Category Archives: Auto Styling

The Cord debuts Streamline Style

The Cord debuts Streamline Style in the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum Indiana Automobiles: Precision over Production exhibit is the 1930 L-29 Cord. Visit the Indiana Automobiles: Precision over Production exhibit today.

1932 L-29 Cord
1930 L-29 Cord

Renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright once described the first Cord model as “the best design from my ‘streamline’ standpoint ever put on the market”. Made in Connersville, the Cord L-29, with its long, sweeping fenders, did indeed set a new course in automotive design.

The Cord L-29 was introduced in August 1929 as a 1930 model. It was the first production automobile with front-wheel drive and was made to fill the gap between the low-priced Auburn and the top-of-the-mark Duesenberg in the Cord Corporation line of cars. The Cord sedan and brougham were priced at $3,095 each, and the cabriolet and phaeton were $3,295.

Project engineer Cornelius W. Van Ranst designed the new front-wheel drive system around the units in the successful Indianapolis 500 racecars. Harry Miller and Indianapolis driver Leon Duray served as consultants on the project. Alan H. Leamy was the chief stylist.

Cord claimed advantages in safety, easy handling, comfort, and durability. Plus, front-wheel drive provided a lower body silhouette, allowing a distinctive and pleasing front end appearance that appealed to coachbuilders.

The L-29 was available in four models: a convertible Cabriolet with rumble seat, four-door convertible Phaeton Sedan, five-passenger Sedan, and the five-passenger Brougham. All four models sported a stylish cadet-type visor. The Cabriolet and the Phaeton Sedan stood only 58 inches high, some 12 inches lower than their competitors. They are known for their long, low, racy lines. Their narrow corner posts provided a clear field of vision. The V-shaped radiator grille would inspire a throng of imitators, most notably the 1931 Chrysler Imperial.

The L-29 regularly won prizes in the European Concours d’Elegance, which was quite an accomplishment for an American manufacturer. A Cord L-29 Cabriolet was also the pace car for the 1930 Indianapolis 500-mile race.

Unfortunately, the Cord L-29, which was the first automobile to bear Errett Lobban Cord’s name, was introduced only two months before the stock market crash in October 1929. Although praised for its quality, sales didn’t reflect its popularity. The L-29 was built from 1929-1931 with only 5,010 units produced. The last cars were 1932 models.

After a lapse of four years, the Cord name was revived for 1936. Gordon M. Buehrig’s original work on the Cord Model 810 began as a “baby Duesenberg” in 1933. By December 1934, the design of the new front-wheel-drive model was essentially complete and then shelved. When the project was revived in July 1935, there was less than four months in which to build and test a prototype, tool up, and get the cars into production for the New York Auto Show on November 2, 1935. The company made the deadline, but without the transmissions in place. Plus, the phaetons were without any tops. The missing parts didn’t matter. The Cord 810 stopped the show. People had to stand on surrounding cars just to get a glimpse of Cord’s exciting new design. Cord received over 7,600 requests for more information on the 810. Unfortunately, due to unanticipated production start-up problems, almost six months would pass before any deliveries were made.

The new catalog boasted, “The New Cord demonstrates that it is possible to build a radically different kind of motor car which is, nevertheless, completely in accord with the very highest standards of beauty and good taste. ”We predict that the New Cord will exert a pronounced influence upon the future offerings of the entire automotive industry.” The company extolled further, “You will be constantly amazed that a car so low in design should be so spacious and provide so much head and leg room.”

The first Cord 810 rolled off the assembly line in Connersville on February 15, 1936. Innovations on the Cord 810 included disappearing headlights, concealed door hinges, rheostat-controlled instrument lights, variable speed windshield wipers, Bendix Electric Hand (steering column mounted-electric gear pre-selection unit), and factory installed radio. The model was the first automobile in the United States to adopt unit body construction in its full sense.

In November 1936, the company introduced the Cord 812 for the 1937 model year. An example of the model’s claim-to-fame was its use as the official chief observer’s car for the 1937 Indianapolis 500 mile race.

When production of the Cord automobile was terminated in October 1937, fewer than 3,000 Model 810/812 units had been produced. The automotive operations of Cord Corporation died when E.L. Cord shifted his focus to other interests.

In their day, these Cords stirred the imagination of the motoring public. Their clean simplicity of line, exciting innovations, and luxurious appointments won much admiration and many awards. The Cord Model 810/812 is revered by many as one of the most popular classic cars of all time.

For more information on Indiana-built automobiles, follow this link.

Raymond Loewy Industrial Design Icon

Many recognize Raymond Loewy as one of the founding fathers of industrial design. Loewy and his company had a hand in designing everything from cars, streamlined railroad locomotives, refrigerators and Coca-Cola’s classic bottle.

