Thursday, March 26, 2015

"The serene lines of the Series 2 Victor as it stands at rest make an instant appeal to the eye. There's a rightness about Victor design that is unmistakable. But it is only when you take the wheel that you appreciate the all-round efficiency that this long, low, functional form confers. The Victor's smooth stability at speed; the confident way it sits the road; its straightline reaction to braking: these qualities are designed right into the Victor; they make it a happy car do drive — a car in which you can relax and really enjoy your driving."

The Vauxhall Victor was originally designed to win over European customers with glamorous American styling, and was later sent to the States to give GM's Pontiac dealers an "European car" to sell during the compact car boom of the late 1950s. 

But the British motor press condemned the Victor exactly for its American styling, while the Americans, certainly not used to "quality" cars, were underwhelmed by the Victor's build quality, and overall didn't really know what to do with a small car that did look no different and was almost as expensive as Detroit's mainstream products. Obviously, the Vauxhall Victor had a character too vague to be appreciated on either side of the Big Pond. Fortunately, British customers weren't that picky, and because the Victor offered a lot of car for a good price, it sold quite well in its home market.

Vauxhall certainly had noticed the Victor's personality problem, and after barely two years, the facelifted Victor Series 2, shown here, was introduced to correct some of the design flaws of its predecessor. The "Dagmar" bumper cones disappeared, while straighter rear doors sans Buick-inspired crease and a flatter bonnet made the car look less baroque and much more angular, bringing it well in tune with the general contemporary styling trends. Under the skin, however, everything remained the same, which made the Victor a pretty sluggish drive for the time's standards. But now the car was out of its teething troubles, and offered a sound and reliable construction.

Vauxhall's venture into the New World should be a short one: by 1962, when the new Victor was presented, GM had its own compact cars ready to sell in the U.S. and there was no more need for the imports from across the Atlantic.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

"The longing of untold Mercedes-Benz admirers for a car of low operating costs, high driving comfort, and interior spaciousness is ideally met by the thrifty Diesel-powered Mercedes-Benz 180 D. In this elegant all-purpose Sedan you will miss neither speed nor comfort, and only in refueling you become aware that the '180 D' is powered by a Diesel engine, for its unmatched miles-per-gallon economy reveals savings which actually help you to cut down traveling expenses."

Long before the oil crisis of 1973 made the Diesel engine an accepted option in passenger cars, Mercedes Benz already had explored the unthinkable. It was a strange mixture that Europe's biggest manufacturer of expensive fine cars presented with the 180 D in 1954: outside it was a representative modern middle class Mercedes, but underneath the bonnet worked an engine that would normally power trucks or tractors. This loud, vibrating and asthmatic engine was a far cry from the refinement of modern Diesel engines, but it offered very economic transportation. Unsurprisingly, Germany's taxi drivers instantly embraced the economic mixture, and soon many future Mercedes drivers should make their first contact with the amenities of these luxurious automobiles via a paid taxi ride.

The current owner bought our pictured car in 1970. "I have a second Mercedes that my son is driving. They look the same, but the other one has a Lada engine installed. It goes faster, but I prefer the Diesel Mercedes. It offers much more economía, and that is what counts today."

Judged by the number of cars still circulating on Cuban roads, Studebaker dealers on the island apparently have been pretty active to promote Mercedes models. Availability of the German cars in the whole of Northern America is mentioned in this 1957 advertisement: "Every Mercedes-Benz inherits a tradition of excellence unrivaled by any other motor car. It is a tradition extending back through 70 years of craftsmanship, knowledge and experience. Mercedes-Benz dealers are conveniently located in the U.S., Canada, Mexico and Cuba. Write: Mercedes-Benz Sales and Service, Studebaker-Packard Corporation, South Bend 27, Indiana."

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

"Every so often a car is born so perfect in proportion that it is internationally acclaimed a classic. Such a car is the 59 Ford  . . .  awarded the Gold Medal for exceptional styling by the Comité Français de l'Elégance at the Brussels World's Fair!"

When new, it had a shiny chrome panel adorning its lower rear fender. This panel disappeared at some point in time, but otherwise our pictured Ford Fairlane 500 is in pretty good shape, considering that this car is more than half a century old.

