Andy Hansel and Brian Wuerker cartoons, stories, and quotes from the “heartbeat of the industry.”

Jerry300When Jerry Hirschberg left for Nissan Design in 1980, Andy Hansel christened his departure with this depiction of Jerry as a full-fledged Samurai.

The studio movie. In the late fall of 1979, Jerry made an 8mm movie in the studio that was shown at the Christmas party. It was a Kojak spoof complete with a 4-door Buick Century. The “plot” was pretty thin. A full-sized clay model was reduced to the convenient 1/25 scale model and stolen by the nefarious Al Flowers. Our Kojak (I can just barely remember who played him, but not his name) was responsible to recover the stolen design. If I can ever get that movie and digitize it, you’ll see it on Dean’s Garage.

One time we were having an end of the world meeting in Jerry’s office. You know. GM is on the brink of ruin and it’s “up to Buick Studio to save the corporation” kind of thing. All tongue in cheek. In reality there is a panic in the building and we’ve got to do something to keep the heat off the studio. Anyway, there was a lull followed by an an uncomfortable silence in the office (which was really too small for the entire studio, all jammed in there). Suddenly the phone rang. (Usually when the phone rang in the studio and the studio clerk wasn’t around nobody would answer it. Then somebody would yell out, “Nobody move. It’s the phone.”) After four, maybe five rings in the silent office, George Prentice slowly took a step to the phone, picked it up, and patiently answered, “General Motors.” General Motors? Kinda vague, George. He might as well have answered, “western hemisphere,” or “third planet from from the sun.” It was pretty funny, at least to me.


An incredible series of caricatures by Andy Hansel. He captured the gestures, poses, stances, clothing, and proportion perfectly. Pictured are Ed Taylor, Bernie Smith, Dave Holls, Stan Wilen, Chuck Jordan, Jack Humbert, and Irv Rybicki. Thanks to George Camp for sending me this.


There were always studio music wars. Someone would bring in a stereo or they’d buy one out of the coffee fund. Station battles followed. Seems like in the morning the music would be boring but non-controversal. Then after lunch sometimes Ted Schroeder would put on jazz. Jazz wasn’t too popular, but Ted was the assistant and got his way. When Ted would leave the room for some reason, one of the classical buffs might use the opportunity to put on the classical station. Even though it added a touch of needed class to the atmosphere, it was liked less than jazz. I remember Jack Orava hollering, “What is this?” Nobody usually answered. Probably nobody knew. Then Jack would follow up with, “If nobody knows what it is, let’s turn it off.”

One more quote about music. After a classical piece ended there was always a respectful pause. The announcer would come on and say that was such-and-such, Opus whatever, played by XYZ philharmonic orchestra conducted by so-and-so. One time, after a piece ended but before the announcer came on, someone hollered, “Now they’re gonna tell us why we were supposed to have liked that.” By the way, Rock was never tolerated.

Is that all there is? In Olds One studio some nefarious sculptor recorded Peggy Lee’s Is That All There Is back to back on both sides of a 90 minute tape. The first couple of weeks listening to that depressing song played for hours on end were the hardest. Haven’t heard it? Click here.

Jim Perpina was an industrious union clay handler liked by everybody. Jim managed to get enough full-size refrigerators to put one in every studio’s back room. That was really great. Thanks, Jim. But why would Jim do that? Because he kept the full-sized freezers stocked with ice cream. I imagine he did pretty well selling the cold stuff. GM subsidized this vending business and nobody complained. Ice cream seemed to put everybody on a level playing field no matter how high the salary. Speaking of food in the studio, a popcorn craze sept the building. Popcorn poppers popped up in nearly every studio. In the late afternoon the entire building smelled like a circus. I think they eventually banned the stuff.

Doug Byerline frequently made my quote file. “When you’ve counted all the tiles in the auditorium, then you’re ready to count the little boards in the hallway.” He came up with this because it seemed that executives would always walk with their heads down. The upstairs studios and the auditorium were tiled with linoleum, but the hallways and downstairs looked like a wooden gymnasium floor made up of short wood strips. Other memorable quotes of Doug’s: “It ain’t no brougham if it’s got no chrome.” “You can swallow a transmission if you can eat your own words.” “Here cars are our most important by-product.” “You don’t want to take a step back and really look at what we do here. It makes baseball look important.” “Hey, it’d fun just to model them up and look at them.”

