Cars of Character and Art Center Car Classic 2014 – It’s All In The Presentation
Report and photos by Lizett Bond
Why is Southern California the Land of the Automobile, its masses searching for individuality through their rides of choice, with status and image riding shotgun whenever their pricey wheels roll out of the garage? Perhaps it’s because we spend so much time inching along L.A.’s vast network of freeways and there’s not much to look at except all the other idlers in line.
Car designers must revel in this opportunity to study, up close and on the road, virtually every kind of car ever built, but it isn’t often we get to peek into the minds of those designers with the vision and talent to ignite serious automotive lust. During the week of October 21, 2014, however, two LaLa Land venues did just that. The first brought us and other choice elements of the car world onto the Warner Bros. Studio lot in Burbank. Hollywood ambiance abounded as AutodesignO presented “Cars of Character,” a classic Tinseltown soirée that spotlighted big names in automotive design embellished with shiny platforms of design exotica graced by bevies of leggy models.
Deja vu permeated the festivities. Cars were displayed on your typical neighborhood street—except it was a movie lot and difficult to suppress the urge to whistle the theme to “Leave It To Beaver.” However, that sure wasn’t June Cleaver folding her gams into that BMW i8. It was one of the fashionably dressed models who preened and posed with the likes of a Cadillac Elmiraj or a Hyundai Genesis Concept car during a photo shoot showcasing Charmaine Joie Couture, which, of course, was designed to enhance the lines and form of each vehicle.
If informed discussion was your thing, an A-Team of designers took to the stage of the Steven J. Ross Theater, itself a working prop, to shed some light on the secretive world of automotive design. Styling ideas and influences were traded by Laurenz Schaffer, President of BMW Group DesignworksUSA; Frank Saucedo, Director Advance Design, GM 5350, North Hollywood; Chris Chapman, Chief Designer, Hyundai Design Center, Irvine; and Derek Jenkins, Director of Design, Mazda North America, Irvine.
Eric Noble, President of The CARLAB, moderated a discussion centered on the “character” of car design. Using what could be described as a reverse Rorschach test, Noble threw out a phrase, photos of cars fitting the description appeared on the big screen, and panel members were asked to elaborate.
For instance, what makes a car “cute”? Their responses centered on face-type elements—headlights and grilles—and how scale and proportion factor into that appearance. Display images included the original Mini, the Citroën 2CV, the Fiat 500 “Topolino,” as well as the Smart ForTwo and Mazda MX-5/Miata.
It was pointed out that several of the cars deemed “cute” by today’s standards—such as the three-wheeled VW Vortex—were, in fact, created for consumers seeking affordable transportation.
If a friendly grille and soulful headlights are “cute” on a tiny car, what makes a car “mean”? Projections included the Boss Mustang from the ’70s, the Ford Raptor truck, and a vintage Aston Martin from the James Bond era. With the exception of the Plymouth Fury that starred in “Christine,” panelists preferred “aggressive” to characterize these examples.
Candy for the eye and food for thought, the affair demonstrated why so many design firms are located in Southern California. Next time you’re stuck on the freeway, remember that the guy who designed your car might be stuck right next to you.
The New Crop
Founded in 1930, The Art Center College of Design has been a leader in design education, and the school boasts as alumni some of the world’s leading automotive designers.
On Sunday, October 26th, the venerable institution in Pasadena presented its annual “Street to Screen Car Classic 2014.” Celebrating automotive stars of film, TV and video games, approximately 2,500 attendees perused an eclectic automotive mix ranging from several Batmobiles to the Bumblebee Camaro from Transformers: Age of Extinction. The Love Bug fans got to hug (visually, at least) a 1960 “Herbie” Volkswagen Beetle, courtesy of the Walt Disney archives.
It wasn’t all cinematic glamour. The field also included such notables as a Gulf-Porsche 917, a very orange Porsche 906, and a perfect silver Porsche 904. A 1961 Aston Martin DB4GT Zagato made an appearance along with a 1967 Lotus Elan S3 and a host of Italian machinery to cover the design spectrum.
In addition to a field of display cars, a Meet the Designers Series featured celebrity car collector, Jay Leno, interviewing car builder and hot rod expert, Chip Foose atop a much-modified GM Futurliner. Later Foose and Jay Ward, Cars Legacy Guardian at Pixar Animation Studios, discussed the process of bringing the vehicles of the award-winning, animated Pixar film Cars to life in films, rides, theme parks and consumer products.
Lining up nicely with the “Cars of Character” event, the presentation included a discussion of colors and themes, along with design language for the film, and how the look of Lightning McQueen was conceived.
Tours of the Art Center’s design studios, prototyping facilities and galleries, as well as workshops and class exhibits, rounded out a day in the world of automotive design. It was a great way to spend a pleasant afternoon in typical Southern California style.