Thursday, June 30, 2016

Boat-Tail Echoes

A small styling fad of the 1920s that continued into the 1930s was the boat-tail rear end.  That is, the rear of the car body was curved, tapering to a point or an almost-point.  In plan view, this resembled the bow section of a boat when seen in plan view or maybe the bow end of an upside-down boat.

Boat-tailed cars were sporty looking due to that style as well as because usually they were roadsters or convertible coupes that tend to be intrinsically sporty.

A major problem with boat-tailed cars was lack of space for luggage; non-boat-tail roadsters and convertibles were more practical, and sold better.  So the style died out.

But a few echoes of it appeared now and then on American cars.  In these cases, the cars' rear ends didn't have boat shapes.  Instead, the aft part of the passenger greenhouse or perhaps sheet metal sculpting on the trunk featured convergence in a sort of tribute to the boat-tail.  Below are some (perhaps most of the) examples.


1935 Auburn Speedster advertisement
This exaggerated, aerial view of the Auburn Speedster proclaims the boat-tail's spirit.

1935 Auburn 851 SC Speedster - Auctions America photo
The actual car was a lot shorter, but very attractive.  It was a facelift designed by the great Gordon Buehrig.

1936 Auburn 852 SC Speedster - Mecum Auctions photo
Rear view of a 852 Speedster showing its boat-tail.

1952 Studebaker Starlight Coupe - McCormick Auctions photo
The Studebaker Starlight Coupe first appeared for the 1947 model year, creating a sensation due to its then-futuristic appearance.  Note the converging raised area extending from the passenger compartment over the trunk.  Not a boat-tail, but the spirit is evoked.

1949 Buick Super Sedanet - Mecum Auctions photo
The upper part of this Buick fastback converges considerably, though not to a point -- yet another boat-tail echo.  General Motors fastbacks of the late 1940s lacked the trunk room of GM bustle-backs, so the style was dropped in the early 1950s.

1963 Chevrolet Corvette Sting Ray Split Window Coupe - Barrett-Jackson photo
Bill Mitchell was head of GM styling starting in 1958, and the Sting Ray was one of his pet projects.  The greenhouse converges to a point in plan view, much in the boat-tail manner.  Note that the rear fenders do the same.

1971 Buick Riviera
Another Mitchell-inspired design.  Here there actually is a boat tail, stubby though it might be.  The overall design is awkward, however.

Monday, June 27, 2016

1942 Buick: Front and Rear Fenders Meet

Led by styling vice-president Harley Earl, General Motors set the pace for the appearance of American cars from the late 1920s to the mid-1950s.  Other car makers' stylists were more than willing to implement their own ideas during that time, but they and company management had to think carefully regarding producing any designs that departed very far from what GM (which had about half the industry's sales) was doing.

One of Earl's biggest fans in GM management was Harlow "Red" Curtice (background here), who is given credit for saving Buick during the Great Depression of the 1930s.  Because of their friendship, Earl did Curtice a number of favors styling-wise.  One example was the 1938 Buick Y-Job concept car, perhaps the first of its kind by a major manufacturer.  Another Earl favor for Curtice had to do with the fender line of certain 1942 Buicks, the subject of this post.

In my book on automobile styling (see sidebar) and elsewhere, I've contended that automobile styling went through an evolutionary period from around 1930 to around 1950.  There was a strong trend away from separate elements such as headlights, fenders, spare tires and such to streamlined-appearing bodies that integrated most of the previously distinct elements.  Part of this meant the elimination of four separate fenders either by making them low-relief parts of the main car body or merging them into a single slab on each side -- "pontoon fenders" as some call this.

Fender evolution reached the "suitcase" stage by about 1940, where fenders were squared off or puffed-up shapes residing fore and aft of passenger doors.  The next step was extending the trailing edge of the front fenders over part of the front doors.  GM did this on 1939 Opels in Germany, 1941 Cadillac 60 Specials, and on almost all of its 1942 line.

The final step was for the extension of front fenders until they touched the rear fenders.  This was commonplace by 1947-49 on American cars.  But for practical purposes it first happened on a few 1942 Buick models -- a favor to Curtice by Earl to enhance the brand's image.


There weren't many 1942 models made.  This was due to the U.S. entry into World War 2 following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941.  By 22 February, in response to government orders, automobile production in America had essentially ceased.  Shown above is the last pre-war Buick coming off the now-empty assembly line, 4 February 1942.  It is one of the models with the extended front fender.

