Thursday, March 31, 2016

Mondeo: Ford's 1990s International Car

Ford Motor Company is no stranger to the concept of the "international car," where the same basic automobile is built and sold in several countries.  The first instance was the Model T, a purely American vehicle that was assembled in a dozen countries in the 1920s.

In recent decades, automobile makers have tried to spread reimbursement of large development costs by designing and engineering car platforms for manufacture and sale on more than one continent.  This concept seems simple in the abstract, but often proves difficult in execution.  One source of problems is differing tastes of buyers in different countries.  For example, North American buyers tend to prefer larger vehicles than do European buyers.  Nevertheless, automotive firms continue to pursue the Holy Grail of the "world car."

A 1990s Ford effort in that direction was the Mondeo, intended for both Europe and North America.  Information on the first-generation Modeo (1993-1996 pre-facelift, 1997-2000 post-facelift), the subject of this post, can be found here.

The Mondeo sold well in Europe.  I drove one over much of Britain and Ireland around 15 years ago and thought it was a nice car, especially when cruising along motorways.

Unfortunately for Ford, the American version introduced for 1995 in the form of the Ford Contour and Mercury Mystique never sold well -- usually less than 100,000 per year.  The above link mentions a habitability problem related to the firewall shape, but I think styling was a factor as well.


First-Series Ford Mondeo
This Mondeo has German license plates and is a five-door or hatchback model.  This is evident due to the large backlight and small "bustleback" lip aft of the glass.

First-Series Ford Mondeo - 1995
A British Modeo, showing the front design.  It seems to be a four-door sedan.

First-Series Ford Mondeo
Rear view of a German Mondeo hatchback.  The large, convex backlight provides a substantial appearance lacking on four-door versions.

1995 Ford Contour
The Contour's hood and front differ from the Modeo.  The soft appearance was surely chosen to relate the Contour to Ford's second-generation Taurus.

1995 Mercury Mystique
The Mercury version of the Mondeo featured a crisper-looking front.

1995 Ford Contour - sales photo
My problem with Contour and Mystique styling centers on the C-pillar which is both thin and soft-looking.  Too feeble for a roof support from a visual standpoint.

1999 Mercury Mystique
The C-pillar from a different viewing angle.  The first time I saw an American Mondeo version, this feature bothered me.  It bothers me to this day.  A slight straightening of the sides of the backlight sheetmetal perimeter would have improved the design.  Alas, Ford seemed intent on rounded styling details in those days.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Sensational Studebaker Avanti

I find it interesting that many highly regarded automobile designs were on cars that sold in comparatively small numbers.  Examples include: Cords --  L-29s and 810/812s alike; 1940-41 Lincoln Continentals; and BMW 507s.  High price was an important sales-related factor for the cars just mentioned.  And it needs mentioning that a nicely-styled mass-market car often doesn't strike observers as being "special" because they are seen everywhere.

The 1963-vintage Studebaker Avanti (details here) was an outstanding design that only amounted to about 4,600 being built.  It was not a luxury car but, according to this source, its price was a bit more than that of a Chevrolet Corvette sports car.  Not cheap.  The Avanti was essentially a "roll of the dice" for a failing company, a situation akin to the birth of the Cord 810, for example.  Sales suffered because of problems resulted from its being rushed into production, another declining-enterprise symptom.

I wrote about the Avanti here, focusing on two photos I took of a new one in 1963.  Those photos are included below (but here I adjusted the contrast and sharpness slightly).  I mentioned that I would get around to analyzing Avanti styling later.  Well, now it's "later" and my comments are in the image captions below.


Advertising photo.  I've mentioned in my car styling book that, a few details aside, the Avanti could pass as a new car today.  Its bumpers would not pass government standards for impact resistance, for instance.   Vent windows on the doors are another archaic feature.  And the windshield would have to have a steeper rake to improve aerodynamic efficiency.

This is reputed to be Raymond Loewy's personal supercharged Avanti when placed on sale a few years ago.  The photo shows the rake of the body and the haunches over the rear wheel opening that provide a sense of power.  The side crease aligns with the front and rear bumpers, helping to tie the otherwise curvy design together and provide an element of stiffness.  This view also suggests that a modern highly-sloped windshield would spoil the design: the hood would be stubbier and the passenger cabin would seem heavier.  However, a 45-degree slope would probably work well.

Barrett-Jackson auction-related photo showing the rear aspect of the Avanti.  The shapes of the major elements blend with one another in a nice flowing manner.  The main flaw is the tacked-on backup lights that don't relate to the nearby tail lights.  And I don't think the wheels shown here are stock, by the way.

