We will see someone in a stunning outfit and wonder who designed it. Indeed, a name on a piece of clothing will often increase either its sales or its prestige. The massive fashion industry is built on that name recognition. But the same is not true of automobiles. At least not for most people.

Sure, people will sometimes stop and admire the beauty of a car’s design. Something like a Jaguar E Type (Photo 1), the car Enzo Ferrari called the most beautiful car ever made, will almost always turn heads. But unlike that Gucci or Kate Spade someone is sporting, few people know who the artist was who created that fabulous look. For the record, the primary designer was Malcolm Sayer.

Anyone familiar with the history of the automobile knows that there were two basic schools for the first cars. There were those who created their new-fangled form of transportation from scratch, putting together bits and pieces in order to have something that would roll down the road. On the other hand, there were those who took existing technology, such as bicycles and wagons, and adapted them to create something totally new.

In the case of wagons, many firms were already using artisans and craftsmen to create more aesthetically pleasing products. One such firm was Brewster and Company Carriages who were making some of the most elegant horse drawn forms of transportation in the world (Photo 2). The company was started in 1810 in New Haven, CT and soon became one of the most well respected and sought after types of carriages and wagons. By 1911, when it became evident that horse power was going to replace the horse, Brewster began making custom bodies for other high end manufacturers such as Packard (Photo 3) and Rolls Royce (Photo 4). In fact the company was purchased by Rolls in 1925. Eventually they even released a car of their own design (Photo 5). A bad economy forced their official closure in 1937.

The most successful company to make the transition from building carriages to building cars, at least for a while, was Studebaker of South Bend, IN. Studebaker wagons weren’t the prestige models of Brewster but they sold incredibly well and many, like the Conestoga, were quite famous (Photo 6). By the early 20th century they had turned their attention to automobiles and by 1904, after a couple years building electric cars, they were making full on gas powered models dubbed the Model C (Photo 7). Studebaker would survive well into the century and turn out some interesting designs in the process but more on that later.

At the beginning of the auto industry there were, as there are today, economy styled cars and luxury vehicles. The affordable economy sector was dominate by Henry Ford’s Model T (Photo 8). These cars, along with their contemporaries, were designed and built to be reasonably priced so that everyone could own one.

On the luxury side of the scale were the very expensive cars that in many cases cost more than a house, if you could afford to own a house at the time. Quite often these cars were ordered as what were known as a rolling chassis. That meant the car left the manufacturer with a frame and a drive train. From there the cars were clothed by custom body builders.

This coach built era brought some of the most beautiful and spectacular looking cars of all time. It was not at all uncommon to see a Packard or a Cadillac with custom body work. These two high end marquees are perfect examples of how the process worked.

While Cadillac would gladly sell a customer a rolling chassis so they could have any coach builder dress the car, their preferred body builder was Fleetwood (Photo 9). Formed in 1909, Fleetwood quickly became known as a builder of high quality metal and wood custom bodies. They built for a number of makes including Bentley, Duesenberg, Mercedes Benz, Packard, Pierce Arrow, Rolls Royce, Stutz, and numerous other luxury names. Eventually General Motors purchased the firm and it became the official builder of Cadillac bodies.

Packard, on the other hand, would give their customers numerous choices of body builders though they did tend to lean mostly toward a small handful. The most notable was Dietrich which made bodies for a few high end firms including Franklin and Erskine (owned by Studebaker). But it was Packard that provided them with most of their work (Photo 10) and, like Fleetwood, Dietrich eventually was purchased by Packard in a move they hoped would help their bottom line.

Dietrich wasn’t the only coach builder used by Packard. They often turned to other noted firms such as Murphy (Photo 11) who also did work for numerous manufacturers such as Bugatti, Lincoln, Cord, Hispano-Suiza, Peerless, and many others. Another noted builder was Dutch Darrin (Photo 12) who originally made a name for himself in Europe before moving home to the USA. Another firm co-founded by Darrin was La Baron which did work of the likes of Rolls and Duesenberg in addition to Packard (Photo 13).

Even before The Great Depression and World War II all but put an end to the practice of custom coaches on rolling chassis, large manufacturers were seeing the economic benefit of doing design in house. One of the first to have major success with this was General Motors. While Fleetwood had become the primary body builder for Cadillac, GM had created an entire department to come up with innovative and attractive designs for their cars.

