by Bill Porter.
Published by permission.

Many years ago in the ’70s when Mitchell banished me to an Advanced Studio, Dave Holls was our boss. (Of all the jobs at Design Staff, being in charge of the Advanced Studios is probably the last job Dave should have had.)  Anyway, he hated scale clay models and we (Russinoff, Dave McIntosh, Roger Hughet and I) loved them.  Also, Dave Rossi, the world’s all time champion scale modeler, was our chief modeler.

So we always had a scale model or two going on in the studio, shielded from the entry view by a 20-foot moveable board on wheels. When Dave Holls would come into the studio, usually once a day or so, Dave Rossi, working away behind the board, would get a signal from us. (Often he didn’t need a signal, Holls’ voice was plenty!) Dave Rossi would gingerly appear from behind the board at one end and, while greeting Dave Holls in his usual jovial fashion, would also casually walk and pivot the board away from Dave at the same time so as to contain the model behind it, continuously out of sight in a corner of the room triangulated off from the rest of the studio.

We did this routinely for several years and Dave never had a clue as far as I know.  Although he must have wondered where those good themes were coming from.  Maybe not.  Approval for full sized clay work was usually given on the basis of full size tapes or renderings (Mitchell wasn’t a form man either, you know) and when that happened, Rossi would just cover the scale models with brown paper and keep them in the back room until we wanted them for the next project. 

To this day Russinoff and I laugh about this whenever the subject comes up. Russ: “Hey, Bill, remember when Dave Rossi would pivot the 20 ft. board around so that Dave Holls couldn’t see us working on the scale models?  Ha, ha, ha.”   The things we form guys have to do to keep the line guys off our backs.  Alas.

I used the word “banished” in the Biblical sense. I got crossways with Mitchell while I was heading Pontiac Studio and he transferred (“banished”) me to Advanced 1 Studio where I remained  for about 7 years (sounds Biblical too, doesn’t it?).  Frankly, I didn’t get along too well with Mitchell, disagreed with his design taste, especially as he evolved in the late ’60s and throughout the ‘70s, and the feeling was mutual. Mitchell had the street smarts of an alley cat. He sensed who liked him and who didn’t.  Meanwhile, life in Advanced 1 wasn’t so bad.  Roger Hughet, Russinoff, Dave McIntosh and I had a great time and did quite a few basic body themes which later went upstairs to production studios. Dave Rossi, that sculptural genius, was our chief modeler. Then in late 1979 when Hirshberg left Buick Studio to go to Nissan (incidentally Nissan interviewed me too, but Jerry was the right man for the job). Rybicki, who had just taken over as VP when MItchell retired, immediately transferred me up to Buick.  I liked Irv and got along with him pretty well, but like everyone else, chafed at his ultra conservatism, his narrow range of design acceptability.

Many thanks to Bill Porter.

Three of the designers mentioned in Billl’s narritive are in this photo taken in Louisville, KY in 2007. Photo courtesy of Bill Porter. From left: Dave McIntosh, Chuck Jordan, Roger Hughet, Don Wood, Bill Porter, Wayne Kady, Bill Michalak, Charlie Stewart, Tony Balthasar, Graham Bell, Unknown GM Designer, and George Camp.

Elia “Russ” Russinoff in 2010. I have a photo of Dave Rossi somewhere.

  1. Andy Prieboy


    Thank you for this fascinating and funny view into the inner workings of GM design.

    It would be wonderful to know what misgivings you had about Mitchell’s design evolution in the late 60’s and 70s. I am a little hot and cold about that era as well. Your professional and artistic insight would be illuminating for so many here!

    Thanks again for sharing this with us!


  2. Hey Bill:

    This is the second or third time that you have been critical of Bill Mitchell in Deans Garage and the first time of Dave Holls. Help me understand what you mean by you being a “form” guy. Do you have examples of Mitchell/Holls/Jordan cars in the 70s that you did not like and felt they were “line” concepts. It’s natural to disagree with subjective decisions by people in charge, but your tone is that their decisions were personal and directed towards you. I understand that you have strong feelings, but do not understand what you are saying. Give me some examples.


  3. Larry Brinker

    During my 12 years at GM I worked “for” or “with” many of the folks Gary brings to Dean’s Garage. Bill Porter is one of those people that I had the privilege of working “with.” He was very articulate in the way he approached form in design. I’m sure that Bill could expand on his post in a way that would be very interesting.

  4. Thanks Bill Porter for that story.

    It brings back many memories. You mentioned Dave Rossi “gingerly appearing”. I distinctly remember Dave Rossi’s unique mannerisms. He was light footed and light hearted and “bouncy” and incredibly talented. A consummate pro who could make a difficult task look graceful.