Avanti seen in Baltimore, May 1963.  Note the shapes of the wheel openings as seen here and, especially, in the side view above.  They serve to enhance the raked effect that's both actual (the lower edge of the car isn't parallel to the ground) and in the design massing (the high point of the car is above the leading edge of the C-pillar).  Round openings would make the car seem a bit more static.

Front view of the Baltimore car.  No conventional grille ... instead, an early version of a low-level air intake.  The fender fronts, the central crease on the hood and the asymmetrically placed raised feature in front of the steering wheel provide elements of firmness contrasting an otherwise curvy design.  It's not easy to see in any of these images, but the body is pulled inwards around the doors "Coke bottle" fashion, akin to "area ruled" fuselages for trans-sonic jet fighters.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

That Long, Low 1960 Pontiac Bonneville Convertible

Harley Earl, General Motors' first styling director, famously advocated that cars should look long and low.  And if they couldn't be made physically low, stylists should try to make them appear low.

The Pontiac Bonneville line for model years 1959-1960 was among the last of the cars styled while he was in charge.  A Bonneville certainly looked long and low, because in fact it was those things.  Perhaps the longest and lowest-appearing model was the convertible.

This thought was driven home on my most recent visit to America's Car Museum in Tacoma, Washington.  Below are a few photos I took of a 1960 Pontiac Bonneville convertible on display there.


Front view.  All the major character line folds and chrome accents are horizontal.  Compare to the more rounded 1950 Studebaker in the background.

Absent is a flowing fender line.  Instead I count at least five major horizontal design elements on the side seen here.  From top to bottom they are: (1) the top of the car body, (2) the character line along the shoulder that takes a short break on the aft side of the door, (3) the bulge immediately below that which is accented by (4) the long chrome strip, and (5) the bottom edge of the body.  The character line flowing aft of the rear wheel opening could be considered a sixth element.

The wide-angle lens setting I used might be exaggerating the appearance of the trunk and rear overhang.  (But not much: compare to the previous photo.)  In any case, seeing the car in person, I was so struck by the size of the overhang that I made sure to photograph it.  The horizontal styling theme served to emphasize this.

A large trunk is not necessarily a bad thing.  That's because it can hold plenty of luggage when long trips are taken.  Consider this an instance where an aspect of functionality (the Holy Grail of purist design) interferes with aesthetics: the long rear end unbalances the overall design.

Long as 1959-60 Pontiac Bonnevilles were, they were not the longest Pontiacs ever.  The length prize goes to some early 1970s models.  But that's a tale for another time.

Monday, March 21, 2016

The Oddly Appealing 2005 Chrysler 300

When it first appeared, I didn't quite know what to make of the revived Chrysler 300.  That was mostly because all I saw were photos, and for some reason photographs never quite capture how the cars look when seen in person.  It's like certain attractive women who don't photograph well.

That'a not to say 2005 Chrysler 300s were beautiful.  They aren't.  But as the title of this post states, they are oddly appealing -- to many of us, if not everyone.  My analysis is in the Gallery below.

Back to my early reactions.  After a month or so from the introduction I started seeing some 300s on streets and highways.  They increasingly seemed more interesting than what photos had shown.  The following summer, I bought one.

The 300's Wikipedia entry is here, and here is a previous post dealing with some styling antecedents of the 300.


The 300 had rear-wheel-drive, so the long front overhang of contemporary front-wheel-drive cars is absent, resulting in a solid stance and more classic proportions.

The grille is a large egg-crate affair recalling late-1940s Chrysler grilles in spirit, if not in detail.  Note the winged Chrysler emblem atop the grill, a welcome retro touch.

The lower body is slightly wedged, something so subtle that one might not notice.  Look at the wheel openings and their relationship to the crease running along near the top of the fender line.  The crease is interrupted by the lip surrounding the front wheel opening, but rides above that of the rear opening (that in fact might a tiny bit smaller than the front, though I'm guessing here).  These relationships make clear the wedge aspect: lower front, higher rear.  This view also shows that the window openings are almost, but not actually, symmetrical -- a 1930s sort of thing.

Viewed from a high point of view, the body sculpting on the side and rear is prominent.  The car seems brick-shaped with bevels, yet there are curves such as the roofline and rear trunk lid and strike panel that soften the effect.

A more normal perspective of the rear.  On the trunk lid is a repeat of the winged Chrysler ornament.

Cockpit of the top-of-the-line 300C model.  Tortoise-shell embellishments and the steering wheel brightwork were absent on my car.  Some observers have written that this part of the car lacked quality.  I didn't mind that supposed defect.  And I really liked the retro dials on the instrument panel.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Bloated Delahaye 135 by Guilloré

Guilloré was a French coachbuilder that specialized in creating custom bodies for Delahaye during the last 20 years of both firm's existence (1934-1954).  The Wikipedia entry on Guilloré is here, and in French only.

