Richard Arbib 1917-1995

    Arbib, Richard (Packard) A great automotive designer who produced many of the designs used on the Packard/Henney vehicles, Mr. Arbib was the designer of the Packard Pan American, the show car made from a 1951 250 Convertible. The Pan American will be produced as the Caribbean, one of the most beautiful of all post-war period cars.


The Arbib-Oliver Outboard Motor Mystery

Hampton Wayt, of Nashville, TN, is doing research for a book on Richard Arbib, industrial designer extraordinaire'.  In the course of that research, Hampton came across the slim references to Arbib on the Museum site and has posed a number of questions that are recapped below the images.

In addition to designing the Futuristic Oliver prototype shown here, Hampton advises that "...Arbib was way ahead of his time, a true innovator.  He had his hands into all kinds of projects.  He was responsible for the most memorable Century boats, from 1954-60.  This includes the Coronado and the Arabian, among others (with all of those slick removable hardtops).  He also was responsible for the 1957 Hamilton Electric Ventura watch - recently used in "Men in Black."  No one would guess that the design was that old.  He also designed the 1952 Packard Pan American show car which eventually became the Caribbean.  He did many things, but its too much to mention..."

Trained as an automotive stylist, Richard Arbib continued to express his infatuation with cars in designs for consumer products. With its flaring side fins, flashy dial, and turquoise and white color scheme, his clock radio design for General Electric suggests the flamboyance of mid-1950s car design.


Richard A Arbib: An American Designer

Richard A. Arbib was born in 1917. A creative spirit, Arbib pursues his passion for design and engineering at New York's own Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, NY. The Institute is famous for producing the best talents in art, design and architecture like industrial designer Charles Pollock and photographer Robert Mapplethorpe.

In the 1940's Arbib begins his illustrious profession working with GM Styling. He shows promise as a car designer and his infatuation with automobiles lasts throughout his entire design career. He spends three years honing his skills with GM mostly as an independent designer and continues his training after WWII working with the granddaddy of car design at the time, Harley Earl, creator of the LaSalle, Corvette, and Cadillac tailfin.

His penchant and talent for car design brings Arbib success at the Henney Automobile Company. Arbib's creativity reaches new levels with the Packard Caribbean and the beautiful 1951-1954 Henney-Packards. These cars set styling trends that last many years, such as the rear door that opens into the roof and the wrap-around rear side windows on the limousine style models

One of Arbib's most famous cars is the Astra-Gnome, which was featured on the cover of Newsweek in 1956. The modified 1955 Nash Metropolitan became Arbib's vision of what a car would look like in the year 2000.

In the late 1950's Arbib's ability gains attention and soon he begins to cross the lines into different industries. He expands his talent to include covers for magazines like The Galaxy Science Fiction, and eventually garners the attention of the Century Boat Company. Century hires Arbib because of the notoriety of his automotive styling talents. Arbib's boat styling begins closely mimicking the futuristic automobile styling of that time. His boat designs receive nationwide publicity when he creates the Coronado 20', a boat with a larger inboard than Century's previous top selling Resorter. Demands for the boat begin pouring into the factory and Arbib continues to design Coronados until 1962.

Arbib's famous Coronado design wins not only the hearts of the consumer, but of Hollywood as well. The boat is perhaps one of the most well know runabouts, appearing in two films You Can't Run Away From It starring Jack Lemmon and The Eddy Duchin Story with Tyrone Powers. The Century Coronado is truly one of the most unique designs ever to leap from the drawing board into the water.

His training as an automotive stylist is prevalent as Richard Arbib continues to express his infatuation with cars in designs for consumer products. Arbib designs everything from clock radios to convertibles. His work includes motors for Evinrude, autos for Henney/Packard, GM and Cadillac, clocks for Hamilton and General Electric, and vacuum cleaners and dirigibles. His creativity and talent stretch to more than three hundred design categories.

