MotorCities National Heritage Area
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By Robert Tate, Automotive Historian and Researcher
Images Courtesy of GM Design Archives
Published 7.6.2022

 

Left to right John Cafaro Jerry Palmer Tom Peters GM Design Studio 2Left to right: Allan Young, Jerry Palmer and Tom Peters in the GM Design Studio

When stories are told about the history of General Motors and the design development of many of their products, Jerry Palmer’s name will often come up during the conversation. He is a gifted and talented designer who was involved in many models, but in particular, the Chevrolet Corvette.

Jerry Palmer GM Design Archives 1Jerry Palmer (GM Design Archives)

Palmer is the retired Executive Director of Design for General Motors North American Operations. He was part of many great design teams and led operations for the GM’s Advanced Concepts Center in Thousand Oaks, California. From design sketches to future product development design proposals, Palmer helped GM create automotive history.

Jerry Palmer in the Corvette Studio GM Design Archives RESIZED 3Jerry Palmer in the Corvette Studio (GM Design Archives)

Palmer graduated from the Center (now College) for Creative Studies in Detroit in 1966 and immediately was hired at GM Design. He was largely responsible for the design of the four Rotor-Aero Corvette and later the fourth generation Corvette, which became part of his impressive automotive resume and led to him being promoted to chief designer for the third-generation Camaro -- which many car fans loved.

Corvette C4 chassis GM Design Archives RESIZED 4The Chevy Corvette C4 chassis (GM Design Archives)

In 1974, Palmer was appointed chief designer for the Chevrolet III Studio, where he began to develop the design proposal for the 1984 Corvette model. Some of the other GM designs that he worked on included the 1978 Chevrolet Camaro Z28 facelift, the 1978 Corvette (C3) facelift, the 1984 Chevrolet Corvette (C4) and the popular 1987 Chevrolet Beretta models.

1984 Corvette model GM Design Archives RESIZED 5The 1984 Chevy Corvette

The 1984 Corvette was well-received by critics and the public, leading to strong sales. Car & Driver magazine called it “a true-born world class sports car loaded with great technical sophistication.” Many Corvette enthusiasts praised the 1984 model for its performance and acceleration. Motor Trend magazine gave the 1984 its prestigious “Car of the Year” award, truly an honor for Palmer and GM’s design team.

Design Proposal for the Four Rotor Aerovette GM Design Archives 6Design Proposal for the Four Rotor Aerovette (GM Design Archives)

Palmer has said that the Four Rotor-Aerovette was the most challenging design of his career. Before the introduction the 1984 Corvette, he was involved with one of the best-looking concepts in the company’s history, namely the rotary Chevrolet Corvette experimental model. It was a mid-engine gull-wing design powered by a transverse rotary engine featuring highly advanced aerodynamics.

Four Rotor Corvette on display at GM Tech Center GM Design Archives RESIZED 7Four Rotor Corvette on display at the GM Tech Center (GM Design Archives)

In 2000, Palmer was inducted into the “Hall of Fame” of the prestigious National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, Kentucky. Two years later, he retired as the executive director of design for General Motors, a great position in which he oversaw the interior and exterior design for all GM production vehicles.

Four Rotor Corvette on display GM Design Archives 8Four Rotor Corvette on display (GM Design Archives)

In conclusion, the Corvette has a remarkable history and dedicated enthusiasts all over the world. Ed Cole, Zora Arkus-Duntov, Bill Mitchell and Charles Jordan were all involved in making the Corvette a part of General Motors’ amazing array of great cars that will be shared by many automotive enthusiasts and younger generations for many years to come. Jerry Palmer is also a part of that legacy.

Bibliography

Bryan, Sherry. “Why the 1984 Corvette was Revolutionary (Track Time Tuesday).” Corvette Forum, October 6, 2020.

Tulk, Mitchell. “Remember When Chevy Made a Mid-Engine Rotary Corvette.” Carsguide reviews, news and advice, September 4, 2018.

Teeters, Scout. “4 Rotor Corvette Prototype, the Almost Mid-Engine Production Corvette.” Motor Trend Features, August 5, 2015.