Peter Stevens on Working with Former GM Design VP Chuck Jordan

Many designers will tell you that Charles M. ‘Chuck’ Jordan (October 1927 – December 2010) was the most difficult man they ever worked with as will as tell you that he was a passionate designer and a complete petrol head. To be in charge of all GM’s design facilities from 1986 to 1992 was surely no easy job; although Jordan was Vice President of Design he still had to answer to the GM Board, whose one simple objective was to keep the company profitable. Chuck always felt that, from a design point of view, that meant producing stunning concepts that showed why, as a customer, sticking with General Motors meant that you could look forward to a stylish future.

Chuck was clearly a talented young designer who won the Fisher Body design prize in 1947 and by 1955 was entrusted with the design of the GM Aerotrain; his early sketches in charcoal show a fine grasp of technique. By the late 50s he was design director for Cadillac, this was at the height of the ‘tail fin design’ period. When GM bought Lotus in 1986, Chuck, always a sports car enthusiast, saw an opportunity to ‘get involved’.

It was at Lotus that I first came across Chuck Jordan. I had been warned that his nickname ‘the chrome cobra’ was well deserved, his ultra sharp and shiny suits and his habit of striking at the slightest sign of weakness suggested he was a man to be feared, actually he was initially charming and in awe of the engineering abilities of Lotus.

We had a very small design studio at Hethel with just myself, Julian Thomson, Simon Cox and Anthony Lo, but we were encouraged to work as consultants for Cadillac and Saturn. To be honest this did not go down too well with Jordan and neither did our input into the Lotus Carlton/Omega.

Our design philosophy at Lotus was always based on good research into ergonomics, style and aerodynamics. The view of GM Styling at that time was that these disciplines would restrict the creativity of Styling, so when we insisted that the Omega had to perform exceptionally well in the wind tunnel some people at GM enjoyed what they saw as a confrontational relationship developing between Jordan and myself.

This was not helped when Lotus was given the responsibility for developing the Corvette Indy concept car into a running technology demonstrator. The original show car was built by a company called Cecomp in Turin, a workshop that built most of the show cars for almost all the Italian design houses. The show car was delivered directly to Lotus for engineering evaluation to begin. Jordan came to Lotus to let us know that nothing could be changed on the car. First thing that had to change was the upper door that formed part of the roof; Chuck simply could not sit in the car with the doors closed so the car became an open roadster. It was later painted red but remained an open car.


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