REARVIEW | Car Design History by the People Who Wrote It


While digging up some history for an upcoming post, I came across this amazing set of interviews, all done in the mid-eighties by the Automobile in American Life and Society project at the University of Michigan.  Transcripts of sort-of-meandering conversations filled with fascinating bites of the history of American car design straight from the mouths of the people who directed it.  There’s  Bill Mitchell, who succeeded Harley Earl at GM, and Irv Rybicki who followed him.  Gene Bordinat’s, who ran post-war Ford’s design, excuse me: styling department for 19 years is particularly interesting (and long), full of anecdotes about the inner workings of the upper echelon of Ford Motor Company in the ’50s and ’60s. Plenty of others, too, like  Virgil Exner, Jr. talking about both his and his father’s careers and a lot of first-person stories about working for Raymond Loewy, and  Gordon Buehrig, who talks extensively about the processes involved in coachbuilt cars like the Duesenbergs and Auburns he was responsible for, complete with a great little one about how Auburn’s chief engineer tuned their eight-carb V-12 in the dark, by checking the color of the flames coming out of the exhaust.


There’s just a ton of fascinating history in these stories, and even though they’re clunky in their presentation, and quite long, they’re worth every word. If you have any interest in design history, you should check ’em out.


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