Car designers can have a huge effect on a company’s fortunes and leave legacies that last for generations.
While some can spend an entire career without ever contributing a complete project, others have an ability to turn out one stunning shape after another. Here, we celebrate those most prolific designers who have added to the automobile as a means of transport and delight:
PICTURE: Jaguar's Ian Callum, with the Jaguar C-X75 behind
Harley J Earl (1893-1969)
Legacy is a word bandied about in connection with many people, but Harley J Earl is a designer who truly gave the world more than just some attractive cars. Earl started out as a designer with General Motors (GM) and became the first executive appointed with responsibility for this area, establishing the Art and Color division.
He also established the concept of the model year, introducing subtle annual design changes that encouraged regular trade-ins and 'conquest' purchases, and which was also widely adopted by GM’s US rivals. He was the designer of the world’s first true concept car, the Buick Y-Job, in 1938.
Harley J Earl
After the Second World War, Earl’s next gift to the automotive world was the Corvette (pictured). Smitten by European sports cars, Earl wanted a US version and Project Opel was readily accepted.
This became the original Corvette that was launched in 1953 and Earl then went on to design ever more vertiginous tail fins for GM cars throughout the 1950s. Earl retired from GM in 1958 and died in 1969, and was inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame in 1986.
Battista Farina (1893-1966)
Battista Farina (pictured left, with his son Sergio) was the second youngest of 11 children and this earned him the nickname ‘Pinin’, which is Piedmontese for ‘smallest’.
It stuck and gave his design studio the Pininfarina name that’s so well known now. Lancia was an early customer for his designs and coachbuilding skill, but the company is better known for its work with Ferrari and Alfa Romeo.
The close link with Ferrari goes back to 1951 and almost every roadgoing car from the Modenese firm up to 2012 was styled by Pininfarina. The only exception was the 308 GT4 and the final Pininfarina design for Ferrari was the F12 Berlinetta.
Battista Farina’s final design before his death in 1966 was the Alfa Romeo Spider (pictured), which is a sensational way to bow out.
Founded by Giovanni Bertone (1884-1972, right), his eponymous company went on to work for many of the most prominent car companies when his son Giuseppe (1914-1997, left) took over after the Second World War. Manufacturers as diverse as Aston Martin, Volvo, Opel and Ferrari have used Bertone’s expertise that began in the 1920s with work for Fiat and Lancia.
Under Giuseppe, better known as Nuccio, Bertone mixed commissions for big sellers like the Alfa Romeo Giulietta Sprint with one-offs like the Berlinetta Aerodynamica Tecnica concepts (pictured: Alfa Romeo BAT 7 of 1954).
Yet it was roadgoing sports cars that Bertone loved the most and his catalogue is impressively long. Highlights include the Fiat 850 Spider and Dino Coupe.
Patrick Le Quément (Born 1945)
It would be easy to assume Patrick Le Quément’s career centred around Renault models when he’s so closely associated with the first Twingo, original Scenic MPV and Avantime.
However, his CV is far wider ranging and the Anglo-Frenchman’s talents extend to the Ford Sierra that set the template for all family cars that followed.
Patrick Le Quément
At Renault, Le Quément found brilliant form with the redesigns of the Espace MPV, while the multi-million selling Megane and its bustle-bummed successor are both his work.
Perhaps less successful was the Renault Vel Satis, but the Avantime (pictured) more than balances that out and will always be one of Le Quément’s lasting designs, if a less successful car commercially.
Ian Callum (Born 1954)
Jaguar is where Ian Callum has become much more widely known than just within design circles. He’s so intimately linked with the shift of Jaguar away from its trad styling to a bolder look as seen in the XF, XJ and also the F-type sports car and F-Pace SUV. He also penned the C-X75 hypercar concept (2010) which almost made production.
Yet his talent was being put to good effect long before he joined Jaguar when he was involved with the Ford RS200 and Escort Cosworth.
Either of those would be suitable epitaphs for most designers, but the Scot went on to pen the Aston Martin DB7 and Vanquish to assure his position as a global design leader.
Callum’s work has also included race cars, with the Nissan R390 flowing from his pen. Yet it’s Jaguar where he has become globally recognised and his first full design for the British firm was the 2006 XK Coupe and Convertible models that showed an edgier style could work for the company that was previously rooted in soft curves.
His next trick was taking advantage of the packaging opportunities offered by electrification, resulting in his stunning Jaguar I-Pace (pictured). Callum retired from Jaguar in June 2019.
