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Classic Cars Wiki

William L. "Bill" Mitchell (July 2, 1912 Cleveland, Ohio — September 12, 1988 Royal Oak, Michigan) was an American automobile designer. Mitchell worked briefly as an advertising illustrator and as the official illustrator of the Automobile Racing Club of America before being recruited by Harley Earl to join the Art and Colour Section of General Motors in 1935. Mitchell is responsible for creating or influencing the design of over 72.5 million automobiles produced by GM, including such landmark vehicles as the 1938 Cadillac Sixty Special, the 1949 Cadillac Coupe DeVille, the 1955-57 Chevrolet Bel Air, the 1963-65 and 1966-67 Buick Riviera, the 1963-67 Corvette Stingray, the 1975-79 Cadillac Seville, and the 1970-81 Chevrolet Camaro. Mitchell spent the entirety of his 42 year career in automobile design at General Motors, eventually becoming Vice President of Design, a position he held for 19 years until his retirement in 1977.

Early life and education[]

Bill Mitchell was the son of a Buick dealer and developed a talent for sketching automobiles at an early age. Mitchell attended the Carnegie Institute of Technology in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and later studied at the Art Students' League in New York, New York.

At Barron Collier Advertising[]

After completing art school, Mitchell joined the New York City based Barron Collier Advertising where he prepared layouts and advertising illustrations, including U.S. advertisements for MG cars. While working at the agency, Mitchell met brothers Barron Collier, Jr., Miles Collier and Sam Collier, who had founded the Automobile Racing Club of America (ARCA) (a forerunner of the Sports Car Club of America) in 1931. Mitchell became the official illustrator of the club and his sketches for the club eventually came to the attention of Harley Earl, then head of General Motors Art and Colour Section.

At General Motors Corporation[]

Art and Colour Section[]

Based on sketches Mitchell created as the official illustrator for the ARCA, Harley Earl recruited Mitchell to General Motors' then new Art and Colour Section on 15 December 1935.

Chief Designer, Cadillac[]

In 1936 Earl appointed Mitchell as the Chief Designer in the then newly created Cadillac design studio.

Director of Styling[]

On May 1, 1954 Mitchell became General Motors Director of Styling under Harley Earl.

Vice President, Styling Section[]

When Earl retired in December 1958, Mitchell succeeded Earl as General Motors Vice President, Styling Section.Mitchell set out to break with the styling cues used under Harley Earl, wanting to eliminate chrome excess, fat fins and similar signature marks.


In the sixties, Mitchell promoted what he called the "sheer look," a more aerodynamic, "shoulderless" drop off from a car's windows to its sides.

Mitchell gave GM designers the assignment of combining Rolls Royce and Ferrari styling cues to create Buick's classic 1963 Riviera. According to a popular story, Mitchell got the idea for the Riviera in Paris. He had originally envisaged the design for Cadillac Division, as a new La Salle, "a baby Cadillac". An encounter with a shark, while skin diving in the Bahamas, inspired Mitchell's Corvette Shark show car, his SS racer and the production 1963 Corvette Stingray, largely designed by Larry Shinoda, under Mitchell's direction.

Mitchell's fondness for split rear windows as featured on the 1957 Buick and 1963 Corvette Stingray coupe wasn't shared by his fellow stylists or the buying public and both cars dropped the feature after public resistance.


During the 1973-74 energy crisis, which brought on a greater demand for smaller cars in place of the larger cars that had been GM's bread and butter profit machine for decades, Mitchell oversaw the styling and design efforts of GM's downsized full-sized and intermediate-sized cars which were introduced in 1977 and 1978, respectively, some of the last designs that he would lead--and all based on themes first developed in his 1975 Cadillac Seville. However, when it came to compact and subcompact cars, Mitchell reflected that "Small cars are like vodka. Sure people will try them out but they won't stay with them."

Bill Mitchell retired from General Motors in July 1977 after 42 years of service.


Following his retirement from General Motors, Mitchell ran William L. Mitchell Design, a private, design consulting firm, from 1977 to 1984.

Bill Mitchell died of heart failure at William Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, Michigan, on September 12, 1988.

Awards and recognition[]

Bill Mitchell was inducted into the Corvette Hall of Fame by the National Corvette Museum in 1998.