All of the mid-century classic cars one sees during the Woodward Dream Cruise started out as an auto designer’s paper drawing.
“We used hand-drawn sketches,” said Wayne Kady, 84, of Royal Oak who was a former chief designer for GM’s Cadillac division. “We’d crank them out and maybe do 100 in a day. Automotive art is a vehicle to show your idea … You had to be an artist.”
Kady saw auto design move from drawings to computers during his time as a designer from 1961 to 1999.
He and other designers from the the League of Retired Automotive Designers are presenting concept automotive art pieces they did during the golden age of Detroit car design, as well as some newer works.
Their work is part of the Automotive Concept Art Exhibition that starts next month at the Royal Oak Historical Society Museum, 1411 W. Webster Rd.
Kady and other designers from the earlier age of car design will be at an opening reception that kicks off the exhibit from 7-9 p.m. Aug. 5.
Muriel Versagi, curator of the museum, said the reception is a chance for people to meet the designers behind some of Detroit’s most iconic automobiles.
The exhibition will continue at the museum after the reception through Sept. 10.
“Wayne Kady helped set up the exhibit,” Versagi said. “His work is part of the exhibit and he’s quite an artist.”
The annual automotive art show at the historical museum was started in 2015 by Robert Edwards, a Royal Oak fine artist who died in 2018. Edwards was in the vanguard of a successful movement to have auto designers’ artwork recognized as legitimate art at the Detroit Institute of Arts.
“Robert Edwards was so amazing and full of energy,” Versace said. “He was really the impetus behind this annual exhibit at the historical museum.”
The museum is also hosting its 10th annual classic car show with dozens of vehicles from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., Saturday, Aug. 6. All donations go to fund the nonprofit historical museum.
Among the dozens of drawings at the upcoming exhibit are works by designers from GM, Ford, Chrysler and even Studebaker, Kady said.
Some of the designers are bringing their own new artwork, showing conceptual drawings of how they would envision an updated Dodge Viper. The sports car was last manufactured in 2017.
The auto designers’ drawings were a key part of the teamwork it took to create a new car and bring it into production, Kady said.
“We used to say that exterior styling gets you into (the dealership) showroom, then the interior sells the car,” he said.
What’s unique about the designer art show is it features precisely rendered concept drawings of cars that never made it into production, but nonetheless captured the spirit of how mid-century designers imagined the future.
Beginning in the 1970s, cars became smaller under pressure from the era’s energy crisis engendered by an oil embargo from oil producing nations.
When Kady started out as a designer in 1961, cars were longer, lower and wider. That changed in the ‘70s.
“Cars as I knew them were going away,” he said. “SUVs, pickups and smaller cars took over.”
Many of the retired auto designers still live in and near Royal Oak. The colorful concept drawings they kept of cars they designed during the classic car era is what remains of their work.
“I hope we get a nice turnout” for the exhibition,” Kady said. “I think it’s a treasure for this area and a chance to see something that doesn’t really exist anymore.”