My Car Quest

September 25, 2017

The Phantom: The Car That Signaled The End For Bill Mitchell At GM

by Wallace Wyss –

Now, fact is, I have been around since Methuselah and it so happens I used to hang out with Bill Mitchell, VP of Design at General Motors.

He was an outsize character, kind of like his namesake William “Billy” Mitchell (December 29, 1879 – February 19, 1936) who was a United States Army general who is today regarded as the father of the United States Air Force. Mitchell served in France during World War I and, by the conflict’s end, was in charge of all American air combat units in that country.

So it is with a little sadness that I tell the tale of Bill Mitchell’s last dream car, appropriately named the “Phantom.”

Bill Mitchell with Phantom

Bill Mitchell With The Phantom

Now it might have been one of his designers, Wayne Kady, who had the original idea back in 1967, as exemplified by his Sedanca de Ville (open front compartment) drawing. That is about as exaggerated as you can get in a car, similar to say a 1930’s Duesenberg. The production 1980 Cadillac Seville had much of that design, particularly with the “razor edge” rear lines similar to a coachbuilt Rolls Royce (more like a James Young than a Mulliner).

Wayne Kady

By Wayne Kady

The ’80 Seville had all that Rolls Royce influence starting with a straight up and down grille, the tapered down razor edge roof, the two tone paint.

But that car was tame compared to the Phantom which combined, you might say, all of the Mitchellisms together.

By Wayne Kady

By Wayne Kady

Firt of all it had a teardrop tailored motif on the bonnet, like the rear deck of a boat tailed prewar Auburn.

Then it had a tapered rear window like the Buick Riveria he got in production which in turn he had three customs made, called Silver Arrows with more chopped roofs than the production versions.

The 1977 vintage Phantom had the same Riviera “dip” in the beltline on the side below the window glass. The windows were so stylized they couldn’t roll down so it had little “toll windows” like a production Subuaru did decades later.

It wasn’t that big a car, built on a Pontiac Grand Prix chassis. The wheel covers were the tip off that this car harkened back to the Thirties as some Rolls Royces of the time had hubcaps like that.

Some probably worried at the time that Mitchell was spending beaucoup GM dollars on a car he planned to take with him to retirement (as Harley Earl had done, taking a handful of cars, but later giving some of them back). But as far as I can tell, the Phantom never had a working drive train.

By 1977, Mitchell was, I hate to say, a man living out of time sequence with changes in the industry. The industry was downsizing and here he had this odd 1930s-inspired car that didn’t fit with the cars GM made after the 1973 oil crisis.

Phantom

The Phantom

He might have been hoping against hope that car would be his legacy, the one they would build after he retired as a sort of “Tribute to Bill.” But when a styling show was planned for new designs at the Milford Proving Grounds, higher management told him not to bring it.

Howard Kehrl, executive vice president in charge of the product planning and technical staffs, was fingered as the man who put the stoppers on it. He saw Mitchell trying to have it slipped in the lineup and nixed it.

The fact that he was able to have it banned meant the end of Mitchell’s clout. Mitchell retired later that year. He opened his own studio but I don’t know what kind of contracts he got, if any.

He died in 1988.

So I look upon this design nostalgically. If allowed to be “green lighted” for production, it could have been the last “full Mitchell” (like the “full Monty”) but instead it still hides somewhere at GM, maybe never to be seen again.

Let us know what you think in the Comments.

Wallace Wyss

 
 
THE AUTHOR Wallace Wyss is a fine artist with an eye toward nostalgia. A list of prints of his work can be emailed if you request it by writing Photojournalistpro@gmail.com

 
 
 

 

 

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The Phantom: The Car That Signaled The End For Bill Mitchell At GM
Article Name
The Phantom: The Car That Signaled The End For Bill Mitchell At GM
Description
Bill Mitchell might have been hoping against hope that Phantom would be his legacy, the one they would build after he retired as a sort of "Tribute to Bill."
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Comments

  1. David North says:

    Hank Cramer helped Bill develop this car for Mitchell. Kady had nothing to do with it. Bill used Studio x
    To do special cars in, liked to keep his hand in design process. He would pick a guy like Shnoda or myself
    And “just have fun” some of them like the Corvettes turned out great.

  2. Derby Preston says:

    By just a glance I tought it was another pic of the Evo. Maybach
    Mercedes parked out front of the lodge at Pebble Beach

  3. Too bad it was never produced, though I understand the decision to be cautious. It could’ve been a very cool personal luxury car.

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