Thursday, December 12, 2013

First G.M. Fenders Over the Front Door

The 1930s and 40s were a period of automobile styling evolution, as I explain in my book on the subject.  During that period, General Motors was both sales and style leader of the American automobile industry.  Styling director Harley Earl famously asserted that he wanted GM's cars to either become lower and longer or at least give the appearance of being so.  He was careful not to push his design goal in large leaps, favoring smaller steps.

One example of this is the fender line.  Earl's goal here, as it was for many other stylists, was to merge fenders into the overall body shape, having them extend from front to rear rather than being discrete elements.  The first step he took was to have his stylists change the basic front fender from a "teardrop" curved shape to a more squared-off "suitcase" form.  The following step was to move the rear of the suitcase fender from in front of the front door opening to a point over the door itself.  This took some engineering work on body panels and door hinging, but by the late 1930s these problems had been solved and extended fenders could now appear on General Motors production cars.


1938 Buick Y-Job concept car
That's Harley Earl himself in the driver's seat of GM's first true concept car, the Buick Y-Job of 1938.  The over-the-door front fender is clearly visible.

1941 Cadillac Sixty Special
American buyers first encountered production extended front fenders of the Y-Job variety on the 1941 Cadillac Sixty Special.  The body dates from the 1938 model year and had been extensively facelifted by 1941.

1942 Oldsmobile B-44
The 1942 model year saw this fender concept throughout the rest of GM's line, though some Buick models featured front fenders that extended so far that they touched the rear fenders.

1942 Pontiac
Another example of extended fenders.  Surely another case where American cars took the styling lead in those days.

1939 Opel Kapitän publicity material
Actually, no.  Earl's extended fenders first appeared in production on General Motors' 1939 Opel Kapitän.  This might have been intended as a trial run by GM management.  In any case, Earl is known to have sent Frank Hershey, one of his ace stylists, over to Germany and Opel, perhaps with this fender styling concept in mind.

Opel Kapitän
Here is a photo of a 1939 Kapitän showing what the car really looked like, because the publicity illustrations above are clearly distorted.


Unknown said...

The Opel Kapitan seems to also have had some Cord influence. The treatment of the grill and hood, especially in the publicity picture, bears a striking resemblance to Gordon Beuhrig's Cord 810.

Tom Kelly said...

The lower part of the Cord's grille bulged out to accommodate the FWD differential. The Opel's does the same, but for no apparent reason.