TTAC Contest: What Car Inspired GM's Panel-Gap Improvements?

Edward Niedermeyer
by Edward Niedermeyer

The auto media has been receiving its advance copies of Bob Lutz’s forthcoming book “Car Guys versus Bean Counters” over the last few weeks, and have been leaking some of the more provocative statements and conclusions from it. I too requested a book and tore through it over the past week, enjoying Lutz’s direct voice and keen insights into his time at General Motors… as well as the attention-grabbing, politically-charged statements that the rest of the media seems so fixated upon. The bad news is that I won’t be able to write a full review until we get closer to its mid-June launch date, but the good news is that our forbearance has been rewarded: despite sideswiping yours truly in one passage, a brief but rewarding email conversation has generated more mutual respect, and Mr Lutz has agreed (in principle) to a TTAC interview to accompany our review at the time of the book’s release. Sometimes observing an embargo is worth it.

But fear not: just because the promise of an interview with one of the most influential figures in the industry has us delaying our review for another month or so, we’ve got more Lutz-related material with which to build up to what I expect to be a watershed interview for TTAC. Next week I’ll be publishing a review of Mr Maximum’s previous book “Guts,” and to kick of the coming months of Lutzmania, we’ve got a very special contest that is sure to stump even TTAC’s most well-versed Best and Brightest.

Shortly after Lutz’s arrival at GM, he began tackling the problem of body panel gaps, which at the time was 5mm with a variation of up to 2mm, a standard that he “complained and complained” about, given that the Germans and Japanese were building cars with smaller gaps and almost no variation. At one point, Lutz attended a large meeting at GM’s Milford Proving Grounds in which he and senior execs from GM’s Product Development, Design, Quality and Manufacturing examined GM’s then-current lineup and compared them to the competition. After some loud complaints about GM’s inability to create crisp panel gaps, Lutz was confronted by the executive in charge of GM’s sheet metal fabrication, who apparently grabbed Lutz by the lapels and raised him up on his toes, saying

OK, I think I’ve heard about as much of this shit as I want to. YOU are now going to take ME to the car that you think is best and we’re going to focus on that one.

Lutz then took him to one of the competitive cars that Lutz thought was the best sheet-metal-wise… which leads us to the question: which car did Lutz identify as having the best sheet metal of the competition? This vehicle became GM’s “new standard for sheet metal,” and learning from it directly improved GM’s sheet metal quality, according to Lutz. So, what was it?

Leave your answer in the comments section, and the first correct answer gets our Lutzian prize: a special booklet and USB storage drive (along with branded packaging) that was handed out to journalists attending the launch of the Chevrolet Volt. In short, your knowledge of GM’s obscure history will gain you a piece of GM’s less-obscure history. Qualifying answers must identify the make, model and generation (expressed in the range of model-years produced or model code, for example “1998-2005 (E46) BMW 3 Series”). This contest is closed to GM employees, members of the auto media or anyone else in possession of an advance copy of “Car Guys”(i.e. show a little honor and don’t cheat).

Good luck!

Join the conversation
2 of 129 comments
  • HappyMarkJapan HappyMarkJapan on May 24, 2011

    Maybe the Audi A6 1997-2004??

  • 65corvair 65corvair on May 26, 2011

    Chrysler Minivans, starting in 1996. The generation with the four doors. My wife had one. Excellent workmanship and trouble free for ten years and 140,000 miles. Traded it in on another Caravan. Why would he compare it to an expenive car? Cheap and a U.S. brand.

  • Jdt65724922 How can a Chrysler E-Class ride better than a Chrysler Fifth Avenue?
  • Lorenzo This series is epic, but I now fear you'll never get to the gigantic Falcon/Dart/Nova comparison.
  • Chris P Bacon Ford and GM have decided that if you can't beat 'em, join 'em. Odds are Chrysler/Cerberus/FCA/Stellantis is next to join in. If any of the companies like Electrify America had been even close to Tesla in reliability, we wouldn't be here.
  • Inside Looking Out China will decide which EV charging protocol will become world wide standard.
  • Chris P Bacon I see no reference to Sweden or South Carolina. I hate to assume, but is this thing built in China? I can't help but wonder if EVs would be more affordable to the masses if they weren't all stuffed full of horsepower most drivers will never use. How much could the price be reduced if it had, say, 200hp. Combined with the instant torque of an EV, that really is plenty of power for the daily commuter, which is what this vehicle really is.