American style “hip-up” coupe
In the 1960s, a genre known as “pony cars” emerged in the United States. These affordable, compact coupes targeted young people and women, and their sporty designs with a long nose and short deck were gaining popularity. The Ford Mustang was the first to take the lead. It was followed by GM’s Chevrolet Camaro and Chrysler followed suit with the Dodge Challenger.
―― Fastback coupe proposal
Hiroaki Kamisago who was studying in the U.S., returned to Japan in 1968, strongly advocated that this wave would eventually come to Japan, and proposed a sporty fastback design as a variation of the Colt Galant. However, at that time, the two-door hardtop was already under development, and his proposal was not adopted. Nevertheless, Kamisago did not give up and continued to study the design.
The early design was a sleek fastback coupe, not yet duck-tailed, with an elegant European image. However, he probably felt that this was not distinctive enough. He boldly redesigned the car from scratch, pursuing a hotter image. The result was a dynamic style characterized by a ducktail, something that had never been seen on a mass-produced sports coupe before. The front end featured a chrome center grille and four round headlamps for a powerful face, while the rear was balanced by four chrome taillamps that matched the front.
The completed model caught the eye of Managing Director Makita (a dynamic man known as the “Emperor” and was appointed president of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries the following year) during an annual executive review in May 1969, and he decided to make a prototype (show car) and exhibit it at the Tokyo Motor Show to see how it would be perceived.
―― Success of show car GTX-1
The show car exhibited at the 16th Tokyo Motor Show (1969) under the name of Colt Galant GTX-1 was, as we expected, very well received. Its intrepid front mask with a center grille and ducktail that balanced lift and drag in its aerodynamic treatment were the key features, which were emphasized by the thick side stripes. The “hip-up coupe,” which later became synonymous with the GTO and became the advertising slogan, was a real standout.
―― Outcome of wind tunnel test
In hindsight, it is fair to say that the term “hip-up” was born out of the wind tunnel. At a time when other companies did not yet have their own wind tunnels, we were very fortunate to have access to the nearby Nagoya Aircraft Works’ wind tunnel. In between aircraft tests, we would bring in our 1/5-scale models to observe the airflow and other aspects, and the aerodynamics engineer would guide us through the process. They told us that visualization of the flow was more important than numerical data, so they taught us the oil flow method, in which a white titanium oxide solution is applied to a red-painted model to observe the flow patterns, and the airflow thread method, in which the movement of airflow threads attached to the surface is used to observe airflow and turbulence.
After repeated tests by adding and scraping clay, it was confirmed that cutting the rear end of the body at sharp angles reduces aerodynamic drag and lift, rather than round and gently sloping. This is how the “ducktail” was born. The engineer praised us for our mastery of cutting the wool yarn into short strips and attaching them with cellophane tape.
―― Backed by Engineers
The results of the wind tunnel tests led to the “ducktail” being incorporated into the model, but there were challenges ahead. The engineers of body engineering and production engineering were surprised to see the shape and expressed their difficulties. The rear lid had a saddle shape with a combination of concave and convex surfaces, which was not easy to press-form. In addition, the sharp shape of the rear quarter panel trailing edge appeared to be difficult to press-form at all. Some suggested rounding off the corners as a compromise, but Kamisago strongly opposed them, saying that this was the key point of the design and that no compromise could be made. He was usually quiet but had a strong core, and when the time comes, he asserted himself. The engineers resolved the problem by dividing the rear quarter panel into two parts, welding pressed sheet metal, soldering, and finally finishing with a grinder, a time-consuming process. Even going to such lengths, they were motivated to realize the design not just by Kamisago’s words, but rather by the aura of the design itself. It was the engineers who were first attracted by the appeal of the “hip-up”.―― Chrysler’s advice
In 1969, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries was about to dissolve its previous business alliance with Isuzu Motors and enter into a joint venture with Chrysler Corporation. First, it was decided that the Colt Galant would be sold in North America under the name Dodge Colt, and people from Chrysler’s design department visited the company. They looked at the GTX-1, which was already being prepared for production, and suggested that the side window glass be 50″ R. It was true that a smaller curvature would make the roof narrower and the greenhouse (cabin) smaller, making it more like a sports car. We promptly decided to change the area above the beltline. By adopting the first 50-inch R glass in Japan, a sporty style with a strong tumblehome was achieved. After that, development was accelerated at great speed, and we were able to present the car at the 17th Tokyo Motor Show under the official name of GTO. The heroic appearance of the hip-up coupe painted in “Kenya Orange” attracted a lot of spectators.
―― Exhibited at Torino Show
After the Tokyo Motor Show, the sales of the GTO began in November 1970, and the design was so highly acclaimed that the decision was made to exhibit it at the Torino Show in Italy. Despite Italy’s ban on passenger car imports at the time, Mitsubishi’s decision to exhibit the GTO at the Turin Show was a sign of confidence in the design of the car in Turin, the home of car design. The company interviewed local designers and experts, including Giorgetto Giugiaro, for their opinions. Unfortunately, however, the response was not positive. In terms of exterior, interior, and color, it was regarded as an imitator of American cars, which they disliked. In other words, it was out of place.
