The 1960s New Look

James Kraus

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The New Look: 1960 Chevrolet Impala

In the early decades of motordom, front grills stood tall and proud, reflecting the proportions of early radiators. Headlamps, originally housed in separate housings, began being integrated into the cars design in the late 1930s. Nevertheless, grills and headlamps remained separate elements with the exception of Peugeot, which placed the headlamps near the centre of the car, behind the grill.  Continue reading


1966: A Year of Transition

James Kraus

JK - 1 (61)

Porsche poster celebrating success at the 50th Targa Florio, their sixth overall victory at the storied venue. A few months later Porsche introduced the open-top 911 Targa.

By 1966, the Suave Sixties were slowly morphing into the Swinging Sixties. Currents of change were coursing through the worlds of design, fashion, music and entertainment. It was to be the last full year of the classic sixties before profound mutations would transform the closing years of the decade.

1966 was a particularly fertile year for the Italian auto industry. The colourful and stylish Gianni Agnelli assumed control of the Fiat empire, commuting to corporate headquarters in his Ferrari 365 P Berlinetta Speciale.   Continue reading

The Golden Years

by James Kraus

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1960 Ford Starliner. A touch of gold lends a lustrous sparkle of Jet Age swank

Since the dawn of the first horseless carriages, automobiles have been accented by shimmering metallic highlights. The earliest period of motoring is in fact popularly known as the Brass Era due to early radiators, acetylene headlamps and other accoutrements being constructed of brass, or protected by brass plating to resist high temperatures and corrosion. Brass was largely superseded by polished nickel plating in the early 1920s, producing a more durable surface and increased tarnish resistance. Finally, nickel was replaced by chromium which offered the advantages of being nearly tarnish and maintenance free.  Continue reading

A Toast to the 50th Anniversary of 1963

by James Kraus

Salon International de l'Auto, Geneva Switzerland, March 1963

Salon International de l’Auto, Geneva Switzerland, March 1963

1963 saw the Jet Age in full swing as the first Learjet took to the skies and a number of automobiles were launched that would become icons of the 1960s; one of which is still with us today.  Continue reading

Where Were You In ’62?

by James Kraus

Pau Grand Prix, Pyrénées-Atlantiques, France, 1962

Auto Universum continues its decade-long 50th Anniversary of the Sixties series with a look back at 1962.

If you missed seeing Maurice Trintignant claim the chequered flag at the Grand Prix de Pau on Easter Sunday fifty years ago, you still had the chance to witness plenty of exciting automobile introductions, architectural presentations, product unveilings and cultural events that took place throughout the year.

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The Allure of Period Colours

by James Kraus

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Lord Brett Sinclair’s Bahama Yellow Aston Martin DBS in The Persuaders!, 1971

Ancient wisdom once held that in the vintage car market, red, white and black were the best colours for resale. However, as Bob Dylan once declared; The times they are a-changin’.

Early Porsche 911 collectors for example often seek out and pay a premium for the colours that made those cars unique to their time period: Signal Orange, Viper Green, Aubergine, Tangerine; even the more esoteric shades of Olive and Golden Green. Continue reading

The Heyday of Cursive Script

by James Kraus

1964 Porsche 904 Carrera GTS. A masterwork in
the annals of badging: cursive lettering, gold-plating,
diagonal orientation, and unique placement flowing
over the curved transition from rear deck
to rear quarter panel

Free-flowing cursive script is not often seen on automobiles today. It still survives at Alfa Romeo, Ford, Lamborghini, Maserati and Porsche. Outside this quintet it is rare indeed. In days past, cursive was common throughout the industry.

Such longhand script was often utilized to enable casting a complete badge out of a single piece of metal. The alternative was to either run block letters together, or connect individual block characters with a bar across the top (à la Ferrari,) a bar at the bottom (typified by BMW and Mercedes-Benz) or through the centre in the style of Alfa Romeo.

Pre-war cars used cursive scripting almost exclusively, although badging itself was generally minimal or nonexistent. In the 1900’s manufacturer nameplates were usually affixed only to the front of the radiator, and model designations were not displayed. In the thirties, even this practice declined, with most vehicles displaying the manufacturer’s name only via a stylized logo atop the radiator shell. After the war, marque and model badging began proliferating and begat its own art form.

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The Advent of Fuel Injection

by James Kraus

Messerschmitt Me 109 fighter powered by a Mercedes-Benz V12 fed with Bosch fuel injection

World War II, and the events preceding, did much to seed the development of automotive fuel injection. The concept of injecting precise amounts of fuel into the engine, as opposed to relying on vacuum to draw in approximately the right amount always held promise. The potential of overcoming the carburettor drawbacks of sensitivity to g-forces and altitude changes increased the allure. The war sped things along.

By 1940, Italy was suffering from widespread fuel shortages due largely to the vast amounts of gasoline Mussolini sent to Spain in support of Generalísimo Francisco Franco’s Nationalists during the Spanish Civil War. Shortages intensified when export of petroleum products to Italy was banned by the League of Nations.

