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Hagerty Employee

Who does what in car design? Our industry insider peels back the studio curtain

Hello there! My name is Adrian Clarke. I am a professional car designer, earning a degree in automotive design from Coventry University and a Masters in Vehicle Design from the Royal College of Art in London. While I was there, one of my tutors was J Mays. (He used to bring in doughnuts.)

When will you go into detail and explain driving the '79 T-bird through London? No one expects new vehicles to look any better than two-box, high H-point, pedestrian-safe aerodynamic transport pods; so you might as well talk about designs that were exciting and full of great detail.

Hah! I was young and carefree, it was an impulse buy (it was cheap, around £1800 if I recall). It was a little rough around the edges, but it all worked (most importantly the hidden headlights!) and was mechanically sound. I have never been surrounded by so much crushed velour before or since. Was a total waft machine. No power (it was a 351 Windsor I think) but all the torque. And whitewalls. It also had a surprising turn of speed once it got going, as I found out one day when I was late for a flight and bombing up the motorway to the airport. I also found out it got a bit floaty at the front end once you got to about 90mph…

Thanks for the reply... Having spent some time in mainland Europe, I will admit that I liked it more than expected. It was exciting to spot American vehicles which seemed so out-of-place, yet in a good way. Mostly I miss looking out over a long, broad hood (bonnet), eating up miles. It is an era that will never return; to which I return as much as possible. 


I’ve owned a few American cars (‘71 Duster 340, ‘83 Fox Body with the boat anchor 3.3 six, ‘87 IROC Camaro), but then I’m a total Amerophile. They do have their fans in Europe, but are generally in the UK considered a bit of an acquired taste. That being said people who do lots of towing and farmers love their American pick ups - there’s a newish RAM that lives near me.

Harley Earl was one of those early small coach builders that had a small design staff.

Harley’s contribution was he brought styling to an industry that was mostly just a bunch of engineers. Edsel Ford also fought many a battle with his father that the Model T styling was no longer enough.

To bring styling to the auto industry in that era required someone of strong will, a good eye and vision.

What is sad today is we have all this tech but yet automakers are restricted by aero, cost and size.

We get stuck with so many retro styles because management is not willing to take chances anymore. One mistake could cost billions that management is not willing to risk.

My hope is the EV products will open the doors to many things. I expect and hope to see some real creativity and a wider variety of products.

Yes Earl worked at his father’s coach building shop which is where he learned his trade, before moving to GM. It was precisely because Sloan knew he couldn’t compete with Ford on price that he knew he would have to compete on style, which is why Earl was drafted in.
Retro, like everything can be done well or badly. There was a lot of it around the turn of the millennium which was a reaction to entering the 2000’s.
I think with EVs we will see some new vehicle types, but the buying public is generally conservative in their tastes. Plus EVs still have a lot to package under the skin.