Thursday, August 31, 2017

From Nash Rambler to Rambler American

The Nash Rambler, launched in the spring of 1950, was the only American small car (by U.S. standards) in that era that sold well.  They were marketed model years 1950-55, some in 1955 being sold as badge-engineered Hudson Ramblers following the formation of American Motors.  A redesigned Rambler appeared in 1956, but that car does not factor in our discussion here.

American Motors preserved the early Rambler's tooling, using it as the basis for the Rambler American line introduced for the 1958 model year.  This kind of hiatus is rare in automobile history, where the past is discarded and forgotten in the constant drive to entice buyers with something new and presumably better.

Background on Nash Ramblers is here, and on Rambler Americans here.

The images below help to illustrate how American Motors modified the earlier bodies to create the new sub-brand.


This is the Nash Rambler product line for 1953 following a major facelift.  All of these cars had a 100-inch (2540 mm) wheelbase.

Country Club hardtop convertibles and other Ramblers were facelifted for 1955.  The upper photo shows a 1954 model, the image immediately above is of a '55.  The latter received a new grille and (finally! now that George Mason was no longer on the scene) larger front wheel openings.

Four-door sedans and station wagon were introduced in 1954.  Their wheelbase was 108 inches (2743 mm), a dimension continued on the redesigned 1956 Rambler line.

Shown in this publicity photo and the preceding one is a 1955 four-door sedan Rambler.

Here is a 1960 Rambler American two-door sedan.  It and all other Americans had the 100-inch wheelbase of previous two-door Ramblers.  There was no Country Club hardtop, so this model retained the door of the convertible and station wagon shown in the top image.  Besides a new top, this model got a new grille and larger rear wheel openings.

A four-door sedan was added to the American line for 1960, as shown in this publicity photo.  Unlike the 1954-55 four-door sedans, the wheelbase was 100 inches.  That made things a bit cramped, even for the model seen climbing out of the back seat area.

I found no decent images of 1960 American four-door sedans on the Internet aside from the publicity shot above.  This photo is of a car for sale.  Its top seems to be the same as that of the two-door sedan.  To make a four-door version, the front doors were shortened and given a vertical B-pillar.  The rear doors are new, of course.  To accommodate roll-down rear windows, the aft cut and post are vertical, thereby creating a short six-window sedan (typical six-window U.S. sedans were large, long automobiles).

Monday, August 28, 2017

1934 Chrysler Airflow Grille Up Close

Unsuccessful sales-wise in its day, the Chrysler Corporation Airflow continues to fascinate the design community, and not just automobile stylists.  Books and exhibits dealing with "Moderne" or "Art Deco" can include photos of Chrysler or DeSoto Airflows to help establish an early 1930s mood.

Books and web sites dealing with automobile design history -- including this one -- ignore Airflows at their peril.  For example, as of the time this was drafted, I'd featured Airflows here and here, as well as having another Airflow post besides this one written and awaiting future publication.

Airflow design was wind tunnel tested at the instigation of Carl Breer, a leading engineer who had the ear of Walter P. Chrysler.  Chrysler's styling section had been established in 1928, but was under the thumb of body engineering.  According to Lamm and Holls in "A Century of Automotive Style," stylists seemed to have been involved mostly with decorative aspects of 1934 Airflows: the design was essentially engineering-driven.

I want to focus here on the styling of the front end of the original, 1934, Chrysler Airflow.  It seems to have been a factor in the car's disappointing sales.  That's because Airflows for 1935 and succeeding years received more prominent, elevated grilles more in line with mid-1930s customer tastes.  For example, the second link, above, deals with the case of DeSoto Airflows and how Chrysler stylists tried to deal with problems created by the 1934 models.

Below are some photos I took a while ago at the National Automobile Museum in Reno Nevada. It is what remains of the huge Harrah collection.


First, some stage-setting.  Above is a CU model, the archetypical Airflow.

Another 1934-vintage photo, this of the front end of the same car.  The dark rectangle is the opening to the radiator.  All those thin, vertical chromed bars serve to largely conceal the opening when viewed from other angles.  Now for my photos:

The subject is a 1934 Chrysler Airflow 5-Passenger Coupe wedged between a 1939 Mercury and a 1933 Studebaker.

