In Which Automotive Design Had Character, Creativity, and Kool

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Being a big fan of mid-20th century concept cars, and being in the market for a new car in the early 21st century, it can be a very deflating reality check on how disappointing the future has become. One could go from make to make, lot to lot, row to row – after about three or four different stops it sinks in. 21st century automotive design is merely an exercise in the standard and mundane.

Yes, there are a lot of gadgets that were first conceptualized in the mid-20th century flourish of creative imaginings found within today’s vehicles – but the designs. You have your standard sedan, you have your standard coupe, your standard fuel-efficient – interestingly enough, the micro-cars seem to have the only standout designs around. The same can be said of the ‘throwbacks’ that are smartly being re-realized by a couple American auto companies. For most vehicles today, if it weren’t for the make medallions it’s nearly impossible to tell what is what.

So, as a reminder of the good ol’ days when auto design was still an art and an enthusiastic expression of things to come, let’s take a look at some of the creative, and yes, sometimes ‘way out’ concepts from the fantastic world of mid-20th century design. Once aptly referred to as ‘dream cars.’

1951 Buck XP-300

1951 Buick XP-300

1951 Buick LeSabre Concept

1951 Buick LeSabre Concept

1952 Chrysler D’Elegance

1952 Chrysler D’Elegance

1953 Ford X-100

1953 Ford X-100

1954 Ford FX-Atmos

1954 Ford FX-Atmos

1954 Packard Panther-Daytona Roadster Concept

1954 Packard Panther-Daytona Roadster Concept

1954 GM XP-21 Firebird

1954 GM XP-21 Firebird 1

1954 Pontiac Bonneville Special

1954 Pontiac Bonneville Special

1955 Buick Wildcat

1955 Buick Wildcat

1955 Chevrolet Biscayne Motorama Dream Car Concept

1955 Chevrolet Biscayne Motorama Dream Car Concept

1955 Ghia Gilda Streamline X Coupe

1955 Ghia Gilda Streamline X Coupe

1955 Lincoln Indianapolis Concept

1955 Lincoln Indianapolis Concept

1956 Buick Centurion Concept

1956 Buick Centurion Concept

1957 Dodge Dart Concept

1957 Dodge Dart Concept

1957 Chrysler Diablo Concept

1957 Chrysler Diablo Concept

1957 Gaylord Gladiator

1957 Gaylord Gladiator

1959 Cadillac Cyclone Concept

1959 Cadillac Cyclone Concept

1960 GM Firebird IV Concept

1960 GM Firebird IV Concept

1960 Ford Predicta Custom

1960 Ford Predicta Custom

1961 Chrysler Turboflite Concept

1961 Chrysler Turboflite Concept

1962 Ford Cougar 406 Concept

1962 Ford Cougar 406 Concept

1962 Ford Ghia Selene II Concept

1962 Ford Ghia Selene II Concept

1964 GM-X Stiletto Concept

1964 GM-X Stiletto Concept

1964 Mercury Comet Super Cyclone

1964 Mercury Comet Super Cyclone

1964 Ford Aurora Concept

1964 Ford Aurora Concept

1965 Cadillac XP-840 Eldorado Fastback Concept

1965 Cadillac XP-840 Eldorado Fastback Concept

1965 CRV Piranha by Gene Winfield

1965 CRV Piranha by Gene Winfield

And something a bit different:

The 1965 GMC Bison Bullet

The 1965 GMC Bison Bullet

Phew! So there ya have it. Love ’em or hate ’em one thing’s for sure – these concepts stir up a reaction. They have personality. They have guts. Not everyone was impressed during the ‘dream car’ heydays. We’ll leave this post with just one more image – Ken Johnson of the New York Times will have the last word.

Russ Heath 'Capri Satellite' cartoon parody (1957)

Russ Heath ‘Capri Satellite’ cartoon parody (1957)

The Capri Satellite, drawn in black ink by Russ Heath in 1957, is a cartoon parody of futuristic cars. Part Sputnik, part Edsel, it is a spherical flying machine with fins and antennas and a comically elaborate front bumper and grille. This and other satiric images suggest that for every true believer there was a skeptic ready to pounce on the goofy excesses of imagination to which visionaries are prone.

