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.

Gallery




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.

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