In which a group of graying eternal amateurs discuss their passions, interests and obsessions, among them: movies, art, politics, evolutionary biology, taxes, writing, computers, these kids these days, and lousy educations.

E-Mail Donald
Demographer, recovering sociologist, and arts buff

E-Mail Fenster
College administrator and arts buff

E-Mail Francis
Architectural historian and arts buff

E-Mail Friedrich
Entrepreneur and arts buff
E-Mail Michael
Media flunky and arts buff

We assume it's OK to quote emailers by name.

Try Advanced Search

  1. Seattle Squeeze: New Urban Living
  2. Checking In
  3. Ben Aronson's Representational Abstractions
  4. Rock is ... Forever?
  5. We Need the Arts: A Sob Story
  6. Form Following (Commercial) Function
  7. Two Humorous Items from the Financial Crisis
  8. Ken Auster of the Kute Kaptions
  9. What Might Representational Painters Paint?
  10. In The Times ...

Sasha Castel
AC Douglas
Out of Lascaux
The Ambler
Modern Art Notes
Cranky Professor
Mike Snider on Poetry
Silliman on Poetry
Felix Salmon
Polly Frost
Polly and Ray's Forum
Stumbling Tongue
Brian's Culture Blog
Banana Oil
Scourge of Modernism
Visible Darkness
Thomas Hobbs
Blog Lodge
Leibman Theory
Goliard Dream
Third Level Digression
Here Inside
My Stupid Dog
W.J. Duquette

Politics, Education, and Economics Blogs
Andrew Sullivan
The Corner at National Review
Steve Sailer
Joanne Jacobs
Natalie Solent
A Libertarian Parent in the Countryside
Rational Parenting
Colby Cosh
View from the Right
Pejman Pundit
God of the Machine
One Good Turn
Liberty Log
Daily Pundit
Catallaxy Files
Greatest Jeneration
Glenn Frazier
Jane Galt
Jim Miller
Limbic Nutrition
Innocents Abroad
Chicago Boyz
James Lileks
Cybrarian at Large
Hello Bloggy!
Setting the World to Rights
Travelling Shoes

Redwood Dragon
The Invisible Hand
Daze Reader
Lynn Sislo
The Fat Guy
Jon Walz


Our Last 50 Referrers

« Moviegoing and DVD Journal: "Inland Empire" and "7 Men From Now" | Main | Boredom Studies »

March 06, 2007

An Entertaining Walk-Around

Donald Pittenger writes:

Dear Blowhards --

Walking around a car should be visually entertaining.

That thought was supposedly expressed by Harley Earl, General Motors' legendary styling chief from the late 20s to the late 50s. I'm sorry to say that I can't remember where I read the remark. Besides, it might be one of those apocryphal sayings.

It doesn't really matter because General Motors' cars during the golden years of Earl's reign really were entertaining to look at.

I can vouch for it. Well, let's say that my five-year-old self would vouch for it.

The first family car I can remember was our 1941 Pontiac, a green two-door sedan powered by a six-cylinder motor (top-of-the-line Pontiacs had "straight-eight" engines). It was our only car until we added a '51 Pontiac to the fleet.

I remember spending a fair amount of time studying it. This was easy to do because most of the interesting features were pretty close to eye-level when I was young.

Let's go for a walk and pretend you're five years old, if you can.

1941 Pontiac Gallery

Front view
This is an establishment shot to offer a sense of the car. The one shown here has accessories not found on ours -- the yellow fog-light over the bumper and the sun-shade above the windshield.

Closer Front View
This is from sales literature and shows detail better. In the late 30s and early 40s parallel "speed lines" suggestive of streamlining were fashionable. The "Silver Streaks" on the hood might be considered a form of that. Note that the streaks are repeated below each headlight. The Indian "mascot" sits atop the hood. At the top-center of the grille are other decorative touches.

Side View
This too is from factory literature -- it reminds me of a picture in the owner's manual. Here we see indented "speed lines" behind the wheel wells. Also note the sharp transition from the rounded top of the front fender to the vertical sides, an interesting sculptural feature that helps to visually lengthen the car thanks to its horizontal direction. It is repeated, less-dramatically, on the rear fender.

Rear View
The Silver Streaks on the trunk are the main entertainment element here. They can't be seen in this photos, but I believe that there are small horizontal "whisker" lines on each side of each taillight frame. And there is an Indian-head symbol on the bumper.

Admittedly the 1941 Pontiac is not a top-notch example of car styling, though my emotional attachment sometimes makes it hard for me to confess this. It has a lot of "busy" stuff that is more tacked-on than organic. Probably the main reason for this is that Pontiac shared basic bodies with Chevrolet, and stylists worked mightily to distinguish the two brands. In those days, Pontiac's most characteristic feature was the Silver Streaks -- chrome strips atop the hood and trunk. For 1941, these were echoed by the horizontal indentations or channels on each fender to the rear of the wheel well. Another styling cue on the '41 (and for many other years) was a stylized Indian-head hood ornament or "mascot."

Was Harley Earl correct regarding the all-round viewing experience? I think he was. Set aside ugly or clumsily-styled cars and consider the truly classic designs. Be the car a 1937 Cord, a Bugatti Atlantique, a 1953 Studebaker Starlight Coupe or 1962 Studebaker Avanti, a walk-around is rewarding.

(Okay, there are exceptions. One that comes to mind is the original 356 Porsche -- a significant design, but bland and mushy when viewed from certain angles.)



posted by Donald at March 6, 2007


Wow, does this bring back memories. Buick was "The Doctor's Car" back then and my dad was a doctor, so natch, we had a Buick. The Buick was also known less officially as a fat assed car and boy was it ever. A big wallowing thing. The design gimmick for the Buick was the airhole in the front fender. Ours (1949 model) had three. Later they went to four! To a kid this was heresy.
Amazing the loyalty you felt to GM if your family owned a GM car. It was also clearly understood that the "division" you drove marked your place on the socio-economic ladder. In ascending order the GM divisions were: Chevy, Pontiac, Oldsmobile, Buick and, of course, top of the line, the Caddy.
Stylistically the Olds was always sleakest, most aerodynamic. Pontiac had a strange snout. Chevy introduced two toning, which was declasse, but looking back on it, quite attractive: cream colored roofs with pastel blue bodies. The Chevy had "hips." The distinguishing mark of the Caddy was the fin, which grew larger and larger as the fifties progressed.

Posted by: ricpic on March 7, 2007 12:40 PM

I love this walkaround. You've got me paying much closer (and shrewder) attention than I usually manage. The "speed lines" are pretty great. They're like something a cartoonist might have drawn.

I love Ricpic's memories of GM cars too. We were a Chevy family ... But then inherited a '64 Buick. (With a monster, 9 miles a gallon, 445 8 cylinder engine). Although it was basically a Chevy with extra trimmings, it was still quite a step up. So much so that I'm not sure we ever felt worthy of it.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on March 8, 2007 2:08 AM

Post a comment

Email Address:



Remember your info?