The Cost of Complacency

An admirable philosophy that ultimately proved to be unsustainable.

Brochure images: the author

Unwillingness to compromise in any way on craftsmanship and quality may be a noble pursuit but, in a highly competitive business, it can ultimately prove to be one’s undoing. Founded in 1908, the Pierce-Arrow Motor Car Company produced automobiles that were unequivocally aimed at those of elevated social status and discriminating taste. Imposing in size and, in some cases, larger than life(1), they found favour amongst the chauffeur-driven elite to make a suitably impressive entrance at high society social functions.

When the highest authority in the United States commissioned the first official car for the White House in 1909, it seemed only natural that Pierce-Arrow should be chosen to Continue reading “The Cost of Complacency”

Independent Diptych (Part Two)

Studebaker’s shoestring-budget foray in the compact market.

Images: Alf van Beem and jalopyjournal.com

Development of the compact Studebaker Lark started in the spring of 1957. The South Bend, Indiana firm had created a stop-gap of sorts that year in the shape of the very austere Scotsman model, but it was obvious that this was just a severely decontented full-size car instead of the more compact vehicle envisioned to revive Studebaker’s fortunes by capturing a slice of an emerging new market segment. And a revival was desperately needed: like its rival, American Motors, Studebaker had entered into an ultimately fatal merger, in this case with the once-great luxury carmaker, Packard.

As work on the Lark started, Packard was as good as dead and its last models, which were little more than Studebakers in fancy dress, were only gathering dust on the showroom floor. For Studebaker itself, the situation was not much better as the company suffered its worst year since 1938 with fewer than 45,000 cars sold. Clearly, the new model, designed to tap into a rapidly growing market and generate much-needed profits, could not come a moment too soon, and that the Lark was ready to be introduced for the 1959 model year was a minor miracle. Continue reading “Independent Diptych (Part Two)”

Independent Diptych (Part One)

Clever innovation from the smaller American automakers.

Image: the author

With pockets much less deep than those of the US ‘Big Three’ automakers, independent American manufacturers needed to be clever and creative to come up with new cars in response to an expanding market as the 1960s dawned. Studebaker’s solution was to use the mid-section of its existing full-size sedan that dated back to 1953 as a base, while American Motors resurrected a model, albeit with several updates applied to it, that it had discontinued years earlier.

One notable advantage of this forced strategy was that it enabled both companies to Continue reading “Independent Diptych (Part One)”

South Bend Undead

The many afterlives of the Avanti.

All brochure images: Avanti / the author

As a Studebaker, the Avanti was short-lived and proved unable to prevent the venerable independent automaker’s demise not long after its launch. The death of Studebaker did not mean the end for the Avanti, however, not by a long shot.

In fact, even while Studebaker was still an active car manufacturer, albeit in Canada instead of South Bend, Indiana, as before, the first Avanti resuscitation was already underway. In July 1964, Nathan Altman and Leo Newman, two South Bend Studebaker dealers, signed an agreement with the company whereby they acquired the rights to the design, moulds and tooling for the Avanti as well as the rights to Continue reading “South Bend Undead”

The Milwaukee Magician (Part Five)

Concluding our guided tour through the works of Brooks Stevens.

Image: stlouiscarmuseum.com

1964 Excalibur SS: Studebaker needed something special to display at the 1964 New York Motor Show. The cars that had been displayed at the Chicago event earlier in the year were pretty underwhelming, being mainly colour and trim variations on the regular production vehicles. Byers Burlingame, successor to Sherwood Egbert, who had been forced to resign as CEO of Studebaker for health reasons, discussed the matter with Brooks Stevens over the telephone.

Stevens later recalled that he asked Burlingame to ship a Lark Daytona chassis to him. When Burlingame asked what he intended to do with it, Stevens replied crisply that he was “going to build a contemporary classic.” When Burlingame asked “What in the hell is that?” Stevens had to think a few seconds, as the idea was new to him also, and finally replied: “Well, it’s a new old car.” Burlingame just hung up the phone, but the chassis was duly sent over.

Even though his designs in various fields were mostly quite avant garde, Stevens was also a lifelong fan of the great classic cars. His idea, unique at the time but subsequently copied by many others, was to Continue reading “The Milwaukee Magician (Part Five)”

The Milwaukee Magician (Part Four)

Continuing our guided tour of the works of Brooks Stevens.

Image: cartype.com

1962 and 1964 Studebaker Lark facelifts: In 1956, Studebaker parted ways with Raymond Loewy, the designer responsible (in name at least) for the creation of most of the Indiana company’s cars of the preceding decades. The reason was not so much dissatisfaction with Loewy’s services, but a lack of money: Studebaker’s sales were in the doldrums and the company simply could not afford him anymore. Styling responsibilities would henceforth lie with its in-house design team, led by Randall Faurot and Duncan McRae.

The compact Lark(1) was McRae and his colleagues’ first design. They ingeniously re-used the rather dated central body section of the company’s existing large Champion model, which had been introduced in 1953. Initially, the Lark sold very well and was wholly responsible for saving Studebaker from bankruptcy, at least for the time being. Sherwood Egbert became CEO of the troubled company at the end of 1960. Having previously worked for the McCulloch company, Egbert had already met Brooks Stevens on a few occasions, so it was to the Milwaukee designer that Egbert would turn to Continue reading “The Milwaukee Magician (Part Four)”

Ashes to Ashes (Part One)

Awaiting the inevitable.

