When the GM streamliners first made their appearance in 1941, they looked like the most advanced cars on the road. But the futuristic shape didn’t age well, lasting barely a decade.
1941 Pontiac Torpedo 6 Coupe Sedan
The fastback era at General Motors arrived with a bang in 1941, with Pontiac, Oldsmobile, Buick, and Cadillac adopting the dramatic new sheet metal that year, while Chevrolet followed along one year later in ’42. Developed under the management of GM Styling boss Harley Earl, the teardrop roofline was applied across the board on the company’s A-Body, B-Body, and C-Body platforms, sharing common glass and stampings and produced in both two-door and four-door styles.
1941 Cadillac Sixty-One Five-Passenger Touring Sedan
While the streamliners presented a unified styling look for GM, which it called “Sport Dynamic,” the automaker never made a serious effort to promote them as a single corporate theme. The individual passenger car brands were left to come up with their own model names for their fastbacks, which they did in a casual and often inconsistent manner. Oldsmobile favored the Dynamic Cruiser label, while Pontiac adopted Streamliner and Torpedo (but also applied these names to its conventional body styles).
1942 Chevrolet Special De Luxe Fleetline Aerosedan
Chevrolet came up with the tag Fleetwood Aerosedan, while other GM divisional names included Club Coupe, Touring Sedan, and Coupe Sedan. But the name that stuck in the minds of the public was the Buick label, Sedanet. Consumers applied the name to all the GM fastbacks, often adopting their own alternative non-GM spelling, “Sedanette.” Buick stayed with the Sedanet designation throughout its fastback phase, embellishing it to Jetback Sedanet in 1950.
1946 Oldsmobile Dynamic 76 Club Sedan
When civilian auto production at GM resumed at the end of World War II, the streamliners returned as well, as the ’46 passenger cars were barely facelifted carryovers from ’42. The automaker typically offered its most popular models in both fastback and conventional three-box sedan styles, careful to offer car buyers their choice of either. When the GM passenger car divisions received their complete redesigns in ’48-’49, the streamlined roofline was continued, but in fewer model lines. The teardrop fad was passing.
Cadillac dropped its fastbacks after 1949, while Buick, Olds, and Pontiac discontinued theirs in 1951. Chevrolet hung on for one more year, offering a single streamliner, the Fleetline Deluxe Two-Door Sedan, through 1952. With the clarity of hindsight, we can see what happened: By 1950, GM’s fastback sales were falling off a cliff. American car buyers no longer viewed the teardrop roofline as futuristic, but as a remnant of the past. The fastbacks were swept off the production schedules to make way for the hot new body styles of the ’50s: the pillarless hardtop and the queen of the suburbs, the all-steel station wagon.
1951 Chevrolet Deluxe Styline Four-Door Sedan
Article courtesy of Mac's Motor City Garage.
In late 1963, two auto industry legends, Brooks Stevens and Charles Sorensen, joined forces in a last-ditch attempt to revive Studebaker.
For this story, history owes a debt of gratitude to automotive writer Rich Taylor, who interviewed designer Brooks Stevens for the April 1984 issue of Special Interest Autos, memorializing the events described here, and to the Milwaukee Museum of Art, which hosts the Brooks Stevens Archives.
On December 12, 1963, two old friends and auto industry associates—industrial designer Brooks “Kip” Stevens and manufacturing wizard Charles Sorensen—met in Florida for a one-day brainstorming session. Stevens, the contract designer of many memorable Studebakers including the Gran Turismo Hawk, and Sorensen, known as Cast Iron Charlie for his decades as the production boss at the gigantic Ford Rouge plant, were on a rather desperate mission: Come up with a plan to save Studebaker, America’s oldest car company.
It was a hail-Mary play. Only a few days earlier on December 9, company management had decided to shut down the South Bend, Indiana plant and cease auto production in the USA. The Stevens/Sorensen solution was a bold one: a stripped-down, almost third-world approach to auto manufacturing called the Low Cost Molded Vehicle, or LCMV.
As the above diagram illustrates, the Studebaker LCMV would be based on a unitized fiberglass body and chassis molded in two halves, split longitudinally right down the middle. (Sorensen devised a giant Ferris Wheel-type machine to mold four body sections at once.) Hood and deck lid were identical, while the four doors were diagonally interchangeable and all the glass was flat. Interior panels and headliner would be vacuum-formed plastic, further shaving tooling and inventory costs to the bone, and a transverse front-drive powertrain module was built around the trusty Studebaker OHV six. By Sorensen’s rough calculations, the unit cost per vehicle was only $560, enabling a retail price of $1085 and a tidy profit margin both for Studebaker and its dealers. On paper, anyway.
Along with the base four-door sedan, Stevens also envisioned a pair of cab-forward variants with the powertrain module relocated to the rear. Two alternate seating arrangements provided a three-row layout similar to a modern crossover (above) or facing rear seats to create an executive limousine (below).
While the Sorensen/Stevens plan was imaginative and audacious, to say the least, Studebaker management, then led by former Packard accountant Byers Burlingame, expressed zero interest. Pretty much as you would expect, their focus was entirely on preserving the remaining investor capital at that point. Studebaker would continue to build cars for a few more years, but only in Canada, and with modest annual facelifts by Brooks Stevens.
Article courtesy of Mac's Motor City Garage.
Dig that psychedelic early '70s background
It's always interesting to see the initial design sketch for a production car, as it takes a familiar-to-us form and shows the idealized version of that car, the designer's blue-sky dream before it went through the mill of production feasibility, market research, cost analysis and the countless other hurdles that stand between design studio and showroom. Here, we see a design sketch for mid-cycle update of the huge 1970s Chevrolet Impala/Caprice that initially was launched for 1971.
