Performance Design History

This particular Grand National has a junkyard dog menacing look about it.

Herb Fishel worked under Vince Piggins at Chevrolet’s performance group. In the late ’70s, Lloyd Reuss and Buick Motor Division lured him away to start their own performance department. Herb would make frequent trips from Flint to the GM Tech Center at Warren, Michigan, attempting to get Buick Exterior Studio design and modeling support to create special performance vehicles. Buick Studio, run by Jerry Hirschberg, had its own problems with complying with Design managment requests and other corporate pressures and had little interest to help Herb with his projects that would simply rob time and talent from higher priorities. Whenever there was some performance oriented project, Jerry would always involve me in the project. Frankly, I was the only designer in the studio more interested in performance cars than my career. I had been in Buick Studio from late 1973, transferred from Pontiac Studio, and had designed the graphics for the 1975 and 1976 Buick Century Indy Pace Cars.

Frustrated with Buick Studio’s lack of complete cooperation, Herb approached Buick managment. After presenting his case, managment asked if there was any other way to get these projects accomplished. That’s all Herb needed to hear. Herb approached me to see if I was interested in doing projects on a freelance basis. Performance Design was created as a way for me to work for Buick independently of the studio. I left General Motors in 1988 and kept the name Performance Design as my freelance design business.

I created a variety of concept renderings for Herb using Buick Century and Regals. There were concept cars, race car paint schemes, and one vary notable concept, the Buick Grand National. The GN might have been Herb’s idea, I’m not sure, but he had me work up a rendering showing what it might look like. The rendering is dated 1980.

Rendering showing three Grand National proposals, dated 1980. Notable features included body colored bumpers, chrome steel wheels (on the red car), and black moldings.

 

Herb also had Moly Designs working on the GN concept, and he and Herb developed the all-red GN proposal. Moly Designs created the turbo-6 logo. I remember seeing that car on display for review on the Design Staff viewing courtyard. My original GN concepts had three GN proposals, one was all black, and another was all red with a black stripe. Moly was able to capture the feeling of the GN idea and added refinements of his own in executing one of those concepts. I remember that his all-red prototype better captured the essence of what Herb was after than any of the two-tone themes that were beginning to become a trademark of Design Staff’s idea of what a performance car was supposed to be. The whole idea of trying to make a performance car out of a Buick was a bit obtuse anyway, seeing that Buick had no real performance platforms like Chevrolet or Pontiac. Kind of like making a race horse out of a camel.

Original Grand National styling prototype created by Molly Designs for Herb Fishel and shown to Design Staff and Buick Division management. There is a similarity between Molly’s car and my sketch. Wisely, Molly left off the stripe.

During the ’70s all of the production studios were split except Cadillac. There were three Chevrolet studios, and two Pontiac, Oldsmobile, and Buick studios. Buick One ended up with the Electra, LeSabre, and Riviera, and Century while Buick Two had responsibilites for the Skyhawk and Regal. The 1978 Regal body design was actually done by N. Gray Counts who was a designer in Buick One. Steve Pasteiner was the Assistant Studio Chief in Buick Two. Any official studio work done on any of Herb’s specialty Regal vehicles would have to go through that studio. But at first Steve only executed concepts that were developed as a result of Herb’s involvement with Performance Design, including the 1981 Indy Pace Car. Steve got the credit for it because he did a rendering based on my proposal, and excuted the scheme in the studio. Credit for the 1981 Regal Indy Pace Car wasn’t that important to me, and since I was in Buick One, I had no influence on it’s execution. Besides, I wanted to keep a low profile because of the extracurricular activites with Buick.

Original concept rendering dated 1980 of the 1981 Buick Regal Indianapolis Pace Car by Performance Design.

 

There is a rendering by Steve Pasteiner that shows a two-tone GN, reportedly being a 1982 Grand National. I don’t remember the rendering or the car, but the GN never really changed from its original sinister one-color paint scheme. Probably the two-tone proposal was done to try and recapture the momentum and influence that Herb was gaining with Buick. There were a lot of two-tone paint scheme proposals floating around the studios in those days.

If all Buick had going for the GN was paint and graphics, it would be relegated to the scrapheap of history. But of course the Buick 3.8 Turbo provided the concept with enough power to come to the forefront of performance cars in the mid 1980s. That was the the decade of radical downsizing due to the influence of governmental regulation. GM’s performance marks had yet to catch up with the new rules and figure out how to build performance cars again. So the Turbo Buick was the first to step up to the plate and hit a home run.

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