Peter Horbury (Born 1950)
Straight-talking Peter Horbury began his design life at Chrysler UK before heading to Volvo and penning the striking 480ES coupe. After a sojourn working on other projects such as the Ford Sierra, Horbury was back at Volvo in the early 1990s to guide the firm gently away from its brick-like looks.
That started with the 850 and the ECC Concept that previewed the much more rounded looks of the S80, V70 and S60 models to follow.
With Volvo owned by Ford in the early 2000s, Horbury found himself heading up design at the company’s Premier Automotive Group that included Aston Martin, Jaguar, Land Rover and Volvo.
This led to a stint in the USA, but Horbury was back at Volvo when Geely bought the firm in 2009 and he’s now Global Head of Design for the company. That means he oversees Volvo, Lotus, Lynk&Co and Proton.
PICTURE: Volvo ECC Concept (1992)
Giorgetto Guigiaro (Born 1938)
If there’s a more multi-disciplined designer than Giorgetto Giugiaro, we’d like to know who they are. This Italian whizz has styled cameras, motorcycles, watches, trains, tractors and even guns. Yet it’s cars that have made him a worldwide name in design. It all started with Alfa Romeo’s 105 Series coupe and moved on to the De Tomaso Mangusta.
More supercars followed with the Iso Grifo and Maserati Ghibli, but Giugiaro’s real mark on history is the Volkswagen Golf Mk1.
Throughout the 1970s, Giugiaro came up with many sharp-edged designs such as the Lotus Esprit and DMC DeLorean. Later on, his portfolio took a more mass market approach with the Fiat Uno and Punto.
PICTURE: Volkswagen Golf Mk1
Frank Rinderknecht (Born 1955)
Some may wonder what goes through Frank Rinderknecht’s mind as the proprietor of his company Rinspeed. The firm’s stand is always a must-see at the Geneva motor show for its outlandish ideas, but there’s common sense behind much of it.
He started out importing sunroofs from the USA to Europe and this funded a tuning empire that began with a turbocharged Volkswagen Golf GTI.
From there, Rinderknecht made gullwing doors a feature of 1980s bespoke cars, but it’s his love of marine vehicles alongside cars that has prompted his most intriguing designs.
They include the Splash (2004) and sQuba (pictured) in 2008 that was a zero-emissions car that can dive under water.
Tom Tjaarda (1934-2017)
Tom Tjaarda was nothing if not prolific in his design output. After studying at the University of Michigan, he moved to Italy and styled the Fiat 124 Spider, Ferrari 330GT and Daytona 365California. His work also graced various De Tomaso cars.
However, it was Tjaarda’s designs for a number of Ford concepts and ideas that brought him to greater prominence when he was tasked with developing the original Ford Fiesta (pictured). The crisp, unfussy styling with intelligent packaging won plaudits and founded a huge-selling hatchback dynasty that lives on to the present day.
By creating an affordable small car that was a first car for millions of people, Tjaarda changed many worlds for the better.
Ercole Spada (Born 1937)
Ercole Spada could have retired when he was 23-years old and we would still be talking about him in reverential tones. That’s the age he was when he came up with the looks of the Aston Martin DB4 GT Zagato, easily one of the prettiest cars ever made and never mind its racing it success.
Yet Spada was on a roll that took him onwards to style various Alfa Romeos and Lancias, as well as the BMW 7 SeriesE32 (1986) and 5 Series E34 (1987). He also came up with the Alfa Romeo 155 that’s regarded by many as a modern classic.
PICTURE: Aston Martin DB4 GT Zagato
Giovanni Michelotti (1921-1980)
In a life that lasted a lamentably short 59 years, Giovanni Michelotti (right) crammed in a lot of great car designs. Alongside many shapes for Ferrari while working for Farina, Ghia and Vignale, Michelotti also worked on styling for Maserati and BMW, as well as Volvo and Scammell heavy trucks.
What Michelotti will be most fondly remembered for though is the delightfully crisp lines he created for Triumph in the 1960s. When other British firms were hanging on to staid 1950s thinking, Michelotti injected European flair into Triumph’s cars.
It wasn’t just the sporting models, either, like the TR4 (pictured), Spitfire and Stag, as Michelotti came up with the Herald, 2000 and Dolomite.
William Towns (1936-1993)
For a man who started out his career designing door handles at Britain’s Rootes Group, William Towns sure made his mark. His work at Aston Martin bore fruit with the DBS before he really got into his stride when he styled the 1976 Lagonda sedan.
It kick-started a whole generation of wedge-shaped cars from Towns and others, and later worked on a redesign of the Reliant Scimitar (pictured).
