CARL CAMERON INTERVIEW
taped and transcribed by Sue George; photos by Sue George
On June 29 through July 2, 2006, The Dodge Charger Registry held their National Meet in Jefferson City, Missouri. There were close to 200 Chargers in attendance. Two of the special guests who appeared at this event were Carl Cameron, best known as the designer of the 1966 Charger, and Burt Bouwkamp, Chief Designer at Chrysler in the 1960's, who was also involved in the NASCAR program and retired as Vice President of Chrysler. I was honored to be able to interview Carl alone and later sit in with a group who listened to his many interesting stories and memories.
We were very saddened to hear that just a few short months later, Carl passed away on September 5th at the Emanual Hospital in Portland, Oregon. Carl was born on April 24, 1935 in Pendleton, Oregon. He attended LeGrande Junior High School and graduated in 1954 from Enterprise High School. Carl received his B.A. in automotive design from Art Centre School in Pasadena, California and then worked for five years at Ford Motor Company in Dearborn, Michigan. He then worked for Chrysler for thirty-one years, retiring from there as one of their top ten designers. Carl created the 1966 Dart, 1966 Charger, designed the 1965-66 Coronet front end and tail lights, as well as designing parts of the 1970 Challenger and many other Chrysler cars. Carl also designed many unique and ingenious things that Chrysler refused to act upon because someone thought they were useless ideas or would cost a few cents extra on the car. Many of those ideas were later used by other automobile companies. Carl held thirty-five patents. Below is a photo I took of Carl and his wife Suzanne, and Carl's T-shirt. He was always willing to support the cause.
Following is the transcript of the short interview I had with Carl:
Carl told me that the young designers at Chrysler would share their new car names with the other young designers on lower levels, and even with designers from other car companies. "Falcon" was originally a Dodge name that was given to Ford. Dodge designers came up with the name "Duster" and then gave it to Plymouth to use because they already had the "Dart".
Sue: So what were some of the names you were choosing from for your new car designs?
Carl: Oh, "Challenger", and one of them was "Explorer". One of them I had was "Galaxie". Like the "Falcon" name, it was really the name of a show car that Chrysler did. It was a nice looking two-door black roadster. It was shown at Greenwich Village, in fact, and Ford liked the name so well they asked if they could have it and we said sure. Now who wants to go to your dealer and get a Falcon?! We weren't quite sure that was going to be a good name.
Sue: So did you sell those names to them?
Carl: We just gave it to them. You [designers] can't do a lot of things that the "biggies" can, like our V.P. would walk in with the V.P. from another company, but we weren't even supposed to fraternize with them [other designers] since they might learn some of our secrets. It was really much different back then. Ninety-five percent of all designers went to the Art Centre where I did. Well, after I get out [of school each day], most people don't have any money, no time, every teacher thought that the home work they gave you was the ONLY homework you got and you had a week to do it. They threw a really big party after we got back [from school], I think it was five or six weeks--the first big pay check--and these guys had a big party. They invited all of the people who were there--GM, Ford, Studebaker, Packard, American Motors, all the different companies. It was a really big party, lasted all of Friday night and Saturday and Sunday morning. Anyway, on Monday morning, when the GM guys came to work they were all called into the office. Somebody attended that party and had written down all the license numbers and found out anybody that worked at General Motors, called them into the office and told them that they knew they had went to school with these people but they didn't want any of this anymore. They would more than appreciate it if that was the last party that they went to with any of the other designers. You couldn't get away with that anymore.
Sue: When you were partying, were you swapping ideas?
Carl: It's like when I came there [Chrysler] I had worked at Ford. When I came there, I got that established really early. They said, "Well, what do the Ford cars look like?" I said, "First of all, I've been gone from there for a couple of years and proud of it! Second of all, if I knew I wouldn't tell you anything. I would tell you if something of ours looked like theirs so we wouldn't be doing the same thing." But I said, "You didn't hire me to be a spy. you hired me to design things, so that's what I'll do." They didn't like that, but I got away with it. One guy, in fact, told me, he said, "It's a damned good thing you're a good designer because you'd have been fired a long time ago and many times thereafter!" And I said, "Yep."
Sue: Was there a lot of inter-company competition in Chrysler between Dodge and Plymouth?
Carl: Oh yeah, always. There was competition between designer and designer, between designer groups, between styling teams and studios in Dodge and Plymouth. There was one time that we did them all--Dart, B-bodies, E-bodies,...they were all done in the same studio. The only cars that weren't done in that studio were the Dodge station wagon and the Dodge convertibles. They weren't styled there. The bodies were done there, but the other things were done in another studio.
Sue: You know your first generation Charger design looks an awful lot like the Marlin car.
Carl: I always liked the 1949 Caddy fastbacks, so one day I drew up one and worked from that. But the Marlin was very different because Abernathy had to sit in the back seat, so those cars had big squared-off roofs. My roofs were rounded off, much more pleasing to the eye.
Sue: How did you get started in all of this?
Carl: Well, I graduated from the Art Centre College and started a job for $375 a month. I did that for eight or nine months and then was promoted to executive and made $750 per month, but I was only paid once a month. Overtime was only paid every three months. I was never so broke as when I worked for Chrysler! Prior to my success with the Charger, in 1962, I worked in product design, everything from toothbrushes to tanks. and then worked at Ford. I designed the side rubber trim for the [Ford] Monterey but they dropped it by the next year. Chrysler also dropped a lot of my ideas. I designed side marker lights for the 1968 cars, but Chrysler dropped them in 1969 because they thought the wire, bulb, etc cost too much and they went to reflectors. Then in 1970, the government mandated that the side markers be lights. You know, most people believe that convertible cars were dropped because the government decided they were unsafe. This is not true. The government actually wrote laws to exclude the convertibles so they could continue to be built and sold. They were dropped at Chrysler because during that time frame, guys had long hair and sales of convertibles were down drastically.
One of Carl's ideas developed from the nasty habit Chrysler had of putting the fuel filler at different locations on their cars. Below is a sketch that Carl did in 1965 showing the back window of of one of his Charger concepts. Note the two fuel caps on the rear deck. Carl designed the two fuel caps and fuel filler tubes that led to a single gas tank so you could fill the Charger from either side. He told me this could have been incorporated into the car design at very little cost to Chrysler but they refused. They were counting pennies on their new car designs and wouldn't spend anything extra that they didn't have to.