Harley Earl was born into the automobile design business. His father started building coaches for wagons and carriages in the late 18th century and then graduated to cars. He was soon brought into the GM fold where he was tasked with designing the initial LaSalle. Over the years he did numerous designs for that marquee (Photo 14).

Perhaps Earl’s most well-known design was for a secret project that emerged in 1953. With the success of European sports cars in the American market, GM decided that they wanted to try to take a piece of that market. Earl saw that they did with the Chevrolet Corvette (Photo 15).

Another famed designer in the GM family was William “Bill” Mitchell. Mitchell was recruited by Earl to join the GM design team in 1935. He was a main influence behind the mid-fifties “tri-5” Chevy Bel Airs (Photo 16). He is also credited with “saving” Earl’s Corvette when he took over design in 1961 (Phot 17). He also raised the bar for the Camaro starting in 1970 (Photo 18).

Virgil Exner was another find by Earl. He was brought to GM and by the time he was 30 was in charge of design for Pontiac. He wasn’t there very long. After a stint working with an industrial design firm he joined Studebaker in 1944. There he made significant designs (Photo 19) but by the end of the forties he had been recruited to head up Chrysler’s design team. There he developed the hugely successful “forward look” concept (Photo 20) which was intended to show car buyers of the 1950s what was in store in the future (Photo 21).

Some of the most innovative automobile design may well have come from the Auburn, IN headquarters of Duesenberg and later Cord as well as the parent company, Auburn. Gordon Buehrig cut his design teeth working for Packard but was recruited to join Auburn. There he did major designs for Duesenberg, especially the J and SJ (Photo 22) models. With the Cord 810 (Phot 23) he created a stunningly unique look that included hidden headlights and plenty of hydraulics. It was the first major front wheel drive American car. Maybe his most stunning design was for the Auburn 8-88 Boattail Speeder (Photos 24, 25).

Italy has always been known for its fashion designers and the same is true for those artists who create automobiles. Giovani Savonuzzi designed a car that helped change the face of the art world. After obtaining a degree in engineering he worked with the aviation arm of Fiat before joining the military during World War II. After the war he took a job with Cisitalia where he designed several successful automobiles, none as famed as the 1946 202 (Photo 26) which was part of a 1951 exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. Entitled Eight Automobiles, MoMA’s exhibit was the first to suggest that automobile design was as worthy of artistic admiration as architecture or even sculpting. Following his time at Cisitalia, Savonuzzi moved to Ghia where one of his creations was the Ferrari 410 Superamerica (Photo 27).

Perhaps the most decorated Italian design house was founded by Batista “Pinin” Farina. The youngest in the family, thus the nickname (Pinin basically means the youngest), Farina started learning body work at his brother’s shop when he was 12. By 1930 he combined his nickname and last name to create Pininfarina, a name associate with some of the finest designed cars from Italy and around the world.

While Pininfarina did work for a number of famed car manufacturers such as Alfa Romeo, Peugot, Fiat, Lancia, Maserati, and others (he even had a hand in the design of the Sisitalia 202), it was with Ferrari where he gained the most fame. Such works as the 250 GT Europa (Photo 28), the 275 GTB/4 (Photo 29), and the 330 GTS (Photo 30) were all masterworks for the 1960s. Many people, though, will say that Pininfarina’s most stunning design was for the Dino 246 (Photo 31, 32).

The son of designer Giovanni Bertone, Giuseppe “Nuccio” Bertone out shown his father and designed for sixty years. He created beautiful bodies for such makes as Alfa Romeo, Fiat (Photo 33), Lancia, Simca, and others. He shook the automotive world when he presented a departure for Ferrari by creating the Dino 308 GT/4 (Photo 34). His most famous and radical design was for the groundbreaking Lamborghini Miura (Photo 35), often considered the world’s first supercar.

Sir William Lyons was the founder of a company called Swallow Sidecars which then became SS Cars, Ltd and made beautiful luxury machines (Photo 36). Following World War II, though, Lyons changed the name of his firm to Jaguar. During those early years he not only ran the company but designed many of the cars as well, such as the stunning XK models like this XK 150 S (Photo 37). He carried the mantle at Jaguar until he retired in 1972.

There are countless others who have created some of the most beautiful pieces of machinery the world has ever seen. Cars from throughout the world have captivated us and made us stare in awe. They often say that clothes make the person but it can also be said that the shape and design will often make the car.

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