A wartime advertisement segment showing a Buick similar to the one in the previous image.  The only Buick models with this fender line were Super and Roadmaster fastback two-door "sedanets" (their marketing term) and convertibles.  All other Buicks had front fenders that partly overlapped front doors.  Buick had other 2-door fastback sedanets, but they were Specials (the entry-level Buick) or Centurys (small-body, large motor) that used a different GM body.  Recognition feature: the Super and Roadmaster sedanets had a vertical B-pillar whereas the Specials and Centurys, plus Chevrolet and Pontiac equivalents, had a B-pillar that leaned forward.

This is a 1942 Buick Roadmaster.  Top of the Buick line that year was the Limited series that used stretched, limousine-type bodies.  As noted, the fenders are typical of GM's 1942 styling.  For most buyers, Roadmasters represented the practical line topper.  1942 Roadmasters and Supers received GM's new C-body.

Publicity photo of a '42 Super or Roadmaster.

A 1942 Buick Special convertible auctioned from Chip Foose's collection.  Compare this to the convertible shown below.

American Auctions photos of a 1942 Buick Super convertible with its extended front fender line.  Note the poor fit of the body panels.  Hard to say if this was poor assembly quality or the result of years of wear and tear.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Chevrolet's Last (for now?) Monte Carlo

According to its Wikipedia entry, Chevrolet's Monte Carlo model was introduced for the 1970 model year and went through six generations, the last one for 2000-2005.  It is the subject of this post.

Allow me to admit that I've become somewhat jaded regarding model names that marketers and management dream up.  Consider "Monte Carlo."  A few people might associate it with the Monaco Grand Prix race, even though Chevy Monte Carlos were coupes and not Formula 1 race cars.  If those Chevrolet people were hoping to come up with a name with sporting associations, then more potential buyers might associate "Monte Carlo" with the Monte Carlo Rally, though few, if any, Chevrolet Monte Carlos could be considered serious European rally machines.  Moreover, that event is little-known in the USA.  The Wikipedia link above states that the name simply had to do with Monte Carlo municipality, a part of Monaco.  That would imply a ritzy gestalt of some sort, a common theme for American car models over the years.  Or maybe the name had to do with the Monte Carlo Casino, the famed Côte d'Azur gambling den.  After all, finding a reliable American car during the 1970s when Monte Carlos first appeared was more of a gamble than it is now.

The Monte Carlo launched for the 2000 model year was based on the same platform as Chevrolet's Impala sedan.  It featured a curiously short, cramped-looking passenger compartment and, when viewed from certain angles, a pronounced bustle-back trunk.  I always considered this Monte Carlo variation awkward-looking.


Front three-quarter view.  From this perspective, the passenger cabin seems quite short and the trunk area quite long.

Seen in profile, the can looks better-proportioned, though the rear seat area seems a bit cramped.

Rear three-quarter view.  Compare to the 2000 Impala in the image below.

Both cars had a 110-inch wheelbase, though the Impala's length was two inches (5 cm) longer than the Monte Carlo's.  In these views we can see that aside from the small Monte Carlo greenhouse, the strongest visible differences were in the trunk / rear bumper area and some side stamping details (flatter sides and some character lines for the Monte Carlo).  The doors are longer for rear-seat access, though hinged like the Impala's front doors.  Wheel openings and gas filler lids are the same.

Given General Motors' increasingly precarious financial position around 2000, the tooling differences between the Impala and Monte Carlo seem to me surprisingly large for a car that had been selling at the rate of around 70,000 units per model year.  However,  total production was around 380,000, about the same as for the fifth-generation Monte Carlo, so perhaps tooling costs were amortized over the entire production run.

It will be interesting to see if Chevrolet ever revives the Monte Carlo model name.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Patrick Le Quément's Renault Mégane II

As this Wikipedia entry mentions, Renault has been producing a series of cars with the Mégane name since 1996.  The Mégane of interest to this post is the retroactively named Mégane II, in production from 2002 into 2009.

The Mégane II's design is one of those I strongly associate with Renault's powerful styling boss Patrick Le Quément (Wikipedia entry here).  It is quite similar in spirit to the Vel Satis concept car, and somewhat less so to the production Vel Satis.  I dealt with them here.

