Guiding General Motors design into the modern age
Charles “Chuck” Jordan was one of the most successful and influential automotive designers of the 20th century. Born in Whittier, California in 1927, he graduated with honors from Fullerton Union High School in 1945 before enrolling at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
While at MIT, Jordan earned a scholarship by winning the Fisher Body Craftsman’s Guild model car competition. At the awards ceremony, Harley Earl’s assistant, Howard O’Leary, invited Jordan to come to work at General Motors after graduation. Jordan earned his mechanical engineering degree in 1949 and was hired by GM as a junior engineer in the styling department. Jordan’s talents quickly set him apart from his peers, and in 1953, Earl named him chief designer of GM’s special projects studio. Jordan designed a number of GM Motorama vehicles during the 1950’s, including the 1955 Cameo truck and 1956 Buick Centurion. He also designed the futuristic Aerotrain. In 1957, Jordan was named chief designer for Cadillac, where he was responsible for many of the brand’s iconic finned designs. He would hold that position until 1967, when he became design director for Opel AG in Germany, where he was responsible for the designs of both the Opel Manta and GT. He returned to the United States in 1970 and was put in charge of styling for Buick, Oldsmobile, and Cadillac as well as commercial vehicles for Chevrolet and Pontiac. He became design director in 1977 and Vice President of GM design in 1986, a position once held by his mentor Harley Earl. Before reaching the age of mandatory retirement in 1992, Jordan oversaw redesigns of the Buick Reatta, Oldsmobile Aurora, and Chevrolet Camaro/Pontiac Firebird. Jordan also led the designs of the Oldsmobile Aerotech concept cars.
After retiring, Jordan began teaching automotive design at Valhalla High School in El Cajon, California. Following in the footsteps of icons like Harley Earl and Bill Mitchell, Charles Jordan made a lasting impact on GM design, having shaped some of the company’s most celebrated vehicles.