Imagine you are a car guy. And you have, oh, on a good day, 1000 designers working for you. And a workshop to make whatever the hell your little heart desires. The only trouble was Bill Mitchell was VP in charge of styling at GM where he had to supervise the design of station wagons and all the boring stuff. He couldn’t just do performance cars. But he would do these little back door projects. You could usually tell when it was one of those because it would be candy apple red instead of the usual silver of an approved factory prototype. And it would have gold trim, maybe not real gold but it looked gold. Yards of it. And gold pin striping. It was boy-racer all the way on toys for himself. Such a car was the Pontiac Firebird he had redone. The Firebird, on a design by Jerry Palmer for the Camaro, was already very European looking, on a par with some Ferraris. The Pontiac engine wasn’t so good, though. In fact when they went Trans Am racing, they used Chevy engines. Mitchell had the nose made into an oval with foglamps in the edges, the grille reminiscent of OSCA, an obscure brand made by the Maserati brothers after WWII (they had sold the Maserati brand before the war). It was called the Pontiac Pegasus, maybe in a nod to the Texaco insignia of a winged horse that was common in racing in the Fifties. But the cool thing about the car is when it starts up, it not only sounds like a lusty 4 cam V12 six carburetor Ferrari but damn, you lift the hood and there she be—a Daytona 365GTB/4 engine. Who woulda thunk—seeing the candy-apple-red paint and gold-tone pinstriping and gold-colored chrome? This is kind of like a hip-hop break dancer singing Verdi… Continue reading →
If any car feature you can put on a car says “dream car” more than any other it is the bubble top, like a fighter plane. The 1959 Cyclone XP-74 Concept of the late ‘50s was one of GM’s last bubble top cars (though the Corvette Shark and XP700 had twin bubble tops).
Harley Earl had started the bubble top binge and his successor Bill Mitchell kept it going. Over at Ford they had bubble tops as well. Never mind that in the hot August of a Michigan summer you’d fry in such a car.
And yet, in the early to mid-‘50s, at the styling departments of The Big Three…Continue reading →
Timing is everything. Just ask the recently retired Giorgetto Giugiaro, Italy’s most famous car designer. When he left Ghia to start up his own firm, Ital Design, there was some worry that with Bertone, Pininfarina, etc. already well established, how could a new guy come along and expect any assignments? Especially if he didn’t have a factory behind his design studio?
Well, not to worry. As we now know, he has achieved many things, from production cars made by the millions, to one off prototypes like this car. Continue reading →
It is hard to believe that it’s been 20 years since the then Chrysler Prez, Bob Lutz, played that fantastic joke on the other Detroit automakers—he introduced a concept car that was full on retro.
I speak of the Chrysler Atlantic. According to various stories, the idea of the Atlantic, a name picked to remind one of the prewar Bugatti Atlantique, came when Lutz and the then Chrysler design chief Tom Gale were strolling about on the 18th green at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, musing how all this inspirational material (the 200-plus cars on display) could be in any way relevant to today’s cars. Lutz suggested that they build a concept car that would look like something out of the 1930’s. The late 1930’s, when design firms like Figoni et Falaschi and Darrin and Fernandez were creating swoopy shapes in France..
The very next year Chrysler’s retro styled concept car was there on what I call the “dream car lawn” in front of the Del Monte Lodge at Pebble. To make it a more fanciful story, the PR mavens say Lutz gave Gale a sketch on a napkin and Gale gave his minions only a verbal description so as not to unduly influence them.
Their inspirations were the curvaceous French coupes of the thirtiesfrom firms like Bugatti, Talbot-Lago, Delahaye and Delage. The actual designer whose drawings came closest at Chrysler was Bob Hubbach so it was his design that was built.
We are grateful to have been bestowed with a reader submission from none other than Peter Gruich, the legendary vehicle design engineer who has done some memorable work with the big 3, but is here today to talk more specifically about “Project Gemini.” He tells us about working on the advanced Pontiac Fiero successor project in detail on the following page and gives an insightful first hand experience of what it was like working with creative minds in a team environment… Continue reading →
When you’re a kid you don’t know the difference. When I saw pictures of the Rambler Palm Beach on magazine covers back in the Fifties I thought “wow” and thought it was a real sports car.
