By Bill Michalak


Concept rendering for 1973 Olds Cutlass. This brown rendering was done in marker and pastel.


My desire to design cars for General Motors started at the age of eight. Like many other kids with the same goal, I was fortunate to actually see my dream come true. Employment came by way of Chuck Jordan in 1966 during my last week at Pratt Institute in New York. During my 35 years at GM, retiring in 2001, I was in every studio accept Cadillac Production.

Recently, I attended the third Fisher Body Guild Reunion, meeting many old friends. I never did finish a model; however, the cover car and many sketches in the last Guild book were my contributions. The drawings were all completed when I was in Design Development.

Moving on to my first assignment. Olds studio was a wonderful and “dream” fulfilling time in my life! Working on the 442 and Toronado and the 98 and 88 Oldsmobiles was very exciting. After about three years in Olds, it was off to Pontiac to work on the new “A” bodies; Grand Ams, Grand Prixs, and show cars. A long stint in Chevy I studio followed. Working on two generations of Caprice and two generations of the Monte Carlo. We also worked on some non-production concepts in a production studio. What a great thrill!

Multi-Purpose Studio followed which eventually changed to Truck II. Two generations of the El-Camino, S-10 pickups, Blazers and M-Van were mixed with show trucks and concept vehicles of all kinds. Moving on to Advance One Studio, I was able to get back to designing cars. From a small production car to the EVI, small electric vans, and all kinds of show cars, to concepts for production cars, filled a few years. I then jumped around to a few Advanced Studios to end up in Saturn working on the second generation Saturn. Olds production, where I started, was next to work on the start of the SUV craze.The next few years was a transition time at GM. All of the studios and their functions changed. My last three years at GM were occupied working on production Buicks and helping out on the LaCrosse and Bengal show cars.

Retiring from GM after 35 years ended my dream. I still go to many car shows and I am involved with the League of Retired Designers. Since retiring, I keep myself busy by selling Automotive Art, both fine art and studio concept art. I guess I just can’t get cars and art out of my system.



A Gallery of Bill’s work at GM with captions



Bill Michalak at the Fisher Body Craftsman’s Guild Reunion, January, 2013

When I started GM Design Staff in March 1973, Tom Covert and I shared a townhouse in Birmingham. Bill Michalak and Ron Will shared a townhouse in the same complex. That’s how I first became acquainted with Bill.—Gary

  1. christopher dowdey-Ford Design-ASC Design-

    WOW, What a talent. Bill is one of those gifted, humble low key guy’s that just always showed up at work in the studio with the goods! An extremely knowledgeable and gifted Industrial Designer. What a really wonderful, inspirational person! I’m honored to have him as a friend! You Rock Bill!
    When I was a young designer at Ford, every once in awhile you would get a glimpse of some of Bill’s work in a mag, or a spy shot! It was so cool I said to myself…I have to try that technique as it was so in your face and really graphic. Cool work Bill , Thanks for sharing!

  2. Bill,
    Congratulations on behalf of your fellow ADGuild Members and fellow League ORDesigners! It’s great to see your beautiful and prolific design work presented for all to see and appreciate. What a great career you’ve had!

    Thanks for sharing w/Gary Smith to share with all of us!

    Your friend,
    John M. Mellberg
    ADGuild Support & League ORD Support

  3. Bill: Congratulations on having your interesting story published on the ultimate styling web site. I look forward to chatting with you again at one of the upcoming car shows this season.

  4. Bill, great to see your retrospective. We worked together in Design Development Studio in the summer of ’66. The sketches and renderings bring back many memories. I can still smell the Flo-Master Ink and recall the banter among the other designers in the “school” as Dave North referred to it. Pete Maier, Joan Kaltil, Tom Hale, Vince DiSessa, Tom Gatewood, and a whole bunch of other designers were together that summer. Great times, great people who taught me a lot about design and about life itself.

  5. Clark LIncoln

    It’s good to see Bill’s career being documented here on Dean’s Garage, as this site honors not only the stars of our profession but also those of us who did most of the work ” in the trenches” turning out reams of excellent designs that greatly influenced what actually went into production. I never worked in the same studio as Bill, (I don’t think…) but I do remember enjoying his company on may occasions as he was not a “chest beater” or big talker like so many of the designer that passed through GM in those days. And seeing him at the Designers Night a few months ago, he is still that same guy.
    Cheers, Bill.

