Industrial Designer Makes Cars His New Career

John D. Breen, a native Buckeye, earned his Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Industrial Design from the Cleveland, Ohio Institute of Art in 1973. He worked 34 years designing products for various manufacturers before retiring to devote his creativity to producing custom automobile art (“Your Car’s Portrait!”) for the past 20 years. Breen was drawn to automobile renderings in high school, photographing and painting cars for his own amusement. “At Cleveland’s Collinwood High, my wonderful art teacher predicted I would attend art school. I demurred, because I was going into the Navy, and art school was expensive. He kept flailing away at me, saying, ‘After the Navy, you WILL go to art school!’”

Subsequent employment included designing for Murray-Ohio Manufacturing Company for 15 years; Rubbermaid Products for nine years; Evenflo baby items for four years and Closet Maid for another five. Evenflo had me designing toys including its Exersaucer. This product contained a shelf, decked out with themed toys I designed, inside of which the baby, enclosed in a ‘saucer,’ could safely spin around to play with them. Hence, the “Exersaucer.”

Breen was interviewed by General Motors during his fifth year at CIA, telling them “I would be there for only two years to gain experience.” (Breen knew he would be designing only one part of one automobile, while he wanted to design the complete car. He and the firm agreed to disagree). A friend later confided to Breen, ‘You’re the only man I know who kissed off General Motors!’”

So, after his Navy discharge in 1968, Breen approached the Cleveland Institute of Art to become a teacher, but was told he’d have to attend Case Western Reserve to accrue some liberal arts credits. The tuition, however, was $3,600 per year, which put the kibash on teaching. But at CIA, the tuition was only $500 annually. “So I went back and discussed an Industrial Design course, since I couldn’t afford to be a teacher!”

Breen started his career with Murray Manufacturing where he designed wheel toys like pedal cars, bicycles, lawnmowers and tractors. “I was later pulled aside for ‘blue sky’ work, i.e. designing items which probably would never see production, but rather inspire other designers.” Breen worked for Murray for 15 years, then moved to Rubbermaid for a 30% raise, and stayed for nine years.

“I seriously began drawing and painting street rods, hot rods and exotic vehicles in 1968, when I entered CIA and haven’t really stopped. “While there, I’d go to car shows, photograph the displays, then paint them at home from the pictures I had taken. At one show, where I displayed my work on easels, I had rendered a Ford grille and fender in red; a prospective buyer stopped by and asked, ‘Do you have this one in blue?’

So it took six shows for it to dawn on me that people wouldn’t buy paintings of other people’s automobiles, but would purchase pictures of their own cars! So I started doing custom work on commission - quite successfully, I might add.”

Currently, Breen offers original automotive art, prints and greeting cards. Since 2008, he has added commission work of pets, equestrian art and wildlife subjects. “I was terminated from Closetmaid, and these new areas have added more to my resume.” (See on the Internet).

“My son, Breen said, “is a senior chief in the U.S. Navy, and lives in Melbourne, Florida, having recently been reassigned from Washington state, so is closer to us and probably will remain at this duty station until he retires.”

Breen’s wife, Pamela, an Advanced Nurse Practioner, is in the process of opening a professional office in nearby Fort McCoy, Florida,” Breen enthused. “And I shall be her receptionist!”


John D. Breen’s jaw-dropping automotive creation is a 1951 Chevrolet Sedan Delivery. It’s a driver that takes him and his wife, Pamela, to cruise-ins, rallies, farmers markets and other open-air venues across Central Florida where he sells yet another of his talents, airbrushed silk scarves for women.

His machine’s stainless steel exhaust woke the birds when Breen fired up the vehicle to get it better positioned for pictures. (Its chassis is a Chevy station wagon from the 1949, -50, -51 and -52 line). The basic color of his revamped sedan delivery was dark blue and to change it was a necessity, he said, because people kept asking me, ’Are you driving a hearse!?’ I got tired of the question so I airbrushed it into a Woody.”

All Breen’s airbrush work is freehand, and he has painstakingly turned his original all-steel bodied delivery truck into the magnificent “woody wagon” it is, primarily by recreating the wood as it appears after 60 years in delivery service: weathered, split and cracked. His airbrush skill also recreates chrome bolts, blacked-out rear and side windows.

Breen went on to explain his early days as a designer and how they brought him to what we see today. Airbrushing brands differ, as do sizes of nozzles; Breen used five different airbrushes on his Sedan Delivery, from the blue flames on its hood to the myriad “bolts” added to hold the “wood” panels together. and installation of wider mirrors on the driver’s side to correct a “SERIOUS blind spot situation,” he smiles.

The engine is a 1978 to 1982 CorvetteV-8 model; I found it at a dealer in Kansas or Nebraska. I bought it for the best Internet price I could find. I had it installed by the head mechanic for the Marion County School system; he was the lead school bus mechanic.”

He bought the car in 2001 in South Dakota from an individual and drove it for several years before he had the new motor put in here in Ocala. The engine is 350 cubes with 330-horsepower power output and a mild racing cam. It has power brakes, heat and air conditioning controls and cruise control.

“My seats are from an 1986 Caprice, so they are adjustable. Instrumentation includes a tachometer where the original model’s clock was - atop the dash - automatic transmission, GPS, radio with auxiliary fuel gauge because the original fuel gauge no longer works, but the original speedometer does. An AM-FM radio is tucked under the dash with amp and speakers in the rear and up front. My musical favorite is Celtic, but I listen to other stuff, too.

“The three dials include the temperature; if you’re stuck in traffic and the engine begins to overheat, 280 degrees is the red line. The old engine used to overheat all the time, but I’ve had no trouble with the new motor.

“The voltmeter tells me whether the battery is up to snuff; if it’s a dead battery, the gauge will show it.”


John D. Breen has, for years, brought renderings to reality for a number of national manufacturers. He, Pamela, and his Navy son are close now, and he leads a full and satisfying life, still creating automotive art for appreciating customers. To contact him, write John D. Breen at 3500 SW 10th Terrace, Ocala, FL 34471. Or check out his superb artwork at

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