Fuselage styling, in the 1969 Chrysler sense, took the form of relatively simple bowed-out sides.  The lower body cross-section was a sort of oval that was pushed in on the sides and top.  Reflections on the car tend to disguise this, so look carefully at the door cut-lines to read the shape of the side bulge.  Shown here is a Chrysler 300 two-door hardtop.

The 1969 Imperial four-door hardtop shown here featured a more flattened side panel, but retained the general outward curved effect.  Both the 300 and the Imperial had very long front and rear overhang, typical of large American cars in those days before the 1973 fuel crisis.

Two views of the 2000 Cadillac DeVille.  Much had changed since 1969.  The fuel crisis sparked the need for serious consideration of aerodynamic efficiency.  Cars were made shorter to save some weight, a factor in fuel efficiency.  Drivetrains generally shifted from rear-wheel to front-wheel drive.  This latter change resulted in changes in cars' proportions -- large front overhang coupled with a short distance from the front edge of the front door to the front wheelhouse.

Those characteristics aside, it can be seen that the 2000 DeVille has a cross-section similar to that of the 1969 Chryslers shown above.  Also similar are the shapes of the side-windows of the Cadillacs and the Imperial.  More than 30 years can go by, yet there are cases such as these where styling stands fairly still.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Badge Engineering: Cadillac's Catera

By the late 1990s, General Motors was well along its path to eventual bankruptcy.  Development savings had to be effected.  One way to do this was via "badge engineering," whereby one brand's model was used as the basis for a model for another brand, with as few changes made as possible.  In extreme cases, the change might only be replacement of brand name tags and symbols.

It was decided that GM's high-price brand Cadillac could use a smaller, but still upscale, companion line, and so was born the Cadillac Catera, marketed during the 1997-2001 model years.   The donator model was GM's German Opel Omega, which served as the basis for several other badge-engineered GM lines.  The Catera was market-positioned as a European-type compact performance car, something like a BMW, but available at one's friendly local Cadillac dealer.

According to the first link, above, the Catera did not sell very well, averaging around 20,000 units per model year.  Worse was the damage it did to Cadillac's brand image that recently had been tarnished by the Cadillac Cimarron model.  Actually, the Catera was a much better car than the Cimarron, but it never really seemed like a Cadillac to the American car buying public.

The Opel Omega / Cadillac Catera design was of the era when GM's styling managers tended to favor simple, somewhat rounded shapes that carried minimal ornamentation.  My conjecture is that they were in thrall to the secular religion of Modernist purity of the sort that had been in vogue for 1930s architects and industrial designers.  The result for GM was an extensive set of bland designs that did little to retard the corporation's decline.  Also, this kind of styling actually camouflaged whatever high performance characteristics the Catera might have had; performance cars are seldom mushy looking.

This is not to say that Omega / Catera styling was bad, just that, for the Catera at least, it was inappropriate for the Cadillac brand.


1997 Cadillac Catera

1999 (ca.) Cadillac Catera Sport

2000 Cadillac Catera

Thursday, August 21, 2014

What Were They Thinking?: 1950s Concepts' Impractical Wheelwells

Automobile Styling is more fashion-driven than some stylists care to admit.  Then there are styling fads, which for the purposes of this post I mean very short bursts of a certain feature.  One such fad in the mid-1950s had to do with impractical wheel wells.  And it was limited to what are now called concept cars.

Several concept cars were involved, and I'll deal with four instances.  The first is the 1954 General Motors Motorama show car Buick Wildcat II (link here).  The next two were shown at the 1955 edition of Motorama (an elaborate traveling show featuring General Motors' production and concept cars).  They were the Oldsmobile Eighty-Eight Delta (I have no decent link for it) and the Pontiac Strato-Star (link here).  In those days, most of the best-known GM concept cars were what were called "blue sky" projects -- styling for its own sake and for corporate publicity purposes, rather than the thinly-disguised near-future production show cars that are so common nowadays -- though such cars might have a few features being considered for future production.

