Satire by Bob Cumberford and Stan Mott

Published August 1958 in Motor Trend magazine
Many thanks to Stan Mott and Bob Cumberford.




“How are cars really designed in Detroit? Few people know. Those men who do understand the creative design process, a carefully guarded secret, are not anxious to share their information. Motor Trend here brings the facts to light for the first time.”

My recollection of the process is remarkably similar.

  1. Wayne A. Vieira

    It’s like having a flashback! Not being someone who designed cars, but having been raised by a car designer, I remember this process quite well. I watched it from the outside, from regularly scraping the clay off of shoes, to hearing the dinnertime stories of design committee meetings and styling discussion.

    This was very useful to me. I got to show it to my wife, and it helped explain so many of the stories I had told her, or that she had heard from other members of the family.

  2. Jack Marchese

    ‘Godda go’n change my Depen’s. ‘Too funny.
    ‘Ran it through Snopes and their response was “Yep. That’s it exactly.”
    Thanks Gary.

  3. Rogerio Machado

    Excellent !!!!

  4. Luiz

    I just wonder how the Design Comittee, Director of Styling and Division Management came to an agreement in the case of the Edsel…

  5. Virgil Exner, Jr.

    Bob and Stan always great! Only, twice as bad situation at Ford Design.

  6. David McIntosh

    This is hilarious (and well drawn) I remember seeing some of this at GM. We talked about writing a musical about the design process but decided no one would believe it!

    David McIntosh

  7. Ron Will

    I can remember Bill Mitchell coming in, reviewing the clay model, then giving us some whimsical, yet derogatory comment like “It looks like a damn canary in chicken coop.” After he left the studio, we would all scratch our heads trying to figure out what he meant and worse yet, wondering what we should do about it. The most common reaction was, “Just change it, just change it, so it doesn’t look like that when he comes back.” The design direction, like this, was often initiated out of fear rather than rational or artistic merit. They don’t teach you this stuff in design school.

    Ron Will

  8. Bill Porter

    Great flip-book of reality, surgically removed from the Harley Earl regime. Would love to have had equivalent C & M slices of subsequent GM Design regimes: Mitchell, Rybicki, Jordan, Cherry and Welburn–to round out the fun encyclopedia.

  9. Bob Marcks

    Re: Luiz, on April 5th, 2011 at 9:35 am Said:
    I just wonder how the Design Comittee, Director of Styling and Division Management came to an agreement in the case of the Edsel…

    However it was, the same strategy worked again for the Aztec.

    “There’s nothing more dangerous than a hot illustrator who is also a lousy designer.” Bob Marcks

    Whenever I see a really ugly taillight, etc. I think, “Boy, I’ll bet that was a beautiful sketch!”

  10. Stan Mott

    Cartoon number 7 was drawn minutes after a Harley Earl “design session” in Body Studio 2, circa 1955. I showed it around the studio. There was nervous laughter.

    And to David McIntosh, it’s nice to see that others had notions about a GM Styling musical. In Robert’s and my musical, cartoon 7 was inspiration for the Harley Song: “Up a 32nd Down a 32nd”. It was sung by a Harley lookalike while a dance team did the mad gyrations of designers and boardmen at a full-size drawing board. Then there was the “Design Committee Shuffle” and “Don’t Design It Chrome It!” The plot was about two young fellas (us) who saved the world’s largest corporation (GM) from bankruptcy. Ha ha! Never happen. We’ve learned a lot since then.

    Stan Mott

  11. Robert Cumberford

    Relative to Bill Porter’s regrets:

    To have done subsequent regimes, we’d have had to be there all through them. A fate (much) worse than death.

    Be content that we laid it out more than fifty years ago, secure in the knowledge that nothing much would change. Oh, yeah, one change: now the curtains are pulled back on the 40-foot high glass walls…

  12. Tony Miller

    I went to work at Mattel in 1968, where I met Howard Rees, a recent arrival from Ford. Howard told me that there really had been a performance of a musical comedy at Ford Styling that was basically a rewrite of a Gilbert & Sullivan operetta. I subsequently read somebody’s account of Ford Styling History that referenced the same operetta, but regrettably I don’t remember where I read it.

    That sounded like a phenomenally funny idea to me; songs about highlights and “surface entertainment”. I have long hoped to learn that such a performance had actually been recorded, but apparently it was not.

  13. Dick Ruzzin

    I remember being in Design Development in summer of 1961. We heard about the cartoons and writings but could not find anyone to show them to us. It was apparently a subject that was not to be discussed by civilized people. Then one day, because of a lack of seating in the upstairs cafeteria I sat next to Larry Shinoda and Tony Lapine.