Incidentally, Carl also said he hated it when Chrysler took the flip-top fuel cap off of their cars in later years because he liked the convenience of hitting the button while looking in the mirror to see which side it was on when it opened.
Carl told us that Chrysler heard a lot of complaints from customers that when they pulled up to the gas station pumps they were always on the wrong side of the car because they couldn't remember which side the fuel filler was on and it was not visible from the rearview mirror or outside mirror. So Carl designed a gas gauge with a little arrow pointing in the direction of the side of the car that the fuel filler was on. Once again, Chrysler executives did not like the idea and never used it. Of course, one of the other car companies ended up using the idea later.
One of the ideas Carl came up with while a young engineer at Chrysler was a matching set of auto luggage. There was an engineering sketch that Carl drew in 1963 that he had on display at the meet. It depicted the outline of a car with several people standing around the trunk area, and a set of luggage that they were getting ready to load into the car. The most interesting detail of the sketch were the wheels on the luggage. Now remember, this is 1963! Carl's idea was 'why should you lift and carry all of that heavy luggage when you might as well put it on wheels and just pull it behind you'. He went to Chrysler executives with the idea, but they didn't like it, thinking it was too bizarre and useless. So what do most of us have for luggage today?
Carl also designed non-automotive related items to make everyday life easier. One of them, which I personally thing is ingenious and should be used by every company that makes an electric appliance, is just a simple loop molded into the plastic plug end of the appliance's electric cord that you can put your finger through to pull it out of the electrical outlet. Like Carl pointed out, how many of us grab the cord and pull because those plug ends are just not big enough or shaped right to really yank on?
At home, Carl listened to his wife complain about the vacuum sweeper, a large appliance that everyone has but it spends the majority of its time taking up space in the closet. He rationalized that it could be stored in a more convenient place, and he designed a canister vacuum that stores inside it's own bench. It's out of the way when you're not using it, in the meantime, the bench served a purpose and you just remove the vacuum when you need it.
Sue: What did you guys do with all of those mockup and prototype cars back then?
Carl: They used to destroy the mockup cars. I and another guy wanted to save one prototype car from each year, the best design from each year, away in a building from 1963 on, to keep for historical and nostalgic reasons. But Chrysler didn't want to do it, so they weren't saved. NASCAR was involved to a great extent in how much win-and-sell was involved in our designs. Unfortunately, the Charger wasn't that good for racing.
Sue: What other things did you design for the cars that didn't get used?
Carl: Money had a lot to do with the decisions Chrysler made about the designs. Product planners killed the exhaust-through-the-bumper design because of dollars. I realized early on that we should use one common bar for the headlights to open and close on the Charger. This way we could do away with the problem of having one headlight open and the other one closed. But Chrysler thought the bar running across in front of the radiator would affect the cooling. So what do they do? They put two electric motors in front of the radiator to open and close the headlights instead!! I also designed a three-sided cylinder that had pivot points on the ends and rotated. One side was the grille and one side would be the headlights. But Chrysler didn't like that idea. So European manufacturers ended up making that later.
Sue: Was there anything about car designs that you didn't like?
Carl: Door edge guards. Oh, how I hate those door edge guards. In designing school, they train you to make everything flow together, have everything aesthetic with horizontal lines and then people put those vertical door edge guards on their cars! I also designed the first rubber trim piece, what most people call the rub strip, for the side of cars to protect the paint and body against dings. The engineers didn't like it then. But you'll notice that ALL cars today have them!
Sue: Did Chrysler use any of your other ideas and if so, what were they?
Carl: Here's a comical story. I drew up a bunch of different designs for the Dodge emblem. One of them was the familiar three triangular shapes with the Cadillac wreath wrapped around below. Chrysler kept telling me, "We already have a Dodge emblem." When the engineering guys came to get it to make it, they wouldn't take it because I hadn't given it a name. So I told them it was the "Fratzog". The following year I drew up a different design and named it the "zoogot". I was just playing with the engineering guys and finally they said they'd just name it themselves. At one time, I wanted to design a fuel gauge that would tell actual gallons left in the tank, like twenty gallons, five gallons, instead of just having the quarters marked off with E at one end and F at the other. My superiors wouldn't use it because they were afraid of the lawsuits that would follow since there would be no way of calculating exactly ten gallons. If it said ten gallons and it wasn't exactly ten gallons, the customer would surely sue. Since they didn't want lawsuits to worry about, they wouldn't use my design. I asked them, "What difference does it make if it says half full or five gallons....isn't half of ten gallons five?" Another idea they killed was I wanted to design a speedometer with pictures to designate speeds, like a picture of kids and school crossings at 25 mph to remind you, and maybe pictures of residential houses at 30 mph.
-End of private my interview-
CARL CAMERON SPEECH AT THE 2006 TDC MEET
I've been asked to do this before [speak] and I'll start out the same way I always do.....I'll be glad to try and answer any questions that you have, but in reality, you all know more about these cars than I do. I know a few fun stories, but...
We designed the cars. The way it works is you draw a bunch of sketches, a big wall of sketches and generally the designers vote on them. My wife gave me some corn, so I'm going to have a little corn in my teeth. So is this supposed to be a corny talk, is that it? Anyway, you put these sketches up and the designers vote, and then whichever ones get the most votes, then the bosses kind of look at them and decide which one of those they want to do. And if you get picked, then your car goes on to clay. And generally the clay goes outside, or in the room where they put a mirror down the middle and it's a first-surface mirror so you don't get the little space. And it works quite well. You can't stand right in front of it but you can walk around it and duplicate the car. And if your car is picked then it's put on the other side of the clay and then you work that out. Sometimes you have to make some changes; when people come in like the stampers and the cost people and all the other manufacturing.
Then it goes outside. Generally, there are two or three cars, maybe more and then they are picked out there and then that one gets developed further, and then it goes into sheet metal. Sometimes you follow it in sheet metal a little bit and then you're generally into other things.
Some cars I have a lot of sketches on and that's because I had more time to work on them. The Charger itself, the story is an interesting one and different than a lot because some people can't tell you--honestly anyway--that they designed the whole car. And some people think that if they put a stripe on it and painted it, they designed the car.
