This Electric Guitar Beat the Pontiac Firebird to Market
Ray Dietrich had spent more than 50 years building, designing and advising cars before trying his hand at an electric guitar. According to Coach built, Dietrich got his start as an apprentice at Brewster & Co., a New York-based automaker who is probably best known for building the Brewster Buffalo fighter for the US Navy just before the start of the Second World War. Dietrich spent a few years cutting his teeth at Brewster and Chevrolet before co-founding LeBaron Carrossiers, which the coach built for everyone, from Cadillacs to Rolls-Royces built at the Springfield, Massachusetts plant (who also later employed and detained Brewster).
When the Great Depression struck, the then independent bodybuilder from Dietrich, Inc. found himself closing its doors and joining Chrysler. It was at Chrysler where he had his greatest impact on the automotive industry, working with the team that designed the revolutionary Chrysler Airflow, then in 1935, leading the team that designed his much more successful follow-up, the Chrysler Airstream. After leaving Chrysler in the late 1930s, he joined Checker, where he worked on war production and a stillborn front-wheel drive taxi called Checker Model D. After the war, Dietrich restarted his construction business bodywork by designing Lincoln Cosmopolitan limousines for President Harry. Truman and consultant on exterior projects such as the Lincoln Continental Mark II and the Tucker 48, before retiring in 1960 in Kalamazoo, Michigan.
It was there that Gibson President Ted McCarty found it in late 1962. With Fender’s brilliant auto paints and his new Jaguar guitar, which appeared alongside the Jaguar E-Type in advertisements of the day, increasingly popular, Gibson needed an answer. Dietrich returned nine days later with an automotive-inspired design unlike anything Gibson had ever built before.
Its offbeat body and rounded curves paid homage to the ornamental fins of American cars of the time, while its raised central part (due to its unique body-to-body design) and ornate carved doll were obvious reminders of luxury. cars built by coach Dietrich dedicated his life to creation. The electric guitar versions would be called Firebird I, Firebird III, Firebird V and Firebird VII – an obvious tip of the hat to GM’s futuristic concepts of Firebird I, Firebird II and Firebird III. The electric bass version of Dietrich’s new design would be called the Thunderbird, named after the Ford of the same name. The two would get a unique ornamental logo written by Dietrich on their contrasting pickguards.
The Gibson Firebird would not only be designed and named for cars, but when it goes on sale in 1963, it will also be available in the car’s true colors. McCarty and Dietrich would settle for 10 colors for GM’s Firebird and Ford palaces – five from Oldsmobile, including Cardinal Red, four from Cadillac, including Pelham Blue and Ember Red from Edsel.