Thursday, September 14, 2006
For this entry, I'm going to look at the 1957 BMW 507 and the 2002 BMW Z8. Both cars were BMW's halo vehicles at the time of their production and both cars broke with convention when they came out. The BMW 507, styled by Albrecht von Goertz (whose styling elements are still used on Bimmers today) featured smoothed out styling lines and an aggressive looking shark-nosed front-end. Besides modern styling, the car's intensive use of aluminum, including an aluminum body and the first all aluminum V8, set it apart from its rivals. The car cost between $9,500 and $10,000 when new, drawing obvious comparisons to another German sportscar. As a result of the high price, and the fact that BMW carried the car as a loss leader, only 252 vehicles were built from November 1956 until early 1959. The car did have a few famous owners though, including Elvis Presley and John Surtees.
The BMW Z8 was heralded as the updated version of the 507. Carrying similar styling, from the shark-nosed front-end to the tapered tail and front fender vents, the Z8 further emulated the 507 with an aluminum V8 (in this case, the 400 hp 5.0L V8 from the E39 BMW M5), and an aluminum body [and frame]. The interior featured a center mounted gauge cluster and a vintage style steering wheel with chrome, spoked arms. Debuting first as the Z07 Concept in 1997, and being offered to the public in 2000, the Z8 gained an immediate following and dealers quickly added up to $80,000 to the already lofty $128,000 price tag. In all, about 5700 Z8's were built, with most ending up in the US.
Today, Z8's have already reached a unique status as a semi-collectible vehicle, with depreciation leveling off and a variety of cars to be had in the $90-120,000 range, representing a surprisingly strong retention of value for a newer car. 507's, on the other hand, have become full blown collectibles. Prices have gone up 50% from 1999 to today, with pristine examples taking in as much as $400,000. Finally, the 507 is getting some of the much deserved attention that the aforementioned cross-country rival had stolen so much of to begin with.
Dozens of body styles existed, especially before WWII. While today we only really have four-door closed sedans, two-door convertibles, four-door wagons, and two-and four-door hatchbacks, back then the options were more varied. Four-door cars could often be had with a convertible top, and weather protection such as roll up windows was not universal, even into the 1930's. Some cars, such as a landau, had a convertible top only for the rear passengers.
The dearth of body styles ceased to exist with the death of the coachbuilding industry in the years following WWII. Cars became more standardized and various body styles ceased to exist. Social additude also were changing, causing such a trend of less antiquated class defitionion. As such, cars that were designed to visually and socially separate the driver from the passengers, such as the towncar and the landau, began to disappear. Similarly, the last four-door convertible to be produced in series production was the Lincoln Contiental Convertible, which ceased production after the 1967 model year.
Today, a few coachbuilders craft custom convertibles, landaus, towncars, and other body styles out of modern sedans. Furthermore, some sportscar builders have constructed modern roadsters, including Ferrari, Aston Martin, and Panoz.
For further reference, here are some of the best sources of information on automotive body styles that I have found:
Coachbuilding Terminology: A comprehensive list of names and terms for all things coachbuilt, including body styles.
A Primer On Body Styles: A brief introduction to body styles, by the folks at the Chrysler Imperial Club (a terrific site).
Wikipedia Car Body Styles: A fairly complete listing of modern and historic body styles.
Pictures, clockwise from left, are a 1932 Buick Model 95 Sport Phaeton, a 1926 Rolls Royce Phantom I Brewster & Tourville Towncar, a 1936 Bentley 4.5L RC Series VDP Open Tourer, a 1920 Locomobile Dual Cowl Phaeton, a 1933 Pierce-Arrow Eight Landau Towncar, a 1969 Fiat Shelette Beach Car, a 1939 Lagonda V12 Rapide Tulip Boattail Roadster, and the aforementioned Pierce-Arrow.
Finding a coachbuilder badge is the second step in identifying a car's provenance. The reputation of the coachbuilder and the rarity or desirability of its designs can greatly affect the value of a car.
Since the pre-WWII luxury car companies, such as Packards, Duesenbergs, Pierce-Arrows, Rolls Royces, and the like, only sold chassis, a coachbuilder had to produce a body to finish the car for the customer. Customers could choose the coachbuilder and body style based on their desires and wallet size. There was a wide range of coachbuilders, from the conservative to the flamboyant.
The process of commissioning a coachbuilder varied based on the demands of the customer. Many coachbuilders had a catalog of bodies they offered either on a single make or for many makes. As a result, many cars (from the same or different chassis builders) might have looked very similar because they all had pretty much the same body on them. In cases where the owner wanted something more unique, he or she could commission a custom body to be designed specifically for the car. These bodies were much more expensive and could be anything from understated elegance to absolutely outrageous. The most outrageous bodies were often done by French coachbuilders such as Jacques Saoutchik, Figoni et Falaschi, Van Vooren, and Gangloff.
While most coachbuilders would leave their mark in the form of some styling element, almost all of them would include a badge on the vehicle to identify them as the creator of the body. These badges were sometimes very visible, often mounted just fore of the front door along the running boards or fender. Other times it would be mounted at the base of the door jam (usually covered by the door) or under the carpet in the rear quarters of the car. In rare cases, the body plate might be mounted on the firewall with a stamped body number.
Pictures, clockwise from lower left, are of a 1922 Duesenberg Straight 8 (Model A) Fleetwood Coupe, a 1922 Rolls Royce 20 HP Rippon Bros Limousine, a 1932 Duesenberg Model J Murphy Beverly Sedan, a 1948 Delahaye 135M, a 1968 Bentley T1 Pininfarina Coupe Special, and a 1932 Rolls Royce Phantom II Continental Barker Touring Saloon.
Wednesday, September 13, 2006
Now I will begin a brief series on vehicle identification.
As I have mentioned in previous posts, the method by which one purchased a luxury car has changed over the years, especially after WWII. Prior to the Second World War, luxury automakers often did not sell complete cars. Rather, they only sold the chassis and mechanical bits (engine, drivetrain, etc). The owner would therefore have to purchase a chassis from a manufacturer and then deliver the chassis to a coachbuilder to be bodied and finished.
As a result of this process, every luxury car came with a number of build plates. The manufacturer would affix a chassis plate to the cars chassis, usually on the firewall bulkhead. Additionally, the engine would often have a build plate, and finally the coachbuilder would affix his own build plate to the vehicle, often just fore of the front doors, along the running boards.
Every manufacturer had a different plate, and each one was like a small work of art. Industrial simplicity, affixed with a purpose, but done in regal style and taste. Some companies hid the plate under the hood (Rolls Royce, Cord, and Talbot-Lago, included), others put the plate right on the dashboard (Isotta-Fraschini). The plates, like VIN plates today, simply identified the chassis, a marker to track it through history. As such, the value of a car can fluxuate wildly based on the history of the vehicle, as defined by its chassis plate number.
Plates, clockwise from lower-left, are from a 1937 Cord 812 Phaeton, 1922 Rolls Royce 40/50, 1925 Doble Series E Murphy Convertible, 1937 Isotta-Fraschini 8A S LeBaron, and a 1938 Talbot-Lago T23 Teardrop Coupe.