But I can say I did that, because I did the front. I was big on front ends. I designed the 1965 Coronet front end. I did the '66 Coronet front end, and that is the Charger front end with the exception of the grille and those revolving headlights. And then I went around and I did the fastback on it and I did all the way across the back tail lights. The bumper came off a Coronet. Dick Clayton did that. The quarter panels were supposed to come off a Coronet and that's why it has the chrome along the top because it was going to be a trim quarter panel from a Coronet convertible, I believe, and then they were going to semi-flange it and put the chrome down the top.
Well, after we got so far in the clay and people looked at it, if you look at the prints I have up here, you can see the window used to go back from the sides and go up towards the backlight line and then you have the lower opening for the wheel house, and it got to be a huge mass. And in clay, it really looked big. So we changed the window and that helped some. Finally they said, "Well, let's cut the wheel house out." Everybody liked it enough they decided then that they had enough time and enough money to make a new quarter. So we didn't have to have the problem resolved at that point and the rear was supposed to have the rails come down and stick out, go around the tail lights, which we couldn't do unless we had a new quarter. By that time, it was pretty late and my immediate boss didn't like it anyway so it didn't happen.
And the other thing on the Charger--it started on my desk. It didn't come from somebody else's car--it had nothing to do with the American Motors Marlin. I felt sorry for them. They had a guy named Abernathy who insisted on sitting in the back seat. He was six-foot-four. So their roof went like this while we were able to get ours sloped.
When they're doing the model in clay, they put wooden pegs in to match your head points and clearance and everything you need for the roof and the headliner. Same thing up in the hood. They have them for clearance for the air cleaner and components in the engine compartment. And the fenders, you know, where the wheel clearance has to be or the springs or whatever.
And we were trying to do the roof and it was starting to look really good and we were just getting it shaved down nice with the modelers and all of a sudden a little peg shows--just a little bit in front and a little more in the back. So you look around and then when nobody's looking, you take a hammer and you hit that baby and then you clay over it and keep finishing it!
The other thing about this car that's a little big unusual is the show car for this vehicle was done after the production vehicle was done. In fact, if you ever got close to the show car, you could see that it has the instrument panel and everything that they don't do in show cars generally. And they just extended it and made the rearend like I'd wanted it anyway. I didn't do it because they'd decided that they ought to have a little bit of pre-empt, see if they could spur people's imaginations and buying abilities. Anyway, so they made the show car and it was introduced at the New York World's fair. But it was made on a real car!
Question: Is that car still around?
I don't know. I've been asked that before and I do not know. You know, for a while the car companies--before they realized that they were worth a lot of money--they just destroyed things. And lots of people tried to tell them. You have to learn to listen to people. Like I've said before, even a broken clock is dead-right twice a day! You just have to know when to believe them. So I don't care whether it's the guy sweeping up or the guy delivering mail or whatever...oh, now that's a funny story. This guy came in and he'd taken over a corporation, which that's happening a lot. And he comes into the room and you know, he's got to make people understand that he's running this place, right? He sees this guy leaning up against the water cooler and he says, "How much do you make a day?" And the guy says, "A hundred bucks a day". He flips out his wallet and he hands him $300 and he says, "You're fired! Get out." And the guy leaves. A little while later he says, "By the way, what did that guy do here?" And the other guy says, "Oh, he's the pizza delivery guy." So you have to be careful.
Anyhow, on the car, the other thing was the headlights came about because I always liked the Toronado. I thought it was a nice looking car until you turned the headlights on. Then it looked kind of like a frog. So I was really proud that this one looked as good as it did open or closed. And originally I'd done another design for it that didn't have the grille going through it. It had covered headlights. They were glass covered or plastic headlights and then I had a wiper proposal in the top of the grille, you know, a window washer, so every time you opened the doors it would have cleaned your headlights. But engineering didn't care much for that.
In the original clay model, the headlights rotated and turned on. We set it up, we had a motor in it and ran it with a belt and had a broom stick going across because I wanted it one-piece. It'd seen many of them where they have one opened and one closed or cocked. This way they'd open and close the same all the time. Well, any of you that own these cars will get a big kick out of this because the Engineering/Cooling people decided you couldn't have this one-inch bar going through there because it cut off too much air. I said, "Well, you know, air goes around things anyway. It wouldn't have to be a broom handle. You might use a piece of metal and make it a little smaller, a tube." So you know what they did? They put two great big motors in there that hang out in front of the radiator, which certainly take a lot more air than that tube would have!
Anyway, I left that. The rear, as you can see in these sketches, the lettering was supposed to be in the grille spaced out like it is on the tail lights. And the badge was to be on the hood. But I gave that up a little bit because of manufacturing. They didn't want another whole stack of hoods in there. They already had a hood that said Dodge. So we said we'd put the badge in the middle of the grille and leave the lettering where it was.
The taillight was supposed to be a one-piece part. And when I left to be put in charge of the Dart cars--a line of cars that got promoted--Frank Ruff who'd done the B-bodies before, he just took that over because it was part of the B-bodies now. He let the lighting people talk him into putting a texture on the outside, which I hate. GM used to do that. They'd put our outside inside and that way they could eliminate a collimator and save money. I didn't want that. I wanted it like '49 Cadillac taillight lenses that had these beautiful little grooves in it and it was smooth, much easier to clean, much better looking. The names were supposed to be recessed into it. That was supposed to be a one-piece part. And he said, "They told me I had to change it because of expansion and contraction." And I said, "What do you think I put the groove in mine for?" So we lost on that one a little bit.
The first one [Charger] I lined the bumper guards up with the hood cuts, kind of nice and clean. And then the next time, I thought, well I moved the bumper guards over and covered up the bumper bolts so it just cleaned up the bumper. And I put the little flags on it, which I think I did for the first time on the '64 Dart. I liked those things so they reappeared every once in a while. They originally came off of the Cadillac hood. They had a couple of fins on it, and we were always taking, you know, and you expand on it or sometimes you copy it. Did anyone ever hear that record where the guy, Igor Evanavich Novascheski was his name, he says, "Plagiarism is the sincerest form of flattery. See what's before your eyes and plagiarize!"
And I wanted sequential taillights in it, ala the Cougar and T-Bird, but it was, I think then it was like two bucks or less and they didn't want to spend the money. Now you can do it. I'm going to do it, and it's like fifty or sixty bucks.
The interior I did not do and in a sense I did. It was copied from a drawing that I had that showed the interior with the fold-down seats and the chrome around them. So they picked that up but someone else did the instrument panel and did the pattern on the seats and everything.
