1956 Buick Centurion
Charles M. “Chuck” Jordan was only the fourth man elected to the position of vice president of the General Motors Design Staff. He assumed this role on October 6, 1986 and held it until his retirement six years later in November 1992.
Jordan was born on October 21, 1927 in Whittier, California. His interest in automobile styling and design began in grade school. As a national award winner in the Fisher Body Craftsman’s Guild model car competition, he was awarded a four-year scholarship to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
In 1949, Jordan received a mechanical engineering degree from MIT and joined the GM Design (then Styling) Staff as a junior engineer. He spent the 1950s in a number of different studios and positions at Design including Euclid where developed a new look tractor. At the age of 26, Jordan was named chief designer of the special projects studio where he designed the Aerotrain, GM’s concept of future locomotive transportation. After his stint with special projects, he moved to the advanced studio where he designed a couple of notable Motorama dream cars: the Cameo show truck for 1955 and the Buick Centurion for 1956. One of his advanced studio concepts was also chosen by Pontiac general manager Bunkie Knudsen as the basis for that division’s first generation of “wide-tracks.” Jordan was also instrumental in the design of the 1958 Corvette and its conceptual cousin, the XP-700 “Phantom” Corvette.
In 1957, he was appointed Cadillac chief designer where he began to prepare for the post-Harley Earl future of Cadillac. It was his design team that took the idea of tail fins to their absurd peak with the 1959 Eldorado. Jordan likened this to “letting a tiger out of the cage—saying go!” By letting go of the past, Cadillac design was able to move forward.
In 1962, Jordan became executive in charge of automotive design, responsible for all GM car and truck exteriors.
From 1967 to 1970, Jordan was design director for Adam Opel AG in Rüsselsheim, Germany. There he was responsible for a number well-regarded designs including the Manta coupe and the 1968 production model GT sports car. Even after his time at Opel was over, he kept a watchful eye and helped the design studio in Germany turn out the 1986 Omega and 1991 Astra among other models.
On his return to the United States, Jordan was appointed executive in charge of automotive exterior design for GM’s upscale car segment, the Oldsmobile, Buick and Cadillac group. In 1972, he assumed a similar position for Chevrolet, Pontiac and commercial vehicles.
In 1977, Jordan was named director of design for the entire staff. He was serving in that capacity when Irv Rybicki retired in 1986 and he was named vice president of Design. Jordan was tasked with returning GM’s product lines to their former glory following more than a decade of less than stellar design. It would prove to be a difficult task given he had only six years until he turned 65 years old, the mandatory age of retirement for GM executives.
Under Jordan’s direction, GM Design forged ahead always keeping in mind his motto of “no dull cars.” The Jordan team was responsible for popular and attractive production models such as the Buick Reatta, the 1990s generation of Camaros and Firebirds, the Oldsmobile Aurora, and the 1992 Cadillac STS. Jordan was especially proud of these last two models. His leadership also produced concept cars like the Oldsmobile Aerotech, the Ultralite, and the Sting Ray III.
Chuck Jordan retired from General Motors on November 1, 1992. Since his departure for GM, he has spent a large portion of his time teaching car design to high school art students in Southern California.
Thanks to Mark Jordan for the photo, and to Wayne Kady in helping to identify several of the designer’s renderings.