Monday, November 30, 2015

Renault Loved Pontiac, Hudson and Chrysler in 1942

As World War 2 raged, car makers did something that in many cases they weren't supposed to do: plan post-war models.  This was a particularly difficult undertaking in France because much of the country was either occupied by German forces or subservient to Germany until late 1942 and completely occupied from then until the 1944 liberation.  The Germans used French industry to assist in their war production, and postwar French automobiles were not part of their agenda.

Nevertheless, Renault and other manufacturers had clandestine development programs underway.  Here we deal with design work done largely in 1942 on a potential postwar 14 CV Primaquatre (Type 104 E).  Source material is from Automobilia hors-série No. 26, Toutes les voitures françaises 1940-46: les années sans salon by René Bellu.

What I find most interesting is the borrowing of styling themes from Pontiac, Hudson and Chrysler by Renault's stylist Robert Barthaud.  The United States was neutral regarding the war until late 1941, so information on U.S. cars through 1942 models (introduced fall, 1941) was available in France.


Renault 104 E prototype - 1st version
American influence is strong.  The main source here seems to be the 1939 Hudson with perhaps a whiff of 1940 Ford. Note especially the front fenders and grill compared to Hudson styling seen in the photo below.

1939 Hudson

Renault 104 E prototype - 1st version
But it's not all Hudson influence.  Those sure look like Pontiac's legendary Silver Streaks running down the hood centerline and over the grille.

1939 Pontiac grille
This narrow version of Silver Streaks is similar to what Renault seems to have borrowed.

Renault 104 E prototype - 2nd version - profile drawing
Hudson influence disappeared on the second version 104 E prototype and 1941 Pontiac details predominate.  Compare to the image below.

1941 Pontiac Custom Torpedo

Renault 104 E prototype - 2nd version
The running prototype differed from the drawing in that the Pontiac-like crease across the rear fender was eliminated.

Renault 104 E prototype - 2nd version
Pontiac influence ceased on the front end and borrowing shifted to 1941 Chryslers, as can be seen in the image below.

1941 Chrysler Royal - sales photo

Thursday, November 26, 2015

"Eyeless" 1942 DeSoto

Model year 1942 saw every American car brand except Willys getting a facelift that included, at a minimum, a changed grille.

The '42 facelift that always interested me the most was that of DeSoto, Chrysler Corporation's middle-upper price range offering (the sequence was Plymouth, Dodge, DeSoto, Chrysler). This was almost entirely due to its hidden headlights feature.

Automobiles are perceived to have faces, the headlights serving as eyes.  DeSotos, therefore, had a curious, eyeless look because their headlights were hidden behind sliding doors when they were not turned on.  Cord 810 and 812 models from 1936-37 also had hidden headlights, but these pivoted open when switched on.  Door-based hidden headlights were planned for 1949 Lincolns, but instead they were left sunken and doorless.  Starting around the mid-1960s, several American makes began hiding headlights, a fad that lingered here and there for decades.

Although 1942 DeSoto grilles were bold and had plenty of chrome plating, the overall appearance was attractive for the era.


1941 DeSoto advertisement
An illustration, not a photo to set the stage.  For 1941, DeSoto switched to a vertical-bars grille theme that continued with variations through the 1955 model year.  1942 DeSotos had the same body as the '41s, the major difference being the frontal ensemble.

1942 DeSoto ad card
The tiny image at the lower right offers a fairly realistic version of the car.  I'm assuming the intent of the highly distorted main image was to stress the new design of DeSoto's front end and, in passing, make the car and its setting desirably futuristic.  Other DeSoto advertising material for 1942 featured equally distorted depictions.

Wartime ad featuring a 1942 DeSoto - Howard Scott, illustrator
A more realistic view of the DeSoto's front end.

1942 DeSoto 4-door sedan
1942 DeSoto coupe
1942 DeSoto convertible
Contemporary photos of '42 DeSotos.  Unfortunately, like circa 1942-1956 Studebaker sales images, they show the cars from about the same point of view.

1946 DeSoto 4-door sedan
The women in the car look like pasted-on images and airbrushing is also in evidence.  That's how American car advertising and promotion often worked in those days.  Otherwise, this offers a good view of the post - World War 2 DeSoto facelift.  Besides the return to exposed headlights, front fenders are extended over the front doors, and the grille has been widened.

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.

* * * * *

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.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Lincoln's 1942 Facelift

Model year 1942 American cars have always interested me.  Comparatively few were built because the government ordered passenger car production halted early in 1942, shortly after the USA entered World War 2.  Production did not resume until late 1945, when 1946 models were introduced.