Bodied in Italy, just like Ferrari, I thought.
As time went on ,though, I didn’t hear about any Nashes winning races and realized that the car was promising in looks as a sports car but didn’t deliver.
And there was no factory team of Nash two seater race cars (Oh, there was the Nash Healey race cars earlier on, cars which actually competed at LeMans but I didn’ t know about that).
The way the Rambler Palm Beach one-off show car came about was after American Motors Corporation merged with the Nash Company, they had a meeting with a famous Italian coachbuilder, Batista Farina of Carrozzeria Pinin Farina and out of that decided to have him design a Rambler-based 2-seater coupe called the Palm Beach. Continue reading →
“It was a dark and stormy night.” Sorry for the cliché but seems like the best adventure stories always start out that way. Well, this is an adventure story involving an American automaker who was taking great pains to look “oh-so-European,” an Italian coachbuilder aiming to help them fulfill that ambition and a wee mistake in navigation in two ships at sea, a mistake that led to death and disaster, and maybe the destruction of our barn find target.
First a little background on the American auto industry, such as it was in the Fifties. There was, at the time, a certain glamor, an exhalted status, to having a prototype bodied in Italy. Chrysler could tell you about that. In the Fifties, they had nearly 40 prototypes, then called “dream cars,” bodied by Ghia in Italy. Ford, too, had the occasional dream car built in Italy such as the Lincoln Indianapolis show car (Carrozzeria Boano) and the Lincoln Futura show car, bodied by Carrozzzeria Ghia (later to become the Batmobile). Though Chrysler never put an all-Italian design into production, they did put in an order with Ghia in the ‘60s for 55 turbine cars for a special program to raise public awareness on the turbine. But mostly the Italian connection existed merely gave them something exotic to show at auto shows, something to lord over the total domestically-designed and built fare from other Detroit automakers.
Still, there was one potential problem with having cars designed in America built in Italy—you had to ship them them. And best not to forget the old saying: “There’s many a slip ‘tween the cup and the lip.” You get a thousand-plus miles of open ocean and bad stuff can happen. Like the ship sinks. That is exactly what happened to Chrysler in ‘56… Continue reading →
When I was a snot-nosed little kid, I would go to shows like the Detroit Auto Show and say to myself “I want one of those dream cars.”(Later on I wanted the female model standing next to it, to hell with the car…)
The phrase “dream car” was the magic words back then, not “concept car.” And the undisputed King of the Dream Cars was Harley Earl, running GM’s styling department back in the Fifties. You could say about the 6-foot plus Earl that he was pretty much Lord of all he surveyed. He had begun at GM back in 1927 when they didn’t even have a head stylist. He was given a VP slot in 1940.
He quaintly called his section the “Art and Color Section” when he arrived in Detroit. GM had hired him because the man had pizazz. After earning a degree in Engineering from Stanford, he had worked in his father’s carriage modification shop in Hollywood, which segued into doing custom cars for movie stars like Fatty Arbuckle and cowboy star Tom Mix.
The cars he designed were more flamboyant than anything made in Detroit, which was why GM hired him and gave him almost anything he wanted as he built an empire that other top designers in Detroit were intensely jealous of. He spawned many a show car, almost 40 during his reign.
Some of the cars were generic GM like the “LeSabre.” Others would carry the name of GM’s Divisions. When Chevrolet had the Corvette in production in 1953, a car he had promoted from day one, he got in mind, why stop there, why not market two-seaters in all the Divisions? Hence the building of two-seater prototypes for all the Divisions, including Buick, Cadillac, Pontiac and Oldsmobile… Continue reading →
Now longtime activist Ralph Nader made his name by attacking the rear engine Corvair in print, so I don’t think he has dreams about Corvairs.
