Ever wondered what makes the world’s leading car designers tick, and what influences them to come up with such grand designs? Being extraordinary aesthetes themselves, car designers are in fact gearheads to the very core. Even if they are obsessed in making that line, surface and form reached their perfection, they will always have an unfathomable fondness for cars.
Curious on what they have in mind, Matt Bubber from The Globe and Mail asked eight of the world’s top car designers and asked to choose the car that influenced them the most in their pursuit of perfection. The only catch is they should choose a classic car that is outside of the brand that they represent.
So here is what they have to say.
Frank Stephenson, Design Director for McLaren Automotive – 1961 Jaguar E-Type (Series One)
The Jaguar Series One E-Type is curvaceously beautiful indeed, but this is not the reason why Stephenson opted for the Jaguar. The very first Jaguar was not designed by an artist or a car aesthete for that matter. The fact that Malcolm Sayer, the Jaguar’s designer, is an aerodynamicist is what caught the McLaren designer’s attention. The Jaguar Series One is a cut above the rest, with a design that is prompted not by styling but by purpose. “Like a falcon or cheetah in nature, it looks beautiful but is not specifically designed to be beautiful, it’s designed to be efficient,” explains Stepehenson.
Julien Montousse, Design Director for Mazda North America – 1963 Porsche 911
Even if a car goes through a transformation on every succeeding build and model, it will always retain its wow factor even long after its predecessors are gone. Such is the case of Porsche 911 and when it started in 1963. Even if it gets better through infusion of technology and increased performance, it will still reflect the remarkable designs of the ones that went before it. “The Porsche 911 is remarkable. It has no sharp lines. So it’s either going to look dynamic, or like a potato. They’ve had 50 years to work on those highlights and it shows,” says Montousse.
David Woodhouse, Design Director at Lincoln – 1969 Ferrari Dino 246
Reflecting on the very first car that he truly enjoyed, Woodhouse intimated, “We have a natural affinity for things created the year we were born. For me, it’s the Ferrari Dino, launched in 1968. My parents were garage proprietors. One of our usual customers had a Dino. It was a dark blue. I remember my dad taking me out in the car – he was a really good driver – and hearing the sound of the engine behind my head. It was so exotic and special.”
Felix Kilbertus, Head of Exterior Design at Fiat, Centro Stile – 1955 Citroen DS
Without any hint of hesitation, Kilbertus unabashedly claimed that the 1955 Citroen DS is the single classic car that probably influenced most of his designs. With a semi transparent fibreglass roof and a dashboard that was like a spaceship, the Fiat designer quipped that such maverick concepts can easily put out a company out of the car manufacturing business back in 1955 because it was ‘crazy advanced’. It was not only advanced for its time, but DS’ wheels firmly grounded to the reality of its landscape as well. Built to cope with France’s small, rougher roads during the post-war era, the Citroen DS comes with stiff suspension and a relative big horsepower. It is proof of the French people’s resilience to overcome their infrastructure problem at that time.
Ian Callum, Director of Design, Jaguar – 1965 Buick Riviera
“I was hugely taken by the ’65 Buick Riviera. A gorgeous car by Bill Mitchell. Yes, it’s big and in fact, it may not probably sit well with today’s world. As a kid, I learned a lot by looking at it,” Callum says about this boat of a muscle car.
Guy Melville-Brown, Exterior Designer at Honda R&D, California – 1974 Lamborghini Countach
Brown remembers how he used to run his fingers across tires as a kid just to feel its rubber. Of course he was chastised for doing so, leaving a trail of black sooty palm prints along the way. His initial love encounter with vehicles started as such which he channelled through hours of drawing his dream cars on top of his parents’ kitchen table. He recalls the one vehicle (a 1974 Lamborghini Countach) that truly launched his ‘car designs’ in a whole new level. “I was in my hometown, growing up in Brighton, England – when a white Countach drove down the road with blacked-out windows. It was 1988 back then. I was floored. It was something from a different planet. It was so extreme.”
Alfonso Albaisa, Executive Design Director at Infiniti – 1970 Jaguar E-Type (Series 2)
Perhaps more than a poet than a car designer, Albaisa believes that a car is an extension of one’s self. It offers the freedom from an otherwise prison cell of man’s bipedal existence. He owes his inspiration from a car that immaculately stunned him while he and his family were living in Miami’s South Beach side. “We lived in Miami, the jungle side, not the South Beach side. Huge leaves overhead. The sun is the source of light in our universe. So that little ray of sun has to go through space, atmosphere, humidity, those leaves and then that little ray of light bounced off the fender of a 1970 black on black E-Type. I was about 7. I was playing with city models, on this big 3-D Miami that my dad had for architecture. I was shaving a little 16-foot model speedboat. And the Jaguar comes in on the gravel, and the sound. … I put down the boat and started carving a little E-Type.”
Gordon Wagner, Head of Design, Daimler – 1963 Jaguar E-Type (Series 1)
Daimler’s Head of Design believes that the ’63 Jaguar E-Type is a ‘beauty ideal of its time’. Though current offerings of the Jaguar may have been far too advanced already in comparison to the Jag’s first series, still its modern proportions and contemporary surface treatment still bespoke of the very cars that came before it.