The Truth About Cars » bill mitchell http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Mon, 29 Sep 2014 19:04:21 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.2 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars editors@ttac.com editors@ttac.com (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » bill mitchell http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/wp-content/themes/ttac-theme/images/logo.gif http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com Bill Mitchell’s Swan Song: The Phantom http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/08/bill-mitchells-swan-song-phantom/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/08/bill-mitchells-swan-song-phantom/#comments Sun, 31 Aug 2014 13:00:26 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=897690 Since it was the last design of consequence that General Motors design chief Bill Mitchell oversaw, Wayne Kady’s 1980 Cadillac Seville is thought by some to be the ultimate expression of Mitchell’s design philosophy. No doubt Mitchell was a fan of what he called the “London look”, and the ’80 Seville had that in spades: a classic […]

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Since it was the last design of consequence that General Motors design chief Bill Mitchell oversaw, Wayne Kady’s 1980 Cadillac Seville is thought by some to be the ultimate expression of Mitchell’s design philosophy. No doubt Mitchell was a fan of what he called the “London look”, and the ’80 Seville had that in spades: a classic vertical grille, a bustle shaped rear end, a raked C pillar and a long hood. When accused of borrowing the bustle-back from a contemporary Lincoln, Mitchell reportedly got indignant and said that he stole it from Rolls-Royce, not the cross-town competition in Dearborn. However, while Mitchell went to bat for the controversial Seville design over the objections of Cadillac management, the Seville was not the ultimate expression of his personal taste.

That ultimate expression can instead be seen in a car that never made it to production and in fact was treated a bit like a step-child by GM brass. While the Seville’s razor sharp edges are justifiably associated with Mitchell, something that distinguished GM cars in the 1960s from what Michael Lamm calls Harley Earl’s “Rubenesque” ethos of the mid to late 1950s, the fact is that Mitchell loved the sweeping and elegant look of cars from the late 1930s. The first two cars that he oversaw at GM were the 1938 Cadillac Sixty Special and the 1941 Cadillac. Neither of those cars has a single creased edge.

1980 Cadillac Seville

1980 Cadillac Seville

His favorite cars were the custom Silver Arrow Buick Rivieras that he had personalized for his own use, and while there are some of Mitchell’s sharp edges on the Rivieras, particularly the first generation car, in profile the Rivs, most noticeably the boat-tailed versions, evoke the sweeping lines of cars from decades earlier.

Mitchell’s ultimate statement as a car designer would be the 1977 Phantom, a large, fastback two-seat coupe built atop a Pontiac Grand Prix chassis. Though the Phantom has some sharp edges, its proportions, flowing lines and exposed wheel wells  go back to the era of those Cadillacs that Mitchell designed in the late 1930s. Though some have speculated that the Phantom ended up in Mitchell’s possession as some sort of severance payment upon his retirement, while GM designers were indeed known to use one-off concept and show cars as their personal drivers, the Phantom never had a drivetrain. It still exists, but perhaps in line with its history the Phantom is almost hidden away in the corner of a museum.

This 1967 rendering by Wayne Kady of a hypothetical V16 powered Cadillac prefigures both the 1980 Seville and Bill Mitchell's Phantom of 1977.

This 1967 rendering by Wayne Kady of a hypothetical V16 powered Cadillac prefigures both the 1980 Seville and Bill Mitchell’s Phantom of 1977.

By 1977, Mitchell was a bit of an anachronism, a man with a Mad Men mentality in an era while Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinam were raising women’s consciousness, someone who could order a half dozen hookers for lunch and send out an underling to the bank to get the Benjamins to pay them. GM’s design and engineering teams had just created what would be their last masterpieces for decades, the downsized 1977 fullsize sedans, the first American cars designed from scratch to deal with more expensive gasoline, the result of the 1973 oil crisis. The new Chevy Impala, for example, was 700 lbs lighter, smaller in every exterior dimension, yet had more interior room and more cargo capacity than the land yachts it replaced. Those cars would be GM’s high point for years, as they were almost immediately followed by the disastrous X-cars, the Chevy Citation and it’s badge engineered siblings.

Bill Mitchell was not a man for downsizing. Not a small man himself, for his last personal design Mitchell opted for something that was not smaller, lighter nor more space efficient. It was his idea of a modern classic and his hope for the direction that GM design would take after his retirement. However, by 1977, Mitchell had been with the company for four decades and many of his contemporaries (and advocates) were long gone.

