Bill Mitchell (designer)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search

William L. "Bill" Mitchell (July 2, 1912 Cleveland, Ohio — September 12, 1988 Royal Oak, Michigan) was an American automobile designer. Mitchell worked briefly as an advertising illustrator and as the official illustrator of the Automobile Racing Club of America before being recruited by Harley Earl to join the Art and Colour Section of General Motors in 1935.[1][2] Mitchell is responsible for creating or influencing the design of over 72.5 million automobiles produced by GM, including such landmark vehicles as the 1938 Cadillac Sixty Special, the 1949 Cadillac Coupe DeVille, the 1955-57 Chevrolet Bel Air, the 1963-65 and 1966-67 Buick Riviera, the 1961-76 Corvette Stingray, the 1975-79 Cadillac Seville, and the 1970-81 Chevrolet Camaro.[1][3] Mitchell spent the entirety of his 42 year career in automobile design at General Motors, eventually becoming Vice President of Design, a position he held for 19 years until his retirement in 1977.[1][2][3] His design stewardship at General Motors became known as the 'Bill Mitchell era'.

Early life and education[edit]

Bill Mitchell was the son of a Buick dealer and developed a talent for sketching automobiles at an early age.[4] He grew up in Greenville, PA and New York City. Mitchell attended the Carnegie Institute of Technology in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and later studied at the Art Students' League in New York, New York.[1]

At Barron Collier Advertising[edit]

After completing art school, Mitchell joined the New York City based Barron Collier Advertising where he prepared layouts and advertising illustrations, including U.S. advertisements for MG cars.[1] While working at the agency, Mitchell met brothers Barron Collier, Jr., Miles Collier and Sam Collier, who had founded the Automobile Racing Club of America (ARCA) (a forerunner of the Sports Car Club of America) in 1931. Mitchell became the official illustrator of the club and his sketches for the club eventually came to the attention of Harley Earl, then head of General Motors Art and Colour Section.[1]

At General Motors Corporation[edit]

Art and Colour Section[edit]

Based on sketches Mitchell created as the official illustrator for the ARCA, Harley Earl recruited Mitchell to General Motors' then new Art and Colour Section on 15 December 1935.[5]

Chief Designer, Cadillac[edit]

In 1936 Earl appointed Mitchell as the Chief Designer in the then newly created Cadillac design studio.[1]

Director of Styling[edit]

On May 1, 1954 Mitchell became General Motors Director of Styling under Harley Earl.[1]

Vice President, Styling Section[edit]

In December 1958, Harley Earl reached GM's mandatory retirement age of 65 and thus retired from his position as chief stylist. The 46-year old Mitchell succeeded him as General Motors Vice President, Styling Section.[5] Mitchell set out to break with the styling cues used under Harley Earl, wanting to eliminate chrome excess, fat fins and similar signature marks.[6]


In the 60s, Mitchell promoted what he called the "sheer look," a more aerodynamic, "shoulderless" drop off from a car's windows to its sides.[citation needed]

Mitchell gave GM designers the assignment of combining Rolls Royce and Ferrari styling cues to create Buick's classic 1963 Riviera. According to a popular story, Mitchell got the idea for the Riviera in Paris. He had originally envisaged the design for Cadillac Division, as a new La Salle, "a baby Cadillac". The Riviera also featured frameless glass in the front doors, giving hardtops an even sleeker look.An encounter with a shark, while skin diving in the Bahamas, inspired Mitchell's Corvette Shark show car, his SS racer and the production 1963 Corvette Stingray, largely designed by Larry Shinoda, under Mitchell's direction.

Mitchell influenced the dramatic styling of the 1965 Corvair, which became the first of many cars that used the "Coke Bottle" profile of curved side glass and rear fender bulges, giving cars a muscular look.

Mitchell's fondness for split rear windows as featured on the 1957 Buick and 1963 Corvette Stingray coupe wasn't shared by his fellow stylists or the buying public and both cars dropped the feature after public resistance.[citation needed]


During the 1973-74 energy crisis, which brought on a greater demand for smaller cars in place of the larger cars that had been GM's bread and butter profit machine for decades, Mitchell oversaw the styling and design efforts of GM's downsized full-sized and intermediate-sized cars which were introduced in 1977 and 1978, respectively, some of the last designs that he would lead—and all based on themes first developed in his 1975 Cadillac Seville. However, when it came to compact and subcompact cars, Mitchell, who often struggled with alcoholism, reflected that "Small cars are like vodka. Sure people will try them out but they won't stay with them."[7]

Mitchell stepped down as chief stylist in July 1977 following his 65th birthday.


