By Pat Gall
I can’t guarantee that these would be Joe’s exact thoughts. There were plenty of times when I thought I knew what his opinion was only to hear something totally different. That said, I’m pretty sure this is how Joe felt about being a part of Team Viper.
Joe was a Downriver guy: Born of middle-European heritage (technically in Detroit because that’s where the hospital was!), his first few years were spent in River Rouge, living down the street from his maternal grandparents. Then the family “moved on up” to Lincoln Park; his parents bought a typical 1950s ranch house in a lovely little subdivision that looks much the same today. Next door was the family of one of his mother’s sisters. He has a little sister (making him the ‘big brother’, with all the trappings that came with that title), and his paternal grandmother also lived with them, because families stuck together. Families – aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents – all lived within a few miles of each other – and the steel factories. All of the men worked in the steel mills – hot and dirty jobs. Even if someone was lucky enough to move up to working the cranes or even a supervisory position, they hunted and fished to supplement a growing family. Education wasn’t even a stretch goal; the mills provided a cradle-to-grave lifestyle, even for the girls who went to work for the few years between high school and marriage. It was the text-book middle class rags-to-almost riches Rust-Belt city story. All of this informed his adult personality: the value of hard work and family (team) loyalty and the aspiration to do something better, something that fed his soul and, on some level, would make the world a better place. Two summers working on the floor at Zug Island cemented those thoughts. He worked harder at school with his sights on going to college.
There were many people who helped along the way, from junior high school forward. Uncles who introduced him to the world of do-it-yourself fixing things (including cars), and teachers and librarians who opened a world beyond Downriver who became mentors and friends. Relatives who helped with car payments and tuition so he could go to college. One uncle owned a gas station; I believe that’s when Joe started his love affair with cars. When that uncle went on to other things, he gave Joe a treasure trove of tools and equipment, the start of “Joe’s Garage.” A librarian who gave him a job as a library page, where he learned so much, and later wrote a letter of recommendation for his application to Wayne State University. Dave Cole and Don Patterson at U of M who mentored and supported him through his grad and post-grad work on improving internal combustion engines and emission controls long after graduation. That was the foundation for the journey to Team Viper.
Joe joined Chevrolet engineering at the Tech Center right after U of M in 1971. A short stint there impressed upon him that he really wasn’t cut out for GMs rigid type of corporate ladder. It did help him realize that his talents were best used in finding unusual do-or-die type situations, identifying the problem(s) and working with others to reach a solution. And it started, for better or worse, the Joe Gall Two-Step: Every two years or so, whether by his own accord or just the luck of the draw with departments or companies closing, he started a new job. The one thing each had in common was it was a fire to be put out, a problem that needed immediate solution. Every new challenge provided the skills and relationships that led to the next, and all that experience – U-Tune, Bendix EFI, Systems Control Inc., Ford, Volkswagen, Garrett Turbochargers, Aerodyne Dallas, Specialized Vehicles Inc. – seventeen years later, in 1989, led him to Team Viper – a really big challenge that needed immediate solutions.
Team Viper was a great fit for Joe. Working with a small team of extremely talented people led by a visionary manager with the goal of “just get it done” with a minimum of corporate restrictions confirmed in his mind that this type of environment could produce a quality product, despite the anxiety that went along with it. He would complain about it every day, but he wouldn’t have had it any other way. I have no doubt that the number of people who have a story about Joe yelling about something or to someone runs in the double-digits, but for the most part, that reflected his frustration that uncontrollable obstacles were slowing progress. One would think that driving the first mule home for the first time would’ve been a thrill – and it was, to a certain extent; there was some ego-building (along with abject fear of a collision) when other drivers would acknowledge what they were seeing – but, true to form, it was more about looking for all the potential issues and formulating solutions and getting back to the drawing board (and probably yelling at someone) the next morning. VIN 001 rolling off the line didn’t bring a sigh of relief as much as the immediate pivot to work on Gen 2 and getting those upgrades and changes in the pipeline – and always As Soon As Possible!
From day one, Team Viper was all about the best people making the best car on a shoestring budget in the shortest amount of time ever, and they achieved that goal, and more, continuing to improve and enhance the vehicle into the icon it remains today. Joe went on to other challenges after Viper – finally, Viper tripped-up the Two-Step! – but nothing came close, satisfaction-wise to his time with the Team; it truly was his proudest and most satisfying achievement, the culmination of everything his past had prepared him for.
Some things are made known only by time passing and in the context of history. Thirty-plus years later and it hasn’t really been replicated and the lessons learned carried on in the SRT applications. I think Joe would agree that time has shown what a unique accomplishment the Team and the car was. I know he would be honored and probably a little surprised to be included with his colleagues in the Hall of Fame. If he were here, it might be the first time he’d be speechless, but I know he’d say thank you for recognizing the Team’s efforts.