10 Auto Designers We Should Care About
Updated May 18, 2018
Even if they only conceive obscure exotic concept cars, the work of visionary auto designers has a trickle-down influence on even the most mundane mass-production rides – that is, the ones that most of us actually drive.
Here are 10 taste-shaping car designers, past and present, who we should care about.
Although best known for his poster-car creations while working for legendary Italian design house Gruppo Bertone, including the Lamborghini Countach and Miura and the Lancia Stratos, Marcello Gandini also shaped more practical, mainstream cars like the first-gen BMW 5-Series, Citroën BX and Renault Supercinq. His 1968 Alfa Romeo Carabo concept car introduced scissor doors (with the Countach being the first scissor-doored production car) – a front-hinged feature of supercars and custom creations (and still dubbed “Lambo doors”) to this day.
German designer Harald Belker doesn’t create cars we actually drive, but instead informs the aesthetics of these through his futuristic made-for-movies vehicles such as the Batmobile in 1997’s Batman & Robin and numerous -sponsored creations for Steven Spielberg’s 2002 Minority Report. Originally part of the Mercedes-Benz Advanced Design team responsible for the Smart Car, Belker subsequently went solo as an entertainment designer, but has also worked on everything from sunglasses and electric bikes to Hot Wheels toys.
The brilliance of Frenchman Paul Bracq was in designing beautiful cars which were also innovative and safe. His second-generation Mercedes-Benz SL-Class cars were among the first to incorporate crumple zones and featured a distinctive concave “pagoda” top conceived for rollover protection. His gorgeous (and decidedly un-Beemer-like) 1973 BMW Turbo gullwing-doored concept car was awarded “Concept Car of the Year” by Revue Automobile Suisse. Bracq later became chief of interior design for Peugeot and even worked on a “Pope-mobile” before retiring in 1996.
The son of a Buick dealer, Bill Mitchell influenced the design of more than 72.5 million cars over a 42-year career with General Motors. The original Corvette Sting Ray (the 1963-67 C2) was created under his styling direction, and he worked on landmark models like the 1955-57 Chevrolet Bel Air, 1975-79 Cadillac Seville, and 1970-81 Chevy Camaro. Mitchell’s Seville-based designs were also central to GM’s efforts to produce downsized cars in the wake of the 1973-74 oil crisis and influx of compact Japanese imports.
Known as “Pinin” (meaning smallest brother), Battista Farina founded the legendary Pininfarina coachbuilding company in 1930. Although almost synonymous with Ferrari (for which it has designed every production model since 1951 other than the Bertone-penned 1973 Dino 308 GT4 and in-house 2013 LaFerrari), Pinifarina has also worked with GM, Fiat, Maserati, Hyundai, Chery and more. After formally changing his name to Pininfarina, Battista went out at the top with his classic Alfa Romeo 1600 Duetto, which debuted right before his 1966 death.
If James Bond commissioned a car, he’d call Ian Callum first. Surely Britain’s greatest automobile designer, Callum was behind the Aston Martin DB7 and Vanquish, and has spearheaded Jaguar’s recent style revival (including the extremely DB9-ish 2006 XK). Originally a Ford designer, including heading its Ghia design studio, in 1990 Callum joined TWR Design which, as well as Aston Martin, worked with Mazda and Volvo. As Jaguar’s current Design Director, he oversaw the 2004 S-Type facelift and controversial X-Type estate.
Giorgetto Giugiaro could be this list, having designed countless vehicles, from supercars to subcompacts, for more than 40 different automakers over a 55-year career with Bertone, Ghia, and his own Italdesign Giugiaro. Famed for both curvy classics like the De Tomaso Mangusta and Maserati Ghibli and angular expressions including the Lotus Esprit (S1-S3) and DeLorean DMC-12, Giugiaro has also worked on everyday rides such as the Audi 80, Daewoo Lanos, and even the famously lambasted (for reliability rather than design) Zastava Yugo.
For lovers of contemporary American sports cars, Tom Peters is king. As General Motors’ director of exterior design for performance cars, he co-designed both the Gen 5 Chevrolet Camaro and C7 Corvette Stingray. It’s Peters who controversially did away with the ‘Vette’s signature round taillights as part of a bold bid to make the model more appealing to younger drivers. He also worked on headline-making concepts like the Cadillac Sixteen, Buick Velite and Pontiac Banshee, as well as on pickups and SUVs.
Yet another Italian design legend, the late Franco Scaglione had a storied 20-year career in which he worked (usually in collaboration with Bertone or Abarth) on a steady stream of head-turning Fiats, Alfa Romeos, Aston Martins, Intermeccanicas and more. Although relatively unsung in his lifetime, Scaglione is posthumously recognized as a forward-thinking master of aerodynamic design who created one of the world’s all-time bravest and most beautiful automobile designs: the drool-inducing 1967 Alfa Romeo Tipo 33 Stradale.
Featuring four marriages, a drug bust and a high-profile bankruptcy, John DeLorean’s movie-ready life story often overshadowed his enormous talent as a designer. Best remembered for his eponymous, gullwinged DMC-12 (made famous as the time machine in the Back to the Future movie trilogy), which was briefly produced in Northern Ireland in the early 1980s, DeLorean had previously enjoyed a glittering career at General Motors, for which he designed hit models including the Pontiac Firebird, GTO and Grand Prix, and the Chevrolet Vega.