The final example is the 1956 Pininfarina Superflow I, built on a used Alfa Romeo 6C 3500 chassis.  This link states that four different Superflow bodies were created on that same chassis as some kind of experiment by the coachbuilding firm.  Only the first of the set had an unusual wheelwell treatment.


1954 Buick Wildcat II concept
The Wildcat looks like it was a modified Chevrolet Corvette sports car.  I base this conjecture on the shape of the windshield and cockpit area as well as the general dimensions of the car.  The front fenders and the freestanding headlamps are a throwback to cars of the early 1930s and before.  The two-level treatment of the front bumper recalls the 1934 LaSalle bumper.  Spotlights on either side of the windshield were also found on some 1930 vintage cars.

All this is fine for a show car; the retro features become a fine topic for conversation.  But those nice, polished wheelwell interiors would soon become covered in road grime from daily driving, so open fenders were probably never seriously considered as a future production possibility.

1955 Oldsmobile Eighty-Eight Delta concept
Apparently the concept of large front wheelwell openings became a fad at GM's styling center because something similar was used the following year.  The main difference is that the 1955 versions were closed at the front, thereby eliminating the retro look on the Wildcat.  Note that the rear wheelwells are also somewhat larger than usual.

1955 Pontiac Strato-Star concept
The Strato-Star's front wheelwells closely resemble those on the Eighty-Eight Delta.  Both sets of wheelwells are nicely finished and would be prone to becoming covered with road grime.  What car owner would enjoy trying to clean off the mud, tar, and other materials that might gather there?

1956 Pininfarina Superflow I - Alfa Romeo 6C 3500
Another year, another impractical wheelwell treatment.  I have no proof, but I wouldn't be surprised to learn that Pinin Farina and his team became wheelwell-conscious thanks to those GM show cars.  In the case of the Superflow I, the front wheelwells are not elongated; instead, they have no tops.  Well, there are tops, but they are in the form of translucent plastic fastened over the basic car body, taking the place of what normally would be an enclosed metal fender.  Note the bullet-shaped headlamp housings -- something from the 1930s á la the Wildcat II.

Yet again, road grime and chips from gravel would doom this concept for practical production cars.

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.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

The Real Hudson's Final Facelift

The title for this post uses the words "Real Hudson," something I need to explain. The Hudson Motor Car Company ended independent operations in 1954 when it merged with (that is, essentially was acquired by) Nash-Kelvinator Corporation.  1955 Hudsons were built using Nash bodies, and this practice was continued through the 1957 model year, when both the Hudson and Nash brands were dropped.  I dealt with 1957 Hudson styling here.

Hudson was a major American car builder at the time the Great Depression of the 1930s was about to begin.  But it suffered greatly from hard economic times and resorted to clever facelifting to stretch a basic body architecture as many years as possible, as I related here.

Hudson launched an advanced, post-war product line for 1948 featuring low, streamlined, unitized (monocoque) bodies.  Unfortunately for Hudson, such bodies are expensive to facelift, and standard-size Hudsons retained the same body and styling themes through 1953 -- six long model years.  For 1954, before the American Motors arrangement happened, standard size Hudsons were given a noticeable facelift in a last-ditch effort to stay competitive in an era where the fashion was for somewhat boxy bodies.   But by this time, Hudson was pretty much out of money, having spent much of its resources developing the Hudson Jet, a poorly-styled smaller car that did not sell well.


Here is an advertising handout showing Hudson styling for 1948, the first year for the redesigned car.

By 1952, a few changes had been made.  The sedan's rear window had been enlarged and a hardtop convertible coupe (shown at the bottom) had been introduced.  Other items facelifted since 1948 included the grille, tail lights and side trim.

Here is a rather poor image of a 1953 Hudson, the last before the "big" 1954 facelift.

These are photos of a 1954 Hudson Hornet taken for a Barrett-Jackson auction.  The grille was squared off and given a different-looking set of chromed bars.  Side trim was also given a new theme that included what seems to be a faux fender air scoop, a feature introduced on 1952 Ford Motor Company brands.  Rear fenders were raised to give the car a more squared off appearance, but sedans such as this still had rounded trunk lids as in the past.  The chromed "eyelids" above the side windows are aftermarket items.

