“You’re leaving the Yankees for a long shot. Don’t expect to come back.”
Text by Anthony Rehling. Photographs courtesy of the author. Published in The Packard Cormorant magazine, summer 2000 issue.
Many thanks to Bill Wagner.
“Mr. Tony, I found you in the trash pile.” This was our congenial janitor, Alvis, telling me he had some pictures of my crew and me. It was near the time of the Packard closedown in 1956. The packet of pictures included some late clay models of our hoped-for automobiles. At the time, I was the lead modeler in the Packard studio. There was also a separate studio for the Clipper line.
In 1953, when the new styling section of the Packard Motor Company was organized, Bill Schmidt was Head of Styling. He had recruited the talented Dick Teague from the studio of another company, where I also was employed.
Dick in turn invited Fred (Fritz) Wagner, a master modeler, to join Packard and to head the clay modeling department.
I asked Fritz if there would be an opening for me. Dick called me personally and said he’d be happy to have me on his team, but I’d have to understand he couldn’t guarantee anything. When I told my supervisor where I was going, he said, “You’re leaving the Yankees for a long shot. Don’t expect to come back.”
At age 30, the chance to advance my career while being part of the famous Packard Motor Car Company meant a lot to me. I was surprised at the great teamwork I found there. We all had a purpose and a stake in Packard’s success. Our high morale owed much to the people who made up Packard Styling.
Designing cars is fascinating, but also very stressful, and we all welcomed the occasional bit of comic relief. Much of this was supplied by Fritz Wagner, who had a gift for humor.
One morning, Fritz found a mouse trapped in a wastepaper basket, where it had clambered in pursuit of a Hershey candy wrapper. Being a humanitarian, Fritz amused everyone by fashioning a parachute from his bandanna handkerchief and securing it to the mouse, who was quickly christened “Mickey.” Then Fritz stepped to the fire escape and, as we all watched, opened the bandanna and let Mickey drop to the parking lot below. A gentle breeze helped carry the reluctant rodent to a soft landing. The crowd cheered as the little fellow scurried under the nearest car. Fritz made a low bow and said, “I lost a bandanna, but I saved a life.”
Fritz and a draftsman had an ongoing competition as to which would have the most children. When I joined the department they were tied at six. The clay modelers rooted for Fritz, the artists for the draftsman. Three years went by. One day, the draftsman came into .the studio smiling and carrying a large box of cigars. With everyone watching, he offered Fritz a cigar, holding up seven fingers in a kind of victory gesture. “Congratulations,” said Fritz. He shook the man’s hand, then opened his desk drawer and pulled out two boxes of cigars. One was marked “Last Year” and the other “This Year.”
I developed great admiration for Dick Teague, whose ability as a designer was matched by his personal character. Honest and modest, Dick treated everyone alike. His rapport with his staff kept them loyal, while the respect with which he was held by management ensured their support. Dick was always composed and even tempered. Only once did I see him get angry. Typically, this involved our house comedian, Fritz Wagner.
One lunch hour Dick was assisting a designer on a complicated new steering wheel while Fritz and another modeler amused themselves kicking an empty battery box. In spite of repeated irritated looks from Dick, the kicking continued. Dick finally leaped from his chair and gave the box a powerful kick that should have sent it out the window. It didn’t get very far: Fritz had put the battery back in the box! Dick’s foot was better in a few days and things got back to normal.
Another incident involved my accidental discovery of Packard’s “secret” styling studio. I’d wanted a small space to do my paperwork and to keep odd parts used on clay models, like windshield wipers, mirrors, license plates and other accessories. I heard there was some office furniture on the third floor, and recruited another clay modeler to help me appropriate some of it. We took the freight elevator and pushed the third floor button. To our surprise the elevator stopped at the second floor, where someone wearing a modeler’s smock started wheeling in a table holding a quarterscale car model. Seeing us, he moved back quickly, but before the door closed I was able to observe a clay oven and some car renderings pinned to a wall.
Continuing our original quest we arrived at the third floor, where we found a nice desk, along with two large steel shelves. Taking these back to my first floor workspace, I made a little cubicle, backing the shelving with pegboard. My work was no sooner completed than Bill Schmidt strolled by. “Well, Tony,” he said, “they finally got you an office.”
My next visitors were Styling Vice President Edward Macauley and Dick Teague. Mr. Macauley prodded Dick to speak. They had come to discuss our “discovery” of the “secret studio” on the second floor. Dick had told Mr. Macauley I could be trusted not to reveal this place of unofficial work to the union, which had restrictions about such things—but what about the other clay modeler? I assured them that the other fellow had already agreed with me that we “hadn’t seen a thing.” I next expected them to ask where my new “office” had come from, so without explaining the details I said it had the approval of Bill Schmidt (albeit after the fact). They went away satisfied.
