Larry Shinoda, Designer of the Ford Mustang Boss 302

Source: From the Auto Editors of Consumer Guide.

Larry Shinoda brought to Ford a sense of no-nonsense car-guy cool. His work on the 1969 and 1970 Ford Mustang Boss 302 is all the evidence that statement requires.

Ford Vice President of Design Eugene Bordinat gave the always-outspoken Shinoda his first automotive design job, in 1954, only to see the new graduate of L.A.’s Art Center School leave Dearborn within a year. After a brief stint at faltering Packard, Shinoda was hired by General Motors design boss Harley Earl and was soon working with Bill Mitchell, who soon succeeded Earl, on futuristic concept designs—and future Corvettes.

Shinoda followed GM president and longtime friend Semon E. “Bunkie” Knudsen in jumping to Ford, in 1968, but both were fired after less than two years in a widely publicized shake-up. Even so, both left their mark on Mustang, the designer most famously with the fast, tight-handling Boss models of 1969-71. Shinoda and Knudsen went on to form RV maker Rectrans, then parted company in mid-1975, when Shinoda opened his own design business. Shinoda died in late 1997 at age 67. Here, in Shinoda’s own words, is the story of his work on the Boss 302:

One of the first things I did on coming to Ford was straighten out the Boss 302. They were going to call it the SR2. They had all this chrome on it. They were going to hang big cladding on the side, big rocker moldings. It was going to be more garish than the Mach 1. They had a big grille across the back and a great big gas cap and fake cast exhaust outlets and big hood pins and a really big side scoop. I took all that off, went to the C-stripe decal and painted out the hood, did the rear spoiler and the window shades and front airdam. That vehicle ended up being a profit-improvement program. They only built a few, but they made money on each one.

Bunkie Knudsen and I knew that to capture some of the youth market you had to have street machines that would run like your race cars. Ford had never done that before, and obviously Knudsen wanted to beat the Z-28 Chevrolets at their own game. So that was my first task coming in there, doing show cars, and getting the Boss going. I knew what kind of horsepower the Z-28 had, where its strong points and weak points were. So I had to find out quickly what the Mustang was all about and what the new developments were.


Larry Shinoda at Ford.


And what they were working on was pretty much wrong. They had an engine with high horsepower but enormous ports, so the power was very, very peaky. They needed something with a much flatter torque curve. And they needed better vehicle dynamics. They were saying, “All it has to do is go fast.” I said, “That’s not really where it’s at. The Z-28 gets through corners well because it handles well. And it accelerates well off the corner because it got through the corner faster, so you think it’s got more horsepower than it does. Another reason it’s going through the corner faster is aerodynamics. It has enough downforce in front, balanced with downforce at the rear. Your car has some downforce at the rear with a little built-in spoiler, but not in the front. And the suspension isn’t quite right.”

They said, “What do you know about it? You’re a designer.” I said, “I’m a designer, but I’ve also got common sense, and I know a little bit about vehicle dynamics.” Ford at that point had never used their skidpad to check out dynamics. Their skidpad at the Dearborn test track was all torn up at the time. I got an appropriation to repave it.

I took some people in a company plane and flew them over the GM Proving Grounds. I said, “See that? It’s Black Lake.” “What’s it for?” I said, “You’ll see.” Sure enough, here’s Roger Penske’s Trans-Am Camaro, the Sunoco Camaro, running on a skidpad. I said, “That’s what you need. You play with aerodynamics, suspension, roll stiffness, and tires, and you find out what’s going to get around there the fastest. Of course, you’ll have to do some adjustments at the race track.” In those days, most of the people in Ford’s performance department didn’t understand vehicle dynamics, which was kind of sad. The people at Chevrolet and, basically, Frank Winchell, wrote the book on that.

And as I said, I removed all the inappropriate things they were going to put on the Boss, including the interior. I think it saved quite a few dollars when we counted it all up. Don Petersen, who was in product planning at the time, got a big kick out of that. He said, “You trying to do our job for us?” I said, “No, just trying to do the job, period.”

