Showing posts with label 1930s Cars. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 1930s Cars. Show all posts

Cord 810

Cord 810 1930s American classic car

Errett Cord was a man on a mission. To get rich - or die trying! Maverick to his core, cars were one of several saucers he was spinning. Cord may not have loved cars unconditionally - but he sure as heck loved selling them. Cars like the Cord 810, in fact.

By '29, Cord had already acquired Auburn and Duesenberg. In due course, he returned both of them to profitability. Time, then, for him to start up his own company. The first model off the line was the Cord L-29. It featured a Lycoming engine and front wheel drive. The motor was not much to write home about. But the FWD most certainly was. Indeed, Miller racing cars were fitted with it. As a result, they were leaving rivals languishing in their wake. Cord decided he could use some of that. Sadly, its FWD was not sufficient to make the L-29 a commercial success. It was held back by its high price and transmission issues. As well as the mediocre motor!

The Cord 810 was launched at the NY show - in December '35. Its unique selling point - FWD - had been upgraded. More to the point, powering it was a new V8. With the optional supercharger, it produced 190bhp. That gave a top speed of 110mph. Gear changes were electric - literally. A small lever activated cog-shifting solenoids. The 810's innovative engineering allowed for radical styling. Its unitary construction - with no separate chassis - let Gordon Buehrig design a 'low rider' profile. Headlights blended in with the fenders - enhancing the car's clean lines still further. Inside, too, the Cord cut a dash. Its instrument panel looked as aeronautical as it did automotive. A convertible, phaeton - and two sedans - were on offer. But - even with so much going for it - the 810 did not overburden the showroom tills. To be fair, the Great Depression was not the ideal time to launch a new car. Plus, Errett Cord had other things on his mind. His ‘creative’ business practices attracted attention – some of it from financial regulators. As a result - in ’34 - Cord sought a safe haven in England. With its erstwhile captain no longer at the helm, the good ship Cord was cut adrift. In ’37, it sank without trace. For all that, the Cord 810 – and its 812 successor – had well and truly made their mark. In the annals of avant garde design, that is. Alas, not at the cash registers!

Fiat 508S Balilla Sport

Fiat 508S Balilla Sport 1930s Italian classic sports car

In commercial terms, at least, the Fiat 508S Balilla Sport had much in common with the VW Beetle. As with the Volkswagen - or, people's car - the Balilla was designed to be transport for the masses. Saying that, it was coachbuilt in Turin, Italy - at Fiat HQ. So, it went without saying that it was pleasing on the eye.

Gianni Agnelli was head of Fiat. Unsurprisingly, his core objective for the Balilla range was that it sell well. Agnelli was, after all, one of the wealthiest Italians who has ever lived. In line with his strategy, the Balilla was competitively-priced. 10,800 lire, to be precise. The first model's unique selling point was that it had three gears. And - with hydraulic braking also part of the package - it did indeed fly out of the showrooms. In its five-year run, 114,000 Balillas were sold. That smashed Italian automotive sales records. And it was not just Italy that caught the Balilla bug. Other parts of Europe also succumbed. Production lines started in the UK, France and Poland. Indeed, the French firm Simca was founded to flog the new Fiat.

The style-laden Balilla 508 was released in '34. And the 508S Sport had speed, too, on its side. Its four-cylinder engine made 36bhp - at 4,400rpm. Top speed from the 995cc side-valve set-up was 110km/h. More than enough to sweep a young lady off her feet! So long as you did not forget your petrol money. The Balilla Sport drank around 9.5 litres/100km. For Fiat, then - and Gianni Agnelli - it was mission accomplished. The 508 series did more than make its mark - it became the stuff of legend. In the Thirties, the 508S Balilla Sport was mass marketing big business. Like the team behind the VW Beetle, Fiat got its sales sums spot-on!

Delahaye 145

Delahaye 145 1930s French classic car

The Delahaye 145 was launched in 1946. The mastermind behind it was Henri Chapron. Born in 1886, he had been on the steel-crafting scene since he was a kid. Come the close of the First World War, he began his own company - in Neuilly, France. Its core business was importing Ford T ambulances from America - and refactoring them into saloon cars! The custom bodies Chapron created were impressive. So impressive, in fact, that he was recruited by Delage.

Chapron's entrée to motoring greatness, though, came by way of Delahaye. In the mid-'40s, streamlining was all the rage. Which was tickety-boo - until the end of the Second World War. By then, even some upper-crust belts were starting to tighten. Streamlining - and automotive haute couture in general - came at a price. If the hooray Henrys could not afford it, sure as heckers like no one else could!

