Thursday, December 28, 2017

Continental Mk II Design Competition

The original Lincoln Continental was iconic, beloved, and considered an automobile styling masterpiece by many observers.  Some background on it can be found here (scroll down for discussions of the Edsel Ford prototype and early production generations).  The original design was marketed during the 1939-1941 model years.  A facelift appeared for the short 1942 model year and there was some further facelifting for 1946-1948.  Model year 1949 brought redesigned Lincolns to market, and Ford Motor Company elected to not offer a Continental model.  This bothered some potential buyers who made their views loudly known, so eventually Ford decided to revive the Continental, this time as a separate, very exclusive brand (Wikipedia entry here).

William Clay Ford, youngest grandson of Henry Ford, was placed in charge of the new Continental project.  An initial design by his team was poorly received by company president Henry Ford II and others, so Bill had to come up with Plan B, a design competition.  What happened is described by Michael Lamm & Dave Holls in their authoritative book "A Century of Automotive Style," pp. 146-147:

* * * * *

[William Clay Ford, in charge of the Continental project] asked his staff to suggest names of outside stylists, and the groups invited were: George Walker Assoc., consultant to Ford Motor Co.; [Buzz] Grisinger & [Rhys] Miller, independent designers, previously with Chrysler and Kaiser-Frazer; Vince Gardner, formerly with Cord and Loewy; and Henry [Ford] II's brother-in-law, Walter Buhl Ford, who later merged with Harley Earl Assoc.

The Continental project now became a five-way contest.  The four outside teams would receive $10,000 each for their Mark II designs, chosen or not.  To keep everything fair and consistent, each team had to deliver side- plan- and end-view drawings plus 3/4-front and 3/4-rear perspective sketches.  Rules stipulated that all artwork had to be the same size, same matting, use the same supplied perspective grids and be of the same color.   No sketches could be signed or identified.   Judges -- five executives from Lincoln -- could cast only one vote each and had to pass through the final display area separately so they couldn't talk, nod or read each other's body language.

The final judging took place in Apr. 1953, and the design that ended up winning the competition came from Bill Ford's own Special Products group [the team led by John Reinhart].

* * * * *

One thing to keep in mind is the styling fashion context of the competition and the resulting production car.  The Continental Mk. II appeared for 1956, the same year the Studebaker Golden Hawk and the Chrysler Corporation line began sprouting tail fins.  Elaborate two-tone paint schemes were found on some 1954 Oldsmobiles and three-tones appeared on 1955 Dodges.  Panoramic (wraparound) windshields were found on a few 1953 Oldsmobiles and Cadillacs, then in 1954 all Buicks, Oldsmobiles and Cadillacs had them.  Contrasting all this, the Continental was very conservative, having only a moderately wrapped windshield, a single-color paint job and no tail fins.  So to some degree the Mark II fit more closely to 1952-53 when it was designed than for its actual model year.  On the other hand, even in 1953 its stylists were probably aware of the near-term new concepts and they or management chose to ignore them.

Decent images of the competing designs are hard to find on the Internet, so I had to resort to scanning images from books in my automotive library.  The design renderings are from Automobile Quarterly, Vol. 12, No. 1, 1974, pp. 100-101.  Side drawings are from "Lincoln & Continental: The Postwar Years" by Paul R. Woudenberg (Motorbooks International, 1980), p. 72.  Click on the images to enlarge.


1940 Lincoln Continental Club Coupe
This is the Real McCoy.  Future Continental designs had to either speak to it or consciously ignore it (at their peril).

1948 Lincoln Continental Club Coupe - RM Southey's photo
The last Lincoln Continental using original bodywork and facelift features from 1942 and 1946.

1956 Continental Mk. II
The result of the competition and later refinement.  Features echoing the original Continental include: a long hood (by the mid-1950s, long trunks were coming into fashion, hoods becoming shorter); somewhat similar passenger greenhouse, including the general shape of aft side windows and the large C-pillar; and the spare tire at the rear (the hump on the trunk lid was atop the actual tire mounted in an angled position beneath it).

