Thursday, April 30, 2015

AMC Hornet Sedans: Some of Dick Teague's Best

Richard A. Teague (1923-1991), as this biographical sketch indicates, spent most of his career working for automobile firms struggling to stay in business.  This meant that he had to worry more about development and production costs than did styling directors of large companies such as General Motors and Chrysler (where he also worked at times).  Despite this handicap, he was able to style noteworthy Packard and American Motors products.

One of his best American Motors designs was that of Hornet sedans, produced for the 1970-77 model years.


A 1970 Hornet four-door sedan with a fashionable vinyl-covered roof.

This is a sales photo for a used 1970 two-door Hornet.  It is either an entry-level model having little ornamentation, or a slightly customized car where ornamentation was stripped off.  I include this image because it shows rear styling.  Note the non-stock wheels.

Side view of an entry-level 1972 Hornet two-door showing off its clean, nicely proportioned lines from the pre-aerodynamic era.

This is one design that, intentionally or otherwise, follows Del Coates' theory that a car has a solid stance when features point to the axle hubs.  Observe that the A-pillar points toward the front hub and that the leading edge of the C-pillar points to the rear hub.

A circa-1974 Hornet four-door (sales photo).  I include this mostly because, unlike the car in the first photo, it lacks vinyl roof covering.  Note the re-styled grille.

A pleasing photo of a 1974 Hornet two-door sedan.  Other Hornet models (a hatchback and station wagon) had their quirks, but I see little wrong with Teague's design (from the pencils of Bob Nixon and Vince Geraci).

Monday, April 27, 2015

Pontiac's Consistent 1949-1954 Grille Theme

Some automobile marques maintained grille themes for decades.  Examples include Rolls-Royce, Packard and BMW.  Others redesigned grilles on a seemingly whimsical basis; Plymouth comes to mind.  Then there are cases where a grille theme may persist for several model years, only to be discarded and replaced by a considerably different design.  For example, I wrote about Ford's spinner theme here.

Another example of a grille theme that lasted for more than three or so years comes from the same time frame.  The present post deals with Pontiac grilles from the 1949 model year through 1954.  The theme featured a large, horizontal chromed bar, usually with a medallion at its center.  Below, and, on one occasion, above the bar as well were chromed "teeth" found most years.  Other strong chromed elements were added and changed from year to year.

This theme worked well while it lasted.  But by the mid-1950s, bold chromed shapes were beginning to fall out of fashion, so Pontiac stylists began to explore other themes.


This 1948 Pontiac's grille carried the previous theme.  I include this photo to set the scene.

Pontiac was completely restyled for 1949.  Here is the first iteration of the grille theme under discussion.  There is the bold, horizontal bar with "teeth" below it and a centered medallion.  Atop the bar are raised strakes aligned with the teeth below.

Pontiac's 1950 facelift dropped the teeth and replaced them with curved vertical bars.

1951 Pontiacs went back to teeth, though fewer of them.  A truncated V-shape was added towards the center, helping to frame the medallion.  I consider this and the '49 grilles the most successful examples of the theme.

Grilles on 1952 models were about the same as in 1951.  The difference was a fussy little faux air intake implanted on the upper framing chrome ensemble.

1953 Pontiacs got newer bodies that look suspiciously like hand-downs from older GM "B" bodies.  Teeth are absent from the grille, and the V had been upended in one of those "let's pull the old switcheroo" moments of styling creativity.  Actually, not a bad design, though not as nice as 1949 or 1951.

Pontiac stylists knew a new grille theme would be on the redesigned 1955 models, so for 1954 we find what seems to be a transitional design.  The central bar is split into a highly stretch oval that vaguely echoes the shape of the air intake opening.

The all-now 1955 Pontiac retained the horizonal bar as a visual element, though in fact it is the front bumper.  Teeth and other older ornamentation are gone, however, not to return.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

New Reprint of "Century of Automotive Style"

Probably my most important general reference book on car styling history is A Century of Automotive Style by Michael Lamm and the late David Holls.

Holls was a leading member of General Motors' styling staff for many years as well as a student of design history. Lamm is perhaps best known for founding "Special-Interest Autos" magazine in the early 1970s and editing it for two periods. He wrote an extremely important set of articles on automobile history 1930-1960, based as much as possible on interviews with men involved with design and engineering of featured cars. This provided readers with plenty of "why" along with some of the usual "what" found in other publications, something I greatly appreciated.

