Automotive Design

I Want the MINI Paceman Adventure Truck!

If MINI ever builds this I’m all in. As a former MINI owner and a huge fan of the brand, I have to say I’ve been a bit disappointed with the model line as of late. The MINI got larger, the line fractured into so many models, all of which are really working, and things have just seemed a bit flat.


Leave it to a bunch of interns and their instructors at BMW’s plants in Munich and Dingolfing to come up with something that really kicks some serious MINI butt. The thing is though this is a one-off  and might not ever see the light of day. Based on an All 4 Cooper S Paceman the team removed the back end and replaced it with a truck bed creating a rocking little MINI Truck. (Remember the Chevy Luv?) fitted with heavy duty off road tires a spare on the roof, rally lights, and what looks like a rugged interior, raised ground clearance, and painted up in “Jungle Green” metallic paint, this is a winner to me.

I really hope this goes from an intern project to an actual vehicle. This is the kind of thing MINI needs to bring the excitement back.







Faster, Farther, Porsche by Design: Seducing Speed.

If you happen to be in North Carolina any time between October 12, 2013–January 20, 2014, you might wan to take some time and go to Porsche by Design: Seducing Speed at the North Carolina Museum of Art.


The exhibit will feature more than 20 Porsche automobiles from the collections of or owned by Ralph Lauren, Steve McQueen, and Janis Joplin. In addition they are displaying a one-of-a-kind Panamericana concept, and the 1989 16 cylinder 917 Spyder Prototype; which like the Panamericana is on loan fromt he Porsche museum in Stuttgart, Germany.

356 550

Four American Cars I’d Buy Today, if They Were Available as a 2 Door Coupe.

In the world of American cars, I’ve never understood why so many models are only offered as a sedan, and not as a coupe. I have nothing against four door cars, I simply prefer the look and slightly smaller size of the two door model. Part of this probably stems from the fact that when I was growing up, four doors cars were driven by my “uncool” parents, or my grandparents. Perhaps that stigma has held with me in some subconscious form. Then again, it might just be my design aesthetic coming in to play.

20121223-121740.jpgThere are four American cars I would have purchased if they had been available as a coupe. Two of them are available in Europe as two door coupes already. The Ford Focus hatchback, and the new Dodge Dart, which Alfa Romeo sells as the Giulietta in both a two door coupe, and as a hot two door hatchback. The other two vehicles I would have jumped on if they were available as two door models are the Chevy Volt, and the Chrysler 200.

20121223-121533.jpgAll four of these cars look good as four door models, with improved styling that can compete with European, and Japanese cars. This applies to both interior and exterior styling. Having driven each one of these models, I’d also say that build quality, amenities, and materials rival their foreign counterparts as well. After decades of poorly design, poorly styled and subpar materials, the American car companies (especially Ford and Chrysler. Chevy your design department needs to step up) are making a comeback.


A fifth car that I would consider is the new Lincoln Mk Z, although I hate the grill styling. The folks at Lincoln should have stuck with the 1960’s grill style they were using about ten years ago. It looked better, and it stood out from the crowd. None the less, this is another Ford product that would look stunning with the lines of a two door coupe, instead of a four door sedan.

20121223-122308.jpgAll of these models need to look at Cadillac and what they did with XTS sedan and the CTS coupe. This is a great example of the same basic model available in two styles, and yes I’d buy a CTS coupe. I think it looks as good as any European, or Japanese luxury car on the market today.


The Fastest Car in the World. MG’s EX181.

When you think of the British car company MG, most people think of classic sports cars like the MG B, MG midget, or more recently the TF which was introduced in the early 2000’s. the reality is that MG designed and built a full range of sedans and mid sized cars. As always, MG cars were beautiful examples of automotive design, and innovation. Like many British cars built by MG they were also temperamental. (I know this from the first hand experience of owning an MG many years ago) One thing that most people probably don’t know, is MG built a custom made land speed record holder in 1957. A car custom built to be driven by Sterling Moss to a top speed of 245 mph at the Bonneville Salt Flats.

The MG EX181 was a bespoke automobile with one purpose; Go fast. The MG EX181 had a 1.5 liter engine from a MGA but it had been tuned to run on was 86% methanol laced with nitrobenzene, acetone and sulphuric ether. I can’t even imagine what the engineers went through to come up with that fuel formula. It doesn’t matter because it worked. In 1957, with Sterling Moss at the wheel, they had a world record setting run of 245mph and placing MG in the record books for all time.

The video below is a twelve minute short that documents the design engineering that went into making this car. It shows how they designed the car around Sterling Moss, streamlining the form for the best performance they could achieve.

Virgil Exner’s 1960 Plymouth XNR.

Over the last few weeks the Plymouth XNR has been getting a ton of buzz in the automotive blog world. It went on the auction block over the weekend at RM Auctions and was featured on Jay Leno’s Garage on YouTube. This really is a rolling work of art designed by Virgil Exner in 1960. I could go into great detail about what makes the design of this car so wonderful even by today’s standards, but the video below does a fantastic job of explaining the design, history, and the cars relationship to the time it was built. Automotive enthusiasts, and design fanatics, this is for your viewing pleasure.

