Thursday, April 20, 2017

What Were They Thinking?: Type 34 Karmann-Ghia

"Styled by Ghia's Sergio Sartorelli with assistance from American Tom Tjaarda" is how this article summarizes the 1961-1969 Volkswagen Karmann-Ghia Type 34 design's origin.  Total production of the Type 34 was about one-tenth that of the original Karmann-Ghia launched in 1955 and manufactured until 1975.  Clearly, something went wrong.

Volkswagen introduced its new, larger Type 3 in 1961 and the Type 3-based Type 34 Karmann-Ghia was soon added to the product line.  More information on the Type 34 is here (scroll down).

Type 34s were fairly expensive, but to my mind the reason they sold poorly was the styling.  Bear in mind that the original Karmann-Ghia is widely considered to be a classic design, so matching its quality would have been difficult.   The Ghia stylists instead opted for a considerably different theme based roughly on the "three box" format that was into its long design fashion reign.  That in itself was not necessarily a problem.  What went wrong was the detailing.


1955 Volkswagen Karmann-Ghia -- the original, classic version by Luigi Segre using some features by Chrysler's Virgil Exner.

1961 Volkswagen Karmann-Ghia Type 34.  Like the original, it had a rear-mounted air cooled motor, and that influenced its proportions.  The side character line is split into two segments, perhaps to introduce variety.  If they had to be there, they should have been offset vertically to add even more interest to an otherwise fairly static feature.

The greenhouse has plenty of glass. Probably too much, as a thicker C-pillar with a wider base than top would have better integrated the greenhouse with the main body.  The aft end reminds me of the first Chevrolet Corvair's.

The most serious styling problem is at the front.  The curved character lines that wrap around to the sides form a pattern that is both questionably arbitrary and at odds with the basic body shaping.  My guess is that the idea was to harken a relatively squared-off zone to the rounded prow of the first Karmann-Ghias.  Big mistake.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Powerful Styling: 1966 Oldsmobile Toronado

The mid-to-late 1960s brought forth many competently styled American cars, but few memorably outstanding designs, in my opinion.  However, one sensational design comes to mind: that of the 1966 Oldsmobile Toronado.

Toronados shared General Motors' E-Platform with the 1966 Buick Riviera and the 1967 Cadillac Eldorado.  This sharing was invisible to the general public because the brands carried mostly unique sheet metal treatments, this making the cars appear distinctly different.

Toronados also were distinctive mechanically in that they featured front-wheel drive, the first U.S. application since the demise of the Cord brand in 1937.

As for the styling, a participant's account of its development is here (be sure to read it).

In the title for this post, I use the word powerful to describe the Toronado's styling.  That's an exaggeration because the general shape of the body -- especially of the greenhouse -- is rather refined, bordering on delicate.  That is offset by the large, bold wheelhouse rims connected by a wide, essentially flat panel.  So the lower part of the car stresses power, the upper part grace.  This is in contrast to American late-60s styling that tended to opt for grace.

All Cord automobiles including the 1936-37 810 and 812 models featured front-wheel drive.  The 810/812 Cords also featured horizontal grill bars.  The Toronado included both, so car buff magazine writers and others were quick to make a Cord connection.  The 1967 Toronado facelift added vertical grille bars to create a grid pattern, thus destroying the possible Cord styling echo.


A GM publicity image of the front.  Toronados had hidden headlights, yet another feature found on late Cords.  Seen from this low angle, the front ensemble is strong.  It also shows the tumblehome above the low side panel and how this interacts with the more vertically-sided wheelhouse flanges.

Looking down on a Toronado auctioned by Mecum.  The design weakens a bit from this perspective.

MJC Classics auction photo presenting the play of light on various parts of the body.

GM side photo, perhaps of a matte-finish mockup.  Here the panel forms are clear, lacking the overlay of reflections seen in the previous photo.

Rear three-quarter publicity view.  This shows how the tumblehome effect blends with the C-pillar and rear quarter panel.  And, especially, how the wheel surrounds contrast with this.  Powerful styling here.

This is a 1936 Cord 810 for you to ponder any Toronado connections.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Buick's Stylish, Impractical Fastbacks

Fastback styling was something of a fad in 1940s America.  It had to do with providing cars with a streamlined, aerodynamically-inspired appearance along with some actual aerodynamic efficiency.