Some French carrossiers such as Chapron, Franay, and Faget & Varnet continued pre-war styling themes on Delahayes during the first few years after World War 2, but Guilloré was one of the firms that attempted contemporary styling.  This often did not work well because the proportions of pre-war Delahayes were not really suited for postwar styling themes.  I wrote about postwar Delahayes here, and included some Guilloré designs.

The present post deals with what I consider one of Guilloré's design failures, a pontoon-fender Delahaye 135 from 1949.


1948 Packard Super 8 Victoria Convertible - sales photo
But first, here is an American design that might have influenced Guilloré.

1949 Delahaye 135 Béarn Cabriolet Bicolore by Guilloré
The two-tone (bicolore) paint scheme helps reduce the bulky appearance of the slab-sided pontoon fenders, but not by much.  Worse, the pre-war core of the 135 includes a high cowl and hood line.  It's a fairly tall car, as you can see by comparison to the woman shown about to open its door.
The car in the upper photo has a staff attached to its front bumper.  It's not for a flag, however.  The Delahaye has the steering wheel mounted to the right in British fashion -- typical of high-price French cars prior to around 1950.  But one drives on the right side of the street or road in France, and the staff was intended to provide the driver a better sense of where the left-front corner of his car was so as not to drift into oncoming traffic.

1949 Delahaye 135 M by Guilloré - via website
Shown here is a survivor.  It has bicolore paint, but the dark-light pattern on the sides is reversed from what is shown in the 1949-vintage photos above.  The small air vents or horn sound openings (I'm not sure which) below the headlights in the previous photos are absent here.  Either they were deleted or this indeed is a different car.  The latter case is more likely because Guilloré made several cars in this style.  At least one was a coupe, another was a six-window sedan, and yet another was a Delage cabriolet.  This car, like most similar examples, does not have spats covering the rear wheel openings which helps reduce the mass of the sides of what remains an awkward design.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Chrysler PT Cruiser: Reincarnated Hot Rod Style

Chrysler's PT Cruiser (model years 2001-2010), with 1.35 million sold, probably ranks second only to Volkswagen's revived Beetle as a retro-style market success.  More detailed information can be found in this Wikipedia entry that credits its styling to Brian Nesbitt.

Chrysler's styling boss Tom Gale and others in the corporation were hot rod fans, which should go a long ways to explain the PT Cruiser's mid-1930s inspired body and raked front end -- the latter a fairly common hot rodder practice in the years around 1950 where the victim cars were usually Ford V8s.

Alas (maybe), I was never a hot rod fan.  For that reason I've always been neutral regarding the Cruiser's design.  That is, I appreciate the concept and the courage required to market the car, but it never appealed to me as a potential driver (though I test-drove one once).


Two views of the 1935 Ford Tudor V8.  The 1936 model used the same body but had a different grille.  Both years' Fords were popular targets for hot rodders and customizers.  These Fords had relatively short wheelbases resulting in a stubby appearance, a trait shared by the PT Cruiser.

Side view of a PT Cruiser.  Note the lowered front rake.  Hot rodders sometimes would drop only the front end, sometimes the rear, and even would drop the road clearance for the entire car.  Dropping the rear didn't work well for mid-1930s cars, so it's almost always found on customs based on 1938-1951 vintage automobiles.

I like the distinct front and rear fenders simply because they are a change from the slab-sided designs that have been common since around 1950.  Nice touches are the small firming-up ridges by the tops of the wheel openings and the hood cut line that becomes a character line extending around the rest of the car.

A PT Cruiser feature I think needed improvement is the grille.  In a way it reminds me of 1932-33 DeSoto grilles that I wrote about here.  Perhaps the horizontal bars should have been given more emphasis and the number of vertical bars reduced.

It if wasn't clear from previous photos, this rear 3/4 view shows that the PT Cruiser was actually something of a station wagon / crossover SUV.  Without this style, the car would have had little room for carrying luggage and other items.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Hudson's Jet: Nail in its Coffin

Here is a case where stylists were overruled in so many ways that the car, which was an above-average market gamble in the first place, proved to be a sales failure due in part to a poor design.  The car in question was the Hudson Jet "compact" that sold less than 36,000 units over its short (1953-54) production run.  Moreover, the fruitless expense of creating the Jet helped drag Hudson down to the point that it was picked off by Nash-Kelvinator to become part of the new American Motors Corporation.