A styling show was planned for the GM board at the proving grounds and Mitchell had the Phantom shipped out to Milford on the sly, hoping to surprise the board of directors as well as some of the GM executives like Howard Kehrl, executive vice president in charge of the product planning and technical staffs. Kehrl wasn’t as well known and certainly not as flamboyant as Mitchell, but the engineer had risen up through the ranks and by the late 1970s, with many of Mitchell’s allies retired, Kehrl held more power in the corporation. Having been on the receiving end of Mitchell’s legendary foul mouth, Kehrl was in no mood for one of Mitchell’s power plays. He spotted the Phantom being prepared for display and ordered it off the grounds immediately. Lo, how the mighty are fallen. Mitchell reportedly fumed, but the lion was roaring in winter. Later that year Mitchell retired from GM and opened up his own design studio in suburban Detroit. He died in 1988.

Pontiac_Phantom_01

By 1977, times had changed. In a 1979 interview he told Corvette historian Michael B. Antonick, “You know,  years ago when you went into an auto styling department, you found sweeps…racks of them. Now they design [cars] with a T-square and a triangle.”

Even the designers who had risen through GM’s design studios under Mitchell to positions of power themselves realized that times had passed the designer by. Jerry Hirschberg, who later would head Nissan design, is quoted by Michael Lamm as saying, “”As the years passed, Mitchell’s rather narrow biases and hardening vision limited GM styling. He was fighting old battles and withdrawing increasingly from a world that was being redefined by consumerism, Naderism and an emerging consciousness of the environment.”

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George Moon, a senior interior designer at GM reflected on Mitchell at the end of his career: “Bill Mitchell ruled over GM Design Staff during its most creative, most exciting years in corporate history. No matter his mood, his manner, his style—he gave the place a verve and an excitement it never had before or since. He brought out the best creative energies from all of us, and he oversaw the design of the greatest diversity of cars ever produced.

“Bill couldn’t have survived in today’s arena: too many rules, too many handcuffs, committees and bosses. Nor could today’s corporation tolerate Mitchell’s flamboyance, impertinences, ego and lifestyle. He was his own man, flawed and gifted, crude and creative. You had to love him or hate him, but no one in America could ignore him.”

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Mitchell seemed to have understood that times had passed him by. Even his internal code name for the Phantom, “Madame X” evoked a bygone era. Concerning the Phantom he later said, “Realizing that with the energy crisis and other considerations, the glamour car would not be around for long. I wanted to leave a memory at General Motors of the kind of cars I love”.

Click here to view the embedded video.


Start the video and click on the settings icon to select 2D or 3D formats

Though his power had ebbed, Mitchell was still a legend at General Motors. Perhaps out of consideration for Mitchell’s indelible role in GM history, unlike many concepts the Phantom wasn’t destroyed, and while it’s not in a place of honor in GM’s Heritage Center, the company’s private car museum, the automaker has either donated or loaned it to Flint’s Sloan Museum where you can see it in their Buick Gallery.

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can get a parallax view at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

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The Most Influential Corvair Never Built : Giugiaro’s Chevrolet Testudo http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/11/the-most-influential-corvair-never-built-giugiaros-chevrolet-testudo/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/11/the-most-influential-corvair-never-built-giugiaros-chevrolet-testudo/#comments Sat, 09 Nov 2013 13:36:08 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=405520 Photos: RM Auctions Back in 2011, as part of its reorganization, Italian design house Bertone auctioned off some of its collection of concept cars in conjunction with the Villa d’Este concours that year. Marcello Gandini’s Lamborghini Marzal, with it’s glass gullwing doors, and its $2,170,369.10 USD sale price, got the lion’s share of the attention in […]

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Photos: RM Auctions

Back in 2011, as part of its reorganization, Italian design house Bertone auctioned off some of its collection of concept cars in conjunction with the Villa d’Este concours that year. Marcello Gandini’s Lamborghini Marzal, with it’s glass gullwing doors, and its $2,170,369.10 USD sale price, got the lion’s share of the attention in that sale, but one of Giorgetto Giugiaro’s creations also on sale that day, the 1963 Chevrolet Testudo, may have been a more influential design in the long run than the Marzal. Testudo is Italian for turtle, an allusion to the sharp beltline separating top and bottom halves of the car. Though I can see the testudine influence, I’ve never seen a tortoise or turtle look this sleek and fast.

Like Chrysler did more than a decade earlier with Pininfarina and Ghia (leading to the great Exner-Ghia Chrysler concepts), Bill Mitchell at GM styling decided to have a competition of sorts, sending two Corvair chassis to Italy with an idea towards selling a European styled Corvair on the continent. One went to Pininfarina and the other to Bertone, where a young Giugiaro was working.

The man that went on to found Italdesign and have a great and prolific design career said that designing the Testudo opened his own eyes to a new way of designing cars as a whole, rather than as separate side and plan views. Also Ferruccio Lamborghini’s very successful relationship with Bertone may very well have been sparked by this car. More importantly, Bill Mitchell’s idea of a localized Euro Corvair never saw fruition but that idea led to one of the most influential concept cars ever.

