• Apr 8, 2011
1912 Chevrolet Classic Six – Click above to see the rest of Ed Welburn's Top 10 Designs

Ed Welburn is the current head of design at General Motors, which means he has the tall task of pointing the company into the future without abandoning timeless designs by names like Harley Earl. As an exercise in getting in touch with his roots, Welburn has worked up a list of the top 10 Chevrolet designs of all time.

The list is populated with all the probable starters from Chevy's century-long past. From the 1912 Classic Six, the first car to carry the Chevrolet name, to the 1936 Suburban and the 2011 Camaro, Welburn gives his impression of the importance of each design.

Welburn has been surrounded by cars his entire life, from his youth in his father's body shop in Philadelphia to taking the helm at Chevrolet's design department in 2003. Welburn has worked for General Motors since he graduated from Howard University in the early 1970s, so he his connection with Chevrolet designs, ahem, runs deep.

Feel free to click through the gallery below, which includes Welburn's commentary on each iconic design. Alternatively, you can find it all in one place in the press release after the break.



[Source: Chevrolet]
Show full PR text
Ed Welburn on 100 years of Chevrolet Style and Innovation
Celebrates brand's design heritage in its newest market


2011-04-05

Legendary GM designers
Top 10 Chevrolet designs


Over the past 100 years, Chevrolet has been responsible for some of the most significant and groundbreaking designs in automotive history. From its utilitarian yet stylish pick-up trucks through to the cutting edge looks of each generation of Corvette, via cars like the BelAir which helped define the era they appeared in. The bowtie logo has adorned some of the most iconic shapes of motoring. Even some of Chevrolet's designers, such as Harley Earl and Bill Mitchell, have gone on to become as legendary as some of the cars they penned.

The very first Chevrolet – the Classic Six of 1912 – was highly regarded for its elegance and sophistication and, a century later, the brand continues to turn heads, with cars like the Volt and Camaro, among others, celebrated for their innovation and appearance. As Chevrolet embarks on its second century, it remains a leader in coming up with advanced designs at affordable prices. Who knows which cars will become automotive icons in the next 100 years?

The man with the enviable job of setting Chevrolet on this path is Ed Welburn, global vice president of design at General Motors. He stepped into the shoes of his "absolute heroes", GM designers Harley Earl and Bill Mitchell, back in September 2003, but despite the awe-inspiring responsibility of following those who have become legends, he admits that "I'm having more fun now than at any other time during my career at GM."

Born in Philadelphia in 1950, Ed's father co-owned a body shop. "In those early days, I was surrounded by cars," he remembers. His intense interest in all things automotive meant that, at the age of 11, he even wrote to GM to ask about a future job as a car designer. A helpful letter back suggested what he should study at school, and gave details of the internship program. Ed paid attention to those details, and won a place; after graduating from Howard University in Washington D.C., he was hired full-time by GM. From the early 1970s onward, he worked at several GM design divisions.

One of his most important creations was the streamlined Aerotech, an out-and-out speed machine that achieved a top speed of 417 km/h in 1987. It got him noticed both inside and outside of GM. "For me, it was one of my most significant projects. I worked on the marketing and communications for it, not just with the engineers, in a way I had never done before. I've had a passion for aerodynamics ever since."

Following the Aerotech, Ed's rise through the GM ranks was rapid and impressive, culminating in his appointment as the corporation's chief designer a few years into the 21st century.

Here he looks back at what he regards as the ten most noteworthy and iconic designs from Chevrolet's history...

1912 Chevrolet Classic Six

The Classic Six was the first car to bear the Chevrolet name after William Durant and Louis Chevrolet came together to found a company building cars using the famous Swiss race driver's last name. It was a large, luxurious and powerful machine, boasting the biggest capacity engine of any Chevrolet up until the 'big-block' V8 era of 1958. The imposing vehicle carried a price tag of $2150, which made it much more expensive than most of its contemporaries. Very much Louis Chevrolet's dream car, it was designed in collaboration with his friend, the French engineer Etienne Planche. Unveiled in 1911, it was launched in 1912, but lasted only until 1914 after the company's focus shifted towards more affordable machines, something that prompted Louis Chevrolet to resign as he disagreed with Durant's policy. A total of 5,987 were constructed. "This was the first Chevrolet, so it's very significant," says Ed of the Classic Six. "Louis Chevrolet used all his experience and background to create it and make history."

