Tag Archives: General Motors

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.

For more on automotive styling follow this link.

Dream Cars are coming

The Indianapolis Museum of Art debuts a new type of motor spectacle in Indianapolis with the exhibit Dream Cars: Innovative Design, Visionary Ideas, May 3 through August 23, 2015.

Dream Cars showcases some of the most unique vehicles ever created by top names in the automotive field, including General Motors, Cadillac, and Chrysler. Along with conceptual drawings and scale models, the exhibition explores the evolution of revolutionary automobile design that pushed the limits of the imagination and shaped the future of the industry.

As I’ve said before, it’s styling that draws me to automobiles. Cars like these take me back to my high school days when I dreamed of styling automobiles. These cars were the epitome of styling in their day.

1932 Ford Speedster
Edsel Ford Model 40 Special Speedster®, 1934. Designed by Edsel Ford and Eugene T. “Bob” Gregorie. Courtesy of the Edsel and Eleanor Ford House, Grosse Pointe Shores, Michigan.

For example, in 1934, Edsel Ford wanted a special auto to tool around Florida and other playgrounds of the wealthy and enlisted styling chief E.T. Gregorie to design the Model 40 Special Speedster. Gregorie fabricated this two-passenger boat-tailed speedster with cut-down door openings from hand-formed aluminum over a tubular aluminum framework. The speedster was originally painted Pearl Essence Gunmetal Dark, with a complementary gray leather interior. The sleek speedster captured the streamlining effects of the day that preceded the 1935 Miller-Ford Indianapolis 500 two-man race cars. By 1939, Gregorie redesigned the speedster’s front end by shortening the upper grills and fabricating a wide lower horizontal grille for improved cooling. The restored Speedster debuted at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance in August 2011.

The Dream Cars exhibition presents automotive styling as rolling sculpture. Plan now to visit the Dream Cars: Innovative Design, Visionary Ideas exhibit, and experience how these designs envisioned new ideas for transportation.

My Dream Car the Cadillac Sixteen

A few years ago, I was pleased to talk about automotive history to a class at Wabash College in Crawfordsville, IN. One student asked, “What is your dream car?” Now I hadn’t really thought about any one car as being “my dream car.” I enjoy many for various reasons. But I found that I didn’t hesitate with an answer too long before I decided—the Cadillac Sixteen, which debuted at the 2003 North American International Auto Show.

Cadillac Sixteen
Cadillac Sixteen
Copyright © 2003 General Motors

I have to admit that this car did not fit with the theme of my presentation Mileposts in Indiana Automotive History. However, this model does make me think of the coachbuilt era of the 1930’s, when many of America’s great cars were designed. Cadillac introduced its first V-16 automobile in 1930, followed by Marmon shipping its first Sixteen in 1931. Both of these cars were top of the mark in their era. I believe the current Cadillac Sixteen pays tribute to these cars and extends the design to the new millennium. For me, the Cadillac is the epitome of current American car design.

So, let us take a look at the Cadillac Sixteen. This luxury-sedan concept, measuring 20 feet long and weighting 2.5 tons, is powered by a 13.6 liter V-16 engine producing over 1,000 horsepower and 1,000 lb-ft of torque. The engine debuts fuel-saving “Displacement on Demand” technology for a 20 m.p.g. rating.

The Sixteen features an ultra luxurious cabin with hand-stitched, Tuscany leather upholstered seatsand an all-glass roof. Walnut burl veneer inlays trim the dash, door panels, and front and rear consoles. A Bulgari clock is mounted in the dash center.

The exterior styling has a long hood and a low sedan passenger compartment much like its predecessors from the 1930’s. I like how the design line flows from the LED headlights to the LED taillights. The wheel arches show-off the 24-inch polished aluminum wheels with custom Michelin tires. A Sixteen nameplate resides over the vent behind the front wheels.

So, I can dream about the Cadillac Sixteen, can’t I?