Car History Year 1950
Date: Monday, September 27 @ 00:00:18 UTC
The dark clouds of war gathered again as
US troops were sent to South Korea to help fight off the invasion from the north, and President Truman declared a state of emergency. Another rather sinister spectacle, closer to home, was the communist witch hunt conducted by Senator Joe McCarthy, but Boston University president Daniel Marsh was more concerned with television turning 150 million Americans into "a nation of morons."
Sometimes, the hardest task for a designer is.altering a car to make it look different from last year's model. Occasionally this results in a classic, but mostly it looks exactly what it really is - a face-lifted version of the earlier car.
Annual changes put pressure on stylists to produce alterations significant enough for the customers to know this was a new car, yet without making fundamental modifications to the structure. Cost restrictions meant that the body sheet metal and major engineering components were used for at least three years, so often a designer was restricted to reworking the front end, the body moldings and fancying-up the rear. The chance to re-design the car every year wouldn't come until later.
Faced with "improving" their elegant 1949 creations, staff at the GM Art & Color Studio, who had responsibility for Buick, decided a bold statement was required -and they don't come much bolder than the buck-toothed grille! While overall responsibility was Harley Earl's, pin-pointing which designer should take the credit (if credit's the right word) for the row of exaggerated bumper guards is not easy. Various people have Said claim, but as most of them are now dead, it's probably impossible to give a definitive answer.
We do know that Ned Nickles, Harlow "Red" Curtice, Edward T. Ragsdale and Henry Lauve were involved. Nickles and Lauve worked under Earl, Curtice had been Buick general manager until 1948 when he was promoted and Ragsdale was manufacturing manager. Nickles is regarded as the leading Buick stylist at that time and is acknowledged for contributing such features as the VentiPorts and sweepspear side decorations. Lauve claimed the dummy porthole VentiPorts and the "Toothy Wonder" grille were his idea.
There seems no dispute as to who was involved with introducing the hardtop body style - Nickles, Ragsdale and Curtice -although, yet again, details of precisely how it came about are far from conclusive. The concept dates from 1945 and, depending on who you believe, either Nickles or Ragsdale came up with the suggestion of a body style that looked like a convertible but had a steel roof. The most quoted source of inspiration is Ragsdale's wife, Sarah, who liked convertible models for their looks but didn't enjoy driving them with the top down because her hair got blown around. Nickles believed that Ragsdale saw a model of his and took up the idea.
The role played by Curtice was pivotal. Although no longer officially involved in the day-to-day running of Buick, he remained very much in charge, dominating easy-going general manager Ivan L. Wiles who had taken over his position. The idea of a huge division like Buick being treated as a personal fiefdom might seem incredible today, but Red Curtice held a unique position, having taken the marque from the depths of depression, through the traumas of war and into the boom years of the Fifties. So it was Curtice, either working directly or by pressurizing people behind the scenes, who directed how Buick progressed.
And progress Buick certainly did. While it is easy to fault the amount of chrome used or the bizarre aspects of the design, in its day the voluptuous Buick was a highly-regarded automobile, only one step down from a Cadillac, and to be behind the wheel of Buick was a sign of a successful career. Forecasting the growth of the automobile market, in 1945 Curtice had persuaded General Motors' chief executive Alfred P. Sloan to fund an expansion programme to increase Buick's manufacturing capacity to over half a million vehicles a year. It was a couple of years before that total was reached, but 1950 saw it exceeded by a wide margin and Buick leapt to number three in the sales charts, behind Chevrolet and Ford - a remarkable achievement.
The curvaceous nature of the Buick was accentuated by a body line that sloped down from the top of the headlight and dipped in front of the rear wheel before climbing back up and giving a distinct definition to the rear fender. This was at a period when most other body styles tried to eliminate the rear fender shape, and harks back to Harley Earl's 1939 Y-Job Buick concept car which foretold many of the styling ingredients that were to become identified with Buick in the 1950s.
One of the smallest of these styling artifacts was the gunsight or bombsight hood ornament. Back in 1946, Nickles produced a design that would be suitable for mass production, based on the Y-Job ornament, and the feature remained until 1958. Undoubtedly more of a Buick trademark were the VentiPorts on the sides of the front fenders. Nickles is almost always credited for these (copied from a fighter plane exhaust stubs) when he cut holes in the hood of his '48 Roadmaster convertible and fixed lights behind them wired to the distributor so they would flash like exhausts.
Ragsdale was horrified at seeing Nickles' customizing and complained to Curtice that the young designer had ruined a perfectly good car. Curtice looked for himself and, far from censuring Nickles, incorporated the portholes in the 1949 Buick models. Initially these VentiPorts were said to release fumes from the engine compartment and were fu!Sy functional. For various reasons - not least reports of inebriated passers-by using the orifices to urinate on the engine - the holes were blanked off and they became purely decorative. For 1950 models, the VentiPorts were elongated to look like slots; the more expensive models had four per side, while others had three.
The excess chrome on postwar Buicks was explained by Nickles as coming about due to a shortage during the war. Once free of restrictions, designers used chrome for glamor and perhaps overdosed on the shiny stuff. Nickles was quoted as saying: "...we were entertaining people with chrome on cars..." and it surely did that. Not all designers took such a sanguine attitude in iater years, Henry Lauve calling it 'Club Sandwich Chrome' and you can see what he means. Lauve also said that the huge teeth only came about because "...we wanted to be different..." Again, there can be little argument that they succeeded!
However, looking at the era in which the 1950 Buicks were conceived, they were totally appropriate for their time. Big, bold, brash, certainly - yet they established keynote features that would instantly tell you that the car was a Buick from a block or more away, not something that can be done that easily in the Nineties. Stylish? Yes, the 1950 Buick had style aplenty and it showed.
BUICK ROADMASTER SEDANETTE
Cast iron - 8 cylinders in line
320.2 cu. ins
Bore and stroke
2 door coupe
No. of seats
STUDEBAKER CHAMPION REGAL DELUXE
Cast iron - 6 cylinders in line
169.6 cu. ins
Bore and stroke
3 x 4 ins.
No. of seats
270,604 (all models)
This article comes from Free Vin Check, Get Vehicle History Report, Free Car History, Used Car History, Auto History, Free Vehicle History, VIN Number Check, Car History, Lemon, Check
The URL for this story is: