GM Designer Paul Deesen, the Pontiac Strato Star, and Sebring 1957
Paul was interested in cars for as long as he can remember. One day the shop manager at a local Pontiac dealership let him drive his beautiful MG TC home to show his mother in hopes of getting one for his High School graduation, but that didn’t happen. So the first thing Paul spent his money on while in the Army was a MG TD. He attended many sports car races in the east, including the Sebring 12-hour International race.
Paul graduated from Pratt Institute in June, 1954 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Industrial Design. He was hired by GM Styling after being interviewed by Bill Mitchell, and began his career in the Orientation Studio, then was moved to Pontiac Studio under Paul Gillan and worked on the Strato Star show car.
Strato Star Show Car
The Army interrupted his career. Paul was inducted into the Army in December, 1954 at Fort Dix. He was transferred to Ft. Knox and served as battalion photographer, in the 339 Corps of Engineers unit. He went through training at Ft. Eustis for Project Dewline West (Alaska and Canada), where he served as instruction cadre in cargo registration. On return from the arctic, Paul made a plaster scale model of the future site of the Jamboree at Valley Forge that they were to build. He served on a survey crew, as a photographer, and as a company orderly. Paul was discharged in December, 1956.
Paul returned to Styling in January, 1957 to orientation studio for short period. There he worked on Stingray proposals. Then back to Pontiac studio under Paul Gillan and later under Joe Schemanski, and worked on the ’59 Pontiac. He contributed to the front and side spear, wheel discs, and rear quarter treatment. Upon transfer to Pontiac, Paul quickly sold his MG TD and moved into a new 1957 Corvette.
In late ’57 Paul was transferred to Chevrolet under Claire MacKichan. He worked on ’60–’63 Chevrolets, contributing to new fronts, side, and rear end treatments, front end panels and décor for the Corvair, and minor Corvette grille changes. He was credited for the ’61 front, the ’62 rear, and the ’61 Corvair front.
Paul’s photos from Sebring, 1957
In ’61 Paul moved to Buick under Bernie Smith. There he contributed to the ’63 Electras, LeSabres, and the compact Buick Skylark. Buick studio was taken over by Dave Holls. Paul also contributed to Riviera, Electra LeSabre, and the new Skylark designs.
Paul was promoted to Asistant Chief Designer in ’62 and transferred into Pontiac Studio under Jack Humbert for the ’64–’67 programs, including the new GTO option for LeMans, the B-body Catalina, the Grand Prix, the A-body LeMans, and the X-400 show car
He was again transferred to Moved to Buick in 1965, as Assistant to Dave Holls. He worked on the new Electra, LeSabre, Wildcat, Skylark, and GS models. Buick Studio was taken over by Don Lasky. Paul was moved to Studio X for a while to work on the ’67 Firebird lead-in.
On to Truck Studio in ’68 as Assistant to Bill Lange, and contributed to the birth of the Blazer and Jimmy, development of Chevrolet and GMC pickups, RTX and city bus, the El Camino for Chevrolet and GMC, and the Astro Cab (aluminum tilt) heavy-duty and medium duty front ends. Mike Lathers took over from Bill Lange as Truck Studio Chief. During that time the GMC Motor Home, medium and heavy-duty trucks, the General and G.M.C. STS bus were developed.
In ’70 Paul went down to Advanced Chevrolet under Dave Clark to help develop the new A-body sedan.
Paul was moved with Dave Clark in ’73 to run Buick Two Studio when Buick Studio was split. There he helped productionize the new Riviera. Paul also worked on the new Skylark FWD X-body and A-body platforms (Regal and Riveria show car).
Paul was moved into the Multipurpose Studio from ‘75–’78 where he worked on the LUV truck, the S-10 pickups, Blazer, the A-body wagon, and the Astro/Safari M-vans.
Paul spent ’79–’85 in Advanced 4 Studio under Kip Wasenko and worked on the last C-body RWD Cadillac, the new Pontiac F-body, and the Lotus Sport.
From ’86–’92 Paul was with Tom Peters in the Advanced Corvette Studio. ’92–’95 was spent with Jim Bieck in Advanced Chevrolet developing the ’04 Mote Carlo. Paul spent ’96 in the Advanced Truck Think Tank.
When I was at GM, Paul was always great to be around. Encouraging and uplifting with a great sense of humor. Thanks, Paul, for providing the content for this post, and your friendship.