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By Robert Tate, Automotive Historian and Researcher
Photos courtesy of Robert Tate's collection
Posted: 12.07.2015

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I remember a few years ago when the College for Creative Studies in Detroit introduced Art Fitzpatrick as a guest speaker to a large group of talented automotive designers and enthusiasts from all over the world.

It was a memorable night for all who attended this great lecture and event. Art Fitzpatrick was a renowned automotive illustrator who had a very successful career by producing some of the best automotive advertising in the world. I've been a fan of Fitzpatrick's automotive illustrations since I was a student in elementary school.

Fitzpatrick was born in Omaha, Neb., in 1918. Later, his family would move to Michigan and it was here in our great state he decided that he wanted to become an automotive stylist. He enrolled at the Detroit Society of Arts and Craft, which later was rededicated as the College for Creative Studies.

His journey started with an apprenticeship assignment under the late John Tjaarda at Briggs Body Manufacturing Company in Detroit. He later traveled to California where he became involved with Howard Dutch Darrin, who had designed custom built automobiles for the famous movie stars.

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In later years, it was Fitzpatrick who had taken a lot of design credit for the popular Packard Darrin four-door convertible and Sport Sedan models.

At the age of 22, Mr. Fitzpatrick became a designer for the General Electric Company. After World War II had ended, he began to illustrate great works of art for Buick, Chrysler, Kaiser, Mercury, Lincoln, Nash and Plymouth. In 1951, Fitzpatrick began to work with the very talented Van Kaufman, and together they were responsible for many great works featured in the Pontiac catalogues, brochures and magazines from 1959 to 1971. During this golden age of automotive artwork and advertising, they were simply the best. Their work history together with Pontiac advertising remains one of the most successful and longest lasting campaigns in the history of automotive illustrations.

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The 1960s and 1970s was a time for the “Great One” in which Pontiac used in their advertising theme to describe the Judge for its popular GTO models.

Fitzpatrick and Kaufman would partner on each of the pieces with Fitzpatrick illustrating the automobile and Van Kaufman would paint and illustrate the background areas. The two artists would sometimes travel all over the world – Rome, Paris, Monte Carlo – just to photograph background locations to find the most spectacular and perfect image to be used as part of their great automotive artwork.

Later, they would do simple pencil drawings of the backgrounds which would give them an indication of how the image of the car is going to look and to settle on a color scheme. This was automotive heritage advertising at its classic best.

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After the illustrations were finalized, the artwork was submitted to Pontiac's advertising agency at Adams, John and McManus. They were great copywriters that would add the completed headlines to the final advertising artwork.

In later years, Fitzpatrick went on to create greater illustrations for Pontiac until his contract ended in 1971; starting in 1972, Pontiac featured photography as the way to sell their products. The last models that were illustrated for General Motors by this great team of Fritz and Kaufman were Europe's popular Opel models in 1972-73.

Throughout the years, Fitzpatrick and Kaufman had many admirers of their work including John DeLorean along with Bill Mitchell and many others in the automotive industry. Their illustrations are identified by the initials, AF- VK.

Fitzpatrick was an honorary member of the Automotive Fine Arts Society, who had exhibited at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, in addition to receiving many accolades over his long career in the automotive industry.

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Richard Pietruska, CCS Transportation Design faculty member, once said of Fitzpatrick, “He is an amazing illustrator who has influenced many of us in the automotive design world from the 1960s and 1970s up to the present. His work captures the true essence of what the cars of that era represented and his passion and skill comes across in his brilliant technique.”

After Fitzpatrick's lecture, on that great eventful day, he autographed my original brochure of my 1969 Pontiac catalogue which is an item that I will always cherish. Unfortunately, Mr. Fitzpatrick passed away a few weeks ago, but his great works of automotive art will always be a part of our history and culture along with Pontiac's great heritage.

For more information on Art Fitzpatrick, check out the Gilmore Car Museum’s exhibit, “Mid-Century Performance,” which features works from Fitzpatrick among others from the 1960 to 1970 muscle car era. This exhibit will be up for 12 months in honor of Mr. Fitzpatrick.

The Gilmore Car Museum is located in Hickory Corners, MI. For more information, visit the website at or call 1-269-671-5089.


A special thanks to Robert Tate, Automotive Historian and Researcher, for contributing the story to the MotorCities Story of the Week program. Photos courtesy of Robert Tate's personal collection. (Bibliography: Manocchi, Vince. “Arthur Fitzpatrick: Illustrious Illustrator” Collectible Automobile April 2004; Spangler Chuck. “Legendary Automotive illustrator Art Fitzpatrick visits campus. June 2012.. )

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