Strother MacMinn 1918–1998

A Man of Wit and Genius

As a young boy growing up in Pasadena, California, Strother MacMinn spent every spare moment drawing pictures of cars or pestering salesmen at car dealers to share their brochures and knowledge of the treasures in their showrooms. It was on one such occasion that a kindly gentleman at the Pierce-Arrow agency provided a turn of fate for Strother by disclosing the whereabouts of a service entrance into the Walter M. Murphy Studio, where he met and became friendly with Franklin Hershey.

Franklin Hershey, one of the best designers in that custom body shop, was so taken with young Strother's sketches that he invited him into a whole new world by having him come to his office Saturday mornings where he showed him the basics of professional body design.

This friendship and guidance continued after Hershey moved to Detroit to work at GM, and throughout Strothers' prep school, a three-week summer class at the Art Center School in Los Angeles and high school years. It eventually led to Strother's first working job in 1936 in the Buick studio at General Motors Art & Colour Section with Franklin Hershey as his boss.

With corporate approval from GM's German division, Harley Earl set up a new studio in 1937. Strother MacMinn, John Coleman and George Jergenson, with Frank Hershey in charge and Hans Mersheimer of Opel as design liaison officer, were given the assignment to style the upcoming 1938 Opel Kapitan. It was an exciting enterprise because of its new approach to international styling and included advanced ideas such as built-in headlights, stretch fenders and a clean body form. (That basic model, with face-lifts, remained in production into the early fifties.)

It was with skill and enthusiasm that MacMinn participated in the development of design proposals for GM's inter-city bus client, Greyhound Lines, Frank Springs styling department at Hudson Motors, Ed Anderson's Oldsmobile studio, and many others on his long list of credits.

But, according to MacMinn, the best job offer anyone ever had was his part-time teaching job in 1948 at the Art Center School in the Industrial Design department. MacMinn feels nothing can compare with the excitement and stimulation of sharing enthusiasm and knowledge with dedicated, professionally oriented young design students. Perhaps that is why he has been teaching part-time for the past 41 years.

In addition he has worked independently as a designer of: aircraft seats, household products, and fiberglass boats. And as a consultant in 1973, he helped to found the first Southern California advanced concept satellite auto design studio for the Toyota Motor corporation remaining a Toyota consultant until December 31, 1983.

Since 1947 MacMinn has written and illustrated articles for Road & Track, Motor Trend, Automobile Quarterly, and Car Graphic magazines in addition to historical catalogue essays for the "Automobile and Culture" and "Detroit Style: Automotive form 1925-1950" exhibits in Los Angeles and Detroit.

Strother MacMinn's lifelong love of the automobile has led him to own a 1937 Cord 812 phaeton and a 1929 Rolls-Royce P-1 Derby phaeton. He kept and still drives the 1951 Jaguar XK-120 roadster that he bought for $2400 in 1953.

(Special thanks to Helen V Hutchings).


Strother was for many years head of Art Center School of Design's transportation department. I ran into him from time-to-time, the last being at a copy center in Pasadena. I mentioned to him he was the most influential person in the world regarding automotive design. He told me to 'stop right now!'. Strother was writing cutting-edge articles for R&T in the 50's. His influence caused many major car companies to locate their 'leading edge' design studios in Southern California.


Chrome, too, can be a temptation. Cadillac introduced chrome plating in 1929 and it quickly spread throughout General Motors and then the industry. Nickle, with its lovely warm hue, had had a soft richness that was appealing, but when that super-hard blue-white of chromium came along, which needed little polishing and which seemed to last forever, nickle quickly became pass. Few owners chrome inappropriately on cars that predate 1929, but on later cars, there's a tendancy to chrome everything, including parts such as water pipes and electrical conduits that weren't chromed originally. Chrome wire wheels appear in such abundance today that one is tempted to think that all classic cars had plated wheels. Yes, chrome wire wheels were possible as the problems of embrittlement were solved, but they were rare.

The problem is compounded when owners add whitewalls to chrome-plated wheels. Such a combination again shouts "Look at Me" too readily. Strother MacMinn, who served as Chief Honorary Judge at Pebble Beach for twenty-five years, always maintained that a car could have chrome wheels or white sidewalls, but not both; he felt the eye was so drawn to the combination of whitewall and chrome wheel that the general line of a car, its balance as a whole, was distorted.

A great Concours d’Elegance automobile is a combination of beauty, accuracy of restoration, and an indefinable melange of "star" qualities. But above all, a car must reflect its own period, especially in matters of color and decoration. Strother MacMinn, a famous judge with strong artistic gifts, comments on taste: "Either choose chrome wire wheels or white sidewall tires but not both. Too gaudy." He adds, "All classic cars were not red or cream!" (Two favorite colors of restorers which often show to advantage on a field). The best car may quietly state its own period with a delicate refinement, even with understated elegance, that, when new, would have reflected the buyer’s taste. Good judges will see this on the field.

(Special thanks to Helen V Hutchings).



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

Frederick E. Hoadley - Automobile Design Techniques and Design Modeling: the Men, the Methods, the Materials

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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