Friday, October 5, 2012

11 Design Innovations of Harley Earl

Sports Cars The wraparound windshield is just one of Harley Earl's many innovations.

Harley Earl, generally considered the father of American automotive design, was born in Los Angeles, California, in 1893. In the late 1920's, Earl's design talent caught the eye of General Motors Chairman Alfred Sloan, who offered him a position directing the styling of all GM car lines. Earl accepted, moved to Detroit, and soon wielded unprecedented control over GM's new product development.

During Earl's 31-year career with the company, General Motors reigned supreme as an industry leader. Under his direction, designers and stylists pioneered countless innovations which propelled the company to the forefront of automotive design.

1. The Auto-Styling Studio

Prior to Earl's arrival in Detroit, cars were designed almost entirely by engineers who often showed little talent for attractive, cohesive forms. The Art and Colour Section (which Earl later renamed Styling) changed all that. GM's new division revolutionized the auto industry, and rival manufacturers soon developed styling studios of their own. A car's appearance became just as important as its mechanicals in Detroit's new product development process.

2. The Wraparound Windshield

The groundbreaking 1951 LeSabre concept car boasted an innovative new windshield design in which the glass curved sharply at the ends to meet the windshield pillars. This gave a futuristic look and a panoramic view. The design soon saw production on the 1953 Cadillac Eldorado and the 1953 Oldsmobile Fiesta, and it quickly became de rigueur on most American cars in the 1950's.

3. Model-Line Hierarchy

One of GM Chairman Alfred Sloan's great innovations was a model-line hierarchy of increasing price and status. The idea was that General Motors would have an appropriate product for consumers at each level of the automotive marketplace, and consumers would aspire to the next rung up the GM product ladder. Harley Earl's work dovetailed perfectly with this strategy, as he designed a natural progression of increasing style and prestige into Chevrolets, Pontiacs, Oldsmobiles, Buicks, and Cadillacs.

4. The Dream Car

Earl popularized the idea of the "dream car," or concept car, a one-off, non-production vehicle built for auto-show display. Earl's dazzling, futuristic dream cars forecast tomorrow's styling innovations and whet the car-hungry public's appetite for the "next big thing" in automotive design. Public reaction to the new designs was also used to gauge the popularity of future production models. Earl's 1938 Buick "Y-Job" was the first full-fledged dream car.

5. Clay Modeling

Even before he arrived at General Motors, Earl was a pioneer in the concept of taking a design from a two-dimensional drawing to a three-dimensional form by producing clay models of his creations. The use of clay as a modeling tool greatly simplified and sped up the design process by allowing designers to visualize shapes and forms that were difficult and time-consuming to create in steel.

6. Dagmars

Among the 1951 LeSabre dream car's many design innovations were large, bullet-shaped bumper guards. These protrusions, which were nicknamed "Dagmars" after a buxom TV personality of the day, became standard styling flourishes on 1950's Cadillacs.

7. The Chevrolet Corvette

Harley Earl put more than 45,000 miles on the LeSabre show car, using it as his personal car and driving it to automotive events. In September 1951, Earl took the LeSabre to a sports car race at Watkins Glen, New York. Seeing the passion these enthusiasts had for their cars, most of which were imported, Earl decided America needed an affordable sports car of its own. The Corvette debuted at the New York Motorama in January 1953, and the rest is history.

8. Integrated Body Design

When Harley Earl first started out in automotive design, cars were a hodgepodge of disparate parts. Earl visualized a car as a cohesive whole and designed individual components so they would harmonize with the overall design of the car.

9. Tailfins

Earl was infatuated with aircraft design motifs and loved incorporating them into automotive designs. In particular, the twin-boom tail of the Lockheed P-38 Lightning caught his eye. The 1948 Cadillac was the first production car to receive these ornamental appendages, which sparked a trend that culminated in the skyrocketing fins of the 1959 Cadillac. Tailfins became more subdued each year and had mostly disappeared by the mid-1960's.

10. Copious Chrome

Chrome trim was a simple way to add visual pizazz to cars, and Harley Earl was a master at effectively using this automotive bling. However, he eventually took the "more is better" approach, and by 1958, GM designers had gone overboard, piling on the brightwork until cars looked like gaudy, chrome-encrusted chariots. Detroit began toning down the chrome soon after.

11. Rear-Mounted Television Cameras

Earl loved automotive gadgetry. In place of rear view mirrors, the 1956 Buick Centurion show car boasted a functional TV camera that transmitted the rear view to a small screen on the dashboard. Rear view cameras that supplement rear view mirrors began showing up on SUV's and large luxury cars in the early 2000's. Earl was definitely ahead of his time.

Source: Internet

What Is An Art Deco Car?

The cars of the Art Deco era featured swooping fenders, long hoods, and highly streamlined shapes.

Art Deco was an artistic movement that dominated nearly every form of creative expression in the period between World War I and World War II. From the Chrysler Building to furniture to paintings and advertisements, Art Deco brought about a new era of style that combined extravagance with simplicity and functionality.

That design language extended to automobiles as well, particularly the ultra-expensive cars from Europe in the 1930's. While much of the world suffered through the Great Depression, there remained a class of people untouched by a struggling economy and they demanded their automobiles -- still a relatively rare and expensive thing to own at the time -- have a level of opulence that reflected the spirit of the times.

Fortunately for them, that decade was one where car companies like Delahaye, Delage, Talbot-Lago, Voisin and Bugatti existed specifically to produce incredible machines that average people could only dream of owning. And coachbuilders like Chapron, Figoni et Falaschi, Gangloff, Vanvooren and others were there to produce stunning bodies for those cars that are considered inspiring even today [source: Garrett].

The cars of the Art Deco era featured swooping fenders, long hoods, and highly streamlined shapes. Unlike the cars of today, they weren't just about simple transportation -- they were about making bold statements and high style. These styling cues spilled over to more affordable American cars as well, like the now-famous Chrysler Airflow.

In this article we'll journey back to an extravagant and optimistic time when outrageous cars ruled the world. We'll learn about the Art Deco movement, the impact it had on automobiles, and where some of the most eye-catching cars of all time are today.

What is art deco?

This is the 1948 Tasco automobile prototype. Only one of these cars were ever built. The design was borried from the airplanes of that time.

Before we learn about Art Deco cars, let's learn about the artistic movement itself. The term refers to the stylistic changes that occurred to nearly every visual medium -- paintings, architecture, and even appliances -- in the period between the two world wars and a number of years after.

The movement originated in Paris and was an outgrowth of the previous Art Nouveau style, which was popular around the turn of the 20th century and was characterized by excessive decorations, organic motifs of flowers and plants and highly stylized curved forms.

When it emerged in the 1920's and 1930's, Art Deco represented a simplified version of Art Nouveau styling. These designs had distinct geometric shapes, clean lines, bright colors and were very streamlined. Art Deco designs are visually striking but simplistic. It tended to characterize luxury goods, a response to the austerity brought on by World War I and in-line with the excesses of the roaring 1920's. They also incorporated motifs from ancient cultures like Egypt and the Aztec empire.

Since the interwar period was a time of tremendous urban growth, Art Deco designs characterize many famous buildings, including the Empire State Building, the Radio City Music Hall and the Chrysler Building in New York City. Los Angeles and Miami sport countless examples of Art Deco as well -- it was extremely popular during the era of "Old Hollywood."

Art Deco furniture was aimed at the high luxury market and was characterized by rounded shapes, simplistic designs, and high-quality woods, metals and leathers. They were designed to be both modern and functional.

The Art Deco style began its decline in the 1940's as the world once again went to war and the aesthetic changed, but its influences continued through the decade. In addition, there have been several attempts at its revival and it continues to capture imaginations today.

Many of the Art Deco era cars were like land-going yachts for the very rich, so they featured massive engines, swooping fenders, big round headlights and lots of chrome.

What were the art deco cars?