Arbib's fascination with timepieces becomes visible in watch designs he produces for Hamilton, the costume jeweler Marcel Boucher (who apprenticed at Cartier), Paulo Gucci, Sheffield, and Omega.

1957 proves to be a very big year for Arbib as he unveils the Hamilton Ventura, one of the century's horological masterpieces for technology and design. The design has transcended time and remains today, 40 years after its introduction, one of Hamilton's leading designs.

He produces hundreds of design ideas for Hamilton with many of the Hamilton electric models of the late 1950's and 1960's being attributed to his genius. His brilliance does not fade over the decades as he continues to produce innovative and exciting creations.

In 1995 Richard H. Arbib, an American designer dies in NY. He leaves behind him an indelible mark on the American industrial design scene and on the very products he touched.


Hamilton Watches & Bettie Page

by Jeffrey P. Hess

t was a puzzle. It was 1987 and no one seemed to know who designed the hottest collectible watch of the era, the 1950s-made Hamilton Electric series. One of America's few contributions to the international horology marketplace that was cluttered by more worthy Pateks, Vacherons and Le Coultres, the Hamilton Electric models - specifically the Ventura, the Pacer and many other odd and Jetson-esque designs were the darlings of the collectible world. People were wearing them, writing about them, copying them. But no one seemed to know who designed them. The puzzle was not solved until the almost surreal pieces were somehow put together. Only a man like Richard Arbib could have imagined that puzzle pieces that included car fins, bombs, vacuum cleaners, outboard motors, odd asymmetrical shapes and futuristic cars and dirigibles (and Betty Paige) could be put together to form the picture-perfect image of a genius. And the genius was Richard Arbib himself.

My colleagues and friends Stewart Unger and Edward Faber told me in 1987 that they werewriting a book about American watches. We were all concerned at the time that the Swiss companies were overshadowing many of the early American companies and designs, and Unger and Faber were going to do something about it. So I cavalierly volunteered to find the genius that designed the Hamilton Ventura. They smiled. My confidence waned when, after three weeks and hundreds of dollars of research and phone calls in Pre-internet 1987, I found "zilch". Each call that I made to former employees of Hamilton Watch Company, as well as (then) current employees of Hamilton Watch Company, museums and historians, led me nowhere. I remember the cacophony of laughter and almost derisive tone of voice of those whom I called. The universal answer was, "Those guys are long gone." But I persevered.

When I finally discovered in February of 1988 - after several frustrating months of investigative work - that the mystery man had a name, I still wanted to find him, this Richard Arbib, this wild man of design, this Ike-era George Jetson. I still did not know where to start. It was true that many of the designers of that era had passed away. But something told me that this guy was still around. Naturally I decided to try Lancaster first. After all, many of Hamilton's people had retired there. My search yielded nothing, so I turned to Ma Bell. New York City seemed like a nice place to try and to my amazement, good old 212 directory assistance yielded one Richard Arbib in Manhattan. I called, and much to my surprise, Mr. Richard Arbib answered the phone alive, well and gleefully confirming that he was indeed the man who designed the Ventura. After 20 minutes of excited conversation, Mr. Arbib invited me to his apartment in Manhattan, and I was on a plane the next day. I had actually impressed Faber and Unger, two of the leading historians in watchdom and New York's titans of antiquarian horology. I had found the designer of the Ventura, - and intheir own backyard!

When I was led into the foyer of the rather elegant yet dated buidling on East 77th Street, I somehow knew that I was into something good. The doorman directed me to Arbib's apartment and Mr. Arbib greeted me with a hearty handshake. Despite the fact that he was no longer a young man, he was still spry and sharp and looking good (even with his awful hairpiece). We walked through the first part of the huge yet tidy rent-controlled apartment as Arbib explained that he was renting the first part of the unit to a young foreign lady who worked at the United Nations. As we entered Mr. Arbib's share of the apartment, I was awestruck. Piled high were drawings, plans, models and boxes and boxes of personal papers. There were literally pathways between the boxes. As we meandered toward the back, Arbib began asking me if I would be interested in his newest venture - dirigible airline travel. Despite my repeated protestations, this was to be the main theme of the evening. Arbib was convinced that the time had come (this was in 1988 remember) for a dirigible comeback. Cheap travel. Quiet travel. Safe travel. He showed me many drawings of his "new" dirigibles.

