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.

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