Art Deco became popular in the 1920's and 1930's because of its simple yet grand expressions of style. The automobiles of that era were no different -- they were exciting and sexy, not meant to be just ordinary transportation.

Vehicles today classified as Art Deco cars were often two-door coupes and roadsters with long hoods and small, rounded-off trunks. They featured long, swooping fenders over the wheels, round headlights and lots of chrome. Another important design characteristic was streamlining -- cars with smooth, sleek curves that appeared to be speeding, even when standing still.

They hail from the era of coach building -- a process where one company, like Bugatti, would make a naked chassis and engine and another company would custom-design and build the surrounding body and interior to the owner's exact specifications.

Some great examples of Art Deco cars were the high-end ones made in France, the home of the artistic movement. Many of these cars were like land-going yachts for the very rich, so they featured massive engines. They include the Hispano-Suiza J12 Cabriolet, which had a 9.0-liter 12-cylinder aircraft-based engine, the Delahaye 165 convertible -- which also packed a V-12 and the Delage D8-120 Cabriolet, which cost $200,000 at a time when an average American home cost about $3,800 [source: Garrett].

But Art Deco cars weren't limited to just hyper-luxury. Eventually, the movement began inspiring the bodywork on more affordable cars. The Chrysler Airflow was designed with this style in mind; it featured a flowing shape with rounded fenders and a curved "waterfall" grille. While sales of the car weren't very successful -- the exotic styling may have been a little to ostentatious for average buyers -- the car today is considered a design classic.

1953 Pontiac Chiefton

Today, cars from the Art Deco era can command extremely high premiums at auctions if they're confirmed to be the real thing and are in excellent shape.

Where are the art deco cars today?

Art Deco was an influential style during the 1920's and 1930's, but styles change and evolve, so Art Deco cars didn't stick around forever. Styling moved away from the glamorous and gregarious and towards more conservative designs as the decades went on. As for the cars themselves, they have become incredibly rare today; after all, many of the Bugattis and Delahayes were made in limited numbers in their heyday. Also, many of the vehicles and their manufacturers did not survive World War II.

Today, cars from that era can command extremely high premiums at auctions if they're confirmed to be the real thing and are in excellent shape. In 2008, a 1937 Bugatti 57SC went for nearly $8 million at auction.

Many of the surviving cars from the Art Deco era now call museums home. One of the premier museums is the Mullin Automotive Museum, whose mission is to celebrate the French cars of the 1930's. The collection was assembled by Peter Mullin, a Los Angeles businessman, and features some of the cars and motorcycles owned by former Los Angeles Times publisher and auto enthusiast Otis Chandler.

Mullin's museum, located in Oxnard, Calif., includes a 1934 Voisin C27 Grand Sport Cabriolet once owned by the Shah of Persia, a restored 1938 Delahaye 165 convertible and a gorgeous burgundy 1938 Talbot-Lago T150C SS Speciale Teardrop Coupe.

In some ways, forms of Art Deco styling exist today. The Bugatti Veyron supercar has the curves and eye-catching design of its predecessors, but those details are mainly there to help the car achieve 200-mile per hour (321.9-kilometer per hour) speeds.

In addition, recent cars like the Chrysler PT Cruiser have styling cues that harken back to the Art Deco years. They aren't nearly extravagant as those cars, however. The era of opulence responsible for the vehicles that left the factories of Delahaye and Panhard is likely gone forever.

Source: Internet

The 1964-1966 Imperial

New straight-edged styling for 1964 resulted in a clean, stately look for the Imperial.

The 1964-1966 Imperial was part of a move by Chrysler in the first half of the 1960's where it dispensed with design and engineering heroics in favor of careful market planning, unified "committee control" at the top, more conservative styling, and vast -- sometimes rash -- expansion.

To his credit, president Lynn Townsend had smoothed the turbulent waters of the Tex Colbert/ Bill Newberg administrations, and began concentrating on the business of making money. If a trend away from Chrysler's innovation and independence during the 1950's could be seen in all this, no one was complaining. After all, Chrysler was giving the public what it wanted.

The 1964 Imperials were the first models designed by someone other than Virgil Exner since Imperial had become a separate make in 1955. The "someone" was Elwood Engel, who had come over from Ford to replace Exner in 1961, and who had begun to influence surface styling of Chrysler products as early as 1963.

Engel drastically revised the 1964 Imperial line. The old silhouette was now eliminated below the beltline, as well as above (the transformation had begun with a different roofline in 1963). The car was squared off, very much like the Lincoln Continental with which Engel had been closely associated. Like the Continental, its fenderline was traced in brightwork and there were lots of square corners. A divided grille was adopted, and Exner's freestanding headlamps summarily dropped. The rear deck was revised, not quite eliminating Exner's spare tire outline.

The Custom Imperial line was canceled, leaving the Crown as the base model and the LeBaron the most expensive. Also dropped as unnecessary was the "Southampton" designation for pillarless models -- all Imperials were hardtops, except the convertible. The Crown Imperial limousine built by Ghia in Italy was available with either six or four side windows, and continued on the special 149½ Winch wheelbase.

Imperial had an excellent year with over 23,000 1964 Imperials built, 65 percent better than 1963 and the second best year on record. Under Engel, a Lincolnesque design philosophy had emerged: the luxury car, Engel said, should not suffer the indignity of a comprehensive annual restyle. Like Mercedes (and Elwood's own Continentals) Imperial design now merely evolved; it did not change significantly from one year to the next.

The 1965 Imperial gained a one-piece grille with covers over the headlights.

The 1964, 1965, and 1966 Imperial evolved gradually. The only major change for the 1965 Imperial was a new grille with glass-enclosed quad headlamps. At the New York Automobile Show, Imperial displayed the exotic LeBaron D'Or show car, which used gold striping and embellishments, and was painted a special Royal Essence Laurel Gold. Prices rose a couple hundred dollars and the model lineup was unchanged.

Ghia of Turin stopped building Crown Imperial limousines in 1965, though 10 were constructed in Spain for 1966, using grilles and rear decks from that model. Starting in 1967, Imperial arranged to have the limousine built domestically. Production during 1964-1966 was only 10 units per year.

Again in 1966, an evolutionary approach produced a line of Crowns and LeBarons that closely resembled the design of 1964 and 1965. The changes did make 1966 one of the most beautiful Imperials, and probably the cleanest and most understated of them all.

The split grille of past models was replaced by an oblong unit that framed multiple rectangles. The rear deck was smoothed off, finally eliminating the ungainly looking bird emblem and tire cover outline. Wheelbase and overall length were unchanged. The previous 413-cid V-8 was replaced by Chrysler's new 440, which was rated at 350 bhp, 10 more than 1964-1965.

Comfort was the name of the game, and even rear-seat Imperial passengers sat in the lap of luxury.

The 1966 Imperial was the last with a separate body and frame, and thus marked the end of the Imperial's different construction method compared to other Chrysler products. After 1966, Imperials would share the Chrysler unit body, and gradually they became more and more like a luxury version of the Chrysler.

To management's disappointment, Imperial had never really established itself as a separate make, and most people still referred to it as a "Chrysler Imperial." This image problem made it difficult to rival Lincoln, let alone Cadillac. Production tailed downward, with only about 18,000 1965 Imperials built and fewer than 14,000 of the lovely 1966 Imperials. Convertibles were extremely low volume cars, the figures being 922, 633, and 514 for 1964 through 1966, respectively.

The 1964 Imperial sold over 23,000 units, 65 percent better than sales in 1963.

Despite a drastic restyling, the 1964, 1965, and 1966 Imperial never quite established itself as a unique entity like Ford's Lincoln.

The 1964-1970 Imperial Crown was the base Imperial series in these years, and more popular than the LeBaron up through 1968.

Chrysler's new head stylist, ex-Ford designer Elwood Engel, favored crisp, conservative lines instead of Virgil Exner's baroque curves, and the 1964-66 Imperials are similar in overall theme to Engel's square-cut 1961 Lincoln Continental. To provide extra quietness and road noise isolation in its flagship models, Chrysler retained separate body/frame construction through 1966.

