His time at Ford, White Motors, and as an independent designer will be featured in Part 2.
Text, images and captions on this post come from a 60-page reprint from Car Styling Vol. 18, 1977. I saw Larry Shinoda only once, at the SEMA show in the early ’90s.
Forty-seven year old Larry Shinoda is one of a number of Sourthern California native sons who have carved out successful careers in the automotive industry in Detroit. Few men have so dominated the field of transportation design from passenger automobiles, land speed record cars, Indianapolis and Can-Am racers, to motor homes, heavy-duty trucks, dragsters, snowmobiles, go-karts, farm tractors, farm implements, garden tractors, portable hi-pressure washers, and even lawn mowers, Larry Shinoda has lent his legendary touch.
Lawrence K. Shinoda. A child prodigy raised in the west coast world of racing. A man who blew apart or conceptions of what a car should be. A stylist/designer whose career has been as controversial as many of his designs.
Shinoda is outspoken, candid, humorous, and firmly believes in what he is doing. And what he is doing is creating some of the most exciting machinery and products seen on or off the road.
Shinoda spent twelve and one half years with General Motors. By the time he resigned his position as Chief Designer for Special Vehicles in 1968, he had left his imprint on every 1963 production and special show Corvette of the era, not to mention every special show Corvair, including what he feels is one of his personal most favorite projects and best contributions in design, the Monza GT show car, some of the Wide-Track Pontiacs, Z028 Camaro, the Astro series of show cars, and a fistful of others.
He was an artistically gifted child. A giant painting he did while in the third grade was displayed at the Los Angeles Country Fair, and later in the Los Angeles Art Museum for several years. But for Shinoda, the road to auto styling/design was through racing.
Nisei Shinoda was born in Los Angeles, California, March 25, 1930. He attended grade school in highland Park and Junior High School at Luther Burbank Junior high.
The Second World War saw Larry and his family evacuated to the Manzanar Concentration Camp in early 1942. This camp was in the cold, dusty, Owens Valley of California, situated between the Sierra Nevada/Mt. Whitney range and Inyo-Kern/Death Valley range. Larry’s father, the late Kiyoshi Shinoda, died when Larry was only three years old. His father’s family founded the San Lorenzo Nursery Company in San Lorenzo, California (near Oakland) in the early 1900s.
On graduation from Eagle Rock High School in 1948 and two years at Pasadena City College, Larry was called to active duty in the Air National Guard/Air Force fot two years which included a 16 month stint in Korea. He decided the nursery business was not his cup of tea and was drawn to the automotive industry through racing and by enrolling in Art Center School (Art Center College of Design).
While attending Art Center, Shinoda was racing his ’29 Ford roadster at the drag races turning the quarter mile at 138.88 MPH with an Oldsmobile V8 engine. In 1953 he was at the SCTA Bonneville Nationals with a Chrysler powered roadster that earned him the Class D record with a two way average of 166 MPH. He was also eligible for top eliminator at the first NHRA Nationals at Great Bend, Kansas in 1955. He won the Fuel Roadster class with an Ardun overhead adaption for the Ford flathead V8 engine. The Ardun heads were originally designed by Zora Arkus Duntov (the engineering father of Corvettes) while he worked for the Allard Motor Car Company in England. Duntov was to become a good friend and highly repsected person for Larry in later years at General Motors.
In late 1954 Ford Motor Company came to California to interview candidates for the Ford Styling Group in Detroit. The top executive of the group was Gene Bordinat, presently the Vice President of Design at Ford. Shinoda had studied at Art Center, and considered himself amply qualified. He was called by the late John Coleman and told to get his stuff together and come in for the interview. Dressed in pegged denim Levis, a Howard Racing Cam T-shirt, and an outlandish Hawaiian shirt, and armed with some race car renderings and car sketches (many of which he had just completed the evening before and while he was waiting for the interview), Shinoda was ready for the Ford brass.
