Monthly Archives: June 2021


Conversations With People We Value #23

All Americans had been warned. No meaningful correspondence should be tossed into a hotel waste basket. Assume that your room has a listening device. Any private conversation should be held outdoors in the open square. These warnings were to be taken seriously when working behind the Iron Curtain during the cold war. So recalls Patty Moore a member of a unique team of exceptional design talent assembled by 20th Century industrial design icon Raymond Loewy. Talented and brash, the team faced the daunting challenge of creating a world car for the Soviet Union to market around the globe in the 1970s.

Though an American citizen, Mr. Loewy was French by birth and thus acceptable to the Soviets. However, the small team he assembled to create the design was 100% American.

For American and Soviet alike, pronounced egos and sharp elbows bruised at every turn. Conflicting creative styles and attitudes born of clashing ideologies destined the project to be equal parts car story and John le Carre novel.

In the early 1980s, I had been in contact with Mr. Loewy as well as members of his design team. I have taped interviews conducted in 1982 with design team members as well as what may be the only existing images of the concept car.

What follows is the birth story of the ill-fated Moskvitch XRL.

Raymond Loewy’s 1970s Soviet world car adventure

Initial version of Moskvitch XRL


For the Soviet Union in the 1970s, it was a bold undertaking. The Soviet plan called for producing a family sedan, the Moskvitch, to sell in the new car showrooms of the western economies. To pull it off they reached out beyond the Iron Curtain to a Frenchman by birth and a naturalized American citizen by choice. He would be the man bold enough to succeed. He was Raymond Loewy, father of industrial design, creator of the Avanti, Studebaker starlight coupe, Shell logo, modern Coca-Cola bottle and hundreds more cultural icons.

Early Moskvitch sketch

In this era of Nixon and Brezhnev, Détente was in bloom. This warming of relations coincided with a Soviet 5-year plan that emphasized aggressively marketing consumer goods to the West. The red stars had aligned to create a profound need for a serious upgrade of Soviet consumer product aesthetics.

Loewy anticipated the extraordinary opportunity. As the creative genius who fathered the field of industrial design, he enjoyed a good relationship with the Soviets that dated back to the early 60s. The Russians liked and respected Loewy. Loewy had cleverly positioned himself to achieve something no one had done before or would do again.

Signing of 5-year agreement with Dr. Jermen Gvishiani of VNIITE

In signing an historic design services contract with the Soviet Union, Loewy stands as the first and only person to direct a design exchange between an American company and the Soviet Union. In his own words Loewy called this design exchange, “the most important achievement of my long career.” In addition to the Moskvitch, the contract called for the design of a broad spectrum of products including clocks, cameras, motorcycles, hydrofoils and more.

1974 witnessed Loewy assemble a unique collection of gifted American designers in their 20s and early 30s to create the Soviet dream car, the Moskvitch XRL (X – experimental, R – Raymond, L – Loewy).

Team members included Patricia Moore, then in her early twenties, and responsible for the interior. Moore would go on to be named the Most Notable American Industrial Designers in the history of the field. And in 2000, was honored as one of The 100 Most Important Women in America.

Raymond Loewy and Yuri Soloviev

Syd Mead served the team by creating contextual visualizations of the Moskvitch design. Mead would later become famous as a neo-futurist concept artist who visualized environments for science fiction films such as Alien, Tron and Blade Runner.

Though well respected by the Soviets, Loewy held no great admiration for their political system. Loewy’s impressions from his Soviet experiences where sharp and divided. He had great respect and admiration for many of the individuals and professionals with whom he dealt. Yuri Soloviev the Director of VNIITE (The Soviet All-Union Scientific Research Institute of Industrial Design) was one. However Loewy felt nothing but loathing and contempt for the communist system of governance. In a letter to partner William Snaith following Loewy’s first visit to the USSR in 1961, Loewy wrote, “In spite of the wonderful welcome, we returned more than ever convinced that communism is the greatest hoax in the history of the world. I cannot tell you the dreariness, the gloom of life under this system.”

Loewy after signing of 5-year agreement standing with iconic Avanti designed by Loewy

When worlds collide might best describe the cross cultural interactions between the two decidedly different cultures.

It evidenced itself dramatically when a young Patty Moore took a team of six visiting Soviet Project Managers and a Soviet psychologist on a walking tour of Manhattan. The Psychologist viewing the experience from a psycho-social basis was interested, intrigued excited by everything.

The Soviet engineers and scientists, however, displayed the attitude that the Soviet Union unquestionably stood superior to America. They clearly viewed America as the enemy and a competitor.

As the late afternoon sun lengthened shadows, the Russian Managers crossed Manhattan’s 5th Avenue. Like Darwin first touring the Galapagos, they faced a world both foreign and fascinating. They swam through waves of American culture swirling in the canyons of New York City. High heels, long legs, bell bottoms and bright colors. Late summer of 1975 greeted them. They had come to see the automobile that Raymond Loewy, iconic father of industrial design has created. They ended up getting much more than they ever could have dreamed.