Don't Tread On Me

A Musical Interlude

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Just a musical interlude to let the fine readers of Atomic Flash Deluxe know that it’s still in operation. So much to explore and various projects to work on, but this lovely corner of the web is still very much in line for some new posts. Thanks for your patience.

The dreamy video above features the Francy Boland Orchestra playing an ethereal lounge version of Claudia.

Get To Know Your Nukes – It’s Fun And Easy With The 2013 Monogram USA/USSR Missile Set

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Monogram USA/USSR Missile Model Set Box Cover

Monogram USA/USSR Missile Model Set Box Cover – 2013 reissue of the 1985 Cold War Edition

They’re out-of-sight and out-of-mind these days but they’re still ready to do business when called. Yes, those Cold War classics, the U.S.A./U.S.S.R. nuclear missile collections, are still as relevant today as they were in the 20th century. Perhaps you’re part of the younger set who have no Cold War experience – the olden days of paranoia, crazy ideas like bomb shelters, and all that laughable stuff like ‘duck and cover.’ Yep, today we know that there’s not much to do in ‘the event’ and who would want to survive that stuff anyway? When we hear the clarion call of enemy missiles on the way, we’ll just climb up the highest hill, get a little drunk or high or both, and watch the freaky show as we evaporate into the All.

But wouldn’t it be fun to impress your friends and/or family during those last couple of hours or minutes? You can by knowing your nukes! Learning is fun and easy with the Monogram U.S.A./U.S.S.R. Missile set! The 2013 U.S.A./U.S.S.R. Missile Set is a reissue of the 1985 Cold War edition released shortly before the collapse of the Soviet Union. The name may have changed, but those missile classics remain in the attentive care of the Russian Federation.

1985 Monogram U.S. and U.S.S.R. Missile Display Kit Box Cover

1985 Monogram U.S. and U.S.S.R. Missile Display Kit Box Cover

As you build each model you’ll become familiar with the different size, shape, and look of each explosive missile. For the U.S. you get the mighty Titan II, the stylish Minuteman III, and the awesomely ironic Peacemaker, as well as the Pershing II. But that’s not all! There’s the sea-launched Polaris A3, Poseidon, and Trident. A pair of cruise missiles are also included – the ALCM (Air Launched Cruise Missile) and the sea-launched Tomahawk.

The U.S.A. Collection of Nine Nuclear Missiles

The U.S.A. Collection of Nine Nuclear Missiles

The Soviet set name classifications are a hoot. They include the US Department of Defense designations, consisting of ‘SS’ and a NATO codename. You get the massive SS-18 Satan, SS-4 Sandal, the stylish SS-13 Savage, the SS-17 Spanker, the SS-19 Stiletto, and the stubby SS-20 Saber. The sea-launched missiles include the SS-N-8 Sawfly, the SS-N-17 Snipe, and the SS-N-18 Stingray. And finally, you also get the classically designed air-launched AS-6 Kingfish.

The U.S.S.R. Missile Collection

The U.S.S.R. Collection Of Eleven Nuclear Missiles

If you’ve never worked with models before you’ll find that these missiles are fairly easy to construct with most consisting of only two halves and 45 pieces in all. Included with your kit you get a decal sheet to give those missiles an authentic touch, and a display base to show off your handiwork – this also makes for a nice quick-glance study guide.

The 2013 Monogram U.S.A./U.S.S.R. Missile Display Kit Components

The 2013 Monogram U.S.A./U.S.S.R. Missile Display Set Components

So there you have it! The 2013 Monogram U.S.A./U.S.S.R. Missile Display Set – The Fun Way To Get To Know Your Nukes!

The Complete 2013 Monogram USA/USSR Missile Display

The Complete 2013 Monogram USA/USSR Missile Display

Images via Scale Model News. H/T to Luis Cesar at Atompunk brasil on Facebook.

