It’s 1946 and you’re interested in car design but don’t know where to start. Back in Detroit Harley Earl is looking for car designers. Design schools are starting to ramp up, but in the mean time how do you prepare to be a car designer? And how does Harley Earl find you? Would you consider answering an ad in Popular Science and enroll in the Detroit Institute of Automotive Styling and taking a correspondence course through the Institute? If you made the cut, you could get hired at GM’s Art and Colour Section. That’s just how a lot of designers got their start back in those days. Geoff Hacker of Forgotten Fiberglass clued me in on the Detroit Institute of Automotive Styling which I had no previous knowledge. I thought the ads in the back of Popular Science were mostly bogus. I guess not. Apparently Popular Science was well read by those interested in car design. If you went through this program, email Dean’s Garage with your experiences.

Click on this link to download the Detroit Institute of Automotive Styling course in PDF format (39MB).

Detroit Institute Ad from Popular Mechanics, December, 1946


Gallery of images from the Detroit Institute of Automotive Styling Course.


The Detroit Institute has competition from Presto! Master Glaze; A booklet on How to Cut Rafters; Easy-to-Make Homecraft Novelties; Comb-A-Trim, the New Quick Trimmer (my parents had one of those); 12 pounds of Surplus Radio Parts; and NEW Cheap Oil Burner. “I don’t know what to do. Should I become a car stylist or make novelties at home? I gotta decide.”

  1. I didn’t go through the DIAS, but I do know a tiny bit about its history. It was run by designer Richard H. Arbib for Harley Earl when Arbib was the head of Harley Earl Corporation, Earl’s industrial design firm. I think Elia “Russ” Russinoff may have been a student, as he had an original copy of the correspondence course. I owned Richard Arbib’s archive, although unfortunately there was little information on the course in there. The original artwork for the first ad on your site, however, did survive.

    The correspondence school was a replacement for the “school” that Earl ran before the Second World War, which Homer LaGassey told me was really just a try-out period for potential talent. You were paid while you went to the “school,” which lasted for for a year. At the end of each semester there was a review period. If you passed the review, you were given a small raise. If not, you were thrown out. According to the Lamm/Holls book (page 106), several known designers went through this pre-war program, such as Elwood Engle, Gene Bordinat, Richard Arbib, Frank Bianchi, Homer LaGassey, Joe Oros, and Irv Rybicki.

    Arbib later taught an auto design course at Pratt, which I believe Norm James mentions in his new book.

    Hope that helps.

    Best Regards,

  2. “Make Big Bucks Designing Cars At Home In Your Spare Time!”
    Ah ya gotta love Popular Mechanics!

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