The ArtCenter College of Design is the global vortex of automotive creativity, and if you had any doubts, they disappeared as you walked among the icons of design history in the school’s freshly greened sculpture garden during Car Classic 2017.
The “Red White and Blue” theme this year took inspiration from the Federation International de l’Automobile’s decision to have the national team cars participating in the 1904 Gordon Bennett races painted in specific colors so they could be recognized by their countrymen — a decision that has never lost its power over our world-wide fascination with the origin of great automotive design leadership.
Thus the ArtCenter field was awash in Italian red, American white with blue frames (Briggs Cunningham replaced the invisible frames under his white team cars in the early 50s with two blue stripes over the top — thus the now ubiquitous “racing stripes”), and French blue.
Near center stage were two distant generations of Bugatti iconography — each in two shades of French bleu, one a pale Gauloise and the other an intense Gitane.
Ettore Bugatti’s son Jean was responsible for much of the firm’s best coachwork, but he put his signature forms on his dramatic Type 55 roadster, based on the chassis of the dominant Type 51 dohc supercharged grand prix car. The Mullin Automotive Museum loaned that icon of automotive art for this year’s celebration.
It was neatly juxtaposed to Bugatti’s latest, the fabulous 1500 hp W-16 Chiron with its four turbochargers and a top speed creeping ever closer to 300 mph.
Nearby, in all modesty, stood Sasha Selipanov, the 2005 ArtCenter grad who created it. His presentation of how his brief career has unfolded after graduating from ArtCenter was a tribute to why these annual events are worthy of a visit.
Sharing the blue field was a Dyna Panhard Break, the perfect urban delivery vehicle — baguettes, for example — and on the ArtCenter sculpture garden it arrived fully packed, they were handed out warm and free. Bribery? I hope so.
Near the Bugatti spotlight were a couple of historic French classics from Citroen and a beautifully restored and liveried Alpine A110, like the ones that won the 1971 World Rally Championship ahead of Porsche, Lancia and Ford, among countless other competition victories.
In the centrally placed “American” quarter were two honored statements on our love of special cars — and power.
Don Yenko and family owned a Chevrolet dealership in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania. Inspired by Shelby’s success with having SCCA accept his Shelby GT350 as a B Production sports car, Yenko made a similar request for a Corvair Corsa — “Not a sports car, it has a back seat!” Shelby was not racing Mustangs, he was racing two-seat Shelbys.
Thus the handsome two-seat Yenko Stinger on the ACCD lawn. Chevrolet delivered 100 (SCCA production requirement) Irmine white, 4-speed, 140 horsepower Corsas in early December 1965 to be certified as two-seat Yenko Stingers in early January 1966. Rear seats snatched out and Chevrolet badges removed, race prep for 400 independent suspension corners, 100 full cages fabricated and installed, sleepless mission accomplished — victories followed — and mighty Yenko COPO 427 Camaro drag racers were not far behind.
Next to the “production” Yenko was an historic Le Mans entry from Briggs Cunningham and his small team of Le Mans veterans determined to put American cars in the 24-hour event’s record book.
By 1960 Cunningham had been at that goal for a decade with several top five finishes. A well-prepared and accurately driven Corvette could do it. There were no super cars, just some very powerful sports cars. A slow walk around the white coupe with the blue stripes was an eye-opening introduction to the hundreds of details required to go fast and survive 24-hours of Sarthe country lanes. This No. 2 car in the Cunningham 3-car team failed in the 20th hour. No. 3 won its class and was eighth overall. Highest Le Mans finishes for the Cunningham team were two thirds, a fourth and a fifth. Impressive indeed.
The future, of course, was well represented by the Faraday Future group. Its prototype autonomous limousine and full-size preview model of a solo-seat supercar had a steady flow of fascinated dreamers all day. The designs and finish quality of the two vehicles was ArtCenter at its best, but they seem to have disguised an unsettling struggle with a powerful Chinese funding source. The nascent start-up is not the first to build on a complex — though fabulously accomplished — and tenuously supported dream. The design is its own marketing genius and the electric propulsion system is strictly au current — read do-able tomorrow.
