By Ron Will (John Jabobus reviews the event at the end of the post)
It doesn’t seem like it was over 50 years ago. For many it was over 60 years ago. This was a reunion of the builders of model cars for the Fisher Body Craftsman’s Guild. Back in the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s thousands of teenage boys would come home from school and head off into the basement, garage, or even kitchen tables to spend hundreds of hours focused on designing and building from scratch a 1/12 scale model car of their own design. Some were carved from balsa or poplar wood. Some were cast in plaster from clay models. But every model was aimed at winning the prestigious Fisher Body Craftsman’s Guild sponsored by GM. It often took the best part of a year to complete these models, in what was the largest youth contest of its time (along with the Soap Box Derby).
The contest started in 1930 when GM was looking for tool and die makers for their rapidly expanding car production. They chose the Fisher Body symbol of the Napoleonic Coach for the young men to duplicate as a scale model, requiring working windows, doors, fold out steps and full plush interiors. Any young boy with the skills to complete one of these elaborate coaches would be a good candidate for a tool and die job. This continued till 1937 when the famed GM Styling chief designer, Harley Earl, added automotive design to the contest. WWII stopped the contest till it was resumed in 1945. Shortly thereafter the Coach part of the contest was dropped in favor of only car models.
This proved to be a fertile field for GM to find fresh, new car design talent. Dozens and dozens of winners of the contest were fast tracked with lucrative scholarships to design schools and then into the secretive design studios of GM and other car companies. This was the dream contest for many teenagers who were looking for their dream job as car designer. Even if the young contestants did not go into car design, the scholarships paid the way for many who became architects, product designers, and even NASA project leaders.
The contest was not easy. To compete at the top levels, teenagers had to create bumpers, window trim, grills and hub caps out of polished aluminum or chrome plated brass. Clear plastic rod was cut and shaped into headlights. Even old red tooth brush handles were salvaged to become miniature tail lights. Although it was not required, many made full interiors and formed wrap around windows out of heated Plexiglas sheets in their mother’s oven. The hardest and most critical part that separated the winners from the losers was the paint job. It had to match the finest hand rubbed, flawless paint jobs coming out of any custom shop. To achieve these levels of craftsmanship, it took years of making model after model and checking your previous years score sheet to see where you could improve your score. Very few ever made it to the top on their first try. The contest was divided into Junior and Senior age divisions with equal prizes in each division to make it fair.
Original and stunning designs were also essential to gain the maximum points from the real GM car designers doing the judging. Just the right balance between futuristic and practical design was needed to appeal to the judges.
For the Guildsmen attending the October 2016 reunion, it was a real treat to see the largest number of top National and Regional winners ever assembled. Many of them were the teenagers who completed their career dreams as car designers. Eighty-eight models showed up, most looking as if they had been created just yesterday. Several were carefully restored to their original glory by their now 70-year-old builders who gave them the same care and pride as when they were teens.
The Art Center College of Design, in the hills above Pasadena, was the perfect venue for the Guild model display. This is the premier auto design school where many of the Guildsmen trained before going on to successful design careers. The Guild show was combined with the annual Art Center Car Classic show. The theme of this year’s show was “hand built,” a perfect theme for these 88 hand built designs. For those who attended, it was a once in a lifetime event that would be hard to repeat.
Photos by Ron Will
Photos by Terry Graboski
Pasadena Trip Report, 2016 Fisher-Guild Reunion
by John L. Jacobus
Over 88 Guild models were exhibited for private and public view, Saturday and Sunday October 22 & 23 and over 100 Guildsmen, and their guests, attended the two-day event in Pasadena. The models were mostly national scholarship winners from 1948 to 1968 and some were called “survivors” being over 60 years old. There was a horse-shoe shape of models around the perimeter of the ACCD student cafeteria for a private show and dinner Saturday evening Oct 22 and a public exhibition held Sunday Oct 23 in conjunction with the Art Center “Car Classic 2016” (the annual outdoor/campus car show of eclectic antiques, customs, hot rods and classics) right near the Rose Bowl.
There was a line-up of after-dinner speakers, most of whom were Guild national scholarship winners : David C. Goelz (1967N), Craig Hodgetts (1955S), Dr. Michael E. Barricks (1956N), Adrian A. “Tony” Bruno (1955N), Newell G. Bringhurst (1960N), Geza Loczi (1965N), Kenneth J. Dowd (1957-59 K), Richard R. Sylvester (1956N, 1957N), Anthony V. “Tony” Simone (1961N), Ronald Pellman (1960N) and Stewart Reed (1964R, 1968N). [Key Code: N = National Scholarship award; S= Styling Scholarship award; R= Regional award and K=State award.]
I met many VIPs from the Guild and auto design world like Art Russell (1957N), Bob Davids (1963N), Jim Powers, John Francis Marsh, Chuck Pelly (1954N), Stewart Reed (1964R, 1968N)and Bruce Meyer.
The Art Center College of Design (formerly the Art Center School until 1967) has always been a mecca for aspiring young auto designers. This is where young people receive professional training to succeed as industrial designers working for the auto manufacturers (among many other design disciplines). The Fisher-Guild as envisioned by Harley J. Earl, and GM Styling, was to be a talent search and recruiting program to help identify, early-on, teenagers (12-19) who could successfully express themselves artistically/aesthetically and potentially succeed as auto designers. Then, the idea was to provide scholarships so their innate skills and abilities could nurtured.
If you entered the Guild you learned about this premier, world-famous design school – called Art Center School – which trained young aspiring auto designers. If you entered the Guild competition, your model designs and awards would help fill-out your application portfolio and if you attended ACS, for even one single semester like me, you learned first-class, professional model building techniques. These tools and techniques potentially translated in to further success in the Guild – maybe a national scholarship. Naturally, you needed that scholarship to help pay the tuition and attend the Art Center. Not surprisingly, the Art Center students captured their fair share of national scholarship awards offered by the Fisher-Guild.
There were two levels of natural synergy at work :
Level 1. (1) the love of automobiles and auto design, (2) Art Center graduates return to campus, (3) the place Guildsmen honed their design skill and abilities, (4) Stewart Reed, recipient of the 2016 Eyes on Design Life Time Achievement Award for Design (6/16), and (5) Charles W. Pelly the recipient of the 2004 Eyes on Design Life Time Achievement for Design – all together at this world famous design school and campus. Truly, an historic event.
Level 2. ACCD chauffeured us to the Peterson Automotive Museum in LA, pampered us at West Hollywood luncheon and a personal tour of the Bruce Meyer Collection by the man himself – Bruce Meyer. We photographed many exotic cars on display at the magnificent “2016 Car Classic” held on campus Sunday October 23, 2016 and filled our cameras with Guild model images and Guildsmen. And, last but not least, reviewed the breath taking display of student art projects shown in the ACCD lobby. A complete library of the latest thought in aesthetics and design. Absolutely incredible to see and experience.
The reunion was shear heaven on earth—CARS, CARS, CARS, DESIGN, DESIGN, DESIGN ! WE LOVED IT !!
THIS WAS NOT THE LAST REUNION! A Guild Model exhibition is already set-up for September 2017 at the Dayton Concours d’Elegance. See you in Dayton !
John L. Jacobus, SAH #2220