Men of a certain age will remember -- well, they'll remember unless they inhaled too many fumes from too many tubes of Testors glue -- the youthful hours they spent assembling AMT and Revell model cars.
While the Beach Boys would sing "I saved my pennies and I saved my dimes (giddy up giddy up 409) for I knew there would be a time..." to buy a brand new 409, those of us too young to drive such cars were saving our pennies and dimes to buy plastic scale-model kits of such cars.
But little did some of us know that while we were snapping the pieces off their frames and trying -- too often unsuccessfully -- not to smear the glue onto the plastic as we assembled them into what we thought were very cool if miniature cars, other boys our age were actually designing their own dream machines, designing them and building them from wood and clay and metal, and then sending them off to be judged by the real car designers at General Motors.
Decades after building my last AMT model and dreaming about creating real cars for a real car company, I was interviewing a real car designer who mentioned he had gotten started toward his career by entering the Fisher Body Craftsman's Guild competition as a kid. Now, another of those contestants, John L. Jacobus, has recruited a bunch of the others to preserve a record of their youthful car-creating skills in a book, Inside the Fisher Body Craftsman's Guild: Contestants Recall the Great General Motors Talent Search.
From 1930 until 1968, America's largest car company sponsored an annual contest for high school- and college-aged young men, whose car design and modeling skills were rewarded with college scholarship money. Jacobus' book shares the guildsmen's story in their own words and pictures, then and now photos of the various model cars and their makers.
In 1966, writes Frederick "Bud" Magaldi, "I graduated from the newly named Art Center College of Design... and moved to Detroit to launch a more than 32-year career as a Ford Motor Company as an automobile designer... and it was the Fisher Body Craftsman's Guild that made it all possible."
Magaldi was not alone. Many of the guild members went on to design cars for a variety of companies. Others used skills honed in the competition to design other products, or used the scholarship money to study for another career.
Geza Loczi designed Trans Ams and GTOs for GM, the Corrado for Volkswagen and all sorts of concept cars for Volvo, but the things he learned in seven years of guild competition -- "stick-to-itiveness," project planning, pushing himself outside his comfort zone, refusing to accept mediocrity, the fun of creation -- are skills guildsmen would apply to various professional disciplines.
Those of us who merely snapped apart manufactured plastic pieces and then glued them together will be amazed to read what the guildsmen did in creating their 1:12-scale models. They carved them from wood or sculpted them from clay and then cast them in plaster or another material. They learned how to create jigs so both sides of a vehicle had the same contours. They did things such as turning Mom's vacuum into a paint sprayer. They built wooden bucks and used them to melt acrylic into complex-curved windshields. They got uncles to share lathes so they could create and then polish metal trim.
One writes about how he turned the head from a Schick electric shaver into the grille for his model. Another turned the positive end of alkaline batteries into hub caps.
An amazing number of hours were spent sanding between coats of paint, but as one of the guildsman learned, "It's not how many hours you put in, it is what you put into the hours."