A photo I found on the Internet showing a 1954 Hudson Hornet Hollywood -- the hardtop coupe.  Hardtops and convertibles got squared-off trunk lids, making these models more in line with 1954 styling for other brands.  But the demands imposed by the 1948 body worked against this facelift: the result is awkward.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Alfa Romeo 4C Concept: More Mid-Engine Ugliness

The Alfa Romeo 4C concept car and the production version are very similar in appearance.  I located a better set of photos for the concept car, so that's the one I'll treat in this post.

There is something about the mid-engine layout that makes styling difficult.  Back in the early 1970s I owned a Porsche 914, as I mentioned here.  Although I enjoyed driving it (aside from an unwilling gearshift lever), its styling was awkward.

The mid-engine location, behind the seating and usually in front of the rear axle-line, makes for poor space utilization.  The 914 had no rear seat, not even a small behind-the-seat shelf for carrying grocery bags or other incidentals.  The spare tire took up much of the front, though there was a small trunk space above it.  At the rear, there was another small trunk space, but it also was where the top had to be stored when it was removed.  A rear-engine car (think Porsche 911) usually has some behind-the-seat space, but no rear trunk, so its layout is little, if any, better.  Front-mounted engines make for the best space utilization.

But if the capability of carrying things beside a driver and passenger is considered much less important than a car's handling characteristics, then a mid-engine layout makes some sense, though another price it pays is in the styling.  The problem here is that a sort of dead-zone is created between the back edge of the doors and the rear axle line.  Giugiaro dealt with this elegantly on his 914-based Tapiro that I wrote about here.  Alfa's styling staff wasn't as successful with the 4C.


The front of the 4C is typically Alfa in that it is clean looking and has the traditional three-element grille.

The side air scoop, large rear fender and lack of side windows to the rear of the door create a heavy shape where it isn't really needed.  The character line that merges into that air intake is heavy-handed, adding to the appearance of bulk.

This side view also indicates the rear visual bulkiness.

And a reason for that appears to have to do with a small trunk at the rear.  That practical consideration could have been finessed by a different treatment of the rear-end massing.

All my quibbles aside, many potential 4C buyers will be attracted more by its high-technology engineering and resulting performance than how the car looks.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Ford Taurus: The Second Generation

The Wikipedia entry on the Ford Taurus categorizes four design generations between its 1986 model year introduction and 2006, when the name was temporarily abandoned, later to be used on what was for a while the Ford 500.  I prefer to see only two Taurus generations (1986-1995 and 1996-2006) during that period, each having to do with its own body design.  The Wikipedia writer(s) claim facelifts as new generations.

This post deals with the styling of what I consider the second-generation Taurus that, as it happened, was not as well received in the marketplace as the initial design.   Jack Telnack was in charge of Ford styling when the second-generation car was developed.

The redesigned Taurus was given a soft overall shape that was softened further by use of rounded details inside and out.  One practical defect was that the Taurus' trunk was smaller than many potential buyers probably wanted.  Let's take a closer look.


This is a 2001 Taurus, a slightly facelifted version of the 1996 car.  The rounded side windows are the same as in the earlier version.  The front has minor changes, but retains the character of the initial design.  The trunk seems a little taller.

An image of the 1996-vintage Taurus I grabbed off the Internet because it shows the car from the side.  The small trunk height is apparent.  Note how the shoulder character sculpting is soft like the general body shape.  Something more crisp could have provided some contrast to good effect.

A rear view of a car of the same vintage showing the low trunk and a strongly rounded backlight (rear window).  Plus more rounding in the tail light assembly.  The only really straight line on the exterior is the rub strip along the doors.

This photo shows the 1996-vintage Taurus to its best advantage.  I was always fond of the shaping of the hood and front end.

