We compare a pair of late ’50s fintails.
Nobody quite realised at the time, but 1959 would mark peak-tailfin – this styling device falling out of fashion almost as abruptly as it emerged. But while the tailfin’s retreat would be particularly rapid in its country of origin, the European industry, having been slower to adapt in the first instance, was equally tardy in abandoning it.
Of course, it’s worth reminding ourselves of motor industry lead-times – the period between styling sign-off and job-one. Certainly, when Ford’s UK arm conceived the 105E-series Anglia, nobody could possibly have foreseen the style going out of fashion so rapidly.
The 105E was the fourth generation model to bear the Anglia name. Based on the unitary architecture of the preceding 100E model, it also shared the older car’s Macpherson strut front and semi-elliptic rear suspension design. Unlike the 100E’s sidevalve unit however, the Anglia’s engine was of a modern OHV design. The oversquare 997cc ‘Kent’ engine would go on to power millions of compact Ford models for decades to come and would form the core of the 105E’s appeal.
Styling was carried out at Ford UK’s Dunton style centre, lead by Briton, Colin Neale. Taking his inspiration from across the Atlantic, Neale, who helmed Ford’s British design centre and is credited with cars such as the Mark 2 Consul/ Zephyr, Consul-Classic, and Consul-Capri, drew from a variety of US-market sources – especially the so-called Breezaway rear window treatment of the 1958 Lincoln.
The result ought to have been an unhappy amalgam, yet despite the compact dimensions, the result was more distinctive than dire. Certainly at its 1959 debut, the 105E was decidedly on-zeitgeist. It was also costed to an inch of its life, with basic models (featuring a narrower grille treatment and less brightwork) undercutting BMC’s radical new Minicar on price, despite a larger engine and a notably bigger footprint. De Luxe models had the full width grille and more creature comforts, while a larger engined (1200cc) Anglia Super arrived later. Estate and van versions also became available.
Neale’s Transatlantic interests would see him headhunted by Elwood Engel to Dearborn where he assisted with both 1961 Thunderbird and Lincoln Continental designs, forging a successful career, first at Ford and later, following his mentor Engel to Chrysler.
The British Standard motor company had emerged from post-war austerity with something of an image problem. Associated with basic transportation, it was decided to pursue a more upmarket course utilising the more upmarket Triumph brand name which they had acquired in 1944.
Having reached something of an impasse over the in-house styling for a replacement to the dated Eight and Ten range (codenamed Zobo), Standard-Triumph’s engineering chief, Harry Webster turned to Italian carrozzerie, Giovanni Michelotti, whose design proved an instant hit with the Triumph board. With it’s sharp lines, cleanly defined surfaces and the merest hint of rear tailfins, Zobo was everything its frumpy predecessor was not.
Technically however, the Triumph differed in one highly significant manner. Owing to a crisis over body supply, it was decided that instead of tooling up for a unitary bodyshell, it would be both expedient and more cost-effective to design a separate chassis with the body built in bolt-on sections. This made for a less than rigid structure, but had the advantage of allowing for a wider range of bodystyles than would otherwise have been possible. Powertrains were carryover Standard units, while rear suspension employed swing axles and a transverse leaf spring – which lead to somewhat interesting handling characteristics in extremis.
Marketed as a more upmarket car than the Anglia it rivalled, the Herald hit its sales stride in later 1200cc form. Offered as a two-door saloon, coupé, convertible, estate and van, there was a Herald for all tastes, and its ease of use, coupled to its London taxi-cab turning circle, made it a hit with driving schools from Berwick-Upon-Tweed to Banbury. The Herald chassis also formed the basis for the two-seater Spitfire, its larger-engined GT6 sibling and the more upmarket Herald-based Vitesse models.
The Anglia too was an immediate success, particularly in the UK market, where it not only gained a following from the cost-conscious, but its highly tunable engine made it a favourite both with saloon car racers and the forces of law and order – the Anglia becoming a regular sight as a Panda-car.
However, in style conscious Italy, the 105E quickly lost its visual appeal. Ford’s Italian sales director, the flamboyant American, Filmer Paradise, approached Michelotti, to lend the Anglia a little Turin sparkle. Giovanni restyled the nose and tail, excising its 1950’s appearance, the reverse slope rear treatment and of course, its tailfins. The Anglia Torino was sold in Italian, Belgian and Luxemburg markets.
The 105E continued elsewhere largely unchanged until its demise in 1967 – its Escort replacement being a more modern design (still with some US influence) and would go on to be an even more successful car. The Herald meanwhile had probably outstayed its welcome by the time production ceased in 1971 – its direct replacement being the retrograde RWD Toledo of 1970, (which could be said to have resembled the Torino from the rear).
Although tastes had changed rather dramatically throughout both their lifetimes, both cars lasted well beyond the freshness of their styling – the Herald’s appearance (facelifted in 1967), being arguably the less dated of the pair. The Anglia however was not only the better-realised product, but the more successful, with over a million being built in the UK, Ireland, South Africa and Australia.
Heralds were essentially component cars, so its little surprise that they were assembled from CKD kits in places like Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Ireland, Italy, and Malta. Not forgetting India, where the only four-door Herald was made. Production totalled slightly over half a million.
Both these cars transcended their styling – proving more durable as consumer products than design statements. The Anglia was classic Ford – eminently fit for its purpose, smartly designed, if no more so than strictly necessary. The Triumph by contrast was an anomaly. A throwback conceptually, yet its style probably did more to lend it a lasting appeal than any other factor. Fins after all have their purposes.