MotorCities National Heritage Area
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By Robert Tate, Automotive Historian and Researcher
Images courtesy of Bill Robinson, Michael Clark, Dave Lang Stone
Posted: 05.31.2016


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Sometimes in our life, men and women will have a great opportunity to meet that special individual, who can make a difference in our lives. For me that person was Bill Robinson.

I met Bill when I was a student many years ago at the College for Creative Studies in Detroit. Bill Robinson was one of the faculty instructors at CCS, and he was a great educator teaching Automotive Industrial Design, as part of the Industrial Design Dept., at the school for many years.

Bill and I had become very good friends during my years at CCS and we are still very good friends today. As a young design student at the time, I was always fascinated with his great design history stories and notes about the auto industry and the automotive designers from the past.

From the early days of Virgil Exner to the creativity of GM design days with the late Bill Mitchell, Robinson was a walking historical automotive encyclopedia. I had learned so much from him including skills on how to design cars using different design techniques and creating a great portfolio.

Last week I spoke with Bill and we started talking about the early days of design, and the time when he started working for Briggs and later the Chrysler Corporation from 1948-1980. I decided to put together a story and highlight the great career of my good friend Bill Robinson and to show the readers who he was and the great accomplishment he has made to the automotive industry.
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Bill Robinson was a graduate of Detroit’s Cass Technical High School. In 1945, Bill as a youngster designed a prepossessed vehicle for the future, which was a rocketship type of vehicle designed for the space age.

His unique vision would later help him to become a great automotive designer and to help turn a chapter in his great career. Robinson’s first job was an advertising and brochure illustrator, later moving on to Kaiser-Frazer-Briggs where he had designed proposals for many early stages for 1950s Packards.
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Later, he would start working at the Chrysler Corporation, where he crafted a great legacy for himself as a creative designer from 1948-1980.

During his career at Chrysler, Bill had a significant role in the development and designs of all new 1957 Plymouth models. The 1957 Plymouth models were so very popular with the consumers that Plymouth had replaced Buick for the number three spot in automotive industry sales that year. 

The Chrysler Corporation administration along with the late Virgil Exner, became very proud of their new line of “Forward Look” models and the great consumer response. The 1957 Chrysler models offered a new and unique styling that struck a positive note with the American motoring public.

As noted earlier, Bill was part of the design team that had helped to create and design one of the 1956 Chrysler family “Idea Cars.” The show cars were from the advanced styling studios of Chrysler Corporation, engineering division.
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Bill had created and designed the Plainsman experimental model, [Note to readers: After the posting of this article, it was brought to our attention that Bill Robinson did not, in fact, design the Plainsman; that credit goes to David Scott. We apologize to our readers for the error]. 

The Plainsman was an 8-passenger 2-door station wagon with a canopy roof design. Bill also had designed and created the 1959 Plymouth production model, which he says that he has fond memories of nowadays. Bill once said “The 1959 Plymouth was all mine for design.”

Throughout his career, Bill had created many great looking vehicles for the industry and he is very proud of his automotive accomplishments.

During the 1970s, Bill became a part of the staff at the College for Creative Studies where he taught for many years. He has taught and trained many great talented young students to achieve their design goals, many of which have gone on to prominent positions at automotive companies in the state and throughout the country.
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After his career as a great educator for the College for Creative Studies, Bill decided to become a tour guide and educator for the Walter P. Chrysler Museum in Auburn Hills, Michigan. In August of this year, Bill Robinson will celebrate his 91 birthday.

In conclusion, Bill was a good friend of mine many years ago and he still is a great friend of mine today. It’s a great honor to know him.