The emblem, that little one that gets confused sometimes with a stylized "C"--it's not. It's an arrow. But somebody wrote that in the brochure, some New York has-been. So that's confusion just like people have the ornaments from the front, the badge, it's been around long enough that it's gone gold. Like one guy said, "I've had this in a box for twenty years." And I said, "Well, where was it before you put it in that box?" He said, "Well, it was on a car for six years." That's probably when it happened. We wouldn't have--I wouldn't have asked for it that way and the vendors wouldn't have been allowed to give it to us in that color when it was supposed to be red. That's the one nice thing about second-surface plastic parts. You can clean them all up and re-spray it in the back. and if the front's all gritty, you can sand that all up and rub it all down or if you're good with a torch, you can heat it up just enough to fuse it just like they do cloisonné**. You can tell a real cloisonné part from a mock-up cloisonné part by the fact that on the real cloisonné part, the metal will be lower than the colored parts and in the mock ones it's a little higher. And that's liquid glass. What they do is they put the wires in it and then they put the glass in it and then they grind it all off. It's harder than the metal and then just before they get ready to finish it, they'll fire it just enough to get it to solidify and then it goes clear. You can't repair those.
[**Cloisonné: Enamelware in which the surface decoration is formed by different colors of enamel separated by thin strips of metal.]
Like on the Dart, I had a badge and I wanted it like this, it says "Dart GT". I'd rather have a full angle on things, not a draft angle. And I didn't want the "Dart" on it because it was like this, it would have a big draft angle here and a short draft angle there; it's the same but it looks different. Right? So it doesn't and the way it doesn't is we made it this way and then bent it. This guy said, "I'll tell you, you can bend it and I won't change my mind either. Just don't try and bend it back." When they first cast things, they're really soft and you can see when they cut them out, they literally stamp them. And about a '65 Pontiac had the one I couldn't believe. It had a cast grille inside the car over the glove box. It was just part of the design of the instrument panel. But it had fins that were about that deep, had to be 3/8" at least, and maybe a little less than 1/8" with about 1/4" gap or a little less between them. And the incidence of air conditioning was so low that instead of having two different ones [dashes], one with air and one without, they took those casting when they were new and punched them. It really is something.
But after that, I went to Dart and like I said, I worked on the Darts. I'm really proud of that car. There was a lot of competition with, you know, the designers in our studio and the Plymouth guys and then there was Chrysler Imperial, was the next studio, actually on the other side of us. And at that time, all of the cars were done in one studio. We did the Dart and the B-body and the Monaco. The only cars that weren't done there were the convertible works cars. Convertibles were done in another area, as were the station wagons.
But I was in there one day, and I was fiercely proud of this little Dart, because I did everything I could to make it look like a bigger car, longer, the sill on it comes down at an angle and then kicks up.
I learned to ask questions. A guy came in and said, "You're going to have to change that." I said, "Why?" And he said, "Costs too much money. We'll have to stamp that. Make it straight and we can roll it and then it will be cheaper." And I said, "Oh okay." But I didn't change it right away. I asked a few people some questions--[and found out] we already stamped that! So he came back the next week and said, "You haven't changed that." And I said, "Yeah, and I'm not going to either. It's already stamped and that's the way it's staying."
You see a lot of new car designs--a lot of them are done on computers which can hurt you. You never make the bottom edge of the front fender and the bottom edge of the rear quarter the same height as the sill, because visually, when you go to the wheelhouse opening, it won't get any lower. That's why they're all higher, when they're done right. And I'd angle them up which tends to taper the front and rear, and make the lines through the middle even longer.
By the way, all of you could do me a big favor. If any of you have those gawdawful chrome things on the back edge of your door, take them off! We design all of these with the nice lines going through them and then you guys do that, which is almost like what it looks like, $#%&^@ to us!
Who designed those....I don't know. Well, those are aftermarket, that little chrome piece, and they make them in clear and then they make them in black which are a little better. A long time ago, I didn't like those things, and of course they didn't like getting door chips, but to me it's ugly right away. So I'd rather have the door chips and later just be more careful.
I interviewed, I was playing with a guy when I went for an interview for a job at U.S. Steel and these guys came out and they're partially psychiatrists/psychologists and they give you the old glass, you know, with the water up halfway and they want you to tell them whether you see it as half full or half empty. So they bring this glass out and they set it in front of me and I said, "Yeah?" And they said, "We want you to describe this glass." And I said, "Okay, it's UGLY." And they both sat there and looked at each other and didn't know what to say or how to score me.
Anyway, with the Darts, we were coming along pretty well, it was still in clay, and Frank Ruff was a friend of mine like I said, he was in charge of the B-bodies, and these product planners come over to me and I said, "Yeah?" And they said, "Are you in charge of this car?" And I said, "Yeah, what?" And he said, "Well, it looks too long. Can you make it look shorter?" And I said, "Yeah, I could. But I won't. What you need to do, see that tall, blond-headed, good-looking guy over there? His name's Frank Ruff. Go over there and tell him to make his car look longer!"
When I was in the Darts, doing those, I was still on assignment to do the Challenger body. That was the next thing to work on. It was another back-to-back Dodge. The Charger there, which you may have heard before, was going to have a Turbine engine in it in 1967. So they asked me if I would design some grille that looked like it had a Turbine engine in it. So I did. I did about four sketches, just line drawings. I filled two of them in, and one of them I liked the best. And then it was stillborn. They decided not to do it. But everybody liked that front end so much, that's what ended up on the front of your 1970 Challenger, anybody who has one.
There's a sketch over here you can see, too, we had that clay at the taillight in the Challenger and they said they didn't know how to make it. So I drew up like an engineering drawing on how they could make it look. They knew how to make it look like the taillight exploded, so I drew this engineering drawing up and then put it in perspective and rendered it so they could see. So they did it.
There's a lot of guys back there who aren't there anymore. They've died off. Like Rick Burrell, the guy that did the Challenger hood that came out with the big scoop that was so high. All of us would do lines on the Dart, but Frank Ruff actually did the backlite where the rear window curved in. I don't know how many of you know it, but your later Chargers got the lines and were kind of like a GTO mocked-up in the back. And that line is really straight coming down the back of the roof. And it's really straight because that inner piece was stamped out like this and then they stamped the quarter and then it just folded, because there was no way we could draw that.
