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.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Pebble Beach 2016 Winner: 1936 Lancia Astura by Farina

This blog deals almost entirely with production cars and concept cars whose designs are made in corporate styling studios.  But sometimes a coachbuilder design is presented, and this is one of those occasions.

The "hook" for this post is the famed Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance held every August near Carmel-by-the-Sea on the scenic California coast.  Its actual venue is in the area of the 18th hole of the Pebble Beach Golf Links.

The winner of the 2016 Best of Show award was a 1936 Lancia Astura clad by Pinin Farina.  Car and Driver magazine's take is here.

I don't see much point in giving Farina's design a critique because Robert Cumberford, Automobile Magazine's doyen of automobile styling criticism, does his usual fine job here.

Below are two photos of the winning Lancia, at least one of which was taken by David Pau Morris.  The first image was from the Sports Car Digest web site, the Morris photo is via Bloomberg.  The remaining photos are many years old and found on the Internet.


The winning car as seen at Pebble Beach.

Only a few Farina-bodied Asturas were built, and this is another one.  The windshields are in their folded down position.

Another Farina Astura seen here at a Concours d'Elegance in Oostende, 1937.

The same car and same woman in a different setting.

A photo via Pininfarina.  That firm owned the Concours-winning car for a number of years.

Finally, a Farina Astura Cabriolet in an Alpine setting with its windshield panels lowered.  Very sleek.  The car in the right background is a 1936 Fiat 1500 Berlina.

Monday, March 13, 2017

About Blogging

I wrote this as a Facebook posting, but thought it might be of interest to you. I also posted this on my other blog, Art Contrarian.

It was almost exactly 12 years ago that I got involved with blogging.   Since then I’ve written more than 2000 blog posts.

The first blog for me was the late, lamented (because it was pretty popular) 2Blowhards blog.   The guy running it was Ray Sawhill who wrote bylined articles on art and culture for Newsweek magazine in the 1980s and 90s.  Ray blogged using the nom-du-blog “Michael Blowhard” in order to maintain separation from his Newsweek day job.  The other Blowhard was “Friedrich von Blowhard,” a Princeton buddy of Ray’s based in Los Angeles.

The blogging software they used was primitive by today’s standards — an important defect being that post drafts couldn’t be stockpiled for later publication scheduling.  That meant each post had to go live shortly after it was written.  That put strain on the bloggers who wanted content flowing at the rate of one or two posts per day in order to keep readers interested and returning to see what was new.

So for some reason Ray pulled me from the commenter ranks to full-time 2Blowhards blogger to ease the load on the original 2.  Except that I posted using my actual name.

At first, I was worried that I could maintain a reasonably high rate of posting.  I knew I had perhaps a dozen really nice items that I could write up, but after that?  You see, I recalled what happened when old vaudeville stars such as Eddie Cantor first appeared in TV “specials.”   They used the good stuff that they’d honed over decades on stage, so their first show would be a wowser.   After that, in future specials, their material wasn’t nearly as good due to lack of testing.

So I resolved to hold back on my so-called good stuff and write what came to mind each day.   And it worked.   As far as I recall, I never used up the “good stuff.”

Here’s the deal.  Be sure to blog on topics you know something about.   Then you must stay alert and notice things related to those subjects that might serve as hooks for posts.  It’s even better if you can relate whatever it might be to similar or opposite examples, because that can make for a deeper, more interesting post.  Apparently, it’s a special skill set: Ray Sawhill once told me that he thought I was “a natural blogger.”

Eventually, after his Newsweek buyout, Sawhill tired of 2Blowhards and turned it over to me.   I carried on for a few months and finally decided to strike out on my own.  My first blog, Art Contrarian, debuted in 2010.  It is based on the idea that modernism in art was an experiment that largely failed.  More interesting work had been done by more traditional painters in the late 1800s and early 1900s.   Illustration, architecture and industrial design are other subjects I treat.

I’ve always been interested in automobile styling, so in 2013 I started Car Style Critic blog.   I post two articles per week on each blog and maintain a backlog of two or three months’ worth of post drafts.  Readership for each blog is several hundred page views daily, which is good enough for me.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Honda's First-Generation CRX Sporty Car

The Honda CRX (in America, CR-X -- in Japan it originally was the Ballade Sports CR-X) was a very attractive sporty car marketed for model years 1984-1991, the first-generation years being 1984-1987. Wikipedia background information is here.

The first-generation CRX was in many respects a major facelift of the third-generation Honda Civic hatchback shown immediately below.

Whereas the hatchback could seat four people if back-seat passengers weren't very large, the CRX only accommodated the driver and one passenger.


The main frontal differences between the hatchback and the CRX were the headlight housings and the narrow grille bar seen here.

Due to its small size, the CRX was not awe-inspiring.  On the other hand, I see no design flaws worth mentioning.

Second-generation CRXs arrived as streamlining was beginning to be taken very seriously by the automobile industry.  The result was a softened look, especially in the headlight-hood zone and the shape of the side window abaft of the B-pillar.  A result of that result is a loss of style character: I prefer first-generation CRXs.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Mid-1950s Transparent Roofs for Ford, Mercury

A look at automobile history reveals a few Holy Grails that strike me more as wishful thinking than practicality.  These include rear-mounted engines, gull-wing doors and transparent roofs.

As for the latter, the wish is to have an open-air, convertible-like driving experience coupled with weather protection.  A major downside is the creation of a greenhouse effect, whereby the passenger compartment becomes overheated in sunny conditions.  Use of air conditioning can counteract that, but at the price of reduced fuel economy.

Back in the mid-1950s when air conditioning was a rare, expensive accessory, Ford Motor Company launched models featuring a transparent roof over the front seat.  That roof was a thick acrylic glass, as this source mentions.  These panels were given dark blue-green tints in an effort to block sunshine effects.

Nearly 23,000 1954 model year Fords and Mercurys thus equipped were sold, and the feature was continued for the next two model years amid declining sales.


This is the 1954 Ford Crestline Skyliner with its transparent roof panel.

1955 Fords look considerably changed from 1954, but this was the result of a major facelift rather than an actual redesign.  Shown here is what was named the Crown Victoria Skyliner, the Skyliner label again denoting a transparent roof panel.  The '54 version was based on a hardtop convertible body, but for '55 we find a heavy, chromed B-pillar style.  Barrett-Jackson auction photo.

Skyliners for 1956 were the same as in 1955 aside from superficial model year facelift changes.  Mecum Auctions photo.

Mercury's version of the Skyliner was called the Monterey Sun Valley for 1954.

For 1955 the name was Montclair Sun Valley.  Like Ford, '55 Mercurys were heavily facelifted 1954 bodies.  Unlike Ford Skyliners, Sun Valleys continued to be based on hardtop bodies.  Auctions America photo.

Sun Valley and other Mercury models were given fairly minor facelifts for 1956.  Auctions America photo.