The Benefits of Bearing Down: My Career in Car Design – Rod Williams

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I was a car designer with Ford and Chrysler in the 1950s, a time of powerful, classic cars. What made my employment as a designer unique is that I was a 23-year-old farm boy from Millinocket with no formal art training, and in the U.S. Navy, at the time Ford hired me. I still had a year before my enlistment discharge a year later in June 1954. I began work at Ford just a few weeks later. At that time Ford, GM, Chrysler, and American Motors all had a hiring policy that required new designer applicants to be art or design school graduates. How did I manage to slip between the cracks? 

Back to the past. I was just a typical young car nut in my high school teens, and I was good at drawing, so I did just that, doing drawings of cars . . . mostly my own designs.  After graduating from high school, I wanted to continue in art and design as a professional career, but I could not afford to go to art school. However, when the Korean war broke out, the GI Bill benefits were re-instated.  I joined the Navy to obtain the college benefits upon my discharge in 1954.  

Unfortunately, I never got to use or need the benefits.  Ford Motor Company had made me a design job offer while I was still in the Navy. This unusual situation took place because a national car magazine published some of my car designs in an article titled “Dream Car Sailor.” During my Navy enlistment, I had continued designing cars in my spare time. This was the totally unexpected, surprising result of that spacetime activity. 

I began employment with Ford in July 1954, just two weeks after my Navy discharge. I began work in their Advanced Design Studio, which was composed of a dozen or more newly employed design school graduates.  However, I was not a design school graduate, the only one without that qualification. It was an exceptional opportunity, but it presented many challenges to my novice art and design talent. I quickly realized I was “behind the eight ball,” so to speak, and that it would be a daunting task to succeed, compete, and advance in the situation I found myself

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Categories: Designers

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