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By Jan Wagner - syndicated weekly columnist/photojournalist
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The 2004 Art Center Car Classic (Part One):
Grant Larson on Porsche Design

 

One car show I especially enjoy attending each year is at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. It has been said that “there is perhaps no other educational institution that has had a greater impact on automotive design than Art Center.” “By some estimates, more than half of the world’s car designers are Art Center graduates.”


Supercars: Past and Present

I took the campus tour last year and again this year. It is fascinating to see what the students are doing. It really made me wish I was younger and just starting out. If you (or your kids) think you have what it takes to make a career in automotive design, you probably couldn’t do better than to attend Art Center. For more information you can start at www.artcenter.edu.

 
                            1911 Ford Town Car                                    1970 Plymouth Roadrunner SuperBird                   

This year’s theme was “Supercars: Past and Present.” The variety and quality of the cars was wonderful, as expected. Furthermore, we were able to get right next to everything, including a 1911 Ford Town Car, a 1967 Eagle Formula 1 racecar, a 1994 Jaguar XJ220-S, a 1995 Ferrari F50, a classic 1970 Plymouth Roadrunner SuperBird, and, my personal favorite, a beautiful 1954 Desoto Adventurer II by Ghia. Concept cars included a 2003 Chevrolet SS and a 2001 Hyundai HCD-6 prototype sportscar. I also enjoyed seeing George Barris’ 1959 Batmobile and a Ferrari F50.

 
                      1954 Desoto Adventurer II by Ghia                                1939 GMC pickup                            

At last year’s event my daughter and I had the pleasure of meeting car enthusiast and all-around nice guy Jay Leno, and seeing some incredible automobiles. Pete Brock (Daytona Cobra) and Chuck Pelly (Scarab) shared their perspectives on automotive design with us.

This year several designers were there to speak once again. I enjoyed listening to Porsche Designer Grant Larson and racing legend Dan Gurney as they addressed the audience. I have been fortunate to have heard Dan Gurney speak on several occasions. Each time has truly been a treat. I hope that you will also enjoy what they had to tell us.

Grant Larson was introduced to us by collector and racer Otis Chandler, who told us about Grant’s background. Larson is a 1986 graduate of the Art Center College of Design. His background includes design work for Audi. He is currently Manager of Advanced Exterior Design at Porsche. He was largely responsible for the design of the Porsche Boxster. He has also worked on the newest version of the 911 (the 997) and was responsible for the design of Porsche’s street legal supercar, the V-10 Carrera GT. According to the sign near Mr. Chandler’s car, this screamer produces 605 horsepower and is capable of speeds in excess of 205 mph.

It was interesting to learn that Grant takes some of his inspiration from hot rods.


Porsches from years past (photo taken of Grant Larson's slide show)

Grant reminded us that Porsche has a rich mid-engined and rear-engined roadster past. He said, in retrospect, that it seems “silly for some reason” that they went away from this in the 70s and 80s, with the exception of the 914 model. With a tip of the hat to Mazda’s Miata, he told us that in the late 80s Porsche renewed their interest in roadsters, decided to phase out their 944 and 928, and introduce the Boxster – while retaining the 911 as their core product. That is precisely what they have done.


Porsche Boxster design studies (photo taken of Grant Larson's slide show)

Grant told us that he was responsible for the exterior design of the Boxster, and was inspired by past shapes. He corrected what was once said by their Press Department: in fact the spiritual predecessor of the Boxster was not the 550 Spyder but the 718 RSK, his all-time favorite Porsche.


Porsche Boxster

The Boxster show car was introduced at the 1993 Detroit motor show. It restored faith in Porsche among many in the Press and the public. The production car was subsequently introduced in 1997 and remains very popular today. Great designs have legs.

Then Grant moved on to the Carrera GT. He told us that originally the successful 1998 GT-1 was supposed to be prepared for the next year’s race at LeMans. However, those plans were shelved and instead Porsche decided to produce it as a road car. With that in mind, in February of 1999 some very early sketches were done. Exterior and interior design progressed, with help from Art Center people. Clay models were done in quarter scale, to help nail down the proportions. There was conflict in the design process and at one point it was completely redone in a panic – in a two-week period.


Porsche Carrera GT design studies (photo taken of Grant Larson's slide show)

It was interesting to hear him describe the design: “One of the things we were thinking about at the time in the development of the car was a complete, very difficult Porsche identity: a very positive, positive shape, a convex shape.” “The concavity takes place through the entry and exit of all the air holes: sort of like a worm crawling through the clay, going in where the air should come out, in and out, sort of to find the theme of the car.” Heavy stuff.

“One of the features in the engine area that Harm Lagaay, our now ex-Chief Designer, was real adamant about was this issue of the streamliners – this sort of plastic theme from racecars of the past.” “Harm Lagaay wanted to make them semi-transparent with perforated aluminum. He referred to them as negligee, because you can see just a little bit of engine in there (laughter).”

He pointed out two of the interior features in particular: the high-mounted shifter and the TFT reprogrammable screen. He continued by telling us that “at this point our Development Chief came over and said “It is good” (in a German accent, followed by laughter).” “That was the biggest complement we could have gotten from this guy. He just wasn’t a very emotional kind of character (laughter).” The painted clay model looked so good that Porsche management decided to build two show cars to be introduced in the Paris show of 2000.


Porsche Carrera GT engine cage (photo taken of Grant Larson's slide show)

The engine cage is fashioned from carbon fiber but it is hidden by the car’s beautiful body. Some have said that is a shame.


Otis Chandler’s 2004 Porsche Carrera GT

I’m afraid I’ve run out of space in this column so I’ll save some show pictures and what Dan Gurney had to share with us until next time. As I said, you’ll be in for a real treat.

As always, please share your stories and send your comments to AutoMatters@gmail.com. Enjoy the archives and more at www.AutoMatters.net. Drive safely and do join me again next time.

 

Copyright © 2004, 2006 Jan R. Wagner – #113r2 AutoMatters

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