HomeCar CultureCommentaryDesigners share thoughts on 'Elegance at Speed'

Designers share thoughts on ‘Elegance at Speed’


From left, Kip Wasenko, Nigel Bennett and Pete Brock | Larry Edsall photos
From left, Kip Wasenko, Nigel Bennett and Pete Brock | Larry Edsall photos

‘Elegance and speed don’t always go together, but when your car is on the front row or you are on the (winner’s) rostrum, it looks very elegant.”

Those words Saturday came from Nigel Bennett, designer of championship Formula One and Indianapolis racing cars. Bennett joined Peter Brock, whose work includes the Shelby Daytona Coupe, and Kip Wasenko, who designed Cadillacs for the road, for the racetrack and for auto shows, in a panel discussion Saturday entitled “Elegance at Speed.”

The panel, moderated by former racing driver Lyn St. James, was part of the second annual Arizona Concours d’Elegance, which is scheduled for today at the Arizona Biltmore resort in Phoenix.

Among the topics discussed was how racing car design has evolved from streamlined, low-drag shapes to cars with high downforce and high horsepower, to the current track environment dominated by aerodynamics and rules restrictions.

Bennett noted that Colin Chapman, founder of Lotus, used to say that a race car that doesn’t win is a waste of time, money and space.

This 1957 Brock sketch led to design of 1963 Chevrolet Corvette
This 1957 Brock sketch led to design of 1963 Chevrolet Corvette

While the focus for the panel was elegance in design, Brock noted that when the team at Shelby American saw his drawings of the Daytona Coupe, “It was considered so ugly none of the guys in the shop would work on it.

“But I knew it would work, that it was functional, and I didn’t care if it was ugly,” he added.

Fortunately, Ken Miles and at least one or two others came to agree with Brock and pitched in to help build the prototype of a car that would look very beautiful as it ended Ferrari’s long winning streak at the 24 Hour of Le Mans and in international GT-class racing.

Brock was a teenager and a student at the Art Center College of Design in California when he was assigned to a secret basement studio — Research B — at General Motors and sketched in 1957 a car that six years later would evolve into the famed split-window Corvette.

He also did the original Stingray racer, a car that would give its name to that ’63 Corvette.

“Production-car design really is different than race-car design, which is so pure,” Brock said. “Production-car design has to do with marketing and fashion.”

Wasenko can support that statement. He joined General Motors in 1969, worked in Detroit, Germany and Australia, and then came back to become chief of Advanced Design II, a studio doing future styling for Buick. One of his cars was the very futuristic Buick Wildcat Indy-style pace car.

One year, he said, he was called back from Christmas vacation to start work on a Cadillac concept that would point the way to a new styling theme for the brand. That concept was the Evoq.

He also designed the Cadillac LMP, the Le Mans Prototypes that raced in the famed 24-hour race in France and that signaled “Cadillac changing from country-club boats to high-performance,” but with distinctive design that was faithful to Cadillac heritage styling cues.

“I feel it’s essential that each brand stay in its own lane and not look like other brands,” Wasenko said, adding that applies both to cars on the track and those on the road.

Larry Edsall
Larry Edsall
A former daily newspaper sports editor, Larry Edsall spent a dozen years as an editor at AutoWeek magazine before making the transition to writing for the web and becoming the author of more than 15 automotive books. In addition to being founding editor at ClassicCars.com, Larry has written for The New York Times and The Detroit News and was an adjunct honors professor at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.

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