Those of you that know me as an artist, may or may not know about my long automotive past. I had three loves as a child_cars, art and music. While I was in a band by 4th grade, my love of art was honestly drawing my first love of cars. When I wasn’t drawing them, I was building models of them. This is a hobby that later became a business as an adult, with my fine scale models going off to places such as Ferrari in Italy and the largest collection of them is still on display here locally at Ferrari of Washington.
My father, who worked at a Chrysler Plymouth dealer, took me at 11 years old or so, to the dealer to see the actual 66 Barracuda George Barris customized for the movie “The Fireball 500”, which was making the rounds. Seeing custom designs shed a new light on creativity. By 13 he taught me how to drive our 1964 Fiat Cabriolet, a purchase was likely inspired by my Italian mother. With that car, not only did we become the only family in the neighborhood with radial tires, we were the only ones with an Italian designed Pininfarina body, whose name was placed like no American designer, on the lower front fender. It’s a name still still seen on Ferraris today. But this was somewhat new to me, seeing the designer’s logo actually placed on a car. Up until this time I think the only American car I recall was the Fisher Body emblem found on the door jams of Cadillacs. But “coach builders” in their day were responsible for designing what went onto a chassis, a throwback to old time carriage building.
By 1974 I was working on one of the finest collections of Ferraris in the world, with at least one of the more well known of them being the 1967 275 NART Spyder used in the original “Thomas Crown Affair” staring Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway. As I began working on Italian cars like Ferrari and Maserati, designers like Pininfarina, Bertone, Zagato and Ghia were as known as their signature lines and certainly in the case of marques like Porsche, Ferdinand Porsche would be the icon bringing us the still classic 911.
So why exactly as an artist am I telling you this? Well, along with a serious addiction to internal combustion engines, which one day may become a thing of the past, I’ve always loved automotive design. I loved how designers were inspired to give us tail fins like rockets, side vents like shark gills, front ends that mimicked faces, proud hood ornaments, soft and fast lines, hide away tops and headlights, with wonderful colors, two tone paint and even wood panel sides. Wheel covers of the day alone are an art form to me. Designers like Bill Boyer, the lead stylist of the original Thunderbird in 1955, Ed Cole, chief designer of the beautiful 1957 Bel Air and Larry Shinoda, who gave us the cool split window Corvette Stingray in 1963, are in my opinion, as much artists as any. Their art forms touch us daily and often in emotional ways.
As an example, there’s a name behind several amazing designs that spans the most exotic automobiles, to everyday fun ones that all of us know. A worldly person, he holds a US citizenship and is a graduate of the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena California. His name is Frank Stephenson and those exotic lovers will know him for his design of the McLaren P1, where he is Design Director today. But he also held this position at Ferrari overseeing Pininfarina’s evolutional developments of cars like the F430, along with several Maserati including the MC12 and Quattroporte. During this time there though, Fiat who owned Ferrari until recently, really needed his help in sparking Fiat’s lagging sales and so Stephenson directed the designs of Fiat’s new Punto and the design production of the new Fiat 500. So why would Fiat even think this exotic design genius was the right man for this job? Well, while Stephenson began his design career at Ford, it was at BMW as Senior Designer where he would give us the beloved redesigned Mini Cooper in 2001, a retro design that still is with us today. Just think of being an artist who has not only shown us the future through the most exotic of automobiles, but to also to have reshaped cars that touch many of each day.
So, do you think I would bring you all this way and close on an uneventful note? No way my artistic loving readers. This is my little way of saying you should attend the 2016 Middleburg Festival of Speed (.org) on June 18th at The Hill School, where exciting examples of automotive design through the years will be on display!
Live An Artful Life, Tom