MotorCities National Heritage Area
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2021

By Robert Tate, Automotive Historian and Researcher
Images Courtesy of the General Motors Media Archives and Motor Trend magazine
Published 7.28.2021

1959 Cadillac Cyclone show car GM Media Archives 21959 Cadillac Cyclone show car (GM Media Archives) 

One of the most popular and influential show cars designed under the direction of Harley Earl was the great looking 1959 Cadillac Cyclone. The model offered futuristic styling that inspired many auto show goers that year, including an eight-year-old boy named Ed Welburn.

1959 Philadelphia Auto Show GM Media Archives RESIZED 11959 Philadelphia Auto Show (GM Media Archives)

This is a story about how a show car at the Philadelphia Auto Show in 1959 influenced the career of one of General Motors’ most gifted designers. It was a dream come true for Welburn, who was visiting the auto show in Philadelphia with his parents. The new 1960 models were being introduced to the public, and the Cadillac Cyclone show car concept model was on display with its rocket-like fins. Welburn immediately took an interest in automotive design. “It was an emotional connection,” he said.

1959 Cadillac Cyclone show car with raised rear GM Media Archives 31959 Cadillac Cyclone show car with raised rear (GM Media Archives)

Throughout automotive history, GM has had a track record of hiring great design talent, and Welburn has been recognized as one of the best. After seeing the Cyclone at the show, he wrote a letter to GM design asking what he should do as a young man and what courses he should take to become an automotive designer. GM’s design public relations staff wrote back and sent recommendations outlining various art institutions in the country that he should look into as an aspiring automotive designer.

Front end view of the 1959 Cadillac Cyclone show car GM Media Archives RESIZED 4Front end view of the 1959 Cadillac Cyclone show car (GM Media Archives)

After the completion of his bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts from Howard University, Welburn began his career with GM’s Design staff in 1972. The next year, he was appointed to the Buick exterior design studio, where he worked on the Riviera and Park Avenue models.

Cadillac Cyclone show car parked inside GM styling dome Motor Trend RESIZED 5Cadillac Cyclone show car parked inside GM styling dome (Motor Trend)

In 1975, Welburn would create one of the most talked about design models of the 1970s, the Oldsmobile Aerotech. This became one of his signature designs from his portfolio, and many people admired and enjoyed his work. The Aerotech set two world speed records of more than 257 miles per hour in 1987.

Cadillac Cyclone rear tail light design GM Media Archives 6Cadillac Cyclone rear tail light design (GM Media Archives)

In 1989, Welburn was named chief designer of the Oldsmobile studio. Then, in 2003, he was promoted to the newly created position of Vice President of GM Global Design. He was the first African American to achieve this significant leadership role in the American auto industry.

Ed Welburn pictured with 1959 Cadillac Cyclone and Cadillac CTS V coupe GM Media Archives 7Ed Welburn pictured with 1959 Cadillac Cyclone and Cadillac CTS V coupe (GM Media Archives)

The 1959 Cadillac Cyclone show car looked like it was right out of a Buck Rogers science fiction movie. GM called it the XP-74 Cadillac Cyclone. The model was built on a 104-inch wheelbase. The front-end styling, which featured that large nose cone design, was very different in comparison with other show cars introduced in 1959. During its run on the auto show circuit in 1959, many consumers also enjoyed the Cyclone’s clear canopy top that was hinged at the rear and operated by the driver. The Cyclone also was equipped with a radar that could alert the driver of any objects or debris in the way while driving. The doors could extend out three inches at the push of a button.

Ed Welburn with 1959 Cadillac Cyclone at GM Tech Center Motor Trend 8Ed Welburn with 1959 Cadillac Cyclone at GM Tech Center (Motor Trend)

Automotive historians have noted that the 1959 Cadillac Cyclone show car was designed by Earl with Bill Mitchell. The Cyclone was also a part of the popular GM Motorama shows which continued through 1961. The Cyclone turned out to be Harley Earl’s last show car, displayed just after the founder of GM’s styling division had retired.

In conclusion, Ed Welburn admired the Cadillac Cyclone show car at the Philadelphia Auto Show in 1959. This planted a seed in his mind about wanting to design vehicles for future products at General Motors. For many years, he led a creative team that designed great looking automobiles. Welburn retired from GM on July 1, 2016 as Vice President of Global Design.

Bibliography 

Commerro, Tom. “From the Archives: 1959 Cadillac Cyclone.” Hemmings Motor News. November 13, 2014.

Szymkowski, Sean. “Former GM Design Chief Ed Welburn Discusses What Inspired Him to Become an Automotive Designer.” January 2, 2017.

