Thursday, February 22, 2018

Chrysler's First Art & Colour Team's Results

By the 1920s when basic engineering requirements were largely in place, major American car makers began to shift attention to appearance as a sales tool.  At first they relied on designers in custom body firms and production body suppliers along with some of their own engineering staff who had an artistic bent.

In 1927 General Motors became the first large car manufacturer to establish an in-house styling section.  This was led by the now-legendary Harley Earl.  Chrysler Corporation soon followed suit.  In each case a few years lapsed before the work of these teams appeared on streets and roads.  This was because of lead-times from new concept to the market via the large amount of work required to engineer and productionize a new design.  Initial items effected by stylists usually were trim and detail changes.

This post treats the first results from Chrysler Corporation's styling group.  But first some background from the indispensable Lamm & Holls book, A Century of Automotive Style.

The authors point out (pages 153-54) that Chrysler set up a small styling section in July of 1928, calling it Art & Colour -- following General Motors' lead of the year before.  But this new unit was not nearly as independent as Harley Earl's, being under the control of Chrysler's mighty engineering staff.

"Among Art & Colour's staff members were Thomas (Tom) Martin, Herb Weissinger, A.B. (Buzz) Grisinger, Henry King, Rhys Miller, Max Wasserman, Bill Flajole, Ed Sheard, Gus Sompe and a handful of others; all young but highly enthusiastic and capable....

"For 1929-31, the Chrysler Imperial, along with Chrysler's four other lines, used what were called "ribbon" radiator grille shells. These looked like narrow chrome ribbons taped to the leading edge of the hood.  The idea was to make the hood look longer by making the grille shallower, but in actuality ribbon grilles made the entire front ensemble look weaker, cheaper and less substantial.  The public didn't like ribbon grilles, and yet they became something of a corporate identity symbol during those two to three years."

They go on to mention that 1931 Chryslers and Chrysler Imperials dropped the ribbon grille for a Weissinger design strongly inspired by Al Leamy's 1929 Cord design.

Here are examples of Chrysler Corporation cars from those days.  Dodge is not included because it was a long-established brand acquired by Chrysler in 1928 and not fully integrated with the rest of the Chrysler line until a few years later.


1929 Chrysler Imperial with ribbon grille and Vauxhall-inspired hood scallops.  The 1930 models were little changed.

1931 Chrysler CG Imperial Close-Coupled Sedan,  RM Sotheby's photo.  Side window framing, the cowl shape and other details are carried over from previous model years.  What's new is the Cord-inspired grille design and revised hood.  The flat, split windshield was an Imperial oddity that detracted from the car's appearance.

1929 Chrysler 75 Tonneau Phaeton via RM Sotheby's.  Regular Chryslers lacked the Imperial's hood sculpting, but otherwise their front ends were similar for that model year.

1930 Chrysler 77 Dual-Cowl Phaeton by Locke, also actioned by RM Sotheby's.  This has Chrysler wings on the radiator cap ornament, but is essentially the same front as in 1929.

1931 Chrysler CM Roadster,  Hyman auction photo.  Now the grille is somewhat Cord-like.

1929 DeSoto Roadster with ribbon grille.

1930 DeSoto 4-door sedan.  Most '30 DeSotos lacked ribbon grilles, though Model K DeSotos retained them.

And then ribbon grilles returned across the board, as seen on this 1931 DeSoto 4-door sedan.

1932 DeSotos received grilles inspired by Miller racing cars.

1929 Plymouth Model U 4-door sedan,  Owls Head auction photo.  Chrysler's entry-level brand also got a variation on the ribbon grille where the framing was rounded.

1930 Plymouth 30-U 4-door sedan for sale.  The grille face is flatter than in '29, but the ribbon effect has been replaced by a conventional frame.

1931 Plymouth PA 4-door sedan, auction photo.  Again, no ribbon grille, and some rounding has returned.

From the images presented here, it seems that the ribbon grille situation by model year was more complex than how Lamm and Holls presented it.  Nevertheless, their thesis broadly holds in that the ribbon style was tried and then rejected.  Other design elements by the new Chrysler Corporation Art & Colour group are hard to detect besides the grille design borrowings from Cord and Miller.  This would begin to change for 1933 and 1934.

1 comment:

jrm said...

The 1932 DeSoto is my favorite pre-War Chrysler Corp. design; love that Miller-inspired grille. The 1933 and 1934 Plymouths were also good looking cars, especially the coupes and cabriolets.