Car brands are famous the world over. People everywhere can identify an Aston Martin or a Lamborghini. Most people even have an idea what infamous cars such as the Lada and Peugeot look like. But did you ever stop to think about who designs the cars we all know and love? Unlike fashion designers who enjoy fame and fortune, most car designers toil in obscurity, collecting a decent but unspectacular paycheck from the automaker where they are merely an employee. Yet some car designers have developed a sterling reputation within the industry and among automotive aficionados for creating several of the best loved vehicles of all time. Here’s a list of 10 of the all-time great car designers.
10. Bill Mitchell
He’s never been the subject of a movie, and there are no schools named after him, but Bill Mitchell has a special place in the hearts of people who love American muscle cars. A lifelong employee at General Motors in Detroit, Bill Mitchell designed several iconic cars during the 1960s and 1970s, notably the Cadillac Coupe DeVille, Corvette Sting Ray and Chevrolet Camaro. Pretty damn impressive. Starting at General Motors in 1935, Bill Mitchell literally influenced the automotive industry for more than 40 years, until his retirement in 1977. He died in 1988, but left a lasting legacy on the car world. His design of the 1963 Corvette Sting Ray Coupe is considered to be his masterpiece.
9. Paul Bracq
Paul Bracq is a French car designer who spent his career working at some of the top automakers in Europe—including Citroen, Peugeot, BMW and Mercedes-Benz. He began his career in the 1950s, but it was in his post as Design Director at BMW in the 1970s that Paul Bracq had his biggest influence, notably with the design of the BMW 7 series and sports car such as the BMW 1600Ti. Paul Bracq also developed many safety features for cars, such as crumple zones and rollover protection. Oh, and he also designed limousines for the President of France and transportation vehicles for the Pope. Not a bad legacy, indeed.
8. J. Mays
Born in rural Oklahoma and raised around his family’s auto parts store, the former Chief Creative Officer at the Ford Motor Company came from humble beginnings. After studying commercial art, J. Mays got his start in Germany, notably working at Volkswagen, where he headed the redesign and relaunch of the Volkswagen Beetle. In 1997 he was snatched up by Ford and began using his design acumen to develop retro car designs for the 21st century. These included designing new versions of the Ford Fairlane, Shelby GR-1 and Jaguar F-Type. He also worked on several versions of the Ford Mustang. In 2002, J. Mays received the Harvard Design School annual Excellence in Design Award.
7. Jason Castriota
A native New Yorker, Jason Castriota has spent most of his career designing gorgeous cars for companies such as Ferrari and Maserati. Armed with a diploma from the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California, Jason Castriota moved quickly from an internship at Pininfarina to Ferrari, where he designed the Ferrari 599, as well as the Maserati GranTurismo and the Maserati Birdcage. With a reputation for designing super hot cars, Jason Castriota is also credited with improving the aerodynamics of the cars he designs and adding racing flair to all of his vehicles. He has also designed specialty cars for private automobile collectors around the world.
6. Harley J. Earl
To say that Harley J. Earl was a pioneer of the automotive industry is an understatement. He was the first head of Design at General Motors and not only designed cars, but developed the design techniques that are still used throughout the industry today—including freeform sketching and hand-sculpted clay models of vehicles. He is also credited with coming up with the idea for the “concept car,” both as a tool for the design process and as a marketing tactic. His first design was for the 1927 Cadillac LaSalle, and one of his last designs was for the 1953 Chevrolet Corvette. In between, Harley J. Earl also helped to design notable car parts such as the “Tailfin,” which was first introduced in 1948, and the use of camouflage on U.S. Army vehicles during World War II, which General Motors designed and manufactured. Harley J. Earl died in 1969 from a stroke.
5. Malcolm Sayer
Who doesn’t love the look of a Jaguar? They are some of the most beautiful cars in the world. And we have designer Malcom Sayer to thank for developing many of the best looking Jaguars ever created. Working at Jaguar Cars for more than 20 years, Malcolm Sayer is responsible for some of the most iconic looking Jaguar cars ever. Cars such as the E-Type Jaguar (a 1960s icon) and Jaguar XJS. He also designed the Jaguar XJ13 racing prototype and went on to create the C-Type Jaguars that won the race at Le Mans. An airplane designer during the Second World War, Malcolm Sayer applied many principles of aircraft design to the cars he created for Jaguar. He died in 1970 from a heart attack at the age of 54.
4. Walter de Silva
Walter de Silva is currently the Head of Volkswagen Group Design, but his fiefdom includes luxury and sport brands such as Bentley, Lamborghini and Bugatti. He has also worked as head of design for Alfa Romeo. And, in a career that began in 1972, Walter de Silva has designed iconic cars such as the Alfa Romeo 156, Audi A6, Audi R8 and Lamborghini Egoista, to name only a few. Walter de Silva has also made it his mission to continue evolving the Volkswagen brand of cars—providing affordable models such as the Volkswagen Golf, Jetta and Passat. A true renaissance man, Walter de Silva has alternated during his career between luxury car brands and more pedestrian commuter vehicles.
3. Henrik Fisker
We have Henrik Fisker to thank for cars such as the BMW Z8 and Aston Martin DB9. The Danish designer has created some of the modern masterpieces in the automobile industry and his career is not yet over. Currently the head of his own company, HF Design, Henrik Fisker recently announced plans to start another automotive company (he previously co-founded the Fisker Automotive company). In addition to cars, Henrik Fisker has also designed several influential motorcycles, notably the Viking Motorcycle. Praised for innovative designs that are both beautiful and muscular, Henrik Fisker is a modern master whose design concepts have proven very influential in the automotive world.
2. Frank Stephenson
Another modern master is car designer Frank Stephenson, who is most well-known for designing the current day version of the Mini, which has proven to be extremely popular. However, the Mini is just the tip of the iceberg for designer Frank Stephenson. During his career, he has also designed the BMW X5, Maserati MC12 and Ferrari F430. He is currently Design Director at McLaren Automotive, where he created the sporty MP4-12C. These are all gorgeous cars noted for their exceptional style and luxury. Frank Stephenson is now reportedly working on designing race cars for McLaren and his designs are hotly anticipated.
1. Giorgetto Giugiaro
The Alfa Romeo 2600, the Aston Martin DB4, the BMW M1, the Maserati Ghibli, the Lamborghini Calà, the Bugatti EB218. These are the cars of designer Giorgetto Giugiaro. And they are the reason he was named Car Designer of the Century by the Global Automotive Elections Foundation in 1999 and inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame in 2002. Known as Italy’s foremost automotive designer, Giorgetto Giugiaro has also worked on many cars for companies such as Fiat, Ford and Hyundai. But it is his work in the sport and luxury car market where his designs have found influence and acclaim. And, in addition to cars, Giorgetto Giugiaro has designed camera bodies for Nikon, computer prototypes for Apple, and even his own unique pasta shape called “Marille.” This is a man who has done it all in the world of design.