Andy Hansel and Brian Wuerker cartoons, stories, and quotes from the “heartbeat of the industry.”
When Jerry Hirschberg left for Nissan Design in 1980, Andy Hansel christened his departure with this depiction of Jerry as a full-fledged Samurai.
The studio movie. In the late fall of 1979, Jerry made an 8mm movie in the studio that was shown at the Christmas party. It was a Kojak spoof complete with a 4-door Buick Century. The “plot” was pretty thin. A full-sized clay model was reduced to the convenient 1/25 scale model and stolen by the nefarious Al Flowers. Our Kojak (I can just barely remember who played him, but not his name) was responsible to recover the stolen design. If I can ever get that movie and digitize it, you’ll see it on Dean’s Garage.
One time we were having an end of the world meeting in Jerry’s office. You know. GM is on the brink of ruin and it’s “up to Buick Studio to save the corporation” kind of thing. All tongue in cheek. In reality there is a panic in the building and we’ve got to do something to keep the heat off the studio. Anyway, there was a lull followed by an an uncomfortable silence in the office (which was really too small for the entire studio, all jammed in there). Suddenly the phone rang. (Usually when the phone rang in the studio and the studio clerk wasn’t around nobody would answer it. Then somebody would yell out, “Nobody move. It’s the phone.”) After four, maybe five rings in the silent office, George Prentice slowly took a step to the phone, picked it up, and patiently answered, “General Motors.” General Motors? Kinda vague, George. He might as well have answered, “western hemisphere,” or “third planet from from the sun.” It was pretty funny, at least to me.
An incredible series of caricatures by Andy Hansel. He captured the gestures, poses, stances, clothing, and proportion perfectly. Pictured are Ed Taylor, Bernie Smith, Dave Holls, Stan Wilen, Chuck Jordan, Jack Humbert, and Irv Rybicki. Thanks to George Camp for sending me this.
There were always studio music wars. Someone would bring in a stereo or they’d buy one out of the coffee fund. Station battles followed. Seems like in the morning the music would be boring but non-controversal. Then after lunch sometimes Ted Schroeder would put on jazz. Jazz wasn’t too popular, but Ted was the assistant and got his way. When Ted would leave the room for some reason, one of the classical buffs might use the opportunity to put on the classical station. Even though it added a touch of needed class to the atmosphere, it was liked less than jazz. I remember Jack Orava hollering, “What is this?” Nobody usually answered. Probably nobody knew. Then Jack would follow up with, “If nobody knows what it is, let’s turn it off.”
One more quote about music. After a classical piece ended there was always a respectful pause. The announcer would come on and say that was such-and-such, Opus whatever, played by XYZ philharmonic orchestra conducted by so-and-so. One time, after a piece ended but before the announcer came on, someone hollered, “Now they’re gonna tell us why we were supposed to have liked that.” By the way, Rock was never tolerated.
Is that all there is? In Olds One studio some nefarious sculptor recorded Peggy Lee’s Is That All There Is back to back on both sides of a 90 minute tape. The first couple of weeks listening to that depressing song played for hours on end were the hardest. Haven’t heard it? Click here.
Jim Perpina was an industrious union clay handler liked by everybody. Jim managed to get enough full-size refrigerators to put one in every studio’s back room. That was really great. Thanks, Jim. But why would Jim do that? Because he kept the full-sized freezers stocked with ice cream. I imagine he did pretty well selling the cold stuff. GM subsidized this vending business and nobody complained. Ice cream seemed to put everybody on a level playing field no matter how high the salary. Speaking of food in the studio, a popcorn craze sept the building. Popcorn poppers popped up in nearly every studio. In the late afternoon the entire building smelled like a circus. I think they eventually banned the stuff.
Doug Byerline frequently made my quote file. “When you’ve counted all the tiles in the auditorium, then you’re ready to count the little boards in the hallway.” He came up with this because it seemed that executives would always walk with their heads down. The upstairs studios and the auditorium were tiled with linoleum, but the hallways and downstairs looked like a wooden gymnasium floor made up of short wood strips. Other memorable quotes of Doug’s: “It ain’t no brougham if it’s got no chrome.” “You can swallow a transmission if you can eat your own words.” “Here cars are our most important by-product.” “You don’t want to take a step back and really look at what we do here. It makes baseball look important.” “Hey, it’d fun just to model them up and look at them.”
Sports contests were a popular diversion in the studios. At lunch time ping pong tables (made in the shop probably from 3/4-inch birch plywood) would unfold and the games begun. But there were others. In Pontiac One they used to play floor pong. It was just like ping pong except the net was a piece of thick acetate attached to an aluminum pole and suspended from the tops of two chairs. The court was about 10-feet wide by maybe 20-feet. But the granddaddy of all of the sporting events was indoor badminton. Several studios became deeply involved. The large metal angles used for modeling would be clamped to two opposite rails. A regulation net was clamped and suspended from the angles. The floor was quickly taped off to form a regulation court (of course, only the best black photo tape was used). We started buying $60 rackets, and trick indoor birds. One of the guys belonged to a Badminton club in Birmingham and used to bring in used feathered shuttlecocks. It was a lot of fun. We played at noon for several years, and sometimes all day on the last day before the Christmas break. They finally shut it down. There were lots of other contests. Lightweight rubber band powered model airplanes competed in the styling auditorium for duration contests. Orthonopters. Crawling machines. All sorts of stuff.
Brian Wuerker cartoon. Pictured are Brian Wuerker, Willis Calvin, Jerry Hirschberg, Wayne Vieira, Jack Humbert, Jim Bisignano, Frank Fisher, Al Flowers, Vince DiSessa, and Chuck Jordan. Thanks to George Camp.