Imperial was then redesigned around a unit body/chassis and a shorter wheelbase. It was, in fact, quite similar to then-current Chryslers except for its less sculptured outer body panels. The similarity increased on the "fuselage-styled" 1969's, by which time Imperial was on the decline as a major luxury-market competitor despite a sizeable drop in prices.

The trend continued into the 1970's, until Imperial ceased as a separate make after 1975. The 1976 was nothing more than a Chrysler New Yorker with Imperial nameplates. The name was then dormant until 1981, when it was revived for a high-roller personal-luxury coupe based on the mid-size Chrysler Cordoba/LeBaron platform.

Pluses of the 1964-1970 Imperial Crown:

Good supply 1964-1970 Imperial Crown

Convertible's strong appreciation potential

Smooth highway performance

Minuses of the 1964-1970 Imperial Crown:

Indifferent fit and finish

Very gas-hoggish

Too big for some

Production of the 1964-1970 Imperial Crown:

1964: 2d htp 5,233; 4d htp 14,181; conv 922
1965: 2d htp 3,974; 4d htp 11,628; conv 633
1966: 2d htp 2,373; 4d htp 8,977; conv 514
1967: 2d htp 3,225; 4d htp 9,415; conv 577 4d sdn 2,193
1968: 2d htp 2,656; 4d htp 8,492; conv 474 4d sdn 1,887
1969: 2d htp 224; 4d htp 823; 4d sdn 1,617
1970: 2d htp 254; 4d htp 1,333; 4d sdn 1,617

Specifications of the 1964-1970 Imperial Crown:

Length, inches: 227.8 (1964-66), 224.7 (1967-68), 229.7 (1969- 70)
Wheelbase, inches: 129.0 (1964-66), 127.0 (1967-70)
Weight, pounds: 4,555-5,345
Price, new: $5,374-6,497

Engines for the 1964-1970 Imperial Crown:

Type Size Horsepower Years

ohv V-8 413/ 440 340/350/360 1964-1970

Source: Internet

1960-1963 Imperial

For 1960, Chrysler introduced the first of its "third wave" of 1960-1963 Imperials since the regally named luxury car stepped out as a separate marque in 1955. Carrying through the 1963 model year, these Imperials had some heavy lifting to do. Much was at stake. To appreciate how much, a look at Chrysler's situation at the close of the Fifties is in order.

While other Chryslers shifted to unitized construction for 1960, Imperial retained body-on-frame assembly.

1960 was a critical year for the Chrysler Corporation. Although styling vice president Virgil Exner's high-finned 1957 offerings had shocked the competition, wowed the public, and boosted Chrysler's market share to nearly 20 percent, the gains were only temporary.

Build quality was lamentably haphazard, and owner dissatisfaction with indifferent workmanship, snapping front torsion bars, and rusting bodies caused the corporation's overall market share to sag to just 11.3 percent in 1959.

To regain lost momentum and recapture lost customers, Chrysler's 1960 models were completely restyled and re-engineered at a tooling cost of $350 million. Even the way the cars were built was changed; most of Chrysler's new models employed unitized body construction, abandoning the conventional body-on-frame approach in the expectation that building more durable products -- billed as "The Quick, the Strong and the Quiet" -- would reassure customers who were still driving the rust-plagued 1957's.

There were also major marketing and product-planning changes afoot. As part of a long-term goal of developing a Plymouth-only dealer network, the Plymouth franchise was withdrawn from Dodge dealers. They instead received a new low-priced car named the Dart. The corporation was also introducing its initial entry in the burgeoning compact class, the Valiant.

Almost lost amidst the hoopla of the corporation's 1960-model press preview at Miami Beach's Hotel Fontainebleau was the fact that the company was also bringing to market a restyled Imperial, the "third wave" in its effort to gain a secure standing in the American luxury-car market. The true significance of this newest Imperial was, however, both unnoticed and unappreciated by the automotive press of the day.

From 1955 through 1959, Chrysler had carefully nurtured and groomed the Imperial. After testing the market for a standard-wheelbase Imperial in the early Fifties, Chrysler made its move. As the 1955 "Forward Look" Imperials were being introduced, the corporation sent letters to the licensing registrars of the various states informing them that beginning in 1955, the Imperial was to be registered as a separate make, and no longer as a Chrysler.

This "inaugural" Imperial was appropriately impressive, causing assemblies to double over what they had been in 1954. As good as these cars were, they were still umbilically linked to Chryslers, sharing the same basic body substructure, roof, windshield, backlight -- even the same instrument panel. Moreover, the Imperial's distinctive divided grille had, in mid 1955, been appropriated for use on the Chrysler 300.

But in 1957, everything changed. Designed by former Briggs Body stylist Bill Brownlie and Exner's alter ego, Cliff Voss, the 1957 Imperial, had nothing in common with Chrysler save the drivetrain. Like a butterfly emerged from its cocoon, every bit of exterior sheetmetal, every piece of interior trim was unique to Imperial, including roofs that employed curved side glass, a first for an American car.

With its long, tapering fins rising majestically over a sloping "Flight Sweep" decklid, the 1957 Imperial was a real stunner. A full line of body types, including a swanky convertible, and a choice of trim levels was now available.

Bringing this unique Imperial to market was an expensive and risky undertaking, but Chrysler felt it had to make the move if it wanted to compete successfully with archrivals Cadillac and Lincoln. The effort was amply rewarded as Imperial production well more than tripled to 35,793 for the model year.

Encouraged by this meteoric rise, Chrysler began making big plans for Imperial's seemingly promising future. The corporation committed to an Imperial-only assembly plant, a separate facility that could be dedicated to producing luxury automobiles for demanding and well-heeled customers. Given that Imperial now had little in common with Chrysler, a cogent argument could be made for manufacturing the Imperial in another plant.

The company chose to refit the DeSoto engine and body plant on West Warren Avenue in Dearborn, Michigan, just outside the Detroit city limits. Built in 1925 for Jewett assembly by the Paige-Detroit Motor Car Company, the plant had been acquired by Chrysler in 1946 from that company's successor, Graham-Paige.

Since the plant had not assembled complete automobiles since erecting the final Cord-bodied Graham Hollywoods in September 1940, everything inside the plant had to be redone. This included the installation of a modern assembly line, nearly four miles of conveyor systems, an up-to-date body shop, and six paint ovens.

With an enclosed area of more than 1 million square feet and a work force of 2,000 employees, the revamped plant had a capacity of a leisurely 27 cars an hour -- about 52,000 units a year based on a single eight-hour shift. Beginning with the 1959 model year, Imperials began rolling out of Warren Avenue.

Imperial's prospects looked good; production, however, was faltering. Just 16,133 units were built in the 1958 model year, followed by an equally discouraging 17,269 cars in 1959. The weak showing in '58 was attributed to the economic recession, and production of 1959's was hindered by strikes at steel and glass suppliers. But sooner or later, Imperial had to make good on its promise.

The 1955-56 Imperials established the nameplate as a separate marque; the 1957-59 Imperials gained more distinction in styling and manufacturing; the "third wave" for 1960 and beyond would have to build successfully upon this foundation.

Characteristics of the New Imperial

What kind of automobile was this critical new 1960-1963 Imperial? In a phrase, the same, only different. Body-on-frame construction was retained. Since the Imperial was now manufactured in its own plant, there was no compelling need to convert to unitized construction, which would have required an expensive revamping of the Warren Avenue factory that had just been refitted to build body-on-frame vehicles.

From a product standpoint, a quiet and smooth ride was paramount in a luxury car, and many automotive engineers felt that keeping the body and frame as separate entities allowed the vehicle occupants to be better isolated from unwelcome noise, vibration, and harshness that could more easily be communicated to the passengers in a unitized body.

