THE MAKING OF THE BIRD
by Jeff Denison
this is an excerpt from the articles appearing in the EAGLE
The 1970 Pontiac Trans Am was one of the most
aggressive looking cars ever to roll out of Detroit. It was also virtually an
all-new car carrying over only the drive train from the previous year. There was
a very important new Trans Am design cue conceived for the 1970 Trans Am; the
famous hood bird graphic.
Recently, I sat down with Bill Porter,
the Chief Designer of the 1970 Firebird (he's now a Chief Designer at Buick),
and Ted Schroeder, the designer who put the Trans Am package together for 1970,
(now a Chief Designer for Chevrolet). We discussed how the design for the giant
hood bird, often referred to today as the Screaming Chicken, came about. Bill
Porter talked about two 1970 Trans Am show cars that were being built: a bright
white one at Design Staff, and a racing blue one at Pontiac's prototype facility
at Pontiac Engineering. Both of these cars were to receive the hood bird graphic
-- a white one on the blue car and a blue one on the white car -- traditional
racing colors without the traditional racing stripes. No one is sure who came up
with the idea for the huge bird decal, but Ted remembers drawing it up and
sending it to Design Staff's graphic department, where a graphic designer named
Norm Inouye (pronounced In-o-way) laid out the actual artwork before sending it
to 3M Corp. to produce the prototype decals.
Bill Mitchell, GM Vice President and head
of Design Staff, always kept up-to-date with current projects. While walking
through the paint department one day, he noticed the finished Trans Am with the
hood bird. He hated it and immediately called Porter on the phone, yelling
that the car had an Indian blanket on the hood, that it looked like a Macy's
truck (a rolling billboard), and to get the damned thing off immediately!
Bill Mitchell had a way with words and
the authority to back them up, so there was no turning back. The hood bird
graphic was a dead issue for the time being; a bold single blue or white stripe
would run the length of the 1970 Trans Am, with a small bird at the edge of the
In 1971, Bill Porter moved on to another
studio, and John Schinella became Chief Designer responsible for the Firebird.
The racing colors of blue and white would run through the 1972 model year on the
Trans Am. The new colors for 1973 were Buccaneer Red and Brewster Green -- Cameo
White would remain in the color selection, and Lucerne Blue was dropped. John
took one of the prototype decals 3M had made, changed the color, and put it on a
red prototype 1973 Trans Am. He literally took it to the streets, driving it up
and down Woodward Avenue, talking to the car guys at each stop. Everyone
overwhelmingly liked the hood bird.
Now came the tough part. Schinella knew
the hood bird graphic was a winner but he had to sell it to management. At
first, Pontiac General Manager James McDonald wasn't impressed with the hood
bird presentation, but he agreed to go along with the Design Staff proposal if
Mitchell was behind it.
John knew that Bill Mitchell liked the
black-and-gold John Player Special paint scheme, so he had a black prototype
1973 Trans Am made up with a gold foil hood bird graphic and gold pinstripes. No
one can remember if this particular Trans Am had a Super Duty 455 or not, but if
Bill Mitchell used it as his regular car, it probably did. Bill already had some
of his motorcycles painted in a similar fashion. By pitching the hood bird to
Mitchell in a color combination he already liked, Schinella sold him on the idea
and the hood bird was finally born.
The hood bird would go on to become an
icon, one that would identify the Trans Am for the rest of the second
generation's production run. When the 1982 Trans Ams arrived at the dealerships
in late 1981, the legendary hood bird and shaker scoop went into the history
books -- gone but certainly not forgotten.
The author wishes to thank Bill Porter,
Tom Peloguin, Ted Schroeder and John Schinella of GM Design Center.
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