When I was younger, I wanted to be a car designer.  I saw the pictures of the massive design studios in magazines, and wanted to work in places like Detroit and Dearborn.  During those days, Detroit was a cool place to be, and not the barren wasteland it is today.

I spent most of my time drawing pictures of cars (though, most still had guns mounted on the hood) and it took me many years just to get the form down properly.  One thing I could never do was draw 3-D, and my two dimensional concepts always ended up in the trash.  I moved on to my collection of Matchbox cars, and started a miniature coachbuilding business.  I would take my little Rolls Royce Phantom models, and using a hacksaw, cut off the roof over the driver.  After creating a fleet of Sedanca De Ville Rollers, I moved to my Lamborghini, creating a perfect one off targa version of the Muira.  Back then, the plastic windows formed a shell under the entire roof of the car, so my masterpiece was created when I turned a simple Mercedes 600 into a Mercedes 600 Presidential “Bubbeltop” Landaulet, simply by cutting off the rear portion of the roof.

Design is important to me.  The image of Raymond Loewy chomping on a cigar, looking towards the future, was the picture of power and style.  Car Designers became automotive stylists, and they alone decided what we would buy, and what we would covet.  The resume of designers like Loewy, Bill Mitchell, Harley Earl, Elwood Engel, and Virgil Exner was a history of the country since the 1930’s.  They defined who we were.  I knew that becoming a designer would fulfill every dream I ever had as a child.

Boy was I wrong.  Designers today are small, typical, and afraid.  In recent conversations with car designers about the business, I discovered that their number one priority was not the car, not the design, but whether or not their boss wanted them dead.  They work in places that are vastly different from the pictures in Life Magazine, in run down, dangerous cities where they are more likely to get shot, than complete a design.

They know that most of their contemporaries were laid off or fired, and think that they are next.  They do not want to talk about themselves, their designs, or anything related to cars for fear of someone hearing them.  Spies are everywhere and the walls have ears.  They refuse to reveal their names, or their resumes, and ask that all conversations take place in empty parking garages at night.

They are scared, and most are probably right that they are about to join the unemployed.  The auto industry has crushed most everything that is creative, and anything left is killed by the committee.  Management is something that sweeps over their work area, picking off the weak and threatening to come back for more.  This is car design in the new Detroit, and the pictures of happy designers working in modern airy studios are just that, pictures.  Today, stress is king.

Creativity and artistry were important factors before the autopocalypse.  Now they are all just like you and I, waiting for the next shoe to drop.  I suppose there are some out there who still live in a design world where people are free, wear bright colors and have music playing all the time…maybe, but I haven’t spoken to any.

Article courtesy of Chris Raymond

Photos courtesy of spbcar.ru, wired.com, seriouswheels.com and Google Images

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