Automotive Turning Point – Part 1

In the year of my birth (1954), I think the automotive world began to change.  By then, the austerity forced on European countries by WWII had started to wane, and cars began to become more than just a means to get from A to B.  And in the United States, cars started to move away from the dome-shaped creations of the pre-war era, and reflected both the exploding population of the Baby Boom and the chrome-driven manifestation of the exploding economy.

(Please note that what follows is by no means a comprehensive list;  it’s simply a catalog of cars which caught my interest and / or fancy.)

Of course, there were a few cars which were on their last legs — stylistically speaking — and they would be replaced in the following two or three years.  But in 1954, a couple of models appeared on both sides of the Atlantic which I think triggered the sea change in design.  Here’s one example: Fiat.  Note the old-fashioned post-war styling of the 1954 500C Topolino, and the brilliant new design of the 8v Berlinetta, made in the same year:

Shades of the Ferrari 375 Mille Miglia:

And if ever there was a study in lifestyle contrast between Europe and the U.S.A., note the 1954 Fiat 110 and the Chrysler New Yorker, both family saloon cars:


Of course, the Germans caused a distinct ruckus with the 1954 Mercedes 300 Gullwing:

…which was a behemoth, in Euro terms, when compared to the petite Lancia Aurelia B24 Spider:

…but compared favorably to the British Daimler Conquest Drophead:

…and our old friend, the Jaguar XK120:

In fact, let’s spend the rest of this post looking at convertibles — why not? — so here we go, first with the 1954 Aston Martin DB2-4 Spider Bertone:

I think the iconic E-type was a direct copy of Bertone’s design, myself;  but I’ll let others argue about it.  The Bertone was accompanied by its stablemate, the 1954 Aston Martin DB2-4 Drophead Coupe:

…and the equally-lovely 1954 Alfa Romeo 1900 Sport Spider:

On a more modest scale, we have the 1954 Austin Healey 100-4:

…and the French 1954 Simca “Weekend” DV:

But when it came to open-top cars, the Brits and the French still sold more of the Citroën 2CV and the Morris Minor:

(I should point out that as a youngin, I was driven around in a Minor, my Mom’s car.)

Of course, there were the flashy numbers like the 1954 Morgan Plus 4 (which hadn’t changed since the 1930s, and has yet to change from this style to the present day):

…and the rather plain BMW 502 Cabriolet:

But no study of automotive styling of the 1954 model year would be complete without comparing the above to the American contingent, a sample of which appears below:

1954 Ford Crestliner:

1954 Packhard Caribbean (as I recall, one of the last of the Packhards before the company was bought out):

And of course, no study of this kind would be complete without the sine qua non of Murkin ’50s engineering, the Cadillac Eldorado:

The best (largest) that the Europeans could come up with was the admittedly fine Mercedes 300S Cabriolet:

And speaking of Cadillacs and Mercedes, I’ll be looking at family saloon cars in Part 2, tomorrow.

When Technology Sucks

I have frequently railed against modern technology on these here pages, and just as often been called a Luddite or Old Fart etc. for doing so. Here’s the latest little fad, and its downside, which came under my baleful gaze:

BMW has claimed it is powerless to prevent criminals hacking into its cars.
In emails to a customer seen by the Daily Mail, the German giant acknowledged its latest keyless models were vulnerable to thieves using gadgets widely available online.
However, it insisted it cannot accept any responsibility for this.
The Mail has highlighted a surge in thefts using ‘relay boxes’ to extend the signal from owners’ key fobs to steal vehicles outside their homes.

Perhaps I’m missing something, but isn’t this “remote / keyless start” thing basically for those who are just too lazy to insert a key into a lock and turning it? (And spare me the “soccer moms with armfuls of groceries” spiel, please.) If I’ve missed some lifesaving feature that this technology brings, let me know about it — but be warned that I’m going to be a tough sell. The way I see it, it’s a little frippery invented to “improve” a product that doesn’t need much improvement (see: electronic seat setting “memory”) and simply adds yet another cost / opportunity to break and incur horrendous repair costs.

Also, as the above article reveals, it makes it easier for car thieves to steal your car, all while BMW et al. shrug their corporate shoulders and ask Pontius to hand over the basin when he’s done.

My VW Tiguan does have an electronic unlocking fob, and I use it simply because the actual keyhole is buried beneath a plastic shield in the door handle; but if the little battery inside goes phut, I doubt I’ll ever replace it. I’ll just take off the shield and go back to using the car key to unlock the door, as invented by God Henry Ford.

As for this remote-starting gizmo, I’ll only ever buy a car with one if you can permanently disable the wretched thing without voiding your warranty; otherwise, it’s on to the next model, or if all of them include that little thieves’ helper in the future, something a little more to my taste; something (duh) older:

You see, back in 1968 Mercedes didn’t screw around with unnecessary crap; they just made simple, gorgeous sports cars like this 230 SL. Sure, an enterprising car thief could probably nick it, too; but he’d have to work a little harder than just by buying a $5 relay box from Amazon.

Drop Dead Gorgeous

From Reader Gloria S. comes this little bit of mischief: “The Alvis was class, so’s this one. ’54 Jaguar XK 120 M, Drop Head Coupe.”

I saw several of these last year over in Britishland, and each one was as beautiful as the other. This one, however (to quote The Englishman) makes parts of me stir that haven’t stirred for a long, long time.

