Thursday, February 22, 2024

1953 Lincoln XL-500 Concept

The Lincoln XL-500 was one of Ford Motor Company's earliest concept cars, a near-contemporary of Ford's X-100 revealed as a full-scale model in 1952 and as a functioning car in 1953.

Unlike the X-100, the XL-500 was what has been called a "pushmobile," lacking any motor and related running gear.  In fact, even its doors were shallow cutlines on the body sides.  Entry was via side widows that lacked glass.

Nevertheless, its design is worth some study, as its styling was closer to future production than the X-100's.

Images below are via Ford.


As seen at a car show.

Hood and fender height are similar to that of the 1952 Lincoln.  Hooded headlight assemblies similar to the X-500's appeared on 1956 Lincolns.  The bold bumpers with "Dagmar" guards are in line with early-1950s American styling fashion, though the unprotected prow was not.  (My 1965 VW Karmann-Ghia was similarly vulnerable to denting.)

The wide, B-pillar (potentially a roll-bar) saw production on 1955 Ford Fairlane Crown Victorias.  The fenderline hump above the rear wheel is clearly non-functional with respect to spring jounce.  Also note that the bulge is not centered above the rear axle line.  Perhaps the shape was selected before the wheelbase was finalized.  Or else it was though that it related better to the C-pillar than if it were aligned with the rear axle line.

The feeling (not the precise detailing) of the tail light assemblies appeared on 1955-56 Mercurys.

View of the interior through the transparent roof.  Automatic transmission gear selection buttons are seen on the steering wheel hub.

Overhead view at a car show.  Hood humps appeared on Ford Motor Company cars starting with the 1952 model year.

Monday, February 19, 2024

2019-Vintage Comparison: Toyota Camry, Toyota Avalon and Lexus Es

Different automobile brands or models sharing the same basic body structure is nothing new.   General Motors was doing that by the 1930s.  I find it interesting from both brand-identification and styling standpoints.  What it boils down to is the efforts of styling staffs to be creative, given technical and marketing restrictions.

For this post, I've chosen to feature a fairly recent Toyota Motor Corporation platform used for some of its most important brands sold in North America.  Those cars are the Toyota Camry, Toyota Avalon, and the Lexus ES.

More specifically, the Camry is the model introduced for the 2018 model year, the Avalon is the 1919 model (the final one, as Avalons were discontinued after 2022), and the 2019 Lexus ES.  The links each note that these cars share the same platform.

Toyota has the financial punch to invest in tooling for a comparatively large number of detail variations on the basic form, which makes today's presentation even more interesting because the designs are superficially quite different.

The Avalon and Lexus have a 113.0 inch (2870 mm) wheelbase, whereas the Camry's wheelbase is 111.2 inches (2820 mm).  I need to note that the Avalon was the Toyota brand's upscale North American model while the Camry is Toyota's best-selling sedan in that market.


2018 Toyota Camry
First, some side-views.

2019 Lexus ES
The difference in length lies between the B- and C-pillars: note the wider rear door.  The Lexus' roofline has a different taper than the Camry's.  Door handles are in the same relative positions, but most side sheetmetal differs.

2019 Toyota Avalon
As noted, same wheelbase as the Lexus.  Roof curve is the same, but the Avalon is a six-window car, unlike the others.  The door handles and beltline seem the same as the Lexus'.  Again, differing side sheet metal.  Greenhouses forward of the B-pillar are virtually the same for all three

2018 Toyota Camry
The three cars have differing sheet metal, trunk lid cutlines, and even backlight windows.

2019 Lexus ES

2019 Toyota Avalon
Rear bumper impact areas seem the same on the cars.

2018 Toyota Camry
Note the "knock-knee'd" grille structure theme that echoes ...

2019 Lexus ES
... the Lexus brand's upside-down back-to-back Lexus "L" theme used since the mid-2010s.

2019 Toyota Avalon
All three cars feature similar shaping in the vicinity of the fender fronts, also hood profiles.  However, the Avalon's grill lacks the pinched theme seen above.

2021 Toyota Camry
Interestingly, the 2021 Camry facelift dropped the pinched look, replacing it with wide, horizontal bars à la Avalon.

2018 Toyota Camry
Some frontal views for comparison.  All three have their brand symbol placed high and centered.  Hood cut lines are similar.

2019 Lexus ES
I hate this grille theme, distinctive though it is.

2019 Toyota Avalon
There is a subtle, wide "V" theme in the central grille area formed by subtle shaping of the horizontal bars.  The framing is unrealistically large.  But too-large grille elements have been on Audis for many years and are recently found on some BMW models.