The 145 comprised Chapron bodywork on a Delahaye chassis. Plus, A V12 engine. The resulting coupé was bespoke to its core. Its luscious exterior was matched only by its luxurious interior. It went without saying that leather and walnut abounded. Of course, that fell foul of the current commercial climate. Chapron, though, was tossed a lifeline. This time, Citroën came calling - with the offer of design work. Chapron's first brief was a cabriolet - the DS 19. Subsequently, he turned his hand to developing the Citroën SM ... always a good career move in France. Indeed, at one point, Chapron was made coachbuilder to the President. Along the way, he helped turn some of Phillipe Charbonneaux's dream-laden drafts into roadgoing reality. Chapron's last legacy to Citroën's oeuvre was the DS 23 Prestige. Always classy, then - never outré - Henri Chapron nailed it as a designer. From young apprentice - to superstar stylist - he was never less than a credit to his profession. The Delahaye 145 was proof of that - alongside many others!

Hispano/Suiza H6B Dubonnet Xenia

Hispano/Suiza H6B Dubonnet Xenia 1930s Spanish classic car

André Dubonnet was a doyen of the drinks industry. Many a tippler has had him to thank. His finest hour, however - at least so far as Dubonnet was concerned - was the Hispano-Suiza H6B Xenia. From a wealthy background, Dubonnet was a car-crazed kid. It was a gimme, then, that he had plenty of toy automobiles to play with. The toy he craved most, though, was a one-of-a-kind supercar ... a real one. Finally - in '45 - he got it!

For all his wealth, Dubonnet was a worker ... well, of sorts. After a lot of graft, he had made himself a respected fabricator. Hispano-Suiza was his marque of choice. Using their style-soaked creations as source material, Dubonnet fashioned several racing prototypes. They graced grand European events and circuits - Monza, the Targa Florio, Le Mans and Boulogne among them. Not only did Dubonnet build his cars - he drove them, too. And did so well enough to be asked to join the Bugatti race équipe - by boss Ettore, no less.

Over time, Dubonnet assembled an impressive portfolio of clients. Indeed, GM acquired some of his research work - into hydro-pneumatic suspension and pumpless oil delivery. Even Dubonnet, though, needed help. To that end, he recruited Jacques Saoutchik to the Xenia cause. The fabled Russian coachbuilder was tasked with sorting the aerodynamic aspects of the car. After all, Dubonnet had land speed record attempts in mind. So, Saoutchik's sought-after streamlining skills would be vital. Saoutchik also knew how to design a stunning-looking motor car. Sadly, the Xenia never broke any speed records. It did, however, play a prominent rôle in the opening of the Saint-Cloud tunnel - situated near Paris. The publicity must have been some consolation to Dubonnet for the Xenia's lack of sporting success. Not that the Xenia lacked all of the attributes of an LSR car. For starters, it was 5.7m in length - aiding straight-line stability. Partly as a result of that, it could clock up 200km/h. So, for all its shortcomings - at least in LSR attempt terms - Dubonnet's Hispano-Suiza H6B Xenia was an innovative and spectacular autocar. Motoring had never been so à la mode. Cheers, André!

Citroën Light 15

Citroen Light 15 1930s French classic sports car

Not many cars can claim to have changed the face of motoring. One that can is the Citroën Light 15. Its unique selling point was front wheel drive - or traction-avant, in its native tongue. And its innovative engineering did not stop there. The Light 15's 3-speed gearbox sat in its nose - fore of the engine. Power passed to the torsion-bar-suspended front wheels via CV-jointed shafts. Said transmission system was decidedly avant-garde in '34 - when the Light 15 was released. In road-holding terms, it was a revelation. The only downside to FWD was that it made the steering a tad heavy. A subscription to the local gym, though, soon sorted that out!

There was to be a tragic twist, though, to the Light 15 tale. Its cutting edge features meant Citroën's development costs spiralled. The resulting stress contributed to the early death of André Citroën - the firm's founder. Sadly, he died without a sou to his name. At least his company was bailed out - by tyre maestro Michelin. As a result, the Light 15 stayed in production for years to come. In time, it became a best-seller for Citroën. Not that that benefitted poor André much. It was also highly influential. For example, the Light 15's FWD - and, thus, improved handling - made it a big hit with the French police. Ironically, it was just as popular with less law-abiding citizens - and for precisely the same reasons. Cops 'n' Robbers had never been so much fun! Thanks to its 1.9-litre overhead-valve motor, the Light 15 had a top speed of 75mph. Hair-raising chases duly ensued. But - thanks to the Light 15's independent torsion-bar springing - they were bounce-free. Well, almost!