Then, too, Lincoln's less-than-satisfactory experience with the design and manufacture of its 1958-1960 unitized behemoths suggested that there might be a size frontier that unitized bodies should not cross.

There was also no perceived need to change the drop-center frame, chassis components, drivetrain, and suspension. The 129-inch wheelbase, in use since 1957, was retained, as was the 350- horsepower, 413-cid V-8. Built in a plant in Trenton, Michigan, it was Chrysler's most advanced V-8 design, featuring open-wedge combustion chambers, stamped-steel rocker arms, a deep-skirt cylinder block, and rigid forged crankshaft with large journal overlaps.

To handle the engine's power, Imperials were fitted with the A-466 variant of the corporation's famed TorqueFlite transmission, generally conceded to be the best three-speed automatic on the market.

The highly touted Torsion-Aire suspension was also carried over. The early problem of snapping front torsion bars was quickly solved and Torsion-Aire proved to be highly satisfactory, with a no-squat/no-dip ride and outstanding handling. Rear suspension featured outboard-mounted rear springs, with Imperials having an additional spring-like strut attached to both axle and frame to provide resistance to rear-axle torque and body roll.

The body was secured to the frame via 22 alloy-steel attaching bolts. The expensive-to-revise cowl structure was retained, as were the wraparound windshield, side-glass planes, and door hinge points, although the front-door hinge pillars and rear-door locking pillars were reinforced. Also carried over were the series designations: Custom, Crown, and LeBaron. For the fortunate few, there was also the Ghia-built Crown Imperial limousine.

What, exactly, was new about the 1960 Imperial? Basically, its styling. All of the sheetmetal was new, as were the roofs. Fins were still prominent, of course, though no longer long and tapering. Instead, they were rudderlike, rising more abruptly from a point just below the C-pillars of closed cars and angling forward in side view.

In profile, they had a vague -- and unsettling -- resemblance to the Plymouth fins of 1957-1959. It was one thing for Plymouth to borrow styling cues from big-brother Imperial, but it was entirely another thing for Imperial to seemingly borrow something from the lesser Plymouth.

The reason for these more-abrupt fins lay in Exner's desire to begin to subtly change the design emphasis of the car from the rear, where it had been since the first fins of 1956, to the front. Like an arrow, where the abrupt feathers at the rear give direction to the long shaft, the Imperial's abrupt fins were designed to give the long bodyside that same direction and purpose.

To heighten the effect, the fenders were extended 2.1 inches farther beyond the front wheels while the rear bumper was tucked 2.1 inches closer to the rear wheels. At 226.3 inches, however, overall length remained the same as in 1959.

Much of the styling of the 1960 Imperial was the work of a very talented designer and assistant studio manager named Fred Hudson. The bodyside was fairly simple, its distinguishing feature being an elegantly sculpted character line that began at the headlight brows and fell gently to a point a few inches above the rear bumper. The author remembers the late Bill Brownlie, head of the Imperial Studio when the 1960 and 1961 models were being done, describing with admiration how Hudson and talented clay modelers like Jim Romeo pulled that off. The character line was highlighted by a thin, bright molding flowing from the headlight brows while additional trim was restricted to discreet sill and wheel-lip moldings.

Up front, the 1960 Imperial had a V-shaped front bumper, as did every other Chrysler product in 1960 save the Valiant. Obviously, this was at the request of Exner, who saw the V-shape as a way of departing from the usually obligatory horizontal bumper bar. On the Imperial, the upwardly angled bumper "wings" wrapped around the side to the front wheel openings. They did not, however, meet in the center; instead they were separated by a thin horizontal bar that formed the upper part of the license-plate housing.

Above the bumper, and leaning slightly rearward, was a finely textured diecast grille set flush with both the edge of the longer hood and the fender sides. The grille was "signed" on the driver's side by an Imper­­ial script. The grille was an improve­ment over the heavy-handed "ice-cube tray" element used in 1959. But, in truth, no Imperial grille ever had quite the same commanding presence as the divided box check of 1955-1956. Regrettably, this potential signature cue was cast aside, leaving Imperial stylists to invent something new every year.

Imperial Aesthetics

The front end the 1960 Imperial should have had was that of the beautifully worked out visage of the 1958 Imperial d'Elegance idea car, with its handsome undercut bumper-grille, above which were sculpted brows set over concealed headlamp doors.

Apparently, this front was considered (with variations) for both the 1960 and 1961 Imperial, but, regrettably, both the cost and the problematic engineering of the hidden lamps precluded their use. Instead, exposed dual headlamps were provided, chrome-ringed and set under "eyebrows" accented by miniature Imperial crests.

Cloth upholstery and manually operated window
cranks were standard on 1961 Customs.

Regarding the prominent spread-eagle ornament on the hood, Hudson wrote in a November 2001 letter to the author: "Inci­dentally, the eagle strapped to the hood of the 1960 was referred to as 'Mt. Exmore.' I can still feel [Exner] hovering while our clay modelers let me do the unthinkable -- actually work on the clay -- a big union no-no!" This was characteristic of "Ex", who was always very particular about his Imperial eagles.

Out back, a variant of the front bumper was employed, save that the "wings" were horizontal. As before, two iterations of the sloping decklid were offered -- plain, with a long central molding terminating in a lift handle; and fancy, with a more refined version of the optional "Flight Sweep" decklid with its implied spare-tire cover. A rectangular, flush-mounted center-fill fuel door was an improvement over the incongruously inelegant round gas cap used previously.

The taillights were suitably impressive. Flowing out of tapered nacelles near the fin tops and extending dramatically beyond the fins, each projectile-shaped red lens was set off by a "floating" chrome ring connected to the lens by three axial fins, these latest iterations of Imper­ial's signature "gun sight" taillights.

Rooflines were also new, based on the Southampton hardtop canopy roofs of 1957-1959. But instead of arcing across the roof to the opposite pillar, a slightly raised portion flowed up from each C-pillar and then forward to the windshield. Outlined by a curvaceous chrome molding and bordered by the drip rail, the resultant longitudinal areas above the side windows were body color on most cars save the LeBaron, where satin-finish stainless-steel accent panels were fitted.

This treatment was optional on both Custom and Crown models, as was the choice of an accent color. The six-window sedan of 1957-1959, with its distinctive fast-sloping roofline, was gone as the four-door sedans now shared the roof of the four-door Southampton.

In an effort to further separate it from lesser Imperials, the lordly LeBaron was distinguished by a custom-looking "limousine" rectangular rear window of just 802 square inches, barely half the size of the standard backlight, giving rear-seat passengers increased privacy. This treatment was dramatically showcased in a double-page black-and-white ad in the April 1960 issue of Holiday magazine.

Looking from behind and above the light-colored LeBaron Southampton, the camera captured the richly elegant, sculptural qualities of the body as the metal -- unsullied by the vulgarity of a vinyl covering -- flowed seamlessly from the roof to the broad C-pillars, encapsulating the tailored rear window before surrounding the decklid and then soaring up onto the fins. Seamlessly in a literal sense as well, since all of the requisite body seams were laboriously lead-filled and hand-smoothed so as to completely disappear. Expensive, time-consuming, and labor intensive, this never to be repeated "Imperial moment" was confined to the mere 1691 LeBarons built for 1960, making them exclusive in both appearance and in number.

Inside, Imperial owners were treated to an instrument panel that in concept had much in common with the 1957-1958 dash. Enormous bright-ringed twin circular dials contained the speedometer and the lesser gauges, with oversize, easy-to-read numerals that would have delighted the AARP had it existed in 1960.

The instruments were lit with the Chrysler's new and innovative glare-free electroluminescent lighting, which eliminated conventional bulbs. On either side of the dials were placed the transmission and heater/air-conditioner pushbuttons, arranged vertically. The instrument panel was padded, top and bottom, and separated on the passenger side by a concave satin-textured aluminum panel. Oval shaped, the new steering wheel sported a vinyl-covered center pad, triangular in plan view.