Sports contests were a popular diversion in the studios. At lunch time ping pong tables (made in the shop probably from 3/4-inch birch plywood) would unfold and the games begun. But there were others. In Pontiac One they used to play floor pong. It was just like ping pong except the net was a piece of thick acetate attached to an aluminum pole and suspended from the tops of two chairs. The court was about 10-feet wide by maybe 20-feet. But the granddaddy of all of the sporting events was indoor badminton. Several studios became deeply involved. The large metal angles used for modeling would be clamped to two opposite rails. A regulation net was clamped and suspended from the angles. The floor was quickly taped off to form a regulation court (of course, only the best black photo tape was used). We started buying $60 rackets, and trick indoor birds. One of the guys belonged to a Badminton club in Birmingham and used to bring in used feathered shuttlecocks. It was a lot of fun. We played at noon for several years, and sometimes all day on the last day before the Christmas break. They finally shut it down. There were lots of other contests. Lightweight rubber band powered model airplanes competed in the styling auditorium for duration contests. Orthonopters. Crawling machines. All sorts of stuff.


Brian Wuerker cartoon. Pictured are Brian Wuerker, Willis Calvin, Jerry Hirschberg, Wayne Vieira, Jack Humbert, Jim Bisignano, Frank Fisher, Al Flowers, Vince DiSessa, and Chuck Jordan. Thanks to George Camp.


The Brian Wuerker cartoon shows Jack Humbert with his suit jacket opened exposing the jacket lining. Jack’s taste in clothing was nothing short of inspiring. He had a tailor in Birmingham that custom made his suits. I remember once studying the carefully chosen cloth. It was a dark suit with subtle colored threads, one of them a bright vermillion. The paisley jacket lining picked up the same vermillion, and so did the tie. The exact shade.

Jack was a patient man. I noticed Jacks MO on several occcasions. When the commotion of a new theme decision would fade, he would then come back every day and make a subtle change to the model. After a few weeks he would redirect the design one small tweak at a time into what he wanted in the first place and nobody was the wiser.

This short story comes from Pontiac 2 studio. One day someone emerged from the back room motioning everyone to follow him back silently. So we all eventually gathered together near the door to the restroom. The restrooms at design staff are tiled with shiny gray tile on all four walls and the floor. The situation? One of the guys from the studio was asleep in a stall. Snoring. The plan that came together swiftly and sliently: one guy on the hinge side of the door, another on the other side of the door, and a third  in between. At the same time, the first guy opened the door, the second reached around and flipped off the lights, and the middleman tossed in two full size Pontiac metal wheel covers. As the door closed, an explosion of sound emerged from behind the door. A mixture of clanging metal and cursing. By the time the victim burst out of the back room into the studio (still gathering himself), everybody was quietly scraping clay, updating drawings, or sketching. What wheel covers? Boy, was he mad. Probably scared him half to death.

A couple more Jerry Hirchsberg stories. Occasionally there would be important in-studio shows where models would be prepared for review by division management. Instead of the studio chief leading the review, Design Staff management would lead the charge. These would be managers that headed studio groups (like Buick, Olds, and Cadillac). The studio chief would be in attendance, but wouldn’t be the MC. So the line up would be like this. On one side of the model would be the upper managers discussing the design. Behind them would be their support people. Off to the side and a few feet back would be studio managers, listening, but not necessarily involved in the conversations. On the other side of the model would be designers and other studio personnel interested in the discussions, unless we were excluded from being in attendance. After a while the discussions would become redundant. Jerry would get bored and start making funny faces. He wasn’t making fun of people (I don’t think); he was making expressions to try and get us on the other side of the model laughing. Which would not be cool at all, because we were facing those who could terminate our very existence. He also had this goofy walk that he would sometimes morph into that was like every joint that made him ambulatory was cross-wired. He was a lot of fun. He just didn’t take a lot of things that seriously. Morale in his studio was always pretty high, in spite of the fact that Jerry had a quote on his office wall that read, “It’s not enough to succeed. Others must fail.”

An interesting place to be was within earshot of executives talking about designs during reviews. I wrote down a lot of them. For example:

“I don’t necessarily disagree.” Jerry Hirschberg.

“I don’t hate it.” Bill Porter.

