PBS' 'American Dreaming’ Celebrates Detroit And The Golden Age Of American Auto Design

The golden age of American auto design in the 1950s and 60s was a very special time, it was and age when the US thought they could overcome racism, land a man on the moon, win the Cold War and design the sh#t out of anything with four wheels.

Back then Detroit was the place to go if you wanted a vision of the perfect future, home to some of the most incredible and innovative auto designs of the time.

Sadly many of these beautiful concepts were never released by automakers, instead most of them were destroyed and shredded by car companies fearful they might fall into competitors' hands.

But there is some good news, because not all of the designs were lost, some of them survived the cull and made it out from the studios of famous names like Ford, GM, Chrysler, Studebaker, Packard and AMC.

In PBS documentary American Dreaming they talk to some of the artists who worked on these designs, artists who went on to inspire mid-century American design and usher in the golden era of the automobile.

From PBS:

Norbert Ostrowski began designing cars during the golden age of the American automobile. For 30 years, he worked in the styling departments of Detroit’s iconic brands: Chrysler, General Motors, AMC. But his sketches no longer exist. Like most of the early-stage artwork created by America’s auto designers, they’ve been destroyed.

Enter art collector Robert Edwards. The lifelong car enthusiast has curated the most comprehensive showing of those designs, spanning from 1946 to 1973. The exhibit, “American Dreaming: Detroit’s Golden Age of Automotive Design,” opened last week at Lawrence Technological University in suburban Detroit.

Featured in the collection is one of Ostrowski’s early sketches of an AMC Matador that Edwards found for sale in Ann Arbor. Ostrowski, now 77, recognized it immediately, Edwards said.

“His exact words were, ‘how the heck did that get out?’”

The designs were never meant to leave the studios. Automakers routinely destroyed early sketches for fear they would fall into the wrong hands.

But some of them made their way out of Ford, GM and Chrysler, as well as now defunct Studebaker, Packard and AMC. According to one designer, they were smuggled out in boxes with false bottoms. One employee famously hid his sketches inside the liner of his trench coat. “As an artist, you would hate to see your artwork destroyed,” Edwards said.

Now they exist in attics and garages in the homes of the artists and their relatives. That’s where Edwards finds them. He’s been collecting these “bootleg” sketches for years, buying them from estate sales all over Michigan.

He calls the artwork the story of mid-century modern design in America.


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