Monday, November 24, 2014



"Galaxie Town Sedan (above) offers a big bonus of built-for-people comfort to all six passengers with its four wide-opening doors. Note the thin center pillar that gives this model the open look of a hardtop. When low Ford prices buy this kind of Thunderbird elegance, why pay high prices?"

After a period of rather expressive styling in the latter 1950s, Ford retuned to a very clean and modern look with the all-new lineup for 1960. The top model Galaxie did look quite a bit "stiffer" than the cheaper Fairlane models, but its formal roofline and straight A-posts make the car actually appear very modern even today: this car might well have been designed a decade later. Chevrolets, in comparison, still carried over panoramic windshield and "dogleg" A-posts from the 1959 models, which made them look more dated.

Under their skin, however, the Fords offered merely solid technology. These cars weren't exceptional in anything, except their vast dimensions. At any rate, fullsize cars weren't en vogue anymore, since the „compact" car wave swept over the country. Accordingly, this year, Ford’s advertisement focused rather on the all-new Thunderbird lineup and the Falcon, Ford's brand-new „compact" car.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014



"Frontwheel drive, excellent weight distribution, very low centre of gravity, wide track, progressive suspension, contact steering and many other exclusive features add to the delight of driving this beautiful car. The sound volume of the new exhaust system is now so low that even the expert can hardly detect by ear the type of engine which powers this car. The brakes will sturdily resist the longest and steepest alpine passes, softly but firmly, without the slightest fading, they will hold the car under all conditions. The 'AUTO UNION 1000' Coupé de Luxe — a perfect automobile! THE STAR OF ITS CLASS!" 

Already when new, this interesting little automobile from Germany was quite an aged design, but due to many loyal followers, it remained in production much longer than it was originally planned. The Auto Union 1000 is a descendant of the DKW F9. DKW was one of four German car manufacturers that merged into Auto Union in 1932. Originally, the DKW F9 was planned to hit the road in 1940. Streamline styling was en vogue in the late 1930s and thus the DKW F9, styled by Günther Mickwausch,  was quite a contemporary proposal. Yet, compared to most cars of that time which merely looked aerodynamic, the DKW actually was aerodynamic, setting new standards with its low drag coefficient of cw=0.42.

Then came World War II, and with it the destruction of DKW's assembly plant in Zwickau. Germany became divided into four occupation zones after the allied victory in 1945, and Zwickau now belonged to the Russian sector. The remainder of the old DKW factory was disassembled and moved to Russia. In 1950, when the automotive production in East Germany recommenced, the blueprints of the DKW F9 were used as the base for the "all-new" IFA F9.

Meanwhile, over at the American sector, old DKW staff had re-established Auto Union and resumed automotive production in Düsseldorf with the same old DKW F9 blueprints. Imagine the surprise on both sides of the Iron Curtain when two identical looking automobiles (save for bespoke front grilles) were presented in short succession! At least the eastern proposal had the bragging rights of a three-cylinder engine over of the two cylinders that powered the western car. 

This western DKW, called F89, sported a two-cylinder, two-stroke engine with a displacement of 684 ccm and 23 horsepower. That engine would perhaps power lawn mowers in the US, but in postwar Germany the DKW was considered an upscale middle class car!

In 1955, the F89 evolved into the successful DKW 3=6. Looking virtually similar to the prewar design, the car now was a whopping 10 centimeters (four inches) wider and sported a bigger 981 ccm three-cylinder engine that was good for 44 horsepower. Because of its two-stroke principle, this engine had a running smoothness comparable to a six-cylinder power plant, hence the name 3=6.

Mercedes Benz became DKW's biggest shareholder in April 1958, taking complete control in the following year. Mercedes revived the old Auto Union brand name, and began exporting the cars to the US where they were sold through the Studebaker-Packard dealer network, just like all other Mercedes cars since 1956. Our pictured car is one of these early exports. In the second half of 1959, the Auto Union 1000 received a facelift, now sporting a fancy panoramic windshield, reflecting the contemporary automotive fashion. The car should keep this look until the end of its production run in 1963. At that time, the two-stroke principle for automotive engines was outdated even in Europe, and its popularity fading away.

Saturday, November 1, 2014



"Step into the wonderful world of AUTODYNAMICS!"

Chrysler's foray into car styling leadership didn't end with the first generation of Virgil Exner's stunning "Forward Look" models. The second generation, launched in 1957, looked almost ridiculously long, low-slung and nimble, and gave the designers over at GM quite some headaches. For years, Harley Earl and his design department had promoted the longest and lowest looking cars in the industry. Yet, next to a new low-slung Chrysler, Dodge or Plymouth, suddenly their Chevrolets, Buicks or Oldsmobiles looked quite bloated.

A new, space-saving torsion bar suspension allowed for both superior handling and dramatic low looks. Even more so when the roof was off, like on our pictured Dodge Custom Royal Lancer Convertible.

Dodge's daring Jet Age styling certainly inspired the division's copywriters. They invented "Autodynamics" to praise the qualities of the new "Swept-Wing" Dodges: "Autodynamics  . . .  where everything is new from road to roof! You sweep along in a low-slung, swept-wing beauty barely 4 1/2 feet high, cushioned in a 'Realm of Silence' by new Torsion-Aire Ride. A touch of your toe unleashes a hurricane of power, tamed to your command by new Push-Button Torque-Flite Drive that packs a 1-2 punch. You have never seen, felt, owned anything like it."

