Remembering, Celebrating, and Thanking—Especially Thanking

by Helen V Hutchings, Topeka, Kansas


Buick Influencers

Care to hazard a guess how many have been at Buick’s helm since 1899 to well into the 2000s starting, of course, with David Dunbar himself and not counting Charlie Nash twice? Or which two of those twenty-three men guided Buick, thus influencing the most cars and the division’s future far past their respective tenures?

Here are your hints: one guided Buick 1933 to 1948, the other from 1986 to 1997. Of one many words have been written, of the other very little. Can you name these men?

One of the men—the one about whom much has been written—was Harlow Curtice. The other, equally accomplished and influential was also truly self-effacing preferring that the light shine on his various team members and the Buick cars themselves. These words, then, will focus on Edward H Mertz, the man, his career and accomplishments—and his life.


The Man

Wayne Kady, head of one of Buick’s two exterior design studios during Ed Mertz’s years as the division’s General Manager, expressed it well: “In all my years with GM, I never worked for or with a man who valued all employees as much as Ed Mertz did. He made each and every one feel as though we mattered. He would hear each person out whether or not he was in agreement for he truly wanted to hear and understand each person’s perspective.”

Few knew, for Ed rarely spoke of himself, that he had been born into a GM-family as his dad had, after numerous other assignments and employers ranging from Hudson to finally GM, become as he neared his own retirement in the mid 1990s a Chev truck engineer with, as Ed had related to me in 1999, “a heavy hand in designing those 1994-95 bodies.”

His parents made sure their son’s desire to attend South Bend, Indiana’s Notre Dame University was fulfilled and Ed rewarded their support as the 50s morphed into the next decade by achieving his Chemical Engineering degree. Equally important during those growing up years, his folks had ensured Ed would be left- and right-brain accomplished. Ed recalled, “Dad was developing photos he’d taken in a makeshift darkroom when I was around 6 or 7. I was fascinated. My interest continued through school years and I was a staff photographer for Notre Dame’s paper as well as its yearbooks.”

Once hired by GM, job demands took precedence although, over the next years/decades, Ed explored and developed other hobby skills ranging from making fine cabinetry and researching family genealogy. This latter interest brought about an interaction with a Buick Club of America member’s mother that Roberta Vasilow was only too willing to share as it has meant so much to her family.

“Ed and my mom connected when she was doing genealogy on Prodigy. He had found a relative that she had found so they became email friends. He then sent her the Dunham/Gustin book and autographed it to her. With Mom now gone I have that book. The next time Mom ‘saw’ Ed was when he was featured in the video about the then-new ’95 Riviera that was shown at the BCA’s 1993 Great Lakes Regional Meet in Flint. Mom pointed at the screen saying ‘I want!’” Roberta, herself now retired from a career as part of GM’s engineering staff went on to explain: “I was promoted in 1994 so the first company car I ordered was 1995 Riv and Mom got it. Today that Riv has around 97K on it and is my daily driver!”


Career and Accomplishments

Summer 1956, a job for a few weeks in a Chevy test lab gave Ed an idea of what working within the corporation was like. As graduation from Notre Dame with a degree in chemical engineering degree neared, he received employment offers from the likes of DuPont and Union Carbide as well as Chev, with the latter offering not only a better starting salary but a better position as well.

It was truly “right place, right time” as Ed described it to Ellen Grimes of the Dallas Times Herald in a recorded interview in 1990. “When the first emissions laws were enacted, all the carmakers suddenly needed engineers with very strong chemistry backgrounds. My name came up…as an employee with both engine design experience and a chemical engineering degree.”

Then lady luck intervened too in the form of a manager who was willing to take a chance on Ed succeeding by “moving me out of engines and gave me the opportunity to work on the ‘whole car’, which is balancing and integrating all systems to come up with a total vehicle that makes sense to the driver and has the qualities buyers want. It is a fascinating series of design challenges and not something many engineers get experience with so early on. It was exciting being involved in the beginning of a completely new kind of technology.”

GM proceeded to put one challenge after another before Ed, at last rewarding him—and us—naming him in 1986 with a corporate vice presidency and specifically as the General Manager of Buick Motor Division from which he would retire ten years later after a total of 40 years with the corporation. But, oh my, from a Buick perspective, what a decade it would be and how it would effect and guarantee Buick’s future!

Again from Ed’s conversation with Dallas newspaper reporter Ellen Grimes, “A lot of time was spent [in the beginning] focusing on the historic strengths of Buick. Getting that message relayed throughout the division was a challenge. It takes time to get an overall product theme translated to every employee. Buick holds an historic place in American life. Historically Buicks have also displayed a certain style. You could tell a Buick from blocks away.”

