Chasing the Future, Part 3—The Australian Experience

by Bunker Bradley, 45/14/2018. Published by Permission. A Dean’s Garage Exclusive.

I am Bunker Hill Bradley, Art Center grad-1979; GM designer (1979-1983); Honda HRA Sr. Designer (1983-1984); Ford CCC General Manager (1984-1986). My journey of living and working abroad at GM Holden Australia, GMH (1986-1987), really began a few months earlier at Ford CCC.

My good friend, Rick Teague (Sr. Modeler and son of Dick Teague, VP of Design at American Motors for 26 years) wanted to get work in Australia and did not know how to go about it. Incidentally, I went through Art Center with Jeff Teague as well. I offered to call around for Rick to see if I could get him a job there. Well, no modeler jobs were to be found but, when I called GMH, the operator put me through to the Chief Designer, a visiting American, Ted Schroeder. Now Ted was my old boss in Buick 1 (Assist. Chief Designer Buick 1 with Chief, Bill Porter) and it was his last day at Holden. We talked for some time and he suggested I come to OZ and recommended me.

I applied for the position and a few days later Holden offered me a job there as Sr. Designer. I was going from General Manager to Sr. Designer, but the pay was better and I was sure I could advance quickly once there, so I agreed. They organized a work visa for me and I was off to Australia to “create the future.” It was a very long flight there, some 18 hours in the air with a stopover in Auckland, NZ, literally half way around the world! Holden put me up in a downtown hotel for several months until I could get on my feet and learned the ropes.

Even though everyone spoke English, I really had to learn the local lingo, “Australian English.” They all spoke ‘Stralian, mate.’ By the way, they do not cook “shrimp on the barbee;” it’s “snags (sausage) on the barbee.” Once in the studio, the Chief asked me if I wanted to do a “Capt’n Cook?” “You know Captain Cook came to Australia and sailed from inlet to inlet to have a look around!” Do a “Capt’n Cook and take a look” around the building! To my amazement, the building and studios looked just like a smaller version of GM in Detroit. I found the management style was top-heavy like Detroit and the issues/challenges/problems were the same too! What had I gotten myself into?? However, I settled down and got to work.

On the positive side, I found everyone very friendly, hard working and eager to do their best—a great crew at GMH. I quickly adapted. I had only been in OZ a week, when I received a call from the Australian Immigration Services saying, “There is a problem with your visa and it has been revoked. We are sorry to inform you that you will be deported!” This did not sound right and after further discussions, I found out that it was just a joke from some American designer at Ford named Herb Grasse (designer of the original Batmobile and the Bricklin). Wow, I had only been in the country a week and someone was playing jokes on me. Well, I finally met Herb at a Ford function and we became very good friends. He was without a doubt the wildest guy I had ever met. Later on I hired him to be my Chief Designer at Nissan. We did the joint Pintara Sportswagon program in Japan before Nissan, which was a Ford/Nissan shared platform program in 1987.

Working in the studio at Holden with Phil Zmood, Norm Thurling, Peter Nankurvis, Mike Chester, John Heart, and Dave Ferguson and others was great. In fact, Tom Matano was an American Designer at Holden at one time and some of his sketches were still around. I worked briefly with Leo Pruneo (former Director of Design at Holden) on one assignment when he visited Holden.

I worked with the famous Australian Peter Brock on his last SS Commodore sports sedan, the VL SS. I was the designer on assignment to his garage to design the latest sports kit for the super V-8 VL Commodore. To my surprise, he did not have any facilities to design or model the kit. We improvised on everything, including working in a storage garage. I ended up working with Vern Mendes, a veteran modeler who had since retired from Holden. Vern put a light bulb in a cardboard box to heat the clay and sold his ceramic ashtrays (shaped like a mouth with the tongue hanging out as a butt rest!) to anyone who looked interested. He always had half a dozen ashtrays spread out over the floor like a fea-market sale.

Working with Vern as OK, but he made major design changes when I was not there, so I had to put a stop to that right quick. We finished the sports kit and it is one for the history books now! It was the last Supercar that Brock produced for Holden due to a shady magnet-box he put in the engine bay…to boost performance? Holden could not warrant the mystery magnets and ended a long collaboration with the famous Australian Peter Brock.
I soon found myself being promoted to Chief Designer of all Exterior models and ushered in the new VN, VP, VQ Commodore, the revived Ute and Astra programs. I really appreciated the personal letter that I received from Chuck Jordan at the time. He congratulated me on becoming Chief Designer and wrote about his confidence in me to do a good job down under.

About this time, I was attending a lot of engineering meetings and found that my American English for car components was running aground with them. You see, my terminology of hood, DLO, D-line, fenders, sail panel and trunk were not used here. It was the bonnet, the windows, the guards and the boot that they understood. I was conducting meeting where most of them did not know what I was even talking about. Wow.

At Holden, we worked 6 days a week and often took off Friday afternoons for a design staff barbee and a booz-up in the park. Nice! I quickly found that (in 1986) all the shops shut down at noon on Saturdays and I could not buy anything on the weekends except beer at the pubs. In fact, even the pubs closed at 10:30 in the evenings, because all the locals were plastered by then and could barely walk out the door. This was in the ‘80s in Australia. I had to take time off during the week to grocery shop and do my laundry etc.
Once I got settled into the studio as Chief Designer, I organized a remodel of all the studios and created a design staff logo and business cards for all the managers—a pride in the work place move. I felt the designers needed a little more spice in their designs and held drawing classes in the evenings for the designers. The designers, Mike Simcoe, Martin Love and others went along with it. Mike was a very serious and dedicated designer with a large waxed handle-bar mustache at that time. Look where he is now. Congratulations Mike (President of all GM design world-wide).