In 1977, Towns set up his own Interstyl studio and set about launching his own cars under the Hustler brand. They took the wedge shape to new extremes and explored various themes, including electric power and the monobox long before Renault launched its Espace.
Sadly, Towns died aged just 55 while still producing innovative work.
PICTURE: Aston Martin Lagonda
Bruno Sacco (Born 1933)
Mercedes-Benz would not be the company it is today were it not for Bruno Sacco. This determined Italian started with Mercedes in 1958 when design houses in his home country didn’t hire him.
Their loss was Mercedes’ gain and by 1975 he was head of the firm’s styling centre. In that time, he was responsible for the development of three generations of S-Class, replacing the long-running R107 SL with the R129 and introducing the 190 and C-Class small sedans.
The most lasting legacy of Sacco’s work is, perhaps, the Mercedes W124 range of sedans (pictured), wagons, coupes and convertibles.
Their influence can still be seen in Mercedes’ styling today and the models also cemented the company’s reputation for building cars with diamond-like indestructability.
Marcello Gandini (Born 1938)
Prodigious barely covers the output of Marcello Gandini. Here was a stylist who could have rested on his laurels early after coming up with the Lamborghini Miura, yet he followed that with the jaw-slackening Lamborghini Countach that defined the supercar.
PICTURE: Lamborghini Miura with Gandini (center), flanked by Lamborghini engineers Paolo Stanzani (left) and GP Dallara.
However, Gandini was also a designer with an eye for mass market appeal and he styled the first BMW 5 Series and Citroën BX (pictured), which featured his trademark squared-off rear wheel arch. He also produced the Fiat X1/9 and the second generation Renault 5, before returning to the supercar genre with the Bugatti EB110.
Throw in a selection of designs for De Tomaso, Iso, Maserati and plenty of others for Lamborghini and Gandini is one of the hardest working stylists in the post-war era.
Gordon Buehrig (1904-1990)
His name might not be as familiar as some of the others noted here, but Gordon Buehrig is no less influential. His work for GM and Stutz gave him a start and by the age of 25 he was heading up the body design for Duesenberg.
From there, he joined Auburn and gave the world the Speedster and then the Cord 810.
After the Second World War, Buehrig joined Ford and contributed the Continental MkII to the Blue Oval’s catalogue. He also invented the removable T-top not long after joining Ford which has gone on to be used in many sports cars around the world.
PICTURE: Cord 812
Wayne Cherry (Born 1937)
Indianapolis-born Wayne Cherry was a GM man through and through. He started with the firm in 1962 and had a hand in the Chevrolet Camaro and Pontiac Firebird, but it was when he moved to the UK in 1965 that he rose to prominence at GM-owned Vauxhall.
His ideas for the XVR and SRV concepts showed real forward thinking and this became a production reality with the ‘Droop Snoot’ Firenza in 1973.
This success saw Cherry take overall design control of Vauxhall in 1975 and then for the whole of GM’s European operation in 1983. In that time, he was in charge of the Astra, Corsa, Nova, Calibra and Tigra.
PICTURE: Vauxhall Firenza
Royden ‘Roy’ Axe (1937-2010)
One of the unsung heroes of car design, Roy Axe began his career at the Rootes Group in 1959 and stayed with the company as it morphed into Chrysler Europe.
He oversaw the Alpine and Horizon models before moving to the USA, but he returned in 1982 to join British Leyland (BL).
Royden ‘Roy’ Axe
Although BL was going through its own troubles during this time, Axe pushed ahead and came up with the highly acclaimed MG EX-E concept and then the Rover 800 (pictured), brieflylaunched in the US as the Sterling 825.
Axe then signed off on the Rover 400 before leaving to set up his own consultancy called Design Research Associates. While running this, he styled the Bentley Java concept that was shown at the 1994 Geneva motor show.
Robert Opron (Born 1932)
The quality of Robert Opron’s work is undeniable. After a spell as a furniture designer, he joined Citroën and made his mark with the 1968 update of the DS. This gave the French sedan a smoother nose that incorporated a set of headlights that turned with the steering.
This feature was used on Opron’s next design, the SM coupe, which was all his own work.
Opron was also responsible for the Citroën GS that launched in the same year as the SM and showed he could turn his hand to family cars as well as exclusive sports models.
His toughest brief was replacing the DS and he came up with the CX of 1974 to do the job. However, this was the year he was made redundant from Citroën, so he went to work for Renault, where he designed the Alpine A310 facelift, Fuego and 9. Later in life, Opron also penned the Alfa Romeo SZ.