Two 1965 or 1966 Ford Mustangs, a 1953 Cadillac and a 1963 Ford Thunderbird. All images: the author.

Apart from huge metropolises such as New York or Los Angeles, most of the United States’ land area is quite sparsely inhabited, with large areas of undeveloped land. A consequence of this abundance of space was the many salvage yards(1) where cars were simply parked at their presumed final resting place instead of being stacked on top of each other, disassembled, flattened or crushed.

While not necessarily the most environmentally-friendly storage method, salvage yards do provide an invaluable source of spare-parts for those restoring a piece of classic Detroit iron. For those with an interest in classic cars in general and who, like your author, appreciate the peculiar air of nostalgia and romance one feels while walking amongst discarded vehicles in varying stages of decay, these yards are also irresistible. In truth, I should probably use the past tense these days as the vast majority of these salvage yards have now disappeared due to ever more stringent environmental laws and policies that started to take effect, especially since the turn of the millennium. Continue reading “Ashes to Ashes (Part One)”

Role Call

A woman’s place is in the… Design Studio.

Image: The author

Even now, well into the 21st century, the automotive industry and its related fields employ and attract more men than they do women, and the styling studios are no exception. There certainly has been a noticeable influx of women in the design departments over the past few decades: Anne Asensio, Marcy Fisher, Juliane Blasi and Michelle Christensen being a few latterday examples.

Wind back the clock some 90 years however and it was a different environment – and not just within the car industry. It took a determined and strong-willed woman to overcome the prejudice, condescendence, resistance and occasionally, outright hostility she would often confront if she dared enter an arena hitherto considered to be the sole domain of men.

Some of the women presented herein might appear a tad overdressed in period photographs, but it is important to Continue reading “Role Call”

Big Things

Some cars are bigger than others. 

Image: Author’s collection

On the occasion of the current Fiat 500’s introduction at the Frankfurt Motor Show in 2007, nobody could miss the enormous 500 replica that dominated the FIAT display; it was an impressive showpiece and even included a huge ignition key. Both the front and rear wheel could slide away to allow actual 500’s to be driven in and out. The giant 500 was certainly a bold, eye-catching idea, but Fiat was not the first to Continue reading “Big Things”

Getting Personal

Analysing three different takes on the personal luxury car of 1963.

All images: The author.

The personal luxury car is a uniquely American phenomenon; its closest cousin in concept would have been the European GT, but this transatlantic specimen was a larger, softer (but on a straight piece of road not necessarily slower) breed. There is a fairly general consensus that Ford was the first to Continue reading “Getting Personal”

It’s Squirrel, Actually.

Sounds odd, doesn’t it? And so it should! Who would’ve thought the thuggish American grey squirrel could do some good?

“Don’t sneeze”. (c) Images.complex.com.

Artwork has been around since man first walked the earth, from those basic but enigmatic cave paintings through innumerable differing themes, spheres and periods. Prior to the automobile entering the scene, the largest canvas one could expect to become embellished by a more detailed approach might have been a carriage, steam engine, a wagon or the mighty locomotive. With these large expanses to adorn, you could really personalise, promote your product.

JJ Deal of Janesville, Michigan was the producer of fine wagons, carriages and buggies powered by natural horsepower. From 1845 Deal swiftly gained a reputation for building not only quality products but also a highly detailed paint finish. Deal’s Chief Striper was a fellow named Andrew Mack. A perfectionist, Mack was never completely satisfied with the quality or performance of his paints and brushes whilst working at Deal, seeking better products and methods in which to Continue reading “It’s Squirrel, Actually.”

Deviating Fortunes

How an ultimately doomed American car manufacturer unwittingly laid the financial foundation of one of today’s most successful sports car makers.

(c) Publications International

Ferdinand Anton Ernst (better known as Ferry) Porsche visited the USA for the first time in his life in December 1951. The 42-year old general manager of Porsche AG; his father Ferdinand Senior having passed away earlier that year, was there to carry out consulting work on a military vehicle project for the US Army as well as to discuss sales and distribution with Max Hoffman, Porsche’s importer and distributor for North America.

During that meeting Hoffman suggested to Porsche that providing consultancy services for American carmakers might be a lucrative idea for the enterprising young firm. Shortly before, Hoffman had met with longtime Studebaker executive Richard A. Hutchinson to discuss the future of the American car market and he suggested that Studebaker should offer a true economy car, a kind of American Volkswagen, instead of trying to Continue reading “Deviating Fortunes”

Theme : Hybrids – The Studillac

 In search of an all-American Hybrid.

Bill-frick-motors

“Studillac” said Leiter. “Studebaker with a Cadillac engine. Special transmission and brakes and rear axle. Conversion job. A small firm near New York turns them out. Only a few, but they’re a damn sight better sports car than those Corvettes and Thunderbirds. And you couldn’t have anything better than this body. Designed by that Frenchman, Raymond Loewy. Best designer in the world. But it’s a bit too advanced for the American market. Studebaker’s never got enough credit for this body. Too unconventional. Like the car.” Continue reading “Theme : Hybrids – The Studillac”