I don't think any of the design proposals makes for an appropriate successor to the original Continental.  Some details here and there are not bad, but the overall designs are lacking the right stuff.  A consistent problem has to do with grilles and front ends in general; most of these designs are bland, characterless.  The best of the lot, an opinion I've held for many years, is the second (lower) Grisinger-Miller design.  I don't like its front and the little fins at the rear, but the rest of the design comes closest to the spirit (not the details) of the original.

As can be seen in these side views, the designers had very little flexibility in basic layout of the car.

Monday, December 25, 2017

1941: Harley Earl's Very Good Year

I am not alone when I claim that the 1941 model year was the best for General Motors' styling chief Harley Earl, though I think 1949 comes close.  Several designs were outstanding and the others were very good -- all this in the context of their times.

The 1930s were a time when designs evolved from largely angular bodies and assemblages of many discrete parts (fenders, headlights, running boards, spare tires, etc.) to smoothed styles where most of the formerly discrete parts were largely blended into aerodynamically-influenced ("streamlined") compositions.  Between those points, a good many awkward designs were marketed by GM and the rest of the industry.  For General Motors, 1941 models were safely beyond that, as stylists and body engineers were now comfortable with with the new concepts.

GM had three basic bodies for 1941, but they were fairly similar.  Most attention was paid to using ornamentation as brand identification.  Each brand had its own theme (with one exception), and those themes were distinctive.  The exception was entry-level Chevrolet, which was given a grille similar to that of the upper-middle brand Buick.


Buick Sedanette - Hyman Auctions photo

Cadillac - for sale photo
My favorite year for Cadillac, and a design that established brand identification indicators for decades to come.

Chevrolet Special DeLuxe Club Coupe - RM Sotheby's photo

Oldsmobile 98 Club Coupe - Auctions America Photo

Pontiac - for sale photo
I am partial to '41 Pontiacs because my father owned one (a model not nearly as sleek as the one pictured here).

Here is the 1941 LaSalle that never entered production. The image is part of page 46 from Automobile Quarterly, Vol. 41, No. 1, 2001.  This would have made for a very fine production design.  Sadly, a Cadillac model was substituted.  (LaSalle was a "companion car" to Cadillac -- companion brands being a late 1920s GM experiment.)

Thursday, December 21, 2017

1954 Mercury Monterey XM-800 Concept

A mid-1950s concept car that was neither a fancied-up production model nor a jazzy dream car was the 1954 Mercury Monterey XM-800.  It could have been a production car for the 1957 model year, and would have been a very attractive one even with the minor adjustments needed to make it practical and street-legal.  Alas, that didn't happen, and by 1958 cars in Ford's stable joined in the styling madness that infected the American automobile industry in those times.

For some background on the Monterey XM-800 and its fate, go here and, especially, here.

Even though it did not become a production design, the XM-800 lent a few styling features to future Ford Motor Company models.  These are shown below.


High angle photo of the XM-800.  Basically, the design is a clean, archetypical example of mid-1950s American styling.  Significant details include the panoramic windshield, the thin roofline, low hood, and the very long fender line where the endpoints are the extremes of the body (not counting bumpers).

Front three-quarter from slightly below eye-level.  The air scoop on the hood might actually be functional (I can't be sure), but regardless, it adds interest.

A 1957 Mercury Montclair.  Its grille design has a bit of the XM-800's flavor.

The 1961 Mercury grille is even closer.  But these are the only models years halfway close to 1954 where the theme was used.

The rear end suffers from the heavy chrome trim on the trunk -- the only styling failing.  I like the design of the passenger compartment greenhouse, especially the C-pillar with a Targa feeling.

Side view.  A functional, not aesthetic, defect is the small front wheel opening.  The metal sculpting surrounding it echoes the front of the fender.  The rear wheel spat cutline reflects the angle of the rear fender edge as well as that of the greenhouse Targa.  And yes, the lower edge of the car does run downhill from aft forwards.

