Thursday, September 16, 2021

Wartburg 311 and 312

Today's subject comes from the East German Wartburg carmaker.  It's the Wartburg 311/312 (Wikipedia entry here) produced 1956-1965.

Wartburg's Eisenach facilities were owned by BMW before World War 2, but fell into the postwar Soviet occupation zone that became the DDR in 1949.  The Wartburg 311 was largely a repackaged IFW F9, the East German version of the DKW, a prewar Auto Union model that was also produced in West Germany.

The 311's motor was a three-cylinder, two-cycle engine of modest power that required a fairly light car.  A marketing virtue of the 311 was that it did not look at all like a DKW or IFW L9.

Images below unless noted are of cars for sale and factory-sourced photos.


1956 Wartburg 311 walkaround - Lloyds Auctions photos
The 311 was a pleasant design in its original, sparsely-decorated form.  Curved glass for the windshield and backlight window was imported from West Germany.

The six-window passenger compartment looks light and airy.

The previous image and the rear quarter view are suggestive of another car.

Another rear quarter view, this of a 1963 Wartburg 311.  Compare it to ...

1947 Studebaker Champion
Details differ, but the fender shapes are similar.  Also the downward slopes of the trunk lids when seen in profile.

1957 Wartburg two-tone paint schemes
Elaborate two-tone paint designs were fashionable in the USA in the mid-1950s, and a number of European car makers followed the fad, as can be seen here.

A variation of the previous scheme.

Perhaps a 1966 Wartburg 312 export model
Fancy two-toning was passé in the USA by this time.

1964c Wartburg 311 hardtop coupé
Wartburg 311s came in this form and station wagons as well as sedans.  Strongly American-influenced styling.  And a pretty bourgeois setting for a car from the proletarian East.  Perhaps this publicity image was used to sell export cars. 

Monday, September 13, 2021

Plymouth Sedans 1934-1939

Chrysler Corporation's entry-level Plymouth brand ranked third in sales numbers for many years beginning in the 1930s.  Chevrolet and Ford were numbers one and two, though which brand occupied which position varied.

Aside from the Airflow era, the Corporation's brands all used the same basic bodies at least from 1935 through 1952.  So why feature Plymouth in today's post?  Because its strong sales and importance to Chrysler's income make it worth examining.  Clearly, engineering features were key to Plymouth's success during the late Great Depression years, but styling could not be ignored.

Images of four-door sedans below are mostly of for-sale cars.


1934 Plymouth
Non-Airflow Chrysler Corporation cars were redesigned as Airstreams for 1935, as I wrote here.  Above is a pre-Airstream Plymouth to set the stage.  Basically boxy, but the grille and windshield are slightly slanted and the fenders have modest skirts -- typical early '30 features hinting at the "streamlining" to come.

1935 Plymouth - Mecum auction photo
An Airstream Plymouth.  More rounded and with a built-in trunk in this example. The chrome circles on the hood air vents are a distinctive feature seen only for the '35 model year.  I wonder if Chrysler's styling staff thought them too static in the new era of streamlining.

1936 Plymouth DeLuxe
Those circles are gone, but otherwise this side view of a 1936 model is nearly the same as that in the previous image.  This car has a slightly longer passenger compartment, as can seen comparing the aft side windows and shaping of the cars' rears.

1937 Plymouth DeLuxe
Some sources state that 1937s got a complete redesign, but I'm not sure of that.  Indeed, the front clip is different (compare fenders and hood cutlines).  So is the body abaft of the C-pillar.  But the doors have the same framing and hinges, leading me to wonder if parts of the 1936 body were carried over.

1938 Plymouth - Mecum photo
During the 1930s, American facelifts included revisions to hood air vent décor.  Otherwise, this car looks the same as the 1937 model.

1939 Plymouth
In this 2015 post I wondered if the "redesigned" Chrysler line was actually a case of a major facelift.  Since then, I've come across some sources confirming my speculation.  Even in that post I decided that Plymouths retained 1938 bodies aft of the cowling and revised windshield.