By today's standards, the Fords for 1959 were not very harmoniously proportioned and thus look a bit odd, but in 1959 their styling was perceived as eye-pleasing and modern. The Comité Français de l'Elégance even awarded a gold medal at Brussels world fair for "proportions exceptionales et la ligne élégante". Arguably, there are better examples for automotive elegance, but back then the tastes were different ...

Evidently, the Ford designers under studio chief Joe Oros took a good dose of inspiration from the angular, cutting–edge Mercury styling when crafting the clay models for the 1959 Ford. Compared to other American cars of that year, the Ford looked reasonably restrained after all. The only part that screamed "excess" was its trunk, sporting dish-sized "Iris-Eye Safety Taillights". The boxy front end, in comparison, looked surprisingly tame and conservative but was in all its treatment a positive departure from the rather baroque 1950s detailing.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

"Take a good look at the new ALEXANDER TS. This is a car in which all desirable qualities are combined and which, in addition, can offer riding safety and economy in fuel consumption and maintenance hitherto completely unknown. The new ALEXANDER TS is the result of many years of experience in the design and mass-manufacture of 'light' cars. Is is not a scaled-down big car, but an independent design, aimed from the outset at achieving a maximum of performance, economy, passenger capacity and reliability. The ALEXANDER TS offers features deemed desirable in big luxury cars and, as you will soon find out, many more that will endear it to the heart of its owner."

What looks like an odd DIY-job, was once a hot seller in postwar Germany. The Lloyd Alexander was presented in 1957 as the successor of the similarly shaped Lloyd 600, which bowed in 1955 and immediately scored a respectable third place behind Volkswagen and Opel in the annual German production statistics.

The new Lloyd Alexander sported some significant improvements which made it more acceptable as a "real" car. Most notably, the trunk of the new Lloyd became accessible from the outside through a proper hatch, and a synchronized gearbox was installed. And you could now actually crank down the windows to get some fresh air in — presumably not an unimportant selling factor in the tropical climate of Cuba.

Despite its frugal look, the Lloyd Alexander was a well-equipped automobile at an inexpensive price. One of its technical singularities was the car's four-stroke engine: the pistons of its "parallel twin" two-cylinder motor moved synchronously up and down. In fact, this was merely a bigger motorcycle engine, as contemporary bikes featured similar technology. With a displacement of 36.37 cubic inch (596 ccm), the 19 hp motor accelerated the light Alexander in about a minute to 60 miles per hour (100 km/h). 

The little Lloyd received a facelift in 1958. Now called Alexander TS, it was instantly recognizable by a semi-elliptic front grille. Bigger improvements happened under the skin: front lights with asymmetric beam and window washers significantly improved safety, while a new rear axle and a stronger engine meant much better handling and an increased top speed of 68 mph (110 km/h). We certainly wouldn't like to go that fast in the little Lloyd, and the insurance companies perhaps thought the same. Soon, Lloyd limited the power to 23hp, and topped the speed at 66 mph (107 km/h) to get a better classification. That's still a remarkable performance for such a little car. The Germans rhymed accordingly: "Wer den Tod nicht scheut fährt Lloyd." ("He who is not afraid of the death drives a Lloyd.")

It might sound surprising, but the little Lloyd was quite popular across the Atlantic, too. Sales in the U.S. were reasonably good between 1955 and 1959, but took a header in 1960. Better compact cars were widely available now, which lead to the Lloyd's sudden fall. With it fell the Borgward Group, Lloyd's single proprietor, in 1961. Income from the U.S. exports was crucial for Borgward, and the crash of the import boom in 1960 contributed to the bankruptcy of Borgward. Who would have thought that such a small automobile could ever play such an important role ... 

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

"Here's beauty that keeps its promise! One glance at this excitingly new DeSoto and you can imagine yourself behind the wheel — in luxurious comfort — proudly in command of the road."

Here is a car from Canada that you couldn't buy in Canada. Assembled in Windsor, Ontario, just south of Detroit, our pictured DeSoto was solely built for Chrysler's export markets. 

Presumably, Cuban DeSoto owners traveling to mainland America were in for a surprise when they came across a DeSoto there. The American and Canadian models sported a wider "grin" up front and powerfully bulged rear fenders. In fact, they were utterly different cars, based on the bigger Chrysler platform. The DeSoto on sale in Cuba merely looked like a DeSoto: technically, it was a 1954 Plymouth Belvedere Club Coupe with a DeSoto front end bolted on. Commonly known as "Plodges", these cars combined the cheaper Plymouth body with a „branded" front end, so that Chrysler dealers abroad were able to sell upscale Dodges and DeSotos at competitive prices. 

