Corvette Timeline Tales: Happy 84th Birthday to Corvette Designer, Chuck Jordan

Dateline: 10.21.11

Chuck Jordan – the last of the old guard GM designers.

When car designer Chuck Jordan passed on December 9, 2010, it was the end of an era in automotive design. Jordan started working for GM in 1949 as a junior engineer and retired in 1992. During that time, he worked with all of the greats of GM design; Harley Earl, Bill Mitchell, Ed Cole, Zora Arkus-Duntov, Larry Shinoda, and more.

Jordan’s nickname was “the Chrome Cobra.” He was steeped in a time of very strong personalities. Harley Earl and Bill Mitchell had strong personalities  with flash-like tempers – quick to anger, quick to let it go. When Mitchell retired in ‘77, his replacement, Irv Rybicki, was specifically chosen because upper management said, “No more strong opinionated design chiefs!” They were glad to see old Bill go. Irv was an excellent designer, but to Jordan, Rybicki seemed to play it safe too much. The automotive press noticed too and began to wonder what happened to GM’s sense of style.

But Jordan got his shot in ‘86 when Rybicki retired and was promoted to vice president of design, serving from ‘86 to ‘92. Below is a brief slide show of some of the cars Jordan styled, designed, and managed through the development process. Design styling is one thing and designing for mass production is another. Some designs translate into production better than others. What’s obvious is that over his 40-plus year career as a car designer, he consistently followed the advanced trends of the day. Chuck loved design so much that after he retired, he taught design at ??? He could have stayed home and enjoyed his many Ferrari sports cars. But Jordan loved the high school art design in Southern California.

After he retired Jordan expressed his disappointment with the then-current state of design that depended on focus groups for decisions. The focus group approach to design was totally contrary to his philosophy. On that topic, Jordan was in complete agreement with Bill Mitchell’s attitude when Mitchell said, “Do you think Frank Lloyd Wright knocks on people’s doors and asks them what they want in the design of a house?” Below are some interesting Chuck Jordan quotes. Enjoy. – Scott

“We deal with design — an intangible and emotional subject,” he said in an interview with Automotive News at the time of his retirement in 1992. “There are no rules or steps to success. It’s a matter of opinion. This isn’t research or engineering with computer programs and hard data.

“Words may not communicate it exactly. You gotta see it and feel it. We deal with an emotion.”

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PS – For more info about the life and career of Chuck Jordan, visit these sites…

GM Heritage Center

MotorTrend Magazine Interview

Core77 Design Magazine & Resource