Sunday, October 26, 2014



"There's something about Lincoln that no picture can capture — something that lies underneath its gleaming surface. And that's the way Lincoln feels when you drive it. At super highway speeds, there's an unbelievably smooth feeling. You almost think you're not moving at all, until the passing landscape, trees and telephone poles betray the fact that you're really traveling. This effortless ease cuts driving fatigue. Even after a long trip in a Lincoln, you feel fresh, relaxed. And it's unfair to talk about Lincoln without mentioning its Turbo-Drive. This has been called the most advanced improvement in no-shift driving in fifteen years. A few blocks of driving a Lincoln tells you why. With Turbo-Drive, there's no lag, no jerk. Just one sweep of utterly smooth, silent power, from start to super highway speed limits. Why not get a good, 'in person' look at America's really fine car at your Lincoln showroom? Your Lincoln salesman will be happy to let you drive it for yourself — and let you enjoy the greatest feeling you can ever get from behind the wheel of any car  . . .  anywhere."

Aside from a modern steering wheel, borrowed from a 1990s Chrysler Neon, this Lincoln Capri from Havana is in a remarkably good shape. The embellishment still shows its original golden hue, all the chrome trim is in place and, best of all, there is a mighty V-8 engine growling in the engine bay. That's not very common on Cuban roads today, but a Lincoln is a rather uncommon sight on the island, anyway.

When new in 1955, the Lincoln Capri was already in the final year of a four-year lifecycle and the next generation was being readied to get off the starting blocks in 1956. Yet, Lincoln didn't hesitate to spend money on a last extensive facelift. Reshaped rear fenders and "channeled" headlights should distract from the Lincoln's similarity to the lower priced Mercury, that had been all too obvious in the years before.

Yet, the Lincoln couldn't be mistaken for a Mercury on the open road: its mighty V-8 engine made sure that the pricey Lincoln remained the quicker car. For 1955, Lincoln implanted an all-new powertrain: the displacement of its V-8 engine rose from 317.5 cubic inches (5,203 ccm) to 341cid (5,588 ccm). Higher compression ratio and a new high-lift camshaft raised the output to 225hp, 10 percent more than the 205hp of 1954, and 15 percent more than the biggest available Mercury engine (195hp). The new "Turbo-Drive" automatic transmission replaced the "Hydra-Matic" that Lincoln had been buying from its competitor General Motors in previous years.

These technical improvements, however, didn't betray from the fact that this four year old Lincoln generation was an aging design. In a year of phenomenal sales industry-wide, just 27,222 Lincoln left the factory, more than a quarter less than in the previous year.

Sunday, October 12, 2014



"Come see the car all America has wanted and waited for — the Taunus 17M! A precision-built economy car, the Taunus 17M is an easy-to-park, 'in between' size. Sturdy, safe and nimble in traffic, it carries the entire family in roomy comfort with up to 35 miles to a gallon for gas savings!

See the happy combination of German ingenuity and famous Ford economy: in the unique suspension system for a truly 'even keel' ride  . . .  in the fine German short-stroke engine  . . .  in the adjustable foam rubber seats and hydraulic safety brakes! You'll discover quickly that the Taunus has economy extras you've always wanted — plus many luxuries you haven't even thought of! Made in West Germany for the Ford Motor Company, Dearborn, Michigan, and sold and serviced in the United States by its selected dealers."


If "frenched" headlights and the distinctive color separation seem familiar to you, it certainly is because Ford designers around the world knew what was going on in the headquarters. Ford's international branches were operating quite independently, yet the designs for new models were generally developed in close coordination with Dearborn. 

Compared to its American counterparts, the German Ford shows utterly different proportions, as it is a much smaller car. Just like GM and Chrysler, Ford had missed the sudden market shift towards compact cars in the late 1950s. For a short time, the company simply began importing German and English Ford models to battle the offers of the American "independents", before their own compact model, Ford Falcon, would be ready to hit the road in late 1959. 

Built between 1957 and 1960, the Ford Taunus 17M received a minor facelift in 1959. The model year 1960 now sported a one-inch (3cm) flatter roof, new chrome moldings around the C-pillars and the municipal coat of arms of Cologne, Ford's German headquarter, at both front fenders. Our pictured Ford Taunus shows the complete embellishment, and thus was built after the so-called "Werksferien" summer break in the latter half of 1959.

Monday, October 6, 2014



"If you're going to buy a new car — don't buy a car that isn't as new as the 1951 Kaiser. Because only Kaiser's Anatomic Design combines long, low beauty with new convenience . . . new safety . . . new driving comfort. Only Kaiser brings you the convenience of High-Bridge Doors, that let you in without knocking off your hat. Only Kaiser brings you the safety of a Cushion-Padded Instrument Panel. Only Kaiser brings you the new power of a Supersonic Engine, that's high on performance, low on gas and oil consumption. Thanks to Anatomic Design, the 1951 Kaiser is the newest thing on the road today! See it . . . drive it, at your Kaiser-Frazer dealer's right now."

Plastic bumpers and a makeshift windshield sans the characteristic "widow's peak" have notably altered the look of our pictured Kaiser DeLuxe, but notwithstanding the graceful curve of its roofline and the nimble proportions make this car stand out among other automobiles of its era.

Kaiser was a small fish among the American car manufacturers. Yet, their advertisement could stand any comparison with the boldest claims of the big contenders. For 1951, the copywriters invented "Anatomic Design" to praise the virtues of the new Kaiser, and the ad poetry nicely summed it up: "Anatomic Design . . . (Ana-TOM-ic) . . . is the newest, most advanced step in motor car making. It is the technique of styling and engineering every feature of the body and chassis to serve the needs of the human anatomy. The result is a harmonious blending of beauty, comfort, ease of handling and safety never before attained in a motor car."

Sunday, September 28, 2014



"YOUR PRIDE WILL PERK UP whenever you're seen in your '58 CHEVROLET. One look at those low, wind-whisked lines and you know you're bound to be noticed. An you'll find still more to be proud of in the quick, sure way Chevy responds to your touch. There's just something about Chevy's low, straining-at-the-bit beauty that makes people sit up and take notice. And the way this Chevrolet moves! It's got quick-sprinting power and a reassuring way of keeping its poise, even on sudden dips and curves. Another big reason you'll be prouder of a Chevy is that it's the only honest-to-goodness new car in the low-price field. There's a new X-built Safety-Girder frame . . . new Turbo-Thrust V8* . . . a choice of new standard Full-Coil suspension or a real air ride*. Cars just don't come any newer! Make it a point to stop by your Chevrolet dealer's real soon. What he's selling is high on pride but low on price."

