December 29, 1991 – Alex Tremulis, designer of Duesenbergs and Subarus, dies

Alex Tremulis
Alex Tremulis with his Ford Thunderbird Mexico 3/8 scale concept.

Designing a successful, timeless automobile is no simple feat. It takes intuition, future-vision, a steady hand and an incurable desire for perfection in the eyes of the masses. Automobile designer Alex Tremulis, who passed away on this day in 1991, appeared to have all that — and so much more. His ability to adapt to changing tastes resulted in the design of numerous iconic cars built between the 1930s and 1980s. It all started when a 19-year-old Tremulis landed, who was born in Chicago to Greek immigrants in 1914, landed a design job at Auburn-Cord-Duesenberg. The catch? He had no formal training in the art of automobile design.

The lack of education perhaps was a gift for Tremulis, who applied his own vision and techniques to the projects that he was assigned. His amateur drawings caught the eye of ACD bigwigs, who brought him onboard the design team in 1933. There he worked under Gordon Buehrig on the design of the Cord 810 and sketched out bodies for the Duesenberg Model J. After Buehrig left the company in 1936, 22-year-old Tremulis became head of design. Among his first actions was adding flexible external exhaust pipes to the supercharged Cord 812. The look proved so popular many owners retrofitted their non SC Cords with the pipes.

1937 Cord 812
Supercharged Cord 812 – note the exhaust pipes.

Alex Tremulis car designs

When ACD closed its doors in 1937, Tremulis briefly worked for General Motors before moving west to consult at a startup coachbuilder called Custom Motors. When the company founder crashed an uninsured Cadillac, the company folded and Tremulis took a position with American Bantam in 1939. The microcar designs he penned went into production and remained so until the start of World War II. Before the breakout of the war he also had a hand in the designs of the Packard Clipper and 1941 Chrysler Thunderbolt concept car. His work on those two automobiles would prove to influence post war designs.

With the advent of the war, he joined the US Army Air Forces working on advanced aircraft designs. During this time he also imaged what alien flight craft may look like and sketched the first known saucer shaped UFO designs. His time in the Air Corps would prove helpful after being hired by Preston Tucker to design a car that would ultimately be powered by an aircraft engine.

The Tucker 48 and later career

Alex Tremulis with Tucker design tools

A few years after the war came to an end Tremulis received an offer from Tucker to design the 1948 Tucker Sedan. He accepted the mission and oversaw the fabrication and assembly of the original Tucker prototype known as the Tin Goose. When production Tucker 48 automobiles began to roll out of a Chicago factory, a Franklin helicopter engine supplied power. He later crafted a design for a second model known as the Talisman, but the design never left the drawing board.

After Tucker went belly up Tremulis went to work for Ford. While there he crafted a number of concept cars. Among the designs he crafted was the the 1962 Ford Seattle-ite XXI concept car for the Seattle World’s Fair. That car featured a number of novel ideas, such as interchangeable fuel cell power units; interchangeable bodies; interactive computer navigation, mapping, and auto information systems; and four driving and steering wheels in the front.

He left Ford in 1963 to start his own consulting company and worked with various automakers in the years that followed. Among his last designs was the Subaru BRAT, which entered production in 1978 and remained so until 1987. At about that time he consulted on the film Tucker: The Man and his Dream. Alex Tremulis passed away at the age of 77 on this day in 1991.

Subaru Brat

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