1936 "Turret Top" body by Fisher - Turrets syndrome.

Hey moderns! Are you ready to learn about automotive construction techniques of sixty years ago? No??? Fantastic! Then read on!

The term "modern" just means "current". So, in whatever context you find the word, it's probably going to be hilarious if it's more than a few weeks old, especially when used to describe anything even vaguely technological. For some reason, this Body by Fisher ad opens by describing two kids as "moderns". I don't think I've ever heard anybody talk like that in a non-ironic way. Advertising from the Thirties is crammed to the rafters with ridiculous talk like this.

So WTF is "Turret Top"? Well, it's a registered marketing name,  so of course it has little to do with reality. It's Fisher's attempt to get you to associate their cars with safety and defense, even though a turret is either a cylindrical architectural feature or a rotating gun installation. "What's that have to do with the roof of a car?" you ask? Nothing! Whee!

Basically, the shape of the sheet metal forming the roof of GM cars was slightly convex (domed) for rigidity. Back in the Thirties, this mattered because the skin of the car was far more structural than today. The sheet metal forming the Modern (heh) cars are basically an intricate labyrinth of sheet metal with a very thin cosmetic set of body panels laid over it. Back in '36, what you saw on the outside was much closer to "what you get", in that the car was simpler in construction without the structure of the car and the appearance of the car being divided between two sets of sheet metal.

Actual numbers are hard to find, but it seems that, back when this ad first ran, sheet metal on the outside of cars was about 18 gauge (1.2 millimeters thick), while current cars use something like 22 gauge (0.68 millimeters thick). This makes sense, because in the old cars, that sheet metal was doing more to hold the car's shape, whereas today it's mostly not. The car is pretty much just as rigid without the body panels as it is with them, thanks to the unibody.

Pathetically, Volkswagen tried to use the same argument to tout the strength of the New Beetle in the early 2000's. The "Round for a Reason" campaign made a comparison between the New Beetle and the arched structure of the Roman aqueduct. This is bullshit. The car was round to make it cute, appealing to retro-minded people. It had nothing to do with strength. The current state of car design can produce a safe, rigid car that meets or exceeds all safety requirements regardless of whether it's round or square or whatever. The New Beetle was one of the worst cars of the time. It didn't have a reputation for being more or less structurally flimsy that other cars, but mechanically the New Beetle was junk.

So does all this mean your modern (heh) car is less safe than the 1936 ford? Absolutely not. Crumple zones, antilock brakes, and airbags make your car far safer than the Turret Top. Back then, cars were designed to be a stiff as possible in a crash. So when you hit something, the car stopped immediately, and your soft gooey body smashed into the steering wheel, dash, and windshield, releasing it's various goos and fluids all over the car's interior... if you're lucky. It's just as likely that the passenger compartment would fold up around you. Car designers did their best to make the car survive, but they had no clue how to keep the passengers alive.

As early as 1955, American cars offered two-point lap belts as an option, giving buyers the choice of being folded in half before being compressed longitudinally. This had the end result of folding you into quarters upon impact. This allowed the use of much smaller burial plots, and eased cemetery overcrowding substantially.

Here's that great crash test between a 1959 Malibu and a 2009 Chevy Malibu. It shows you everything you need to know.

Lastly, it's kind of funny that you can see the obvious shadow of the photographer, complete with fedora, on the little girl. Is this intentional or was it an unavoidable reality? No no. Of course there had to be a shadow. I mean did he have to wear a hat? Of course. It was 1936.

Click for big.


Craig F. said...

It was kind of an advancement.

You can see the difference in this Ford Model A from the same era:


Chevy was making hay out of the fact that they had one huge roof panel, and those troglodytes over at Ford were still welding sections of sheetmetal together to make a roof.

If you look at an even earlier Ford, they didn't even put metal in there. It was just a piece of canvas flapping around covering up a gigantic hole in the roof, like you just stretched a tarp over an open skylight.

PhilAreGo@gmail.com said...

It sure looks like an advancement, My dad used to try to explain to me the size a stamping press you need in order to form body panels this size, and also the hydraulic pressure needed to do it. And compared to canvas, it must have felt like The Future.

The marketing used to sell a new technology can sometimes cheapen or diminish the actual product, once it's dumbed down to advertising's level.

Thanks Craigf! How's the book coming?


Boo Long said...

I suppose the hat shadow in the photo subconsciously brings the ad viewer into the picture (as most '30s readers would have worn a similar hat) so it plays a bit more emotionally.. "You'd buy a Ford and put your own children at risk?" sort of thing.
Interesting to see the New Beetle advertising... For what's basically a Golf with interior space removed! Did they not realise they're implying the Golf is dangerous cause it's squarer? Maybe they thought nobody would work out it's a reclothed Golf.

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