Monday, October 31, 2016

The Fencer's Mask Grille Fad of 1936

Even when American automobile design was evolving from discrete collections of parts to unified, "envelope" bodies during the period 1929-1949, fad and fashion did not take a holiday.

One styling fad was that of the "fencer's mask" grille that started in the 1935 model year, peaked in 1936 and was largely done by 1937.  These grilles were convex affairs that extended engine compartment ensembles about as far forward as the fronts of the fenders.

Which I think is why the fad collapsed so quickly.  Even in fairly minor frontal collisions, fenders and grilles could suffer damage.  The fenders could be pounded back into shape fairly easily in such events.  But the grilles with all their decorative bars and other details were more expensive to fix or replace.  So 1937 models featured grilles that were moved back a short ways and lost much or all of their convex shapes.

Roughly two-thirds of American brands took part in the fencer's mask fad.  Those that essentially didn't included Cadillac, LaSalle, DeSoto, Ford, Lincoln-Zephyr, Packard and Studebaker.  Those that did are shown below.


1935 Oldsmobile
One the first fencer's mask grilles was on redesigned 1935 Oldsmobiles such as this one I photographed in Brussels a  few years ago.

1935 Pontiac with actress Helen Twelvetrees
The other early "mask" was on the '35 Pontiac that shared the Olds' body.  It also was the first year for the brand's famous (at the time) Silver Streaks.

1936 Buick - Barrett-Jackson photo
When Buicks were re-bodied for 1936, they too received a fencer's mask style grille.

1936 Chevrolet
The Chevrolet version's convexity was more restrained.

1936 Chrysler Airstream - for sale photo
Chrysler's fencer's mask fronts were extreme versions of the style.

1936 Dodge with movies star Ginger Rogers
Dodge shared Chrysler's body, but its grille is more restrained.

1936 Plymouth Mayflower - Mecum Auctions photo
Chrysler Corporation's entry-level Plymouth's grille thrusts about as far forward, but the painted central strip visually counteracts part of the convex effect.

1936 Hudson
Hudsons were redesigned for 1936 and received an especially fussy convex front.

1936 Nash Ambassador
The Nash fencer's mask version was clean-looking and raked back.

1936 Graham Cavalier - unsourced photo via Flicker
Like Plymouth, sheet metal diminishes the fencer's mask appearance on the Graham.

1936 Hupmobile - Streetside Classic photo
Hupp's grille is raked back in Nash's manner but nevertheless follows the fashion.

2015 Chrysler 200
This recent Chrysler 200 does not have a fencer's mask grille.  But its above-the-bumper grille-plus-headlights ensemble illustrates a theme on current cars that strikes me as being just as fad- or fashion-like as those grilles of 80 years ago were.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Volvo's Not-So-Italian P1800 Italian-Themed Sporty Car

Volvo's P1800 (1961-73) was a successful sporty addition to the firm's conservative passenger car line.  According to this source, Volvo management wanted the car to have an Italian look, the very best when the project was launched in 1957.  So Frua was hired to do the design.

This was around the time Pietro Frua sold his firm to Ghia.  Moreover, it seems that Frua supervised the design, but most of the work was done by Pelle Petterson (b. 1932), a Swede who happened to be working for Frua.  So the P1800 was more of a Swedish design than Volvo was willing to admit for many years.

P1800 styling is pleasing, which probably accounted for its market success.  The most noticeable feature is how small the passenger greenhouse is compared to the rest of the body.  Rear fender tops are in the form of what amounts to vertical blades, a mild kind of tail fin that was in vogue during the late 1950s when the car was styled.  Subtle creases extended along the sides from near the headlights back to the tail light assemblies.  Chromed spears on the front fender sides were placed immediately below the creases and then curved upwards towards the aft of the doors, echoing the lower curves of the rear quarter windows.  At that point, atop the fender lines, thin chromed strips continued along the ridge of the rear fender blades, ending at the taillight assemblies.  Early production front bumpers were in two segments with a gap between them for front license plate placement.  Near the gap, the bumpers angled upwards at around 45 degrees, much in the manner of 1954-1957 Cadillacs, but without the Cadillac "Dagmar" bumper guards.  Later the front bumper was redesigned as a one-piece, horizontal unit.


This is a publicity photo of a 1961 Volvo P1800.  It differs little from the prototypes shown below.

A poor-quality photo that shows what seems to be the first Frua prototype in an Italian setting.

Studio photo of a prototype P1800.

Rear view of what might be the prototype in the previous image.  The kinked, segmented rear bumper was not a production item.

