Stempel joined Olds in 1958, a year before the division began experimenting with front drive. He was assigned to design the critical front suspension and the system for mounting the engine and transmission. He chose a torsion bar suspension, GM's first on a U.S. production car.
Olds wanted a front-drive layout for two reasons: It would allow a flat floor in the passenger compartment and improve traction in snow and on wet surfaces.
Dave Cole, chairman emeritus at the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Mich., was a student at the University of Michigan when a young Stempel visited the campus. He said Stempel kept 150 engineering students "spellbound" for 45 minutes as he discussed front-wheel-drive technology.
"It was so clear at that time, as he talked to the group, just how articulate and effective an engineering leader he would be."