GM Design Heritage Archive shares concept sketches of the Pontiac Aztek in happier times

The Autopian has run a three-part series on Pontiac Aztek, a vehicle still known far more as a case study for corporate interference in design than any of its merits. Ex-car designer Adrian Clarke wrote the pieces, Clarke bearing a degree from the Royal College of Art in London, time with J Mays as one of his tutors, and workplace tenure with an OEM we suspect was Jaguar Land Rover. We got to his series in reverse order, stumbling on the last one first. That piece showcases three never-before-seen Aztek design sketches created before and after the first concept, such as the one above, all of which Clarke received from the GM Design Heritage Archive.

Part of what drew us to the headline, "GM Sent Us Never-Before-Seen Sketches Of The Pontiac Aztek From Before It All Went So Wrong," was the chance to witness an oft-heard mystery. When the Aztek used to get many more public floggings than it does nowadays, the stories or the comments would always mention some take on, "The original designs were cool before the suits messed them up." We'd never seen those original designs. Here they are — some of them, at least.

Head to the Autopian for the series and start wherever you like, but we recommend starting at the beginning, "The Pontiac Aztek Was Not A Design Tragedy, It Was A Corporate Tragedy," then going to the second piece, "How I’d Fix The Design Of The Pontiac Aztek – Without Starting All Over Again." Even if you don't agree with Clarke's fixes (we wish he'd have gone a lot further), he frames the Aztek's issues in the language of an OEM designer, knowledge that's helpful for understanding the design of every vehicle. By the time one gets to the third piece, one can appreciate the gulf between a concept that began with the prompt, take "a Camaro and a Blazer and put them in a blender," and culminated in what GM disgorged onto dealer lots in the summer of 2000.

As a postscript, GM exterior designer Brigid O'Kane signed her early drawings, so she gets mentioned. Now a professor at the University of Cincinnati, she said in an interview from 2005, "My design for the (Pontiac) Aztek was chosen to go into production. What actually came out was a little bit different. The design evolved. It's part of the process." Perhaps not surprisingly, O'Kane's 2011 paper, "The Role of Proportions in Successful Product Design," did not feature an Aztek.

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