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The Automotive Chronicles

Monthly newsletter published by McLellan's Automotive History. Dedicated to literature collectors, restorers, museums, publishers, manufacturers and investors who collect and preserve automotive literature
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October 2005 Issue
 
ARTICLE
 
Fisher Body Craftsman's Guild
By Robert McLellan
 
1955 Pontiac Strato Star Concept Car
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The odds are that when you were a teenager you were dreaming of owning a special car. Not just an everyday mode of transportation, but something different that projected your personality. Buying popular magazines and visiting auto dealerships and car shows, you viewed the latest offerings and picked up the sales brochures. Great as the new cars were, the concepts or experimental cars were better. Longer, lower and sleaker, they were magic. They set your mind in motion as to possibilities for the future.


1940 P-38 Lightning World War II Fighter
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1930s GM Fisher Body Rendering
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Prior to the Chrysler Airflows and Cord 810/812, most makes differed little other than grille shapes and chrome ornamentation. Suddenly, in the mid-1930s, the influence of aerodynamics was seized from the sleek monoplanes and incorporated into the styling of auto body work. The public was enthusiastic and we were all style conscious. Boys were sketching designs in their school notebooks and at home they decorated their bedroom walls with colorful drawings. Designs got wilder in the 1950s with fins and lots of chrome and sculpturing.

A 1932 Coach Entry (Photo by Harry Schoepf)
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The Fisher Body Division of General Motors began in 1930 to encourage teenagers to compete for college scholarships by building Napoleonic coach models. The coach was their trademark and the contest concentrated on following precise instructions that tested the competitors' construction skills. In 1937 the Fisher Body Guild contest unlocked the dreams of potential designers so they could display what they believed future cars should look like. In his book, The Fisher Body Craftsman's Guild, John Jacobus quotes from the placard in the Guild exhibit case at the Smithsonian Institution, "From 1930 to 1968 millions of boys fascinated by cars joined the Fisher Body Craftsman's Guild. About 600,000 members enrolled each year in the 1950s making the Guild second in size only to the Boy Scouts of America for young men."

JOHN L. JACOBUS

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"John L. Jacobus recently retired from the U. S. Department of Transportation in Washington, DC. Previously he worked as a Design Engineer for the Fisher Body Division, General Motors Corporation in Warren, Michigan. John studied Industrial Design at the Art Center College of Design in California and at Wayne State University in Detroit. As a youth, he participated in the Craftsman's Guild from 1961 to 1966. His hobby and passion for the past 40 years has been automobiles, automotive history and automotive design history. During the past 20 years, John has focused on auto stylists and designers and the collecting of Fisher Body Craftsman's Guild memorabilia. He was also instrumental in a Craftsman's Guild exhibit and collection at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History. His writing credits include Automobile Quarterly and with co-author Skip Geear he was published in the SAH Automotive History Review."

After John's article on the Guild appeared in Automobile Quarterly, Vol. 25, No. 2, 1987, I contacted him and we have been constantly in touch ever since. Like so many other Guild contestants, I encouraged him to publish a book on the Guild. That had long been his goal. The dedication, perseverance and exhaustive research that went into this book has been phenomenal. And the book shows his passion. John, congratulations on fulfilling your dream. And thank you for presenting to thousands of readers the opportunity to enjoy this grand accomplishment. The book will undoubtedly be purchased by all former Guildsmen and those would-be designers who wish they had participated. A call to arms! Spread the word! The book is now available through www.fisherguild.com.

THE BOOK

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I find that the better I know the subject, the more critical my review is. After all, when the subject is new to me I am less likely to spot errors and more likely to find it interesting. In this case, I looked forward to the book with great anticipation because I was very familiar with the subject, but with great trepidation knowing I could readily detect errors. My expectations had been built up for almost 20 years and the book was now in my hands. I am relieved to say, now that I have read it, that it has exceeded my expectations. It is what it should be and it does it well.

Bill Moore (age 19) from Los Angeles, CA, is shown measuring and fitting a roughed-out brass rear bumper piece for what would become the top senior national awarding winning model car in the Craftsman's Guild competition in 1956.
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Neither a text book nor a dry history, it is more like a collection of short stories. After reading the introduction (Chapter 1), I jumped around reading the sections that I knew would relate to my Guild days of the late 1950s. The stories of the competitors (Chapter IV) drew my interest because these were my competitors. When I built my models I did not know a single contestant. Maybe that was good and was what GM wanted — independent thought with no supervision. Determining my own design, construction materials, methods, etc., was an exciting approach. Now for the first time all the parts of the Guild puzzle are laid out before me and other Guildsmen were telling their stories.

Going to Chapter III on the competition itself, I found topics like "Trim From Common Household Items" and "Construction Materials and Methods Used". Wow things I never thought of!

By the time I finished the book I wondered, "Why did the competition end?" Apparently no one knows. If brought back to life today, I would bet it would be more popular than ever.

At www.FisherGuild.com you will find a more comprehensive review of the book's contents. In brief, if you are interested in auto design, Guild history or model making, you will enjoy reading this book. Even if you did not compete in the Guild, or have never heard about the Guild, as an automotive enthusiast the odds are you will find this book fascinating.

 
:: For further information go to www.fisherguild.com/specs.htm.
:: Contact the author through his web site at johnjacobus@fisherguild.com and tell him that you read about the book at The Automotive Chronicles for a 20% discount off the retail price.
 

For article on reunion of the Guildsmen, which took place in November of 2004, go to Fisher Body Craftsman's Guild Reunion.

To learn more about the history of Fisher Body Divisions, GMC and the famous Fisher Body Craftsman's Guild (1930-1968) public relations program see.

 
 
The Automotive Chronicles, October 2005
 
 
 
 
 
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