The general sense of the XM-800's side did get picked up on 1956 Lincolns.  Note the angles of the fore and aft fender edges.  Also the wheel openings.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Touring's Alfa Romeo 8C 2900 'Lungo' Berlinetta

Carrozzeria Touring produced a number of outstanding designs during its heyday (background on the firm here).  One of the very best was that for the Alfa Romeo 8C 2900, specifically the 8C 2900B Lungo (long wheelbase) Berlinetta of 1937-1939.

Even though it is a large, elegant car, Touring's Superleggera (super-light) body construction allowed their 2900s to be highly competitive road racers.

A very fine example of this rare car can be found in Naples, Florida at the Revs Institute Collier Collection.  The museum's background information on the car is here.


Alfa Romeo 8C 2900 at Pebble Beach Concours, 2007.  When taking this photo I hadn't yet developed the habit of photographing information plaques, so I don't know for sure exactly what model this is.  However, it does look a lot like our subject car, but perhaps a Corto (short wheelbase) version.

1938 Alfa Romeo 8C 2900B Lungo Berlinetta by Touring, winner of the 1947 Mille Miglia.

The same 1938 Alfa Romeo 8C 2900B Lungo Berlinetta by Touring as seen in the Revs Institute museum in early May 2017.

Side view.

Outstanding composition using teardrop shaping.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

When DeSoto Wanted to be a Buick

Buick stood next to the top (Cadillac) in General Motors' hierarchy of brands once LaSalle was dropped from the lineup after the 1940 model year.  Like other GM brands, Buick offered models across a price/prestige range.  Around 1950, the most expensive Buicks overlapped entry-level Cadillacs in price, while the least-expensive Buicks competed with Oldsmobiles and some Pontiacs. Over at Chrysler Corporation, Chryslers were competitive with Buicks, while the Imperial model was in the Cadillac price range.  DeSotos considerably overlapped Chrysler's range, but from a slightly lower starting point.  That is, DeSoto competed with all Buicks save the Roadmaster line and all Oldsmobiles except the lower-level 76s.

From 1942 though 1954 a major Buick brand identification feature was a grille with vertical bars.  DeSoto grilles also had vertical bars, but from 1941 through 1955.  And there was a brief time -- model years 1951 and 1952 -- that DeSoto even borrowed Buick's hood sculpting theme.  I am not sure that was a good idea, essentially copying the looks of a competing brand.  In any case, that detail was dropped on DeSoto's restyled 1953 line.


1939 Buick - publicity photo
Buick first tried out a vertical grille bar theme in 1939, but went to horizontal bars for 1940 and 1941.

1941 DeSoto - Auctions America photo
DeSoto's first use of vertical bars on a horizontal grille.

1942 Buick
Vertical bars were back for the war-shortened 1942 model year.

1949 Buick Super Sedanette - Hyman Ltd. photo
Buicks were restyled for 1949.  Note the sculpting on the front of the hood.  DeSoto stylists were aware of this feature when the 1951 facelift was being developed.

1950 DeSoto - for sale photo
DeSotos were also given new body designs for 1949.  The 1950 models got a revised grille design.

1950 Buick Special Sedanette - Hyman Ltd. photo
Another new set of bodies for Buick in 1950.  The hood sculpting theme was carried over from 1949.

1951 DeSoto - for sale photo
All Chrysler Corporation cars were facelifted for 1950, the most noticeable change being the rounded-off hood prow.  Now DeSoto picks up Buick's hood sculpting.  Not an exact copy, but pretty close.

1951 Buick Super - Hyman Ltd. photo
That same model year Buick got a new grill, but the hood sculpting was unchanged.

1952 DeSoto - for sale photo
DeSotos for 1952 were almost identical to '51s.  The only difference seen here is the typeface for the word "DeSoto."