Thursday, February 15, 2024

Merkur XR4Ti Walkaround

During the later 1980s Ford Motor Company created a short-lived brand for the USA called the Merkur.  It was sold at selected Lincoln-Mercury dealerships.  The two-doors-plus-hatchback Merkur was an Americanized version of a European Ford Sierra model.  Some Merkur background is here.

Merkurs did not sell well, only 42,464 were built during five model years (1985-89) -- an average of 8,493 units per year.  The Wikipedia link above, as of late October 2023, claims low sales resulted from fluctuating exchange rates for U.S. and German currencies (Merkurs were imported from Germany).  Resulting prices were high, limiting consumer demand.

My reaction in 1985 when the sporty Merkur XR4Ti was introduced had to do with its styling.  The design struck me as being unnecessarily complicated.  I suspect many potential buyers had a similar reaction.

Now that nearly 40 years have passed, we might as well take a second look at the XR4Ti.  Photos below are via Bring a Trailer Auctions.


The Merkur logotype badge was not stylish.  Note the broad license plate zone below the bumper -- a carryover needed for those wide European plates.

Frontal styling is disrupted by that license plate zone.  Elements above the bumper do not relate well to those below.

The fussiest aspect of the design is abaft of the B-pillar above the beltline.  I notice a D-pillar behind the C-pillar.  Too many windows for a coupé.

Then there are the dual spoilers on the hatch door, one partly blocking driver vision to the rear.  Perhaps there were aerodynamic reasons for this, but the resulting clutter degraded appearance.

Otherwise, rear end design was undistinguished.

That after side window really bothers me.

Part of its problem is the C-pillar.  It probably needed to be wide for structural reasons.  It could have been less visible by having thin brightwork outlining the entire window set and perhaps painting the C-pillar black or a dark gray.  This might better separate the passenger compartment greenhouse from the lower body.  As things stand, the comparative lack of separation makes the design seem heavier.

Too bad the hood could not have been lowered a little.

Monday, February 12, 2024

Pontiac's Mid-1950s Facelift Pattern

Nowadays car designs often are unchanged for a few years after a redesign, and even for an entire multi-year production cycle.  If a facelift does occur, it would often be sometime near the middle of that cycle.

But in America from the 1930s into the 1960s and even beyond, facelifts happened each model year following the new design's introduction.

The idea of facelifting was to make the next year's model different enough from the existing one that potential buyers would be pleased to be seen driving a car that was truly "new."  And drivers of previous-years cars might be made to feel that their car was "old," and so be tempted to replace it with a "new" one.

That was what stylists referred to when they said that the first design on a multi-year production run was the most "pure" -- the often arbitrary facelifting degrading that purity.

Another purpose for facelifting was to preview some styling features that were set to appear on the next complete redesign.

So what often happened for three or four year production cycles would be as follows.  The first model year would feature the supposedly "pure" design.  Intermediate years would find arbitrary detail changes.  The final-year styling would include a few "preview" details.  An example is Pontiac for model years 1955-1957, the subject of today's post.


1954 Pontiac Star Chief Catalina - Mecum Auctions photo
The last year of a two-year cycle (1953-1954).  The general body shape is similar to the previous 1949-1952 series, so we might instead think in terms of a 1949-1954 cycle.  What's interesting in the context of the discussion above is that there was virtually no thematic carryover from this design to the totally redesigned 1955 Pontiacs.  One subtle preview is the stretched oval in the grille bar -- it harkens to the overall grille opening shape on '55s as seen in the image below.

1955 Pontiac Star Chief Catalina - Mecum
Instead of traditional Silver Streaks running down the center of the hood, we find two, separated, sets of streaks.

1956 Pontiac Chieftain Catalina Coupe - Mecum
The mid-1955-1957 cycle facelift retained the dual Silver Streaks.  The grille and side trim are new.

1957 Pontiac Star Chief Catalina Coupe - Mecum
Pontiac and Chevrolet shared the same basic body that was given a major facelift for 1957.  The cowling and hood were lowered and the trim theme completely changed.  The new grille design harkens to the 1935-1956 Silver Streaks, but there are no true streaks remaining.

1958 Pontiac Star Chief 4-door sedan - car-for-sale photo
The redesigned 1958 Pontiac.  The side trim theme is retained with detail changes, as is the wide grille.