The Wonderful and Weird World of Wind-Ups

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Late 1800s Ives Wind-Up Bear With Real Fur

Late 1800s Ives Wind-Up Bear With Real Fur (probably dyed rabbit fur) – A mechanical walker with key. Walks, makes mild growling noise. Head turns side-to-side. Jaw moves up and down.

Mechanical automatons have fascinated the curious for a very long time. In the 20th century toy wind-ups became a mainstay in popular culture. Most weren’t as elaborate as the Ives bear pictured above, but a lot of them were pretty neat. Below are a selection of some stand-out examples.

A Scarce Lehmann Captain of Kopenick Wind-Up

A Scarce 1903 Lehmann Captain of Kopenick Wind-Up – Depicts the true story of an infamous cobbler who stole the town of Kopenick, Germany’s money while dressed as an army officer. When wound the Captain rocks back and forth.

German Early 1900s Snookums Wind-Up

German Early 1900s Snookums Wind-Up – A character toy from early George McManus newspaper comic strips Their Only Child. Snookums is very hyperactive, when she’s wound she shakes about frantically.

Foxy Grandpa Wind-Up, c. 1910

Foxy Grandpa Wind-Up, c. 1910 – This is a scarce early version of the Foxy Grandpa wind-up. His weighted feet have a clockwork-like mechanism enabling him to walk.

Toonerville Trolley The Powerful Katrinka German Wind-Up, 1923

Toonerville Trolley The Powerful Katrinka German Wind-Up, 1923 (Fontaine Fox) – When wound, Katrinka pushes the wheelbarrow carrying little Jimmy forward, stopping every so often to lift up the wheelbarrow before continuing on.

Happy Hooligan/Buster Brown-Like Mechanical Toy, c. 1920

Happy Hooligan/Buster Brown-Like Mechanical Toy, c. 1920 (German) – This is a spring loaded toy. The main figure bears a resemblance to Happy Hooligan. When he is cocked and released, the hammer hits the anvil, yellow slide shoots up column to hit character at top who bears a strong resemblance to Buster Brown. When this character is hit, the ring in his hand flips to opposite side.

Marx New York Wind-Up Box

Marx New York Wind-Up Box

1928 Marx New York Tin Litho Wind-Up

1928 Marx New York Tin Litho Wind-Up – The plane circles around the skyline in the center. The train circles the outer ring of the base, going through three tunnels in buildings, one w/ a clock tower at top. The train is headed by a steam locomotive and moves in conjunction w/ plane.

When wound, Bonzo's separate tin litho eyes and jaw move up and down, giving the toy the illusion of blinking and speaking.

When wound, Bonzo’s separate tin litho eyes and jaw move up and down, giving the toy the illusion of blinking and speaking.

Bonzo Animated Wind-Up Toy, 1930s

Bonzo Animated Wind-Up Toy, 1930s (Germany) – When wound, Bonzo wobbles around.

Jitter-Bug Wind-Up Dancing Toy

Jitter-Bug Wind-Up Dancing Toy, 1930s (Chime Toy Products) – When wound these stylish figures move up and down as if dancing the 1930s classic.

Clown Marionette Playing GuitarGal Marionette Playing Tambourine

Bestmade Mechanical Marionette Theater Wind-Up

Bestmade Mechanical Marionette Theater Wind-Up, 1930s by Kuramochi, Japan – When wound the base rocks back and forth as figures move about.

Pango-Pango African Dance Wind-Up,

Pango-Pango African Dance Wind-Up, 1950s (T.P.S. Japan) – When wound Pango-Pango dances and his head bobs up and down.

Comical Clara Wind-Up, 1960s

Comical Clara Wind-Up, 1960s (T.P.S., Japan) – Clara is all 60s and weird. When she’s wound up her entire body shakes side to side as it moves around and her separate tin eyes move in and out of the eye socket openings so when eyes are fully extended, Clara has quite an unusual appearance.

The last wind-up for this post doesn’t do much – he just looks cool. He’s a clown manufactured by J. Chein & Co. (USA) (n.d.) – He just walks and wobbles.

