Once again Detroit's molting season is upon us. The plumage which looked so bright a year ago has been shed, and slicked-up new models are on the wheel from Ypsilanti to ybor City and points east and west. Citizens who like to vocalize about the mass and glitter of Detroit automobiles are serenading each other again, but in fact the new cars seem to be headed for a very good year, after a frankly painful one.
Two years ago, at the beginning of the accelerated trend to flatter, longer and wider cars, an adman for one of the Big Three saluted his machine with this bit of doggerel:
O, sweet Chariot, swung low,
You're a dream car come true.
There's no car in your field
That is longer than you.
A rival adman ran this slogan up the flagpole: "It's got git."
Taken together, these rhapsodies reflected pretty accurately what Detroit had divined the majority wanted in a car: size and jet-takeoff performance. As the photographs on the following pages show, Detroit (with some modest exceptions) still feels that way about size. And if the horsepower race has ended, it has done so at a point at which nearly all the cars have as much git as anybody wants.
The new cars from the Big Three, then, are strikingly long, low, wide and flossy. There is said to be a less obtrusive use of chrome and other bright metal trim, although this is not immediately discernible in all models. The market for smaller cars—usually called "compact" cars these days to distinguish them from foreign economy cars—has again been left to American Motors and Studebaker-Packard.
Once more the stylist is king, and this year Detroit's weightiest stylist, Harley Earl of General Motors—a man who likes to obsolete 'em fustest with the mostest—is sending out the cars with the most radical changes. Earl, a tall, richly tailored man, as neatly upholstered as any of his wheeled creations, saw the decline of the carriage at first hand from his father's carriage shop, and has in recent years given GM cars a look of weighty solidity.
For 1959 Earl has okayed a notably racy line, sharply different in character (except for the Cadillac) from what we have come to expect. Chevrolets, Pontiacs, Oldsmobiles and Buicks have almost no resemblance to the 1958 models. His Buick, by the way, was an immediate hit, with production running behind orders. Sobersided styling at Chevrolet has given way to a surprisingly extreme shape (see page 68), a further affirmation of the big swing away from plain-Jane bodies in the lower price ranges.
CRISP TALK AT FORD
George Walker, the man who handles art at Ford, is a flamboyant, thick-chested ex-pro football halfback who loves to talk about the crispness of his models. His 1957 Ford was a sales champion, but the '58 didn't have as much snap, crackle and pop. The 1959 is a cleaner, smarter car (see opposite page), and in comparison with the Chevy a thoroughly conservative one. Mercurys, Edsels and Lincolns have not been introduced yet, but you can expect the biggest change from Mercury, the least from Lincoln.