Interior stylists under the direction of Tom Bingman lavished much time and care on ancillary details such as the accessory control knobs, door handles, power-window switch bezels, seat side shields, and window-surround moldings. They had a freedom to use brightwork unavailable to today's interior designers. It must be remembered that while TorqueFlite, power steering, and power brakes were standard equipment, such items as Auto-Pilot (an early cruise-control system); air conditioning (front or dual); tinted windows; power door locks; and, on Customs, power windows, were still considered options. Of the 16,477 Imper­ials equipped with power windows in 1960, 5,198 also had power vent windows, offered for the first time.

A limited number of 1960 Imperials were fitted with an alternator, displacing the customary generator. Designed and built by Chrysler, the more-efficient alternator appeared initially on the first Valiant, but became standard equipment on all the company's cars starting in 1961.

In common with most other 1960 Chrysler products, the Imperial featured the new High-Tower seat with the driver-side back individually contoured and raised above of the rest of the front seat for increased driver comfort and shoulder support. Swiveling outboard front seats, introduced in 1959 and designed to improve ingress/egress, continued to be optional, with 4,548 takers.

Problems for the 1960 Imperial

Each of the three series of the 1960 Imperial featured a unique seat-trim style with up to five interior color choices in Jacquard cloth, cloth-and-leather, and all-leather combinations. On the LeBaron four-door sedan and Southampton hardtop sedan (like the Cadillac Sixty Special, no two-doors were offered), owners had the choice of wool broadcloth or, on the Southampton only, broadcloth with metallic-leather bolsters.

Both iterations were available only in chaste monotones of blue, green, gray, or tan designed to provide a refined atmosphere of restful relaxation. Imper­ial called the look "expressive understatement." A pearlescent-white leather interior was also available on the hardtop. Of the 17 exterior colors offered on Imperials, which included Powdered Bronze and two mauves, only 12 were deemed suitably dignified for the LeBarons, which also sported unique wheel covers featuring a five-fin center overlay.

It is said, "If you build it, they will come." While this may apply to carving baseball diamonds out of cornfields in the movies, it most certainly did not apply to the 1960 Imperial. Assemblies rose by only 450 cars, to just 17,719 units (counting Crown Imperial limos). Given that the output of 1959 Imperials had been depressed by the supplier strikes, 1960-model production actually amounted to a decline. Certainly much more was expected, and not without cause.

The playing field had been leveled. Imperial had its own home plant like rivals Cadillac and Lincoln. More importantly, Imperial had the significant advantage of having the newest styling among America's top-three luxury cars. In 1960, Cadillac and Lincoln fielded facelifted cars against a virtually all-new Imperial. The Lincoln and Continental Mark V had the further disadvantage of being at the end of a three-year styling cycle with a vehicle whose size and styling had been largely rejected by the public. Yet, Imperial couldn't match, much less exceed, Lincoln's output of 24,821 vehicles.

What was the problem? Not the build quality. Advertised as "America's Most Carefully Built Car," each Imperial pas­sed 32 quality-control stations, includ­ing a "rain storm in a box" water-test booth located on the final line where each car was subjected to a rainfall equivalent of 252 inches per hour to test for water leaks. Advertisements boasted that "more than six hundred tests and inspections are performed on every car we build."

Exclusive among fine cars, each Imperial off the line was given an individual road test before shipment and driven by specially trained inspec­tors over a variety of road surfaces. What­ever the quality problems of past Imperials, Chrysler was making an enormous effort to correct and eliminate them.

Was it the styling? While the 1960 Imperial was an attractive automobile, some customers, sensing that fins were about to run their course, may have shied away. Indeed, Cadillac, eschewing the outlandish fins and rocket-tube taillights of 1959, trimmed its fins for 1960, making them considerably lower, simpler, and more elegant. Luxury-car customers tend to be conservative; perhaps the look of the 1960 Imperial was a tad "over the top" for some of them.

Additionally, during the year, Chrysler Corporation was generating national headlines as several top officials, including newly appointed president William Newberg, were ousted in a messy conflict-of-interest scandal. These shenanigans were heralded in the Detroit newspapers via front-page headlines in Second-Coming type. Although the company's management scandals caused barely a ripple elsewhere in the country, wealthy potential customers who regularly read The Wall Street Journal or the financial section of their local paper might have felt doubt about buying a car from a company that appeared to be in such unmannered and public disarray.

Was it the name? Despite the company's best efforts, many consumers still referred to the cars as Chrysler Imperials. Potential buyers of "Chrysler" Imperials, which ranged in price from $4,923 to $6,318 for factory-finished models, might not have wanted to be even tangentially associated with a Chrysler Windsor at $3,194. Obviously, Lincoln and Cadillac did not have this problem.

Still, the best likely answer is that many of those 35,000 people who bought Imperials in 1957 were, for whatever reason, sufficiently unhappy with the experience to not return. Sometimes you don't get a second chance, even if it's deserved.

Nineteen sixty-one was a difficult year for Mopar fans. Styling was a mixed bag, with Plymouth shockingly shorn of its fins, Dodge sporting "re­verse" fins, and both the Chrysler and lame-duck DeSoto awkwardly facelifted. During their development, Exner was fighting both ill health and a burgeoning coup in Styling led by William Schmidt and Dick Teague, brought into Chrysler (along with Fred Hudson, Dick Macadam, and others) when Packard's Detroit styling section was dissolved in late 1956. Exner prevailed in the end, and both Schmidt and Teague departed, the latter to a successful career at American Motors.

1961 Imperial

Amid the turmoil, it is clear that much of Exner's attention was concentrated on the Imperial. While roofs and doors remained unchanged from 1960, both the front and rear of the car were extensively altered. According to an internal corporate publication, the objectives of the new styling were to establish model-year identity, shift styling focus from the rear to the front, and achieve "a striking classic-car look."

The 1961 Imperial reached back into auto history with its Cord 810/812-inspired grille and bullet-shaped headlights.

It was this last goal that caused controversy. To achieve it, Imperials were fitted with individual headlights placed in elliptical chrome-plated shells atop short pedestals mounted to sheetmetal just past the bumper. In classic car fashion, Imperial now had separate headlights as well as separate taillights -- but why?

At least we have an idea how it happened. According to Hudson's letter, "Then came what to do for 1961. Cliff [Voss, chief of exterior design] came to me and said that 'Ex' would like to see a proposal including a Cord-like grille, gullwing fenders, and freestanding headlamps ... so I connected the points and it went into production."

Dave Cummins, a retired Chrysler design executive, recalls it differently. "There was a greasy garage on John R Street near Chrysler's Highland Park campus that sold classic cars. One day on his lunch hour, Fred stopped by when there was an 810 Cord for sale. Hudson was captivated by Gordon Buehrig's wraparound coffin-nose grille, and after returning to the Imperial Studio, in one afternoon he put together a sketch that became the 1961 Imperial."

Chet Limbaugh, who began working on the 1961 Imperial as a fledgling stylist in the Imperial Studio in 1958, remembers Fred's idea sketch hanging on a wall. "Schmidt (second in command under Exner) had no interest in the sketch," Limbaugh remembers, "until Exner himself spotted it one day and said, 'That's what I want!'"

Whatever you think of the 1961 Imperial's front end, it was masterfully worked out by Hudson. The central radiator-width grille was a truncated variant of the Cord's coffin nose, with delicate horizontal bright bars wrapped around the sides, capped by a broad chrome header with recessed, gray-painted letters spelling out "IMPERIAL." As an accent, on the driver side, a small eagle with uplifted wings was set into a shadow box, gold-framed on LeBarons and red-framed on lesser Imperials.

On either side of the grille, the fenders were rakishly undercut to provide a "stage" for the headlamps. At the top, the fenders' undersides were canted slightly upward, these "eyebrows" forming a stylistic link with the 1957-1960 Imperials and also housing the park and turn lamps. The "bullet" headlamp shells were set off by finely ribbed diecast rings into which the headlamps themselves were recessed. For added protection, thin horizontal guards were placed in front on the headlamp shells, affixed to a new and simpler horizontal bumper.

