Journal: Go Fully Inside The General Motors Design Center

Go Fully Inside The General Motors Design Center

By Michael Banovsky
March 4, 2016
8 comments

Photos courtesy of RM Sotheby’s

Every now and then, auction companies offer something other than vehicles or memorabilia. I can’t say for certain exactly what a trip inside the world-renowned General Motors Design Center is worth, but I can say from experience that it’s definitely an interesting place to visit.

When I reviewed new cars, on press trips automakers would often roll back the curtain a bit for briefings, giving the media a glimpse at products, designs, or technology a few years out. As a result, I’ve seen a few of the rooms inside both the General Motors Design Center and Ford’s studios, and it’s an interesting experience. Clay models, renderings—“Will the nose really look like that?”—and other topics for discussion are bound to come up.

It’s something a private citizen rarely gets a chance to do, and so my ears perked up when I read that RM Sotheby’s and Cadillac are auctioning off a day at the Design Center as the personal guest of Ed Welburn, Vice President of Global Design.

First, the buildings themselves are a marvel of Mid-Century Modern design, but the schedule listed online shows that the winning bidder will help brainstorm a future vehicle, tour the facility with designers, and hang out with Wellburn in a “Virtual Reality Studio”. I think there’s even more to the day, as RM Sotheby’s opines, “Together, it will be a truly intimate design engagement with an automotive legend full of special sneak peaks and surprises…perhaps even a test ride in one of their latest concepts or a historic-great like the Cyclone.”

How much? Well, the experience is being offered without reserve during RM Sotheby’s Amelia Island Auction on March 12, and all proceeds are going to benefit Spina Bifida of Jacksonville. Interested bidders can be at the event, or remote via phone or the internet—a trip to the design studio is a great reason to spend a few more days visiting Detroit, right?

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pope400
pope400
6 years ago

Can anyone identify the little white model race car on the table in the office photo?

Christopher Gay
Christopher Gay
6 years ago
Reply to  pope400

Hard for my eyes to see, but looks related to the Chaparral program.

Doug Miller
Doug Miller
6 years ago
Reply to  pope400

I agree it’s too hard to see, but I think it looks too modern for a Chapparal. For one thing the wing is too small…unless it’s a modern Chapparal concept design.

Doug Miller
Doug Miller
6 years ago
Reply to  pope400

Oops, make that Chaparral. I wish you could edit a comment….

Doug Miller
Doug Miller
6 years ago

Years ago I worked for GM, and I visited the Design Center once or twice a week. Some random memories….

I often walked through the executive garage and in the winter months I would see design chief – and Ferrari enthusiast – Chuck Jordan’s F40 under a cover. I thought it was pretty ballsy to store your Ferrari in the GM executive garage.

I remember the stairs from the lobby to the second floor (seen in the last photo above). They were strange – very little rise from one step to the next. I never knew if I should take them one at a time, which felt weird taking such baby steps, or two at a time, which was also awkward. But they looked nice!

You needed to enter a 4-digit code to get into the individual studios upstairs. I visited multiple studios and couldn’t remember the different codes. But it didn’t matter because someone had written the codes in the mortar between the bricks near each lock.

Several of the designers had Ferraris. One day Sergio Pininfarina visited Design Center and the designers put on a car show out front for the occasion. I recall several Ferraris and I think at least 1 Alfa.

I really enjoyed visiting Design Center and seeing the clay designs change from one visit to the next. In particular it was fun to see the C5 Corvette and the fourth generation Camaro take shape.

Jarrod H
Jarrod H
6 years ago

I dig the MCM vibe.

As for decades behind? How? How are they decades behind in design and engineering? Just because you are not a fan of their current line does not mean that they are behind in anything. Also, bailout waiting to happen? Doubtful. Their sales are up. Way up. I would like to know what you think is a ‘cutting edge’ company in design and engineering?

Jarrod H
Jarrod H
6 years ago
Reply to  Jarrod H

Oh, and one other thing. I appreciate the whole auction for a research organization thing but that completely shuts out a vast majority of the automotive enthusiast public. I would LOVE to see something like this but will never have the disposable, tax write off income to afford to be the winning bidder.

Guitar Slinger
Guitar Slinger
6 years ago

Jeeze ! No wonder GM can’t get it right and is at least ten years behind the times when it comes to automotive design and engineering . Hell … even their design studios are still stuck in Mid – Century Modern ! One can only imagine what decade their engineering staffs surroundings are stuck in .

GM … another bailout just waiting to happen .