Thursday, February 26, 2015

Chevrolet Corvair: The First Generation Sedan and Coupe

Good intentions often get rewarded in negative ways.  Consider Chevrolet's radical (for the American market) Corvair.  It was one of three "compact" cars introduced by Ford (the Falcon), Chrysler (Plymouth Valiant) and General Motors for the 1960 model year in reaction to strengthening sales of small, imported cars, especially the Volkswagen Beetle.

Besides being smaller than standard American cars, the Corvair had an air-cooled opposed-cylinder engine (conceptually similar to the Beetle's) mounted in the rear (also à la Beetle).  For nearly 50 years, the standard for American cars was a water-cooled motor placed at the front of the car driving the rear wheels, so the Corvair concept was indeed bold.  But that engine layout was flawed because it creates a weight bias towards the rear of the car that usually causes handling problems under certain conditions.

So it was that lawyer Ralph Nader wrote an exposé of the Corvair that benefitted his career and destroyed the Corvair brand.  That and other Corvair information is reported here.

As for styling, the first Corvair series (1960-1964 model years) can be classified as "functional," but not at all beautiful.


I include this photo because the people give a sense of the Corvair's size.

Some makers of rear-engine cars placed a fake grille at the front to give their cars a "normal" appearance.  GM stylists were in a functionalist mode when the Corvair was designed, so gave it a plain, solid front.  An important style feature is the shoulder line chrome trim that is at the same level all the way around the car save for a small drop at the front.

Side view showing how plain (devoid of ornamentation) early Corvairs were.  The little kink at the base of the A-pillar was found on many GM cars starting in 1961.

Rear 3/4 view of a Corvair apparently taken at the Paris auto show.  Note the wraparound backlight (window) and how it relates to the flat roof and C-pillars.

That same design appeared on 1959 four-door pillarless sedans of all GM brands.  This is a Chevrolet Impala Sport Sedan.

First-series Corvairs eventually were available as station wagons, convertibles and coupes.  Shown here in a 1962 Corvair Monza.  It was somewhat sportier than the sedans, but had a cramped back seat.

Monday, February 23, 2015

The Rolls-Royce with the Noisy CLock

This Rolls-Royce advertisement appeared more than 55 years ago.  Old though it is, it remains famous in many advertising industry circles.  It was also helpful for Rolls' sales efforts in the United States.

Famed advertising man David Ogilvy was responsible for the classic advertisement.  His Wikipedia entry is here and other biographical information is here.

This link has some background regarding the Silver Cloud.  A cursory Google search did not turn up any information regarding who did the styling.  Whoever it was, the task was tricky because of the requirement to maintain the traditional Rolls "tombstone" radiator/grille design while having the rest of the car's appearance reasonably up to date.  That same problem remains to this day, the current solution being to have the grille conform more to the body shape.

I think the styling solution for the initial Silver Clouds was a good one (later versions were degraded thanks to the imposition of quad headlamps).  The long hood and signature grille are retained, while the slightly dropped flow-back front fender and semi-separate rear fender give the car grace and lightness that would be missing if a slab-fender design was used.  Also, the top features hints of razor-edge style, a nice echo of previous customized Rolls-Royces.

All things taken into account, I think the early Silver Clouds are the most successfully styled Rolls-Royces since 1955.


A two-page spread version of the Ogilvy ad; click to enlarge so that you can read the copy.

Here are two images of Silver Clouds that I found on the Internet, hoping the second one is a sales publicity shot.  The Blue car is a 1956-vintage Silver Cloud and the other is a 1960 model Silver Cloud II.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

The Shrunken 1933-36 Willys 77

Willys-Overland cars were among the best-sellers in the USA during the late 1920s.  But the Great Depression of the 1930s hit the company particularly hard, its sales rank dropping to near the bottom.  A brief history of Willys is here.

