Thursday, December 31, 2015

Bunkie Knudsen's Long-Nose Cars

Semon Emil "Bunkie" Knudsen (1912-1998) was the son of General Motors' President William S. Knudsen who didn't quite gain the GM presidency himself, and so in February 1968 was hired by Ford Motor Company to be its president.

Knudesen then hired Larry Shinoda of Corvette styling fame to stir up Ford's design efforts.  This and others of his initiatives, combined with resistance from Ford people resulted in his August 1969 firing by Henry Ford II and eventual replacement by Lee Iacocca.  Knudesen's Wikipedia entry is here, and here is an appreciation from Hemmings.

One curious legacy of Knudsen's short Ford tenure was the introduction of long "noses" on the grilles of some of Ford's models.  The generally accepted story is that they were inspired by Pontiac front ends of the second half of the 1960s.  Knudsen was general manager of Pontiac 1956-61 and is credited with drastically changing the division's reputation and improving sales.  So even though he went on to other duties at GM, it's highly likely that he kept a fatherly eye on Pontiac.

Pontiacs began to grow noticeable central grille noses by around 1965 and these became fairly large by the 1969-1970 model years.  Even though he had left General Motors before the 1969 Pontiacs were announced in the fall of 1968, there is little reason to doubt that he was aware of the direction Pontiac styling was taking.  He liked this theme, and so had it applied on some 1970 Ford company models whose styling was set while he was president.

Here is some visual evidence:


1965 Pontiac Grand Prix - Mecum auction photo

1968 Pontiac Bonneville - Barrett-Jackson auction photo

1969 Pontiac Grand Prix - Barrett-Jackson auction photo
Examples of Pontiac styling that might have inspired some 1970 Ford Motor Company designs.

1970 Mercury Cyclone

1970 Mercury Montego Brougham

1970 Ford Thunderbird

The Ford Motor Company cars shown above have more extreme noses than the Pontiacs.  All of them, especially the Thunderbird, seem poorly protected from frontal impacts.

Aesthetically, I think the Thunderbird comes off best thanks to its more logical prow shaping.  The Mercurys feature a flat center section on their noses whose slightly blunt effect strikes me was less "natural" than the possibly ship-inspired Thunderbird nose.  The "gunsight" motif on the Cyclone is an actual design distraction that probably was a concession to marketing a high-performance car.

* * * * *

Footnote: Here is the 1970 Ford Thunderbird Tridon concept car.  It was probably intended to help legitimize the long-nose styling theme, but quickly disappeared not long after Knudsen's departure from Ford.  Lee Iacocca had other ideas to implement such as vinyl-covered roofs and small "opera windows" on C-pillars.

Monday, December 28, 2015

The Unfortunate Jowett Jupiter Factory Bodies

Only about 900 examples of the Jowett Jupiter sports car (1950-54) were built, according to this source.  In part that was because Jowett was a marginal firm (see here).   Another factor might have been the Jupiter's styling.

The Jupiter was engineered around 1948 and announced at the British International Motor Show at Earl's Court at the end of September 1949.  Its factory-based styling, probably done in 1949, seems to have been inspired by the Jaguar XK120, introduced at Earl's Court in 1948.  Therefore, it could be considered "advanced" by British standards of the time.

Unfortunately for the Jupiter, even though it followed the XK120 checklist of styling features, the result was ill-proportioned.  The front half of the car seemed too tall and the rear half too low.  Plus, the front was filled with fussy details.


Jaguar XK120

Jowett line

Jowett Jupiter

Auction-related photos of a restored Jupiter

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Chevrolet's Odd SSR Convertible Pickup Truck

What Were They Thinking when General Motors ordered into production the Chevrolet SSR (Super Sport Roadster, 2003-2006)?

True, pickup trucks had become a significant share of the vehicle market.  And yes, both Chevrolet and Ford had introduced sedan-derived pickups back in the 1950s (the El Camino and Ranchero, respectively).  But the SSR, although essentially similar, offered a few new twists.  First, it featured a retractable top, making it a convertible pickup.  Second, the styling was based on that of Chevrolet pickup trucks from around 1950 and not a current passenger car.

