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

That Was The Year That Was: 1965

 James Kraus


Monaco Grand Prix poster, Michael Turner, 1965

The first year of the latter half of the 1960s was a halcyon time. Most financial markets were still hitting new highs and automotive sales were setting records. Nevertheless, signs were appearing hinting that the good times might be on the wane. Continue reading

The Corvair Line: Styling Sensation Of The 1960s

by James Kraus

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Chevrolet Corvair 700 Sedan

The Corvair Line is an accent line that circumnavigates the entire vehicle, front, sides and back, visually dividing the body into upper and lower sections. It can rise and fall, curve and bend, but must be unbroken, with neither beginning nor end.   Continue reading

In Hindsight: 1960s Cars of the Year

by James Kraus

The first European Car of the Year award

Fifty years ago: the first international European Car of the Year award

First presented in 1964, the European Car of the Year (COTY) prize was the premier attempt at an international automotive award for the best new car launched during the previous year. Nominees could be designed and manufactured anywhere in the world as long as they enjoyed at least limited distribution in Europe. The award is still in existence, the Peugeot 308 being the 2014 recipient.

Globalization in automotive markets was quite limited in the 1960s. Many European models were unavailable in America and little more than a handful of American cars were exported to Europe. Only a few select models of Japanese cars were exported and the models selected for sale in Europe were usually not the same models sold in the U.S. For these reasons, the COTY was the closest thing to a universal international automotive accolade.  Continue reading

The Allure of Period Colours

by James Kraus

JK - 1 (56)

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

Fiat 600: Pearl of Torino

by James Kraus

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Fiat 600

The Fiat 600, today mostly overshadowed by its smaller brother the 500, was the car that put post-war Italy on the road. Introduced in 1955, the 600 was one of the many miniscule masterpieces that emerged from the brilliant mind of Dante Giacosa.

Signore Giacosa, like many early automotive pioneers, was a true designer who not only oversaw engineering of the chassis and drive train, but also supervised body and interior design. This resulted in a unity of style, function and clarity of purpose that is all but impossible to find today, when car designs are the product of too many chefs.

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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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Flights of Fancy: The Space-Focused Nomenclature of the Jet Age

by James Kraus

1956 Aston Martin DB2/4 Supersonic by Ghia

The weapons of World War II gave the public their first-ever glimpse of the power and speed of jet and rocket engines. As hostilities drew to a close, engineers labored over their drawing boards to harness these new power sources for peacetime use. The rocket-powered Bell X-1 aeroplane broke the sound barrier on 14 October 1947, achieving supersonic speed for the first time. BOAC commenced commercial jet travel in May of 1952. In 1958, commercial transatlantic jet service was inaugurated, and construction began on the Pan Am World Airways tower in New York City.

A number of auto manufactures found it desirable to infuse their products with a bit of this Jet Age glamour and Space Age allure. Read the rest of this entry ››

The Sixties at Fifty: 1961

by James Kraus

1961 Porsche poster celebrating competition victories of the prior season

By 1961 the last vestiges of the fifties were ebbing and the currents of the sixties starting to more strongly assert themselves. The second year of the decade witnessed the first manned space flight, construction of the Berlin Wall and the first season of The Avengers.

It was a banner year for British sports car enthusiasts. Jaguar unleashed its dramatic new feline, the ‘E’ Type, dubbing it The Most Advanced Sports Car in the World.

Continue reading

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 ››

Tribute: Fiat 500 Topolino

by James Kraus

Designer Dante Giacosa with Fiat 500 Prototype, Piedmont, Italy, October 1934.  Antonio Fessia photo.

On 15 June 1936, Fiat began production of what was to be the first sophisticated, successful and universally admired mass-produced small car. There had been a number of small British and German cars available; most notably the Austin 7, originally introduced in 1922. However, none of these captured the imagination or garnered the accolades as did the new Fiat 500.

What set the 500 apart more than anything was what it was not. It was neither a bare-bones car like many of the cycle-cars of the day, nor was it simple a scaled-down large car. It was inexpensive to build; but not cheaply built.

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Money and Happiness

by James Kraus

Lord Charles Frinton buys a new Phantom II in the 1965 film “The Yellow Rolls-Royce”

It is often said that money cannot buy happiness. I assert that it indeed can buy happiness, if only one utilizes it properly. The best thing to do with it to save it and invest it wisely rather than spend it. This buys one of the greatest keys to happiness; freedom from financial worries.

Where most people go wrong is thinking that squandering funds on magnificent objects can buy happiness. I have discovered in life that the inverse is actually closer to the truth, in that I have usually derived maximum pleasure (certainly the highest pleasure/cost ratio) in the most humble (albeit well-designed and constructed) objects such as my chefs knives, my French copper cookware, my favourite chairs and some of my most inexpensive cars.

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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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The Gentleman’s Conveyance: NLA (No Longer Available)

by James Kraus

Lancia Aurelia 2.5 Gran Tourismo

There are few gentlemen left in the world today and that has unfortunately led to the demise of the Gentleman’s Express. A true gentleman eschews common ostentation and can normally be outwardly recognized in public solely by the fit of his shirt or the cut of his suit.

Such a man for example, would have been unlikely to dangle his Rolex Submariner or Breitling Super Ocean on his wrist whilst driving to dinner at Lucas Carton. Rather, lurking beneath his Turnbull & Asser Cocktail Cuff one would more likely find his Breguet Classique or Patek Philippe Calatrava.

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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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