Rolf Åke Nystedt (1907 - 1987), later known as "Ralph Lysell", was an Industrial Designer born in Stockholm, Sweden in 1907. When Rolf was 7 years old, his mother moved to the United States. Ralph missed his mother while growing up, and at age 16 he moved to the United States to reunite with her. Ralph's mother lived with a new man, a man that was not very found of his step-son, so shortly after arriving in the land of opportunities Rolf had to make it on his own. Hi lied about his age, and changed his name into Ralph Lysell in order to integrate better. Lysell was his mother's maiden name. At age 17 Ralph got married, his first of seven marriages in total. Ralph tended to be the best in everything he did. He was big and strong, and had a full-beard not common for a kid at his age at the time. The beard was his pride, and his sixth wife once told that Ralph slept on his back in order not to mess up his beloved beard.
Ralph was very ambitious, and he took night classes at Columbia University in New York while practicing heavy weight boxing in dark basements in order to become a professional boxer. He spoke seven languages fluently and he took a small plane pilot license some time in the 1920s or 1930s. In the 1930s sometime, Ralph was also involved in a movie project in Southern America. With a technical background from Columbia University, Ralph designed a streamlined automobile that he wanted to mass-produce. Notable and innovative features included a rear mounted engine and doors that slided along the bodysides. The car never made it into production, and Ralph left America and headed back to Europe. It is not known why the car never made it into production, or why Ralph left the United States. According to one story printed in Teknikk För Alla Nr 34. 21 aug 1942., Ralph was forced to leave the United States by the US auto-industry. They bought him off and he had to sign a deal prohibiting him any type of work in the American auto or aviation industry for the next 5 years. The reason for this was that the auto industry was afraid his car would get too much attention on the market as it looked far more modern then any other american produced car at the time. According to the story printed in the Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten in 1951, the factory where the car was built at was destroyed in a flood. A third story claims that he ran out of funds while trying to realize his automobile dream, and that he had to run the country due to angry investors.
The Rise and Fall of AB Industriell Formgivning
Ralph left America, and headed back to Europe where he visited several European countries. In Germany he worked as a consulting engineer for companies such as Mercedes-Benz, Adler and BMW. In Germany, Ralph did also work as a test driver for Mercedes-Benz. While working for Mercedes in 1939, he went to Stockholm, Sweden on a sales promotion tour. The second world war broke out while Ralph was in Stockholm, so he decided not to return to Germany. In Sweden he was hired as an industrial designer by L. M. Ericsson. While working for L. M. Ericsson, Ralph was involved in designing the Unifon and the initial design for the iconic Ericofon in 1941. Ralph built a 3D model for the Ericofon that became the first ever Ericofon prototype, and he and Knut Hugo Blomberg filed a patent on the design as assignors to Ericsson in October the same year. In 1942 Ralph left Ericsson, and returned to Germany. He returned to Sweden after a while, and started to work for Ericsson for a while again. Ralph felt like a trapped lion working for Ericsson. In 1945 he was able to establish his own design company called AB Industriell Formgivning at Katarinavägen 22 in Stockholm. By then Ralph had been able to establish a name for himself, and the company was financed by Günther & Bäck, an advertising agency in Stockholm. Ralph's creations where heavily influenced by aviation and space design, and he was very interested in the new materials that were being developed in the 1930s and 1940s. When Ralph left L. M. Ericsson, he left with a two year's consultant contract securing him some assignments and an income. Ralph was a master with the airbrush, and he shared his futuristic visions with technical Swedish magazines such as Teknikens Värld and Teknik för Alla. He did also write long articles for magazines such as Form og Teknisk Tidskrift in addition to lecturing for associations such as Teknologiföreningen and Plastföreningen. As the company and staff grew, more money was needed to keep the wheels rolling. By 1947 the staff counted eight people, and Ralph and his team were designing concepts for companies such as Volvo, AGA, Electrolux, Kockums, Sandviken and Svenska Amerikalinjen. For Volvo, Ralph designed the well-know "Takgök" for their PV's. Not being able to run the company properly and earn as much money as needed, Ralph passed the company on to a well known attorney. Ralph was still working for his old company, but he showed up on work later and later, and was missing in action way too often. As a result of this, AB Industriell Formgivning lost their contract with Ericsson. During the winter of 1947 the company went bankrupt. About the same time, Ralph and his former employee Erik Olsson had began constructing a machine for producing wooden clothing clips. Erik, who was from the little town of Torsby, Sweden, had presented the concept for the citizens of his hometown in order to raise some money. As Ralph was able to charm the optimistic farmers, the project was financed by the people of Torsby. Unfortunately, the project was another economic fiasco, and Ralph and Eric had to leave Sweden due to the angry farmers wanting their money back. Both Ralph and Erik fled to Paris, France. In Paris Ralph managed to become an important pioneer in the field of industrial design as well.
