Pioneering GM Design Legend Ed Welburn Retires After 44 Years

Photo: Gary Malerba/AP
Photo: Gary Malerba/AP

Ed Welburn, General Motors’ top designer who oversaw the automaker’s modern rebirth with cars like the Chevrolet Camaro and Cadillac CTS, is retiring after 44 years with the company. The good news? His replacement led the design of the drool-inducing sex-machine called the Buick Avenir Concept.

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The story of Ed Welburn is a bit of a fairytale. Inspired by old Cadillacs and Corvettes, he wrote a letter to GM when he was 11, asking how he could become a car designer. The company wrote back with suggestions, and the rest is history.

After receiving the message back from GM, he went on to study sculpture and product design at the College of Fine Arts at Howard University. He was then offered an internship at GM design, and after graduation, got a full-time offer.

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His first job with the company in 1973 took him to the Buick Exterior Studio, where he worked on the Buick Riviera and Park Avenue. A couple years later, he was moved to the Oldsmobile Exterior Studio, where he designed the 257 MPH Aerotech speed-record car.

After 15 years at Olds, Welburn was named the chief designer of the Oldsmobile Studio, where he pioneered the designs of the Cutlass Supreme. Following a couple year stint with Saturn, which led to a job in Germany, Welburn became director of GM’s Advanced Design Center in Warren, Michigan, and was later appointed executive director of body-on-frame architecture design.

In 2003, Welburn became the sixth VP of GM Design North America, and two years later was promoted to VP of GM Global Design, making him the first black global design leader of any car company ever.

Ed Welburn, former head of Global Design, left, retires and leaves the job to Michael Simcoe, who was VP of GM International Design. photo: GM
Ed Welburn, former head of Global Design, left, retires and leaves the job to Michael Simcoe, who was VP of GM International Design. photo: GM
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Now, after 44 years at the company, he’s retiring and leaving the reins with Michael Simcoe, the man credited with leading the design of the gorgeous Buick Avenir Concept. Seems like a good person to leave reins with. The Australian has been working with GM for 33 years, and will be their first non-American head of design.

So now that he’s the big-shot, he can go ahead and give the Avenir the green-light for production, right? Right?

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Sr. Technical Editor, Jalopnik. Always interested in hearing from auto engineers—email me. Cars: Willys CJ-2A ('48), Jeep J10 ('85), Jeep Cherokee ('79, '91, '92, '00), Jeep Grand Cherokee 5spd ('94).

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DISCUSSION

1955mercury
55_mercury

I had the pleasure of meeting Mr Welburn a number of years back. He was one of the most chilled, laid-back, and clearly very talented guys I’ve met. Amazing too given that he rose through the ranks almost from the ground-up. Ed, if you’re reading this- congratulations. A retirement well deserved.