Thursday, January 28, 2016

Five Car Brands With Similar 6-Sided Grilles

For more than 100 years it has been obvious to even casual observers that the front of an automobile is, in effect, its face.  For that reason, it has always been a major consideration when styling a car.

The "mouth" part of a car's face is its grille, or opening(s) to admit cooling air to the radiator that is normally placed at the front.  (Yes, mid / rear engine cars, air-cooled motors, and the new breed of battery-powered cars have different requirements, but for now they remain exceptions to the rule.)

A truly "functional" grille would take the shape of a rectangle, coinciding with the radiator's shape.  To style this, various bars, moldings and other ornamentation might be added.  At the other extreme would be grille openings with non-geometric outlines.  Someplace towards the first example are grilles that have a geometric basis but are more elaborate than rectangles.

Such a case would be a six-sided grille in the form of a distorted hexagon.  Both distinctive and quasi-"functional" in the sense noted above.

But a problem arises.  A car's "face" serves to identify the brand, something usually highly important from a marketing standpoint.  Therefore, it normally makes marketing sense to have a distinctive grille that potential buyers recognize.  An exception is when a lesser make borrows elements of a more prestigious brand's grille in an attempt to increase prestige, though the result can be a confirmation of cheapness.

Another possibility is that different car makers stumble on a design more or less independently, possibly because there might well be a limited number of basic grille opening shapes and one has to use what one can use.

Below are presented the faces of 2016 model year cars from five different manufacturers, each using an essentially six-sided grille opening.  Efforts were made to add touches of distinctiveness, but there remains the risk of reducing brand identity.


2016 Audi A4
Audi is the brand with the most prestige of those shown here, but I'm not sure that the other brands were trying to copy Audi.

2016 Dodge Dart
Well, this Dodge does have the Audi "slop over the bumper" motif that is more commonly seen on some Valkswagens.

2016 Ford Fusion
Some observers think the Fusion's grille was inspired by Aston Martin.  Maybe.

2016 Hyundai Genesis G90
Maybe I'm changing my mind.  The Genesis is Hyundai's attempt at creating a luxury brand, and that grille looks a lot like an Audi's without the interlocking rings.

Even lesser Hyundais seem to be getting the six-sided grille treatment.   This is the 2016 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid.

2016 Subaru Legacy GT
This is a new grille shape for Subaru.  It's too soon to tell if the brand is going to go all-out Audi, but it also can be found on the Subaru Impreza.

Monday, January 25, 2016

The Forthcoming 2017 Lincoln Continental

The 2017 Lincoln Continental was previewed at the recent (January 2016) Detroit auto show.  (Yes, I know there is a pretentious official name for that event, but I choose to ignore it.)  A history of the brand and its various generations is here.  It notes that the most recent Lincoln Continentals went out of production in 2002.

Auto industry insider and commentator Peter De Lorenzo reported on the Detroit show here, mentioning the new Continental.  De Lorenzo compares marketing strategies of Cadillac and Lincoln there and in other posts on his web site.  He points out that Cadillac's strategy has been to produce performance cars in the mold of BMW, Audi and Mercedes and naming them using short codes such as CTS, XTS and ATS.

He goes on to mention that Ford management decided to avoid the long, hard haul of creating Lincolns with a high-performance image that would eventually fill the mind-space of potential buyers.  Instead, Lincoln's strategy is to create a luxury image, where raw performance is incidental.  A key element is the revival of the Continental name.

De Lorenzo claims that Cadillac's three-letter codes are too cryptic for most potential buyers, a mimicking of German practice.  But the name Continental is meaningful to most potential buyers, and therefore is a powerful marketing tool.  I tend to agree with Peter, finding the Cadillac codes difficult to associate with the various models they are supposed to represent.  As for the Continental name, I think it will work provided the car it labels is a good one.

Let's see what Lincoln stylists have created.


1940 Lincoln Continental
This is what the original production Lincoln Continentals looked like.  Most observers, me included, consider this a classic design.  Because of this, there was great pressure for the styling of later Continentals to continue featuring cues from the first design.

1982 Lincoln Continental Givency edition
For example, this 1982 version is a four-door sedan, not a coupe as in 1940.  But a fake rear-mounted spare tire has been added to the trunk as a reminder of the original.  Such faux-spares were used on most post-1948 designs as the means of proclaiming Continenetal-ness.

2002 Lincoln Continental
The last production Lincoln Continentals finally abandoned the false spare tire bulge, resulting in a run-of-the-mill large American luxury sedan.

