Performance Design

Industrial Design. Graphic Design. Illustration. Car and Product Photography. Since 1988.

Located near Phoenix, Arizona

I specialize in small manufacturers of automotive and sports related products.


Gary D. Smith

Art Center College of Design, Trans, 1973

General Motors Design Staff, 1973–1988



Performance Design History

Herb Fishel worked under Vince Piggins at Chevrolet’s performance group. In the late ’70s, Lloyd Reuss and Buick Motor Division lured him away to start their own performance department. Herb would make frequent trips from Flint to the GM Tech Center at Warren, Michigan, attempting to get Buick Exterior Studio design and modeling support to create special performance vehicles. Buick Studio, run by Jerry Hirschberg, had its own problems with complying with Design manaement requests and other corporate pressures and had little interest to help Herb with his projects that would simply rob time and talent from higher priorities. Whenever there was some performance oriented project, Jerry would always involve me in the project. Frankly, I was the only designer in the studio more interested in performance cars than my career. I had been in Buick Studio from late 1973, transferred from Pontiac Studio, and had designed the graphics for the 1975 and 1976 Buick Century Indy Pace Cars.

Frustrated with Buick Studio’s lack of complete cooperation, Herb approached Buick management. After presenting his case, his boss asked if there was any other way to get these projects accomplished. That’s all Herb needed to hear. Herb approached me to see if I was interested in doing projects on a freelance basis. Performance Design was created as a way for me to work for Buick independently of the studio. I left General Motors in 1988 and moved to Prescott, Arizona. Performance Design became my freelance design business name.

Prescott, Arizona was actually a good place to start, but not because of the thriving business climate. Graphic design and illustration was the only work available, and I just happened to stumble into desktop publishing, a term used for integrating the computer into the creative workflow. The equipment allowed me to create collateral fairly quickly and show the client several options. Traditional methods required lots of expensive equipment and time. So I slowly gained a reputation for being a cost-effective creative solution for business needs. It took several years to understand how to create and prepare four-color printing. In those days I had to send physical discs (Syquest or Zip discs) to a service bureau in Phoenix to make films for printing. This was way before direct to plate technology. There were lots of problems.

In the seven years we were in Prescott, I was doing work for most of the print shops, and had a number of good clients, including Arizona Archery Enterprises, Sturm, Ruger & Company, T.D. Wright, and Vortex International. Phoenix clients included Coriolis Group Books and U-Haul International. I was also introduced to Bill Fisher in Tucson. He and his son Howard published HP Books, Fisher Books.

In 1995 we moved to Cave Creek, Arizona, near Phoenix. Referrals expanded my client base. Over the years they included Automedia 2000 (Moss Motors), FilterMag, Strehl, Halfway Brook Publishing, California Bill’s Automotive Handbooks, Forever Resorts, Genesis Imaging Centers, Clear Wave Air, ETEC/Ecotality, and a lot more. They came and went. I also worked for ESG Engineering for most of 2006 as an Industrial Designer.

There were many Industrial Design projects along the way. Fishing boat graphics, electric vehicle chargers, water and air purifiers, U-Haul’s sport trailer and other products, over-the-road truck aerodynamic parts, motorcycle parts, and Larry Brinker and I developed a body for a 1935 Bugatti.

Product and Automotive Photography

I’ve designed and prepared ads, product brochures, and collateral materials for AAE since 1988. While the photographer that they were using was good, I struggled with adapting photos and layouts. I took over the photography and life was much better for me and more cost-effective for the client. FilterMag’s products are also photographed by PD.

In 2008 I co-authored two books for California Bill’s Automotive Handbooks, Chevy Tri-Five Custom Interiors, and Ford Roadsters Custom Interiors, and shot exteriors and interiors of forty cars in Arizona and California.

Dean’s Garage began in March, 2009 for the sole purpose of doing something to share photos and information collected primarily during my career at General Motors. Since then it has expanded dramatically, publishing posts with contributed by a number of former car designers. Other related content includes stories, biographies, featured designers and their work, book reviews, photo essays, history and all sorts of other stuff.

  1. Hi Gary,
    I’ve been enjoying Dean’s Garage for a while and finally made a contribution. Also good to see the encouraging verse about salvation and our Savior. I enjoy the somewhat GM Design centric posts. The closest I got to working there was a 2 hour interview in Chuck Jordan’s office. One of the regrets of my life was being directed to the Design Library(a place I would have loved to hang out), to find the great Bill Porter looking at a Car Styling magazine which had a rendering in it very similar to one he had just seen in my portfolio! I debated weather to go over to him and explain where my sketch differed, but decided(in the hubris of youth) that if he couldn’t see that I had original thinking in other sketches in the portfolio then that would be the way things were. Anyway so much for my regrets. Thanks so much for the site and the enjoyment it brings. Thanks, Mark

  2. Charlie

    Hi Gary, I read with great interest, the touching story of your father’s 1979 Century Turbo Coupe on Dean’s Garage. I was wondering if it was still in your family or if you knew it’s current whereabouts. Thanks, Charlie

    • GafferDad

      My mom sold the ’79 Century Turbo Coupe after my dad’s death in 1980. I could have probably gotten the car from her at the time, but decided not to. I don’t remember my reasons exactly.

      I very much appreciated your comment.

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