Celebrating the anniversary of the Grand Cherokee and the designer who inspired it

As a child, Larry Shinoda spent two years in a Japanese internment camp during World War II. He went on to design some iconic vehicles for Detroit, but never got the credit he thought he deserved for the Jeep that helped launch the wave of modern SUVs in America.

cars, marking the anniversary of the grand cherokee and the designer who inspired it

February 19 marked the 80th anniversary of Franklin Roosevelt’s signing of Executive Order 9066, which led to the forcible confinement of approximately 120,000 Americans of Japanese descent in camps in 10 states, primarily in the western part of the United States. They were considered threats to national security.

President Ford finally repealed the order in 1976, but the damage had already been done.

I mention this because this year also marks the 30th anniversary of one of the most iconic SUVs of all time, the Jeep Grand Cherokee, which bears a striking resemblance to the design penned by another icon, Lawrence Kiyoshi Shinoda, who was never given all the credit. credit for your effort. Larry, as his friends called him, was one of America’s greatest automobile designers.

But let the pictures tell the story.

I met Shinoda several times in Tokyo in the early 1990s. He even wanted me to help him write his autobiography. The working title: “Perfect Timing.”

Three things stood out to me from our meetings.

First, Shinoda was quite direct. He wasn’t one to beat around the bush, and that’s usually not a great trait if you want to climb the corporate ladder, which Shinoda did during his distinguished career at each of the US automakers. Joined.

Second, he had some real complaints with the automobile establishment in Detroit, mainly about how he was treated as an American of Japanese descent. No need to discuss them in detail, but they had a ring of truth for someone like me who grew up in the 1950s and 1960s when memories of World War II, including Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor and the bloody battles at Iwo Jima and Okinawa, were still fresh in some people’s memories.

What struck me most was that he had spent two years, from just after his 12th birthday in May 1942 until the spring of 1944, at the Manzanar War Relocation Center.

Let’s not beat around the bush: Manzanar was a prison camp designed to confine mostly American citizens, including children, behind barbed-wire fences with bayonet-wielding guards.

There were a total of 10 camps. Although not the largest, Manzanar, which was located in California, is possibly the best known.

Shinoda, his sister, and his mother (his father had passed away when he was three years old) were given a week to prepare for their move and told to bring only what they needed. Shinoda stuffed everything he felt he might need into a canvas bag, including, unsurprisingly, notebooks and drawing pencils. They slept in military beds in a small wooden shack.

They were released in 1944 and spent the duration of the war in Grand Junction, CO, before returning to Los Angeles, where they had lived before being incarcerated. Shinoda completed her high school education, then went on to the Art Center College of Design, which was located in Los Angeles at the time. He never got a degree.

According to one of the accounts of his life, he started out in the automotive industry building hot rods and drag racing through the streets of Los Angeles. He then joined Ford, working briefly at Packard and then General Motors, all in the mid-1950s. He later returned to Ford and eventually established his own design company, Shinoda Design Associates.

cars, marking the anniversary of the grand cherokee and the designer who inspired it

Shinoda’s clay model closely resembled the actual ’93 Grand Cherokee.

It was in this context that, when Shinoda showed me a scrapbook of artist renderings and photos of a clay model of a 4-door SUV that closely resembles the first-generation Grand Cherokee, I became interested in his story.

That was 30 years ago. Shinoda died while awaiting a kidney transplant in 1997 at the relatively young age of 67.

But to complete the timeline, Shinoda entered a design competition for the Jeep Grand Cherokee in the summer of 1985 that also included such well-known designers as Alain Client and Giorgetto Giugiaro. By November 1985, American Motors decided none of the above. It was at this point, according to Shinoda, that the automaker’s in-house design team began “borrowing” from his brainchild.

The project, codenamed XJC, involved three different models: a 2- and 4-door SUV and a station wagon.

Shinoda claimed that his 4-door design “ended up as American Motors’ in-house design.” Chrysler acquired American Motors in 1987.

Once again, let your eyes be the judge.

Before Shinoda died in 1997, Chrysler settled for more than $200,000. At the time, he claimed the automaker owed him more than $170,000 for his work on the vehicle concept.

The Grand Cherokee went on sale in April 1992 as a ’93 model. It was a huge success at the 1992 North American International Auto Show and won Motor Trend’s 1993 Truck of the Year award. Since then, Jeep has sold more than 7 million units.

Although Chrysler paid him before he died, Shinoda never got the credit he deserved for the design of the Grand Cherokee or his role in ushering in the modern era of SUVs. It’s on his resume, along with the ’63 Corvette Stingray and ’69 Mustang Boss 302.

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