By George Prentice


“They say” that Steve Small was very eccentric at Art Center and that he slept on a bed of straw. “They say” he had a summer internship at FoMoCo; and rather than find a place to live he slept in the Styling building every night.

Chuck Jordan hired him to work in Chevrolet Design. Chuck was enamored with his work. Steve dressed like an ivy-league dandy, except for his boots, which were broken down.

Steve was chosen to represent GM Design Staff for the development of “The Demolition Man” starring Sylvester Stallone. GM offered to provide a dozen futuristic cars, not just the police car. Steve probably helped with the storyboards. Steve was a good fit with Hollywood and decided to leave GM. Renault then lured him to France.

I never did work with him, but I was interested in following his career. Steve bought a high-powered motorcycle in France and died in a one vehicle accident in France in 1996 at age 30.

In order for GM to take notice of the fate of this former employee, I put together a twenty foot storyboard highlighting his work. I blew up his ID photo and added the dates 1966–1996. It was on display for several weeks in the first floor hallway, and then moved to the second floor hallway for several weeks.  Many people paused to reflect; some said it was the nicest thing Design Staff had ever done. I did not say that I had done it, for Steve Small, a true visionary.


  1. Stan Mott

    A genuine creative talent and excellent artist. Pity that he got picked off so soon.

  2. Brian C, Baker

    Great to see Steve recognized for his all to briEf but brilliant work!

  3. David

    Steve was a rare individual with special talent and energy. Within minutes of meeting him as a sculptor intern at GM design, he shared the story about his time at Ford. I really thought at the time he left the company, that GM design should have fought harder to keep a talent like his on staff.

  4. Clark LIncoln

    Steve was way ahead of the times with his sketches of robotics and such. This type of creative sketching has become very popular since Star Wars and other si fi films made these kind of gadgets popular – but Steve was one of the early pioneers in this culture. Anyone remember him from school?

  5. Andy Hanzel

    I worked with Steve on Demolition Man…What a talent! ; What a shame….RIP Steve…


    Steve came to work with us in Cadillac Studio. We were finished with the Seville and the Eldorado and were near the end of the Deville program. He sketched a seres of wheels and we chose one to be developed and released for production. He was really happy as that was his first contribution to a production car and he was able to see what it took to go from a wild sketch on the fringe to a design that could be built.

    Possibly the most artistically talented person that I ever worked with he always was upbeat, he dressed way ahead of the curve on fashion, he was a unique and special person.

    I was about to leave Cadillac and one summer morning I was on The Hill in Grosse Pointe and ran into Steve and his parents who were in town to visit him in his new apartment in Greektown. When I met them I could see immediately why he was so open, friendly and positive. They were very nice and obviously very proud of him, they glowed when they heard of his many achievements. We had fun talking about his work and they seemed to really enjoy the insight.

    I had seen Steves work several times while he was in the Advanced studios. It was clearly the work of someone who had a grasp of art history. That is how he decorated his apartment above a bar on a corner in Greek Town. He liked the sound of the music that came through the floor and with the presence of Steves art it looked like old SoHo in New York when you looked out the windows.

    He bought a bronze Alpha Romeo Montreal and seemed very happy about it. I later found out that he was working for Renault in Paris when I met him at one of the shows and then later that he had been sadly killed in a tragic motor cycle accident. He normally did not drive the bike to work but there had been a bus strike and he took it that day.

    Paris was probably perfect for Steve, he was very curious and would enjoy all the art museums and historic sights. Opel Design had a mutual truck program later with Renault Design and I was able to hear about Steve from the designers that he
    had worked with. They had been very happy to have him working with them, I am sure as he was an admired inspiration for everyone around him as he had been at Design.

    If we could see Steve today he would be wearing fashion years ahead of everyone else with those same boots, he would be enthusiastic and fun. He made a big and good impression on a lot of people.


  7. Ken Pickering

    I retired from GM Design in early 1989 so I do not remember Steve Small. But this Designer was a wonderful and talented artist with a great knowledge of the human form as indicated by his sketches. He was also skilled in capturing in a few lines the images of people like that one of Chuck Jordan. All of this reminds me a bit of the work of Stan Mott. Thank you George Prentice for posting this information.

