As human civilization begins to envision the end of an era dominated by the internal combustion engine, we take a look back at the masterworks and follies of the Automotive Century, detour onto the meandering two-lanes to visit a few roadside attractions, and comment on the architectural and urban planning consequences of car culture.
The saga of Italian-bodied American Motors cars outlived the Nash and Hudson nameplates. In the middle of the Sixties, stylist Richard Teague proposed a true GT car to generate showroom traffic, and this appeared in 1966 as the AMX show car. In order to get the car produced in time for the car shows, the body was produced by Vignale. The somewhat chunky "tunnel roof" fastback proportions and unadorned surfaces were a huge improvement over the Rambler Marlin, a hastily arranged marriage of the trendy fastback theme with a completely unsuitable sedan lower body which had appeared as a response to the Plymouth Barracuda. The AMX would have been a two-seater had it not been for the "Ramble Seat", a recycled rumble seat from the 1930s, with the hinged backlight swinging up to form a windshield for the rear occupants. Tightening Federal safety regulations nixed this seating idea, but the car was a hit on the show circuit, and provided the basic shape for the Javelin-based AMX, a true two-seater, which appeared in 1968. Note the raised surfaces outlining the wheel arches and the way this outline wraps around the tapered tail, forming the upper edge of the combined bumper and tail light units.
AMC produced the AMX 3 prototypes, also styled by Teague, as part of an effort to promote the performance aspect of their cars; this program included success in the Trans Am Series with Mark Donohue. This period coincided with a vogue for show cars (and even a few production models) featuring a mid-engined layout. AMC had Giotto Bizzarrini (designer of the Ferrari GTO and the Lamborghini V-12 engine) produce chassis to handle their big 390 inch V8, and body them in steel. The 4-speed transaxle was by OTO Melara. Testing of the unusually rigid, neutral-handling chassis was by BMW. The body design featured a strong horizontal crease along the flanks somewhat like Giugiaro's earlier De Tomaso Mangusta, but this crease kicked up over the rear wheels and outlined the car's tail, echoing the earlier AMX show car.
Though it was often assumed to be a response to Ford's Italian-built De Tomaso Pantera, the AMX -3 was announced one day earlier than that car, on April 1, 1970...
AMC's original order was for 30 cars, but a strike and related financial downturn were cited as reasons for the cancellation after only 5 cars had been built. Another possible reason was that production costs would have forced AMC to sell the car for $12,000, about $2,000 more than the announced price of the Pantera.
A sixth car was built post-cancellation from leftover spare parts. The car which might have been the most fully-realized and practical of the Italian-American GT projects still attracts plenty of attention wherever it appears.
Top & 2nd: American Motors Corp. 3rd: carbuildindex.com 4th: wikimedia 5th: autoblog.com
In 1949, the hottest car you could buy in America was the Jaguar XK120. American GIs were back from Europe, and some who had spent time in England came back with stories about odd little two-passenger cars called "sports cars." First they bought the spindly little MG-TC, then the TD that replaced it in 1950. Those who could afford it put their names on a waiting list for the Jag. The long wait for that car signified room in the marketplace for a competitor. George Mason, chairman of Nash-Kelivinator, thought so. By chance in '49 he met Donald Healey on the Queen Elizabeth, returning from the States after an unsuccessful attempt to buy Cadillac engines to fit into his Healey Silverstone club racer. Healey was also planning a larger, more luxurious machine, and meeting Mason convinced him they could work out a deal with mutual benefits. For Healey, the British government's export drive required that any expanded production must be exported. Mason had an off-the-shelf engine available at Nash, but lacked a compact, lightweight chassis for it. So Healey offered the G-Type roadster he was planning. For the home market the car appeared with an Alvis engine, but for the American market it received a Nash grille with hood scoop over the Ambassador six. With alloy Panelcraft body on a 102 inch wheelbase, the Nash-Healey appeared as a '51 model in summer of 1950. The price of $3,800 was around $400 more than an XK120.
The new car did well in racing from the beginning, with a 4th place finish at Le Mans in 1950, 6th overall in '51, and 3rd overall in '52, ahead of all the Ferraris and bested only by the new Mercedes 300SL. Also in 1952, a heavier but more stylish roadster bodied in steel by Pinin Farina replaced the Panelcraft version after 104 of those had been built. A 4.1 liter engine replaced the 3.8, but the extra weight of the new car meant it wasn't as fast.
It sold a bit better than the '51 model, but not as well as the Jag XK120. At $4,700 it was over $2k more expensive than that car, a cost penalty reflecting shipping costs for a chassis which voyaged from Healey's English workshops to Italy and then back to the Nash factory in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Customers in the higher price range expected more comfort, and so in 1953 a Le Mans coupe on a 108 inch wheelbase joined the roadster, offering more space along with roll-up windows. Around the same time, Jaguar offered the same features on its XK120 coupe and drop head convertible.