1954 Pontiac Star Chief Catalina - Mecum
THe 1954 Pontiac as seen from the rear quarter.

1955 Pontiac Star Chief 4-door sedan - car-for-sale photo
Carried over are round tail lights.  The Silver streaks are off the trunk lid and on the small tailfins.

1956 Pontiac Chieftain Catalina Coupe - Mecum
Few changes here, though there's some new rear fender sculpting forward of the tail lights.

1957 Pontiac Star Chief Catalina Coupe - Mecum
Entirely new theme here containing elements previewing 1958.

1958 Pontiac Star Chief 4-door sedan - car-for-sale photo
Both the '57 and '58 have rear fenderline extensions.  Tail light assemblies have oval shapes in both designs.  Trunk lid trim is about the same.  But the tail lights are round again.

Thursday, February 8, 2024

Ford's Marginally Successful Four-Door Maverick

By 1971, Chevrolet and Ford were each marketing a number of models based on different-sized platforms.   Chevy's set was Vega, Nova, Camero, Chevelle, and standard-size Chevrolets plus the Corvette sports car.   Ford's was Pinto, Maverick, Torino, Mustang, Thunderbird, and standard Fords.

Ford's Maverick, which I last discussed here, debuted as a 103-inch (2616 mm) 2-door coupe/sedan for the 1970 model year, and sold well.  A 109.9 inch (2791 mm) wheelbase four-door sedan was added for 1971.  Mavericks were discontinued after 1977.

Four-door Maverick production totaled 595,904 units over its seven-year run, an average of 89,129 cars per model year.  Mercury's Maverick-based Comet sales increased that total by 211,658.  So even allowing for the comparatively low prices of these cars, Ford Motor Company probably did not lose money on the Maverick 4-door.  I should add that aside from front ends and perhaps firewall-cowling structures, the two-door and four-door Maverick bodies were essentially different.  Moreover, in the earlier years of production, the two-door cars outsold the 4-door models.  Let's call the four-door Maverick a qualified sales success.

One problem was bland styling, making the cars forgettable.  (Though Chevy's competing Nova looked pretty bland as well, with sales similar the Maverick's.)  Researching this post using Internet searches, I noticed that I was finding fairly numerous sporty-type 2-door Mavericks for sale, but hardly any 4-door models.  Seems like they were simply purchased, used, then discarded following a few rounds of being passed down to other buyers.

Most of the images below are from Ford or its advertising agency.


A 1971 four-door Maverick sedan.  Its horizontal chrome strip that curves over wheel openings was continued for upscale Mavericks through the seven-year production run.

Entry-level '71 sedan.  Though not a beautiful design, it is a presentable, professional styling job.  The flowing fender line reduces blandness and is nicely contrasted by the angular side-window framing.

Rear-quarter view of an entry-level '71.  Nothing much to criticize aside perhaps some of the detailing on the panel with taillights.

1975 Maverick with those heavy, government-mandated bumpers.  Side trim is more elaborate, and vinyl is added atop the passenger compartment.  Maverick sales began to sag noticeably starting in '75.

Final production year.  Due to decreasing sales levels, this car is almost the same as the one in the previous photo.  The various detail add-ons detract from the clean early Maverick lines.

A for-sale entry-level 1975 Maverick lacking the vinyl and other trim items seen in the previous two images.  The horizontal character line seems to have been de-emphasized.

Monday, February 5, 2024

MGA Coupé

This is an update of my 23 October 2014 post about the 1955-1962 MGA titled "MGA: Cautious Step, Uncertain Direction."

My main critique of its styling was:

"The front fender seems a little too long and bland, virtually featureless.  But in the area around the rear of the cockpit, we find a busy set of details -- the rear cockpit curve, the door cut-line, the transition to the rear fender, the rear fender itself, and the wheelhouse and rear wheel.  All this attracts the eye, making the front part of the car seem too long.  It also gives the rear a sort of tacked-on look."

I still hold those views, though my suggested solutions are somewhat different now.

Today's post deals in more detail with the coupé MGA model.  A college fraternity brother owned one, and once we drove across Washington State in it to visit our fraternity chapter at Washington State College (as it was named then).  That was long ago, so I remember little about it.  Given the damp climate in western Washington as well as that of the British Isles, marketing a coupé version made some sense for MG.  One nice feature was that besides having decent weather protection, when inside one didn't see its awkward styling.  (To be fair, the same concept applies to being in a beautiful car.  So apologies for my snark.)

Below I compare the MGA coupé to the basic roadster model.


