Thursday, December 29, 2016

Streetscenes: Pre-Styling Days

The focus of this blog is the aesthetic appearance of automobiles.  For that reason, I seldom include more than one car in an image.  And in those comparatively rare cases, three cars is the usual maximum.

In the real world, especially on busy streets in large cities, one sees clumps of cars.  They are part of the environment, their styles contributing to the overall visual effect.

So, for a change of pace, below are some streetscape scenes photographed 1926-1930.  Few of the cars shown were designed by professional stylists.  They seem awkward to our eyes, and probably also would have to an observer in, say, 1940.  They reflect the automotive technological level of the 1920s, when most were built (some in the images might have rolled off the assembly line before then, but were still in use).  Perhaps the most striking thing I notice from photos taken from above pedestrian eye level is the cars' roofs.  For enclosed sedans, they are nearly flat and fabric-covered.

Here is a charcoal sketch, probably by Hugh Ferriss from the 1920s, showing a popular urban design concept of the time -- separated traffic and pedestrian levels.  Note the sea of cars depicted.  Also all those rectangular tops.  Less-exaggerated reality follows:


Toronto: North from Queen & Yonge - 31 August 1929
All the cars heading toward us have exterior sun visors, a feature eliminated in the early 1930s when stylists began considering aerodynamics (albeit in a superficial way).

Chicago: Michigan Avenue - 1929
Interesting that there are no lane markers -- only a direction separation stripe.  That's the Tribune Building at the far right.

Los Angeles: Parade zone for Charles Lindbergh visit - 1927
Closed sedans are in the background, so all these open-top cars were probably to appear in the parade carrying dignitaries.

Los Angeles: Southern California Auto Club - 1926
South of downtown, just north of the University of Southern California campus.  Most cars seen here are from the late teens or early 20s.

New York City: Opening of the Holland Tunnel under the Hudson River to New Jersey - 1927
This comes fairly close to the charcoal sketch above.  Before the tunnel was built, cars had to be ferried across the river, so many New York and New Jersey drivers were highly excited and in a rush to give the more convenient tunnel a try.

Washington, DC: Gasoline station
A change of pace, tranquil scene.  I include it because it's in color.

London: Burney Streamliner - c. 1930
Well, not all cars in those days were boxy.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Cadillac 1954 El Camino and La Espada Show Cars

There were three Cadillac dream cars in General Motors' 1954 Motorama show.  One was a conservatively styled four-door sedan that previewed some features of Cadillac's 1957 redesign.  The other two were minor variations on a two-passenger theme.

They were the El Camino (The Road), a coupé, and the La Espada (The Sword), a convertible, their only significant difference being a top or lack thereof.

One feature they anticipated was quad headlights, something that began appearing on American cars for the 1957 model year and was nearly universal for 1958.  Another was Cadillac's 1958 rear fender design.  Otherwise, these cars were the sort of dream car jazz that was expected at Motoramas.

This is the El Camino.  It has a racy top somewhat suggestive of a jet fighter plane cockpit, the jet theme being reinforced by the tail fins.

I think that the weakest feature is those quad headlights.  But then, I hate most quad headlights.  Regardless, their housings create an awkward shape at the front of the fenders, this being at odds with the rest of the design.

Show cars are supposed to be flashy.  Even so, I would reduce the size of the tail fins and perhaps make them less pointed.  Also, I am never very fond of character features such as we see here that curve around the front of wheel openings and then extend to the rear.

I would have used single headlights in "frenched" housings linked to a character line aligned with the center or lower edge of the headlamp.  The result would be higher on the fender than the one seen here.  A consequence would be that the extruded decorative side panels would have to go -- not a bad thing either.

La Espada with Ronald Reagan at the wheel.

A glimpse of the interior.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Some Badged First-Generation British Minis

Today's Mini brand is from BMW.  But the 1959 original Minis were products of BMC, the British Motor Corporation, that was the result of a merger of Austin and Morris. Some background is here and here.

The first Minis, produced 1959-1967, were the Morris Mini-Minor and the Austin Seven, the latter a long-time Austin model name.  Two years later, BMC launched Mini-based cars for two of its lesser brands.  These were the Riley Elf and Wolseley Hornet.

Although there may have been some mechanical differences between these various Mini-based brands, from a styling perspective it seems to have been a matter of what is called "badge engineering" -- cheaply implemented superficial differences intended to preserve brand identities.

