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Auto Style In Plainview

A symbol of freedom and expression for many, cars of all shapes and sizes have served as the gateway to adventure for both the young and young-at-heart alike for countless generations.

H. Roy Jaffe has collected and photographed cars for more than 70 years. It’s this lifetime of knowledge that he recently shared with a large audience in the form of an interactive visual presentation held at the Plainview-Old Bethpage Library entitled “The Rarest and Most Exotic Cars Ever Built.”  

A former senior concept artist for the automotive industry, Jaffe said that he has immersed himself in car culture, both personally and professionally, his entire life.

“I became a concept stylist and designer at General Motors in Detroit back in 1949, working primarily in the Oldsmobile studio,” he said. “I did a great deal of design work for them, including multiple components of the ’53 Oldsmobile Fiesta, including the front end, dashboard, taillights, and so on. My design work was actually written up in Automobile Quarterly.”

Jaffe notes that he was completely self-taught from an early age from when his parents would bring him to auto shows and he would draw the many astonishing vehicles he would see there. Eventually, what he lacked in terms of a formal art education he more than made up for with raw talent and a passion for automobiles.

Jaffe graduated from a four-year engineering program at New York University in three years and proceeded to work for General Electric, but it wasn’t long before he headed on over to General Motors with his portfolio, securing a job in their concept studio on the strength of his natural photography and art skills.

“I worked with clay modelers...I would draw concepts, and the designs would be selected by my boss, and from there the modelers would render them in clay to give them three dimensions,” he said. “After working at General Motors for four years, I moved back to New York and worked for a major automotive company called Packard as a designer, which was bought out by Studebaker in the 1950’s.”

He eventually worked his way back into the engineering field, where he continue to work to this day.But his love of unique cars never left him, and that love later prompted him to create his current lecture series that he holds at libraries across Long Island.

“I’ve traveled to all of the major car shows across the country, and I’ve seen all manner of amazing and one-of-a-kind vehicles, and I put together this lecture to share some of this automotive history with people, he said. “It’s an important part of American culture.”

Among some of the fantastic vehicles featured in Jaffe’s presentation were the sci-fi influenced 1938 Phantom Corsair; the bizarre 1938 Scout Scarab; the classy 1937 Cadillac V-16 Hartmann Cabriolet; the classically-inspired 1935 Auburn Boattail Speedster; the European-flavored 1963 Studebaker Avanti; and the Ford Ghia Saetta Concept Car, a vehicle that made the rounds on the show circuit 25 years ago, yet whose design wouldn’t look out of place along any current 2014 model.

“He came to me with this idea, and when I saw his drawings and photographs — what he started with as a child, and then what he ended up doing as an adult — his work is extraordinary. Very precise and dynamic,” said Beth Saltalamacchio, head adult programming for the library. “The design of cars in those days, unlike today where they all look alike...they had such uniqueness about them then. That was a big part of the appeal of certain automobiles, and Roy was in the middle of that.”

Saltalamacchio noted that the Plainview-Old Bethpage Library was the first institution that Jaffe had approached about doing his car lecture program, and they had welcomed him with open arms. Since then, word has spread to other libraries and organizations, giving Jaffe a much wider forum to help spread his special expertise of automotive history.

Peter Brookfield, a Plainview resident and attendee of the presentation, came away impressed at the sheer breadth of Jaffe’s involvement and know-how of automotive history.

“I was blown away by this lecture,” he said. “I saw so many cars that I’ve never even known existed, and Mr. Jaffe really knows his stuff. This was an amazing experience for any car enthusiast.”   

Despite his long history with automobiles, the irony of Jaffe’s life can be traced all the way back to his humble beginnings in the Bronx, where he said his early upbringing was virtually devoid of any and all things wheeled. However, it was from that starting point that he pursued — and obtained — his dream of making cars his life’s work.

“My family never owned a car, and my parent’s wouldn’t even allow me to ride a, of course, once I got out on my own, my first mode of transportation was a motorcycle, the very symbol of rebellion,” he said, laughing. “From there, my love and passion of vehicle just grew and grew, and looking back, I’m happy to say that I’m very proud of the life that I’ve lead and the dreams that I’ve achieved in the automotive industry.”