By Wallace Wyss
Although I grew up in Detroit and worked in the car industry (as an ad copywriter) I never met John DeLorean but I saw him from afar at many auto shows and ran across his influence everywhere.
For instance, when I used to take the family car and go out on Woodward Ave. looking for a drag race, I steered clear of any Pontiac that had been at Ace Wilson’s store in Royal Oak where they created the Royal Bobcat.
Turned out DeLorean had a brother involved with that business and even before he had official GM approval he was fomenting a performance revolution with GM products.
DeLorean grew up on the east side of Detroit during the Great Depression. According to an article by Suzanne Snider on a blog called Longreads.com, “DeLorean’s mother was Hungarian and worked for General Electric. His father was from Romania and worked at the Ford foundry doing factory work. Despite a troubled relationship with his father, DeLorean was a motivated and successful young student who managed to gain entrance to one of the most elite public schools in Detroit: Cass Technical High School, popularly known as Cass Tech.
Originally conceived as a trade school for young men in 1861, Cass Tech grew so rapidly and successfully that in the 1920s students were asked to leave after two years to find jobs, in order to make room for those on the waitlist. Finding a job was relatively easy for Cass Tech’s students since the school functioned as a feeder into design divisions of the Big Three automakers. The young DeLorean’s course in life seemed to have been set. Yet, in the first of many odd twists in his biography, DeLorean initially decided to bank on his skills playing the saxophone.” Continue reading →
By Wallace Wyss
Of all the characters I met in Detroit while growing up there, William L. Mitchell, VP of GM Styling, was the most unpredictable. Sometimes, in company PR, he would come across as the consummate executive, tastefully dressed, acting like a GM VP would be expected to act.
He was born 1912 in Cleveland, Ohio, and grew up in Greenville, Pennsylvania. His father was a Buick dealer who often brought home the racier cars he took on trade-ins, cars like Stutzes and Mercers.
In 1927, Mitchell went to work as an office boy at Barron Collier Advertising Agency in New York, a position that eventually led to illustration and layout work, and where he me the Collier brothers. They were a car crazy crowd and on weekends Mitchell would go to their road racing track near Tarrytown, New York, and watch the rich swells race Mercedes, Alfas and other foreign tin. Mitchell was quoted in a U of M oral history about that time: “They had an estate outside of Tarrytown [N.Y.] between the Stillmans and Rockefellers called “Overlook”—beautiful, and they first raced little sports cars like MG’s, and then they got bigger cars, and I was in the art department, and I always drew cars.”
He was formally trained at Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon University) in Pittsburgh in 1930 and also attend the Art Students League in New York City from 1930 to 1931. It was a pal of Barron Collier’s who put him in touch with Harley Earl at General Motors.
Mitchell joined what was artfully called the Art and Colour Section (yes, they really did spell “color” that way in the beginning) at GM in 1935 and in 1937 was promoted to the spot of Chief Designer of the Cadillac Studio. His first assignment was to develop a sports sedan. The Cadillac Sixty Special introduced in 1938 was lauded and he was on his way, eventually to succeed Earl. Continue reading →
Feature Story by Wallace Wyss
Growing up in Detroit, I had a lot of role models in the car industry, some of which I knew in person. When I first used to visit GM Design, called GM Styling back then, it was as a guest of William “Bill” Mitchell, the flamboyant head of design. Charles “Chuck” Jordan that I was first introduced to Jordan, I was a little intimated because he had this urbane patrician look, kind of hawk-nosed visage that says “I will come down on you hard, boy.”
In fact, in Styling his nickname behind his back was “the chrome Cobra.”
But later, through doing a story on his Lusso Ferrari, I got to know him and he had a far gentler side, the car enthusiast side.
He wore his suits impeccably, and I only saw him once dressed oddly, wearing a raccoon skin full length coat, something out of the 1920’s but hey, he was from the 1920s when you think about it…and Mitchell would wear crazy stuff all the time, like blood red motorcycle driver suits.
In retrospect when I see the Ralph Lauren ads now featuring his son, David Lauren, they evoke the image of Chuck Jordan, a sort of to-the-manor-born look. Continue reading →
Feature Story by Wallace Wyss
When I was a kid, I was barely aware that there were businessmen. As I grew older, I began to follow stories in the press about various businessmen, especially eccentric tycoons.
I never became a tycoon myself, but I am eccentric.
Be that as it may, one of my early models of an eccentric tycoon who lived The Good Life was Nubar Gulbenkian, a businessman in London. He derived his money from the fact his family had, decades before, worked it out so that they got a sizable cut of the gross of BP. British Petroleum…
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We’d like to take a moment to pay homage to a man of exquisite taste in automobiles, planes and motorcycles who very evidently had an undeniable passion for living life to its fullest. May we present to you the late conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra for over 35 years, Herbert von Karajan (1908 to 1989). The charismatic Austrian has a bio that reads on par with some of our all time greats such as Aristotle Onassis or dare we say it even Steve McQueen, this man was a true car enthusiast who could possibly have been at least in part the inspiration behind the Dos Equis “Most Interesting Man in the World” character. The flamboyant conductor’s affection for driving fast led him down the path to ownership of some of the finest sports cars in motoring history that include an eclectic array of everything from a Mercedes Benz 300 SL Gullwing to a Ford Mk III GT40 during his lifetime and everything in between, although his appreciation for everything Porsche led to his close relationship with the Stuttgart factory. They even built him a few custom one off creations in the past and were kind enough to put him on the front line of the 959 call list before the model was even released. We take a closer look in more detail on the following page…
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