Broadway Limited w 38 Stude Pres
Broadway Limited with 1938 Studebaker President
Courtesy Dennis E. Horvath archives

Loewy had always enjoyed drawing automobiles, and in 1932 he restyled the Hupmobile line. The 1938 model year marked the beginning of one of the most famous affiliations in Studebaker’s history. By then, Loewy, one of America’s most famous industrial designers, consulted with Studebaker and developed the all new line-up. These full-width bodies were offered in Commander and President versions. Studebaker’s innovation of windshield washers premiered in this model year. Thanks in part to the popularity of Loewy’s designs, Studebaker sales rose. Studebaker moved to tenth place in domestic auto sales with 92,200 units.

It is interesting to note that the streamline design for the 1938 Studebaker President was influenced by Lowey’s design of the 1937 Pennsylvania Railroad Broadway Limited Locomotive #3768.

Loewy with 53 Studebaker
Raymond Lowey with 1953 Studebaker
Copyright © 1953 Studebaker Corporation

The all new “Studebaker Century Models of 1953” were previewed to dealers in January of that year. The Loewy-influenced Starliner hardtop coupe is probably one of Studebaker’s most recognizable post-war offerings. The coupes are known for their sleek low profile that flows in an unbroken line from front to rear. They have improved weight distribution and a reduced center of gravity.

Visibility was improved by about 33 percent with wrap-around windows at the front and rear. The sedans were not quite as stylish and complicated as the engineering requirements for working on the same chassis. When the dust settled, a total of 186,484 cars were built.

1963 Avanti
Copyright © 1962 Studebaker Corporation

In retrospect, it appears that Studebaker saved its best for the last—the Avanti. In early 1961, Studebaker President Sherwood Egbert began concept drawings for a new car that would repair Studebaker’s tarnished image. With his desire to introduce a new car at the New York International Auto Show in April 1962, he enlisted Loewy’s firm to look at his drawings and return with a new model proposal. In the first part of April, Loewy’s one-eighth scale clay model and styling drawings were in South Bend. Egbert introduced the Avanti full-scale styling model to the board of directors on April 27, 1961. By the fall of 1961, orders were placed with outside suppliers for items that Studebaker could not produce internally.

The Avanti is best known for its under-the-bumper air intake and “Coke-bottle,” wedge shape design. The fiberglass body sat on a modified Lark Daytona convertible chassis. Avanti’s safety theme was prominent throughout with a recessed and padded instrument panel with red lights for night vision, built-in roll bar, and safety-cone door locks. The car was also one of the first American passenger cars to use caliper-type disc brakes.

In spring 1962, the Avanti was named the honorary pace car with a Studebaker Lark Daytona convertible selected as the official Indianapolis 500 pace car. I clearly remember Pole Day 1962. What a sensation! I was drawn to the Avanti’s aerodynamic Raymond Loewy styling, which I believe is timeless even today like his other industrial designs are.

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Studebaker Styling Innovation

For the second time since World War II, the Studebaker Corporation offered styling innovation for 1953. Leading this line-up was the Raymond Loewy designed Commander Starliner hardtop coupe. This design garnered the corporation many accolades.

Loewy with 53 Studebaker
Raymond Lowey with 1953 Studebaker
Copyright © Studebaker National Museum

Loewy’s European influenced design made use of horizontal lines to achieve new contours. One concave feature flowed back from the edge of the headlight along the side to a back angle rake near the edge of the door. The low, sweeping lines of the hood and trunk and the fin-type rear fenders added to the unusually low silhouette of the car. The five-passenger coupe was believed to be lower in overall height than any other American-built automobile.

Two low-profile grille openings located above the bumper extended the full width of the car. Each of the grilles has a horizontal bar with parking and directional signal lights at the outside end. Other styling features included push-button door handles, one-piece curved windshields, and one-piece, wrap-around rear windows.

53 Studebaker dash
1953 Studebaker dash
Copyright © Studebaker National Museum

This styling influence extended to the interior. The Studebaker’s hooded instrument dials and recessed toggle switches set a new trend in instrument panel design. Lighting was designed to give adequate visibility without disturbing glare. The angle of the steering wheel was situated to give a sport car feel.

The front bench seat was an offset design with the driver’s section somewhat narrower than the passenger section. This resulted in a larger entryway into the rear seat for passengers entering from the right-hand side of the car and greater comfort for the middle passenger when three are riding in front. The rear seat area featured two seats divided in the middle with a fold-out arm rest.

At the end of 1953 model year production, coupes accounted for 80 percent of production. Vestiges of this coupe’s styling stayed in the Studebaker production in various offerings through the 1964 model year. This low-slung compact design was also popular for adaptation into streamline land-speed racer designs.

1957 Studebaker Hawk
1957 Studebaker Hawk
Copyright © Studebaker National Museum

This Studebaker styling innovation still looks timeless today. The 1953 Commander Starliner hardtop coupe was one of five designs that Lowey’s design consultancy produced for Studebaker from 1939 through 1963.

For more information on Indiana auto pioneers follow this link.

