Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Ever wonder who designed the 1967, 1968, and 1969 GT350/500 Mustang models? John Chun

“I’m the original Shelby Cobra designer,” Chun said proudly, yet humbly. “I designed the ‘67, ‘68, and ‘69.”

Chun, a Korean War veteran, came to the United States from Seoul, South Korea, as an engineering student in September 1957, finding his way to Sacramento, CA. Due to his of lack of knowledge of the English language, and with no tuition costs, Chun enrolled at the Sacramento Junior College.

Impressed with his talent, Chun’s instructor had some advice for the young man.

“He’s the one who recommended I go to Los Angeles to check out design college,” Chun said. He took his instructor’s advice, and headed to southern California.

“One weekend, I packed up and drove non-stop to Los Angeles and went to see that college (Art Center College of Design),” Chun recalled.

College representatives looked at Chun’s portfolio and accepted him into the school. He couldn’t afford the $350 tuition per semester, so he took a job as a mechanic at International Harvester.

School hours were from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., but at 3 p.m., he had to sneak out of school to go to work.

“No one knew,” Chun recalled with a smile. “They told me, ‘you can’t burn the candle at both ends. You either have to be a full-time student, or a full-time mechanic.’”

After International Harvester, Chun worked at a General Motors truck division shop, and had the opportunity to do work for several movie stars, including actor Robert Taylor.

It took Chun seven years of working full time and attending school full time to earn his degree, and he said it was a tough schedule, affectionately calling it “Marine boot camp.”

“They don’t leave you alone,” Chun said. “It’s such intense training and education. It teaches you patience. You never give up – you get the job done. That kind of training is necessary.”

This also meant no dating and no girlfriend, he said with a smile. Out of the 60 students in his class, Chun said he was one of 13 who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in industrial design, specializing in transportation design. He was the first Korean student to graduate from ACCD.

Following his graduation, Chun had job interviews with GM, Ford, and Chrysler.

The next day, there was an announcement that someone from Shelby American would be coming to recruit a designer.

“It was a new company at the time,” Chun said.

Fred Goodell, who became Shelby’s chief engineer, and had been a right-hand man to the late Henry Ford, was sent to California to help with the creation of this new car, according to Chun.

“He stopped by my booth and I displayed some of my drawings,” Chun recalled, remembering that Goodell was impressed with his designs and his engineering background from Korea. This set Chun ahead of some of his fellow graduates.

“He asked if I wanted to come to work,” Chun said. “Classmates wondered how John Chun, who couldn’t even speak English well, could get a job. They were kind of envious. I’m a very lucky one. Fred Goodell gave me my responsibilities and really took care of me. He authorized everything I wanted done.”

“They gave me a Mustang body, and they told me to do something about it. Each year has a different hood, grill, and lights,” Chun said. “Different horsepower, bigger engine, different stripes. It became a hot-ticket item. Everyone wanted that. Those cars, if you find one today, the price tag is very high.”

He said, over the course of his years with the company, he did many different concepts and drawings for the top executives to look at.

“You don’t do only one,” Chun said. “They would pick one and you go from there. I had a pretty good idea with the way I had to go.”

When Chun was working, he said he’d receive visits from Shelby, who Chun said would come in and grab some incomplete drawings of Chun’s to take and show to others.

“He always promised he’d bring them back, but he never did,” Chun said with a laugh.

Chun said he also was responsible for putting in the roll bar, and also the “spoiler” on the back of the Cobra. Chun said the spoiler was more for show, but also held down the wind.

“It makes you feel good,” Chun said. “Everybody’s more-or-less copied the idea. It became a necessity, but has no real function. Being a car designer, you have to dream about many different concepts. You have no guarantee it’s going to fly. You do sketches, put them on the studio wall, and have people come in, and you’d go with what people looked at the most. Fred Goodell gave me some ideas, but I had to generate a lot on my own.”

In June 1968, the ‘69 Shelby GTs were finalized, and production began in November. In September 1969, the Shelby Mustang project ended as sales slowed, according to the website. The leftover ‘69 models were updated to ‘70 specifications and production ended.

Chun, by this time, found himself in high demand. He interviewed with Ford Motor Company and Chrysler. At the advice of his first wife, Daisy, Chun said he accepted a position with Chrysler because it offered slightly more money.

“I could have moved up fast at Ford, but my honest opinion was that Chrysler needed help, so I went to help them,” Chun said.

He worked in Highland Park, MI, and worked on the Charger, the Plymouth Road Runner, and other models.


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