A soft tropical evening light nicely emphasizes the surface sculpture of this Chevy Bel Air. With the 1958 models, Chevrolet followed the general industry trend to boxier and more angular shapes. Yet, even Chevrolet’s experienced designers needed some time to get used to the new proportions: because there weren't big package advancements, these cars look pretty heavy and not very elegant. The 1957 Chevys, in comparison, sported softer shapes, which gave them a more eye-pleasing appearance.

Recurrently setting the trends in American automotive design, Harley Earl and his GM designers had been spoiled by their own success for years. The picture changed in the mid-1950s, when Chrysler leapfrogged GM with Virgil Exner's "Forward Look" design. GM had flaunted the longest, lowest and widest looking cars in the industry for years, but suddenly they'd become runner-ups. Earl's answer to the threat was more and more flamboyancy and even more chrome. The flashy front end of a entry-level Chevrolet now easily could rival even the grille of a much pricier Buick. It was a dead end road.

The pressure that Chrysler's 1957 "Forward Look" models had put on to GM's designers, and attempts to save costs by using even more shared parts within the GM divisions made the 1958 Chevrolets a one-year wonder. Good so, we think. Already next year's lineup featured much better looking cars. The designers got the proportions right, this time.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014



"This great Simca is wider, longer, more powerful and luxurious than any other imported car in its price class. It was chosen above all others after a two year search by Forward Look engineers for the one car that would carry the Chrysler Corporation banner into the the imported field. For, here's economy motoring at its luxurious best with room for all the family. Superbly finished inside and out, beautiful designer interiors grace its passenger section, and luxurious reclining seats are standard equipment.

The engine that makes the Super DeLuxe the Economy King of cars is the famous SIMCA Whispering Flash. Official tests have proved its performance of 41.6 miles per U.S. gallon of lowest-priced fuel. (51-plus per Canadian Gallon) The single throat carburetor is fitted with economy induction jets. The ignition system helps save gas because of its quick, sure starts. SIMCA's 4-speeds-forward synchromesh transmission helps this great and rugged engine to even greater, more enjoyable, operating efficiency. And the engine is up front . . . where it should be for extra safety. Now, more than ever, with the addition of the Super DeLuxe there is a car of Chrysler excellence in every price bracket."


Being the youngest of the established french carmakers, Simca had made quite a steep career in short time. The company was founded by Henri-Theodore Pigozzi in November 1934, to license-build Fiat cars in France. After World War II, Simca began developing its own constructions. The first generation of Simca's Aronde, launched in 1951, enjoyed massive popularity, and throughout the 1950s, Simca was constantly among the three best selling car companies in France. To further increase production capacity and market share, Simca bought Ford's manufacturing plant in Poissy, and with this acquisition, another model was added to the lineup: the Vedette.

Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, Chrysler faced the same dilemma as Ford and GM: because of an economic recession, compact cars were all the rage with the consumers in 1958, while the traditional full size models were sitting like ducks at the dealerships. Smaller independents like Studebaker and Rambler could cash in, because the "Big Three" had completely missed out on the trend. Until their own compact cars were ready to hit the road in the early 60s, the companies followed different strategies to cope with the demand for models in this new segment. GM and Ford simply began importing cars from their European subsidiaries. Because Chrysler had no European branches, French carmaker Simca came into consideration for a collaboration. Ford held 15 percent of Simca's stock since the sale of its Poissy plant. Chrysler happily took over these stock in 1958, and began importing Simcas to the U.S.. Over the years, Chrysler constantly increased its share in Simca until it finally bought the company in 1967.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014



"It's a great thrill to drive a LeSabre for the first time, but don't stop there. Drive other cars in LeSabre's class and see if you can find a ride as cushiony, and automatic transmission as smooth, handling as sure and responsive. Chances are you will be happy to return to LeSabre."

A 1960 Buick, we think, is one of the most impressive looking cars you can find in Cuba, and its design clearly is one of our all-time favorites. The Buick look for 1960 is also an interesting evidence of far-reaching change within GM's design philosophy and leadership: albeit being "just" a facelift of the all-new 1959 lineup, this car marks a new era at GM styling, as it is the first Buick showing Bill Mitchell's new styling direction.

Already the 1959 Buick was an outstanding design. Yet, despite being the fruit of an internal disobedience of the young GM design management, including Mitchell, against Harley Earl, it still bears a strong influence of GMs design czar, who always had favored lots of brightwork and rather soft, voluminous shapes. After setting the trends in American car styling for more than three decades, Earl seemed to have lost its mojo in the latter 1950s. Suddenly, even Chrysler models looked much more modern and leaner than GM's increasingly garish looking chrome monsters. Adding insult to injury, the recession in 1958 made customers strive for economic and smaller "compact" cars. Customers stopped embracing GM products. When Earl went into retirement in December 1958, GM was in trouble. Luckily, Earl's protégé and successor Bill Mitchell had a clear vision and did act quickly. The 1960 Buick is a good example for this transitory phase at GM design.

