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Photo Tour: Chrysler Design in the 1960s and 1970s

Milt Antonick has two decades of design experience at Chrysler’s exterior design studios, including 13 years as a studio manager; he also spent 15 years at William Schmidt Associates, 12 of them as a vice president; and currently works with Jac Products. Milt is on the faculty of the College for Creative Studies (CCS), and his work is in the Peterson Automotive Museum. In the summer of 2017, he guided us through stacks of photographs from Chrysler the 1960s and 1970s, but we started with the model that started it all.

by Milt Antonick
(transcribed)

This car is a duplicate of a model I made for General Motors’ Fisher Body Craftsman’s Guild Model Car Competition, which ran from 1930 to 1968. I built this in my first year at the University of Dayton, the last year I was eligible; I was fortunate enough to win the first place national award with it. GM purchased the model for $600, and that was the last I saw of it. They also purchased my 1954 model for $600. GM used these Fisher Body Guild models in their Motorama road show.

Fi

My original models were built of wood with some metal trim. At CCS, I recreated the model from foam using Alias, which I teach there. This model was made with rapid prototyping; plug in your software and the machine spits out parts. Some parts were fabricated by cutting them on a lathe. You can see the progressive milling operation at CCS, at Dean’s Garage, which has old and historic sketches, articles on people, and so on. [The Dean’s Garage article, written by Milt, describes how the model was made.]

model detail

I joined Chrysler in 1962 and did a tour of styling the first day with Elwood Engel, their head stylist. The Chrysler Turbine car existed as a clay model; they were just completing it in ’62. I had absolutely nothing to do with the car, but we had more than one turbine car, and employees were encouraged to drive one overnight. I took it home and my wife and I drove it around. It was fun but didn’t have much pickup.

My first body design was the 1967 Plymouth Fury. On this one, I did the body side roof, but not the front end or the grill. John Samsen did the grill for this, and he was a pro.

Plymouth tails

This photo was taken in the Highland Park North showroom. We cast just the rear, and then we could use the cast for trying various ornamentation without taking too much room in the studio. Urethane foam models provided a space-saving way of evaluating rear trim proposals.

This photo [above] is not the famous dome; it’s the third floor showroom, in the north-most building, off Davison. Presentations to Chrysler management were made in this room. It’s a semi-dome, or Quonset-hut, shape.

1963 Plymouths

I designed the grill and rear of these cars or you could say the front and rear 12 inches. [Above and below]. I believe Dave Cummins designed the basic body form. Not sure!

1963 cars on a turntable

Here’s a full-size illustration; I did the background. I believe Dave Cummins did the body design.

convertible sketch

This is just as we were going along and designing the car, and you can see that grille doesn’t look too good.

grilles on the wall

The photos below were taken in 1974 in the West Wing Studio of the Yamasaki building, which we shared with Chrysler Sales. We had acoustic and heating problems; in the summer, the East studio tended to run hot in the morning, while the West studio ran hot in the afternoon.

Clay models require coordinated measurement; the Norton Company provided high-quality magnesium equipment which rested on rails. When models were moved for outside or showroom viewing, the end rails were removed.

The Yamasaki structure used a flush, continuous rail system, which was a great idea, but unfortunately the rails did not hold their accuracy, due to thermal expansion.

The Yamasaki structure was intended as the ultimate environment, but it presented new, unexpected problems. The running joke was “We may have problems, but wait until we move to a new facility,” — which we eventually Chrysler did when Chrysler moved to Auburn Hills.

clays - car designs

Designers and studio engineers worked in the low-ceiling area. [The car below was launched in 1976 as the Volare.]

Creating a Volare

On this particular program, we had a little more time than usual. We had one theme on the driver side, one theme on the passenger side, a themed driver’s side – we had four themes in clay going at once. Terrific.

signet

Generally, when creating a new car, Chrysler had product planning, marketing, and a budget which was a result of product planning writing a request to do something. Design studios did develop conceptual themes, but the general business plan at the time followed a fairly rigid time schedule, with coordinated timing charts and such. Designers filled a card out every week with hours spent against a number, which tightened our creative thinking a bit.

Creating the Plymouth Duster

 

plymouth duster clay

I came from Studebaker, where the Avanti used PPG glass that had been tooled for the 1961 Lincoln Continental; glass companies tool up for specific curves, and once they have the tooling, you can buy blanks in different shapes. I decided to use curved side glass on the Duster, even though it consumed a large chunk of our budget. I think that gave us an edge over the Dodge Swinger.

duster

For the Duster rear, we kept the Valiant bumper and inner fender; we were unable to form the rear fender because of the shape imposed by the carry-over bumper. Instead, we extended the deck opening to within around an inch of the fender peak. This allowed the fender to be stamped with ripping.

Since the deck to fender opening line was on a slope, alignment was nearly impossible.