The Brian Wuerker cartoon shows Jack Humbert with his suit jacket opened exposing the jacket lining. Jack’s taste in clothing was nothing short of inspiring. He had a tailor in Birmingham that custom made his suits. I remember once studying the carefully chosen cloth. It was a dark suit with subtle colored threads, one of them a bright vermillion. The paisley jacket lining picked up the same vermillion, and so did the tie. The exact shade.
Jack was a patient man. I noticed Jacks MO on several occcasions. When the commotion of a new theme decision would fade, he would then come back every day and make a subtle change to the model. After a few weeks he would redirect the design one small tweak at a time into what he wanted in the first place and nobody was the wiser.
This short story comes from Pontiac 2 studio. One day someone emerged from the back room motioning everyone to follow him back silently. So we all eventually gathered together near the door to the restroom. The restrooms at design staff are tiled with shiny gray tile on all four walls and the floor. The situation? One of the guys from the studio was asleep in a stall. Snoring. The plan that came together swiftly and sliently: one guy on the hinge side of the door, another on the other side of the door, and a third in between. At the same time, the first guy opened the door, the second reached around and flipped off the lights, and the middleman tossed in two full size Pontiac metal wheel covers. As the door closed, an explosion of sound emerged from behind the door. A mixture of clanging metal and cursing. By the time the victim burst out of the back room into the studio (still gathering himself), everybody was quietly scraping clay, updating drawings, or sketching. What wheel covers? Boy, was he mad. Probably scared him half to death.
A couple more Jerry Hirchsberg stories. Occasionally there would be important in-studio shows where models would be prepared for review by division management. Instead of the studio chief leading the review, Design Staff management would lead the charge. These would be managers that headed studio groups (like Buick, Olds, and Cadillac). The studio chief would be in attendance, but wouldn’t be the MC. So the line up would be like this. On one side of the model would be the upper managers discussing the design. Behind them would be their support people. Off to the side and a few feet back would be studio managers, listening, but not necessarily involved in the conversations. On the other side of the model would be designers and other studio personnel interested in the discussions, unless we were excluded from being in attendance. After a while the discussions would become redundant. Jerry would get bored and start making funny faces. He wasn’t making fun of people (I don’t think); he was making expressions to try and get us on the other side of the model laughing. Which would not be cool at all, because we were facing those who could terminate our very existence. He also had this goofy walk that he would sometimes morph into that was like every joint that made him ambulatory was cross-wired. He was a lot of fun. He just didn’t take a lot of things that seriously. Morale in his studio was always pretty high, in spite of the fact that Jerry had a quote on his office wall that read, “It’s not enough to succeed. Others must fail.”
An interesting place to be was within earshot of executives talking about designs during reviews. I wrote down a lot of them. For example:
“I don’t necessarily disagree.” Jerry Hirschberg.
“I don’t hate it.” Bill Porter.
“I don’t particularly like being in disagreement with anyone.”
Executive one: “I like it.” Executive two (higher level): “I hate it.” Executive one: “We’re saying the same thing in different ways.”
“It has an upscale look with a lot of lines.” Lloyd Reuss.
Other quotes overheard.
“This whole design hinges on the doors.” What he meant was the success of a new design would be determined if the the current doors have to be carried over or not.
“I agree with you but I cannot support you on that.”
“This is going to either be right, or it will be wrong. But it isn’t really inventing anything.”
“The goal is not to get yelled at.”
“Frankly, gentlemen, newness scares me.” Spoken by a Design VP and it was’t Chuck.
“I didn’t like that car when it first came out, but since then I’ve done a complete 360.”
“He’s not saying you should or shouldn’t consider these things. Just be aware of them.”
“I’m not saying yes, no, or maybe.”
“I’m almost 90% certain that this deck is going to have to come down some.”
“It’s important that we look like we know what we are doing whether we really do or not.”
“Young man, you are now working for the flagship of the fleet.” Irv to Dennis Little on his transfer to Cadillac.
Steve Pasteiner quotes: “McDonnell is in the building. Quick, everyone, fake a work scene.” “Thursday’s showday so Wednesday we simulate panic.” “If you’re mocking up a car, use cardboard. If you’re doing a train, use railroad board. But if you’re mocking up an aircraft, just use plain paper.”
“I’m seeing a theme emerge, where I jump through the hoop and you crack the whip.” Larry Erickson.
“If it doesn’t work, then you’ve got to say it doesn’t work.”
Dave Holls quotes: “That design is an orphan. It wasn’t invented in the right room.” “We’ve got to get rid of all the nerd areas.” “I want it to remind me of something I’ve never seen before.” “Show it that way until July (Mitchell’s retirement). Then we’ll change it. Don’t worry about it.” Dave once told a story about himself being in the wrong place at the wrong time. He finished by saying, “I felt like a Lutheran in Rome.” That was followed by deep laughter at his own joke.
Ted Schroeder quotes: “You want to stay ahead of the curve here, but only about 10 minutes.” “If you want to do an advanced design, cover the rear wheels. If you want to do a really advanced design, cover all four.”
“The checkered flag has dropped and we gotta get started.”
“Paint won’t save it.”
“That’s the kind of front end that put rambler out of business.”
“You’re only as good as your last sketch.”
“Being young don’t make you smart.” Bill Mitchell.
“Communications are improving. And they are getting better, too.” Roger Smith.
Shoe by MacNelly from 1987 pokes fun at the look-alike sedans from the era.