For more background on the SSR, its Wikipedia entry is here.

As it happened, the SSR was a sales flop.  One possible reason might have been that, unlike the heyday of the El Camino, pickup trucks had become quite civilized, much less rustic.  So the market for refined pickups having pleasant interiors was already taken.  Furthermore, the SSR didn't offer a lot of cargo carrying room.  And the convertible feature sold the message that the SSR was actually a frivolity.

The styling was interesting, basically well done considering the package stylists were handed.  A few quibbles are in the captions below.


These images show the top raised and retracted.  Front protection seems non-existent, though there must have been a bumper bar buried someplace.  Nevertheless, the hood would probably suffer damage in any but the most minor collision.  A stronger-looking impact panel would have given the SSR a more serious, practical, truck-like appearance.  The grille could be rearranged so that it still echoed 1950 Chevrolet trucks.

The same can be said regarding protection at the rear.  Here, the tailgate looks like it could easily be damaged.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Studebaker's "Airplane" Front-End Styling

More than once I've mentioned that around 1950 automobile stylists in America began using aircraft and science-fiction space ships as inspiration for possible future designs.  Flashy air intakes, faux jet exhausts and other such details appeared on a number of cars during the 1950s.  Perhaps the most obvious example of airplane style borrowing, aside from the later tail fin fad, was the frontal design for 1950 and 1951 Studebakers.


1947 Studebaker Champion Starlight Coupe
This design was sensational when it first appeared shortly after the end of World War 2.  The Higher-priced Commander and Land Cruiser models had a different grille, but Studebaker front ends changed little over the 1947-49 model years.

1950 Studebaker Champion De Luxe 3 passenger coupe
The first major facelift was in place for the 1950 model year.  Most of the changes were forward of the cowling.

1950 Studebaker front end - Barrett-Jackson auction photo
The view of the grille is impeded by clutter.  Oddly, in a time when large chromed bars were expected on grilles of American cars, Studebaker offered little more than two dark holes.

1951 Studebaker Champion Starlight Coupe - Howard Baker estate auction photo
The following model year the grille was larger (though I'm not sure of the openings actually were ... I need to inspect an actual '50 Studie).  The central spinner was restyled as well.  At any rate, now there is a lot of brightwork, if not heavy chromed bars.  Another change was the addition of a flat panel (apron) connecting the front bumper to the car body.

1951 Studebaker Champion Starlight Coupe
A better image I found on the Internet, but do not know its origin.  For 1952 Studebaker reverted to a more conventional front design whose grille hinted at what to expect on the totally new 1953 models.

A major characteristic of the 1950 facelift was the tapering of the fenders to the headlight housings along with the tapering of the hood and central part of the front to a circular ensemble greatly resembling an airplane's propeller spinner.  This yielded a trio of circular focus points.  1949 Fords also had a central "spinner" detail, but on a front end that was far less sculptural than Studebaker's.

I really don't know what to conclude about this design.  It clearly is not in keeping with the Spirit of The Automobile.  Its strong airplane influence is too foreign.  Yet it has a curious appeal; as a boy I enjoyed looking at 1950-51 Studebakers.  Moreover, 1950 calendar year American production was nearly 270,000 cars, a big improvement over 1949's nearly 230,000, and the best ever, post-World War 2.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Fiat Punto: First Generation

The first-generation Fiat Punto (1994-1999 model years) was voted European Car of the Year for 1995, according to this Wikipedia entry.  It also mentions that styling was by the Italian master, Giugiaro.

That vintage Punto holds a special place in my memory.  Not for its styling.  And not for any other characteristics it might have had.  As a matter of fact, I have no real memory of the latter.  That's because a 1996 Punto was the first car I ever drove in England and my still-strong memories are of my disorientation and struggle to deal with driving on the"wrong side" of the road.  (Tip: before setting out, fix in you mind the location of the inside rear-view mirror -- that done, much of the rest falls into place.)

As for the Punto's design, it was tall and space-efficient.  But the exterior was a bit soft and nondescript.  Presumably Giugiaro was breaking away from his hard-edge, crisply-formed, large-windowed "three-box" mode he used successfully for Volkswagen and other clients.  The Punto was not one of his better results.