An excerpt from an email Lamm sent me recently:

"Just want to let you know that I’ve reprinted A Century of Automotive Style.... "The reprint is a limited edition - only 500 copies - of the original hardcover book. I’ve included a few corrections, but it’s essentially the same as its two predecessors, one hardcover and one soft-.

"Here are the basics: 308 pages, 900+ photos and illustrations, 9x12-inch format, glossy stock; full design histories of major American automakers, ditto coachbuilders, personality profiles of significant designers and design managers plus, of course, a very readable account of the science and art of domestic automobile design, 1896 to 1996.

The book has received generous praise and warm reviews over the years from such notables as Automobile Quarterly’s Scott Bailey, Automobile Magazine’s David E. Davis Jr. and Robert Cumberford, Ford’s Jack Telnack, Chrysler’s Tom Gale GM’s Chuck Jordan as well as Scientific American and The New Yorker. In 1997, “Style” also won the Society of Automotive Historians’ prestigious Cugnot Award. A Century of Automotive Style is currently available through and Price is $69.95."

Thursday, April 23, 2015

The First Boxy Volvos

For decades, Volvos were noted for their boxy styling.  The so-called "three-box" look  was common from the 1960s into the '80s when cars became rounder due to aerodynamic considerations.  (Three-box =  two boxes end-to-end for the lower body and another atop those for the passenger cabin; alternately, a central box with smaller front and rear hood and trunk boxes.)

Volvo's boxy look first appeared for the 1967 model year with the introduction of the 140 series.  In 1968 I bought a new Volvo 142 while I was a starving graduate student at Penn.  Two grad school buddies also bought 1968 Volvos -- one a 142, another the older 122 series model.  We each experienced mechanical problems.  One friend's 142 came close to catching fire on one occasion, and my other friend's 122 had to have its engine either rebuilt or replaced (I forget which).  My car suffered from a faulty Bosch distributor, small beer compared to the others' problems.

I could afford a new Volvo in those days because they were far less posh than today's versions.  For example, instead of floor carpeting, my car came with rubber floor matting.  Air conditioning was either not standard or unavailable, so I didn't have that.  My car didn't have an automatic transmission, instead having a long, long gear shift lever sprouting from the floor.  Nor were there all the emissions and safety gizmos mandated for today's cars.

Volvo 140 series car featured uncluttered, simple shaping that didn't look heavy thanks to their tall greenhouse area.  Unspectacular, and (aside from a problem noted below) pleasantly styled.


This is a Volvo 142, the "2" signifying that it is the two-door version of the 140 series.  Mine had a yellowish-cream paint job.

The four-door 144.  My mother owned one of these, also in that yellowish-cream color.  Note that the  now-traditional Volvo angled slash bar on the grille is not present.  It was found on 1930s Volvos and reappeared on the 1968 model 164.

The 140s had simple, nearly ornamentation-free styling.  The grille is a one-piece version of the design used on the 122-series Volvos from the 1950s.  Perhaps having something to do with the rear door, the belt line and related fenestration, 144s seem curiously awkward compared to 142s.

Rear 3/4 view showing the clean styling and, again, the awkwardness in the area of the B-pillar.  Yes, those are rubber mud guards aft of the wheel openings front and rear.

Nice publicity photo.  Very mid-1960s.

Monday, April 20, 2015

What Were They Thinking?: Infiniti QX60 Deatils

Thanks to U.S. government demands, manufacturers selling cars in America face increasingly stringent (and arbitrary) fuel efficiency requirements.  A comparatively inexpensive way to help attain an acceptable company-wide economy level is by reducing aerodynamic drag.  So nearly all car designs are wind tunnel tested while in the development stage.  One result is that bodies for each class of vehicle (sedan, SUV, etc.) tend to have very similar basic shapes.  So in order for a firm to visually differentiate its products from those of competitors, stylists have had to focus on secondary styling elements such as shapes of windows and wheel opening as well as ornamentation.  The result is that we are in one of those eras of baroque (as opposed to "clean") styling.

For this post, I feature the Infiniti QX69 SUV, part of Nissan's high-priced line in the USA.  I consider its ornamentation messy, poorly integrated.


Here is a front three-quarter view of a 2015 Infinity to help set the scene.  Most of the problems are found around the rear of the vehicle, though the front has its share.  Note that the grille shape and the shape of the lower front air inlet are not related in any real way.

