My Journey into the World of Automotive Art

by Bruce Wheeler

Armed with a degree from MSU in industrial Design/Automotive design, while not exactly Art Center College, I was fortunate enough to join the staff at GM Styling in 1957 as a Sculptor and later became a Technical Stylist.

I think it was the best of times to have been there. The new Tech Center was an incredible facility for its time. The personnel they selected were the most talented, creative, enthusiastic guys on the planet. From the designers to the old world craftsmen in the shops, they were the best! And styling is was what sold cars!

I learned much about design, manufacturing processes, materials, and working as a member of a team.

My later life activities benefited greatly from those lessons. 

As far back as the 1960s, I had created some whimsical impressions of cars in hand formed metal. These were primitive cartoons, intentionally in distressed condition. I saw humor in many of the designs, and appreciated that they were “State-of-the-Art” for their time.

Automobile Quarterly began publication in 1962. It had a very important influence on my eventual direction. Many of the featured photos and editorials were of cars that no longer existed or were in private collections or museums. I was fascinated with the variety of designs, the innovation, the creativity, the evolution. I was not so concerned with the mechanical advances, as I was about how those changes affected the shapes and visual aesthetics of the car.

1938 Delahaye 165

1906 Locomobile

First American car to win an international race.

By 1990, I had accumulated skills in jewelry making, welding, woodworking, casting, mold-making, illustration, forensic courtroom presentation, and exhibit design. I was also aware of a growing interest in the Automobile as an “Art Form.” The active Artists were mostly very good painters.

As an exhibit designer I had learned that many clients responded and understood a concept better in the form of a 3-dimensional model than even a very good illustration or painting. So, it seemed it was time for me to see if I could find an audience for my automotive sculptures.

By the mid 1990s I had produced enough work to show and set off to exhibit my work. It took some time to gain credibility and be accepted into the better shows.

A chance encounter with Leon Mandell of AutoWeek magazine at a show was an ”Epiphany.” Leon approached me in my booth and asked me to tell him the story behind a piece, a derelict cab-over semi-truck. I had no idea who Leon was. I blanked, responded it did not have a story. Leon ruffled! of course it does! He began imagining events the truck might have known, midnight truck stops, dangerous snow covered roads, hitchhikers, breakdowns, final abandonment when too old.

Later I realized that what he was suggesting to me was the sculptures have the ability to communicate.

1928 Stutz Blackhawk LSR

First wind tunnel tested car.

1930 Mercedes Benz 500 SSK by Count Trossi

The sculpture suggests the design process, from line drawing, to lines in space, to forms in space, designed around the intended chassis.

Today my sculptures are more complex, more detailed. My skills have improved, but there are still limits to what shapes I can create directly in metal. 

I had chosen direct metal forming fabrication instead of the more traditional lost-wax bronze process because I retained complete control of the art without the use of a foundry.

Copper has become my primary material for forming and patinas. The copper sculpture has now become the “canvas” to which the patina “painting“is applied. The patinas are intended to suggest an experienced surface.

I have several pieces where the use of abstraction is employed, the intention being having the viewer mentally complete the impression. The Count Trossi Mercedes and the Delahaye Type 165 are examples.

The intent of my sculpture is to pay homage to the creators of these cars, and to suggest something about their histories, experiences and stories. I want the viewer to supply his imagination about possible experiences and become the “storyteller.”

It has been an incredible Journey. I have met enthusiasts from all over the world and had the pleasure to show my work alongside of some of the best automotive artists in the world.

If you’d like to contact Bruce, send Dean’s Garage an email and I’ll forward it to him.

1908 Blitzen Benz LSR

Bronze-filled resin cast 36”x28”.

1923 Miller 122

 Indianapolis 500 race car.

1910 Buick “60” Special “Bug” Racer

1950s Bumper Cars

A nostalgic reminder of what your first experience behind the wheel might have been.

1909 Fiat “Beast of Turin”

The Fiat has become my signature piece. The first attempt was created in about 1960. I worked from two photos to create a three-dimensional impression of the car.

1927 Bugatti Type 35B

1932 Gilmore Special

Indianapolis 500 entrant.

1907 Thomas Flyer

Winner of the 1908 New York to Paris Race.” The Hollywood parody, “The Great Race,” was loosely inspired by the actual race. Natalie Wood did not participate in the 1908 race—nor was there a pie fight.