Gradually I was able to draw him back into talking about Hamilton. Arbib seemed extremely unaware of the impact he had made in the watch world with his outrageous and sonorous designs. He was totally unaffected. He stressed that he was more interested only in his new designs, specifically the dirigible "project". Changing the subject back to Hamilton, I asked about the work climate there. "They were wonderful people," he said. "I never really worked for them. Most of the time I was just an independent contractor. They would call several others and myself and tell us what they wanted and we would all take in our renderings. Sometimes, as with the Electric, they just gave us free reign. They just let us go. They really wanted something different. and were not afraid to let me really get creative." Arbib insisted that his art came first. He bemoaned the fact that many of the best designs would not be built by Hamilton because the designs were too complicated. "Even after they accepted many of my designs for the Electric, we were always at each other's throats with cost issues." Arbib complained that while he had incorporated into almost all of his designs, a strap that was 'cosmetically integrated', one that would ' flow into one end of the watch and out the other', Hamilton complained that this was too expensive and told him that only the first few models would have this feature. "This defeated the whole purpose!" Mr. Arbib stated. While Arbib is generally accepted as the man who designed the Hamilton Ventura, he probably also designed the Pacer, the Victor, the Titan, the Van Horn, the Cross Country II, and the Transcontinental. In addition to these well-known gents wristwatches, he also designed scores of ladies designer watches for Hamilton as well

When I asked him about the Ventura and the Pacer, Arbib surprised me by telling me that that they were actually "bombs". Since the Hamilton Electrics are universally recognized as the watch that brought down the company, I was not sure what he meant. The analogy was fitting perhaps. Thank the horology gods that Arbib's futuristic designs were light years ahead of the movement that Hamilton had rushed to market. 

His bold and important designs housed the ill-fated and infamous Grade 500 that essentially doomed the project from the beginning. He then said, "Bombssee?" He walked over to a cabinet full of original renderings and internal archival photographs and advertisements of watches for Hamilton, Omega, Sheffield and
Marcel Boucher. He pulled out several of the photos of the Electric and, when he turned the Ventura sideways, there it was: a bomb. An inverted rocket. After he showed it to me, it did seem rather obvious, but I had to ask: "Why bombs?" Arbib turned to me and said, "Did you know that I put the fins on cars? During the war (WWII) I designed bombs and rockets." He explained that he had designed fins for auto companies and that they were based on rockets too...! So that was it! Bombs!

Arbib then gave me a couple of renderings and signed them for me. My curiosity piqued, I then asked if he had any unusual designs for other horological projects. Arbib wandered over to another cardboard box and as he peppered me with pleadings to invest in his dirigible project, we gradually got back on the subject of horology. Under some files and photos and renderings of vacuum cleaners, autos, clocks, and household appliances - all with wings, seemingly ready to fly right off the page - he unearthed some file folders and showed me a couple of renderings for Hamilton of a transistor radio clock that was truly awesome. It incorporated the same "space age" lines and clean yet fanciful swoops that he had
used in his Ventura and Pacer designs. He explained that Hamilton was always on the lookout for new products and that he had high hopes for this one. But alas, Hamilton passed. General Electric in fact later produced some of his clocks. I asked if he had anything even more exotic and he loped off to another section of the apartment and rummaged through another dusty cardboard vessel, quickly pulling out a group of drawings. Oops! These were drawings of his dirigible. Would I be interested in seeing them? So, after another hour of listening to his good-natured pitch, we again got back to the subject at hand.

