Obituary - Harry Bentley Bradley 1939 – 2023

Obituary - Harry Bentley Bradley 1939 – 2023

Mike Renaut remembers the life of illustrator and auto stylist Harry Bentley Bradley, a man who designed cars both big and small…


Harry Bentley Bradley was born May 25, 1939 and grew up in Waban, Massachusetts. He contracted polio at age 14 that left him paralysed from the waist down, requiring a seven-month stay at the Boston Children’s Hospital where he learned to live with his condition. Bradley took classes at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and spent much of his free time drawing; in the hospital the nurses would place his wheelchair by a window overlooking the street and he would sketch the passing cars.

After attending a private arts college in Ohio he approached General Motors regarding job opportunities; the firm suggested he take the industrial design programme at Pratt Institute in New York. While enrolled at Pratt he began a design consultancy business, illustrating for various magazines including Rod & Custom and Customs Illustrated. He had a wide variety of drawing styles and was often hired to illustrate brand new models for which there were no official photos. In his final term Bradley took a job at GM, moving to Detroit in July 1962. Although against company policy he continued to illustrate for magazines, but now under the name Mark Fadner.

Within weeks Bradley met the Alexander Brothers, Detroit-based custom car builders with whom he would design 10 custom cars. While working for the Cadillac design studio Bradley drew the 1964 Ford Galaxie-based Alexa that was part of the Ford Custom Caravan – a travelling exhibition of customised Fords. Perhaps his most famous custom creation was the Dodge A100-based Deora.

In 1966 Bradley left General Motors for the Mattel toy company in California. There he designed part of a range of new 1:64 scale die-cast model cars sold under the name Hot Wheels. Of the original Sweet 16 models issued in 1967, Bradley penned 10. One was the Deora, another the Custom Fleetside Chevy C10 inspired by Bradley’s full-size customised 1964 El Camino. When Mattel co-founder Elliot Handler described the truck as ‘one set of hot wheels’ the brand name was born…

Hot Wheels were hugely successful with Mattel selling more than one million a week, yet Bradley left to set up his own company in 1969, then taught at the Art Center College of Design in Los Angeles. One of his most famous later designs was a 1995 version of the Weinermobile for sausage manufacturer Oscar Mayer. He continued to illustrate for magazines throughout the 2000s. Harry Bentley Bradley died on May 13, 2023 at age 83.

Harry Bentley Bradley. 1964 Galaxie Alexa. Dodge Deora. Hot Wheels. Mopar designs. Rod rendering.

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