Beautiful Styling + Extreme Engineering = Creme de la Creme of Automotive Design from Jobs 1.0
December 11, 2011 10:10 PM   Subscribe

"Harley Earl (video explaining a fraction of his role in shaping the modern American automobile [and his postwar vision of the future, full of ideas decades before their time, the Harley Earl Buick LeSabre]), the legendary automotive stylist, designed the F-88 under the belief that it would have outsold the Corvette and forever changed automotive history. Unfortunately Chevrolet, which produced more GM products than any of its other divisions, convinced the GM board of directors to cut the Oldsmobile project. The F-88 never went into production due to that sabotage combined with lukewarm Corvette sales. The 1954 Oldsmobile F-88 was strictly ever a dream car." (*Via, 1, 2)


Most recently the 1954 Oldsmobile F-88 fetched an all-time record at the Barrett-Jackson Collector Car Auction in Scottsdale, Arizona, with a winning bid of $3,240,000 (including bidder's fees). This General Motors concept car generated a lot of interest followed by a fierce bidding war to become one of the highest selling cars ever at a Barrett-Jackson auction.

The Oldsmobile F-88 is considered to be one of the most significant concept cars ever created by General Motors. As a rule, Concept cars, including design plans and specifications were destroyed, once introduced to the public in shows like GM's Motorama Shows.

The Oldsmobile F-88 was considered superior to the Corvette and Thunderbird of its time. The F-88 boasted a robust V8 engine coupled to a 4 speed hydromatic transmission mounted in a light weight chasis. If featured full power windows and locks and unique forward looking style. The spare tire was hidden in the rear bumper to enhance styling and improve safety while providing easy access. Just one of many design innovations introduced on the Oldsmobile F-88.

Dark Roasted Blend, which recently began a series, 'Exceptional Concept Cars', that has highlighted 'the absolute best in concept car design from 100 years of automobile history'.
[Part One, Part Two] -Don't miss either.

It is not our aim to present a complete list, or even a comprehensive coverage of particular brands and car shows (there is enough material of this nature available on the web). What we want to do instead, is to celebrate the daring and esthetic value of the most fascinating and unusual concept automobiles - give you shapes and curves to brighten up your day, and to make you say "Wow, what a cool concept!" a couple of times.
Fun fact:
The Chrysler ME Four Twelve is considered the most advanced concept car to have come out of Chrysler (and this is in the midst of huge financial difficulties!). It looks great, even though it took less than one year for design and development. Powered by a huge V-12 engine (and yet one of the lightest, as it's made out of aluminum) producing 850 horsepower. Top speed is estimated 399 km/h, which is in the league with the Bugatti Veyron.
posted by infinite intimation (27 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Want to see one? Road-trip meet-up to Colorado not included.
Classic Cars, Unique Oldsmobile F88, Muscle Cars at The Gateway Auto Museum Colorado (One might not expect to find a classic car museum in a remote corner of Colorado. But for John Hendricks, one love – car collecting – found a perfect match with another other love, Gateway Canyons.)
posted by infinite intimation at 10:11 PM on December 11, 2011

If it ever got rear-ended, can you imagine the repair bill? Yikes!
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 10:18 PM on December 11, 2011

1954 OLDSMOBILE F-88 ROCKET: Pachelbel's Concept Car?
posted by oneswellfoop at 10:34 PM on December 11, 2011

Rocket or canon?
posted by Wolof at 10:39 PM on December 11, 2011 [3 favorites]

I love that gold paint job. So is the ME Four Twelve ever going to make it into production?
posted by arcticseal at 12:23 AM on December 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

Odd to see the words American automobile and legendary automotive stylist in the same sentence.
posted by the noob at 1:41 AM on December 12, 2011

It's the most monstrous car that I've ever seen. It looks like the car that Homer Simpson designed for his half-brother, with the added design excess of a rear end that looks like popping eyes and jagged teeth.

If it had been a success, can you imagine how many undergrad psych papers about post-war nuclear fears the F-88 would have launched? It could totally be a Corvair mutated by A-bomb tests. I'm appalled.
posted by Mayor Curley at 2:23 AM on December 12, 2011

A gorgeous concept car is too much like a magazine cover-girl - the automotive equivalent of being an anatomically impossible photoshop job of fantasy and imagination, not much actual reality in play.

