Filed under: GM
Even for those who didn't know him during his glory days, Chuck Jordan was a familiar face on the auto show circuit. Slowed only a bit by a stroke, he was still present at a surprising number of the major shows, squeezed in with the assorted reporters, photographers and videographers, paying close attention to - and offering his perceptions on - the latest and greatest the industry could roll out.
I last saw Chuck Jordan earlier this year, not long before his death last week at the age of 83. The silver-white hair had thinned and the face was a bit gaunt, but he was still the trim and dapper silver fox I first met shortly before he assumed the design helm at General Motors. As only the fourth global styling chief in GM's history, Jordan was a powerful man - too much so, contended his critics - one whose simple whim could transform or even kill an entire product program.
In his early years, the young designer earned kudos for stand-out efforts like the 1958 Corvette and, most notoriously, the '59 Cadillac Eldorado, with its over-the-top tailfins - which Jordan likened to "letting the tiger out of the cage." He was a critical force in the golden era of GM design, when the maker's striking approach to styling helped it capture more than half of the overall U.S. new car market.
By the time he assumed the title of vice president of the General Motors Design Staff, on October 6, 1986, however, GM was already in a steep decline. And the company Jordan left six years later was at best a hobbled giant. Today, looking back, it's disheartening to realize how few truly significant products made it through his lavishly-furnished office at the General Motors Technical Center.
Paul A. Eisenstein is Publisher of TheDetroitBureau.com, and a 30-year veteran of the automotive beat. His editorials bring his unique perspective and deep understanding of the auto world to Autoblog readers on a regular basis.
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