Semon E. "Bunkie" Knudsen (SB '36), a life member emeritus of the MIT Corporation since 1987, died on July 6 of congestive heart failure in Royal Oak, MI. He was 85.
Mr. Knudsen was the son of William S. Knudsen, who emigrated from Denmark at the age of 20 and eventually became president of General Motors from 1937-40. Semon Knudsen inherited his father's automotive interests; the elder Knudsen gave his son a car when Semon was 14. The car, however, was in hundreds of pieces; Semon had to assemble it to drive it, and he did.
After a year at Dartmouth College, Mr. Knudsen attended MIT, where he received the SB in general engineering in 1936. He joined GM in 1939, was named general manager of Detroit Diesel Engine Division in 1955 and became a GM vice president and general manager of Pontiac a year later.
In 1963, he became general manager of Chevrolet, where he introduced "super sport" models and the famed 1963 Corvette. In 1965 he was made an executive vice president of GM and a member of the board of directors.
Mr. Knudsen left GM in 1968 to become president of Ford but gave way to Lee Iacocca 18 months later. He became chairman of White Motor Corp. in Cleveland and retired in 1980.
Mr. Knudsen was a member of the Society of Automotive Engineers and the American Society of Tool Engineers. He is survived by three daughters, Judith Christie and Lisa Flint of Birmingham, MI, and Kristina Gregg of Vancouver, WA; a son, K. Peter of Harbor Springs, MI; two sisters, Clara VanderKloot of Old Lyme, CT, and Martha McKenney of Bloomfield Hills; 12 grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on July 15, 1998.