So while the car does look great, yeah, it looks great in that "this is actually bullshit" concept cars way. It makes it hard to get excited. The corvette looked nearly as nice, and that was a no-bullshit actual-reality production car.
posted by -harlequin- at 3:37 AM on December 12, 2011

I guess it's unfair to criticise on the grounds that it's just another bullshit concept, when the point of the story is that had history taken a different path, maybe there might be more meat to it today. Clearly it's one of the more interesting concepts.
posted by -harlequin- at 3:43 AM on December 12, 2011

1954 saw the introduction of both the Mercedes-Benz 300SL "Gullwing" and the Porsche 356 Speedster. The Alfa-Romeo Giulietta Spider and the MG A came just one year later. Compare those four cars with the F-88 and understand why Detroit went the way it went in the following decades...
posted by Skeptic at 3:59 AM on December 12, 2011 [3 favorites]

Yeah, both the 'Vette and the T-Bird of the time were prettier cars, and the Studebaker Golden Hawk was in a whole other league. The 88 is too busy, too noisy and unharmonious to run with that crowd.
posted by Slap*Happy at 4:30 AM on December 12, 2011

Fun fact:
The Chrysler ME Four Twelve is considered the most advanced concept car to have come out of Chrysler

Was that designed during the Daimler ownership, or during the present Fiat ownership?
posted by Thorzdad at 4:33 AM on December 12, 2011

The styling on concept cars are often toned down a bit on the production model. Compare the Range Stormer (two-door, scissor doors, extremely low roof line) with the Range Rover Sport (four regular doors, more conventional proportions) that followed it.
posted by Harald74 at 4:37 AM on December 12, 2011

Mayor Curley, the rear of the 1954-55 Corvette looks very similar, and the front end looks worse, at least in the tooth department. They just moved these to the front and made them more propuberant. Great word, protuberant. You'll find yourself using it a lot when talking about Harley Earl's work and baleful, malign influence. (But he isn't in the lowest pit of auto stylist Hell because Virgil Exner is in the way.)
posted by jfuller at 4:51 AM on December 12, 2011

One of these is the centerpiece of the gateway canyons car museum. The museum is owned by discovery channel founder john hendricks.
posted by kenaldo at 5:21 AM on December 12, 2011

The gaping maw on the front of that F88 appears as though it is come to consume your children at crosswalks.
posted by Devils Rancher at 6:30 AM on December 12, 2011

In case anyone is wondering why stodgy Oldsmobile was venturing into sports car territory, back in 1949 (when the post WWII economic boom was really starting to take off) they produced what many people consider the first muscle car, the Rocket 88. It was in turn the subject of what some people consider the first rock and roll song, also called Rocket 88. So if you are my age, "your father's Oldsmobile" could have been pretty cool. Then GM gave the high performance cars to Chevy as described in the original post and Oldsmobile eventually became the maker of nondescript cars for senior citizens who didn't want to buy a Mercury Marquis. In the end of course, both Mercury and Oldsmobile suffered the same fate. Before it became completely mundane, Oldsmobile did make some pretty cool cars which even if not the baddest musclecars on the block were still interesting: the Rallye 350, 4-4-2 (what did 4-4-2 stand for?), and of course the Hurst/Olds.
posted by TedW at 6:40 AM on December 12, 2011 [3 favorites]

Skeptic, I don't think any of those European cars look markedly better than the F-88. It's what American car buyers wanted in those days and it's a shame we never got to see a more subdued production version of that car.
posted by rocket88 at 8:07 AM on December 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

I don't think any of those European cars look markedly better than the F-88

De gustibus non est disputandum, but the trouble of the F-88 and similarly over-the-top mid-50s US cars was that the baroque styling and equally elaborate creature comforts resulted in heavy, over-complicated beasts. While this was still tolerable in sedans (and indeed US makers dominated the top end of the luxury sedan market for another decade worldwide and for two decades at home) it was intolerable in alleged sportscars. The Corvette was saved by its lightweight glassfibre body, but looking at those pictures I get the feeling that just the front bumper of the F-88 must have been heavier than a whole MG.

As a result, affluent young Americans of the "Mad Men" generation looking for something a bit more exciting started looking into imports, provided by the likes of Max Hoffmann...

The "pony cars" of the 60s, starting with the Mustang, were Detroit's attempt to fight back with cheaper, simpler, more agile compact sportscars. They however suffered from the same feature creep.
posted by Skeptic at 8:46 AM on December 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

Yikes. When that thing's in reverse, look out! The back end looks like it was designed strictly for the purpose of vehicular homicide.
posted by Sys Rq at 10:32 AM on December 12, 2011

The F-88 is definitely "too much". I'm glad the Corvette won out; I still don't really think any basic body design has been more attractive.

The ME Four Twelve is a pretty impressive piece of engineering, but I think but it's absolutely butt-ugly. Then again, I personally think about every pre-1970 car looks better than about every post-1980 car. I must be alone on that front, because if I wasn't they'd still look like they used to.

The future keeps getting here and it turns out to be the present. So why should cars ever look like rocket ships? Or in the case of the ME 412, a transformer?
posted by mellow seas at 12:08 PM on December 12, 2011

Then again, I personally think about every pre-1970 car looks better than about every post-1980 car.