The next thing he shared with me was truly fascinating. He unearthed from an old metal cabinet a huge blueprint for a Time Zone Clock, labeled "MX-1, Full Scale"; "Client: Hamilton Watch Company, Date: March 6, 1956." But this was not just a "world" time clock. .It was an "out of this world" clock. Arbib was way ahead of the game, even in 1956. This one was labeled "CELESTIAL TIME ZONE CLOCK MX-1 drawn by Richard Arbib". A (Italics) CELESTIAL (end) Time Zone clock. Truly awesome. A planetary time chart, compete with earlier sketches of a clock that showed the "time" on all of the planets, with a notation that "Rotation was shown in earth hours, planetary times are relative to solar day only." Arbib said that
Hamilton passed on this one too and that he eventually just built two of the clocks - a prototype and one that was put into his futuristic
car (a modified Nash) that was featured in Mechanics Illustrated and Newsweek in the mid 50s. The final product simply had a planetary
night sky map that was quite impressive as well. When I commented that it was too bad that he did not save the prototype, Arbib bounded over to yet another box and fished it out. I was very
impressed, and excited to no end. Mr. Arbib was on a roll as well. As he unearthed drawing after drawing, photo after photo, rendering after rendering, I knew that I was sitting next to greatness.

When Mr. Arbib asked me if I wanted to buy some of these things, I said "yes". Actually I had been thinking of a way to pose that question all afternoon long. I asked him to sign the renderings and he did so, signing them alternately "R. Arbib '55", "R. Arbib '56", "R.
Arbib '57" or simply "Arbib". Clearly his memory had faded a bit, as some of the items he signed '57 obviously predated some signed '56, but no matter.

We had several other conversations over the next few months. I asked for (and received) permission from Mr. Arbib to use the photos and drawings in Mr. Unger and Mr. Faber's book, and after hearing that Rene Rendeau was writing a book about Hamilton, Mr. Arbib also gave me permission to share his name with Mr. Rendeau. Mr. Rendeau kindly credited me in his first volume, an honor I will truly never forget.

The rest is, as they say, history. Mr. Richard Arbib passed away in 1995, but today his drawings are all over the Internet, a part of the Smithsonian's collection, included in the Cooper Hewitt Design Museum, shown at the Mendenhall Gallery in Los Angeles and a part of my own collection. I share some of them with you here. My conversations with Mr. Arbib were memorable. My only regret is that I did not consider investing in the dirigible project.

- Jeffrey Pittman Hess

Richard Arbib studied at Pratt, cutting his razor sharp teeth by working at General Motors and Henney while doing odd jobs such as designing covers for magazines like The Galaxy Science Fiction in 1952. He designed watches for: Marcel Boucher, the costume
jeweler (who apprenticed at Cartier), Paulo Gucci, Hamilton, Sheffield, as well as Omega. He designed boats for Century Boat Co., (The Coronado), and motors for Evinrude. The Coronado, used in the movies "The Eddy Duchin Story" with Tyrone Power and "You
Can't Run Away From It All" with Jack Lemmon, was the flagship of the Century line, and one of the most expensive boats of its day.

He designed autos for Henney/Packard, GM and Cadillac, as well as clocks for Hamilton and General Electric, in addition to designing vacuum cleaners and dirigibles. Some of his designs were made, and some were not. One of his most famous cars was the Astra-Gnome, which was featured on the cover of Newsweek in 1956. It was a modified 1955 Nash Metropolitan that was his vision of what a car would look like in the year 2000. The automobile has been completely restored and is kept at a museum in California. The prototype of the clock for the Astra-Gnome is in Jeffrey Hess's collection. Arbib's secret romance with Betty Paige is confirmed by his son, Richard Arbib Jr., a novelist living in California.