A comparison with the 1959 Buick shows very different detailing of otherwise very similar cars. The garish "Fashion-Aire Dynastar Grille" with its many small chromed pyramids that should maximize the reflection of light, had to go, as well as the extreme tailfins of the 1959 models. The 1960 Buicks still featured full-on jet-age design. Yet, a much cleaner concave front grille made room for headlights that resembled contemporary aircraft engine pods and extended into the front doors, while the tailfins became leaner and cleaner. Mind you, they still looked endlessly long. Overall the Buick now appeared rounder and softer, with a nice play of volumes and an emphasis on horizontal lines that should become a signature element of Bill Mitchell's new "Linear Look" design philosophy.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014



"Study the lines and luxury, the fittings and refinements of this brilliant Austin A40 Somerset! You'll realise that there is a car that gives you more in motoring pleasure and pride of ownership. And, when you admire its appointments, remember that luxury equipment is standard equipment in the Somerset — you pay nothing extra for it. On the road — the Austin Somerset is a beautiful car to drive . . . feather-light to handle, reliable and restful, speedy but safe . . . with ample space for five and luggage."

Next to all the big American automobiles in Cuba, this one from England looks quite cartoonish. Mind you, the tiny Austin A40 was considered a proper mid-size car in postwar Europe. Introduced in 1952, it was a mutton dressed as a lamb, as it was essentially a re-bodied A40 Devon, using the same mechanicals as its postwar predecessor.

With its dated 1,200cc (73 cubic-inch) engine with 52hp, the A40 Somerset wouldn't win (m)any races. When fully loaded, it was clearly underpowered, and overall a lumbering drive. Thus, the owner of our pictured Austin, a retired railway mechanic of Ferrocarriles de Cuba, "upgraded" to a more modern Lada drivetrain years ago. "I had to modify the firewall, as the Lada gearbox wouldn't fit in the place of Austin's original 4-speed caja. But the Lada engine was a revelation. Since then, my Austin became much more lively."

After just two years in production, the tiny A40 Somerset got replaced by the Austin Cambridge. Reportedly, nobody mourned the loss.

Thursday, August 21, 2014



"Some compacts give you economy, some give you quality. Opel gives you both! Opel's careful  workmanship stems from a policy of selling as many cars as it can build with precision — not building as many cars as it can sell. You'll notice the difference right away in the fit of the doors and richness of the upholstery."

Judging by the amount of examples still on the road today, the compact Opel Olympia Rekord sold pretty well in Cuba. Much less common is its utilitarian sibling, pictured here. One year after introducing the all-new Olympia Rekord P, Opel expanded its lineup in 1958. Joining the party was not just a new four-door sedan, but also the CarAVan, the name, in Opel's view, nicely combining Car A(nd) Van. This station wagon became simultaneously available as a downmarket version, christened solely Opel Olympia. Our pictured CarAVan from 1959, however ain't this frugal version. Authentic brightwork and original roof-rack distinguish the well-equipped export version. Incidentally, all Opel Olympia Rekord sedans sold in the U.S. had "Rekord" written on their front fenders, while the station wagons showed "Olympia" badges.

As Opel was a part of the GM organization, the styling was closely coordinated with Detroit and thus looked very american. Two doors, panoramic windshield and rearward slanted B-pillars mimic the iconic elegance of a Chevy Nomad, albeit proportionally, the Olympia clearly can't keep up with its fullsize inspiration. Anyway, in postwar Europe, Opel's "American Way of Drive" went down very well with the customers, making the Olympia Record a best seller for years. 

Monday, August 11, 2014



"These big new roomy Dodge Station Wagons are so colorful and bold, you'll feel like a swashbuckler behind the wheel. And their lively performance will make you invent every excuse to pick up and break-away  . . .  especially with the stepped-up surge of the Super-Powered Super Red Ram V-8 engine at your command. Step in, press a button and take off with the Magic Touch of tomorrow!"

After years of rather stodgy styling, Dodge introduced the stunning all-new "Forward Look" lineup in 1955. 1956 saw minor modifications but anyway, there wasn't much need for change, as the basic proportions of these cars were just spot-on. Now, even the more modest models had become fast and elegant driving machines. Case in point: our pictured Dodge station wagon. 

At a glance, it looks like an ordinary Dodge Custom Sierra station wagon. Look closer, and you'll discover Plymouth tailfins aft. The reason: it's a Canada-built export model, which were generally based on the cheaper Plymouth body, "adorned" with Dodge or DeSoto front clips to add some glamour and reason to command higher prices. Accordingly, the Dodge Kingsway Deluxe Suburban was essentially a dressed up Plymouth Savoy Suburban.

In the US, station wagons became quite popular in the 1950s, when the demographic change triggered a massive movement out of the cities into the emerging suburbs. This lifestyle required mobility and was one major reason for the tremendous increase of new car sales in that time. While earlier station wagons typically had been rather utilitarian vehicles, customers now discovered the advantages of space and flexibility but, of course, without sacrificing the comfort they were used to enjoy in their sedans. The manufacturers reacted and began offering lavishly equipped and stylish station wagons, too. Yet, Cuba's motorists were obviously a much more conservative clientele. Here, the station wagon never ceased to be a niche product. However, the few who ordered a wagon certainly were profiting from the new focus on style and comfort in their cars, too.

Monday, July 28, 2014



"If you look for the best of everything a car can be, you can rest your eyes right here. Sweeping beauty and an appetite for action make Bonneville the most provocative word in the language of driving. Just say the word. Make '62 your year for a Bonneville. The most luxurious way to go Wide-Tracking!"

It's safe to bet that our pictured  1962 Pontiac Bonneville is the only one of its kind in Cuba. We wouldn't bet, however, that the original "Tri-Power" engine is still mounted under the Bonneville's bonnet. Yet, there must be at least some kind of V-8 installed: the deep eight-cylinder growl and a rapid "lift-off" at every traffic light signal abundant power and bragging rights for the proud driver. 

Smartly named after the famous salt flats in Utah, which are known to every petrol head for the many land speed records that were attempted and accomplished there, Bonneville soon became the synonym for one of the most powerful performance cars in America.

Pontiac launched the first production Bonneville in 1957. In an urge to establish the brand as an engineering leader, Chief engineers Pete Estes and John DeLorean simply mated an insanely powerful fuel-injected 347 cubic-inch (5.7 l) V-8 engine to a run-of-the-mill convertible chassis. The result was breathtaking, especially when looking at its astronomic price tag: at that time, the $5,782 sticker price would almost buy you an equally powerful Buick Century, and a standard Pontiac Chieftain on top!