During the walking tour the Soviet psychologist would frequently become excited and animated at the New York experience. His exuberance would be quickly and consistently squelched by senior officials sharing the tour. In Russian he would be directed to refrain from speaking in such positive terms.

Final Version of Moskvitch XRL

American team members when visiting Moscow had significantly different but equally telling experiences. Never relaxed, team members would purposely leave important looking but useless documents in their hotel trash cans. Conversation outside of buildings enjoyed a significantly different flavor. Inside meeting rooms, positive comments highlighted deadlines being met and schedules moving according to plan. Conversations in open air parks revealed a totally different truth comprised of missed deadlines and poor follow-up. Still, under Loewy’s stern and sharp oversight the Moskvitch XRL concept itself moved on as promised.

Loewy, both confident in and adamant about his vision of the world car his team would create for the Soviets, envisioned the Moskvitch with wide tires and a wide body with flush wheels set out at the corners and a low beltline with a forward slanted body silhouette. However, having provided that direction he said, “Let’s see what the kids have on their mind when given leeway.” Those “kids” were his highly talented team of youthful American designers in their 20s and early 30s all who would speak  deferentially of Mr. Loewy throughout their lives.

Loewy, with steely conviction, directed the final concept accented by a color pallet featuring gold and a signature sharp slash at the “A” pillar. Loewy envisioned the driver’s seating position as a cockpit, executed in darker richer leather. In his mind the driver’s seat would be a throne superior to the other seating positions.

While delivery of the completed Moskvitch XRL concept received a warm welcome from the approving Soviets, it coincided with a perfect storm whose winds blew no good for the future of Loewy’s concept.

Moskvitch XRL Interior

As Loewy noted in a discussion of Soviet manufacturing capabilities, “In nucleonics, rocketry, steel plants, and heavy machinery, they do outstanding things. Consumer goods on the contrary are terrible, only fit for a captive market.”

Stated simply, the Soviets did not presently possess the ability to build Loewy’s design. The Loewy team had designed a dream for the Soviets which they were incapable of making. At the same time a new Soviet 5-year plan with a reduced emphasis on foreign markets now held sway. Loewy’s Moskvitch XRL would not be built.

Loewy’s greatest professional achievement proved to be his final professional achievement. Financial problems had surfaced with maintaining such a large operation on multiple continents. By 1977 Raymond Loewy International had filed for bankruptcy.

In retirement Raymond Loewy and his wife Viola moved to France where they continued to live an active life where all was art. Raymond Loewy died in 1986 at the age of 92.

After Loewy’s death two of his former associates wrote in the New York Times saying, “Raymond Loewy altered the look of American life by bringing his streamlined style to nearly every aspect of our lives.”

Loewy at the age of 82 boldly sought to do the same for the Soviet Union. While his designs for the Soviets did not make it to the marketplace, Loewy profoundly advanced the field of industrial design in the Soviet Union by introducing a new language of design and fresh insight into the importance of user-friendly solutions.

By |2021-06-17T10:42:52+00:00June 17th, 2021|10 Comments

Conversations With People We Value #22

For decades Rosell’s Auto Repair has been a Muscle Car eye candy treat that snapped you to attention, compelled you to slow and maybe linger a little too long as you digested the visual feast, and only then, to move on. The small neat structure sporting two bays housed in an immaculately maintained shop, sits on neatly groomed grounds populated by an ever changing eclectic assemblage of really interesting special interest automobiles. Solid examples of rust prone mid-fifties Detroit iron, such as 1957 Fords and Forward Look Plymouths often grace the grounds as do hot rods, tweaked Model Ts, Mopar muscle, Corvettes, 442s and Pontiacs, lots of Pontiacs. The owner is a classic as well, he is as genuine a New Jersey product as Taylor Pork Roll and Bruce Springsteen. Meet Al Rosell.

90 GTOs, 30 Corvettes and counting


If there can be a middle of nowhere in Northern New Jersey, Rosell’S Auto Repair can be found in it. Like a collectible car oasis situated in a wooded sprawl of forest and fine homes, Al Rosell’s four acres of automotive finery, years ago, served this once rural area as an off the beaten path, back road Citgo Service station. To this day no other commercial property exists for a mile at least in any direction.

Raised in Westwood, New Jersey, Al harbors a real passion for Pontiacs. It all began at the age of eleven in 1974 when his sister’s boyfriend, now husband, blew the engine in his 1965 GTO and parked the dead Pontiac in Al’s family driveway where it sat all summer. Throughout that summer young Al could be found sitting in that GTO for hours at a time stoking the fires for his future Pontiac passion.

At the age of sixteen Al bought the first of his 90 (and counting) GTOs, a 1966 hardtop with no drive train. He swapped in a Chevy V8 by himself with sufficient expertise that he enjoyed driving that car for a year until someone offered to buy it for twice what Al had in the car. Sold! In that same year young Al started pumping gas at a local service station. Within a few months the skilled beyond his years teenager had been taken inside to apply his considerable talents to ever increasingly demanding projects. A few years passed and Al moved on to a repair shop with higher level challenges including electrical trouble shooting, air conditioning and some custom work. With a few more years of experience under his belt, Al knew the time had come to go out and run his own shop. 1n 1996 Al purchased the little back woods Citgo station in River Vale, New Jersey. While having  high hopes Al had no idea of the bright future in store for the little gas station as a classic car Mecca.