By 1954, the coupe was the only offering, and featured wraparound backlight and angled roof pillar resembling the big Nashes as well as the Rambler. Owing to slow sales, the '54 was only produced for three months, and 90 were sold at around $5,100. Over in England, the Healey works was consumed with the new Austin-Healey start-up and preparing A-H race cars, and the production total for the Nash-Healey worked out to 507 cars. When a baker's dozen race cars are added, the tally comes to 520.
Meanwhile in Detroit, Hudson was attempting to generate showroom traffic by offering an Italian-bodied GT based on the compact '53 Jet, a solid but stodgy effort whose tooling costs and slow sales eventually sank the company. The goal was to capture some of the attention that Chrysler had with its Ghia-bodied show cars, and Superleggera Touring of Milan built Hudson stylist Frank Spring's design in aluminum on a 105 inch Jet chassis. The overall look was a collision of Italian sleek with Flash Gordon goofy, including doors which extended into the roof, and odd rocket-tube tail lights...
The car appeared in January 1954, just after Hudson merged with better-funded Nash to form American Motors. The uncertainty about Hudson's future, along with the $4,800 price tag and the foolish decision not to offer the big Hornet engine which was then dominating stock car racing, meant that only 26 of the cars emerged from Touring's workshops in Milan.
AMC management cancelled the program after those 26 cars were sold. With the exception of a prototype Nash sedan from '55, the only other AMC car to appear with Italian bodywork during this era was the Farina-styled and bodied Rambler Palm Beach in 1957. This coupe featured covered headlights and a jet intake-inspired grille design derived from the Farina designed PF200 Lancias from the early 50s.
For awhile, then, it seemed like the Italian connection to the Wisconsin car manufacturer had been broken. But the future held other surprises, as we will discover in our next post. Footnote: For those interested in exploring other American sports cars bodied in Italy during this era, the following links may be of interest. For Chrysler Ghias: http://poeschloncars.blogspot.com/2015/08/what-defines-production-car-and-why.html For the Pinin Farina jet motif:
http://poeschloncars.blogspot.com/2016/05/jet-cars-part-one-real-not-so-real.html http://poeschloncars.blogspot.com/2016/05/jets-vs-sharks-pinin-farina-cadillacs.html And Italian-bodied Corvettes from the 50s and early 60s: http://poeschloncars.blogspot.com/2016/02/the-italian-jobs-corvettes-in-italian.html http://poeschloncars.blogspot.com/2016/02/the-italian-jobs-part-2-kelly-corvette.html http://poeschloncars.blogspot.com/2016/03/the-italian-jobs-part-3-another.html Photo Credits: Top: Nash-Kelvinator, wikimedia 2nd: bringatrailer.com 3rd: Nash-Kelvinator 4th: nashhealeyowners.com 5th: hemmings.com 6th: americansportscars.com 7th: uniquecarsandparts.com
In 1967, when Fiat introduced its Fiat Dino with a V6 engine shared with Ferrari, even car enthusiasts had forgotten an earlier 2 liter Fiat, the 8V from 1952-'54. If for some reason you had one of these earlier cars tucked away in your garage, you might have found it hard to sell. Parts of all kinds were hard to find, and the car's obscurity insured low resale value. Now examples in scruffy condition trade in the high six figures. How did this happen? The story starts when engineer Dante Giacosa designed a 70 degree, 2 liter aluminum V8 engine for a stillborn luxury sedan, then obtained permission from the ruling Agnelli family to produce a sports car to showcase this new engine. The car was called 8V("Otto Vu") because Fiat mistakenly believed that Ford had copyrighted "V8". The chassis design made clever use of the four-wheel independent suspension from a Jeep-like Fiat military vehicle at a time when most cars had live rear axles. The car appeared at the 1952 Geneva show, with a body design by Fabio Luigi Rapi which would've looked advanced in the late Thirties, but not by the early Fifties. The narrow chassis, Art Deco grille design and blistered rear fender skirts evoked prewar streamliners by Paul Jaray for Adler, and by Superleggera Touring for Alfa and BMW.
Soon enough, Zagato decided to offer an extensively remodeled version of this "standard" Otto Vu, and produced a light alloy Elaborata which offered a cleaner grille, glassier greenhouse, and on at least one example, the signature twin-hump roof.
By 1954 Zagato had also produced several of its own design for the Otto Vu, with tighter flanks, curved side glass and the overall impression that the alloy body panels could not be wrapped more tightly around the chassis and mechanicals. The "double bubble" roof remained an option which appears on the red example below, but not on the otherwise similar green one. These cars did well in road racing, despite the somewhat fragile nature of the new engine.
Ghia got into the act as well, when Giovanni Savonuzzi designed his Supersonic coupe, the first of which was fitted to an Alfa Romeo 1900 chassis. The Alfa attracted attention, but the body was wrecked in the 1953 Mille Miglia. So Ghia turned to Fiat as a chassis supplier, and built eight more Supersonics on the 8V. The Supersonic style, with its low, tight greenhouse, rocket-like brow linking the front and rear wheels, and nascent tail fins emerging from an indented line spiraling around the circular tail lights, was repeated on 2 or 3 Jaguar XK120 chassis and on one Aston Martin. None of these cars featured the plexiglass roof which had appeared on that first Supersonic.*
There was also at least one Otto Vu by Pinin Farina. This coupe lacked the futuristic exuberance of the Ghia Supersonic, instead borrowing the tunnel roof with fins from the rear of PF's one-off Ingrid Bergman Ferrari*, while at the front presaged PF's Ferrari 250GT SWB by a few years. Overall, the sober, elegant PF Otto Vu resembled nothing so much as a scaled-down Ferrari, which may have been the point...
