The retirement of Ed Welburn is an appropriate time to look back on the past six design chiefs at General Motors, all of whom have helped shaped the company’s cars.
Harley Earl (1927-58) (above) Alfred P. Sloan, GM’s president, plucked the California native from Hollywood, where he had been designing custom-bodied cars for the film industry elite. His first design for GM was the 1927 LaSalle, a sportier, more affordable Cadillac. Earl is best known for the 1938 Buick Y-Job, 1948 Cadillac Series 62, 1951 GM LeSabre, and most of the Motorama cars through 1958.
Bill Mitchell (1958-77) Joined Earl’s Art and Colour Section in December 1935 and drew the sketch that became the design for the 1938 Cadillac Sixty Special. Unofficially took over for Earl when on a tour of Europe in the late 1950s, and shepherded the longer, lower, wider 1959 GM models. Known for the Mako Shark 1 and C2 Corvette, 1962 Cadillacs, 1963 Buick Riviera, 1964 Pontiac GTO and Oldsmobile 442, 1966 Olds Toronado, first- and second-generation Camaros and Firebirds, C3 Corvette, and concepts Corvette Manta Ray and Aero-Vette.
Irv Rybicki (1977-86) Began his career as a project engineer at the GM Proving Ground in Milford, Michigan, and moved to Art and Colour in 1945. He oversaw the 1982 Chevy Camaro and Pontiac Firebird, 1984 C4 Corvette and Ed Welburn’s Olds Aerotech design, but also a period under CEO Roger Smith where a new crop of Chevys, Pontiacs, Oldsmobiles, Buicks and Cadillacs shared front-wheel-drive platforms, and looked too much alike.
Chuck Jordan (1986-92) Fellow California native Earl hired Jordan in 1949, and by 1957 Jordan was appointed Cadillac’s chief designer. As GM’s design chief, Jordan oversaw the Geo-branded cars, including the Metro, Storm and Tracker, the “Dustbuster” minivans, the 1992 Cadillac Seville, 1993 Camaro/Firebird, and 1995 Oldsmobile Aurora and Buick Riviera. He retired as GM teetered on the brink of bankruptcy.
Wayne Cherry (1992-2003) The Indianapolis native joined GM’s advanced design studio in 1962, and worked in England and Germany before becoming the company’s fifth design chief. Cars under his direction include the C5 Corvette, Hummer H2, 2002 Pontiac Solstice concept, 2001 Olds Aurora, 2002 Saturn Vue, 2005 Chevy Equinox and the Cadillac Sixteen, a concept that introduced the luxury brand’s Art & Science design language.
Ed Welburn (2003-16) A native of suburban Philadelphia, Welburn’s best known design is the Oldsmobile Aerotech. See the main story for a partial list of the vehicles designed under his direction.
Source: “Driving Style: GM Design’s First Century,” 2008, by MRC Publishing.