Many of us spend decades in search of that "perfect" job or occupation. It's an elusive beast for most, involving lots of trial and error, skill honing, and having a feel for not only what you're good at, but also, and more importantly – what you truly enjoy. A crucial part of that equation is reflection, the process of being able to go home at the end of a hard day's work, look in the mirror and ask yourself some pretty tough questions.
For Gary Mulder, Project Manager Chevrolet Specialty Vehicles, the road wasn't easy, nor did he find his dream job overnight, but when he finally got there and took time to conduct his own contemplation – he certainly knew he'd arrived at the proper destination.
Each year, Chevrolet Performance participates in a multitude of events throughout the country. From races, such as the historic Indy 500, to high-profile industry events such as SEMA, at many of these events the team shows off some amazing pace cars, show cars and concept vehicles. This is the world in which Gary Mulder lives. As Project Manager for Specialty Vehicles for Chevrolet Performance, Gary oversees these builds from concept to completion – and trust us, as cool as it sounds (and it is) – this is no small feat.
We recently sat down with Gary and put him through The BLOCK paces to garner some insight into what is arguably one of the coolest jobs around. We hope you enjoy reading this one as much as we did conducting it.
Hi Gary, thanks for joining us on The BLOCK today. So, you've been with GM about 35 years, what was your original position at the company?
I began working for GM as an area service manager back in 1978. While I was in college, one of my instructors had connections with Ford Motor Company, and I actually interviewed with them first – but I really wanted to get into GM. So, while I was working, I took a day off and went and filled out an application for a position with GM. A couple of months later they called me back with a job offer.
What is your current position within GM?
I'm currently a project manager for Chevrolet specialty vehicles, within the Chevrolet Performance division.
Very Cool. Could you tell us a little about what that position entails?
Several things actually – but my main responsibility is managing the builds of various Chevrolet show cars, pace cars, and proof of concept vehicles.
Can you tell us about some of your recent projects?
Well, I can tell you about a couple of projects we have just completed here within the last couple of months. They were a batch of pace cars that we had down at Daytona. We did a number of Chevrolet SSs for the cup races and Chevrolet Camaro ZR1s for the Nationwide race. There's also been some great Chevrolet Silverados for the truck races, and some Chevrolet Corvettes that we used for various other races. Talk about some neat looking vehicles.
What goes into building one of these special vehicles? From concept to creation, how does the process work?
It all starts off when the Chevrolet Design Center and GM management get together to decide on the vehicles that they want to present to the public. Depending on what they want to present, whether it’s launching a new vehicle or a new group of performance parts, or something of that nature, they decide what platform would be the best for the showcase.
From that point, they generate ideas of what the vehicles ought to look like. This is where we work with the design team to finalize the entire appearance of the vehicle. After we know what the vehicle should look like, we go in and specify what type of powertrains, braking systems, and other performance options we want to put on it. Once that’s done, we write up a statement of work or a statement of requirements and submit it to two different places: First, we send it to the GM shops, we try to do as much of the work we can internally. If they're too busy and don’t have the capacity, we then go to a number of outside build shops. While meeting with them, we get the job supported, discuss it with them, tell them what the expected timeline is, etc.
Once we have those quotes and estimates, we review them all, and we pick the shop that makes the most sense for that build. Once we have the build schedule, we have to find the donor vehicle – which is essentially what we’re going to base the vehicle build on. We take the vehicle to the appropriate shops, and then we begin sourcing the parts that we need to complete the build. If they are new parts that are not available through a dealership, we have to work with the engineering contacts within GM to get the correct parts. Once we have everything, it boils down to teamwork to make sure we get the job done in time.
Sounds like quite a process. So, what would you say is most vital to a successful vehicle build?
Attention to detail. There are so many items that can fall through the cracks in any number of things. So you just have to stay on top of all the details, continuously, to make certain that nothing that falls off the table, or isn’t there on time, or is not there when it's needed during the building process...
What has been your favorite build to this point?
