I first met Bob Lutz at the 2002 Paris Salon, during the launch of the Bentley Continental GT coupe. He was very taken with it, and asked to meet the project team. He told us all "This is one beautiful car."
He was so impressed with the car, he called up his Design Director, Wayne Cheery and his associate, Ed Wellburn - who were equally impressed.
From that time on we became good friends and I visited him in his office in Warren, Michigan, where we would sit down over sandwiches and talk "car stuff". Later we would go downstairs and stroll through the design studio, meeting the designers and discussing their projects.
After one visit to the studio it became patently obvious that these guys were truly inspired by Bob's leadership, encouragement and confidence. I asked him: "Don't tell me these are the same guys who've been blamed for lacklustre cars over the past 20 years?"
"Sure thing."he said. "It's all about empowerment and asking them to dig deep. They've got the experience and the talent, they just needed to know it's appreciated."
As I read about the death this week, at 83, of legendary GM designer Chuck Jordan, who was idolised by his staff, I'm reminded that GM has had some great people, capable of designing and making great cars over the years, but Oh! how the corporation's management have failed to capitalise on the potential.
Guys like Jordan and Lutz knew a lot of GM people were capable of great achievements, and some of the great cars you're seeing now are a direct result of Lutz's empowerment and encouragement. GM will miss the old firebrand!