Monday, November 28, 2016

1956's Revived Lincoln Continental Coupé

Few dispute that the 1940 Lincoln Continental is a classic automobile design.  It began as a customized 1939 Lincoln cabriolet built for Ford Motor Company President Edsel Ford.  The designer was E.T. "Bob" Gregorie, Ford's styling chief.  Favorable reaction by Edsel's friends led to it becoming a production car for 1940. In addition to cabriolets, a coupé model was added.  More information on early Lincoln Continentals can be found here.

Aside from the World War 2 U.S. car production hiatus, Lincoln Continentals were produced through the 1948 model year.  But 1949 brought totally restyled Lincolns and Edsel had died in 1943, so Ford leadership was not motivated to continue the line even though stylists had sketched some proposals based on the new Lincoln Cosmopolitan body.

Potential buyers were unhappy with the decision to drop the Continental line and hounded Ford to build new ones.  By the early 1950s the company was prosperous again and there was money available to do just that.  Edsel's youngest son, William Clay Ford, was made head of the project.  As this Wikipedia entry indicates, the new car was called Continental Mark II and was cast as a separate brand, though marketed by Lincoln.  It was conceived as a super-luxury car, priced at $10,000 -- around twice the average U.S. household income at the time.  Only a coupé was produced, though Ford had a convertible built and some coupé owners later had their cars customized as cabriolets.

So far, I haven't been able to locate suitable examples from the styling competition for the Mark II on the internet.  When I find such images, I'll post about them.  For now, I'll compare styling of the original 1940 coupé with that of the Mark II.


The Mark II was a lot longer than the original Lincoln Continental.  The long hood proportion of the original was retained, but rear overhang was much more extensive.  The most "Continental" details carried over were the blanked over rear quarter panels of the passenger compartment and the hint of the rear-mounted spare tire.

If today's acceptance of Retro styling had been in place during the mid-1950s the Mark II might have been styled to look more like the original.  Instead, John Reinhart's winning design was a conservative take on contemporary styling practice.  Such features include: "frenched" headlights; wraparound windshield; flow-through fender line; low hood; and the long rear overhang.  Fortunately, not all trendy items were present.  Some of these were: tail fins; chromed designs on the sides; two or three tone paint jobs; and jet fighter details.

From this angle, the passenger compartments have a similar flavor, though the Mark II has a larger rear window (backlight).  Its rear wheels are exposed rather than spatted.  Signature 1940 Lincoln Continental features included the boxy trunk design and the rear-mounted spare tire in its cover.  The Mark II's trunk curves down and the separate spare tire is evoked by a shape encompassing a spare.  It's rather like trunk sheet metal was draped over an interior spare tire that was propped up at a forward-leaning angle.  In fact, the Mark II's spare tire was inside the trunk and positioned in just that manner, even having a cloth covering to hide it.  Of course, that made putting luggage and other items in the trunk more difficult due to its blockage.

The Continental Mark II was not a sales success, only around 3,000 being sold over its two years on the market.   It high price was a limiting factor.  I think its styling was another contributor.  Despite its low stature, the car was massive -- not light and sporting looking like the original was.  Moreover its styling was dull, boring.  Making it look very mid-50s with fins and multiple paints might not have worked either.  The best solution from today's perspective would have been a shorter (but not too short) car with more Retro hints.  But that might not have sold well either, given buyer expectations in those stylistically flamboyant times.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

1962 Ford Cougar Concept Car

There's hardly any internet information on Ford's 1962 Cougar concept car.  The Wikipedia entry here is typical.  The Cougar name was eventually used for many years by Ford Motor Company's Mercury brand for various lines of sporty coupes.  Before that, it was found on show cars.

The '62 Cougar is not a famous concept car, but I find it interesting.  That's partly because it appeared right after American cars had moved out of the rococo era of three-tone paint jobs, swaths of chrome trim, and elaborate tail fins.  Yet the Cougar retained touches of fantasies dreamed up the Ford's advanced styling unit back in the 1950s.


This general view sets the scene.  Most of the images of the Cougar feature its Mercedes-Benz inspired gull-wing doors -- an impractical sports car fetish that has yet to be abandoned.

The Cougar's grille is simple and integrated with the bumper as a variety of horizontal shapes.  Headlights are hidden behind the fender caps, though its not clear how they are exposed.  (Perhaps they are not there at all and those cut lines are dummies.)  Note the wire wheels, a sporty '50s fad that was fading by 1962.  The front of the car from the cowl forward is very simple.  Side trim is a single broad, tapering chrome strip that limits the height of the front wheel opening.  The windshield wraps around to A-pillars that slant backwards, part of the trend away from vertical or forward slanting A-pillars of the 1950s.  But the windshield does not wrap upwards even though compound-curved windshields were not unknown at the time.  The result is that odd, rather small transition panel that links the windshield with the gull-wing door openings.

