NEFERTERI part Three
Larry Pointer, our Forrest Gump of the Conquistadors Car Club, marvels at Europe’s Golden Age of the coach built automobile, and influences that would ripple across the Atlantic Pond. From carrossieres to customizers, the distance is not so very far.
Larry Pointer found himself a survivor of Y2K, retired, a widower, and a more or less empty nester. He needed a project. In this series, he shares his passion for all things “Streamline Moderne”, and how it all turned into a 13-year labor of love, to create “Neferteri“, his custom Diamond T truck.
By Larry Pointer with Rik Hoving
Neferteri, Part Three
Growing up in Sheridan, Wyoming, I didn’t have a sense of the Streamline Moderne world of the previous decade, especially the realm of the European coach builders. I did have a toy Jaguar XK 120 in grey plastic. And much later a love/hate relationship with an apple green XJ6 sedan.
Streamline Moderne style was all around, however. Mostly in hand-me-downs. Streamline tricycles. Streamline Schwinn bicycles with the swoopy headlight and a teardrop tank between the nut-buster bars. Indian and Harley motorcycles roaring past in unforgettable cacophony. Stearman spray planes buzzing the neighborhood, just cuz they could.
But the beauty of it all is that essential difference between art possession and art appreciation: no remorse. No maintenance and upkeep headaches. No fears of calamity, burglary, or the thief in the night. I could appreciate the art of Progress all about me, without limit or consequence.
Satchell Paige used to advise: “Don’t look back; somethin’ might be gainin’ on you.” And I wanted to see it all; do it all. Well, still do, for that matter.
To my growing awareness of the motor car world, European coach building came across the Pond in some measure with two individual stylists: Howard “Dutch” Darrin and Count Alexis de Sakhnoffsky.
The operative word here is “individual”. I don’t think you could get more “individual” than the irrepressible Dutch Darrin. Darrin’s creativity was distinctive in the very least. Early on in Paris, he and Tom Hibbard combined as coach builders, and after Hibbard returned to the US to form the Lebaron enterprise with Ray Dietrich, Darrin joined with an Argentine furniture entrepreneur in Paris to build custom automobiles for high society and celebres, on top end chassis they acquired abroad and from the US. As the clouds of War gathered, Darrin pulled out of Paris and popped up amonst the movie guild in Hollywood. Of the cars Darrin designed and built, the model that most gets my Adrenalin going is the special Packard Darrin, with the “Darrin Dip” in the doors, appropriated from the race cars and sportsters of the Jazz Age.
One outstanding car designed by the émigré Alexis de Sakhnoffsky was a coupe that could put the “Little Deuce Coupe” of the Beach Boys album cover to shame. Working in the Hayes studios, de Salkhnoffsky laid out his low-slung design over a Cord chassis. This little blue coupe became the first American made motor car to win the coveted Grand Prix trophy at the 1929 Monaco Concours. More of de Sakhnoffsky in the next episode of my learning adventures.
But to this impressionable kid out of Wyoming, it was the Duesenberg, the Auburn, the Cord, and the designers of those absolutely gorgeous coach built bodies that burn like a fever in my brain. Of the brothers, Augie would put the Duesenberg out front on the race tracks. Speed demanded Streamline. The Duesenberg Special, piloted by Ab Jenkins and dubbed the “Mormon Meteor” WAS streamline. On Utah’s famed Bonneville Salt Flats, Jenkins streaked to records that would hold up to challenges for long into the future.
A more sedate Duesenberg commanded attention in its debut at the 1933 Chicago “Century of Progress” World’s Fair. The “Twenty Grand” was designed in-house by Gordon Buehrig, and built in Pasadena by Murphy coach builders, This smartly appointed silver torpedo sedan with its dual sidemounts caused quite a stir in the industry. Of Buehrig’s design, to my eye, most attractive was the divided windshield, laid back to fold smartly into the roof line. From all angles, however, the coach craft spoke of elegance.
Then, in thumbing through Rob Wagner’s book, Classic Cars, I spied a long, low Walker LaGrande Duesenberg SJ convertible. Pictured perfect in a California wine country setting , it had a chopped windshield, and was painted in the very livery of wine and red-orange that had gotten me all fired up with the Graber Duesenberg on the Continent. Those were going to be MY colors!
