The Truth About Cars » brooks stevens The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Wed, 23 Jul 2014 18:25:17 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » brooks stevens Forward Into the Past Into the Future – Brooks Stevens & Dick Teague Predict the 1970s from 1963 Sat, 26 Nov 2011 17:57:12 +0000 Back in junior high in the late 1960s, we had an assignment to write about “the good life in the year 2000″. Since I regularly read magazines like Popular Science and Mechanics Illustrated, it wasn’t too hard to put something together about edible silverware (didn’t happen) and microwave ovens (did). Perhaps that’s why I like the site Retro Future so much. There’s something meta about looking back into the past at how people looked forward into the future. While researching the Brooks Stevens Studebaker concepts I came across this 1963 clipping from the Milwaukee Journal. Stevens was based in Milwaukee and his hometown paper reported on a panel at the SAE congress in Detroit which featured Stevens and Richard Teague, who was by then the head of styling for American Motors after stints at Chrysler, GM and Packard. Stevens worked as a contract designer for a variety of non-automotive companies in addition to his work for Studebaker. The topic of the SAE panel was the car of the future. Stevens had a grandiose plan for a rolling living room. Teague, no stranger to cutting edge designs himself (cf. Packard Predictor) suggested a more evolutionary process. The interesting thing is that they both sort of turned out to be right, if not on the exact time frame.

Stevens predicted that by the 1970s air-conditioning would become commonplace, that there’d be rear seat television, pullout tables for playing games or eating, places to store your clothes, and seats that converted into sofas. Stevens also prophesied that powertrains would shrink to the size of a breadbox and that most cars would be either front wheel drive, or like the Corvair and VW, rear engined. He also predicted that turbines would be used, turbines being a big thing in Detroit in the late ’50s and early ’60s, and he suggested that electric four wheel drive could be powered by fuel cells. By then Chrysler had already shown a concept that proposed a fuel cell power source and GM was working on the fuel cell powered Electrovan. The auto industry was deeply involved in the space effort so it’s likely Stevens learned of fuel cells via that connection.

Teague, who is generally considered to have been a bit of a maverick, surprisingly made the conservative suggestion that  that cars would stay conventional and pooh-poohed Stevens’ predictions. Right off he said that nobody was working on such a small powerplant. Cars ten years hence would have evolutionary improvements to their engines but they would run on gasoline. Cars of the future, he predicted, would have greater variety of style now that glass could be shaped, and better suspension systems.

Teague was at least partly correct about the Stevens’ pipe dreams, but not entirely. Some of Stevens’ more outlandish suggestions have obviously not come to pass, and certainly didn’t by the 1970s, but many of his predictions have indeed come true. Front wheel drive is ubiquitous. A number of companies today are working on EVs with wheel hubs or other individual motors for each wheel which allow sophisticated four wheel drive. Air-conditioning is standard equipment in most cars sold in America, perhaps the world, today, and there are indeed rear seat televisions, only they play a far wider variety of content and games and have access to more information than Stevens could ever have imagined. Minivans and SUVs are filled with nooks and crannies and bins and all sorts of places to stow things, though there aren’t any clothes closets. In 1963, only Rambler offered seats that fully reclined. Stevens prediction about sofas and davenports briefly came true during the van conversion era, but even today most front seats fully recline and minivan and crossover seats can be set up in a variety of configurations.

For his part, Teague was accurate about the slow pace of change. We’re still using gasoline engines, much improved as Teague predicted. Stylists have fewer limitations and materials science have improved to the point that cars can be made into shapes that designers like Teague and Stevens could have only dreamed about manufacturing. And cars today most definitely have better suspensions and braking systems than they did in 1963. A typical family sedan today handles and corners literally rings around the high performance sports cars did of years ago.

It would be interesting to hear what today’s designers think about what will be 10, 20 and 50 years from now, and then to look back and see just how accurate they were.

Two automotive stylists clashed Thursday on whether the car of the future will be a home on wheels or merely similar to the present family car.

Brooks Stevens, a Milwaukee designer who has worked on Studebaker car, described the family auto of the 1970′s as a rolling livng room.

But Richard A. Teague, styling chief for American Motors, said Stevens’ dream car could not be produced in even the next 20 years and predicted the car of 1970 still will be built to provide basic transportation.They appeared on a session ofthe Society of Automotive Engineers congress in Detroit.

Stevens called his car “Auto Familia” – an auto for the family. It would be an air conditioned vehicle equipped with rear seat television, pullout tables for gaming or dining, vanity table and clothes storage compartment and seats that convert into luxuriously upholstered davenports.

The drive line and power plant would be simplified to one of three processes: a front engine front drive, a rear engine rear drive, or a turbine or fuel cell all-wheel drive.

The design, which might eliminate suspension systems, would be on, say, a 112 inch wheelbase with 165 inches overall length, Stevens said.

“A pipe dream,” Teague said in effect. He said the main concept behind Stevens’car is a power plant “the size of a breadbox” and no such engiine is even in the advanced planning stage. Even without a breadbox size engine, Teague addes, such a vehicle is impractical.

