Hot rod, car artist had ties to Austin

Published 11:20 am Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The hot rod enthusiasts and classic car connoisseurs alike are mourning a significant loss in the car show industry with Austin ties this month.


David J. “Dave” Bell, originally of Austin, died May 5 in Falcon Heights, Minn. at 72. Bell, a pioneer in the field of automotive art, was widely known for his distinctive drawing style.

“He was really famous for his fervent drawings of hot rods,” said Fran Bishop. Bishop had crossed paths with Bell when Bishop moved to Austin from California in 1967.

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“He belonged to the same car club that I was in,” Bishop said. The group was called Thumpers Car Club, and was still active all the way up until a few years ago. Now, most of its members have passed away, Bishop said.

Some of Bell’s most recognized art was for a car show called the Pomona Swap Meet held in Pomona, Calif.

“Dave did a lot of work for our event,” said Kim Cross, vice president of George Cross & Sons Inc., which puts on the event. “We are known throughout the world because of his art.”

Bell submitted his first art for George Cross & Sons in the late 70s, then drew for the company through the 80s and 90s.

“We were changing our artwork once a year for our event,” said George Cross, president of George Cross & Sons. “Every year it would get more and more detailed.”

The company switched to a different artist around the turn of the millennium, but quickly heard feedback.

“They wanted Bell back,” Kim said. The company brought Bell back on. It still uses a logo Bell drew in the early 80s.

Bell did artwork for the company for about 30 years total. He was still in demand, and in fact busy as ever, when he grew ill and passed away.

“We are so heartbroken,” Kim said, adding that he was a huge loss to the industry as a whole. “I wish I had the pleasure of meeting him firsthand.”

Bell’s art had a distinctive style made up of densely-packed cartoons filled with classic cars, hot rods, characters and block lettering.

“It’s just constantly fluid,” Kim said. “Like his pen never left the page.”

People would scrutinize his artwork for signs of themselves or people they knew. Kim said his drawings sometimes were “like a Where’s Waldo?”

Bell lived in St. Paul while he was doing the artwork, and never actually visited one of the Pomona Swap Meets in California. The company sent him pictures of cars, road signs and Pomona land marks to draw. His familiarity with hot rods and the concept pictures he was given were enough for him to go off.

“He just got it,” Kim said. “He understood the industry and cars.”

George agreed.

“He drew the car like it was supposed to be drawn,” he said. “He didn’t put a Ford fender on a Chevy.”

George had a long-standing over-the-phone relationship with Bell. He said their conversations would span any number of topics, but rarely could George call him about business and get off the phone in less than an hour.

Bell was preceded in death by his parents Jack and Louetta Bell. He is survived by a number of family members, including his wife Lynn. A funeral service was held on Friday, May 11 at St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church in Roseville.