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Saturday, March 29, 2008

Design: Former Chrysler Designer John Herlitz Dead at 65

An Appreciation by Noah Mallin

Chrysler designer John Herlitz started with the company in 1964, just in time to experience the end of the Elwood Engel era and retired in 2000, just as the Tom Gale era was coming to a close. Though he didn't extend a reach as deeply and publicly known as the aforementioned design heads, he was a quietly influential and respected designer who moved through the ranks to become a top design executive.

During Chrysler's design revival in the late 80s and early 90s Herlitz championed a series of well-received concept vehicles under Tom Gale's direction that signaled the company's move away from the boxy boredom of the K-Car years. He insisted they be runners and many of them were harbingers of production vehicles like the Dodge Viper.

He first made his mark with the vehicle shown above, the Plymouth Barracuda SX Concept. Herlitz was on the team responsible for the second-generation Barracuda and the concept was meant to envision what the car would look like if it were given it's own platform rather than being built off of the Valiant. That would not occur until the third generation, one in which he had a direct hand in.

His own favorite and the one for which he's likely to be best remembered is the 1971 Plymouth Road Runner/ GTX (below). This was one of the last great designs of the muscle car era and reflected the best example of what Chrysler called "fuselage" styling -- a wide, low, long tapered smooth-sided look inspired by contemporary jumbo jets.
Check out the way the front bumper frames the face, and the draping sideline that extends halfway down the squared-off wheel arches. Then there is the fantastic roofline and pillarless side glass. Herlitz's death comes as the company he spent his career at is once again in the design weeds and facing the kind of product crises he helped lead it through in the late 70s and again in the late 80s.

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