Guest Post: Chevrolet Celebrity Eurosport
Eurosport and Back To Basics
I was Chief Designer in Advanced Design Studio #4 and we were designing a future A-car for Chevrolet. The design was later taken to the Chevrolet #2 Studio where Gordon Brown was Chief Designer. They worked to productionize the design for several months; I would make occasional visits to see how it was proceeding.
Then, Gordon was transferred to Opel in Germany and I was transferred to Chevrolet #2, replacing him to finish the design of the A-car (and the other high volume Chevrolet mid-size and small cars). It would eventually be named the Celebrity.
[The cars pictured in this post are production models, not the showcars being discussed.]
It started with a question
Ralph Amprim was the Assistant Chief Designer, I had worked with him In Oldsmobile Studio years earlier on the Toronado. Leif Chapman was working there as a designer.
I recall that one of the first questions that I asked Leif after arriving was whether or not there was a Chevrolet A-car that would be seen as a foreign competitor. He said “Yes, you can get a paint stripe and styled steel wheels with black tires.” I was uncertain about the quality of that solution but we were very busy with the work at hand and could not take the time to propose a special model at that time. Fake wire wheel covers and white wall tires were selling like hot cakes.
Shortly after that conversation, VW came out with a special version of the Scirocco with a red stripe in the bodyside molding. Leif saw the red stripe as the design differential between a sporty model and the base Celebrity. We had finished the car that was being released for 1984 and tried to put an import fighter together but there was no money to invest in tools for the pieces we needed.
We were then asked by Chevrolet to do a minimal facelift for 1985. We developed a new black bodyside molding scheme with an integral light gray painted stripe. We planned that the stripe, changed to red from light gray, would open the door to a new model, a Eurosport version. Leif coined the name.
We proposed a Eurosport version of the car with styled steel wheels and black tires as a two or four door. The first proposal was not very well received. Chevrolet could not understand why any customer would want a sporty four door and because the budget did not include it we were not successful even though we tried twice. Marketing was not the least bit interested and Bob Lund, the Vice President of Chevrolet gave us no support.
The Chevrolet engineers that we worked with understood what we were trying to do but had no power to help us; however, the A-car Chief engineer, Norm Scholler liked the proposal as a performance car and asked us to make a show car to present to the press at the Chevrolet launch of the 1985 Celebrity. He, however, wanted a two door. We thought that two doors were dying and that the future, highly influenced by the four door foreign imports, would be a sporty looking four door.
We designed the press car with the GM #2 Red accents on the moldings and lettering. We created a new black cherry metallic color for the car, with a very dark cherry matte finish for all the moldings, the grille, etc. We used, for the first time, a new spun gold bow tie emblem on the grill. We put the Citation X-11 aluminum wheels on it with big black tires; the car looked great and showed very well with the press. Norm had a special V-6 built up so that the performance would be enhanced. He also changed the shocks and springs, using a police option for the parts. This was another problem as Chevrolet felt that if we created a special model that looked sporty it should have a higher level of performance than the base car.
The perception of performance values were shifting and I felt that sporty looking could go with high fuel economy as well as higher power, but Chevrolet did not see it that way. We needed some kind of a breakthrough. As we continued to develop the concept I was told of a request by Group Vice President Howard Karell. He wanted engineering to reduce the high cost of manufacturing by reducing the number of part numbers and options in the plants. The production variations were calculated into the hundreds of thousands for every GM model because you could order any color, stripe, tire, interior, wheel, option, etc. It was a scheduling nightmare for the plants and we were told that each part number cost the corporation $5,000.
Still trying to figure out how to sell the Eurosport to Chevrolet we linked it to a proposal that we called “Back To Basics”; that is, reduce every car to a best model that included the options that most people wanted, limit the other options and bite the bullet and define models as the foreign auto makers were doing. We took the Eurosport design concept and coupled it with our proposal for this new corporate request and proposed something very new for Chevrolet. That was, every car was complete, no missing moldings, trim, bad color combinations, etc.
We had a support tag line for this Eurosport concept that we included with the Back To Basics Proposal; that line was, “Every Car A Show Car”. All this was presented on one small and one large board in the Chevrolet Two Studio. Henry Haga, my boss, saw it and supported the proposal; I presented it to the Design Staff management. They were very enthusiastic and Irv Rybicki our VP stated that the answer to the proliferation problem had to come from Design Staff. Soon he had all the Divisional VPs walking through Chevrolet Two. We were the only ones in the whole corporation who did anything about Howard Karell’s request as marketing did not want to upset the system that they had, they saw it as an advantage over the imports–wrong.
Continue to page 2, below.