A four-door Punto similar to the one I rented, though this seems to be a 1999 version.

Two views of the two-door Punto.  Rather soft and bland, though the side and bumper rub-strips helpfully tighten things up a little.  The blending of the rear impact panel and the rear wheel opening is a bit awkward, but the package Giugiaro was given left little room for creativity here.  I might have opted for more squared-off openings front and rear.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Did the 1949 Vedette Inspire the 1953 Plymouth Grille Design?

Vedette can be translated into English as meaning either "scout" or "star" (the latter in the context of entertainment).  I suspect that Ford of France folks intended the meaning to be "star."  But for the purposes of this post, "scout" might possibly apply.

The Wikipedia entry for the Vedette brand is here.

A while ago I wrote about 1947-1955 grilles for Plymouth, Chrysler Corporation's entry level brand.  The grille design for 1953 Plymouths has always puzzled me somewhat.  It consists of a thick horizontal bar with several raised, chromed, vertical ridges wrapped around it along with some vertical grooves incised.  Quite different from the sculpted-looking chromed shapes then current on the fronts of American cars.

Where did Plymouth stylists come up with that theme?

I had always assumed someone must have doodled it and management thought it was a good idea.  Now I'm not so sure.  It seems that early Vedettes (introduced at the fall 1948 Paris auto show) featured a similar theme.  Might a Chrysler stylist have noticed it and played around with variations for the 1953 Plymouth?  If any reader knows for sure how Plymouth got its '53 grille design, let us know in Comments.


1953 Plymouth publicity material

1949 Vedette - sales photo
This seems to be an entry-level Vedette: no chrome decoration on the grille bar.

1950 Vedette - sales photo
A fancier Vedette.  Compare this grille to that of the Plymouth above.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Tacking on Tail Fins

Single fins of the vertical stabilizer kind found on aircraft occasionally were found on low-production, aerodynamically-styled cars during the 1920s and 30s.  But tail fins mounted on rear fenders of cars can, for practical purposes, be treated as something initiated in Detroit styling studios after World War 2, though the style also was adopted by several non-American brands in the late-1950s and early 60s.

For the most part such tail fins were decorative, having little or no value regarding improving directional stability at high speeds.  I recall an article in a contemporary car magazine stating that fin's shapes could easily be modified from one model year to the next as an inexpensive way to freshen a car's design.

Small tail fins appeared on 1948 Cadillacs and occasionally later as modest little humps on cars such as 1953-54 Pontiacs and Dodges.

Fins became a major styling fad when the sensational (at the time) 1957 Chrysler Corporation line appeared.  Fins for these cars were part of the original design, but 1956 Chrysler products featured fins tacked onto 1955-vintage bodies in an attempt to allow the car-buying public to become familiar with the concept.  During the rest of the 1950s some automobile makers included fins on new designs.  Others did what Chrysler did for 1956, adding tail fins to existing designs.

The present post deals with the "tacked-on" variety on American brands of that era.


1956 Chrysler Corporation's Transition Fins

1956 Chrysler New Yorker - Barrett-Jackson auction photo

1956 DeSoto - Barrett-Jackson auction photo
Chrysler and DeSoto had a nice fender line for 1955, kicking up behind the door as seen here, but then running slightly down from horizontal towards the rear.  The 1956 fins destroyed the original design theme, so I never liked them even though my father owned a '56 DeSoto.

1956 Dodge - brochure page

1956 Plymouth Belvedere 2-door sedan - Barrett-Jackson auction photo
Dodge and Plymouth bodies were different from those of the senior Chrysler Corporation lines, so we find a different fin treatment.  This one works better because the basic fender lines are not altered.  At the same time, the fins are clearly fin-like in the context of a jet fighter or a Gold Cup racing hydroplane.  Nevertheless, they detract from the 1955 styling themes for these brands.

Competing Brand's Fins on Older Bodies

1957 Ford Thunderbird
Thunderbird was introduced for the 1955 model year with a design that included details found on regular '55 Fords.  One was the treatment of the tail light ensemble that gave T-Birds a slightly pinched look at the rear.  Ford sedans were redesigned for 1957, but Thunderbird had to carry its '55 vintage design until 1958.  One gift from large Fords to T-Birds was the canted tail fin shown here.  This is one instance where an imposed tail fin actually improved matters, adding interest to the rear and achieving better balance for the car's side appearance.

