Your Favorite Car Designer Probably Went to ArtCenter College of Design, Pasadena

Matt Farah takes a tour of the country’s preeminent transportation design school.

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Some institutions reliably churn out our nation’s most successful people. Think, Harvard Law and Supreme Court Justices, Yale Drama and Oscar-hogging actors, or Florida and folks who chop heads off snakes with trowels. For car design, our country’s hit-factory is ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena. Name an iconic shape, from the dashing new MINI to achingly elegant Aston Martin DB9, and odds are the hands that shaped the little clay figures learned their technique in California. The college boasts the country’s first full-fledged transportation design department and a beautiful campus that places it right in the thick of Southern California’s famously vibrant car culture, plus twenty-odd local major manufacturer design studios. Matt Farah will probably convince you of this Cali school’s preeminence, but should his tack need bolstering, here’s just a short list of notable alumni.

Chris Bangle, former Chief of Design at BMW

He brought unto us the Bangle Butt and all controversy therein. He also helped push BMW sales to their current stratospheric heights and influence styling industry-wide.

Henrik Fisker, designer

Fisker has an incredibly consistent style, which you can catch on cars from the Aston Martin DB9 to Henrik’s short-lived Fisker Karma to the world-beating Tesla Model S. The style? Sleek. And awesome.

Chip Foose, hot-rodder

Befitting his tough ‘tude, Hotrodding Hall of Fame member Chip Foose didn’t finish school at ArtCenter, but picked up enough learning in two years to propel him into tuner royalty.

J Mays, Former Vice President of Global Design at Ford

Before he became a big Kahuna at ford, Mays helped develop the Volkswagen New Beetle. That, plus work on the Lincoln Blackwood and 2002 Ford Thunderbird, earned him renown as a champion of “retrofuturism.”

Larry Shinoda, designer

Shinoda’s fingerprints are on many of the high points of mid-century American car design. Like, say, the original Corvette Stingray and the 1970 Boss 302 Mustang.

Frank Stephenson, McLaren designer

Stephenson has shaped cars from the 2001 “New Mini” to Ferrari F430 to the Mclaren MP4-12C, produced by the boutique British carmaker for which he still works.