Journal: Expelled From Design School, Larry Shinoda Designed an Icon

Expelled From Design School, Larry Shinoda Designed an Icon

Avatar By Yoav Gilad
December 1, 2014
13 comments

Most people haven’t graduated from the Art Center College of Design. Granted that most people also haven’t attended the school, but a healthy number of those who have been accepted also fail to graduate from the demanding institution. But few of those go on to become design legends as Larry Shinoda did.

Lawrence Kiyoshi “Larry” Shinoda was born in Los Angeles, CA in 1930 and grew up loving cars, sketching them, like many other boys, in his grade-school books. His talent was fostered and while he messed around, racing hot rods on Los Angeles’s streets, he decided to pursue a career in auto design that led him to Art Center.

But he found the curriculum stifling, sometimes too whimsical and impractical. Labeled a malcontent, he was kicked out of Art Center and, based on later interviews, seemed relieved by his expulsion. But his connection to the school would serve him well as he was invited to present to Ford (after he’d been kicked out) by a product design teacher.

Ford’s designers were so impressed by his work that they hired him a few months later. Shinoda’s first stint lasted about a year, after which he went to Packard for an even shorter stay–seven months. Work at Packard was so slow that he wound up working on the Indy 500-winning Watson-Offenhauser and helping to shape its body. It was at this point that Shinoda’s career took off.

General Motors hired the mostly self-taught prodigy as a senior designer after only eighteen months in the industry. Following a much-abbreviated orientation, Shinoda went to work in the Chevrolet studio where his design proposal for the 1959 Chevy caught management’s eye. They selected his work as it was a radical departure from the ‘58s and also pioneered a new fabrication method that allowed for much tighter, sharper creases.

An opportune, coincidental drag race with GM’s Vice-President of Design, Bill Mitchell, further cemented his stature in the studio. One night, shortly after designing the ‘59s, while driving home in his 1955 Ford Thunderbird he happened to line up next Mitchell at a red light. Mitchell was in a red, supercharged Pontiac and, wanting to show the T-bird up, took off as soon as the lights changed. Shinoda didn’t back down, with a Stroppe race-prepped Ford stock-car engine under the hood, and outran Mitchell easily.

A few days later, Mitchell visited the Chevy studio inquiring about the white T-bird and was pointed to Shinoda. He asked Shinoda to pull it into the garage and “just about had a heart attack.” The car was equipped with a full roll cage, two four-barrel carburetors, headers, and heavy-duty shocks. The car convinced Mitchell that Shinoda was a die-hard racecar guy and he was immediately switched to working on the Corvette.

It was in this role that Shinoda helped design the now-legendary 1963 Chevy Corvette, the split-window coupe. In typical fashion, people debate who came up with the initial concept, but it is clear that Shinoda was the man who refined and finalized the design. Many years later, he claimed that the car was supposed to be much more aerodynamic than it actually was, but that he and Mitchell had been misled by the engineers.

Shinoda would ultimately be responsible for the Mako Shark concept that led to the third generation Corvette and the XP-819, a mid/rear-engine Corvette concept developed in the early ‘60s. In 1968, GM Executive VP “Bunkie” Knudsen was hired by Ford and managed to hire Shinoda once he got there.

His first project was to design a high-performance version of the Mustang that he dubbed the “Boss” supposedly in tribute to Knudsen. Following the Boss, Shinoda led the design of the 1970-3 Mustangs too, but when Knudsen was fired in ’69, Shinoda left too.

It was shortly after this that Shinoda opened his own studio and began consulting for the large Detroit automakers. He was one of three freelance designers working under contract with American Motors Corp. on the Jeep ZJ, which later became the Grand Cherokee. He continued working as a designer into the late 1990s when he died of heart failure while awaiting a kidney transplant. The fact that he designed the most beautiful American car ever is reason enough to acknowledge him, but when you consider his role in so many other projects it’s astounding that more people don’t know his name.