Pontiac, anyway, never intended to sell the new Bonneville in big numbers. Instead, the 630 cars produced in 1957 were meant as an image builder, and the trick worked well. Pontiac's brand image swiftly began changing from being a stuffy old man's brand towards becoming a young racedriver's icon. 

Fast-forward half a decade, Pontiac had established the Bonneville as one of the best selling performance cars in the US. Bonneville was now Pontiac's top trim level, but buyers still got the spiciest V-8 engines available, plus a lot of nice performance options such as "Tri-Power" (three two-barrel carburetors), or novel Alloy-wheels with integrated brake drums to ensure adequate stops.

The design was typical of the Bill Mitchell era at GM, with angular shapes and an emphasis on horizontal lines to visually stretch the car. The "Twin-Scoop Grille" was a Pontiac trademark since 1959, and should be kept as an identifier until the demise of the brand in 2005. All in all, however, the Bonneville actually looked quite restrained for being such a powerful car. 

Even if not everyone was buying a Bonneville, customers clearly wanted the new Pontiacs, and the strong sales lifted the division to the third place in the annual production statistics in 1962.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014



"In the Oldsmobile Super '88' are the marks of motion  . . .  vigorous lines that set the stage for masterful 'Rocket' performance. It's the new 'Go-Ahead' look! See it in the panoramic windshield, new hooded headlights — in the sweep-cut lines of fender and body, in pure-luxury interiors  . . .  in fact, everywhere!"

Argentina-built Peugeot 405, to the right, was imported to Cuba in considerable numbers and is very popular among the few that can afford a "modern" private car in Cuba. Here, it's regarded as a luxurious, roomy automobile, perfectly suited to cover long distances between Havana and the provinces. Yet, beside a mighty 1955 Oldsmobile, it looks pretty small.

Oldsmobile had become GM's "performance division" with the introduction of the "Rocket" V-8 engine in 1949. This modern powerplant completely changed the game and was triggering the competition for ever more horsepower among America's car manufacturers. Ahead of the times, especially the Super "88" was truly a blueprint for early muscle cars: it combined the big engine of Oldsmobile's top model "98" with the lighter body of the base model. Others should get inspired by the success of this recipe: within the GM organization, notably Buick's Century, and Pontiac's Bonneville became successful copycats.

Interestingly though, Oldsmobile's styling never truly embodied the brand's focus on superior mechanical performance. Instead, it remained rather ostentatious throughout the 1950s. Loads of chrome and voluptuous shapes were typical earmarks of an Oldsmobile of that time. 

Wednesday, July 16, 2014



„America demanded it! Rambler built it! The top-economy American-built station wagon. Seats 5 big people in roomy comfort  . . .  has lots of cargo space for their gear and luggage. You get more miles per gallon in a car that parks anywhere, has the shortest turning radius in America. The Rambler American is available with either fully automatic, standard or overdrive transmissions.“

It was truly opportune timing when AMC chairman George W. Romney decided to launch the retired Nash Rambler again as an „all-new“ car for 1958. We covered the development of the Rambler American here.

With the new Rambler American, AMC had a befitting answer to the changing demands of customers, who turned their attention to thrifty and economic cars in response to the recession of 1957-1958. The new breed of compact cars, offered by the "independents", soon sold like hotcakes and caught the "Big Three" and their prevalent "bigger-is-better" strategy completely by surprise.

While AMC's Rambler was positioned to offer customers an alternative to the American fullsize cars, the Rambler American should compete in the lowest price range against the increasing number of small import cars, and thus had to be really cheap. Yet, despite being poorly equipped, it sold well. Earlier spartan compact cars had failed miserably in the market, but austerity obviously wasn't an issue for Rambler American buyers. 30,640 Rambler American were sold in 1958. The sales numbers nearly tripled in 1959, when the station wagon was added to the lineup. This body style quickly became popular, accounting for more than a third of Rambler American sales. In Cuba, however, the station wagon remains a rare sight: here, the customers apparently thought and bought much more conservative.

Saturday, July 5, 2014



"Here's the car that flings the hottest challenge on the American Road — shows 'em all what the word 'new' really means! No mere face-lift here. This 1952 Mercury is new in beauty, new in every way that counts. Take the driver seat, and look around. Eyes front — the new Interceptor Instrument Panel! Eyes forward — a sure view down front, to the corners of the fenders! Eyes down — new Floor-Free brake pedal. And all around you, Space-Planned Interiors with up to 17% more visibility. Sound easy to take? Wait 'til you hear the muted music of Mercury's advanced V-8 engine. And see what this great car can do! You've got a heap of pleasure coming up!"

One of just 5,261 built, this Mercury Monterey convertible sports a nice yellow hue, reminiscent of the factory "Vassar Yellow" paint, while whitewall tires add a touch of 1950s glamour to it.

With these 1952 models arrived a completely new styling at Mercury. The cars looked much leaner than their predecessors, and albeit now being based on an elongated Ford bodyshell, they fortunately kept their visual likeness to Lincoln, thus offering justification for their price difference to a common Ford. 

Our pictured Mercury and its owner, Gerardo, are members of Havana's renown "Escudería A lo Cubano". This association of vintage car enthusiasts exists since 2003, but just recently, the club receives the deserved attention and necessary international sponsorship. Gerardo explains the membership implications: "Authenticity of our cars is very important to us. But a lo cubano, in a Cuban way, of course, as we don't have easy access to spare parts. We try to keep our cars as original as we can afford to. My Mercury, like many of the club's cars, runs with its factory V-8 engine, which is pretty expensive. Hence, I try to get more economy out of the V-8 by making the carburetor and fuel tubes smaller."