2017 Lincoln Continental
Again, no trace remains of the original Lincoln Continental.  What we see here is typical of contemporary luxury sedan styling in this era of high, supposedly safety-related, hoods and wind tunnel tested body forms.

2017 Lincoln Continental
The general feeling is Bentley-like, with a slightly dropped, slightly flowing fender line.

2017 Lincoln Continental
The grille opening is also Bentley-inspired, but flatter.  The sparkly reflections on the surface remind me of the latest Mercedes-Benz theme, but whose roots go back to 1958 Buicks.

2017 Lincoln Continental
A non-Bentley feature is the crease along the upper part of the side with a chrome flash at its front.  The current fashion for extravagant side sculpting is avoided here -- probably good for a luxury car.

2017 Lincoln Continental
A better view of the rear.  De Lorenzo was not impressed, and I think Lincoln stylists could have done something more distinctive, yet tasteful.

The 2017 Lincoln Continental's styling is not especially distinctive.  But it does proclaim that the car is of the luxury or near-luxury variety, and perhaps that's what the folks at Ford intend for now.  According to one source I read, the Continental is based on the Ford Taurus platform that has been in production since 2010 -- and the Continental indeed looks like a facelifted Taurus.  Perhaps more distinctive styling will appear on future Continentals based on a forthcoming platform, the 2017 model being a placeholder for a really desirable Lincoln.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Production Hot Rod: Plymouth Prowler

I only worked in the automobile industry as a consultant providing market-related data.  So I have no idea whether unusual concept cars that graduate to production status were really intended to be production vehicles or if they went into production because of demand by auto show patrons waving checkbooks and credit cars.  Legend has it that the latter is the case.

And so it seems to have been for Chrysler Corporation's Plymouth Prowler, first displayed in 1993 and produced in 1997 and 1999-2002 (Wikipedia entry here).

In essence, the Prowler was a professionally styled take on classic hot rods that were based on 1932-34 Ford V8 roadsters.  One reason for that source of inspiration was that Chrysler styling chief Tom Gale (1943 - ) and some others on his staff as well a few people in upper management were hot rod fans. I didn't notice a decent reference to Gale via Google; for what it's worth, his Wikipedia entry is here.

Even the concept car version of the Prowler had to compromise hot rod details to accommodate current regulations required of street-legal autos.  Most noticeable are the large bumpers -- something many 'rods dispensed with.

All things considered, the Prowler was an interesting and successful design for a frivolous vehicle.  Nevertheless, I find it a bit surprising that nearly 12,000 were actually built and sold.


Sales photo of a 1932 Ford V8 roadster-based hot rod.

The Plymouth Prowler.

Side view showing raked look.

The trunk and related detailing is similar to that of 1935 Ford coupes and roadsters.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Pontiac Silver Streak Evolution

Pontiac (background here) was for decades General Motors' second rung in its price/prestige hierarchy ladder, nested between entry-level Chevrolet and mid-range Oldsmobile.  For many years Pontiacs carried a strong visual identifier in the form of Silver Streaks -- bands of parallel chromed ridges running down the hood, sometimes over the grille, and for a while even along the center of the trunk.  I wrote about the initial Silver Streaks here.

Silver Streaks were found on Pontiacs for model years 1935-1956 inclusive, aside from 1943-45 when no cars were made due to World War 2.

One task Pontiac stylists faced was keeping the motif fresh-looking model year after model year.  What they produced is pictured below.


The theme started with a broad band containing many little streaks.

No real difference for 1936.  Note that headlights are now attached to the main body rather than the catwalks.

The streak band has been narrowed and emerges on the trunk.

Minor streak changes for '38.

For 1939 the motif is echoed by grille bars.

Another new body, but the streaks retain their familiar form.

The band widens for 1941.  The five streaks are now noticeably separated.  An echo of the previous streak design is seen below the headlights.

Not much change for '42.

The post-war grille had minor changes, but the streaks are as they were.  This is an interesting advertisement because it shows all the previous streak-bearing Pontiac front ends.

Sales photo.  The grille is changed, but not the streaks.

These Pontiacs have only three streaks, two narrow ones plus a larger central one.

The redesigned '49s return to five streaks, but the larger central streak is retained.



1950-52 Pontiac streaks are essentially the same.

For the first time, we find split sreaks.

Back to five streaks, but they are all the same size -- narrow.

Another redesigned body.  There are two widely spaced streak sets.  Not visible are streak bands on the small rear fender fins.