A Volvo studio photo of what is probably the gray P1800 shown in Italy, above.

Two photos of Pelle Petterson and an early production P1800.

Restored 1961 Volvo P1800, Hyman Ltd. photo.

Publicity photo, year unknown, showing the rear styling that has a few detail differences from the prototypes.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Buick Wildcat III as Predictor of 1957 Line

When it came to dream cars, I think the best General Motors Motorama years were 1953-1956.  Buick Division featured three different show cars called "Wildcat" over 1953-1955.  Each car was distinctly different from the others, so despite the same name, there was no consistent Wildcat theme.

Hemmings has an article dealing with all three here, and the General Motors historical site has this to say regarding the subject of this post, the 1955 Buick Wildcat III concept car.  My take on the Wildcat III is in the captions below.


To set the stage, here is a photo of the 1953 Buick Wildcat I.  It's a two-passenger convertible with some styling features soon to appear on the redesigned 1954 Buick line.

The 1954 Buick Wildcat II is a sports-type car with a wheelbase two inches (49 mm) less than that of the Chevrolet Corvette that looks somewhat similar from the cowling aft.  Aside from the front bumper design (used in 1955) it did not influence styling of future production Buicks.

Unlike previous Wildcats, the 1955 Wildcat III show car could accommodate four passengers.  It was clearly more conventional than the Wildcat II.  Generally speaking, its design is pleasing, though the car's rear has some problems, as we'll discover below.

The windshield is doubly curved with a vertical A-pillar -- features not found on the upcoming 1957 Buick redesign.  The wide wheel openings would collect and display highway dirt and grime, so they too would not see production.  What did come to pass are the fender line, the design of the side Sweepspear trim and the termination angle of the rear fender.

Even though the Wildcat III was theoretically a four-passenger car, the back seat had little room for people.  The detailing on the trunk lid and rear is confused.  We find rounded bumper blobs with nearby thinly squashed oval exhaust pipe outlets that in turn have circular backup lights placed above them.  These items do not relate to one another.

Rear three-quarter view.  Items adapted for '57s include the chromed strips on the trunk lid, the aforementioned fender angle, and those large bumper stubs are the corners.

This is a 1957 Buick Roadmaster two-door hardtop.  As mentioned, the fender line and Sweepspear are like the Wildcat's.  The windshield here is a simpler curve and the A-pillars slant.

A '57 Buick Roadmaster four-door hardtop (Classic Car Auctions photo).  Its taillight assembly differs from the Wildcat's, but the fender termination angle is similar.  The bulbous bumper guards below the taillights are nearly the same shape as those on the Wildcat.  The chromed strips on the trunk lid are not inset liners as on the show car.  But they also relate to other aspects of the design -- in this case, the backlight segment separators.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Duster: Plymouth's Sporty 1970 Valiant

Chrysler Corporation's large sedans were redesigned for 1969 and given what was termed "fuselage" styling, a more rounded-off appearance than the previous "three-box" angular look.  Other models carried on with the older style, among them the compact (in the American context) Plymouth Valiant.

The decision was made to freshen the Valiant line by adding a sporty looking coupe with semi-fastback styling.  This became the Plymouth Duster of 1970-1976 (Wikipedia entry here).  As the entry mentions, the Duster was a sales success to the point that Dodge launched its Demon model the following year as a facelifted Duster.


Here is a 1970 Plymouth Valiant.  Everything from the cowl forward was used on the Duster.

Rear three-quarter view of a Valiant four-door sedan.  The character line on the lower part of the rear door was used on the Duster as was the rear bumper (minus the cut-outs for the backup lights).

Front three-quarter view of a 1970 Duster.  The windshield framing seems slightly different than the Valiant's (more rounded corners) and the greenhouse and upper fender line are new.

Side view of a 1970 Duster 340, the muscle car version of the Duster (Barrett-Jackson auction photo).  The Duster shares the Valiant's rear overhang, which helps visually reduce the size of the greenhouse to the point where it seems too small.

This rear view shows most of the Duster-specific styling.  Given that it is a major facelift of a design with considerably different character, it's hard for me to criticize the result, which is distinctive and fairly pleasing.  Were this a from-scratch design, I would criticize proportions and the front end's differing character.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Mercedes-Benz Postwar Type 220 (W187)

One error I made while writing How Cars Faced the Market was calling the 1951-1955 Mercedes-Benz 220 (W187) a facelifted pre- World War 2 design.  It was actually a new design that happened to look that way given the angle from which my reference photo was taken.

My comment was to the effect that the "facelift" was an effective modernization of an old design.