"Keeping this car in an authentic shape is very costly", adds Gerardo. "One whitewall tire, for example, sets me back 150 convertible Pesos, which equals the same amount in Yanquí Dollars. That's not counting the import duties at Cuban customs, as these wheels come from Miami. At the other hand, I do good business with the the nostalgia of tourists, by offering them tours around the city. One hour in my Mercury costs 35 Dollars, a decent price for them, but very good money here in Cuba."

Friday, June 27, 2014



"Its distinctive styling goes far beyond just pleasing the eye. Here's design that flows naturally from advanced engineering  . . .  to fit form and function  . . .  to offer a great New Plymouth that, inside and out, is better in every way!"

Aside from the nice patina, this Plymouth DeLuxe from Havana still looks pretty much like when delivered 65 years ago. The classic car scene in the US would certainly call this car a "survivor": all trim is in its place and there's no sign of the fancy tuning attempts that you can witness on so many other vintage Cuban cars. Well, looks can be deceiving, but we like to believe that underneath the patina there is a well-kept original car waiting.

Like all other Chrysler divisions, Plymouth presented its first all-new postwar design in early 1949. When these cars were devised in the mid-40s, World War II had just come to end and civil car production resumed. With no supply over the last few years, customers were buying literally anything on wheels. Rather than good looks, practicability and reliability were the major buying reasons. In these disciplines, the new 1949 Plymouth certainly delivered spot-on. The cars were well-built, comfortable and offered ample interior space. But, as Plymouth soon should discover badly, in 1949, the automotive world had already changed.

Now, the own car increasingly began to become a personal statement, and buyers were looking for styling and brand image in their new automobiles. More than anyone else, GM hit the sweet spot, as all of its divisions were churning out stylish automotive sculptures. "Chrome and glamour" was the name of the new game, and these days, Harley Earl and his designers clearly were setting the trends in car styling.  Surprisingly enough, customers did accept little compromises. Tight headroom for the rear passengers? No problem, sir! Instrument gauges difficult to read? But it looks so marvelous, buddy!

In this climate, the "Keller Boxes", as Chrysler's offerings soon were dubbed, had a hard time. They sure were high-quality cars, but the aura of progress was severely missing. Even a 1949 Ford looked more modern in comparison. Many customers bought elsewhere, and Plymouth could sell only half as many cars as with the outdated 1948 lineup. It should take six more years before Chrysler would finally catch up and take the lead in American car styling.

Monday, June 9, 2014



"The Lincoln Cosmopolitan Sport Sedan for 6 big people is luxury itself. Long and low–to–the–road  . . .  with a broad, breath-taking silhouette that forecasts the room-to-spare interior."

Very few of those Cubans who were in the game for a representative car in the early 50s, would have chosen the Lincoln Cosmopolitan. With its subtle and elegant lines, the Cosmopolitan was a car for the old money, and as such perhaps a bit too understated for the taste of Cuba's prospering show-off society. At the end of the day, a car was still a high achievement here, and the ones who could afford such a luxurious automobile, certainly liked to flaunt their acquisitions. For that purpose, there were flashier cars available: Cadillac or Packard, with similar prestige, offered fancier looking models. Even from Lincoln you could buy the more eye-catching Lincoln Sport Sedan for less money. This, we think, explains why you hardly ever meet one of the majestic Lincoln Cosmopolitan on cuban roads.

It remains a mystery why Lincoln, of all things, called the Cosmopolitan a Sport Sedan. Although the car was adequately motorized, it was anything but agile, and hampered by its vast dimensions and heavy weight. It clearly was made for the straight, rather than the twisty road. We think, the name Sport Sedan should imply a youthfulness that wasn't there, neither in the styling nor in the purpose of this Lincoln, and thus, it was a complete marketing nonsense.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014



"One of those rare cars that you appreciate more as each minute goes by . . .", concluded a period road test about the Fiat 1200 TV Spider.

Notwithstanding the dominance of mass products from Detroit, Cuba's roads always had their share of exotic cars. Especially in and around Havana, you'll find a surprising number of small sports cars from Europe. These cars clearly were the "boy's toys", purchased as the second or third car, and driven purely for fun, rather than necessity.

Among these sports cars, one tiny Fiat model seems to have enjoyed a certain popularity, as you can witness here and there (thanks, Caristas). In 1953, Fabio Luigi Rapi, design director of Fiat's "Carozzerie Speciali" department, began working on a small roadster that should become the Fiat 1100 TV Trasformabile, presented in 1955. On our battered example, there's not much left of it, but the design of the Fiat was noticeably influenced by American design trends of the time, such as a panoramic windshield or the vertical chrome strip on the rear fenders that resembled a Cadillac styling theme. Even swiveling seats to facilitate entry and egress were installed. Years later, they should appear on American cars, too. Just the proportions of the Fiat and its forward-leaning stance were a bit too odd: even by European standards, this thing was too tiny to look elegant. In the flesh, it truly looks like a toy, rather than a serious sportscar.

Our pictured Fiat 1200 TV Spider was built in 1957. Visually, there were only minor modifications to the predecessor, but under the hood, a new 1221ccm engine now delivered more torque than the anemic engine of the Fiat 1100 TV. This revision also featured a ribbon speedometer, instead of circular instruments. It wasn't a very sporty addition, but certainly in tune with the time's taste. 

Among collectors outside Cuba, the tiny Fiat Trasformabile today commands prices that by far exceed its size. Rather than its questionable beauty, it's certainly the rarity that attracts the car enthusiasts worldwide: altogether, only 3,393 were built between 1955 and 1959.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014



"America's First Family of Fine Cars offers for 1953, not only the finest engineered, but also, the most beautiful Chryslers ever designed. And it is this rare combination of fine engineering and exquisite beauty that makes the Chryslers the finest cars America has yet produced."