  6. Love seeing Bill’s work. Having worked with Bill over the years,I always enjoyed his passion for cars and his outstanding talent. Great work Bill,and thanks to Gary for sharing it.

  7. Thanks Gary and Bill for the story: Creative designer, great illustrator, genuine nice guy.

  8. Walter Gomez

    Excellent! The late-Eighties van concept in image 31, seems to have influenced Italdesign’s 1992 Columbus concept!

  9. Bill’s work is terrific. How nice that you have chosen Bill and his work to showcase. He is, truly, one of the nicest and creative men I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet.

  10. Peter Brock

    Bill…Such wonderful sketches! Your influence on some of GM’s best years is so evident in your work. Just lovely and exciting. Thanks so much for sharing. I was long gone by the time you were making waves, but I’d have loved to have worked with you and learned how you did those beautiful surfaces. Best, Peter Brock

  11. Glen Durmisevich

    It is great to see Bill’s work and career highlighted. Bill has had a subtle influence on many designs and designers through his work, his business and his personality. I consider Bill a good friend and great designer. Great stuff Bill.

  12. David R.North

    I remember Bill his 1st day at Design Staff. The new kids started in Design Development ,we called it 9th semester or the “school”
    Chuck Jorden had asked me to work with the new kids,I had helped some young guys do there portfolio s and get in . Feeling my reluctance he sweetened the deal by offering to let me set up a “special studio ” kind of a half-way house for the advanced guys. From there they would go into the car studios Bill was one of those guys. We would do far out cars and Bill,s was a hy po Electric-gas ultra-small. Gem. This was in 1966
    Others in the class went on to upstanding careers , there are some famous names in that group.
    I did not know it at the time , but that was one of the best jobs I
    Had at Design Staff. e

  13. I worked with Bill in the advanced truck studio at General Motors in the mid nineties. He is an extremely talented designer and very knowledgeable about automotive history and art. I found Bill to be a gentleman and it was a pleasure and a privilege to have worked with him. I am proud and honored to have Bill as a close friend. Congratulations on a long and great career.

  14. Ron Will

    GM would find room mates for new incoming designers and Bill Michalak got me. I was extremely lucky to get Bill as a room mate. During my first week in a real studio I was asked to do a large air brush rendering of one of my small sketch ideas. Good Grief! I had never done an air brush rendering in my entire life. I received my design training at the Institute of Design in Chicago where neither car design nor air brush rendering was on their list of necessary design skills. After everyone had gone home, Bill saved my design career by coming in and helping me create my first air brush rendering. It wasn’t great, but it got me through that first week. Bill became my mentor and helped me get up to speed with the most talented car designers on the planet. He would critique my designs. He taught me the importance of giving life and strength to individual lines of a car design. He showed me how fender lines, accent lines, window lines, roof lines have to be carefully designed to give them excitement and accents that all work beautifully together and are not droopy, dull or awkward. Thank you Bill for giving me both the practical and visual skills that allowed me to have a successful 35 year design career. And I also thank Bill’s wife Denise for introducing me to my wonderful wife Pat of 37 years.


    Bill has a deep and genuine love for the automobile that he expressed in so many different ways. With a subtle sense of humor he would weather any storm, always unruffled, he worked hard and always helped make good things happen. We worked together only once, I am pretty sure it was in Overseas Studio.

    Bill had a calming effect on the atmosphere when things tended to get emotionally charged as they very often did. No matter what happened Bill would not be fazed, always with that subtle mischievous smile, like the one in the picture above.


  16. Along with Ron Will, Al Nomura, Harlan Peterson and George Adinolfi, Bill and I became best friends when I was designing for Ford. I had graduated from Pratt a year later than Bill. His Birmingham townhouse became a meeting place for car geeks, in the spirit of the characters in Big Bang Theory. Ron would be cleaning the disc brake rotor of his DeTomaso on the dining room table, while Bill and I discussed the latest Bob Dylan album. Our friends included designers from GM, Ford and Chrysler. Because of the security guards at Ford, I have virtually none of car drawings from that era.

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