Now a rear three-quarter view.  The character line across the doors does somewhat relate to the tail light housing, but it isn't clear whether it is to the upper or lower edges (it seems to split the difference).  And the dog-leg shape of the aft side window echoes the sharp kink at the side of the backlight (rear window).  Other than these touches, the remaining elements of the "composition" are unrelated.

Now for a detail of the previous image.  The inset for the license plate has a shape unrelated to the rest of the rear of the vehicle, and the same can be said for the chrome strips at its top and bottom.  The folds on the panel between the upper strip and the tail light assembly do not link to either the lower edge of the strip or the nearest edge of the tail lights.  The fold where the Infinity emblem is placed does not quite conform the the shape of the top of the chrome strip below the emblem and clashes with the curve at the bottom of the backlight.  The black panel beneath the bumper is unrelated to other parts of the rear design, and the same can be said regarding the shape of the reflectors on the bumper strike panel.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Watch Cadillac's Tail Fins Disappear

Cadillac was famed for the tail fins it sported beginning with the 1948 model year.  But they disappeared by 1965, some 50 years ago.  General information about General Motors' Cadillac brand can be found here.

Cadillac's fins began as modest lumps at the trailing part of the rear fenders, but in 1956-57 Chrysler started a brief, intense fad for large fins of varying shapes that eventually assumed rococo grandeur.  Cadillac stylists (well, perhaps more marketing staff than the stylists, though the about-to-be-retired styling supremo Harley Earl had to have agreed) were swept up in the craze and created the most extreme, outrageous Cadillac fins for 1959.

Sanity began to return to the American automobile industry as 1960 approached.  Bill Mitchell, Earl's successor, favored crisp, well-tailored styling and began the process of de-finning Cadillac for the 1960 model year when he finally was able to affect what was in the production development pipeline.


This photo shows the apex of Cadillac tail fin extremism, a reply to what Chrysler successfully offered in 1957.

Cadillac was stuck with the same bloated body it had in '59, but the fins were lowered and simplified with the elimination of the tail light housings and some minor reshaping.

This model year marked a restyled body.  Tail fins were flattened and slightly lowered.  However, an echo or counter-fin was added to the lower part of the rear fender zone.  This helped to make the car less heavy-looking.

Cadillac styling was almost unchanged for 1962.

1963 brought a revised body: note the straighter A-pillar and cleaned-up sides.  The lower "fins" are gone, but the tail fins are essentially unchanged.

Tail fins might be slightly lower for 1964.

Now the fins are gone, as seen in this brochure photo that looks like it might have been taken at GM's Tech Center where corporate research and styling were located.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Toyota Corona 1964-70: (Electric) Razor-Edge Styling

The Toyota that considerably helped the firm's effort to get established in the American automobile market was its Corona model of 1964-70.  It is discussed here (scroll down to "Third generation").   The entry, lacking a reference citation, asserts "The Italian designer Battista Farina assisted in the appearance of the new Corona."  On the other hand, the Wikipedia entry on Pininfarina does not mention any link to the Corona, citing instead the 1965 Nissan Cedric, a competing car.  Whoever was responsible, the 1965-vintage Corona was a nicely styled compact car of its vintage.

As for the electric razor remark in this post's title, I made it because the frontal ensemble of the Corona somewhat reminded me of the shaving end of an electric razor.  And the razor-edge bit was intended to be a sly take on razor-edge styling on custom Rolls-Royces, vintage 1940s.

The backwards-leaning Corona front was unusual for its time.  That's because styling fashion in those pre-aerodynamic days was to have front fender profile leaning forwards, the objective to have a strong, long line at shoulder level to make a car seem as long as possible.  Toyota's contrarian approach gave the car a stubbier look, but that didn't seem to affect sales negatively.

All things considered, I consider this Corona a successful design.


1965 Japanese version of the Corona.  It lacks the chrome strip that runs along the shoulder of the fender line seen in the images below.

Almost-side view of a 1965 Corona.  This shows the backwards slope of the grille.

Rear of 1966 Corona.  Neatly styled.

Another front 3/4 view, this of a 1966 Corona in South Africa.  The greenhouse area reminds me of that on contemporary Volvo144s.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

1953 Styling Sketches by Wayne Takeuchi

The October 1953 issue of Hop Up magazine, its title transitioning to Motor Life, was edited by George Hill, who just had the job handed over from respected automotive journalist Dean Batchelor.   Its feature article by another noted (at the time) writer, Eugene Jaderquist, was "1954 Styling Predictions."  The magazine cover and article were illustrated by Wayne Takeuchi, described as a 21 year old scholarship student at the Art Center School in Los Angeles (now the Art Center College of Design, located in Pasadena, California).  Unfortunately, neither my own library resources nor a short Google search turned up anything regarding Takeuchi's professional career; if anyone can supply details, please comment.

