By George Prentice

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“They say” that Steve Small was very eccentric at Art Center and that he slept on a bed of straw. “They say” he had a summer internship at FoMoCo; and rather than find a place to live he slept in the Styling building every night.

Chuck Jordan hired him to work in Chevrolet Design. Chuck was enamored with his work. Steve dressed like an ivy-league dandy, except for his boots, which were broken down.

Steve was chosen to represent GM Design Staff for the development of “The Demolition Man” starring Sylvester Stallone. GM offered to provide a dozen futuristic cars, not just the police car. Steve probably helped with the storyboards. Steve was a good fit with Hollywood and decided to leave GM. Renault then lured him to France.

I never did work with him, but I was interested in following his career. Steve bought a high-powered motorcycle in France and died in a one vehicle accident in France in 1996 at age 30.

In order for GM to take notice of the fate of this former employee, I put together a twenty foot storyboard highlighting his work. I blew up his ID photo and added the dates 1966–1996. It was on display for several weeks in the first floor hallway, and then moved to the second floor hallway for several weeks.  Many people paused to reflect; some said it was the nicest thing Design Staff had ever done. I did not say that I had done it, for Steve Small, a true visionary.

 

18 Comments
  1. Stan Mott

    A genuine creative talent and excellent artist. Pity that he got picked off so soon.

  2. Brian C, Baker

    Great to see Steve recognized for his all to briEf but brilliant work!

  3. David

    Steve was a rare individual with special talent and energy. Within minutes of meeting him as a sculptor intern at GM design, he shared the story about his time at Ford. I really thought at the time he left the company, that GM design should have fought harder to keep a talent like his on staff.

  4. Clark LIncoln

    Steve was way ahead of the times with his sketches of robotics and such. This type of creative sketching has become very popular since Star Wars and other si fi films made these kind of gadgets popular – but Steve was one of the early pioneers in this culture. Anyone remember him from school?

  5. Andy Hanzel

    I worked with Steve on Demolition Man…What a talent! ; What a shame….RIP Steve…

  6. DICK RUZZIN

    Steve came to work with us in Cadillac Studio. We were finished with the Seville and the Eldorado and were near the end of the Deville program. He sketched a seres of wheels and we chose one to be developed and released for production. He was really happy as that was his first contribution to a production car and he was able to see what it took to go from a wild sketch on the fringe to a design that could be built.

    Possibly the most artistically talented person that I ever worked with he always was upbeat, he dressed way ahead of the curve on fashion, he was a unique and special person.

    I was about to leave Cadillac and one summer morning I was on The Hill in Grosse Pointe and ran into Steve and his parents who were in town to visit him in his new apartment in Greektown. When I met them I could see immediately why he was so open, friendly and positive. They were very nice and obviously very proud of him, they glowed when they heard of his many achievements. We had fun talking about his work and they seemed to really enjoy the insight.

    I had seen Steves work several times while he was in the Advanced studios. It was clearly the work of someone who had a grasp of art history. That is how he decorated his apartment above a bar on a corner in Greek Town. He liked the sound of the music that came through the floor and with the presence of Steves art it looked like old SoHo in New York when you looked out the windows.

    He bought a bronze Alpha Romeo Montreal and seemed very happy about it. I later found out that he was working for Renault in Paris when I met him at one of the shows and then later that he had been sadly killed in a tragic motor cycle accident. He normally did not drive the bike to work but there had been a bus strike and he took it that day.

    Paris was probably perfect for Steve, he was very curious and would enjoy all the art museums and historic sights. Opel Design had a mutual truck program later with Renault Design and I was able to hear about Steve from the designers that he
    had worked with. They had been very happy to have him working with them, I am sure as he was an admired inspiration for everyone around him as he had been at Design.

    If we could see Steve today he would be wearing fashion years ahead of everyone else with those same boots, he would be enthusiastic and fun. He made a big and good impression on a lot of people.

    DICK RUZZIN

  7. Ken Pickering

    I retired from GM Design in early 1989 so I do not remember Steve Small. But this Designer was a wonderful and talented artist with a great knowledge of the human form as indicated by his sketches. He was also skilled in capturing in a few lines the images of people like that one of Chuck Jordan. All of this reminds me a bit of the work of Stan Mott. Thank you George Prentice for posting this information.