Following his retirement from General Motors, Mitchell ran William L. Mitchell Design, a private, design consulting firm, from 1977 to 1984.[8] He was a vocal critic of the new fourth-generation Corvette's styling, which he referred to as "bland".

Bill Mitchell died at the age of 76 from heart failure at William Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, Michigan, on September 12, 1988.[2]

Awards and recognition[edit]

Bill Mitchell was inducted into the Corvette Hall of Fame by the National Corvette Museum in 1998.[9]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h General Motors Design Impact 1977, p. 1.
  2. ^ a b c New York Times 1988.
  3. ^ a b Washington Post 1988.
  4. ^ GM Heritage Center 2010.
  5. ^ a b Nielssen 1977, pp. 43–45.
  6. ^ Winding-Sørensen 2003-06-09.
  7. ^ Cray, Edward: Chrome Colossus: General Motors and Its Times, Mcgraw-Hill; 1st edition July 1980, ISBN 978-0-07-013493-5
  8. ^ William L. Mitchell Biography 2004.
  9. ^ National Corvette Museum 2010.


  • Nielssen, Eric (1977-07-09). "GM's Mister Style retired". Autocar (United Kingdom) 147 (4209). 
  • Robinson, Peter (December 2006). "Icons: Auto Designer Bill Mitchell". MotorTrend. MotorTrend Magazine. Archived from the original on 2010-11-13. Retrieved 2010-11-13. Of all the 72 million cars for which he was responsible... 
  • Winding-Sørensen, Jon (2003-06-09). "75 years of General Motors Design: Bill Mitchell - The Car Guy". Car Design News. Car Design News, Inc. Archived from the original on 2010-11-13. Retrieved 2010-11-13. He hated all the chrome, he hated the fat fins, he hated the excesses... 
  • "Bill Mitchell (1998 Induction)". National Corvette Museum. 2010. Archived from the original on 2010-11-13. Retrieved 2010-11-13. 1998 Induction 
  • "Bill Mitchell, General Motors Head of Design, Part I". Corvette Action Center. Corvette Action Center, Inc. 2010. Archived from the original on 2010-11-13. Retrieved 2010-11-13. Mitchell was born July 2, 1912, in Cleveland... 
  • "Corvette Stingray Creator William L. Mitchell Dies". Washington Post. Washington, D.C.: The Washington Post Company. 1988-09-18. Archived from the original on 2010-11-13. Retrieved 2010-11-13. A vice president of design at General Motors for 19 years, Mr. [William L. Mitchell] molded the appearance of hundreds of car models, including the 1963 Buick Riviera and the 1970 Camaro. His designs were transformed into more than 72.5 million automobiles, according to GM. 
  • "Mitchell, William L.". GM Heritage Center. General Motors. 2010. Archived from the original on 2010-11-13. Retrieved 2010-11-13. Bill Mitchell developed a love for automobiles and a remarkable talent for sketching them at an early age. 
  • "Salute to William L. Mitchell - Vice President - General Motors Design". General Motors Design Impact (General Motors Corporation). July 1977. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2010-11-13. Retrieved 2010-11-13. 
  • "William L. Mitchell Biography". Automobile in American Life and Society. Dearborn, Michigan: Automobile in American Life and Society. 2004. Archived from the original on 2010-11-13. Retrieved 2010-11-13. After his retirement from General Motors, Mitchell operated a private design consulting firm, William L. Mitchell Design, from 1977 to 1984. 
  • "William L. Mitchell, Auto Executive, 76". New York Times. New York, New York: The New York Times Company. 1988-09-15. Archived from the original on 2010-11-13. Retrieved 2010-11-13. William L. Mitchell, a former vice president for design at the General Motors Corporation, died of heart failure Monday at William Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, Mich. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Crippen, David R. (1985). "The Reminiscences of William L. Mitchell". Automobile in American Life and Society. Dearborn, Michigan: Automobile in American Life and Society. Archived from the original on 2010-11-13. Retrieved 2010-11-13. 
  • Cantey, Mark R. (January 2008). Driving Style: GM Design’s First Century (Hardcover ed.). United States of America: MRC Publishing, Inc. ISBN 978-0-615-26435-6.  Officially Licensed by General Motors Design, a chronicle of GM's first century of design
  • Lamm, Michael; Holls, Dave (1996). "Chapter 10: The Mitchell Years". A Century of Automotive Style: 100 Years of American Car Design (Hardcover ed.). Stockton, California, United States: Lamm-Morada Publishing Company Inc. pp. 172–187. ISBN 978-0-932128-07-2. 

External links[edit]