The only thing I did on the 1968 [Charger] was the little scroll underneath the parking light with the emblem in it. And then in '68 [I did] all of the side markers that went into all the cars. I thought I came up with a nice looking one that worked everywhere. So we did that, it worked good and people liked it. But they decided that it had a wire to it, a bulb in it, and that cost money so they dropped it. They just put reflectors in it. And the very next year the government mandated you had to have them lit, so they went back to the lit ones anyway.
There's a lot of stuff that gets changed because of government regulations and things, but a lot of it was money. It was more money. Like people think that they stopped convertibles, that they stopped making them because of government regulations. Not true! In fact, the government specifically wrote the requirements to exclude convertibles! They stopped making convertibles because guys started having long hair. They didn't want to get their hair messed up. It was okay for their girlfriend or their wife, but not for them. So the sales kept going down so they stopped making them. Now, of course, they've redid them and they're back again. Chrysler, I think, in fact sells more convertibles.
Ford used to have an advertisement for theirs, remember that? It showed a baby buggy and said: The only open top vehicle that outsells Ford.
Does anyone have any questions? I could go on and on.
Question: Did anything come from the Charger convertible ever?
No. Richard Sias, the guy that did the second generation where it got an all-new body and everything, he did a great job, he and Frank Ruff. In fact, Richard left because they wouldn't give him the credit he thought he deserved. We were in having our pictures taken, and Bill Brownlie and he didn't get along and they were shooting pictures of people that did the Charger and big-mouth Herrick said, "Well Bill, why can't we wait until tomorrow because Richard isn't here. He worked for me." And Bill says, "No, we can't wait for tomorrow. We're going to do it now." Anyway, that's one reason he left. But Richard Sias did build that [Charger convertible]. He used a Cadillac mechanism, I think, which would allow them to go back farther, and he cut it all up. He's now in Montana. We tried to get him to come here, but it's near the holiday and he was going to get to see his grandson. Anyway, he sold that car and another car, all kinds of fenders, and body parts before they got valuable. And the guy he sold them to, he was a little unhappy with him, because that guy was supposed to keep it and fix it and he didn't. He sold it again right away and made some money on it.
We got a car from a guy named Mike Collins who has been in this business for years. In fact, there are four huge books in the library of congress, about that thick, all about the automotive industry. And he took a--what's the year there, '77 or '78 Cordoba--Magnum combination, put them together in pieces. He cut the roof off of that and made that a convertible and he used a Challenger mechanism and put a Hemi in it. So it's quite a different car but he wasn't going to get a penny from Dodge so he sold it to us and we're going to finish it. In fact, Dean Yeargin is doing our Charger and then he's going to do that car next. That's going to be a real fun car.
Question: How about that filler cap on that car [referring to the dual fuel filler caps on a Charger sketch]?
Oh, well that's a sketch you can see over here that I put dual filler caps on this car and did this really wild backlite, which they picked up and it was on the Belvedere and Coronet in 1965, 66, whatever, and it had dual fuel caps. There's a Charger out here that has dual fuel caps, he put one on the other side. I saw it as I walked up and thought Canada? He has them on both sides. I did it because at the time, they were having gas problems and people didn't know where their gas cap was and they'd decide they'd better pull over, and then they were butting in line and that's where the first real road rage happened. People were ready to kill them because they'd been in line for an hour and so I decided that you ought to be able to fill it from the other side. Besides, Jaguar did it many, many years ago; just ran it into one tank. And then when I did the interior, I had a little arrow to tell you where your cap was and our people didn't think that was a very good idea. Then Ford did it. And then they thought it was a great idea, so we did it. But, if you don't know and if you're driving someone else's car....I hated it when they took the pop-open-door off because I could press the button and look in the mirror to see which side I should pull in on. But generally, about 90% of the time I think, if your car doesn't identify it, the fuel gauge is over here and it fills from that side of the car. If the fuel gauge is on the other side of the speedometer, it'll be over there.
Question: How did you come by the slant-back design?
Oh, that. Product planning figured the area of the market that they wanted and they came to us and and asked us to develop a car for a specific area for them to build. And I just drew that car. I always liked the '49 Cadillac fastbacks and so I drew up a fastback. And it was a big one!
Question: The American Motors Marlin...it [Charger] looks a lot like that car.
Carl: No, it doesn't! You can leave! Lots of people think that. I've always said, since I've even done it a few times, if you have an idea, develop it right away because someone else will do it. Just like two guys discovered the amoeba in two different parts of the world at the same time. Two people invented the typewriter at the same time, didn't know each other, didn't live in the same country, had never met each other. Nah, I felt sorry for the Marlin people, like I said, because Abernathy had to sit in the back seat and that meant the roof had to go like that because they couldn't come through the headroom.
Question: Why did they put the gas cap under the license plate on the '71? That's a pain in the tush.
Well, a lot of people liked that. But one like the '49 Cadillac, people remember that one! It was hidden under the tail lamp. So that was really done way back in '42 and then Chevrolet did it in '55, I think. Lincoln Continental did it. We didn't like them [fuel caps] to show so we tried to hide them. And because it was behind your license plate it was in the middle of the car which was good, it meant you could get it from either side. They just should have developed something that helped it [license plate] stay up. Like I was really upset when we did the badges and I did the pentastar key cover on the back of the car. Engineering made that thing open this way [the cover swiveling downward and I said, "No, it should open this way [upward]. They had a little gadget in there so when the key came out it was supposed to snap shut. But I said, "If you do it up here and the guy forgets it, when he slams his trunk, or when he hits a bump, it will close. If you got it over here, it's going to stay there and look like heck and that's our emblem!" But you can see how well they listened to that. I don't know, did I answer your question?
Anyway, I thought that would look good. So I drew that up and Bill Brownlie knew they were looking for something special. He was our chief. He came in and got the drawing off my desk and took it in to the Vice President who was Elwood Engel and then they took it into, I believe, Burt Bouwkamp, who will be here tomorrow. So it kind of went that way and then back. Normally that didn't happen either. I was just lucky, in the right place at the right time.
Question: I like your design on the exhaust through the bumper. What killed that?