On one occasion, we ran out of J-clay (Japanese clay which took six weeks to get out of Japan) and we had to finish a clay interior buck the following week. I did not want the program to slip behind, so I decided to call around town to see if any of the modelers had a private stash that I could buy. Low and behold, a few guys from Ford called and said they had extra clay. I was expecting them to put forward some boxes of clay from their garages, but I think they raided the Ford studios for it, because they wanted to meet on the lonely road to Geelong on a Sunday night for the exchange. It was like a clandestine drug deal. Late on Sunday, I drove to a designated spot on the old Geelong Road and we exchanged a full Ute load of clay (in numbered boxes) for my hard earned cash. I never got their full names or where it came from—we just did the deal that night. I got my clay and we finished our models on time at Holden with no questions asked.

This reminds me of a similar incident in Taiwan when we ran out of materials to finish a buck. I was at CMC-China Motors (Mitsubishi China) contracting on interior concepts for the new Galant sedan with my partner/boss, Gerhard Steinle of Prisma Design California. The modeler and fabricator on our project came to me to say that they could not finish a seating buck while we were there because they had run out of steel for part of the buck. I really wanted them to finish this buck so we could help start the modeling process. I did not want to extend our trip either. After a little discussion, I convinced them to think hard and get some extra steel somewhere. The fabricator, Mr.Chang, said he could get steel—just to leave it with him. A few hours later he came back with a few 10’ lengths of steel pipe with “mile numbers” painted on them? It was just what we needed to finish the buck. When I asked him where he got it, he said they went out to the nearby freeway and cut a few lengths of pipe out of the guard railing along the freeway. Wow. Be careful what you ask for in Taipei. Hats off to these guys for their dedication. So if you are driving on the freeway to CMC and see a section of missing guard rail, it went to a good cause.

As an American working for an overseas American company like Holden, I was obligated to pay U.S. and Australian taxes/benefits. This… coupled with other payment obligations in the U.S. meant that I could barely afford to live in Australia. For months I tried to get some resolution through Holden without success. One day in March of 1987, my boss, Phil Zmood and I were discussing this in his office when he mentioned that Nissan had just placed an ad in the paper and suggested that I call them for a solution to my problem. Why he shared this is still a mystery to me because I had intended to stay with GMH. Needless to say, I answered the ad and got the job of Design Director of Nissan Australia. I notified Holden and they put me out on the street that day. I had to call my new boss, Sam Walsh at Nissan, who sent a new Skyline out to pick me up outside Holden Engineering. I was off to build the best studio in Australia at Nissan now.

Nissan Design was a small part of the engineering arm of Nissan Japan, set up to localize Japanese product in Australia. Now, when I got there my mandate was to establish a fully functional design studio to create exciting product for the Australian market under the leadership of Ivan Deveson. I immediately put together a budget ($1 million dollars) to build the most advanced design studio in the southern hemisphere and acquire the staff to do a proper job of designing, modeling and engineering the best Nissans ever. In those days, the saying around Melbourne was ”If they are missin,’ they’re at Nissan!” I recruited the best of Melbourne to join us, regardless of what company they came from. I tackled many challenges there and went to Japan once a month on joint projects. Often, Herb Grasse (passed up for promotion at Ford Australia) the Chief Designer of NDA (Nissan Design Australia) under myself went to Japan with me. I spent two years at Nissan from 1987 to 1989.

Guess I should wrap this up. There are too many stories to tell for just one article. I spent about 14 years in Australia all told (1986–1989 and 1994–2003). I took an intermission by working for GMACC California for five years. In the mid ’90’s I worked for many independent design companies in Australia and did projects in Indonesia, Detroit, Japan and Taiwan. I eventually returned to the U.S. in 2003 to work independently as Bunker Hill Bradley Design, consulting to Shelby Automobiles, Mazda NAO, Suzuki, Designworks, and others. As a consultant you have to wear many hats, for me they are, fashion designer, IT designer, graphics designer, product designer, interior designer, brand image designer, copywriter, electric car designer, UI/UX designer, etc. My doors are open for business; just call 949-331-8716 for a “glimpse into the future”. I am still “chasing the future”.

Thanks Gary and Dean’s Garage readers for your interest, Bunker

Bunker Hill Bradley Design, Las Vegas USA. 949-331-8716

Skate International LLC –“The future of personal transportation!”

  1. Jakespeed

    Very cool!

    I wonder why Holden didn’t make a 4-door Ute using the last GM North America RWD Station Wagon for the chassis (e.g. Buick Roadmaster or Chevrolet Impala wagon)? It would seem to be a great concept for the Frugal Aussies, who like to do everything possible with a single vehicle.


    Thanks. Holden’s large car programs came from Opel platforms for the last 30 years. The basic Commodore… from VN onwards… was an extended Opel Senator. I did a show truck for Ford with 5 passenger seating and half doors around year 2000, but it did not catch on. The Ozzies seem to like their 4 door off road trucks and Suv’s to be rugged truck platforms: EG- Toyota, Nissan and Land Rover types. Their tastes are more European styling and smaller chassis with American V-8 and V-6 engines if they can get them. Cheers, Bunker.

  3. Love your illustrations, especially your freehand pencil sketches…they look fresh and exciting.


    Thanks Roy. What is your next book about?


    Thanks Bunker for asking. I spent five years doing my first and last book. It was a labor of love intended as a personal gift to my boys so that they might understand what I did at GM and where I was all those nights and weekends away from them. Learned a lot, met some great friends and talented designers, and have new admiration for real writers like Karl Ludvigsen, Michael Furman, and Gary Smith. As for me, the tank is empty. Don’t think I have anything else to say.

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