An upcoming documentary, “American Dreaming,” focuses on a crew of relatively unknown—at least by name—heroes of mid-century America, the car designers at swaggering American brands like General Motors, Chrysler, AMC, Studebaker, and Packard. These people were responsible for stunning feats of American mid-century modern design, finned Cadillacs, aggressive AMCs and clean Fords, as crucial to the creation of an American aesthetic as Frank Lloyd Wright houses or Bill Blass suits.
But unlike the design sketches of architects or fashion designers, the early artwork of car designers was routinely destroyed by their employers, so as to evade capture by competing brands. Thankfully, Detroit-based art collector Robert Edwards caught on to an important fact: designers, unhappy to see their work destroyed, regularly smuggled sketches out into the world. He estimates over 10,000 smuggled drawings exist, so for decades, Edwards has been hunting down these errant bits of American automotive history. Beginning this week, his collection is being exhibited at Lawrence Technical University, so you too can share in the wonder of the work made by Detroit’s artisans.
If you can’t make it to the exhibition, we highly recommend donating to the documentary’s IndieGogo—producers Edwards and Greg Salustro need an adequate budget to film these cars, and these artists, as they deserve to be filmed. Need convincing? Check out our luscious slideshow of some of the slinkiest designs never produced.
Photos by American Dreaming
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.
George Krispinsky, Plymouth Fury 1958. As were so many Americans in the 1950s, Krispinsky was enamored with the emerging “Space Age” and the promise that the future held. Drawn in 1958, the artist signed his initials GK-62 on the license plate; 62 represents the proposed model year.
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.
Roger Hughet, Oldsmobile Toronado 1968. Hughet grew up a “hot-rodder” in the small town of Burns, Oregon, populatin 3,000.
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.
Bill Robinson, Packard, proposed updates for trim 1951. Bill Robinson began his career as a car stylist at Kaiser-Frazer Corp. This artwork was done while he was at Briggs Design, later purchased by Chrysler in large part to capture the array of talented designers that Briggs had assembled.
Source: Maxim, PBS