automobile is a three dimensional work of sculptural art. Say
what you will about design constraints, efficiency, aerodynamics,
etc. If it looks good people will buy it. If it is ugly it will
not sell. Automobile manufacturers have had incredibly good success
selling beautifully sculpted and "styled" automobiles.
They have fallen flat on their face when they bring to market
the ugly ones.
example, the Ford Taurus was the most popular car in America
until they brought out the new and improved (but oh so ugly)
model. General Motors, a company which was known for fabulous
styling and design lost market share in double digits when Roger
Smith and the bean counters took over and decided to make look-alike
"cookie-cutter" cars. Remember the "J car"
Cadillac Cimeron? It was a rebadged Chevy econobox with leather
seats. Cadillac has yet to recover from that blunder. Chrysler
in the late nineties was turning out beautiful works of art in
automotive design. But it wasn't always that way. Remember the
oh so ugly 1962 models?
that when the casual observer or the kid on the corner cannot
tell the difference between a Daewoo or a Ford Contour we have
reached a new low in automobile
styling and design. With the exception of the Chrysler products,
most new cars rolling down the street all have that non-descript
"jellybean" look about them. Who needs a new car if
you like the looks of your old one better?
two vehicles that I drive today are a 1994 Ford F-150 truck with
a small camper and a 1989 Lincoln Mark VII LSC. The newer Ford
trucks simply look UGLY when compared to my '94. The slanting
hood and oval grille of the newer F-150 Ford has a "wimpy"
look to it that I do not care for. I like the 1980's look of
my Lincoln when compared to the "globs and blobs" I
see other people buying. It's a high performance sports coupe
with all of the luxury features of a prestige auto. With 97,000
miles on the odometer it still
looks and runs like it did when it was new. I can't think of
a good reason why it should be replaced with a newer model.
the beginning of the American Automobile and World War II the
auto evolved from a motorized version of a horse drawn high-wheeled
buggy into a sleek and powerful love-object such as the 1941
Lincoln Continental. The rectangular and flimsy looking Model
T ford transmogrified into the softer but still boxy Model A,
and then was transformed into the sleek but still tall 1934 Ford.
Later 1930s and 1940s models seemed to swell up into
bloated attempts at streamlining shapes that were a poor choice
to begin with. (Note: Some current models such as the new Lincoln
Town Car have that fat and bloated look. It's almost as ugly
as the 1950 Lincoln Cosmo.) Some very pleasing auto designs were
the exception, such as the 1941 Chevrolet Deluxe Coupe.
War II caused most design changes to be put on hold
for the duration. Consequently the leap to modern automobile
styling in my opinion began with the newly designed models brought
to market after the war.
1948 I was eleven years old and just beginning to take notice
of the visual impact of styling on automobile design. The 1949
Ford had a radically different look when compared to all previous
models. The slab side design without separate fenders
or any hint of a running board made the car seem
to be wider,
lower and longer than it really was. The result was that the
49 Ford made all previous models look completely obsolete.
The deep throbbing rumble of the V-8 engine when compared to
the whooshing sound of the Plymouth flat-head six or the Chevrolet
stove-bolt OHV six made the Ford the choice for the
young man seeking style and speed. The 49 Ford had a whole
array of little styling details that just said modern.
The spherical knob on the column shift lever, the instrument
cluster in one single window, the horizontal tail-lights with
the horizontal flair into the slab-sided rear quarter panels...
it was a knockout! The Ford slogan of the day was, "There's
a Ford in your future," and it was true.
was only one uglifying design element in the 49 Ford. That
was the Studebaker-like single spinner in the middle of the grille...
a styling cliche to emulate the propeller driven airplane. This
theme continued with minor revisions for the 1950 model year.
Ford jazzed up the
50 model line with the two door Crestliner.
A friend at the time, Wallin Slonaker bought a new Crestliner.
With its two tone color scheme of Hawaiian Bronze metallic paint
separated by the curvilinear chrome trim on the sides, chrome
windshield trim inside, matching body color paint inside and
vinyl padded roof, it was a gorgeous car which was destined to
become a collector item. Unfortunately, it lacked the one thing
that Ford was trying to make up for with this jazzy upscale model...
it was not a hardtop convertible.
brought to market the 1950 BelAir hard-top convertible and it
was a class act. With no door or body posts between the front
and rear windows, the car looked exactly like a convertible except
the top was hard or not removable. Many people purchased
convertibles just because they liked their looks, and they would
seldom drive around with the top down. Also in the pre-air-conditioning
age, you drove the car with the windows down almost all the time
in the summer.
1951 was the year that Ford caught up with Chevy by bringing
to market the 1951 Ford Victoria. I loved the looks of that car.
They also changed the goofy looking single spinner in the grille
to two smaller spinners. Later, after I had finished high school
in 1956, our local Ford Dealer, Madison Motors of Palouse, Washington,
offered a 51 Ford Victoria for sale. It was yellow-green
with a dark metallic green top. I fell in love with the car.
But unfortunately, before I could get my act together to buy
it, it was sold to a young man that was a year or so behind me
in high school.
the car of my dreams was already sold, the first decent automobile
that I owned was a low mileage (50,000 miles) six year old '49
Ford that was black with a white top. Unfortunately due to youthful
foolishness and delusions of immortality combined with what in
retrospect I would have to call reckless driving, I totaled the
car in a roll-over crash after owning it for just a couple of
18, 1956 was a Saturday night that I will never forget. I was
driving. We were taking the "thrill hills" on a remote
dirt farm road. It was one of those straight but undulating roads
that goes up and over the rolling Palouse hills. If you top the
hill fast enough you get a "roller coaster" effect
that is quite a thrill. I stupidly took the final hill at a high
rate of speed, mistakenly thinking that it was not the last one
in the series. The last hill has an abrupt turn to the right.
