GM designers reveal forgotten Vauxhall concept at Festival of Speed

07 July 2016 | by Nick Hull

During the Goodwood Festival of Speed, Vauxhall brought together two of GM’s most senior designers, the soon-to-retire vice president of design, Ed Welburn, and VP of Opel/Vauxhall design, Mark Adams, to talk about their shared history of design in Europe. The evening was presented by English fashion designer and co-founder of Red or Dead, Wayne Hemingway.

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From left: vice president of GM design, Ed Welburn; co-founder of Red or Dead, Wayne Hemingway; and VP of Opel/Vauxhall design, Mark Adams

Supporting this, the 2016 GT Concept, which debuted at the Geneva motor show, was on display, along with its 1966 precursor, the Vauxhall XVR – a rare, orange gullwing-doored sports car. Completing a trio of GM Europe design concepts was a full-sized clay recreation of a Vauxhall that might have been, the 1966 Vauxhall GT, codenamed ‘XP 867’.

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From left: 1966 Vauxhall GT XP 867; 2016 Opel GT concept; 1966 Vauxhall XVR

Built to showcase Vauxhall’s design innovation in the mid-1960s, the XVR GT concept was designed after the opening of Vauxhall’s new-for-1964, £2.25m Design and Engineering Centre in Luton, UK, managed by the legendary Wayne Cherry and Brit David Jones.

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1966 Vauxhall XVR concept

Inspired by parent company GM’s work with concepts in the US – including the 1965 Mako Shark II – the XVR had a simple purity of line, gullwing doors forming a unique split windscreen, a clamshell bonnet and pop-up headlights. The development was explained by Cherry via a newly-made video.

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Project XP 867

However, that the car was too complex for production, and Adams then explained that recent archive photos had come to light showing how a second concept – called ‘Vauxhall GT’ – was created to show parent GM what could be achieved for production. And it’s this model that was recreated in the dual-concept styling clay, seen here in the UK for the first time at Goodwood.

Unbeknown to the Vauxhall studio, Opel in Germany were also working on a small GT, which was developed for production in 1969 and became one of the inspiration touchstones for the 2016 GT concept. Using the old photo images the team managed to calculate the dimensions and develop Alias data to allow the new double-sided clay to be cut last year to show how similar the two designs were.

Ed Welburn retires

The event also marked the final public appearance from Ed Welburn, who is retiring this month after a 44-year career at GM. Welburn is only the sixth VP of design in GM’s history, going right back to Harley Earl in the 1920s, a remarkable continuity that is unrivalled in the industry.

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Ed Welburn officially retired on 1 July

Welburn’s story is one that will resonate with many fellow car designers. “I’ve been drawing cars since I was ten,” said Welburn. “I saw a concept – the Cadillac Cyclone – at age eight and that made me decide that I wanted to become a car designer. It blew me away.”

Welburn admits his inspiration for design comes from his love of music, fashion and product design. “Bill Mitchell was a huge inspiration for me, as a designer and the way he managed the design studios. I’m totally thrilled at the creativity today that emanates from the 11 studios that I go into. I see the work and it’s just, wow!” Welburn says he’s been asked to stay on as consultant to lead the design of a new design centre for GM in Warren, MI, after his retirement this week.