Today in Transportation History – 1990: A Lifetime of Automobile Design

Automobile designer Gordon M. Buehrig died in Grosse Pointe Woods, Michigan, at the age of 85. Buehrig had been born in Mason City, Illinois, in 1904. Early on in life, he developed a robust enthusiasm for automobiles and drawing pictures of them – an enthusiasm that wasn’t always readily shared or even encouraged by others.  “One day I was expelled from the chemistry class because, according to the instructor, my notebook was not well done and there were sketches of automobiles on all the pages,” he recalled about one negative incident as a student at Bradley Polytechnic Institute in Peoria, Illinois. “He was incensed at the thought I wasted my time drawing automobiles.”

Notwithstanding encounters like that one, Buehrig retained a strong interest in the design of automobiles. By the late 1920s, he had acquired a great deal of professional experience in this regard by designing bodies for automotive giants such as General Motors, the Packard Motor Car Company, and the Stutz Motor Car Company.  In 1929, Buehrig became chief body designer for Duesenberg Motors Company.

Buehrig began working for the Auburn Automobile Company in 1934. During his time at that company, Buehrig designed the widely acclaimed Boattail Speedster of 1935. Another one of his popular Auburn creations was the Cord 810, the first American front-wheel-drive automobile with independent front suspension.  When the Cord 810 made its official debut at the New York Auto Show during the fall of 1935, attendees were so eager to see the new model that they stood on the bumpers of nearby vehicles just to get a look.

1956 Continental Mark II

Buehrig joined the Ford Motor Company in 1949. His designs for this company included the 1956 Continental Mark II, which has gained international renown as a classic. It was also during his time at Ford that Buerig obtained a patent for the T-top, a removable panel roof for automobiles. It wouldn’t be until the 1968 Chevrolet Corvette, however, that an American-built production automobile would feature a T-top roof. (Buehrig was awarded a total of 15 patents during the course of his career.) Buehrig retired from Ford in 1965 and then taught at the Art Center College of Design in California over the next several years. In 1989, he was inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame.

Buehrig’s autobiography, entitled “Rolling Sculpture: A Designer and His Work,” came out in 1975. Fellow automobile designer Richard A. Teague, in his foreword for the book, offered his assessment of why Buehrig stood out in their field.  “The mark of the really exceptional car designer is the degree to which his creations are coveted and revered long after they were built,” noted Teague. “Many of Gordon Buehrig’s cars are in this class-true collector items. They were considered classic cars when introduced, and the feeling about them, the sense of distinction and value, has increased with the passage of time.”

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