The ArtCenter Car Classic always makes good on its promise to gather up a unique group of vehicles on the college’s campus lawn that rolls above Pasadena, California, and this year’s theme of alumni design mixed vast American land yachts with the cutting edge of our seemingly inevitable electric future to create an impressive visual display this small school’s influence in the field of automotive design. ArtCenter celebrates the 70th anniversary of its Transportation Design program this year, and it seems no less relevant now than it’s been for decades.
While most college car shows can be summed up as a gathering of the local enthusiast population in one of the larger parking lots available that weekend, many of the cars that show up to those school’s shows were designed by people who attended this one. For instance, Ron Hill graduated in the 1950s and almost immediately began designing for GM on an international scale, a company he would shape the look of during the 1960s and 1970s before coming back to ArtCenter to head the Industrial and Transportation design programs in the 1980s.
Some of his most notable work like the Corvair was on display along a grassy ridge, which a Vector W8—also designed by an alumni, Gerald Wiegart—was about to drive past on its way to its designated spot across from a modified Myers Manx and a Nissan Sera. Those cars, along with pair of Y2K-era Chrysler concept behemoths, the modern Volvo lineup, the upcoming Tesla Roadster, the Honda Element, the Dodge Viper—the list runs long, and all were designed chiefly or in part by someone who cut their teeth in the classrooms in the background.
Each car in attendance had a story worth telling, but one that isn’t brought up often belongs to the odd Shelby-DeTomaso Can Am project. Called the P70, it was designed by ArtCenter graduate Pete Brock (of BRE fame, among many, many other claims to it), and Shelby approached DeTomaso to develop a higher-displacement version of his small-block engine and a chassis to put it in that would be suitable for the upcoming Can Am series that would leave his Cobras uncompetitive against the newer, faster, less-restricted cars that manufacturers had in the works.
DeTomaso and Shelby had a falling out, the GT40 was taking resources away, and the project was canceled with just one prototype completed. DeTomaso quickly renamed it the Ghia De Tomaso Sport 5000 (to capitalize on his recent purchase of the coachbuilder), built another one modified to comply with FIA regulations, raced it just once where it reportedly retired on the first lap, and then adapted the chassis to the projects that would become the Mangusta and later the Pantera. The single car built to P70 specification (which was to be the Can Am racer), was restored by its current owner in the late 2000s; rather than the 7.0L that it was meant to be designed around (the delays of which contributed to the project’s cancellation), it is powered today by a 5.0L Gurney-Weslake V8, so it’s still true to the formula that DeTomaso became famous for later on: putting American engines in Italian chassis and bodies, even if the lines were often blurred.
You’ve probably noticed some cars whose shapes weren’t drawn at ArtCenter, and there were some allowances made for cars that the college humbly says they wished were designed by their alumni, and in the 400-euro-job-presented people’s choice award went to everybody’s restomod sweetheart this year, the Porsche 911 modified under the Singer DLS (“Dynamics and Lightweighting Study”). Parked next to it was Bruce Meyer’s Yellowbird offering a different approach that’s still pretty damn compelling in 2018. Thank you to everyone who stopped by to check out our merchandise, vote for their favorite cars, or just say hello—we hope to see you next year!