Monday, November 22, 2010

Awkward Years: Car Styling 1935-38

The decade of the Great Depression was one of frantic creativity as many manufacturers pushed experimentation to the forefront in an effort to find sales in a stagnant market. This was especially true for the American automobile industry as can be seen by comparing cars from the beginning and conclusion of that economically dark decade.

Above are Chevrolets from 1930 and 1941. The 1930 model is a boxy assemblage of visually discrete parts (hood, passenger compartment, fenders, headlights, etc.) whereas the 1941 is integrated, smooth and lacks awkwardness.

Between those two model years was a transition where, feature by feature, car styling evolved from one convention to a distinctly different one. Below is a gallery of photos showing cars of various makes for model years 1935-38, the midpoint of the transition and the point where awkwardness was maximized.

Most of the cars look roughly similar. That's partly because General Motors was the acknowledged style leader (and had by far the largest market share) and the other companies tended to shy away from being too different from GM for fear sales might suffer. Other reasons were technical, having to do with learning how to shape steel sheets into compound-curve forms using mass-production methods -- something of little matter in the 1920s and earlier.

1935 De Soto Airflow

1935 Pontiac

1936 Buick

1936 Nash

1937 Chrysler Imperial

1937 Graham

1937 Hudson

1938 Oldsmobile Six


mike shupp said...

I have nothing particularly useful to say, but I have become fascinated by these sporadic postings on auto design, and I greatly hope you will continue to make them, even if lack of reader comments (falsely) suggests they are being ignored.

Also, thanks.

Donald Pittenger said...

Mike -- When I was young I wanted to be a car stylist, so rest assured that subject will continue to pop up.

Dwayne Charles said...

The people were fond of making their car attractive by decorating and taking proper care about them. I think that it could be the reason of the extra shiny surface of the vintage cars.
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Michael Hunter said...

Additionally, car design did not happen independently of design in general. Art Deco elements and a love of modernity are noticeable in these cars. I disagree that the 1920 designs look awkward but they do seem to be a collection of elements rather than one united whole. Now that you mentioned manufacturing advances, I wonder how 1920s cars would have looked without that restriction.