We recall a legendary name in American coachbuilding.
Today’s Escalade SUV is routinely paraded as the new-millennial personification of the classic full-size Cadillac sedan, but with the sort of ground clearance and utility the Cadillacs of yesteryear could only dream about. During the roseate era of fins, dagmars and chrome plating, Cadillacs were not created with practicality foremost in mind – these were profound statements, potent symbols of attainment.
Throughout the 1950s, Cadillac sales were seemingly impervious to market vagaries or the state of the economy. While its brash appearance may not have been to everyone’s taste – even in more-is-more boomtime fifties America – the Cadillac was the domestic car the vast majority of the American public aspired to. Cadillac customers were also said to be the most brand-loyal; even in more difficult times, a new Cadillac on the suburban driveway clearly illustrated to peers and associates that everything was ‘just swell’.
The idea of designing or styling cars is almost as old as the industry itself. Stemming from coach and carriage works, in the beginning the car was made and effectively styled by those same engineers whose only goal was a mechanically powered carriage. Short framed, high bodied creations, and rudimentary in weather protection, imbuing style was barely considered. Wealthy customers hired craftsmen to create a unique automobile – America had dozens of such custom builders but even with Henry’s Model T, mass production barely stirred the creative soul.
Alfred Pritchard Sloan Jr wrote a letter to the general manager of Buick, H.H. Bassett in 1926 expressing his interest in styling a car in order to sell more. Cadillac general manager, Lawrence Fisher concurred with Sloan’s and Basset’s ideas on appearance. On a trip of Cadillac dealers in California, Fisher was introduced to Don Lee who aside from flogging Cadillacs ran a custom workshop in Hollywood. Contained within were those craftsmen building film stars their dream cars. Fisher was impressed by not only the workmanship, but by the young fellow directing the designers – Harley J Earl.
Two giants of mid-20th century car design lay out their stall.
Both in oral and written communication the words Design and Styling are sometimes used as if they mean the same thing; this of course is not true. In broad terms styling is all about the visual qualities of a product, while design is more led by the functionality and consumer requirements. In the ideal fictitious case design leads to a product that is experienced as pleasing both in functionality as well as in aesthetics; for many, Dieter Rams for Braun or that of Jonathan Ive’s work for Apple fall within this treasured category. Continue reading “Style Council”
The Artistry of the 1920s has been widely and lovingly depicted, but colour has been more notable by its absence. Although not entirely.
The human mind sometimes works in mysterious ways. Because until relatively recently the fact that photography and film originating from the late 19th and early 20th century was black and white, subconsciously the idea that the world presented in those pictures was one bereft of colour often took hold in our brains, even though we of course knew better in our hearts.
The rediscovery of the amazing body of work by French philanthropist Albert Kahn and his colour photographs using experimental autochrome plates – the oldest ones dating back to 1909 – has done a lot to Continue reading “Earl’s Take On Nature”
One’s understanding of this depends very much on how one defines or understands Romance. Looked at one way, the US has produced some highly Romantic vehicles.
It gets rather complicated or at least ambiguous when you look closer. One can explain the expressive, expansive and generous adornment of American cars (of the old school) by referring to what might have been a bias towards emotion over reason. That is why the tailfins of the Cadillacs emerged for a short but memorable spell. People were excited by the drama of jet fighters and the imagery associated with them. The car sublimated that excitement.