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.

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