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Fisher Body Plant 21 – From Rags to Riches to Ruin to Return?


We have been following the developments of the Packard Plant Project and salvage efforts for other Detroit automotive landmarks for quite some time now. Many of the Fisher Body Plant buildings were designed by famed architect Albert Kahn, who was also responsible for some of the Packard buildings. Some of the  Kahn-designed factory buildings at both sites were constructed of poured concrete including Fisher Body Plant 21.

The building was in the news last fall when a possible restoration and new use for it was announced. Dimitri Hegemann, a successful night club owner from Berlin, Germany would like to turn Fisher Body 21 into a nightclub that featuring techno-music. No further developments about the situation have turned up in the news since then, but there is hope in Detroit that it might come to fruition. In the meantime, an interesting video Body by Fisher has been released, and is included (below) as Fisher is an important part of our ongoing Harley J. Earl Story. A brief history of the Company is also included here.

  •                          The lead photo shows a 1959 Chevrolet body at the end of the production line.

fischer body turret top stampings

  •                  Hundreds of “turret top” stampings in one of the Fisher plants await final assembly.

According to the present day Fisher & Company the start of the Fisher brothers involvement in the car body building business started in 1904. At that time two of the brothers came to Detroit, MI, from Ohio to work in the body shops that supplied the growing horseless carriage trade. Being quick studies, in 1908 they started the Fisher Body Company and by 1913 were producing 100,000 bodies yearly and that amount quickly tripled by 1916.

In 1919, William Durant bought sixty percent of the company for General Motors. In 1926, the Fisher buyout was complete, and the Company became an important part of the automaking giant. At that time Fisher operated over forty plants, employed more than 100,000 workers, and was one of the largest manufacturers in the world.

During World-War II, airplanes and tanks were produced by Fisher, and by the post-war years the Company was one of the most advanced manufacturers in the world. In August of 1944, the Fisher brothers resigned from GM to concentrate on the magnificent Fisher Building in Detroit. Copyright © 2015 The Old Motor.

fischer body assembly operations

  •   Upper and lower sections of bodies being joined on the assembly line in preparation for final welding.

Below you can learn much more about the Company in the excellent documentary Body By Fisher, a recent release by WGTE Public Media. The 26-minute long video is well worth the time to view it as it is filled with a wealth of information and interesting photographs. You can also review all of our earlier coverage of Fisher here on The Old Motor.

To observe the present dismal state of Plant 21, be sure to view Abandoned Detroit – Fisher Body Plant 21 (below) produced by Bare USA. It paints much of the same story as that we have presented in our earlier coverage of the Packard Plant.

12 responses to “Fisher Body Plant 21 – From Rags to Riches to Ruin to Return?

  1. The Fisher Building in Detroit’s New Center area, directly across the street from the (former) General Motors Headquarters was built in 1928, not 1944. There was little construction of that type in 1944, this being the middle of WWII. The Fisher Brothers were active in other areas of business, including real estate.

  2. Really enjoyed the Fisher story, especially that first video. Something keeps telling me that increasing efficiency while decreasing design creativity, isn’t always a healthy thing for the human spirit.

    Tom M.

  3. Another fascinating history lesson, thank you. After I read or watch these, I always wish my relatives who lived this era were alive to get their opinions on this. Good thing for the internet!

  4. Great article. I worked in the late 70’s for Fisher Body in Pontiac. Fisher Body plant on one side of the tracks and Pontiac’s plant on the other. I greatest memory was working the shutdown between model years and walking across the conveyor bridge to the Pontiac final assembly line.

    • I also worked at Fisher Body Pontiac from 1976 to 80. My fatther retired from there and so did my uncle and my cousin worked there as well and went to the GMAD plant when it opened. The first car to come out of that plant was the 1911 Oakland, it is still standing today but I’m not sure what they are doing with it.

  5. Over here in the UK, there was a body pressing plant called Fisher (or Fisher and Ludlow possibly), that made some bodies for Triumph in the 1960’s, the 2000/2.5PI model range from memory. I wonder if it’s the same ‘Fisher’ company? If it is I had no idea that it was an American company originally.

  6. The photo of the body `hat’ being lowered to the floorpan/cowl assembly is hugely informative. First, I was surprised that the roof and quarter panels were sub-assembled as a hat and not fitted together as quarter panels and roof panels on the floor & sills as seems to be the practise with unit body construction. Second in this same photo, the first car in the shot is a two door sedan as is the hat being lowered behind it. The cowl of that car is repeated on the assembly of the body behind it and the third body behind it. The second cowl behind is of a totally different configuration. To me, this begs the question: Is it for a vastly different body style, or for the body of a different car line. While it seems reasonable that a specific Fisher Body Plant would build different bodies for a single carline, would it also build bodies for a different carline?

    In the photo from the stamping plant, we are shown something that no longer occurs in modern stamping plants. Practise pre-war and well into the 1960s the practise was to make as many parts as possible and leave assembling these parts to the assembly areas. Nowadays, the number of parts a manufacturing area needs to make are carefully calculated and once that number is made, production stops and switches to the next `order’ from the assembly department. Building a `float’ of parts is now considered wasteful and flies in the face of just-in-time delivery.

    • I agree. It’s also interesting how such a long seam of continuous welded section from roof to quarter can be done without warping the material. No doubt there is a joggle in there to re-enforce the area, but usually, such a long run would require frequently stopping to allow the material to cool down. The answer probably lies in the decent quality of the steel, & its thickness. This must surely have been quite a laborious & time consuming process. How we do miss jobs like this in today’s world! Sadly, robots are faster, cheaper, reliable, docile, & disposable.

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