    I also remember your talent. I had the privilege of being “loaned” to your advanced Pontiac studio for a very short amount of time. Crazy as it sounds, I think I we were working on a Bill Mitchell Cadillac Seville. Is that possible? Maybe my old memory is failing me.

    I remember tactical strategies used in Pontiac II studio (John Schinella manager) to successfully interact with Bill Mitchell and others. Bill would come in with a flurry, make some cryptic comments and then Bernie Smith and Stan Wilen would stay back with us and try to determine what was meant by the comments and how to respond while still getting what we wanted on the cars. Fun times. Exciting.

    I will always remember one incident while I was working in Cadillac Studio (Stan Wilen manager). During lunch break, Joe Perez and I would sometimes make swords and shields out of foam core and have a good fight with them. Cadillac studio was two rooms with a wall of pull down 20′ drawing boards separating the two rooms. Joe and I were going at it so enthusiastically that we did not notice that the boards were being pulled up one by one. Then there was that “deer in the headlights moment” when Joe and I both looked to the side and saw Stan Wilen, the General Manager of Cadillac and (I think) the President of GM staring at us with their own “deer in the headlights” gaze. We stared at them, they stared at us. No one said a word. They simply pulled the last board back down and left.

    Joe and I thought we were in big trouble so later we went “tail between legs” into Stan’s office and apologized. He indicated that everything was fine and that one of the reasons they wanted Joe and I (both young California guys) in Cadillac was to put some of that youthful spirit into the cars………:-)

  5. David McIntosh

    Working with Bill became top of my list of good experiences at GM Design. The atmosphere in the studio, the mentoring, all exceptional. I too was “banished” once! It was before I worked with Bill, lasted a short time, and it actually was quite fun being off the radar to explore ideas. It’s not a career building experience for sure, but a sort of working sabbatical. By the time I left Bill’s studio at the same time as he, I was more than ready for my next assignment as an Assistant chief designer. Great times.

  6. John Manoogian II

    The correct spelling for Stan’s name is Wilen.

  7. Great story Bill. Thanks for sharing your recollections. Dave Rossi could make a designers renderings look great in Clay, enhancing the design surfaces like no other could. Russinoff was one among many great creative design talents at GM Styling during those Mitchell Era days. I gratefully learned much from RUSS, Roger Hughet, Gordy Brown, Jerry Hirschberg, Tony Balthasar, Don Wood, John Schinella, Randy Whittine, John Houlihan, Dave Stollery, Ted Schroeder, Terry Henline, Ron Will, Bill Michalak, Wayne Kady, Kip Wasenko, Hank Haga, Dave Rossi, Klaus Brink and so many other design talents during my time at GM Styling.

    The unknown GM Designer in the group photo was Chuck Mason, should any one else remember him. He was a Styling Judge for the Fisher Body Craftsman’s Guild Model Car Competition in the early 60’s. He left GM in the mid-60’s going to an electronics design firm in Indianapolis, and later opened up his own Interior Design/Home Furnishings Store in Louisville, KY. He passed recently…

    John M. Mellberg

  8. Glen Durmisevich

    Fun story Bill. That was around the time I started and Advanced 1 was one of the hot studios. Great designers and modelers. When I was in Advanced 2, with Dave North, I managed to get the chance to do my first scale model of a two seat Cadillac. Gene Kelly was the initial modeler. Slow and meticulous, wanting templates every 5 inches to descibe the form development so the progress was slow. When he went on vacation Doug Cross took over and told me “Let’s see your sketch kid, I’ll have it done in a flash” That he did in just a day or two and just from the sketch it turned out fantastic. I miss the talented sculptors who could interpret a sketch and make it sing.

  9. Norm James

    Bill Porter is one of my special favorites for discussing deep subjects and I was surprised on some of the Mitchell stories that rang a bell in the back of my head! Bill Mitchell and Tom Christianson were the GM people that hired me at Pratt Institute in 1954 to work at Styling as a summer student. I should add that I never had occasion to work closely with Bill Mitchell in any of the years following.

    What rang a bell was that, years later, after Earl had retired and Mitchell was in charge (after the Firebird III), I was in Research studio working under Bob McLean and we were struggling with various studies, seeking new directions. After a period of trying to define a new “sporty car look,” but still making it look “automotive,” I recall someone telling me that Bill Mitchell had referred to our group as “a bunch of Moonmen.” It hurt.

    I had another moment, years later, recalling that moment—when I was writing my book Of Firebirds & Moonmen and was seeking a title. “Moonmen” was implanted… even though the official dictionary meaning had a derogatory “tilt” to it. I took care to assure that the first use of that word in the book (story) was in repeating Bill Mitchell’s words. There was no further expansion to the story (as is told here).

    When I first heard the comment, I was disappointed; but “I took it as a compliment.” And it was probably the first step in my transfer to the GM Defense Research Laboratories in Santa Barbara and to an aerospace career in 1963 that followed.

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