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The Godfathers of Automotive Propulsion

by James Kraus

Prototype Lamborghini V12, with chief designer Giotto Bizzarrini, Ferrucio Lamborghini and chassis designer Gian Paolo Dallara. Sant’Agata, Italy, 1963

Please join me in saluting twelve automobile engines that conquered time and defied obsolescence. Engines with staying power. All have all been offered for sale in the world’s most competitive markets for over 40 years. They represent a full range, from inline and opposed twins to V12’s in sizes ranging from 0.4 litre to 6.8 litres. Some were conceived as cost-no-object exercises; others, humble workhorse engines of the people. Still others were robust mainstream powerplants that attained immortality in the crucible of competition. A few are still available. Read the rest of this entry ››

A Concise History of the Alloy Wheel

by James Kraus

1968 BMW 2800CS riding on unusually elegant alloy wheels featuring a polished chrome centre cap discreetly concealing the mounting lugs. Visible fasteners on a contemporary automobile are generally considered to represent a lack of refinement, yet seem to be embraced when they appear on otherwise highly stylized wheels. These were produced for BMW in Italy by FPS (Foundry Pedrini Siena).

Today, alloy wheels are all but ubiquitous and are used by automobile manufacturers as a key styling feature, often used to differentiate model ranges and equipment specification. They started becoming popular with the general public in the 1980’s, but were in fact offered sporadically since 1924.

Previous to the development of the alloy wheel, wheels were formed of two pieces of pressed steel, the rim and the disc, either welded or riveted into a single unit. Or, they were fabricated of a steel or aluminium rim, connected to a centre hub by metal spokes. A transitional design was a hybrid utilizing a steel disc for strength and an aluminium rim for weight saving. Such a design was used by Porsche and Jaguar in the 1950’s. Another example was the Borrani Bimetal, used on several Italian sporting models.

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A History of Automobiles and Colour before the Age of Chromophobia

by James Kraus


NBC Peacock, designed by John J. Graham, 1956

There is a distinct lack of coloration in today’s automobiles, with the majority seemingly finished in a shade that could be found on a greyscale chart. Things are no better in the interior; nearly always black, beige or grey, colours that architectural and couture designers refer to as neutrals. To make matters worse, these shades are all too often matched to the exterior pigment (i.e. black with black, silver with grey) to create insidious and mind-numbing monochrome vehicles that appear to have simply been dipped whole into a large vat of colourant.

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The Progenitors Part 2: Works-Developed Sport Sedans

by James Kraus

1953 Fiat 1100 Tourismo Veloce

1953 Fiat 1100 Tourismo Veloce

Today there are a plethora of warmed-over family sedans available to the driver seeking a sporting, yet practical form of transport: BMW M’s, VW Polo and Golf GTI’s, RenaultSport Renaults, R-Series Volvos and numerous others. Such was not always the case. While there were certainly vehicles which could be construed as sporting sedans such as the Alfa Romeo Giulietta Berlina and the Jaguar Mark I 3.4, and a number of sedans were offered with optional higher-output engines; a definitively and comprehensively upgraded sedan conceived specifically for the sporting driver was not available until 1953.

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Ten for Twenty: 10 Automotive Designs that Withstood the Test of Time

James Kraus

VW 1200 and BMC Mini

VW 1200 and BMC Mini

The test of time may well be the harshest test of all. Styles change and the public’s tastes and requirements change. Yet a cohesive, intelligent and functional design can sometimes overcome these obstacles. I have assembled a list of ten cars that enjoyed a lifespan of twenty years or more. The requirements were fairly simple; a candidate had to be mass-produced and sold as a passenger car for at least two decades by its original manufacturer in basically the same design configuration with no more than superficial changes.

In order of decreasing longevity, here are the survivors: Read the rest of this entry ››

Automotive Logos: History and Revisionism

by J Kraus

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Newly revised Citroën logo

Word has recently reached me here at Auto Universum world headquarters that Citroën and Lancia both have announced that they were revising their classic logos. This only a year after Fiat found it necessary to “revise” the storied Abarth badge.

The Citroën logo managed to survive 90 years before suffering the current debasement. The classic badge was a representation of the double helical cut gears that were the original product of André Citroën. The dual pattern allowed the silent meshing of normal single bevel gears without generating side thrust. They had been very difficult and time-consuming to manufacture until André obtained patents and licensing rights for new processes that would allow the gears to be machined cheaper and more accurately. When Citroën began building cars in 1919, the logo followed. It adorned all their ground-breaking designs: the Traction Avant, the 2CV, the DS, the GS, and the SM.

Removing the old sharply defined points leaves the new logo appearing very little like gear teeth and a bit flaccid. It in fact calls to mind a pair of boomerangs. I am aware that things are changing quickly, but last I looked, Citroën was still domiciled in France, not Australia.

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Tribute: Alfa Romeo Giulietta

by James Kraus

Alfa Romeo Giulietta Sprint

It would be hard to name a car more quintessentially European or essentially Italian than the Alfa Giulietta in all its permutations.

Alfa Romeo developed an enviable reputation in the 1920’s and 1930’s in the art of designing and manufacturing high performance vehicles of first class quality. Their P2 Grand Prix car won the inaugural World Championship in 1925. The Alfa 158, campaigned for Alfa Romeo by Scuderia Ferrari, won thirty-one of the thirty-five events entered.

This experience was put to good use in the development of the Giulietta. The first model to debut in 1954 was the coupé version, the Sprint. To raise funds in order to tool up to produce the new range, Alfa held a lottery whereby winners would receive new Giulietta Berlinas. Unfortunately, development lagged the projected timeline and when the lottery results were announced, production was still far off. As a stopgap, Alfa arranged with Bertone to build what was meant to be a fairly small run of coupés. Being coachbuilt, these could be brought to market much quicker. The resulting Sprint was first shown at the Turin show in the spring of 1954. It won rave reviews and became a permanent member of the family. In 1955, the Berlina finally arrived and in 1956 the Spider, designed by Pininfarina.

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