Even from this nearly head-on angle, the opening cannot be seen -- though the black body color helps to camouflage.  Headlight assemblies are placed on the aerodynamically shaped nose of the car.  The Studebaker at the right of the image shows the sort of frontal designs potential Airflow customers were familiar with: the differences were shocking to many.

When not supported by sheet metal, the grille bars are attached to roughly horizontal metal frames at the upper and lower edges of the opening, allowing them to span the gap.

Chrysler symbolism included wings and a blue ribbon (first prize winner) enhancing the name badge.  The grille bars are attached to connective bits.  This is more evident in the photo below.

Closer view of the wings and badge.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Majestic: The Last Real British Daimler Saloon

From 1910 till 1960 the English Daimler Company was owned by BSA (Birmingham Small Arms).  Jaguar purchased Daimler the latter year and eventually Daimler cars featured facelifted Jaguar bodies.  For many decades Daimler cars were the favored automobiles of the Royal Family.

So far as I am concerned, the last real Daimler saloons (sedans) were the Majestic (built 1958-1962) and the Majestic Major, (built 1960-1968 with a more powerful motor).  Altogether, around 2,700 Majestics were made.

As can be seen in the images below, styling was the usual clumsy British blend of classic prewar English design and hints of postwar American styling features.

For luxury cars, the Daimler Majestics were surprisingly small by contemporary American standards.  Their wheelbase was 114 inches (2900 mm) and overall length 196 to 202 inches (5000 - 5100 mm).  To put this in context for American readers, General Motors' 1955 entry-level brand Chevrolet Bel Air hardtop coupe had a wheelbase of 115 inches (1921 mm) and length of 195.6 inches (4968 mm) -- about the same as the Majestics.


1964 left-hand steering Daimler Majestic Major, Hyman Ltd. photo).

Daimler Majestic with two-tone paint scheme.  Its vertical grille is a slightly curved version of classical Daimler grilles.  The front fenders fade into the front doors, similar to 1942 Packard Clippers and postwar Chryslers.  There is no separate rear fender, only a slab side.

Probably the same car.  The passenger compartment greenhouse is a six-window affair.  Stubby looking, its height makes the windows seem even a bit more cramped than they actually are.

For comparison, here is a 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air sedan with about the same wheelbase and length.  Its greenhouse is similar in length to the Daimler's, but being less tall, it has a sleeker appearance.

Another Majestic Major.  The chrome strip used to delimit two-tone paint areas is retained on monochrome cars.

View of a Majestic major's ponderous -- though practical for long-distance touring -- trunk (boot).  More awkwardness.  And the tail light ensemble is fussy.  H&H Auctions photo.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Plymouth's 1949 Fastback

During the late 1930s and early 1940s American car stylists tended to assume that future automobile designs would emphasize streamlining.  One aspect of streamlining as it was then understood was that it required the "fastback" style, where the roofline curved downward to the level of the rear bumper.

Chrysler Corporation and Ford Motor Company 1940 models featured fastback designs on sedans.  General Motors introduced especially sleek fastback bodies for 1941, but hedged its bet by retaining some mild bustle-back designs as well.

But by the time new post-World War 2 designs were planned, fastback styling was falling out of favor.  One likely reason was because bustle-back designs offered more trunk space, making them more practical.

Nearly all redesigned 1949 Chrysler Corporation cars had rectangular, bustle-back styling.  But there were two exceptions: entry-level Plymouth and Dodge 2-door sedans were fastbacks.

The Plymouth fastback is featured below.  All the photos are of cars listed for sale.


This is a 1949 Plymouth Special DeLuxe 4-Door Sedan.  Most Plymouth sedans and coupes looked something like this.

Her is a 1949 Plymouth DeLuxe P-17 fastback.

1950 Plymouths were given a simplified grille, but otherwise little-changed.

One small change at the rear was different tail lights.

P-17 Plymouths had a 111-inch wheelbase, whereas other Plymouth sedans had wheelbases of 117 and 118.5 inches: this resulted in a stubbier look.  For what it's worth, this Plymouth did look sleeker than their 1940-48 fastbacks did.

Here is a 1949 Chevrolet Fleetline 2-door sedan.  It is far more stylish than the Plymouths shown above.  However, General Motors phased out fastback designs such as this after the 1952 model year due to slow sales.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Packard Grille Changes 1951-1954

Packard was America's leading luxury brand in the 1920s and into the 30s.  The company survived the Great Depression in part because it added less expensive models to its lineup.  Many writers blame this watering down of the Packard image for the eventual failure of the marque.  I am more inclined to believe that all of the smaller automobile firms were doomed because they lacked resources to compete with Detroit's "Big Three" during the 1950s and beyond.