To his way of thinking, Ford would be getting the better part of the deal. Shinoda would have to leave sunny California, his ten dollar a week room and board set-up and a better paying job as a commercial artist at Douglas Aircraft for cold, expensive Detroit and less initial pay. Shinoda wanted Ford to pay trip expenses for him (and his race car) to Detroit for a six month trial. If everything worked out, fine. They would pay him his asking price. If not, he was heading back to Los Angeles at his own expense. Shinoda recalls saying, ”You guys need me more than I need you.”
Despite the young man’s outlandish appearance and outrageous demands, (or maybe because of them), the Ford people were impressed by Shimoda. They agreed to give him a try and Larry Shinoda was on his way. Although the Ford Motor Company was later to have a dramatic impact on his career, Shinoda only stayed a brief year.
During that year he worked for John Najjar in an Advanced Design Studio. Designing portions of the Mercury Turnpike Cruiser show car. He was then transferred to Lincoln Studio and worked for Elwood Engle (who later went to Chrysler as VP of Styling), and George Walker, Ford’s VP of Styling). He worked on the ill-fated 1958 (bigger is better?) Lincoln.
Shinoda moved over to Studebaker-Packard in January 1956. But after thrashing for three months on the new Packard models, The Clipper/Predictor series, and a Studebaker Hawk show model for William M. Schmidt, VP of Styling, Dick Teague, Director of Styling, and his own boss Duane “Sparky” Bondstedt, he realized Packard was doomed as the models were shopped back from the tooling source with a “crash first” notice. While at Packard Shinoda worked with Dick MacAdam (now Chrysler VP of Design), Toshi Sakow (now heads up his own design firm in Teaneck, New jersey) who designed the interior of the European Air Bus airliner and had design many othe rwidely diversified products. John Z. DeLorean, was also at Packard as Chief Chassis Engineer. He and Shinoda left quickly to join GM in September that same year.
DeLorean to Pontiac as assistant Chief Engineer, under E.M. “Pete” Estes. Shinoda to GM Styling. Shinoda was interviewed by Jules Andratti and Mr. Harley Earl. Mr. Early hired him personally.
After some design work for Chevrolet on the 1959 models,he moved to Pontiac where he helped design the 1960-61 wide track models. Shinoda then moved to an advanced design studio and had his first involvement with Zora Arkus-Duntov on a very early attempt at designing a midship engine Corvette. Ron Hill was the studio assistant and then Chief Designer. Another move to a body development studio, taxed Shinoda’s patience, so he designed Buicks, Cadillacs, and limousines with racing numbers, mag wheels, stripes, and other goodies which upset his boss, to say the least.
He was finally transferred to the studio which was right for him. Soon some of the most exciting automobiles of the decade began coming out of the special Bill Mitchell/Shinoda studio, which was under the lobby in the basement. The Stingray, the 1963 Corvette, the Mako Shark I and II, the Corvair Super Spyder, the Monza GT and Monza SS. The Monza Jr. (Chevrolet Jr.), The Cerv I and II (Chevrolet Engineering Research Vehicles) for Duntov. The Astro I and the mid-engined Astro II, the XP-819 rear engine Corvette for Chevrolet Research and Development. The theme model for the 1968 Corvette production model, and a raft of specials for Chevy R & D. The Chaparral 2C and 2D race cars.
Shinoda had been promoted to Chief Designer of Chevrolet Studio 3 and moved to the warehouse (bowling alley) studio prior to the Mako Shark II and 1968 theme Corvette.
He was them promoted to Chief Designer for all special vehicles, which included coordinating efforts for engineering staff (Frank J. Winchell) and the corporate R & D groups. During this period he designed a three-wheeled commuter vehicle for Engineering Staff and a four wheel commuter car for Chevy R & D called the “Flint-stone.” It was a small front wheel drive four cylinder Corvair powered unit, which was bootleg modeled at Chevrolet Engineering. Shinoda worked with Vince Piggins and his product performance group on the 1967 Z-28.
Byt 1968 Shinoda was growing restless. Although he maintained his ties with racing, through working on Indy 500 crews, designing some items for Jack Brabham, Bruce McLaren, and the snowmobile line for Rupp Manufacturing and its others products (go karts, mini-bikes, and the off-road Ruppster). Shinoda was looking for new challenges. He was considering an offer from Toyota of America, but some of his friends told him to cool it—something big is in the wind.