The influential designer and educator lives on in the cars being made today.
What do I want to be doing when I’m 96 and looking back at my career in the automotive industry? I want to be driving a Hellcat when I reminisce, and that’s exactly what Bill Robinson was reported as doing in his final days. Called “the most influential American car designer of the post-war era,” Bill Robinson, passed away Tuesday in a hospital in Pontiac, Michigan.
“As one of the thousands of industrial designers Bill Robinson looked after during his time as our transportation design instructor at the College for Creative Studies (in Detroit), I can tell you that he was not only our instructor but also our mentor, our coach, and ultimately our friend decades after graduation,” said Ralph Gilles, Stellantis’ chief design officer.
Robinson penned Packards in the 1950s and could go on to educate a generation of automotive designers. His work strongly influenced the cars you see on the roads today, and he was an automative enthusiast to the core. He was recently seen prowling around suburban Detroit in his Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat.
Robinson, who grew up in Detroit, was taken by his neighbor’s Cord, who was a top assistant to General Motors design chief at the time.
“That car broke up our ball game because we just stood and stared at it,” Robinson said in an interview last year. “The price of that car was $2400 at a time when you could buy most cars for $1000.”
He won the best design award for a soapbox derby racer at the age of 13, and later in high school, he would learn how to illustrate cars from his mentor. He went to art school after high school and started building his portfolio. His first automotive design job was at Kaiser-Frazer in 1948, and he would design early concepts of the 1950s Packards. He would go on to have a hand in the design of dozens of Packards and Chrysler group vehicles before retiring in the late 1980s.
Once he retired from design, he would go on to teach transportation design at Detroit’s then-named Center for Creative Studies. His influence is timeless as every auto brand today has a student of Robinson’s working for them.