By Bill Porter
Published by permission.

Interesting question about the 2nd gen Firebird windshield and No. 1 pillar. Hank Haga and I had a contest going to see who would master the upper. Henry was very much under the influence of Giugiaro, his Maserati Ghibli, etc., in other words, the new planar Italian style.  I was equally under the influence of the English designers who came out of the British aircraft industry. That included the Lotuses and E Jags. I actually loved the stiff vertical windshield of the E Jag coupe, but was also very taken with the earlier Ferraris that had the faster compound conical glass forms where the header was rather flat but the base of the windshield was very round in plan, necessitating conical surfaces from the upper corners angled inward toward the center of the windshield at the cowl.

Originally the windshield angle of the Camaro/Firebird was considerably faster than the final version. But the extra glass was costly and Pete Estes, Chevrolet General Manager, agreed to reduce the cost (and weight) by moving the centerline rearward at the cowl.  I (in Pontiac) was pretty upset by this because it meant that the cowl in plan view became flatter and I was robbed in some degree of the Ferrari-like conical effect which I had achieved some measure of in my version of the upper. But I determined to make the best of it and countered with the idea of a “virtual glass plane” in front of the actual windshield. I explained this in Edson Armi’s original book (The Art of American Car Design, Penn State U Press, 1989) because he raised questions about that upper that are related to yours.

If you sight the centerline profile of the header you will notice that it does not curve downward into the windshield but aims further forward,  headed for the earlier, faster, windshield profile. This imaginary virtual profile kind of re-connects, so to speak, with the cowl profile and hence the hood quite a ways forward of the actual windshield glass plane, (not far from the profile of the original faster windshield) allowing space for wiper storage and air inlet grilles for interior HVAC. This imaginary, or virtual windshield if you will, completes the shell of the car but the stiffness of the pillar itself and the way the upper windshield DLO slices across and forms the header provides a hoop, so to speak, from which the rest of the upper unfurls. This is especially true of the outer shoulders of the upper which are also conical, their radii growing larger as they flow back to the sail panels.

Much to my surprise, Irv Rybicki and Jack Humbert—MItchell may have been involved, but I kind of doubt it since he was a line man rather than a form guy—chose my upper over Hank’s, thus the English and older Italian influences won out over Giugiaro’s Italian planar style. That may be why the 2nd gen Firebird is something of an anomaly in the evolution of GM (and most American) cars of the day, the majority of which were moving in the direction of the ’70s mainstream where creases and planes reigned supreme.

Many thanks to Bill Porter for sharing this interesting account.

  1. Jon Albert

    For me that windshield was one of the defining features of that generation of ‘F’ cars. They came out my Junior year in high school, and I was the only guy in my peer group who “got” the new design- always have liked the sophistication of the 2nd-Gen Firebirds and Camaros better than the first. Bill Mitchell may have been a ‘line’ guy more than a ‘form’ guy, but that didn’t keep him from exploring how that windshield approach might look on the C3 Corvette ‘Mulsanne” concept car. And here all these years I thought the influence for the windshield came from the Beechcraft Bonanza!

  2. Roy Lonberger

    The ’70 Firebird is one of my favorite car designs. I remember showing many Camaro concepts from Haga’s Chevy-2 studio, alongside many from the Pontiac studio in the court yard. The star was always one of Porter’s soft formed creations (with aircraft style rounded headers and radiused window perforations). Read with interest your new story about Porter and the Firebird windshield. Interesting, but one major correction: Contrary to his belief, I never found Mitchell to be entirely a “line” type of guy. Many ’70 Camaro concepts in Haga’s studio actually featured full formed windshields. Several images attached to illustrate the point.



  3. It is really interesting to see Bill’s description of the windshield and how much his personal design philosophy was behind it. He verbalizes it so well. It was not easy to move a great design through and past the many pitfalls throughout the process to the street.

    I saw Mitchell say once that we should go in the opposite direction of Giugioro’s cars. He was right but the statement was just too strong and lesser design intellects succumbed. It was also hard to find a clear example of a different direction that was as powerful as the Ghibli or Mangusta. I tried with the TASC4GT and Mitchell acknowledged that the combination of “shape with sharp peaks” was something that he was in favor of. We all know he loved sharp peaks.

    The windsheld is wonderful and to see Bill’s description of the underlying thinking behind it is special.

    But, the rest of the car design that is wrapped around it is stunning. It has lived through time to be seen now as clearly one of the great designs of the era. The image shown is beautiful, it is a real joy to see one on the street now or at Pasteiners.

    My son Greg took Bill’s design course at CCS and credits that time with Bill as the most significant learning experience of his film carreer.

    Great job Bill.


  4. A P

    I’m a big fan of the gen-2 F-bodies but always wondered why the A-pillar was designed so upright.

    I understand now that this was done to achieve the desired “conical surfaces from the upper corners angled inward toward the center of the windshield at the cowl” but as a less raked windshield angle was imposed, this certainly also affected the rake of the A-pillar.

    So my question to the author is would it not have been better to compromise some of the desired conical surface by the raking the A-pillars back more to regain some of the illusion of a “racier” windshield rake?

    Would this be what Mr. Mitchell was thinking when he did what he did as related in this anecdote by Mr. Lonberger:

    “We were showing a clay model of a proposed 1970 Camaro in the courtyard. Mr. Mitchell walked in after lunch, looked at the car, started swearing, his face got red, and then he walked up to the windshield pillar, and started doing karate chops with his hand on the A-pillar. He hated the design, wanted the windshield angle increased, and wanted it changed immediately.”


    AP: I have emailed Bill Porter and Roy Lonberger in regards to your comment.—Gary

  5. Thanks AP for your comments. Your explanation why Bill Porter moved the A-pillar to achieve the conical form may be correct. But in Chevy-2 (where we were doing Camaro & Firebird concepts), we were exploring how to exaggerate the dash-to-axle proportion by moving the base of the pillar aft. Different approaches to achieve the same effect to make the car look more exciting. With deference to Bill Porter, it had nothing to do with form or line…rather the goal of making the second gen F-body look sporty and more aggressive than the Mustang.

  6. Ken Pickering

    Windshield pillars or “A” pillars – another thing to keep n mind is that designers must be creative, but also follow the real world constraints of entrance, egress, vision and manufacturing. I am always amazed on how the designers and engineers work together creatively to solve these problems. Sometimes, I believe the “public” does not recognize the these constraints like hinge pillar limits on four door sedans which restrict how many body lowers can be shared, yet remain visually different.


    In the mid seventies while working on the X-Car we were trying to do curved side glass but ran afoul of a body development manufacturing rule that required that the A Pillar be a straight line where the windshield attached. That would change and reduce the curve that we wanted in the side glass. We could not figure the reason why except that it must have matched the straight side glass of the recent past.

    We were doing a lot of A-Pillar aero, noise and water testing so that complication was just too much to bear. Down in the garage we found that other manufacturers and especially foreign ones had no such requirement.
    Ray Hildebrant figgured that out.


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