I've always held '66 & '67 to be the absolute pinnacle years for American car design, as far as looks. Camaro, Impala, Vette, Chevelle, Riviera, Bonneville, GTO. A couple reached their peak in '68, like the Charger & LeSabre, but it was all over by '70.
posted by Devils Rancher at 1:31 PM on December 12, 2011

So why should cars ever look like rocket ships?
Cars at the dawn of the space age? The major majority in the west was pretty pumped about the whole "people in space" thing. Check out the rest of the concepts in that gallery, heck, look at every Cadillac of the era... tell me that is not basically putting rocket-ship design stylings onto things that people will see, touch and think about (unlike the distant, theoretical, uber-expensive, restricted, top-secret worlds of NASA, and other Space projects). Cars to this day emulate the changing visions of what space-craft might look like. They are designed in processes that mimic the wind-tunnel aero-space industry to a (model) T. Now, individuals might not fancy space-agey-stuff... but by and large... the public still digs spacey, sleek rocket-y stuff.

Odd to see the words American automobile and legendary automotive stylist in the same sentence.

Really? Like, because recently all the "fancy cars" have been non-American? America was pretty tops in the car-selling game for a long time, also, Detroit, so I get not liking their products, or not liking America, but denying their role in the industry seems inaccurate (though in the "car" reporting industry game, demonizing American designs while fetishizing "foreign" cars [which may be 'different', but not 'that' different] seems pretty common). Here we have a man putting things in his cars that don't become "standard" until basically today, and even today, the higher end things are only on the fancy non-American cars (rain sensing auto-activated actuated auto-top, power windows, power assisted door opening [because of heavy duty doors], bolts that are activated in the frame, securing the doors for impacts [the door vulnerabilities weren't addressed for decades], hybrid engines, flip up lights [see the Le-Sabre front headlight], and many other things) but this American man dreamed of putting things in consumer cars, far ahead of their time, ideas that have become reality 40, 50, and 60 years after he lobbied to include them in his designs.

If it ever got rear-ended, can you imagine the repair bill? Yikes!

That auction would pretty much be for a museum piece (an interactive sculpture more than a "transportation device"); concept cars are designed first, to push envelopes, concept cars take license that cannot be taken in production, such as ground clearance, safety, and sometimes pure practicality, but in doing so, they press the limits of design, safety and performance. This two part short film explains “concept cars” pretty well, including the post-war context (also shows off the LeSabre mentioned in the post [which is, to put it mildly, a beautiful, transforming, retro-future-rocket-inspired dream car]).

1951 Buick LeSabre and XP300 Part 1, Part 2 (these were meant to have been linked in the original post, and addressed many of the questions about the F-88 Rocket (and the many other concept designs at the DRB page, suggestions of failure due to impracticality miss that almost all concept cars are designed to be impractical, they fancy frames to show off visions of a possible future, and if one takes that as the prime goal of a concept car, Earl was a repeat fantastic success).

Concept cars shows were meant to show the public close up what all that space age coolness that they would soon see on tv, hear about on the radio, and see constantly in their magazines and other media. Everyone interested in this, or thinking concept cars are idiotic, impractical junk stuff... should watch the short two part piece about concept cars. From their significance, their (socio-cultural) context, their purpose, and their implications.

Of course anyone can like or hate any car, or thing that they like, or don't like, I don't get into the whole "Car Wars" brand obsessed comparison game so much; the unique socio- cultural context of the first concept car shows and auto-conventions was mostly what fascinated me.
posted by infinite intimation at 1:40 PM on December 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

Whoa, like, THIS is a car!
posted by Devils Rancher at 3:41 PM on December 12, 2011

> I must be alone on that front, because if I wasn't they'd still look like they used to.

Wind tunnels are a bigger influence on styling now than popular taste is, because of the need to get drag down and a manufacturer's fleet mileage up. Wind tunnels tend to make all cars into the same basic shape.
posted by jfuller at 4:59 AM on December 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

> this American man dreamed of putting things in consumer cars, far ahead of their time,
> ideas that have become reality 40, 50, and 60 years after he lobbied to include them in his
> designs.

Every fall when the new models came out, for more years than my abacus has beads, I picked up a car mag just to find out if this was the year Detroit finally heard about absolute design basics like rack and pinion steering, four-wheel independent suspension, overhead camshafts, or disk brakes. The answer was always "no" for so long that I finally said fukit and quit checking.
posted by jfuller at 5:11 AM on December 13, 2011

OK, I appear to be in the minority here, but the F-88 made me WhoaOL in the office.

And Devils Rancher, I would have sex with the car in your link. Repeatedly, if it was consensual.
posted by IAmBroom at 1:57 PM on December 13, 2011

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