Side view showing the nice, long hood and fairly short (for the times) rear overhang.  The gull-wing door openings have a slant at the rear conforming to the seat slant.  There is a single lift strut mounted at the rear.  The most visually jarring feature is the tubular lump atop the fender over the rear wheel.  It distracts from the otherwise pure fender line and seems to serve only as a tail light assembly holder.  Perhaps the fender line did need some spicing up, but those lumps simply add poorly-placed clutter.  They represent a seeming holdover of Ford's advance styling group's early-1950s obsession with jet fighter and sci-fi spaceship detailing.

This rear view indicating that, aside from the tail light arrangement  the design of the car's rear is clean.  A production version would have required a higher trunk lid for reasons of practicality, however.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Functional Design: 1929 Chevrolet

When I was a lad reading up on pioneering industrial designers, modernist architecture and the like, along with taking the first-year architectural course at the University of Washington (I majored in ID for a while), the big deal was Function -- to which Form should follow.

A lovely ideal, that.  But utterly pure Platonic function-shaped forms are hard to come by.  Setting aside the exquisite chicken egg, I really can't think of a single example of architecture or industrial design that is universally acclaimed to be perfect.

In part, that's because objects used by people usually have more than one function to fulfill.  For instance, a knife has to have a blade that will cut.  But different kinds of things are best cut by different kinds of blades.  And knives must have handles, and those might vary in shape and material.  So there is no real-world Platonic knife.

Automobiles, as I've pointed out more than once, have the function of being sold, something that at times can be at odds with design purity.  Setting aside the current needs for aerodynamic efficiency and compliance with government safety regulations that affect appearance, one might consider functionality in terms of the visual expression of a car's major visible engineering components and how well the forms express these.

As it happened, such conditions and expressions began to disappear when cars designed by styling staffs began to dominate the American market in the early 1930s.

Let's take a look at a typical American car design at the point when they were about to be succeeded by professionally-styled models.  In this case, the 1929 Chevrolet AC.


Harley Earl, General Motors' first styling supremo, made his mark with the 1927 LaSalle.  The new 1929 Buick design came from his new studios, though details were supposedly altered while the car was productionized.  GM's high-volume brand then and now was Chevrolet.  As the "Sheet Metal" list above indicates, 1929 Chevrolet bodies were minor modifications of 1928s that would have been designed before that year, so Earl had little or nothing to do with 1929 Chevrolet styling.

This, and the following photos were taken by me in September at the Saguenay, Québec cruise port.  This 1929 Chevrolet was on display.  The card behind the windshield describes the model (click to enlarge photos).

Everything is pretty clear.  Passengers are carried inside a box with doors and windows.  At the front is a radiator requiring a nice blast of air while the car rolls along.  Behind it lies the motor that is protected by box that folds up for access.  Headlights are prominently placed so that their beams can illuminate darkened roads.  At the very front is a bumper to protect the car's front from impacts.  Fenders are present to protect the body from splash.  Between front and rear fenders are running boards, steps allowing easier access to the passenger compartment.  Many functions, each clearly expressed.

Side view.  That small lip above the windshield is an external sun visor -- inferior to internal visors, but common in the late 1920s.

Rear three-quarter view.  One hint of things to come is the rounding of the aft part of the top.  For instance, 1927 Chevrolet tops were angled.

The two lower tail lights are not stock, being added to make this car street-legal nowadays.

View of some front end details.  Very spare, very functional.  Attractive, in a way, though I can't call it beautiful.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Honda Finally Gets the CR-V Right

A while ago I wrote about the side window designs of recent Honda CR-V SUV models.  I was not happy.

I concluded, stating: "I'm hoping the Honda stylists will come to their senses and find a more attractive side-window profile when the fifth-generation CR-V comes along."

And voila! They actually did.


The first-generation CR-Vs appeared in the USA for the 1997 model year.  Window treatment was basic station wagon (break) style.

Second-generation CR-Vs arrived for 2002.  A wee bit of rear overhang was added and the C-pillar received the merest whiff of a dog-leg treatment.  Nothing objectionable as yet.  (These first two images are "for sale" photos, the others look like they came from Honda.)

But for the 2007 third-generation, there is trouble.  The drooping upper window profile clashes with the profile of the vehicle's top.  That design was suited for sedans, not SUVs.

