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 Brass was largely superseded by polished nickel plating in the early 1920s, producing a more durable surface and increased tarnish resistance.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

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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Porsche, the Targa Florio and the Crocodile

by James Kraus

Umberto Maglioli and Vic Elford savor their victory at the 52nd Targa Florio, 1968. Photo: Vic Elford Collection

Many manufacturers offer polo shirts these days, but they are all knock-offs; all but one, that is. The one true authentic original short-sleeve mesh polo shirt is the Lacoste Classic Piqué L1212 Polo. It’s been around for 77 years.

It was invented by René Lacoste, a French tennis champion who twice triumphed at Wimbledon, won the U.S. Open on two occasions and thrice took victory laurels at the French Open. He was ranked Number One Player in 1926 and 1927.

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Cars with Chromatic Flair: A Celebration of Colour

by James Kraus Porsche Color Combinations

1966 MG 1100 Saloon in Glen Green over Pale Primrose. A distinctive (and distinctly British) combination.

In response to my November article on the rich history of automotive colouration in comparison to the monotonous and uninspiring colour combinations most often seen today (centering almost exclusively on black, grey and beige), I received a number of photos from owners of quite distinctive vehicles that took a stand in the battle against chromatic mediocrity. I am sharing the best of them with followers of Auto Universum in the hopes that they will offer inspiration to others.

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Terroir and Contemporary Automotive Design Trends

by James Kraus Bad Design

Ominous, malevolent and sinister front ends of the 1950’s. Source: Design Quarterly

Automobiles have become more and more aggressive looking of late. A number of them, with their snarling grilles and squinting headlamps, have in fact crossed the line to surly and repulsive, displaying an unpleasantness last seen in the 1950’s.

This may have something to do with the fact that most of the world’s automobile manufacturers established design studios in Southern California some years ago.

Wine aficionados frequently discuss the effects of terroir on their favourite cuvées. The concept of terroir is that the local environment in which the vines grow (weather, soil, etc.) significantly affects the final product. In the same vein, could it not be that the local environment (architecture, clothing styles, attitudes, etc.) affects designers and their output?

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