On the other hand, the 220's styling was a lot like that of some other prewar Mercedes', so I just possibly might not have been that far off the mark.  Let's take a look.


1951 Mercedes-Benz 220 brochure cover, illustration by the great Walter Gotschke.

Here is the photo I used in the book.  From the cowling aft, it really does look like a prewar Mercedes -- basically a mid-1930s appearance.  The teardrop shaped front fenders with integral headlights are on par with most 1939-vintage American cars (aside from General Motors which retained detached headlight housings).

But seen from the side, the 220's design doesn't seem quite so antiquated.  Note that the trunk is integrated with the main body and not the sort of attachment common in the 1930s.  The roof of the passenger compartment has large-radius curves in the C-pillar area.  This heaviness is nicely offset by the thin A and B pillars.

Another view of a 220.

The 220's rear seen in a for-sale photo.  This shows the integral trunk.  It also shows that this 1951-vintage design has a number of archaic features.  These include a "suicide" rear-hinged front doors and external door hinges.  The body tucks under slightly, partly exposing running boards.  The rear fenders are definitely pre-war styling.  The windshield (see previous image) is a flat, one-piece affair common on early-30s cars.

Compare the 220 to this 1940 Mercedes-Benz 230 (W143).  The spirit of its design from the cowling aft was retained on the 220.

The same might be said regarding this 1938 M-B 260 (W138).  The passenger greenhouse is not far removed from that of the 220, even though its top is not all-steel.  The trunk is not visually part of the main body.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

The Aggressive Siata 208SC Berlinetta by Stabilimenti Farina

Siata automobiles can fetch more than one million dollars at auctions.  A snippet about the company is here.  In brief, Siata was a maker of hop-up equipment for Fiats that branched into making cars after World War 2.  Serious sports cars were built 1948-61 and all production ended by 1975.

I think the most interesting Siatas from a design standpoint were the 208SC barchetta and, especially, the berlinetta.  Fairly detailed information on Siata and the berlinetta can be found here and, especially, here.  The second source, the Bonhams auction house, has it that the actual designer is unknown, though it has been speculated that it was Giovanni Michelotti.

Siata 208SCs were initially built by Stabilimenti Farina (free translation: Farina Works) that ceased doing business in 1953 after many years as an important Italian coachbuilder.  Following the demise, 208 production was continued by Carrozzeria Balbo, another old Italian firm that folded soon after.  According to Wikipedia, only 56 208s were built.


Here is a 208SC at the 1952 Mille Miglia start platform.  It failed to finish -- nothing unusual for the Mille.

Probably the same car seen a few days earlier at the Turin auto show.

A 208 barchetta from 1953.  Note the different grille pattern, the air vent on the front fender and the chromed patch on the rear fender.

Gooding auction photos of a 1953 berlinetta.  The grille is larger and has a grid pattern.  It too has a front fender air vent.  The chrome strip above the rear wheel opening is gone.  The front of the car has been slightly reshaped.

Front view showing the headlights when exposed.  This, and the images below are Bonhams photos of the Mille Miglia car.

Siata 208s are most interesting viewed from the front.  Especially striking is the composition of the grille and hidden headlights.  I can fantasize that this theme is an Italian take on the 1942 DeSoto frontal design that also featured hidden headlights and vertical grille bars.  Whoever did style this car really knew what he was doing.

The rear is more bulky looking, but aerodynamically useful.

Monday, October 10, 2016

1940 Dodge's Segmented, Dual-Symmetrical Grille Design

While gathering images for my book How Cars Faced the Market, I noticed an unusual characteristic of the Dodge grille for the 1940 model year.  It was doubly-symmetrical with its four segments clearly defined.

Of course, simple geometric shapes can be symmetrical along two orthogonal axes.  A circle, for instance.  Or ovals, squares and rectangles.  Grilles with these shapes can be found -- especially the non-circle variety.

But the 1940 Dodge grille does not have a simple outline.  That, and the segment dividers are what make unique, or nearly so.


Just for scene-setting fun, here is an advertising spread illustrated by Arthur Radebaugh (1906-1974), a guy who made many World of Tomorrow type images from the 1930s into the 1960s.

And here is what seems to be a factory photo of a '40 Dodge.

Now for that grille.  There is side-to-side symmetry if the axis of rotation is the prow of the car.  That is, the left and right sides have the same two-dimensional design.  Most automobile grilles can make this claim.  But then there is that painted metal running across the middle of the grille.  The parts above and below it (again from a two-dimensional, flattened perspective) can be pivoted on that axis bar.  This and the non-geometric outline of the grille are the unusual features.  Photo from Mecum auctions.