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Legendary GM designer Chuck Jordan dies

Jordan headed design at General Motors from 1986 to 1992.

Chuck Jordan in his office at GM's Tech Center in Warren, Mich.

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Chuck Jordan, the legendary designer who helped usher in the modern era of car styling at General Motors, died Dec. 9. He was 83.

Jordan is credited with a long list of iconic designs at GM at a time when the company set the tone for style in the industry in the 1950s and ’60s. According to the New York Times, Jordan’s automotive designs were “dripping with tail fins, chrome and post-war exuberance. [He] helped reshape the look of GM cars as the company grappled with foreign competition and steeper fuel costs.”

During his time at GM, Jordan became known for his bold designs, including the 1959 Cadillac Eldorado, which he gave extreme fins.

“We deal with design—an intangible and emotional subject,” Jordan 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,” he continued in the Automotive News interview. “You gotta see it and feel it. We deal with an emotion.”

He joined GM in 1949 after graduating from MIT. Jordan quickly made his mark on a number of areas, working on projects as diverse as tractors and locomotives. He got a big break when he moved to the advanced design studio and worked on several of the Motorama cars, an eye-catching collection of concepts that toured the United States in the ’50s.

His long career at GM included stints as design director of Cadillac and Opel and in oversight of exterior styling for GM’s premium brands. Some of the more-notable designs that Jordan contributed to include the 1956 Buick Centurion Coupe, the production 1958 Corvette and the wide-track Pontiacs of the 1960s. He was just the fourth man to hold the position of vice president of design, which he did from 1986 until his retirement in 1992.

GM’s Vice President of Global Design Ed Welburn holds the job once held by Chuck Jordan. He released this statement:

Chuck Jordan was the person who hired me as an intern in 1971 while he was working for Bill Mitchell, and I will always be appreciative of the opportunity he gave me to join GM’s Design Organization. Chuck was always involved in the hiring of talented, young designers, and he took great interest in their growth and development.

He was a strong creative force at GM Design, and a passionate leader. It always felt as if every new project he was leading represented a new mountain to climb, and was a fresh opportunity to create new trends and statements in automotive design. He had the charisma and passion of few others in the industry.

Most people associate Chuck Jordan with very tailored and crisp designs of Cadillac and Corvette automobiles, but Chuck also had a passion for truck design and created some of GM’s most significant concept and production trucks of the 1950s.

More recently, I’m glad that Chuck had an opportunity to visit GM Design just this past summer while he was back in the Detroit area for the Meadow Brook Concours d’Elegance. He spent hours touring our Design Center in Warren and talking with our design staff. It was a wonderful to have him back in the place in which he helped create such a rich legacy.

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