Car Design News: Ed Welburn, winner of this year’s Lifetime Achievement Award, car Design Review 10. It’s our anniversary issue and we are so pleased to be able to give you this honour.

Ed Welburn: I’m so excited about it. I really am. What an honour.

CDN: And it’s been a long time in design for you. I don’t want to make you feel old, but you started in the seventies and you were the, I think only the sixth GM VP of design director. And the first global one. I mean, it’s interesting to think, how did you get your start?

EW: You know how toddlers draw stick figures of horses and people and houses. I was drawing cars at age two. It was just an oval with a couple of circles for wheels and a door, like a door to a house. But I drew cars at that age and was always creating and inventing things as a child. And at age eight, my parents took me to the auto show and there was a concept car. I love the auto show. It was my fantasy land, the colours and the lights and the music and the cars and the cutaways and all. But this one concept car totally blew me away. It was the Cadillac Cyclone, and I figured out where it came from and I wrote General Motors a letter. I think I was 11 when I wrote the letter and wanted to know what do I need to do? What classes, how do I become a car designer? And they sent me great information and I just followed their lead.

CDN: And eventually you ended up getting a job.

EW: I did a summer internship there, and at the end of the internship they said, Ed, just go finish your senior year in college. We want to hire you. I’ve never had a job interview. Not really. 

CDN: You started in the early seventies and you were moving through General Motors. But was there a moment where you thought, I think I might have what it takes?

EW: I spent my entire career at General Motors and worked my way up the ranks from entry level design right through the system. And I never assumed, although I was taking on more and more responsibility, and even when I was on that tier right below the VP of Design and was handling quite a bit, I never assumed that I would get that top job. 

I never made that assumption until the day I was told that I got that top job. And it wasn’t even a dream until, I guess a few years prior to getting it. I never even dreamed of getting that job. I just enjoyed what I did.

CDN: And I think there was something very special about that job At General Motors, we know that Harley Earl was this legendary figure, Mr. Earl. 

EW: Mr. Earl, yes.

CDN: He was also famous for having this incredible office designed by Sarinen. And how did it feel to step into that office and realise, this is now my domain?

EW: Well, not just the office, but the entire building and the entire campus. I never took for granted. Every day when I drove through the gates to get onto that campus was a special day. It’s a special day.I was the luckiest guy in the world. I mean, to work there and to go to that office and I was always there early.

CDN: You were saying you start your day with coffee in a meeting with the union? 

EW: I would have coffee in the shops where the union workers were, and that’s where I would go and have a great cup of coffee every morning, always get the real honest truth from them, what was happening in the building. And that’s how I start my day, even before I would go to have a meeting with the chairman of the company.

CDN: I know it’s probably very hard to pick, but I mean, is there a particular memory or even car that stands out for you. 

EW: When I think of my memories, I think of the people, the great people I worked with, the people I learned from or worked with, and then later on led as the leader of design. It’s the people that I think of. 

There’s so many projects – I’m told I worked on over 540 projects, but there are some early days in my career. High speed research car Aerotech was a big deal. Developing the brands and the brands strategies for all of the brands later on and working on a Corvette course is great. Designing the presidential limousine, the beast. That was a very special project.

CDN: And effectively, you retired, I think, believe it was 2016, but you’re, you’re still working. Can you tell us a little bit about what you are up to?

EW: This new chapter of my life, I feel like all that I’ve learned in my career has helped me to just kind of blossom into creative efforts in a number of different ways. In the fashion design world, I’m producing a movie, a major motion picture. That’s really the number one thing I’m working on now, is this movie project. We haven’t started filming, but developing the storyline, creating that now, talking to directors and cast is where we are now. That’s exciting stuff. Very cool.

CDN: Well, we look forward to seeing the results of that Ed, but for now, huge congratulations on winning the Lifetime Achievement award. I’m sure it will be very popular among the audience tonight. And also a huge thank you for coming to be with us in London.

EW: Yes. Well, again, I’m so excited about this. I feel so honoured to receive it from, I guess all of us in the design community owe so much to CDN. We really do.