McCall, Walter. “80 Years of Cadillac La Salle.” Crestline Publishing, 1988.

 

by Louise-Helene Filion
Image from YouTube/MotorCities
Published 7.21.2021

By Robert Tate, Automotive Historian and Researcher
Images Courtesy of Automotive Sculptor and Historian Ron Konopka, Ford Motor Company Archives
Published 7.14.2021

A 1950 Lincoln front end image Ford Motor Company Archives 1A 1950 Lincoln front end image (Ford Motor Company Archives)

William Schmidt was considered by some automotive historians as a creative genius. Schmidt was a part of the auto industry design community during the 1950s.

His career started when he joined Ford Motor Company in 1940. Schmidt attended Ford’s old trade school before moving to the Lincoln and Mercury styling studio. His first assignment was to redesign the 1950 and 1951 Lincoln front end facelifts, which included an updated new front grille along with some side and rear end design changes. The resulting 1950 and 1951 Lincoln models featured more clean and functional lines than the previous year’s cars.

Ford introduced many great looking models during the 1950 and 1951 model years. The Lincoln models were successful from a sales standpoint. Schmidt said at the time: “It was a very exciting time. Originally, it was a fairly small group unrestricted by layers upon layers of management. I was able to carry out some pretty radical styling and advanced engineering plans.”

1955 Lincoln Futura show car Ford Motor Company Archives 21955 Lincoln Futura show car (Ford Motor Company Archives)

For many years, Schmidt worked with Edsel Ford, Bob Gregorie, George Walker, chief engineer Earle MacPherson, and many other talented Ford designers. Schmidt was also involved with the great looking 1953 XL-500 show car, but many historians have said that he was always quite modest about his automotive achievements.

An illustration of the 1956 Lincoln Premiere Ford Motor Company Archives RESIZED 3An illustration of the 1956 Lincoln Premiere (Ford Motor Company Archives)

Perhaps one of Schmidt’s greatest styling achievements was the design of the 1956 Lincoln Premiere models, along with the extremely popular Lincoln Futura show car, later turned into the “Batmobile” for television by George Barris.

1956 Packard Predictor on the cover of Car Life magazine Ron Konopka RESIZED 41956 Packard Predictor on the cover of Car Life magazine (Ron Konopka)

In the late 1950s, Schmidt left Ford for Studebaker-Packard, where he and Dick Teague designed the popular Packard Predictor show car. It was hoped this design shift would save the Packard name plate. This car is now on display in the Studebaker Museum in South Bend, Indiana.

Bill Schmidt pictured in a magazine ad Ron Konopka RESIZED 5Bill Schmidt pictured in a magazine ad (Ron Konopka)

After Studebaker-Packard, Schmidt moved to Chrysler from 1957 to 1959, where he was involved with many great looking designs under the leadership of the great Virgil Exner and his creative design staff. He also established William M. Schmidt Associates on January 16, 1956. The company was an industrial design and engineering firm, comprised of product designers, graphic and packaging designers, and, most importantly, automotive designers. In the ensuing years, Schmidt would become the designer that many automotive manufacturers would go to for special futuristic automotive projects.

William M. Schmidt Associates was located on Harper Avenue in Harper Woods, Michigan. His firm not only helped automotive companies but many other manufacturers as well. For example, Vlasic Foods was also a client. Vlasic created a line of pickle products with eye catching graphics that would result in great sales. Other clients included the Admiral Corporation and the United States Department of Labor. Schmidt headed the company management team as president, with Stanley E. Thorwaldsen as executive vice president and associate and George M. Krispinsky as director of automotive design.

The Gashopper concept vehicle Ron Konopka RESIZED 6The Gashopper concept vehicle (Ron Konopka)

The company designed an unusual vehicle called the “Gashopper,” a practical vehicle for the future. Other projects included building full-size prototypes for various boat manufacturers, such as 16 and 18-foot boats for Donzel Marine. They also designed complete exhibit systems for TRW, Simmons, United States Steel, National Steel, McLouth Steel and many others. The company also had many international clients, including the Paris Air Show and many other global companies.   

A Syd Mead illustration of the Innovari II 7A Syd Mead illustration of the Innovari II

An extremely popular vehicle designed and created for United States Steel Company was the Innovar II. The model was completely new, could seat five passengers and was considered a fully operable taxicab.

My good friend Ron Konopka worked for William M. Schmidt Associates and has many great stories to tell. Unfortunately, Schmidt died of a heart attack at his winter home in Florida in February 1990 at age 68.

In conclusion, although Schmidt is no longer with us today, he left a lifetime of great and creative designs that will always be a part of our automotive culture for many years to come.