But there was only so much he could support. Unfortunately, I made bold statements. When someone asked me, “What are your ambitions?,” I said, “to be the first Japanese-American vice-president at Ford Motor Company. I don’t think Gene Bordinat liked that.”


Back to Ford

Source: 60-page reprint from Car Styling Vol. 18, 1977: The something big turned out to be the resignation of GM Vice President Semone Knudsen in March, 1968. Knudsen passed over for the GM Presidency in favor of Ed Cole, was offered the Presidency of Ford Motor company by Henry Ford II himself and Knudsen accepted. Ironically, Knudsen’s later father had left Ford in favor of GM and had risen to the GM Presidency years earlier.

Shinoda and Knudsen had become close friends at GM and admired each other’s talents. It was correctly assumed in the industry that Shinoda would join Knudsen at Ford and together they would develop cars to challenge GM’s best, especially including the Corvette.


Ford Mach II


But things did not go well at Ford and Shinoda didn’t join Knudsen until May 1968. Once there Shinoda went all out. His position was Design Executive, Corporate Projects Design Office. He was responsible for the design of all high performance vehicles and show cars. In this position he designed the following:

HIgh Performance:
Mickey Thompson’s Autolite Special Landspeed Record Car
Autoline”Lead Wedge” Electric L.S. R. Car
Mickey Rupp’s Super Sno-Sport Ford V-8 Powered Snowmobile
Ford Drag Clinic Vehicles
TASCA “Street Boss” Mustang

Boss 302 Mustang
Torino Talladega
Cougar Eliminator
Cyclone Spoiler I

Show Cars:
Super Cobra, Torino
Saturn II, Thunderbird
Scrambler, Ranchero
Aurora II, L.T.D. Station Wagon
Cougar Eliminator

In February 1969, Larry was promoted to the position of Director of the newly formed Special Projects Design Office. He was responsible for the following: The design of all High Performance Production and Limited Production Vehicles. The design and build of all show vehicles. The design of the Displays and Exhibits for all major autoshows in which Ford participated. In this position, he directed the design of the following:

High Performance:
King Cobra, Torino Design Study
Cyclone Spoiler II
Mickey Thompson’s Drag Cars
Eddie Schartman’s Maverick
Torino Pace Cars (NASCAR)
Mustang Pace Cars (A.I.R.)

Boss 302 Mustang
Bos 429 Mustang
Cougar Eliminator
Cyclone Spoiler
1971 Pinto—Theme Model/Re-Direction
Mach II-C Mid Engine Corvette Challenger

Show Cars:
Maverick Runabout
L.T.D. Berline
Econoline Kilimanjaro Safari Van
Torino Wheely Drag Simulator
Mustang Milano
Mark III Phaeton—Dual Cowl/Theme Model for Mark IV Silver-Cranberry Interior Production Model

Displays & Exhibits for Auto Shows:
Dallas State Fair
Detroit Auto Show
Chicago Auto Show
New York International Auto Show

(Although) Shinoda was at Ford long enough to accomplish many goals, which included a Corvette competitor “the Mach II-C” mid-engined sports coupe, which was to be US built with US components, but was shelved for the political bought-off/ill-fated Pantera by De Tomaso.

The role played by Shinoda and Knudsen had significant impact on the Ford Production models for quite some time. Both men were fired in less than two years. Click here to read an interesting article from September 19, 1969 Time magazine about Knudson being fired from Ford.


RecTrans and White Motors

From the Car Styling reprint: For the first time in their careers, Knudsen and Shinoda found themselves unemployed. But not for long. Knudsen headed for Florida to collect his thought and asked Shinoda to give some thought as to what kind of business they should set up. Soon, both agreed it would be motor homes as it was the recreational vehicle industries number one growth area.

RecTrans was formed in early 1970. By the autumn of 1970, the Discoverer 25 rear wheel drive on Dodge chassis and front wheel drive Oldsmobile powered Discoverer 27 ft. models were designed and prototyped and introduced at the R.V.I. sow in Louisville. Production of the Discoverer 25 on Dodge chassis started in early 1971.

