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Modern Chrysler Concept Cars: The Designs That Saved the Company Paperback – October 12, 2000
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Despite many high-quality photos (which alone make the book worth buying) there is little about visual design principles behind the success of Gale's cab-forward and retro designs. Most of the pictures are dramatic three-quarter perspectives that reveal little about the shapes and proportions underlying the designs. To understand a car's design you need to understand its basic proportions, shapes and primary lines. These are only revealed clearly in "elevations" - perpendicular-to-the-viewer side, front, rear and overhead views of a car. Such views are rarely shown anywhere and not in this book. These cars are handsome; I want to know why and these quarter-view photos don't show me, nor does the text. The text of this book is more about mechanical concepts, intended performance and design-management decisionmaking than about visual principles or insights into the designs pictured.
This story begins with the financial failure of Chrysler's daring Airflow design in the late 1930s. The Airflow failure induced a long period in which Chrysler marketed increasingly dull designs on the basis of solid engineering. By 1949-50, Chrysler's obsolete pre-WW II design concepts were trumped in the market by the 1949 Ford and Mercury, the first finned Cadillacs and other new design concepts. The book gives only one paragraph to Chrysler's rescue-by-daring-design in the 1950s when Chrysler designer Virgil Exner turned to Italian coachbuilder Ghia for a series of seminal concept cars.
Design themes in the Exner/Ghia show cars quickly found their way into production cars such as the original Chrysler 300, a winning combination of design and performance engineering, the Plymouth Valiant and the gunsight taillights of the Imperial, for example. Only a passing reference is made to the Ghia d'Elegance as a source of design themes in the Chrysler Chronos concept car of the 1990s, citing its radiator-shaped grill. Omitting the 1950s episode is odd given that the 1990s Tom Gale design and performance-based concepts reprise the Exner/Ghia1950s design/performance rescue of a slumping Chrysler. Perhaps the author omitted this era because first-hand design players of the 1950s were not available to interview now whereas Tom Gale and his colleagues were. Even so, Chrysler's 1950's rescue-by-design deserves a full section, not just a short paragraph. Those who do not know history are fated to repeat it. So buy this book to learn how strong design can rescue business, to enjoy dramatic photos of excellent car designs, but not to learn much about what makes these cars look so good.
This short but lavishly-illustrated softcover chronicles the decade in which Chrysler led America in daring automotive styling. Tom Gale and company churned out one thrilling concept after another. Unlike their rivals, Chrysler's concept cars often led to mass-produced models.
Regrettably, the company's very innovativeness made it attractive for a foreign takeover years later. The designers whose efforts were chronicled here were ushered out the door by Daimler executives. They knew what Americans wanted, they reasoned, and it was blocky cartoon-versions of American excess, "Kombi's" like the Magnum. Ahh, what might have been...