Classiq Designer Series—Featuring Bill Porter

Bill Porter is a legendary automotive designer, best known as the designer behind the iconic 1968 Pontiac GTO. He has gotten many designs in production credited by his leadership and design contributions that have followed much of his career at General Motors spanning 40 years! As Chief Designer in both the Pontiac and Buick studios, Bill has led the production design for cars such as the Pontiac GTO, Firebird, Catalina, Bonneville, Le Mans, and Grand Am as well as Buick Electra, Le Sabre, Regal, Park Avenue, and Riviera. Watch as Bill tells us about specific facts that went into the making of the all new 1970-½ Pontiac Firebird Trans Am, while he shows us his personal 1973 Firebird.

Video Credits: Julie Hyde-Edwards and Robert Edwards for making the videos possible, Clasiq for producing the series. Sponsored by Farmers Insurance.

Published on Dean’s Garage by permission by Charlie Rubin, Clasiq COO and Founder.

GM Designer Bill Porter

Designing a Whole New Car from Scratch

Designing a new car, as we have seen, is tough work. Bill Porter is the man responsible for leading the team responsible for coming up with the exterior design of the 1970-½ Pontiac Firebird. Bill saw the car as a blank canvas where anything was possible, but designing a car that shares parts with other GM vehicles designers have to work closely with other design departments to make sure everything fits. Hear how Bill had to fight for his design ideas to make the Firebird look like his original drawings.

The Invention of the Endura Front End by Pontiac

The plastic-like material donned on the nose of famous Pontiac cars such as the Firebird and the GTO is called Endura. It can be credited to a man named Warren Fitzgerald whose contributions to the material helped designers like Bill Porter push the aggressive shapes and styles that could now be made from the material for the front of Pontiac cars. The material was originally created for the Pontiac GTO, but Bill pushed and fought for the material to also be used on his design for the 70-½ Pontiac Firebird. Watch as he tells with amazing insight into how the Endura material made its way onto the Firebird.

I’ve Got an Old GTO. Want to Have it?

When a stranger from Louisville, KY. heard on the radio that Bill Porter (the man responsible for the designed the 1968 Pontiac GTO), always wanted a GTO but didn’t have one. He offered up Bill his own personal ‘68 GTO. Watch in as Bill tells an amazing story from the classic car community.

Sneaking Sketches Taped in Your Jacket

As we have already heard through different interviews in this series, many artists didn’t have the heart to let their work go to the waste bin. Bill was no different. Watch as he tells us some of the methods he had for sneaking his own art work out.

Dragster for the Wind Tunnel

Not all the work that automotive designers did was meant for the street. Sometimes designers would work on projects just for fun. But information they would learn from these projects would eventually find its way to the street for public use. As GM started using wind tunnels for aero studies, Bill experimented with different dragster designs in hopes of using the wind tunnel to test different theories. Although this project got stopped short of actually getting into the wind tunnel, its story is still interesting to learn.

  1. Jeff Denison

    Excellent interview with Bill, it is important that his Design experiences and history be documented for the future. Bill’s interview was very professionally done, He left out that the Formula hood on his Trans Am was originally Designed for the T/A, He had to make the shaker Hood work on the T/A, and the Formula Firebird became an additional performance model because of it. He also gave credit to his predecessor Jack Humbert, an another Icon of Pontiac Design. Well done Bill!

  2. Terrific video. Bill Porter is a real gentleman and an outstanding designer. I am fortunate to know Bill well.

  3. Sheldon Payne

    On those rare occasions when I could get into Bill’s studio, I was invariably inspired and delighted. Besides being a nice person, he was knowledgeable, engaging and amazingly creative. For me the ’70-1/2 Firebird was a high point in GM design.

  4. Edward Matula

    Great interview. I purchased a new 1967 Firebird and just loved it. I always liked the second gen. Firebirds too. They were a little more advanced. It’s really nice to see the designers of these ground breaking cars.

  5. Tom

    It amazes me that the Chief Designer of the car does not know to this day what his car name, “Trans-Am” means !
    Pontiac paid a royalty on each car sold to the SCCA for use of the name.

    It was named after the Trans-American Sedan Series of races conducted on US and Canadian road courses.
    The series is legendary to this day!

  6. Glen Durmisevich

    Great video of only a small, but no less significant, part of Bill’s accomplishments. He is a truly analytical designer and his designs show it in their subtlety and grace. Being the “Professor” Bill is knowledgeable, sincere and a great guy always wanting to capture the true history of automobile design.

  7. Ken Pickering

    Bill Porter is the consummate designer. Ne knows line and surface and the theory behind it all.

    I member seeing Bill Porter when he was head of the Pontiac Studio and Gogoro had just deigned for VW w the first “Rabbit” (Golf) model. I did not understand the form and Bill took a piece of paper drew for me a side view sketch and the angles that made sense to him. I now understood better the design.

    Wish I had the piece of paper today!

  8. These interviews with Bill are pure gold. GM should be ashamed that it isn’t doing them but Farmers can be proud of its sponsorship.
    Bill Mitchell always felt that the less time a design project had, the better it was likely to turn out. He always gave as an example the 1970.5 Camaro/Firebird, in contrast with the original Camaro/Bird which spent too much time being massaged.
    Great to have the DeLorean stories too. Proof of my theory that the best designs result from highly motivated designers working under experience manager-engineers. Lots of good examples from the GM of the 1960s and 1970s.
    Thanks so much, Dean’s Garage and my friend Bill Porter.

  9. David McIntosh

    i worked with Bill Porter twice in my career, in 1964 as a new hire in Design Development, and later from 1973-1980. It was a real pleasure to work with him. He was a terrific mentor and I learned so much from him about design. We had great conversations in the studio about all kinds of design like architecture and his collection of Stickley furniture. I took his class at Wayne for Design History which he invented and could talk about all the periods of Late 19th and 20th century design.
    If he liked a sketch, it was immediately turned into a 3-D scale model. Best way to learn!

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