The impetus for this story is a conversation car people have all the time. It begins with a simple question: "What's your favorite car?" For many, design is the driving force behind their choice. Having listened to dozens of such conversations, your author developed a premise that automotive design experts would individually name vehicles that provided a consensus on the best and worst of automotive design. They delivered ... sort of.
Designers from major automotive manufacturers (who sell in the U.S. market) and an instructor from the acclaimed Center for Creative Studies (CCS) in Detroit were asked to:
- Name their favorite automotive designs of all time
The results on two of the above questions defied an easy summary because the answers were as individual as the designers. In light of the diversity on two of the three questions, there was surprising consensus on the third.
In picking favorites, leaders in styling agree that "favorites" are an ever moving target. "Depending on my mood and what I've seen recently, my list of 10 current favorites change," noted Ralph Gilles, recently promoted to senior vice president of design at Chrysler. "The world of design is dynamic." In addition to identifying a couple of "top picks" that were similar to those chosen by other designers, Gille's list included some outliers: the 1985 Porsche 928 (the marquee's first front-engine car) and the 1967 Chevrolet Camaro.
Pat Schiavone, design director for Ford Motor Company in North America agreed that his list of current favorites change often. "I'm a details guy and I also tend to really like designs that are underrated," he said. "I doubt any other designer's list will be identical to mine." Schiavone was mostly right, as he was the only one to mention the ultra clean design of the 1962 Ford Thunderbird or the perfect proportionality of the 1970 Plymouth 'Cuda.
Adding to the opinions of Gilles and Schiavone were: Paul C. Arnone, design manager, HUMMER; David Woodhouse, chief strategic designer, Ford; Bill Zheng, exterior design, Chrysler; Mykola Kindratyshyn, GM stylist; and Mark West, chair of transportation design, CCS. (Editor's note; submissions from other manufacturers were solicited but they declined to participate.)
Interesting picks that showed up on the lists included the BMW 8-Series coupe (Arnone); the Rover P5B Coupe (Woodhouse); the 1940 Jeep Willys (Zheng); the Alfa Romeo 8C (Kindratyshyn); and the 1989 CadZZilla custom car built by Coddington and Erickson (West).
It would be pure hubris to think that these lists of best and worst designs will end all debate on the topic. At best, these lists identify significant designs that have influenced some of the most prominent automotive designers in the world.
View the Galleries: Best and Worst of Automotive Design- In Pictures: Five Best Automotive Designs of the Past 25 Years
- In Pictures: Five Best Automotive Designs of All Time
Rex Roy is an automotive writer based in Detroit. He can be reached through his web site at www.RexRoy.net.