With a wheelbase of 114 inches (2,89m) and an overall length of 193.5 inches (4,91m), the Plymouth-based export DeSotos were more than half a meter (21 inches) shorter than their American counterparts that stretched over a whopping 214.5 inches (5,45m) on a 125.5 inch (3,19m) wheelbase. Considering Chrysler's pricing policy and import taxes, Cuban customers had to pay more money for a smaller car. Not surprisingly, quite a few smart Cubans brought their DeSoto as a "used car" from the U.S. to the island. Key West was just a short ferry ride away.

Notwithstanding, even in DeSoto "disguise", the Plymouth based export model did look actually quite imposing, and much more elegant than your common Plymouth sedan. Only the proportions weren’t really stunning: the high cabin was a tribute to an already three-year old platform, descendant from the infamous "Keller boxes". In a time when customers longed for stylish “longer and lower" looking cars, this was a serious disadvantage. But help was on the way: already next year, Chrysler’s "Forward Look" models, styled under the lead of Virgil Exner, should catapult Chrysler styling to the top of the buyer's wish lists.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

We just returned from another journey to Cuba. While it certainly was time well spent to escape the northern cold, we were – again – surprised by the evident absence of vintage cars on Cuba's roads. You wouldn't notice it much in Havana, but rural Cuba suffers from a serious lack of affordable combustible. Even more than before, the roads were pretty deserted. Sure, many cars sleep hidden behind garage doors until better economic conditions make them come back again. Yet we've come across a few nice vintage cars that will be featured here over the next weeks. For today, here's something much more modern.

You are looking at the newest trend in Cuban transportation: the AVA 1000 „Aguila" enjoys a massive popularity and already has become an ubiquitous sight in Cuba's provincial cities. Imported from Panama, the „Eagle" is a sharp looking electric scooter. Five 12V gel-acid batteries produce 60 volt and 22 ampere hours combined, good enough for a day or two of normal city driving. A top speed of 60 km/h (37 mph) and an autonomy of up to 80 km (50 miles) leave nothing to be desired and make the „Aguila“ a strong contender to the automobile. Best of all, you don't need a driving license for this electrical "bike“. At least for once it seems that Cuba is in the vanguard of modern mobility.

Unison International S.A. which offers the AVA 1000 from the free trade zone of Colón in Panama, is a brand of the Chinese HuiZhou StarPower Co., LTD. Amazingly, these scooters are imported to Cuba in a large scale by private persons. Here, a new "Aguila" changes ownership for 1800-2000 convertible Pesos which roughly equals the same amount in US-American Greenbacks. Reportedly, it sells for around 700 Dollars in Panama. That's a respectable markup even considering the costs for transport, import and —possibly— bribing.

Monday, December 29, 2014

"Grace  . . .  Space  . . .  Pace — a special kind of motoring which no other car in the world can offer."

Jaguar's advertisers truly nailed it with that slogan! When presented to the public in 1955, the Jaguar Saloon —as the Brits used to call their Sedans— was no less than sensational. The recipe to put sports car performance in a rather compact sedan was tried before and after, but was never achieved in such a convincing way. The Americans sure were used to power, but definitely not to such a good handling of their cars. "Sports Car Illustrated" stated in April 1958: "The 3.4 sedan sums up luxury touring in a high-speed car that defies comparison. It certainly has no American counterpart."

With the 3.4 Litre Jaguar, introduced in 1957, Jaguar addressed the requests of its American dealers who asked for additional power in the successful 2.4 Litre Saloon. Its 210hp six cylinder engine was taken from the XK series —in 1949 the fasted sports car worldwide— and now delivered power in abundance. For 1950s standards, this wasn't just a fast car, reaching a top speed of 193 km/h (120 mph) easily, but it was a safe car, too, because it had novel disc-brakes as standard equipment, a co-invention of Jaguar and Dunlop, and to be found in almost every car today. Outside there were subtle updates to the Jaguar 2.4 Litre: a slightly wider front grille ensured better engine cooling and partially cut out wheel covers at rear meant better access to the wheels and a sportier look. 