The original Mini concept was successful in its day, but in the long run BMC, Austin, Morris, Riley and Wolseley all disappeared from the automotive scene.


1962 Austin Mini-Cooper

1964 Morris Mini-Cooper
By far the most popular versions of British Minis were from Morris and Austin.

1961 Riley Elf
The Elf received a small bustle back and extended fenders.  The hood and lower front fender cuts lines are carried over from Morris and Austin.  A small version of a traditional Riley grille was added, along with "whisker" openings as part of the lower light ensemble.

Wolseley Hornet
Wolseley Hornets received treatments similar to the Elfs, the grille being characteristic of Wolseley.  One difference seen on the car illustrated here is the smoothed front fender -- the angled sheet metal join is missing.

Monday, December 19, 2016

The Transitional 1949 Dodge Wayfarer Line

The "Big Three" American automobile makers -- General Motors, Ford Motor Company and Chrysler Corporation -- held off introducing post- World War 2 redesigns until the 1949 model year.  (Exceptions were 1948 Cadillacs and Oldsmobile 98s.)

The prewar notion that streamlined-looking fastback styling was the wave of the future was largely abandoned, though every GM division did market some fastback models for 1949.  Chrysler did the same, but on a much smaller scale.  Plymouth built an entry-level fastback 2-door sedan, and Dodge had a semi-fastback similar in character to Mercury's '49 roofline.

And there was even more Chrysler experimentation in Dodge's Wayfarer line.  This experimentation required extra tooling expenses for what turned out to be fairly low-volume cars.  In those days, Chrysler Corporation ranked ahead of Ford in sales and was doing well financially, so its management must have thought that the risk of losing some money to gain market knowledge was worthwhile.

Let's take a look at Dodge's Wayfarer line.  Color images are of cars that were on Internet for-sale sites.


Let's first view a 1949 mainstream Dodge Coronet 4-door sedan to provide context.  The sun visor above the windshield was a popular accessory in the late 1940s and early 50s.

This is a 1949 Wayfarer business coupe.  Business coupes had only one bench seat, but this allowed for larger trunk space for hauling business-related items.  That body style was dropped early in the 1950s.

And here is the Wayfarer Roadster, essentially a convertible version of the business coupe.  Only a small proportion were true roadsters with side curtains instead of roll-up windows -- most Dodge "Roadsters" were built with the latter.

Front three-quarter views of '49 Dodge Wayfarer sedans.

A 1950 Mercury showing its semi-fastback / semi- bustle-back styling.  The Dodge's bustle-back is smaller and gives the impression of being mostly a fastback.

Rear view of a '49 Wayfarer.  Compare this to the 1949 Plymouth P-17 fastback below.

This car and the Dodges shown above used the same roof tooling, the main difference is that the Dodge's B-pillar slants and the Plymouth's is vertical.  The Dodge bustle-back is due to a 4-inch longer wheelbase and 14 inches (35 cm) more overall length.  This added length would have required a different, more expensive fastback roof shape towards the rear, so the cheaper semi-fastback option was taken.

Finally, the Dodge Wayfarer sedan's fastback competition, a 1949 Pontiac Streamliner 2-door.  Much sleeker than the Dodge, but perhaps with a bit less trunk space -- a problem that led GM to dropping  fastbacks after the 1952 model year.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Fiat 2800: Italy's Answer to Mercedes

That's a glamorous (though not well painted) Italian lake district scene in the Fiat publicity image shown above.  And the car?

According to this Italian language Wikipedia article, Benito Mussolini proposed to Fiat that they create a model that would compete in terms of prestige with Mercedes-Benz.

And Fiat tried, with its 2800.  Nearly 630 were built over 1938-1944, about a third being military adaptations of the chassis.  Fiat 2800s were used by Mussolini, the Pope and some affluent Italians.

The English language Wikipedia entry is here.

Here is a 2800 four-door sedan.  The short, downward curved hood runs against the 1930s expectation that prestige automobiles have long, prominent hoods.  It does look a bit racy, which is what one might expect for Italy.  Aside from that, the front ensemble is in line with 1936 American styling practice, but is a little dated for 1938.

This side view shows that the sedan had an integral trunk and not quite something obviously tacked on.  The passenger compartment styling above the belt line is also obsolescent compared to some new 1938 General Motors cars, and obsolete in relation to most 1940-41 American car designs.