In any case, it is true that Packard fell behind its rival, Cadillac, in sales.  This trend was not helped by Packard's unfortunate 1948 facelift that I touched on here.

A total redesign marked the 1951 model year.  As I note in my ebook "How Cars Faced the Market," Packard was one of those companies that favored strong, consistent styling cues that visually proclaimed the brand.  Packard used red hexagons on its hubcaps, a pen-nib spear side trim, and what many observers term a "yoke" grille.  The latter feature worked well when cars were tall and hoods were narrow.  But the '51 Packards followed industry design trends and were comparatively low and wide.  Plus, American styling fashions in the late 1940s and early 50s called for large, chromed grille elements.  So Packard stylists had to come up with grille designs that were low, wide and bold, yet carried on shape elements from previous Packards.


Here is an example of a traditional grille.  The car is a 1934 Packard Super Eight Coupe Roadster (RM Sotheby's auction photo).  The key theme continuity elements are at the top of the grille ensemble.

Shown here are 1951 Packards.  From front to rear are 400, 300 and 200 models (the higher the number, the more luxurious).  The upper parts of their grilles carry on the theme seen in the pervious image.  Grille interiors were made up of bold, chromed shapes in line with the current styling fashion.  I think the "teeth" in the 400's and 300's grilles are unnecessary and awkward.

The only change for 1952 grilles is the addition of a Packard crest at the top center (Gooding auction photo).

Those teeth were deleted on 1953 models, and the interior bar design was simplified, with some ribbing added: nice improvement.  Gone is the pen-nib chrome spear.

Grilles were unchanged for 1954.  Side trims were replaced and little wedges were added atop the headlight bezels.  This car's bumper is out of vertical alignment (Barrett-Jackson auction photo).  Packards were given a major facelift and new motors for 1955.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Kaiser's 1954 Darrin Sporty Car

As the 1940s were drawing to a close Americans were becoming sports car conscious, thanks to the affordable MG TCs being imported from England.  By the early 1950s, buyers might choose from the MG TD, Triumph TR2, Austin-Healey 100, Jaguar XK120 and others.

Seeing a growing market, some American companies developed and marketed what they called sports cars.  These usually were sporty cars with sports car looks, but lacking in sports car characteristics such as good handling.  They sold in low, sometimes hardly detectable, volumes, so their bodies were often made of fiberglass to save production costs.  I wrote about some of them here.  As it turned out, the only market success was the Chevrolet Corvette that remains in production more than 60 years later.

For this post, I deal in more detail with the 1954 Kaiser Darrin.  Its Wikipedia entry is here, and another fairly lengthy treatment is here.

I stand by the assessment I make in the post linked above, where I stated:

"Kaiser was on its way out as a mainstream manufacturer, so the Kaiser Darrin can be seen as one of the company's last-ditch dice rolls.  Darrin himself had been involved in custom coachbuilding for many years (think Hibbard & Darrin of Paris, late 1920s) and had been a styling consultant to Kaiser. The fiberglass-bodied Kaiser Darrin sat on a Henry J (compact Kaiser line) chassis and also hewed to the prevailing sports car fashion -- but with several distinctive twists.  Most obvious is the tiny grille that makes me wonder if the radiator was given as much cool air as it needed.  Then there are the sliding doors that, according to the [Wikipedia] link, proved troublesome.   The back fenders had a falling-to-the-rear shape that terminated in standard Kaiser sedan tail lights."


Here is designer Dutch Darrin with the 1953 prototype.  Note the divided windshield with rounded top segments, a feature on Kaiser sedans.

Publicity card announcing the Kaiser Darrin.  The prototype is shown,  Click to enlarge if you want to try reading the text (it'll still be very small).

This photo shows an event where the prototype is on display.

Publicity photo of a production Kaiser Darrin.  The windshield is now a one-piece affair.  This image and the one above illustrate how cramped Darrin's beloved sliding door openings were.

Auction photo (RM Sotheby's) showing the front and the small grille.  More air must have entered from below the bumper.

