That Was The Year That Was: 1965

 James Kraus

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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

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 Brass was largely superseded by polished nickel plating in the early 1920s, producing a more durable surface and increased tarnish resistance.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

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

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 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.

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The Progenitors, Part 1: Works-Sanctioned Aftermarket-Tuned Sedans

by James Kraus

Carlo Abarth poses alongside his Fiat Derivazione Abarth 750

Carlo Abarth poses alongside his Fiat Derivazione Abarth 750

In the 1950’s, long before a Mini Cooper, Lotus Cortina, BMW Alpina or AMG Mercedes ever turned a wheel, two cars debuted that introduced the concept of sanctioning outside firms to design and create modified, high-performance versions of standard road-going sedans. These cars, like their successors that would follow, combined the everyday practicality of the family car with a healthy dollop of the performance and driving pleasure of a sports car.

The first was produced in 1956 by Carlo Abarth in the form of the Fiat Derivazione Abarth 750, based on the recently introduced Fiat 600 Berlina. Far from being simply a repository for a collection of bolt-on pieces, the 750 was heavily modified by Abarth in a very thorough and systematic fashion that would set the standard for future vehicles of its type.

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Jet Age Turbine Power

by James Kraus

1963 Chrysler Turbine Car

1963 Chrysler Turbine Car

The 1950’s and early 1960’s were the dawn of the jet age and the public clamoured for anything new and futuristic. What could be more alluring than gliding down the road in a jet-powered automobile?

A number of manufacturers toyed with gas turbine developments at this time including Rover, Fiat, Renault, General Motors and Chrysler.

Turbines are ideal in jet aircraft as they run at nearly constant speed. To adapt them for automotive use they had to be modified to provide much faster throttle response and quicker transition times from idle to maximum power. Provision for engine braking was also required as was the necessity for lower exhaust gas temperature.

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Classic Vehicles of the Tour de France Publicity Caravan

by James Kraus

Le Nain Gourmand

Le Nain Gourmand

In the 1950’s and 1960’s, a number of firms built specialized vehicles to be run in the Tour de France publicity caravan that rolls though France ahead of the peloton. Since the three-week event routinely attracted over 10 million spectators, it was an ideal venue for advertisers to reach a broad audience. This practice continues today.

One of the most distinctive and enduring of these vehicles was the Le Nain Gourmand Renault, which debuted on the 1952 Tour to promote the products of the popular confectioner. The front featured a giant replica of the founder and the rear incorporated a depiction of his wife. In between were displayed oversized candies, chocolates and bon-bons.

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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 ››

Louis Réard: Never to be Forgotten

by James Kraus

Engineer Louis Réard

Engineer Louis Réard

When one is discussing creatively gifted automotive engineers, a few fabled and legendary names are normally exhumed and bandied about: Ferdinand Porsche, Hans Ledwinka, Dante Giacosa, Alec Issigonis, André Lefèbvre…

Too often in the midst of such discourse, enthusiasts fail to recall the accomplishments of Louis Réard. Monsieur Réard was an engineer at Régie Nationale des Usines Renault SA in Billacourt, where he helped develop and refine such 1930’s models as the Primaquarte and Nervasport. However, what makes Louis notable, and what thrusts him into the pantheon of such august company, is what he accomplished in women’s prêt-à-porter.

On the 5th of July 1946, he summoned the press to the most fashionable swimming pool in Paris, the Piscine Molitor in the exclusive 16ème arrondissement. There he presented dancer Micheline Bernardini, fresh from the risqué Casino de Paris on Rue Clichy. She came out wearing nothing but a bra, two triangles of cotton and some string.

Louis Réard, automotive engineer, invented the bikini.

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