Today, as you hopped onto Google to find out what those pills you took were, you may have noticed the doodle was of a sepia-toned streamliner locomotive. That locomotive is referencing the work of Raymond Loewy (it's his 120th birthday), who, among his many other achievements, designed some remarkable cars.
Raymond Loewy never thought of himself as strictly an automotive designer by any stretch. Here's a good overview of the breadth of products he designed, and we've covered his work with NASA and especially the design of the interior of the Skylab space station before.
Even so, Loewy had a strong love of cars going back to his childhood, and many of the projects he's most known for his involvement in are automotive. He found the established systems in Detroit frustrating, and so usually stayed independent, either creating cars on his own, or sometimes working under contract to a major builder, most notably Studebaker.
So let's look at some of Lowey's car-related work, both the well-known ones and otherwise..
Hupmobile was Raymond Loewy's first major automotive project. He was an established industrial designer already, but in 1932, when he started working with Hupmobile, the radical styling advances he was proposing were still not the sorts of things most manufacturers would consider.
In fact, in order to get Hupmobile to agree to his changes, Loewy writes in his book, Industrial Design, that he had to first build a prototype with his proposed changes, on an existing Hupmobile chassis, at his own expense. It cost him $20 grand (and that's a 1932 20 grand) but it convinced them. The annotated photo above was used to show the advertising agency what features they should be touting.
2. Studebaker Starliner
Lowey's work with Studebaker was probably his most fruitful automotive partnership, and in many ways the Starliner was the real jewel to come from it. While less striking than the later Avanti or less brand-iconic than the earlier bullet-nosed Champion, the Starliner line stands out as a beacon of restraint and elegance in the middle of the worst of 1950s American automotive styling excess.
Where most American cars were lumbering around with a Baroque, chrome-lader, be-finned style that was always one year away from being covered in chrome angels and wreaths, Loewy (or, more accurately, Bob Burke and Loewy's team) created something that took the best of European understatement and combined it with American optimism. It's still a beautiful car today.
3. Odd little future-cab
It's good to see that not everything Loewy touched was a sleek and elegant. This 1938 sketch of a futuristic little three-wheeled city-cab is charming and novel in its Bel Geddes-inspired homliness. I can see these working well as aluminum shells for Indian auto-rickshaws.
4. 1942 Concept Sketch
A lot of Loewy's lesser-known ideas and concepts proved to be remarkably prescient. This sketch of a car of the future from 1942 is especially notable for its inclusion of projector-style headlights, which are increasingly the norm today. I'm not sure anyone else had come up with this idea before Loewy, and I'm willing to go out on a limb and say he came up with the projector-light concept.
The Avanti is possibly the best-known of all of Loewy's cars, and with good reason. It was a sleek, elegant, and quite potent sports car, easily the equal of anything coming out of the US or Europe at the time.
Loewy and his team holed up in a building in Palm Springs and knocked out the design in an incredibly short amount of time. They only had time for one clay model to keep working on, and they kept it out in the desert heat to keep the clay pliable.
It was a shoe-string enterprise, done quickly and cheaply by a struggling automaker. In fact, Loewy stated
With Avanti a great part of the expenses were for airfares between California and Indiana, plus a few cases of champagne at appropriate moments.
The end result was a stunning car that, while it never really influenced other automotive design as much as it perhaps deserved to, still looks incredible. That period in the desert must be one of the most incredible auto-design experiences ever.
6. Future Avanti
It's interesting to see how Loewy thought the Avanti design could have been updated. This 1978 sketch shows some interesting evolutions, and I especially like the asymmetrical lighting design.
7. personal BMW 507
Loewy also made a number of custom one-offs for his own personal use. It takes a pretty confident man to look at a BMW 507 and think "I can do that better," and while I'm not so sure Loewy actually did do it better, it's an interesting car regardless.
That's his wife Viola in there, getting some booze delivered right to her car window by a waiter, just like God intended.
8. Personal XKE
Loewy did the same thing with a Jaguar XKE. This one's even more bizarre than the BMW, but you can't say it's not striking.
Of all of Loewy's beautiful-car rebodying experiments, I think this Lancia may be the most successful. He claimed to have patented the airfoil/spoiler on top, but that may not actually be true. The front grille surround is independently sprung from the body, and acts like a bumper, which is a great idea.
The name comes from his international cable address: Loewy, Raymond.
10. The Poodle Standard
In order to showcase the excesses of American automotive design in the 1950s, Loewy came up with a very effective visual standard: his poodle. By comparing the size of the trim and fins and bumpers and lights and chrome to his dog, he made a very compelling case that shit was getting out of hand, yo.
11. Personal Euro-touring Caddy
When Loewy decided to take a European tour with his family, he knew most European cars didn't have the comfort or air-conditioning or incredible ashtray access he'd grown accustomed to with American cars. But he sure as hell wasn't going to be seen in some over-chromed monster in elegant, judgmental Europe. So he bought a huge Cadillac and redesigned it.
The result was quite crisp and handsome, and several hundred pounds lighter. Plus, he made two extra luggage compartments in the front fenders. Pretty cool.
12. Chauffeur-driven Lincoln And Corvair
Nothing was ever really good enough for Loewy, even beautiful cars like the 1941 Lincoln. For his chauffeur-driven New York town car, he redesigned the Lincoln to have a blue-tinted plexi roof and a porthole. Keep in mind the stock '41 Lincoln Cabrio was good enough for Frank Lloyd Wright.
I really like this strange, chair-caning covered treatment he gave to his chauffeured Corvair. In fact, I think I just like the concept of a chauffeured Corvair, period.
It wasn't all just sleek designs that interested Loewy. He also participated in an early '70s project to create extremely safe cars, as testbeds for future automotive safety designs. Even with the crippling restrictions placed on him to accomodate all of the needed bulk and safety equipment, Loewy managed to design something reasonably appealing looking.
The Chrysler-powered car apparently did well in the safety tests, as this picture of one after a 49 MPH head-on crash shows.