The Rally Sports Car
After living in Paris for a couple of years, Ralph moved to Norway in 1949. He was married to a Norwegian lady called Carlmeyer, but it is not known if he met her before or after he moved to Norway. Ralph and Carlmeyer had a son called Gösta. In Norway Ralph built a futuristic bubble topped sports car called Rally. Ralph's Rally featured an aluminum body, and it was meant to be the first Norwegian sports car of the 1950s. Ralph's concept was presented to the citizens of Norway in an issue of Aftenposten in 1951. According to the story, Ralph had plans for a Norwegian produced taxi cab and a truck as well. The Rally prototype was built at Norwegian Aircraft Industries LTD at Fornebu in Oslo. Fornebu was the main airport of Norway at the time. Only one prototype of the Rally was built, and according to a story published in Teknikens Värld November 1953 Ralp abandoned his automotive dream to build an aluminum lifeboat called "Svelvik". Svelvik was a lifeboat Ralph designed so that it wouldn't tip or sink. The invention almost costed Ralph his life as he was going to prove its brilliance by sailing from Norway to Gothenburg with it. The voyage was done during the winter, and hard wind and snow made the trip very though for Ralph. After three days on the open sea, Ralph arrived safely in Gothenburg. After 11 years in Norway, Ralph decided to move back to Sweden in 1960. Ralph moved to the little town of Hjo where he worked as a designer for Hjo Mekaniska Verkstad. Ralph was later spotted on Electrolux in Alingsås, Sweden asking if they needed a designer. They turned him down, and he was seen leaving the factory with a young lady in a two-seater roadster. According to Gösta, Ralph's son, Ralph was also a guest professor at a university in London in the 1960s.
Ralph was very found of cars, and he was a typical gearhead. He did also enjoy traveling, and in the 1960s he drove all over Europe in an Austin Healey. In the 1970s Ralph went on a trip to Africa. During his stay in Africa he disappeared for a longer period, and was actually reported missing. He was found, and returned to Sweden where he retired. On his older days, Ralph spent a lot of time painting abstract art. Ralph died as an old man in Sweden in 1987.
Ralph Lysell, the Man and the Myth
Ralph Lysell is a man of many myths and stories. He was an energic and eccentric adventurer, and a good talker. He knew how to charm and convince people and there are many unconfirmed rumors and myths about the man. According to one of these rumors, Ralph helped Al Capone smuggle alcohol from Chicago to Canada while he was living in the United States. They smuggled the alcohol across the border using small airplanes, and Ralph had a pilot license. Maybe he got the job because of his pilot license, or maybe he took the license so he could do the job. Other unconfirmed rumors claims that Ralph was fired by L.M. Ericsson in 1942, and that after he was fired he returned to Germany where he supposedly started working for Hitler's automobile division.
Did You Enjoy This Article?
Kustomrama is an online encyclopedia dedicated to traditional hot rod and custom cars. Our mission is to protect, preserve and share traditional hot rod custom car history from all over the world.
- Find out how you can become a contributor.
- Forward this article to a friend.
- Subscribe to our newsletter and receive updates on Ralph Lysell and other subjects featured on Kustomrama.
Help Us Make This Article Better
If you have additional information, photos, feedback or corrections about Ralph Lysell, please get in touch with Kustomrama at: firstname.lastname@example.org.