Some cabriolet 2800s were built.  Stabilimenti Farina made a few four-door versions, and might have built the two-door shown here.  (I can't determine who actually did the work.  It might even have been done by Fiat.)

This nice 1939 Fiat 2800 coupe was by Touring.

Monday, December 12, 2016

1954 Cadillac Park Avenue Concept

The 1954 General Motors Motorama traveling cars-plus-entertainment show was particularly rich in terms of show cars / dream cars / concept cars (take your pick).

Cadillac exhibited three such cars, two of which (El Camino, La Espada) were variations on a two-passenger theme.  The other was a comparatively conservative four-door sedan, the Park Avenue.  It is the subject of this post.

The 1954 model year was when General Motors startled the buying public with completely restyled Oldsmobiles, Buicks and Cadillacs.  These cars featured low hood and trunk lines (compared to previous designs) and panoramic (or wraparound) windshields.  The effect was quite futuristic at the time.

The next Cadillac redesign would be for 1957, so when the Park Avenue was conceived, 1957 styling was still somewhat in flux while the market reaction to the new '54s was being evaluated.  Even so, the Park Avenue anticipated several features found on the 1957s.

The Park Avenue was more rounded than 1954 Caddies, a feature of the '57 redesign.  1957s also saw the low hood and matching front and rear wraparound shapes.  The Park Avenue was fairly compact, something definitely not the case in 1957.

Here is a 1957 Cadillac -- a coupe, not a sedan, however.  Another Park Avenue carryover is the rear fender design.

A not-so crisp image of the Park Avenue's front.

And this is the front of a 1954 Cadillac, photo by Owls Head.  Headlight housings, upper grille shape, grille grid pattern and bumper styling are in the same spirit.  Front styling for the '57s had most of the main theme features, though details were different.

Rear three-quarter view of the Park Avenue. No rear bumper, but show cars often featured sketchy protection.  All things considered, the Park Avenue was a nice design for its time, and was nicer looking than the too-large 1957 line it anticipated.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Those Look-Alike 1982 General Motors Cars

Above is the embarrassing (to General Motors) Fortune Magazine cover of 22 August 1982 showing A-body cars from four different divisions with the same paint color.  Some background on the matter is here.

The similarity was a cost-cutting measure at the time the corporation was beginning to experience financial constraints due to loss of market share.  Thereafter, GM made a greater effort to make its various brands more visually distinctive again.

This post features front end designs of the models shown in Fortune in order to show what effort GM had made on that critical part of the car's brand identification.  The Fortune cover cars were posed to maximize their similarity.


Taking the brands in alphabetical order, here is the 1982 Chevrolet Celebrity.  It features rectangular quad headlights paired with rectangular running and turn-indicator lights.  Between is a typical Chevrolet grid grille sporting the brand's traditional "bow tie" emblem.  The bumper is an unadorned horizontal element.

Chevrolet is GM's entry-level brand, whereas Buick in those days was slotted between Oldsmobile and Cadillac.  Shown here is a 1982 Buick Century from a Canadian brochure.  It too has rectangular quad headlights, but turn indicators are at the front of the fenders.  The grille, mounted higher than the Chevy's,  has a more elaborate grid design and there is a Buick badge at the center,

The 1982 Oldsmobile Cutlass Ciera has a grid grille with a center plate holding the Olds badge.  This design was on other Oldsmobile models of that time, adding some brand flavor.  However, still other Olds models had different grille themes, so the effect was watered down.  Lights are arranged similarly to the Buick's.  The bumper is cut down a little to accommodate the grille design.

The '82 Pontiac Phoenix lacks quad headlights and has a version of the brand's divided grille theme put in place around 1960.

The sides of the four cars are indeed pretty similar though a close look reveals some character line and other subtle differences.  Brand differentiation was largely carried by the front ends, each version having identity cues similar to previous or concurrent models.  Besides the grilles, hoods were given different metal stamping treatments related to the shapes of the upper edges of the grille openings.  That entailed extra tooling expense, though the results are too subtle for most people to distinguish unless examples from the different brands were placed side-by-side.

My personal experience at the time was that while I could distinguish A-bodied brands from one another, I was strongly aware of how similar the cars seemed overall.  When the Fortune issue was published, I nodded in silent agreement.