Le Quément in the early 2000s was trying to have Renaults look French, not as knockoffs of the increasingly internationalized style that was robbing cars of their origin-county identities.  He even made a point of hiring non-French stylists who he thought might understand a French look better than native French stylists -- analogous to fish not really understanding their watery environment.

Le Quément's French-look experiment eventually faded, and the 2009 Mégane IIIs had less quirky styling.  Nevertheless, the Mégane II (along with the Vel Satises) was an interesting approach to automobile design, as can be seen in the images below.


This view from above shows the Mégane's unusual shape most clearly.  The distinctive features are at the rear, and are the similar curves of the rear window, the strike panel (bumper) and character fold towards the bottom of the hatch.  These curves are not functional in a mechanical sense, instead functioning in a marketing sense.  That is, they are highly distinctive; I can't offhand recall anything quite like this on any other non-Renault production car.  (Some cars such as SUVs with station wagon (break) type bodies have rear ends that are curved in plan-view,  but in profile they are essentially vertical, unlike the Mégane II.)

The Mégane IIs front combines a curved overall shape with crisp details.  The lower air intake is disjointed from the above-the-bumper features.

Rear 3/4 view of a four-door Mégane II.  The aft side window, being part of the door ensemble, works much better here than in the two-door version shown in the image below.

The aft side window on two-door Méganes does not tie into the overall theme while seeming to somewhat restrict outward vision for rear-seat passengers.  For some inexplicable reason, Honda used a similar design on its 2007 CR-V crossover SUV line.

Another rear view.  A problem here is that the curved parts mentioned above do not blend very well with the rest of the car.

It happened that I rented a Mégane II in the fall of 2003, driving various places from Paris to Vienna and back.  Yes, it was quirky, but it did a good job.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Early 1980s High-End Style Pilfering

Stylists steal designs and design details.  My relationship to the American auto industry was as a consultant and data supplier -- not, alas, as a stylist.  For that reason, I have no first-hand knowledge whether it's the stylists themselves who pilfer from other firms or if management directed them to make use of this or that theme or detail.  Either way, management signs off on the results, so my inclination is to place praise or blame there.

The present post deals with a minor instance of this, small details creating a theme found on upscale American cars during the early 1980s.  Those cars were models of the Cadillac Seville, the Continental and Chrysler Imperial.  Some background can be found here.  According the the first link above, the somewhat retro theme expressed by the designs did not hold up well in terms of sales.

I dealt with Seville styling in this post, so won't go into detail here.


1980 Cadillac Seville
What concerns us is the sweep of the sharp fold at the aft end of the C-pillar.  On the Seville it continues down to the rear bumper, with the trunk lid being inset slightly, creating a distinct tacked-on collection of surface facets.

1982 Continental
There were several Continental models at this time.  The one shown here has a C-pillar trailing edge that also continues down the side of the car, but only a short way.

1982 Chrysler Imperial
The same can be said for this Imperial, though the edge continues down a bit more than half way to the bumper.  Like the Seville (but to a much lesser extent), it helps set the trunk off as a distinct element.

1983 Continental
Because it's a Continental, a false spare tire shape was placed it the rear of the trunk.  This view shows the Seville influence in the area of the C-pillar, rear window and upper part of the trunk.

1982 Chrysler Imperial - sales photo
No faux spare tire here, but the shaping of the rear has a similar feel to the Continental and Seville.

Monday, June 13, 2016

The Packard Predictor That (Sadly) Didn't Predict

Packard was a dying brand in 1956.  The last "true" Packards were still being built, but 1957 models would be based on Studebakers.  Still, a flicker of hope appeared in the form of the Predictor show car.  There are several Web sites that have posted about the Predictor (just Google on Packard Predictor), and this is one of those containing useful background information.

For me, the most frustrating aspect of the Predictor is that something like it might have revived the Packard brand in the luxury market.  That's because it was an example of a restrained 1950s style, unlike the direction Cadillac, Lincoln and Imperial took over the next few years.

The Packard Predictor still exists.  You can find it in the Studebaker museum in South Bend, Indiana.


It's a little hard to make it out, but the top of the vertical bar at the front is shaped in the form of the traditional Packard radiator grille.  Since this protrusion is susceptible to damage, a production version would probably have to be modified in some manner.  The horizontal swaths are a Richard Teague motif introduced on 1955 Packards.  This grooved version works well.

