Homer LaGassey, automotive design fixture in Detroit, dies at 89

Homer LaGassey Jr., a prominent figure in Detroit's automotive design community, died Jan. 7 in East Tawas, Mich. He was 89.

LaGassey joined General Motors in 1942 after graduating from the Pratt Institute in New York, becoming the youngest stylist hired by the company at age 22. He contributed to the Buick Wildcat II and Wildcat III show cars and the Pontiac Bonneville Special.

In 1955, LaGassey joined Chrysler to become the chief designer of the Dodge and Suburban studios. He remained at Chrysler until 1959, when he left to start his own design company, Homer LaGassey Design Consultants.

LaGassey accepted an executive design position with Ford in 1961, where he designed the exteriors for the Mustang, Maverick, Falcon, Fairlane and Thunderbird. He also supervised designs for the Lincoln Mark III and Mark IV before penning the design of a prototype J Car for the 1967 24 Hours of Le Mans.

He retired from design work in 1980 to begin teaching full time at Detroit's Center for Creative Studies -- now the College for Creative Studies -- where he led a transportation design program.

"He was a demanding person. He did not let people slack off in his class," former student and former Corvette studio chief designer Jerry Palmer said. "Homer demanded more out of the students and really prepared us for what it was like in the professional world."

"His contributions to the [Center for Creative Studies] were enormous. He laid the foundation for the school to become the focus of the design community and the school has never looked back," he said.

Vince Carducci, dean of undergraduate studies at the College for Creative Studies, said LaGassey made a big impact on the institution.

"He built the CCS transport design program into what it is today. He had high expectations for his students, but they loved his class because they knew he was the real deal," Carducci said. "LaGassey was the one that made it a four-year program and he created the way we teach transport design to this day. We are saddened by his passing."

LaGassey retired from teaching in 1987 to spend time with his wife at their home in Greenbush, Mich.

You can reach Sean Gagnier at sgagnier@crain.com

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