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A Book Review
By Steve Purdy
Michigan Bureau


Contestants Recall the Great General Motors Talent Search
Edited by John L. Jacobus
Published by McFarland & Company, Inc.

There was a time in the 1950’s, I was told some years ago by retired GM VP of Design, Chuck Jordan, that half the designers hired by GM began their careers as teenagers by creating model cars for the challenging Fisher Body Craftsman’s Guild competition. We had that conversation when Jordon, a Guild winner himself in the early 1950s, was co-hosting a reunion for Guildsmen in conjunction with the EyesOn Design collector car show near Detroit.

It was just about that time that John Jacobus, also a Guildsman, published The Fisher Body Craftsman’s Guild, An Illustrated History, a book you may have seen reviewed here as well also published by McFarland.

Now, Jacobus has produced this second Craftsman’s Guild book that does a wonderful job of fleshing out the whole story of the competition. This version of the story comes directly from those youngsters (now adults, of course) who put so much time and effort into designing and crafting model cars in hopes of winning state and regional awards, perhaps even a scholarship to design school, and maybe eventually an offer of employment from GM or another automaker. This new book is a compilation of essays by twenty-nine Guildsmen themselves talking about their experiences as well as the culture, trends and techniques surrounding this intense competition.

The Fisher Body Craftsman’s Guild competition began in 1930 as the brainchild of GM’s larger-than-life design chief Harley Earl. In the beginning it was focused on craftsmanship and involved assembling and finishing a replica of the Elizabethan coach that was the Fisher Body emblem. Later the competition evolved into one where youngsters designed, constructed and finished 1:12 scale model cars of their own. GM finally folded the Guild tent in 1968 as the number and quality of entries waned and GM priorities focused elsewhere.

These stories, compiled and edited by Mr. Jacobus, tell the stories of farm boys and city kids, budding engineers and developing designers, seat-of-the-pants and well-resourced young craftsmen and their drive and creativity in pursuing a dream of winning state and national titles. We see them in their musty basement workshops or in the barn. We see them agonizing over the details of both design and construction. And, we revel with them as they win various levels of awards.

As fascinating as the backstories are the stories of what happened to these young men after the competition, the professional fields they pursued and the effect that experience had on their lives. Many, if not most, went on to careers in design both in the automotive realm and other specialties.

The book is generously illustrated with photos of the young men and their cars, the older men and the cars, and a 16-page center section with sharp, detailed, color photos of many of the winning cars.

For those in Southeast Michigan, Mr. Jacobus will be signing books at the Annual Auto Authors Book Fair hosted by the National Automotive History Collection at the Automotive Hall of Fame in Dearborn on November 17th from 10AM to 4PM.

Also, the next Fisher Body Craftsman’s Guild Reunion will run from January 17 to January 20th, 2013 in Scottsdale, AZ at the Scottsdale International Auto Museum.

What better way to understand the intrigue and excitement these young men felt and the enthusiasm that drove them to compete in this inspired contest of craftsmanship and creativity than to hear it in their own words, skillfully edited by Mr. Jacobus.



Contestants Recall the Great General Motors Talent Search

Edited by John L. Jacobus
Published by McFarland & Company, Inc.
$35.00 US
Order line: 800-253-2187

©Steve Purdy, Shunpiker Productions, All Rights Reserved