The 1946 crop of surviving pre-war brands was comprised of facelifted 1942 designs, some changes slight, others noticeable.  Slightly changed were Nash, Packard, Studebaker, and all General Motors makes except Oldsmobile.  Hudson, Chrysler Corporation makes and Ford Motor Company brands all got redesigned grilles.  Dodge, DeSoto and Chrysler cars received revised front fenders as well.

But 1942 was a model year of more extensive facelifts than 1946.  Every brand that survived from 1941 to 1942 except Willys featured noticeable grille changes at a minimum.  What this means is that 1942 Ford, Mercury, Lincoln, Plymouth, Dodge, DeSoto, Chrysler, Oldsmobile and Hudson cars had distinct appearances to a greater or lesser extent.  That, and their rarity are the main reasons for my interest.

Perhaps the most extreme 1941-1942 grille redesign was that for Lincoln Zephyrs and Continentals.  The images below cover model years 1941, 1942 and 1946.


1941 Lincoln Zephyr 4-door sedan
Zephyrs were redesigned for 1940.  The previous aerodynamic theme was retained, though in a heavier-looking form that, in turn, seems to be due to its larger windows.  The grille and hood are similar to 1939 versions.

1942 Lincoln Continental Cabriolet - sales photo
The 1942 facelift was extensive.  The grille theme was changed entirely, and teardrop-inspired fenders were replaced by the squared-off "suitcase" style found on GM makes.

1942 Lincoln Zephyr 4-door sedan - sales photo
This photo shows the squared-off elements grafted on to a curved basic body.  Not a happy mixture.

1946 Lincoln Zephyr Club Coupe - sales photo
Post-war Lincolns got an even bolder, more chrome-laden grille-bumper ensemble that occupied nearly the same zone as the 1942's.  On this 2-door coupe we get another take on the awkward mixture of curved and rectangular.

How did this unsuccessful facelift happen?  Ford's styling director was E.T. "Bob" Gregorie, a once and future naval architect with a good sense of line and proportion.  His informal collaborator was Henry Ford's son Edsel, president of Ford, and a man of excellent taste.

This is hinted at in C. Edson Armi's book The Art of American Car Design: The Profession and Personalities (1988, Page 242) and covered in more detail in Henry Dominguez's book Edsel Ford and E.T. Gregorie: The Remarkable Design Team and Their Classic Fords of the 1930s and 1940s (1999, pp. 236-241).

Dominguez quotes Gregorie as stating that it was he who felt that Lincoln needed to better compete with Cadillac and other makes with bold, strongly horizontal grilles that provided an "important" image.  This meant abandoning the comparatively delicate frontal appearance of the Zephyr design theme.  It went against Edsel's preferences, but he eventually was persuaded by Gregorie.  (I'm paraphrasing here, but preserving his meaning.)

But Gregorie also came to realize that the facelift had problems.  Gregorie: "So that's when we developed the new hood, new front fenders, and horizontal grille.  Once we did that, though, the body began to look a little skinny.  We never changed the body.  The doors, the windshield, and the floor pan were all the same.  With its big, husky-looking front end, it looked a little out of proportion in places, like so many of those facelift deals.  But it was still a right decent-looking car.  The '42 front end was a nice-looking front end.  The horizontal bars were very nice.  It looked important, anyway."

Monday, November 16, 2015

Making a Hash From Nash

Early in 1954 the Hudson Motor Car Company and Nash-Kelvinator Corporation merged to become American Motors Corporation, a firm that continued in business for another 34 years.

This merger was not between equal partners, being essentially a takeover of Hudson by the Nash organization.  The Hudson design dating back to the 1948 model year was abandoned, and 1955 Hudsons were based on the Nash body design introduced for 1952; this link discusses that model year's Hudsons.

Creation of a Nash-based Hudson design was a crash project.  Most American car companies announced their 1955 models in the autumn of 1954, but there wasn't time to style and implement what amounted to a Nash facelift in that time frame.  I suspect the team working on the task did well by getting '55 Hudsons launched early in 1955.


1954 Hudson Hornet - Barrett-Jackson auction photo
Hudsons were given a noticeable facelift just before the merger with Nash; I discussed the design here.  The grille design was a departure from a theme used since 1950, but was not carried over for 1955 even though it might have been.

1954 Nash Statesman - sales photo
This shows a pre-merger Nash.  Its basic design served as the basis for facelifted 1955 Nashes as well as for 1955 Hudsons.

1955 Nash Ambassador
General Motors introduced panoramic or "wraparound" windshields on all Oldsmobiles, Buicks and Cadillacs for 1954.  Most other car makers, including American Motors, responded with their own versions for 1955.  The basic Nash body was retained, but besides the new windshield the facelift included a new grille/headlamp ensemble, reshaped front fenders and revised character lines on the sides.  The front wheel cutout was slightly enlarged, but this did nothing to relieve the slab-sided appearance.

