Peter Brock, 82, is one of the most legendary car designers in automotive history, with the Cobra Daytona Coupe, Corvette Stingray, Datsun 240Z and the Triumph TR250K (what became the TR7) to his name.
Once, at 19, the youngest ever designer hired by General Motors’ (maker of the Corvette Stingray) then ground-breaking design department, six decades on he is still espousing the tenets of good design – whatever form it takes.
He has recently co-designed a watch for Baume & Mercier – a special edition to celebrate his Daytona.
How did you find designing this new watch, relative to designing cars?
PB: You essentially apply the same principles whatever the object, whether it’s a watch or a car. It’s all about good taste and all about the little details.
Getting that refinement right when you still want the impact is not easy though. And it certainly doesn’t mean that there isn’t a lot of bad design out there in the world.
Most car design today is governed by fashion. And a lot of designers put lines all over the place. The results are ugly. Software has also allowed designers to work without the sensitivity required to spend months getting forms together in clay.
Government regulations don’t help either – bumper heights, safety considerations. It limits what you can do.
It’s one reason why I always preferred to work with high performance cars. There are fewer regulations, but even that’s changing.
What are the forces that shape the most beautiful cars?
PB: Downforces! The most beautiful cars are expressions of aerodynamics – and the great thing about the period I worked in was that it was all about aerodynamics.
Look at the Daytona Coupe, with that chopped off back end – that’s become a standard design form, as in the Toyota Prius for example, but it meant messing with some lovely flowing lines that just weren’t aerodynamically efficient.
That blunt end was ugly but kind of beautiful for the way it worked. Other designers had that kind of idea before but the time was right when I proposed my take on it. Even then it wasn’t easy to convince people.
Any new idea gets laughed at first. But it becomes self-evidently right.
Much of your younger days were spend cutting and shunting cars together. How did that shape your understanding of car design – Something as gorgeous as a Corvette Stingray?
PB: I grew up as a hot rodder on the streets of California, building rods from the great cars of the 1930s. And then, as now, it was all just about two things – stance and proportion.
If either were wrong the whole thing was just wrong. If you’re building a rod in that great tradition you get a very strong sense for that. It’s that experience of hot rodding that made me love cars.
It’s why I still tinker with them now. Of course, these days I’m usually driving an SUV. It’s a shame designers of SUVs and trucks don’t get more recognition – but these vehicles are all function.
They’re boxes but so much have to go into them. And if you’re out in the desert you don’t want to find yourself in a sports car, for all of its glamour.
Anyone can design the radical – you need to be able to design so that it can also be made commercial.
You’re 82 now and still active, though I hear that you’ve given up your second great passion – hang gliding. What do you do with your time?
PB: I spend a lot of time now speaking at car design school and I get a sense that students have this great desire to do radical design too, so I have to keep reminding them that the human form is never going to change and any car design has to work around that.
That said, these students will get to work with all sorts of new materials, the likes of carbon fibre, which are set to make all sorts of new forms in cars possible. I would have loved to have worked with some of those.
Not that I’m complaining. I still think I worked in a golden age. ML