Exciting images from ‘Golden Age of Auto Design’ we almost didn’t get to see

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Charles Balogh, Ford Advanced Studio, 1953. Photo: American Dreaming
Charles Balogh, Ford Advanced Studio, 1953. Photo: American Dreaming

The concept artists who envisioned the future of the automobile created edgy, forward-thinking illustrations knowing their works might never be seen — and would likely get destroyed.

But some of the forward-looking art created during Detroit’s “Golden Age of Automotive Design” made it outside company walls, thanks to artists who lined overcoats with drawings or used boxes with false bottoms to smuggle out their work.

The car-centric art is the subject of a current exhibit at Lawrence Technological University in Detroit and is the subject of an upcoming documentary on PBS called American Dreaming.

Rodell Smith, who worked as an illustrator for three different car companies from 1950 to 1989. Photo: American Dreaming/YouTube
Rodell Smith worked as an illustrator for three different car companies from 1950 to 1989. Photo: American Dreaming/YouTube

The “Golden Age” spanned the years 1946 to 1973 and the exhibit features works from General Motors, Ford, Chrysler, Studebaker, Package and AMC. Much of the concept art from that era is gone forever, shredded by the companies for fear the ideas would fall into competitors’ hands.

“The car is such a part of the American psyche,” art collector Robert Edwards told PBS NewsHour. “It’s possibly the most important industrial object ever created. It has touched everyone’s life.”

Proposed Packard show car by Ben Kroll or Richard Arbib, early 1950s. Photo: American Dreaming
Proposed Packard show car by Ben Kroll or Richard Arbib, early 1950s. Photo: American Dreaming
Carl Renner, GM Special Body Development Studio, 1953. Photo: American Dreaming
Carl Renner, GM Special Body Development Studio, 1953. Photo: American Dreaming

Edwards has been collecting the car illustrations by purchasing them at estate sales throughout Michigan.

Greg Salustro, a fellow car enthusiast who co-produced the exhibit and the upcoming film with Edwards, calls the collection a love letter to Detroit, something residents can be proud of as the city begins to rebuild after bankruptcy.

George Krispinsky, Plymouth Fury, 1958. Photo: American Dreaming
George Krispinsky, Plymouth Fury, 1958. Photo: American Dreaming
Rodell Smith, Ford, 1963. Photo: American Dreaming
Rodell Smith, Ford, 1963. Photo: American Dreaming
Geroge Krispinsky, AMC concept, early 1970s. Photo: American Dreaming
Geroge Krispinsky, AMC concept, early 1970s. Photo: American Dreaming

“We want Detroit to be proud of its artistic heritage,” he told PBS NewsHour.

Some of the designers, now in their late 70s and early 80s, are still alive and were interviewed for the film, which is not yet scheduled. Watch a trailer from American Dreaming below.