Our pictured car from Havana is one of the 17,404 Jaguar 3.4 Litre that were built until 1959. According to its owner, it still has its original engine implanted, which means more than an adequately quick transportation even today. When this car was built in 1959, its successor was already waiting in the starting blocks: the similar looking, but massively improved Jaguar Mark 2 should seamlessly continue Jaguar's successful take on the concept of the sports sedan.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

"When you buy the Ford, you buy enduring beauty. As you drive it from the showrooms for the first time you will have a feeling of pride in the glistening sheen of its body finish and the bright silvery luster of its exposed metal parts. With reasonable care you can maintain that good appearance for a long period. Months of constant service will put many of thousands of miles on the speedometer, yet you will not think of it as an old car, nor will your friends. And when the time comes to trade it in, you will find that the lasting beauty of its finish is a factor in re-sale value."

Could it get much better? There are some exceptional cars around in Cuba, yet this one outshines them all. We doubt that you'll find a better looking car of this vintage anywhere on the island. It's definitely not easy to keep a car in such an impeccable condition in Cuba, but a tech-savvy owner, enough financial backup and relatives in Miami sure help to accomplish the job. 

And the Ford's owner sure knows its business: a look under the bonnet reveals concourse quality even on engine and mechanicals. "You'll find spare parts of Ford's Model A aplenty in Cuba, but most are terribly worn out. Thus, it's better to get them sent from relatives in Miami. Bueno, such a Ford is easy to maintain anyway. To me, there is much beauty in its simple construction."

An utmost simple and durable construction had been the strong selling point of the legendary Ford Model T, built for almost two decades between 1908 and 1927. Henry Ford certainly would have kept on producing the "Tin Lizzie" to infinity, but the competition began to outrun Ford with stronger engines and technical features in the 1920s. On top of that, arch-rival Chevrolet came up with very stylish looking new models in the latter 1920s. Their design was developed under the lead of newly contracted west-coast boy Harley Earl, and soon the mechanically superior Fords would have a hard stand against the aesthetically greater Chevrolets. Ford needed to react, and came up with the Model A in late 1927. In many respects, the new car was a big improvement over the previous Model T, but most notably, it finally was a stylish Ford — for Ford conditions.

Henry Ford's son Edsel was largely responsible for the looks of the new Ford. While his father had a general disdain for styling, Edsel had developed a fine sense for aesthetics and took great interest in car styling, as later Fords and Mercury models would manifest. In characteristic high-handed manner, however, Henry Ford took all credits for the design of the new Fords as soon as he realized how successful they were ...

Sunday, December 21, 2014

"Have a hauling job  . . .  like a car full of kids to the beach or a ketch to slip? Or how about a date at the club in full formal attire? Call on the LeSabre Estate Wagon  . . .  it belongs everywhere and takes you there in grand new style."

Although this catalog quote belongs to a slicker looking Buick station wagon, we think it fits perfectly to our pictured car, too. It almost looks like a hearse, but instead of hauling corpses, this Buick is a Taxi, built to transport as many passengers as possible on every trip. The Cuban craftsmen took a 1959 Buick as the donor car for their conversion and replaced everything atop its beltline. Even the panoramic windshield had to go. It sure ain't the most beautiful work of art, but it does the job: the roomy cabin means increased passenger capacity and thus more income for the Buick's owner.

Conversions of old Detroit Iron are common in Cuba. „Caristas“ have collected quite a few nice examples. Yet, recently we've seen "fresh" rebuilds pretty frequently. It's too early, though, to call it a revolving trend. And while it's sad to see proud automobiles so botched up, the real life conditions in Cuba don't permit any regret: here the car is an essential tool to make a living, no matter how bad it looks.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

"Fusca. As boas idéias são simples."

"Good ideas are simple" – this slogan certainly applies to any of the few automobiles that once, for various reasons, were produced in high numbers and became ubiquitous around the world. Among them, the Ford Model T, the Jeep and, of course, the Volkswagen Beetle.

The Beetle is the brainchild of Ferdinand Porsche, who was famous for challenging conventional design solutions throughout his career. An air cooled four-cylinder boxer engine, placed in the rear of the car? Torsion bars instead of a conventional suspension? An "aerodynamic" body on a car that could not even reach 100km/h (62 miles per hour)? A whole city founded and erected just for the production of a new automobile? In the 1930s, when the design of the Beetle was penned, this was absolute automotive extravaganza.

