Elwood Engel, the Chrysler design chief from 1961 to 1974, had a regular habit of walking through the design studio on the weekends to see how things were progressing. If Engel spied a design that disagreed with him, he’d let the designer know, sometimes in an unconventional fashion.
One day in the late 1960s, John Herlitz, working on the clay model for what would become the 1970 Plymouth Barracuda, found out just how creative Engel could be in his criticism.

“I came in on a Monday morning, and there’s a hatchet in the side of the car, the (clay) model. And that was not a good sign,” Herlitz (pictured at right) said years later after his retirement.

After seeing the hatchet, an Italian modeler working with Herlitz turned to him and said; “He’s a no like.”

Herlitz, who rose through the ranks to become Senior Vice President of Chrysler Design, passed away last week at age 65. That got us rummaging through old interviews to see what we could come up with, and it turns out that Herlitz had some great stories about working in the design studio.

The Barracuda would become an icon of the muscle car era, and one of the most sought after models by collectors. The final design even won Engel over.


“Elwood was the first one to drive one of the early prototype cars off the elevator on the third floor of Building 128. And it was a Hemi. A green Hemi ’Cuda,” Herlitz remembered. “And he got it angled around into the hallway that led down to the design auditorium, and he nailed that car on this parquet floor and just left these two black tracks down the hallway.” Herlitz penned the Barracuda only a few years after graduating from the Pratt Institute of Design in Brooklyn. The head of the industrial design department there set Herlitz up for a job at General Motors, but Herlitz had an association with Chrysler beginning when he was 13 years old.
“I was probably about four when I started drawing cars. But I started then sending sketches of cars to Chrysler when I was 13. And that was from a little town (Pine Plains) in upstate New York. And I was so amazed when I got a response. And this letter arrived in the little town post office with the Chrysler mark on it. And that was just over the moon. So from then, we had a correspondence going for several years actually leading up to when I became employed at the age of 21. But they provided me all the guidance necessary from a standpoint of where to go to school. They sent me renderings from the studio, which, once again, over the moon. I mean, I just could not believe this.”
Herlitz’s designs made a lasting impression on many, including Tom Gale, the former DaimlerChrysler Executive Vice President - Product Development and Design. As a young designer in the late ‘60s, Gale played a small role in the 1970 Barracuda. More than 20 years later, when he was looking for a car to restore, he bought a 1970 Barracuda. “As I took it apart, I took a good look again at every part, every bracket, every screw, and it was just kind of beautiful,” Gale said.

Herlitz spent 35 years at Chrysler. In addition to the 1970 Barracuda, he also designed the 1971 Plymouth Road Runner (seen with him on the right), which he said was his favorite vehicle, numerous concept cars, and he helped create the Walter P. Chrysler Museum. He will be missed.