The tail lamps were designed without visible moldings, and were installed from inside the car. We changed larger to normal practice to make them easier to build and, I was told, corrosion problems.

duster

Here are some Duster grille texture proposals, done first as paper overlays.

grille polaroids

The basic grille form is modelled in clay, and paper inserts were used to determine the grille texture pattern.

Duster grille

Rather than attempt to model a selected paper grille in clay, we often used sheet plastic, especially if we wanted a heat-sink appearance. We sometimes used wood slats. Surprising detail could be achieved with clay extrusions.

28 grille

Duster grille

By the way, Dodge did a version of their Dart at the same time we did this. We (Plymouth) just killed them in sales, so they gave our design to Dodge, which called it the Demon. Having our designs picked and given to Dodge didn’t help the Plymouth/Dodge relationship in the styling studios, so they did away with that and went to body studios, which took away the competition.

Duster grille

Here, we were doing various paper drawings. We had the center-line profile pretty much set — the design of the rear glass, more or less trunk and glass; the rest of the car is all Valiant. So we’re basically just doing the roof, and the question is, how do you do the roof and how do you do the rear quarter and deck lid? That’s it. That’s all you’re tooling up for.

side line

line drawing

cuda proposals

These are simple paper overlays to determine the daylight opening, which we would call the DLO. Designing this car, from beginning sketch to finished clay released, took six weeks; we were under budget and we blew away the time. In other words, we started sketching. At the end of six weeks no work was done on the car. It was drafting. So that’s the quickest program here. We did the Avanti in six weeks. That was the full size, six weeks. We didn’t take it outside or anything — that’s why, at the time, I think it looked pretty weird.

This is a proposal for a next-generation Duster, though it looks something like a Barracuda. We never went anywhere with that. There’s the front end of the car, with blisters. The problem is, we were going organic-form, and at this point in time everything was going very bent-crisp linear. A very influential car was a 2002 BMW. They couldn’t make them fast enough. In California, it was a commuter car. Imagine — a BMW.

barracuda proposal

grille proposal

This just did not make sense, and we lost the program.

I was thinking of doing four headlights, two in the center and two outboard, and everyone gagged on that one. Bad idea.

four-headlight cuda

When I was at Studebaker, we originally had four headlights in the Avanti. The placement looked somewhat odd because of the narrow hood form. I attempted this again as a Barracuda, thinking the wide grill opening would make the inboard lamps look like rally lamps…Again no interest!

barracuda grille

inside headlights

four-headlight barracuda

These are simple Polaroids that I took at the time, and never showed to anyone. I don’t even think anyone in my family’s seen them.

This is a second generation Duster proposal.

duster

1977 Duster proposal

E-Body: 1970-74 Plymouth Barracuda clays

This car started with meetings where we were told we had X amount of dollars, and what can we do with X amount of dollars?

The side theme was put together in a weekend by Elwood Engel, two modelers, and me; we established the basic shape of the car. The basic dimensions of the Barracuda/Challenger were set in Chrysler’s Packaging Studio, which also competed by way of specific design proposals.

Side glass was defined as part of the package. Wheelbase, track, overall width, and length are elements used and to varying degrees shared by the corporate divisions. Side glass determines your interior, body section, and glass drop.

We received the package, to be shared by Dodge — the 108-inch wheelbase, the width, the placement of the windshield (although we massaged the angle), and the side glass. All the glass was set but the backlight. We toyed around with the windshield; I was looking for a 60° angle. We didn’t get it.

We went out to the Proving Ground. We drove at night and turned the headlights off and on, and because of the thickness, 60° glass tended to create a double image. With two pieces of glass, depending on thickness and separation (plastic film) refraction creates a vertically stacked double image. We did the 1971 Satellite 2-door after this and managed to get 60° glass.

plymouth barracuda in clay

This was a paper tail light. You drew it in perspective, or you rendered it in perspective, and you moved the camera around so it looked like it worked. These are one-offs that I have and nobody else has — because they’re Polaroids.

e-body clay

These are various types of exhaust; these are the only photos of our exhaust variations.

barracuda tails

exhaust test in clay

The problem with this car is that the leaf spring extended back beyond where we wanted the thing to go, so these little fake nerf bars – you can’t see it well here – covered the leaf spring and allowed us to tuck the rear end under. This is nothing new; I did the exact same thing on the Avanti.

in the styling room

e-body clays

through the bumper exhaust

I was told it was impossible to run an exhaust through the rear valiance because of alignment. Manufacturing sent a representative to our studio, and I expected the worst. The person who arrived was in his 20s, and loved the idea; he developed a fixture by modifying an existing part with access holes which allowed pipe alignment. The fixture was removed and the production valence installed. Perfect alignment! This was a rectangular pipe!

side exhaust

The sill louver above, without the fake exhaust, went into production as an SMC part.

