Art and the Automobile: The VW Beetle Sculptures of Ichwan Noor

James Kraus

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Beetle Sphere, Ichwan Noor, 2015

The VW Beetle has probably appeared in more artwork than any other vehicle. In 2011, Indonesian sculptor Ichwan Noor added to the Beetle’s catalogue raisonné when he began a series of lifesize full-scale VWs transformed into to perfect spheres and cubes.   Continue reading

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

The Swinging Sixties: A Rainbow of Wheels and Technicolor Tyres

James Kraus

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1967 Chevrolet Chevelle SS 396 with Marina Blue metallic body-colour wheels and F70-14 special nylon Red Stripe Firestone Super Sports Wide Oval tyres.

The majority of today’s cars today come equipped with black tyres surrounding wheels (or wheel covers) of silver, grey or black. This was not always the case; brightly coloured wheels were a common automotive styling fillip beginning with the 1886 Benz Patent-Motorwagen.   Continue reading

The People’s Car. Then and Now.

James Kraus

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Wolfsburg Crest, 1962 Volkswagen

On Sunday, the Auto Universum Board of Governors attended the Greystone Mansion Concours d’Elegance in Beverly Hills. This grand affair entailed a $120 admittance fee and boasted a splendid field including a Ferrari 250 SWB, a pair of 300 SLs, a Porsche 356 America Roadster, Alfa 6C 2500, Bugatti Type 57, 1930 V16 Cadillac and many other pedigreed swells.   Continue reading

1960s: The Ascent of Black

James Kraus

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1965 Chevrolet Impala with black Super Sport rear deco trim

The latter half of the 1950s was a jubilant, optimistic era when life was comfortable and the future looked bright. In Britain, post-war food rationing was lifted, France was in the midst of Les Trente Glorieuses and Germany was celebrating Wirtschaftswunder. In the U.S., Wall Street, Madison Avenue, Abstract Expressionism, Modernist architecture and Cool Jazz made New York the global focal point of both art and commerce.   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

Image from the Past

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40 years ago Volkswagen celebrated Germany’s 1974 World Cup victory by providing members of the winning team with special commemorative VW cabriolets. The public could not buy them, but they could purchase a limited number of sedan versions. The VW 1303 World Cup Weltmeister was available in four special colours with satin black front and rear deck lids borrowed from the 1303 GSR. All the team cars and most of the civilian versions were finished in the Cliff Green shown here. The Weltmeister came with a football-like gearshift knob, a concept Volkswagen would revisit a few years later when they equipped the Golf GTI with a golf ball-styled shift knob, a feature still retained in the current model.

The Cars of James Bond: Volkswagen 1300

by James Kraus

JK - 1 (50)

Agent Shaun Campbell climbs the Alps in a VW 1300 shadowing James Bond in a clandestine visit to the headquarters of Ernst Stavro Blofeld

Although one of the most popular and iconic cars of the 1960s, the Volkswagen Beetle did not play a role in a James Bond film until the very end of the decade. In 1969, a VW 1300 is driven in Switzerland by agent Shaun Campbell, Bond’s MI6 backup, in the sixth movie of the series; On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. The Volkswagen is used to trail Bond through the Bernese Oberland en route to Blofeld’s Allergy Clinic. The discreet VW was a wise choice as covert Alpine transport with its generous ground clearance, carefree air-cooling system and rear-engine traction. Although not provided for product placement by Volkswagenwerk AG, the Beetle used was nonetheless the very latest model.  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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Eine Woche in Volkswagenwerk, 1953

by James Kraus

VW bodies travel on overhead conveyor from paint shop to final assembly, Wolfsburg, Germany

In April of 1953, German photographer Peter Keetman (1916-2005) spent a week at the Volkswagen factory in Wolfsburg. Peter was a founding member of Fotoform, a group of German photographers whose work meshed abstraction with objectivity, often incorporating close-ups and repetition. The images resulting from the Volkswagen project eventually became some of his favourite and best known.

When Herr Keetman visited, VW was at a pivotal point in its history. The Beetle and the Type II Transporter/Microbus were the only two products Volkswagen produced. However, a third model, the Karmann Ghia, had been developed and was little more than a year from introduction. The Wolfsburg plant was still VW’s only automobile manufacturing facility, but their second European assembly plant (Hanover) was in the planning stage, and Volkswagen do Brazil was in the process of beginning pilot production.

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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.

Continue reading

Volkswagen Revisited

by James Kraus

When Volkswagens were unique. This VW 1500, introduced in September of 1966, is one of the most coveted among collectors with its unique blend of big motor and disc brakes combined with the final appearance of the Beetle’s original svelte bumpers and sloping headlamps.

When Volkswagens were unique. This VW 1500, introduced in September of 1966, is one of the most coveted among collectors with its unique blend of big motor and disc brakes combined with the final appearance of the Beetle’s original svelte bumpers and sloping headlamps.

Bloomberg has picked up a story line that Auto Universum explored back in May 2009. The issue is the risks that lurk behind the continuing brand proliferation and commodification at Volkswagen. Apparently people are getting wise to the fact that many of the overlapping Skoda, SEAT, VW and Audi models are distressingly similar under the skin. This phenomenon is worsening as time goes on and even affects VW’s higher-line models.

If you buy a new Audi TT, your car is riding on a platform shared with the Škoda Yeti and powered by a generic VW Group engine. If your wallet allows you to buy a new Lamborghini Gallardo, you end up with a very nice VW Group 5.2 litre V10 purring away out back, but the same motor is also found (with a different crankshaft, sump and tuning) under the hood of the Audi S6 Sedan, a car that sells for a third of the price of the Lamborghini.

Read the Bloomberg piece here.