Money! Just like when I did the Challenger, the Challenger was supposed to be more expensive than the Barracuda, right? Except the Barracuda has a hatch hood [shaker] --we have an alligator hood. Hatch hoods with the panel is much more expensive. A lot nicer of a design, too. They had their exhaust through the rear fascia. Ours came up underneath. Cheaper. It's just that their product planners wanted it, so they decided they had the money. Our product planners didn't. I'm going to do it [on my own Charger] because Dean is doing the car for me and I'm going to make it that way. I'm going to have the exhaust out through the bumper and the back up lights in the bumper ala that sketch. And he's going to use a bumper off a station wagon that didn't have the backup lights next to the license plate. We didn't figure it needed four. And I'm also going to take the badges off the rear deck and I'm going to put a pop-up gas cap on that. The fuel fill will be there and I'll fill in that ugly door on the side. And then it will be like a '55 T-Bird, where they had a little door on the rear deck and then you had the rear cap down inside. It's just an access to it and then you make a little piece like this so it's sealed around it so you don't get gas and gas fumes in your trunk. I'll just have to put two trunk hatches on it, or Dean will. Just like we built a house at the ocean, we remodeled a house that needed some work, he misspelled some! He meant a lot! Anyway, I've been doing all kinds of things and our son has been building it. At this point in our life, we'd much rather have our son, the contractor, than our son, the doctor.
Question: What kind of wages did they pay when you started in design?
Well, when I started, like I said, that one sketch shows that I was given a raise and I think it was $560 or something right in that range a month. Then when I started that was really--I graduated form Art Centre College. I'd been hired before I graduated, and then I drove directly back there and went to work and we started at $375 a month, I think. And the guy that ran prints, in the print room, made $375 a month to start. He was a union brat. And there were a bunch of us who got a little unhappy about that. And a guy says, "Yeah, but in a year he'll still be making $375 and you won't." And I went out and I bought this suit, and it was a Cricketeer. It was a really nice suit and there was a little card in it that said, 'For the man who makes ten-thousand a year before he's thirty'. And I'm old enough where you're still thinking that $10,000 is a lot of money. And of course it isn't. I had it, I think, when I was twenty-two or three. But when I started at Chrysler and was made an executive--I was only there about eight or nine months and they made me an executive--and that was the poorest time in my life. I made $750 a month, and you got paid once a month. The only nice thing about that was you didn't have to go to the bank and stand in line. Prior to that, you got paid every two weeks and your overtime came every two weeks. Well, when I got paid the first check once-a-month, you got your check in a month and you didn't get overtime for three months. I was never so broke in my life! But it was better there because they paid like on the first and the fifteenth, where Ford paid you every....anyway it worked out you could have three weekends sometimes. That last weekend got pretty sparse with money.
Question: At what point in your career was the first Charger and what part of the Dart did you design prior to that?
Prior to that, that was when I first started, that was in 1963 when I did that car. I started in October of '62. I had been working for a couple of years in "Products". I had managed to design just about everything from toothbrushes to tanks. And prior to that I worked at Ford. The only thing I did at Ford was I did a front end on a Mercury one time--a grille. But something I was very proud of, I did the rubstrip moulding that went down the Monterey, I think. It was about this wide and it was chrome but it had real rubber in it. And that goes back to your door guard. It wouldn't chip his and it wouldn't dent yours. And Ford thought it was such a great idea that they dropped it the very next year! And then within five years, everybody in the world has one. Of course, I didn't get anything for that. That would have made me quite rich.
Question: Wasn't there a contest with a model Charger?
Yes, that was another funny story. That was done by Jim Evenger. Later they called it Charger III. You don't mean the open one like Jim Rodebaugh's car?
Reply: No, the Charger III.
Well, we all did models. I had a nice one that I thought was better which most of the other designers did, too. But Frank [Ruff] didn't want that one. Frank wanted Evenger's car. And so he had votes and so it won. The time it won was at lunch time! But I was glad he got to do it.
Shown above: The Charger III show car
Question: What ever happened to that car?
I don't know. Well, one thing, like I said, we used to destroy them before we found out they were worth a lot. Jim, myself and this guy, uh, he's written a real nice article in the latest Walter P. Chrysler magazine on the second generation Charger--Darren. And Darren and I thought it would be a really good idea--back in 1962, early 1963--to pick the best model of each of the cars we had and put them away in a building on blocks. And that way we'd have a perfect example of the car, totally original, and the company didn't think that was a very good idea either. In fact, I think there were like fifty Turbine cars made and they destroyed all but maybe a dozen or less. They sent them to museums. And the reason they destroyed them? Because they were built overseas and when they came in as a show car, there was no tax on them--import duty. If they were going to be sold here, they'd have to pay import duty on them. So rather than do that, they destroyed them. And the ones they gave away they didn't have to pay anything because that was a contribution.
Question: First of all, Chrysler was quite NASCAR-involved in the late sixties, seventies, with their philosophy of 'win on Sunday, sell on Monday'. How much of that factored in on car designing?
Quite a bit. I mean, we had a guy we called Captain Crunch who was really into racing. And like the Charger wasn't really very good because you couldn't drive it too fast. So we put a little spoiler on the back to help it aerodynamically. The next ones were better but the tunnel window didn't work either. So they filled that all in and put a flat glass in it and took the grille and pushed it all the way out to the front. Those things made it much faster. And then when they really went all out is when they did the Superbirds and put the wings on them. You probably all know that when those cars were disqualified, you could buy those for about six-thousand dollars, brand new. I drove one once to go get some parts....a little hard to handle. That was a big car and parallel parking, you'd better find a big space! They'd run the cars later--they'd take them to Texas, someplace they'd go out there to the wind tunnel and run them there.
Question: Did you know they used the headlight washers and brushes on the '71 Charger headlights as an option?
Reply: Yeah, they looked like a little toothbrush.
Yeah? No, I didn't know that. I knew later that they did do a bar and only used one motor, which was better. Because I remember when they used to have them way back in '39 and I liked the covered headlights but one would be open and one would be winking. I've seen a few of these with one open and one closed. I had another proposal, instead of them being shaped like this, I had it shaped like that in a rotating cylinder so it had a grille, and one more time it had headlights, and another time it had four bulbs. But they didn't do that one either. Just like when we did the covered headlights on the Magnum, I did those, and they told me, but they didn't want me to tell anybody else, it actually passed with the covers up. It wasn't really legal, but they passed. They put them in. So they have to do studies and all of that stuff instead of just kind of observation.