Teague said the car of the next decade would have an improved version of the present gasoline engine, greater finesse of style, new bendable glass, and better suspension system.

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Curbside Classic Dead Brands Week Christmas Edition: 1962 Studebaker Gran Turismo Hawk Thu, 24 Dec 2009 20:18:05 +0000 classic GT

Desperate times call for desperate measures; and sometimes the result is nothing short of spectacular. The Studebaker Gran Turismo coupe is gorgeous, despite having been cobbled together on a shoestring in six months. It’s also compromised and imperfect, a car that The Big Three would never have built. It did little to change the inevitable outcome of the Studebaker Death Watch, but then it probably would never have been created under other circumstances. There’s nothing like staring death in the face to focus the last remaining creative forces and take exceptional risks. Along with the Avanti, the GT Hawk is Studebaker’s gran farewell gesture. Gone indeed, but hardly forgotten.

CC 73 029 800In 1961, Studebaker was in a very desperate time indeed, having never really recovered from the 1953 fiasco. The daring “Loewy” Starlight coupe was originally intended to be a show car only. But Loewy convinced Studebaker to put it in production, despite it sitting on a substantially longer wheelbase than the sedans, and demanding a massive investment that the independent car maker could ill afford. Undoubtedly the most remarkable piece of styling to come from America in the fifties, it was a deeply influential and seminal piece.

Unfortunately, and perhaps predictably, it also overwhelmed Studebaker with assembly challenges and delays, and finally hit the market just as Ford and GM launched a massive market-share war by overproducing and heavily discounting. Rather than buying share from each other, it had the effect of severely damaging the remaining independents. The poor build quality of the ’53 Studebakers only added to its woes.

The Loewy coupe morphed into a low-volume sporty coupe, the Hawk, having sprouted an upright grill and the ubiquitous fins. It was a formidable performance car in the fifties, especially in 1956 with the 275 hp Packard 352 V8, and the later supercharged 275 hp Studebaker 289 V8. It foreshadowed the compact sporty muscle and pony cars of the sixties, but sold only in small numbers.

CC 73 034 800By 1961, the compact Lark’s brief day in the sun was over, having been eclipsed by the assault of the Big Three’s compacts. Noted industrial designer Brooks Stevens was hired in 1961 to do a six-month crash redesign of the Hawk and Lark models, with a minimal budget. By grafting a Thunderbird-like square roof unto the old hardtop Loewy coupe, a cleaned up rear end, and a dramatic wrap-around instrument panel, Stevens injected a remarkable amount of new life into the aging coupe. And the GT Hawk has become a modern classic.

Now here’s the remarkable thing about this particular car: it was bought by its owner Luke (TTAC reader “the duke”) when he was in high school. And it was his daily driver for six years. He brought it back to life after sitting in a barn for ten years, and it now has over 213k miles clocked on its original engine, the 225 hp four-barrel 289. It now awaits his return from a PhD in Mechanical Engineering in Michigan before its ongoing improvements resume. But it’s still very much a runner.

Luke gave me an exciting ride in this still sprightly GT. Weighing some 3200 lbs, the old 289 backed by a four speed stick had no problem living up to its name. With its narrow but long body, it reminds me somehow of a mid-western take on the theme that Bristol has been playing out for decades in England, still to this day. Perhaps the Avanti was the wrong car to revive after Studebaker’s death? And call me crazy, but from the rear especially, the GT reminds me also of the Citroen DS. Visually, that is, since the Studebaker’s ride is about as far away from the floating “goddess” as possible.

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The long, willowy frame of the Loewy coupes was a problem from day one, even though it was reinforced early on. These cars, especially the hardtops, are structurally challenged. The doors need a little help finding their way home, and speed bumps are not its friend. But once inside, a unique perspective opens up. The GT not only doesn’t look like a typical Big Three car of the times, it feels even much less so one sitting in it. It’s remarkably narrow, the cowl is high and close, and your feet disappear in front of you in shallow, long tunnels. It feels extremely European.

CC 73 041 800The dash is a brilliantly clean, functional affair with those classic round gauges scattered on its three planes. GM did a fine job copying it for its 1970 Camaro, among others. Everything about the GT has a very low-production, almost hand-made feel to it. Or does hand-made evoke the wrong image; cobbled-up perhaps? It’s not exactly Bristol when it comes to fit and finish. But then, they’ve been doing the same car for decades. The sheer number of stainless steel trim pieces on the exterior alone helps explains why Studebaker couldn’t really make any money on this car.

The 1962 Gran Turismo came with a $3095 sticker($21k adjusted). That was low enough to attract some 8k buyers, which along with the restyled Lark, gave Studebaker its last little sales uptick before the final death spiral. There was no way to keep its giant South Bend factory running with sub-100k annual production output. The GT died along with the Avanti when the plant was shut down in 1964, and Lark production shifted to a smaller Canadian plant for the last few pathetic years. Barely 15k GTs were made in total, but it was a very lovely swansong indeed that Studebaker sang for us.

(thanks Luke, for the invite and ride)

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