Harry Bradley

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Harry Bradley in 1954
Harry Bradley's 1964 Chevrolet El Camino custom photographed in front of his 1951 Chevrolet custom. While the 1951 Chevrolet was restyled by Harry and Herb Gary, the El Camino featured work by the Alexander Brothers in Detroit. Harry designed the El Camino while he worked as a designer for GM, and it actually served as the prototype for the all-new production 1968 Chevrolet El Camino. Photofrom The Ray Soff Photo Collection.
Jake Babcock's 1940 Mercury - Afterglow, designed by Harry Bradley
Dave Crook's 1947 Ford, designed by Harry Bradley
The Alexa designed by Harry Bradley
The Dodge Deora is a radical design interpretation of the Dodge A100 forward-control pickup truck. The Deora’s striking lines were penned by California-based designer Harry Bradley. It was built by the Alexander Brothers of Detroit, Michigan. The build was started in 1964 and completed in 1966. Once completed the unique creation was honored with the coveted Ridler Award at the 1967 Detroit Autorama.
The second version of Bob Huffman's 1965 Chevrolet Impala, of Norwalk, California, was based on a design by Harry Bradley. The car was restyled by Bob and Tom Chafin, and the build was completed in 1968.
In 1971 Bradley designed some proposals for Tom Kelly's 1969 Chevrolet Corvette custom. Kelly hired Dave Puhl of House of Kustoms to restyle the car. He told Puhl what he wanted to do with the car, and he got Bradley to design a few proposals for the project. "Dave had a few different designs floated by me to see what appealed to me, so he could begin work. I selected the one you see. The rest were returned to him," Kelly told Sondre Kvipt of Kustomrama in 2019. Photo courtesy of Tom Kelly.
The Kandy Klown, an example of Harry's published Hot Rod designs

Harry Bentley Bradley was born in 1936 in Waban, Massachusetts. He began to draw early, and nurtured his artistic talent through youth classes at the Museum of Fine Arts. During the summer of 1949, fourteen year old Harry contracted Polio and was soon paralyzed from the waist down. Harry was treated at the Boston's Children's Hospital for seven months. He passed the time with drawing. Nurses would place his wheel chair by a window overlooking the street so he could sketch automobiles. For the first few months at home he used a wheelchair of which he was very proud. He added lots of decorations – mirrors with reflectors, squeeze-bulb horns, handgrips with red, white and blue vinyl streamers – and a fox tail hanging at the rear. It was his first customized vehicle! After learning to live with leg braces, Harry went on to finish grade school and became further entrenched into the car culture of the early 1950's.

Harry got into the early fifties Chevys after borrowing an all-black 1950 Chevrolet Bel Air from the guy who was dating his sister. He started to make sketches and designs, making plans for his own car. After a couple of years he wrangled a cherry red 1951 Chevrolet Bel Air from his parents. This happened in 1954. The Chevy had been the milkman's car. When he got it, Harry promised his parents that he wouldn't touch the car, never. But it was too late; his parents didn't have a chance against the inspiration Harry had gotten from people like PininFarina, Harley Earl, Joe Bailon and the Barris Brothers. The Chevrolet is better known as the La Jolla.

Harry was a member of the Drivin Deuces car club.

Harry attended the College of Wooster for a liberal arts education at the urging of his parents but his real goal was a career in automobile design. He wrote to General Motors asking about job opportunities and their response suggested the industrial design program at Pratt Institute. While attending the design program, Harry launched his own business as a custom design consultant and began to contribute regularly to various automotive publications such as Rodding and Re-styling, Customs Illustrated and Rod & Custom.

Harry was recruited by General Motors during his last semester at Pratt and moved to Detroit in July, 1962. It was against General Motors company policy to publish designs for Hot Rod and Custom Magazines while working for General Motors, so Harry continued to publish his design under the false name Mark Fadner. Within weeks of his arrival at GM Design Staff, Harry and the Alexander Brothers had forged a relationship that would result in more than 10 Bradley-designed custom cars over the next eight years. While working for the Cadillac design studio, Harry designed the Alexa, a 1964 Ford fastback Galaxie for the Alexander Brothers. The car was part of the Ford Custom Caravan, so needless to say, working for Ford's interest while working for General Motors would have threatened Harry's job, so Mike and Larry Alexander credited Harry as Designer X. The threat wasn't much of a deterrent; Bradley and the brothers designed and built several more Caravan cars.

Harry worked for GM for four years. During his time there he worked for a number of studios. Harry took advantage of GM's fellowship study program for a Masters degree at Stanford University. In 1964, while studying in California Harry designed the Dodge Deora for the Alexander Broethers.

In the spring of 1966 Harry was recruited by the Mattel Corporation. Mattel wanted to hire a designer from one of Detroit's "Big 3" to create the look of their new Hot Wheels die-cast cars, so Elliot Handler of Mattel sent Fred Adickes to Detroit to find what they were looking for. Adickes placed an ad in the local Detroit newspaper. The response was surprisingly low, but Adickes returned with Harry Bradley. Harry saw the job at Mattel as a great opportunity to return to California. With Mattel paying the gas money Harry drove his 1964 Chevrolet El Camino to California. Bradley's mix of hot rod and mainstream car design proved the perfect combination. The original line had 16 models in bright candy colors with carburetor stacks, mag wheels, chopped roofs and red line tires. The cars were released in 1968 and all of the cars were designed by Harry Bentley Bradley with the exception of the Custom Volkswagen which was designed by Ira Gilford.

As it turned out, the Hot Wheels brand was a staggering success! Unfortunately, Harry Bentley Bradley didn't think that would be the case and had quit Mattel in 1969. When the company asked him back, he recommended a good friend, Ira Gilford. Gilford, who just had just left Chrysler, quickly accepted the job of designing the next Hot Wheels models. Harry resigned to start his own design firm and began work on a variety of projects. Harry designed everything from plastic model kits to full size hot rods and custom cars.

Harry Bradley's Personal Cars

Harry Bradley's 1951 Chevrolet Bel Air - La Jolla
Harry Bradley's 1964 Chevrolet El Camino - Blind Faith

Cars Designed by Harry Bradley

The Dodge Deora
The Alexa
Jake Babcock's 1940 Mercury - Afterglow
Robert E. Larivee, Jr. and Peter A. Toundas' 1941 Ford - The Eagle One
Dave Crook's 1947 Ford
Jack Barnard's 1949 Ford
Tom Kelly's 1969 Chevrolet Corvette
Dave Crook's 1970 Pontiac Firebird
The Oscar Meyer Weiner Mobile


Harry Bentley Bradley American Automotive Design Innovator
Motor Trend
Rik Hoving Custom Car Photo Archive
DieCastX Magazine Fall 2008


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