Chein & Co. Clown Wind-Up

(All images via Hake’s Americana and Collectables)

Some Super Mid-Century Mod Designs

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So, Wright auction house in Chicago, Illinois, takes great pride in their specialization of modern and contemporary design. After a look at the items available in their upcoming June 10, 2015 auction, it’s easy to understand why. Rather than give details for each lot (i.e. starting bid amounts, etc.) this post will mainly focus on the items themselves. There’s some really rare and marvy examples of mid-century design to appreciate. All images can be viewed in larger format by clicking the pic. (If you are interested in any of the items, click on the name of the piece and you’ll get to the listing at Invaluable online.)

First, a look at a couple sofas and one daybed:

Helge Vestergaard Jensen adjustable (backrest) sofa, model 701 - Denmark, 1961

Helge Vestergaard Jensen adjustable (backrest) sofa model 701 (Denmark, 1961)Minimalistic but very stylish

Taichiro Nakai rare and important sofa, Japan, 1954.

Taichiro Nakai rare and important sofa (Japan, 1954)
This rare sofa successfully combines the dynamic formal qualities of postwar design with the restraint and elegance of Japanese aesthetics. The design was an award-winning entry for the 1955 Concorso internazionale del Mobile, Cantu. The jury for the competition included Alvar Aalto, Finn Juhl, Gio Ponti and Carlo de Carli.

Osvaldo Borsani L77 daybedOsvaldo Borsani L77 daybed (reclining)

Above is the Osvaldo Borsani L77 daybed (Italy, 1956) – shown in the flat position and the reclining position. The enameled steel mechanism design of the frame and legs gives it a very industrial look. It’s a look that remains modern and would fit in well with today’s contemporary loft apartment designs.

Below are some super mid-century chair designs:

Gio Ponti Distex lounge chair, model 807 (Italy 1953).

Gio Ponti Distex lounge chair, model 807 (Italy, 1953) – A personal favorite – an agelessly fab design. Model 807 is covered with high quality skai material – a faux leather that is indistinguishable from the real thing. This particular chair has some staining – fortunately, there are some very good skai treatments on the market today.

Class and Style: Hans Wegner rare Bear chair and ottoman (Denmark, 1950/1969)

Class and Style: Hans Wegner rare Bear chair and ottoman (Denmark, 1950/1969) – Few examples of the Bear chair were produced. This rare example featuring original leather was acquired from Johannes Hansen by the present owner.

Pierre Guariche G10 lounge chairs (France, 1954)

Pierre Guariche G10 lounge chairs (France, 1954) – Plywood was a very popular material with mid-century modern designers. The wood armrest version of the G10 lounge chairs was produced for only two years before it was replaced by an entirely upholstered version.

George Nelson & Associates Coconut chairs (USA 1956) - a classic.

George Nelson & Associates Coconut chairs (USA 1956) – a classic made with plastic body molding, enameled and chrome plated steel legs, and…naugahyde seat covering.

A bit of side trivia:

Nauga
The iconic creature above is a Nauga – the rare and exotic animals who lived in Sumatra and shed their hide each year…resulting in Naugahyde. The product manufacturers of this new material (polyvinyl chloride, AKA vinyl, leatherette, sponge leather, and PVC), Uniroyal, were more than willing to allow for the Nauga’s notoriety. When Johnny Carson had a Nauga as guest on The Tonight Show in 1966, the creatures hit stardom like never before.

Back to one more chair:

Frank Lloyd Wright rare Executive Office chair (USA 1956)Frank Lloyd Wright rare Executive Offoice chair (USA 1956)

Shown above is a quasi-spaceage marvel – the very rare Frank Lloyd Wright Executive Office chair (USA 1956). Due to their complex construction, few of these Executive Office chairs were produced. This is one of three known examples; one example remains in the Price Tower Arts Center, Bartlesville, Oklahoma and the other sold at Wright in March of 2005.

A few lighting designs:

Charlotte Perriand wall lights (France, 1950)

Charlotte Perriand wall lights (France, 1950) – Classy, colorful and fun, and made of enameled steel.