1960 MGA 1600 Roadster - Broad Arrow Auctions photo
The MGA was transitional in its design.  Previous MG sports car styling had its roots in the 1930s, as I discussed here in my post "T-Type MG Roadsters."  MGAs had a similar layout: a long hood and the driver's seating position aft of the center of the car.  Its styling theme was in line with 1950s vintage  sports car fashions.  The MGA was succeeded by the much more modern MGB in 1962.

1960 MGA Coupe - BaT Auctions photo
Coupés got a large, curved windshield.

1960 MGA 1600 Roadster - Broad Arrow
This shows the seating position and the collection of elements seen between the door's aft cutline and the rear wheel opening.  A flowing fenderline without the frontal shape of the rear fender would have looked nicer.

1958 MGA 1500 Coupe - car-for-sale photo
The coupé's elements are concentrated between the cowling and rear axle line, adding even more visual clutter than found on the roadster.  It seems that the design policy was to minimize coupé tooling while maximizing use of roadster tooling.  A better passenger compartment greenhouse design might have had a flatter roof blended into a fastback trunk area.  Instead, we see an awkward looking lump with badly shaped windows.

1960 MGA 1600 Roadster- Broad Arrow
Rear quarter view.

1958 MGA 1500 Coupe - car-for-sale
The backlight window is in three segments with divisions blackened rather than chromed, so as to give the appearance of full wraparound.  But the overall shape -- pulled down at the corners -- adds to the clutter discussed above.  A wider C-pillar (less wraparound) might have helped.  Even so, the design was hopelessly flawed, given the tooling constraints the stylists had to deal with.

Thursday, February 1, 2024

Buick's Mid-1950s Facelifts

What purposes do automobile facelifts serve?

For the American car industry from the 1930s into the 1970s and even later in many cases, they were tied to the system of annual model introductions.  Often in those days, changes were superficial and seemingly arbitrary.  The idea was to make the next year's model different enough from the existing one that potential buyers would be pleased to be seen driving a car that was truly "new."  And drivers of previous-years cars might be made to feel that their car was "old," and so be tempted to replace it with a "new" one.

That was what stylists referred to when they said that the first design on a multi-year production run was the most "pure" -- the often arbitrary facelifting degrading that purity.

Another purpose for facelifting was to preview some styling features that were set to appear on the next complete redesign.

So what often happened for three or four year production cycles would be as follows.  The first model year would feature the supposedly "pure" design.  Intermediate years would find arbitrary detail changes.  The final-year styling would include a few "preview" details.  An example is General Motors'  Pontiac brand for model years 1955-1957.

During the mid-to-late 1950s General Motors executed some intermediate facelifts that were more elaborate and more expensive than normal.  The corporation was very wealthy in those days and could afford such facelifts.  Its Buick brand got major facelifting in the two model years following its 1954 redesign.  These facelifts are the subject of today's post.


1953 Buick Roadmaster Riviera - Gooding Auctions photo
This was the final model of a four-year (1950-1953) production cycle.  Headlight assemblies and the grille theme and some side-trim themes were carried over to the redesigned 1954 Buicks, as can be seen in the following image.

1954 Buick Roadmaster Riviera - Mecum Auctions photo
Note the headlight assemblies, grille framing, the front bumper's position and location of bumper guards on this redesign.  These details plus the Sweepspear side trim and fender "portholes" proclaimed that this, indeed, is a Buick.

1955 Buick Roadmaster Riviera - Mecum
The 1955 facelift involved a different "face" for Buick.  Gone were the traditional (starting in 1942) vertical grille bars.  The bumper is now in two segments revealing a taller grille opening.  The Sweepspear and portholes are retained for brand identity.

1956 Buick Super Riviera Coupe - Hyman Ltd photo
The final year for this body finds yet another new "face."  Front planview is now slightly V'd and headlight assemblies are restyled, being carried over to the 1957 redesign.  Side feature themes are retained for 1957.

1953 Buick Roadmaster Riviera - Gooding

1954 Buick Roadmaster Riviera - Mecum
The main rear detail carried to the new body is the taillight theme. 

1955 Buick Roadmaster Sedan - car-for-sale photo
But for 1955, rear fenders were redesigned in a major way. 

1956 Buick Super Riviera Sedan - Mecum
Those taillight assemblies were simplified for 1956 and the sharply angled fender termination theme was retained in modified form for the '57 redesign.

Styling models for 1954 Buicks - originally via General Motors
It seems that the 1955 split-bumper concept was given serious consideration while the 1954 redesign was gestating.  I suspect the '54 front was chosen because of its greater similarity to the 1953's.  That transition accomplished, the new theme was used starting in 1956.