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Bradley Hilltopics

Fall 2008 • Volume 14, Issue 4  

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President’s op-ed on underage drinking | Why an Aston Martin? | Luxury car | Harry the bowling robot | Baseball at Wrigley | Slideshows: KRISTIN KAYE ’11 gymnast; BU bowling; 1967 Aston Martin DB6; World of Wonder; works of MARY MATHIAS, MFA ’05 and NANA EKOW MAISON, MFA ’04 | Audio: DON LADAS ’54, WJOL broadcaster | 

 

Duesenberg dreams

Museum honors early car designer with ties to Bradley and central Illinois

Reprinted with permission of the Journal Star, Peoria, IL.

By Theo Jean Kenyon
of the Journal Star

For doodling car designs, he was once expelled from his chemistry class at Bradley University. But GORDON BUEHRIG ’26, a native of the central Illinois community of Mason City, later became known around the world for his legendary designs, including the 1936 Cord 810, the 1935 Auburn 851 Speedster and the Duesenberg Model J luxury car.

His sleek creations are now being honored in Auburn, Ind., at the new Gordon Buehrig Gallery of Design at the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Automobile Museum, a National Historic Landmark that is housed in the building where Buehrig worked in the late 1930s. The 1,400-square-foot gallery, which opened Memorial Day weekend, is billed as the museum's most colorful and technologically advanced gallery. A touch-screen display allows visitors to hear Buehrig speak on automotive-related topics in his own voice. And a professional computer animation video created by Buehrig's grandson, Jordan Orlando, details the creation of the 1936 Cord 810 from clay to conception and animates the car as it goes through the design stages. Many of Buehrig's designs are on display, as well as some individual project cars Buehrig was involved with such as the Tasco and the Buehrig.

"It brings his whole story together, from original sketches at General Motors for the Cord all the way to the finished product," says Matthew Short, the museum's executive vice president, who says he "just missed" getting to know Buehrig before his death in January 1990. "The Buehrig and Orlando family gave us unprecedented access to Gordon's library, personal diaries and effects," he says of the gallery. "We were able to paint a more complete and personal picture of this legendary designer. The more I read his papers while researching this gallery, the more I came to appreciate not only his design genius, but what a genuine person he was."

Barbara Buehrig Orlando, Gordon Buehrig's daughter, calls the exhibit "a fantastic gallery, and beyond anything my father would have imagined in his career."

"The Cord and the Speedster were way ahead of their time," she says of her father's designs. "He was always geared to the future." She's also proud of the work her son, Jordan, did for the gallery, saying he shares his grandfather's talent for being able to visualize a design in his head in three dimensions.

As master designer for E.L. Cord, who built classic cars in the northeastern Indiana town of Auburn, Gordon Buehrig set new standards with the racy, sophisticated Cord automobiles of the 1930s and his sleek Duesenbergs and Auburns that led some to call the cars "rolling sculptures." Many of his innovative designs and features, so revolutionary at the time, still thrive today. His original design for the 810 Cord caused the public to take notice at the 1935 New York Auto Show. "The Cord stopped the show," said one writer. "People reportedly stood on surrounding cars just to get a glimpse of the beautiful Cord with its exciting design." Its features included disappearing headlights, front-wheel drive, step-down entry and a modern style that won a place in history for its designer. The vehicle later was recognized by New York's Museum of Modern Art as one of the outstanding auto designs of all time.

On a visit to Peoria in 1965 to see his former Bradley roommate, E.B. Risser, Buehrig described other features of the Cord. His super-charged Cord 810 — and the later 812 — was a full foot lower than most cars on the road. It also had a horn ring, concealed door hinges, no running boards and a concealed radiator body.

Buehrig was born in 1904 in Mason City and attended Bradley from 1922 to 1924 before starting his long career. Although he didn't receive a degree from Bradley, he received the school's Distinguished Alumnus Award in 1981 and was named to its Centurion Society in 1993. He received an honorary degree from Aurora University in 1986.

Buehrig got his first job in the automotive industry when he was 20 years old and was hired by the Godfredson Body Co. as its chief engineer. During the next five years, he gained experience at Dietrich Inc., Packard, General Motors and Stutz. By the time he was 25, he was named chief body designer for the most prestigious car company in the United States — Duesenberg Inc. He became a close friend of the Duesenberg brothers and designed a series of cars for them, also designing the famous "Duesenbird" radiator ornament.