You guys all know when you drive a car with four sets of lights and use the headlights. The ones that are on are the ones that get dirty, because it bakes the dirt onto the lenses. So when I had this cover out over them, it kept them cool and wouldn't keep the snow and stuff off of them. Like some cars they've experimented with that had the little slots in them so the snow wouldn't build up in front of them. Other times, in the industry, we've done things just the opposite, like how many times have you had a car that they put a nice chrome moulding right next to the armrest? It got you right in the funny bone. And I tried to tell people when I was in interior and they did that, I said, "People don't really put their arms down on armrests. They go out! You know? And I had this guy, I got into a fight with him, I was doing the doors and I changed the height of the armrest, and he said, "You can't do that." They had what they called an H-point in the seating box. And he says, "You have to be so many inches above your H-point." And I said, "Oh yeah? That never changes?" And he said, "No." And I said, "You've gotta be kidding me." And he says, "No, it doesn't. That's a given and you can't play with that." And I said, "Well, if the door is closer then it should be the same height as if it's farther away?" He said, "Yes. You're not listening to me." And I said, "Doesn't your arm work like mine? When I go out, it goes up. When I go in, it goes down. And this is supposed to be an armrest."
Question: I really like the chrome strip on the pistol grip shifter, too. That's real nice to grab hold of after your car's been sitting in the sun all day long....good idea.
Yeah. Well, and then they made us take chrome off of things because it reflected off the steering wheel and the cop car wheels had to have a full trim ring to honk it [horn]. A lot of us really liked the rim blow wheel because it was nice and clean. Then people would try to steer like that, you know, and wind up trying to do the old squirrel knob, as they're known by now, or suicide knobs they called them, too. A lot of stuff comes and goes and there are a lot of really good ideas that just didn't last, for unknown reasons sometimes.
Question: Speaking of those ideas, did they belong to you?
To me? No. After a while they started giving awards for everything that people did. In fact, my wife and I got a dinner and a thousand dollars or five hundred dollars or something like that for doing the remote key. And there were like five other people's names on it. We did that, figured out how it worked and then other people developed it. Well, you did get the money. I got a dollar for the covered headlights. And you had to sign a thing when you came in that made it all belong to them. But I kept my eyes open. Just like when I came over [to Chrysler] they wanted to know what Ford cars looked like. I'm not in charge of that. You didn't pay me to be a spy. If I know they're doing something, and we're doing something that looks like it, I'll tell you to change it so we don't come out with the same thing. But, I said, "You hired me to design cars and that's what I'll do." I was too dumb to know that wasn't very smart, but I got away with it.
Question: As far as recognition, did you get any from Chrysler for the Chargers that would really boost your career?
This is the most recognition! Just like the first time I talked to Arteman, he was called up and they took his car and him to Daytona for a week. Everything all paid for and all. I designed the car and I never heard word one! But I was happy for him, he had a good time. He just bought one and it didn't happen to have any miles on it. No, they didn't do that like they do now. They show the designers and stuff, so it's a lot more prevalent now that they did the cars. And the younger kids, you know, they get more recognition sooner. Just like the guy that did the Challenger show car, Mike Cassioni, and he did a nice job on that one. I called him up and talked to him after he had it all done. I didn't have anything to do with it. He did a nice job and he's been in and out of focus and they say he did it, and a few other things in the last ten or fifteen years, pretty much. But before that they really didn't [talk about it] that much, unless you happened to be the Vice President in charge of styling. And he got a lot of credit! Just like you said, a lot of the cars that were some series, some "designer series"--they never [designed] did those cars. They might have said, "Well, I like these colors," and then the designers at Ford or Lincoln, or Chrysler, or GM they did the cars then they looked at them and said it's okay and then they put their name on it and got a lot of money.
Question: What was up with the '99 Concept Charger?
Okay, we'll go over that one. They got tons of hate mail at Chrysler for this terrible Charger. They don't like it. I don't either. And I have to be a little careful having done the first one, so it sounds like sour grapes, but then the guy there--head of styling--Trevor Creed made a rather ridiculous comment because he was hurt by all the bad comments. People were giving him a bad time and he said, "Well, which one of the Chargers was I supposed to make it look like?" Well, that's an easy answer: the 1999 Charger show car! Or make it look like ALL the other Chargers. And you can do that, because every Charger, from the last one over there to the first one, to the one made in South America, to the 024 they called a Charger--they all had frameless glass. So did the show car. It was a four-door sedan. And you all would have bought it and all liked it and thought it was great because it was. But, when they made it a four-door sedan and put those big, ugly frames on it, which look like they belong on a Brinks truck instead of on a car, it all of a sudden doesn't look so good anymore and that's the easiest thing to knock is the four-door. In reality, that isn't a fair criticism, because that show car, that I know of, was one of the best-liked show cars done and it was a four-door sedan.
Question: Will there ever be a possibility that Dodge could go back to that [original Charger] style?
I don't know. Maybe. They should've just called this one [the new Charger] a Magnum or if they'd made it with frameless glass it would have been better. And I think the front's not bad but I don't like the body side and I don't like the proportions and the rear quarter. I don't know where--I don't think those people looked at old cars much because that looks much more like a Plymouth quarter panel than any Dodge quarter panel. And then when they did the decorations for the Daytona, they have this little stripe on the back way too little. It ought to be this big, run into the taillight directly. I'm pretty sure I know why they didn't do it, because then it would have encapsulated the door handle. But all that would've meant is you paint the door handle black. And then I would have said Daytona. And then they put this black-out thing on the hood which made the hood look shorter and higher. It should have gone clear out over the fascia and that would've helped. Or if they'd just take the light ones and paint the upper frames black, it would look a whole heck of a lot better. It would thin the proportions of the roof and would increase the size of the windows. I know that the Chrysler 300s have become very popular and the same way with the station wagon Dodge, but I don't particularly care for the proportions on this car at all. And I like lowered roofs but I just don't care for it here. But I'll probably get one.
Question: What would you consider to be your best competition in that era of the first Charger?
