Philip O. Wright - 1903-1967


Philip O. Wright: designer of Classics by W. S. Snyder – the Classic Car, June 1974 pp26-29 

Our center spread in this issue is an exercise in "s'posin"'. I went to one of the finest automobile designers and posed the problem, What would you have done for a classic era client who came to you and said, "I'd like something - a one-of-a-kind - on the 1936 Packard V-12 chassis"? "Make it an unusual model. The de­tails are up to you."

The answer is our center spread Packard, done especially for The CLASSIC CAR by Mr. Wright. It would have been the hit of any 1936 Auto Show, or any Concours today.

Phil Wright's career started right in the heart of the Classic era. The first automobile industry job for a lad fresh from Davenport, Iowa, via Chicago's Art institute was with General Motors. He was at GM in Detroit only briefly, when he decided to move west. He arrived in Arizona, and after only a brief stay in the warm, dry climate was able to abandon the cane and crutches which had been his companions since high school.

Buoyed by better health he was soon knocking on the doors of famed Pasadena, California coachbuilder Walter M. Murphy Company. it was here that his talent gave birth to such Classic designs as the L_29 Cord town car for Delores Del Rio. While at Murphy during 1929 and 1930 he worked primarily on Cord L-29 and Duesenberg designs.

He recalls, though, a time when they were out testing a Doble steam car on which Murphy had just mounted a roadster body. At a stop light a new Ford Model A pulled up, and the driver indicated that a little race was desired. Now it must be remembered that in those days the Ford had very spirited acceleration from zero up to 40 or 45 miles per hour (as many owners of larger, more powerful cars were chagrined to find out). The Doble, though, was more than a match for the Ford - or just about anything else. Phil remembers the startled look on the Ford pilot's face as the Doble glided away.

In 1931 he was on his way back to Detroit. During a stopover in Chicago his car was stolen (a not un­common occurrence in those prohib­ition days) and during the delay he chanced to meet Roy Faulkner, who was at that time president of the Cord Corporation.

Faulkner persuaded him to join the company's design staff. The culmina­tion of that chance meeting in Chicago was the Cord L-29 speed­ster, a super nova type star of the 1932 auto shows. At the time this design was produced, Philip Wright was only 25 years old. The speedster itself was sold to Paul Bern, and was believed to have been a gift to h is bride, Jean Harlow. Avid Cord buffs have been trying to locate the car for years, while a couple of attempts to dupli­cate the body have been stillborn.

When Roy Faulkner went to Pierce-Arrow he asked Phil Wright to join him. Phil recalls one meeting at which Pierce Arrow president How­ard Chandler complained that the Pierce radiator shell was too much like the Studebaker shell. One of the engineers protested that they were different, and could provide temp­lates of both to prove it. Mr. Chandler retorted that the average Pierce Arrow customer did not walk up and down automobile row with tem­plates under his arm! Phil Wright was given the task of designing a radiator shell that would be singularly Pierce Arrow. I don't believe there is any Classic enthusiast who is unaware of another Wright design, that of the Pierce Arrow Silver Arrow. This was one of the very few attempts at streamlining that did more. than just cut through the air efficiently - it looked good too.

Phil recalls a brief hectic transfer from South Bend to Buffalo. He ar­rived in Buffalo on the day the then politician-in-chief declared a "bank holiday". Roy Faulkner met him and wondered if he would stay, with the economy in such shaky condition and Pierce Arrow's fate uncertain.

"As long as there is work, I'll stay." was the designer's reply. Ten days later the plant was closed, and Phil was on his way to Detroit.

Briggs Manufacturing Company, at that time one of the major produc­tion body builders, was the next step. Phil worked in a design team headed by John Tjaarda on the first Lincoln Zephyr. He then requested and re­ceived a transfer to the team under Ralph Roberts, known to Classic en­thusiasts as one of the key men in the organization of the LeBaron Body Company. Phil worked on the de­signs for the 1935 and 1936 Fords. He regards the 1936 model as by far the more successful of the two.