At this studio, our platforms were very close to level. They were set in wood from Michigan forests, from ten to sixteen inches of vertically stacked wood; I don’t know if it was glued together or loose over steel beams.

It was fantastic. You could walk barefoot. We were on our feet all day long directing models, if we were involved in directing a model, and didn’t get tired at all.

plymouth styling

When we went to the other facility, it had a concrete floor, which was horrible. You have no idea how incredible concrete could be. It’s just unforgiving. You would think a surface is a surface. Not so.

Maybe you’re saying, “I’ll wear shoes with foam heels or something.” Here we were just using regular Italian shoes, leather thin soles and all that, and resolving various details here, working out the exhaust in the rear.

design studio

Chrysler is currently using my wheel and my gas filler cap, which was a true cap — you open it, put the fuel in. That was an interesting sale because the studio manager didn’t want to go that way. I had tried to do it on the Avanti and no one liked it; Loewy also didn’t want to go that way.

It was a great place to put it because the filler happened to be on the C-pillar. The fuel tank was over the rear axle, á la Mercedes. If you put a car in storage and your fuel is over your rear axle and you drain your valving for your engine, the fuel can actually fill up your cylinders. So not the greatest thing for an old car, but great for rear end collision, great for trunk space, and so on, which is why we did it on the Avanti.

Barracuda in studio

Putting the filler there avoids having a tube go through the middle of the trunk; the tube’s now on the C-pillar, and how do we disguise it? I said, don’t disguise it. Make it a racing – they didn’t buy it, so I lost that one. The studio fellow said, “No, we can’t do that. It looks too racy.”

There were people at Chrysler who were opposed or nervous about the racy look. Can you imagine?

At Studebaker, the nice thing was that we had to satisfy one guy, Sherwood Egbert, the president. We didn’t have any committees, but he wasn’t involved in that decision. Anyway, they said it wouldn’t work. On the Barracuda, they also said, “No, it won’t work.” So I bought an Indy cap, took it to work, and put it on my desk.

When Engel walked in, I popped it; it made a hollow popping sound when it was on the desk. He came over and said, “What’s that? Let’s do it.” He brought the studio boss in. “Let’s do it.” We did it. Elwood really enjoyed making spontaneous decisions. He also enjoyed taking a hammer to a design. Not often. I saw it happen twice!

He also enjoyed taking an orange package marker to a sketch, totaling ruining the drawing, but getting his point across.

clay barraucda

This room was huge room, but it only had curtains on either side. Bill Brownlee was working on the Challenger, which he personally designed, at the time. These Barracuda-based cars were so wide that it was difficult to model.

clay cars

We designed a number of barracuda hood forms. Because of the reach, especially in the rear of the hood, a decision was made to build them off the model, on a lightweight armature. A great approach!

barracuda head on

We had various proposals here. Here we’re settling on a grill that looks like the first one, with what looks like an aircraft landing light in a wing shape; and when we settled on this, we turned all the lights off in the studio and Dick Macadam came in to review the thing. He said, “What the hell’s going on?”

We had this thing wired to a switch under the wheel. Flip the switch, and when the parking light turned on, it lit the entire grill which was painted with . . . not a crackle, but sandblasted. It really looked great. So we sold the grille easily.

ebody development

What I wanted was a huge hole cut out, and a casting inserted. You could not do a secondary operation, such as putting louvers in the grill, in metal, because of all the raw edges and painting issues, I guess. You always had to flange the metal back and put some sort of an insert in, or offset an area and put a die casting in. Then if the metal did start to rust around the periphery, it would take a while.

Challenger

This (above) was the later Barracuda grille, which was up, over, and under. I don’t know who did the sketch on this, but we threw it away, and then Bob Ackerman did a sketch in the Dodge studio which went into production and looked very much like this. At that point I was in charge of the Challenger as well as the Barracuda, so we worked together in that grille development.

This is not the Challenger grille. It’s just one that we tried and threw out.

Wheel design

On one of my illustrations, which we threw out, I used a wheel cover design I did for a Studebaker, that was supposed to look like a brake drum; it went into production.

wheel

I took these studio photos with a Polaroid as we were developing the cars.

wheel

This is the famed recalled wheel (below), and the clay model. A few prototypes were made, and it appeared in an early brochure. I believe this would have been Chrysler’s first aluminum wheel. I understand lug-nut retention was still under development.

I designed this one [below], which went into production, and this wire wheel. These are clays. The production wheel actually looked better turned around the other way; when it was the other way, it looked like a cell on an aircraft with all these cylinder lumps. I had to do a production version and didn’t know exactly how to work it out.

more wheels

We designed wheels whenever we had a little spare time, hung them on the wall, and if someone wanted a wheel, they’d come in and look at the wheel and say, “Hey, we’ll do that. We’ll put it in production.” The idea was telling the guys, “Hey, when you’re doing a sketch, try to think about the wheel cover seriously for just about 30 seconds instead of doing some generic piece of nothing.”