Voisin Hood Ornament

…which I Have Named “Gabriels’ Metaphor,” rather than a “chicken.”  I believe this is an Egyptian Falcon. The Falcon, The Sun God “Ra” was believed to be the Protector of the King (i.e., occupants of the car). Now add the Scarab beetle to the radiator. The Scarab is also a Egyptian good luck symbol and Protector of the King through the underworld at death. So…What do you Think?

1910 Peugeot VX5

1909 Blitzen Benz

Grasse Galactic Cruiser

My Irrepressible friend Herb Grasse before his death asked me to create a suitable conveyance for his journey. “To Infinity and Beyond!”

  1. Wow, you picked some great cars to interpret! Love the head-on plaque of the Blitzen Benz! (I wrote a book about it.)

    While great, the Lockhart Stutz was by many years NOT the first wind-tunnel-tested car.

  2. Clifford Ghetti

    These are exquisite, unique and beautiful expressions of the various vehicles, even the final conveyance for Herb Grasse. Thanks for finally revealing your talent to Dean’s Garage.

  3. BRUCE,
    How wonderful it all is!
    I had the great good fortune of working with Bruce in Preliminary Design Studio in the mid-sixties. He always had a smile and a great sense of humor and we were all saddened when he left to go West. He was often seen casting things in rubber on his lunch hour in the back room wearing a suit and tie.

    Thanks Gary for convincing him to show us all his exceptional art work. What a unique and special combination of skills and talents on display in these pieces, so elegant and beautifully executed. Thanks Bruce.

  4. LuVerne

    Bruce, how great to see your collection online.

  5. Clark Lincoln

    Wow! Impressive Stuff! Bravo Gary Smith for bringing this amazing talent to light. Bravo Bruce Wheeler!

  6. Dennis F. Otto

    Simply outstanding, magnificent art in 3D! The “feel” established in each piece, even in photographs, is amazing.

    The craftsmanship shows through in each and every piece of design work that the pictures illustrate. WOW!! 🙂 DFO

  7. John Sanderson

    Nice to see a good sample of your work! Very enjoyable…
    There is a model maker out East that builds limited runs of rare or uncommon models like the ’28 Stutz Miller LSR car. A fellow out of Ontario used to make great resin models in 1/24 scale too, of all the Pre-war classic Indy cars…
    You can’t have too many of these wonderful cars, in any form!
    Most enjoyable and thank you!!

  8. Joan

    Bruce, your talent & expertise is stellar! My great uncle, Cannonball Baker, would have been very interested in your work & interest in cars, etc. Good luck to you in your future endeavors. You have been blessed.

  9. Janice Lewis

    Seeing your creations in your home over the years was absolutely a treat for all who saw cars from their youthful years. You made treasured memories!!

  10. Bob Ackerman

    I was very pleased to see Bruce (my friend of many years) given recognition for his magnificent works of art. I’ve always felt his work showcases great creativity & fine craftsmanship. -Bob

  11. Don Leblanc

    Beautiful sculptures, that 1930 Mercedes in copper is just amazing to look at.

  12. Ed Matula

    WOW! A great talent. Love the detail of each. Working in metal is a special talent for making models.

  13. I have the “Barney Oldfield Golden Submarine” and a Miller Indy car that I’ve been told were your creations. Can you authenticate them for me? They are beautiful creations that I have in my Museum “Rhodium 45” in Mesa Az. Where can I see more of your creations?

    I forwarded your comment to Bruce.—Gary

  14. Bill Warner

    The Models are superb. A. Dano Davis here in Jacksonville owns that very Miller 122. Is one available to purchase? He also owns all of the Frank Lockhart memorabilia and trophies. I am sure he’d be interested in the Stutz if it was available. Many thanks. You do wonderful work.

  15. Your skills at convincing, Gary are almost as prolific as the output from Bruce. Exceptional work, both! Each piece shown here could easily and happily be poured over for hours.

    I adore the weathered look of the Bugatti, as if it’s just completed a hard fought race.

    The Beast of Turin, which I’ve seen the real thing, is a sight (and sound) to behold.

    For me, it’s a close race between the Buick Bug and Delahaye to scoop the winners garland. One can almost smell the engine oil and heat with the former. Whereas the abstract blue machine conjures up covering vast distances in luxury with a driver who cares only for the open road. This piece contains a lightness that sheds its metallic essence.

    Thanks for sharing your superb collection.

  16. Thomas Semple

    I had the pleasure of working with Bruce in the advanced studio headed by Dick Ruzzin. He was always bring in his sculptures, and each one brought a smile to every face. He is not only extremely talented, he is also a real gentleman. I’m so happy to see his work, especially the Voison Hood ornament! A delightfully viscous thing.

  17. Very impressive stuff Bruce!

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