Thursday, April 28, 2016

Renault Fuego: Streamlining Disguised

Renault's Fuego (1980-1986 in Europe) was a four-passenger sporty car whose shape was refined by wind tunnel testing into a fairly low drag coefficiant, a relatively uncommon practice in those days.  More background can be found here.

Aerodynamic efficiency is problematic for stylists because many potential shapes are ruled out.  Furthermore, aerodynamic shapes tend to be rounded, yet there is a strong school of styling thought holding that cars should appear trim, crisp, taut.  One compromise is to have the overall shape aerodynamically efficient while including trim, crisp, taut details in places irrelevant to aerodynamics.

This was done when the Fuego was designed.  Otherwise, it might have seemed somewhat dumpy, as was the case of the 1993 Ford Mondeo that had plenty of rounded details including windows and grille.


1982 Fuego advertisement by American Motors
Fuegos were sold here in the USA thanks to an agreement between the Régie and American Motors.

Fuego - side view
The strong black trim emphasizes tautness and distracts from what actually is a rather bulky passenger compartment shape.

1983 Fuego - front 3/4 view
If you click to enlarge, you should be able to see that the black strip running along the car's shoulder is ribbed and thereby attracts the eye more than a flat piece of plastic might -- further distracting from the fundamental body shape.  But the body itself has some crisp features including the sharp folds on the top and edges of the hood.

1983 Fuego - rear 3/4 view
The ribbed black strip runs around the back of the Fuego, helping to pull the eye from the massive backlight.  The character line along the middle of the side takes a dip at the rear wheel opening.  This is a subtle detail because an unbroken horizontal line would not meet the intersection of the bumper and tail light assembly.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Curiously Impressive 1948-50 Packard Convertibles

Packard (history here) did not market a complete post- World War 2 redesign until the 1951 model year.  Instead, an unfortunate facelift of its Clipper design was put in place for 1948-50.  I'll write about this facelift in another post.

One model the Clipper lacked was a convertible, so Packard added them as part of the 1948 facelift project.  Packard sedans of that era were massive and bloated-looking.  Due to their lack of large, fixed tops, the convertibles appeared less massive than the sedans, though they were still more ponderous than competing cars.

The primary styling flaw is the pontoon fender and the slab-sided look it produced.  A crisper fender line and separate rear fenders such as were found on 1947 Studebakers and 1948 Oldsmobiles and Cadillacs would have been a major design improvement.

Seen from nearly 60 years after their introduction, the postwar Packard convertibles possess an impressive kind of charm despite having a mediocre design.  Something due to nostalgia, perhaps.


1948 Packard Super 8 Victoria Convertible - Jay Leno Collection, NBC photo
Jay can afford the best, and this is pretty much it so far as '48-50 Packard convertibles are concerned.

1948 Packard 8 Convertible - sales photo
A lower-priced '48 convertible.  Differences include a simpler grille theme and one less side chrome strip.  The wire wheels were not production items.

1949 Packard Custom 8 Convertible - Auctions America photo
A top-of-the-line convertible with its top retracted.

1949 Packard Victoria Convertible - Barrett Jackson photo
Rear aspect of the less expensive convertible.

1950 Packard Custom 8 Victoria Convertible
Top-of-the-line Packards echoed the grille's egg-crate theme above the rear bumper.  Side chrome and tail lights were redone for 1950.

1950 Packard Custom 8 Victoria Convertible - Mecum auction photo
Another fine example.  But here, too, the wire wheels were added later.

1950 Packard Custom 8 Victoria Convertible - Mecum auction photo
A nice view of the egg-crate grille found on the most expensive Packards.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Cars Seen in California, March 2016

Time for a brief break from styling critiques.

I recently returned from an extensive visit to California where from time to time I would encounter an interesting car.  On occasions where I had my camera handy, I took photos, a few of which are shown below.


2016 Corvette
This was at The Gardens on El Paseo, a shopping area in the city of Palm Desert.  This part of California is where affluent people either winter or retire to permanently, so expensive cars are common.  The Corvette pictured here is on a place where car dealers display their wares for passers-by to contemplate.

McLaren 650S
Parked a few blocks away was this McLaren.  Dealers sometimes simply park a fancy car by a curb to entice potential buyers.

Lamborghini Gallardo Spyder
Not far away was this Lamborghini.  Its status is unclear.  Gallardos ceased production in 2014, yet this example has no license plate.  Perhaps a dealer still had it on hand and was hoping to find a customer for it.

2016 BMW i8
I saw this i8 on display at the Blackhawk shopping mall in Danville.

1932 Studebaker Dictator
Palm Springs has an aviation museum.  Under a B-17 bomber was this entry-level '32 Studebaker.

Fisker Karma
Back to the El Paseo street scene.  Here is a Fisker Karma, one of about 4,500 built from late 2011 to late 2012.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Renault's Conventional Post-War Frégate

The Renault Frégate (1952-1960) was the Régie's first post- World War 2 mid-market sedan.  It followed the small, rear-engine 4CV that I discussed here.