Still, wanting to see and absorb it all, I moved on through to Duesenberg’s stable mates, the Auburn and the Cord. More of Buehrig was to come, but when I came across the drawings and Auburn cars that came to life off the drafting table of Alan Leamy, Babe, I couldn’t get much higher.
Most memorable in my bucket list has to be a trip I was able make in 2013 to include the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Museum, and a visit with archivist Jon Bill. There, I was mesmerized with the drafting studio; the clay models and the tools that shaped them; the exquisite laminated wooden fender bucks.
On the second floor, there also stood a re-created Leamy-designed cabin sportster. Now there was a no-nonsense laid-back windshield, set into a shortened torpedo body that looked like it would barely ripple a wind tunnel.
Leamy’s L29 Cord, especially in the phaeton body, was an unbelievable work of art, as well. Sadly, as he was just coming into the best of his career, it would seem, this gifted designer’s life was cut short by blood poisoning, in 1935 at age 33.
Rolling sculpture is the only term to address the body of work created by Gordon Buehrig. The 1935 Auburn, with its hurried, low budget facelift in the form of what to me was the most beautiful grille and surround EVER.
On its heels came Buehrig’s 1937 coffin-nose Cord with front wheel drive. This car has to stand as one of the crowning achievements of American automotive design. I run out of words.
Or not. I have one axe to grind. Back in 1970, a Hemmings ad for a 1929 Buick close-coupled sedan caught my eye. The price was right. It was in Concord, NE. Why, that was nearly next door! I borrowed my dad’s 63 Chevy with the load-leveler hitch, hooked onto my rickety trailer, talked Rocky Moore into riding shotgun, and set out to retrieve this gem of wood-frame coachwork.
Once back home, I began gathering parts and literature, and discovered this year model Buick, with a distinctive bulge below the beltline, had been dubbed “The Pregnant Buick”. By whom? I indignantly demanded to know. By Howard “Dutch” Darrin, no less. Buick was suffering severely enough with the Great Depression. Darrin’s tag stuck, and it nearly jettisoned Buick sales. The 1930 models were quickly re-tooled to eliminate the full figured form.
When later I learned it was a young Gordon Buehrig who had designed the instrument panel in the 1929 Buick, Darrin’s hurtful remark turned to outright sacrilege. I’ve never thought much of that dippy Darrin since. Harumph!
I’ve had a life-long love affair with Buick styling that came out of Harley Earl’s Art & Color studio. In one way or another, every year model from 1929 through 1954 has touched my “Forrest Gump” life. If I had to pick a most favorite, it would be the phaeton. And from the years 1936-1941. Yes! A 1941 Buick Century four-door phaeton, the “hot rod” of the industry. What could have been, we can only imagine, had not WWII flipped the Art & Color train off the tracks. Sigh.
“Ask the man who owns one,” reads the advertisements Packard offered in the magazines of the day. Two of my friends, Gary “Slim” Richards and Blaine Murphy, have had life-long love affairs with Packard motor cars of the Thirties. And at the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair, it was not the Twenty Grand Duesenberg that gained the title, “The Car of the Dome”. It was an elegant bronze Packard close-coupled sedan by Ray Dietrich. I have to admit that Packard sport sedan was the cat’s meow.
My own favorites of the Packard line came shortly later. The long, low profile phaetons of the 1935-39 model years spoke Elegance. They had a raised crease over the tops of the front fenders, to split the light. Subtle, but similar to the boat bow, creating a visual “bow wave”. All four pontoon fenders had a round bead rolled into the fully circular wheel opening. Solid. Proudly drawing attention to chromed spokes, and the red Packard hexagonal hubcaps. The distinctive “arrow” tips to the side moldings, that streamed back along the long, long hood, not unlike the arrow at the front of a Mercedes 540’s artful belt molding. That unforgettable Packard grille and crisply formed shell. Which drew your eye to the sculpted form of that long divided hood, a graceful pair of wave forms, vee-ing outward from the artfully profiled nose, back and further back, to become one with the cowl. You always recognized a regal Packard gliding by. With, or without, FDR waving from the sumptuous leather seat in the rear.
From the Pierce Arrow and Studebaker studios, came Philip Wright’s aerodynamic Silver Arrow, and one more favorite for me, the 1936-37 Studebaker coupe with the bat-wing rear window. Now, THERE were cars in which I could imagine Batman and Robin to be running down crime in the streets.
