Unknown Origin of the Design of the Monza GT
by Paul Deesen, Assistant Chief Designer, GM Design, 1954–1996
This is a postscript to the great article in Hemmings Classic Cars, Issue 121 (October 2014), Chevrolet Concept Cars of the 1960s in which the Monza GT was featured. That story really lit up my heart and eyes with the beautiful and exciting photography. This narrative covers some behind-the-scenes activities unknown to the public about the birth of that little beauty.
The special Corvair-powered sports car was being conceived in Studio X, concealed deep in the depths of the Styling administration building, as it was once called. The name, however, had been changed to Design Staff
because Corvair critic Ralph Nader had voiced his dislike for “styling,” stating that he believed it was totally inconsequential and unnecessary. Tony l.apine and red-hot designer Larry Shinoda were assigned this super-secret project well hidden from the constant traffic that permeated the halls of Design Staff.
Dave Holls, chief designer of Buick Studio, seemed to know there was something amiss in that program which was unknown to me at the time. Dave had me design a side view of a vehicle over a drawing supplied to us by Alan DeLor, newly appointed head of the Advanced Vehicle Packaging Studio. Dave gave me some very hazy instructions on a tiny thumbnail sketch, indicating a one-piece hood and fender and a similar fender/deck lid. I then proceeded to go through the normal stages of laying out a rough image and getting a few inputs from Dave.
I can’t recall all the details after some 40 years, but do remember air brushing it on the black, heavy paper that was popular in those days, with white tempera, tinting the top surfaces in blue, and graying the lower, as usual, for a silver effect. I ran black paper, full width, in the studio over both bays of 20-foot engineering boards and a center sweep rack closet. I then hung our little rendering exactly in the center, putting plants on both side, to enhance the presentation. We brought in spotlamps to give the rendering full intensity.
We found out later that Bill Mitchell was bringing World Champion race car driver Phil Hill through to review the rendering, so we asked Monte Olbreise, a very talented modeler and portrait artist, to create a portrait of Phil Hill and placed it in the driver’s area on the rendering. I airbrushed some reflections over it to place him visually inside the rendering.
Just before their entrance into the studio, we doused the overhead lights and turned on the spot lamps for the full effect. Hill’s first words were: “How did you put me into the car?” He was extremely delighted over the gesture. Phil was very impressed by the little design, and we made some points with Bill also.
Early the next day, Bill came into the studio very upset. He told Dave to take that -expletive- rendering down to Studio X where Larry Shinoda was working on this program. The engineers took out the hundreds of staples that were used to get a perfect stretch of the rendering. It took four engineers’ hands carrying it fully extended, maneuvering it through the halls to Shinoda’s Studio X. It was pretty obvious at the time that Bill was very displeased with the progress in that studio. I was glad I wasn’t helping to take the rendering down to Larry, as he was a close friend of mine and didn’t want him to think I was undercutting his efforts in the project.
However, you must realize there is much more to a clay model than a simple profile. There arc the three-dimensional forms to deal with, front and rear designs, the hood shapes, the details of the backlight with its clever Shinoda-slotted louvers, and the interesting aerodynamic rear end design. Larry did ultimately succeed in completing the design, but had his hands full with Bill overseeing the rest of the car.
I recently tried to find the photos of my original rendering through my friend Christo Detini at the Heritage Center, but to no avail. I strongly suspect, due to Bill’s urgent request of moving it to Studio X, time had never been allotted to photograph the rendering. Digging through the files, Christo did locate Shinoda’s full-size drawing, which is illustrated here.
In short, the Chevrolet Corvair Monza GT origins, oddly enough, started in Buick studio under Dave Holls and myself for Bill Mitchell to entertain Phil Hill.