If John Schinella had not scored a job at GM he was “was going to drive to Hollywood and see if he could get a job designing movie sets.”
Lucky for us then, because Holden’s Monaros and Toranas might have looked a lot different if he had driven west on Route 66 and ended up in tinsel town.
Schinella’s artistic talents saw him graduate in 1960 from the New England School of Art, in Boston, USA.
He was hired by GM in 1961.
When he arrived at GM Schinella quickly gained a reputation for delivering dozens of design sketches in a day.
Others would labour over just one drawing for two or three days.
Over the next four years he would work on some of the most significant cars built by Chevrolet, including the 1965 Mako Shark II (which really was the 1968 Corvette) and the 1967 Camaro.
Then, in 1965, his boss, Chuck Jordan, suggested he go to Holden for six months to help with the styling of the HR and HK models.
After a few weeks Schinella was asked to stay permanently and promoted to Assistant Design Director.
“I did not return for five years,” he says.
He was given the HK sedan and coupe assignment. The Monaro’s seamless roof to tail shape his due to his influence.
Schinella also led the team that worked on the 1969 LC, and later LJ, Torana.
He returned to Detroit in 1970 and was responsible for the styling of Pontiac’s Firebird and full-sized cars.
He created the famous “screaming chicken” logo and the 1973 black and gold design for the 1976 and 1977 Trans Am.
He casually sketched the concept for the roving red eye of the Knight Rider Pontiac on a napkin during lunch with Harker Wade the show’s executive producer.
When Harker saw it he shouted “That’s it! We’ll do it.”
Schinella also led the team that developed the styling of the Pontiac Fiero.
He gave the car its Italian name, which means proud/bold, to honour his father.
In 1987 was appointed Director of GM’s Advanced Concepts Centre (ACC) located in California.
At the ACC he led a gang of highly talented and young designers and sculptures who explored the outer limits of car design, and then brought it all back in so that the ideas could be used on future GM cars and trucks.
From the ACC came the idea of the styling themes for 1992 Camaro and C5 Corvette.
Retired now, Schinella lives in Michigan and is in constant demand for speaking engagements at classic car club events.
His design DNA is still seen in GM cars today.
David Burrell is the editor of retroautos.com.au
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