Gio Ponti – nuff said.

Vladimir Kagan Cygnet floor lamp, model 2080 (USA, 1957)

Vladimir Kagan Cygnet floor lamp, model 2080 (USA, 1957) – A somewhat conservative design but with a flair of modernism.

And we’ll end this post with a couple decorative objects:

The two sculptures above are examples of Harry Bertoia’s Sonambient creations. Bertoia was already a world-renowned designer and sculptor when he, by accident, discovered an interest in the sounds of two or more metal rods striking each other. He began to design sound sculptures like the ones above. Through the years he created numerous types of various shapes and sizes. He also recorded eleven vinyl albums featuring the abstract sounds with titles like Space Voyage and Sounds Beyond. The Washington Post has a great online story about Harry Bertoia and his fascinating works – click here to read more about that.

Harry Bertoia's Sonambient LP reissue. (image courtesy of Beverly Twitchell via Dwell)

Harry Bertoia’s Sonambient LP reissue. (image courtesy of Beverly Twitchell via Dwell)

Leo Amino Untitled (USA, c. 1955) - A most excellent Amino abstract (carved mahogany, brass wire, and aluminum).

Leo Amino Untitled (USA, c. 1955) – A most excellent Amino abstract sculpture (carved mahogany, brass wire, and aluminum).

And this:

Isamu Noguchi Measured Time clock and kitchen timer (USA, 1932)

Isamu Noguchi Measured Time clock and kitchen timer (USA, 1932) – This early work marks Noguchi’s first industrial design for commercial manufacture. White Bakelite examples of this form are extremely rare.

Some really great stuffs. Not just fascinating design, but also wonderful historic gems.

Go Kommie Kidz, Go

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Unique footage you’ve probably never seen – in the midst of the fight against the corrupting influence of the West. The Lev Golovanov Moiseyev Dance Co/Ballet jivin’ to the Moses Ensemble. (Video via Olga BSP)

Lev Golovanov Vintage Moiseyev Dance Co/Ballet Photo

Soloists Tamara Golovanova and Lev Golovanov of the famed Moiseyev Dance Company in ‘Roch ‘n Roll,’ which created a sensation at Tchaikovsky Hall in Moscow, 1962. (Photo via Selina Moore)

Lev Golovanov would go on to become a Professor of Dance and a Choreographer Assistant at the Igor Moiseyev State Academic Ensemble of Folk Dance. He received a Russian government culture prize from Russia’s prime minister Dmitry Medvedev in 2014.

The Spook Machine Enigma – A Box Of Secrets

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TOP SECRET ENIGMA FILE

[Enigma is] the legendary World War II ciphering machine developed by Berlin engineer Dr. Arthur Scherbius and first manufactured there commercially by the Chiffriermaschinen Aktiengesellschaft [Cipher Machines Corporation] Berlin in 1923. So complex was the Enigma, it was considered capable of producing over 22 billion code combinations without a single repetition. According to an early prospectus, ‘if someone worked continuously day and night and tried a different cipher-key every minute, it would take 42,000 years to exhaust all combination possibilities.

Enigma in action on the Russian front.

Enigma in action on the Russian front.

In operation, each keystroke illuminated a different character and caused one or more rotors to shift fractionally, so that a different combination was created every time. Decryption required codebooks and a list of daily key settings.

How Enigma was finally figured out – and its messages decoded by the Allies – is a storied affair. It began in 1938 with Polish Cipher Bureau cryptologist Marian Rejewski developing his bomba kryptologiczna (Polish for cryptologic bomb). Due to the ‘deteriorating political situation,’ Rejewski and the Poles shared the Enigma-breaking techniques and equipment with the French and British in July 1939. Alan Turing then produced the initial design of the bombe at the UK Government Code and Cypher School (GC&CS) at Bletchley Park. Turing’s original design, while brilliant in theory, presented a major impracticality in the physical realm. This was solved in 1940 when Gordon Welchman devised an important design refinement, the ‘diagonal board’, that rendered the device substantially more efficient in the attack on ciphers generated by the German Enigma machine. The engineering design and construction was the work of Harold Keen of the British Tabulating Machine Company. If you are interested in the details of The Turing Bombe you’ll find a wealth of info here.