1932 Chevrolet Deluxe Sport Coupe

Adversity sometimes results in greatness, and that was truly the case with the 1932 Deluxe Sport Coupe. Launched amid the Depression, in a year when Chevrolet sales had dropped 50 percent compared to the previous year, the Sport was one of Chevrolet's prettiest pre-WWII cars, an attractive yet compact vehicle with a curvaceous rear that lived up to its title with sporting looks and performance. The car was a strict two-seater... well, inside at least. If you wanted to carry more passengers, they had to make do with the rear rumble seat in the trunk. Lots of fun in the sun, rather less so in the rain. "It was a cool design," believes Ed. "It says so much about Chevrolet: a lot of the words you can use to describe it also relate to current cars. It had spirit, was affordable and contemporary. Customers felt they were getting a lot of car for their money, something that still holds true today."

1936 Chevrolet Suburban

The Suburban wasn't just a significant model for Chevrolet, it was an important vehicle for the car industry as a whole. Arguably it was the first Sport Utility Vehicles (SUV), a tough, no-nonsense load carrier featuring a station wagon body on the chassis of a small truck. Actually christened the Suburban Carryall – for it could pretty much carry anything – its origins could be traced back to 1933 and a wooden eight-seater body on half ton truck frame, intended for National Guard and Civilian Conservation Corps units. When made available to the public, it gained an all-metal body fitted with either rear panel doors or a tailgate. "They were doing a crossover between a car and a truck," says Ed of the vehicle that gave birth to what is now the longest continuous name to be used on a car. "And it's got a cool interior, too, a real neat one. One might consider it the first crossover, and it's very much related to the Captiva."

1948 Chevrolet Pick-Up

Trucks (in the small commercial vehicle sense) and vans are as big a part of the Chevrolet story as its cars. And the 1948 range was one of the most significant series the company produced. Arriving in summer 1947, they were the first GM automobile products to have a completely post-war design, making them among the most up-to-date vehicles anywhere. Not a bad claim to fame for something meant to be utilitarian and hard-working! The mainstay of the range was the versatile and practical half-ton pick-up, which saw service all around the world. "You just have to smile when you look at one," is Ed's opinion of the friendly looking load-lugger. "It's a real workhorse of a truck. The shape was just beautiful, but it still did its job well. It was clean, basic and affordable."

1953 Chevrolet Corvette

"It was the first Corvette," says Ed of the Chevrolet that grew into an automotive legend. Created by the similarly legendary GM styling chief Harley Earl, 1953's Corvette two-seater sports car was intended to shake up Chevrolet's image, as well as battle the wave of sporty European imports flooding into the U.S.A. One of its more novel features was its fiberglass construction. Initially though, the car wasn't a big hit, and it was only with the styling tweaks of a few years later that it became a true success. "It was a design for years that I didn't care for that much," admits Ed. "But now I absolutely love it. I'll never forget the first one I saw. I must have been about seven, and walking down a tree-lined street. One came around the corner, rumbled along through the fallen leaves and then was gone. And I was, like, 'Wow, that was cool!'"

1955 Chevrolet Bel Air

Chevrolet completely revamped its cars for 1955, with what it dubbed the 'Motoramic' look for the top-of-the-range Bel Air plus the introduction of the fabled 'small-block' V8 engine. Exhilarating performance and a flamboyant, confident and colorful style were what made the 1955 Bel Airs – coupes, convertibles and station wagons - stand out from the crowd. Such was the distinctiveness of General Motors cars from the period 1955 to 1957 that they received their own nickname, 'Tri5'. "In my opinion, the '55 Bel Air is the best of the Tri5s," asserts Ed. "It was such a departure from 1955, so fresh, so contemporary. This was a car that looked more expensive than it actually was, something that could also be said about the Cruze today."