With that, Ed embarked on assembling a management team and each, in turn, imbued their staffs with an understanding of Buickness. First vehicle “out the door” under the new regime was Regal, soon followed by Reatta, then the elegant and graceful Park Avenue and, fulfilling the powerful mandate, the super-charged Ultra. Then there was the return of Roadmaster; first the wagons in 1991, then the sedans the following year. Could it get better? How about the totally re-styled and –engineered Riviera! And don’t forget the emphasis on quality of build—all of which earned the JD Power Quality awards year after year especially with LeSabre.

By the time Ed Mertz retired concurrently from Buick and GM early in 1997, his influences and policies had built the division so solid and strong, and with sales to match, that even as the auto industry and GM subsequently experienced extreme challenges that ultimately resulted in both downsizing and corporate reorganization, Buick remained one of the surviving marques. Thank you Ed.


At last…time

Ed Mertz was an equally able engineer and administrator, traits normally attributed to those termed left-brained. But he was also one of those less common individuals whose right-brain was equally dominant. In retirement he had the time to let his artist’s heart and soul—and eye—have free rein.

Once again picking up the camera, albeit now a digital one, Ed roamed Arizona to which he and wife Alice had moved. They also took a People-to-People/InFocus trip to Cuba. The images Ed created were, and are, special. So special that the City of Scottsdale asked Ed to create a special 12-foot-long, 2-feet-tall Pano image to install at the beginning of the McDowell Mountains Bajada Nature Trail. And the Mayo Clinic presented his work in a one-man show early in 2008, with another in the hospital the following year. Ed self-published books showcasing his award-winning images. One of those books presented the sights and cars they had seen on the streets during that visit to Cuba. All may be viewed and admired by visiting the pages of

Time eventually runs out for all of us. Ed Mertz, who had been born March 12, 1937, went to his reward this past August 20th (2020). Just as he valued the heritage of Buick kept alive by BCAers everywhere, so too should club members and others value and thank Ed Mertz for enabling and ensuring Buick remains viable to this day.


Ed Mertz’s GM Job Assignments/Career Synopsis

June 1, 1956 Summer in CEC Lab, Physical Test Area C

June 3, 1957 Summer in CEC Lab, Physical Test Area

June 2, 1958 Summer in CEC, Milford Proving Ground

June 10, 1959 Summer in CEC Lab, Dynamometers

June 16, 1960 Junior Engineer, College grad in Training Program (CGIT) Flint Manufacturing Plant

September 1, 1960 CGIT Tonawanda Engine, Forge and Foundry

January 1, 1961 CGIT Flint Assembly Plant

April 1, 1961 CGIT Detailing

July 1, 1961 Designer, Detailing

August 23 to November 26, 1961 Military Leave of Absence

December 1, 1961 Designer, 6-cylinder group (Ed Pugh)

April 1, 1962 Designer, Air cooled group (Bob Parenteau)

April 1, 1963 Senior Layout Man, Air cooled group

July 16, 1963 Lateral Training Program, Materials Engineering (Bob Harvie)

January 1, 1964 Laterial Training Program, Computer Group (Ernie De Fusco)

July 1, 1964 Senior Project Engineer

September 16, 1966 Design Engineer, heading smog group

November 1, 1967 Assistant Staff Engineer, smog group

June 1, 1968 Staff Engineer, Passenger and components

August 1, 1970 Chief Engineer, Engines

July 1, 1971 Chief Engineer, Research and Development

November 1, 1972 Chief Engineer, Camaro and Nova

November 1, 1973 Chief Engineer, Corporate J car

November 1, 1974 Chief Engineer, Corporate car programs, transferred to engineering staff from Chevrolet

November 1, 1977 Assistant Chief Engineer, Pontiac

May 1, 1979 Chief Engineer Body Engineering, Fisher Body

December 1, 1980 Chief Engineer Passenger cars, Chevrolet

November 1, 1981 Chief Engineer, Buick

July 1, 1984 Chief Engineer, Detroit Product Team

August 1, 1985 Product Manager, BOC Lansing

August 1, 1986 to retirement on February 1, 1997 General Manager, Buick and GM Vice president

Edward H Mertz; Buick General Manager August 1, 1986 to February 1, 1997

Ed Mertz (far right) and Tom McRae, GAR’s director, stand out front of Buick Headquarters in Flint, Michigan beside the 1989 Great American Race (Norfolk, Virginia to Anaheim, California) pace car, a 1990 Reatta convertible.

Ed Mertz at the Reatta introduction to the San Francisco Bay Area press in 1988.

Ed with the Pano he created at the McDowell Mountains Bajada trailhead.

About Helen V. Hutchings

My first toe-wetting into the collectible car world in 1979 was precipitated by my dad’s unexpected and sudden death. A car was the only tangible thing he left. But what a car and one I had loved since the day he acquired it, a 1939 Buick Model 41C—a driver, not a showcar. Quickly I joined the Buick Club of America and my local chapter too, then not long thereafter AACA and CHVA in order to learn more.