Dick Teague made a career designing modern cars, but he also loved antiques, and had restored a number of them, including a curved dash Oldsmobile and a Packard phaeton. He was likewise a member of the Society of Automotive Engineers. I am always proud to tell people at classic car events that I knew and worked for Dick Teague. Dick’s talents live on in his two sons, Richard and Jeffrey, who presently teach auto design at the Academy of Art College in San Francisco. Each has had extensive auto design responsibilities in German, Japan and the U.S.
While we were getting organized, the Predictor was fabricated in Italy. It was a great success at auto shows around the country. Making practical mass production 1957 models based on the Predictor then became our goal.
After many artist sketches and full-size drafting drawings, decisions are made as to a car’s wheelbase and height. Then, a full size clay model is started. Constant modifications of the original concept take place to improve appearance. Engineers use the model to determine the kind of tooling needed. A cost analysis is also made for each part, and for the total car. Practical matters are considered, such as contour of glass and metal that can be achieved in production. Even assembly problems can be determined from a full-size clay model.
We worked and reworked our clay models to that end, including a model for the mid-priced Clipper. A sports car was also planned. We got as far as full-size clay models for each. But when Packard merged with Studebaker our objectives changed. Our styling had to be compatible with that of the Studebaker Division. It was hard to accept our advanced Packard work being dropped to accommodate Studebaker bodies for our 1957–58 models.
With our two styling sections 200 miles apart, there were logistical problems. Once it became important to send a model from Detroit to the Studebaker Chippewa Plant in South Bend, Indiana. It was cold at the time and Bill Schmidt and others worried that if the clay got cold, it would shrink off of the wooden armature. So a large, heated horse van was rented for the journey. The clay did not fall off the wood armature because of the weather; it fell in 50-pound chunks because of road vibration on the 200-mile ride. It was a horrendous job to put “Humpty Packard” together again.
Half our clay modelers were flown in a company plane for two week stints to South Bend, Indiana. Then, those who stayed in Detroit were rotated to Studebaker. This lasted for quite a while. It dawned on me that the end was near when I saw our studio radiators being removed to be sold for scrap. The janitor’s remark, “I found you on the trash pile” was not encouraging. Some predicted that all would be well and we would just have to move to South Bend, to work on the combined Packard and Studebaker products. Instead management gave orders that all Packard styling material should be destroyed. It was then that Dick Teague and Ed Cunningham took many records and drawings to the Detroit Public Library. A quarter-scale model of the Predictor went to an executive’s home for safekeeping.
Packard styling modelers were required to join the United Auto Workers. As a coincidence, our shop steward’s name was Bill Schmidt, same as our Head of Styling. This caused confusion as both were the Good Bill Schmidt or the Bad Bill Schmidt, depending on which side was talking. The union opposed management’s decision to leave Detroit, and management felt the UAW didn’t realize how bad the situation was. This was partly the fault of their optimistic releases to the press.
Finally the day came when the union was to tell us where we stood. After the union meeting, I asked one of our modelers (an artist recently arrived from Europe) if he understood what went on.
“I only understand one word,” he said, “but it was enough.”
“What was the word?” I asked
In January 1957, we were all terminated. Bill Schmidt gave all of us who had stayed to the end complimentary recommendations. I went back to toolmaking, my former occupation, for a year. Then I got into another design center and stayed twenty years until early retirement. I still sculpt as a hobby, and reminisce about my Packard experience. At the time of Packard’s demise, half of the Packards built were still on the road. Over forty years later, there are so many Packard enthusiasts that you can still “Ask the Man Who Owns One!”
Automotive ad agencies refer to the position a model occupies in car photos as either the “New York Side” or the “Detroit Side.” The “New York Side” means that the model stands between the car and the camera; the “Detroit Side” means that the car is more important than the model. The photo below is an egregious example of the “New York Side” showing a group who should have known better: Packard’s stylists. We not only stood in front of the 1957 fiberglass mockup (inspired by the Predictor)—we totally obscured it!
Left to right: Dave Barr, Bill Braathen, Don Beyreis, Don Bailey, George Krispinsky, Bill Schmidt, Duane Bohnstedt, Fred Wagner, Stan Thorwalden, Ed Cunningham, and Riley Quarles. Dick Teague was on vacation that day, and the Studebaker group—Duncan McRae, Randy Faurot, Bob Temple, and Ed Hermann were in South Bend. Page opposite: a graphic way of showing our organization. There were actually many more individuals in the various departments. Trim and Color later broke into “development” (Neill Brown, Jr.) and “mastering and releasing” (Bob McNerney).
“Ask the Man Who Worked There.”
It was the best of times and the worst of times. In the beginning things looked rosy; in the end Styling was left almost alone in a cavernous plant. In between came progress and accomplishment.
Text by Ed Cunningham. Photographs Courtesy of the Author.