Little Cars Come First (Nov, 1947)

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Little Cars Come First

New cars don’t jump from drafting board to production line. Models of numbers of variations are built, a choice made, and all details studied.

TEN years or so ago when the auto industry first began serious experimentation with the streamline, designers discovered that the drawing board was no longer a reliable instrument of the trade. The compound metal surfaces brought on by long, sweeping fenders, arched roofs and built-in luggage compartments gave off tricky highlights. A car model that appealed in the two-dimensional plane of the sketch might have an entirely different appearance in three-dimensional bulk. Frequently, too, the difference did not become forcibly evident until production jobs were exposed to the critical lights of a salesroom.

To avoid these errors, the design phase of new automobiles gradually shifted from the pencil and brush to the spatula. Waist-high clay modeling platforms supplanted the drafting boards in studios. Instead of artwork, designers presented scale models of their fancies.

This does not mean that new automotive designs are today accepted from miniatures. The approval of a miniature is only one step in the development which leads to manufacturing. However, through wider use of miniatures, new car studios have been able to save considerable wasted time and expense between an original idea and the clay model.

The Studebaker Corporation found miniatures of particular help in deciding the major styling change involved in its new model. In collaboration with Raymond Loewy Associates, a dozen quarter-sized replicas of suggested models were completed. The one finally selected was, in the opinion of officials, so outstanding that only minor revisions were necessary in later full-sized clay and full-sized wood models.

In building a miniature model the professional automobile designer starts with a wooden “foundation car.” The foundation car has wheels mounted in quarter-sized relationship to the eventual full-sized model; otherwise the angular surfaces of the foundation bear scant resemblance to the flowing lines of the modern automobile.

The designer fills over the wooden car with plasticine, a type of modeling clay that is stored in 125-degree ovens and which solidifies at room temperature. Throughout the fill-in period the designer makes frequent recourse to a templet from which the general outline of an automobile has been cut. The templet, placed lengthwise of the model, tells him the absolute limits of his design.

Establishment of absolute limits for a model may not readily be appreciated by a layman unless he considers the production processes toward which every designer must work.

Overall lengths obviously affect the capacity of assembly lines. Car heights may not jibe with oven or conveyor clearances. Then, sizes have a bearing on costs.

The limitation between the foundation car and the inner rim of the templet is the true test of professional design skill. The space varies from a fraction of an inch to two inches. To achieve a striking effect and still satisfy economically the possibilities of the productive machinery of an automobile company is a problem considerably more complex than dreaming up a super-streamliner on a drafting board.

9 comments
  1. Neil Russell says: November 29, 20078:12 am

    That looks a lot like Raymond Loewy himself in the top picture of the fourth page.
    I’m trying to recall some things from the dusty cobwebbed areas of my brain, but was he not a friend or acquaintance of Alex Tremulis that designed the Tucker?
    I always felt Loewy knew a good design when he saw it and the 1950 Studebakers all look like baby Tuckers, right down to a place for the third headlight.
    Funny thing, there’s not one picture of a model up there of the car that was Studebaker’s big news for ’47, the Starlight with a wraparound back window.
    Thanks to Loewy, Studebaker proudly proclaimed in their ads “First by far with a post war car!”

  2. Neil Russell says: November 29, 20078:19 am

    Oops, I was mistaken, in the top of page 4 there’s a wraparound Starlight on the third table from the right.
    Now, someone else with better recall skills than I possess will have to confirm, but I believe you are seeing women in the design studio because Loewy hired them as designers. He was one of, if not the first to do so in the auto industry.
    I could be all screwed up on that.

  3. Tuckeroo says: November 29, 200712:48 pm

    As to the influence of Tucker styling on Studebaker, read here: http://www.tuckerclub.o…

    As a student of Tucker history for the last 15 years, I am not aware of any direct connection between Alex Tremulis and Raymond Loewy. But there is one interesting exception. I believe the woman in the photo on the first page is Audrey Moore Hodges. She was one of the first (if not the first) woman employed in an automotive design capacity. Her story is quite interesting, an interview can be read here: http://www.autolife.umd…
    I mention her in particular because after Studebaker she went to work for – you guessed it – Tucker! She’s the only person I know of to work in the respective design departments for both companies! In so far as I know however, most of what she did at Tucker related to interior design and exterior color schemes. Therefore, I am not suggesting that the similarities between Tucker and Studebaker styling had anything to do with Mrs. Hodges, but I find it to be an interesting historical footnote at the very least.

  4. Neil Russell says: November 29, 20072:03 pm

    Great links! Thanks.
    I’ve always been a Tucker nut, when I was a kid and would go to the Stone Mountain Auto Museum the Tucker was the first car I would always head for.
    They even had a display of parts and accessories from Tucker.
    I don’t even know which number car it was, or if it’s still there. In fact it could be the same one owned by a family in (coincidentally) Tucker GA that makes the rounds in parades there in the outskirts of Atlanta.

  5. Neil Russell says: November 29, 20072:15 pm

    And now, thanks to your links, I have seen that the Stone Mountain Tucker is still there, and the one that belongs to the Cofer collection in Tucker GA is a different one altogether. :)

  6. Tuckeroo says: November 29, 20072:57 pm

    When I was 15 my mother insisted on dragging me on a trip when my sister was visiting colleges down in Georgia. So I looked up area Tucker owners to make it worth my while, and visited the one at Stone Mountain (which is #1015) and the one owned my Mr. Cofer (#1034). The unexpected treat of the day was Mr. Cofer (who sadly passed away some years ago) asking me if I had ever had a ride in a Tucker and when I said “no” he pulled it out of the garage and we went for a ride on the streets of Tucker, GA!

  7. Neil Russell says: November 29, 20073:01 pm

    Oh you lucky skunk!! ;)

  8. Blurgle says: November 29, 20077:59 pm

    Tuckeroo, I am green with envy.

  9. Tuckeroo says: November 30, 200712:56 pm

    Aw shucks folks, I was just in the right place at the right time! If you get a chance you ought to check out one of the Tucker Club’s conventions or mini-meets (or even the club itself – I’ve been a member for 14 years and it’s been worth it). There’s usually at least one Tucker there (couldn’t guarantee a ride, though). We had four at the last one and the conventions take place across the country: http://www.tuckerclub.o…

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