1957 Lincoln
I consider the 1957 facelift for Lincoln one of the worst, most character-destroying of its day.  (Though 1958 Oldsmobiles, Buicks and Cadillacs managed to top Lincoln on that score.)  The fin shown here is an overly-large, characterless blade that doesn't integrate with the rest of the body.  A more modest, more vertical fin would have worked better but still would have degraded a nice design.

1956 Lincoln
I include this photo of a 1956 Lincoln to illustrate the damage done by those fines.  These Lincolns were large cars, but the '56 design was graceful.

1957 Hudson Hornet Hollywood
The final Hudson.  Whatever virtues its 1952-vintage Nash body design had are thoroughly corrupted  through ad-hoc ornamentation at this point, so the silly little tacked-on fins almost get lost in the confusion.

1956 Studebaker Golden Hawk - Mecum auction photo
The basic body is that of the classic Raymond Loewy 1953 Studebaker Starliner, but it got modified repeatedly after 1954.  It's interesting that the Golden Hawk got fins the same year Chrysler began that fad.  Moreover, they look better despite the intrusive two-tome paint scheme.

1957 Studebaker Golden Hawk
Still tack-on in the sense that the fins were not part of the original design, the '57 Hawk's fins are nicely integrated, as compared to most other examples shown here.

1958 Studebaker Commander
On the other hand, the fins added to Studebaker sedans are awkward, misshapen objects.

1958 Packard sedan - auction photo
Sadly, by 1958 Packards had been reduced to using Studebaker bodies such as the one in the previous image.  The fins shown here are fussy, two-tiered affairs that unbalance the basic design.

1958 Rambler - brochure page
Rambler's new fins are modest, horizontal affairs.  They aren't attractive, but the Rambler body introduced for 1956 was ill-proportioned and unattractive to begin with.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Bentley R-Type Continental: Oldsmobile Styling?

In the 1953 Fawcett Book Sports Car Album, John Wheelock Freeman made the following remarks regarding the Bentley R-Type Continental:

* * * * *
The Continental Sports [Saloon] is, frankly, a snob-appeal car.  From the first, its makers unabashedly publicized it as being for the rare discriminating owner who combines unlimited driving skill with an unlimited bank balance.  Production is limited to one per month, for export only, although this situation may change.  Bodywork is a two-door five passenger closed coupé, built in special light alloy by H. J. Mulliner, whose mother seems to have been frightened by a '51 Chevrolet shortly before H. J.'s birth.  The windshield is curved in the worst American style, is placed disturbingly far from the driver.  If you don't like this piece of work, you can take your chassis in a huff to the nearest Italian coachbuilder.
* * * * *

Freeman was a consultant for the 1953 Museum of Modern Art "10 Automobiles" exhibit -- but perhaps not for the famous 1951 8 Automobiles that featured an Army Jeep along with a Cord, a Cisitalia (lent by Freeman) and others.  And if you read his 1953 book, you might detect more than a whiff of elitism, if not snobbery.

For more on the car, built 1952-55, link here (scroll down).

But what of the connection Freeman made regarding Bentley Continental and General Motors styling?


1949 Oldsmobile 98 Club Sedan advertising
Rather than the 1951 Chevrolet, I think the '49 Oldsmobile Ninety-Eight Club Sedan's styling is closest to the Bentley's.  Its design appeared for the 1948 model year and featured a horizontal chromed strip along the front fender and front door that aligned with the strip on the rear fender.  This was removed for 1949 98s, making for a better comparison to the Bentley.

1952 Bentley R-Type Continental (unknown photo source)
Perhaps the strongest resemblance is from the side.  The cars are 2-door models with fastback styling.  They feature a front fender that sweeps across the door, connecting to a separate rear fender.  General impression aside, details do not correspond.