Nightmares, maybe. This is a story of when the Italians picked the wrong car to restyle… You got to hand it to the Italian coachbuilders. Always building prototypes on one automaker’s chassis or another. Always hoping that public acclaim for their design at the next auto show will result in the automaker hastening to their shop, checkbook in hand and saying: “Make more of this car.” So it was that, back in 1963, Carrozzeria Pininfarina in Italy made the one-off Pininfarina Corvair Coupe Speciale on a Chevrolet Corvair chassis. The car features Pininfarina’s first introduction of a head light design that they called “Oriental eyes”, (Bentley owners use the nickname “Chinese eyes” for the Wilhelm Koren-designed Bentley Continental S3) which other manufacturers copied. Nowadays those terms might be considered offensive, so I apologize in advance if anybody finds them derogatory as that is not my intention. I use the phrase “one off” for “one off the assembly line” loosely as this car was redesigned halfway through its show career which is why some think there were two… Continue reading →
This is a story of true love. Sort of. First of all, why the car was created. When Alejandro DeTomaso (it’s actually spelled De Tomaso but I’ll do the American thing where we run it all together and capitalize it) had Giugiaro design his mid-engined V8 powered coupe, he was pretty well thinking the coupe was all he needed.
But then for a succeeding Salon, they wanted something different and an open version was budgeted for show purposes only… Continue reading →
I like the Bentley Continental GTC convertible and wondered where they can go from here but now I know, now that they have unveiled the EXP 10 Speed 6 Concept car at the 2015 Geneva International Motor Show. This version is more “selfish” than any other current Bentley in that it’s a two seater sports car, not a four seater.
The name “Speed” is to harken us back to the prewar days when there was the Speed 6 and Bentley was competing at LeMans.
In my most humble opinion (which it always is, of course), the first thing I’d do before this model hits production is to drop the name “EXP10” as no one realizes Bentley had a tradition of EXP prototypes. They also call it the “Speed 6” in honor of Bentley that won LeMans but naming a car a “6” when it actually has a V8 could be confusing to newcomers to the marque.
The following page discusses my design analysis, beginning with my first take of the front end based on available images… Continue reading →
I used to know a guy in Detroit who was a top drawer exec for GM; head of styling, in fact, and when he stepped into the boots of Harley Earl, Bill Mitchell had to fill some pretty big boots. Like his predecessor, Harley Earl, Mitchell was a snappy dresser (that’s what they called it back then, “snappy”) and in the summer wore white suits and panama hats, and two tone shoes. He was rotund but a well-dressed rotund. He also liked to have his own dream cars built. Earl started that out with the LeSabre dream car, a car that reportedly cost more than a million to build and he’d even loan it out, at one time loaning it to Dwight D. Eisenhower after the war when Eisenhower was working out of Europe. At any rate, for that first “dream car” of Bill Mitchell, I kind of think he did it on his own nickel; it’s a red Corvette with some Euro styling, a grille that looks like it’s from an OSCA, but some parts of it are amateur, like he thought “I’ll show the old man that he too can originate dream cars.” Hey, his ploy worked. The car was taken in house by Earl and given a much fancier re-do, repainted silver, chrome surrounds added here and there, the upholstery became silver leather, the roof got a double bubble canopy (with a tank periscope between the two bubbles to see rearward). The car was also called the XP-700, XP for “Experimental Project” or some such other mumbo-jumbo. I suspect these guys in Styling liked to pretend they were doing secret stuff like developing future flying craft, and actually some of them were in the military during the war and did shape some Allied weapons so even after the war they liked to be mysterious about their secret stuff, not to mention the enemy had big ears and Ford and Chrysler wanted to know what they were up to… Continue reading →
History does repeat itself. Way back in the early ‘50s, executives from A.C. Cars Ltd., in England, went to a car show, saw a one-off special that looked Ferrari-ish and bought the design, hiring the owner to work in developing a mass produced version. That became the A.C. Ace. A few years later along comes a Texan cowpoke, Carroll Shelby, suggesting they put a Ford V8 in there. Since they had lost their supplier of the Bristol six, and weren’t having the same success with the Ford Zephyr six under the hood of the A.C., they swallowed Shelby’s bait. The Cobra was born. and you could argue that “his” version of the A.C. was far better known in American than A.C.’s previous versions…. Continue reading →
I gotta hand it to AMC’s one time chief designer, Richard Teague, he had a good sense of humor. I remember visiting him at his rustic home in the tiny village of Franklin, Michigan, where it was so damned rustic you would swear you were in the back country of Vermont. (I used to go to Franklin to the cider mill, but I digress…) He had a baby Bugatti in his garage and other assorted antique cars and I got the idea that, at work, he worked hard, but at home–with his hobby cars– he just had fun.
