The ArtCenter Car Classic is an annual car event that features ‘design’ as it reviews cars of new and old for their greatness. This focus is well liked by the attendees of this event but can sometimes befuddle the traditional car collectors that have painstakingly cleaned every square millimeter of their prized cars.
Design rules when it comes to judging. This makes sense when you consider the venue and the history behind the school. This year it also held a major reunion on the same weekend, so the back lawn was plentiful with influential alumni designers celebrating the 70th anniversary of the lauded Transportation Design course.
Many of the cars displayed at ArtCenter College of Design’s Hillside campus have appeared on the grass at Pebble Beach, and some appear to have moved straight from a designers mind and onto the sculpture garden overlooking the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California. These included the Cadillac Elmiraj concept, the Singer DLS, Hyundai’s Le Fil Rouge concept and the Genesis Essentia concept.
Art Center’s transportation design program is celebrating 70 years and has produced many of the major design chiefs in the industry today. To commemorate their influence on the industry, this year’s collection of over 100 cars features designs that were directly influenced by its many prominent graduates.
The car industry is going through a great transition at the moment. Cars as pure sculpture carrying big internal combustion engines were aplenty, a mainstay of many car shows. Jay Leno even appeared in a custom designed vehicle with an old V-12 aircraft engine shoehorned in. He said he ‘idled’ his way over to the show at 80mph.
The new era of cars pushed by electric motors were also on the grass having been created by the masterful hands of Art Center students. The most prominent of these new era car designers being Franz von Holzhausen, the SVP of Design for Tesla and arguably the second most powerful person in the company after Elon Musk. He brought his latest go-fast car, the Roadster, and proudly put it on display. During an interview, Franz mentioned the new Tesla Roadster, with a 0-60 of 1.9sec, is very nice on the eyes when standing still, but under full acceleration can cause pain. A new metric?
His fellow graduate and part-time design rival, Henrik Fisker was also there with three of his cars too. Starting with the BMW Z8, a repurposed Karma and his new battery-powered eMotion vehicle, also in a deep metallic red like Franz’s new Tesla Roadster.
As you walked the field there was electricity in the air mixed with classic old world exhaust fumes along with an incredible mix of young design energy and veteran history.
Stewart Reed, ArtCenter’s Chair of Transportation Design, is well known in the industry, both amongst design greats as well as the car collector crowd. He brought two of his own designs, the classic Dune Buggy and the Meyers Manx, which helped inspire the open kit cars of the times.
The day was also filled with panel discussions on design that included design veterans such as Ron Hill (GM), Shiro Nakamura (Nissan), Geza Loczi (GM), Peter Brock (Shelby, DeTomaso etc) and Chuck Pelly (Designworks USA).
Future design energy was in abundance as well, as there was a new aspiring group of future influencers also present. Another panel discussion focused on the future and was conducted with Derek Jenkins (Mazda, Lucid), Page Beerman (Faraday Future), Sasha Selipanov (Genesis) and hosted by the spry old design codger, Geoff Wardle from RCA. Geoff inquired about the transition from ‘cars as sculpture’ to ‘cars as great experiences’ and the critical role that designers still need to play.
As the day closed and the sun set across the valley, one wondered what the future car show holds? Ten years from now will these great events still contain big engine classic cars or be a collection of electric mobility devices? Despite the shifting car industry driven by EV power plants and self-driving technology, there will long be an appreciation for great car sculpture, no matter what moves it forward.