Oh, that's a little easier. I thought you were going to ask me which one I liked best! I was going to say we've got nine kids. You want me to pick out the one I like best?! The competition for that car? Thee really wasn't any with the exception of the Marlin. And it didn't have some of the same features. Of course, later they did some really hot cars, with their engines. They did the Rambler Rebel. They did some really nice, very hot cars. They just didn't have much presence. How many of you here know that Mercedes, before they bought us, that Mercedes was in Studebaker dealerships? Way back, they went and joined up with Studebaker, and Studebaker was a pretty small company. But it gave Mercedes the largest number of dealers of any import car there was. But then that didn't last too long either. You know, in German when you have two syllables, we'd say "Dameler", they'd say "Dimeler"--when there's two syllables, they always pronounce the second syllable. Like the guy says, "Anytime there's two syllables, you pronounce the second syllable. Daimler. Means the Chrysler is silent!"
We had this guy, Manhandrich Stoble, Irish guy, and he was a photographer, and he never lost his accent. A nice guy, really. He had a 300 Mercedes Gold. Anyway, he'd take the pictures of each year outside, and one time we had this big walled area so people couldn't see the cars when we were showing them. Everybody would try to cover them up when a helicopter or an airplane went over. Anyway, they wanted to take a group picture. And he says, "Alright you guys, line up against the wall over there!" All of us started laughing and he says, "What's so funny?" He didn't understand. Sometimes you do things like in the Turbine valve cover. I did that when I was working some overtime for Frank because we interspersed a lot, anyway the guy that modeled that did it out of clay, covered it with sand, painted it silver. It looked real, really like a texture. But "engineering think" on that was to get the oil filler cap and they had it in the middle so that you could get it from both sides. Well, my thought was: what if people have short arms? They can't get it from either side. So I moved it over and I made it bigger, the thing was about this big--the new cap--and it was supposed to be beveled on the inside so that, you know, it could hold an oil can so that you could get the last few drops inside, because that's how I used to put oil in my car when I was poor and a kid and I worked in a service station. I'd get all the oil cans and pour them together. I had the first multi-grade oil!
So I had these bevels so it [oil] wouldn't run out all over your nice looking engine compartment. But when they got it finished, I never saw it. They took the same damned cap mechanism and put it under the big cap and made that flat so now it's even worse. All they had to do is bevel it. They had plenty of room to do it and put a neck on it so it would have gone down, but they didn't do it. So things like that happened.
I had one [oil cap] that I wanted them to do. I had one that slid. For a while we were getting a lot of money to rebuild engines because people would leave the oil cap off and it would throw all the oil out and then it would seize or burn up. Or the other trick a lot of people did, they gook the oil cap off, put it on the air cleaner, forget it and close the hood and then they had a new design up there. So I designed one that slid out of the way. When I checked into it, there would only be about fifteen pounds of pressure on it. So I designed it with a spring and a handle that looked sort of like a cap. The handle that you slid it open with was shaped like this so that it would hold the oil can so it would sit there. When you're all done, if you forgot and got in your car--and of course there wasn't anything there that would interfere with closing the hood--but if you forgot, I had it with a piece of metal that interfered with the valve-train so the minute you started your car it would kick the spring and it closed because you armed it when you slid it. But they didn't do that either.
Well, sometimes it's not invented here, other times the right people don't hear about it. Just like this car [Charger], it could have died right on my desk. But at the time, Brownlie knew they were looking for something special, he liked it, he took it through the chain of commands, brought it back. I wish that I had learned far earlier--did you ever see this woman, the oldest highest decorated woman in the Navy? If you could invite who you wanted for dinner, she is somebody I would have liked to invite. She was ranking, then she left that and went into computers and was going around telling everybody how computers work and everything, and she was being interviewed and the guy said, "How did you get so much done in the service with all that red tape?" And she said, "Well, I learned really early in my career, it's a lot easier to apologize than to ask permission." That works! It isn't like stocks, buy low and sell high. Or buying six houses that you can't make use of. This you can.
Just like I did this door on the back of the big van. I made a single door, because they'd always had the double doors with the thick posts which would cover a person up. And I put a thing in the back of mine, the kids called it the "basement", it's just this much below the seats and it went around and touched everything. And now your luggage still went underneath it, but you could sleep on it. I could sleep on it. And when I was doing that, I photographed it and a guy my size, if you're looking in the [rearview] mirror, it covers him up with those bars. So I decided, using that philosophy, I was going to make a single door. Besides they rattled. So I had the doors cut out of the van, had them hauled out to the studio and sent them downstairs, had the post cut out and had them welded together, refinished, had a glass made up to go in there, which they didn't want to do. They said, "Well, you can't do that." And I said, "Why not?" And they said, "Well, if somebody undid this one to swing it out, it might break." You know, if you close your finger in the door, it hurts? Maybe we'd better take doors off cars?
Anyway, we did that and then inside it was neat because I brought up the people who bought that and it had wax and everything in it and it was tough to get in and get the spare. It was under something out of the way. And I had a van one time with nothing in it. And I had the spare up beside me and I was stuck on the ice. I took that spare tire and walked back and put it all the way to the back of the van and drove off. That little bit of weight helps. So I designed the thing with the spare tire built into the door--we had it cut out and molded a piece on the inside so if you opened the inner door you could get to the spare tire, the four-way tire iron, flares, extra bulbs, all built into this. It was easy to get to. Well, the guy says, "Can't do it." And I said, "Why?" And he said, "The hinges won't hold it.". And I said, "Well, the biggest spare wheel we have and tire weighs, I think, one hundred and five pounds, and it's in here. And I grabbed it [door] and I swung back and forth and at the time I weighed just over two-hundred pounds, about two-hundred-one. And he said, "Well yeah, but it isn't for a long time." I said, "Well, you put them on the hinges now." And he said, "No, we don't." You know, you have the bracket and everything. And I said, "What do you think the bracket is welded to?" And he went, "Oh yeah, it is, isn't it?"
But they didn't do that. The did do the door. That was another story. I had it shown with--a guy that worked for me drew up all the parts and pieces of the two doors, the lock mechanisms, everything there, the handles--to show how much cheaper it would be to use one handle instead of two. Anyway, they decided that they wouldn't allow us to cost this against the current two-doors--too much money for those. We had to cost them, compare them against the two new doors they were designing that hadn't been built yet. And it was still sixteen dollars and some cheaper. And they charged sixteen bucks more for it when they did it! And you still needed the two doors because if you hauled a boat or anything you couldn't open a single door that way.
I took the following photos at the meet of Carl's drawings that were framed and hanging on the wall behind him. Unfortunately, a flash was required and it reflected off of the glass in the frame, however I am including them here as you can still get the idea of the direction Carl was going with the Charger from these photos.
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