As the years passed, that first toe-wetting became a deeper and deeper dive including being elected president of BCA in 1984, becoming the first female president of a national single marque car club. Renée Cram LeHew had been the first female president of the national club, the multi-marque CHVA.

A scant few years later Buick Motor Division hired me to provide public relations services on contract; my official title Western Regional PR with “the West” defined as everything west of Mississippi River thus I was the entire Western Region PR “staff” for a decade coinciding with the years Ed Mertz headed the division.

During those years Pete Biro served as Drive! magazine’s editor, I wrote a regular column on “Art, Books, Collectibles” and produced another publication focused on artists and their automotive art creations. Post GM/BMD I became the managing editor and a major contributor (also copy editor and proof reader) for a beautiful, but sadly, short lived magazine called Auto Aficionado whose owner/publisher and editor had, sadly, “arranged” to pay themselves while stiffing the rest of us. Such are life’s vagaries!

While working for Auto Aficionado I became acquainted with AOAI and its Avanti Magazine which I now serve as copy/proofing editor and contributing writer in addition to writing articles and book reviews for a number of other publications including and the Society of Automotive Historians’ Journal.

  1. Jon B Albert

    I had the good fortune to step into the role of Chief Designer for Buick Interior Studio in July 1994, stepping into shoes that had been capably filled by Paul Tatseos and working alongside Wayne Kady and Bill Porter, both great mentors in all things Buick; I believe the Buick studio teams enjoyed a special relationship with the division perhaps above a level of many other studio groups, and I believe that it was in large part because of Ed Mertz. Studio reviews were always conducted with a sense of open-mindedness and while the division did indeed cater to a legacy of more conservative customers, there was a keen appetite to entertain ideas that would improve their competiveness in the mid-luxury markets domestically and in the rapidly-expanding Chinese market, which under Ed’s foresight, ultimately saved Buick as a surviving division in the 2009 bankruptcy. When I started with them, the 1995 Riviera was being previewed with the media; spearheaded by Andrew Hanzel and Eric Clough under studio leadership by Bill Porter, and with an interior by Karel Moravek under Paul Tatseos’ guidance, the ’95 Riv set new metrics for design and engineering for the Buick line-up, again, all due to Ed’s vision and his deep regard for the importance that good design vision played in innovative product development and execution. Working for Ed as General Manager of Buick, I felt privileged to be part of such a great organization.

  2. My car history includes a ’69 LaSabre and a 2000 Park Avenue. I loved both! Great cars!

  3. Nick houvras

    Hello Hellen,

    I sculpted in Buick Two studio where Wayne Kady was the Chief Designer. In 1998 there was a message that those Sculptors who wanted to learn how to use the computer and design different car parts could join the new group. I accepted and after eight weeks started working with the Wheel group. On my lunch time I created a book on the computer with the Alias Program. Called, “The face that Launched a thousand Chips”. My daughter had a Swiss book Store in Switzerland Build two books from the prints I had made of faces on the computer. I read that you worked for an art book publisher. If you would like to see the book I can send you a disc of the book. Perhaps you have connections for publishing it.

  4. Robert Mishkin

    Dear Ms. Hutchings,

    Thanks for this insightful and clear comments about my photo buddy and friend, Ed. I first met ED in about 2002 at different camera and photoclubs meetings. In 2006, he joined a weekly coffee group which continues to this day. Over the years, his calm demeanor and perspective were so clear. He will be missed. I was there when we saw his MAYO Hospital and Clinics unveilings and the development of the McDowell Mountain Nature Center panoramic image. I was honored, as well as others members of our coffee group were, when Ed asked us to provide feedback when he was writing his book. However, my most personal perspective of Ed is one that is personal. I showed him a summary of my Son’s work resume and he told me my son must have inherited some of those skills. This meant a lot for me. He is missed.

    Bob Mishkin

  5. Ed was truly unique among all the General Managers with whom I worked during my 35 years at GM Design. He was not only a talented engineer but had a high level of artistic ability and design sensitivity, which helped Buick achieve a high level of success during his time at the division. As a designer I always appreciated his understanding of the importance of design as a major component of the process and he always gave equal consideration to our ideas along with engineering, marketing and marketing requirements.

    Bill Porter, Wayne Kady and I were fortunate to work together as a design team during most of Ed’s time at Buick this was part of Ed’s long term planning. I think this long-term designer arrangement led to a more consistent and effective design process over the ten or more years we were together. This was dramatically different from other GM Divisions where designers were reassigned from one division to another after only a few years and as a result, our team had a more thorough understanding of Buicks long heritage and needs, designing Buicks became second nature to us.

    I can wholeheartedly agree with Wayne Kady’s comment about Ed in Helen Hutchings remembrance “He made each and every one of us feel as though we mattered“

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