1934 Plymouth
American facelifts and redesigns into the 1960s and even beyond included changes to a car's grille -- its public face.  The 1934 Plymouth grille featured a mild "shovel nose" and thin, vertical bars.

1935 Plymouth - Mecum photo
The Airstream redesign retained vertical bars, but now they are painted black.  A central vertical chrome bar and a few horizontal bars are added and the Plymouth crest is restyled.

1936 Plymouth - Mecum photo
The '36 facelift reverted to thin, chromed vertical bars.  Added was a solid vertical central bar painted body color.

1937 Plymouth
The more rounded 1937 styling and grille design fashion resulted in a modest bulged "fencer's mask" grille shape.  The central body color strip is narrower and has chromed trim added.

1938 Plymouth - Mecum photo
The frontal facelift was modest for 1938.  The vertical grille strip was retained, and more chrome added.  New are those small chrome strips on the front "catwalk" area.

1939 Plymouth
The front clip was totally restyled for 1939.  No trace of previous frontal themes such as thin, chrome vertical bars can be found.

Thursday, September 9, 2021

General Motors Conceptual Twins: Opel Kapitän vs. Vauxhall Velox and Cresta

For many years General Motors rotated some American stylists through its European subsidiaries Opel (in Germany) and Vauxhall (in England).  Therefore, it isn't surprising that some Opel and Vauxhall models had similar apprearances that include more than a dash of Detroit automobile fashion.

The subjects of today's post are the short-lived (1958-59) Opel Kapitän P1 and the 1957-1959 versions of the Vauxhall Cresta PA and Vauxhall Velox PA.  Also included are images of similar Chevrolet and Buick features.

Unless noted, images below are factory-sourced or are of for-sale cars.


1958 Opel Kapitän P1
Significant features include panoramic (wraparound) windshields and backlight windows, along with C-pillars that blend into the beltline.

1959 Vauxhall Velox PA - Vauxhall Heritage photo
The slightly smaller Vauxhall has similar windows, but the C-pillar is narrower and fails to blend.  That said, it appears that the cars might have shared some structural elements.

1958 Opel Kapitän P1, for-rent photo
The Kapitän's backlight is a one-piece affair.

1959 Vauxhall Cresta PA
Whereas Vauxhall's had three-segment backlights.

1957 Oldsmobile
Note the similarity to this American GM design's backlight.

1962 Vauxhall Cresta PA - for sale in Australia
Later Vauxhall PAs received one-piece backlights.

1958 Opel Kapitän P1, image via Autobild
Now for some comparative side views.  The Kapitän's wide C-pillar is similar to that of ...

1957 Buick Roadmaster Hardtop Sedan
Buick Super and Roadmaster hardtop sedans of the 1957 model year had this window design, also some Cadillacs.

1959 Vauxhall Velox PA
Whereas the Vauxhalls' C-pillars are similar to those on ...

1958 Chevrolet Biscayne Sedan
1958 Chevrolet and Pontiac four-door sedans had this window treatment.

Monday, September 6, 2021

1950s Passenger Car Round Rear Wheel Openings

The late-1930s car body transition to more streamlined, envelope-type shapes served to eliminate once-common fully-exposed rear wheels.  At first, rear wheel openings might be covered by "spats."  By the 1940s and beyond, rear wheels usually were at least partly exposed, but not completely.  And when they were not fully covered, openings were not round.

Round openings follow the "form follows function" belief system of early modernist architects and industrial designers.  They usually look nice, and are seen occasionally today on cars such as the 2005 and later Chrysler 300 sedans.

There were only a few early-mid 1950s American examples of round rear wheel openings on passenger cars.  These are the subject of this post.  Sports cars are not dealt with.  Images are of cars for sale unless noted.


