Burt Bouwkamp, chief engineer, product planner, Mitsu director

Burton Bouwkamp, born in 1926, died two days ago after a distinguished career in Chrysler engineering and product planning. He led work on V8 engines, the Dodge Charger, the E-body muscle cars, and the Horizon, among other projects.

Burt was born in Grand Rapids, Michigan; he enlisted in the Navy two weeks after his graduation in 1944, and went through officers’ training at the University of Notre Dame, Indiana State Teachers College, and the University of Illinois, meeting his future wife Mary Ellen there; he graduated in Naval Science and was commissioned as an ensign in the reserves in 1947. His mechanical engineering degree came the next year, along with membership in three honor societies.

Burt with Roy Axe

Burt’s first job was at Standard Oil, but after one year joined Chrysler’s advanced program in automotive engineering, graduating from the Chrysler Institute of Engineering in 1951 with a master’s degree. His first jobs included coordinating the Dodge “Red Ram” V8, resident engineer stings at two plants, and then running product planning at Chrysler and then Dodge before becoming Director of Product Planning for Chrysler.

Burt was in charge of setting a new speed record at the Daytona Beach speed trials; they ran six Chrysler 300F cars, all six breaking 140 mph and all six breaking the previous flying mile record (set by Tim Flock in a Chrysler 300B).

Burt Bouwkamp in Europe (chief engineer, product planner)

He was also responsible for developing the Dodge Charger from 1964 to 1968, and then the E-body Barracuda and Challenger. The latter became highly collectible, but at the time they were failures, and Burt went off to direct product development at Chrysler Europe, which consisted mainly of SIMCA, Rootes Group, and Barreiros. He was in charge of the Chrysler Horizon and two other European Cars of the Year; the car was also developed for use in the United States (full Horizon/Omni story). A version of that car was later developed as a “new Mustang” in the United States.

Burt Bouwkamp in Paris

Burt Bouwkamp was then entrusted with being Chrysler’s representative on the Mitsubishi Motors board of directors. He retired in May 1987, returning to Grand Rapids and working until 1990 as a consulting engineer for other companies; at his retirement party, with over a hundred people, he discovered that his daily “do” notes were dubbed Bouwkamp-O-Grams.

From 1990 to 2014, Burt and his wife, Emme, seasonally stayed at houses in Grand Rapids and Florida and a Michigan cottage; he had two email addresses during that time, one for Florida (“southburt”) and one for Michigan (“northburt”).

In addition to his work at Chrysler, Burt was happy to talk (and write) about his work, giving credit mainly to others and having a self-effacing attitude towards his own contributions; his stories are at motales.com, allpar.com, and in “the minivan book.”

He is survived by his wife, Mary Ellen (Emme), four sons, ten grandchildren, and 18 great-grandchildren. Services will be held on November 12 at 11 am at the Porter Hills Village Meeting House in Grand Rapids.

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