The Light 15, then, was a benchmark car. It was not until '55, however - and the advent of the DS - that Citroën let it slip into well-earned retirement. After all, the Light 15 had done much to pave the way for its successor. In particular, it had pioneered the hydro-pneumatic self-levelling suspension set-up for which the DS would be celebrated. Styling-wise, the Light 15 did not change much over the years. Fine examples can still be seen on French roads today - a clear indication of its high build quality. The French have a saying, which translates to 'The more things change, the more they stay the same'. The Light 15 was a case in point. The rate of change has sky-rocketed recently. So, it is easy to forget that machines like the Citroën Light 15 have long been pushing the technological envelope!

VW Beetle

VW Beetle 1950s German classic car

21,000,000 VW Beetles were built. That makes it the most popular car ... ever! Today, of course, the 'V-Dub' commands cult status. And - with plenty of scope for customisation - Beetle mania is a hive of creativity. That said, if all you needed from a car was reliability, the Beetle was still the car for you. The designer of the ulimate in automotive utilitarianism was Dr Ferdinand Porsche. Yes, that Dr Porsche! The Beetle was born out of Herr Hitler's yen for motoring for the masses. Yes, that Herr Hitler! As things turned out, not many Beetles were built before the war. Following it, though, the production floodgate opened. The first Beetle was pretty basic. It came with a non-synchromesh gearbox, cable brakes - and little by way of ornamentation. With hostilities over, however, the US started to catch the V-Dub bug. For starters, it ticked all the second car boxes. It was cheap, dependable, practical and economical. Heck, the Beetle even made a great beach buggy!

The Beetle put out 50bhp from a 1,584cc air-cooled motor. It maxed out at 84mph. Visually - while no oil painting - it was not without allure. Let us say, it had a certain rough-edged charm! Indeed, the Kharmann Ghia - which was based on the Beetle - was really rather pretty. And, the split-rear-screen model - of the early Fifties - was positively voguish!

Enter the '60s, though, and buyers demanded a more modern driving experience. VW responded by replacing the time-served 1,100cc engine with 1,300 and 1,500cc updates. And, Beetles were now fitted with an all-synchromesh 'box, disc brakes and semi-automatic transmission. The factory was at Wolfsburg - in Lower Saxony. Not even the Führer could have foreseen the all-conquering heights to which the Beetle's sales would soar. The second most popular car of all time came courtesy of Henry Ford. The Model T clocked up 15,000,000 sales - 6m shy of its nemesis. It was in the early Seventies that the Beetle outstripped the Model T's tally. Probably because VW offered it in colours other than black! Its zenith was in the Sixties, after all. Psychedelia - unlike Gothic - did not do black!

Chrysler Airflow

Chrysler Airflow 1930s American classic car

The Chrysler Airflow was where Art met Science! Its body lines were aerodynamic - at a time when that craft was a mere glint in a boffin's eye. Indeed, the Airflow was the first production car to feature the fledgeling craft. A wind tunnel was duly constructed. Today, such systems are considered arcane ... in the early '30s, they were a black art! The Airflow wizards of engineering were Carl Breer, Fred Zeder and Owen Skelton. Breer had been first to be smitten by the new-fangled science. Zeder and Skelton soon followed suit. And it did no harm at all when pioneer pilot Orville Wright's input was added. Over 50 test cars were subsequently built. So - by a process of painstaking refinement - the Chrysler Airflow gradually took shape.

The Airflow, though, was not just aerodynamics. Weight-saving, too, was part of its brief. Its svelte frame was made from light metal - rather than heavy timber. Perched on that frame was a monocoque body. That reduced weight still further. What mass was left was optimally placed. The engine was over the front wheels - with ride and handling in mind. The seats sat neatly within the wheelbase - in the interests of balance. Thanks to all the wind-cheating work, the Airflow was well-placed to 'turn up the wick', when required. A top speed of 88mph was not to be sniffed at, in '34.

The Airflow's sales, though, were lacklustre. Walter Chrysler showed courage and commitment, in commissioning the car. But, the Airflow was the future. Buyers were not yet ready for its 'free-flowing' lines. On top of that, there were rumours of build quality faults ... on account of new welding techniques. Ultimately, though, cars like the Airflow are not about sales. Rather, they are about the legacy they leave - and the visions they engender. The Chrysler Airflow influenced automotive design for decades!