L. Mitchell loved the Corvette more than he loathed the
buttoned-down committee oriented culture of mid-century
General Motors. As a result, GM gained enormously from
Mitchell's design genius and Bill was able to indulge
his passion for drawing-and driving-fast cars. He drove
the way he drew: with gusto. And because he did, Chevrolet's
Corvette emerged from its childhood to become the great
American sports car.
job at a New York ad agency in the late '20s found Bill
sketching Bugattis, MGs and the like as they raced through
some of New York's most aristocratic neighborhoods. Some
of his works found their way to Harley Earl's desk. Bill
was hired by GM in December 1935. Less than a year later,
he was Chief Designer at Cadillac. Mitchell succeeded
Earl as GM Design Chief and the Corvette became "his
was officially out of racing, so Bill rented a garage
near GM's Warren, Michigan Tech Center and formed his
own team. He bought and rebodied Zora Duntov's Sebring
SS mule car, dubbed it the Sting Ray, and installed Dr.
Dick Thompson-the Washington, D.C. dentist-behind the
wheel. The car was SCCA C-Production champion in 1960.
It has since been celebrated as the missing link between
the SS and the Grand Sports of 1963, and maybe the most
successful factory racer in the history of the marque.
fact that a GM employees clay-shaper, no less-would indulge
in such an adventure raised eyebrows both inside and outside
the company. But it did not bother Bill, to whom the unconventional
was the ordinary. Permitted to exercise a priceless Mercedes
antique racecar on a Stuttgart test track in '58, Bill
powered through the comers a la Rudi Caracciola until
Mercedes security reeled him in.
passionate about motorcycles as he was cars, Mitchell
wrapped one of his Harleys in silver fiberglass and rode
it back-and-forth to work-always wearing his matching
silver leathers. He battled against the notion of a four-seat
Corvette and won. He defended the split rear window in
the '63 and won-at least temporarily. He ordered it removed
for '64 after he realized how it obstructed driver vision.
Bill took on divisional general managers, salespeople,
engineers, bean counters, almost anybody who attempted
to tamper with his baby. He wrote in 1977 that "a
good designer has got to be creative, and to be creative
you have got to be dissatisfied and discontent."
It makes for a terrible personality."
disliked committees almost as much as market research.
"You can line up any group of cars from the past
to the present and I'll bet I can tell you which ones
were committee designed and which ones we left to the
designer. The '67 F cars-too many fingers in the pie.
The '70 F cars-they were never touched by a committee."
On market research: 'Frank Lloyd Wright did not go around
ringing doorbells asking people what kind of houses they
wanted. There is not one good-looking car I designed that
market research had anything to do with." Then again,
Bill would say his personal bit of market research in
Los Angeles in 1941 turned him on to the California customizing
craze-then still a fad-that would influence his work thereafter.
He was more than merely a spectator at the hundreds of
hot rod and custom car shows he attended through his 40
years at General Motors. Bill Mitchell died on September