For more information please read:

Biographies of Prominent Carriage Draftsmen - Carriage Monthly, April 1904

Marian Suman-Hreblay - Dictionary of World Coachbuilders and Car Stylists

Daniel D. Hutchins - Wheels Across America: Carriage Art & Craftsmanship

Marian Suman-Hreblay - Dictionary of World Coachbuilders and Car Stylists

Michael Lamm and Dave Holls - A Century of Automotive Style: 100 Years of American Car Design

Nick Georgano - The Beaulieu Encyclopedia of the Automobile: Coachbuilding

George Arthur Oliver - A History of Coachbuilding

George Arthur Oliver - Cars and Coachbuilding: One Hundred Years of Road Vehicle Development

Hugo Pfau - The Custom Body Era

Beverly Rae Kimes - The Classic Car

Beverly Rae Kimes - The Classic Era

Richard Burns Carson - The Olympian Cars

Brooks T. Brierley - Auburn, Reo, Franklin and Pierce-Arrow Versus Cadillac, Chrysler, Lincoln and Packard

Brooks T. Brierley - Magic Motors 1930

James J. Schild - Fleetwood: the Company and the Coachcraft

John R. Velliky - Dodge Brothers/Budd Co. Historical Photo Album

Stephen Newbury -  Car Design Yearbook 1

Stephen Newbury -  Car Design Yearbook 2

Stephen Newbury -  Car Design Yearbook 3

Dennis Adler - The Art of the Sports Car: The Greatest Designs of the 20th Century

C. Edson Armi - The Art of American Car Design: The Profession and Personalities

C. Edson Armi - American Car Design Now

Penny Sparke - A Century of Car Design

John Tipler - The World's Great Automobile Stylists

Ivan Margolius - Automobiles by Architects

Jonathan Bell - Concept Car Design

Erminie Shaeffer Hafer - A century of vehicle craftsmanship

Ronald Barker & Anthony Harding - Automobile Design: Twelve Great Designers and Their Work

John McLelland - Bodies beautiful: A history of car styling and craftsmanship

Frederic A. Sharf - Future Retro: Drawings From The Great Age Of American Automobiles

Paul Carroll Wilson - Chrome Dreams: Automobile Styling Since 1893

David Gartman - Auto Opium: A Social History of American Automobile Design

Nick Georgano - Art of the American Automobile: The Greatest Stylists and Their Work

Matt Delorenzo - Modern Chrysler Concept Cars: The Designs That Saved the Company

Thom Taylor - How to Draw Cars Like a Pro

Tony Lewin & Ryan Borroff - How To Design Cars Like a Pro

Doug DuBosque - Draw Cars

Jonathan Wood - Concept Cars

D. Nesbitt - 50 Years Of American Auto Design

David Gartman - Auto Opium: A Social History of American Automobile Design

Lennart W. Haajanen & Karl Ludvigsen - Illustrated Dictionary of Automobile Body Styles

L. J. K Setright - The designers: Great automobiles and the men who made them

Goro Tamai - The Leading Edge: Aerodynamic Design of Ultra-Streamlined Land Vehicles

Brian Peacock & Waldemar Karwowski - Automotive Ergonomics

Bob Thomas - Confessions of an Automotive Stylist

Brooke Hodge & C. Edson Armi - Retrofuturism: The Car Design of J Mays

Gordon M. Buehrig - Rolling sculpture: A designer and his work

Henry L. Dominguez - Edsel Ford and E.T. Gregorie: The Remarkable Design Team...

Stephen Bayley - Harley Earl (Design Heroes Series)

Stephen Bayley - Harley Earl and the Dream Machine

Serge Bellu - 500 Fantastic Cars: A Century of the World Concept Cars

Raymond Loewy - Industrial Design

Raymond Loewy - Never Leave Well Enough Alone

Philippe Tretiack - Raymond Loewy and Streamlined Design

Angela Schoenberger - Raymond Loewy: Pioneer of American Industrial Design

Laura Cordin - Raymond Loewy


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