MotorCities National Heritage Area
girl-american-car-cropped.jpg

By Robert Tate, Automotive Historian and Researcher
Images courtesy of the National Automotive History Collection
Posted: 08.08.2016

file 20160808164847 Remembering Michael Burton

On July 28, 2016, I received the unfortunate news that Michael Burton, General Motors automotive designer had lost his battle with cancer.

Burton was a great man with a strong faith and was always willing to help out with young artist and to give his personal time to others when it came down to automotive styling. He was a very talented young man who helped shape the automotive design industry with his great creative ideas, knowledge and hard work.

Michael was born in Lansing, Michigan, and both of his parents worked for Oldsmobile. Throughout his early years as a child, he taught himself how to spell words by learning the letters that were placed on the back of the cars he saw; for example words such as B-U-I-C-K or O-L-D-S-M-O-B-I-L-E became a learning tool for.

file 20160808164908 Remembering Michael Burton 

At 10, Michael won an art drawing competition that would later become a part of his foundation and initial interest into the great world of automotive designing. By 13, he wrote a letter along with sending a sample of his artwork to General Motors outlining his position on becoming an automotive designer. General Motors wrote back and suggested that he should apply to the College for Creative Studies in Detroit, Michigan after graduating from High School.

After his high school graduation and along with his good grades, Michael received a (Ford) scholarship to attend the College for Creative Studies. Michael once said, “Since I was a young child I had the ambition, the drive and the passion to become an automotive designer.”

After his acceptance into one of the greatest schools in the country at CCS, Michael began to share and create his own ideas on paper along with achieving his goals of hard work and dedication. The College for Creative Studies Industrial Design program is for those students who have the passion and the understanding to work hard in order to achieve their goals in becoming a great automotive designer within the automotive industry. After graduating from CCS, Michael had received his Bachelor of Fine Arts in Industrial and Product Design.

file 20160808164959 Remembering Michael Burton 

Michael’s journey after college started with the Ford Motor Company from 1978-1980. At Ford, his creativity and ability contributed to the 1979 Ford Mustang program along with the 1980 Ford Thunderbird as well. From advanced Lincoln concepts to the Ford truck studio, he had become a bright and shining star in the automotive world of design.

Michael once said, “Artistic talent and passion for cars make me very focused.” After Ford, Mr. Burton started working for the Chrysler Corporation and during that time he became one of the first African Americans working with many other and great design studios along with Chrysler design team members. At Chrysler, he was also the lead and senior exterior and interior designer on many projects.

Later he would become a part of the administration that developed popular internship programs which is something he became very proud of. This allowed him to help students to achieve their goals and dreams in automotive styling.

file 20160808165017 Remembering Michael Burton 

As Michael’s career continued, he would later start designing great looking exterior and interiors for General Motors. Michael’s passionate ideas began to come through with design contributions for the 2004 Cadillac SRX exterior, 2007 Saturn Outlook, GMC Acadia interior, Buick Enclave, 2007 Buick Enclave Show Car and the 2007 Chevrolet Traverse interior among many others.

Michael eventually became the design manager for the exterior for the Cadillac XLR program and later Global Director for Buick interiors.

In conclusion, Michael Burton had many other great talents such as doing voice over work for both television and radio production. He was also the consultant in Tiger Woods’ Buick webcast production featuring interviews with the former No. 1 golfer in the world. Michael was also a gifted musician.

file 20160808165039 Remembering Michael Burton 

For many years, he had received many great awards for his work and contribution for example special achievements for the Buick Enclave interior design along with many others as well. He has been featured in “Black Enterprise” magazine and others.

Over the years, I have had many conversations with Michael about his strong faith in God and the contributions he has made too the automotive industry. Some people have said that the good one’s always leave to soon. However, Michael’s design legacy and kind spirit will always be remembered.

file 20160808165114 Remembering Michael Burton