  8. Pete Petersen

    I was very lucky to have Steve in my classes at Art Center, he and I started at the same time. He was so advanced. I remember his cracked egg car, it was so wild we could not believe he could make a 1/5 scale model of it! and he did ! Steve graduated a term before I did and took the job at GM Design Staff. When I arrived there in 1989 he was the fist to call me and show me the ropes. I will remember him forever. I can only imagine the vehicles he would be designing if he were here today. Sadly missed.

  9. Jared Rundell

    Thank you for posting Steve’s work. He was an inspirational talent, as a student and professionally. After his Greektown loft, he converted a Huntington Woods dentist office into a home, complete with that Alfa Montreal in the garage. I remember thinking how “Steve Small cool” it all was. One of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet. I miss him.

  10. Thanks for giving us in the outside world another interesting story that shaped Automotive History.

  11. vahe Bouldoukian

    I knew Steve at Peugeot design, he was part of my team and the only american designer until my arrival at peugeot. He died the very day my son was born at. Yes his cowboy boots were legendary. He was extremely creative and a superlative talent. To correct the mistake in the article, he wasn’t enticed by Renault but by Peugeot in Paris.

  12. Suzanne Small Hungerford

    I am Steve’s sister. Yesterday is what would’ve been Steve’s 50th birthday…. And for whatever reason this information just got forwarded to my mom on that day. What a true gift to see these images and all of the comments. Our family relishes in every mention of Steve’s name and in every photo we have of him, and to see these new sketches is truly amazing. My heart is full!

  13. jan Small

    Thank you for publishing George Prentice’s article about our son, Steve. He truly was unique! We were surprised when a friend from Paris sent the link to us after two years. I am also wondering why we did not hear from Art Center when George’s show was on display. We established a memorial scholarship there for trans design students with his life insurance from Peugeot. None the less, we were thrilled to finally see it and perhaps be able to thank those of you who responded and gave us such a wonderful gift. Best of luck to all you “car guys”. We miss having you all around. Jan and Larry

  14. Jeff Perkins

    Steve and I started at GM at the same time. I can say he was the most visionary designer I had ever met. He was on the next level!! I remember the sketches posted above, and many others. Great talent.

    He was also a fun, kind guy who was a blast to hang out with.

  15. Mehdi

    I still work for Peugeot until now , and i clearly remember Steve Small . Quite tall guy, long hair and famous long boots. He was well-known as a great Artist ! So beautiful and creative drawings ! .

  16. Bill Rohlfing

    I worked with Steve on the GM Ultralight Showcar. He was the creative genius for the interior. He was a truly gifted and natural artist. He could draw pure organic, human form like no other! He and Owen Resh were the two renegades of Design Staff, pure artist, unconventional dress and personal style. Both were creative visionaries and it was so interesting to be in their company and see them work.
    I was so sad to hear of his passing. He was on his was on his way to being amongst the greatest automotive industrial designers of all time. I was privileged to know Steve!
    God bless you young man.

  17. Hugh Robinson

    I remember Steve from the time I was on exchange to Tech Center from Opel.
    As everyone has said he was a great talent and also a genuinely nice guy who radiated a wonderfully positive attitude. I was the designer sent from Opel to Renault in Paris to work on the W83 Trafic/Vivaro program that Dick Ruzzin mentioned (Hi Dick, hope you are doing well!) and remember meeting a Citroen designer and asking him to let Steve know I would love to get together with him for a beer. I was absolutely shocked to hear he had died in a motorcycle accident a few months earlier……
    I have no doubt that Steve would have significantly influenced our industry and perhaps some others with his amazing talent and seeing some of his work now only reinforces my view. He was a real car guy too – I remember talking to him about the Montreal… A great loss, but the people who met him will never forget him….

  18. jan Small

    On the 20th anniversary of Steve’s death we want to thank all who have made comments on Dean’s Garage about Steve. It helps to know his talent and persona are not forgotten. Larry and I feel fortunate to have been a part of his life.

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