During the first quarter of the twentieth century, automobiles stressed function and performance. General Motors president William Durant saw the opportunity to market style and design to attract buyers from Ford’s enormously popular Model-T. After acquiring the majority holdings of the Fisher Body Company in 1919, General Motors turned the company into its main coach-building factory by 1926. GM’s biggest obstacle was the lack of designers and stylists available to hire.
Starting in the 1930s, The Fisher Body Company, in conjunction with General Motors, ran a series of competitions in design and styling for teenage students. In the early years of the competition, contestants ordered a set of model plans to build a Napoleonic Carriage—the signature logo of the company. Original model concept cars later replaced the standardized carriage in the competition which ran until 1968. The Fisher Body Craftsman’s Guild became a major recruiting tool for young artistic talent. National winners of the competition were awarded scholarships to design school and were frequently offered employment in the General Motors styling division.
One of the earliest surviving Napoleonic carriages from the Guild competition is in the Collection of the Detroit Historical Society. This model was submitted for competition on July 2, 1932 by Edward Matusek of Royal Oak. What makes this carriage even more unique is that it is accompanied by the original plans and instructions, photographs, and the actual award certificate.
Edward Matusek did not win the competition, although he did work for General Motors for a time in a New York assembly plant. Matusek was able to benefit from his experience with the Guild when he left his factory job to pursue his dream to be a model toy maker. He started a model-making company, named General Models, which he affectionately and jokingly referred to as GM. He claimed to be one of the first creators of model cars in the late 1940s. Around that same time, he fabricated parts for the ill-fated prototype Tucker 48—also known as “The Tin Goose” and collaborated on the creation of the Etch-a-Sketch for the Ohio Art Company.
Matusek remained a model-maker until his death in 1984, working commissions for hundreds of companies. While his childhood ambitions of a General Motors scholarship didn’t pan out, he was able to leave his mark on history at his own GM company. Edward Matusek’s Fisher Body Craftsman’s Guild carriage and associated documents were donated to the Detroit Historical Society in 2008.