  8. Pete Petersen

    I was very lucky to have Steve in my classes at Art Center, he and I started at the same time. He was so advanced. I remember his cracked egg car, it was so wild we could not believe he could make a 1/5 scale model of it! and he did ! Steve graduated a term before I did and took the job at GM Design Staff. When I arrived there in 1989 he was the fist to call me and show me the ropes. I will remember him forever. I can only imagine the vehicles he would be designing if he were here today. Sadly missed.

  9. Jared Rundell

    Thank you for posting Steve’s work. He was an inspirational talent, as a student and professionally. After his Greektown loft, he converted a Huntington Woods dentist office into a home, complete with that Alfa Montreal in the garage. I remember thinking how “Steve Small cool” it all was. One of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet. I miss him.

  10. Thanks for giving us in the outside world another interesting story that shaped Automotive History.

  11. vahe Bouldoukian

    I knew Steve at Peugeot design, he was part of my team and the only american designer until my arrival at peugeot. He died the very day my son was born at. Yes his cowboy boots were legendary. He was extremely creative and a superlative talent. To correct the mistake in the article, he wasn’t enticed by Renault but by Peugeot in Paris.

  12. Suzanne Small Hungerford

    I am Steve’s sister. Yesterday is what would’ve been Steve’s 50th birthday…. And for whatever reason this information just got forwarded to my mom on that day. What a true gift to see these images and all of the comments. Our family relishes in every mention of Steve’s name and in every photo we have of him, and to see these new sketches is truly amazing. My heart is full!

  13. jan Small

    Thank you for publishing George Prentice’s article about our son, Steve. He truly was unique! We were surprised when a friend from Paris sent the link to us after two years. I am also wondering why we did not hear from Art Center when George’s show was on display. We established a memorial scholarship there for trans design students with his life insurance from Peugeot. None the less, we were thrilled to finally see it and perhaps be able to thank those of you who responded and gave us such a wonderful gift. Best of luck to all you “car guys”. We miss having you all around. Jan and Larry

  14. Jeff Perkins

    Steve and I started at GM at the same time. I can say he was the most visionary designer I had ever met. He was on the next level!! I remember the sketches posted above, and many others. Great talent.

    He was also a fun, kind guy who was a blast to hang out with.

  15. Mehdi

    I still work for Peugeot until now , and i clearly remember Steve Small . Quite tall guy, long hair and famous long boots. He was well-known as a great Artist ! So beautiful and creative drawings ! .

  16. Bill Rohlfing

    I worked with Steve on the GM Ultralight Showcar. He was the creative genius for the interior. He was a truly gifted and natural artist. He could draw pure organic, human form like no other! He and Owen Resh were the two renegades of Design Staff, pure artist, unconventional dress and personal style. Both were creative visionaries and it was so interesting to be in their company and see them work.
    I was so sad to hear of his passing. He was on his was on his way to being amongst the greatest automotive industrial designers of all time. I was privileged to know Steve!
    God bless you young man.

  17. Hugh Robinson

    I remember Steve from the time I was on exchange to Tech Center from Opel.
    As everyone has said he was a great talent and also a genuinely nice guy who radiated a wonderfully positive attitude. I was the designer sent from Opel to Renault in Paris to work on the W83 Trafic/Vivaro program that Dick Ruzzin mentioned (Hi Dick, hope you are doing well!) and remember meeting a Citroen designer and asking him to let Steve know I would love to get together with him for a beer. I was absolutely shocked to hear he had died in a motorcycle accident a few months earlier……
    I have no doubt that Steve would have significantly influenced our industry and perhaps some others with his amazing talent and seeing some of his work now only reinforces my view. He was a real car guy too – I remember talking to him about the Montreal… A great loss, but the people who met him will never forget him….

  18. jan Small

    On the 20th anniversary of Steve’s death we want to thank all who have made comments on Dean’s Garage about Steve. It helps to know his talent and persona are not forgotten. Larry and I feel fortunate to have been a part of his life.

