Jenkins was an “inside man,” someone who helped create the instrument clusters, steering wheels, seats, and trim panels of cars that represent the absolute peak of General Motors’ hegemony over the world automotive industry
Late in 1956, Chuck Jordan, later the fourth-ever VP of Design at General Motors but then just a ferociously ambitious rising star in original GM design boss Harley J. Earl’s styling imperium, was sent to Art Center to check out the work of promising students. Jenkins brought a pile of his drawings and spread them out on a ping-pong table. He was offered the job.
Never in charge but always a solid contributor to the production models — including every Corvair ever made and the first-ever Caprice — Jenkins nonetheless has his share of tales to tell from that period. For instance, he was involved in the now-legendary story of Bill Mitchell’s famous Mako Shark I concept Corvette, which was unveiled in 1962. Mitchell had succeeded Harley Earl as GM’s VP-Design in 1958, and he was determined to be even more of an atypical presence than his mentor had been, whenever possible going for something outrageous, whether in his custom-made motorcycle clothing, spontaneous temper tantrums, or surprising concept cars. On a Caribbean fishing trip Mitchell caught a mako shark and then had it stuffed and mounted on his office wall. He then ordered the in-process concept car painted to exactly match his trophy fish.
Every attempt made to shade the paint on the car as subtly as the natural gradation on the shark was furiously rejected, which was a problem for Jenkins because he was considered to be “the color guy” for Chevrolet. As the story goes, the fish was taken down to the paint shop after-hours, the car was made to look as close to the taxidermist’s masterpiece as possible, and then the fish was sprayed with the same paint from the same gun so that it was identical
While working for GM, in 42 years, Jenkins ran the color studio at GM Styling for four years, and was chief interior designer for Oldsmobile, Pontiac, and Chevrolet, and often worked on the interiors of some one-off cars made for the wives and daughters of GM top executives.
Corvair Super Monza: This 1960 Corvair with a one-off interior was a sixteenth-birthday present for Design VP Bill Mitchell’s daughter, Lynne.
“Pinky” A 1961 Corvair done for Harley J. Earl’s wife, Sue, to use in Palm Beach, Florida.
early ’60s “His and Hers” Corvair show cars, one done in cloth, the other in leather.