Tail fins were becoming a styling fad, especially after the introduction of the 1957 Chrysler Corporation line.  The Predictor's are fairly tastefully done.  The tail lights are exaggerated versions of those on 1955 and 1956 Packards.

Side views showing the theme of angled continuation lines.  Note in the lower image that the C-pillar edges converge (by extension) to the lower endpoint of the horizontal side grooved strip.  The character line along the side begins at the front bumper and terminates in the rear bumper ensemble.

The Predictor has a wrap-around / wrap-over windshield, something that would appear on all General Motors cars for 1959.  But by 1960-1961, panoramic windshields were on the way out.  This might have caused Packard some trouble had something like the Predictor entered production.  But perhaps not a great amount of trouble, because reversion to a conventional windshield design would not have destroyed the appearance of the car.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Studebaker Lark: Chop Off the Ends to Make it Compact

Studebaker suffered a long, slow death.  The post- World War 2 American automobile market was dominated by the so-called Big Three: General Motors, Ford and Chrysler.  Then there were the so-called "Independents" which were Studebaker, Nash, Hudson, Willys, Kaiser-Frazer and Packard -- plus a few minor brands such as Crosley.  All but the Big Three eventually went out of business, though Willys' Jeep remains as a Fiat-Chrysler brand.

Studebaker was the strongest Independent during the late 1940s, but its 1953 redesign was its last before the company left the auto business in 1966.  All that followed the '53s were facelifts.

The most successful facelift of sedans was the creation of the Studebaker Lark line for the 1959 model year (Wikipedia entry here). It resulted in increased sales that helped Studebaker last longer than it might have otherwise.

What Studebaker did was create a "compact" car (in American size terms) by chopping off the ends of its existing sedans and hardtop convertibles (the Hawk line excepted).  This in response to a growing sales trend towards smaller cars, exemplified by American Motors' Rambler (formerly a Nash product) and imported cars such as the Volkswagen Beetle.  So Studebaker caught the trend for a few years and prolonged its existence.

Besides hopping on the trend, Lark sales were helped because it was nicely designed.  Not all facelifts are bad.


1953 Studebaker Champion
This is an example of Studebaker's redesigned sedans for 1953.

1958 Studebaker Commander
Several facelifts later, we find this awkward pre-Lark sedan.

1959 Studebaker Lark sedan ad card
The large grille recalls Studebaker's Hawk, itself a facelifted version of the classic 1953 Starliner.

1959 Studebaker Lark hardtop ad card
The Lark was a clean design, quite unlike the 1958 Studebaker and other American brands that suffered from the 1950s disease of over-decoration.  This hardtop convertible was especially attractive.

1959 Studebaker Lark publicity photo
Four door sedan Larks were stubby, but that was what buyers of compacts expected.

1959 Studebaker Lark hardtop - rear 3/4 view - sales photo
Lark rear ends were cleanly styled too.  My only complaint is that the wheels and tires are a little smaller than I prefer -- perhaps halfway between what we see here and what the 1953 Champion had.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Citroën DS Critique

For many years, Citroën had the reputation of being an advanced-technology automobile maker.  This was certainly apt regarding its Traction Avant (front-wheel drive) model,  produced 1934-1957.

However, by the late 1940s, the most advanced feature of the Traction Avant was its front-wheel drive, the rest of the car looking distinctly old-fashioned.  Citroën and its Michelin owner were not about to rest on their laurels, setting out to create another technological sensation if they could.

The result was the DS series that entered production in 1955.  Styling was by Flaminio Bertoni, who I wrote about here.  The first of the series was the DS19, the 19 referring to its 1,911 cc motor.  The first link in this paragraph mentions the DS19s major technical innovations: I will focus on its styling.


Here is a DS19 on display at a British auto show, not the 1955 Paris show where it made its debut.  Note that this example has right-hand drive.  The light colored car at the upper-right is a Rover.

Publicity photo of a 1956 DS19.  There is no grille to speak of, radiator cooling air entering from the lower part of the front end, a feature common today, but rare then.  DSs had a long 3,124 mm (123.0 in) wheelbase and short front and rear overhang.

Possibly the same car seen in the previous photo, this time apparently at an auto show.  The windshield has tight curve radiuses, so I wonder how much distortion drivers and front-seat passengers experienced.  Bertoni was a sculptural artist, so it is interesting how he treated the lower body, blending the hood with the sides.  I suspect that the high front fenders were dictated by legal requirements in some countries regarding headlight height above the ground, and wonder if Bertoni might have preferred a different treatment.

