Note: Frank Peiler is the publisher emeritus of Consumer Guide Automotive. For more of Frank’s “What If?” artwork, check out his blogs on the 1957 Mercury, 1957 Packard, Cord 810, and Lincoln Continental.
The 1955 Chevrolet had it all. It was all-new from bumper to bumper with a new frame, new V8 engine, and new body.
The body design was a complete departure from previous Chevys. The hood was low, and the fender line was window-sill high. With a wide panoramic windshield and Ferrari-like grille, it looked like it was designed as a show car for one of the General Motors Motoramas. Here it is in hardtop form . . .
So what if American Motors, Chrysler, Ford, and Studebaker had applied Chevrolet design elements onto their 1955 bodies? Here is what I think they might have looked like . . .
1955 Chevrolet by AMC
I used AMC’s Rambler as a basis for the RamAir. Hooded headlight bezels, parking lights, and a new grille finish off the front end. Reworked quarter panels with a new taillight/back-up light assembly complete the rear (see drawing above). Bel Air-like side trim accommodates the ’50s two-tone paint scheme (above). The wraparound windshield is the biggest and probably the most expensive change to the old Nash body.
Conceived by Edsel Ford and designed by E. T. “Bob” Gregorie, the first Lincoln Continental appeared in 1939. It was shown for the first time in West Palm Beach, Florida, where Edsel was vacationing. Though just a design curiosity in 1939, it must have shocked the auto industry when the production version appeared in 1940 as a convertible and a fixed-roof club coupe. It’s puzzling that other auto companies didn’t introduce a “Continental” of their own in 1941. However, if they had, they might have looked like the renderings pictured here.
Like the Lincoln Continental, all of these cars received extensive body alterations in my drawings, including:
- sectional body strips (2″-3″) of sheetmetal removed from the center of the body and cowl
- mildly chopped tops
- lengthened hoods
- lengthened frames ahead of the cowls
- reworked front and rear fenders
- reworked or restyled grilles
- new trunks to accommodate the exterior-mounted “continental” spare tires
The year 1956 marked the last hurrah for the “real” Packard. After that, Studebaker tried (somewhat successfully) to turn a Studebaker President into a Packard, but it was too little (literally!) too late.
There are stories of S-P trying to purchase 1956 Lincoln bodies from Ford to turn into Packards, but that idea died on the vine. What if S-P had purchased bodies from Lincoln, Chrysler, Cadillac, or even AMC and then found enough cash to make some sheetmetal and detail changes? Here’s what I think could have been the result.
1957 Packard Imperious by Chrysler
A new hood, reworked tailfins, and other sheetmetal plus a new grille and that’s it. Everything else is pure Imperial. The Carib convertible has heavily reworked quarter panels.
1957 Packard Caribassador by AMC
All we need here is a new hood, grille, taillights, and quarter panels to turn a Nash into a Packard Caribbean.
1957 Packard DeTrician sedan and ElCarib convertible
Pretty much the same formula here: new hood, grille, and quarter panels. Add to these trim and taillights and you have the Packard DeTrician sedan.
Back in 1950, Nash—later one of the building blocks of American Motors—introduced the Rambler, a cute, little (for the time) 4/5-passenger convertible with a top that folded back on rails. It wasn’t the first time somebody would use this trick to make a sedan into ragtop, nor would it be the last. In fact, today’s Fiat 500 Cabrio is just such a car.
Weirdly enough, despite being decades apart, the Rambler and the 500 share something more than a little-used construction technique. The former Chrysler Corporation bought American Motors in 1987. Chrysler’s main aim was to get its hands on AMC’s profitable Jeep lineup, but it also became the holder of the history of its former carmaking rival, including the model names. Then, when Chrysler LLC found itself in bankruptcy in 2009, Italy’s Fiat stepped in to take over control—and get a renewed foothold for its own products in the U.S. That’s where opportunity comes knocking. With “global platforms” being all the rage at multinational car companies like the Fiat/Chrysler combine, it seems to me that the time is right to reintroduce the Rambler by using the 500 Cabrio as a starting point.
