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.

Thanks to Paul Deesen. Be sure to check out the Dean’s Garage post featuring Paul’s work.

A few renderings by Paul Deesen I ran across online.

  1. Ken Pickering

    My favorite Paul Deesen story. When Paul was an Assistant Chief Designer in one of the Advanced Studios (located in the northeast corner of the first floor), Chuck Jordan would come by once or twice a day to review the design and make some changes. Jordan (AKA The Chrome Cobra) was always meticulously attired in gray suits but this one morning, he came by Paul’s Studio in a light brown suit.

    After lunch, Jordan came by again for a design review and Paul came out of the back room dressed in a brown Kraft paper suit he had fashioned during lunch time. Paul stood quietly next to Jordan, not saying a word.

    Jordan never wore that brown suit to work again!

    Ken Pickering

  2. Great story by Paul Deesen. I can see Bill Mitchell turning red now as he did in Production Cadillac when I was there.

    Ken Pickering, your memory of the brown suit was extremely amusing. Paul had to be brave to do that! Thanks for sharing. You’re right, I only remember Jordan in the silver suits…I also remember seeing his suit had a red lining.

  3. Brian Baker

    Bravo for this excellent recounting of the Monza’s history. You deserve credit for dusting off those old memories. It’s important that designers who were on the front line for these iconic designs tell their side of the story. History must remember that although the VP’s were the guiding force, they were rarely placing the tape lines on the boards or doing the Canson renderings that inspired these great designs. Paul you deserve credit as an unsung hero of design.
    Brian Baker ( GM Design 84′-09′)

  4. PAUL,
    Great story. The Monza GT was a clear influence on the Lamborghini Miura and the De Tomaso Mangusta that came after it.

    I remember the suit story, I was in Oldsmobile Studio at the time, this is what we were told, what I remember. Camel hair sports coats were very popular at the time. Chuck one-upped that fashion trend by coming in one morning with a camel hair suit in the traditional camel hair light brown. He first went to Chevrolet studio where there was some discussion about it and someone unknown called Paul down in Buick telling him about the suit.. Next he went to Pontiac, more discussion about the suit. Then to Oldsmobile and more discussion, Chuck is delighted in the interest in his fashion coup. Stan Wilen really gave him the New York raspberry about it.

    Finally he enters Buick, maybe a half hour after the first suit review in Chevrolet Studio. During that time Paul and friends have created a suit out of the brown paper on the roll that every studio had, with scotch tape and staplers. Significant was the color, it was almost exactly like Chuck’s suit!

    The scene is set in to Buick Studio not knowing about the frantic effort to create the suit. At exactly the same time that Paul walks out of the Buick Studio back room Chuck walks in, they meet and Chuck, like everyone else in the room explodes in laughter!!!

    The story went around the building like wild-fire. One of the great all time design stories. That is what I remember and what I saw in Oldsmobile Studio.

    All the best,

  5. Glen Durmisevich

    Paul. Great story. I ditto Brian’s comments about the details of the unsung designers contributions to not only the iconic designs but to all the cars GM produced. I remember Dave Holls would often try to out gun some of the other studios to entice the VP into using one of his guys designs. Great job.

    Another Chuck Jordan fashion story. I was in Olds 2 Studio one day when one day Stan Wilen wore a pink tie. He was explaining that Chuck was all over him for wearing a pansy pink tie. Well the very next day Chuck actually wore a pink tie so Stan asked us to do something for him. Later that day we had a patio review with Chuck and when he walked out we all turned around to face him wearing mocked up pink ties. Although he wasn’t in Olds Studio for this one, Paul Deesen has always been my mentor of the mock up muse.

  6. Great story and a big thank you to Paul Deesen for creating one of my all time favorite designs! A highlight during my Art Center days was winning a ride in the Monza GT. We pitched pennies to see who would get a ride and what a ride it was! While cruising down Third Street (this was 1963 or early ’64) I never saw anything above the belt lines of all the ‘old cars’!

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