Rear three-quarter view.  Note the extremely short rear overhang, the rear wheels being placed nearly at the car's corners.  An odd touch is the lights placed at the ends of those tube-like chromed rain gutter formers at the edges of the top.  This seems like a weak copy of space ship and jet aircraft styling features found on many 1950s American cars.

The most striking interior feature was its steering wheel with only one attachment arm.

A publicity photo featuring pretty girls.  The DS had a tall greenhouse with plenty of glass area.  Making this visually even taller was the fact that the doors lacked window frames (though there was a slender B-pillar); see the top image for more detail.  The thin roof, the flat window glass (a technological limitation of the time), the tall greenhouse, the fairly upright windshield and the flat C-pillars combine to create a comparatively rigid form that contrasts with the curvy lower body.  Result: the Citroën DS19 is not a well-integrated design that seemed odd to me when first announced and still does not please me.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

What Were They Thinking?: Jaguar XK150

The "What Were They Thinking?" post category here does not refer to Jaguar planners (essentially William Lyons himself) regarding the XK150, produced 1957-1962.  I'm thinking of the reaction of potential buyers and the public at large.

And at the time it was announced I was shocked, thinking it a bloated travesty of the classic XK120.  Road & Track magazine, the automotive bible of my youth, road tested the 150 Roadster in its September 1958 issue.  Its only comment regarding styling was: "Externally the 150 is still unmistakably an XK, but the general lines and appearance have been softened and refined.  More importantly perhaps, the seating position has been tremendously improved, the cockpit is roomier, controls are easier to operate and visibility is better."  I wonder if the fact that Jaguar had been placing ads on the back covers of R&T had anything to do with this mild reaction.

The November 1957 R&T (also with a Jaguar ad on the back cover) had a road test of a XK150 coupe, having this to say regarding styling: "Although observations on a test car's looks sometimes do not sit well with readers, here goes: The front end, a close examination of which discloses that every component has changed, retains its classic beauty.  The 'cab' has an appearance of lightness, correctly symbolizing the improved vision through the wider windshield and rear window.  Its 4-inch gain at shoulder height is too evident, reminding one more of a mature mother cat than a lithe young huntress.  The rear, heaven help us, needs customizing!  Its collection of chrome clutters the excellent basic shape.  (Letters will be answered as time permits.)"  Slightly more critical, but "nuanced" as political thinkers are wont to say these days.  The parenthetical "letters" comment suggests that R&T readers were letting the editors know that the 150s styling was controversial.

The August 1957 issue (Jaguar ad on the back cover) had a story announcing the XK150 coupe.  Its treatment was clinical, no judgment being placed on the styling.

The XK150 was essentially a new body on a slightly modified XK120/140 base.  Wheelbase and width were the same as the 120s dimensions or nearly so, the 150 being 4 inches (20 cm) longer, largely due to heftier bumpers.


Jaguar XK120
The initial example of the XK sports car line.  A classic design.  I even approve of the spatted rear wheel openings.

Jaguar XK140 advertisement - 1956
XK140s got heavier bumpers and more chromed trim.  The spats disappeared for good, and the coupe's top was bulkier.  Altogether a slight, yet tolerable, degradation.

Jaguar XK150 Drop-Head Coupe
Fatter hood and curved windshield make the central body ponderous.  The raised fender line is more in line with mid-1950s styling fashions. But note the awkward curve of the front fender -- a lift over the wheel opening that reverses slightly to become a straighter path to the rear fender up-kick.

Jaguar XK150 Fixed Head Coupe
Even though the there is plenty of glass, the overall shape of the top seems a bit too heavy-looking.

1960 Jaguar XK150 Fixed Head Coupe - Barrett-Jackson photo
R&T was right regarding the rear-end ornamentation.  For example, the tail light assemblies could have been trimmed to align with the profile of the trunk and the vertical chromed strip should have been eliminated.  I think the rear window should have been a little less wide; the top's appearance would have been improved without significant degrading of outward visibility.

From the perspective of nearly 60 after its announcement, the XK150 doesn't irk me as much as it did when new.  Much of that has to do with the fact that the 120 has also receded from view (they're seldom seen on streets and roads these days) dulling my sense of comparison.  That said, the 150 is not a good design.  Bulky, with awkward detailing.  William Lyons surely abandoned his good taste with this one.