1/5/11

Fisher Coachbuilders - Now with less horse.

I'd forgotten about the "Body by Fisher" badge on the door sill of my mom's Ford Galaxie. So who the heck was Fisher? A coachbulder. I know. Sounds pretentious, but that's pretty much how far back they went in history.
Fisher Body got started back in the horse-drawn carriage days of the early 1900s. At the time, the factory was called a "wagonworks", which, in case you couldn't tell, is hilarious.You can make any facility whimsical by tacking "works" on the end. "The Skokie Municipal Poopworks." "The Chicago Charitable Trampworks". Any "works" facility should have huge overhead crucibles of molten steel cruising around throwing sparks, even if its a library... err, "bookworks."
Anyway, before long (1919), Fisher became part of General Motors, but kept identifying itself as sort of an independent entity, which I don't quite get. I guess GM liked the sound of having a pet coachbuilder, as opposed to just calling them "the guys who make the bodies".The nice way to say it is "prestige". The more honest way to say it is "being wankers".

I couldn't tell a Fisher body just by looking at it, but I don't think this is any fault of theirs. I bet there are people who could spot a Fisher body a mile off, just by the style of the thing. The reason I blame myself and not Fisher is that Pininfarina - the fanciest and most Italian of coachbuilders - is famous for creating gorgeousness. I couldn't pick one of their designs out of a crowd, which is not to say they're not all gorgeous. Any time a design is identified as a Pininfarina, I go "Aaah, of course. So pretty."



On the left is the Ferrari Enzo supercar. Very fast and expensive, but not very pretty, in my opinion. All function and no form makes Jack a dull boy. Now look at the one on the right. Pininfarina redesigned the car and, if you ask me, made it into a thing to weep over, it's so perfect.

So what's jumping down at Fisher HQ these days? Not much.Allegedly, the building is part of the Piquette Avenue Historical District in Detroit. You'd never guess by looking at it. I guess things are tough all over. Bleah. Thanks to Google maps for allowing people ti see the place without going down there in the flesh and having bulltes poke holes in the aforementioned flesh.


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8 comments:

Craig said...

Your mom must've had an Impala at some point, since it wouldn't have been on the sill of a Galaxie.

"Coachbuilder" was a real term there for a while. A company like Bugatti or Bentley would build the engine and chassis and then the customer could choose the body builder. Coachbuilders like Ventoux or Mulliner would provide the body.

After the second world war, coachbuilding became more synonymous with "styling house," although they were still responsible for building quite a few bodies well into the 1960s.

People like Pininfarina and Carrozzeria Touring, but Bertone was always my favorite. Their style was completely unique and (I thought, anyway) a lot more modern than anybody else's:

http://static.howstuffworks.com/gif/1955-alfa-romeo-1.jpg
Bertone BAT 5

http://giuliettas.files.wordpress.com/2008/08/giulietta-ss-above-back.jpg
Alfa Giulietta Sprint Speciale

http://chrisescars.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/001-lamborghini_miura.jpg
Lamborghini Miura

http://gazautomobili.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2010/11/59-lancia-stratos1.jpg
Lancia Stratos

Phil Are Go! said...

Ah! Right on time! On any car-related post, I know better than to go into too much detail, because my research budget doesn't allow for super thorough fact checking. Also, Craig and Dan are in a position to lend some scary-deep insight to the topic.

Thanks for adding, Craig!

I always forget about Bertone! I see the name on Jalopnik underneath pretty things like the Miura and it immediately slips my mind. I used Pininfarina as an example because they did such a good job improving such an ugly car.

Also, Bertone did the Lancia Stratos? That's my favorite car of ever! I have one of those 1/18 scale models of the Stratos on my desk! Viva la wedge!

Craig said...

Look at the Stratos and the Fiat X1/9. Both Bertone cars and both shockingly similar once you realize they share that DNA.

The other one I love is Georgietto Giugiaro (pronounced "George Smith") He worked on kick ass stuff like the Alfa Romeo GTV and the DeLorean, but he also designed the Golf and the Yugo. Half the cars you ever saw came out of that guy's studio.

Sorry. Way off track here.

Phil Are Go! said...

That Fiat is clearly a relative of the Stratos, just not so wonderfully chunky at the back. I guess those pedestrian safety regulations mean we can say goodbye to any nice wedge-shaped cars in the future. Everything's gotta be blunt and boxy now. Why can't we just make pedestrians wear padded suits, so our cars can be pretty again?

Craig said...

Adam Carolla was talking about headlight design on his CarCast podcast the other day.

He was laughing about how many man-hours went into hiding headlights behind doors, grilles, clamshells, partially exposed flip outs like the Miura and 928, rollovers like the Opel GT (manually operated, I might add), and then 30 years later, they put the headlights back where they were in the 1950s.

They can't do any of that anymore, since they only ended up working about half the time. The DOT mandated that they all be exposed all the time. Since the late 1980s and the advent of those awful plastic headlamp covers, they've horribly "integrated" headlamps into the body.

Phil Are Go! said...

My god, I frikkin HATE wraparound headlights! Just because you can make the headlights any kooky shape you want doesn't mean you SHOULD. They're ugly as hell. I think it was back in the early 2000s when Porsche put those ugly tabs on the inner edges of the 911's headlights. Made me so mad. Does Chris Bangle work EVERYWHERE now???? What's wrong with a nice ellipse or, god forbid, a circle?
http://www.netcarshow.com/porsche/2002-911_carrera_4_cabriolet/800x600/wallpaper_01.htm

I can't wait for people to come to their senses about headlights.

Dan said...

Regarding the continued use of Fisher's name after 1919, GM had only purchased 60 percent of Fisher at the time (it wouldn't purchase the remaining 40 percent until 1926). However, the Fisher family retained control over the Fisher Body Division nearly 20 years after that, and Fisher remained a separate division in GM through 1984. From what I've read and heard, GM brass pretty much bowed down to the Fisher brothers for many years, even after they relinquished control of the division.

Phil Are Go! said...

I knew about the purchase percentages, but not about GM's reverent attitude toward Fisher. All my business knowledge from years of not being a businessman had me thinking GM's controlling share meant they could tell Fisher what to do all day long. Apparently, the relationship was different that I thought.

Thanks Dan! I was counting on you and Craig to chime in with some info on this post.

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