Wallace Wyss blogs about the annual design college car show, this year showcasing the entertainment business.
The Art Center College of Design in Pasadena is the place where a great percentage of the world’s car designers are trained. Its hilltop location is a fitting place to have a car show, but I think it is a stretch to call it a “concours” because there are so many owner-modified cars on display. For example, nobody cares if it is a 100% stock Iso Grifo because many of these young designers have never seen or heard of an Iso Grifo. Especially those who are from Asia, possibly one-third of the student body.

Organizers change the mix at the show to suit the theme and this year the theme was show biz. The focus was on cars used in movies or those inspiring cartoon movies, including at least four Batman cars, the Bumblebee Camaro from Transformers: Age of Extinction, top, and full-size Hot Wheels Darth Vader and Deora II vehicles. Restored vintage GM show-tour display truck, right, was a big hit.

But right alongside them were high-end vintage cars that would be perfect for Pebble Beach: Aston Martin DB4/GTZ by Zagato and the Ghia Cadillac, above, built for Rita Hayworth as a present from her husband, Aly Khan. A Lola T70, below, dates back to USRRC & Ca-Am.

There was one car that really stood out for combining old and new – a prewar Bentley 4 1/4 chassis rebodied to a postwar design done by its owner, Gary D. Moore. An ex-general Motors designer, he’s a fan of the Embiricos Bentley, a one-off car that exists in coupe form. His is an open car with all the graceful razor edge lines of the original coupe. Jay Leno, whose impressive collection is only a few miles away, showed up in a Chrysler Turbine. It’s one of approximately 50 Turbines bodied by Ghia and loaned to private car owners in the early-1960s. He has his own turbine mechanic to keep it running!

One of the highlights of the event was the first panel discussion with many experts from the movies, including Syd Mead who did the sets and cars for Blade Runner. He also worked in Detroit as a car designer. Newer experts in movie cars included customizer Chip Foose and Jay Ward, Cars Legacy Guardian at Pixar Animation. He talked about how cars from the film CARS ended up being built as rides for theme parks. Also on the panel was Daniel Simon, who did the Red Skull car, above, in the movie, Captain America.

But we would be remiss not to mention George Barris, now in his 80s and the originator of the first TV Batcar. He talked about how he built the car on short deadlines and a small budget. Alex Shen, chief designer at Toyota’s California studio and Takuya Asano, Gran Turismo game designer explained how a car done for a game became a real prototype, the FT-1.

Car dealer and historic racer, Bruce Canepa brought a 917, above, in keeping with the theme of movie cars. Think Steve McQueen and the cars from Le Mans. There were also a few “fantasy” cars, including one, below, about 30 feet long with a vintage WW II V12 engine!

One of the great things about this show is that you can wander around the buildings and peek into classrooms and see students actually designing cars and making clay models. And in some situations you can go right in and talk to them.

In sum, the Art Center College of Design show isn’t a concours like Pebble Beach; it’s more of an eclectic show of whatever the organizers feel is important for students to see. And since these are the car designers of the future, we want them to see as much as possible of what’s been done in the past.

Wallace Wyss is the author of the Incredible Barn Find series from Enthusiast Books.

Photos by Richard Bartholomew