ArtCenter Car Classic stands alone

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Philip Sarofim displayed the 1965 Pontiac Vivant at the ArtCenter Car Classic | Howard Koby photos

“We prepare artists and designers to share their creativity with the world” 

– ArtCenter College of Design

The Craig Elwood-designed ArtCenter College of Design North Campus located on the western slopes of Pasadena’s Arroyo Seco Mountains that overlook the historic Rose Bowl is a testament to design excellence with black glass-and-steel edifices that connect across a gully. 

The school was founded in 1930 and originally offered programs in advertising, publishing and industrial design. But in 1948, a automotive design program was launched, initially at the school’s downtown Los Angeles campus, and quickly became birthplace for the training of what would become the top automotive designers in the world. 

To kickstart the program, the faculty included George Jergenson, John Coleman and Strother MacMinn, a 1935 graduate considered the founding father of automotive design education.

Student art on display in campus buildings

The school moved to West 3rd Street in Los Angeles, where I attended and majored in photography and graduated with the rudimentary background to start my own photography studio not more that 3 miles away.

The campus eventually moved to the Pasadena Mountains and in 2003 the first ArtCenter Car Classic was staged in the college’s east lawn sculpture garden. Since the show’s inception, ArtCenter has always celebrated the “powerful combination of technology and passion that allows humans to move well beyond our own physical abilities.”

Over the years, themes of the show have been Supercar; By Air, Land & Sea; Freedom in Motion; Inspired Design Inspired by Nature; and Street to Screen. This year, the show celebrated “One of a Kind Vehicles that Stand Alone.” 

On a moderately clear and sunny California Sunday over 2,000 auto enthusiasts and a smattering of potential future Art Center students flocked to the hillside campus to see and admire about 100 innovative vehicles and motorcycles “That Stand Alone.” 

Among them was David Marin’s 1931 Ford “A” Roadster, which was presented with the Spirit of California Award; the 1937 Talbot Lago Type 150CS teardrop coupe from the Mullin Automotive Museum and winner of the Most Inspiring Design Award; Phillip Sarofim’s 1970 Lancia Stratos HF Zero and winner of the Most Courageous Design Award; Peoples Choice award-winner, the 1917 La Bestioni “Beast” 14 Liter built by Gary Wales; and the Students Choice award recipient, a 1953 Bosley GT Mark T coupe from the Petersen Automotive Museum.

Many noted alumni and top automotive designers return for this important showcase, where they serve as judges and as inspirational speakers. 

One of them, Chip Foose, presented a number of his custom hot rods and also had informative conversations with some of the guest speakers. 

Jay Leno is a longtime supporter of the show | ArtCenter photo by Juan Pasada

Longtime supporter and special guest Jay Leno discussed the current state of electric cars with Derek Jenkins (vice president at Lucid Motors) and Richard Kim (head of design at Canoo). Art Center graduate Jeff Zwart (cinematographer) explained to retired Chrysler and Ford designer how he films race car action while Tom Peters (General Motors) discussed the creation of the new Corvette C8 with automotive journalist Laura Burnstein.

Dave Kunz (KABC-TV) and Ed Justice Jr. (historian) conducted informative interviews throughout the day with car owners and guest speakers. 

We also must commend Jay Sanders, executive director for undergraduate transportation design, for 16 years of continually superb organization of the show.                                                                             

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Howard graduated with honors from the Art Center College of Design in California. He has been a photographer and automotive journalist for 35 years out of his Los Angeles studio. He has been published in Hot Rod, AutoWeek, Road & Track, Car and Driver, Jaguar Journal, Forza, Vintage Motorsport, Classic Motorsports, Robb Report, Motor Trend Classic, Hemmings Muscle Machines, and 50 Years of Road & Track (MBI Publishing). He has served on the Advisory Committee of the Transportation Design Department at Art Center College of Design. He is the author of the books Top Fuel Dragsters of the 1970s and Pro Stock Dragsters of the 1970s, both available on amazon.com.

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