Top 10 Automotive Designers
By Larry Edsall
There are many ways to build a car collection. For example, 13 years ago, I visited a museum in Montana built from a collection that started with one Ford from every year of production. Some people collect cars that have raced at Indy. Or Daytona. Some collect pedal cars. Others collect Porsches. Everyone, it seems, collects muscle cars.
But here’s another way to build a car collection: Collect cars based on their designers, the automotive artists who give cars their shape.
Here are my choices for the 10 designers I’d want to include in a collection:
10. Erwin Lui
Bill Mitchell, Chuck Jordan, Ian Callum and others come to mind immediately, but I have only one slot left on this list and I’m giving it to Lui, American-born son of Chinese parents and designer of the 1992 Lexus SC 300, the 2004 Toyota Prius and whatever Toyota calls the production version of the FT-HS hybrid sports car concept that Lui and his team designed for the 2007 Detroit auto show.
9. Virgil Exner
“Ex” left Notre Dame to become an advertising illustrator at Studebaker. Harley Earl hired him at GM. By age 27, Exner was chief designer for the Pontiac division. Famed industrial designer Raymond Loewy lured him to New York, but sent him back to South Bend to design for Studebaker, this time doing cars, not their advertising. Exner became chief designer at Chrysler, where his early 1950s concept cars were even more interesting than the famed Motorama vehicles that Earl and his crew were creating.
8. Harley Earl
Earl worked for his father, creating custom car bodywork for Hollywood stars until he has hired to be the first chief designer for General Motors, where his reign ran from 1927-1959. Thus everything from the 1927 La Salle through the big-finned and heavily chromed late-‘50s Cadillacs was done either by him or under his direct supervision.
7. Giorgetto Giugiaro
Son and grandson of Italian artists, Giugiaro worked for Bertone and Ghia before opening his own Italdesign studio. Drafted into military service in World War II, he continued to design cars; he did the Ferrari 250 GT, Aston Martin DB4 GT Jet, BMW 3200 CS, Maserati 5000 GT and the ASA 1000 GT all while on active duty, and he really hasn’t slowed down any since then.
6. Leonardo Fioravanti
While working at Pininfarina or as Ferrari’s in-house styling director, Fioravanti set the record for designing eight Ferraris, including the 365 Daytona and the Dino 206 GT.
5. Marcello Gandini
An orchestra leader’s son who was drawn to cars through racing, Gandini did the Lamborghini Miura and Countach, among others.
4. Franco Scaglione
A military doctor’s son who spent five years in prisoner of war camp during the Second World War and was designing women’s fashions when Pinin Farina hired him. Recruited away by Nuccio Bertone, Scaglione created what I think are the most beautiful set of cars ever – the trio of BAT cars in the early 1950s. Those three are in a private collection, but Scaglione designed 40 cars, most for series production, from 1952-1973.
3. Battista “Pinin” Farina
The 10th of 11 children born to a poor Italian farm family, Battista was nicknamed “Pinin,” or “baby.” He worked for his older brother’s coachbuilding business, turned down a job offer from Henry Ford and opened his own studio, where his work was so impressive that the president of Italy decreed that the family name would be changed to Pininfarina.
2. Count Mario Revelli de Beumont
For someone who created some of the most beautiful cars ever to grace the world’s roadways, very little is known about Revelli himself, perhaps because credit for his designs went to his employers, studios such as Bertone, Ghia, Stablimenti Farina and automakers such as Alfa Romeo.
1. Guiseppe “Joseph” Figoni
The Figoni of coachbuilders Figoni et Falaschi, Figoni’s family moved from northern Italy to Paris when he was 3 years old. He was at the forefront of streamlined design in the 1930s, creating car bodies with gorgeous, voluptuous, teardrop-shaped fenders, or “curved envelopes” (enveloppantes) as Figoni himself described them.
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