In those days, it was assumed by stylists that good aerodynamic efficiency could be created using the shape of a notional teardrop: rounded at the front, tapering to a point at the rear.  It turned out that a really efficient teardrop shape resulted in an impractically long body, so some compromises had to be made while preserving a general teardrop appearance on the aft half of a car.

The actual practical solution to automobile aerodynamics is the Kammback, where the teardrop taper is chopped vertically at some point, allowing for cars of useful exterior sizes and interior space utilization at little reduction in aerodynamic efficiency.   Research in the area was conducted in Germany in the 1930s, but was not implemented on production cars for many years.

General Motors' stylists did a very nice job of designing fastback bodies during the 1940s.  But there was a problem: those cars didn't sell as well as expected.  That was because GM's fastbacks had noticeably less trunk space than equivalent bustle-back sedans.  GM phased out fastbacks in the early 1950s.

The fastbacks with the smallest trunk capacity were found on Oldsmobiles, Buicks and Cadillacs.  The reason was that the trailing shape of the passenger compartment narrowed in a kind of echo of sporty "boat tailed" cars.  I wrote about those echoes here.

For examples of post- World War 2 GM 2-door sedan fastbacks, I limited the images to the Buick line.

1948 Buick Roadmaster Sedanette - Barrett-Jackson photo
This body first appeared on some 1942 Buicks and was carried over for model years 1946-48.

1948 Buick Roadmaster Sedanette - for sale photo
This rear view shows the amount of taper -- less extreme than on later fastbacks.

1949 Buick Super Sedanette - Mecum Auctions photo
Buick Supers and Roadmasters got new bodies for 1949.  The boat-tail taper is more extreme than on the older bodies.  The roof curve is more refined, creating a lighter, more graceful appearance,  The aft side windows end in a dog-leg, this also creating a less ponderous look.  All this except for the window shape yielded less trunk space.

1950 Buick Special Sedanet - for sale photo
This was the last year for Buick fastbacks even though 1950 bodies were redesigns.  The roof curve runs a bit higher than on the '49s and is more rounded in longitudinal profile.  Aft side window shapes revert to the 1948 pattern.  The trunk opening is smaller than the '49 version.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Ford Allegro 1963 Concept

Almost as if a switch had been flipped near the end of the 1950s, American stylists dropped baroque, overly complicated and ornamented designs for much simpler ones.  This can be seen in production cars starting around 1960 or 1961 for many brands.  That fashion continued for much of the decade.

This post deals with a Ford concept car from those times, the Allegro that was announced mid-1963.  Unlike a number of concepts from that era, it had production potential, being based on Taunus (German Ford) mechanicals.  Since this was also a time when American firms were marketing what were termed "captive imports" -- cars brought over from their overseas affiliates -- it's possible that the Allegro was a test of a sporty Taunus, even though styling was done in Dearborn.

An interesting feature was its Ford Mustang-like front design that anticipated production Mustangs that were announced in April 1964.  Actually, "anticipate" isn't really correct.  The Mustang frontal design was essentially established by the fall of 1962, about the same time Allegro's design was finalized.  So apparently the Allegro was a form of Mustang preview, and conceivably might have retained a Mustang feeling had it ever entered production.


An Allegro styling mockup from the summer of 1962.  Its grille has no Mustang relationship.

The initial Mustang, revealed April 1964.

The mid-1963 Allegro showing a frontal design done in the same spirit as the Mustang.

The Allegro was a very trim design featuring a tall "greenhouse" -- proportions often seen from the early 1960s until aerodynamic considerations began dictating body shapes by the mid-1980s.  I find the wheels a little on the small side and the greenhouse a little too high.  The cure would be larger wheels and a slightly higher belt and fender line.  The tail lights are nicely round and Ford-like (from the 1950s), but are too large and carry a hint of the jet fighter influence prominent in some previous Ford concept cars.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Volkswagen's First Karmann-Ghia

Nearly half a million were built over 1955-1975 in Germany and Brazil.  That was the original version of Volkswagen's sporty Karmann-Ghia coupe/cabriolet.  The platform was from the VW Beetle, making the car convenient to own and maintain.

The Wikipedia entry notes that bodies were built by the Karmann firm, but the design was by Ghia's Luigi Segre.

