Dexter District Library Showcasing Old School Art of Auto Design


Corvette Concept by Dan Magda. Photo by Doug Marrin.

A unique exhibition in town brings to light the forgotten traditional art of automotive design as three retired masters unveil digital copies of their vintage hand-rendered works, bridging the gap between past craftsmanship and present technology.

The exhibit runs May 20 – July 17, 2023, in the library's lower level.

Hailing from the iconic powerhouse brands of General Motors and Ford, Clark Lincoln, Ben Salvador, and Draganel 'Dan' Magda are here to give us a unique peek under the hood of vintage car design.

(L-R) Ben Salvador, Clark Lincoln, and Dan Magda. Photos courtesy of DDL.

“The designers do these types of sketches at the beginning of a program,” explains Lincoln. “Most of these are concept sketches because they’re the most exciting to look at. The bosses then make their picks, and clay models are started. The designers then continue to do working sketches.”

In an industry dominated by computer-aided design, these artists highlight the elegance of yesteryear's hand-drawn approach to automobile design. "Old School," as they lovingly refer to it, isn't about pixel-perfect computer renderings. Instead, it’s all about chalk, paint, ink, and good old-fashioned paper or vellum, the mediums they used to sketch their innovative design ideas before computer assistance was even a concept.

Buick LeSabre Concept by Ben Salvadore. Photo by Doug Marrin.

“The big difference, of course, is nowadays, designers don’t do this stuff by hand,” says Lincoln. “They do it all on computers. They can take a sketch, convert it to a 3D model, and start developing those surfaces. That data can then be given to a machine for clay modeling. That data is then modified on the clay model. Ultimately, that model goes to the tool makers. It speeds the process up from the old days when it was done by hand, as you can imagine.”

“The designer's skill level is not as challenging as it was to us,” continues Lincoln. “Have you ever tried drawing a wheel in perspective? That’s always the telltale sign of a well-trained designer.”

Lincoln notes how marketing now determines the look of new vehicles and not creative design. Vehicles of all brands are primarily variations of a central selling style.

“Every once in a while, you’ll see a vehicle come out that looks a little different, and the manufacturer gets criticized for it.

Pontiac 4 Door Concept 1977 by Clark Lincoln. Photo by Doug Marrin.

At the exhibit, you'll see renderings of classic car models that don't just ooze nostalgia but also detail the creative process. These visuals helped to convince the bigwigs that their designs were worth a green light and were instrumental in guiding sculptors to develop accurate scale models and full-sized clay renditions. Quick freehand sketches breathed life into clay models, a process often shrouded in secrecy and reserved for the elite.

And speaking of secrets, these gems of automotive design history are extremely rare, as most of them were destroyed for security reasons once their respective projects concluded. Only a few treasured pieces survived. But beware, keep them away from UV light, or else you'd be left with nothing but a faint pencil sketch, as the vibrant inks used are sensitive to light exposure.

“Preserving them is very tricky,” notes Lincoln. “Usually, they had to be stored away in a flat file somewhere.”

If you like cars, if you like art, if you find yourself pining nostalgically for years gone by, this exhibit is for you. It offers a unique chance to witness how vintage renderings, born from pencil strokes and paint splatters, have shaped the cars we know and love today. So, step on the gas and head to this one-of-a-kind exhibit to experience the magic of old-school car design.

Prints are available for purchase.

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