Gordon Buehrig


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Buehrig was one of the leading stylists in the American automobile industry, particularly noted for his classic designs for Auburn, Cord, and Duesenberg of the interwar years. His 1936 Cord 810 was selected by the Museum of Modern Art, New York, for its Eight Automobiles exhibition in 1951. It was described in the catalogue with a reverence generally reserved for works of fine art as having ‘each part…treated as an independent piece of sculpture, the whole collection being partially related by similar details for each unit’. In many ways this reflected his own view of himself as an automobile sculptor and architect rather than automobile engineer. He was said to have been influenced by reading the 1927 translation of Le Corbusier's Vers une architecture (1923) but his outlook had much in common with the first generation of American industrial designers such as Raymond Loewy and Norman Bel Geddes. Buehrig first became significantly involved in automobile design in 1924 when he was employed as a trainee by the Gotfredson Body Company in Wayne, Michigan, before moving on two years later to work as a draughtsman at the Dietrich Body Company in Detroit. This was followed by a spell at the Edward G. Budd Company and then at Packard before he joined the new and innovative Art and Colour Section at General Motors under its inaugural head Harley Earl in 1927. However, Buehrig was highly ambitious and moved to the Stutz company in Indianapolis in 1928 where he worked on the bodywork designs for the company's entries for the 1929 Le Mans 24‐hour race. In 1930 he moved on to the Auburn‐Cord‐Duesenberg company as chief designer. However, in the wake of the Wall Street Crash of 1929 the recession was felt strongly in the luxury car sector and Buehrig briefly moved back to the Art and Colour Section at General Motors in 1933 on the invitation of Howard O'Leary, Earl's assistant. After returning to Auburn‐Cord‐Duesenberg he began working on his ideas for the front‐wheel drive Cord 810. There was a rush to produce 100 hand‐built prototypes for the 1935 Auto Shows in New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles, although they were non‐functioning due to the non‐completion of the transmission. The flowing, rounded forms, with headlights integrated into the bodywork and long, sweeping chrome lines of the radiator detailing attracted considerable publicity and public attention and many favourable articles in the motoring press. A considerable number of advance orders were placed by customers who received bronze models of the 810 while they waited for delivery. The car went into production in 1936 with a choice of four models: the Westchester Sedan, the Beverley Sedan, the Convertible Sedan, and the Convertible Coupé. He also designed the Cord 812 before leaving for the Edward G. Budd Company to work on prototype designs as chief designer from 1936 to 1938. This was followed by a decade as a freelance designer, interrupted only by a brief spell with Studebaker under Raymond Loewy, until in 1949 he took up the post of head of the Body Development Studio, one of five studios of the Ford Styling division. He worked on a number of designs including the 1951 Hardtop, the highly successful 1952 Ranchwagon, and the Lincoln Continental Mark II, for which he was the chief body designer from 1952 to 1957. After a period as head of station wagon planning he became a principal design engineer in the material applications group from 1959 until 1965 when he retired from Ford.


Subjects: Industrial and Commercial Art.

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