1953 DeSoto - Mecum Auctions photo
As mentioned above, restyled 1953 DeSotos dropped the Buick-like hood sculpting.

Monday, December 11, 2017

1996 Lincoln Sentinel: Non-Running Semi-Retro Concept

Even though it's a "pushmobile" concept car (lacking motor, drivetrain, etc.), Lincoln's 1996 Sentinel is interesting.  Unfortunately, when this post was drafted (early July 2017) there was little information about it on the Internet: examples are here and here.

Some observers regard the Sentinel as having Retro styling -- evoking the classic 1961 Continental.  To a slight degree that is so.  It also echoes a 1988 production model and explores a future grille theme.


The 1996 Sentinel.

Here is a 2009 Lincoln MKS showing one of several variations of a circa-2010 Lincoln grille theme previewed on the Sentinel.

The Sentinel shown in the car dealership where it spent several years.  It is painted a light gray, but the lighting gives it a warmer color.

The main similarity to the 1961 Continental is the sharp fender line.

Here is a '61 Continental for comparison.

Side view.  As is often the case, concept cars are given wheels that are a little too large.

The Sentinel's passenger compartment greenhouse resembles that of the 1988 Lincoln Continental shown here, and not that of the 1961 Continental.

Side view of a 1961 Continental.  Its main resemblance to the Sentinel from this angle is their simple, uncluttered sides.

High rear view of the Sentinel.

The 1961 Continental's rear design was not adapted for the Sentinel.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Styling Crime: 1997 Chrysler Phaeton Concept

I'm calling the 1997 Chrysler Phaeton concept car a "Styling Crime."  Not a major crime, because most of the car's design is unobjectionable.  But its front end styling is a serious problem: explicable, but not, in my opinion, justifiable.

Supposedly, it harkens back to the 1952 Chrysler Imperial Parade Phaeton (three built) and the 1940-41 Chrysler Newport (six built), both being dual-cowl phaetons with secondary windshields protecting back seat passengers.


1997 Chrysler Phaeton, Chicago Auto Show photo.

The Phaeton appears to have a removable metal top.  The B-pillar area windshield is rolled down here.  From the after end of the front wheel opening to the rear the design is simple, the rising side character line adding interest.  The wheels seem a bit too large.

High rear view showing a basically clean design with a hint of a boat tail.  The secondary windshield is down.  Like some classic-era phaetons, rear seat passengers are provided a speedometer and another instrument.

Side view found on the ConceptCarz web site.  The secondary windshield is raised.  Note the very short front overhang and relatively long (for its time) hood.  The fold along the bottom of the side might be a touch too static.

The 1952 Chrysler Imperial Parade Phaeton whose fender line was adapted for 1955 Chryslers and DeSotos.  Its long, fairly clean sides represent most of its contribution to the 1997 car.

The Chrysler Newport phaeton that was the pace car for the 1941 Indianapolis 500 race.  Its front end served as inspiration for the 1997 concept car's front.

Publicity photo of the Chrysler Phaeton featuring the frontal design.  Like the 1940 vintage car, it features a tapered hood blending into a fairly small V'd grille.  The front fender tops converge to a pointed ridge that carries through on the fender fronts where the headlight assemblies are located.  The result is three similar plan-view profiles: the grille and the fender fronts.  In theory, nothing intrinsically wrong with this.  Where the design gets unglued is the carry-through of the character ridge along the lower sides, resuming in front of the wheel openings and running across the lower edge of the front end.  Again, carry-through lines can be an important tactic for integrating a design.  But here, an observer will most likely read the frontal ridge as being a misplaced (much too low) bumper.  What the frontal design really needs is a proper bumper, and having that would have required major adjustments to the rest of the frontal ensemble.  One solution would have been a design closer to that used for the Newport.  A final note: The large grille grid pattern anticipates Chrysler grilles of 2005 and later, but would not work well on the Phaeton if the 1940 design had been more closely followed.