“I don’t particularly like being in disagreement with anyone.”

Executive one: “I like it.” Executive two (higher level): “I hate it.” Executive one: “We’re saying the same thing in different ways.”

“It has an upscale look with a lot of lines.” Lloyd Reuss.


Guindon was published in the Detroit Free Press and often featured automotive related satire.

Other quotes overheard.

“This whole design hinges on the doors.” What he meant was the success of a new design would be determined if the the current doors have to be carried over or not.

“I agree with you but I cannot support you on that.”

“This is going to either be right, or it will be wrong. But it isn’t really inventing anything.”

“The goal is not to get yelled at.”

“Frankly, gentlemen, newness scares me.” Spoken by a Design VP and it was’t Chuck.

“I didn’t like that car when it first came out, but since then I’ve done a complete 360.”

“He’s not saying you should or shouldn’t consider these things. Just be aware of them.”

“I’m not saying yes, no, or maybe.”

“I’m almost 90% certain that this deck is going to have to come down some.”

“It’s important that we look like we know what we are doing whether we really do or not.”

“Young man, you are now working for the flagship of the fleet.” Irv to Dennis Little on his transfer to Cadillac.

Steve Pasteiner quotes: “McDonnell is in the building. Quick, everyone, fake a work scene.” “Thursday’s showday so Wednesday we simulate panic.” “If you’re mocking up a car, use cardboard. If you’re doing a train, use railroad board. But if you’re mocking up an aircraft, just use plain paper.”

“I’m seeing a theme emerge, where I jump through the hoop and you crack the whip.” Larry Erickson.

“If it doesn’t work, then you’ve got to say it doesn’t work.”

Dave Holls quotes: “That design is an orphan. It wasn’t invented in the right room.” “We’ve got to get rid of all the nerd areas.” “I want it to remind me of something I’ve never seen before.” “Show it that way until July (Mitchell’s retirement). Then we’ll change it. Don’t worry about it.” Dave once told a story about himself being in the wrong place at the wrong time. He finished by saying, “I felt like a Lutheran in Rome.” That was followed by deep laughter at his own joke.

Ted Schroeder quotes: “You want to stay ahead of the curve here, but only about 10 minutes.” “If you want to do an advanced design, cover the rear wheels. If you want to do a really advanced design, cover all four.”

“The checkered flag has dropped and we gotta get started.”

“Paint won’t save it.”

“That’s the kind of front end that put rambler out of business.”

“You’re only as good as your last sketch.”

“Being young don’t make you smart.” Bill Mitchell.

“Communications are improving. And they are getting better, too.” Roger Smith.



Shoe by MacNelly from 1987 pokes fun at the look-alike sedans from the era.

  1. Gary—still chuckling! Thank you for recalling all that. I worked during the summer of 1967 in the top floor drawing office of architects Giffels and Rosetti in Detroit, overlooking Cobo Hall, which they had designed. This was the era of tracing paper, 2H Eagle pencils, Rapidograph pens, electric erasers, and flimsy stainless steel erasing shields. Fantastic place to work, so much humor, and designers and draftsmen are the nicest people. Many of the guys had worked at GM and two of the girls in the office were married to Design Staff husbands so we got all the inside gossip from Tech Center. I got the full Design Staff tour twice, thanks to them. This was the height of the Mitchell era, he could do no wrong, and ‘his’ designs were worshipped worldwide. Saarinen’s Tech Center was like a 20th century Vatican, and downtown Detroit and particularly Hudsons was the perfect place to spend a Saturday morning. Then it all went tragically wrong on 12th Street on the 23rd July that year, and for me at least, Detroit was never the same again. But I am still infatuated by the whole GM Tech Center thing—and I still have my two Corvette prototypes: the XP987-GT Two Rotor, and now my EX4607 C4 1988 Engineering mule. Please keep those memories and graphics coming. Thank you. Tom Falconer, Corvette writer and restorer.

  2. Bob Marcks

    These are great. I can really appreciate them even tho I didn’t work at GM. I worked about everywhere but GM: Ford, Chrysler, Studebaker.

    Two I remember from my Raymond Loewy/Studebaker days:

    A Studebaker draftsman rushed into our design studio, at an important announcement time, and shouted, “HEY, I HEAR WE’RE GOING TO SUB-MERGE WITH PACKARD!

