In the early days, Chrysler’s Art & Color Department was one of the top leaders for generating innovative concepts. Many skilled draftsmen rendered full sized drawings to be examined by Chrysler’s Control Committee team. Some of the early players on the Chrysler Art & Color team were Mr. Ray Dietrich, Herb Weissinger, and Buzz Grisinger. Mr. Ray Dietrich was hired by Mr. Walter P. Chrysler and Mr. Weissinger and Mr. Grisinger were part of the Chrysler team during the 1930s.
By 1940, Mr. Ray Dietrich left Chrysler and Mr. Robert Cadwallader took over as Chryslers Chief Exterior of Design. From 1942-1948, Mr. Cadwallader generated design concepts for Chrysler and many of these were created as full sized models built of clay, wood, and steel. Some of the creative ideas that were developed had to do with the power plant of the car or its useful length of the vehicle.
^ Photograph courtesy of the National Automotive History Collection (NAHC) of the Detroit Public Library.
^Photograph courtesy of the National Automotive History Collection (NAHC) of the Detroit Public Library.
During the war efforts, only a few designers were left within Chrysler’s styling department. By 1944, Mr. Cadwallader left Chrysler and started working for General Motors and later Kaiser-Frazer. By the late 1940s, Mr. K.T. Keller, President of Chrysler, created postwar designs that included a boxy look and feel. Mr. Keller decided to wear a hat inside of all the new Chrysler designs for stylish reasons which later turned out not to be such a great idea.
The 1949 Chrysler designs were not favored by the buying public and many reviewed them as a boxy furniture appearance. By 1954, Chrysler’s fortune become quite alarming as market shares drop by 13% as compared to the steady 23% three years earlier. The reviews and ratings prompted Chrysler to reconstruct their team. By late 1949, Chrysler hired a new designer named Mr. Virgil Exner. The futuristic designs that Mr. Exner developed for Chrysler quickly moved them back into the competitive automotive manufacture market. Chrysler offered many new styles and fascinating show cars that the buying public thoroughly enjoyed.
By the late 1950s, Chrysler designed products for its new “Forward Look” concept. Mr. Keller hired Mr. Exner as Director of Advanced Studio which at the time was separated from the Chrysler Styling, formerly known as Art & Color. Mr. Exner called his advanced studio “solitary confinement” which generated many great ideas. Mr. Exner built a staff of 300 and by 1957 he was named as Chrysler’s first Vice President of Design.
The increase of woman purchasing automobiles was on the rise and many automotive manufactures began to hire female designers and engineers for advice. For example, Lucille Pietit, body styling engineer, was the first female mechanical design engineer that Chrysler employed. Mrs. Pieti was the only woman in a group of 300 enrolled in the mechanical engineering class offered at Wayne State University. By 1951, Mrs. Pieti graduated with honors in class and worked as a technical writer at Chrysler before becoming involved with automotive design work. After many years at Chrysler, Mrs. Pieti decided to end her career as a Designer Engineer for motherhood. Twenty-two years later, Mrs. Pieti decided to return to design in Saudi Arabia and by 1983, she retired. Unfortunately, on May 21, 2011, Mrs. Pieti died of Alzheimer’s disease at 85 years old.
Carol Burkheiser was another very talented lady who was also part of the Chrysler Styling department. Mrs. Burkheiser is shown with a new interior upholstery fabric sample featuring metallic threads interwoven through a dark rayon cotton background as she holds one of the several proposed “V” emblems for the new 1956 Plymouth trunk lid design. The styling development body exteriors designers were very hard at work on automotive appointments for future products with the styling department.
Photograph courtesy of the National Automotive History Collection (NAHC) of the Detroit Public Library.
From 1930-1950s, Chrysler Design teams had wonderful ideas and challenges for automotive markets. The 1955 Chrysler products were Exner’s first move and one of Mr. Tex Colberts many moves to put Chrysler where it belongs. The result was that Colbert and Exner hoped this contribution to design would make history and it truly did. Virgil Exner once said, “A car should look like an automobile”.
Story courtesy of www.motorcities.org
A special thanks to Robert Tate, Automotive Historian and Researcher, for donating the story to the MotorCities Story of the Week program. Photographs courtesy of Bob Tate’s personal collection and National Automotive History Collection (NAHC) of the Detroit Public Library. (Bibliography: Lamm Michael and Holls Dave A Century Of Automotive Style 100 Years Of American Car Design. Lamm-Morada Publishing Company Inc. 1996.) For further information please visit http://www.detroitpubliclibrary.org/ or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Please do not use any photographs without the permission of MotorCities. For further information contact Robert Tate at email@example.com
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