Based on a shortened Chevy Corvair chassis, the Testudo not only opened up a new way of designing cars for Giugiaro, it influenced a number of very successful designs that came after it.  I can see some Ferrari Daytona (and the cars it influenced itself), C3 Corvette (though there may have been some two way influence there because Giugiaro was in contact with the GM stylists in Detroit that were then working on the Corvair Monza concept, which itself influenced the C3 Vette), Lamborghini Miura and Montreal, and possibly a couple of others including the AMC Pacer. The late Tony Lapine said that it directly influenced his design of the Porsche 928.

What do you see in it? Well, besides this Corvair engine.

You can read the car’s auction catalog description here at the RM Auction site (note how the press release’s description of Bertone’s history discretely avoided mentioning just why the car was on sale).

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can get a parallax view at Cars In Depth. If you think 3D is a plot to get you to buy yet another new TV set, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail testudo testudo2 testudo10 testudo11 testudo9 testudo12 testudo7 testudo8 testudo6 testudo5 testudo3 testudo4 testudo13 testudo14 testudo15 testudo16 testudo17

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Did Sexism and Racism End the Fisher Body Craftsman’s Guild? Harley Earl’s Grandson Says So http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/07/did-sexism-and-racism-end-the-fisher-body-craftsmans-guild-harley-earls-grandson-says-so/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/07/did-sexism-and-racism-end-the-fisher-body-craftsmans-guild-harley-earls-grandson-says-so/#comments Wed, 25 Jul 2012 18:13:22 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=454157 In a recent post on Stillen’s contest to design a body kit for the Scion FR-S, I brought up the history of the Fisher Body Craftsman’s Guild, a scholarship based model making contest for budding designers that ran from 1930 to 1968. Since just about all of the promotional materials for the Guild were targeted […]

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In a recent post on Stillen’s contest to design a body kit for the Scion FR-S, I brought up the history of the Fisher Body Craftsman’s Guild, a scholarship based model making contest for budding designers that ran from 1930 to 1968. Since just about all of the promotional materials for the Guild were targeted at boys, I wondered if any girls ever tried to enter the competition.

Ron Will, who was a national winner of the Guild competition in 1961, later worked at GM design and is now retired after heading Subaru styling for 25 years, is active in the reunions that Guild participants have organized, so I contacted him. To his knowledge, no girls ever tried to enter the competition. With the changes in women’s roles Will says that had the Guild continued beyond 1968, he’s sure that it would have been opened up to female participation, just as the Chevrolet sponsored Soap Box Derby was. Richard Earl disagrees. In fact, the grandson of Harley Earl, the man who started GM’s styling department, says that the Guild was ended specifically to prevent girls and minorities from competing. Furthermore, Earl told me that his source was none other than Irv Rybicki, who headed GM styling after Bill Mitchell, Harley Earl’s successor, retired.

 

Richard Earl’s mission is enshrining his grandfather’s legacy as the father of automotive styling and he operates CaroftheCentury.com, dedicated to Harley Earl. Since he’s written about the “Damsels of Design”, the women designers who worked for Earl, I contacted Richard to find out if Sue Vanderbilt, the most prominent of GM’s female designers in the 1950s and 1960s, was still alive to see if I could get her perspective on the notion of girls participating Craftsman’s Guild.

Chuck Jordan with boys competing in the Fisher Body Craftsman’s Guild

Earl informed me that Vanderbilt had passed away but then alluded to “the real reason” why the Guild was discontinued.  He was surprised that I’d never heard the story, since I’ve posted before at TTAC about Bill Mitchell’s supposed bigotry. My curiosity piqued, I asked him to clue me in. This is what he said.

Certain Detroit history is illusive. This particular area is one of them. What follows is kind of fast and loose.

I found out why the illustrious Fisher Body Craftsman’s Guild was eliminated while interviewing certain GM Styling Section veterans and Damsels as well when I lived in Detroit area researching the history of Harley Earl/GM’s Styling&Design legacy. I was fortunate to not only sit down and talk to Henry Lauve, Paul Gillian, Irv Rybicki, Homer LaGassey, Stan Parker, Loretta Ramshaw’s brother who worked at Styling for a long time, George Pisiani and a parade of other great old veteran GM Styling guys; but as I mention I talked with a number of Damsels of Design as well.

Irv Rybicki, head of GM styling 1977-1986

I’ll focus primarily on what Irvine Rybicki told me while I was visiting him in his retirement home in East Sandwich, Mass… Reason I’m mentioning all this has to do with the sensitive stuff I learned from Irv, you know the behind-the-scenes stuff on GM Styling/Design. He was not like Jordan, a power broker, and Irv wasn’t scared of losing his pension or any reprisals be waged against him by what he said. He was honest and unmerciful about what went wrong after Harley Earl left the corporation and Detroit’s auto world.