The Bombe Front and Back. Designed by Alan Turing. Bombe took the form of emulating several hundred Enigma rotors, as well as functioning as a logical electrical circuit to automate the deductions needed to rule out flawed possible attempts.

The Bombe Front and Back. Designed by Alan Turing. Bombe took the form of emulating several hundred Enigma rotors, as well as functioning as a logical electrical circuit to automate the deductions needed to rule out flawed possible attempts. (Photo by Peter Oram)

That’s a lot of computing power and a lot of machine. It emphasizes the incredible cryptologic power of Enigma itself. Wikipedia’s entry on this fascinating machine is quite thorough, click here to learn more about its design and operation, as well as a host of other interesting info. A point well made at Wikipedia is this:

Though Enigma had some cryptographic weaknesses, in practice it was German procedural flaws, operator mistakes, failure to systematically introduce changes in encipherment procedures, and Allied capture of key tables and hardware that, during the war, enabled Allied cryptologists to succeed.

There is beauty in simplicity. Below are some pics of an Enigma K-Model machine, manufactured by Chiffriermaschinen-Ges. Heimsoeth und Rinke, Berlin, c. 1939. Looking at it one would not expect it to be such a robust mystery machine.

4-Rotor Ciphering Machine Enigma K-Model set, with an external lamp panel and a separate power supply in an oak case.

4-Rotor Ciphering Machine Enigma K-Model set, with an external lamp panel and a separate power supply in an oak case.

4-Rotor Ciphering Machine Enigma K-Model set, with an external lamp panel and a separate power supply in an oak case.

Enigma K-Model set, with uplifted covers showing the minimal rotor, key, and external lamp panel design.

The Compact Internal Lamp Panel Fits Between The Key Board and The Rotors.

The Compact Internal Lamp Panel Fits Between The Keyboard and The Rotors.

Expertly Machined Removable Rotors

Expertly Machined Removable Rotors

A Separate Power Supply In An Oak Case

A Separate Power Supply In An Oak Case

A four-rotor German Enigma cypher machine with a second operator display (a 'remote lampboard'), made during World War II. This type of machine, devised by the German Navy in 1939, was used to encode wartime messages requiring a particularly high degree of security. The cracking of German cypher codes by Allied intelligence was a major achievement in cryptanalysis and played a key role in the outcome of the North Atlantic U-boat engagements. The search to crack the the Enigma codes also resulted in 'Colossus', the first all-electronic digital computer. This rare machine is thought to have been used in the post-war years for coding diplomatic traffic in Switzerland.  (Photo by SSPL/Getty Images)

This type of machine, devised by the German Navy in 1939, was used to encode wartime messages requiring a particularly high degree of security. The capture of German U-boat U-110 on May 9, 1941 in the North Atlantic by the Royal Navy played a key role in the outcome of the North Atlantic U-boat engagements. The Royal Navy had recovered an Enigma machine, its cipher keys, and code books. The recovered materials were taken to Bletchley Park in England, where cryptographers, including computer pioneer Alan Turing, succeeded in breaking the naval code. The codes allowed the U-boat traffic to be read for several weeks, until the keys ran out. (Photo by SSPL/Getty Images)

As can be imagined, history and tech buffs would probably love to get their hands on one of these extraordinary and significant machines. On May 30, 2015, at 10:00 AM CET, someone has an opportunity to do so. Auction Team Breker, in Köln, (Godorf), Germany, have two Enigma machines that will be up for auction on that day. An Enigma M4 Cypher Machine, c. 1942, and an Enigma K-Model, c. 1939. Both are in pristine museum-quality condition. The starting bid for the M4 is €26,000. The starting bid for the K-Model (shown above) is €10,000. Although it is a live auction, bids are being taken now at the Invaluable on-line auction site.

For the rest of us who don’t have thousands to spend on rarities such as this, there are a number of Enigma computer simulations to play with. A few of them are listed below.