One of my most treasured “Forrest Gump” memories of Sheridan, Wyoming is a car Mike Grotz created. It started out a late Thirties Packard convertible. Grotz grafted onto this fair weather car a 1937 Studebaker coupe’s turret roof, complete with those distinctive batwing rear windows. It became a “hardtop convertible”, long before GM would trot out its new 1949 models from its Art & Color stables. If only I could find photos of that classy War-time custom, born of Wyoming winter necessities.
Aerodynamic. The Chrysler and DeSoto for 1934. Those Airflows personified aerodynamic, from their waterfall grilles right on through their slippery uni-bodies. It would have been a risky venture in the best of times, but the Depression years were the worst of times. The best, perhaps, that could be said? They definitely were ahead of their times. As would be Preston Tucker a decade later.
I admit I never really appreciated those Airflows, until my old work mate, Casper, Wyoming’s Neil Jaquot spent retirement years lovingly restoring a 1936 DeSoto Airflow sedan back to life. You can spend hours studying and appreciating all the Art Deco details entailed in those unique motor cars.
Edsel Ford’s creativity can’t be ignored, either. Channeled through the pen of E. T. “Bob” Gregorie, the Zephyr and the first series Continental were a Statement: This was not your father’s Ford! To me, the pre-War Continental was, right off the showroom floor, all a traditional custom car could be. The long hood came to a crisp point, to define a pair of grilles flowing out below in gently curved thin bars, perfectly proportioned. The front bumpers accentuated each fender with its fully integrated headlight, yet remained separate. A pair of chrome bars was all that bridged the separation, allowing the speedboat prow to slice through the air.
There were no running boards, the body channeled fully over the chassis framework. Those Continentals were skirted, the soft curve of the rear fender uninterrupted, and fully complementary with the rounded body. Then came the surprise of that trademark Continental spare tire mount integrated into the rear deck.
The flat Continental windshield looked chopped, and the wonderful cloth top had crisp angled openings over the doors. But, no quarter window openings. Brilliant! Here, from the factory, was a custom Carson convertible top. The body and roof fully repeated each other’s fully rounded forms. Try calling the Lincoln Continental “pregnant”, I dare you.
OK, I was stuck in the Thirties. I admired ALL of the streamline moderne elements that vaulted off the drafting tables and over the bucks of the coach builders through those golden years of the carrossiere, in Europe and closer to home in the US of A. But if I had to pick just one? Wellll, OK. It would have to be Gordon Buehrig’s masterpiece, the 1935-36 Auburn boat-tailed speedster.
But the beauty of it all is that the “looky-loo” aficionado doesn’t have to choose. Maybe that’s why my choice is Gordon Buehrig and that Auburn speedster. To me, that automobile embodies all the design elements that had inspired me from the Art Deco, Jazz Age, Streamline Moderne era of industrial design. It all comes together in one rolling sculpture.
Aircraft? Just look at the front of that Auburn. Forrest Gump, that car runs like the wind, like a Lockheed Vega. Check out the no nonsense instrument cluster tucked beneath the aircraft cowling.
Speedboats? The “bow wave” bumpers. That jaunty, raked-back split windshield frame would inspire generations of George DuVall hot rodders. The tapered boat-tail rear, picked up from Alan Leamy and fully integrated. Here, too, your speedboat stance, in “The World’s Fastest Stock Car”.
The European Carrossieres? Here were Figoni’s enveloppantes; the rear wheels enclosed in full teardrop forms of pure sculpture. Those gleaming rippled exhaust pipes barked Mercedes 540 decibels to me. “Exclusive” “Distinctive” “Individual” read the ads of the day. “Arguably”, wrote Auburn archivist and author Jon Bill, “the most dazzling Auburn ever built”. Ahhhhhhh.
But wait, there’s more! as the infomercials are want to chirp. There is one additional area of industrial design from the period that we haven’t touched upon. Most powerfully, those forms of function in the work vehicles of industry speak in throaty tones that resonate through and through to this “Forrest Gump” of the Conquistadors Car Club of Sheridan, Wyoming. Fire engines. Delivery vans. Beverage trucks. In our next, and last, installment of the inspiration series, let’s follow the lead of designer Count Alexis de Sakhnoffsky in exploring this last best segment of Streamline Moderne.