Design Friday. Ferdinand Alexander Porsche’s 911.

When you think of sports cars, one legendary design that is usually at the top of the list is the Porsche 911. Designed by Ferdinand Alexander Porsche,the automobile is a classic.

Ferdinand Alexander Porsche died Thursday in Salzburg, Austria at the age of 76. He is the topic of Design Friday, because of the legacy that he created, and the impact his company has had on the design world over the last 50 plus years.

I want to focus specifically on the design of the Porsche 911, rather than branch into all the other design artifacts that Porsche touched in the last 5 decades. The 911 is his masterpiece. It is a design classic that stands the test of time. It is a design masterpiece that is instantly recognizable, has been mimicked by other automotive designs, and can never be copied. Once the original design was finished. The 911 is Sport Incarnated. It is different, unique and immortal.

Since its inception in 1963, the 911 has been in a permanent state of evolution, with a diverse array of models spanning the decades, yet it has always remained true to its roots, and has become a true living legend.

On the 12th of September in 1963 at the Frankfurt Auto Show, Porsche debuted an entirely new car for the first time since 1948. The new car carried the same Porsche design styling as previous models, and at the same time broke from the 356, which was the only model Porsche had been producing.

Porsche 901

Launched in 1959, under the direction of Ferry Porsche, with engineering assigned to Erwin Komenda, and engine designer Hans Tomala the Porsche 911 began. The initial result was the Porsche 695 t& prototype, a four seat coupe with a longer wheel base than the current 356. While longer and more accommodating than the 356, design styling still echoed the 356 T6 body. It’s lines remained true to the Porsche tradition, with Ferdinand Porsche deciding that the final layout should be a 2 +2 body for the prototype. Working with his son Butzi, the prototype was redesigned with a new rear featuring a more curved fastback style which improved aerodynamics. In addition the wheelbase was changed to 87 inches to improve handling. With this, the Porsche 901 was born.

1963 Porsche 911

The 901 was built with a monocoque frame, fitted with independent suspension for all four wheels, and featured hydraulic disc brakes. The engine was a rear mounted air-cooled flat six Boxster 901 with super square architecture. The 1991 cc engine was capable of producing 130bhp at 6100 rpm. Not bad for 1959. The engine was fitted to a new front-mounted 901 five speed gearbox for testing. Over the next two years, Porsche would refine the engineering and body styling before unveiling the new car at the Frankfurt Auto Show in 1963.

1968 Porsche 911S

Production of the 911 began slowly in August of 1964 under the series number “0”. The car would not be officially named 911 until October of that year when Peugeot won a legal dispute with Porsche winning the right to name all cars with a “0” in the middle of the model designation. The dispute really only effected the French markets, but Porsche and Peugeot settled the dispute amicably. Production of the iconic 911 was now under way, with a name that would make automotive design history for years to come.

Over the course of the next decade Porsche would refine, change and expand the 911 line. By July of 1966, they had introduced a 160bhp S version of the 911. Later that year they introduced the Targa, with an automatic roof that revealed a brushed stainless steel roll bar when the top was down. The design styling of the 911 had established itself by 1966, with the 911 becoming an instantly recognizable, and formidable sports car. By 1968, the design team had begun to address the marked oversteer issues that were inherent to the 911’s rear engine design. That year Porsche introduced the B series which lengthened the wheel base by two inches, and added a Bosche fuel injection system on the S model. Lengthening the wheel base helped but didn’t eliminate the problem. This is why to this day, people learn to drive a 911. It simply handles differently than other automobiles.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

By 1973 the legendary 911 2.4 S had arrived with a 2.4 liter engine, lightened body work, stiffer more responsive handling, and some improvement on the oversteer issues. This model is considered by many to be the finest specimen of the original 911 styling. The lines of the car are what remain true to this day, even in the current 2013 model line. Long sweeping lines, unbroken from front to back. The large upright bug-eye headlights. Thin bumpers that transition into the body work. The distinct sweeping line of the fast-back as it descends across the vent lines for the Boxster engine. Compact, elegant design, combined with powerful engineering are what attribute to the 911’s staying power. Keeping true to their design tradition, the 911 lines are visible across the entire model range from the original prototype to the current model year. It is a true modern classic, thanks to the brilliance of the original design engineering team headed by Ferdinand Alexander Porsche.

The 911 is has remained true to its original spirit with style, performance, and heritage.

Design Friday. J. Mays.

