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 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)”

Strip Club

Sorry gentlemen, no lucite heels and garterbelts here, just painted metal and blanked out switches.

Image: Balconistasa com

There can be a quiet sort of dignity in an austere car. Shorn of distracting embellishments, the observer has an excellent opportunity to judge the essential purity – or lack thereof – of the design in question. But there are limits to how far a manufacturer can Continue reading “Strip Club”

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”

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”

Theme : Facelifts – Loewy´s 1953 Studebaker

You can’t polish a turd, but can you sully a diamond?

53 Studebaker Starliner Side
1953 Studebaker Commander Starliner

Once, whilst Europe was happy to go on producing the same identical model year after year, until the dies got too worn out to function, the US doggedly changed models every three years, with a facelift every year in between. Thus, any reasonable US car spotter will be able to identify the exact year of a Ford Thunderbird, first by the shape, then by the radiator trim or the rear lamps. Any manufacturer who didn’t come up with something new for each season was not going to be taken seriously.

Studebaker was not in a great position in the late 40s, but it tried making the best of things with good design. First Raymond Loewy’s studio came up with the influential 1947 models, Continue reading “Theme : Facelifts – Loewy´s 1953 Studebaker”