Now, looking back, I am not sure if he was pulling everyone’s leg by building up the unreasonable-on-the-face-of-it expectation that American Motors, a tiny company, was really going to put a mid-engined car into production. That was akin to say, Cessna saying they were going to build a plane that could outrun the SR-71 Blackbird… Continue reading →
When I was a teenager I remember Al Doherty, the neighborhood playboy, buying a Studebaker Avanti. He bought it as a symbol of success and I was quite impressed with the light turqoise car. Lately though, so many designs are similar that I can’t rank it as one of my Ten Favorites 50 some years later, but, for its time, it was the cat’s pajamas.
I recently found out that the Studebaker National Museum of South Bend, Indiana has added two Avanti prototypes to their collection. These two vehicles were designed by Raymond Loewy Associates in 1961 as proposals for future Studebaker cars. They, says the Museum “illustrate the story of what new Studebakers may have looked like had the company remained in business.” Continue reading →
Thinking back more than a half century ago, I think I saw a wooden Marquette scale model of the gas turbine-powered Firebird III skeletal body shape before I ever saw the real car. I thought it looked like the bleached skeleton of some dead killer whale that washed up on the coast somewhere. I had seen the Firebird I and II earlier but they looked more like jet planes with severely clipped wings. The Firebird III was a great leap forward. I remember the car got a lot of ink back then. Around ’58, it had the tallest tailfins going, in fact it had not only fins at the fender tops but also a huge central fin. Not to mention tiny fins splayed out at the bottom–similar to those on a shark. Utilizing an ultrasonic key, the Firebird’s large, butterfly doors opened via high frequency sound waves… Continue reading →
Long ago, when I was interested in poetry, not seduced by cars, I went to see a reading by Robert Frost who wrote the famous poem entitled “the road not taken.” Well, now that I am a car guy through and through, I am interested in the roads not taken in car design–the directions explored as far as clay but never offered in cars we could buy. It is really amazing that, since the first Mustang broke cover in ’64 ½ (model year) that Ford has managed to keep the car more or less on track as America’s sporty car. Not sports car, but sporty. It is a car that has a mission—one that can’t be filled by European or Japanese cars, no matter how sporty. When you look at some of the old clay models you wonder “What were they thinking?” But even the worst of them made some contribution toward the whole…
Back around 1965, when the Porsche 356 was still in production, Porsche officials thought they had it all figured out. The new 901 (later changed to 911 because Peugeot said they own all car names with “O” in the middle of the numbers) would be a nice little coupe. Now off in California there was a dealer named Johnny Von Neumann who didn’t take “no” for an answer. The same Johnny Von Neumann I saw a picture of in WWII as an American soldier who commandeered a German officer’s Mercedes and tooled about in this prize of war. Bloody cheeky–I don’t even think he was an officer! An Austrian from Vienna, he had moved to the US in 1939, joined the war effort by enlisting as a GI, and gone to Germany in the final push to Berlin. After the war, he tried the university in New York but then moved to California where he began selling used cars, used sports cars. He began buying and selling them on his own and eventually became a VW, Porsche and Ferrari dealer. So when he discovered Porsche’s new sports car—the replacement for the 356—was not going to have an open air model at first introduction, he was appalled. California was the sunshine State (despite Florida’s claim to that) and he knew he could sell thousands if there was a convertible. He went to Carrozzeria Bertone in Italy and bankrolled his own Speciale…
OK, so it’s red and has a long hood and short tail (in this case fastback), and it’s bodied in Italy, so it’s got to be a Ferrari, right? Ah, no… It’s called the Kelly Corvette. Based on a ‘59 or ’60 Corvette. I remember seeing it on the newsstand on the cover of Car & Driver. I remember envying Gordon Kelly for having the chutzpah (and the cash) to go to Italy to have a proper coachbuilder build his dream car on a Corvette chassis. And then, wouldn’t cha’ know, he has the brass to show it the 1961 Paris Salon de l’Automobile on the Vignale stand… Continue reading →
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