Monday, November 23, 2015

First-Generation American All-Steel Roofs

Before the mid-1930s, American closed cars had weatherproofed fabric inserts covering much of their roofs.  But the time for a change to all-metal roofs was at hand.  General Motors was first with its "Turret Top" line on many of its 1935 cars, and by the 1938 model year almost every closed car built in America had a roof of steel.

This post presents most of the brands having first-generation steel-topped bodies.  In almost every case, bodies had strongly rounded shapes in the "greenhouse" area and fenders.  This was due to limitations in 1930s sheet metal stamping technology as well as, in some cases, the need to stack body components in a nested fashion for shipment to assembly plants scattered across the United States.

Seen from today's perspective, most 1935-38 American cars looked awkward and dumpy due to the rounded body shapes that were enhanced by strongly rounded-off window corners -- especially those on General Motors cars.  GM's styling boss Harley Earl soon realized that all this roundedness was a mistake, and had his staff making corrections on 1937 cars, as I explained here.


1935 Chevrolet Master De Luxe
Photographed at Berger Chevrolet, Grand Rapids, Michigan.  Chevrolet's hood and grille were not rounded much, helping to offset the softness of much of the rest of the design.

1935 Oldsmobile
1935 Pontiac 2-door sedan
More examples of General Motors' early bodies featuring all-steel roofs.  These designs had a "streamline" theme that marked a strong break from the more angular designs of previous years.  These cars look "softer" than the Chevy because their hoods and grilles are more rounded to fit the rest of the theme.

1936 Dodge advertisement
For the following model year, many other brands followed GM's theme of rounded bodies and all-steel roofs.

1936 Chrysler Airstream
Photo by Lars-Göran Lindgren, Sweden.  Another example of Chrysler Corporation styling for 1936, but this in a photograph instead of an artist's distortions seen in the Dodge ad above.

1936 Hudson sales material
Another brand with a completely new design for 1936.  The side windows aren't as rounded as those of GM cars, but the rest of the car looks awkward and dumpy.  Interestingly, Hudson stylists were able firm up the exterior to keep up with the trend away from "soft" designs, as I discussed here.

1936 Nash DeLuxe Sedan
A busy, awkward design, but not as soft looking as the cars shown above.  The stretched teardrop shape of the hood air vent is comical in retrospect, but probably intended as a serious nod to aerodynamics when this model was styled.

1936 Studebaker President
Studebaker followed GM's lead from the cowling back, strongly rounded windows and all.  However, this was offset in the top-of-the-line President shown here by a long, straight hood.

1937 Ford DeLuxe Tudor - sales photo
An unfortunate, stubby design.  The crisp styling of the grille-hood ensemble along with the comparatively large windows made the Ford seem less bulbous than most of the cars pictured above.

1937 Plymouth Special DeLuxe - Barrett-Jackson photo
Plymouth didn't get rounded Chrysler bodies until the 1937 model year.

1938 Packard Six - sales photo
Packard was late to the all-steel roof theme.  Windows are strongly rounded in the manner of the 1935 GM cars shown above.  This was a curious mistake, because the folks at Packard must have had inklings that GM and others were moving toward flatter roofs and small-radius window corners.

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1936 Lincoln Zephyr
Now for examples of designs that were more graceful that those of most other brands.  The Lincoln Zephyr does have large-radius window corners.  But the rest of the design is sharper from the boat-prow front to the fastback rear.

1936 Cord 810
Photo taken by me at the National Automobile Museum, Reno, Nevada.  Cord styling was outstanding.  Side windows had tightly-rounded corners.  Like the Zephyr in the previous photo, its roof is not as bulbous as those of most of the other cars shown above.  But the key design element is the firm hood-grille ensemble that is strong enough to complement the curved elements of the rest of the car.

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