The indicator light pods suggest that this pretty battered looking Chrysler from Sancti Spiritus is a 6-cylinder powered Windsor Deluxe Newport. You won't find many Chrysler cars of that period on Cuban roads and among them, hardly ever you'll find a Newport 2-door hardtop.

Regrettably for the company, the conservatively styled Chryslers of that era weren't very popular. Just about 170.000 Chrysler left the factory in 1953. Put it into perspective: in the same year, 488.805 Buicks, 341.264 Oldsmobiles, and a whopping 1.1 million Chevrolets, including 300 Corvettes, were produced. Chrysler was a profitable company, but the big business clearly belonged to GM and Ford.

This sure wasn't the fault of Chrysler's engineers, as Chrysler engineering used to be the envy of the whole industry: the newly launched "Hemi" V-8 engine with its hemispherical combustion chambers, for instance, made the Windsor's sister model Chrysler 300 the most powerful American car of the time. In the quality department, too, Chrysler continuously excelled with a solid and long lasting construction. Yet, in a time when fancy styling ruled over quality, strong inner values alone weren't a good argument to win over prospective customers.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014



"New, all-new from the ground up! Pontiac again for '55 steps out ahead  . . .  far ahead with cars entirely new and revolutionary in power and beauty! Cars so dynamic in every phase of design and performance they'll be definitely the car that you'll want to own!"

All-new for 1955, the Pontiac shared its corporate "A-body" and most of its mechanicals with Chevrolet. Yet, Pontiac's chief designer Paul Gillan and his team managed to give the car a much more glamorous look than its budget counterpart from Chevrolet. Part of the effect was achieved by creating boxier looking front and rear ends, and a smart horizontal division of the two-tone color schemes which emphasized the car's length. The biggest improvement, anyway, happened under the surface: new V-8 engines meant much more punch than in the previous years.

This generation of Pontiac cars marks an interesting transitory period between the stuffy "old" Pontiac and the new performance image that was instilled since Semon E. Knudsen became head of the Pontiac division. The 1955 and 1956 Pontiacs still feature loads of the typical chrome treatment that should distinguish them from the similarly constructed Chevrolets and justify Pontiac's higher price tag. In 1957, a different picture: now the Chevrolet had become the chrome-laden, glamorous car while the Pontiac lost much of its glimmer and became a decidedly cleaner looking car, perfectly embodying the division's new "purposeful" performance image. 

Our pictured Pontiac Star Chief Convertible is quite a celebrity in Havana. Although its owner, Jorge, usually likes to pilot the car himself, his Pontiac had already some illustrious guests behind its steering wheel. Formula One driver David Coulthard, in example, drove the car when participating in a classic car rally (video here), and American motor journalists choose it as their drive of choice for an interesting, albeit quite lengthy reportage on Cuba's automotive landscape. Most of their time, however, Jorge and his Pontiac spend providing adequate transportation for "fiestas de quince" or weddings. Solvent tourists are frequent and very welcome guests in the Pontiac, too. And honestly, who could easily reject the invitation to cruise along in such a stately looking car?

Sunday, April 27, 2014



"Famed designer Raymond Loewy has complimented the good taste of every Studebaker owner by styling these beautiful new 1941 Studebakers to perfection. Studebaker's new slip-stream bodies of advanced torpedo are longer, wider, lower and roomier. The famous speed planes of the stratosphere were their inspiration. You've never seen cars so expressive of movement — so smoothly contoured — so thrillingly distinctive in every line."

Who wouldn't know Raymond Loewy in the America of the 1940s? Throughout the 1930s, he had made a name for himself as the industrial designer that turned many mediocre products into best-sellers by design. Being as good in self-promotion as he was as a designer, he quickly became the enfant terrible of American industrial design, and one of the protagonists of the influential "Streamline Moderne".

Studebaker commissioned the design of their 1938 models to Loewy. Based on the tremendous success of these cars, Loewy Associates became Studebaker's only design contractor. Studebaker's advertisers, of course, loved to credit Raymond Loewy as the designer of their cars, capitalizing on its famous name. But, as so often in design history, he wouldn't draw a single line for the design of the 1941 Studebakers. It was actually the young Virgil Exner, who oversaw their design development.

Exner was leading Loewy's Studebaker operations since he got hired away from GM in 1938. Yet, the fruitful collaboration between the young design talent and the experienced promoter should come to a sudden end when designing the Studebakers for 1947 and 1948: Roy Cole, Vice President of Engineering, had encouraged Exner to develop an own competing design proposal without Loewy's consent. Consequently, Loewy fired Exner in June 1945, when he discovered the insubordination. Cole hired him the same day as Studebaker's first styling chief, making Exner and Loewy direct competitors. Exner's proposal, unsurprisingly, was selected for production.

Exner should move on to Chrysler in 1948 where he'd become styling director in 1953, and was responsible for the stunning "Forward Look" cars that swept Chrysler to the top of American car styling in the latter 50s.

Rewind to 1941, the Studebaker Commander was an remarkable car that exudes a lot of Exner's aesthetic philosophy. Compared to other cars of this vintage, the Studebaker sits really low on the tarmac and sports a rakish, yet elegant look. Its slanted windshield is unusually wide and together with the slim and straight A-posts, it already hints at more trapezoid cabin proportions that should become common industry-wide only some years later.

Saturday, April 19, 2014



"Newport's surprisingly low price has caused thousands of smart car buyers to move up to Chrysler. And because Chrysler builds full-size cars only, your new car investment is fully protected. No small car steals the thunder from the Chrysler name — or the pride you'll take in owning one!"

Here's a car that doesn't seem to fit quite well into Cuba's automotive landscape: in 1962, the U.S. trade embargo came into full effect and car imports from Detroit went down to quasi zero. So, what is a Chrysler from 1962 doing here? Nelson, the owner of this Chrysler Newport from Cardenas, knows the answer: "This was one of four cars used by the Canadian embassy in Havana. At one point in time, the cars were donated to the church and served there for long years. Somehow, my family later got into possession of this Chrysler." We can only speculate what "somehow" means.