In 1934, the Auburn Automobile Co. asked Buehrig to redesign its cars, leading to the 1935 Auburn Speedster. Less successful was the Tasco, a failed attempt to design a European-style sports car that Buehrig later called his personal Edsel. Nonetheless, he came up with a styling innovation in the design: a removable T-top, which later became popular.

He later worked for Ford Motor Co. from 1949 until his retirement in 1965, where his projects included the 1951 Ford Victoria, the 1952 Ford all-metal station wagon and the Continental Mark II. Buehrig was selected in 1981 by the Society of Automotive Historians as one of the industry's 30 most significant people internationally and named a fellow by the Society of Automotive Engineers. He was inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame in 1989. "He was modest, and he wasn't really famous," Barbara Orlando says of her father. "The arc of his career began in the 1920s, but because of the Depression, that time of design and a small team of automakers came to an end."

Buehrig took his math skills into the aircraft industry during World War II, with Goodyear in Akron, Ohio, and Consolidated Airlines in San Diego. "Then, afterwards, at Ford, it was a different world," Orlando says.

Theo Jean Kenyon can be reached at 686-3190 or tkenyon@pjstar.com.

 

Buehrigs offer treasure trove of memories

Reprinted with permission of the Journal Star, Peoria, IL.

By Theo Jean Kenyon
of the Journal Star

When the Auburn-Cord-Duesenberg Festival's Parade of Classics takes place each year the Saturday before Labor Day, Kay Buehrig is there, riding in "our Cord." "I gave it to the museum, with the understanding that when I'm there, I get to ride in it," says Buehrig, 94, the widow of automobile designer Gordon Buehrig.

This year's parade of more than 300 Auburns, Cords and Duesenbergs motoring through the streets of Auburn was Aug. 30.

Pictures of that maroon Cord are included in Gordon Buehrig's book "Rolling Sculpture," first published in 1975. With the opening of the new Buehrig gallery at the Auburn Cord Dusenberg Museum, the book has been re-released and is available through the museum. When the book originally came out, Kay Buehrig recalls, "he gave them away to friends and relatives. We even had a signing party." Recently, she found some of the original books in her attic and took three of them to an auction at the Meadow Brook car show in Michigan, where she lives.

"A man from Texas, who had bought a Duesenberg — you know they all go for over a million — paid $1,000 for a copy. I suppose if you can afford to buy a Duesenberg, you can afford the book," she says, adding the other two volumes went for $700 apiece.

Kay Buehrig says her husband, after attending Bradley University for two years in the 1920s, went to Chicago, where "he became a taxi driver because he wanted to get behind wheels, and he couldn't afford a car and his father didn't have a car." He designed cars for other automakers before going on to Duesenberg Inc. and then the Auburn Automobile Co. "Gordon had this idea for the Cord. He left General Motors and went from designing for Duesenberg with its catch phrase "It's a Duesy!" to designing the Cord for Mr. Cord, who had the Auburn factory," Kay Buehrig says. "It was very revolutionary."

Errett Lobban Cord, who had been a racing car mechanic and driver, became president of the Auburn Automobile Co. in 1924. Cord acquired Fred and August Duesenberg's Indianapolis company in 1926. Buehrig designed the streamlined Cord Model 810 in 1935 and Model 812 in 1937. Manufacture of the Auburns, Cords and Duesenbergs ceased in 1937 after Cord's financial empire collapsed during the Great Depression.

Kay Buehrig says seeing their first Cord automobile has been a memorable experience for many people. "They remember someone in their town owning one and saying 'Oh my God!' and they don't forget that car," she says.

Theo Jean Kenyon can be reached at 686-3190 or tkenyon@pjstar.com.

 

President’s op-ed on underage drinking | Why an Aston Martin? | Luxury car | Harry the bowling robot | Baseball at Wrigley | Slideshows: KRISTIN KAYE ’11 gymnast; BU bowling; 1967 Aston Martin DB6; World of Wonder; works of MARY MATHIAS, MFA ’05 and NANA EKOW MAISON, MFA ’04 | Audio: DON LADAS ’54, WJOL broadcaster |