Given the opportunity to buy all four acres surrounding the station, Al jumped at the chance. He knew this would afford his business the opportunity to grow. Grow it did, but never to where it lost the appeal and high octane charm of Al’s small “can do” performance boutique dedicated to delivering a very personal and consummately professional experience.

Brokered car off to buyer

Rarely if ever caught without a lit Marlboro wedged between index and middle fingers, 58-year old Al, now a seasoned and gifted classic car technician and shop owner, moves through work areas cleaner than most kitchens with the poise of a relaxed predator scouting for a target. In Al’s case he stands ready to contribute to the efforts of his two expert mechanics Greg Martino and Scott Jodzio.

Al’s approach to business has earned him the respect of the classic car community as both a skilled resource and an honest partner in advocating for what he sees as the proper course of action even if it means turning the job down.

Al notes that less and less of his shop’s clientele involves the traditional everyday work associated with keeping the family vehicle running. With his reputation for skill and ease with conquering high performance and vintage vehicle challenges, the working lifts in his bays most of the time serve a second purpose as classic car display pedestals.

“We do everything except body and paint”,” says Al. Rosell’s Auto Repair eagerly accepts power train and chassis challenges. Al says, “We do new engines, great motors for speed, a wide range of conversions, suspension upgrades, disc brake work, all of that kind of stuff. We also do interior work.” In describing his favorite work Al says, “I love doing engines. We will pull an engine, rebuild it, dyno tune it, detail it and if the customer wants, we incorporate chrome touches to whatever degree desired. When finished, that engine stands out as a work of art that can smoke the tires through all the gears.”

In observing the state of the performance shop industry, Al bemoans the relentless disappearance of the machine shops, true auto parts stores with knowledgeable staff and the expert craftsmen that reside at the heart of custom performance solutions. Al says, “These guys are the very soul of the business. I am watching their numbers melt away without any replacements.” He also notes that the really good auto parts stores are disappearing. He says, “There is no money in it. Nobody has bearings pressed on and off anymore doing U-joints and such.”

1965 Bonneville 421 cu. in. tri-power 4-speed

In recent years Al has expanded his services to address the desire of classic car owners to separate themselves from the sale of their vehicles.

Al  says, “I have found myself selling more and more collectible cars for people.” Unlike earlier times when car guys bought and sold their cars, a new generation of owners don’t want to be troubled. They have the money to buy what they want. When they grow tired of it they want somebody else to deal with the inconvenience of its disposal.  Al says, “People with money come in expressing an interest in having me assume the process of selling their classic car. The reasons are always the same. ‘I don’t want people in my house. I don’t want to deal with scheduling. I don’t want to negotiate.” For Al it offers a double benefit. He brokers the deal and becomes the “Go To” guy who people come to rely on when they look for their next collectible car. Al says, “It’s like an annuity. Some people develop a pattern of short term fascination with a classic car and then quickly tire of it. I can benefit on both ends of that romance.”

One significant trend that Al has observed over the last few years is the ascendance of the restomod as a preferred choice by many enthusiasts versus the traditional classic car with its original equipment.

Pointing to a nice mid-sixties Corvette Al says, “If you took this car and put an LS motor in it, it would increase its value by $50,000. More and more that is what the new generation buyer wants today.” Many, now in the market, instead of seeking originality want reliability, handling, comfort and air conditioning. Al says, “They don’t want the old stuff. People are different today. They want all the creature comforts of their new car, but the look of the old. The demand is there.”  When asked when the market changed  Al indicates that the change in priories became evident about five years ago.

When asked about interesting cars that came out of his shop, Al recalls a 1930 Model A. He ripped out the original drive train and replaced it with a Ford Pinto four-cylinder motor with a C4 transmission. He used the same rear, put in an adapter kit and got rid of the torque tube. Al says, “Car’s phenomenal 90 horsepower versus 40, electronic ignition. Thing runs beautiful.”

Two very interesting cars reside in a special place in Al’s heart. In 2015 an older gentleman approached Al describing a 1966 Corvette that had been in his garage since a bad accident in 1971. Al saw the car. It rested under a deep shroud of dust. Al bought it. He did a complete frame-off restoration. Al says,  “Every piece of the car is new except the antenna and the grill. “The  Nassau Blue beauty sits proudly in Al’s personal two-bay garage he built on his 4 acres. The other bay holds the subject of a love lost and found.

In 1996 Al bought a 1970 Orbit Orange Pontiac GTO Judge. He then sold it to a friend who had it for fifteen years. It was sold again with the next owner keeping it for 7 years. When it went up for sale again Al bought it back. Since he first sold the car, the two subsequent owners had driven the car a total of two times. Of his 90 GTOs the Orbit Orange Judge ranks at the top.

In reflecting on his years running Rosell’s Auto Repair, Al displays a balanced perspective. He says, “I have a great group here. I love my business. I even still have 30% of my hair.”

By |2021-06-03T11:11:11+00:00June 3rd, 2021|8 Comments