Side view of a Bonhams auction item.  The leading edge of the rear fender is aligned with the door cut line and seating.  This made production sense due to the sliding nature of the doors as well as probably simplifying the fiberglass moulds.  However, the resulting fender shape does not relate well to the rear wheel and its opening.

Same car, rear 3/4 view.  The trunk seems tiny, especially given that it would be the location of the spare tire.  Apparently Kaiser Darrins were intended for day trips, not long journeys.  The tail lights are those of 1952-53 Kaiser sedans.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

How "Pregnant" was the 1929 Buick?

Once Harley Earl had been hired as General Motors' styling director, an early major project was to produce a design for the forthcoming 1929 Buick's new body.  When the cars reached dealers for the first time, there was a strong negative reaction to a slight bulge along the belt line, below the side windows.  That was because other brands featured body sides whose belt lines initiated curves that slightly tucked inwards as they fell away downwards.

Larry Edsall in Automotive News goes into more detail here.  According to most stories, including Edsall's, Earl reacted by claiming that body engineers altered his staff's design.  He used this (along with his friendship with Alfred P. Sloan) to gain final sign-off on future designs from his Art & Colour section.

I am a bit skeptical.  So far as I know, there is no visual evidence of the designs Art & Colour prepared for various Buick body types.  If this is so, then the matter cannot be resolved.  My guess is that Earl's design did have that bulge.  Checking with the styling history bible, "A Century of Automotive Style" by Michael Lamm and David Holls, I notice on page 91 that former Chrysler Corporation stylist Jeff Godshall is of the same opinion.  I base my case on the reasoning that body engineers, a conservative lot, would never think of making such a major departure from strong conventions of the time unless they were under instructions to do so.

We begin with four images of 1929 Buicks.  The notorious bulge is along the belt line.


Now compare these Buicks to some other cars of its vintage ...

A 1929 Chevrolet.  Its body was designed around 1926-27 for the 1928 model year, so it has no real Harley Earl influence so far as I can tell.

A 1929 LaSalle.   Earl's first styling project with General Motors was the 1927 LaSalle line.  Its sides are typical of the times.

A 1928 Chrysler.  Chryslers competed with Buicks, and potential buyers of '29 Buicks would have been familiar with cars such as this.

1929 Dodge.  Its design probably pre-dates Chrysler's 1928 acquisition of Dodge.  I include this image to provide some more non-GM design context.

So yes, that Buick bulge was definitely out of the American car body design mainstream during the 1929 model year.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Ford's Controversial Scorpio II in Context

Ford of Germany marketed a model named Scorpio from 1985 to 1998.  There were two versions, the second of which, sometimes called Scorpio II, was produced 1994-98.  Wikipedia provides background information here.

As of the time this post was drafted, there was a Wikipedia entry section noting that Scorpio II styling was criticized be several noted car buffs who proclaimed the design ugly.  I would not go that far.  To me, it was nondescript in the soft, aerodynamic sort of way seen from the mid-1980s unto the early 2000s.

Here it is, placed in some contexts.


The Scorpio II sedan (there also was a station wagon / break version) was a six-window affair with a low, rounded nose.  I don't notice a large chin air dam, and the spoiler on the trunk lid is quite small.  Given that Ford was into aerodynamic efficiency ten years earlier, I find the modesty of these details puzzling.

Front end.  Soft, and not cluttered like current cars.

Two views of the rear.  Again, large-radius rounding that might have pleased General Motors' Harley Earl in his heyday.  The wide tail light / reflector assembly is clean with a dab of variety in the width of the upper framing strip.  See how modest the spoiler is.

This rear view is of a 1985 Ford Tempo, the company's first American compact car with proper aerodynamic basic body shaping.  It considerably predates the Scorpio II.  Its front has a chin air dam, but there is no trunk lid spoiler.  It too is a six-window sedan with a simple rear-end design that is less rounded.

General view of a 1985 Tempo.

1992 Mazda 929 ("Sentia" in some parts of the world).  Ford had ties with Mazda in those days, but I don't know how much that might have extended to styling.  This is a four-window sedan, but it has a rounded, spoiler-free trunk lid.

Now for the front.  Here is a Cadillac Deville from the early 2000s.  The hood is more raised and sculpted than that of the '94 Scorpio II.  Otherwise, the shape of the grille is reminiscent of Scorpio's and the headlight assemblies' overall shape in quite similar.  Again, a soft, uncluttered design.