Interview with Automotive Hall of Famer Ed Welburn – honoree at the Motor City Party during the Detroit Concours d’Elegance September 17th

Share

With the Detroit Concours d’Elegance festivities taking place September 17 – 18, 2022, the Motor City will be packed with immersive automotive experiences. On Saturday evening, the Motor City Party at the College for Creative Studies Taubman Center will pay tribute to 2022 Honoree, Ed Welburn. Enjoy a uniquely Detroit experience including a roundtable discussion with leaders of the car world, skyline views from the original office of Harley Earl on the 11th floor of this iconic Art Deco building, and a roving gourmet dinner and open bar.

Ed Welburn is a Detroit design legend and former General Motors Vice President of Global Design. Car and Driver described Welburn as “the man who brought beauty back to General Motors.” He was involved in the design of more than 500 different automobiles including cars that set records for speed on racetracks and sales in the marketplace. He holds the distinction of having been the highest-ranking Black-American in the global automotive industry.

Courtesy of Ed Welburn

The Motor City Party is your chance to hear from this car designer who spent his career helping produce models at GM. “When selecting an honoree for the all-new Detroit Concours there was only one choice, Ed Welburn,” said McKeel Hagerty, CEO, Hagerty. “Ed’s impact on the automotive industry and his connection to the Detroit Institute of Arts is without equal. I can’t imagine celebrating car culture in the Motor City without honoring him.”

“I’m excited about the Hagerty team’s forward-thinking idea to stage a concours in the cultural center of Detroit, a city with a rich automotive history and the heart of the future of the automobile,” said Welburn.

Welburn knew he wanted a career in automotive design by the age of eight, had an internship at GM after his junior year of college in 1971, and became the first African American hired to design GM vehicles the next year. By 2003, Welburn was named GM vice president of design, only the sixth person to have that role in the company’s history, making him the highest-ranked African American in the auto industry. After a 44 year career Welburn retired from GM in 2016. He is staying busy today working on a major movie project about the story of African American racing pioneer Charlie Wiggins called ‘Eraced’. He also says he sketches more now than at any other time in the past 30 years.

We had the chance to chat with Mr. Welburn ahead of the Detroit Concours d’Elegance where he will be honored and here is what we learned:

Q: Your career at GM spanned 44 years, during which the company grew into an international automotive force. How did your approach to design change when creating international products?

Welburn: General Motors has been a major international automotive force since the 1930s, but it was during the period in which I lead GM Design when the company, in particular Product Development, became global. The Design Team began by creating a network of design centers around the world which worked together as one global unit. We needed an intimate understanding of our customers and brands worldwide, and as the world grew smaller and all countries were exposed to the same design trends and customers had similar interest, we needed to understand the very sensitive cultural differences.

Steve Koss

Q: If you had to name the most moving design project for you as a designer, what would it be? Could be a production car, concept car or something else entirely.

Welburn: Every project in my career had significant meaning and was a great learning experience for me. I learned what to do, and what not to do. Aerotech was the first project in which I not only created the sketches that lead to its design, I also had a managing role in Aerotech’s development, and the final design set numerous worlds records for speed and endurance. The fifth-generation Camaro was significant because it brought energy to a brand which needed a spark, and it starred in the blockbuster Transformers movie as Bumblebee. C7 Corvette came at a very difficult period in General Motors and lifted the spirit of the entire design organization and had a positive influence on the design of all Chevrolets.

Q: What other industries and interest areas did you draw the most inspiration from?

Welburn: Inspiration comes from everywhere. It comes from music, the color patterns on a flower, leaf, or animal. It comes from new technologies, concept vehicles and product design, and it definitely comes from an identified need from customers.

Q: If you had to pick one vehicle you designed to drive on your favorite road trip, which one would it be and why?

Welburn: I would begin my drive in Rome at the Colosseum in a Corvette. Drive up through Italy to Monza, where I would take laps of that track, and then drive to Le Mans, France for the 24 Hour Race, with stops in Torino, Italy. Then I’d the Champagne district of France, take the Chunnel to England and end my drive at the Goodwood Festival of Speed. Okay, I’ve already done this in my own personal C7 Corvette.

Q: What is your view on the current state of EV design? Do you like where things are going in the industry during this generational shift to EVs?

Welburn: I am a big supporter of EV, and I also recognize that there are several issues which must be solved as we move to a world of EV. Although EVs are not dependent on visual design to make them function, EVs are a great opportunity for designers to create very inspired vehicles. Presently there is a very mixed bag of quality design, and at the end of the day, great design wins.

Tickets for the Detroit Concours weekend available now

Tickets and ticket packages for the inaugural Detroit Concours weekend, September 17-18, 2022, are available online at DetroitConcours.com.

Saturday’s Cars & Community is a family-friendly celebration of the automobile in the parking areas adjacent to Comerica Park. Cars & Community features three unique shows in one: RADwood, a celebration of 1980s and 1990s lifestyle, blending period correct dress with automotive awesomeness; Concours d’Lemons, a motoring festival designed to celebrate the oddball, mundane and unexceptional of the automotive world; and Cars & Caffeine, designed as a curated showcase for local car clubs. Youth will enjoy spending time in the Kids Zone, featuring racing simulators and more.

Saturday night is the Motor City Party that will provide a uniquely Detroit experience. The event will pay tribute to 2022 Honoree, Ed Welburn. Tickets are $275 and attendees must be over 21+. Hagerty Drivers Club members save 20%. The automobile industry is transitioning to a different future. To hear what this means for those who love to drive, come hear a lively discussion from several top auto executives who are leading this change and are also rabid driving and car enthusiasts.

Sunday’s Detroit Concours d’Elegance features 140 historically significant vehicles displayed on the lawns surrounding the Detroit Institute of Arts. Detroit-inspired featured classes include the Cars of Harley Earl, Detroit Autorama and the Cars of Woodward Ave. Built upon the Concours d’Elegance of America’s four decades of excellence, the reimagined event will place participants right in the middle of the thriving design, music, and sporting heart of Detroit. Hagerty is proud to invest in downtown Detroit, just blocks from where so much of car culture was forged.

Share Leave comment
Read next Up next: Rare, Porsche-themed speedboat crests $40K on BaT

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.