  19. I went to high school with Steve. We were in the same drafting class. Out of all of Mr. Honey’s classes, ours was the most energetic, creative and talented as well as obnoxious. This was in the days right before computers were just ready to take over drafting, but in our class we all drew by hand. Mostly we drew boring machine parts, but one project in particular was “architectural.” We got to draw the landscape for our houses. I remember everyone’s jaw dropping when we saw Steve’s project and the car parked in the driveway with it’s perfect reflections. And the speed and ease at which he could draw was awe-inspiring. I had never seen line work of that quality and something in it stuck with me and drove me try to improve my own drawings all through college. I didn’t have Steve’s drawings to look at, so I spent hours in the library tracing other illustrators examples to learn how they drew. Steve was a year ahead of me, I believe, and I knew he had gone to Art Center. I was questioning my decision to enroll in Landscape Architecture, so I went to talk to Steve’s parents about Art Center and when I saw a photo of Steve after one year of school, it scared me out of switching programs. He went from being a buff triathlete to being almost anorexic from the intense studying he obviously pored into his schooling. I ended up switching to Architecture for different reasons, however. Over the years I kept thinking I would see Steve’s name or work somewhere, but never did until today. At first I was heart broken, but after reading all the messages above I believe that Steve fulfilled his duty on this Earth—To inspire all of us and to try and live up to our potentials. At least that’s what he did for me. Thank you Steve. RIP

  20. Jon Cleghorn

    I first met Steve when he came out several times to SJSU in 1991 to review the student transportation design class project work and to work with us.

    That semester we were doing an electric car project for GM. I knew I couldn’t compete in pure rendering ability with my classmates but I knew GM was looking for “ideas” and I could excel in “ideas” and on the day of final presentation where others took an 8 ft table… I took a 50 ft wall to present my work covering hundreds of new ideas for products and manufacturing techniques. Well, that must have worked because at the end of the presentation I was awarded the internship. The GM reps assured me I would have help in finding lodging and to my surprise after borrowing my brother’s new Firebird and driving to Michigan from California I found out that Steve was putting me up at his house.

    I spent the entire summer there and Steve and I were like brothers… me being 2 years younger than him and still going through my “school starvation phase” and Steve now back into taking care of his health since his school and internship days. Over the summer I soon learned we had common interests in everything: a love of the outdoors, of design, great families and just passion for things we do in general.

    Steve put me up for free for the summer, I don’t know if he had ever done this prior or since but I was eternally grateful. He showed me the town, where he used to live, I believe he talked of a mural he did for a restaurant there in Greek town which he lived above. He often got free tickets for events from GM which we went to like the Detroit Grand Prix which we would attend.

    He drove an unassuming Suzuki Sidekick which I think he had to disguise as a Chevy Tracker to placate GM upper management. It was a go anywhere vehicle, that got good mileage, could be parked anywhere, was reliable, was a convertible for enjoying the sunshine and could haul goods like a truck from the markets and hardware store. Even today I drive a similar Isuzu Amigo in remembrance of those days.

    I felt bad not paying Steve rent so I started looking to do things around the house. The house was a former dentist office and quite trendy architecturally for the Huntington Woods area. We had a manual push mower and he and I would spend time in the yard taking care of it while others stayed inside in the air conditioning.

    In doing yard work I discovered Steve had built in sprinklers unbeknownst to him which I preceded to dig up and repair and make operational to his astonishment. I think we had the only built in sprinklers in Michigan and everyone was surprised to see them operational after our frequent trips to the hardware store for repair parts. I guess this was a side benefit of owning what was a former business building that needed to keep up its appearance. Later I even discovered screens in storage for all the windows in the attic which I proceeded to clean up and install for Steve… prior to that Steve would often leave the windows open and I was always wary of what animals might have snuck into the house while we were away at work.