Additional Delights

From Comments in yesterday’s post explaining my brief abstinence:

“Maybe toss in a extra-ration of zoom-zoom, bang-bang and a bit of tasteful hoochie-coochie.”

I live to please. First, some zoom-zoom (Alvis Speed 25, 1939):

Next, a little bang-bang (Browning BAR in .243 Win):

…and finally, some hoochie-cootchie, of unknown provenance:

Flight Of Fancy

Back in the day when I played in a band, the various members had some rather interesting hobbies: Drummer Knob collected sports cars (and still does), Guitarists Kevin and Donald collected venomous snakes (the idiots), Keyboards Player Mike had his private pilot license (PPL), Guitarist Marty had his chopper pilot’s license, while Bassist Kim… well, I did a lot of testing of the effects of alcohol on the human body. (The band was my hobby.)

Anyway, Mike also had a two-seater ultralight aircraft, and I went up with him on several occasions. It was great fun, and it looked something like this: essentially, a wing with a”pusher” (rear-facing) motorcycle engine attached.

While I was looking at pics of old planes last week (for the RAF’s centenary), I happened upon something which made me stop and think: “I’d love to have one of those and fly it around.”

This is the Airco DH.2, designed by Geoffrey De Havilland himself (PBUH), and while it’s a little more aircraft than an ultralight (with two wings and a substantial tail assembly), the principle is the same: a “pusher” engine mounted behind the pilot.

I’d just use a modern engine (Honda Gold Wing?) in place of the old underpowered 100 hp Gnôme Monosoupape rotary engine, which had a rather disturbing tendency to lose its cylinders in flight. (And yes, I’d very much like to keep the Lewis machine gun too, thankyouverramush.)

I know the DH.2 is only a single-seater, but then if I wanted to go the extra step and carry a passenger as well, there’s always the Royal Aircraft Factory’s F.E.2b:

…also with the machine gun, of course.

I’m too old for this stuff now, more’s the pity; but let me tell you, given half the chance, I’d do it in a heartbeat anyway — in either aircraft, even without the guns.

Unwanted Changes

I hate change.

This should come as no surprise to longtime Readers of my fevered rantings, most especially to Mr. Free Market who, while we were on a drive trip in Britishland, punctured one of my rants against ugly automotive modernity with the comment: “Basically, Kim, you’d be quite happy if cars looked the same as they did in the 1950s and 1960s.”

I’ve forgotten my actual response to this barb, but “Fuck, yeah!” would not be an inaccurate paraphrase.

So when I heard that Volkswagen (you know, the immoral bastards who brought you doctored emissions so as to sell more diesel-engined cars) announced that they were going to kill off the New Beetle, I didn’t care. I didn’t care because the New Beetle was, easily, one of the most revolting car designs ever inflicted on the public road. Compared to the older model, it looked like some retarded child’s experiment with Play-Doh, viz.:

Now granted, the old Bug was pig-ugly too, but at least it wasn’t pretentious — it was, as its name suggests, a People’s Car: cheap and reliable (almost unbreakable) and even a little eclectic, because while the auto industry was modernizing all around it, the old Beetle barely changed. The less said about its foul spawn, the better. (Ditto the Mini, which I’ve discussed before and of which pretty much the same can be said.)

So I don’t care about VW whacking the Beetle. I am furthermore unsurprised that they were surprised that the New Beetle never ever achieved the sales of the old girl. Because they’re marketing idiots. They thought that they could fool us Beetle lovers with some modernized monstrosity with a few cosmetic nods to the original, and we’d fall all over ourselves to buy this ugly piece of shit.

And speaking of German marketing stupidity: I see that VW’s sibling Audi has decided that it will soon stop making the excellent Audi 8 with a W12 engine option. I wonder when these fucking morons in what passes for a marketing department at Audi will realize that there will always be a customer segment of drivers who love 12-cylinder engines. The article notes that Bentley is not going to give up their W12, and car buffs will just chuckle because the W12 found in both the A8 and the Bentley is the engine designed by… VW, for their ill-fated Phaeton (a.k.a. “Piëch’s Folly”). What will happen (and you heard it here first) is that the people who love 12-cylinder engines in their luxury cars will,  rather than be content with the A8’s stepped-down V8, just buy ummmm… the Mercedes AMG S 65 (which, like the Bentley Flying Spur, costs about $100,000 more than the Audi A8 W12). Here’s the S 65:

…which quite frankly looks better than Audi’s blunt-nosed offering anyway. As nice as the AMG Mercedes looks, however, it’s still not as beautiful as one of its predecessors:

That’s a Mercedes 300 SC*, from 1954. Which takes me back to Mr. Free Market’s jibe.

Yes, you foul Brit toff: I would be perfectly happy if cars still looked like this.


*Before I get razzed: I know that the old Merc 300 used a 3-liter inline six-cylinder engine and not a V12. Didn’t need anything bigger, and anyway, the V12 engines of the time weren’t much good compared to today’s. But with the size of the 300’s engine compartment… is anyone at AMG listening? Nah, it’ll never happen. If Mercedes ever re-released the 300 SC it would probably look like today’s Maybach — i.e. even uglier than the new Beetle, and it would make women and small children scream as it passed by them in the street.

I don’t know why I bother.