Background on the Frégate is here.  It seems that Renault was working on a rear-motor car larger than the 4CV, but the project was wisely abandoned and the conventional Frégate was initiated in 1949.  That meant Renault stylists were aware of the post-war 1948 Oldsmobile, 1949 Chevrolet and Chrysler line fender designs, and created their version.

The result was a bland, 1949-vintage design that was slightly behind the times when the first production models were announced for the 1952 model year.  Even so, the Frégate's styling was more advanced than the competing Peugeot 203 that I wrote about here.  But it was only on par with Ford SAF's Vedette that debuted in the spring of 1950 and which made use of the 1949 Mercury's design theme.


These are publicity photos of 1951 pre-production Frégates.  The most noticeable differences from 1952 models are the shape of the bumpers and grille bar details.  Both of these images came from the same photo shoot: note the windows in the background.

The Frégate as seen from on high.  Again, the same car in both images.  I like the long hood, though front overhang is a bit long for its era, but common in modern front-drive times.  Frégate's layout was conventional front-engine, rear drive.

Another publicity photo of a 1952 Frégate.  The negative aspect of the long hood is a passenger compartment that seems a bit cramped despite Renault's claim that six passengers could be accommodated (see previous image).

For 1955, Frégate added the Amiral line shown here.  The grille was redesigned and a chromed stone guard was added to the rear fender.

The American baroque two-tone paint scheme disease struck the Frégate by 1958.  Yet another What Were They Thinking? moment.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Tesla Model X: Crossover SUV of Sorts

Tesla Motors, something of a cult car maker, finally got its new all-electric so-called "crossover SUV" Model X into production late in 2015.  I question the term "crossover SUV" for the Model X for the same reasons I wondered about the Honda Crossfit, Mercedes GKE Coupe and BMW X4 that I discussed here.

Sales of the Model X were slow during the first quarter of 2016, the company blaming suppliers for production problems, though extremely high prices also might have been a factor.  To date, I have only seen one Model X.

Like Tesla's Model S, the firm's primary product, the Model X features clean styling that carries over many Model S details on a taller body.  Model X fails to some degree because its aerodynamically curved roofline reduces potential carrying capacity.  A greater failure has to do with its gull-wing rear doors -- an impractical feature that happens to be related to those supplier problems noted above.


Comparison photo of the Model S and Model X.  The X is so skillfully designed that it does not seem very bulky, even though it is so when compared to the low, slinky S.

Front view showing that the Model X lacks the faux-grille slapped on the front of the S.

At least Tesla has ignored the fad of wildly-sculpted body panels.

The Model X is graceful in profile, but this means it cannot carry tall objects or cannot hold large piles of luggage and other items that my wife insists she absolutely needs when we take long trips.

Here is a view of the infamous gull-wing doors as opened.  They are a fad for certain low-production sports cars attempting to bask in the glow of Mercedes-Benz 300 SL coupes of the 1950s.  The Model X gull-wings are the rear doors only, front doors being conventionally front-hinged.  I suppose the intention was that gull-wing doors at the rear would be helpful for loading cargo when the rear seats were folded down.  My experience with loading SUVs is that this would make little difference, hardly justifying the additional cost and complexity of that kind of door.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Fastback SUVs: Honda Gives Up, Germans Try It

I have no problem with creative thinking in the automobile industry.  Of course, many creative car concepts aren't very successful.   Consider crossover SUVs with fastback styling.

The SUV (Sport-Utility Vehicle) in its crossover (sedan-based, as opposed to truck-based) form is essentially a Station Wagon (or Break, as it is called in some countries).  Moreover, it is a station wagon with a tall body where the driver and passengers are higher off the road than would be the case in a standard sedan or conventional station wagon.  But a fastback body profile negates the station wagon aspect of the accepted SUV concept, a potentially risky marketing move.

Honda's fastback crossover SUV Crosstour (first marketed as a Honda Accord) was launched in the USA for the 2010 model year and withdrawn from the market after the 2015 model year due to poor sales.  Presumably what potential buyers were seeing was a fat sedan with less carrying capacity than an equivalent SUV.

I should mention that in practice, SUV luggage areas are seldom loaded to the point where rear-view vision is obstructed.  That suggests that the Crosstour was probably as practical a hauler as a conventional SUV -- most of the time.  But not all of the time, and that might have been the design factor that reduced potential sales.

Even though it was known that the Crosstour was not a market success, for some reason BMW designed and launched its X4, a slightly smaller version of the Crosstour for the 2015 model year as did Mercedes with its GLE Coupe.  The Honda and BMW have about the same wheelbase -- 110.1 inches (2797 mm) for the Crosstour and 110.6 inches (2810 mm) for the X4, while the GLE is longer at 114.8 inches (1916 mm).  But the Crosstour's length was 195.8 inches (4973 mm) compared to the X4s 183.9 inches (4671 mm), a difference of about a foot (30 cm).  The GLE's length is nearly that of the Crosstour, 192.6 inches (4892mm).

It will be interesting to find out if the X4 and GLE Coupe do better in the American market than the Crosstour did.  So far, I have seen few of these on the streets and highways.


