Boys love cars, firetrucks, tractors, and flying machines. John Mellberg designed them.
John won the 2nd National Senior Award in the Fisher Body Craftsman’s Guild in 1966, and started his career working at General Motors Design Staff. John is also one of two contacts for the Automotive Design Guild featured on Dean’s Garage. Part One features some of the highlights of John’s career from 1966 through 1983.
1966 Fisher Body Craftsman’s Guild 2nd, Nat’l Sr. award winning entry
John Melberg’s 1966 2nd National Sr. Award winner. Photo courtesy of John Mellberg. John Mellberg wrote, “Becoming a Guild participant opened my eyes to the world of automotive vehicle design, and lead to what has become a lifelong career as a creative designer. The Guild set many of us upon this same journey, and was a great recruiting base for GM Design.”
John Mellberg writes:
“As for the several places I’ve worked at over the years, let me say that each place had its own unique products to be designed, and also challenges to be met, problems to be solved. The one common link between all of them of course is their people. I’ve had the good fortune to work with so many talented people both inside each company as well as design consultants and contracted craftsmen and technicians who all helped contribute to and support project initiatives. Working like this, we all learn from each other. Long term bonds and friendships have grown out of these working relationships that enrich ones life experience. It’s heartwarming to realize the great camaraderie that exists within our profession.
And ‘thank you’ to Gary Smith, speaking on behalf of all my fellow designer friends and colleagues, as we really appreciate your fine website which is devoted to sharing things about automotive design and product design as well. You’re preserving a colorful, exciting, noble and rich profession while revealing its dynamic history for all to see and learn about, especially those with aspirations about becoming designers too!”
1968 Art Institute of Chicago and University of Chicago Graduate, Transportation and Product Design
1968-1972 Sr. Designer, GM Styling: Adv. Pontiac Studio (’68–’70), Chevy Studio No. 2 (’70–’72). Contributed to design of F-Body Firebird concept vehicle, ’7X Pontiac Astra, ’73 Chevrolet Nova SS Hatchback, ’73 Laguna.
“My design career after graduation from The Schools of the Art Institute of Chicago and the University of Chicago began at General Motors Styling and introduced me to the automotive creative design process, which has served as the foundation upon which all my subsequent work as a creative automotive designer, has been realized.
While at GM Styling I further learned from my peers and from actual applications practice how to visualize 3D automotive shapes and forms, expressing my concept ideas through hand-drawn sketches, full-color renderings, full-size tape layout and airbrushed renderings, supervision of scale and full-scale clay model development, leading to full-scale mock-ups and prototype vehicles.
My contributions and responsibilities involved the visual and verbal communication of my ideas, giving sculptural clay modelers, studio tech engineers and skilled craftsmen sufficient information and guidance for them to translate my ideas and concepts into scale and full-scale 3D sculptured automotive forms, while contributing as a team member collectively focused on accomplishing project goals/objectives established by our Styling Studio CHIEF Designer. Our team efforts were then presented to Executive Design Staff Management for their council, review and final approval.
I’ve successfully used these creative design skill sets and tools learned while at GM Styling as my career has evolved, and continue adding to this design experience base of knowledge.”
A few of John’s “rescued” studio sketches
1972-1983 AG Styling Supervisor, J.I. Case Co.
1990-1993 Managing Designer, Case Corp.
1970s-1990s Airships International
“I worked on and off for Airships International from the late 1970s through the late 1990s. My work was triggered by political/military defense strategies that the Principal at AI had 1st hand information about, and when government funding was allocated to ‘alternate forms’ of defense systems. My work was to support presentations to be made showing various roles a metalclad airship could play in various ‘theatres.’”
I love John. I joyfully worked with him at JICase and CaseIH for years. John had an enthousiasm and love of craftsmanship I have rarely seen in the business environment. John was like a kid in a candy shop with every new styling project he worked on, yet he had the ability to continuously adjust his concepts to the real world of manufacturing limitations.
I had the pleasure of being one of three judges (along with John Bizignano and Russ Orr) for the Fisher Craftsman Guild the year that John entered his dramatic three-wheeler. It created a lot of buzz within GM styling, and many of us thought it should have won first place. The concept was fresh and the craftsmanship was first class.