1963 Chevrolet Corvette Sting Ray

"What an amazing car," says Ed of the 1963 Corvette Sting Ray, the model that took the Corvette range to new heights. Based on a show car penned by GM design chief Bill Mitchell, the angular and svelte Sting Ray was more sophisticated and civilized than previous Corvettes, yet in maturing, it didn't forget that its main purpose in life was to be exhilarating, both in how it looked and how it drove. Distinctive features of the car – which continued to be built out of fiberglass – were the electrically-operated pop-up headlamps and, on the coupe, a split rear window that would go on to become its main motif. "I've lectured on this car many times," says Ed. "Everything was new; in fact it was so new, they had to give it a new name, Sting Ray. Every Corvette since then has been influenced by it, even the current models. The dual cockpit interior is still part of the Corvette and the Chevrolet interior design today."

1967 Chevrolet Pick-Up

Big, brusque and purposeful, Chevrolet's new generation of pick-up trucks for 1967 were tough machines designed to get the job done. Powerful and practical, with no-nonsense styling, they were marketed as general transportation as well as work vehicles, something that extended their appeal and profile into the mass market. "It's a very iconic American design," believes Ed. "You see that pick-up, and you also see a guy with blue jeans and a toolbox in the back! Many of the words I've used to describe the earlier pick-up also relate here."

1989 Chevrolet Pick-Up

The importance of pick-up trucks within the Chevrolet portfolio was still high at the end of the 20th century, and the fourth generation of the C/K series – with stacked headlamps and square-cut, rugged appearance - were almost a celebration of this significance. Naturally, their main reason for being was to work and be useful, carrying loads. However, a growing use as pure 'lifestyle' machines meant that Chevrolet also offered a Sports package, something which contributed to impressive sales for these vehicles. Perfect for express deliveries, even better for just looking great on the roads. "It's a very clean design and still looks contemporary today," says Ed. "It sold in incredible numbers. We're working on future Chevrolet pick-ups and the guys have photos of this one on the wall for inspiration."

2010 Chevrolet Camaro

Ed is a big enthusiast of all Camaros and even owns a classic 1969 example himself. "But I decided to put the 2010 Camaro on this list before the '69. It connected with people worldwide. When we introduced the car as a concept, there were grown men and women with tears in their eyes. It's valued all round the world." When Ed and his team were working on the new Camaro, "I brought my one into the studio to inspire them. I told them, I want you to beat this!" Although there are echoes of the first 1967-1969 Camaros in the current car's muscular styling – such as the kick-up in the flanks beneath the rear side windows – Ed is keen to stress that the 2010 incarnation is "not a throw-back design, but very forward-looking. I'm always thinking of the future, but you have a great heritage with Chevrolet. You need to build on that; I wouldn't want to build a retro Camaro." He cites the confident and optimistic thrusting design of the new Camaro as "a positive sign to GM employees and customers. It lit a fire within the company."

About Chevrolet

Founded in Detroit in 1911, Chevrolet celebrates its centennial as a global automotive brand with annual sales of about 4.25 million vehicles in more than 120 countries. Chevrolet provides consumers with fuel-efficient, safe and reliable vehicles that deliver high quality, expressive design, spirited performance and value. The Chevrolet portfolio includes iconic performance cars such as Corvette and Camaro; dependable, long-lasting pickups and SUVs such as Silverado and Suburban; and award-winning passenger cars and crossovers such as Spark, Cruze, Malibu, Equinox and Traverse. Chevrolet also offers "gas-friendly to gas-free" solutions including Cruze Eco and Volt. Cruze Eco offers 42 mpg highway while Volt offers 35 miles of electric, gasoline-free driving and an additional 344 miles of extended range. Most new Chevrolet models offer OnStar safety, security and convenience technologies including OnStar Hands-Free Calling, Automatic Crash Response and Stolen Vehicle Slowdown. More information regarding Chevrolet models can be found at www.chevrolet.com


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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 33 Comments
      • 3 Years Ago
      Wellburn's list pretty much sums up why his new Chevrolets are so bland and lard ass looking. On the all-time list of great Chevrolet designs, his list misses the true classics. Perhpas Wellburn needs to retire. He shows no talent and obviously is not very bright when it comes to Chevrolet's past. Or he might be blind.
      • 3 Years Ago
      Not so sure that the 1947 P/U is really a worthy candidate for this list. I'd replace that with the 1959 ElCamino.
      • 3 Years Ago
      Several years ago I lived in a small town south of Houston...............One day I was out running an errand and ran across a 48-50 Chevy Pickup that had obviously been fully restored....Red, white walls, beauty rings, small hubs...........Couldn't see a ripple in the skin at all.

