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Second Chance Garage

For the Classic Car Restoration Enthusiast

Second Chance Garage


Second Chance Garage

For the Classic Car Restoration Enthusiast

Second Chance Garage

Second Chance Garage

For the Classic Car Restoration Enthusiast

Second Chance Garage

AUTO-BIOGRAPHY

Erskine — Part 1: Studebaker's Erskine Six: the Little Aristocrat of Motordom — Page 4

At Brewster, Dietrich worked as a delineator, translating sketches the staff designers made into non-detailed, full-sized side and front body elevations. When he had free time, Dietrich wandered around the woodworking shop, learning as he watched master body builders. Increasingly interested in the entire design process, Dietrich worked all day before taking night classes at New York's Mechanics' Institute (founded by former Brewster employees) on drafting techniques and technical methodologies used to construct car bodies. He graduated in 1917 and right off the bat found a higher-paying job with Chevrolet where he produced finished technical drawings as well as how-to manuals for assembly-line workers. His efforts there helped him develop a better understanding of mass production techniques.

Raymond H. Dietrich

Raymond H. Dietrich


A year later, however, Brewster, found a way to reclaim one of their star designers by offering Dietrich considerably more than Chevrolet was paying him. Back at Brewster, Dietrich met Thomas L. Hibbard, another new-hire assigned to produce body drafts. They hit it off, and, by 1921, were in business together—with a classy new name: LeBaron Carossiers. Their business plan was unusual for the day. They designed "automotive architecture", producing custom designs with a complete package of plans and drawings. The customer could take the plans to a coach maker of choice to have the plans turned into bodies.

It was a good idea, and in no time flat, celebrities were lining up to describe the cars of their dreams. Just two years later, though, Hibbard went to Europe to promote sales and stayed on, joining another American in forming European coach design firm Hibbard & Darrin. That left Dietrich with a new set of problems: first, he no longer had a partner to share his growing workload, and second, imitation being the sincerest form of flattery, major coach building firms set up their own in-house design departments to compete for customers. He worked very quickly as a draftsman but he couldn't keep up with demand.

Dietrich's solution was to merge with Bridgeport Body Co. in 1924 to form LeBaron, Inc., a company handling both design and coach building. This gave Dietrich a little breathing room, and he was able to develop his automotive styling, styling that led to some of the Erskine's look: a sporty look with lowered roof line and window levels; horizontal flow between driver and passenger areas by means of continuous molding; the car as a total architectural piece; etc.

By 1925, however, Dietrich had caught the eye of Edsel Ford who liked the look of the Dietrich-designed Lincoln bodies. The two became good friends, and Ford convinced Fred Murray, owner of Murray Body Corporation and supplier of some production Ford bodies, to provide funding to establish Dietrich, Inc. Although Dietrich was relegated to a dark office in a Detroit factory, he was not deterred. Besides the Erskine, he would design for Chrysler as their chief stylist from 1932 to 1938 and he would produce body designs, both custom and standard, for Lincoln, Packard, Marmon, Dodge, Kaiser, Checker Cab, and others. After a lifetime in automotive design, he also worked for a short while designing electric guitars for Gibson.

Read more in Erskine — Part 2