While sales were collapsing, the company developed a new, much-smaller car introduced for the 1933 model year as the Willys 77.  The 77 helped keep Willys alive, though production levels remained far below the 1920s peak and the company flirted with bankruptcy.

Financial matters were finally stabilized and restyled, renamed 77s appeared for 1937 and later model years.  What eventually saved Willys was World War 2 and its production of Jeeps.


Advertisement for Willys 77 - February 1933

1933 Willys 77
The 77 was smaller than most American cars, but from the cowl to the rear, its styling was in line with the times.  The front end was another matter.  Aside from the curved fronts on 1934 DeSoto and Chrysler Airflows, most 1930s American cars featured horizontal rather than plunging hood lines as on the 77.  Headlamp housings integral to the fenders was an advanced feature.  The back-leaning grille, on the other hand, was also found on 1933 Fords, Grahams, Hupmobiles, Plymouths and some other brands' cars.

1935 Willys 77

1935 Willys 77 - brochure item
Willys facelifted the 77 for 1935/36.  The main change was raising the hood line to the horizontal.  This required a different grille along with valances tying the fenders to the restyled parts.

1935 Chevrolet model line
Chevrolet was General Motors' low-price brand and therefore competition for Willys.  Chevrolet Standards had carryover bodies from 1934, whereas the higher-price Master DeLuxe series was new for 1935.  Click on the image to enlarge.  Willys styling was competitive with 1935 Standards, but for 1936 the Standard series also got the restyled body, making the 77 seem dated.  So Willys cut prices to stay in the game.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Vauxhall Velox and Cresta: Wraparounds Front and Rear

The two major American styling fads of the 1950s were panoramic (or wraparound, as they were called at the time) windshields and tail fins.  Wraparound windshields appeared on low-volume Oldsmobile and Cadillac convertibles for the 1953 model year, then were on all the redesigned 1954 Olds, Buick and Cadillac cars.  Nearly all the rest of American cars added wraparounds by the end of the 1955 model year.  Large tail fins became a major styling element on the 1957 Chrysler Corporation line, but were previewed in a subdued way on the '56s.  Before that, small fins were on Cadillacs starting in 1948 and Pontiacs by 1953 had little limps on their rear fenders that some people might call fins.

Vauxhall, in England, was a General Motors subsidiary in the late 1950s (and remains so).  Which is why Vauxhall's Cresta and its more upscale mate Velox got a strong dose of GM styling when they were redesigned for 1957. Background on Velox is here and Cresta here.

I'll walk through the details in the captions below.


1957 Vauxhall Cresta - side
The new design was very American, very up-to-date.  Note the low hood and high fender line.  The tail fins are discrete compared to Chrysler's offering that year.  But I want to focus on the passenger compartment windows on what stylists call the "greenhouse."  The windshield is a wraparound, with A-pillars leaning forward from their base.  The rear windows ("backlights" in stylist-speak) have a wraparound arrangement as well, but the C-pillars lean backwards in a kind of echo or mirror image of the windshield treatment.  This style was used on some GM American cars at about the same time.

1958 Vauxhall Cresta
Another view of the Cresta.  It's a pretty tidy design aside from the awkward headlamp ensemble.  But it doesn't seem very British.

1958 Vauxhall Velox - rear 3/4 view
Those are huge tail lights that look vulnerable to damage in the most minor of rear-end accidents.  Take note of the three-piece rear window.  In the late 1940s and early 50s, initial versions of panoramic backlights had three pieces separated by thin dividers.  The reason had to do with the state of the art of mass-production curved automobile glass.  For a reason I find very hard to understand, GM styling supremo Harley Earl returned to three-piece backlights, but with thick dividers for 1957 Oldsmobiles, most '57 Buicks and the new Crestas and Veloxes as well.  Observe that the top of the central window does not quite align with the forward edge of the side units -- a curious flaw not present on the American cars.  (This also can be noticed on the first photo, above.)