      Beautiful!...

      • 3 Years Ago
      I think that Welburn is stretching when he says that the '55 Belair looked more expensive than it was...and then relates it to the Cruze. I would forever refrain from using Belair and Cruze in the same paragraph. The Cruze is nothing revolutionary...it is just the next evolution of the Cavalier...change the name it's all the same.

      Before anyone flames me, the new Cruze is certainly a FAR better car than the one it's replacing. But the styling is no where near as revolutionary as the Belair.

      And just to throw another wrench in the mix, compare a '55 Belair with the immediate postwar Coachbuilt Italian cars, especially Pinin Farina and you'll see what posters the tri-five designers had hanging in thier offices. I certainly agree that the '55 Belair is the best looking production Chevy ever produced. The best looking Chevy ever Was the '54 Corvette Nomad show car.

      Chevy showed a '54 Corvette Style Nomad on the Solstice's Kappa Platform...big missed opportunity.
        • 3 Years Ago
        My point was that, when you compare the cost/quality/equipment ratio of the Belair to the Cruze (and the Cruze's competitors), there is no comparison.

        There was nothing like the '55 when it came out. It created a design language that everyone else copied and scrambed to keep up.

        I'm a Ford guy...and I would take a Tri-five Chevy over a same era Ford any day. Not to mention the intro of the Small block around the same time. Chevy was a leader...now they are the ones scrambling...and from the looks of the Cruze, they are doing the right things.

        • 3 Years Ago
        summazooma is right. The caption said this:

        "This was a car that looked more expensive than it actually was, something that could also be said about the Cruze today."

        It doesn't say anything about the Cruze being revolutionary. It's been said many times by many different reviewers that the Cruze looks more expensive than it is.
        • 3 Years Ago
        What do you expect in GM sourced press release though?
      • 3 Years Ago
      The '55 and the two Corvettes are all-time greats period, not just all-time great chevy designs.

      My mom had a robin's egg blue and white 55 Bel Air with pretty much every option, from before I was born unfortunately. All that's left are the pictures.
      • 3 Years Ago
      The Corvette Stingray is one of the best looking cars ever.
      • 3 Years Ago
      Nice list, tough to pick just 10. I was expecting a 1997 C5, but I guess you can't make it all vettes.
      Oh yeah, how about a '68 Z28 and an El Camino and a Chevelle, and a Corvair, and an Impalla SS, and.....

      Ok, Ed, how about a top 20?
      • 3 Years Ago
      He picked the 2 I think are the best ever to wear the Chevy badge, the '55 and the split window Vette. Both still look good decades later.
        • 3 Years Ago
        Both the '55 Chevy and '63 split window Corvette were criticized in their time. The "55 didn't have enough chrome for the dealers. This was remedied in '56 with the addition of a wall to wall chrome grille. The '63 split window was unpopular enough that some owners converted them to single window cars when the '64s arrived. Another fun fact, despite the '57 Chevy's icon status as the car of the decade, the '57 Ford outsold the Chevy.
      • 3 Years Ago
      The 1967-1972 Chevrolet pickups hands down were the best looking truck ever produced.
      • 3 Years Ago
      Welburn is a car guy through-and-through and yet he's also a high level executive. That's why he made the reference to the Cruze, IMHO. Where he erred was not including the 1961 Chevy in his list. '61 was a banner year for GM design, and the Chevy was amazingly beautiful, especially when compared to the '60 design (which I think was one of the worst of the era). I'd also vote for Bill Mitchell's '77 Impala. The first of the downsized "big Chevys," it was Mitchell's last hurrah and a design that lasted a long, long time.
      • 3 Years Ago
      the '63 Corvette Sting Ray Split Window in Silver is my all-time favorite car! a friend had one in college and he let me drive it all the time;

      i literally would beg/borrow/steal to own one;

      it was the most fun car i've ever driven...
      KnicksFan1991
      • 3 Years Ago
      Any particular reason you showed a picture of an S10 while talking about the 4th gen C/K? I do have to agree with that choice though, the GMT400 Chevy's are still extremely handsome trucks. My friend has a 1995 baby blue two door Tahoe and it's gorgeous.
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