In part, the Beetle's unconventional layout was necessary because Porsche needed to achieve tough targets, set by its „financier", the German Nazi-regime. Their planned "KdF-Wagen" should become an affordable vehicle for the mass-motorization of Germany. Promoted by the "Kraft durch Freude“ ("strength though joy“) leisure organization, it was incidentally a clever way to collect more than 268 million Reichsmark from Germany's middle class: each week, the citizens should save 5 Reichsmark and buy stamps to collect in a savings book. When the book was filled with stamps worth 990 Reichsmark, they should exchange it for a brand new "KdF-Wagen". But World War II transformed these dreams –and Germany– into ashes. Needless to say that nobody saw his money again. The almost 700 civil "KdF-Wagen" produced until 1945 had been assigned to Nazi big shots.

After humble postwar beginnings, the VW Beetle production constantly picked up speed. Above all, the Beetle became famous for its utmost simple design that was at the verge of austerity. Less components meant less chances of failure. The Beetle's reliability, caused by its simple construction and the painstaking German quality control, paved the way for the car's ever increasing popularity. In the 1950s, Volkswagen began exporting the Beetle to the U.S. where it should become a smash hit. Volkswagen also opened factories in Brazil and eventually in Mexico to cope with the demand of the Latin American market.

Our pictured Beetle is a Brazilian VW Fusca (which means Beetle in Portuguese). To the casual observer, the shape of the Beetle remained virtually similar throughout the 65 years of its production, but there were constant improvements that make it possible to narrow down the time in which the car was produced. In 1977, the fuel cap of Brazilian Beetles moved out to the right front fender, and since 1979, the car received bigger tail lights. Thus, this VW is a child of the three years in between these two milestones. When and how it arrived in Cuba, however, we can't tell. Maybe one of our readers knows the answer..?

Saturday, December 6, 2014

"Here, in a far-advanced 1955 Commander of unmistakable distinction, Studebaker engineers and stylists have superbly combined sensational performance and outstanding beauty. It's a notably out-ahead automobile in every way — powered by an amazing new Commander V-8 'Bearcat' engine that introduces new Studebaker discoveries and techniques in the science of gasoline combustion. Just the least pressure of your foot on the gas pedal brings lightning response that is truly breath-taking. But this is economical high horsepower. It doesn't squander gasoline. This new Commander V-8 is sensationally thrifty to operate."

In 1955, American automobile production soared by 45 percent, making it a fantastic year for most car manufacturers. Studebaker, too, could capitalize on a tremendous production increase, although it meant just temporary recovery from a devastating previous year. Studebaker was one of the losers of the price war that erupted between Ford and GM in 1954. While this fierce competition didn't hurt the initiators, many "independents" severely lost market share because they couldn't keep up with the aggressive pricing of the "Big Three". Studebaker's production nosedived from 151,500 cars in 1953 to about 68,000 cars in 1954. Something had to be done to make the Studebakers more attractive.

The answer seemed obvious, and in the view of Studebaker's management, the lineup for 1955 certainly ticked all boxes: it sported a liberal amount of chrome trim and dashing two-tone color combinations. The sedans gained a trendy "Ultra Vista" wrap-around windshield. Their flashy design served notice that Studebaker intended to keep pace with the "Big Three" in styling matters.

Thus, the stylists had done their homework right. Yet, a tastefully restrained and elegant look had been the visual signature of past Studebakers, and now the cars appeared overdone and somewhat tacky. The designers weren't to blame. According to Bob Bourke, chief designer of Raymond Loewy's Studebaker studio, the front mask was supposed to be painted originally in body color, but after a veto of the sales department, it became a garish chrome affair. All the flashy chrome makeup couldn't betray from the fact, that the cars were based on an already three-year old body, while the competition had just launched their all-new models for 1955. 

Under these circumstances, Studebaker seemed to fare surprisingly well, as the annual production rose to 116,300 units in 1955. But it was a short alleviation: next year, the sales plunged again to just 63,100 cars, bringing more trouble to the ailing company. In the latter 1950s, Studebaker came into heavy water and began oscillating between ups and downs. Relief should appear one more time with the introduction of the Lark, Studebaker's new "compact car" that should keep the company afloat into the 1960s. Then, by 1966, it was finally "game over", and America’s oldest car brand conceded defeat.

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.