Having met John at that time, those are the two words I would use to describe him: Fresh and first class.
I submitted a 3 wheel design that year, but was told I was late entering it… ah, young and stupid… Maybe they thought I was copying John Mellberg’s, they were very similar… I used a red toothbrush for the plastic taillights, ah.. Clear plastic for headlights… thought I had an edge in craftsmanship, sigh… now, I don’t even have pictures… (if you find any…). was my first and only submission.
My uncle got me involved. Do you have any history on Jerry Albertson? He was my idol, took us kids out to the GM Tech Center on weekends, got to see the Mako Shark up close, etc.. My time in the Guild and years of reading and tinkering with cars and models let me to a nice career of flutemaking, especially design and execution in silver, gold, platinum, wood… casting, machining, etc. I draw many comparisons that helped me in my work… trying to instill in others that design first then build, ha. then redesign till you get it right! Thanks for this site, am thoroughly enjoying it, as I’ve met many of these men when I was impressionable and drank it up.. ah. Thank you.
Early on in my design career I joined the UK construction equipment manufacturer JCB as a junior in their in-house ID studio. I worked on many projects during this initial stay with the company but the P8 backhoe loader was the most significant. It was on this project that I first encountered John’s work, he generated the concept definition aesthetics for this machine that stayed with the final design and his artworks were everywhere. After shadowing the direction of my manager of ID, this body of work was clearly in a different league and I was hooked – I wanted to be that good!
From that point on (and completely unknown to him) John became my mentor. I absorbed and tried to mimic his technique and my own style and subsequent career path is testament to his influence, something that I’ll never be able to thank him enough for.
A true pathfinder and a gentleman of the design fraternity, a man I feel privileged to know both professionally and as a friend.
I don’t know if John remembers me or not but he did a rendering of my race car 30+ years ago and I would like to get in contact with him. Any contact information you could give me would be appreciated. Thanks Ed
A fascinating variety of projects. Great details and drawing skills. Congratulations and thanks . It was great to have your League of Retired Automotive Designers entries as well.
Very interesting to see all the J.I. Case MAGNUM series tractor sketches. Given that I had REPLACED Mr. Mehlberg as the Senior Designer at Case and I was heavily involved in the design of the original Magnum, these sketches seem strange to see. My design sketches were presented to the then CEO of Case 2 weeks after he was shown Ralph Lanphere’s “top secret” full scale kluged together mockup of his idea of the first Case-IH tractor which would become the Magnum. I had to present it to him as Ralph was out of town on business. After the CEO’s disappointment became apparent I told him I could have a presentation of concepts in 2 weeks. One of those sketches became the “design theme” sketch for the original Magnum.
After the sketch was chosen, I hired Detroit based clay modelers to create a life size clay to pull splash molds from for a hand built prototype. Mr. Fred Hoadley (retired as head of Ford modeling) proceeded under my direction to rapidly create the 1:1 clay……….despite Case NOT having any clay modeling facilities or equipment. Fred and I had worked together on several RV projects under similar conditions in Elkhart, IN.
The proto was assembled and presented to the Case executives in early August, 1984 in Racine, Wisconsin. Lanphere, as Case Design Manager took the credit, while presenting the proto. Gregg Montgomery and his small ID firm of MDI down in the Chicago area, had done all the difficult ID work on the INTERIOR of the cab. We had collaborated and divided the design work on the first generation Magnum. The exterior became my responsibility with Gregg and MDI handling, as stated, the interior. Frankly I always found interiors much more difficult to do. Gregg and MDI did a excellent, professional job on the complex cab interior with all the human factor considerations.
As always a success has many “fathers”, but any claims of design input for the first Magnum starts and stops with myself and MDI. I still have photos of my original design sketches and the clay modeling work for the rapid Magnum program. If I knew how I would post them here…..but???
Dennis F. Otto, retired Industrial Designer
The cutaway drawing of the Airships International MC-7 shows two internal “hydrogen cells” and “two liquid hydrogen engines (driving) control-rotating propellers.” Can you clarify the propulsion system design. Did the MC-7 use hydrogen-fueled gas turbines (of V. Pavlecka’s own design) to drive contra-rotating propellers located inside the hull, in the large diameter exhaust duct?