Philosophically, Exner had long been a proponent of centered grilles, first on his earlier "idea cars" like the Chrysler K-310, D'Elegance, and Falcon roadster, and recently on certain of the company's production cars. This explains his keenness for replacing the 1960 Imperial's full-width grille with something more exclusive. Additionally, the individual headlamp shells were a way of achieving a distinctive headlamp treatment without taking on the trouble-prone mechanics of disappearing headlights.

The whole ensemble -- grille, headlamps, fenders -- must have cost a pile of money. Consider that the grille had three sides instead of the usual one, while the four headlamps had their own individual shells instead of being inexpensively tucked into the grillework. Especially tricky -- and costly -- were the fenders, which had to provide a horizontal sheetmetal plane for the headlamps shells to sit upon, a vertical closeout wall behind them, and overhanging brows above them. It's too bad we can't all go back to the Warren Avenue plant just to marvel at how they put the things together. And washing the 1961 Imperial's many front-end surfaces must have been a protracted procedure.

The new, longer hood, bisected by a chrome-accented windsplit, was a hatch-type design; it ended forward of the windshield and several inches behind the grille. The only visible cutline was that of the hood itself, which seemed to float within the expanse of front sheetmetal. The effect was achieved by filling and hand-smoothing all the construction seams, once again a costly undertaking.

A concerted effort was required to blend the undercut section of the front fenders with the carryover doors, achieved by having a rolled section sweep up and over the front wheels, diminishing as it moved rearward toward the doors. The new bodyside molding, on the other hand, grew wider as it moved rearward, with the quarter-panel portion accented by a stylized chrome Imperial eagle on a gold backplate (a Limbaugh touch) that mimicked the new fin shape. The fins themselves were reworked, the main difference being that they were undercut in side view. But they didn't start out that way.

"Originally," Limbaugh relates, "the fins were more vertical, like the 1960. But Bill [Brownlie] liked my sketch of a 'hanging' taillight, so we actually scalloped back the fins to accommodate them." The individual ringed taillights were attached to the underside of the fins by short chromium arms. Decklids continued to be offered with or without the circular tire impression.

The LeBaron roofline was modified, with a new cross-car crease added just above the limousine-style backlight for a carriage-roof effect. At the same time, the welded intersection between the roof and the horizontal "Dutchman" panel just below the backlight was concealed by a diecast molding that wrapped around the base of the wide C-pillars. This change was undoubtedly at the request of the assembly plant inasmuch as it eliminated all that expensive hand-finishing employed in this area on the 1960 LeBarons. While a new sloping six-window hardtop roof was briefly considered for Customs and Crowns, in the end, the existing roofs were carried over (though four-door sedans were cut from every series).

Exemplary exterior details included new deep-dish wheel covers in chrome and satin finish, with LeBarons fitted with a "floating-ring" center overlay. On the Custom and Crown series, a bold, self-assured vertical Imperial script, chrome with a gold-anodized background, appeared on the front fenders.

LeBaron flanks were nameless save for a silver plaque at the base of each C-pillar reading "LeBaron Coachwork," set off by a cloisonné Imperial crest and three-pointed gold crown. In order to get the desired color, real gold was used in producing this part, for which Chrysler had to pay the 10-percent federal excise tax required on fine jewelry!

Changes in Production

The instrument panel of the 1961 Imperial was altered in the cluster area, with the transmission and climate pushbuttons set into two outwardly canted elliptical towers. The two previous circular elements housing the instruments were replaced by a flat, hooded plane above a horizontal speedometer with rectangular minor gauges immediately below.

The two-spoke steering wheel was also new, using an aircraft-type design with flattened upper-and lower-rim portions. Mea­suring 17.7 inches across and 14.7 inches vertically, the wheel was acceptable in highway driving, but a bit disconcerting to some drivers during in-town cornering and parking.

Seat-trim styles were reworked and choices expanded. Customs were available in cloth in six color families, while five cloth-and-leather and five all-leather selections were offered in the Crown series. LeBaron Southampton patrons were also given a wider selection, including four broadcloth-and-leather trims, three all-leather, and two wool broadcloth offerings. In their last year, swivel seats attracted only 483 customers. Shoppers had a choice of 13 exterior colors, 10 of them new.

The 1961 Imperial's new styling was certainly controversial. In his astute treatise on American automotive styling, Chrome Dreams, Paul C. Wilson describes the 1961 Imperial as a "car designed to wrest the title of the World's Most Grotesque Automobile from numerous strong contenders of the late 1950's," like the 1958 Buick and Oldsmobile. Were the pedestal headlamps agreeably "retro" or garishly kitsch? Were fins plausibly functional or uselessly frivolous? Were hanging taillights finely crafted sculptural elements or tinsel ornaments fetched from Woolworth's?

Whatever the answer, this Imperial was clearly the wrong design at the wrong time. Had it been marketed in 1959, it might have looked reasonable parked next to a 1959 Caddy. But in the car world of 1961 America, most makers were downsizing their vehicles, reducing overall length and width, and excising any remaining fins. Imperial remained long, wide, and finned.

Cummins recalls Imperial product planner Bob Mcgargle coming into the studio one day with photos of finless 1961 Imperials created by a Texas dealer who literally sawed the upper part of the fins off so they were level in side view, covering the "wound" with a diecast molding. For fins, this was the end.

True, the restyled 1961 Cadillac still had them. But the Caddy's overall body architecture was crisp and clean, and the taut surfaces made the car look smaller than it was.

But the real kicker was Lincoln's beautiful new Continental. Completely redone and surprisingly smaller in overall length than its showroom companion, Mercury, the Conti­nental was absolutely stunning. Its simple, but exquisite, body design, with its chaste flanks and restrained ornamentation, seemed to mock the Imperial's excesses. Here was a car of true classic beauty that did not have to rely on doubtful details resurrected from the past.

Despite the handicap of offering only two four-door body types, Continental assemblies, at 25,164, were double those of Imperial. The public's disapproval of the Imperial's styling meant that only 12,249 1961s (plus another nine 1960-style limos) were produced, the lowest number since 1955. The consequences of this were swift, dire, and permanent.

During 1960-1961, Chrysler was in one of its episodic crises. President Tex Colbert was preparing to retire, while his administrative vice president (and soon to be president) Lynn Townsend was wielding the budgetary axe. DeSoto production was brusquely terminated after 3,034 1961 models, the Plymouth-only dealer network was abandoned, 7,000 white-collar workers were laid off, and inefficient plants were closed, Warren Avenue among them.

Imperial had been given three model years to justify being built in its own factory and it had failed to deliver on its once-bright promise. The reality was that Warren Avenue was operating at a grossly inefficient rate of one-quarter of its capacity. Given the car's diminishing production rate, Townsend pulled the plug on Imperial's Dearborn plant and the luxury car was ordered back to Chrys­ler's Detroit works.

For Imperial, this was the turning point. While Imperials would continue to be built, the loss of its home plant marked the end of Imperial's quixotic quest for equal rank with Lincoln and Cadillac. Like an ill-starred college graduate who has been unsuccessful on his own, Imperial returned to East Jefferson Assembly hoping its room was still available. It wasn't.

Since Imperials were last assembled at East Jefferson in summer 1958, the plant had been building first body-on-frame and then Unibody Chryslers and DeSotos through November 1960, then Unibody Chryslers and Dodge Polaras after that. Given the Imperial's continued use of body-on-frame construction, the plant manager was doubtlessly less than happy about the disruption Imperial's return would cause. But, as poet Robert Frost said, "Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in."

Source: Internet

Thursday, October 4, 2012

The 1955-1956 Imperial

The 1955-1956 Imperial, Chrysler's best car, spun-off as a separate make beginning with the 1955 models, which were terrific. It was styled by Virgil Exner along the lines of his 1954 Parade Phaeton show cars. A big split eggcrate grille was used up front, distinctive gunsight taillights adorned the rear, and sculpted, flowing body lines with fully radiused rear wheel openings appeared in between.