1958 ca. Vauxhall Cresta - front 3/4 view
The front of the earlier Cresta.  The top is rounded like its new American GM conterparts.  The grille and bumper combination is unobjectionable, but not exciting.  As noted above, the treatment of the lights seems awkward.

1962 Vauxhall Velox grille
The final year for the PA body.  The grille has been enlarged, yet still makes no serious statement.  And nobody bothered to improve the headlamp treatment.

1960 Vauxhall Cresta - side
Here we see an American-Style two-color paint job.  This photo also illustrates the symmetry of the front and rear fenestration that is now emphasized by one-peice backlight glass -- a nice improvement.

1958 Chevrolet Bel Air
Here is an American car by GM for comparison.  This Chevy features the same sort of windshield-backlight treatment as the Cresta in the previous photo.

1957 Oldsmobile - rear window (backlight) treatment
This is how Earl's odd three-piece backlight looked on an American car.  Note that forward edges of the center and side windows seem better-aligned than on the Vauxhall.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Chrysler K-Cars: Plain and Fancy

Chrysler Corporation launched its K platform car line in 1981 in what was thought by many as its last gasp before descending into bankruptcy and possible total failure.  As it happened, the K-cars proved to be the company's salvation as it recovered once again in a series of swings between prosperity and near-obliteration that had been going on since the early 1950s and have continued to this day.

The K platform was a front wheel drive layout with a short, 100.3 inch (2548 mm) wheelbase.  Over the years, many variations were produced and often given different platform code letters, creating the impression that the newer models were not really K-cars, even though they fundamentally were.

Chrysler's entry-level and mid-range brands were respectively Plymouth and Dodge, and their K-cars were called the Plymouth Reliant and Dodge Aries (for details, click here).  For 1982, the K platform was extended to the Chrysler brand as the Chrysler LeBaron line.  The LeBaron name was from a classic-era coachbuilding firm that Chrysler acquired remnants of, and proceeded to cheapen by placing it on progressively mundane cars (LeBaron history is summarized here).

This post deals with some of the original K-cars marketed 1981-84.  The styling was pre- modern aerodynamic, a remnant of the so-called "three-box" styling prevalent in the 1970s and early 80s.  K-cars were generally cleanly-styled, with few strong curves.  Glass-area was proportionally large, in tune with the styling fashions of the time.  Roofs were essentially flat and thin.  C-pillars were thick, providing a town-car look that was another fashionable feature.  In sum, given the K-platform parameters, Chrysler Corporation stylists did a clean, competent job on the earliest K examples, though I must add that the cars lacked visual excitement.

First Plymouth Reliant
Posing with the first K-car to come off the assembly line is Chrysler Corporation chairman Lee Iacocca, who is credited with the K-car assisted turnaround.

1982 Plymouth Reliant 4-door

1982 Plymouth Reliant 2-door
Note the vinyl cover at the rear of the "greenhouse" of this car.  The four-door sedan above it seems to have vinyl covering all the top's sheet metal.  This was yet another circa-1980 fashion, one that Iacocca was especially fond of.  The concept was to provide a car with a dignified, classic-era aura.  Unfortunately vinyl tops did not age well; they might fade or unpeel if not cared for.  More such tops are seen in some of the images below.

1981 Dodge Aries

1982 Dodge 400 Coupe
The 400 was essentially another name for the K-car.

1982 Chrysler LeBaron
The first Chrysler-branded K-car.

1983 Chrysler LeBaron Town & Country
Town & Country was a Chrysler name applied to "woodie" and faux-woodie designs since the late 1940s. That's a 1947-vintage Town & Country woodie convertible lurking in the background; the 1984 version is a faux.

1984 Chrysler Limousine
An ultra-stretched K-car with a 131.3 inch (3,335 mm) wheelbase.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Art Fitzpatrick and Van Kaufman: Early Pontiac Grand Prix Illustrations

So far as I know when drafting this post, he is still alive and probably illustrating automobiles.   That would be Art Fitzpatrick, born in 1920 or maybe a year or two earlier.  Although he did automobile advertising art for several American car makers in the 1940s and 50s, his fame is largely due to his work for Pontiac in the 1960s and 70s in collaboration with Van Kaufman.  Fitzpatrick rendered the cars and Kaufman provided the backgrounds.

