While most automotive designers of the mid-century period took themselves deadly serious, as we can see from our OldCarRenderings Tumblog – even when penning flights of futuristic fancy that had no hope of leaping from drawing board to real-life – Milwaukee-based industrial designer Brooks Stevens at least injected a little humor into his renderings. His most recognized satire rendering, above, titled “The Detroit Dilemma or ‘The Battle of the Bulge,’” managed to skewer just about every one of the Detroit Big Three by tacking together all the excess of the mid-Fifties into one design. There’s chrome gravel shields, chrome trim, chrome spears, chrome hood ornaments, chrome wheelcovers, big chrome bumpers, chrome fins, septuple-tone (or maybe octa-tone) paint, wraparound glass, and more. Funny enough, the rendering is dated January 1955 and so pre-dates the height of Fifties fin excess; just imagine what Stevens made of the cars of the latter two years of the 1950s.
Nor was “The Detroit Dilemma” Stevens’s only break from serious auto design, as we see from the Oscar Mayer Weinermobile and this pair of renderings of his that we came across while searching through the Milwaukee Art Museum’s collection. Described as Stevens’s vision for a driver’s education car, they were done for Kaiser-Frazer sometime in April 1951. Not sure exactly what sort of education the students would get in a car like this – especially those in the far back – but the pandemonium of nine 16-year-olds trying to steer all at once would make for at least a few minutes’ worth of entertainment.
Speaking of cars rendered to reflect mid-century excesses, we can’t forget to include New Yorker artist Bruce McCall’s atomic-era mutants. Though he never worked as an automotive designer, McCall did begin his career as an illustrator for auto ads – fertile ground for raising an artist bent on satirizing the big britches who built and bought such bulging behemoths. McCall collected most of his designs in a 2001 book, “The Last Dream-O-Rama: The Cars Detroit Forgot to Build, 1950-1960,” but his Bulgemobile ads (Fireblast! Flashbolt! Blastfire! Firewood!) appeared many times before then in the pages of National Lampoon. As Owen Schumacher wrote of the cars that McCall envisioned in his review of “The Last Dream-O-Rama:” “All these impossible cruisers, the author would argue, are the daffy, chromed-out expressions of an obnoxious Atomic Age: naïve, kitschy, wasteful, superficial, and even McCarthyan.”
Tex Avery might not have had the luxury of detail that static images afford, but his 1951 cartoon, “Car of Tomorrow,” perhaps best illustrated the ridiculous exaggeration many saw in mid-century cars. Casual sexism notwithstanding, Avery might have had some fun with the cartoon, but you can tell he also had a handle on automotive trends – and automotive anxieties – of the early 1950s, from pushbuttons to the exaggerated enormity of cars.
We’re sure there’s more such satirical takes on automotive design, whether concerning the mid-Fifties or other eras.