1955 Imperial Newport with rear view of free-standing "gunsight" taillights
1955 Imperial Newport with rear view of free-standing "gunsight" taillights

The '56 Imperials gained modest tailfins plus a slightly longer wheelbase and length. Power was supplied by Chrysler's Hemi V-8, with a displacement and power boost for '56. Also that year, a four-door hardtop sedan was added to the line in common with other Chrysler divisions.

Pluses of the 1955-1956 Imperial:

Fine styling
Good quality control
Great road car

One of the more affordable luxury Milestones Minuses of the 1955-1956 Imperial:

Handling and braking not up to the horsepower
Production of the 1955 Imperial:
4d sdn, 7,840; Newport 2d htp, 3,418

Production of the 1956 Imperial:

4d sdn, 6,821; Southampton 2d htp, 2,094; Southampton 4d htp, 1,543

Specifications of the 1955-1956 Imperial:

Length, inches: 223.0 (1955), 226.0 (1956)
Wheelbase, inches: 130 (1955), 133.0 (1956)
Weight, pounds: 4,565-4,680
Price, new: $4,483-$5,225 (U.S.)

Engines for the 1955-1956 Imperial:

Type Size Horsepower Years

ohv V-8 331 cid 250 1955
ohv V-8 354 cid 280 1956

Source: Internet

1954-1956 Nash Metropolitan Series 54

The 1954-1956 Nash Metropolitan Series 54 was Nash president George Mason's idea of the ultimate commuter/shopping car. Styling was based on the Bill Flajole design for the NXI show car and bore a resemblance to the big Nash, but the scale was tiny: The Met's wheelbase was shorter than a VW Beetle's.

1954 Nash Metropolitan convertible.

Bodies were built in England by Fisher & Ludlow, and the four-cylinder engines came from Austin, which also did final assembly. A three-passenger convertible and fixed-roof hardtop were offered. Later cars had flashy two-tone paint that reminded one stylist of "Neapolitan ice cream."

The Met met with modest success in the United States and was continued by AMC even after Nash and Hudson had left the scene -- both badges were used on the car so both sets of dealers could sell it.

The little 1.2-liter engine was bored out to 1.5 liters during the 1956 model year to produce the Met 1500, and the car would remain basically unaltered until sales ceased in the early '60's.

Pluses of the 1954-1956 Nash Metropolitan Series 54:
Low-bucks collectible
Still makes sense for around-town use
A certain charm

Minuses of the 1954-1956 Nash Metropolitan Series 54:

Rusts easily
Unreliable Austin engine
Dumpy styling

Production of the 1954-1956 Nash Metropolitan Series 54 (figures based on shipments from Great Britain):

1954: 13,095
1955: 6,096
1956: 3,000 (estimated)

Specifications of the 1954-1956 Nash Metropolitan Series 54:

Wheelbase, inches: 85.0
Length, inches: 149.5
Weight, pounds: 1,803/1,843 (convertible/coupe)
Price, new: $1,445/1,469 (coupe/convertible)

Engines for the 1954-1956 Nash Metropolitan Series 54:

Type Size Horsepower Years
ohv I-4 73.8 cid 42 1954-1956

Source: Internet

Duesenberg Cars

The Duesenbergs put their racing expertise to use in building their acclaimed Model J, seen here in the 1930 edition.

Fred and August Duesenberg built what many still consider the finest American automobiles of all time. Their great skills were evident early on. After the Duesenberg family emigrated from Germany to Iowa in the late 1800s, a twenty-something Fred built racing bicycles renowned for precision craftsmanship. The brothers then moved on to Des Moines and automobiles, where they designed the 1904 Mason, named for their backer. By 1912, they were putting together impressive engines for Mason's competition cars. The following year, they formed Duesenberg Motor Company to build both marine engines and racing cars bearing their name.

In 1917, the brothers set up in a larger plant at Elizabeth, New Jersey, to turn out aircraft and tractor engines as well. But this business was soon overshadowed by new triumphs in auto­mobile racing. In 1919, a special 16-cylinder Duesenberg engine pushed a Land Speed Record car to 158 mph on the sands at Daytona Beach, Florida -- astounding for the day. The following year, the brothers built a Bugatti-inspired 180-cubic-inch straight-eight with single overhead camshaft and three valves per cylinder. In 1921, this engine powered the only American car ever to win the French Grand Prix. Duesenberg-powered racers soon came to rival the great racing Millers at Indianapolis, winning the annual 500-miler no less than three times before 1930.

With their vast experience and growing reputation in racing, the Duesenbergs decided to move to Indianapolis and build a road car. Designated Model A, it appeared in late 1921 at the princely price of $6,500. A genuine result of lessons learned on the track, it carried a potent 259.6-cid overhead-valve straight-eight that could deliver up to 85 mph. It also boasted a first among American cars: four-wheel hydraulic brakes, a system Fred had devised for racing as early as 1914.

Though brilliantly engineered and fastidiously crafted, the Model A was no style-setter. Nor were the brothers very good businessmen. Thus, after selling fewer than 500 cars through 1926, they sold Duesenberg Motors to the brash Errett Lobban Cord, who also gained control of Auburn that year. Fred and Augie stayed on, however, and in 1927 they built a dozen or so Model A derivatives called Model X. But this was only a stopgap. E.L. Cord wanted something far more exotic.

He got it in the Duesenberg Model J, introduced to universal applause in December 1928. With characteristic immodesty, Cord proclaimed it "the world's finest motor car." And by most any measurement it was, the product of Cord's money and Fred's genius.

Duesenbergs, like this 1934 Model J dual-cowl phaeton, were designed to accentuate the most regal lines and features.

Duesenberg Model J

Any discussion of Duesenbergs invariably leads to engines and horsepower. The Model J arrived with a 420-cid straight-eight built by Lycoming to Fred's design. Horsepower was advertised as 265, mind-boggling for the time -- easily over twice the power of the industry's previous best, Chrysler. Doubters have since argued that the actual figure was closer to 200, but there's evidence the factory didn't exaggerate. Though the stock engine had only 5.2:1 compression, a modified unit with 8:1 ratio allegedly showed 390 horsepower. There was also a fabled Lycoming chart listing a reject Model J engine with 208 horsepower at 3,500 rpm, and the late John R. Bond, founder of Road & Track, projected 245-250 at the maximum 4,250 rpm. So the odds are that production Model Js had at least 250, if not more.

But forget horsepower and consider some of the other specifications. In a day when side valves were usual and overhead valves "modern," the J had overhead camshafts -- and not one but two. What's more, they were driven by hefty chains to operate not two but four valves per cylinder -- 32 in all. The engine itself was enameled in bright green, and fittings were finished in nickel, chrome, or stainless steel. Standard wheelbase was no less than 142.5 inches. Frame rails were a massive 8.5 inches deep and a quarter-inch thick. Brakes were oversized and hydraulic (vacuum-assisted after 1930).

Use of aluminum alloy was extensive: in engine, dash, steering column, differential and flywheel housings, crankcase, timing-chain cover, water pump, intake manifold, brake shoes, even the gas tank. So despite their massive size, Model J's didn't weigh much over 5,200 pounds. They could thus do a staggering 89 mph in second gear and 112-116 in High.

Interiors were opulent but functional. Instruments were the most numerous yet seen in an automobile: the usual speedometer (calibrated to 150 mph), ammeter, and water-temp and oil-pressure gauges, plus tachometer, brake-pressure gauge, split-second stopwatch, and altimeter/barometer. Warning lights reminded you to add chassis oil (the chassis lubricated itself every 75 miles), change engine oil, or replenish battery water. But all this was only typical of Fred Duesenberg's dedication to excellence -- a passion that his cars be superior in every way.