A reader (in a comment, below) with sharper eyes than mine notes that the appropriate Pontiac was the 6000, not the Phoenix. This becomes obvious when looking at four-door models rather than the two-door variety. Here is an image of a 4-door 6000 that I quickly grabbed off the web.

Here the hood stamping seems the same as that seen on the other cars, or nears so.  Another likely win for the bean counters who influenced this unfortunate experience for GM.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Type 3: The Second-Generation Volkswagen

Volkswagen management wisely realized that the Beetle would not be a top-seller forever.  So a larger, more powerful model was planned during the late 1950s.  Retained was the Beetle's rear mounted, air-cooled motor layout, but otherwise the new car abandoned 1930s styling for more contemporary features.

This new model, variously known as the Type 3, 1500 or 1600, was produced 1961-1973 (Wikipedia entry here).


The first Type 3s features notchback or bustleback styling.  I think the greenhouse is too soft in the C-pillar - backlight zone.  The wheels are commendably large (I dislike tiny wheels), and the front is sensibly styled.

The rear three-quarter view highlights what I consider the greenhouse weakness.  The lower body, thanks to the essentially straight side character line and fender profile is fairly crisp, though tempered by the curved front trunk profile and the slightly rounded bustle seen here.  As mentioned, the greenhouse strikes me as being too soft and, at the C-pillar, flimsy looking.  A more substantial C-pillar and a bit less back window curvature might have corrected this.

In 1962 the Squareback (station wagon, break) model was introduced.  The very nature of this kind of body eliminated the weaknesses of the notchback model's styling.

Then in 1966 a fastback version appeared.  Its styling was nice, so I have few quibbles to make.

Actually, the only change I'd be temped to make would be to shorten the aft side windows, most likely employing a dog-leg, BMW-type end treatment.  As the photo shows, the window extends abaft of the top of the rear seat, so there would be no adverse effect on back-seat passengers' views.

Rear three-quarter photo.  The Type 3 has a nice, trim appearance from this viewing angle.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

1956 Buick Centurion Dream Car

I think the 1956 General Motors Motorama car-show-plus-entertainment extravaganza was the last of the interesting ones.  Decline was already happening, as evidenced in the mix of concept or dream cars (as they were called back then).  My favorite of that batch is the Buick Centurion; the GM web site discusses it here.

The Centurion is a mix of the practical and styling studio dream car show-off fluff.  Some features hint at future production, others are simply jazzy.  All the while, the car has styling cues that clearly identify it as a Buick.


Buick identification is in the form of the Sweep Spear chromed strip on the side that also serves as a paint tone divider.  The car seats four, unlike many Motorama cars, giving it a practical feeling.  The fender treatment between the extreme front and rear is one that easily could appear on a near-future 1950s production car.  The windshield is doubly wrapped-around.  This will be seen on some late '50s production cars, but not in such an extreme manner towards the roof.  A nice touch is the C-pillar's rake that complements the rake of the A-pillar -- a nice, logical symmetry seen here and there when panoramic windshields were in vogue.

An impractical styling fetish that has yet to die of natural causes is the transparent roof.  I feel very sorry for that poor model at the wheel being subjected to the Miami sun and the greenhouse effect caused by the roof.  True, the windows are rolled down, but that gal surely earned her modeling fee that day.  The pickle fork front treatment seen in plan view here makes for an interesting composition, but is impractical for real-world parking conditions.  Even so, from this camera angle, the Centurion has strong, clean lines without any serious disruptions: a fine show car.

The Centurion's rear is more problematical.  The wing-like rear fenders combined with the boat-tail-cum-jet-fighter trunk is nothing but dream car flash, devoid of practicality.

A glimpse of the interior showing the rear-view TV screen.  That feature is common today thanks to miniaturizing technology, but was too bulky and costly for production use in 1956.

Here is a 1957 Buick Roadmaster four-door hardtop.  Its Sweep Spear and the A- and C-pillar angles are carried over from the Centurion (that was designed when the general form of this Buick was pretty well established).  So to some degree, the Centurion was intended to get potential buyers used to coming styling attractions.

And this is a 1960 Mercury Montclair (a cleaned-up 1959 Mercury Park Lane) also featuring complementary A- and C-pillars.  It has a compound-curve windshield, but not nearly so extreme as the Centurion's.  For 1961, Mercury dropped panoramic windshields, as did Buick that same model year.