Dean’s Garage has a post about the October 2016
By Ron Will
It doesn’t seem like it was over 50 years ago. For many it was over 60 years ago. This was a reunion of the builders of model cars for the Fisher Body Craftsman’s Guild. Back in the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s thousands of teenage boys would come home from school and head off into the basement, garage, or even kitchen tables to spend hundreds of hours focused on designing and building from scratch a 1/12 scale model car of their own design. Some were carved from balsa or poplar wood. Some were cast in plaster from clay models. But every model was aimed at winning the prestigious Fisher Body Craftsman’s Guild sponsored by GM. It often took the best part of a year to complete these models, in what was the largest youth contest of its time (along with the Soap Box Derby).
The contest started in 1930 when GM was looking for tool and die makers for their rapidly expanding car production. They chose the Fisher Body symbol of the Napoleonic Coach for the young men to duplicate as a scale model, requiring working windows, doors, fold out steps and full plush interiors. Any young boy with the skills to complete one of these elaborate coaches would be a good candidate for a tool and die job. This continued till 1937 when the famed GM Styling chief designer, Harley Earl, added automotive design to the contest. WWII stopped the contest till it was resumed in 1945. Shortly thereafter the Coach part of the contest was dropped in favor of only car models.
This proved to be a fertile field for GM to find fresh, new car design talent. Dozens and dozens of winners of the contest were fast tracked with lucrative scholarships to design schools and then into the secretive design studios of GM and other car companies. This was the dream contest for many teenagers who were looking for their dream job as car designer. Even if the young contestants did not go into car design, the scholarships paid the way for many who became architects, product designers, and even NASA project leaders.
The contest was not easy. To compete at the top levels, teenagers had to create bumpers, window trim, grills and hub caps out of polished aluminum or chrome plated brass. Clear plastic rod was cut and shaped into headlights. Even old red tooth brush handles were salvaged to become miniature tail lights. Although it was not required, many made full interiors and formed wrap around windows out of heated Plexiglas sheets in their mother’s oven. The hardest and most critical part that separated the winners from the losers was the paint job. It had to match the finest hand rubbed, flawless paint jobs coming out of any custom shop. To achieve these levels of craftsmanship, it took years of making model after model and checking your previous years score sheet to see where you could improve your score. Very few ever made it to the top on their first try. The contest was divided into Junior and Senior age divisions with equal prizes in each division to make it fair.
Original and stunning designs were also essential to gain the maximum points from the real GM car designers doing the judging. Just the right balance between futuristic and practical design was needed to appeal to the judges.
For the Guildsmen attending the October 2016 reunion, it was a real treat to see the largest number of top National and Regional winners ever assembled. Many of them were the teenagers who completed their career dreams as car designers. Eighty-eight models showed up, most looking as if they had been created just yesterday. Several were carefully restored to their original glory by their now 70-year-old builders who gave them the same care and pride as when they were teens.
The Art Center College of Design, in the hills above Pasadena, was the perfect venue for the Guild model display. This is the premier auto design school where many of the Guildsmen trained before going on to successful design careers. The Guild show was combined with the annual Art Center Car Classic show. The theme of this year’s show was “hand built,” a perfect theme for these 88 hand built designs. For those who attended, it was a once in a lifetime event that would be hard to repeat.
There are many photos at the original post.
This design very much has the flavor of the ’55 Chevrolet Bel-Air hardtop and even a bit of the ’55 Pontiac and the ’55 Packard Clipper in the side trim.
“Chris-to-Fear” sends us this link to
Readers’ cars wanted! Send us photos and the story of your car. We would like to feature readers’ cars in upcoming Gear Head Tuesday posts. E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Update on the Packard plant cleanup HERE