This link will take you to view some cars we own and love.
An 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.
For 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?
I maintain 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?
The 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.
Between 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.
World 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.
In 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.
There 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.
Chevrolet 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.
Since 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 months.
August 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.
When 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 garage.
That 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.
The next 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.
Without 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.
Chevrolet 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.
Plymouth 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.
During 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 55 Chevy 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
Follow these links to view and read about some cars from our
1934 Ford Three Window Coupe
1952 Lincoln Capri
1954 Mercury Sun Valley
1955 Ford Crown Victoria Glasstop
1955 Ford Crown Victoria
1963 Ford Falcon Convertible
1965 Thunderbird Convertible
1979 Lincoln Mark V
1987 Mustang GT Convertible
Follow this link to view some of the cars that we now own and love.