Dick Teague Ends Record Tenure In Style
(courtesy Ward's Auto World February 1985 by David Smith
Dick Teague's humor hasn't always been appreciated at American Motors Corp. He riled the brass at a new-model preview in the '70s, for example, by suggesting a Marlin deck lid as a booby prize.
Mentioning Marlin, a late 1960s fastback disaster, in some AMC circles was like shouting Edsel at a Ford Motor Co. gathering. But for Richard A. Teague, winding up 21 years this month as AMC vice president-styling -- a record tenure for a design-veep in Detroit -- such shenanigans were part of the fun.
And the joke was at least partly on him: Although the late Roy Abernathy, then AMC's behemoth president, demanded that Marlin be larger than planned and thereby ruined its Ford Mustang-emulating concept, it nevertheless goes down as a Teague design.
On Feb. 28, Mr. Teague, 62, will walk into retirement, capping a 26-year AMC career that produced a string of sometimes memorable, often forgettable cars. He'll stay on two years as a part-time consultant, but will return to his native California, where he briefly starred as a silent-movie actor until losing his right eye in an auto accident at age six.
With AMC perennially short on cash, Mr. Teague's design group could draw the most handsome cars, only to be jolted back to the reality of developing them on a shoestring. Among nameplates crafted under his aegis were cars that, like Camelot, shown brightly for at least awhile: Rambler American, Hornet, Gremlin, AMX, Javelin and Pacer.
His downsized XJ Jeeps still are hot, but even collectors can't get excited about Marlin. Like Matador, Ambassador and others, it best it stamped RIP.
An authority on automotive history who collects classic and rare cars and other auto memorabilia like a miser stashes cash, Mr. Teague stands in sharp contrast to his fancy-Dan Colleagues in upper design echelons. Most can be recognized instantly from the trendy clothing they wear and their office decor. But Mr. Teague, a down-home sort, is an ordinary dresser who eschews workplace chrome.
Unhappy unless he's holding a drawing instrument, he has uncanny ability to remember names and dates and can't resist coining new words. Two examples: "Carisma," his name for a favorite model (the "spindly" For Model T) and "autoholic," as he describes himself.
Mr. Teague reckons he has owned "400 or 500" cars. He has 11 now, but plans to drop to six before occupying a new home (he supplied the rough sketches) north of San Diego, CA. "When my wife saw it, it was love at first site," he puns.
Listed in his current stable are two of only five AMX III concept, European-style sports cars hand-built in Italy in 1968. He also has a production AMX 2-seater, a '60 Corvette, A '61 Berlinetta, a rare vintage Ferrari, 1906 and 1932 Packards, one of only six 1904 Ramblers extant, an early Polk-Hartford and his most prized possession -- a 1907 American (no kin to AMC) Underslung he recently acquired after a 35-year pursuit.
He considers it "the first American sports car," and its frame uniquely was placed under its springs. The low, hunkered-down appearance that resulted was striking during an era when most cars looked like phone booths on wheels. Underslung's 476 cu.-in. (7.8L) 4-cyl. engine, good for 50 hp, stood out as well.
A witty, colorful storyteller, Mr. Teague recalls that while dating his wife-to-be, Marian, he told her he'd marry her if she ever located an Underslung.
Only 2,000 copies were built during the Indianapolis automaker's 1906-'13 existence. By Mr. Teague's count, only 27 survive. Marian, to his surprise, soon got wind of four -- all owned by one family in Pennsylvania. "She said 'I found an American Underslung. Now we'll have to get married.'" Mr. Teague chortles. He kept his vow the next year.
All four cars sat idle until restored in the mid-'60s. It took two more decades to convince the family to part with one, purchased new by its patriarch in 1907. Why'd they sell? "I guess it was my persistence," says Mr. Teague. "Maybe they feld it would get a good home."
A collector as well of rare toy cars (some 300 line shelves at his home), he also has a formidable automotive-literature and -paraphernalia collection that he plans soon to donate in part to the Automotive Hall of Fame in Midland, MI.
Mr. Teague went to work for General Motors Corp. in 1948, after designing aircraft during World War II and completing studies at the Art Center School in Los Angeles. He worked on the famed 1950 Oldsmobile Rocket before moving in 1951 to Packard Motor Car Co., only to see it melt away. A 2-year hitch at Chrysler Corp. styling studios followed, and then it was on the AMC.
"The only Detroit auto company I haen't worked for is Ford," he laughs. One of his sons works at the No. 2 automaker's California design studio, however, and another is a Mitsubishi Motors Corp. designer.
Among the AMC cars he designed, Javelin and AMX are his favorites. Pacer, precursing today's aero designs, also ranks high on his list, although it proved too heavy and cumbersome after AMC scrapped its original rotary-engine, front-drive design.
Mr. Teague is sure the aero styling trend will grow; his conviction will be evident in the last AMC car he's working on -- a midsize, upscale model debuting for '87 that will feature hidden headlamps. "Aerodynamics is a way of life today," he says. "You'll see the boxes disappear."