But the matter of styling wasn't that simple.  During the early 1950s, Chrysler Corporation contracted with Ghia to build customized show cars designed by Virgil Exner and his staff.  It happened that the Karmann-Ghia used a number of styling cues from the Chrysler D'Elegance show car of 1952-53.  (It was built in 1952 and displayed at the Paris auto show, but didn't debut in the USA until 1953 -- so both years have been cited for it.)

Regardless, the Karmann-Ghia is widely considered an outstanding design.


The 1952 Chrysler Parade Phaeton.  Its fender line was adapted for the restyled 1955 Chryslers and DeSotos.  A variation of the horizontal character line and kick-up rear fender line appeared on the D'Elegance.

Side view of the D'Elegance (RM Sotheby's auction photo: the 2011 hammer price was nearly $1 million).

Side view of a 1957 Karmann-Ghia.  Compare to the D'Elegance in the previous photo.  Clearly the platforms (full-size Chrysler versus VW Beetle) affected the proportions, so Segre did indeed contribute a good deal of original design input.  Still, the spirit of the side treatment and the greenhouse are that of the D'Elegance.

Front three-quarter view of a 1957 Karmann-Ghia (Barrett-Jackson auction photo).  Note that the prow thrusts forward to the point that it isn't protected by the front bumper.  I owned a Karmann-Ghia for a while during grad school years at Penn, and the nose got dinged several times while parked on Philadelphia's Pine Street (between 39th and 40th streets).

Rear three-quarter view of the same car.  The vents are for the rear-mounted air-cooled motor.

Monday, April 3, 2017

A High Point in Platform-Based Brand Styling Variation

It costs huge amounts of money to develop a new automobile design.  For decades, manufacturers with more than one brand have been spreading those costs by using basic parts of the new body for various models of designated brands.

At one extreme, there is what is derisively called "badge engineering" where brands are differentiated by a small number of details such as brand badges.  The opposite extreme is the use of large amounts of differing sheet metal to give the basic body distinctly different appearances for each brand used.  A classic, successful instance of the latter was 1966-67 bodies on General Motors' E Platform.

The brands and models involved were the 1966 Buick Riviera, the 1966 Oldsmobile Toronado and the 1967 Cadillac Eldorado.  All were large, sporty coupes.  And they were made to look so different that casual observers were unlikely to realize that they shared a common platform.  Half a century ago, GM was rich enough to be able to do such things.


From top to bottom are the Riviera, Toronado and Eldorado.  Similarities include the door cut lines, windshields, the tops as far back as the aft door cuts, and (to a large degree) the front and rear overhang.  Everything else seems different.

From the rear, there are no obviously shared parts.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

The Incredible Shrinking 1930s Willys Cars

When the Great Depression of the 1930s became manifest -- that is, by 1931 or thereabouts when no normal recovery had happened -- American automobile makers were forced to come up with survival strategies.  Some companies forged ahead in their traditional market segment, trimming back on the number of models offered and perhaps dropping one of their motors (eliminating a straight-8 while retaining a six, for instance).  Marmon actually went more upscale, adding a V-16 motor for 1931 (and went kaput in 1933).  Another strategy (there were even more) was to move to a lower market segment.  That is what Willys-Overland did.

Willys (pronounced will-iss for English speakers) had a fairly wide product range in the late 1920s, ranging from the upper-lower to upper-middle price/prestige brackets.  The lower end was served by the Whippet and the upper by the Willys-Knight, a car powered by a sleeve-valve motor.

For the 1930 model year, Willys-Knights had a wheelbase of 120 inches (3048 mm), Whippets had wheelbases of 103.3 and 112.5 inches (2624 and 2858 mm).  Some model and wheelbase juggling ensued through 1932 when the company teetered toward receivership, which it reached on 15 February 1933.  At that time all previous production models were terminated, the company basing its survival prospects on its new, even smaller (100.5 inch, 2553 mm wheelbase) model 77.  The 77 and derivatives served Willys for the rest of the decade.  So the company did survive the Depression and went on to become purveyors of the famous Jeep.


1929 Willys-Knight 70B -- for-sale photo.

1929 Willys Whippet 4-door sedan.

Announcing the new Model 77.  That's John North Willys in the photo.  The sloping hood and headlights partly built into the fenders are advanced features for the 1933 model year.  Besides the low price, progressive styling probably helped sales.