An awesome transition from the American to the Italian quarter was a pair of Ghia’s mid-‘50s coupes, one a one-off on a ’53 Cadillac Series 62 chassis and the other a ‘54 Chrysler GS-1, one of a group of Italianate coupes commissioned by Virgil Exner during his leadership of the Chrysler’s design team.
The clear lead in the rosso corsa quarter was a 1927 Lancia Lambda Airway saloon. Curiously, the moniker has less to do with the cars obvious pretentions of aircraft details, inspired by Charles Lindberg’s spellbinding solo flight and safe touch down in Paris that year. But actually, the fascinating vehicle was designed by John Airway to be manufactured by the Albany Motor Works in England. The restoration was accomplished in Australia where the car spent most of it active life, before being hidden away and allowed to deteriorate. It now has an active life in Los Angeles and travels around the globe making new fans and inspiring new searches for its lost siblings.
Ferraris come out of the woodwork when a red Italian car category is established, Alfa Romeos are close behind in effect if not in numbers, and Maseratis and Lancias are always popular discussions, but to get up close to a diminutive Abarth 1000 coupe in its beautiful proportions and simple, unadorned form is a treat for any Italophile — any motorhead, for that matter. It is powered by a one-liter dohc Abarth engine with a pair of side-draft Webers hung up and over the cam covers where they can best breath cool air and fit snugly under the double row of louvers on its deck lid.
Among the motorcycles was a 1976 Morbidelli-Benelli ARMI 125 VR (disc valve) Grand Prix Racer loaned by Museo Benelli in Pesaro, Italy, and exhibited by Philippe De Lespinay, who happened to be the company ‘s chief engineer when it was constructed and began winning and making history.
There were traditional auto design curiosities in the field. One the beautifully crafted Blastolene “Blown Ranger” Fairchild XFR0001 roadster and another, a little more sinister, looked like a hot rod built of brass spiderweb. Both were key attractions to the crowd of design enthusiasts. A VW Westfalia camper caused many nostalgic stories to unfold, some unremembered for decades and others that remain safely untold.
This must have been a record event for the school. Even the historic black bridge building, begun by modernist master Craig Elwood in 1974 and opened in 1976, had its complete exoskeleton carefully restored for this event and in preparation for the school’s 70th anniversary next year.
Typically, every vehicle on the field of a great car show is worthy of a book. The Art Center Classic is always an eclectic collection of unique, curated subjects either designed by or loved by ACCD alums and faculty — every one worthy of stories told or typed.
American Classics: The Petersen Museum’s ’53 Ghia Cadillac
American Performance: ’55 Corvette shown by Sherrill and Paul Colony
American Special Interest: The Blastolene “Blown Ranger” Fairchild XFR0001 Roadster shown by its builder Michael Leeds
French: James Selevan’s 1976 Renault Alpine A110B
Ferraris: Donnie Crevier’s 1963 400 Superamerica
Italian Exotic: Chuck Gayton’s 1976 Lamborghini LP400
Italian Special Interest: The 1927 Lancia Lambda 7th Series Airway from the Byrd Family’s fine collection
Special Interest: Legendary builder, Gary Wales’ 1938 Bentley 4 1/4 “Black Prince” Roadster
Motorcycle: Paul Greenstein’s 1929 Henderson Model KJ
Designer’s Choice Awards:
Bruce Meyer’s 1960 Cunningham Le Mans Corvette
The Mullin Museum’s 1932 Bugatti Type 55 Roadster
Po Shun Leong’s 1972 Citroen DS 21 Pallas
David SK Lee’s 1967 Ferrari 275 GTB/4
Thomas Shaughnessy’s 1962 Fiat/Abarth 1000 Coupe
Bruce Heavin’s 1957 BMW Isetta.