Master Purveyors of Jet Age Glamour: Art Fitzpatrick and Van Kaufman

by James Kraus

Art Fitzpatrick and Van Kaufman at Art Center College of Design, Los Angeles, California, 1965

Art Fitzpatrick and Van Kaufman at Art Center College of Design, Los Angeles, California, 1965

During the 1960s, Pontiac brochures and advertising were dominated by dramatic illustrations created by the team of Art ‘Fitz’ Fitzpatrick and Van Kaufman. These lush images depicted scenes of glamour and sophistication populated by suave, cosmopolitan and well-attired individuals, always accompanied by a larger-than-life Pontiac with shimmering chrome and glistening paintwork.

These were images that the aspirational car buyer could fantasize inserting himself into, and they nourished the idea that maybe he himself could gain access to this beautiful and exotic world if he went out and bought a new Pontiac.

While this illustrative style was not uncommon in automotive brochures and advertising at the time, Fitz and Van were the acknowledged masters of the genre. They began their storied collaboration working for Mercury and Buick before hitting their stride during their decade-plus run at Pontiac. Fitz would select overall layouts, then position, render and detail the cars, while Van fleshed out characters and backgrounds.

1960 Bonneville: Negresco

“Negresco” Arriving in style, Nice; 1960 Bonneville in Newport Blue

The process of collecting the background images is a story in itself; a tale that would excite any man about town. Each year, Fitz and Van would jet away to the most glamorous watering holes around the globe to scout and photograph potential background locations: Rome, Paris, Monte-Carlo, Acapulco, Hawaii, Puerto Rico… They left no stone unturned.

1960 Bonneville Art Gallery

“Manhattan Gallery” Exhibition opening, New York; 1960 Bonneville in Mahogany

These international locales were a departure from the conventional advertising practice in the U.S. at the time and occasionally met with resistance in the insular world of 1960s Detroit management. An executive once groused to Fitz that a couple of the backgrounds looked a bit too foreign. He ended up with a tinge of red in the face however, as the locales of the two images that he objected to were actually Upper Manhattan and Washington, DC.

1960 Bonneville

“Yacht Club” The captain reports for duty; 1960 Bonneville in Newport Blue

Having complete creative control, the only orders Fitz would receive from Pontiac headquarters were in regard to which car model and trim level to depict. He and Van would then select a background, decide which of the model’s available colours went best with the palate of the selected locale, and work their magic.

1962 Bonneville: Acapulco

“Acapulco” Arriving fashionably late; 1962 Bonneville in Bamboo Cream

When the images were completed and finalized, the finished work was sent over to Pontiac’s ad agency, McManus, John and Adams, where copywriters would add suitable text and a complementary headline.

1963 Bonneville: Spendido

“Spendido” Consulting the guide book, Portofino; 1963 Bonneville in Grenadier Red

The effectiveness of the Fitz and Van advertising illustrations helped propel Pontiac from sixth to third place in the U.S. sales derby by 1962; outsold only by the more mass-market Chevrolet and Ford lineups. Pontiac would would retain the third-place position through the remainder of the decade.

An eleventh hour decision to launch the new Grand Prix for 1962 in competition with the Ford Thunderbird and upcoming Buick Riviera meant a tiny last-minute marketing budget to launch the new model. The minuscule funds allowed for no television spots and a mere six print advertisements for the all-important first full model run of the new Grand Prix. Despite these constraints, Fitz and Van’s enticing series of six illustrated magazine spreads helped sell over thirty-thousand GPs in 1962.

1964 Grand Prix, Champs de Mars, France

“Champs de Mars” Enroute to déjeuner; 1964 Grand Prix in Pinehurst Green

The cars were routinely drawn larger than life, dominating the composition and occasionally threatening to accelerate off the page.

60 Bonne MC

“Monte Carlo Nights” Après cocktails and baccarat; 1966 Bonneville in Burgundy

Fitz was a master at colour depiction and reflection rendering. His aristry certainly made the most of Pontiac’s 1960s Magic-Mirror and Fire-Leveled acrylic lacquer paint finishes. In his best work, the paint appears to reflect an unusually broad colour spectrum and looks to be covered with infinitely deep high gloss clear overcoat, often appearing if the car was covered in molten colour.  Aesthetics were further enhanced by minimising shut lines and leaving off trim screws, antennas, bumper bolts and other extraneous detail.

1967 Catalina: Kona

“Kona I” Early round of golf, Kona, Hawaii; 1967 Catalina in Regimental Red

When not busy jetting around the world; Fitz enjoyed the freedom of working from his home. When he did venture out, he first had to decide which car to drive. As part of his remuneration from Pontiac, he was supplied every three months with not one or two, but three of the latest models of his choosing; typically a posh Bonneville, a more sporting Grand Prix or GTO and a LeMans.

"Kona II" Tiki time in Kona, Hawaii; 1967 Bonneville in Mayfair Maize

“Kona II” Tiki time in Kona, Hawaii; 1967 Bonneville in Mayfair Maize

The reign of Fitz and Van at Pontiac coincided with the pinnacle of the era of Jet Age glamour and sophistication; an age they exquisitely grasped and captured. Their images remain today as frozen moments in time reflecting the spirit of idealized gracious living, 1960s Style.

The images shown are my personal favorites; for more, visit Art Fitzpatrick’s website.

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10 thoughts on “Master Purveyors of Jet Age Glamour: Art Fitzpatrick and Van Kaufman

  1. Beautiful work! This is advertising at its classic best. These guys weren’t drawing cars, they were presenting an aspirational lifestyle: selling the sizzle rather than the steak.

  2. And to think I’ve been privileged to know Fitz for many years. He did the logo for our R&D company, Horizons Technology. Fitz’s artistic talents have continued over the years using oil, acrylic and water color to create still life, landscapes and portraits. He has done one of his father that I covet; a magnificent piece.

    I thank Betty Ferris Fitzpatrick, my college classmate for including me in their circle of friendship; she married the “Energizer Bunny” incarnate!

  3. What a delightful contrast to current automotive advertising which generally consists of a car speeding through a computer-gernerated background, with no people in sight.

  4. And the paintings still give me the same “goose bumps” I had as a teenager when I was inspired by the original ads. They transcend time.

  5. Amazingly skillful illustrations. I’m glad you called attention to the coloring of the cars, which is incredibly rich looking. Still, I have to admit I’ve never liked the design of Pontiacs! And now I wonder, was there ever a woman in the driver’s seat?

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