A 1935 Willys 77 seen in a snapshot taken at a later date.  The hoodline is raised compared to '33 models, making the cars seem a little old-fashioned.

For 1937, the 77 line was replaced by the Model 37 with a revised body.  Pictured here is a 1938 Willys 38 4-door sedan.

Monday, March 27, 2017

GM's Similar 1964 Opel KADs and Oldsmobile F-85s

Ridding itself of a money-losing subsidiary, General Motors recently announced that it was selling Opel to the Peugeot firm.  There were times when Opel was profitable, but 50 years ago one Opel line that probably lost money was its KAD A-series trio of higher-priced cars marketed 1964-1968.

KAD refers to Opel models in ascending price: Kapitän, Admiral and Diplomat.  Less than 90,000 were built during their production run, which strikes me as being too few to be profitable, even if prices were high.  But perhaps I'm wrong: Opel management decided to continue the lines with a B series form 1969 to 1977 (though Kapitän production ended sooner).  Over this 8-year span, just under 62,000 KADs were built, continuing the pattern of low numbers on a model-year basis.  Some background on the A-series Admiral (55,876 built) is here.

What interests me about 1964-68 KADs is how similar their styling is to General Motors' new-for-1964 Buick Skylark, Oldsmobile F-85 and Pontiac Tempest models.  I'll focus on the Oldsmobile in this post (background information here).

I have no information at hand regarding who styled those Opels.  In those days GM sent some of its design personnel to Opel, including the man who would be in charge of Opel's styling group.  So one could argue that was how Detroit design concepts also appeared in Germany.  But there are details on 1964 Oldsmobile F-85s and KADs that are so similar that I wonder if parts or tooling or some of each crossed the Atlantic.  Knowledgeable reader comments are most welcome regarding this.

It also needs to be mentioned that these cars were fairly similar in size.  KAD cars had a wheelbase of 112 inches (2845 mm) and were 194.8 inches (4948 mm) long.  Oldsmobile F-85s had a 115 inch (2900 mm) wheelbase and their length was 203 inches (5200 mm).


A 1965 Diplomat four-door sedan.

For-sale photo of a 1964 Oldsmobile F-85 442.  Hoods and fender tops are similar, as are the grille outlines.

Side view of an Opel Admiral.

Side for-sale view of an Oldsmobile F-85 Deluxe.  The passenger compartment "greenhouses" are strikingly similar over their tops: note the windshields and the curve aft of the C-pillars.  B-pillars are very slightly different, as are door cut-lines.  Wheel openings are nearly identical aside from the aft slopes.

Opel Kapitän rear 3/4 view.

Same Olds F-85 rear 3/4.  Note the similarity of the backlights (back windows).  Also the similar character lines following the side windows that fade away after turning to the horizontal.  The Olds has greater rear overhang, and the Opel's side character crease is higher that the F-85s.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Seattle Cars, Summer of 1942

This is another post in my occasional series showing historical views of cars in their native habitats.  An automobile's design is done in isolation (apart from analysis of competing designs), but in the real world cars are seen with others of different sources and model years.

(It needs to be added that during eras when car styles were either rapidly evolving or pushing off in odd directions -- from 1934 to 1962 or thereabouts in the USA -- stylists did have to pay attention to the degree to which drastically new themes would be acceptable to potential buyers.)

I photographed the images below from a fascinating (to me) photomural at a Seattle drugstore.  The setting is Seattle's main downtown intersection at the time (corner of 4th Avenue and Pike Street with Westlake Avenue branching off).  I like the scene for its large variety of cars and because it was photographed at a time where various brands could be identified.  That is, I find it difficult to identify brands in 1920s or earlier street scenes because the cars seem too similar: I'm basically a post-1930 car guy.

The mural caption states that it was taken in 1942, and it probably was.  But it might as well have been the summer of 1941 for several reasons.  The summer of 1942 was after the USA entered World War 2 in December of 1941.  By that time, car production had been curtailed and gasoline rationing was in place in Seattle by June of 1942, so traffic would be expected to be comparatively light, not so busy as the photo shows.  I see no military personnel, and some might have been evident were it 1942.  About half the license plates are 1941 plates (the dark ones) and half are 1942s which is a wash -- about the same would have been seen either summer.  Finally, I don't notice any 1942 model cars; the newest are '41 models.

