In the week leading up to the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, the Links at Spanish Bay in Pebble Beach was the venue for the first ever Pebble Beach Classic Car Design Forum, held on August 16th. With a host of industry heavy-hitters on the podium, the event was a chance to get an inside look at the inner-workings of an all too often secretive society.
Andrea Zagato, CEO of Carrozzeria Zagato, was the first featured guest speaker. With the company that bears his name celebrating its 95th anniversary this year, he opened his talk by explaining how he had little interest in the family business as a young man. He instead went on to pursue a career as a veterinarian, based on his love of animals. Later, after having married and had children, he decided to join the business at a time when other Italian Carrozzerias were also struggling to survive. Zagato suggested that the decline of the Italian Carrozzerias is due in part to today’s manufacturer’s designers having the tools and resources that previously could only be outsourced.
The second half of the Forum also featured Zagato, but was far more inspiring with the appearance of guests from major automotive OEMs. Moray Callum, Vice President of Design for Ford Global, Ian Callum, Director of Design for Jaguar Cars, Ed Welburn CCO Design for GM Global and Shiro Nakamura, CCO of Nissan, Infiniti and Datsun were all in attendance.
The moderator was Robert Cumberford, who is most well known for his current monthly design critique in Automobile Magazine. Historically, Cumberford was a designer under GM’s first design director, Harley Earl, where he worked on the SR-1, SR-2 and SS Corvette concepts.
Cumberford kicked off the second half of the Forum with a discussion centered on The Future of Automotive Design. Immediately after being introduced, he offered a very direct challenge to each and every design leader: “Describe witch vehicle you consider to be your most important personal design achievement”.
When Ed Welburn started his commentary about his current, spectacular GM Design Team, Cumberford immediately interrupted Welburn and reiterated his question, asking him to cite a personal achievement. Welburn responded by speaking of the pride he had in having been responsible for the exterior design of the Oldsmobile Aerotech concept from 1987.
Cumberford then moved on, posing the same question to Ford’s Moray Callum, who noted his exterior design of the 1993 Aston Martin Lagonda Vignale as one of the most significant projects he’d had the pleasure to work on. The concept was created while Callum worked at design consultancy Ghia (under Ford ownership) alongside then interior designer David Wilkie and color and trim designer Sally Ericson. The concept was a radical statement of proportions at the time, with its fastback form hinting at Bentley Continentals of the ’60s.
Moray’s older brother Ian Callum described his early successes during his time at Aston Martin, citing the 2001 Aston Martin V12 Vanquish in particular as one of his personal favorites. He also made reference to the stunning hybrid supercar concept from 2010, the Jaguar C-X75, stating it “was not dead yet”. We certainly hope to see it materialize.
Andrea Zagato was never a practicing designer, so he avoided the question by making reference to a car designed by the Zagato design team, the Alfa Romeo TZ3 Stradale built to celebrate Alfa Romeo’s 100th birthday in 2010. Based on a Dodge Viper ACR platform and sourcing power from an 8.4-liter V-10, the TZ3 featured prominent Zagato design elements such as the double bubble roof, Kamm-tail rear end and round taillamps. One of the nine cars built by Zagato was recently offered for sale for a shade under $700K in Newport Beach, CA.
Shiro Nakamura also avoided the question, referring instead to the Infiniti Essence concept car designed by Takashi Nakajima and introduced at the 2009 Geneva show. Though having personally worked on a number of fun concept and production cars (the Isuzu 4200R and Vehicross come to mind), Shiro explained that the Essence concept, Nissan GT-R and Nissan Juke demonstrate true Japanese car design language and noted that a good design achievement should also be a significant commercial success for the company.
Following this interlude was a discussion about clay modeling. Each of the designers unanimously agreed that manual modeling in clay is an ancient part of the car design process, but each shared the view that this very physical and tangible activity would be replaced by anything virtual or digital anytime soon (Tell that to Felippo Perini of Lamborghini — Ed.).
If this event is held again next year — and there’s no reason to think it won’t be — we hope that Cumberford is again selected as the moderator. We’d love to hear more of his direct, poignant and entertaining questions which provoked the informative and spirited responses that were given.