Buick Produces a Sixties Styling Icon

Outside of the Studebaker Avanti launched in April 1962, I believe the 1963-1965 Buick Riviera ranks as a Sixties Styling icon. Car & Driver called it “The car that most impressed us in 1963.” The magazine further states “…it stands alone among American cars in providing a combination of luxury, performance, and general roadworthiness.”

1963 Riviera front
1963 Riviera front view
Copyright General Motors Corporation

What makes the Riviera so appealing? For me it’s the cutting edge styling inspired by GM’s chief stylist Bill Mitchell. Some of his inspiration came from seeing a Rolls-Royce cutting through the foggy night while visiting the 1959 London Motor Show.

1963 Riviera rear
1963 Riviera rear view>
Copyright General Motors Corporation

The Riviera features an expansive egg-crate grille, a flowing fender line, razor-sharp hardtop roof, and a classic inspired rear quarter panels. In side view, the Riviera has two rear scoops ahead of the rear wheels and a trim line that flows from the front edge and over the front wheel opening, then horizontally to and over the rear wheel opening straight to the lower edge of the rear bumper. The original plan of placing the headlights in the fenders behind retraceable grilles was not available until the 1965 model. It is a clean European influenced style that leads the eye to this styling icon.

1965 Riviera retractable headlights
1965 Riviera retractable headlights
Copyright General Motors Corporation

Riviera featured two manufacturing “firsts” for a production automobile: 1. Frameless side glass windows. 2. Flush adhesive-mounted windshield and rear window. Buick’s 401 cubic-inch “Wildcat” V-8 engine provided the motive force for the luxurious Riviera.

In a collectible classic review of the Riviera, Automobile magazine recently stated “One of the most beautifully proportioned American cars of the last sixty years; it was reportedly lauded by contemporary cognoscenti including famous designers such as Sir William Lyons, Sergio Pininfarina, and Raymond Loewy…”

It’s nice to see the magazine seems to agree that the 1963-1965 Buick Riviera is a sixties styling icon. You might want to check one out for a collectible classic in your garage.

For more information on our automotive heritage follow this link.

Celebrating style on the road

Today we enjoy automobiles for their styling, but that was not always the case. In the early part of the twentieth century, automobiles were mostly designed by engineers and machinists. All of that changed in 1927 when General Motors created the Art & Colour Section to use styling to differentiate their offerings in the marketplace.

In the early 1920’s, General Motors President Alfred P. Sloan, Jr., saw the need to create a tier of automobiles ranging from Cadillac down to Chevrolet. In the quest to develop a companion Cadillac in the $2,000 range, he enlisted the Fisher brothers from the Fisher Body Corporation to bring a bit of stylishness to the new offering.

1927 LaSalle
1927 LaSalle
Copyright General Motors Corporation

Fred Fisher had met Harley J. Earl, a west coast coachbuilder whose imaginative designs were well known from Los Angeles to New York. Earl designed the complete automobile as a unified whole rather than a collection of unrelated parts. The Fisher brothers summoned Earl to design the new LaSalle.

Earl prepared the LaSalle sketches and clay models in about three months. Then, Sloan brought in department heads to critique Earl’s proposal. After some fabrication tests, the new car was approved for production.

The LaSalle was introduced at the Boston Automobile Show in the Copley-Plaza Hotel on March 5, 1927. It was the first American production car completely designed from headlight to rear bumper by a stylist. On June 23, 1927, Sloan selected Earl to head the Art & Colour Section, the first corporate auto design studio to use stylists.

One of the items Earl introduced at Art & Colour was the use of clay styling models to demonstrate creative forms in three dimensions, which was not previously possible with drawings in two dimensions. Over the course of a couple of decades, these small models grew to full scale representations of proposed designs for evaluation and production planning.

1938 Buick Y-Job
1938 Buick Y-Job
Copyright General Motors Corporation

The department’s name changed to the Styling Section on April 1, 1934. The sections 1930’s ultimate expression came to fruition with the 1938 Buick Y-Job, which is generally accepted as the auto industry’s first concept car. This streamlined concept was Earl’s attempt to focus all the department’s long-range ideas into one vehicle that could be tested in day-to-day exposure on the street and highway. The car’s features included hydraulic window lifts, electric-operated concealed headlights, and a power-operated convertible roof. GM allowed Earl to use Y-Job as his personal car for several years as he impressed his country club friends and others on the road.

When World War II ended, GM stylists found that they had many imitators among their competitors. They conceived of a one-company auto road show to showcase new designs. The General Motors Motorama debuted at the Waldorf-Astoria, in New York City on January 19, 1950. The company’s concept cars were the exhibits that captured public interest. The last motorama took place in 1961. More than 10 million people attended motoramas during the 12-year run.

Developments at the Styling Section led to creation of the General Motors Technical Center, a single campus for research, engineering, and development activities that opened in 1956. This facility is still producing styling innovations today. That’s over 88 years of style on the road.

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