Honda's 2012 redesign corrected some of the problem just mentioned, but the window treatment remains better suited for sedans.

Here is a photo of a 2017 CR-V.  As of late October when I drafted this, I couldn't find one showing the left side view, so this will have to do.  At long last the upper window profile and the roof profile are in sync.  The side of the tail light assembly clashes with the rest of the C-pillar treatment, so Honda stylists still have a little more work to do.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Plymouth Valiant Begets Dodge Lancer

Detroit's Big Three car makers launched lines of compact (in the American context) cars for the 1960 model year.  I wrote about Chrysler Corporation's version, the Plymouth Valiant, here.  (To be historically accurate, for 1960 the car was simply "Valiant," becoming the Plymouth Valiant for 1961.)

In a move to spread the tooling costs of the Valiant over more cars sold, Chrysler added a facelifted Valiant to its product line in the form of the 1961 Dodge Lancer (Wikipedia entry here).  Valiants and Lancers using the Virgil Exner influenced styling continued through the 1962 model year.


This is an entry-level 1960 Valiant four-door sedan.

Here is a press-release photo and caption announcing the 1961 Dodge Lancer: click to enlarge.  The car is a two-door hardtop coupe, the Plymouth Valiant also getting this new model for 1961.  Note that it has fixed side windows towards the rear that are the same as those seen on the Valiant four-door.  To create the coupe, the B-pillars were eliminated from the greenhouse and the front doors lengthened while, of course, the rear doors were eliminated.  As for distinctive Lancer features, the front fender blade was given a reverse-slanted bend at its rear.  The grille/headlights/bumper ensemble was replaced, creating a more conventional (for the times) wider appearance compared to the Valiant's taller, more classical grille.  This change required a small area of different sheet metal at the front of the hood.

Rear 3/4 view of a 1960 Valiant.

This RD Classics photo of the rear aspect of a 1961 Lancer reveals that even fewer changes were made here in the transformation from Valiant to Lancer.  Aside from different side chrome trim, the Lancer got a different bumper and restyled rear fender tips and tail lights.  The greatest change was the elimination of the faux- spare tire cover from the trunk lid: this required revised body stamping, probably in the form of a fewer pass or two plus separate stampings for the cover.

All things considered, the Valiant was a quirky design.  The Lancer, on net, was a reasonable clean-up job.  The grille area relates better to the rest of the front.  Eliminating the spare tire cover motif on the trunk was an important improvement. The tiny blades/fins detailing atop the aft part of the rear fenders was a minus: the Valiant's treatment here was cleaner and better.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Facelifting the 1955 Chevrolet

The 1955 Chevrolet (Wikipedia entry here) was a sensation when it was unveiled.  For many years Chevrolet was usually the best-selling American brand.  But Chevys were seldom very exciting until the '55s came along.

An extremely important excitement factor was its new V-8 motor that supplemented its long-standing "stove-bolt six."  Then there was the new styling -- General Motors' A-body version of its B and C body themes launched for 1954.  Differences from 1954 Chevys included slab fenders (with a flowing top line), the trunk lid at about the level of the fender tops, a lower hood not much above the fender line and, most important, a wraparound or panoramic windshield.

Another departure for Chevrolet was its grille.  Heavy, chromed sculpted bars were replaced by something that looked like a tipped up storm sewer grid ... or perhaps a grille inspired by Ferrari (take your pick).  Because it slanted forward and its vertical grid bars were set ahead of the horizontal ones, the grill opening usually looked like a dark, rectangular hole aside from the chromed frame.  This was at odds with GM styling supremo Harley Earl's preference for sky-reflecting chrome trim.  All-in-all, a curious feature that also was oddly likable.

Regardless, '55 Chevys sold very well.  But even as they were being announced to the buying public, stylists were working on the obligatory (in those days) facelift for 1956.  Moreover, a redesign wasn't scheduled until the 1958 model year, so there had to be a facelift styled for 1957 as well.


A front three-quarter view of a 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air via Auctions America.

Publicity photo showing the side.  The car looks better without the two-tone paint over the trunk and rear fenders.  Basically, a nice, trim design.

Rear view of a Bel Air convertible.  It seems plain by today's standards, but fancy rear ends were still in the near-term future.

1956 Chevrolets got new side trim and a more conventional grille.  That grill still slanted forward, but it was more heavily chromed.  Its ensemble took in the width of the car, unlike the narrow '55 version.  All much more conventional ... and not very distinctive.

