Thursday, May 19, 2016

1957 VW Redesigns by Strother Mac Minn and Bob Gurr

The November 1957 issue of Road & Track magazine included an article, "Beauty and the Beetle," showing how the Volkswagen Beetle might be redesigned.

As part of its introduction, the magazine stated: "To meddle with its basic beetleness could be heresy in the face of such success [VW sales were increasing strongly in 1957], unless the advantage and lessons of two decades of sheet metal packaging development [since the VW first appeared] could upgrade its position.  Going on the 'successful sales figures do not a perfect design make' premise, Road & Track felt that re-examination of the appearance might, at an appropriate time, help to perpetuate this standard of delightfully efficient motoring.  Two industrial designers were asked to participate."

Robert H. "Bob" Gurr (1931 - ) was trained at the Art Center School in Los Angeles, worked as a stylist at Ford, and then spent most of his career with the Disney organization.  Regarding his VW redesign, he wrote (in part) "Any new (improved) design would have to correct these [packaging] conditions but would be wise to retain the excellent structural principle of the backbone floor and unexcelled efficiency of sheet design.  Of course, the same engine, suspension, etc., should be used.  The accompanying illustrations show how all this could look if contained in a contemporary package layout.  The styling should be present-day 'acceptable' American design; not austere, and not a cute little designer's dream."

Strother MacMinn (1918-1998) worked at General Motors during the early part of his career, but most of it was as an instructor at the Art Center.  As for his VW redesign, "A more contemporary approach to body styling [as opposed to the beetle design] is one wherein the trunk, seating area, and engine compartment are joined or contained in a continuous 'pod' with a super-imposed 'greenhouse' for the occupants' heads, and the wheels project below for support.  Although the idea shown here is aimed at a world market, it is prejudiced toward an American point of view in which visible extended masses imply protection and 'more for the money.' ... The canopy (or cab) is intentionally reminiscent of Karmann-Ghia character as a contemporary recognition feature.  It also utilizes a graceful side-window outline to emphasize the profile and avoids the undesirable entrance compromises of a wrap-around windshield on a small car."

Click on the images below to enlarge.


1957 Volkswagen - Barrett-Jackson photos

Rober H. Gurr Redesign
Aside from lowering the roof, Gurr kept his design to the same package as the Beetle (though note how the spare tire has been repositioned).  What we see here is shrunken 1955-vintage American styling (not so much 1957, I think).  The wrapped windshield and backlight give the greenhouse a cramped look, making the design seem even shorter than it is.

Strother MacMinn Redesign
MacMinn also reduced the height and might have increased the rear overhang (it's hard to be sure, given the perspectives he used in the renderings).  I think his redesign is much more successful than Gurr's.  That's because it retains a VW "feeling" or spirit.  It also has a more "timeless" appearance than Gurr's 1955-based design.

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