1955 Hudson publicity material
Here is a partial view of the grille design along with material related to features inherited from Nash.  According to this book, that design was similar to what Hudson stylists had been considering for a facelift prior to the creation of American Motors.

1955 Hudson Wasp
The Wasp was Hudson's lower-priced model, but its styling was essentially that same as that of the top-of-the-line Hornet.  The main difference was Hornet's cowling to front axle line distance was slightly greater.

1955 Hudson Wasp advertising photo
Hudson retained the headlight placement of '54 Nashes.  Besides the grille and front fenders, the main differences from '55 Nashes were in the side character line and chrome trim and, especially, the large wheel cut-outs that largely eliminated the Nash's heavy, slab-sided look.

1955 Hudson Wasp - sales photo
A view featuring the rear.  The rounded forward edges of the backlight represent another slight change from Nash.

Hudsons for 1955 were stuck with Nash's bulky basic body.  But the hurried facelift resulted in a fairly pleasing result given the circumstances.  Unfortunately, Hudsons now were pretty obviously Nashes despite their disguise, and this probably did not help sales, which were around 20,000 units.  Worse were the facelifts given Hudson for the 1956 and 1957 model years, the latter I discussed here.

And why did I used the word "Hash" in the title of this post?  It's because that's a term some people applied to Nash-based Hudsons in those days; think Hudson+Nash = Hash.  The word "hash" has more than one meaning, at least for American speakers.  One has to do with a type of food that is a combination of bits of meat and bits of other ingredients -- something that might imply the Nash-Hudson mix.  Another meaning has to do with making a mix of things that yield an unfortunate result, as in the phrase "they made a hash of it."  That also might apply to American Motors' attempt to keep the Hudson brand alive.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Not-Quite Badge Engineering: Audi Fox, VW Dasher

Classical "badge engineering" usually is a matter of taking a basic car platform and extending it over more than one brand by varying a small number of styling details to provide a smidgen of differentiation.  The present post presents a case where a platform (Volkswagen's B1) was altered at the rear for Audi and VW variants, so changes were not as minimal as they might have been.

The cars in question are the Audi 80 Fox (1972-78), details here, and the Volkswagen Passat / Dasher (1973-81), Wikipedia entry here.  The names "Fox" and "Dasher" were used in America for marketing purposes.

The Audi design is a clean, classical 1970s "three box" theme featuring large amounts of glass.  The main aesthetic flaw so far as I'm concerned is that the wheels are too small.

The VW version is a 5-door "hatchback" with sail panels providing a fastback feeling.  I'm not certain of this, but it looks like the backlight windows are the same for the Fox and Dasher, keeping costs down.  The only other visible differences besides the sail panels and fifth door are the brand symbol ensembles on the grilles.

Although styling was basically well done, I wasn't totally pleased with my Dasher (yes, I actually bought a 1974 model) due to valve problems in the motor.


Audi 80 "Fox" - ca. 1974

Volkswagen B1 "Dasher" - ca. 1974
I owned a '74 Dasher that looked like the ones shown in the first two VW photos.

Monday, November 9, 2015

DeSoto's First Hardtop Convertible

A while ago I wrote about General Motors' first generation of hardtop convertibles -- convertible-like bodies to which a steel roof with a panoramic backlight ensemble was added.  Shortly after, I presented examples of hardtops introduced by competitors in reaction to the popularity of the GM design.

One competitor I didn't mention because it was similar to other Chrysler Corporation hardtops was the 1950 DeSoto Custom Sportsman.  Since then, I came across a nice set of sales-related photos of the DeSoto that provide a fairly comprehensive study of the design.

Here they are:


1950 DeSoto Custom Sportsman - sales photos
Viewed from the perspective of 65 years after it appeared, DeSoto's Sportsman hardtop is a fairly attractive car.  Yes, it has plenty of chrome on the grille and rear fender rock guards, but otherwise is restrained from an ornamentation standpoint.  What these photos tend to hide is the fact that 1949-52 model year DeSotos and other Chrysler Corporation cars had a heavy, boxy look when seen in person due in part to their actual size as well because of their styling.

1950 Pontiac Catalina - auction photo
I include this photo of a contemporary General Motors hardtop to illustrate the previous point.  The Pontiac has a more graceful basic body shape.  Its curved, two-piece windshield added a touch of modernity that the flat windshield panes of the DeSoto lacked.  Although the design differences between these two cars might appear small to us in 2015, back in 1950 when the cars were new, the DeSoto and its siblings had an old-fashioned air about them when compared to their sleeker rivals.