And we complain about how hard it is to tell cars apart…
Paul, I’m assuming these pictures came out of a 1940 issue of “Life” magazine; one of the people I worked with many years ago had a stash of old Life magazines at his work desk circa 1940-41. One of his issues had pictures of the fronts of all the 1940s automobiles and I was struck by the similarity of them all. Obviously there was a lot of cross-pollination going on between the automakers and what is successful gets copied.
1940 was somewhat unusual. Everyone was converging to Zephyr at the same time. Designers started to diverge again in ’41.
In 1940 every GM division seemed determined to have their own spec on how far apart headlamps should be. I’ve heard the stories (probably on CC) about location w.r.t. safety and fender-benders, but don’t know which ones are just apocryphal and which are true.
Reminds me of a dual page spread in Life (Look?, Saturday Evening Post?) showing an ariel view of all 1940 cars. Of the bunch, only the Graham stood out at a distance. And knowing how well it sold kinda made the point.
They are all similar, and all pleasant-looking.
No “aggressiveness” at all.
All set for a relaxing decade to come. 😛
A major homogenising change for 1940 was that (very nearly) all new cars had sealed-beam headlamps, one 7-inch round unit per side.
My inbox rang off the hook the day Chrysler announced there would be a new 2013 Dodge Dart. Back then I was spending a lot of time online with other (A-body) Dart enthusiasts, and a fair lot of them weren’t happy about the Dart name being applied to Chrysler’s new Neon/Caliber replacement with Fiat underpinnings, which looked broadly similar to other similarly-sized cars of the day and didn’t resemble the Darts of old. No chrome bumpers, no concave backglass, no rear wheel drive—they were pissed.
It would be easy to dismiss their anger by rightly pointing out that opinions on the new Dart versus the old Dart don’t matter because those who have such an opinion are statistically nonexistent; i.e., practically nobody cares. But that’s not nice even though it’s true; everyone has a right to an opinion. That said, my fellow Dart guys, with all due respect, were wrong. They didn’t get it.
Their main gripe was based on appearance, design, and configuration: “It doesn’t look like a Dart! It looks the same as every other car in its class!”. Yep. And…? For any given set of design requirements and priorities, at any given state of the art of materials and production science and technique, there’s a finite number of ways to make, finish, and assemble a door handle, a front fascia, a taillamp, or whatever. And each of those reality-based hard points has knock-on effects: the door latch requires such-and-such a motion, which can only be achieved with such-and-such a linkage, which requires such-and-such kind of a door handle, which can only be made of such-and-such material, which can only be finished in such-and-such a way and fastened to the door in such-and-such a manner. It’s why cars of the ’80s (’70s, ’60s, ’50s, ’40s, etc.) are readily identifiable as such no matter what make or model they might be. Likewise, it’s why back when the old Darts were new Darts, the new-Dart complainants’ parents and grandparents were themselves lamenting that a ’66 Dart looked like its Valiant, American, Nova, and Falcon competitors. That’s just the way it works, excepting the odd radical design that departs from convention.
There must be a missing page. Where are Lincoln, Crosley and that most 1940 car of them all, the Willys Americar.
Oops; you’re right. Here it is:
And it’s good to know about bad breath too!
Radical doesnt sell well to US buyers, Chrysler corp found that out the hard way with their airflow models, so designs looking roughly all the same works and still does unless you are Citroen and meant to be different but even that mob toned it down in the end.
I wonder how much the Airflow fiasco had to do with the appearance of the 1940 automobiles? As it was a total failure, the automakers apparently took the safe and conservative approach, the result being near identical cookie cutter cars. Chrysler, especially took the conservative approach to styling until the “forward look” in the late ’50’s.
As a kid I remember Dad telling me about the Airflow, back on the rare occasions he used to talk about cars. Now we see it as something of a precursor of cars to come; to Dad, almost thirty years after the event it was still ugly. The Singer Airstream was worse though.
I guess you had to be there … but while this was not quite two years before I was born, I have no great difficulty picking out many of the makes shown, even considering the lo-res photos.
I can do that too, but I can do that with the picture below as well. What I can’t do is identify most 1930s/40s cars from any angle that doesn’t include a good look at the front.
How fascinating to look at all the 1940 cars side by side like this. You can see the way design is moving, largely by where the headlights are situated.
Hudson, Nash and Studebaker seen to have them in the ‘most outboard’ position, yet it’s not hard to imaging the naysayers pointing out that even a minor fender-bender would knock your lights out of alignment.
The Mopar and Ford marques aren’t quite as extreme, as their fenders are more rounded at the front placing the lights a bit more inboard.
Packard looks not just conservative but ancient. Cadillac looks a bit odd with the lights so closely spaced, but the front is so beautifully detailed. And for the rest of the GM brands the lights’ spacing varies, but they’re all applied on top of the fenders rather than being integrated. Interesting that the Oldsmobile’s front looks more prestigiously detailed than the Buick.
And then there’s Graham…..
> Packard looks not just conservative but ancient.
What a difference a year would make – the ’41 Clipper would have been the most modern-looking car in this group.
Crosley wasn’t included because it would skew the whole project to hell.
The Mercury still looks great and it is easy to see why it caught the imagination the early customizers. It captures the essence of its design with bold decisive strokes. It turned out to be the apex of that form and could not be improved upon. This became apparent when the 1941s hit the market.
I once read an article or journal of someone’s restoration of a 40 Oldsmobile. They said something to the effect that the 40 and 41 Oldsmobiles had the most parts or most intricate and complicated assembly of just about any car and that any parts used or NOS made of Nowherium and Seldumsene. Is this truth or poppycock?
And now I know why Carol was unpopular. Her mouth was a reeking cesspit teeming with disgusting dangerous organisms gorging themselves on the filth therein, breeding and expanding and spreading plague and contagion as they mindlessly carryout their mission to rule the world and enslave the human race to the New Germ Overlords.
And that is the reason for all that talk of throwing Carol overboard to the sharks.
Don’t let this happen to you!
Barney Roos was a designer who was a big contributor to this look. He was at Willys and may have been at Ford before that. Should look that up but no time…light fading…must buy groceries by dark…
I had just read the piece on the ‘57 Imperial before this one. There are only 17 years separating these 1940 cars from the Imperial, though they look decades apart. In 1957 these 1940’s seemed ancient. Today a 17 year old car (2004 model) looks pretty much like a new one.
Now as ever, the Studebaker Champion overshadowed everything else. The magazine missed the “other Studebaker”, the Commander/President. That front end was quite a lot like the 40 Lincoln Zephyr.
I am trying to think of another volume-production brand that made two separate and distinct model lines in the late prewar years like Studebaker did. I guess Packard would count, though its senior models didn’t sell in real numbers. Ditto for Lincoln which still offered the dying K model for one final year in 1940.
The headlight placement of American cars of the late 1930’s has fascinated me for a while. Lights seemed to “melt” into the fenders over a period of years.
Presumably the Checker Model A wasn’t included because it wasn’t aimed at the general public. But its front clip was certainly distinctive, if butt-ugly.
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