That’s a tough one. There are so many great vehicles I’ve been involved with. I’ve been doing this for over 11 years. So there are a number of throwbacks we’ve done that have been a lot of fun. There are certainly a number of specialty vehicles that we’ve done that have stood out, from Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s Silverado truck to the ’53 Chevrolet Suburban that was on the Hot Rod power tour. It’s just impossible to pick a single favorite!
How did you initially fall in love with cars?
Well, I fell in love with cars like a lot of other guys: reading the magazines like Hot Rod, Car Crazy, and really any kind of car magazine I could get my hands on. I started building model cars when I was ten or 11 years old. And by the time I was 14 or 15, I was already working on my dad's car, a Cornet, even thought I didn’t have a drivers license.
And from there it just grew. I’ve always had an interest in muscle cars. I’ve personally owned five Chevrolet Camaros, and I’ve had a number of street rods. It’s just something I grew into. I truly did have a lot of days where I would sit back and wonder if there was a better direction to go towards in my career. However, It always seems to come right back to something in the automotive field, so I guess I picked somewhere I’m supposed to be.
That's an awesome outlook... So, can you tell us, are you working on any personal build projects at the moment?
Well, I just purchased a 1935 Chevrolet half-ton pickup truck a couple months ago. And it’s going to be a full build from the ground up. I’m actually working on the frame rails for the truck now. Ill get those put together, fabricate all of the cross members and suspension components that I need, and bolt together the engine and transmission. I’ll do all of the welding and fabricating myself, paint the car in my garage, and its pretty much all of my own work from start to finish. The first street rod that I finished up took 7 years. But, I’ve got it down to where I can do a complete car from the ground up in about 2 years now.
What was your first Chevrolet Vehicle?
My first Chevy was a 1970 Chevelle that I bought brand new while I was still in high school. I wish I would have held on to that car, but I sold it to my sister… Back in those days, the standard warranty was 90 days or 3,000 miles. And, on the 91st day, we had it at a friend's garage to swap in a new cam, intake manifold, and carburetor.
What was your first high-profile build?
My first high-profile build was with Chevrolet in 2003 and we were just introducing the SSR. We designed an awesome looking pace truck that was used at Indianapolis that year…
Oh man, there’s so many of them. But, if I had to pick a build, I’d choose my ’34 Chevrolet coupe right now. Simply because you don’t see very many of them around, and it turns heads every time I drive it. It’s a chopped, three window coupe, and its got an independent front suspension with four-wheel disc brakes, leather interior, and a small block Chevy with a 700 RF transmission. Because it only weights 1,700 pounds, it’s a relatively quick car. It’s one that I built to be able to drive. We don’t think twice about jumping in it and driving a couple hundred miles.
While we’re on the discussion, what do you think about the whole “resto-mod” movement?
I think its pretty cool because you got the looks of the old vehicles but you have the modern convenience of the powertrain, handling, and braking of a modern vehicle. You know, you hear from a lot of people say “they don’t make ‘em like they used to.” And my answer to that is always, "it’s a good thing they don’t." Those cars didn’t like to be driven!
I’m a big baseball fan, and up until a couple of years ago I played softball. But, age kind of put an end to that. Overall though, I really enjoy working with my hands. Anything like remodeling at home, building something else around the house, or even some yard work – but that last one's not too high on the priority list.
I’ve gone on a number of Hot Rod Power Tours. It’s fun to go on, but it’s a lot of hard work. From sunrise to sunset, I’m helping to manage the Motor Medic program. It’s definitely something challenging. When you’re driving a couple hundred miles a day and then working with customers to help get these cars fixed for six or seven hours – and then packing everything up, only to have to get up and do it again, its exhausting… But, It’s a great service to provide the customers with, and they appreciate it. And I wouldn’t change anything about it if I could.
Anything else you’d like to tell our readers on The BLOCK?
Well, I get asked this a lot, so I think it’ll be fun to share it with all of you. I’m often asked how I got a job like this, because it’s got to be one of the best within GM. And basically what I tell people is, a lot of hard work in jobs that weren’t so glamorous, and then being in the right place at the right time with the right skillset.
Gary, thanks so much for joining us on The BLOCK, we really look forward to connecting with you again soon