The image appeared in GM Design's Instagram feed, and the sketched was done by Bill Michalak circa 1972. Dig that groovy background. Apparently, it wasn't just Folger's fueling the creative minds at GM design in the early '70s.
The big Chevrolet would have been in its second model year at this point. Below is an image of the '72 Chevy, which shows the differences versus the car Michalak sketched.
This generation Impala/Caprice initially had a front end that was framed by upright fender extensions, in the formal style of the era. Michalak's design would move the fascia in a more aerodynamic direction, eliminating the fender extensions, putting the headlights at the outer edge of the fascia (with the bonus of making the car look even wider), and angling the headlights back toward the fenders. His square headlights were incorporated as well, although they were reserved for the Caprice. This new look appeared for 1975 and remained through '76. Additionally, we can see in this sketch the switch from the coupe's rear window being part of the side daylight opening as shown above and to a large fixed "opera" window for the two-doors, a change that arrived for '74.
Here's the '76 Chevy two-door in production form below.
Michalak's horizontal-bar grille didn't make the cut, as the eggcrate texture was by then considered part of the Caprice look. Outside of the grille and the square headlights, the big Chevys' looks would change dramatically for 1977, as the cars underwent a major redesign and downsizing.
Abridged Article courtesy of Autoblog.com, written by Joe Lorio.
1969 Buick Riviera. Photos by Richard Lentinello.
Vintage-car enthusiasts often debate which postwar cars should be recognized as hallmark designs, but there seems to be little argument about Buick's first-generation Riviera. It is almost unanimously lauded as the postwar automobile that transformed the personal-luxury-car market from an industry niche into a fashionable social statement.
Riviera's story can be recited with ease. Conceptualized as the La Salle II, it was refused by Cadillac, and then Chevrolet, because both divisions were operating at full capacity. It was then offered to Oldsmobile and Pontiac, but quickly retracted when both divisions made it clear they would make sweeping changes. Which left Buick: a division that—looking to alter its sales image— saw potential, grabbed the design, and, with only minor function-over-form tweaks, successfully transformed the Riviera from clay mockup to 40,000 street-legal units in 1963.
The part of the tale that few remember is how Riviera's first-year output was an early high-water mark. Despite tasteful visual refinements through 1965, and the availability of performance options, such as the Gran Sport package, production slowly fell to 37,658 examples for '64, and then to 34,586 a year later. Meanwhile, Fisher Body had been working with Oldsmobile since early '63, sculpting sheetmetal for the front-wheel-drive Toronado. The target year for the Oldsmobile's introduction was 1966. Since that project was similar in stature to the Riviera and was intended for the same market, GM stipulated, early in the '66 Riviera's development, that the Buick was to share the new E-body.
When unveiled, both cars had a uniform fastback roofline with an accentuated hardtop design, thanks to the elimination of vent windows, but Buick's designers set the rearwheel-drive Riviera apart from its corporate rival with crisp, forward-protruding fenders. Coupled with a new hood and bumper, the panels emphasized Buick's W-shaped front end. New running lamps flanked a deeply recessed grille, while headlamps appeared from under the hood lip when activated. A considerable reduction of polished exterior trim made the Riviera's appearance both aggressive and elegant.
The 211.2-inch-long body required a new 119-inch-wheelbase cruciform frame with a wider track that increased stability. Up front, there was an independent front suspension with unequal-length wishbones, coil springs, hydraulic shocks, and an anti-roll bar. In the rear were coil springs and hydraulic shocks anchoring a live axle. Buick's venerable 340-hp, 425-cu.in. engine was retained from '65, as well as the Super Turbine 400 three-speed automatic.
The interior was restyled too, finished with a bench seat, relegating buckets to a no-cost option, and an instrument panel that featured "cockpit-type controls." At the center of the panel was a 140-mph barrel-type speedometer, while "direct-reading" auxiliary gauges were set to either side. Flanking the gauges, and choice of radio, were paddle switches that controlled lighting and other accessories.
Bolstered by comfort and performance options, including the continuation of the GS package, response to the 1966 Riviera produced a sales figure of 42,799 units, surpassing Flint's expectations. Considered a perfect balance of visual appeal, size, and power, the second-gen Riviera was bestowed with mere mechanical improvements—such as the change to a 430-cu.in. engine and Turbo Hydra-Matic automatic—and minor visual updates though 1970, proving that the output of '66 was no fluke. By 1969, Riviera production numbered 52,872 units, including our feature car.
While built during an era known for a plethora of earth tones, this exceptionally documented Riviera left the factory wearing rare Twilight blue. According to the Riviera Owner's Association, just 1,679 (or 3.18 percent) were painted as such. It was also built with the bucket seat and center console options, the latter mandating the relocation of the automatic shift lever off the steering column. Along with 17 other options, it stickered for $6,218, or $45,010 in today's money.
Engine 430-cu.in. V-8
Horsepower 360 @ 5,000 rpm
Torque 475 lb-ft @ 3,200 rpm
Transmission Turbo Hydra-Matic 400 three-speed automatic
Rear axle Hypoid, semi-floating, Positive Traction
Tires 8.55 x 15-inch bias ply
Wheels 15 x 6-inch chrome five spoke
Wheelbase 119 inches
Weight 4,200 pounds
Total production 52,872 (includes 5,272 GS editions)
Base price new $4,701
2020 equivalent $34,029
Article courtesy of Hemmings, written by Matt Litwin.