The Cars Of GM Designer Wayne Kady: Slantbacks And Bustlebacks From Beginning To End

Our early years are called “formative” for a good reason; certain impressions last a lifetime and become a recurring theme. That applies to creative types and designers as well as anyone anyone else; maybe even more so. In the case of former GM Designer Wayne Kady, his fascination with sloping tails started with….what else? Just about the most beautiful sloping tail ever.

It’s hard to overstate the mammoth influence that Jaguar’s 1948 XK-120 had, especially in the US. It was gorgeous, very fast, semi-affordable and had a killer ass. In Wayne’s generation as kids, it was the object of desire, and spawned a whole industry of fiberglass roadsters, which then led to US production sports cars like the Corvette. But it was utterly out of reach for the average kid.

So Wayne built his own, during high school, in the years 1953 – 1955, with the Jaguar’s tail very much accounted for. Here he is in his custom roadster on the family farm in Central California. This was the golden age of DIY custom cars, and although Wayne’s never got quite finished, it certainly shows his love of a long sloping tail. There’s a detailed account of his roadster here at forgottenfiberglass.

Wayne wanted to be a car designer from an early age, and he never finished the roadster because was accepted to Pasadena’s Art Center on his second try in 1955, shortly after the end of high school. Yes, that’s how it worked back then.  Maybe there’s a reason why kids don’t go there straight out of high school anymore; to expose them to more of the world. It may come off sounding a bit critical, but there is a certain parochialism in Kady’s work. Well, it was a different time, and America was in its exceptional period. But Kady’s long career at GM, which ended in 1999, spanned a crucial time of change, when global influences in the automobile industry were ignored at one’s (or GM’s) peril. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

Kady started (in 1961) and ended his GM career with Cadillac, but had two stints at Buick in between. His first acknowledged contributions to a production car were the 1965 – 1966 Cadillacs, which are somewhat polarizing for having abandoned the knife-edge styling of their predecessors. And their successors, the 1967s, revived the sharp creases with a vengeance.The ’65 – ’66s stand out, almost anomalies, although they have a certain subdued and understated charm.

image:deansgagrage

deansgarge has an article with a few of Kady’s dramatic renderings from the 1966-1967 period. This one is for a DeVille concept, presumably the all-new 1971, given its 1966 date. It certainly evokes some aspects of production Cadillacs from the period.

I don’t know the extent of Kady’s involvement with the ’67, but there are certain similarities with that concept. Of course, the dates on some of these Kady renderings don’t actually jive with their captions. But there’s that ever-present downward sweep at the rear…

image: deansgarage

This one dated 1/27/66 is identified by Kady as “Proposal for the 1967 Eldorado program”. Well, that sure doesn’t make sense in terms of the development cycles. By January of 1966, the ’67 Eldorado was long since wrapped up.  But once again, we have another look at a variation of Kady’s beloved slant-back/bustle-back tail.

Here’s another from 1965.

Both of these are predictive of the 1971 Eldorado, the first car Kady is credited with being the lead designer. It’s about as flamboyant, portly and all-American as it gets. And again, a highly polarizing piece of work; love it or…don’t.. You needn’t ask which camp I’m in. I’d go as far and say it’s his definitive car, the one that most fully expresses the themes from his exuberant concepts, even though it doesn’t have a bustle-back.

image: deansgarage

This rendering from 1966 is for a Pontiac program, and the rear bumper and taillights look like they survived into production.

There were two finalists for the 1976 Seville design, on of them being this semi-fastback by Kady. This picture is of an earlier concept called LaSalle, dated June 26, 1973, which is a bit after Kady went to Buick. But according to an account of how the Seville came to be, this was originally designed or conceived by Kady before he left, and its themes were then applied later to a Nova-based clay that became on of the two finalists.

