Renowned automobile designer Ed Welburn always knew exactly what he wanted. Aged 11, after falling in love with the Cadillac Cyclone at a car show, he wrote to General Motors, asking how he could work for them one day. Fastidious planning for the future paid off, and his early focus paved the way for an impressive career. Over the course of 44 years with the company, Welburn was the Vice President of Global Design, from 2003 to 2016, overseeing the design of iconic vehicles such as the Chevrolet Corvette Stingray and the Chevrolet SSR. His philosophy can be summed up in two phrases: clear vision and great collaboration.
‘I don't design the cars for me… I design for customers,’ he says. ‘You've got to listen to them, spend time with them.’ Here, Welburn talks car design mastery, life after General Motors, and his belief that design and engineering should be one.
Q: THE WAY YOU PURSUED YOUR DREAM IS INSPIRATIONAL TO YOUNG PEOPLE. WHAT ADVICE CAN YOU GIVE SOMEONE STARTING OUT IN THE AUTOMOTIVE INDUSTRY?There are no shortcuts in pursuing a career in design. It’s hard work, requiring years of study at design school and a clear vision. That said, it is incredibly rewarding.
Q: WHEN THE TRANSFORMERS MOVIE CAME OUT, DID YOU REALISE WHAT AN IMPACT BUMBLEBEE WOULD HAVE? When developing the Camaro as a concept vehicle, as Bumblebee, and finally as a production car, we were confident in what we were creating, but I wasn’t prepared for the emotional reaction that audiences had worldwide when Bumblebee first emerged from that tunnel in that first Transformers movie. People cheered out loud.
Q: AS A JUDGE AT PEBBLE BEACH CONCOURS D’ELEGANCE IN CALIFORNIA, WHAT DESIGN ELEMENTS DO YOU LOOK FOR?My role as an honorary judge at classic car events around the world is to judge vehicles on style. There are other judges who assess the vehicle in incredible detail for the correct nut, bolt, or interior stitching. It’s my responsibility to judge the vehicles proportions, colour and materials, and all-around beauty.
Q: HOW DOES THE AUTOMOBILE DESIGN PROCESS COMPARE TO CUSTOM-MADE TAILORING?Actually, the process is quite similar. It all begins with understanding the customer, his or her priorities, as well as the subject’s size and proportions. Colour, materials and character of line can enhance the proportions and elegance of a car as well as the person being fitted for a suit.
Q: WHAT DETAILS ARE IMPORTANT TO YOU WHEN WORKING WITH YOUR TAILOR TO CREATE A LOOK?
At times, I’m looking for a design that is somewhat edgy, and at times I want a design that’s timeless. I need and want both, but most importantly,
I want comfort. What I wear must feel almost as comfortable as pyjamas.
Q: WHAT’S YOUR FAVOURITE ITEM OF TAILORING?
I first had custom-made tailoring when I was 14-years-old and still growing. That suit, that experience, and that relationship with that tailor, who’s name was Dario, was incredible and
I loved the suit. Fast forward a few decades, and I must say that I’m enjoying my relationship with Clements and Church. I take pleasure in everything they’ve created for me, and I can’t wait for the delivery of our latest collaboration.
Q: BEST CAR EVER DESIGNED?You saved the most difficult question for last! It’s hard to compare a Ferrari 275 GTB with a 1949 Cadillac Sedanette, a Lamborghini Miura, a classic Jaguar XKE, an Aston Martin, or even a 1957 Corvette to a 63 Corvette Stingray. I love them all. Sadly, I only own one of those cars, and this is my shortlist of best designs. I’d probably say that the best design which I was responsible for was the C7 Corvette.
BESPOKE BEST Images Above: Welburn with his 1957 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray, a retirement gift Selecting fabric with Clements and Church Director Aaron John