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Craig T. WatanabeRacerhead2John CozziCarlos FerreiraRichard Pickering Recent comment authors
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Craig T. Watanabe

Uh, where’ve you been? Every car guy has heard of Larry Shinoda.

Racerhead2
Racerhead2

I met him after writing to him directly on doing some freelance work. We met at the lobby of a Anaheim hotel. He was there attending his unveiling of the Gibson guitar. This was the first time I met him but quickly got to understand his passion and temper. He was telling me about what he worked on in the past and also how Jeep screwed him over when he proposed the Grand Cherokee design to them. His design was one of the 3 proposals, but Jeep told him that they decided not to use his design. Then they digitized… Read more »

Carlos Ferreira
Carlos Ferreira

It’s funny that Art Center loves to brag about him attending, conveniently omitting the fact that they kicked him out.

John Cozzi
John Cozzi

And I recalll when I was in my early teens and the school was still in Hancock Park at one of their open weekends – probably the summer break – they proudly displayed the Mako Shark on their front lawn.

Richard Pickering

I had the privilege of meeting Shinoda at a car event in the Detroit area in 1991. He shared his story of the design of the ’69 Camaro Cowl Induction hood…arguably the cleanest cold-air hood of the era! Seems that during the spring of 1968, four or five General Motors execs returning from a “liquid lunch” decided to drop in on Shinoda’s GM Design Studio #1. They had finally figured that high performance Camaros needed to jump on the popular “cold-air hood” bandwagon, and they handed Shinoda four ball-point sketches on half-damp cocktail napkins…designs that could only look good through… Read more »

John Sanderson
John Sanderson

What is not well known was Shinoda’s involvement & design of the 1965 Watson Quad Cam Indy cars. Driven by Ward & Branson, the #4 Branson car came in 8th place after starting in 18th. These cars were the 1st bottom breather designs at Indy & part of a 4 car team created by Watson- 2 roadsters & 2 mid-engined. This car has now been restored by Bill Davis, ex-GM Studio Chief, & has been at Indy Vintage events several times. This was the last full team cars constructed in Watson shops. The Ward car was subsequently crashed & does… Read more »

Wallace Wyss
Wallace Wyss

I knew Larry after his stint at Ford. I always admired that , though he was in The Camps as a child (maybe Manzanar) he wasn’t intimidated to go to Detroit and work where he would be the only Japanese face. He also was a boon to auto historians because he devised many ways to sneak his drawings out, otherwise we wouldn’t know about projects that died a-bornin (like the mid-engine Mach 2C), Now that a guy who was only an intern a few years before the Corvette Stingray production car was done goes around being mentioned as the “Stingray”… Read more »

karl rossman
karl rossman

While a student at Center for Creative Studies, in the late 80’s, i did some freelance design work for Larry. He definitely had an edge and an attitude about him. I got the impression he thought he was the greatest car designer ever and he didst mind letting me know. Only later in my career did I find out how instrumental he was in the development of so many iconic cars. I did a lot of design work for Larry. It always took a lot of effort to get him to pay up but he always did.

Bernie
Bernie

Yoav Gilad, you are to be congratulated. I don’t know where you find these stories, or get the ideas for them, but you keep turning out some excellent content. Bravo!

LeongSoon
LeongSoon

Amazing to find out so many cars I like have been designed by the same person!

Dustin Rittle
Dustin Rittle

This is definitely wallpaper material for me. I have always loved alot of the designs that he was apart of. With that being said he does kinda get over looked when you ask about American designers. Another great article as always!

The Revs Institute
The Revs Institute

Incredible Story & Man.

TJ Martin
TJ Martin

Film maker Werner Herzog has been quoted as saying ; ” Consider failing out of Film School an honor ” Simple fact is when it comes to the ‘ arts ‘ .. all of the arts .. there’s only so much a school/institution of higher learning has to offer . The ‘ degree ‘in reality being much less important than the interaction .. experience as well as time to develop that the educational experience can offer . Too bad the corporate world these days has chosen to forget/ignore that reality across the board … which is to say .. the… Read more »