Rear styling took a small backwards step with the cut-out tail light assemblies replacing the sensible '55 version.

The 1957 facelift was more extensive.  Another new grille design appeared, following the industry trend to integrating grilles and bumpers.  headlight housings got longer hoods and odd, fake air intakes were added to the hood.  Side two-tone paint and trim were replaced by another trim design with space for either paint or a textured metal panel.

This rear 3/4 view of a four-door hardtop shows how the rear fender tops were converted into thin blades hinting at the tail fins that Chrysler Corporation began promoting in 1956.  Tail light assemblies took on a jet fighter or sci-fi space ship look with the red lenses at the top, white backup lights at the tips of the bumper guards, and a fake exhaust pipe opening at the bottom.  (Actual exhaust pipes ended beneath the bumper.)
If memory serves, I think it was Bob Cumberford who revealed that the 1957 Chevrolet facelift was something of a casual effort creating change for change's sake.  And it shows.  Ironically, I read that '57s are more highly valued these days than the truly important 1955 models.

Monday, November 7, 2016

BMC 1100s: Bigger, Cleaner Minis

I suspect that even semi-casual observers of the automotive scene are aware that BMW's Mini line has been getting a bit less mini as the years pass.  This sort of thing is fairly common, as I noted here with regard to Honda's Civic.

This also happened to the original Minis in the form of a new, larger car based on the Mini's platform concept.  That concept was the work of Sir Alexander Arnold Constantine Issigonis, CBE (1906-1988), biographical information here.

The original Mini (produced 1959-1967), was known internally at British Motor Corporation as ADO15 -- Amalgamated Drawing Office project number 15. The Wikipedia entry is here.  It was followed by ADO16, produced 1962-1974, and like the Mini was badge-engineered and sold by several BMC brands.  More information can be found here.

An early ADO16 was the Morris 1100, subject of this post.  These cars were larger, higher priced, and more "styled" than Minis.  The Mini design gives the appearance of being more an engineering exercise than a styling one: only the grille looks like it passed under a stylist's pencil.  The Wikipedia entry on the ADO16 mentions that the Pininfarina firm was involved in its styling.


The web site I grabbed this image from states that this is a 1962 Morris Mini Super.  Regardless, its appearance is typical Mini -- mostly a passenger compartment atop tiny wheels.

This seems to be a publicity photo of a Morris 1100 from 1962 or shortly later.  The 1100 is large enough to have four doors, though the hood and wheels remain proportionally small.

Side view.  The body panels are not as crude or basic as those on the Mini.  There's even a subtle character line crease along the side and stamped, raised wheelhouse surrounds, unlike the tacked-on chrome surrounds on the Mini.

Publicity photo of an Australian 1100 showing the more refined body shaping as viewed from the front.

A for sale photo of a 1966 1100 showing the rear.  Again, cleaner and more refined than the original Mini.  Reminds me of the MGB.

Due to its small size and proportions, the Morris 1100 is not a beautiful car, and most likely never could be.  What we see here are really two designs spliced together.  One is the above-the-beltline greenhouse that seems more appropriate for a large, more standard size vehicle.  The other is the lower body that is in synch with the size of the wheels, thereby creating a sensible composition for that half of the car.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

What Were They Thinking?: Buick's 1985 Wildcat Concept Car

General Motors' Buick Division has made considerable use of the name Wildcat over the year, as this link attests.  There were three Motorama dream car Wildcats in the mid-1950s, production Buicks with the Wildcat name in the 1960s, and finally another concept car in 1985 that is the subject of this post.

The General Motors web site has this to say about the '85 Wildcat that was developed while Irv Rybicki was in charge of GM styling.  Rybicki's production designs tended to be cautious, but this concept car was quite the opposite.  Perhaps that was because it was a pure show car and not the type of concept car intended to preview production styling features.

The '85 Wildcat was odd looking -- poorly proportioned, and its front and rear designs looked like  they belonged on the opposite ends, as will be shown below.  This was largely due to its mid-engine layout.  I saw this Wildcat at Expo 86 in Vancouver, and it did not impress me.

The Wildcat's puffy fenders and aerodynamic pretensions strike me as being characteristic of GM styling studio thinking in those days.


The front is strongly cabover.  The curve that's not interrupted by a cowling looks like a mid-1940s fastback (if the glass is disregarded).

The rear looks more like a front: pretend the backlight is actually a 1950s style wraparound windshield.

In the best hot rod tradition, the "mill" is exposed.

This is the car's "door."  Not practical in a rainstorm.

Side view when everything is buttoned down.  I just can't help thinking that the front is at the left.