Seen from the front, the X4 (central image) is stubbier, less graceful then the Crosstour (upper image).  The relationship of the GLE Coupe (lower image) to the Crosstour is similar.

Profile views show that the Crosstour has greater hauling capacity than the X4 thanks to its greater rear overhang.  The GLE also has short rear overhang and, considering the relationship of the rear doors to the wheel openings, less trunk room when the rear seatback is upright.

All of these cars seem more like four-door hatchback (5-door) sedans than crossover SUVs of any kind.

Additional comparative views of the storage zones of the Crosstour and X4.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Peugeot's 1940 10 CV Prototype

France entered World War 2 in September 1939, but some automobile makers continued development of future models despite the diversion of resources and manpower to the war effort.  The drôle de guerre along the northeastern French frontier lasted until 10 May 1940 when Germany launched its offensive.  By 22 June, France had surrendered.

During at least part of 1940 Peugeot was working on revisions to its line and had a 10 CV (tax horsepower rating) model in prototype stage.  Images of the car and background information are from Automobilia hors-série No. 26, Toutes les voitures françaises 1940-46, les années sans salon by René Bellu.


1939 Peugeot 402
An example prewar Fuseau Sochaux styling that was becoming dated at the end of the 1930s.

1940 Peugeot 10 CV prototype - front 3/4 view
This design is less streamlined than the car shown in the previous photo.  The passenger compartment has been squared up and the windshield is flat rather than V'd.  The front end design is suggestive of 1939 Hudsons.

1940 Peugeot 10 CV prototype - side
The enlarged glass area is evident here.

1940 Peugeot 10 CV prototype - rear 3/4 view
The trunk has a tacked-on appearance.  All things considered, this design would have been out of fashion had it entered production in 1942 or 1943.

1949 (ca.) Peugeot 203
Here is what Peugeot actually used as a post-war design.  The flat windshield is a hold-over from the prototype, but side windows are smaller.  The front with its lengthened fenders seems inspired by 1942 model year American styling.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Angled Four-Eyed American Cars

Quad headlights, despite whatever technological improvements they embodied, had a negative impact on automobile aesthetics -- something I've always believed.  The reason is that the front of a car is its face.  Insects and a few other creatures excepted, we expect to see only two eyes, not one or four or more.  Four eyes or headlights seems unnatural.

Quads began appearing on some 1957 model U.S. cars and were common by the following model year.

A reader reminded me in an email that some quad headlights were arranged in a slanted manner rather than being placed vertically or side-by-side, and thought that might be a good subject for a blog post.  He was right, and this is that post.


1958 Chevrolet Corvette
I think the quad-headlight facelift of 1957 Corvettes was a design-destroying event.  The side-by-side positioning seen here is the most common quad arrangement.

1956 Lincoln - Mecum Auctions photo
Let's now follow Lincoln headlights for model years 1956-1960.  The 1956 Lincoln in the above photo has conventional headlights.

1957 Lincoln
Lincolns were given a major -- unsuccessful -- facelift for 1957.  Quad headlights were introduced, and stylists gave them a stacked arrangement.

1958 Lincoln - Auctions America photo
1958 saw a complete redesign for Lincoln that resulted in a huge, unitary body.  Stylists apparently decided that side-by-side and stacked quad headlights were not very creative solutions to the four-headlight problem.  Their solution was to place them at an angle with the uppermost lights closest to the body's edge.

1959 Lincoln - Mecum Auctions photo
The 1959 facelift retained the angled arrangement, but include the headlights in the grille ensemble.

1960 Lincoln - Barrett-Jackson photo
1960 was the last year for this Lincoln body and the front end was lightly facelifted.  Redesigned 1961 Lincolns got side-by-side headlights.

1959 Buick - auction photo
Buick used slanted headlights only on its 1959 line.  This design is busy, but more successful than the others shown here thanks to the chromed strip along the front of the hood that continues along the sides of the car.

1961 Chrysler Newport - Barrett-Jackson photo
Chrysler went to angled headlight for 1961 and 1962.  Unlike the 1959 Buick, this design is uncluttered.  But the slanted lights created some unfortunate fussiness in the form of the oddly-shaped parking lights.

1961 DeSoto - RM Auctions photo
1961 was the last model year for DeSotos, and few were built.  The bumper, headlight positioning and parking lights are the same as that for the Chrysler in the previous photo.  The overall front ensemble is an ugly mess largely due to the odd upper grille element.  What a sad way for a fine brand to die.

1962 Chrysler Newport - sales photo
The main front-end change from 1961 is the grille detailing, though the headlight assemblies have darker background panels.  A more important change is the elimination of tail fins.

1962 Dodge Polara - Barrett-Jackson photo
Dodge stylists got "creative" with angled headlights for the 1962 Polara model, pulling an Old Switcheroo by having the highest headlights inbound and the lower ones at body's edge.

1963 Dodge Polara - Auctions America photo
The following year Polaras went to the conventional angle arrangement.

Thus more or less ended the American romance for slanted quad headlights.