In April 1972, Knudsen was appointed Chairman of the Board of White Motor Corporation. Rectrans was absorbed by White and Shinoda became Vice President on charge of Design. White, a Cleveland, Ohio based company wanted Shinoda to move to Cleveland, but he fought the decisions and started a design operation in Madison Heights, Michigan, a norhtern Detroit suburb. His reasonong was Detroit was the center of activity and the best talents and craftsmanship were available on most any basis. He used many moonlighters and part-time help to get the first projects off he ground. The first major unit was the “Road Commander.” White needed a new image and new products to bolster this image. The Road Commander was basically a facelift which transformed the old 7000 unit, which was referred to by the truckers as the “Chinese Freightliner,” as it was very heavy and had an antiquated look to it. Shinoda was asked to just change the grille panel for this new look, but he removed all the riveted on fiberglass panels and restyled them in clay giving the unit a whole new look. This was accomplished in two weeks. When White’s management first saw it they were dumbfounded. They, then asked how soon could it be prototyped and could a movie be made for it for their national sales meeting. The date of the review was February 1 and their meeting was February 22. The midnight oil flowed and the running prototype was completed on the eve of the 17th. The unit was a hit of the show and its sales increased 74.9% in the first six months of production. The Rad Boss conventional was next and also very successful.

Shinoda’s design activities continued to grow in scope and importance, and designs for a new concept lightweight combination truck and low cab forward model Road Xpeditor 2 followed. These were prototyped and put into production. Around this time there was a move to a larger facility, shared by the design group and Advance Products Division. The facility had a very nice setting and was located in Farmington, Michigan (northwest Detroit).

But the economic situation after the oil crisis gradually worsened, and White Motors found themselves in financial difficulties as the slump hit the heavy truck industry, and the company closed down or sold off units considered expendable. So, Shinoda’s corporate design staff and the research group were closed down.

May, 1976, and Shinoda was out of work again, but it also meant his independence.

Shinoda Design Associates Incorporated

From the Car Styling reprint: He started up his own business, called Shinoda Design Associates, Inc., with a staff of five, in Livonia, Michigan, west of Detroit. Now he has a staff of 14: designers, clay modelers, technicians, fabricators and engineers. His first client was the Emcor Division of GF Business Equipment. the aaignement was tough, to redesign a group of electronic enclosures without any structural changes, but it was done to the client’s satisfaction. The next client to turn up happened to be his former employer, White Motor Corp. The truck business was turning the corner and heading up. The Farm Group of the company also contracted Shinoda as a design consultant for their product lines.

The Shinoda Design Group is also doing work in the light truck/van field, and designs for motor homes class A, B and C.

Shinoda says the future is wide open and that his group is ready for anything: ski equipment/clothing, sail boats, power boats, electric commuters, kit cars, motorcycles, golf equipment and whatever needs the proper design approach to lure the buyers and show profitability for his clients.

Other Photos from the Car Styling Reprint

1990 Corvette C4 Shinoda/Rick Mears Special Edition Corvette

I only saw Larry Shinoda once at the SEMA show in the early 1990s. I have this poster I picked up at the show of the Shinoda/Mears Special Edition C4 Corvette.

From Illustrated Corvette Series website. The Rick Mears Special Edition came out of an interesting mix of talents. Mears, a three-time Indy 500 winner, was the front man, Corvette designer Larry Shinoda was the stylist, and Jim Williams was the businessman. While this certainly wasn’t the first body kit for a Corvette, it was one of the cleanest. Mears was at the top of his racing game by the early ’90s. Rick won the Indy 500 in ’79, ’84, ’88, and ’91! He was the Indy 500 “Rookie of the Year” in ’79, and racked up six Indy 500 pole positions. Mears retired from racing in 1992 with 29 CART wins and 40 pole positions.

Larry Shinoda is generally known as the designer of the 1963 Stingray. While this is correct, the actual Stingray shape was first drawn in 1957 by Pete Brock and Bob Veryzer as a concept study called the “Q-Corvette.” Shinoda took the sketch and made it into a real car. Larry would go on the design the Corvair Monza show car, the Mako Shark, and the Boss 302 Mustang.