Bill Mitchel had just come back from a trip to England, and wanted an alternative version with a vertical rear window, a lá Rolls Royce. It tested much better than the Kady concept at clinics, and became the production Seville. In 1974 Kady had returned to Cadillac, and worked on the final production design.

During Kady’s brief first tenure at Buick, he was responsible for the unfortunate “de-tailing” of the Riviera for 1974. The down swept line at the rear and semi-bustleback trunk were by now Klassic Kady.

image: deansgarage

This V16 by Kady concept is dated 2/28/67; its influence can be seen in a number of his production cars, and is the first to carry this particular variation of the bustle-back trunk, as appeared on the 1980 Seville.

Kady’s tenure at Buick was brief (1972 – 1974) just long enough to do(in) the Riviera. In 1974, Kady was made Chief of Cadillac Exterior Design, a position he held through 1988. In that position, he would presumably have had some influence on the downsized 1977 Cadillacs, although the usual Kady hallmarks are not in evidence. Given the significance of the corporate-wide downsizing, and the communality with the other divisions, perhaps there just wasn’t much scope for “creativity” in the old sense. The V16 concept era came to a screeching halt.

But Kreativity did get another chance with the 1980 Seville, which represents the Kady peak experience. We covered that in our recent CC. It was dramatic, for sure. But it also failed to take into account the rapidly changing taste in luxury cars.

Although Mr. Kady should get an award for being its single greatest inspiration, the 1970′s Superfly era was truly over by 1980; at least with mainstream luxury car buyers.

Sleek aerodynamic designs like the 1980 Mercedes W126,

and the 1981 Audi 100/5000 were the new mold, one that has endured surprisingly long. Some saw and embraced this much faster and sincerely than others.

Like Ford.  But then Ford was desperate in the early 1980′s, having flirted with a near-death scenario a few years earlier. The hubris was pounded out of them (at least for a while) and there was no design legacy baggage to hold them back.

Not so at GM. Undoubtedly, the very flawed 1985 Cadillac (CC here) downsizing was dictated in principle from above, but nevertheless, its execution happened under Mr. Kady’s time as Cadillac Design head.

And it only got worse with the 1986 Seville (CC here) and Eldorado . GM design was in a very odd place in this period. Exhibiting the classic symptoms of arrogance and loss of a clear direction, they still refused to acknowledge the changes in the design world that had been brewing for decades literally. These are hardly the examples of design leadership that should have been coming from a maker who really was determined to build the finest luxury cars.

In fact, they’re rather just pathetic; odd proportions, lacking any cues that would suggest they are something special; the ramblings of an enterprise that had lost its rudder in the gales of rapid change that were swirling throughout the automobile industry.

Yes, the 1992 Seville finally acknowledged the new design reality, in a fairly convincing way; albeit a dozen years too late. Where was it in 1980? But Kady had nothing to do with this car, having moved back to Buick 1988. Were these promotions, or shuffling the Design Heads of the Titanic?

Wayne Kady is credited with three Buick designs before he retired in 1999. The first was the 1992 Roadmaster. I know there’s a fair amount of attraction hereabout to any of the the last of the big rwd B-bodies, but no one is going to accuse the Roadmaster of being a particularly fine piece of automotive architecture. It was a rather clumsy job of turning the Caprice into a big Buick, and the too-short wheelbase that jarred with the too-tall roof gave proof that Buick hadn’t been willing to spend the extra bucks for a longer wheelbase like in days of old, or like Cadillac did with its other-wise similar Fleetwood.

Kady also takes credit for the 1992 Skylark, another polarizing design if there ever was one. Amusing, I suppose; and different too, but its controversial beak didn’t have legs and was toned down after a few years.

Kady’s final design credits were for the 1997 W-Body Century and Regal. Now that’s hardly a polarizing design; boring, more likely. Where’s the old Wayne Kady V16 bustle-back flamboyance? Of course, there is more than just a hint of a downturn on that Regal’s butt, no? Coincidence? Early impressions are lasting ones…