Thursday, April 27, 2017

1960 Chevrolet Corvair Monza Coupé

I wrote about Chevrolet's rear-air-cooled-engine Corvair here, mentioning in passing that there was a coupé version.  (For more detailed information about Corvairs, link here.)  In this post, I want to go into more detail on the first-generation (1960-64) coupé.

Corvair coupés came in three varieties.  There was an entry-level model 500 that sold in modest numbers (usually around 16,500 in the USA) each year.  Above it was a model 700 that sold 35,500 at first, falling to 12,800 in 1963 before being dropped from the lineup.  The best seller was the Monza 900, a sporty version whose sales peaked around 152,000 in 1962.  The Monza name (from a high-speed Italian track) was strong enough marketing juice that it was used on Corvair sedans starting in 1961 and on convertibles beginning in 1962.

Corvair coupés of all types were marginally practical in terms of passenger space.  The driver and the passenger seated next to him did well enough, but the back seat was basically for youngsters.  I remember when one of my fellow commercial art students gave some of us a lift in his new Monza and it was extremely cramped in back.


Setting the stage, here is a 1960 Corvair four-door sedan, the basis for the coupés.

A General Motors publicity photo of a 1961 Monza.  This was done in a studio.  Note that the background appears to be a backdrop painting.  The "snow" seems granular and fake.

Brochure image of the entry level 1962 Corvair Club Coupe.  It is virtually free of chrome trim.

Side view of a 1960 Monza (Mecum Auctions photo).  This shows how cramped the rear seating was.  I am not sure why the passenger compartment couldn't have been extended a little farther towards the rear.  The aft end of Corvair sedan roofs were slightly to the rear of the rear axle line, so a more curved Monza roof could have extended that far back as well.

Rear 3/4 view of the same car 1960.  This photo and the one above suggest to me that the short greenhouse negatively affected the Monza's proportions: the bustle-back is too long.

Publicity photo of a 1962 view of a coupé.  The shoulder level character line seems too static, even on a smaller car such as this.  Even from this flattering angle, the greenhouse seems too short.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Ford's Funny-Face Taunus 17 M P3

Its sales greatly exceeded the previous version, states the Wikipedia entry for the German Ford Taunus 17 M P3 (built 1960-1964).  That success was despite, as the entry also mentions, that the car was "known as the 'Badewannetaunus' (Bath tub Taunus) due its styling."  Actually, West Germany's increasing prosperity along with the car's other qualities might have been factors in its sales success, though the controversial styling apparently wasn't a major problem.

The man behind the design was Uwe Bahnsen, who led Ford's German styling units for many years.

Here is what the fuss was about:


My main problem with the design is the headlight assemblies.  They are large in order to accommodate the German headlights seen here or, perhaps, those awful quad headlights.  Volkswagens of the same vintage got by with old-style dual headlights, and assemblies designed to use those could easily have improved the car's appearance.

The side view is Spartan, a functionalist purist's dream come true.  Well, a purist would have used wheelhouse openings that matched the round tires and not the teardrop cutouts seen here.  And there is zero scratch/scuff protection for the sides.  A rub-rail might have performed that function, speaking of functional design.

Rear three-quarter view.  Front and rear bumpers share the same theme.  They look nice, but would be illegally flimsy in today's regulated environment.  The sculpting on the rear fender area is subtly effective.  Tail lights are Ford-like circles, a welcome touch whether it was intentional or not.  The panel they're mounted on was necessary to accommodate varying European license plate sizes.

The radio antenna is positioned near the A-pillar, not on the trunk as shown in the previous photos.  Perhaps that car was a pre-production job used for publicity images.

A publicity photo with people, providing a sense of scale.  This car and the one above have bumper guards positioned to help protect the headlights.

A publicity photo taken in Paris.  The rear has bumper guards, reflectors, and a backup light -- all not seen on the rear view above.

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.