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The Heritage Of GM Design

The Heritage Of GM Design

In a fairly nondescript warehouse in Sterling Heights, Michigan sits the GM Heritage Center. It is made up of approximately 600 cars and trucks from GM’s storied past–some of which never hit the road.

Those 600 vehicles in the collection include:

  • GM industry firsts
  • Experimental and concept cars
  • Styling one-offs
  • Milestone production vehicles (VIN #1 or last VIN builds).

While the Center is not open to the public, GM business units and car clubs can rent it for meetings and events.

Heritage Center Purpose

The Heritage Center opened in 2004 to help consolidate all of GM’s vehicle collections.  It was rumored to be a place where GM Designers could go to get inspiration for new vehicle designs. 

Sadly, it is not a complete collection.  Missing  are any vehicles from Saturn, Hummer or Saab–iconic brands that were discontinued during the GM bankruptcy in 2009.  Unfortunately, those vehicles were sold at the Barrett-Jackson auction.

Vehicles On Display

As noted above, GM has about 600 vehicles in this collection.  Only about 150-200 are actually on display due to the size of the warehouse.

I visited the Heritage Center a few times for meetings when I worked at GM.  My last time was in 2014, when I conducted a meeting for a group of digital marketing specialists.  It made an interesting backdrop to talk about the future of digital marketing, surrounded by all of those older vehicles!

Shown below are a sample of the vehicles found on display. You can see many more vehicles from the collection HERE.

Picky Designers

That last picture is the 1961 Chevrolet Corvette Mako Shark.  The basic lines of this experimental show car were inspired by a real Mako Shark caught off the coast of Florida by Bill Mitchell, vice president of General Motors Styling Staff. 

The show car is finished in a fancy paint scheme based on the natural coloring of the shark Bill Mitchell landed.  

The GM painters had trouble getting the colors correct on the car, so Mr. Mitchell kept ordering repaints to get it right.  After each repaint, he would show them the shark mounted on his office wall with instructions to copy the shark’s colors.  I’m not sure how many repaints took place, but rumor has it the painters decided to take the shark off the wall and paint IT to match the car.  

The next morning Bill Mitchell arrived to the styling studio to see the latest repaint of the car.  He looked at the car, then the shark (now remounted to his office wall) and exclaimed that they finally got it right!

New Facility Coming Soon

GM announced last month that they are going to move the entire Heritage Center collection to their empty Customer Care and Aftersales facility in Grand Blanc, MI (near Flint).  This larger facility will allow more vehicles to stay in the collection, along with product catalogs, sales brochures, press materials and other promotional records.

This is a good move on GM’s part.  The Grand Blanc facility provides a number of advantages over the current space in Sterling Heights. It has easy freeway access and is situated on 34 acres of land, partially surrounded by a wooded area with walking trails. The added space allows for more vehicle and archive displays and a greater ability to host events in the space.

I’m really glad GM has plans to keep and grow the collection. It is truly unique and deserves to live on.

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