I didn't notice a biography of either artist on a quick Google search.   In place of that, some links dealing with Fitzpatrick's career and work are here, here and here.   Of particular interest is this link which features an interview with him.

The present post features images created by Fitzpatrick ("AF" was the signature he used) and Kaufman ("VK") for Pontiac's 1962 and 1963 Grand Prix models.   Fitzpatrick mentioned that the new (for 1962) Grand Prix model's name implied Europe, so he and Kaufman researched European backgrounds they thought would be suitable for advertisements.   In one telling observation, he stated that their Pontiac illustrations were unusual for the times because the people in the scenes were not admiring the cars, but instead were doing other things that fit the context of the scene being shown.

I include 1962 Grand Prix illustrations because that was the first year for that model.   The 1963 cars were based on a new body (note differences in the windshield), and I consider its styling especially nice; a thorough repudiation of the baroque styling excesses of the 1950s.


1962 Pontiac Grand Prix
Shown along the Corniche high route along the French Riviera.

1962 Pontiac Grand Prix
Another Riviera setting, though I'm not sure where (Cannes?).

1962 Pontiac Grand Prix
France, again.  Note the Citroën Traction-Avant in the background.

1962 Pontiac Grand Prix
Still in France, but again I can't pin down the location.  Please comment if you know where.

1962 Pontiac Grand Prix
Big change: Back in the good old USA.

1963 Pontiac Grand Prix
This illustration might be from a brochure.  Ditto the image immediately above it.

1963 Pontiac Grand Prix
One source has the setting as the canal along the Loire River.

1963 Pontiac Grand Prix
Might be Portofino. Note the sketchy style of both the car and background components.  And the cyclist blocking part of the car: bold for a car ad then.

1963 Pontiac Grand Prix
In front of the Hotel de Paris in Monaco, down the hill a short ways from the Monte Carlo casino.

1963 Pontiac Grand Prix advertisement
On the Pont Alexandre III in Paris.

1963 Pontiac Grand Prix advertisement
That's Paris' Opéra Garnier in the background.

Cross posted at Art Contrarian

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Avanti as Found in Baltimore, 1963

The Studebaker Avanti was a styling sensation when it first appeared.  Well, it certainly was to me when I saw a photo of it in the New York Times when it had its public debut at the New York auto show, 26 April 1962.

I'll eventually get around to doing a more complete commentary, but for now I'd like to indulge myself.  Below are scans from photographic slides I took of an Avanti in Baltimore sometime around April of 1963.  The setting was North Charles Street.

The camera I was using was essentially a 35 mm. snapshot camera by Voigtländer.  One fixed lens, perhaps a built-in exposure meter (I forget, but probably not).  At any rate, the quality of its images was mixed.  On bright, sunny days it did a pretty good job.  But under marginal lighting conditions -- not so good.  The Avanti photos were taken in a shady setting, so if you click for a full enlargement, the result isn't totally sharp.

Regardless, I hope you enjoy viewing an Avanti when it was new.


Monday, February 2, 2015

Buick's Nifty 1962 Skylark

As this Wikipedia entry states, "Skylark" was a model name Buick used for six different cars ranging from (at first) expensive, low-production convertibles to (finally) nondescript compacts.

My favorite Skylark in the 1962 hardtop model with a white top, black lower body and red upholstery.  One reason why I like it is because my parents owned one.  But I mostly like it because it was nicely styled for its time.

As for quibbles, I think the passenger compartment could have been lengthened two or three inches (5-7 cm) to the rear.  And the rounded points at the front of the fenders seem tacked-on when seen across the grille as in the top photo below.  However, I'm not sure a different treatment would have improved the car's looks much or at all.