In 1939 he left Briggs and went to work in the styling department of Packard. At the time Werner Gubitz was sort of co-leader of Packard styl­ing with Edward McCauley, son of Packard Board Chairman Alvan McCauley. As in most situations where there are perhaps too many chiefs, things did not always go smoothly for the Indians. Phil felt at the time (and still feels so) that the Gubitz-McCauley styling ideas pro­duced bulky looking cars and cites the 1948 Packard as evidence of the culmination of the "bulky look".

Interestingly, Phil had, while at Briggs, designed a clay mock up for Plymouth that featured the fade­away fender design similar to that later used on the beautiful 1941-1947 Packard Clipper.

Shortly after World War II, Phil re­turned to free-lance in California. He did some designs for Coachcraft, Ltd., and articles in "Road & Track" magazine. One article, "The Model A of Today" landed him a job as consultant stylist on the Willys pas­senger car. From the mid-fifties on he worked in the aerospace industry ­again back in California.

He now divides his time between free-lance designing (if Cadillac wants something both small and elegant they should take a look at his Datsun town car - a true show stop­per), composing and playing piano, and some rendering.

The sparks of a creative mind flash as brilliantly today as they did all those years ago when, as a student, he achieved every honor and award available at the Art Institute. His keen sense of humor and positive outlook have seen him through some events that would have broken the spirit of many. Most recently a burglary/fire destroyed almost all of his personal files, not to mention furniture, clo­thing and personal effects.

The Lincoln renderings you see here were done for CCCA member Harry Andrews, the center-spread Packard exclusively for your Club. He will also, as time permits, do style renderings on Classic chassis for Club members. This is, I might add, a rare opportunity to own and enjoy renderings of a unique Classic de­signed "for the client", as they were designed in the Classic era - and by one of the era's top designers. Price for an original is currently only $40.00. This is for an original, signed rendering on a Classic chassis of your choice.


In 1932 former Murphy designer Philip Wright approached Pierce Arrow vice president Roy Faulkner with a free-lance proposal for a stream-lined fastback sedan of luxury proportions. Fresh from his magnificent Cord L-29 Speedster design, Wright wondered if Pierce-Arrow might be interested in the project.  Following approval from South Bend brass, Faulkner gave permission for 5 prototypes to be built as long as the design and assembly was done under Studebaker's supervision in South Bend.

Wright set off for the Studebaker studios where under the direction of their chief designer, James R. Hughes, Wright's original two-door design was transformed into the four-door Silver Arrow show car of 1933. In addition to a wheelbase change from the original 147" to just 139" Wright's original rear window was replaced by the weird skylights that appeared on the five vehicles. None-the-less, the Silver Arrow remains one of the most beautiful prototypes produced by any US manufacturer in the1930s, and the credit should go to Philip Wright.

Richard Burns Carson - The Olympian Cars

In the meantime, Murphy managed to bring together some of the finest young design talent on the west coast. Wellington Everett Miller began his apprenticeship as a part-time artist under Murphy staff designer George McQuerry Jr. Two other marvelously gifted young designers who started with Murphy were Franklin Quick Hershey and Philip O. Wright. Hershey arrived at Murphy in 1928, and Wright joined later that year. They learned from each other, Wright teaching Hershey a watercolor illustrating technique, and both contributed to the coachbuilder's greatest designs during that golden age when Murphy put more bodies on Model J and SJ Duesenberg chassis than any other body-maker in the nation. Hershey's low, luscious designs on the L-29 Cord included the sweepside dual-cowl phaeton (three built), and Wright designed a pair of L-29 town cars for Lola Montez and John Barrymore, plus several other magnificent L-29 Cords.



For more information please read:

W. S. Snyder - Philip O. Wright: designer of Classics – The Classic Car, June 1974

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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