The predictive sketches were not particularly accurate, but I was taken by the cover illustrations of a small, sporty Lincoln designed by Takeuchi.


Scan of the magazine cover.

Rendering of the design for a Lincoln (perhaps Ford Motor Company funded Takeuchi's scholarship).  The most creative feature is the way the backlight (jargon for back window) is linked to the rear side windows.  The normal treatment would be a stout C-pillar.  Moreover, a 1953-vintage hardtop would have no B-pillar, the side windows retracting to yield a convertible-like void between the A- (front) and C- (rear) pillars supporting the roof.  In effect, Takeuchi pulled a styling switcheroo and made it look very attractive.

Front and rear 3/4 views of the Lincoln design.  It seems too airy for Lincoln, a luxury brand, but might have made for a nice Ford, Chevrolet or Studebaker.

Some of Takeuchi's 1954 prediction sketches.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Styling by Wind Tunnel

Thanks to apparently arbitrary (because round numbers are specified) and increasingly harsh government fuel economy requirements, car makers seem to be exploiting every aerodynamic advantage they can find.  One result of this is in the profiles of many standard-size 2015 four-door sedans sold in the USA.

Consider the following:


2015 Hyundai Sonata

2015 Chrysler 200
What caught my eye and inspired this post was a Chrysler 200 parked next to my rented Sonata in a parking lot in the Palm Springs area last month.  The roof profiles looked strikingly similar, particularly where the roofline blends into the trunk area.  Other details such as window shapes, metal sculpting patterns and so forth differed.  That seems to be what stylists are allowed to work with these days, and not the basic shape of a car.

2015 Ford Fusion
The Fusion's profile is also quite similar to those of the Sonata and 200.

2015 Chevrolet Impala
Starting with the Impala, the next several examples feature a slight more dinct transition from the roof to the trunk.

2015 Nissan Altima

2015 Honda Accord

2015 Toyota Camry

2015 Mazda 6

2015 Volkswagen Passat

2015 Volvo S60
Volvo often goes its own way, though not as strongly as its late Swedish friend SAAB.  Here the roof-trunk blend is more an ogive curve than the other examples.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Austin-Healey 100: 1950s British Sports Car Styling at Its Best

It seems that the Austin-Healey 100, to my mind the most successfully styled 1950s English sports car, came from the pen of body engineer Gerry Coker with kibitzing by Donald Healey.  That and other details of the genesis of the AH 100 can be found here.  Additional information can be found in this Wikipedia entry.

The focus of this post is the original "large Healey," produced 1953-1956.  Later versions were lengthened, extra seating space added, different engines installed, and the grille and other details revised

Styling was cleanly done with nice touches such as a character line crease from the front fender (wing) across the door to the rear wheel opening that subtly helped to reduce potential visual bulk on an otherwise plain side.  The standard-for-the-times fender flow with an upkicked rear fender line was used, but treated more successfully than on the slightly later MGA (a near-competitor) and the small Triumph Spitfire.

An unusual touch was that the car had a backwards-leaning aspect rather than a forward-thrusting one, something one might expect for a sports car with good performance.  This styling stance was due to the slope of the grille and frontal part of the hood (bonnet) that was echoed by the front and rear cut lines of the doors and the windshield slope.


A sales photo of a 1954 Austin-Healey 100.

Rear 3/4 view of a 1955 from Dusty Cars.

Side view of a 1955 100 from Goodman Reed car sales.

I used this image of a 1957 MGA here to illustrate my contention that "The front fender seems a little too long and bland, virtually featureless.  But in the area around the rear of the cockpit, we find a busy set of details -- the rear cockpit curve, the door cut-line, the transition to the rear fender, the rear fender itself, and the wheelhouse and rear wheel.  All this attracts the eye, making the front part of the car seem too long.  It also gives the rear a sort of tacked-on look."
Compare the MGA to the AH 100, which has a similar English sports car seating position.  The key differences are the character line noted above and that the MGA has a distinct rear fender whereas the 100 has the fenderline flowing over the rear wheel opening.  The AH also has the advantage of better basic proportions, in part due to a slightly shorter wheelbase -- 90 vs. 94 inches (2.286 vs. 2.388 m.).