Gear Head Tuesday – Automotive Artist Art Fitzpatrick Dead At Age 96

Gear Head

There is a very fine Packard connection to this story!


Some of the most memorable auto ads in automotive history: Art Fitzpatrick painted the cars and Van Kaufman painted the people and backgrounds. The pair produced 285 paintings for Pontiac advertisements between 1959 and 1971. Shown here is a 1960 Pontiac Bonneville convertible.

Thousands of us, myself included, were enthralled by the wonderful Pontiac ads painted by the team of Art Fitzpatrick and Van Kaufman between 1959 and 1971. With each Fitzpatrick and Kaufman ad for Pontiac, I would sit mesmerized, studying the tiniest details of the ad. Their ads for Pontiac were so finely rendered that, despite the fact that I was a mere teenager,  I viewed them more as art than advertising. As I’ve read the obituaries for Mr. Fitzpatrick, I’ve found that many others agree with my young assessment of their work. My interest in the techniques used by Fitzpatrick and Kaufman had its roots in the fact that I wanted to become an automobile stylist and their work encouraged me.

As I related in 2012 in a “Gear Head Tuesday” series on my old blog, when I was 13 I tried to sell Studebaker on my design for a new Packard. Subsequently, I had designed a Studebaker Gran Turismo Hawk-based “Packard.” Then, inspired by the 1963 Buick Riviera, I designed a modern take on the 1934 Packard Twelve Victoria, which admittedly was strongly influenced by the than-new Riviera.

The Fitzpatrick-Kaufman ads for Pontiac encouraged me as a young teenager to want to become a car stylist.

My design in 1960 for a new Packard

Above: when I was 13, I tried to sell my idea for a new Packard to Studebaker.


The Brooks Stevens redesign of the Studebaker Hawk prompted me to draw this “Packard” version.


Inspired by the ’63 Buick Riviera, I drew this idea for a new Packard Twelve that also harked back to the wonderful ’34 Packard Twelve Victoria.

It was my ambition to go to Art Center School of Design in Pasedena and learn the discipline of car styling. Alas, it didn’t happen, my dream crushed by my tyrant of a father. But that is a story for another time …

There is no question that the automotive art done by the team of Art Fitzpatrick and Van Kaufman is of high quality and their work will always be looked upon as the best of the time.

Van Kaufman died in the mid-1990s. but Art Fitzpatrick was with us until last week. He remained active well into his 90s. Born in 1919 to an art-centric family living in the Detroit area, as a teenager, he got a job at Briggs, the car body builder who also had an in-house styling staff. (As we’ve covered in previous “Gear Head Tuesday” posts, Briggs in this time span took over the building of Packard bodies, a move that came back to haunt Packard in numerous ways.)

Art Fitzpatrick

Art Fitzpatrick

Art Fitzpatrick’s father got a job in California, working as an artist for Disney. Having been laid off at Briggs because of staff cutbacks resulting from the 1937-1938 recession, Art went with his family to California. Quite by accident, he stumbled upon the shop and office of “Darrin of Paris.” A Darrin-Packard was sitting out front.

“Dutch” Darrin hired the then-19 year-old Art whose first assignment was to give the Darrin treatment to a 1940 Packard One-Eighty four door sedan. The result was stunning. A production 1939 One-Eighty donated its chassis and running gear and the Darrin team built a prototype of young Art’s design. It was shown to Packard who put it (modified for easier construction) and a four door convertible version (also designed by Fitzpatrick) into the Custom catalog for 1940. Two of the four door sedans were built and eleven of the convertibles were produced.

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Above: the only known factory photo of Fitzpatrick’s Darrin-Packard prototype circa 1940. Below, the car as it looked in 2009 after a painstaking restoration by Mike Ames of Dallas, Texas.

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1940 Packard-Darrin interior1

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Below are two photos I took at the RM Auction in Monterey, CA of a 1940 Packard-Darrin four door convertible, one of 11 built. At the time, I had NO idea the car had been designed by Art Fitzpatrick. Once I saw it, I couldn’t stay away from it. It kept drawing me back like a magnet. 

1940 Packard-Darrin 4 door convertible

1940 Packard-Darrin 4 door convertible

Before their work for Pontiac, Fitzpatrick and Kaufman had done work for Buick and Cadillac. Below is one of their efforts for Buick in 1956 and a 1958 Cadillac ad, followed by one of the first of their Pontiac ads for 1959.

Fitzpatrick 1956 Buick

Fitzpatrick 1958 Cadillac

Fitzpatrick 1959 Pontiac

After their work for Pontiac wound down, Fitzpatrick and Kaufman continued working for GM for a time, most notably applying their magic to Opel ads in Europe.


Art Fitzpatrick had once been offered the position of Vice President of Design for Studebaker after the Loewy contract expired in 1955. He turned that down, since he was not willing to live in South Bend, Indiana. But in 2005, when he was commissioned by the Postal service to illustrate several sets of stamps about automobiles, he chose the 1953 Studebaker Starliner coupe as one of the subjects.

Fitzpatrick 53 Commander Starliner

We hope that Mr. Fitzpatrick will be swapping stories with other stylists and illustrators, such as his friend and collaborator Van Kaufman, joined by Robert Bourke and Richard Teague in that Celestial Styling Studio.

Cormorant on Fitzpatrick's 1940 Packard-Darrin

The Cormorant on the hood of Fitzpatrick’s 1940 Packard-Darrin



Curbside Classics

Packard Club posting by Stuart Blond

One Comment

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  1. Beautiful cars. I LIked your concept drawings, neat stuff and far past your age.
    Happy Thanksgiving!


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