Mick Walsh's recent blog about Raymond Loewy spurred me to contribute my take on the old genius. I have long been interested in industrial design and a fan of Mr Loewy's work. However, it should be remembered that while he had a sharp eye for what looked right for the job at hand he also had a great talent for self promotion and made his name in American industry (and later worldwide) by clever marketing as much as designing. He certainly had a talent too for employing clever designers and getting the best out of them, so while for example he gets the credit for some of the groundbreaking Studebakers, they were by no means his work alone.
After some success with the 1939 Champion line his company was responsible for the new generation of models after WWII and again were praised for the all new shapes that did away with the prevalent bulbous sided tanks from the majors and introduced the slab-sided and more streamlined look of the late forties and on.
These cars in turn have been credited with influencing the Rover P4 range, and of course the Loewy look was used in the mid-fifties Sunbeam Rapier.
The 'spinner' fronted Champion of 1950 caused a stir and was definitely a new look, but probably the greatest artistic breakthrough came with the 1953 Starliner and Starlight range, particularly the coupes which are now recognised as classics and unlike anything else being made outside of Europe. These will always be referred to as Loewy designs when in fact the story was a lot more involved.
He had appointed Virgil Exner as head of the Studebaker design project, but these two fell out over philosophical differences and Exner in turn was lured back by Studebaker to head up a rival design team. Meanwhile, Loewy recruited Gordon Buehrig (best known for the Auburns and Cords pre-war) to head up the team which also by now included Robert E. Bourke who in turn had been poached from Studebaker's in house design office. Both camps were now working on the Starlight project, and for 1947 it was the Exner concept that got the green light.
Loewy was determined to get the Studebaker contract back and when Buehrig left, Bourke took his place as head of the Stude' projects. According to Bourke in his recollections published in Automobile Quarterly (volume 10 - 3 of 1972) he now had a team of about forty people including designers, modellers and pattern makers working on the next generation of the 1950 spinner fronted range, and later in 1951 work started on the 1953 streamlined models.
Much of these designs was the work of the self-effacing Bourke who has never really got the credit he deserves.
Of course the coupes are recognised now as design classics but Bourke was less pleased with the look of the sedan range, and it has to be said the lines did not translate so well for a four-door, but he excuses himself by claiming he did not have the time or resources and these were rushed into production.
The next generation of Hawks while using the existing coupe shell gradually acquired more chrome and decoration, but Loewy lost the design contract after the Packard merger of '56 and the originally clean and attractive Hawks were year on year updated by the in-house team led by Bill Schmidt and Duncan McRae, so the excesses of the late fifties can't be blamed on Loewy, although I have to admit to liking them anyway. Maybe something to do with having both the Corgi and Dinky models as a kid.
As an aside to that, the cleaned up Hawk GT of the sixties was largely the work of another great design maverick, Brook Stevens.
For further reading on this era I recommend hunting out a copy of the aforementioned AQ, but for an excellent overview of Loewy's career as a whole the book 'Industrial Design' by Raymond Loewy himself, published in 1979 illustrates his other designs as well as his talent for promoting his own legend.
The Lancia referred to in the blog was called the Loraymo which was also the name of his eighty-five foot luxury yacht and the name came about as it was the company's cable address (for anyone too young to remember, this was a pre-digital equivalent of email) which in turn derived from a shortened version of his name; Lo
Loewy retrospectively claimed the aerofoil on the roof of the Lancia coupe was adjustable to reduce drag from the Kamm tail and was much copied later for use on race cars, but was this true, or was it just a decorative add-on?
Of course he also claims the Loraymo, as well as his Jaguar XK140, built by Boana in Turin, were just experiments leading up to the Studebaker Avanti of 1963, which it has to be said was another design classic, albeit too late to save Studebaker.
Interestingly, he illustrates in his book another radical coupe design based on a BMW which was built by Pichon and Parat who made the E-Type Mr Walsh illustrated in his blog.
He even mentions in his book the fact that the cutlery he designed for Air France to use on Concorde was so popular that people regularly stole them and coincidentally I have a set here that is on display with my collection of style icons as my little tribute to RL.
As a footnote to Loewy's recognition as a brand I vaguely remember a design company based in Edgware Road near Marble Arch, led I believe by an Ian Murray actually did own the rights to the Loewy name at one time in the eighties, or at least there was some connection, but these days there is a website claiming the name 'Loewy Designs' which licences the use of the name and is run out of Marietta, Georgia by the Loewy estate.
Anyone out there got any other Loewy designs?