Technically, the 1962 Chryslers were quite advanced cars. All fullsize Chryslers had been adopting a modern unibody structure in 1960, while the main competitors still used a classic body-on-frame construction. Too bad, that the modern engineering wasn't reflected in the design, as Chrysler styling perseverated in the 1950s for too long. Large tailfins and excessive chrome detailing which the rest of the industry had already abandoned, remained a Chrysler identifier through 1961. Perhaps, for just a little too long Chrysler was hoping to ride the wave of success that they had enjoyed with the first and second generation of Virgil Exner's "Forward Look" cars. 

Adding insult to injury, wrong decisions of Chrysler's brass should severely hamper progress. Chrysler design always had had its up and downs. But at the dawn of the 1960s, Chrysler was sailing through really rough waters, and the 1962 models are a testimony of these times. When their development was under way, William C. Newberg became Chrysler's new Vice President. 64 days later, he should already be dismissed, when evidence surfaced that he had financial interests in several Chrysler suppliers. Yet, these 64 days were long enough to cause enormous damage, because he had ordered a massive downsizing of Plymouth and Dodge models, that were already heading for production. In the following "crash-course", Chrysler designers literally worked their butts off in shifts around the clock, to minimize the production delay and to adjust the designs to the demanded proportions. Yet, the final result was less than convincing to say the least. Chrysler's design chief Virgil Exner was the only one to raise open criticism to the board. Ironically, he should become the scapegoat, being held responsible and fired in late 1961 when it became evident that these downsized cars wouldn't sell.

The styling of the fullsize Chryslers, luckily, suffered less from the chaos. For 1962, these models simply kept the front end of the previous model year, showing the same gaping grille and canted headlights. The large tailfins, a leftover of earlier "Forward Look" styling, were axed and replaced by a clean and boxy rear end. And, most importantly, these cars retained their good proportions since they didn't get downsized. Only the "Astradome Instrument Panel" with its big circular speedometer and lavishly applied brightwork still exudes an aura of the 1950s.

Monday, April 14, 2014



"Now an American favorite, too! THEY'RE  IMPORTED, compact and thrifty! English Ford Line cars are a joy to drive, a pleasure to park. They cost hundreds less than most new cars. And you drive them for pennies  . . .  up to 35 miles per gallon! THEY'RE FROM FORD, a name you can depend on. Every American knows that Ford gives value  . . .  the most car for the money. That's true of the English Ford Line, too. Built in England's largest, most modern auto plant, with Ford mass-production know-how."

Pictured here, a Ford that essentially was designed twice. In its first incarnation, it should become the Ford Vedette, to be built by Ford's French subsidiary. Ford's stylists in Dearborn began working on the Vedette in spring 1953. Their styling proposal was further refined and engineered by Ford's German branch. But then, the French plant and the almost production-ready Ford were altogether sold to Simca, and became the successful Vedette which bowed in late 1954.

Soon, Ford of England realized, that a car of this exact size would be a perfect successor of the Ford Zephyr Mark I, that was produced in the UK since 1951. So, British designers under chief stylist Colin Neale began designing an eye-pleasing trio of Fords, to be launched in 1956. The lineup spawned three very similar cars: the entry level Consul, powered by a 4-cylinder engine, the 6-cylinder Zephyr and the better appointed Zodiac, which soon should be dubbed "The Three Graces". In their styling and dimensions, these models kept bearing a strong resemblance to the earlier French design.

The Zephyr and its siblings were the biggest Ford models that you could buy in Europe. Beside an American Ford, however, they look truly compact. And exactly for this reason, the "Three Graces" should become so successful on American shores: the "Big Three" had completely missed the boat when "compact" cars became extremely popular in the latter 50s. To have something to offer, Ford intensified the Import of the "English Ford Line cars". On both sides of the Atlantic, these Fords became a tremendous commercial success, and consequently, Ford's UK production doubled between 1954 and 1958. Today in Cuba, not surprisingly, you still see quite many examples of the "Three Graces".

Sunday, March 23, 2014



"An eye-corner glance tells you that no car — not even one costing far more — has more perfect line and grace than a '52 Ford. And then, close up, you find that every detail reveals the kind of skilled workmanship that only comes from expert hands. But there's something else, and this you've got to feel: Ford 'can do'. It's what comes from the most powerful engine in its field — 110 high-compression horsepower — V-8 style! It's the extra dividend of comfort assured by Ford's own Automatic Ride Control  . . .  the easy passage over roughest roads, the level rounding of curves. And it's the freedom from work, for Fordomatic takes over the shifting. You guide a Ford from an uncluttered cockpit as wide as a sofa. And 'guide' is the word. That's Ford 'can do'  . . .  and for the fun of a real heart-warming experience, please 'Test-Drive' it today!"

Witness design evolution the Ford way: the very successful 1949 Ford sported a characteristic central spinner in its front grille. This styling feature was carried through the various model years: in 1951, a second spinner was added, and for 1952, Ford sported no less than three circular spinners up front. "More is better", might have been the credo at Ford's styling studio, and accordingly, the copywriters texted: "New Wider Grille, with air-scoop design, gives a massive front-end appearance  . . .  maintains unmistakable Ford identification."

In retrospective, the Ford looks decidedly more modern than its competitors. Slab-sided body and an upright cabin with flat roof were design elements that would prevail through the next decades. Yet, in the early 50s, customers were clearly drawn to the flashier, ostentatious Chevrolets. In direct comparison, they looked much more voluptuous and sculptural, and still alluded to a previous era of automotive design. Yet, with their abundant chrome trim, they just looked more "glamorous", too. And thus, perhaps more befitting to the increasingly materialistic lifestyle which postwar America had developed after years of wartime austerity.