―― Enthusiastic fan club activities
On the other hand, its popularity exploded in the Japanese market. The “two-door specialty car” genre in Japan was created by the GTO and the Celica, and the GTO, with its fastback American style, has remained popular for a long time. It is a great pleasure for me to see the enthusiastic fan club activities of the GTO fans who gather together as a group to cherish their beloved cars. The ”GTO Network” holds an event every autumn where cars and people gather from all over Japan, and in 2010, the 40th anniversary of the GTO, it was held in Okazaki, where Kamisago, who designed the car, shared his memories of the development of the GTO in front of a large audience. According to the people involved, it was planned to hold a grand 50th anniversary event in the fall of 2020, but it was regrettable that the event had to be canceled.
What is even more regrettable is that Kamisago passed away in January of the year following the 50th anniversary, and I hereby offer my sincere condolences.
Painstaking “Cockpit” Instrument Panel
―― Term “cockpit”
Although the Galant GTO was a derivative of the Galant series, the plan was to totally redesign the interior to give it a more distinctive character. At first, we were studying the idea of a luxury-oriented instrument panel, which was common at the time. Then, Managing Director Kubo brought back the term “cockpit” from the United States. We started new proposals based on this keyword, which we felt fresh. However, since it was just a rough word, we struggled to make it concrete.
Then the idea of actually going to see aircraft came up. Back then we were with Mitsubishi Heavy Industrie and thought, “We have plenty of aircraft in the company,” The negotiations went smoothly, and we visited the Komaki Plant where they produce aircraft. In Komaki, we were able to observe some jet fighters in detail, and we returned with a great deal of inspiration.
In the meantime, Hiroaki Kamisago, who had just returned from his study in the U.S., gave us information on what the “cockpit” is like in the U.S., using his sketches.
―― GTX-1, concept cars that attract a lot of attention
Based on the findings, the design was further developed, and among several instrument panel design proposals, the proposal with the most driver-oriented instrument layout was chosen. Based on this, Koichiro Matsuoka was put in charge of the design, which was realized as the Galant GTX-1 at the 1969 Tokyo Motor Show. At the show, one of the two cars on display was displayed in a high position with the doors open so that the instrument panel could be seen clearly. This display attracted visitors’ attention with its driver-oriented design, emphasizing the atmosphere of a large curved instrument hood and 6 gauges（8 gauges for the production model） that enveloped the driver. This instrument panel, with its unprecedented sporty image, along with the exterior design, was very well received. However, because it was a show car, there was no prospect for production, and we would struggle to put it into the production.
―― Path to mass production
Noboru Ikai and I were in charge of the design for mass production. The launch was only one year away and was very demanding. The following goals were set at the beginning of the design process.
・All gauges should be oriented toward the driver.
・The dashboard and the center console should be molded as one piece
・Install as many gauges as necessary
・Incorporate non-reflective gauges, collapsible steering wheel, and multi-use levers
・Get sufficient space on the top of the instrument panel for hands to wipe the windshield
・Components should be configured for mass production
First, a rough study from the driver’s perspective was conducted with a tape drawing, followed by model drawings. In the drawings, the form was set based on the driver’s line of sight and the molding conditions of the instrument panel as the main criteria. The details of the form were determined through drawing. At the same time, three-view drawings were created to connect to the engineering, and the tentative settings of the tape drawings were confirmed, while the results of the engineering study were also incorporated each time.
As the design study proceeded, frequent meetings were held with a large number of people, including those from the engineering and the production departments. Although the meetings were contentious, the wisdom, awareness of “must” and “effort” of each department found a path to the realization.
―― Creating “cockpit” image
The most important feature of this instrument panel design, that all gauges and meters face the driver’s line of sight, was easier said than done. The reason was that the direction of the die-cut of the instrument panel and the driver’s line of sight become misaligned as they go outward, so if we simply satisfy the line of sight and the die-cut, the circular gauges on the outside could only have a very small diameter. The final solution was to die-cut up to the non-reflective glass, place the largest gauge that the driver could see through the hole, and leave the gap between the glass and the gauge as it was. Then the black matte paint behind the glass solved the problem.
Another difficulty in creating the cockpit image was the shape of the meter hood. Just protruding the hood toward the driver does not make the cockpit image. Lowering the hood would give a cockpit image but it would sag and lack dynamism. Repeated trial and error was conducted while checking the molding conditions and gauge layout. The design of the floor console, which is continuous from the instrument panel with a sense of unity, was not satisfactory engineering-wise at one point, but we were very thankful that the engineers later worked out the shape while satisfying the design image.
The overhead console incorporating room and warning lamps was also a new feature to create a cockpit feel. The racing-type high-back seat, which was well-received in the GTX-1, went almost directly into mass production. On the other hand, the swivel seat, which was very appealing at the show, had to be dropped due to its poor mechanical strength and weight, but this decision was inevitable. Large, sculptured door armrests with grip handles added a sporty feel. The interior was thus the first Mitsubishi model to be equipped with a variety of features that could be expected in a specialty car.
―― Long-lasting high acclaim
The Galant GTO underwent two minor changes until 1977. The car remained on the market for seven long years, and the interior was well received throughout, requiring no major changes other than a few modifications to the front seats. Especially in the latter half of the production period, it was even referred to as “The car is still selling well thanks to this instrument panel.”