The upcoming documentary “American Dreaming,” features the designers who worked in the styling houses of Detroit’s automakers from 1946 to 1973. Watch the trailer for the film, which does not have a release date, above. Video by Jim Toscano and Danny Gianino of Freeage Productions.
Norbert Ostrowski began designing cars during the golden age of the American automobile. For 30 years, he worked in the styling departments of Detroit’s iconic brands: Chrysler, General Motors, AMC. But his sketches no longer exist. Like most of the early-stage artwork created by America’s auto designers, they’ve been destroyed.
Enter art collector Robert Edwards. The lifelong car enthusiast has curated the most comprehensive showing of those designs, spanning from 1946 to 1973. The exhibit, “American Dreaming: Detroit’s Golden Age of Automotive Design,” opened last week at Lawrence Technological University in suburban Detroit.
Featured in the collection is one of Ostrowski’s early sketches of an AMC Matador that Edwards found for sale in Ann Arbor. Ostrowski, now 77, recognized it immediately, Edwards said.
“His exact words were, ‘how the heck did that get out?’”
The designs were never meant to leave the studios. Automakers routinely destroyed early sketches for fear they would fall into the wrong hands.
But some of them made their way out of Ford, GM and Chrysler, as well as now defunct Studebaker, Packard and AMC. According to one designer, they were smuggled out in boxes with false bottoms. One employee famously hid his sketches inside the liner of his trench coat. “As an artist, you would hate to see your artwork destroyed,” Edwards said.
Now they exist in attics and garages in the homes of the artists and their relatives. That’s where Edwards finds them. He’s been collecting these “bootleg” sketches for years, buying them from estate sales all over Michigan.
He calls the artwork the story of mid-century modern design in America.
“The car is such a part of the American psyche,” Edwards said. “It’s possibly the most important industrial object ever created. It has touched everyone’s life.”
Rodell Smith, Ford 1963. Rodell Smith designed for the following companies in his long career; Ford, Chrysler, Packard, Hudson, AMC, Ford, International Harvester, and finally Chrysler again. Rodell Smith designed the front grille of the 1963 Ford Galaxie which has erroneously been credited to another designer.
Exhibit co-producer Greg Salustro said the designs harken back to a time when America thought anything was possible.
“This is the age that America thought they could overcome racism, land a man on the moon, win the Cold War,” he said. “This exhibit reflects this unbridled exuberance that took place at the time.”
Aside from the exhibit, the two auto enthusiasts are also co-producing a documentary called “American Dreaming.” It features interviews with the men and women who influenced mid-century American design and shaped the way we remember the golden era of the automobile.
It’s also a love letter to Detroit.
“This is a Detroit story,” said Salustro. “It’s about how Detroit inspired a nation.”
Just as the automakers jumped back into production in 1946 after its years supporting the Allied forces, today Detroit is determined to rebound after decades of decline and an unprecedented municipal bankruptcy, he said. “We want Detroit to be proud of its artistic heritage.”
See more photos of the innovative artwork that escaped the shredder:
Charles Balogh, Ford Advanced Studio 1953. Emigrating from Hungary alone as a 15-year-old, Charles Balogh served in World War II and became a U.S. citizen. Fascinated by post-war designs in furniture and architecture he conceived of a car with semi-circular round seating that would stimulate conversation among passengers.
Del Coates, Studebaker Golden Hawk 1957. Coates proposed this update for the Golden Hawk 1959 model year. The 1957 Golden Hawk measured by performance was faster going from 0-60 mph and in the quarter mile than the Chrysler 300B, Chevrolet Corvette or Ford Thunderbird. Many consider the Golden Hawk a precursor to the muscle cars of the 1960s.
Ben Kroll or Richard Arbib, Packard proposed show car, Solar Sports (never realized) circa 1953. In the 1950s Packard did several very important show cars. The 1956 Packard Predictor was the most important and their last show car. Packard bought Studebaker in 1954 and struggled financially. By 1958 the heralded nameplate of Packard had disappeared.
Collector Robert Edwards: “I knew by the door handle that it was American Motors Corporation (AMC), and because the front fender had a side indicator light and not the back fender, I knew it was mid-1960s. After looking in my research materials and comparing photos of Norbert’s work, I thought it was most likely by Norbert Ostrowski; He had a very distinct method of shading in a quick crosshatch manner.”
Carl Renner, GM Special Body Development Studio, 1953. Renner worked as an animator for Walt Disney Studios during the mid 1940s but preferred being a car designer. At GM in the early 1950s, Renner was given his own studio that only he and Harley Earl, GM’s Vice President and head of design, had access to. In this studio many of GM’s Motorama 1950s show cars were developed.
George Krispinsky, AMC concept early 1970s. This drawing is based on AMC’s electric concept vehicle of 1969. In this version, the gas cap is visible indicating it would be a more conventional vehicle. With its hatch-back and gull-wing doors, Krispinsky envisioned a sporty small car for young consumers. Later in his career Krispinsky was head of exterior design for Jeep, then a division of AMC. He was instrumental in ushering in the era of the modern SUV with the Jeep Cherokee.