    I really did not know who they were so after finding out they were working in Studio X, in ignorance, I asked them about the stories. They looked at me in a curious way, like I was a piece of fresh meat, which I was. I thought they were going to fall off of their chairs! They then invited me down to the studio but Sparky Bohnstedt discouraged me from going.

    Several years later I was working with Bernie Smith on a full-size model that looked much like a Motorama show car, the GMX (I think), with a lot of unusual negative surfaces. We had been working on it for several weeks getting ready for a Bill Mitchell show, always a very unpredictable event.

    One afternoon, after lunch probably, Bill came in with the Chief Engineer from Holden of Australia and a few other people. he had an audience.
    They stood in front of the model talking and then Bill turned to leave, he looked back at the clay model and said, “That looks like something you would pull out of a lake with a hook”. They all nodded agreement and proceeded to leave.

    I was devastated as I was the main proponent of the sea monster design. I asked Bernie what we should do. Before the door even closed behind the group our Chief Modeler jumped onto the hood, creating a loud thumping sound where standing there he proceeded to hack away with a large tool to destroy the curving fin like front fenders. Question answered.

    Another strange but easily understood event was told to me by Ned Nickels when I worked for him in the Overseas Studio in about 1968. This concerned the design of the (1958?) Buick Limited when Ned had been Chief of Buick. It was a car that was, for some reason, loaded with chrome goo-gaws of every shape and size. It had an illogical character.

    They were finishing off this special edition Buick and they had two proposals. They were taking it to the patio for a Harley Earl final approval. The proposals were illustrated by two cardboard mockups with clay extrusions on them. The designers decided to pin both proposals to the side of the car at the same time for the trip. They would then adjust the proposals for the presentation of the two designs. The model left the studio for the patio and since it took a few minutes to get there everyone took a short break, gathered their tools and started out.

    To their horror they were met at the hallway entrance to the patio by Harley Earl’s Administrative Assistant (Jules Androtti?)
    who announced:

    “Mr. Earl just looked at it and he says that you should release it exactly as it is shown”.
    They could not believe their ears. I asked Ned if he went back to ask Earl about another show. He did not answer, just shook his head no.

    I then understood Ned’s penchant to always leave the studio for the patio before the car did. After hearing that story I adopted his rule and I have to say it saved me several times.

    From time to time I would tell stories like this to my father who was in the construction business and a great fan of GM, especially Buick and Cadillac.
    He would get a blank look on his face


  14. Sheldon Payne

    Working in Body Development had its limitations, but one advantage was that I got to move around some among the various divisional studios. On one occasion, I was helping prepare Advanced Chevy for a review of the X-Body program, which had just been brought over from Advanced Engineering.
    Apparently, Dick Ruzzin had been moonlighting over there to lead the styling of what was then a very challenging package, a front wheel drive compact car, later known as the Citation. The preparations were complete just in time for Mitchell and his entourage to sweep into the studio and have a look at the models, a 5-door hatchback, a 2-door notchback and one or two others. Dick can probably provide much more feedback, but what stands out in my mind was Mitchell’s parting shot at the 5-Door, “The damn thing looks like a Czechoslovakian taxi cab.”
    Just how Ruzzin responded to that critique, I don’t remember, but I do recall a feeling of relief among several of us that the comments weren’t even more caustic, because Mitchell was upset that he had been working on a project away from Design Staff.

  15. Ken Pickering

    This classic series of cartoons panels by Stan Mott is satire but breathtakingly accurate.
    That WAS the way HJE worked as he was lord supreme over his design process. All of the panels are so true and I remember them well when they were published. But panel #7 is what I remember most. HJE would spend hours in that chair, raising a line, lowering a line and so forth. Of course, all of his subordinates would always agree with everything he said and did. One fella, in particular, was an old time associate of HJE and toured the studios with him quite often. The routine was, “Now (Mr. X), isn’t that a lot better now the way I changed it?” The answer always was, “Yes Sterile, it looks a lot better”.


    Sorry, your story is more fantasy than reality. We did the car, actually the future GM FWD line-up for the GM Boards approval, X,A,J, and S cars.
    Mitchell was in on it from the beginning in Overseas Studio and then International Studio. It was called the TASC Program,

    The car you are talking about was another project, also FWD, a B car replacement, they wanted to get a head start as Mac had aced them out of future concepts. Mac asked me to do it, Bill found out and asked him about it. I received a call that he was coming down to ask me about it. I did not know what Mac had told him but decided just to tell the truth.
    He asked me about it and I told him Mac had asked me to help them and since if we did not they would do an ugly car that would be an embarrassment. He looked at me, kind of smiled, nodded and said “OK”.
    That was it.

    Dick Ruzzin

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