One of the most beautiful automobile designs of the 20th century, the 1936-37 Cord 810/812 was penned by Gordon Buehrig, the design chief for Auburn Cord Duesenberg. This was a clean-sheet-of-paper design, meaning that Gordon didn’t have to base his design on an existing frame or body shell.
However, imagine if he were employed by another automobile company and had to apply his Cord design elements to one of their existing frames and bodies. He would have had to follow their perceived notions of what a car should look like.
Below is a photo of the the 1936 Cord 810. Following that are my drawings. In each, I tried to imagine what the Cord 810 would have looked like if built by the corresponding automaker.
Cord by General Motors
Starting with the body shell, frame, and powertrain used by senior Buicks, Gordon would have had only enough money in the budget to cover the cost of a new front clip (hood, fenders, grille, etc.) and bumpers. Plus, the design would have had to pass the watchful eyes of GM design boss Harley Earl. For that reason, Mr. Buehrig would have had to use lots of chrome while still trying to keep his design as clean and uncluttered as possible. The result is pictured above.
What if all the big American car companies (other than Ford) were given the task of designing this famous Mercury?
While incorporating design elements from the 1956 Mercury Turnpike Cruiser concept car, General Motors, Chrysler, AMC, and Studebaker-Packard would have needed to use one of their existing body/chassis combinations. GM probably would have used the new Buick Special/Century and Oldsmobile 88 shell, Chrysler the Dodge/Desoto Firesweep bodies, AMC the big Nash/Hudson unit, and S-P the Hawk configuration. Using as much existing hardware and as few new pieces as possible, and based on each corporate design director’s view of what a car from his company should look like, they might have done something similar to the drawings below.
Mercury Pikehawk Cruiser by Studebaker-Packard
S-P would have been faced with a very difficult job to transform a Studebaker Hawk into a Mercury.
Starting with a Hawk body and frame plus front fenders and doors, and lots and lots of fiberglass, the most expensive change would have been a completely redesigned cowl because the Cruiser needed to have a wraparound windshield to be considered really modern.
I recently drove a 6-speed manual transmission, 4-cylinder engine version of the TSX for a week and really enjoyed the experience—no matter what our Consumer Guide review says.
Consumer Guide reported that the 201-horsepower 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine was noisy, especially during acceleration. Unless I’m going deaf, I found this engine to be reasonably quiet and refined even during hard acceleration. At expressway speeds, the engine is nearly silent.
The 6-speed manual transmission shifts like a hot knife through butter, and shift-points are perfect.
My gas mileage was nearly identical to what my CG cohorts reported (28.6 mpg), but theirs was mostly highway. Mine was 28.5 mpg over 500-plus miles but a 50/50 mix of highway/city driving.
CG says, “A few interior panels look low buck.” Not so, as far as I’m concerned. The panels looked to be high enough quality for a $31,000 vehicle. I found the controls to be large and easy to see, and all on-board electronic controls, once learned, are easy to use.
I guess I’ve been a fan of Chrysler products ever since my Uncle Harry gave me a ride in his brand-new 1951 Chrysler Imperial sedan. He loved to go fast, and the big, old “hemi”-powered Imp did just that. When I got my driver’s license, my other uncle, Arnold, let me use his new 1957 Plymouth Belvedere convertible whenever I had a date.
Any other time I needed wheels, I could always use my dad’s 1954 Dodge Royal two-door sedan, which was powered by a 241-cid hemi V8. This car suffered plenty of abuse at my hands, but it never once broke down.
During my four years in the Air Force, I had the good fortune to work at a drag strip on my free weekends. I experienced the rise of Dodge and Plymouth Super Stocks in action. When I returned to civilian life and got a job that paid a real salary, I ordered a 1965 Dodge Coronet 500 hardtop equipped with a 426-cid 365-hp V8, TorqueFlite automatic transmission, and power brakes.