John “Dick” Samsen, ‘Cuda 1969. Samsen graduated with a degree in aeronautical engineering and started designing at Ford in 1952. He assisted in the design of the iconic 1955 Ford Thunderbird. By the later-fifties he was with Chrysler where he remained the rest of his career. Samsen contributed to the designs of Imperials, Furies, Road Runners and the Plymouth Barracuda. This artwork is a proposal for the ‘Cuda 1972/3 model year.
Captions by Robert Edwards. Learn more about the upcoming documentary “American Dreaming”: Americandreamingfilm.com. Here you can also find out how to support the film, which is not yet complete and does not have a release date.
Article courtesy of PBS Newshour Artbeat, written by Margaret Myers.
Fifty-eight years after production ended, Chevrolet’s two-door wagon, the Nomad, remains sought-after by collectors. In the decades since, GM has tried on at least three occasions to revive the idea, using the F-body platform to create midsize two-door wagons based upon the Chevrolet Camaro or the Pontiac Firebird. None progressed far beyond the concept stage (at least with GM), but that doesn’t mean they weren’t noteworthy.
The idea of a two-door Chevrolet wagon was first revived with the 1970 Camaro Kammback concept, a two-door wagon that featured a conventional top-hinged tailgate and was reportedly due to hit Chevy dealers for the 1970 model year. Pontiac wanted its own version of the two-door wagon as well, harkening back to the days when the two-door Pontiac Safari was the automotive cousin to the Chevy Nomad. Producing common tooling for the F-body wagons could have made the endeavor cost-effective, but the story goes that Chevy and Pontiac stylists could not find common ground on issues like door size and quarter panel shape. Knowing that such a product would appeal to a limited audience, and without an agreeable economy of scale, GM killed the idea before it progressed beyond the design phase.
Chevrolet launched the Vega Kammback for the 1971 model year, giving buyers the option of a two-door station wagon on a compact platform. It would take nearly another decade before the option of a midsize two-door was explored again by GM, this time under its Pontiac division. The Type K (for Kammback) concept, originally shown in 1977, was developed by Jerry Brockstein under the direction of GM executive David R. Hollis. The design did away with a conventional rear tailgate in favor of long, gullwing-style rear windows on either side that permitted easy access to the entire cargo area. Out back, a vertical rear window sat above a four-bar array that traversed the width of the rear, masking the taillamps and stop lamps unless they were illuminated.
Seeing the potential for such a product, GM design head Bill Mitchell approved the construction of two concepts, based upon production Firebirds. The conversion, which utilized steel body panels, was farmed out to Italy’s Pininfarina, which had ample experience in assembling such concepts, as well as low-volume models. One was finished in gold with a beige interior, while the second was a more striking silver with a red interior.
The public gave the Type K concepts an enthusiastic thumbs-up, and GM began to explore its options for production. One idea was to farm the work out to Pininfarina in Italy, while a second and potentially lower-cost plan called for building the Type Ks in the United States under Pininfarina’s supervision. Somewhat of a halo car, GM targeted a selling price of around $16,000 for the Type K, at a time when a base Firebird was priced from $4,753 and a Trans Am from $5,889.
Though the reasons why are unclear, the gold Type K was reportedly destroyed by GM. The silver car, fitted with a 1979 Trans Am-style front end, appeared in a March 1979 two-part episode of The Rockford Files (Never Send a Boy King to do a Man’s Job), driven by Odette Lepandieu (played by Trish Noble). With this much exposure and positive press, the Type K almost seemed destined for production.
Until the final build cost assessment came in, that is. Even with Pininfarina doing all it could to contain costs, the final retail price of the Type K would have needed to be in the $25,000 range for GM to turn a profit, making it as expensive as two 1979 Corvettes. To make matters worse, a new Firebird was already in the works by the 1979 model year, which meant that the cost of developing a new Kammback body would need to be factored in as well. The idea of a two-door wagon on the F-body platform was killed off a second time.
Seeing an opportunity to succeed where GM failed, a California company, Deco International Corporation, moved forward with a fiberglass wagon body for the 1977-’81 Firebirds. Using the same gullwing rear windows as the GM-designed car, the Deco Type K conversion was priced from approximately $15,000, plus the price of the donor car. It’s unclear how many were built from 1980 until the company ceased operations, but given the still-exorbitant price, the answer is “not many.”
Even this wasn’t the final chapter on the Firebird wagon. In 1985, Pontiac once again debuted a Firebird-based sportwagon, this time built upon the Firebird Trans Am. Unlike the Type K concept, this third-generation Firebird concept was heavily based upon the production car, replacing the existing rear hatchback with the Kammback-style roof. Several were constructed by GM (including one in white, one in red, one in blue and one in black), but the project never proceeded beyond the experimental stage.
