2017-05-25 / Front Page

Motown motors to north town

Meet designers of your favorite rides
By Patti Brandt Burgess
Of The Enterprise staff


KEITH ASHLEY and Ernie Barry look over some of the sketches that will be used in the Cars as Art event taking place Friday, Saturday and Sunday at the Village Arts Building in Northport. KEITH ASHLEY and Ernie Barry look over some of the sketches that will be used in the Cars as Art event taking place Friday, Saturday and Sunday at the Village Arts Building in Northport. Moving a new car from concept to production is a long and laborious process that doesn’t always end in a shiny, new vehicle rolling off the assembly line.

That process — and even those ‘failed’ concept cars that never made it to showrooms — are the focus of the Cars As Art exhibit this weekend at the Village Arts Building in Northport.

The exhibit will have a decidedly Leelanau flavor as many designers are now county residents.

Sketches and paintings of car concepts, as well as clay and fiberglass models of concept cars, will be on display from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and from 10 a.m. to noon Sunday. The exhibit is free and open to the public.

Many of the artists, designers and clay modelers will also be at the event.

An opening night “Meet the Designers” reception will be held from 6-9 p.m. Friday with wine and hors d’oeuvres served. The cost is $15 per person.

In all, more than 150 to 200 pieces of concept car art from 23 artists and designers will be on display.

One of those pieces will be the ‘Fujimanooli’ concept car created by Ken Peterson of Empire, a design sculptor who retired from Ford Motor Co. in 2000.

Peterson designed the car after he retired.

“The Fuji is a cross between old and new,” Peterson said. “It’s just fun to imagine.”

And fun is on the agenda for the exhibit, an idea that came to fruition after Gills Pier resident Keith Ashley went to some similar events downstate.

A car lover and owner of a custommade ‘51 Chevy, Ashley brought the idea for an art show to two Northport car guys — Ernie Barry, who retired from Chrysler as director of advanced design and packaging, and Bill Collins, who is known as the father of the Pontiac GTO.

Both thought it was a great idea and the exhibit soon came to life.

“If you’re a car person this is likely the only time you’ll ever see concept art,” said Ashley, who said that some of the work was smuggled out of the studios under the shirts of the designers.

The work was owned, after all, by the big three auto companies and not by the artists — even the concept cars that never made it past the design table. If they had been caught stealing they could have lost their jobs, Ashley said.

Barry got some of his drawings after he retired when somebody found them in a drawer and called him to ask if he wanted them.

Other local artists whose work is in the show are Jerry Palmer of Leland; Bob Smart of Omena; and Bob Johnson and Jim Ebejer, both of Northport.

The event will also serve as a reunion of sorts for the designers, many of whom haven’t seen each other in years, Ashley said.

Some, like Peterson and Barry, met for the first time last week when being interviewed for this story. Within minutes of shaking hands they were on common ground, laughing about how the Fujimanooli name came to be.

“It is really a once-in-a-lifetime thing to see the dynamics of the people who created the art,” Ashley said.

Though Peterson worked as a sculptor for 35 years, using clay to bring the designers’ sketches to three-dimensional life, only a couple cars he worked on actually made it to production in all that time.

One of those was the 1979-’80 Mustang.

“I worked on it from start to actual finish,” Peterson said. “It went all the way through till the thing went out the door.”

Like many car designers, Peterson has been fascinated with cars since he was 6 years old. His dream car is a 1963 Corvette split-window coupe, “which was the first car I bought with my own money.”

Peterson got his job with Ford when he made a cold call to the company, walking into the place with a concept car he had designed. He was barely out of his teens, but they hired him and sent him off to a take a course in industrial design.

Peterson loved the job from the get go.

“It was one of those jobs that you come in every day and you don’t know what to expect,” he said.

By the end of Peterson’s career concept cars were being designed on a computer, but those digital creations were still being carved out of clay.

“The human eye in 3D is hard to beat,” said Barry, who has several sketches in the exhibit.

Barry’s job included vehicle architecture, the fine craft that determines the profile of a car — its size, where the engine goes, where the seats are located and more.

Black tape placed on vellum stretched over a full-sized engineer’s drawing would be used to create those character lines, which were measured to get the car’s dimensions.

“This show will be an opportunity for people to see things that have never been seen,” Barry said.

Barry started his career after attending Notre Dame, where he switched from mechanical engineering to design after realizing that his math skills weren’t that great.

The brand new design program was sponsored by Chrysler, as the son of the company’s president attended the college.

After graduation Barry was recruited by Ford, who put him through a master’s program. But after just a couple of years he left to work for Chrysler, where he stayed for the rest of his career.

“Almost every new car the company did started in our studio,” he said.

Barry designed a couple of Omni Horizon sport coupes, as well as the 1981 Chrysler Cordoba, though “It was not the Ricardo Montalban classic Cordoba with the Corinthian leather,” he said.

But Barry’s pride and joy may just be the Dodge Viper, which was designed in the studio he headed up after going into management. The sleek Viper, a top-ofthe line sports car, was actually designed by a young man who had been an intern at the company.

The 2017 version sells for nearly $90,000.

“We did it, it got out the door and it went into production,” Barry said. “It was on the cover of every magazine.”

Both Barry and Peterson said they were surprised that people paid them to do their jobs.

“You didn’t have to go to work — you wanted to come to work,” Barry said.

Event posters will be available to purchase at the show that the designers and artists will use silver pens to autograph.

Also available are 24 models of the Dodge Copperhead, a concept car that that was a scaled-down version of the Viper. The designer of the car, Bob Hubbuch, will be there to sign the models.

Ashley expects that both the posters and the models will sell out quickly on Friday.

There is also a student design contest that will be judged at 4 p.m. Saturday with money prizes given out.

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