I have always been fascinated with automotive design. The automobile is such a pervasive part of American culture, and your automobile is an object that you are in daily contact with. The design of this one object has such a direct impact on your daily life, and yet it is for so many something that very little thought is given to on a daily basis. I mean seriously, when was the last time you were sitting in your car and you thought “Wow look at the detail that went into the design of the top of the dash. Look at how the top of the console sweeps into the dash line in a perfect parabolic arc.” Yes I know there are some people out there that are this obsessive but most aren’t. One designer that has revolutionized the field of Automotive Design, is J. Mays. What Mays has done for the auto industry, and especially Ford has been pure design genius.

As vice-president of design for the Ford Motor Company, J. MAYS is one of the world’s most influential automotive designers. Before joining Ford in 1997, the US-born Mays worked for Audi, BMW and developed the Volkswagen Concept One, which became the new VW Beetle.

Mays studied automotive design at Art Center in Pasadena, California in the latter half of the 1970’s.A period that for the most part can be thought of as the dark ages of American Automotive design. MAys graduated in 1980, and started his career with Audi, making a name for himself in the automotive design community with his successful redesign of the Audi 80. After just three years with Audi Mays moved to BMW where he worked on designs for the legendary BMW 5 and 8 series. Yet after just one year at BMW he returned to Audi in 1984 to work on the Audi 100, Volkswagen Golf, Volkswagen Polo and the Audi AVUS concept car.

The Audi Avus Quattro

Q. Early in your career you left the US to work in Europe, how did this influence your development as an automotive designer?

A. Greatly. In Germany, I learned how to construct an automobile: versus how to style one.

In 1989 Mays returned to the United States as the Chief Designer of Volkswagen’s design studio in Simi Valley, California where he developed Volkswagen “Concept One”, which proved so popular as a concept car at international auto shows, and with Sr. Volkswagen staff that it was later developed into the New Beetle. Mays design of the Concept One was a breath-taking leap forward in automotive design. It showed that a concept car can be more that an exercise in visual styling, that the design can lead and find its way into production vehicles. Today, the New Beetle remains one of Volkswagen’s most popular cars world-wide. It’s iconic look and design styling helping to separate it from a sea of ordinary cars.

The Concept One, which became the New Beetle. I love the glass roof.

Q. Which of the cars you developed as a designer, rather than as a design director, are you most proud of? And why?

A. As a designer, I am most proud of my work on the Audi AVUS concept and the Volkswagen Beetle Concept One – probably because they resonated so greatly with so many people.

In 1997 Mays joined Ford Motor Company taking the position of Vice-President of Design. As the head of design at Ford, Mays was responsible for the design direction of the company’s marquee brands: Aston Martin, Ford, Jaguar, Land Rover, Lincoln, Mazda, Mercury and Volvo. (Ford no longer owns Jaguar, Land Rover, Volvo, or Aston Martin). Mays influence over these marquee brands during the late 1990’s and early 200’s can be seen on almost every vehicle they produced. Jaguar’s looks were updated, and the fit and finish on these cars were greatly improved. Volvo moved from being known as a rolling box, to a sexier more sophisticated look with smooth contours while remaining true to Volvo’s original design heritage.

Q. Can you describe your contribution to the development of a particular Ford concept car or production model as an illustration?

A. Let’s take the Ford Mondeo, which is sold in Europe. My role was to lay the foundation for the design of the entire Ford brand, not just to help style a nameplate. Once I established that foundation – or established that DNA – in this case for the Blue Oval in Europe, my job became making sure that it really translated to the Mondeo itself.

Since joining Ford in 1997, he has overseen the development of the new Ford Thunderbird and Ford Explorer, as well as such concept cars as the Jaguar F-Type and Volvo Safety Car. Mays also broke with industry tradition by commissioning a designer with no previous automotive experience – Marc Newson – to create a concept car, the Ford 021C.

Marc Newson designed 021c concept

Q. Which of the Ford projects you have been involved in so far are you most excited by? And which future projects excite you most?

A. The Thunderbird and StreetKa both have been exciting products. As for a great one further out on the horizon.….let’s just say there’s a Baby Aston Martin on the way that will turn more than a few heads.

One of J. Mays chief criticisms of his fellow automotive designers is that they design to impress their peers rather than the public. In his role as vice-president of design at the Ford Motor Company, Mays is trying to change that by encouraging his global design team network to absorb and express the same influences as designers in other areas: from furniture and fashion to architecture.

The Super Chief concept's cabin

Q. You have often been quoted as saying that automotive designers have designed to impress other automotive designers for far too long, why? Is this situation changing? And, if so, why?

A. Designers aren’t easily able to think as customers. And, because they tend to socialise together, dress the same way and have the same black furniture in their living rooms, they tend to have a very isolated – and inaccurate – view of the world. That’s slowly changing, at least at Ford. Because as we start to separate and amplify our brands, it’s becoming clear that each of the brands is a sub-set of the customers themselves. Ultimately, it’s our job to design for those customers, and part of that is better understanding them.

The Ford Airstream Hybrid

The Ford Super Chief Concept

The instrument cluster for the Bronco concept

A personal favorite. The redesigned Ford GT.

The Ford Start

Ford Start's interior design