Jim Williams was the president and CEO of Golden State Foods, a food preparation company that services all of the McDonalds restaurants. In the late ’80s, GSF was an associate sponsor of the Penske racing team.

Shinoda showed some sketches to Williams and Mears at the Long Beach CART race in 1989. Both men liked the design and agreed to go into business. Shinoda-Williams Design, Inc. was formed and started making kits in 1991.

Shinoda’s design wasn’t just another make-over kit. The front and rear spoilers, along with the sculpted side panels lowered drag coefficient from .34 to .30! As a throwback to his old Mako Shark days, Larry gave the side panels some “coke bottle” style. All of the parts were barrier crash tested and designed so the the stock Corvette tire jack could be used. Except for the front chin spoiler, the factory ramp angles were maintained.

The kit was made up of 11 pieces that would attach to any ’84 to ’91 coupe or roadster. The panels were made from primed, semi-rigid polyurethane material. Also included were front fog lights, black finished stainless steel exhaust tips, floor mats with the Mears logo, a “Shinoda Design” badge, a “Rick Mears Special Edition” badge, and fasteners. Assembly time was 25 hours. The kits were designed to use common garage tools, used stock mounting points, and required little drilling.

The cost of the kit was $5,200, plus $2,500 to $3,000 for installation. Paint was another extra. The total cost for entire kit project was around $10,000. That’s why not many kits were sold. In the early ’90s, all regular Corvettes were under the shadow of the ZR-1. Extra money usually went under the hood. Shinoda pitched the kit to Chevrolet as a 1992 RPO option. They passed.—K. Scott Teeters

Larry Shinoda Rendering from Packard, 1956

Thanks to Brett Snyder (Andrew Johnson Gallery)

  1. Ron Will

    I worked in the Corvette studio just after Larry’s departure over to Ford. There were lots of Shinoda sketches back in the flat files. I wish I had snatched one or two of them. The modelers loved Larry’s sketches because he always drew the section lines on the design to make it easy to see the forms of the car. I adopted Larry’s style when I was working with the modelers. It made me think more carefully about the actual shapes. You couldn’t cheat the design with fake reflections as some designers like to do.

    Larry came back to GM Styling one day in grand style. He brought over one of the Ford performance show cars, pulled into the underground executive garage and rev ved the engine several times to wake up the designers in the building. About half the designers in the building came down to see what was up. The executives were furious that Larry had parked in their garage, but that was Larry’s style. He was brazen and would tell you in very colorful language exactly what he felt about a design or designer using his well developed list of four letter words.

    Later when I worked for Subaru Design, I contracted with Shinoda Design for concept ideas. Larry came up with about 50 sketches of a Legacy coupe than never made it to production. But, Larry was quite famous and all the Japanese Subaru designers wanted to get their picture taken with him. Larry was quite a story teller and I loved to sit in a bar with him as he rolled out some of the backroom stories of how some designs came to be. He was a bigger than life person and designer.

  2. I purchased a1990 Shinoda Design Tripple black Convertible in 1993 with 27000 miles. I met Larry in Dallas at the Dallas Club’s show. Larry was their guest speaker. At the awards he gave me his personal pic out of 258 Vettes. We stayed in contact from then until about three months before he died. He was waiting for a transplant but didn’t make it. I have a picure of him giving me the award. He sent me his design for the 97 vette before it was published.–of course it wasn’t used by GM. I’m 82 years old and still drive my Shinoda Design–it now has 154000 miles and still runs great.–Larry was one of the nicest guys I ever met. When we were young we drag raced at Caddo Mills – but at the time didn’t know each other personally. Thanks–Bryce Patrick

  3. Lance Sato

    I just purchased a Shinoda Corvette that was owned by Larry Shinoda. It’s the red car in the poster with Larry standing behind it. Does anyone have any information on this car. I also received an autographed poster and some photos with the car. It also can with a “3RD VET” California personalized license plate. It has the Elite wheels with every other spoke painted red.

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