That said, let's take a look.


Two slightly cropped images of the photomural showing the setting.  They are fairly sharp, so you might try clicking on them to enlarge.  The remaining photos were zoom shots, and enlargements are uselessly blurry.

Queue of cars.  The fourth from the left in the near row is a 1941 Pontiac, helping to date the mural image.  Most of the other cars here are from the 1930s.  Second from the left in the near row is a 1937 Hudson.

The gray car by the crosswalk is a medium-price 1941 Packard, one of several Packards found in the mural.  The cars next to and following the Packard seem to be from the late 1920s.  At the top of this cluster is a dark 1941 Oldsmobile.

At the top is another late-20s car with its fixed sun visor and wood-spoked "artillery" wheels.  The car in the foreground might be a 1937 or '38 Dodge.

That large, two-toned car at the curb is a 1940 or possibly a 1941 Chrysler.  The taxi is a 1941 Dodge.

The Ford towing that odd looking trailer is a 1938 Ford Standard.  At the extreme left is another Packard.

Monday, March 20, 2017

American Business Coupes

Wikipedia deals at some length here with the coupé (in America: coupe) body type.  A few lines of the link deal with the business coupe: "A coupé with no rear seat or a removable rear seat intended for traveling salespeople and other vendors who would be carrying their wares with them."

The American business coupe was part of the product mix for many brands from the late 1920s into the early 1950s.  Most were advertised as business coupes, but some coupes had more general names, yet could be used for business purposes.

The logic of using a coupe for traveling salesmen, consulting engineers and many other business activities requiring road travel was that coupes were: (1) usually inexpensive to buy; (2) had a usefully minimal seating capacity; and (3) had small cabins but also the long wheelbases of large-cabin cars so that there was room for a larger than normal trunk for carrying stuff.

Below are examples of this long-departed type of automobile body in chronological order.


1929 Buick Master-Six Business Coupe
An early example.  The trunk is fairly small, so this body might also have had a rumble seat version.

1934 Hupmobile Aerodynamic Coupe
This is probably a rumble seat coupe.  I show it because of its very small cabin that seats two (or perhaps three in a pinch) and its long trunk area.  The rear-mounted spare tire would have made this an inconvenient business coupe because it would have interfered with loading.  A business coupe version would have been possible if the spare tire was repositioned.

1936 Oldsmobile Eight Business Coupe

1936 Buick Special Business Coupe
Two General Motors business coupes from mid-range marques.  I suppose these were offered for salesmen or business representatives requiring a more substantial image than that offered by entry-level brands.  The cars shown here used the same basic body.

1936 Packard One-Twenty Business Coupe
Another example of a mid-range business coupe.  Surprising, given that it was from the maker of luxury cars, but Packard had to enter a lesser market range in order to survive the Great Depression.

1937 Graham Cavalier Series 95 Business Coupe
A business coupe from a minor brand.  Note the illustration showing how the spare tire was stored, providing more convenient trunk space.

1939 Plymouth Business Coupe
A business coupe from Chrysler Corporation.  Like the Graham, it is a four-window coupe, something becoming common for business coupes by the late 1930s.

1939 Chevrolet Master Deluxe Business Coupe
This publicity photo shows a business coupe being loaded.

1939 Graham Combination Coupe
The text (click on the image to enlarge) mentions that a business version of this coupe was available.

1940 Chevrolet Master 85 Business Coupe
I include this brochure page image because it shows storage variations.

1941 Dodge Luxury Liner Deluxe Business Coupe
A nice example of a small cabin on a long-wheelbase car with the resulting large trunk.

1941 Oldsmobile Special Business Coupe
Yet another view of business coupe storage.

1949 Dodge Wayfarer Business Coupe
Business coupe production continued post- World War 2.  This one has Chrysler Corporation's redesigned postwar body style.

1951 Studebaker Champion Business Coupe - Mecum Auctions photo
Perhaps the flashiest business coupe of the lot, though that 1939 Graham comes close.  These small-cabin Studebakers have always fascinated me.

1950 Chevrolet Styline Business Coupe
Even General Motors continued business coupes into the early 1950s.

UPDATE: Further research shows that Chrysler Corporation's Plymouth brand offered business coupes as late as 1957.