Vignale bodied several Fiat 8Vs in a variety of styles by Giovanni Michelotti, including the rather wild 1954 coupe below, with a paint scheme seemingly inspired by Fiat's Turbino jet car*, which appeared the same year.
By 1957 this car had been remodeled by Vignale with a revised nose and tail, and a look more related to the Ferraris of that era.
By 1957 this car had been remodeled by Vignale with a revised nose and tail, and a look more related to the Ferraris of that era. Fiat built 114 examples of the Otto Vu, and the specialist firm Siata built an additional 35 cars using the same chassis and engine design. These were known as the 208S; Rocco Motto built the open spider version shown below...
The coupe body style shown below was provided by Stablimenti Farina as well as Balbo; the concealed headlights and hunkered-down profile are unlike the Zagato Fiats. Like the Zagato cars, some of these 208 S coupes went racing. As with the Fiat 8V, high prices ($5,300 and up) doomed the sales effort. Fiat, working with Ghia, would have better luck with its 2300 inline 6 in the early Sixties, and with the 1967 release of the Fiat Dino. But those cars are another story, for another day.
*Footnotes: The first Ghia Supersonic is pictured in our essay for May 9, 2016 entitled "Lovely Rita: Cadillac Ghia." Fiat's Turbino jet car is shown in our post for May 21, 2016 entitled "Jet Cars, Part 1: Real & Not So Real." Finally, a visit to the archives for September 7, 2015 will reward readers with a discussion of the Ingrid Bergman Ferrari in "One of One: A Brief History of Singular Cars."
Like the Pininfarina-built, Manzu-designed Austin Healey in our previous post, the Bertone Mustang from 1965 was sponsored by a magazine, in this case Automobile Quarterly, the hardbound enthusiast publication which conveyed a lively interest in design from its founding in 1962. Upon its introduction in spring of 1964, Ford's Falcon-based Mustang was a stunning commercial success, but enthusiasts and car designers who remembered the mid-engined Mustang show cars from 1962 (see this link for "Ford's Forgotten First Mustang": http://poeschloncars.blogspot.com/2015/08/the-first-mustang-fords-forgotten.html) were less enthusiastic about the rectilinear, obviously sedan-based shape. AQ's editor, L. Scott Bailey, approached Nuccio Bertone about providing an alternative interpretation of the Mustang theme, possibly reasoning that rethinking the design of a wildly successful car would increase reader interest. Bertone turned over design to Giorgetto Giugiaro, his young star. Alitalia volunteered to airlift a new Mustang 2 + 2 to Turin, and Bertone's team went to work immediately, saving little more than the mechanicals and the platform from the unitized body-chassis, along with some hardware and trim items. Amazingly, the car was ready in time for the 1965 New York Auto Show, where it won Best of Show.
What the onlookers crowding around the show car saw looked nothing like any standard Mustang. The taut, tactile form, enhanced by a subtle crease running along the flanks above the wheels, is reminiscent of Giugiaro's earlier work on the Alfa Romeo GTV. The headlights hide behind pivoting doors, the parabolic blister on the hood clears the air cleaner for the 289 V8, and the functional side vents exhaust air from the engine compartment. The glassy greenhouse features operating rear quarter windows and the wraparound backlight echoes Giugiaro's Iso Grifo from two years earlier. Giugiaro designed the dished, five-pointed star wheels for this car, and they were cast in magnesium alloy by Campagnolo.
One of the few rear views published shows how the simple recessed tail frames the tail lights and the stock Mustang fuel filler. This Bertone photo was also the source of a mystery; the car was originally displayed in a metallic blue-green and with left-hand drive, but here the car is seen in silver and with the steering wheel on the right. It seems that for some reason the photo was reversed (the "Mustang 2 +2" insignia is backwards); only one Bertone Mustang was built.
The caramel-colored leather upholstery, wood steering wheel and reorganized instrument panel enhanced the environment for driver and passengers. The front view shows that the car looked just as handsome with the headlights uncovered as with them covered. The flattened, hexagonal grille opening shape is echoed in the restyled field in which Ford's wild horse gallops. But where the Bertone Mustang galloped after its triumphant first showing is an enduring mystery. Like the Automobile Year Austin Healey featured in our previous post, the Automobile Quarterly Mustang has vanished without a trace. We do know that Bertone offered the car for sale after the New York Show for $10,000, a fraction of its cost. We also know that it was not among the prototypes and concept cars auctioned by Bertone after the recent closure of their car building operation. With any luck, some happy car spotter will find it in a barn someday. Even covered with dust and cobwebs, the Bertone Mustang will still look like something special.