Monday, February 26, 2018

General Motors' C Body Cars for 1940

General Motors is usually considered the American styling leader through the 1930s and for many years beyond (due in part to its market dominance).  But that doesn't mean that GM designs were attractive.  My view is that most American car designs for closed cars from around 1934 to about 1940 were awkward.  That was because of the shift from boxy-yet-functional pre-1934 styling to streamlining-cum-component-integrating designs during that period.  This change required changes in body engineering and production technology that took time to be mastered.  Hence, awkwardness.

But GM's new C body introduced for the 1940 model year shed most of the kind of awkwardness just mentioned, though it wasn't until 1941 everything fell into place.  That is, the basic body design was attractive, but brand-identification details carried over from previous years along with passé headlight assembly forms held back the styling promise of the new body until those elements were better integrated.

Below are examples of 1940 C body cars from Pontiac, Oldsmobile, Buick, LaSalle and Cadillac (no Chevrolets got the new C bodies that year).


Here is a 1940 Pontiac Torpedo Coupe (Pontiac marketers labeled C body Pontiacs "Torpedo").  Ignore everything from the front axle line forward and you'll see the attractive, not-awkward styling.  The only archaic detail in this zone is the exposed running board that got covered in 1941.  The partly integrated head lights and Buick-like grille detract from the overall appearance.

GM marketers made heavy use of retouch artists in part because newsprint reproduction quality was comparatively poor in those days.  This worked-over photo shows the aft end of a 4-door C body Pontiac.

Side view of a 1940 Oldsmobile 90 sedan via Barrett-Jackson.  Styling is basically rounded, but not nearly as heavy-looking as before.  This is due to the thinner top and well-integrated trunk.  Front fenders are more blended into the rest of the body than on the other brands with C bodies.

And here is a side view of the Buick Roadmaster.  Note the longer trunk.

Buick Super, the next level down from the Roadmaster also got C bodies.  Note how the windshield divider line carries into a slight crease on the roof panel.  Again, the front end styling strikes me as being slightly at odds with the rest of the car.  Grille orientation is neither horizontal nor vertical, and the headlights are not quite integrated or separate.  Call all this "hesitant" or "ambiguous" or to put it most kindly, "transitional."

I find the LaSalle in this "for sale" photo the most attractive 1940 C body car even though it shares the same headlight problem as the others.

Side view of a 1940 Cadillac 62 Coupe from RM Sotheby's.  Cadillac's headlight housings remained discrete entities perched on the catwalk between the front fenders and the hood/grille assembly.  This was drastically improved the next year.

Barrett-Jackson photo showing rear 3/4 of a 62 four-door sedan.  The rear elements are nicely composed, whereas the front fenders are of the more squared-off "suitcase" variety.  The separate headlight assembly can be glimpsed here.