Barrett-Jackson auction photo.  The final model year for streaks.  They are essentially the same as the 1955 version.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

The Long-Lived Morris Minor

Morris Minor automobiles were produced for more than 20 years (1948-1971) without a major styling change and sold well.  From what I read, my impression is that the Minor remains the most highly-regarded low-priced British car launched the first few years after World War 2 ended.  Background information can be found here.

As for its styling, the Minor falls into the evolutionary zone American designs reached in 1942.  Given that its body design was 1942-43 vintage (see here), the Morris Minor had up-to-date styling that was on the verge of being out-of-date by the time it was announced to the public in the fall of 1948.  But its warm marketplace acceptance eliminated the need for other than a few modifications over the years..


Morris "Mosquito" prototype
The "Mosquito" name was discarded before production.  The styling theme seen here was carried over to production models that had slightly larger proportions.

1950 Morris Minor MM
The wheels seem too small for my taste, but the large windows give the car a light, airy look.

1950 Morris Minor - sales photo
The front fenders extending over the doors give the Minor a solid appearance without the potential bloat that flow-through or pontoon fenders might have yielded.  The doors are hinged at the front, unlike some cars with similar fenders that had to have "suicide" aft-hinged doors for engineering reasons.

1950 Morris Minor - sales photo
From the door aft, aside from the large side windows, the Minor reminds me of 1940-vintage American car styling.

1953 Morris Minor Series II
Minors were facelifted for a second series built 1952-56.  The main change was repositioning the headlights from the grille area to the fenders.  This might have been done to satisfy regulations in export-target countries.  Note that the car in the photo is a four-door model.

1957 Morris Minor 1000 - Classic Auctions photo
An example of the final revision with its new one-piece windshield.  The grille ensemble, including the sheet metal surround, is very close in extent to the ensemble seen on the earliest Minors.

1968 Morris Minor 1000 (never driven!) - via London Telegraph
Side view of a four-door Minor auctioned not long ago and noteworthy for its extremely low mileage.  Two-door Minors look better because they didn't have the cramped appearance of four-door models such as this one.

Monday, January 11, 2016

America's 1970s Opera Window Fad

I'm inclined to blame management rather than styling staff for the fad featured in this post.  That's because the feature in question was essentially a non-functional (aside from generating sales) frivolity.  It was what was called "opera windows," perhaps a reference to features of certain horse-drawn carriages.

For mid-1970s American cars, opera windows were small windows placed on C-pillars so that distinguished back-seat passengers on their way to cultural events presumably could discretely peek out at the unwashed masses along the way.  Actually, I doubt that was ever the intent; the real intent was to add a bit of retro-sophistication to certain car models.

One thing I find a little puzzling is that they appeared in classical form on 1973 Lincolns while in the same model year some General Motors cars introduced somethings fairly similar in spirit.  Those were small rear-quarter windows that could be interpreted as large opera windows.  I suspect the reason for this same-year introduction by two different firms had to do with the usual auto industry grapevine along with reports from stylists hired from competing companies.

By the late 1970s every American car maker was selling some models with some sort of opera window feature.  And opera windows rapidly disappeared on 1980s models.

Below is a gallery showing some of those opera windows.


1973 Lincoln Continental Mk. IV - Barrett-Jackson auction photo
An early instance on Ford's luxury brand.  The small oval window can be seen on the C-pillar.

1978 Lincoln Town Car - auction photo
Five years later there is one on a Lincoln four-door sedan.  Most cars featuring opera windows or something similar were two-door models.

1974 Mercury Cougar XR-7 - sales photo
Here is a squared-off opera window.

1977 Ford Thunderbird Coupe
An unusual variation is the small window on this Thunderbird's B-pillar.

1977 Ford Granada Sports Coupe
And then there are the louvered slit windows on this small Ford.

1973 Chevrolet Monte Carlo
The same year as the Lincoln in the top photo General Motors placed small quarter windows on this body used by several of its brands.

1978 Buick Riviera Coupe
Five years later we find a smallish quarter window surrounded by vinyl.

1975 Chrysler Cordoba
Chrysler did the same thing for its Cordoba.

1977 Chrysler New Yorker
An interesting variation on this New Yorker.  Note the unusual shape of the roof vinyl covering and the large C-pillar zone.

1975 Dodge Charger - auction photo
This Dodge has slotted opera windows.  Stylists seemed to be working overtime to come up with distinctive variations on the concept, as these images indicate.

1977 Plymouth Gran Fury Brougham
Chrysler's entry-level brand got a scaled-down version of opera window and vinyl shape as compared to the New Yorker shown earlier.

1978 AMC Concord D/L
Even American Motors, the smallest car maker, felt the need to join the opera window rush.