A-Body Barracudas

These are paper overlays of the 1965 Barracuda, with different rear ends.

Barracuda tails

These are clays from the original A-body Barracuda.

barracuda styling clay

barracuda

Aerodynamics

Although we were often visited by people from our Chelsea wind tunnel, aero testing was not part of the development process until the mini-van project. During the design phase they would come into the studio and comment, but we had the prerogative of listening or not. Since Chrysler was into NASCAR we attempted to take their advice.

louvers

On the first minivan, we had a goal of 0.4 drag coefficient. That was my first experience with working with the Chelsea Proving Ground wind tunnel. At the time, it was running 24 hours, so if you had a model, you went there for an eight hour shift. Any eight hour shift. Midnight, 8 a.m., you had to be there.

Including aero and consumer research feedback (asking what people thought about the model and what they used the car for) started about 1980.

We were told that – and we knew it was true – when air entered the engine compartment, it had to go somewhere. The only place, most cars at the time, was down, and it created lift. What to do?

engine bay vent

Very early on I had a couple of meetings. I got totally nowhere with “let’s exhaust it out the side,” which Chrysler eventually did. People still do it; not all cars do that today, but the idea was to get some kind of vent, and this was after the fact.

This (above) was a clay model of the earlier (A-body) Barracuda for venting out the side, but we’d already released the clay for tooling. They couldn’t go back in there and change it. No-one wanted air to exit; they said it’s too much trouble going from the outer fender into the engine compartment. There’s another department that does the fender inner, and they just couldn’t collaborate on that.

plymouth side view

On the later one, the E-body (the wide body based on a B-body), I did specify an area for a vent, but we used it to put in, more or less, an ornament looked like a duct (above). It wasn’t much of a duct at all.

AAR ’Cuda

This was done at Creative Engineering on 8 Mile Road; it was a fiberglass hood for the AAR ‘Cuda. I don’t know how many they made; it was done in four days like that Sox & Martin hood scoop. That photo was taken in the studio. They gave me the target volume, so I just went there with a simple sketch which nobody saw. You know, just get over there, make the thing, they want it in four days.

AAR Cuda

So were really happy with it, but we measured the area, and we weren’t there. I removed the center strut and it had the area, but it had this broken look; with the center strut out looked a little weird, but that’s the way we went into production. If I’d started from scratch this would’ve run just forward, but that’s why the side form breaks in forward of the intake.

AAR ’Cuda

scoop

This hood scoop (below) is from a Barracuda that went nowhere.

scoops

scoops

3M made a fortune on the AAR ’Cuda stripes. We were producing the car, I believe in Hamtramck (Dodge Main); they called over and said, “We can’t put the stripes on the car.”

I went to the plant, and they had this fellow who probably weighed 265 pounds, and his little pinkie was bigger than my thumb. I asked, “Why? This guy’s all thumbs. Why is he working on it?” They said he had great attendance and so on, and this type of job — as opposed to the grease jobs in production that are really rough — was a reward for him. Got it.

AAR graphics

We went back to 3M and they redid the stripe — took out some pie sections so there wasn’t as much finessing and stretching work. It went into production similar to that.

The Barracuda that never happened

This is a future Barracuda. I don’t have too many shots of it here but I have an entire book devoted to that vehicle.

next generation cuda

final barracuda clay

last plymouth barracuda proposal

Here’s a tail light, a number of tail lights, paper-rendered in relation to the camera perspective. Which one did we go to? None of them. I think we just kept it very, very simple. Usually simple works.

tail lights

Towards the end of the Barracuda’s life, we knew GM was working on elastomeric bumpers. They had more people working on elastomeric bumpers, I was told, than we had in our entire front engineering department. We didn’t know what the hell to do with it. We didn’t know how it would work, how the government would evaluate it for impact. Could you have a shape that didn’t describe your bumper shape? Yes, but that occurred later, when government backed off. At the time, we were really lost; you had no choice other than steel beams, either one large or two small.

We had some full side renderings for future Barracudas by a fellow from GM, and everything looked alike. There was a period of about two or three years when we hired a number of GM people, and about half of them didn’t work out — because they weren’t working out at GM, so they came to Chrysler. Some managed to, but it was a difficult period.

The last Satellite

We occasionally did full-size drawings, but not always. There’s one car we did from rear 3/4 view sketch (we called it a thumb-nail sketch). It went to full-size clay and into production, but didn’t do well. It was the 1971 Satellite two-door.

clay in progress

Although we did “get lucky” with the Duster, I believe you can’t rush body development, especially when you consider tooling investments.

Also see: InterviewsChrysler People • History • BarracudaDuster

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