1950 Lancia Aurelia B10
A number of Italian sports cars from around 1950 had round rear wheel openings, but these were rare on sedans.  The Lancia pictured here does have them.

1951 Chrysler K-310
Chrysler's Virgil Exner was a fan of Italian automobile styling, and used round wheel openings on this, his first concept car.

1953 Packard Caribbean
Packard's Caribbean convertible was one of the first American production passenger cars to have rounded openings.  But only for the 1953 model year.

1953 Buick Skylark - Mecum auction photo
Buick's sporty line-leading convertible for '53 was the Skylark.  It too has round rear wheel openings.

1954 Buick Super Riviera hardtop coupe - Mecum
General Motors launched a sensational (at the time) futuristic 1954 redesign for Oldsmobiles, Buicks and Cadillacs.  Only Buick hardtops and convertibles received round openings.

1955 Buick Century 4-door hardtop
When Buick offered a four-door hardtop the following year on Specials and Centurys, they too got round openings.  The same applied in 1956 on Super and Roadmaster four-door hardtops.

1955 Imperial 4-door sedan
Chrysler's Imperial brand cars all had round rear wheel openings for the 1955 and 1956 model years.  As best I can tell, the only American four-door sedans of that era with that feature were Imperials.

Thursday, September 2, 2021

From Wood to Steel: General Motors Station Wagons Circa 1950

This is one of a series about the circa-1950 transition of American station wagons from wood to all-metal construction.

This post features General Motors brands.  GM's first all-metal station wagons began to appear during the 1949 model year on Chevrolets, Pontiacs, and Oldsmobile 76s. These cars used the GM entry-level A-body.  Olds dropped station wagons after 1950 when its entire line was based on B and C bodies.

Buick built part-woodie station wagons for its senior Super and Roadmaster lines through the 1953 model year: the 1954 redesign was all-metal.


1947 Chevrolet Fleetmaster Station Wagon - Bonhams auction photo
An example of a General Motors A-body station wagon before GM's post- World War 2 redesigned cars appeared.

1947 Chevrolet Fleetmaster Station Wagon
Construction is typical of American wagons of that era: note the non-metal roof.

1947 Chevrolet Fleetmaster Station Wagon
Rear quarter view.

1949 Chevrolet DeLuxe Woodie Station Wagon - Bonhams
Redesigned '49 Chevy Woodies had a lot less wood than those pictured in previous images.

1949 Chevrolet DeLuxe Woodie Station Wagon
A tell-tale is the shape of framing above the rear fender.

1949 Chevrolet DeLuxe Woodie Station Wagon
That wood framing is angular.

1949 Chevrolet Styleline DeLuxe Station Wagon brochure page
But 1949 all-metal Chevy wagons featured curved "framing" that was actually stamped steel covered by wood-imitating decals.

1950 Chevrolet Station Wagon - for-sale photo
Here is an example from 1950.

1949 Pontiac Station Wagon - for sale
This Pontiac puzzles me.  The panel above the rear fender is the stamped steel type shown in the Chevrolet images above.  But the tailgate area looks like it's mostly wooden.

1949 Pontiac Station Wagon
Interior view of the car above showing woodwork.

1951 Pontiac Station Wagon - Hyman consignment photo
By 1951, Pontiac station wagons were clearly all-metal, as can be seen here.  The "wood" is actually decal-work.

1949 Buick Roadmaster Station Wagon - for sale
This postwar redesigned C-body GM station wagon has a metal roof and wood framing in the cargo area.

1949 Buick Roadmaster Station Wagon
This is more clearly shown in the rear quarter view photo.

1950 Buick Super Station Wagon - Barrett-Jackson auction photo
Buicks got redesigned bodies for 1950.  However, the station wagon tailgate is quite similar to that of 1949.  Wooden sides are shaped to accommodate the new fenderline.

1953 Buick Roadmaster Station Wagon - Mecum auction photo
The last of GM Woodie wagons.