The Hudson Jet Wikipedia entry mentions some of the decisions that affected the car's appearance.  Fundamentally, it was too narrow and probably a little too high.  It looked somewhat similar to 1952 Fords that were much better proportioned.  I could quibble about some of the details such as the grille bar, but see no point to doing so given the bad overall proportions dictated by the package Hudson management insisted on.

Other observers have suggested that Hudson should have put the Jet's development money into a V-8 motor (Hudsons were powered by straight-sixes) and restyling the standard Hudson line.  Even a well-design Jet might have failed in the marketplace because the American car-buying public was about five or six years away from becoming enthused about smaller cars (Nash Ramblers at the time were at best a niche-success).  And Hudson was doomed anyway, along with other smaller American car builders such as Packard and Studebaker that died in the late 1950s and mid-60s.


Publicity photo of a Hudson Jet posed by a U.S. Air Force F-94 jet interceptor.

Factory photo of a Jet.  In those days images such as this were often retouched to remove unwanted reflections and firm up details.  This was to achieve better results when screened for low-quality newspaper reproduction.

Jet ad card showing a Super Jet.

Rear-view illustration from an advertisement or brochure.

1954 super Jet.

1954 Jet Liner, top of the line.  The chromed ensemble on the rear fender area is somewhat similar to that on full-size 1954 Hudsons.

1954 Hudson Jet Club Sedan.  The lowest-priced Jet of all.  Two doors.  No side trim.  Windshield and backlight trim is rubber, not chromed strips.  That's the Hudson administration building in the background.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Chrysler Cordoba 1975-77 Classical Details

Chrysler has a history of careening from prosperity to near-failure and back ... over and over again.  During the second half of the 1970s the corporation was in yet another downward drift, running out of money to develop new products while trying to comply with the increasing burden of government regulation of products.  Management became cautious regarding styling, in some cases marketing cars that looked quite similar to competing models.

There were a few exceptions, however.  One was the subject of this post, the Chrysler Cordoba (1975-1983), a sporty two-door model that sold well: background here.  Cordobas were given a facelift for 1978 that detracted from the initial styling theme, so I'll deal mostly with 1975-77 Corbodas here.

What interests me about 1975-77 Cordoba Styling is the inclusion of details borrowed from cars of the past.  There are three that matter.  One is the prominent rectangular grill and its integration to the hood.  This was nothing new, as Lincoln's Continental Mk. III of 1969 used Rolls-Royce as inspiration, and other makes were doing the same regarding Mercedes-Benz, as I posted here.  Another detail was small "opera windows."  The third was the arrangement of round headlights and running lights borrowed from Jaguar (see below).

What all this added up to was not "advanced" styling, but nevertheless a pleasant looking car until the facelift intervened and marred the theme.


1975 Chrysler Cordoba

1975 Dodge Charger SE
To save its dwindling cash supply, Chrysler Corporation resorted to badge engineering on the Cordoba.  Above is the nearly-identical Dodge Charger.  The main differences are the grilles and the opera window treatment.

1961 (ca.) Jaguar Mark X
Compare this early-1960s Jaguar front end ensemble with that of the Cordoba and Charger shown above.

1976 Chrysler Cordoba - brochure spread
This shows rear-end styling.

1977 Chrysler Cordoba - front
The final front end before the facelift.

1978 Chrysler Cordoba - front
The facelifted front.  In place of the nice classical round lamps we find those ugly rectangular ones that polluted many designs during the 1970s and 80s.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Publicizing the Not-So-Successful Simca Six

The French automobile maker Simca originally was owned by Italy's Fiat and and sold what amounted to Fiat cars with Simca badges.  Eventually Simca passed to other hands, as the link mentions.  But when the Simca Six was introduced in 1947, the company was still Fiat's and the car was essentially a Fiat Topolino with an American-style grille, as this Wikipedia entry indicates.

That entry also notes that the Simca Six did not sell very well. Its styling was reasonably good given its era and the very small size of the car, so other factors likely limited its market success.

Nevertheless, Simca publicists did what they could to attract favorable notice, as the images below indicate. There was a What Were They Thinking moment regarding the final photo, however.


Simca Sixes in a car show that seems to have been interrupted by a summer rain.

A Simca Six and pretty model posed under la Tour Eiffel.

Another Simca, another pretty model, this time in the Jardin du Carrousel.

Here is where it gets interesting.  This is the same car as in the previous photo (compare license plates) in an aristrocratic setting.  Plus the elegantly dressed model ... very nice.  But.  Look at the tire's dirty sidewall (unlike in the other photo).  Not in keeping with the image Simca was trying to project.  Maybe there was a final retouched publicity version of this photo.  If so, I haven't come across it.