    Another favorite, I didn’t witness but heard from the source; it happened at Chrysler in the corporate dining room. Design VP, Virgil Exner was eating there with some of his staff, including Ted Pietsch. Exner was leaving and forgot to take his jacket, hanging on a hook. Ted, being helpful, shouted, “YOU FORGOT YOUR COAT EX!”

    Bob Marcks

  3. Glen Durmisevich


    I just laugh thinking about all the quotes and antics that used to go on.

    Stan Wilen, being the self proclaimed linguist, as he wanted us to change a couple lines to flow with each other, said, “You guys need to paralyze those lines!” We had to say to ourselves did he mean to move them or not?

    As for the antics, I remember the Oldsmobile 1 Studio vs Buick 1 Studio wars. I remember when this friendly banter of spit wads and squirt guns, between Lenny Casillo’s studio and Jerry Hirshberg’s escalated. I was new to Buick 2 Studio when all of a sudden a big commotion of guys chasing each other about, shooting spit wads and hosing each other with the water filled high pressure surgical tubing. Some had constructed special cardboard shields with clear plastic windows and holes to shoot from. The battles went back and forth between the two studios when it it finally came to Buick 1 with Jerry standing behind the designer’s desk and Tom Semple standing in the entrance, wearing his aviator sunglasses, holding a bucket, pointing his finger calling out “Hirschberg I want you. Step away from the designer’s sketches.” Jerry slowly stepped out into the middle of the room as Tom sped forward and doused Jerry with the bucket of water. Everyone was stunned. Jerry stood there in his drenched three piece suit saying, “I didn’t think he would do it. I thought it would just be filled with paper.” Afterwards as Jerry was drying himself off with one of the sculptors heat guns, someone called out jokingly “Jerry, Irv Rybicki wants to see you in his office right now.”

    Keep ’em coming.
    Glen Durmisevich

  4. Glen, I don’t know where I was when that happened, although I do remember hearing about it. Another story came to mind. A cute but dangerous thing to do was to press down the fixative nozzle and light it. An instant two foot flame ensued. Most impressive. Ah, but a spray can is cylindrical. What could be more fun but to tape the nozzle down, light the spray, and roll it spewing flame under the roll-up boards into the Buick 2 studio? As I remember it caused no small stir and nearly set the place on fire.

  5. Wayne Anthony Vieira

    I have been looking for the Chuck Jordan cartoon for years!! As the son of Wayne R. Vieira (pictured), I remember seeing that cartoon posted in our basement workshop throughout my childhood. In recent years, I had searched around for it, but to no avail. Thanks for posting.

  6. Bruce Brooks


    The Pontiac 2 Studio restroom person who was asleep was our Studio Clerk Ben (Benny) but I can’t remember his last name. The flaming fixative can was launched by Roger Hughet from Advanced Pontiac, under the vertical drawing boards, into Advanced Buick.

    Sports Stories—Before ping pong and badminton, Hirschberg popularized the Advanced Buick Studio races using Bill Mitchell’s Silver Electric Cushman 3 Wheeler. Graham Bell posted the fastest lap time. Back room “Paddle Ball” was also another popular lunch time sport Jerry started in that studio. There was also how high can you jump and make a mark on the wall with clay on your finger tip. Rick Berger held that record. How could we ever forget the standing broad jump contest incident with Al Flowers or Al’s match head launched, push pin, blow gun incident. I’m sure I can relate a few other stories but time and space are limited here. Much has happend in the 39 years I was at Design Staff.

    Bruce Brooks

  7. David Birchmeier


  8. Clark Lincoln

    Reading these stories and quotes makes me sorta miss the place, but feel amazed at how juvenile we all were…
    My favorite quote, and I think a true classic, came from Jordan. A young designer was trying to explain his design intent to Chuck who turned to him, leaned his head back a touch and said ” my ears can’t see”.

    Great site Gary, I’ll try to get some more silly stories up.

  9. Ben Salvador

    I am reminded of a quote by a GM designer about a high ranking Design Executive: “He only hears what he wants to say.”

  10. Great stuff & great memories.Way too much fun !

  11. Robert Heron

    All cars today have the same “used bar of soap” shape. Wake me up when a car company grows the cojones to offer something as blatantly erotic as the E-Type Jaguar.


    Who made that comment about the XK-E and the used bar of soap?

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