Harry Bentley Bradley, Part One
Harry Bradley was one of the Transportation Design Instructors at Art Center when I was there. I remember the first day of a Trans class in my last trimester, Harry announced that there weren’t any design jobs. Judging from the last few graduating classes, he was right. No jobs had been offered. That wasn’t very encouraging. Oh, well. I had gone this far. I might as well finish. I graduated in early 1973, and things must have opened up as all three companies offered several positions to graduating seniors.
This first post features Harry’s illustration work scanned from various publications from the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s. During that time sneak previews of the new models sold magazines, and Harry was hired to illustrate new models. His illustration styles varied considerably over time, and often in one publication Harry would have several different styles. His illustrations were fun to look at, and at times he played with the viewer with backgrounds, reflections, and perspective. When I look back at my artwork from my early days at GM, it is apparent that Harry’s style influenced my own.
Part Two will feature his more recent work including many hot rod and design illustrations.
Harry Bentley Bradley was born in 1936 in Waban, Massachusetts. He began to draw early, and nurtured his artistic talent through youth classes at the Museum of Fine Arts. “What I recall most about those classes was the magic. My whole world opened up.” During the summer of 1949, fourteen year old Harry contracted Polio and was soon paralyzed from the waist down. Harry was treated at the Boston’s Children’s Hospital for seven months. He passed the time with drawing. Nurses would place his wheel chair by a window overlooking the street so he could sketch automobiles. For the first few months at home he used a wheelchair of which he was very proud. He added lots of decorations: mirrors with reflectors, squeeze-bulb horns, handgrips with red, white and blue vinyl streamers, and a fox tail hanging at the rear. It was his first customized vehicle! After learning to live with leg braces, Harry went on to finish grade school and became further entrenched into the car culture of the early 1950’s.
Harry got into the early fifties Chevys after borrowing an all-black 1950 Chevrolet Bel Air from the guy who was dating his sister. He started to make sketches and designs, making plans for his own car. After a couple of years he wrangled a cherry red 1951 Chevrolet Bel Air from his parents. This happened in 1954. The Chevy had been the milkman’s car. When he got it, Harry promised his parents that he wouldn’t touch the car, never. But it was too late; his parents didn’t have a chance against the inspiration Harry had gotten from people like PininFarina, Harley Earl, Joe Bailon and the Barris Brothers. The Chevrolet is better known as the La Jolla.
Harry Bradley’s later work will be the subject of Part Two.
Harry attended the College of Wooster for a liberal arts education at the urging of his parents but his real goal was a career in automobile design. He wrote to General Motors asking about job opportunities and their response suggested the industrial design program at Pratt Institute. While attending the design program, Harry launched his own business as a custom design consultant and began to contribute regularly to various automotive publications such as Rodding and Re-styling, Customs Illustrated and Rod & Custom.
Harry was recruited by General Motors during his last semester at Pratt and moved to Detroit in July, 1962. It was against General Motors company policy to publish designs for Hot Rod and Custom Magazines while working for General Motors, so Harry continued to publish his design under the false name Mark Fadner. Within weeks of his arrival at GM Design Staff, Harry and the Alexander Brothers had forged a relationship that would result in more than 10 Bradley-designed custom cars over the next eight years. While working for the Cadillac design studio, Harry designed the Alexa, a 1964 Ford fastback Galaxie for the Alexander Brothers. The car was part of the Ford Custom Caravan, so needless to say, working for Ford’s interest while working for General Motors would have threatened Harry’s job, so Mike and Larry Alexander credited Harry as Designer X. The threat wasn’t much of a deterrent; Bradley and the brothers designed and built several more Caravan cars.
Harry worked for GM for four years. During his time there he worked for a number of studios. Harry took advantage of GM’s fellowship study program for a Masters degree at Stanford University. In 1964, while studying in California Harry designed the Dodge Deora for the Alexander Broethers.
In the spring of 1966 Harry was recruited by the Mattel Corporation. Mattel wanted to hire a designer from one of Detroit’s “Big 3” to create the look of their new Hot Wheels die-cast cars, so Elliot Handler of Mattel sent Fred Adickes to Detroit to find what they were looking for. Adickes placed an ad in the local Detroit newspaper. The response was surprisingly low, but Adickes returned with Harry Bradley. Harry saw the job at Mattel as a great opportunity to return to California. With Mattel paying the gas money Harry drove his 1964 Chevrolet El Camino to California. Bradley’s mix of hot rod and mainstream car design proved the perfect combination. The original line had 16 models in bright candy colors with carburetor stacks, mag wheels, chopped roofs and red line tires. The cars were released in 1968 and all of the cars were designed by Harry Bentley Bradley with the exception of the Custom Volkswagen which was designed by Ira Gilford.
As it turned out, the Hot Wheels brand was a staggering success! Unfortunately, Harry Bentley Bradley didn’t think that would be the case and had quit Mattel in 1969. When the company asked him back, he recommended a good friend, Ira Gilford. Gilford, who just had just left Chrysler, quickly accepted the job of designing the next Hot Wheels models. Harry resigned to start his own design firm and began work on a variety of projects. Harry designed everything from plastic model kits to full size hot rods and custom cars. Source: Kustomrama.