Ronnie, you actually have a little knowledge as to why the FBCG went away because you wrote a story a couple of years ago pointing to the heart of the matter in your titled article, Was GM’s Head Bill Mitchell A Sexist Bigot?

Here’s what Irv told me, “The FBCG was disbanded because GM’s top execs at the time in power sided with Bill Mitchell and didn’t want blacks or young girls coming in and being involved in any way shape or form with the event. So they just got rid of it and told themselves they didn’t really need it anymore and it had already served its purpose.”

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can dig deeper at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

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Curbside Classic: 1962 Cadillac Series 62 Sedan http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/05/curbside-classic-1962-cadillac-series-62-sedan/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/05/curbside-classic-1962-cadillac-series-62-sedan/#comments Mon, 03 May 2010 17:50:22 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=354990 GM’s final peak in US market share was in 1978, before it began its long decline. For the fifty years prior, only two men oversaw the styling of GM during those golden decades. The hand off from one to the other was was hardly smooth in the end, with a painful transition for the 1959 […]

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GM’s final peak in US market share was in 1978, before it began its long decline. For the fifty years prior, only two men oversaw the styling of GM during those golden decades. The hand off from one to the other was was hardly smooth in the end, with a painful transition for the 1959 models that were a essentially a hybrid of the two. But for the 1961 models, Bill Mitchell was now completely in control, and few cars show his love for sharply sculptured surfaces and a restrained use of chrome than the very handsome 1961 and 1962 Cadillacs.

If you’re having a hard time keeping your eyes on the Caddy because of that beguiling gray car in the background, head to the Transvertible CC to satisfy your curiosity. And when you’re done, let’s pick up the history lesson on what I consider to be one of the most attractive Caddies ever.

The 1959′s were a dramatic departure from the out-of date and excessively chromed and bloated ’58s. But they still showed Harley Earl’s influence in his love of rounded and smooth shapes punctuated by dramatic details, especially in his beloved wrap-around panoramic windshields with their resultant dog legs, as well as bold fins and strong chrome accents.

Mitchell’s love for chiseled and more European inspired design manifested itself most completely and perfectly in the 1963 Buick Riviera, but the 1961 Cadillac was a strong step in that direction. The front end became dramatically lighter and more delicate, the greenhouse was now angular and creased, and the panoramic windshield tossed out on the chrome heap of history along with the fins. The result was much more sophisticated, elegant and yet still very much encapsulated the space age theme of the times.

Cadillac did a very unusual thing in 1959 and 1960, essentially previewing their future styling with the very rare and ultra expensive Eldorado Brougham sedan.  These were coach built in Italy by Pininfarina, and only a couple hundred of the almost three-times more expensive hardtops were sold.

But the 1959 Brougham (above) and the 1960 (top) both predicted the following year’s styling remarkably well. For the right price, you could drive next year’s Caddy today. What a concept!

Probably the biggest challenge for the ’61 and ’62 Cadillac was what to do with the fins. Having essentially invented the whole thing in 1948, Cadillac was deeply associated with them. Yet the whole industry was abandoning them wholesale after the big bow-out of 1959-1960, GM more than anyone. For 1961, all the GM lines save Cadillac completely rid themselves of any vestige of their former existence, quicker and more decisively than both Ford or Chrysler. But Cadillac retained them, in a way that both honored the heritage imbued in them, and yet still worked in the new and more contemporary design language.

This Series 62 six-window hardtop was the entry-level Cadillac, costing $5,080 ($36k adjusted). That didn’t include the increasingly popular air conditioning, or the GuideMatic automatic headlight dimmer, whose electric eye is sitting the on the dash looking like a radar detector. GM first introduced that in 1952, and after being withdrawn on the rest of the GM lines in the mid-sixties, Cadillac retained it until 1988.

The choice between this six window sedans versus the identically priced four window version was a trade off of more or less privacy vs. visibility. Or did they appeal to different personality types? The six window sedan was becoming an anachronism, but Cadillac retained it through 1964. But the new direction in more enclosed coupes and sedans for all of GM had begun in 1961 with the Cadillac Sixty Special Sedan, and quickly migrated across the divisions for 1962. It was to be a major styling direction that has still not found its end today.

Interior appointments in this ’62 are solid and tasteful, using high quality materials. An example of that is the front seat back and the heavy use of metal throughout. Within a few years that would all change, when a heavy-handed effort to convey “luxury” through vinyl wood and other superficial changes took precedence at the expense of actual quality materials.

Cadillacs of this vintage bowed out of the horsepower and cubic inch race: their 390 cubic inch V8 with 325 horsepower was smaller than optional engines in the cheapest Chevys, Fords and Plymouths. Eventually, Caddy stepped up again, but the emphasis was more on smooth and quiet cruising rather than impressive acceleration.

More New Curbside Classics Here

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