I think the reason for my fondness for the Taurus front end was because it reminded me of the hood shaping of the classic 1953 Studebaker coupe, shown here.  This is a puzzling Internet-grab image, because I'm not sure when the photo was taken, though it probably dates to 1953.  The car is in as-new condition.  The girl's swim suit is early 1950s style, and the same might be said for the house.  And the background countryside reminds me of the South Bend area near the Studebaker proving grounds.  Nevertheless, for some reason I can't quite rule out the possibility that it is a carefully staged comparatively recent photo; perhaps it has to do with how sharp the image of the car is.  Assuming this is a publicity photo, it's interesting that the girl is blocking the view of part of the car.  I think this was done to emphasize how low the car is, because the Studebaker coupe was very low compared to other 1953 American cars.  The girl is clearly taller than the car, and placing her a short distance in front of the roof makes the car seem even lower than it actually is.

The reason I include this image is that it shows the Studebaker from a similar, if flipped, point of view as the red Taurus above it.  The Studebaker has 50s features such as sealed beam headlamps with frenched bevels and high front fenders.  But if you mentally strip those details away, the result is something like the Taurus' sculpting.

Here is a Champion Starliner in the Studebaker Museum in South Bend, Indiana.  I include this picture because lighting and camera angles combine to dampen the effect of the comparatively sharp fold at the front of the hood.  Again, potential kinship with the Taurus can be apparent, given a little imagination.  I have no idea if Telnack or one of his stylists was inspired by the Studebaker, but I do wonder.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Buick Encore: Stuffing Styling Themes Into a Small Package

A rough styling / brand management rule of thumb is that the higher a marque ranks in a manufacturer's portfolio range, the more likely attention will be paid to preserving that brand's visual identity.

An interesting example is the Encore, a small crossover SUV introduced by Buick a few years ago.  Back in its glory years, General Motors positioned Buick right below Cadillac in its brand hierarchy, with Oldsmobile, Pontiac and Chevrolet trailing off towards the low price end.  Brand identity was reinforced by styling details such as grilles with vertical bars, "portholes" on the front fenders, the Sweepspear side accent, along with lesser elements.

Times changed, and General Motors sank into a bankruptcy that forced the elimination of the Saturn and Pontiac brands (Oldsmobile was killed a few years before).  Remaining brands are Chevrolet, Buick and Cadillac, along with exclusively truck-and-SUV GMC.

Embarrassed in the early 1980s by car models based on the same platform that looked very similar across most of its brands, GM moved to restore the visual distinctiveness its brands had during the 1940s and 50s.  This effort was strongly in place by the time of the 2009 bankruptcy and has continued since then.  Buick, being placed above Chevrolet in the GM hierarchy, seems to be seeking to retain its near-luxury image, even amongst its models that fall into the mid-price slot.  Its strategy has been to revive early-1950s styling cues in modified form and retain them from model year to model year.

So when the small Encore model was introduced, many of those styling details were crammed onto its small form.  Shall we take a look?


1952 Buck Super
To set the stage, this Buick advertising illustration shows the styling cues from the brand's heyday.  Note the vertical grille bars, the non-functional portholes, the Sweepspear, the crest on the front of the hood, and the character line sculpting on the hood.  These details made it perfectly clear that the car was indeed a Buick; no real need for the word "Buick" on the upper grille bar.

2013 Buck LaCrosse
The LaCrosse is Buick's current top-of-the-line sedan.  The grille has vertical bars and a stylized crest.  Air vents are atop the fenders, a gesture to the old porthole theme.  A character line on the sides echoes the Sweepspear.

2013 Buck Verano
Veranos are smaller than LaCrosses, but retain the grille and vent details.  Missing is the Sweepspear, though I suppose the up-sweep character line along the bottom of the doors might be interpreted as an upside-down spear.

2013 Buck Encore
The quite small Encore takes the Verano's brand identification details pretty much as given, even the side-sculpting theme.  The result is a too-busy look.  But I think that has more to do with the somewhat confused appearance from the rear door hinges on back than the retention of Buick styling cues.  I would tidy up the clutter below the front impact panel, enlarge the rear door windows and eliminate or tone down the lower side character indentation for starters.