When we topped that hill, there was no hope of making the turn.
There was a brief moment of silence as we sailed out into thin
air. The car flipped over in the air, landed on the passenger
side of the roof and continued rolling in the wheat field until
it came to rest on the driver's side. It seemed like we were
in slow motion as the headlights spun crazily to the sound of
breaking glass and bending metal.
we came to a stop I remember asking if anyone was hurt. There
was no response as my two passengers in the front seat were clambering
out through the windshield and the three in the back seat were
exiting out the rear window. We stood in a sort of stunned silence
as the headlights shown up through the huge cloud of dust that
the crash produced. Someone touched the car and it continued
to roll over until it landed right side up on its wheels. Four
of my friends began walking back to town and then caught a ride
with someone. My brother and I went to work on the car. Both
doors were squashed until there was no way to close them. After
checking out the engine compartment we found a fuel line that
was pulled apart. After reconnecting the fuel line we were able
to get the car started and I drove it home and locked it in the
was the night that I became convinced that some higher power
had assigned a guardian angel to work on my case. To this day
I find it simply incredible that none of us were hurt. With no
seat belts, the doors crushed and windows smashed out, how could
this be? Frankly, I don't know.
significant vehicle to enter my life in early 1957 was a dark
metallic green 1953 Mercury Monterey Custom Sport Coupe (hardtop
convertible.) This car was low mileage
and had been well cared for by the previous owner. It was my
pride and joy for about five years. 1953 was a particularly good
year for Ford Products. My Merc was a solid and rattle-free car
that served me well. I liked the styling. The interior was plush
leather and fabric that was color co-ordinated with the exterior.
This was at a time when General Motors and Chrysler products
tended to "mouse gray" interior colors. The flat-head
FoMoCo V-8 was the last one Ford built. It was replaced by Ford
in 1954 with the new OHV V-8. In retrospect the new Ford V-8
for 1954 had some serious design weaknesses that by comparison
would put it in third place behind GM and Chrysler products.
a doubt the most significant year for new car styling was 1955.
The new Ford was a beauty. The 1955 Ford Crown Victoria had a
lower roof line and wrap-around windshield that was an inch shorter
than the regular Victoria. By
today's standards the '55 models reek of gaudy excess and too
much shiny chrome. But, in 1955 the public loved their flashiness
and bright colors. The Ford was more angular and architectural
in its design. The styling with its rakish side swoop, jet-tube
tail lights and deeply wrapped windshield suggested speed and
modern style. The '55 Ford seemed to me to be a more integrated
design than the revised '56 model. For 1957 Ford abandoned this
format to launch the bigger-longer-lower-wider body that began
to evolve into a metal barge. It was the size of the 55
Ford that was superior to the 57. I am convinced that that is
the reason for the classic value of the 57 Chevy when compared
with the 57 Ford. The 57 Chevy was the right size and proportions
that the public wanted. The 57 Ford was not.
knocked your sox off with the sexy '55 Chevy with its hot new
V-8 engine. Chevy
continued the GM styling trend of softer more feminine styling
than the Ford. The slender waist line, nicely set wraparound
windshield, softly hooded headlights and rounded box-work grille
just looked right. As a confirmed Ford lover at that time, even
I was fond of the 1955 Chevy. Back in 1955 we laughed at the
lightweight new V-8 Chevy engine that we didn't think could endure
when compared with the heavier new Ford OHV engine with a four
barrel carb and "Power Pac." We were wrong. After a
few years, unless you faithfully changed the oil and maintained
your new Ford V-8, it would clog up with sludge and without oil
to the valves go into a self-destruct mode. The test of time
proved that the new 1955 Chevy engine was indeed the "good
stuff." About the only thing I didn't like about the design
was the ugly little square door in the quarter panel to access
the fuel tank. Chevy cleverly solved this problem in 56 by hiding
it behind a flip-out tail light. In my opinion the 55 design
was not improved by the other styling revisions for 56 and 57.
broke out of its "old gentleman" image of chair high
seats and rooflines high enough for the old gentleman to wear
a hat. Until 55 Plymouth
was in our young minds the choice of the spinster school teacher.
And they tended to buy them with small hubcaps, black wall tires
and the blandest of colors. 1955 marked the beginning of a new
era for Chrysler products. With it's powerful new V-8 engine
and forward sweeping lines, Plymouth was as attractive as anything
GM or Ford had to offer. The styling was suggestive of aircraft
lines. The mandatory fashion was a wrap-around windshield. Plymouth
kept the windshield posts slanting backward... a conservative
gesture as the Ford was vertical and Chevy slightly raking forward.
It was a year for an odd gear shift lever coming out of the dash.
Also, the separation on the two tone paint job was a little strange
when compared to Chevy and Ford. For 56 Plymouth brought out
the snazzy white with gold mylar trim. "Golden Commando"
that is today about as collectible and you could want in a 50's
era car. The 56 sported some ugly rear tail fins, but it was
still a better car than the 57 when the Chrysler Corp went as
nutty as Ford in building longer-lower-wider to excess.
the late 1950's and 60's GM, Ford and Chrysler migrated to "full
size" Chevys, Fords and Plymouths that were huge sleds...
simply too big and too heavy. Then they brought out "compacts"
for the lower income folks... the Falcon, Corvair and Valiant,
all of which were simply too small to be the right stuff. The
Ford and Plymouth were not too big and not too little. They were
just right. In my humble opinion that is one important reason
why the collectors cling to the 57 Chevy. GM probably would have
dropped it for the bloated 58 Chevy body style if they were not
such a huge operation that they couldn't move as fast as Ford
and Chrysler. I maintain that the craze for the new Chrysler
PT Cruiser revolves around just this issue... it is the right
size! -- WDM