In this day and age of compact crossovers and SUVs, the idea of a two-door wagon (or even a mainstream four-door wagon) seems as forgotten as the dual-cowl phaeton body style. Still, Chevrolet is set to launch a new Camaro, now built upon GM’s Alpha platform, for the 2016 model year, and a two-door Camaro-based wagon would give the automaker a truly unique offering. We can hope, even if making additional room in the garage isn’t exactly prudent.
Article courtesy of Hemmings Daily, written by Kurt Ernst.
Some of the top awards of the year are starting to drop. Recently, the Goodguys Rod and Custom Association named their Custom of the Year at the 33rd Annual All American Get-Together in Pleasanton, California. The lucky winner was David Hoekstra and his incredible 1956 Lincoln Continental Mark II.
The car, named Mae, was at the Pleasanton show as its debut event. The chassis of the car is a fully custom, one-off piece built by Roadster Shop. Suspension duties are handled by a complete C6 Corvette setup, Wilwood big brakes handle stopping power, and a rack and pinion steering setup points the car where it needs to go. Power from the 8-stack injected 520 cubic-inch Ford V8 heads out to a Ford 9-inch rearend loaded with a set of 3.73 ratio gears.
Scott Laitinen built the car for Hoekstra. Laitinen chopped the roof a moderate 2.5-inches and has the rain gutters completely filled. The car still uses Original Equipment Factory uncut glass for the windshield and doors. The sheet metal looks relatively untouched but every panel has been tweaked, smoothed, or modified. A fully custom firewall and floor pan was built and welded in to the matching custom rocker panels.
8-way power Lexus seats add to the comfort and luxury of this modern retake on an old classic. The seats were wrapped in black and white leather with black Onyx and stainless steel cuff link buttons. One-off Dakota Digital gauges keep the driver in the know and a full Kicker sound system keeps the tunes rolling.
A car like this definitely deserves the attention it is getting. It seamlessly brings the modern tech world into the heydays of hot rods without even breaking a sweat. For more info on the Goodguys Rod and Custom Association, head to www.good-guys.com.
Article courtesy of Street Legal TV, written by Jake Headlee.
In 1958, five Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz convertibles were pulled from production and sent to GM’s Styling Center for modification. These design-exercise Cadillacs hinted at upcoming styling and boasted a unique humidity sensor that would close the power top and raise the windows when rain was detected. Of the five built, two are known to survive, and the example once enjoyed by Harley Earl himself will cross the auction stage in May, as part of the Andrews Collection sale in Fort Worth, Texas.
At first glance, the most noticeable difference between the prototype and a regular 1958 Eldorado Biarritz convertible is the pronounced vertical tailfins, which would appear in very similar form on 1959 Cadillac models. Look closer and it’s apparent that much of the car’s chrome trim has been deleted, too; gone are the headlamp surrounds, front fender gills and rear fender vents, giving the prototype a sportier appearance and further hinting at 1959 styling.
Unlike all-steel production Cadillac models, the Raindrop prototypes used a hand-laminated fiberglass rear section, from the doors back, a fact rediscovered during the car’s restoration in the 1990s. Their rain-sensing and auto-closing top, a feature that never saw production, was previously deployed on the 1951 GM Le Sabre concept, also styled by Harley Earl. Though currently located on the transmission tunnel between the front seats, evidence suggests the senor was originally positioned on the rear deck, forward of the trunk lid, a fact confirmed by vintage photos of the other surviving example.
Following its development (and, perhaps, limited exposure at auto shows), this example was shipped to Florida, where it was reportedly used by Harley Earl during his retirement. What happened to the car next is something of a mystery, though popular urban legend says the prototype was shipped to a Detroit scrapyard, where it was cut in half to await its trip to the crusher. As Chip Lamb related to Bloomberg in 2008, the original restorer, Bill Wedge, received the car intact on its original frame, and replaced only the 365-cu.in., 335-horsepower V-8 engine. Could another Raindrop prototype have been bisected prior to crushing? That seems like the most likely explanation, though in the absence of further evidence, it remains nothing more than a guess.
What is known is that the Raindrop prototype used by Harley Earl was acquired by a Dayton, Ohio, Cadillac dealership, but only after protracted negotiations with the car’s previous owner. It then passed to the Wiseman Collection in partially restored form, and the work was completed in time for the Cadillac to appear on the cover of the March 1998 issue of Cars & Parts. It remained in the Wiseman Collection until its sale at auction in December of 2007, when it was acquired by Paul and Chris Andrews for a price of $330,000.
That’s considerably more than the $220,000 realized by the other surviving Raindrop prototype in 2010, perhaps because of this car’s documented ties to Harley Earl. RM Sotheby’s is predicting a selling price between $400,000 and $600,000 when the Cadillac crosses the stage on Saturday, May 2.
Article courtesy of Hemmings Daily, written by Kurt Ernst.