    We would often barbeque out on a little foot long cooker on the back stoop of his house and wrap corn on the cob in tin foil and meats up. It was quite tasty. He enjoyed the sun and outdoors and while in the yard he would often be shirtless and in shorts causing more than one car to slow down. Working out daily, running, eating right… Steve was a specimen that made the ladies swoon. Tall, talented, good looking, athletic build, killer smile, a solid work future and fashion forward meant Steve had no trouble getting dates. His fashion was: good fitting black jeans, a somewhat snug fitting floral print short sleeved shirt showing off his biceps, pointed cowboy boots and a bolo tie with a retro mechanical oversized watch (that I think he got from a date while I was there).

    Steve was always quite adventurous (yet a gentleman) and he told me of some of the dates he had recently been on… once jumping the fence at night of the community pool to have a late night swim with his date and on another occasion jumping the zoo fence to have an after hours romantic tour of the facility with a date. Needless to say the ladies were quite taken with him. One day I came home to find flowers and a card on the door stoop. Yes, he was that kind of guy, the ladies gave HIM the flowers. No name was attached. I was panicked as Steve was dating more than one person at this time and wondered how he would tell which one it was from. PS: both young ladies were awesome people.

    He also had a great personality and a great family supporting him which I would often overhear on calls in the kitchen over the summer. He even had a very very beloved sister named Suzanne just like I do. Steve was there for me as well that summer as it was when my mother and father were going through a divorce and he would often hear our conversations from that same kitchen phone.

    Steve told me of his internship at Ford. I believe he did live in a janitorial closet, and used to blend with other day workers in the locker areas in the mornings to shower and have his meals in the cafeteria… I think he did this to save money and buy his Montreal… which he slyly snuck into the US one weekend while at Ford. The Montreal sat in the garage the entire time I stayed there and if I recall correctly it was in need of fuel injection work. Feeling I needed more things to pay my rent I started working on this near the end of summer to Steve’s delight but was sadly unable to finish before I had to leave. I felt very bad about leaving him in that situation.

    Steve seemed to be the golden boy at GM. He went where he wanted often taking me to other studios to see other designer’s work, to the basement archives to see concept cars from the past and to the wind tunnel to work on the Ultralite. GM positioned me in the most advanced concept studio located in the basement. There I worked on an ultra low drag CNG vehicle. As much as or more than my studio head Steve would come in occasionally to help me with my renderings (the main thing GM wanted me to learn while I was there). Steve was a great teacher. He taught me quite a lot. I still have the renderings he helped me on. In fact, I have all the renderings I did at GM as I asked them for special permission to take them home.

    Steve work office at home was one of the former dental work rooms where people had dental work performed. It was functional for him with papers and items still tossed around like he just moved in… his house never got beyond a bachelor pad level of furnishings while I was there. I can only assume he had just recently moved into it. His artwork was cherished by me, like seeing Leonardo’s work first hand. His blending between mediums so smooth that you had trouble deciphering exactly what medium he used. If I recall correctly, Steve never locked the doors to the house. I was shocked that he had his house unlocked all the time with his film cameras and artwork free to be stolen. But that is who he seemed to be, he lived more for the moment more so than locking things away for later use.

    I only recently came across this site, I have searched for what became of Steve regularly throughout the years figuring he would have started a design company on the side of his main job… but for years I found nothing and now know why. Some years ago I noticed the online GM Photostore did have some of his work available as prints to sell but they no longer seem to make them available. I wish they would offer them again.

    I am devastated to learn of Steve’s passing and it has hit me like losing an actual brother, or possibly more so. And I truly feel for anyone that was a regular part of his life that now doesn’t have him. I think it’s a wonderful thing that his parents (Jan and Larry) have put up a memorial scholarship and I think Steve is smiling at the thought as its just the kind of thing that someone like me or him would appreciate when we were so early on in our careers and busting with ideas and someone to show them to.

  21. Brissonneau Nicolas

    I was a french collegue of Steve in the Vahe’s Peugeot Design team! i have no words to say how talented and visionary he was! he was our leader , menthor and brother til his death! for those who worked with him, he are still thinking of him regulary!!! thk you so much steve! RIP

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