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
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!”