Monday, October 5, 2015

Chrysler's Intriguing 1939 Front End Styling

A clever art director might have had a hand in that Chrysler advertisement shown above.  Note that the illustration shows a woman wearing the same hat as on the model in the photo.  I am not interested in the hat, however.  My concern for this post is the front-end ensemble on 1939 Chryslers.

Context is provided below, but you might also wish to refer to this brief history-plus-photos originally prepared by Chrysler Corporation in 1966.

What interests me regarding 1939 Chrysler front ends is that the hood is set back a short distance from the very front of the car.  Far enough aft so that the hood and remainder of the car becomes one element and the front fenders and a connecting surface containing the main grille opening comprise a separate element.

Until the 1934 advent of Chrysler's Airflow which pushed the motor more towards the front axle line and the rear passenger seat ahead of, rather than above, the rear axle line, the radiator/grille usually sat on the front axle line or a very short distance fore or aft of it.  The area between the radiator/grille and the bumper was a kind of dead-zone where some sheet metal was added as an apron covering the gap and perhaps also draping over the front leaf springs and other mechanical bits.

During the second half of the 1930s engines and radiators were moved forward and grilles became increasingly separated from radiators.  By around 1940 American cars featured front-end styling where the front of the hood, the grille and the fenders were merging into a unified massing.

But not 1939 Chryslers.


Here is a 1938 Chrysler C-19 New York Special that arrived at the end of the mid-late 1930s bulbous look that stemmed from the introduction of all-steel bodies and limitations of metal stamping technology.  Headlamps are separate elements.  The hood-grille unit thrusts almost to the very front of the car.

For 1940, Chrysler front end elements are blended, and the grille and leading edge of the hood are now forward of the fenders with their integral headlights.

Here is a 1939 Chrysler Royal where the radiator is fairly close to the front axle line.  The front overhang seems slightly greater than on the 1940 model which allowed Chrysler stylists to achieve the two-element front design mentioned above.

Mecum Auction photo of a 1939 Chrysler Royal.

Sales photo of a 1939 Chrysler Imperial.  Imperials were powered by inline eight cylinder engines, so long hoods were needed to accommodate them.  This reveals the marketing-related flaw in Chrysler's 1939 design.  Long hoods and straight-8 and V-16 motors that required them connoted power and prestige to 1930s car shoppers.  But 1939 Chrysler hoods were slightly stubbier than they needed to be, this working against buyer expectations.  Which might be one reason 1940 Chryslers reverted to hoods that were as long as possible.

Hood length and marketing considerations aside, I have to say that I've always liked 1939 Chrysler front end styling.  The various hood details are not well integrated, but the thrust imparted by the lower fender-grille-bridge ensemble echoes in a diminished way the emotion 1936-37 Cords have always evoked.

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