1949 Oldsmobile 98 Club Sedan (unknown photo source)

1952 Bentley R-Type Continental - Fiskens sales photo
The front ends are considerably different in part because the Bentley retains its traditional grille along with headlamps placed close by.

1949 Oldsmobile 98 Club Sedan (unknown photo source)

1955 Bentley R-Type Continental - RM Auctions photo
Fastback styling differs considerably in that the the Bentley's back is a broad expanse, whereas the Oldsmobile's tapers towards the center with catwalks filling the space to the rear fenders.  The latter are raised over nearby sheet metal at the very rear in both cases, another superficial similarity.

Its sarcasm aside, Freeman's point has some validity.  The Continental, aside from the front ensemble, looks far more American than English, circa very early 1950s.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Squaring the Teardrops: Some Early 1950s American Facelifts

I touched on it here, but there's more to say on the subject of cars with rounded designs getting de-rounded via facelifts in the early '50s.

During the late 1930s and early 1940s, the general mind-set of American stylists was that future cars would feature rounded bodies whose shapes paid more than a little heed to aerodynamics.  This can be seen in sketches and, in the early '40s, some clay styling models.

Some designs in that spirit actually reached production after World War 2.  But the teardrop-shaped future proved to be a false one because General Motors' styling chief Harley Earl made one of his sudden direction-changes.  Although some new post-war GM cars had fastbacks, most were "bustle-back," with distinct trunks.  And rather than having fenders being almost totally absorbed into the car body, GM fenders had distinct shapes, even though they were in low-relief compared to 1930s practice.

Since about half the cars on the road were from General Motors, the 1949-vintage teardrop-influenced designs seemed somewhat out of touch with styling fashion.  So sales began to suffer and quick-fixes were put into place until completely restyled cars could reach dealers.  Affected brands for 1951 were Nash, Lincoln and Mercury, whose postwar designs debuted for the 1949 model year.  (I discussed Mercury styling in the above link, so will not deal with it here.)  Hudson's postwar design was launched for the 1948 model year, but didn't get a similar facelift until 1954.

In all cases, the styling fix involved grafting a higher aft portion of the fender with the goal of making the car look less rounded and more squared-off so as to compete better with the broader industry fashion exemplified by Studebaker, Kaiser, Frazer and Ford, as well as General Motors.  Packard, which got a rounded facelift for 1948, was totally restyled for 1951.


1950 Lincoln Sport Sedan - MJC Classics photo
This is the standard Lincoln that shared its basic body with Mercury.  (The top-of-the-line Lincoln Cosmopolitan had a unique body.)  Like the Hudsons shown below, it featured what might be termed semi-fastback styling.  Still, it largely followed early-1940s ideas as to how cars of the future should be shaped.

1951 Lincoln
The most important changes for 1951 were a reshaped backlight (rear window) and extended, higher fender trailing edges.  Seen from the side, the fender modification does "square-up" the appearance a little.  But seen from the rear, the design looked more awkward (see the link above for the similar result of Mercury's '51 facelift.)

1949 Nash Ambassador - Mecum auction photo
1950 Nashes had larger backlights than in 1949, but otherwise were nearly identical.  Nash came closest to the 1940-vintage teardrop ideal, even to the point of having skirted front wheels.  Unfortunately, the car looked heavy, ponderous.  It was derided as looking like "an upside-down bathtub."

1951 Nash Statesman - Barrett-Jackson auction photo
Not the best side view because of the camera angle.  Nash restyled the rear part of the fender, giving it a slight up-kick along with an extension.  This reduced the "bathtub" look a little.  If the wheel openings had been enlarged as well, the car would have looked much better.  Unfortunately, Nash-Kelvinator president George Mason really liked those skirted wheels, and so they remained.

1953 (ca.) Hudson Hornet
This might be a '52 model because they were essentially identical with the 1953s when seen from the side.

1954 Hudson Hornet - Barrett-Jackson auction photo
Besides the fender extension, the side trim was revised.  Gone was the large chromed strip along the bottom.  The ends of the thin side strip lost their ornamentation.  Added was a chromed faux air intake shape seemingly inspired by side trim on 1952-53 Ford Motor Company brands.  All this create some visual distance from 1948-53 Hudsons, but the design was still stale.