Bibliography

Schmidt, William M. “Fifties Lincoln Mercury Stylist.” Special Interest Autos #136 July/August 1993 pg. 49.

Schmidt, William M. “Packard Projector: Tomorrow’s Luxury Car.” Car Life, February 1956 pg. 24-25.

Howley, Tim. “1956 Lincoln Premiere from the Longer, Lower Wider School of Design.” Special Interest Autos, December 1980 pg. 12.

A special thank you to automotive historian and sculptor Ron Konopka, who helped to make this story possible.

 

By Robert Tate, Automotive Historian and Researcher
Images Courtesy of the National Automobile Museum
Published 7.7.2021

By Robert Tate, Automotive Historian and Researcher
Images Courtesy of the Hot Rod Network, Jordan Lewis, Stangbumpers.com
Published 6.30.2021

By Maggy Corkery
Photos courtesy of Ralph Gilles
Published 6.23.2021

By Robert Tate, Automotive Historian and Researcher
Images courtesy of the Ford Motor Company Archives
Published 6.16.2021

By Robert Tate, Automotive Historian & Researcher
Images Courtesy of the Sinclair Oil Archives
Published 6.9.2021

By Robert Tate, Automotive Historian and Researcher
Images from various sources
Published 6.2.2021

In honor of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, we are presenting the following except showcasing the story of some of the trailblazing Asian Americans in the auto industry.
Published 5.31.2021

By Robert Tate, Automotive Historian and Researcher
Images Courtesy of Getty Images, Barrett Jackson and the General Motors Media Archives
Published 5.26.2021

By Robert Tate, Automotive Historian and Researcher
Images Courtesy of General Motors Media Archives
Published 5.19.2021

by Robert Tate, Automotive Historian & Researcher
Images courtesy of the Reggie Jackson Collection
Published 5.12.2021

by Bob Sadler, MotorCities Communications Manager
Photos Courtesy of Bob Sadler/MotorCities
Published 5.5.2021

By Robert Tate, Automotive Historian and Researcher
Images Courtesy of Chrysler Archives
Published 4.28.2021

By Robert Tate, Automotive Historian and Researcher
Images Courtesy of the Ford Motor Company Archives, Shelby.com, Barrett Jackson and the Robert Tate Collection
Published 4.21.2021

By Robert Tate, Automotive Historian and Researcher
Images Courtesy of the Detroit News, Classic Car News and Classic Autos
Published 4.14.2021

by Bob Sadler, MotorCities Communications Manager
Published 4.7.2021

by Bob Sadler, MotorCities Communications Manager
Images Courtesy of the National Automotive History Collection, the Automotive Hall of Fame and the Library of Congress
Published 3.24.2021

By Robert Tate, Automotive Historian and Researcher
Images Courtesy of Lyn St. James, RacingNation.com, and the Women’s Sports Foundation
Published 3.17.2021

By Robert Tate, Automotive Historian and Researcher
Images Courtesy of the GM Media Archives and the REO Truck Archives
Published 3.10.2021

By Robert Tate, Automotive Historian and Researcher
Images Courtesy of the Robert Tate Collection
Published: 3.3.2021

By Robert Tate, Automotive Historian and Researcher
Images Courtesy of GM Media Archives, Travis Lipinski, Tom Sturm
Published 2.24.2021

By Robert Tate, Automotive Historian and Researcher
Images courtesy of the National Automotive History Collection
Posted: 02.17.2021

EDITOR’S NOTE: As part of MotorCities’ observance of Black History Month, we are revisiting this Story of the Week from August 10, 2016.

By Robert Tate, Automotive Historian and Researcher
Images Courtesy of RoadTrack.com, Mrs. Mildred Overton, Todd Gould, Lafayette (Indiana) Journal and Courier
Published 2.10.2021

By Robert Tate, Automotive Historian and Researcher
Published 2.3.2021

EDITOR’S NOTE: As part of MotorCities’ observance of Black History Month, we are revisiting this Story of the Week from February 13, 2017. 

By Robert Tate, Automotive Historian and Researcher
Images Courtesy of the Studebaker National Museum/Studebaker Archives
Published 1.27.2021

By Robert Tate, Automotive Historian and Researcher
Images Courtesy of General Motors Media Archives/Jill Reger - 1950 Oldsmobile emblem
Published 1.20.2021

By Robert Tate, Automotive Historian and Researcher
Images Courtesy of Ford Motor Company Archives
Published 1.13.2021

By Bob Sadler, MotorCities Communications Manager
Photos Courtesy of the Ypsilanti Auto Heritage Museum
Published 1.6.2021