Model J prices have long generated much confusion. Of course, you bought not a finished car but a bare chassis, which listed for a stupendous $8,500 in 1929-30, $9,500 thereafter. E.L. Cord was aiming only at those wealthy enough to afford such prices -- and the lofty extra expense of bodywork custom-designed to presumably discriminating individual tastes. Though standard "factory" styles were announced as low as $2,500, total cost with the least costly convertible coupe body, by Murphy of Pasadena, seems to have run at least $13,000. Most Model Js originally sold for under $17,000 complete. A few cost up to $20,000, a handful as much as $25,000. In 1929, that was equal to 50 Ford Model As.

Bodies were as regal as the Model J's drivetrain. These were, after all, grand luxe carriages, so only the finest woods, fabrics, and leathers were used. Vanity cases, radios, bars, and rear instrument panels were common owner-specified features. Less common was the town car upholstered in silk and given ebony, silver, and ivory fittings. Another car reportedly got solid-gold hardware and mosaic-wood inlays for the rear compartment. So despite its astonishing performance, the Model J was primarily a super-luxury conveyance able to run in eerie silence, as customers demanded.

And who were those demanding customers? Well, only 470 chassis and 480 engines were built between 1929 and 1936, so the clientele was, at least, exclusive. Some ads emphasized the fact. These contained not a word of hype, nor specifications -- not even a picture of the car. Instead, there might be a yachtsman at the helm battling what looked like a 40-knot gale, or a well-dressed tycoon relaxing in a library worthy of a university. Regardless, there was but one line of type: "He Drives a Duesenberg." Not that the ads were chauvinistic. One showed an elegantly attired woman talking to her hat-in-hand gardener in front of an estate that would shame Versailles. Naturally, the headline declared, "She Drives a Duesenberg."

Source: Internet

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

One-Hit Wonders Of The Auto World

If you’re car shopping, you’ll notice a funny thing about model names. Some are attached to great cars that stick around for years (Taurus, Mustang, Camaro), while others are used only once, forever haunted by the reputation of the original. Here are six car names you won’t ever see again:

Ford Pinto – The Pinto was very popular when introduced to fuel-conscious Americans in the early 1970's. In fact, some may argue the only time the Pinto used a lot of gas was when it was rear-ended. Though it initially sold like wildfire, it also got blamed for a few. Allegations that the structural design of the vehicle led to the fuel tank being punctured upon impact quickly led to recalls and finally the discontinuation of the compact car. Although its safety was, in reality, roughly on par for small cars of that era, the Pinto name was sullied permanently.

Cadillac Cimarron – This early 1980's “luxury” compact may have been nothing more than a low-end sedan with leather seats, but you got the distinction of paying twice the price. It is memorialized in the executive offices of Cadillac with the notation, “Lest we forget.”

Renault Le Car – Zero creativity points for naming the micro vehicle “the Car,” but that’s what Renault did when it hit U.S. shores in 1975, complete with its three-bolt wheels and 55 hp engine. One police department in the state of Washington used Le Cars on patrol, providing comedy relief for criminals who escaped with faster vehicles, such as bicycles and skateboards.

Yugo – Former Yugo owners may feel this inexpensive and cheerful Eastern Bloc car, based on a 1971 Fiat 127, should have had a longer name, such as “YugoBuyAnotherCar.” But at $3,990 in 1987, it cost about what people nowadays spend annually at Starbucks, plus maintenance could be performed with simple tools, like an allen wrench or sledge hammer. On second thought, we’ll take the coffee and walk.

AMC Gremlin – The first concept drawing of the Gremlin was made – and this is the truth – on the back of an air sickness bag…some unfortunate foreshadowing to say the least. It’s bad enough when your engineers build a compact car by simply amputating the back of a Hornet coupe, but when the marketing guys name it after a creature that causes airplane malfunctions, you have the recipe for a one-hit wonder.

DeLorean DMC-12 – Best known for taking Marty and Doc back to the future at 88 mph, this stainless steel behemoth was mass-produced in 1981 and just 9,200 ever made it to market. Originally priced at $25,000 (equivalent to $63,909 in 2012), the vehicle was too slow to be a desirable sports car in the United States. Coupled with poor business decisions, the company quickly fell in to bankruptcy and before you could say “flux capacitor,” the DeLorean became a piece of ‘80's history.

Maybe you once owned one of these cars or know someone who did. While most were inexpensive to buy, most of them weren’t insured for very long. Within a few years of purchase, they usually began new lives as junkyard artwork.

Source: Internet

1952 Allstate

The 1952 Allstate was the first of only two model years during which the Sears company attempted to enter the automotive industry. The initiative failed.

Imagine Chrysler selling shirts, Ford merchandising mattresses, or GM pushing power tools. Sound strange? No more so than retailing giant Sears, Roebuck getting into the car business, which it did for a brief time in the '50's.

The story begins in the late '40's with Theodore V. Houser, then vice president of merchandising for Sears, but also on the board of Kaiser-Frazer, the upstart postwar automaker. In 1949, Houser broached the idea of marketing a K-F product under Sears' familiar Allstate name -- a complete car to be sold along with parts and accessories for it at the new auto shops Sears was then opening up next to its retail stores. A hookup with K-F was a natural. At the time, Houser was buying Homart enamelware from Kaiser Metals Company in which Sears held a 45-percent interest.

The first thought was simply to put Allstate logos on Kaiser-Frazer's large 1949 models, but Sears was dubious. Then the compact Henry J came along for 1951, exactly the car Houser had been looking for: simple, inexpensive, and easy to service.

Somehow, K-F president Edgar F. Kaiser managed to convince his dealers to accept a chain department store as a competitor, and the Allstate was announced that November. It was the only new American make for 1952, and the first car Sears had offered since its high-wheeler of 40 years earlier. In an apparent attempt to feel out the market, Sears initially concentrated promotion in the Southeast, though the Allstate was ostensibly available nationwide through the Sears catalog.

Though obviously a Henry J, the Allstate sported a distinctive front end designed by Alex Tremulis (lately involved with the Tucker fiasco), plus a major interior upgrade in line with Sears' policy of improving on proprietary products. K-F interior specialist Carleton Spencer used quilted saran plastic combined with a coated-paper fiber encapsulated in vinyl, a material he'd discovered in use on the transatlantic telegraph cable. Seemingly impervious to normal wear, it was superior to the upholstery of most Henry J's.

Not surprisingly, Sears specified its own Allstate batteries, spark plugs, and tube tires, each with the appropriate guarantee. The entire vehicle was covered for 90 days or 4000 miles, K-F's standard warranty. Allstate's Deluxe models had trunklids and dashboard gloveboxes, items found less often on Henry J's, though basic and standard Allstates lacked the opening trunk. The costlier Deluxe Six also had armrests and a horn ring that weren't available on lesser versions even at extra cost.

Otherwise, everything else was the same. That meant K-F's pudgy-looking little two-door fastback sedan with a choice of two L-head Willys engines: a four and a six. Sears' marketing was more aggressive, though, with five Allstate models to four Henry Js. The cheapest '52 Allstate, the basic Four, was priced just below the standard Henry J.

There was little change for '53. A full-width rubber-covered pad was added to the dash, taillights were relocated to the rear fenders, and models reduced to two Fours and the Six.

But by then, it was clear the Allstate had failed. Whether it was because people didn't take to buying cars in department stores or because of the narrow marketing approach is difficult to determine. Both factors probably contributed. Only 1566 Allstates were built for 1952. The count was 797 when Sears canceled the project in early '53, leaving plans for future models stillborn. Among these was a pair of proposals for a two-door station wagon, one by industrial designer Brooks Stevens, the other by Gordon Tercey of K-F Styling.

Allstates are extremely rare today, and thus more desired by collectors than comparable Henry Js. In 1971, Allstate Insurance purchased an Allstate car for historical purposes. In the '60's it would have been hard to convince the folks at Sears' parts counters that the car had ever existed.

Source: Internet